What a great match list for the start of the Haru basho! A year ago, the entire sumo association was in Osaka, working to find a way to hold a tournament in the start of a worrisome and largely unknown pandemic. The virus is still with us, but thankfully sumo goes on.
To me it seems the scheduling committee decided to open strong, with some really high interest matches on the first day. I think this makes a lot of sense, given that the lone Yokozuna, Hakuho, may struggle to make it through 15 days of competition. It seems he is still having fluid drained from his injured knee. Best to give him some fun matches up front to draw in the public’s attention.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Tokushoryu vs Daiamami – After a miserable 3-12 record in January, Tokushoryu finds himself the top man in Juryo. With Yokozuna Kakuryu out, he visits the top division to fill the banzuke gap, taking on Oitekaze heya’s Daiamami. I thought Daiamami looked pretty solid in the practice video the NSK released before the basho, so maybe he can avoid Tokushoryu’s trademark move today.
Kaisei vs Hidenoumi – After sitting out January when his heya was kyujo from COVID, Kaisei is back, and hopefully ready to fight. I suspect he will have his hands full if Hidenoumi has a continuation of his 11-4 finish for Hatsu. Kaisei will need to block that right hand at the tachiai, and try to cut down on Hidenoumi’s mobility.
Yutakayama vs Tsurugisho – I am genuinely excited to see Tsurugisho back in the top division. He was injured a year ago in that silent Osaka basho, and has struggled a bit since then with middling results (7-8s, 8-7). At Hatsu he took the Juryo yusho with a 12-3, and looked like he finally had his sumo back. He is facing a flagging Yutakayama who has had 4 straight make-koshi tournaments after peaking at Maegashira 1 in July of 2020.
Kotoeko vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma is back in the top division? Well golly gee! The henka quota will see a sharp increase, I believe. Keep your eyes locked on Chiyoshoma’s center mass at the tachiai, Kotoeko. If he does not eat a henka, I am going to expect Kotoeko to have the upper hand today, given his 7-4 advantage over the “flying Mongolian”.
Terutsuyoshi vs Aoiyama – A beauty of a big man / little man match up. Both men would typically be much higher up the banzuke, but had a confluence of a losing record and a tough banzuke situation to endure. Terutsuyoshi tends to be able to endure or evade Big Dan Aoiyama’s V-Twin attack, and holds a 4-1 career advantage.
Akiseyama vs Kotoshoho – The “Flabster” faces down Kotoshoho, who needs to bounce back from his terrible 2-13 performance in January. Kotoshoho ad been on a straight kachi-koshi burn since Maezumo in 2017, and was eating up the ranks. I can only assume he picked up some injury, and I do hope he has recovered. In healthy condition, this guy is a future force of sumo. For today’s match, he holds a 2-0 career advantage over Akiseyama, winning both previous matches by yorikiri.
Chiyotairyu vs Ryuden – This may seem daft, but I am really excited for this match. Sumo’s thunder demon (Chiyotairyu) up against Shin-Ikioi (Ryuden). Ryuden will be looking to bounce back from a terrible 4-11 in January, and Chiyotairyu will likely be looking to just blast Ryuden off the dohyo.
Midorifuji vs Hoshoryu – Is it just me, or in the pre-basho photos and videos, it looks like Hoshoryu bulked up since January. I am going to see if he looks that way when he mounts the dohyo, and if that extra mass helps him improve his 0-2 record against Midorifuji. Given that Midorifuji has been training with Isegahama stable mate Terunofuji, I am going to guess Midorifuji is ready for just about anything.
Chiyonokuni vs Tobizaru – It seems almost celebratory that all of the Kokonoe “Chiyos” are back on the match list. Chiyonokuni, being my favorite, draws the flying monkey Tobizaru in what is sure to be a high mobility blaze of slapping, pushing and smacking each other around. Interestingly, this is their first ever match.
Kotonowaka vs Kagayaki – I called out Kotonowaka in the pre-basho podcast as one to watch, and I am looking for him to pick up his first ever career win over Kagayaki today. Kotonowaka finished with a strong 10-5 in his second tournament in the top division, and I expect that he will find the middle of the banzuke far more challenging.
Tochinoshin vs Ichinojo – This match is like one of those delightful Fukubukuro (New year’s mystery bags), no way we can know which versions of either of these guys is going to show up. Can Tochinoshin find any knee strength? Is Ichinojo going to be in a mood to fight? Prior matches have taken a predictable pattern of Ichinojo using his “Boulder” defense, and Tochinoshin unleashing his strength to move him around and out. He holds a 16-7 career advantage.
Tamawashi vs Okinoumi – With all of the marvelous treats already on the torikumi, let’s season it with this veteran battle. These two have 24 matches over their career. Tamawashi is not as mobile as he was a year ago, and that puts him at a disadvantage as Okinoumi tends to be very genki during week 1.
Endo vs Myogiryu – Sumo heartthrob Endo against Myogiryu? Both of them had middling records in January, and they come in having split the prior 12 matches. I would love to see Endo have a great tournament this March, so hopefully he shows Myogiryu the exit today.
Kiribayama vs Shimanoumi – At 24 years old, I am looking at Kiribayama as a future force in sumo. He has taken a pretty decent pounding both times he was ranked in the joi-jin before, so I am eager to see if he can actually get a kachi-koshi at the top end of Makuuchi. He has won all 3 prior matches with Shimanoumi.
Takayasu vs Meisei – Given the crew in the named ranks for this March, it seems that there is quite the log jam of talent at the top. I am sure that Takayasu watches Terunofuji’s campaign to resume his Ozeki rank with some desire to follow suit. But right now Takayasu is just a notch low on the intensity and skill level to fight his way back into sumo’s second highest rank. As Josh and I discussed in the pre-basho podcast, we seem to be minting new Ozeki at a rapid pace, but the Ozeki express seems to not be stopping at Takayasu’s station.
Wakatakakage vs Takanosho – Wakatakakage is another name I am happy to see return to the torikumi. His stable was kyujo from COVID in January, and I would love to see Wakatakakage resume his campaign to compete at sumo’s highest level. He has a challenge today with confirmed sekiwake Takanosho, who has taken 4 of their 5 career matches.
Terunofuji vs Hokutofuji – Sumo fans around the world area riveted on Terunofuji this March. He is one good tournament from pulling of one of the most amazing come-backs in the history of any sport, not just sumo. He starts that campaign today against the hot / cold Hokutofuji. It’s always tough to figure out which version of Hokutofuji is going to show up this tournament. Will be be the unstoppable earth-shaker with the brutal handshake tachiai? Or will he be the wild fellow who can’t keep his weight centered over his feet and gets pushed around and dropped to the clay? These two have a 3-3 career history, but its notable that Terunofuji has won all of the last 3 matches.
Takakeisho vs Onosho – A tadpole fight on day 1? With the Grand Tadpole kadoban and needing to find 8 wins? My compliments to the schedulers. I am going to be focused on Takakeisho’s foot work, hoping that whatever problems linger with that ankle are at least endurable for him to win. He holds a 5-3 career record with Onosho, but both of these guys put a huge amount of force into their thrusting technique. Someone may end up in the zabuton zone today!
Takarafuji vs Asanoyama – I see this is a warm up match for Asanoyama. He tends to get his favored grip and body position against Takarafuji, and once he is able to set up his stance, he can control the match. Will Takarafuji be able to stay mobile and wear Asanoyama down?
Shodai vs Mitakeumi – Twenty two career matches between these two, and they have split them 11 and 11. Their January match was especially fun, as up to that point, Mitakeumi was having a pretty crummy tournament (2-5). But he is always up for a fight with Shodai, and dispatched him with strength and power. From that point, Mitakeumi rallied to finish 9-6. So lets have a rematch and see if Shodai can answer back. Great move, and should be a solid match.
Hakuho vs Daieisho – The hatsu yusho winner up against the dia-Yokozuna whose glories may never be surpassed in the long future of sumo? What a great way to finish day 1! Hakuho holds a 6-2 career advantage, and this match will inform fans on just how much Daieisho’s excellent sumo in January can carry over into March. We will also get a glimpse at what kind of fighting condition Hakuho is in. If he comes in strong and agile, this may be a long 15 days for the joi-jin.