It’s the final weekend of the Hatsu basho, and the crew that schedule and select the matches have done a masterful job of bringing everything together right at the end, with a high stakes battle for the cup that will unfold over the next two days. There is no way that anyone can take the yusho today, unless two of the three men leading the race go kyujo. That means two days of high stakes matches as they fight it out to see who gets to take home the hardware, and that giant macaron.
There are several rikishi to finish sorting into make and kachi-koshi, and we have the possibility for several Darwin matches on day 15, where two 7-7 rikishi face off to see who is kachi-koshi, and who is make-koshi. Right now there are 16 candidates, and we will see how many of them have 7-7 scores at the end of today.
All three leaders are in fights today against rikishi further back in the pack, with Onosho fighting Kiribayama and Kotoshoho fighting Daieisho. Should the two men from the chase group win their matches, it really would likely turn the final day into a multi-way brawl to end it all, which readers know I love. Then there is the most unlikely of outcomes – Azumaryu yusho… While confounding and outrageous, it would nicely represent the current state of sumo. I think we should have known, years ago, when Goeido won a zensho yusho that something had gone terribly wrong in the Matrix. May the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan shield us from such a result.
Leader: Takakeisho, Onosho, Kotoshoho
Chasers: Kiribayama, Daieisho, Azumaryu
2 Matches Remain
What We Are Watching Day 14
Tsurugisho vs Kinbozan – Hulking sumo battle platform Kinbozan comes to visit the top division, and with 11-2 at Juryo 5, I think he’s going to be a top division man in Osaka. This may, in fact, be an exchange match. Should he win today, he would serve Tsurugisho (6-7) his make-koshi, and possibly his boarding pass for the Juryo barge of the damned.
Ichiyamamoto vs Azumaryu – Azumaryu needs to win this one to stay with the pack that are chasing the three leaders. He beat 8-5 Ichiyamamoto their only prior match, on day 3 of Kyushu 2022. Both men are kachi-koshi, so this is really just to decide the level of boost going into the March banzuke.
Kotoeko vs Hiradoumi – A Darwin qualifier, winner is kachi-koshi, loser gets to join the 7-7 Darwin pool. Hiradoumi has won both of their prior matches.
Takanosho vs Mitoryu – At 6-7, Takanosho has to win both remaining matches to avoid make-koshi, and a further setback in his climb back to the top ranks. He’s only won one of his 6 prior matches against 5-8 Mitoryu, with the win coming day 9 of Nagoya, 2019 – almost 4 years ago. In fact, they have not had a head to head since Aki of 2019, and oh how so much has changed since then.
Hokutofuji vs Takarafuji – A second Darwin qualifier. Winner is kachi-koshi, loser joins the Darwin pool. I have a sinking dread that Takarafuji will be the Darwin nominee, as he has really faded into week two, and Hokutofuji holds a 9-3 career advantage.
Ryuden vs Chiyoshoma – These two are already sorted, with 8-5 Ryuden being kachi-koshi and 5-8 Chiyoshoma being make-koshi. When the schedule was drawn up, this was possible a “fail safe” in case they were both eligible for Darwin selection today.
Aoiyama vs Nishikigi – Both men are 8-5, and this is a nice battle of sumo styles. We have Nishikigi who will want to move in close and give Aoiyama a battle hug, and Aoiyama who prefers to beat his opponents to pulp from medium range. However, Big Dan has shown surprising flexibility in some matches this January.
Nishikifuji vs Oho – Both men are already make-koshi, with Nishikifuji at 4-9, and Oho at 2-11. As poorly as Oho is doing, he seems to be employed as a white-star donor at the moment, helping cushion the fall for other rikishi who face demotion. As my granny used to tell me “Its good to be useful”.
Chiyomaru vs Sadanoumi – Take care, Chiyomaru, sorry your trip back into the top division was so rough and did not last longer. I hope you can come back with your undercarriage rebuilt or at least working. I don’t expect that he will be able to put up too much of a fight today, and his “stand them up, pull them down” routine should be expected by Sadanoumi.
Abi vs Endo – Endo, at 8-5, is kahci-koshi. He faced 7-6 Abi who will either find his 8th win today, or be joining the Darwin camp just down the road waiting for their doom on day 15. The good news for fans of Abi-zumo, he is 11-2 against Endo.
Mitakeumi vs Ura – This is one sad sad match for myself. We have an already make-koshi Mitakeumi at 5-8, with the option to relegate Ura to make-koshi as well if the former Ozeki can win today’s match. Ura is not moving well this tournament, and many of his standard crazy moves just are not executing crisply this time around. Should Ura win today, it’s off to the Darwin camp with him for day 15.
Tobizaru vs Kagayaki – In this match, we get to see if 6-7 Tobizaru can overcome his 2-4 career deficit to 7-6 Kagayaki and pick up a win today. Call this one a “mini Darwin”, if Kagayaki wins, he is kachi-koshi and Tobizaru is make-koshi. If Tobizaru wins, they are both put into the Darwin pool. Their last match was at Kyushu in 2021, and the win went to Tobizaru.
Kotoshoho vs Daieisho – First of the leaders to mount the dohyo, I don’t like 10-3 Kotoshoho’s chances here today. They last fought in November of 2020, when Kotoshoho was Maegashira 5. The match went to Daieisho, and Kotoshoho finished at 8-7. Given how well 9-4 Daieisho is fighting right now, it’s a long shot that Kotoshoho will prevail.
Kiribayama vs Onosho – As long as Onosho’s fighting spirit was not quenched by his loss on day 13 to Takakeisho, this will be one hell of a fight. With 10-3 Onosho having a narrow 4-3 winning record against 9-4 Kiribayama, the battle may be as potent as any so far this tournament. Of their two matches in 2022, both of them won a one and lost one, with Onosho having the most recent win, in Kyushu on day 14 as well.
Tamawashi vs Wakamotoharu – While the yusho race is worthy of a lot of attention, we still have some key rikishi to sort into make and kachi-koshi. Today its time to see where 7-6 Wakamotoharu ends up as he fights 8-5 Tamawashi. Wakamotoharu has lost 2 of the last three, and I am going to guess that it may be stamina starting to run low. Tamawashi has lost the last 2 in a row, and is already kachi-koshi.
Meisei vs Myogiryu – Both men are at 4-9, and this fight is really to see how far down the banzuke they will drop. We know what Meisei will be out of the named ranks, and hopefully he will be able to bounce back in better form and condition by March.
Midorifuji vs Kotonowaka – Another head to head, this time with both men at 6-7. The winner joins the Darwin group, the loser is make-koshi. Kotonowaka has won 4 of their 5 prior matches, and I think has a distinct advantage today over Midorifuji, who I suspect is feeling the effects of some injury this month.
Wakatakakage vs Shodai – It’s time for one last, rather high stakes mini-Darwin. We have 7-6 Wakatakakage up against 6-7 Shodai. One of them was hoping to become an Ozeki, one of them just got done being an Ozeki. Both of them have underperformed their abilities this January, and both need to regroup and try again. Shodai has won 7 of their 11 prior matches. A Wakatakakage win means kachi-koshi for him, and make-koshi for Shodai. A Shodai win, and they both get to be part of the Darwin group.
Hoshoryu vs Takakeisho – This match is a heavy burden to place on a man with an injured ankle. Hoshoryu is a lot less mobile than he normally is, and he struggles to keep his body in a fighting stance. On day 13, that bum ankle could not support much defensive sumo, and he took a disappointing loss. He has only won 2 of the prior 8 matches against the lone surviving Ozeki, Takakeisho, who must win this match to keep the lead in the race for the cup.