Welcome to Tachiai’s coverage of the Haru basho, it’s been a nice break since January, and we have had a lot happen in the sumo world. We have a shin-Ozeki in Mitakeumi going up against the two current Ozeki, both of whom are kadoban and must reach 8 wins to retain their rank. This would be dramatic enough, but a streak of COVID Omicron ripped through multiple heya following retirement ceremonies for some of sumo’s beloved veterans. Reports from Tokyo indicate the Ozeki Shodai continues to suffer lingering effects from his bout with Omicron, which is sadly not uncommon. Then this morning comes word, just hours before the start of the tournament, that Onoe heya is going to be COVID kyujo for this basho, as several rikishi have displayed symptoms and tested positive. With luck, this will be the end of the kyujo announcements for this tournament.
On the positive side, we have Kotokuzan’s top division debut at Maegashira 16w. A long serving Makushita mainstay, he found a big bucket of genki somewhere, and blasted his way through Juryo in just 2 basho with back to back 11-4 and 10-5 scores. Also locking in career highs: Wakamotoharu at Maegashira 9w, Ura at Maegashira 1w, Hoshoryu debuts in san’yaku at Komusubi east, Wakatakakage reaches Sekiwake east, with Abi blasting back into san’yaku at Sekiwake west. A fierce squad to battle two kadoban Ozeki, one of which is suffering with long COVID. This could be a barn-burner of a basho, and we are eager to get underway.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Kagayaki vs Ichiyamamoto – Kagayaki is back in the top division. The man who seems to have infinite banzuke luck managed an 8-7 from Juryo 1e, and finds himself on the bottom run of the banzuke. Long time readers will remember I have been a fan of his non-nonsense, fundamentals focused sumo. But he has been completely moribund for the last 18 months or so. I hope he can get it together this tournament. Ichiyamamoto is the absolute last name on the banzuke this March, after turning in a 5-10 at Hatsu from Maegashira 14w.
Nishikigi vs Kotokuzan – A long-serving top division regular, Nishikigi has been knocking around Juryo since 2020. At 31 years old, he is likely starting to feel the effects of 15 or so years in sumo. I am happy to see him return to the top division for at least one more run. Today he has shin-makku Kotokuzan, who has finally broken in to the upper ranks.
Akua vs Tochinoshin – Its a grizzled veteran match though they have only met twice. Both of them are in their 30s, and working hard to still compete in spite of compounding injuries. Given how hurt Tochinoshin looked at the start of Hatsu in January, I am impressed he was able to rally to a 7-8 score. But unless some miracle happens to his knee, he is on the slow path out of the top division.
Yutakayama vs Chiyonokuni – Also in the “scratch and dent” group, its Grumpy Badge Chiyonokuni. With a 4-11 score in January, he could have seen a much bigger drop down the banzuke, and will have to regroup from Maegashira 13, and work from there. Yutakayama displayed exceptional banzuke luck, dropping a single rank in on a 6-9 final score. This was after dropping a half rank from November to January on a 7-8 result. He is also struggling with injury, and unless he was able to heal up, it’s going to be tough for him this March.
Chiyomaru vs Kotoshoho – Kotoshoho had reached as high as Maegashira 3 before injury left him with a string of abysmal scores, and a return to Juryo. He may have gotten his sumo back together, as he blasts his way back into the top division after a 12-3 Juryo yusho in January. He won his only prior match against the bulbous Chiyomaru, so I hope to see some fierce action from these two today.
Kotoeko vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu has not had a winning record since last May, and I fear he has become injured enough that he can no longer really fight with much power. As he was strictly a forward power rikishi, this spells a slow and dwindling future for sumo’s thunder-god. Kotoeko has been having alternating good / bad tournaments, and after a 8-7 finish in January, we may be in store for another dud.
Myogiryu vs Terutsuyoshi – Myogiryu as clearly fighting hurt in January, but his last two tournaments have been 2-13 and 5-10, so this guy is a mess. I think that if he is still struggling with his injuries, Terutsuyoshi is going to spank him in short order.
Shimanoumi vs Aoiyama – Also in the “not quite genki” category, we have Aoiyama. When Aoiyama is healthy and dialed into his sumo, he can thump the stuffing out of just about anyone except the named ranks. But we have not seen “Big Dan” really deliver since a year ago when he took the Jun-Yusho with a sterling 11-4 record. Maybe he likes the food in Osaka? If so, I would love to see a genki Aoiyama start day one improving his 2-4 record against Shimanoumi.
Tobizaru vs Wakamotoharu – Oh thank you for this wonderful day 1 match, scheduling team. I think this may be my most anticipated for the first half. Tobizaru has had five straight make-koshi, and seems to be somehow Velcro’d into the Maegashira 8 rank. How that works of why is for the NSK to figure out, but I am sure the answer is “tradition”. Someone faxed over a request that was notarized, which was faxed over to minister for debate, and was faxed back to the heya for authorization, and finally faxed back to the Kokugikan. This is the way in Japan. Regardless of the slow motion paperwork, Tobizaru has a 5-1 career advantage over Wakamotoharu, and I think a flying monkey win would be a great way to start Haru.
Chiyoshoma vs Sadanoumi – Fans have a durable image of Chiyoshoma as a slipper henka salesman, and there is reason to hold that view. But his sumo of late has been focused, refined and genuinely enjoyable. As Kokenoe’s heyagashira, he’s the top guy in that triple-wide stable, and he’s in need of a bounce back after an 4-11 record in January. There was a cluster of terrible records that only received mild demotions, but as the saying goes: “I don’t need to out run that bear, I just need to out run you”.
Takayasu vs Okinoumi – The start of the second half features Takayasu, who was COVID-Kyujo last time up against veteran Okinoumi. Did the break help him or degrade him? Time to find out. He has a 15-5 advantage over Okinoumi. Takayasu has suffered a host of injuries in the last 3 years that really degraded his sumo, and it would be great to see him back in top fighting form once more. Dare we hope?
Hokutofuji vs Kotonowaka – Maegashira 6 is a good rank for Hokutofuji at this point. He seems to struggle quite a bit any place further up the banzuke, and I would love to see at least a kachi-koshi from him this March. Last time Kotonowaka was this far up the ranks, he was sent packing with a brutal 3-12, so I am hoping to see if he has gotten his sumo in better shape this time. Hokutofuji won their only prior match.
Takarafuji vs Ishiura – What he heck is Ishiura doing all the way up here? I could say “go home” or “about time!”. I think I will chose the second one. I would love to see him really fight well at this rank, and his first match is going to be a solid test. He has only defeated Takarafuji once in 4 attempts, and that was back in May of 2017.
Kiribayama vs Endo – Which version of Endo do we get in Osaka? Endo has not had a kachi-koshi in Haru since 2018, and I worry we are going to get another “going through the motions” basho out of this guy. Kiribayama has only beaten him once, so maybe Endo can start with a win.
Takanosho vs Meisei – Takanosho ia a solid san’yaku rikishi, and I expect he will prove a tough opponent for Meisei today. While Meisei has a 7-4 career advantage, I think Takanosho will have an advantage of better overall health and energy. We know that both of them are going to be laying the tsuki/oshi moves in hard and fast, so there could be some nice action in this bout.
Onosho vs Abi – Oh goodie, sumo’s #1 balance disrupting force in the form of Abi against one of the least well balanced rikishi in the top division in Onosho. You would think this would be one sided, but they are even at 5-5. The trick is if Onosho connects, he can focus so much power in a single thrust, it is sometimes enough to blast Abi off of his tippy-toes and into the fans. Who is going to connect with power today? I can’t wait to find out…
Wakatakakage vs Tamawashi – Wakatakakage at Sekiwake 1e, I do love that he has managed to advance this far. His opening day match is against powerhouse vet Tamawashi, who has yet to find a formula for beating Wakatakakage. I pin this advantage on Wakatakakage’s superior agility and his hit-and-move sumo combos.
Ichinojo vs Mitakeumi – The shin-Ozeki gets to fight the Boulder straight out on the first day. A pattern with Ichinojo, he tends to show up big and strong in the first week, and fade into week 2 some times. A genki Ichinojo will be quite the handful for Mitakeumi, and I hope we get a big ugly struggle. Sometimes, being enormous is a valid sumo strategy.
Ura vs Takakeisho – Takakeisho has a lot of tough work accomplish this March. If he is healthy, he should be able to make his 8. He may start healthy, but I wonder if he can remain healthy through all 15 days. First match is Ura, who is going to employ his grab and tug approach straight from the tachiai. As Takakeisho tends to open with power thrusts to the upper body, it’s a great opportunity for Ura to latch on and attack. The last match went to Ura on Hatsu day 3, before Takakeisho pulled out.
Shodai vs Daieisho – Shodai gets a tough match on his first day. Even when he is healthy he struggles with Daieisho’s mega-thrust sumo. But given his stamina and energy depletion form his battle with COVID, this could be an ugly match that begins an ugly first week for the kadoban Ozeki. I know I complain about Shodai on the blog, but I would like nothing better than to see him excel.
Terunofuji vs Hoshoryu – Hoshoryu is 0-5 against Terunofuji. I don’t think that will change today. Terunofuji also fought off COVID during the break, and I hope he is in fighting form this March.