Last night, after watching the tightly edited recap video from a popular fermented soybean inspired YouTube pirate channel, I found myself looking at the makuuchi standings and trying to make sense of what I was seeing. There’s a saying in football (the foot kind) that at the end of the season “the league table doesn’t lie.” This is a terrible analogy because sumo’s equivalent is probably the constantly updated banzuke and in any event, we’re only at the midway point and the difficulty of many rikishi’s schedules will alter wildly in the second week.
Still, it’s fun to analyze who’s good value for their score and who isn’t. So rather than simply shouting at the television, let’s do a bit of that here.
Akua’s record feels about right, he’s been overmatched consistently and one gets the feeling that the feel good party is over for now. One can make the argument that Akiseyama has at least performed better, having at least been competitive in more of his matches, but it also seems clear top division opponents are no longer bewitched by his awkwardness as an opponent, and that if you get in his face and stay mobile he can be rattled.
Terutsuyoshi hasn’t been anywhere near his dynamic self and while his score doesn’t seem harsh, he equally looks like he could still turn it on to at least win half his remaining matches and grab a respectable score.
Tobizaru has had a tough time against difficult opponents but likewise one senses that when he reverts back to maegashira competition the wins will follow. Hokutofuji has been better than his record would indicate and has a strong record of second half performances so while a kachi-koshi would be extremely unlikely, the determination shown in his dogged win against Takayasu to climb off the foot of the win table showed that he certainly isn’t in as bad of form as his score suggests.
Tsurugisho felt a bit sloppy to me in his opening to the tournament but he appears to be growing into the competition. Takarafuji, meanwhile, appears to be completely out of sorts and without any of the bomb-disposal tools that made him such an intriguing yusho candidate not so long ago. His sumo has been a mess by his standards, and I think if anything, the 2-5 record flatters him. I’m sorry if I jinxed him but let’s hope he can sort his mechanics in a hurry.
Tochinoshin has – a few glimpses of his vintage self aside – been largely quite poor and 2-5 feels like an accurate reflection of his performance. Hoshoryu hasn’t shown me anything to merit the hype. His results to this point don’t even really compare well with Enho at the same stage of progression into the top division a couple years back, and while he could go on to be great, I’m not seeing it right now and his record feels like an accurate reflection of what’s nominally his first trip to the joi. In fact, I’d say the only thing separating him from Kiribayama is that Hoshoryu probably has better coaching. There are at least some good signals from Kiribayama’s performances and his match against Asanoyama certainly signalled his ability to compete at this level.
This group is rounded out with Myogiryu who has been pretty poor, apart from reading Shodai well and crossing him up.
How Kotonowaka is sitting at 3-4 right now is kind of beyond me. His most recent performances in the top division sort of remind me of a puppy that grew too fast and is now trying to get used to his bigger form. I know that’s a weird and perhaps too “on the nose” metaphor for sumo but you’re going to have to deal with it. He has enormous potential but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him hanging around the lower part of makuuchi for a while, a bit like Tochinoshin did at the start of his top-flight career, before he puts it together more consistently.
Tactics man Kagayaki‘s 3-4 record feels about right, so we’ll move along. Meisei is someone I had tipped in our pre-basho podcast to challenge for the yusho, but while he started poorly against the ozeki, I’ve seen enough in his sumo that I still expect him to come good and kachi-koshi later in the basho, even if it means it’s an 8-7 or 9-6 and not the triumphant basho I had expected.
Daieisho‘s 3 wins include a fusen-sho, so things could well be worse. It is a little strange to see someone who ran roughshod over the san’yaku earlier this year not put up much of a challenge against them now, and I think he’s got a bit of a battle on his hands on current form to hold his rank. Takanosho has done really well to hold his own rank, and started well against the maegashira and he’s going to hope he can continue to beat up on the rank and filers this time, as it looks like the higher rankers may have figured him out. I think 3-4 is an accurate reflection of his performance, and I think it may get worse before it gets better for him.
Ishiura has been marvellous and I’m only surprised his record isn’t better. Many folks have commented that he looks even stronger than he has in a while, so he must have had some good protein shakes. Smaller rikishi must use their mobility and Ishiura has realised that he doesn’t need to henka everyone to avoid going chest-to-chest. I think Kaisei‘s 4-3 has been a good reflection of his sumo – solid with the occasional awkward slip up – and would expect him to kachi-koshi at this stage.
Daiamami and Kotoeko have been much of a muchness and their records could be anything. Chiyoshoma seems to have turned it around and rediscovered the bag of tricks that make him competitive. Shimanoumi has been solid, and Hidenoumi started really really well at his highest ever rank, having just let himself down slightly the last couple of days. He is displaying kachi-koshi-worthy sumo, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him above his brother next basho, one way or another.
Wakatakakage has been really competitive at his advanced rank, going 2-2 against the Ozeki and displaying the kind of sumo that I think might make him a candidate for that rank someday. He has a real fight on his hands to get another impressive winning record, but I think his record perhaps does not quite reflect how good he has been this tournament. Conversely, I think Asanoyama has been quite poor for an Ozeki and for his own standards, and has even only eked out a couple of the wins he did get. He’s displaying worrying form, and it would be pretty shocking to see him kadoban in the next tournament ahead of Hakuho’s return.
Chiyomaru has done well to perform in the first week with a minimum of fuss and almost the maximum of results. I expect his final record to perhaps be a little less emphatically positive, but that may depend how many Juryo opponents he ends up seeing. Chiyotairyu meanwhile has been really impressive for me, as he seems to have recovered some of the fighting spirit we haven’t seen from him in recent tournaments.
Bruce highlighted before the tournament that this banzuke’s lower rankings for Okinoumi and Tamawashi perhaps signalled good results forthcoming, so it hasn’t been much of a surprise to see them both handle their daily matchups fairly easily. At this point in their career, a huge kachi-koshi from a low rank and the resultant promotions can buy another 6-8 months in the division, so it’s significant that they are performing this well.
I’m a little surprised to see both Endo and Ichinojo at 5-2 and I suspect one of them may fall off in the second week. Both have been solid if unspectacular, although Ichinojo has brought a little more fire than we’re accustomed to seeing from him. Maegashira 5 just feels like a good rank for Onosho, and he’s responded well to being challenged if not maximally so.
Mitakeumi‘s 5 wins actually feel like a missed opportunity, as I thought he had the beating of Takayasu and I’ve been very impressed with his sumo in this tournament. It looks like it may be difficult for him to challenge for the yusho but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up being a dark horse in the final days. Speaking of Takayasu, the sekiwake continues to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and this could end up being a tournament of consolidation rather than triumph.
Finally, Shodai seems to be determined to make short work of his kadoban situation, and while the difficulty of his matches will increase markedly in week 2 – and he did mix in a pretty sloppy loss earlier in the tournament, he does at least seem focused and physically fit enough to get to 8+ wins before the final weekend.
Apart from the early loss to Mitakeumi, probably the best thing one can say about Takakeisho‘s performance is that he’s done it without much fuss. He’s been fairly dominant – although some matches have been more challenging than others – but he’s certainly meeting the expectation thus far of an Ozeki who expects to challenge for yusho and promotion.
Terunofuji has of course been untouchable thus far. While a couple opponents have lured him out of his comfort zone, the really impressive thing is that he has on occasion found a Plan B or C. Of course, most of the time he’s been able to achieve the impressive combination of emphatically dispatching his challengers in the shortest possible amount of time. Each one of those quick and dominant wins helps to increase his longevity, while also enhancing his credentials to take the next step in his career.