Welcome to Nakabi! The middle day of a 15 day sumo tournament. Those of you wonderful readers who have never had the chance to enjoy a summer in Japan, let me share with you that it has its own special flavor of hot. Yes, Texas is like satan’s front porch, Florida is a sauna and Tucson will melt your shoes, but the combination of relentless high UV sun, the crushing humidity, and the general lack of industrial cooling in the country make for a very moist and drippy season. You can see it among the fans watching sumo at Nagoya’s Dolphins Arena. Some of them start fanning themselves the moment they sit down, some seem to instantly regret not finding some way to politely wear less clothing. The Arena is famous for having weak cooling systems in place, and you can see that the heat is taking a toll on the athletes as well.
With the start of Nakabi, it’s time for us to look at the race for the Emperor’s Cup.
It’s quite early in the yusho race, and I expect we are going to see the scheduling committee whittle this group down quite a bit in the final days of act 2. Looking at the 1 loss group, the only rikishi with prior yusho experience is none other than Tamawashi. A
second third yusho coming at age 38 would be quite the accomplishment for one of the great stalwarts of the sport for the last two decades.
Leaders: Hoshoryu, Nishikigi, Tamawashi, Hokutofuji
Chasers: Daieisho, Wakamotoharu, Kotonowaka, Takayasu, Gonoyama, Shonannoumi, Takarafuji, Endo, Hakuoho
8 Matches Remain
What We Are Watching Day 8
Ryuden (3-4) vs Ichiyamamoto (0-5-2) – Ichiyamamoto is our Juryo visitor today. Those of you hoping he might stage a quick return to the top division will not be pleased to know he has not won a single match. He went kyujo on day 5, and is back to start day 8. Of course they put him in the top division match for the day and let him fight Ryuden. Oof.
Daishoho (2-5) vs Aoiyama (2-5) – Matching 2-5 records for these two rikishi on the make-koshi trail. I am pretty sure I like Aoiyama’s chances today in this match, but with his primary and secondary attack modes not nearly as potent as they should be, we can expect him to lose matches he’s favored in. I expect Aoiyama to try a push down / thrust down by the third or fourth step.
Hakuoho (5-2) vs Shonannoumi (5-2) – We can be pretty sure that short of an injury, both of these guys are going to be kachi-koshi. The fun now is to see if they can both make it to double digits. Clearly Hakuoho has the broad sumo recognition, but Shonannoumi has been fighting quite well, even looking good in his losses to Endo and Chiyoshoma. I think this match could be a fun one.
Endo (5-2) vs Kotoshoho (3-4) – I am expecting to see Endo continue his run toward kachi-koshi, with him also having a strong chance of hitting double digits and putting himself far enough up the banzuke for September that consideration of him ending up in Juryo for the first time in this decade are put to rest. Kotoshoho can hold his own with Endo, but Endo needs to escape from the bottom of the banzuke.
Kotoeko (4-3) vs Takarafuji (5-2) – An excellent match for these two. Neither one of them are fighting at their optimum, but I give an advantage to Takarafuji for today. Not only does he hold a 6-3 career lead, he shares Endo’s motivation to move away from the bottom of the banzuke and gain some distance from Juryo. Each have won one so far this year.
Bushozan (1-6) vs Tsurugisho (1-6) – Another battle of the soon to be make-koshi rikishi. Tsurugisho has a 4-2 career lead, but right now it’s pretty certain that both of these men are hurt in some way that is limiting their sumo. Since both were ranking in Juryo early this decade, their record is a more even 2-2, and I think we will see an even, if painful, fight today. I just hope nobody compounds their injuries.
Kinbozan (4-3) vs Chiyoshoma (4-3) – Both of these rikishi are in the middle lane of any kind of funnel that may or may not be underway. They have only fought once before, in Osaka this year, where Kinbozan dispatched Chiyoshoma with a tsuridashi. I know some of you may groan, but what would be nicer than a nice henka today?
Gonoyama (5-2) vs Myogiryu (3-4) – First ever match, and I am looking for Gonoyama to bounce back from his 2 consecutive losses. No, I don’t mean activating some secret “Bouncy Castle” mode in his GoeiDOS operating system… some people. If Gonoyama can avoid the slap down / pull down attempts which seem to be Myogiryu’s go-to combo this July, he should be able to thrust him out.
Takayasu (5-2) vs Hokutofuji (6-1) – For longtime sumo fans, this one is a classic. These two have 20 matches on the clay, with Takayasu having a distinct 13-7 advantage. Since Nagoya of 2021, it’s been 5 straight wins for Takayasu, so we may see him continue that streak again. That is unless Hokutofuji can disrupt the former Ozeki’s balance with his uncanny defensive moves.
Takanosho (2-5) vs Tamawashi (6-1) – In spite of Takanosho’s 6-2 career advantage, I don’t see this match going his way today. Tamawashi is part of the team at 1 loss that share the lead in the yusho race, and he’s fighting some of his best sumo since his second yusho last September. A third yusho this month is certainly not out of the question.
Hokuseiho (3-4) vs Sadanoumi (1-6) – First ever match that is likely in place A) because Hokuseiho has to fight someone, and B) Hokuseiho could really use a win, and why not use ailing Sadanoumi to donate a white star? Sadanoumi’s speed and agility won’t help him much today against Hokuseiho’s limited mobility and overwhelming enormity.
Hiradoumi (2-5) vs Nishikifuji (4-3) – At his highest ever rank, Hiradoumi is finding the competition tough this July. Given the strength of his fundamentals and sumo mechanics, this is his chance to grow. Nishikifuji still has a good chance of leaving Nagoya with 8 wins, but he will need to take 4 of the last 8 to get there. Nishikifuji has a 5-1 career lead.
Oho (2-5) vs Onosho (3-4) – Likewise, Oho is at his highest ever rank, and is finding himself falling short most days. Again, natural progression, and it’s his motivation to improve. Onosho has won his last 2 in a row, and I am hoping he has shed whatever ring rust was plaguing him at the start of Nagoya. He has only won once against Oho in their 4 prior matches.
Meisei (3-4) vs Mitakeumi (1-6) – I really don’t have expectations on Mitakeumi for this July. He’s kind of at a low point personally and physically, so any win he can come up with should be celebrated. He has at 10-5 career advantage over Meisei, but unless we get to see the “old” form of the Original Tadpole as we did on day 7, this may not be much of a contest.
Nishikigi (6-1) vs Tobizaru (4-3) – Having picked up his first loss on day 7, all eyes are on Nishikigi to see if he can go back to winning. Even if he does not, I am certain he will reach 8 wins, and quite possibly double digits. He has done remarkably well thus far, and I am impressed by his simple but effective sumo. He gets hyper-mobile chaos bot Tobizaru for an opponent today. Given Nishikigi’s limited eyesight and questionable mobility, he needs to get a grip at the tachiai if he wants to dictate the form of the match.
Shodai (2-5) vs Abi (3-4) – I want to see at least one match this basho with “good” Shodai from the non-crummy time line. Chances are fair we may get that against Abi today, as Shodai does tend to win against him.
Hoshoryu (6-1) vs Ura (4-3) – Hoshoryu is looking for 12 or maybe 11 wins this tournament. The fact that the Yokozuna and one Ozeki are in dry dock elevate his chances of reaching that goal. For today, I think the best Ura could do is try to play spoiler for Hoshoryu’s Ozeki hopes. He has an even 2-2 record against the Sekiwake, and I think it will come down to Hoshoryu making sure Ura does not latch on to some stray body part and start tugging on it.
Kotonowaka (5-2) vs Wakamotoharu (5-2) – Wakamotoharu is likewise looking for 11 or 12 wins this July. He has a stiff contest against Kotonowaka, who has a solid formula for dominating their matches. Kotonowaka holds a 6-3 career lead, and won both of their 2 most recent matches.
Asanoyama (4-3) vs Daieisho (5-2) – Daieisho is looking for 10 or 11 wins this tournament, and I like his chances against Asanoyama today. Asanoyama’s mechanics are still Ozeki grade, but the core strength, endurance and intensity are still in need of a bit of a tune up. Daieisho will look to keep Asanoyama at thrusting distance and disrupt him until he’s out or down.
Midorifuji (1-6) vs Kirishima (2-3-2) – Kirishima needs to win 6 of the final 8 to reach kachi-koshi and avoid joining Takakeisho in being kadoban for September. He has a 4-1 career record against Midorifuji, so the chances are good he can rack up win #3 today. But it would be great to see a Midorifuji katasukashi today.