With the lone Yokozuna now out, and unlikely to return for several months, we are back to what sumo has been for most of the last year. A battle of near-peer rikishi, each trying to do their utmost to emerge as the next top athlete. Looking across the banzuke, the name that stands out the most is former Ozeki Terunofuji. Readers will note, I have followed his bid to return first to the salaried ranks, then the top division, then the named ranks, and now his bid to do the unthinkable – return to Ozeki. It’s possibly the greatest comeback story in sumo, but the fact that he seems to be the man to beat this March underscores the challenge sumo faces.
Terunofuji is a testament to how much the human spirit can drive the body to overcome injury and illness. The man possesses an iron will and should he succeed in his return to Ozeki, may be one of the toughest people of the current crop. But what does it say about sumo that this man, who could be forced to retire at any moment when his body has just had enough, is the current strongest, most competitive man on the dohyo? To me it means that the rest of the crowd are doing their utmost today, but there is still no one worthy of Yokozuna promotion. That does not mean that the sumo association won’t mint a Yokozuna. But it does mean we have a period of a few years where anyone bold enough to take up the rope may not hold it for long.
What We Are Watching Day 4
Yutakayama vs Daishomaru – I would love to know what ails Yutakayama. He has the size, the skills and the drive to be a top Maegashira. But something is clearly wrong with this guy. He has a 3-4 career deficit against Daishomaru, who comes to visit the top division with a cold 0-3 start to Haru.
Kotoeko vs Daiamami – Both rikishi are 2-1 starting day 4, and Kotoeko has only won 1 match from their 6 career matches. But I keep in mind that Kotoeko is showing some of his best sumo in at least a year thus far at Haru, and I would give him a slight edge today.
Hidenoumi vs Tsurugisho – After taking the Juryo yusho in January, it’s tough to watch Tsurugisho start 0-3. I would guess that knee injury is back to bothering him, and it may limit his sumo quite a bit for the rest of Haru. He holds an even 9-9 career record with Hidenoumi, but I would give a strong advantage to Hidenoumi today.
Kaisei vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma has been a pleasant surprise so far. He has shown so genuinely clever, straight ahead, thinking sumo. This is a stark contrast to some of his typical shenanigans of the past, and it’s a welcome change. I would love to see him out fight everyone for rest of the basho, but there is a huge size difference between himself and Kaisei (about 70kg!). In spite of the size difference, Chiyoshoma holds a 4-3 career advantage over Kaisei. Could be a fun match.
Chiyotairyu vs Terutsuyoshi – Terutsuyoshi’s high mobility sumo might be a good foil for Chiyotairyu’s thunder demon attacks. He tends to rush ahead with a huge burst of power at the tachiai, and quickly lose stamina. If Terutsuyoshi can keep his feet, and stay in the match, he can engage once Chiyotairyu spins down 20 seconds in.
Midorifuji vs Aoiyama – After the pasting Aoiyama gave Terutsuyoshi day 1, little guys are not safe from the big V-Twin attack. In fact, it was amazing to see both Terutsuyoshi and Kotoeko leave the dohyo checking their nose for blood. So if Big Dan can achieve lock-on, its bound to be a rough ride for Midorifuji.
Akiseyama vs Ryuden – Ryuden has yet to win a match this March, and I hope that he can put a white star (vs a fusensho) up against Akiseyama on day 4. Like so many rikishi, Ryuden suffers with chronic injuries that fade in and out, limiting his sumo when they bite.
Chiyonokuni vs Hoshoryu – This one has a lot of potential. In a perfect world, it would be a running oshi-zumo battle featuring a glorious joint throwing attempt at the bales to finish it off. Both of them are in good fighting form, so the ingredients are all in place.
Kotonowaka vs Tobizaru – We got to see Tobizaru crack that grin on day 3 when he picked up his first win, and I am sure he wants to keep smiling. In his way is faltering hopeful Kotonowaka, who needs to consolidate his sumo and focus on getting his 8. Kotonowaka won their only prior match, during Aki 2019.
Tochinoshin vs Kagayaki – I am tempted to make a witticism about “Goth Mode Kagayaki” doing battle against someone who kind of looks like “The Count” from Sesame street. But let’s just say that in their 6 prior matches, Tochinoshin has shown himself more than capable of pitching Kagayaki about as hard and far as he wants to (5-1).
Endo vs Ichinojo – I almost fear this match. You have a struggling Endo trying to find some way to pick up his win, going up against a rampaging Mongolian behemoth in Ichinojo. I am certain that Endo could get his shallow frontal grip and do a lot of good sumo against Ichinojo. But when that guy is on a tear, you may find yourself being the pony in a game of “Pony toss”.
Kiribayama vs Okinoumi – Okinoumi looks really vague and unfocused right now. I wonder if this is one of those basho where he will safely get 8 losses, then dial up the sumo and win the remaining matches for a neat 7-8 final score.
Tamawashi vs Myogiryu – A hearty 15 match history between these two, 10-5 favoring Tamawashi. But Myogiryu has not looked this sharp and aggressive in a long time. So I am going to give him a slight advantage today.
Wakatakakage vs Mitakeumi – Wakatakakage rolled the Grand Tadpole on day 3, I want to see if he can make it a pair with a first ever win over Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi really flubbed his day 3 fight against the human onigiri, Takanosho. I hope he tunes up his sumo accordingly.
Takayasu vs Daieisho – After being on a monumental hot streak that took him to the yusho in January, Daieisho has yet to find his first win in March. He will have a rough time of it today, as Takayasu seems to be in fairly good form, and he holds a 7-3 career advantage over Daieisho.
Terunofuji vs Meisei – Terunofuji has remained consistent since New Years, and his sumo is continuing to be the best match after match. He faces Meisei, who has never won a match against the Kaiju in 3 attempts. I think the chances are strong we will see Terunofuji pick up his 4th win today.
Shimanoumi vs Takanosho – Shimanoumi is a reliably competitive opponent for Takanosho, so I am looking for a good combo oshi-yotzu zumo match today from these two. If Takanosho gets the superior fighting position, we may see a kotenage for good measure.
Takakeisho vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji put out the word prior to the basho that he intends to return to the san’yaku. Always a tough thing to say, as it begs every mischievous spirit to spit on your worthy intentions. Thus we find Takarafuji with zero wins at the start of day 4, facing a kadoban Ozeki that needs every white star he can slap out of every opponent.
Onosho vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama needs to be careful of his defensive foot placement today. I believe that Onosho wants an Ozeki scalp, and this is his last chance. Sadly Onosho has yet to have a win this basho, being the recipient of a fusensho win yesterday when he was slated to face Hakuho.
Shodai vs Hokutofuji – Once again Hokutofuji looks to be 15% less than what is needed to really win against the Ozeki, and he relies far too much on that right hand nodowa. Everyone sees it coming now, and they have practiced how to disarm you. So use your excellent sumo, and your fantastic natural skills to cook up a few new attack strategies, it will be amazing.