After a slightly longer than normal break to squeeze in the Olympics, its sumo time once more, as they kick off the Aki basho in Tokyo. With “The Boss” sidelined due to COVID Kyujo, it’s Terunofuji as the man on top, and we will get to see his first honbasho dohyo-iri. This also eases his path to being able to achieve a nice goal – winning his first tournament as a Yokozuna, something that Kisenosato was able to do, though it cost him the ability to perform Yokozuna class sumo ever again.
As always the schedulers are off to a brisk start, and we will see both surviving Ozeki get a brisk first match. Takakeisho will be the one to watch, as he needs 8 wins this September to clear kadoban, and retain his Ozeki rank. If he is healthy, it’s not going to be too tough for him to do. Shodai draws Hoshoryu for his first match, and may have a real risk of opening the fall tournament with a loss.
But we can expect everyone to have copious amounts of ring rust, and we can see plenty of “not quite right” sumo on days 1 and 2. Lets hope that we can get some sharp action this month, with plenty of good competition.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Chiyonokuni vs Mitoryu – As mentioned in our Aki podcast, there are a number of sumo fans who think Mitoryu was robbed, by not making it to the top division after his 12-3 yusho in Nagoya. Truth be told he has been puttering around Juryo since 2018, and maybe the banzuke crew were not sure his win in July was a new chapter in his sumo career, or just a hot streak. Today he can work on proving them wrong against Chiyonokuni. The “Grumpy Badger” has been struggling since last year’s 10-5 Kanto-sho return to the top division after extended kyujo. Sadly, I worry his body can no longer support sumo at the intensity of the top division.
Chiyomaru vs Tokushoryu – A battle of big bellies, we know that Chiyomaru will be slapping Tokushoryu’s chest with reckless abandon. Tokushoryu tends to have a bit more stamina, so his plan will likely be to absorb Chiyomaru for a short time until the spheroid is forced to dial back the power, and respond with a pull / thrust down. Their 9-5 career record favors Chiyomaru.
Ichiyamamoto vs Chiyonoo – Ichiyamamoto finished Nagoya on a 1-5 cold streak to just eek out a kachi-koshi. Hopefully he has gotten his body and his sumo sorted out, and is ready to compete this September. He starts against Chiyonoo, and has won both of their prior matches.
Kaisei vs Yutakayama – I am very excited to see Yutakayama back in the top division. He has been Shodai’s long time sparring partner, and frankly I think his sumo mechanics are solid. What has kept him further down the banzuke has been a string of injuries, that frankly, greatly attenuated what looked like a promising career from his early days in 2017. He has a narrow 4-3 career advantage over Kaisei, who tends to show up with a heavy does of ring rust.
Kagayaki vs Tsurugisho – I have no clue why Kagayaki has faded from his normal rank in the middle of Makuuchi, to the lower third of the banzuke. As we discussed in our Aki podcast, its not like the rest of the field has elevated their sumo. He has a 3-1 career lead over Tsurugisho, and maybe we can see Kagayaki turn in a strong record, he is long over due.
Tochinoshin vs Kotoeko – Kotoeko went 2-13 in Nagoya, and is at a 60kg size disadvantage to Tochinoshin. I predict that the big former Ozeki can lift him with one hand, if he can get his feet set and find a grip.
Endo vs Myogiryu – Endo could only find one win in Nagoya before going kyujo on day 4. If he is healthy he should dominate this far down the banzuke, but he’s up against another high performer slumming it in the bottom third, Myogiryu. The two are fairly evenly matched, so it should come down to who has more ring rust, and who has more injuries still hampering their sumo.
Chiyotairyu vs Hidenoumi – Chiyotairyu turned in a dismal 4-11 performance in Nagoya, and I am sure would rather put the whole matter behind him. He has an even 5-5 record against Hidenoumi that goes back to 2015when they were both in Juryo. There is no clear pattern to who wins by which kimarite, and both of these guys tend to open strong and throw everything the can into the first few moments of the fight.
Aoiyama vs Tobizaru – At 35 years old, big Dan Aoiyama might be expected to fade out, and maybe he is starting to. But he shows up every day and tries to pound the stuffing out of every opponent. Tobizaru is going to bring speed and agility to the match, and will need to make sure that Aoiyama does not get him into the sweet spot for a blistering slapping attack.
Okinoumi vs Terutsuyoshi – Also in the “I’m getting too old for this kind of thing” group is dear Okinoumi at 36. He has a 2-1 career advantage over Terutsuyoshi, and expect Terutsuyoshi to come in a bit more tuned up than Okinoumi today, who frequently takes a day or two to get his sumo dialed in.
Shimanoumi vs Onosho – Onosho has turned in three straight make-koshi tournaments, drifting from Maegashira 1 down to Maegashira 6. His balance has been all over the place, his timing has been terrible, and he’s a parody of his genki self. I do hope that we see the “good” version on Onosho this September. But if the unbalanced mess version shows up, he won’t be more than a warm up for Shimanoumi.
Ura vs Takarafuji – The last time we saw these two fight, in July, we got a lovely tottari from Ura as a delightful gift. Ura can and will uncork the unexpected, and that is likely to confound Takarafuji’s highly structured sumo. Can the “defend and extend” gambit work against Ura? I am keen to find out.
Chiyoshoma vs Daieisho – What the… Chiyoshoma at M5? Its true that he has been doing serious sumo for the last year or so, having shelved his shenanigans for the most part. He has a 6-4 career advantage over Daieisho, who is also a surprised ranked at M4, thanks to two deep make-koshi so far this year following his yusho in January.
Tamawashi vs Kotonowaka – Kotonowaka is at his highest rank ever by a fair measure, and its time to find out if he has the sumo skills to compete at the top end of the lead division. His day 1 opponent in Tamawashi at 36 years is right there in the “How much longer will he keep this up?” league. But although Tamawashi’s sumo is a shade less intense than it was 3 years ago, his technique has not faded in the least. Tamawashi is at his highest rank since last year, and I am curious to see if he will do better than his terrible 5-10 from Maegashira 2 a year ago.
Takayasu vs Wakatakakage – Takayasu really struggles against Wakatakakage, who holds a 4-2 career lead over the former Ozeki. When he wins, Wakatakakage tends to take advantage over Takayasu’s natural tendency to un-center his weight left to right, which opens the door for an opponent with a strong lateral attack skill. Takayasu’s best match plan will be to keep his feet heavy and quiet, and grind Wakatakakage down. Now he used this approach in July, and the result was an endurance match for the highlight reels. Could be one of the better matches of day 1.
Kiribayama vs Meisei – As folks hear from the podcast, there is a lot of fan interest in Meisei at Sekiwake, fighting at his highest ever rank. He’s sort of crept up on the rank, turning in a pair of 8-7 kachi-koshi scores, but showing consistent sumo all the way along. He has never lost to Kiribayama, so I am interested to see if he can make it 4-0 today.
Mitakeumi vs Takanosho – Sumo fans on twitter seem to have a widely held belief that Mitakeumi is going to have a strong tournament. This is shared by site creator Andy, who picked Mitakeumi as his favorite for the cup this September. Will the spirit of “Wacky Aki” propel the original Tadpole this September? He’s got to overcome the human onigiri, Takanosho on day one, and he has a 3-5 career deficit against the Tokiwayama man.
Hokutofuji vs Takakeisho – Rather than start out slow, it seems the schedulers decided to put some amperage into the first day, and sumo fans are grateful! These two have a 20 match career history going back to Makushita fights in 2016. Takakeisho hods a distinct 12-8 career advantage, but had to withdraw from the July tournament due to injury. If Takakeisho can get his thrusting attack going early, he can defeat Hokutofuji’s upper body, but getting that lower body down or out will be the real test.
Shodai vs Hoshoryu – Shodai has yet to beat Hoshoryu (0-2), and it would be perfectly keeping in the Shodai tradition for him to show up rusty, hung over and completely fluff this match against a young man who seems more intense and more focused with each passing tournament. Dare we hope for another pride obliterating Hoshoryu backward leg trip to put the Ozeki on the clay?
Ichinojo vs Terunofuji – Welcome to sumo’s highest rank, Terunofuji! We thought you might warm up with a game of pony-toss. Truth be told, Ichinojo does tend to pre-lose big matches. This one will give him ample opportunity to think himself out of a win. Good luck sir, as I suspect the shin-Yokozuna wants to punctuate his first basho with a rope by reclaiming the cup.