I know I am eager for today’s first matches of Hatsu. I am expecting some fireworks today, in part fueled by the inevitable ring rust accumulated by many of our favorites over the year-end break that many folks took in 2021. In most tournaments, there is a lot of understandable attention at the top rank matches on any given day. But to my eye, the real hell-storm could be in mid-Maegashira this time out. We have Onosho, Hokutofuji, Chiyonokuni, Hoshoryu, Abi and Chiyoshoma all boxed up right underneath the joi-jin, and I think they are going to be producing some of the better matches this January.
As Tachiai ace analyst Josh has pointed out, the whole banzuke is quite flat these days; the difference in skill and power between a Maegashira 10 and a Maegashira 1 is not quite what it has been in even the recent past. This has made for topsy turvy tournaments where anyone might be able to compete for the cup. We have seen some fresh faces take the yusho in recent January tournaments, including Daieisho last year, and dear old Tokushoryu the year before that.
Given the assumed health and power of Yokozuna Terunofuji, any “dark horse” yusho may be a tall order this time, but it’s going to be a fun 15 days watching to see who emerges to give it a try.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Oho vs Kaisei – You may be saying to yourself, “What’s an Oho?” You may mistake his shikona for a brand name of a mass produced pastry, which would make this battle with Kaisei rather one sided. But know now that Oho is the re-labled Naya, who at one time was a fierce rival of Hoshoryu in Makushita. Hoshoryu took the fast path, Naya the slower route, but he got here in his own good time. He’s the grandson of sumo legend 48th yokozuna Taihō. I am hoping we can see a traditional debut “hot run” out of him this January. It all starts with man-mountain Kaisei, so a fun start to the top division.
Aoiyama vs Kotoeko – Big Dan!? What area you doing down here near the bottom edge of the banzuke? I can already tell you this is going to be a tough match, for all the wrong reasons. Kotoeko has been sliding into the abyss for a couple of years now, and maybe he can pull out a kachi-koshi this far down the roster. Aoiyama, is he hurt? If so, this will be ugly.
Tsurugisho vs Tochinoshin – Tsurugisho has been struggling since he was injured on day 4 on that odd Osaka March 2020 basho. Sure, he picked up a 12-3 Juryo yusho on the way back up but he’s really not been able to produce dominant offense since that hot streak. He’s up against fading former Ozeki Tochinoshin, whose body is just about done with this sport.
Wakamotoharu vs Ichiyamamoto – The second Onami brother to break into the top division, Wakamotoharu makes his debut against oshi-man Ichiyamamoto today. They have met 6 times before in the lower ranks, and Wakamotoharu has a clear 4-2 advantage against him. Welcome to the big leagues sir!
Chiyomaru vs Kotonowaka – Kotonowaka: lots of potential, but can’t seem to survive above Maegashira 11. Currently ranked at M14, he should have an even chance to make his 8 this January. Today’s match will come down to Chiyomaru’s health and level of ring-rust. If he comes in sharp, its going to be Shonichi for the round one.
Yutakayama vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu is another Kokonoe man with hot / cold streaks. In November he was 6-9, and looked injured to me. If he’s been able to overcome that, he’s a solid match for Yutakayama. Yutakayama will need to hold strong for the first 10 seconds to have a shot at a win, as that’s about how long it takes Chiyotairyu to expend his offensive energy.
Ishiura vs Terutsuyoshi – A fine match with a pair of smaller rikishi that use high mobility sumo going head to head. They have an even 6-6 record, and both of them were 7-8 make-koshi in November. Odd factoid, they both had the exact same rank in November.
Sadanoumi vs Akua – After a string of solid kachi-koshi tournaments, has Akua finally snapped into some serious mid-tier sumo? This is his highest ever rank, and I think he has potential if he can keep himself focused. He has a solid 4-1 record against speed fighter Sadanoumi, so this match might be a fun watch today.
Myogiryu vs Shimanoumi – Both of these guys had double digit losses in November, with Myogiryu turning in a blistering 2-13 result. Where do they go now? I guess that is what this match is intended to show up. Given what happened in Kyushu, I am just hoping neither one of them spontaneously has an arm fall off.
Chiyonokuni vs Tobizaru – Ok, with that dumpster fire match behind us, on to the much anticipated hell-storm. What else are you going to call grump badger Chiyonokuni battling it out against sumo’s own flying monkey? Both are masters of hit-and-shift sumo, so I am calling for high mobility, with blows delivered to the face, neck and upper body multiple times per second. Tobizaru has never won a match against Chiyonokuni, but given the chances of ring-rust, Tobizaru may never have a better opportunity.
Takarafuji vs Abi – One of the things I adore about this match is that Takarafuji has a proven record of shutting down Abi-zumo and putting him on ice. Can the master of defend and extend do it today? I know Abi is burning hard to return to the named ranks, and I delight that men like Takarafuji get to test him on his journey.
Hoshoryu vs Chiyoshoma – Oh yeah, open another bottle of sake for this one, it’s just going to get better from here. People love(d) to hate Chiyoshoma given his somewhat crummy sumo of the past. But I adore his new style, and I am seriously rooting for him to take it further. All of that means squat to Hoshoryu who we will probably see become more comfortable with his increased mass during this basho. Oh man, this could be a fast and fiery contest.
Onosho vs Hokutofuji – Why take your foot off the throttle when you are already rolling along like this? Both of these guys are fast, potent and tend toward streaky sumo. I just hope both of them are in the “Good” mode for today’s match. Both of them like to grab their opponent’s neck and push forward with gusto. Which will bear out today, Onosho’s mega-thrust or Hokutofuji’s handshake tachiai?
Okinoumi vs Endo – Veterans with a 21 match history with the score 11-10 favoring Endo. Both of them seem quite content to stay around this rank on the banzuke, so I am looking for both of them to hit 8-7 kachi-koshi this month. For the match, its likely Endo on attack, Okinoumi on reactive defense. May be some nice technique in this one, so be ready for the slow motion replays to soak up all the juicy sumo skill.
Meisei vs Tamawashi – At an incredible 37 years old, you might expect Tamawashi to be slowing down. True, he’s not holding down a Sekiwake slot anymore, but he’s still a major competitor, and I am going to suggest he will give Komusubi Meisei quite a fight today.
Ichinojo vs Takanosho – Its the bi-monthly moment when sumo fans ponder which version of Ichinojo will mount the dohyo. We all want it to be the hulking monster that can toss ponies. We all fear it’s the cuddly-wuddly ice cream eater. We know that Takanosho will be working to get Ichinojo moving backward, which tends to make him “go soft” early.
Mitakeumi vs Ura – I know lots of sumo fans are really eager to see this one. We have Mitakeumi looking to head for double digits again, and we have a resurgent Ura at his highest ever rank. How will a big round rikishi like Mitakeumi defend against Ura’s grab and tug sumo? Being nature’s perfect shape to begin with, the physics of spheres must be foremost in Mitakeumi’s mind. Should Ura get him rolling, he could go quite some distance before anyone can intervene. Mitakeumi won their only prior match 5 years ago in 2017.
Kiribayama vs Shodai – Shodai, you puss-bucket, I want you genki this January. I want to see double-digit wins. I want to see that “wall of daikon” every single stinking day. Don’t mess around with artful sumo, just deploy that big, pasty body like the blade of a earth mover and flubber everyone right off the dohyo.
Takakeisho vs Wakatakakage – After finishing Kyushu with 12-3, I am looking for Takakeisho to challenge in week 2 for the cup this time. I don’t know if he is ever going to get a formula together for defeating Terunofuji, but I think dai-Ozeki is a great role for him right now. His day 1 opponent is Wakatakakage, who has only managed to beat Takakeisho once in 5 attempts, where he succeeded in grabbing hold of Takakeisho and giving him a yorikiri loss.
Terunofuji vs Daieisho – Looking forward to Daieisho putting forward a lot of power, a lot of motion, and giving Terunofuji a right proper match. But my money is on the Yokozuna holding firm, capturing the Komusubi about 15 seconds in, and just grinding him to dust.