I am exceptionally jazzed for the start of this tournament. We have a few headline names out at the start, both Ichinojo who is COVID-kyujo, and Ishiura who is nursing an injury. I have to wonder if it’s still the neck / spine problem from March. With the exception of those two unfortunates, it’s full power up and down the banzuke, and I am looking forward to some good fights on day 1. Yes, expect ring rust, and some fights that don’t live up to their potential. But we have some great story lines to follow, and we have the long and challenging road to the cup 15 days from now.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Kotokuzan vs Kagayaki – I have to state, I am somewhat agitated that Kagayaki is still in the top division. I grow weary of his “banzuke luck” that has kept him in the top division. He has had 8 make-koshi across the last 9 tournaments, and he is not fighting with power, style or purpose at the moment. I would say that I hope Kotokuzan shows him door, but he has not exactly been genki either.
Midorifuji vs Ichiyamamoto – First time match up between Osaka’s last man on the banzuke (Ichiyamamoto) and top division returnee Midorifuji. Midorifuji had a solid start on his first tour of Makuuchi, but an injury a year ago had him 0-15 from M15, and it was back to Juryo for him. He has battled his way back, including a blistering 12-3 in Osaka to return at M16W.
Azumaryu vs Yutakayama – Thirty Four year old Azumaryu brawled his way back into the top division after being absent for 2 years. He has never had a top division kachi-koshi, but I have hopes he might just do it this time. He’s not without skill or power, so the problem is likely focus and stamina needed to compete at this level. Yutakayama, his opponent, has not had a kachi-koshi since Aki 2021, and could really use a few wins before his Kagayaki-class banzuke luck runs out.
Oho vs Meisei – Oho, the rikishi formerly known as Naya, has the distinction of holding the rare rank of Maegashira 18 in January. He could not hold, and walked away wit a 7-8 record after a dismal 0-5 finish in act three. He was able to bounce back and went 10-5 from Juryo 1 East, and appears to actually be ready this time. I see that he drew Meisei for day 1. Yes, 1-14 in Osaka Meisei. I hope Meisei healthy, I hope he’s ready, because if he has been able to overcome whatever injury was causing him trouble, he’s going to do a lot of damage that far down the banzuke. This is their first ever match.
Chiyotairyu vs Sadanoumi – Chiyotairyu has not been ranked this low since 2017, and I am concerned it may portend his near term exit from the top divisions. He has not had a kachi-koshi since Natsu of 2021, and could really use a strong winning score. But at 33 years of age, the cumulative damage to his body may have limited his sumo to the point where he is not an effective competitor in the top division. He has a 7-9 career deficit against Sadanoumi, who needs to bounce back from his 5-10 result in Osaka.
Myogiryu vs Chiyoshoma – Three of the last four basho have seen Chiyoshoma turn in double digit losses, with a single 8-7 sandwiched in there. Again, it’s a signpost on just how jumbled up the ranking has been in the past year that he’s still loitering around in the top division. The situation is not much better for Myogiryu, who had a nice Jun-yusho in Aki 2021, but has been turning in terrible scores since then. Both of these guys are due for a good tournament.
Aoiyama vs Nishikigi – As if we have some sort of theme going, Aoiyama has been make-koshi in 5 of his last 6 tournaments, a couple of them being 4-11 mega-duds. His age may be limiting his sumo now, so maybe he’s on a slow fade out. I contrast that with Nishikigi, who has had been kachi-koshi in 5 of his last 6 tournaments, and seems to just methodically keep plugging away.
Okinoumi vs Tochinoshin – Battle of the grizzled veterans here, with both of them trying to continue to bring good sumo to the clay each day in spite of performance limiting injuries. Tochinoshin has an 11-8 career lead, and if his knee is in ok shape, he’s my favorite to win this one. But it all comes down to his knee.
Kotoshoho vs Terutsuyoshi – Kotoshoho is, in my opinion, destined to be a “big deal”. I like that he had a strong finish in Osaka, and is now 5 ranks higher. His opponent today, Terutsuyoshi, has been struggling with make-koshi grade sumo quite a bit, and has been M11W for the prior 3 tournaments. I am not sure where his bold and energetic sumo is hiding, but I hope he can bring it back to the dohyo soon.
Shimanoumi vs Kotoeko – Andy expressed quite a bit of hope for Kotoeko this basho, and he gets a solid chance today to start with a win, given his 12-3 career record over struggling Shimanoumi. Maegashira 9 or 10 seems to be his permanent spot now, as he seems to just hang around this rank and trade 8-7 or 7-8 scores.
Takarafuji vs Wakamotoharu – First ever match between these two, and it will be fun to watch. Wakamotoharu has been taking his time climbing the banzuke, and he is now at Maegashira 6 – he’s going to face some big names, and going to be exposed to new forms of sumo. Given Wakamotoharu’s sumo preferences, I am keen to see what he can do against the toughest defense in the top division.
Ura vs Tobizaru – Ura was really out of his element in March, and it was tough (as a fan) to watch. I hope this May marks a bounce back for him, and a day 1 match against the other great WTF rikishi in the form of Tobizaru seems a natural match. Tobizaru has a 2-1 career lead, and I would love to see Ura latch on to some stray Tobizaru extremity and tug him around the dohyo.
Onosho vs Takanosho – A no-sho battle that should be anything other than slo-mo, as both of these guys pack a lot of go-go. Takanosho holds a 7-4 career record, but that just underscores Onosho’s tendency to be on hot or cold streaks across the duration of a basho. He tends to go for 10 or so wins from this rank, so I expect a lot of mega-thrust from the junior tadpole today.
Hoshoryu vs Endo – Both of these guys put on a great fight when the time comes, and I am glad they are having them fight day one rather than day 12 or 13. Get them both warmed up, and maybe both of them can find 8 wins before the end of next week. They have a 2-2 career average, and can defeat anyone on any given day when the spirit moves them.
Tamawashi vs Abi – Each basho I get surprised that Abi-zumo continues to work. Not just work, the man turned in matching 12-3 records in November and January, and rocketed back to the a Sekiwake rank in short order. He has a 5-2 advantage over grizzled veteran Tamawashi, who really needs a big opening combo to keep Abi off of “his brand of sumo” to take a day 1 win.
Wakatakakage vs Hokutofuji – Wakatakakage is on a promotion path, with a need to rack up double digit wins this May to press the case that he should move to the rank of Ozeki this year. He has shown he knows how to win against Hokutofuji, but he needs to be exact on his balance and foot placement against the man with the “Strongest make-koshi in all of sumo”.
Kotonowaka vs Takakeisho – I do love Kotonowaka, and I look forward to his rivalries with Wakatakakage and Kiribayama, but he’s going up against the Grand Tadpole today. Takakeisho is a bit question mark, is he healthy? Is he going to hit his 8 and back off? Or is it time for him to really juice it up and dominate some sumo? He has taken both prior matches against Kotonowaka.
Kiribayama vs Shodai – I hate the fact that we need to handicap “which version of Shodai” will show up today. The Genki version has a 7-0 record against Kiribayama, where as the booger picker is closer to 0-1. Get it together man!
Mitakeumi vs Takayasu – Takayasu has a 20-8 career advantage over Mitakeumi, but Mitakeumi has won 2 of the last 3 against the former Ozeki and Kisenosato protege. A Mitakeumi win today would give him a big boost in working toward double digit wins next week, and possibly be in contention for the cup for his 4th consecutive basho.
Terunofuji vs Daieisho – We all have worries about Terunofuji and what is left of his knees. Today we get to fuel further speculation with a look at his sumo against a tough competitor. Daieisho’s opening moves will be to hit hard and high, upset the Yokozuna’s balance, and drive forward with everything he has. In moderate to good health, Terunofuji can dispatch him without too much trouble.