The big news is that the lone suviving Ozeki, Takakeisho, has withdrawn from the tournament with knee injury. He will be kadoban for the May tournament in Tokyo, and we now set up the doom scenario that I mentioned in this post.
I think most sumo fans agree that his win in January was not a qualifier for promotion, but I tried to make the case that the NSA needed him to be a Yokozuna for it’s own safety. They did not take that step, and now we get to find out what the alternate is going to be. None of their san’yaku regulars are in any position to make a bid for Ozeki, and won’t likely be until later this year if then. The one rikishi who might have been able to reliably pull it off, Asanoyama, was left behind in Juryo for March, ensuring he can’t even begin an attempt until 2024 at the earliest. So much now rests on Takakeisho getting 8 wins at Natsu that it’s just silly. All of this could have been, and should have been, avoided.
Of course there is an outside case that Yokozuna Terunofuji is not able to return to fighting at Yokozuna levels. He has now been out of active competition for 6 months, and it will be 8 months by the time Natsu begins. The risk here is what doomed Kisenosato’s Yokozuna reign – deconditioning. If you want to be able to win at sumo, you must do sumo regularly and frequently. After a long enough time off, the body’s muscles are not a conditioned, and may not work at the same performance level as they had prior to the time off. Terunofuji does not just need to come back and be able to do sumo, as ye did in 2018, he needs to come back and execute sumo at Yokozuna level intensity. This is something that Kisenosato was unable to do, in spite of relentless training with Takayasu.
The NSK needs 2 fresh, healthy Ozeki pretty much this year, and no one is in any position to answer that call.
Oho defeats Tsurugisho – Oho looked much more focused, and with more energy today than he has in the past several matches. He was able to eventually get superior hand placement against Tsurugisho, and move him out. Oho now 3-4.
Kinbozan defeats Chiyomaru – Kinbozan continues his hot streak, but the win against Chiyomaru means that he is now 0-7 at Juryo 4. It may be a while before we see Chiyomaru in the top division again. Chiyomaru put a lot of effort into it, but could not endure much forward pressure at all. Credit to Kinbozan for enduring that much disruption from Chiyomaru and still getting a yorikiri in. Kinbozan ends the day 5-2.
Mitoryu defeats Kotoeko – Mitoryu executes the combo we normally see from Chiyomaru; stand him up then slap him down. The key was that Kotoeko missed one forward step when Mitoryu reverse. He improves to 5-2.
Bushozan defeats Daishoho – Daishoho opens strong, moves Bushozan back, but does not survive a Bushozan step to the left. The resulting tottari nets Bushozan his second win, he advances to 2-5.
Chiyoshoma defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki’s fundamentals failed him today, he took a Chiyoshoma’s opening left hand thrust straight to the chin. A combo from his right to pull him forward, and a follow up with a second thrusting attack to the head had Kagayaki out on the third step. Why is it we don’t get this kind of sumo from Chiyoshoma every day? He’s now 5-2.
Takanosho defeats Hokuseiho – Hokuseiho extended his losing streak to three consecutive matches, after Takanosho came at him with excellent power applied through a nodowa. Hokuseiho looked like he was going to try and endure that, but Takanosho was moving him back. The resulting oshidashi put Takanosho at 5-2 to end day 7. Hokuseiho has a lot going for him in the world of sumo, but its clear he is still a rather enormous work in progress.
Takarafuji defeats Azumaryu – It says quite a bit about the fighting condition of Azumaryu, that he lost his 7th consecutive match, against an injured Takarafuji to boot. Today we had Takarafuji able to move forward, and take the fight to Azumaryu, so maybe he still has some sumo left in spite of his injuries. Takarafuji ends today 2-5.
Ura defeats Nishikifuji – Ura was very low again today at the tachiai, but rather than trying to move forward and in, he stayed in place, letting Nishikifuji come to him. This seems to have turned out a bit better, and allowed him to shut down Nishikigi’s opening combo. Ura delivered a quick relay of thrusting attacks center mass, and had Nishikifuji out by the third step, improving to 4-2.
Ichiyamamoto defeats Myogiryu – Ichiyamamoto finally finds his first win, with a quick head lock and pull against Myogiryu. The shimpan decided to check for a hairpull, but the win was clean, and Ichiyamamoto finally racks up his first white star at 1-6.
Hokutofuji defeats Hiradoumi – After 4 consecutive losses to start the basho, Hokutofuji now has 3 consecutive wins. His defeat of Hiradoumi featured a wide, leaping combo attack to move to Hiradoumi’s side. Solid technique and fun to watch. Both end the day 3-4.
Endo defeats Aoiyama – What he hell was that? I can’t quite call it a henka, and it was not really at a tachiai. It took Aoiyama by surprise, and he mostly fell over with Endo’s push from behind to finish him off. Whatever it was, it’s still a win and Endo is now 5-2.
Midorifuji defeats Takayasu – In this pivotal battle of the undefeated, Takayasu opted for his right arm strike to start the match, which leaves him off balance. He followed up with a combo to Midorifuji’s face. But you can see he is too far forward, his left foot is not even in contact with the clay, and his right arm is high in the air. Midorifuji responds in an instant, hooking his right hand around Takayasu’s body and swinging him to the clay. They called it a tsukiotoshi, but it looked like a katasukashi to me. The net result is that Takayasu is knocked out of the lead as Midorifuji advances to 7-0.
Kotoshoho defeats Sadanoumi – Kotoshoho finally finds his first win of March. Tremendous oshi-zumo battle, with both men delivering rapid blows to their opponent. But it’s Kotoshoho who catches Sadanoumi out of his stance, and delivers a hatakikomi to win the match. His shonichi brings him to 1-6.
Meisei defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi started strong, and had Meisei against the tawara. But Mitakeumi was too invested in his forward attack, and had no defense when Meisei escaped and pushed him forward, sending him into one of the judges. Both end the day 3-4.
Shodai defeats Abi – There is about 5 seconds of Abi-zumo to start the match, before Shodai once again brings out the “Wall of Daikon”, turning his wide, bulky body into a fleshy barrier. He closes the distance to Abi and body rams him back again and again, sending Abi tumbling from the ring with with a finishing shove delivered center mass. I hate to say it, but just how “2020’s” would it be if Shodai where the best hope for a replacement Ozeki? He is now 5-2.
Tobizaru defeats Tamawashi – Tobizaru moves to the side at the tachiai, and proceeds to get the inside lane. Tamawashi is hitting well, but Tobizaru seems to have a slight advantage. He finishes Tamawashi with a well timed pull, picking up his 4th win, and is now 4-3.
Wakamotoharu defeats Daieisho – Daieisho commits to his big “mega thrust” attack at the tachiai, and gets two good combos in before Wakamotoharu steps to the side, sending him to the dohyo. With Daieisho’s loss, Midorifuji is the lone leader going into the middle Sunday of the tournament. Wakamotoharu improves to 5-2.
Kotonowaka defeats Kiribayama – Kiribayama’s ottsuke could not endure, and he lost precious ground trying to maintain it against Kotonowaka’s forward pressure. But they time he decides its time to try something else, he is at the bales and Kotonowaka finishes him off with a diving push out of the ring. Kotonowaka improves to 5-2.
Hoshoryu defeats Ryuden – Simple and straightforward win, Hoshoryu grapples Ryuden for a moment, rolling his center of balance back, then bringing him forward and down with a katasukashi. Hoshoryu is now 4-3.
Wakatakakage defeats Onosho – Onosho cranked up the adrenalin a bit too much for this match, and found himself flinging his body around more than was wise against Wakatakakage. Wakatakakage was able to capture Onosho, and fling him out of the ring to find his second win, and is now 2-5.
At the end of day 7, we have a single leader: Midorifuji, unbeaten and 7-0, with two chasers in Daieisho and Takayasu at 6-1. The race to the cup begins!