Just like that, we are headed into the first weekend of the 2021 Aki basho. On the whole, I think we’ve seen some at times pretty compelling stuff, even if the top division is shorn of many top rikishi. Yesterday’s sumo, with much of the top division struggling to sort their footwork, reminded me of this thing I had when I was a kid, called a slip-n-slide. Basically you would shoot a hose down the plastic track and you were supposed to be able to have a DIY waterslide in your back yard. Unfortunately, though, the thing never really worked and you ended up flying off into the patchy grass and getting all banged up. Yesterday was a lot like that.
Leaders: Terunofuji, Chiyonokuni
Chasers: Shodai (!?), Mitakeumi, Kiribayama, Onosho, Tobizaru, Myogiryu
Day 6 Fixtures
Chiyonokuni (5-0) vs. Juryo Guy Sadanoumi (4-1) – Despite all the myriad kyujo going on and guys coming back, we still can’t get an even number of top division rikishi, so Juryo’s very own Sadanoumi gets called up to make up the numbers in what may be reflected upon later as a check of his credentials in the event of a promotion/demotion edge case. Chiyonokuni has looked good so far, and is in the yusho favourite rank of Maegashira 17 so surely he’s going to win this.
Kagayaki (3-2) vs Ichiyamamoto (1-4) – This is a first time meeting, and you sometimes forget just how long future oyakata (probably) Kagayaki has been in the top division. When Ichiyamamoto came up we all talked about how he looked like Good Abi. Lately, in his injured form, he looks like Bad Abi. All sauce and no bottle. Despite Kagayaki’s strong grasp of sumo fundamentals, he does at times get distracted by chaos which, if Ichiyamamoto were in good nick, might give the Nishonoseki heyagashira more of a chance. But he’s not, so I make Kagayaki the pick.
Tokushoryu (1-4) vs Tsurugisho (2-3) – Tsurugisho got a nice win on his return from his fever. Tokushoryu has looked shorn of confidence, and not really able to execute his counter attacking style. I don’t really like this match up for either of them, and it’s a fairly even rivalry (5-7), so it’s a bit of a coin toss for me.
Yutakayama (3-2) vs Tochinoshin (1-4) – Tochinoshin has won all their previous encounters but it’s hard not to make Yutakayama the favourite on form. Tochinoshin appears to be generally in decline and has not looked especially genki after Day 1. Yutakayama has been on and off, but he has a chance to make a big statement here, and given how susceptible the former Ozeki normally is to a disruptive pushing-thrusting attack, I’d be looking for the Tokitsukaze guy to take this.
Endo (3-2) vs Chiyomaru (3-2) – On paper this is a total mismatch. Not only is Endo frankly just a much higher class rikishi but also dominates their previous matchups 6-2. I’m a little surprised he’s already at 2 losses however, and I think it’s the usual case of his losses being self-inflicted against weaker opponents. Endo at M11 should really be in the yusho race until the final weekend. Chiyomaru started well but has dropped the last two and I would go as far as to say Endo losing this might be the upset of the day, barring a kinboshi at the other end of the torikumi.
Chiyonoo (2-3) vs Kotoeko (2-3) – Blah.
Kaisei (2-3) vs Myogiryu (4-1) – Myogiryu looked alright before his slip on Day 5. It’s worth remembering for both of these veterans, a strong kachi-koshi from low down in the division actually can have the effect of extending their career by another 4-6 months or so. Myogiryu has a decent career advantage (12-7), but there are two very different sumo styles at play here, Kaisei’s steady pragmatic sumo which is all based around balance vs Myogiryu who is a bit of an animal out of the tachiai with fast movement, looking to unbalance his opponent into a push out or to set up a throw. I think Kaisei’s style has aged better but it’s harder to compete when Myogiryu is on song, which he is now, and I think he’ll take this.
Shimanoumi (3-2) vs Chiyotairyu (2-3) – It’s hard to believe Chiyotairyu has been in the top division almost 10 years, and he just keeps on doing his brand of big tachiai oshizumo. Shimanoumi is turning into one of those guys who’s always kinda just there, having not ever really looked in danger since arriving a couple years ago. As with almost all Chiyotairyu battles this will be won and lost at the tachiai, and the steadier Shimanoumi might just about be the favourite.
Hidenoumi (2-3) vs Terutsuyoshi (2-3) – The workmanlike Hidenoumi has a pretty even record against excitement machine Terutsuyoshi, who has clearly looked genki, potentially motivated by the results of his newly minted Yokozuna stablemate. The challenge for Terutsuyoshi is going to be to continue moving and not to allow a belt grip, because if he does he’s likely to be walked out by the much larger and steadier opponent.
Ura (2-3) vs Aoiyama (2-3) – It feels like everyone is 2-3. Ura finally gave us the exciting victory we all have wanted from him yesterday, although the identity of the opponent was equally surprising. A comedy win here might be less surprising, and with the two having only met once (victory to the Bulgarian), there is certainly potential for trickery from Ura. Aoiyama started this basho quite poorly, and has the ability to blow Ura away with his pushing attack, but the longer this goes the better the potential is for a fun victory for the Kansai native.
Tobizaru (4-1) vs Onosho (4-1) – The winner of this is going to be firmly in the yusho race going into the middle weekend and that’s somewhat astonishing. Tobizaru has looked good, he’s someone who clearly adores the limelight of coming up against big opponents, but his style of chaos is a little bit more effective when he can blend it with fundamentals against middle of the pack opponents. Onosho in terms of ability will be the favourite here as he has been able to consistently execute the strong pushing-thrusting sumo which brought him to the attention of the sumo world to begin with, but this is certainly a potential banana peel (pun intended) for a rikishi who has a history of overcommitting from the tachiai and ending up flat on his face.
Okinoumi (3-2) vs Takarafuji (3-2) – It’s the 26th meeting of these veterans, with the Isegahama man having grabbed 15 wins to date. It’s nice to see two top division stalwarts this far into the second half of the day’s action, albeit mostly because of the withdrawals above them. If you’re a fan of belt sumo this is going to be a match for you. Okinoumi is going to want to try hard to establish his grip from the start and move forward, because the longer this goes, the more likely it will fall in favour of Takarafuji, who seems to have rediscovered his ability to defend, extend and counter attack.
Chiyoshoma (0-5) vs Takanosho (2-3) – This is probably exactly the match that Takanosho needs, coming the day after a vital fusen-sho having looked pretty banged up earlier in the week. Chiyoshoma, the only un-feated makuuchi man – has had a pretty hapless start to life this basho, and Takanosho will desperately want to win this to relaunch his campaign for san’yaku repromotion. Watch out for a henka.
Takayasu (1-4) vs Ichinojo (2-3) – It’s the Komusubi showdown! Takayasu’s fusen-sho has kept him from joining Chiyoshoma at the bottom of the scoresheet, and hopefully he used the day off to reset. Ichinojo has been classic Ichinojo, looking astonishingly up for it some days and not bothered on others. Takayasu leads this rivalry 7-6, a good enough sample size to indicate that despite Takayasu’s overall higher pedigree, Ichinojo’s record of turning up against the big names holds true in these matches. The only thing that gives me pause is Ichinojo’s most comprehensive victories are still largely coming via pull down, and I think it’s hard to plan for that against someone like Takayasu who can hang in matches for a while. This could be another 3 minute bout.
Mitakeumi (4-1) vs Kotonowaka (2-3) – This is the type of basho where Mitakeumi should absolutely be in the championship race, and the flat track bully has not massively disappointed so far. Kotonowaka got cannoned out of the dohyo yesterday against Takakeisho, so it will be intriguing to see how that affects him mentally. This is a first time matchup which may tell us a lot about the future of both rikishi. I think Kotonowaka’s best strategy here is to try and get into a belt battle, where he is very skilled. While Mitakeumi also has developed into an accomplished yotsu-zumo rikishi, he can be walked out by larger men when put in a weak position and doesn’t always have the ability to counterattack from those grips as he does in a pushing and thrusting matchup.
Daieisho (3-2) vs Meisei (2-3) – We projected in our podcasts before the basho that Meisei would struggle to stay at Sekiwake, and that looks to be the case. There’s no lack of effort from the Tatsunami man, but he’s had a tough start to life at his new career high, which will get tougher here against an opponent who will no doubt have been shocked by the manner of his own loss on Day 5 to Ura. Daieisho is actually at his lowest rank for almost 3 years and has a commanding 6-2 advantage in this matchup, and is motivated to get back into san’yaku. Meisei, who came up as a pusher-thruster but has developed his belt skills nicely, will want this match on the mawashi to have a better chance of avoiding an upset.
Shodai (4-1) vs Kiribayama (4-1) – It seems I raise some eyebrows every time I say that actually Kiribayama’s sumo isn’t actually that different to Hoshoryu’s, but he’s not as lauded as his compatriot because he seems to be a jovial fellow who likes coffee and doesn’t go around scowling at shimpan and refusing to bow when he loses to higher ranked opponents. But anyway, he’s extremely good value for his 4-1 and has got himself into some serious battles of endurance in the past few days. However, he has never beaten Shodai, who started this tournament in awful form but somehow finds himself a win off the pace. The most shocking thing is that he actually had some kind of tachiai on Day 5 against Wakatakakage, which will have given Kiribayama something to think about. The ozeki is the undoubted favourite here, but Kiribayama has an outstanding chance to seal a san’yaku debut in the next tournament and this could be a crucial match towards that goal. If these two go chest to chest, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a leg trip or leg sweep attempt from the Mongolian, which could result in any number of outcomes either in or out of his favour.
Tamawashi (2-3) vs Takakeisho (2-3) – Tamawashi is probably getting this match at the wrong time, with Takakeisho having apparently willed himself back into form. Takakeisho leads the rivalry, and owing to the gap in stature between the two, is not really the right type of opponent for Tamawashi’s signature nodowa. At this point we basically know what we’re going to get from Tamawashi, so it’s all about the condition in which Takakeisho brings himself onto the dohyo.
Wakatakakage (3-2) vs Terunofuji (5-0) – There wasn’t a whole lot to learn from Wakatakakage’s latest loss, as the whole world would have been shocked that Shodai launched as forcefully as he did out of the tachiai. That won’t make Wakatakakage any more wary than he already would have been against the top dog. There hasn’t been anything to criticise in Terunofuji’s sumo since his Yokozuna promotion, and the weight of the rank doesn’t seem to be affecting him at all. He hasn’t lost on the dohyo to Wakatakakage since they met in Juryo, and the Yokozuna will go into the match the overwhelming favourite. As he should.