Goodness, It’s time for sumo once more! Sumo fans who are not in Japan have been watching with great interest and some level of concern as the Japanese government has asserted another state of emergency in the most populated regions of the country, thanks to soaring case counts of COVID-19. To comply with this edict, the NSK will not be having any fans in the stands for the first 3 days of this basho. What happens after that is a bit of a puzzler, as the government has a plan to keep the state of emergency active until the end of the month, and the NSK has stated that they will be selling tickets from day 4 onward. Frankly, I think sumo is better with as many fans as can safely pack a venue.
With the COVID case numbers climbing, there was some concern that we might see rikishi or stables forced into quarantine kyujo this May, but all tests came back negative, and the big tournament is a “go”. We know for a fact that some rikishi will be out from day one, and that list includes
- Yokozuna Hakuho – still recovering from knee surgery
- Midorifuji – Lower back pain, I am guessing its a carry over from March
- Aoiyama – Back pain again, may return if he can get past the injury
- Ryuden – Seems he brok quarantine rules? More details will emerge in the coming days, I am certain.
So prepare yourselves for another odd, quiet basho, solidly in the No-Kazuna mode. All focus will be on the four Ozeki. We already know that Terunofuji is not going to be 100%, as his Oyakata has stated that he is struggling with at least one of his knees, but will gambarize like only a kaiju can.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Akua vs Chiyomaru – Both of these sphere-oids are back in the top division, and for Chiyomaru, its been almost a year since he was part of a Makunouchi dohyo-iri. The man has a large number of fans, who will be cheering him on as he tries to take his 3rd in a row from Akua.
Kaisei vs Ishiura – This would seem to be a really straightforward mass ratio contest. But in fact Ishiura has a fairly good record of keeping Kaisei on defense, and has taken 2 of their 5 career matches. If Kaisei is healthy, and can plant his feet, there won’t be too much that Ishiura can do to move him.
Chiyotairyu vs Daiamami – Is it just me, or is Chiyotairyu continuing to lose weight? He had a tough run in March, finishing with 6-9, but only dropping 3 ranks on the banzuke, thanks to the log jam at the bottom of the roster. Their only prior match went to Daiamami, and was in March.
Akiseyama vs Okinoumi – What is Okinoumi doing this far down the banzuke? As he ages out, we may see him keep his average rank lower, which seems to happen. Many of his cohort have already hit the barber shop, or have taken up the blue jackets. I would guess from Maegashira 12, he’s going to rally at least one more time.
Kotoeko vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma in March was a surprise for me as a sumo fan. He fought well, going forward, with minimum chicanery. He brough some really solid sumo, and was kachi-koshi. I am hoping he continues this approach in his match today against compact powerhouse Kotoeko, who holds a 8-4 career record over Chiyoshoma, including winning the last 7 in a row.
Kotonowaka vs Terutsuyoshi – I dearly want Kotonowaka to get it together. He finished 6-9 in March, and his sumo was all over the place. He won’t be able to succeed on day 1 with that approach against Terutsuyoshi.
Tamawashi vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki has show remarkable banzuke luck in the past six months. He has turned in a 5-10, a 6-9 and then 6-9 again. Somehow he managed to only drop from Maegashira 3 to Maegashira 9. Maybe he is hurt, or maybe everyone has an answer to his standard, somewhat simple, attack. He lacks the mass of someone like Kisenosato to continue to make it work once his opponents have an opening response.
Shimanoumi vs Endo – If Endo his healthy this May, he could have a very strong showing this far down the banzuke. His day 1 match is a bit of a easy start for him, as Shimanoumi has yet to take a single match from the sumo heartthrob in 3 attempts.
Tsurugisho vs Takarafuji – After a disasterous 3-13 finish in March, Takarafuji is probably looking for a big return in May. His only prior match against Tsurugisho was a loss at Aki 2019, so this will be a nice indicator if the Isegahama veteran will be genki for Natsu.
Tochinoshin vs Ichinojo – The question sumo fans ask prior to day 1 of any tournament is – which version of Ichinojo will show up? When Ichinojo is fighting well, he’s tough to stop. Tochinoshin – his performance is all down to how bad his knee is. An even marginally working right knee, and this match is all Tochinoshin.
Hidenoumi vs Onosho – As an Onosho supporter, it’s tough to watch him have one his far too typical double digit loss basho. He’s had at least 3 of them since he started his run in the top division in 2017. The good news is he tends to follow them with double digit wins. It will call come down to not getting his center of gravity too far forward.
Hoshoryu vs Myogiryu – I do like that Hoshoryu has be taking small, incremental steps up the banzuke. He’s now at his highest ever rank – Maegashira 5. I am not sure if I am in favor of him holding this rank this time out, as he is going to face an entirely new class of competition. Both of the 2 prior matches ended with okuridashi, with each man taking a win a piece from the series.
Mitakeumi vs Kiribayama – Time is running out for Mitakeumi if he wants to press for higher rank. With his 2 yusho, he has shown that he can win, but he has lacked consistency. I would love to see him in contention for the cup in the middle of week 2, and is part of the die-hard san’yaku this May. Interestingly, he is 1-3 against Kiribayama, who tends to get a hold of his mawashi and shut down his offense.
Chiyonokuni vs Takanosho – This match has high interest for me, as I am going to be looking to see if Chiyonokuni has been able to get his body ready for sumo, after withdrawing on day 13 in March due to injury. He lost his only prior match against Onigiri-kun back in November of 2018.
Takayasu vs Tobizaru – Andy thinks there is still some fire left in Takayasu, so it’s time to put that to the test. He can start by winning over Tobizaru, which he has failed to do on both of their prior matches. On paper, this should be Takayasu by a mile, but the flying monkey really seems to be able to confound the former Ozeki’s offense.
Meisei vs Terunofuji – Everyone, myself included, think that Terunofuji will have a strong first basho as a re-shin-Ozeki. He has never lost to Meisei, and I see no reason for that to change today.
Shodai vs Hokutofuji – Oh goodie! This one is a big ripe tomato of a bout, and I am going to be watching for Hokutofuji to get in and under at the tachiai. Shodai responds well to Hokutofuji’s favorite opening gambit, the nodowa, and that causes some trouble with Hokutofuji converting his tachiai into a win. With Shodai kadoban, he’s going to be looking for every win he can put together in hopes of racking up his 8 before the final days when the Ozeki will finish the tournament by beating on each other.
Wakatakakage vs Takakeisho – Team Tachiai pegged Wakatakakage as one to watch this May, and he’s going to start in the thick of battle against the Grand Tadpole, Takakeisho. The last match, day 3 of March, went to Wakatakakage.
Asanoyama vs Daieisho – I favor Asanoyama for the yusho prior to the first day of fighting. As the top ranked Ozeki, he will have the hardest schedule, and he starts against Hatsu yusho winner Daieisho. Daieisho holds a 9-6 career record, and I expect he is going to give Asanoyama a rough ride.