Welcome sumo fans to Tachiai’s team coverage of the Natsu basho, which will run for the next 15 days at the home of sumo, the Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan. This tournament features some high interest story lines, and we expect a lot of drama as it all unfolds over the next couple of weeks.
First off, the lone Yokozuna, Terunofuji, will be competing in this tournament. From all indications he is still in very rough shape, and I think everyone is concerned about his ability to win matches. It will all come down to his knees. Terunofuji withdrew from the September 2022 tournament to seek treatment of his knees, and has missed the last 3 tournaments. That lengthy break was necessary to allow his body to recover after what sounds like a nearly complete rebuilt of his undercarriage, which may not have been entirely successful.
Also on the “fighting while hurt” list is the lone surviving Ozeki, Takakeisho. Takakeisho withdrew on day 7 of Osaka in March, and has not really been practicing as he tries to get his body healthy enough to compete. Readers may recall that I cautioned that the Sumo Kyokai might come to regret not making Takakeisho a Yokozuna following the January tournament, mostly because it would give them an insurance policy to keep to Ozeki / Yokozuna on the banzuke for the remainder of the year. Sadly we now have a situation that the two top men in sumo are possibly trying to overcome career ending injuries, with no replacement in sight.
Speaking of replacements who vanished, we continue to hope that Wakatakakage can get his ACL rebuilt, and return to the ring some day. But I would not be surprised to see that not come to pass. Such injuries are tough to overcome. But his rival Kiribayama has an opportunity to make the case for his promotion to sumo’s second highest rank this basho.
What We Are Watching Day 1
Kagayaki (0-0) vs Oho (0-0) – A pair of rikishi who should have been punted to Juryo get a chance to make it to 8 wins and loiter around the top division for another few months – sure, whatever you want NSK. I was surprised that Oho was unable to get to 8 wins from Maegashira 15w in Osaka. Maybe he was hurt, and will return to good form. Or maybe we hit the maximum amount of sumo he can deliver right now.
Mitoryu (0-0) vs Tsurugisho (0-0) – In spite of his kachi-koshi in March, Mitoryu finds himself wading through the bottom rungs of the banzuke this May because of the dog pile all around him as 15 rikishi tried to squeeze into 3 ranks, and some things stayed where they landed and have to make do. I would note that Tsurugisho is more or less in the same boat.
Ichiyamamoto (0-0) vs Myogiryu (0-0) – After a 5-10 finish to Osaka, Ichiyamamoto needs to break his losing streak, as he has now had two make-koshi tournaments in a row. Matching him with two consecutive make-koshi, and a 5-10 for March is Myogiryu. The good news is that a lot of things can happen from the bottom of the banzuke, and maybe they both can come out of this with at least 8 wins.
Chiyoshoma (0-0) vs Asanoyama (0-0) – I catch some well deserved heat for saying that Asanoyama may in fact be the next man promoted to Ozeki. He is now back in the top division at Maegashira 14, and will likely tear everyone down here a new one over the next week or so. He has won both prior matches against Chiyoshoma, and I am not looking for that to change today.
Aoiyama (0-0) vs Kotoeko (0-0) – As much as I love watching “Big Dan” Aoiyama employ his enormity and absolute enjoyment of pummeling people into submission, I have to admit that he is struggling each tournament to stay in the hunt for 8 wins. After a 6-9 finish in Osaka, he now finds himself at Maegashira 12. He is evenly matched against Kotoeko, and fans tend to love a traditional big man / little man fight.
Hokuseiho (0-0) vs Daishoho (0-0) – A potentially good fight between two rikishi who had winning records in March, with Hokuseiho finishing 9-6 and Daishoho 8-7. They have fought 4 times before, with Daishoho leading the series 3-1. It would seem that at least against Daishoho, Hokuseiho enormity may not be a benefit.
Ryuden (0-0) vs Takarafuji (0-0) – After at 2-13 finish in Osaka, Ryuden finds himself punted from M2 all the way down to M10, where he comes up against Takarafuji today. Takarafuji managed to finish 8-7 in March, but he had six match win streak to close it out. Frankly he looked hurt for most of the tournament, enough that I was worried about his ability to remain in the top division.
Onosho (0-0) vs Hiradoumi (0-0) – Onosho took a sizable drop down the banzuke after pulling out on day 9 of the March tournament with an injury. Now near the middle of the banzuke, he will do a lot of damage down here if he is back to fighting form. He was won both prior matches against Hiradoumi.
Sadanoumi (0-0) vs Takanosho (0-0) – After three successful defenses of a Sekiwake rank in 2021, he Takanosho has struggled to find the fortitude to turn in back to back make-koshi record. His last double-digit result was a 11-4 Jun-Yusho a year ago that was bracketed by a 4-11 and a 1-14. He has a fairly even 4-5 record against Sadanoumi who finished Osaka 6-9.
Hokutofuji (0-0) vs Tamawashi (0-0) – With three consecutive 7-8 results so far, we can truthfully say that Hokutofuji is indeed the owner of the “Most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo!”. He’s up against iron-man Tamawashi, who was clearly hurt in March, and could only manage a 3-12. Tamawashi holds a 10-7 career advantage.
Meisei (0-0) vs Mitakeumi (0-0) – The sad case of Mitakeumi, who has not managed to finish a tournament with a winning record in more than a year. His 4-11 score in Osaka is likely at least party due to whatever injury sent him kyujo in July of 2022, and cost him his Ozeki rank. He has a 10-4 career record against Meisei, but given how poorly Mitakeumi has been performing, it may not matter.
Kinbozan (0-0) vs Kotoshoho (0-0) – Kinbozan tore through the lower Maegashira ranks like a hot knife goes through snow. His first tournament in the top division saw him earn an 11-4 finish with a kanto-sho. Given the tremendous jumble of ranks following Osaka, he finds himself now at the edge of the joi-jin at Maegashira 5E. I would like to think that Kotoshoho could give him a proper welcome to the inner cicle, but he was only 6-9 in March, yet somehow was only demoted a half rank. Train wreck indeed.
Ura (0-0) vs Nishikigi (0-0) – I am overjoyed to see the reality dysfunction field around Ura remains in place. Normally you could look at this match and wonder who thought of it and why it is happening. Nishikigi received only a full rank demotion after a miserable 6-9 out of Osaka, and will somehow remain in the joi-jin. This will be his 6th consecutive tournament ranked above M10. Ok….
Kotonowaka (0-0) vs Tobizaru (0-0) – Like so many in the top ranks in Osaka, Tobizaru ended his second posting to Komusubi with a sour losing record, landing at Maegashira 3 after finishing at 6-9. Kotonowaka on the other hand managed a winning 9-6 record an a half rank promotion to Komusubi 1 East for Natsu. Out of their 9 prior matches, Kotonowaka has won 5.
Endo (0-0) vs Wakamotoharu (0-0) – With Wakatakakage in dry dock for a few months, it falls on Wakamotoharu to continue the push to become an Ozeki. Now ranked at Sekiwake 2w after an 11-4 finish at Komusubi in March, he’s going to bring his powerful, focused sumo to another tournament, and quite possibly clean up. This match has a lot of potential in that Endo has both a high degree of skill, and a high degree of predictability. Wakamotoharu has won 4 of their prior 5 matches.
Daieisho (0-0) vs Nishikifuji (0-0) – Nishikifuji is at his highest ever rank after at 10-5 finish at Osaka. He has never faced Daieisho before, and I going to be interested to see if Daieisho starts out with day 1 ring rust, or if he immediately steps into honbasho mode and launches Nishikifuji skyward with his mega-thrust sumo.
Takayasu (0-0) vs Hoshoryu (0-0) – Hoshoryu has a cadre of sumo fans who really enjoy his sumo. They may have a bit of a tough opening day, as the giant strapping beast that is Takayasu will bring is 6-1 career advantage to the ring for their opener. After going 10-5 in March, Takayasu is back at a rank where he can take the fight to all of his long term rivals.
Kiribayama (0-0) vs Midorifuji (0-0) – Kiribayama is looking to earn Ozeki, and will start the climb this May against Midorifuji. After finishing 10-5 in March, Midorifuji ties his all time highest rank at M1W. Kiribayama has won 3 of their 4 prior matches.
Abi (0-0) vs Takakeisho (0-0) – Takakeisho starts the May tournament kadoban, needing 8 wins to defend his Ozeki rank, and help steer sumo away from a possible break from tradition. It may seem odd to us westerners, but to a very traditional Japanese organization, it’s a very big deal. Takakeisho has a deep 3-6 losing record against Abi, so I am hoping that Takakeisho manages to keep himself from aggravating his injuries on day 1.
Terunofuji (0-0) vs Shodai (0-0) – Everyone wants the Yokozuna to be strong this May. We want to see him dominate, and if possible, take home the cup. But given his extensive treatment over the past 6 months, I think we will all be happy just to see him finish with at least 8 wins. He faces Shodai today, home he has beaten in 10 of their 15 prior matches.