Welcome back sumo fans, it’s honbasho time once more, and I could not be more excited. With all of the uncertainty swirling around in the news, this basho is a true gift. For the next 15 days, we can set the world aside and embrace what may be the ultimate personal sport. Yes, we are facing a second straight basho with all active Yokozuna kyujo, and for many that means “basho-light”. Bollocks, I say! The next generation of sumo is now on the stage, and fighting it out for the future. Would it be better if we had a healthy and genki Hakuho and Kakuryu knocking heads? Of course. But both of those wonderful athletes are doing all they can to squeeze the last drops of their career into their sumo, and nothing can stop that.
As I cast my gaze at the torikumi for day 1, I see fantastic matches, and once again it could be anyone’s basho. As readers of the blog who watch or listen to our podcasts know, I favor Asanoyama to dominate this time, and to start talk of him as the next Yokozuna. The jitters of September are likely gone, and his disappointment likely left him hardened mentally, and focused on his goal. I see his primary foil right now as Shodai, who may struggle this tournament after all of the distractions of his period as shin-Ozeki and all of the media appearances, the well wishers and the general celebration the past six weeks. Takakeisho is the dark-horse this time. I expect him to get at least 10 if he does not get hurt, but I predict he will be chasing Shodai and Asanoyama for a fair portion of the tournament.
On to the preview!
What We Are Watching Day 1
Shimanoumi vs Chiyonoo – With 3 top division rikishi kyujo, there is a banzuke imbalance, and we will see visitors from Juryo daily until someone gets hurts and withdraws. First up is Chiyonoo – recent fans may not quite know who he is, he has ben a Juryo mainstay since 2013, save for an injury fueled tour of Makushita starting last year. Now at Juryo 1, a winning record would see him back in the top division for the first time since 2017. These two have split their prior 8 matches.
Chiyoshoma vs Akua – Unrepentant henka master and all around sumo heel Chiyoshoma has managed to climb back to the top division, where he has been a regular since 2016. He is going up against Akua on day one who has done his time in Juryo, and the meat grinder that is Makushita. Akua can be expected to attack straight ahead, and Chiyoshoma will be evading and looking to exploit any advantage he can find.
Chiyotairyu vs Kotonowaka – Kotonowaka is a good competitor for Chiyotairyu. Kotonowaka is massive enough he can absorb the cannon-ball tachiai, and both of them are excellent at tsuki-oshi sumo. I expect this to come down to who can get their hands inside and against their opponents chest first. Kotonowaka took their only prior match (in March at the silent basho).
Chiyonokuni vs Ichinojo – I must admit I am very happy, very excited to see Chiyonokuni return, yet again, to the top division. Like so many rikishi, he developed injuries to his knees, and has struggled ever since. His sumo attacks are rapid, focused and frequently overwhelming. I sometimes refer to him as the “Grumpy Badger”. Of course, who do you give him as a day 1 opponent? Yeah, “The Boulder”! I am keen to see which form of Ichinojo shows up to this tournament – the fluffy ice cream gourmet? Or the terrifyingly huge pony tosser?
Hoshoryu vs Kaisei – Hoshoryu has his work cut out for him, he has gotten about as far as he can with his current blend of body, sumo and spirit. I believe he is not anywhere near his potential, but he needs to find a path to take the next step. Maybe becoming some kind of hulking gym-monster like what happened to Ura, becoming a butter ball like what happened to Mitakeumi, or just becoming some kind of raging demon like Yoshikaze. He faces off against the ultra-massive Kaisei for his first match, having lost their only prior meeting.
Yutakayama vs Enho – Yutakayama looked very shaky prior to the Aki basho, and in fact he withdrew on day 8 and ended the tournament with a 2-13 finish. The big question must be, has he had a chance to recover? So many rikishi keep training, hoping to “work through” the problem, but never really recover their sumo. He has won all 4 of his prior matches with Enho, who seems to have hit some kind of wall with his sumo, much to the dismay of his fans.
Sadanoumi vs Meisei – I categorize this as a “stock and trade” match. A pair of hard core Makuuchi rikishi slugging it out in the middle of the torikumi. Sadanoumi has an edge of speed, Meisei an edge in strength. Both will bring an unknown quantity of ring rust to their first match.
Ryuden vs Kotoeko – Ryuden has been puttering around in the middle of the banzuke for the past year, always straggling the kachi/make-koshi line. These two last fought on day 9 in September, and it was Kotoeko’s match.
Tokushoryu vs Terutsuyoshi – Grizzled veterans like Tokushoryu tend to have a fair measure of ring rust to shake off before they can get up to real fighting form. I am sure he has sparring with Ura and Shimanoumi to tune up, but Terutsuyoshi is certain to come into the basho looking for blood. Probably going to be a short, intense match.
Aoiyama vs Endo – Once again Endo is expected to be competing with a nagging injury, having gone kyujo from Aki before the final weekend. He will have his hands full with Big Dan and the brutal V-Twin attack. Aoiyama tends to not have ring rust, and just shows up day one and slaps people around. He holds an 8-5 career lead over Endo, so there could be a fair amount of pain in this one.
Tochinoshin vs Tamawashi – Thirty two career matches! That’s some huge history. Tochinoshin holds an 21-11 leave on that list, but it will all come down to the condition of Tochinoshin’s right knee. If he’s good enough, he will dominate most matches. But in the past year we have seen him increasingly having to resort to “weak hand” sumo to score wins, as his body declares its had enough.
Takarafuji vs Kotoshoho – A solid first time match on opening day. We get rising start Kotoshoho at his highest ever rank going against top division mainstay Takarafuji. Takarafuji’s preferred approach is what I call “defend and extend” – drag the match out and wait for your opponent to tire or make a mistake. Kotoshoho will look for an early slap / pull down, which is a long shot given Takarafuji’s epic defensive foot placement and stability.
Hokutofuji vs Myogiryu – I truly, honestly want to see Hokutofuji fight and win this tournament. He has really solid sumo technique, but far too frequently he produces what I call “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”. He loses with overwhelming vigor. Has a 5-5 record against Myogiryu, who has won 2 of their last 3.
Tobizaru vs Okinoumi – I am very excited to see this high energy dynamo take his first match against Okinoumi, and his encyclopedic catalog of sumo attack and defense techniques. I look for Tobizaru to bring intensity, and for Okinoumi to respond with calm, efficient sumo. A great match for day 1.
Terunofuji vs Kagayaki – Apologies to Kagayaki.
Daieisho vs Takanosho – Daieisho is one of these rikishi who has been just a half step short a few times too many. I think he has the seeds of greatness, but needs to find that extra element he does not quite have yet. He is 1-3 against Takanosho, who seems to have a natural power to his sumo, and is clearly going to enjoy his posting to Sekiwake.
Mitakeumi vs Onosho – Thank you schedulers, I get a tadpole fight on opening day! If he’s healthy, the Original Tadpole (Mitakeumi) will be a heavy favorite (see what i did there?). Both of these guys do tend to have a fair amount of ring rust for the first few days, so we may see some sloppy sumo in this match.
Shodai vs Wakatakakage – Hey, shin-Ozeki Shodai, you get to face Mr Unpronounceable for your warm up in a battle of the blue mawashi. This is the first match between these two, and I think it will be interesting to watch Wakatakakage negotiate his first trip to the top echelon of Makuuchi. I fully expect Shodai to win this one.
Kiribayama vs Asanoyama – Kiribayama has yet to take a match from Asanoyama, but I doubt that Kiribayama will let that slow him down in the least. Asanoyama avoided the joint training session in the Kokugikan two weeks ago, preferring to train at his home stable. We will see today if that choice was to his advantage, as Kiribayama will likely be a tough opener for him.
Takakeisho vs Takayasu – An excellent choice for the final match of the day. I have to wonder how well recovered Takayasu is from his injuries last year and earlier this year. Healthy he tends to overwhelm Takakeisho, but he will need to be careful not to indulge himself in some of his favorite attacks, which tend to leave him off balance. Takakeisho is a master of disruption, and will have you out of the ring or on the clay if you give him the slightest opening.