The “No-kazuna” basho started Sunday in Tokyo, and there was a lot of good sumo from the new crop of rikishi on parade. For Takayasu fans, it was a glorious display of the kind of sumo you must never try to use against him. I swear the probably naps in the afternoons pressing against Kisenosato’s earthmover from 2017, and seems to be able to generate hundreds of kg of forward pressure for what might be unlimited periods of time.
It seems that the fans who are in the Kokugikan are a bit more relaxed on Aki day 1 than they were during July. Maybe as time goes by, Japan, much like Texas, has learned to respect the pandemic, but recognize you can still have fun.
A trigger warning for readers. Further down in this post, I am going to praise Shodai. Please try not to be worried. I have not been captured by kidnappers, it is not some secret code for the forces of darkness to invade, and I am not currently experiencing the effects of recreational pharmaceuticals.
Hoshoryu defeats Ichinojo – The massive bulk that is Ichinojo must have given Hoshoryu in the lead up to the match. But the shin-maku Hoshoryu drove straight inside and got both hands inside on Ichinojo. There was one moment where Ichinojo tried a lift and shift, but Hoshoryu kept Ichinojo just enough off balance it would not work. An Ichinojo attempt at make-kai left him with just one hand attached to Hoshoryu, and that was all that it took for the Hoshoryu to win his first top division ranked match.
Kyokutaisei defeats Shohozan – Maybe it’s age, maybe it acccumulated injuries, but even though Shohozan comes out strong and applies blow after blow to Kyokutaisei’s face, it just does not seem to have the same effect that it once had. After absorbing a few smacks to the head, Kyokutaisei advances and takes the match.
Tobizaru defeats Shimanoumi – Tobizaru owned this match from the start, landing a right hand inside grip moments after the tachiai, and quickly removing Shimanoumi from the dohyo. Given Tobizaru’s youth, energy and relatively healthy body, he could become a top division mainstay this year.
Kotoshoho defeats Meisei – Meisei reacted poorly to Kotoshoho’s opening gambit, which was a combo to the upper body and a shift to his right. Meisei found himself pressing ahead against thin air, and struggled to abort the fall, but ended up without any means to recover.
Kotoshogiku defeats Kaisei – The miles of tape that normally festoon Kotoshogiku’s body were nowhere to be seen today, and it left long time fans like myself a tad disoriented, as if some alternate universe Kotoshogiku had somehow been translocated in to face Kaisei. It seems even Kaisei was taken aback by his opponent’s lack of mummification, allowing Kotoshogiku an early morozashi, and a quick win.
Chiyotairyu defeats Kotoeko – Kotoeko opened with an attempt at a left hand frontal grip at the tachiai, while Chiyotairyu. It was a quick “raise him up, slap him down” combo that Chiyotairyu executes very well.
Onosho defeats Sadanoumi – Wow, Onosho seems to have overcome a number of problems he had in July, and looked sharp, aggressive and dare I say it, well balanced? I really liked his tachiai today, his hips were quite low, and he bracketed Sadanoumi almost immediately, giving Sadanoumi no good route to escape.
Wakatakakage defeats Enho – Enho picks up where he left off in July, looking a half step slower and someone weakened from where we would normally expect to see his sumo. I have to wonder if not having Hakuho or Ishiura to train with has really robbed him of most of his chances to tune up for the Aki basho.
Ryuden defeats Tokushoryu – Points to Ryuden for working out an excellent defensive strategy for Tokushoryu. I counted several times the Hatsu yusho winner worked to set up his trademark combo that typically ends with a tsukiotoshi, but each time Ryuden was able to shut it down. Its awesome to watch Ryuden work hard to keep his plane of force lined up across Tokushoryu’s center mass. Well done!
Kagayaki defeats Aoiyama – In the non-pixelated battle of unfortunate body shapes, Big Dan Aoiyama missed blocking Kagayaki’s inside gambit by fractions of a second. Kagayaki drove ahead, and Aoiyama could not keep his feet. Effective sumo from Kagayaki to shut down Aoiyama’s primary attack routes.
Takayasu defeats Takarafuji – Oh my, an endurance battle featuring two rikishi who seem to have it by the gallon. I think at least for this match, the pain and weakness Takayasu has had to contend with in his elbow and knee are gone. Perhaps his 20+ matches a day with the former Kisenosato continue to be the secret to the power of his sumo. For a certified Takayasu fan, this was really a welcome match.
Kiribayama defeats Tochinoshin – Rising star Kiribayama continues to shine, taking down former Ozeki Tochinoshin, who gave Kiribayama a right hand inside grip at the tachiai. With both men having favored grips on the other, they both lifted the other, and for a moment it looked like Tochinoshin would win out. But a clever move by Kiribayama to bring his left foot in for a trip broke Tochinoshin’s focus, and cost Tochinoshin the match.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Yutakayama – Sadly Yutakayama continues his July struggles into the first match of Aki, he had a very strong start, and had Terutsuyoshi backing up. But an ill-considered move to grab the back of Terutsuyoshi’s head and pull threw control of the match to Terutsuyoshi. Terutsuyoshi responded by grappling low, and driving ahead again and again. Yutakayama could find no route to recover.
Myogiryu defeats Okinoumi – This bout was simple sumo mechanics, Okinoumi was too high at the tachiai, opening his chest to Myogiryu, who drove inside and attacked low.
Tamawashi defeats Daieisho – Daieisho showed near textbook oshi-zumo today against Tamawashi, but could not finish him off. Tamawashi was doing a masterful job of absorbing an attack, and shifting to the side, recovering his foot placement before Daieisho could land another thrust. Tamawashi kept this working for an impressive length of time, and found a moment when Daieisho was off balance, and took him to the clay.
Mitakeumi defeats Hokutofuji – To superbly round rikishi, prone to break-neck speed and overwhelming force decided to crash headlong into each other at the tachiai and conduct this match as a battle of sheer strength. The key to the win was that odd upper-body pivot that Mitakeumi deployed to break Hokutofuji’s defense. Nice move!
Shodai defeats Takanosho – I admit, I have been holding back an opinion on Shodai. There was footage a few days before the start of Aki that showed morning practice at Tokitsukaze heya. The highlight was the sparring sessions between Shodai and Yutakayama. I was having a difficult time with what I was seeing. Shodai’s tachiai was sharp and strong. He was beating Yutakayama, again and again. This form of Shodai is quite the force of sumo. As I have written many times, if Shodai can fix his tachiai, he was going to be a big deal. Well, we may have hit that point now. I credit Shodai’s hard work along with Yokozuna Kakuryu’s guidance, and Yutakayama’s sparring for bringing Shodai closer to his potential.
Takakeisho defeats Terunofuji – The last 4 basho have been a tough time for fans of Takakeisho, he has been battling a number of injuries that have limited his sumo. Some have been wondering if this young star was going to be able to maintain his Ozeki position given the problems with his body. Today he looked, to my eye, better than he has since Aki last year, which saw him break the 10 win threshold and return to Ozeki. I am sure Terunofuji went in with a solid match plan, but when that much muscle and mass is in that compact a package, you are in trouble if he can get you in the “shove” zone.
Endo defeats Asanoyama – I worried prior to Aki that the sumo public and Asanoyama himself were too focused on the chances of him taking his first yusho of a bid for the rope. Today we saw what happens when a master tactician like Endo comes up against a highly predictable rikishi like Asanoyama. As much as I like Asanoyama and his sumo, he has stuck with what has worked for him. This let Endo know to a great extent how the Ozeki was going try to conduct the match. The Asanoyama matta played a role as well, telegraphing his opening gambit. Exceptional balance, poise and ability to rotate to plan b/c/d from Endo today. Fantastic win.