Hatsu Day 1: The Joy of Six

kokugikan

As Bruce announced earlier in the evening on Twitter, the opening day torikumi for the 2019 Hatsu basho has been posted!

Because I’ve just landed in Tokyo, am rocketing towards the heart of the city on the Narita Express, and JR East provides free WiFi, I’ve got a few moments to share with you the six matches I’m most looking forward to on the opening day. All of these have the potential to set up further key storylines throughout the basho:

Yago vs. Meisei

Yago has made a steady progression towards the top division in his ten basho since debuting as makushita tsukedashi, while Meisei has been Mr. Tenacious – after a first basho setback, he has settled into makuuchi nicely and deployed a nice mix of skill and heart on the dohyo. Eyes are going to be on the much hyped Yago to see what kind of debut performance he can put on versus a higher level of opposition this basho, and this is as good of a test as he could hope to expect in the lower reaches of the division. Meisei leads the lifetime series 2-0.

Kaisei vs. Asanoyama

The recent NHK Grand Sumo Review of 2018 was notable because it featured the NHK pundits bemoaning the current state of up-and-comers being predominantly oshi-zumo wrestlers. The notable exception to this was Asanoyama, notable for his emergence in the top division as a primarily yotsu-zumo rikishi. Here, he faces off against another fan of mawashi work in Kaisei, who’s had a pretty decent past 12 months, all things considered. The enormous Kaisei can be a force to be reckoned with when he’s in good health, so this matchup of strengths will prove an interesting opening bout test for both rikishi. Kaisei leads this rivalry 3-1.

Chiyotairyu vs. Onosho

The NHK review also highlighted the work that Onosho has put in to vary his techniques at the tachiai in order to better defuse his opposition. Here, he comes up against a rikishi who – it’s perhaps uncharitable, but nevertheless not totally untrue – to say is almost 100% tachiai. We’re looking for Onosho to return to mix it with the big boys and matches like this against Kokonoe-beya’s current star man should prove to be good challenges. They’ve split the victories evenly in their six contests to date.

Shohozan vs. Tamawashi

No analysis needed here: if everyone’s genki then this has all the hallmarks of a classic street fight. It could get tasty. Shohozan has a dominant 13-3 advantage in their lifetime series.

Takayasu vs. Ichinojo

There is some question over the health of Takayasu as he attempts again to shed his “bridesmaid” tag in search of an inaugural yusho, and there are always questions as to the genki level of Ichinojo. This is a tricky opening match to navigate for both rikishi: Takayasu will be desperate to open with a win and lay to rest the agonising manner of his Day 15 defeat in Kyushu, but here he features against an object who will doubtlessly be unmoved by his signature shoulder blast. Takayasu leads this rivalry 6-4.

Kisenosato vs. Mitakeumi

This is my unquestionable match of the day. Mitakeumi will have been knocked back by the manner of his make-koshi in Fukuoka, but his dismantling of Takayasu on the final day showed he didn’t magically lose his skill. He’ll be gunning to restart his ozeki run and is going to be licking his lips at a potential Yokozuna scalp to open what could be a pivotal basho for the Dewanoumi man. Kisenosato’s trials and tribulations were excellently covered in great detail by Herouth earlier in the week – be sure to check out her piece if you haven’t – and a day 1 loss would be ominous. Despite what the banzuke and history says (Kisenosato has won 6 of 7 from King Tadpole, and amazingly, 2 of 3 since his career-altering chest injury), Mitakeumi should be the favorite here and it’s the Mountain that will have to move him if it is to have any chance of staving off the inevitable retirement calls early in the basho.

Tickets Now Available for 19th Annual USA Sumo Open

USA Sumo - Konstantin Abdula-Zade vs Roy Sims
You don’t see many goatees in Ozumo

USA Sumo has announced that tickets are now available for the 19th Annual USA Sumo Open, which will be held on Saturday March 23, in Long Beach, CA.

The event, which coincides this year with the Haru honbasho in Osaka, consists of several weight categories (for both men and women), as well as a more traditional “Openweight” championship. This latter category is more in line with the type of competition of which most sumo enthusiasts will be familiar, with competitors of any size able to take the crown.

The event has been increasing in popularity, with NHK’s Hiro Morita having been dispatched to the States to cover the event last year for the Japanese broadcaster. Many sumo fans (and some Tachiai readers!) were able to meet one of the voices of Grand Sumo on that occasion – though it is unclear whether NHK will again have a presence, or how much of a presence they will have – given that the event falls in 2019 during one of the six main basho.

If you have not been able to make it to Japan for a tournament however, and have been looking for an opportunity to see live sumo – check out the tickets on offer at USA Sumo’s website. While the level of competition is obviously much different to the professional sumo that we cover here on the site, tickets start at a more affordable $25 (although ringside seats do approach the prices at Kokugikan).

The current men’s openweight champion is Russia’s Konstantin Abdula-Zade, and the reigning female openweight champion is the local favorite Mariah Holmes of California. USA Sumo has produced the following video of highlights from last year’s competition (although if I had to choose, I’d probably pick Abema TV’s choice of AK-69’s “Guess Who’s Back” as the better hype music):

Heya Power Rankings: Kyushu 18-Hatsu 19

Takakeisho & Takanosho - Takakeisho Victory Parade

It’s time for everyone’s favorite chart that just about makes it to print in time to become fully obsolete: the heya power rankings!

Before the Kyushu basho, we know that there would be one massive effect on the Power Rankings: Takanohana announced that he was dissolving his stable and all of the stable’s rikishi would be moving over to Chiganoura-beya.

Chiganoura had only recently even made an impact on the top two divisions since Takanosho’s promotion to Juryo, and subsequently Makuuchi, and so hadn’t really been a figure in this series before. However, with Takagenji, Takanoiwa (or so we thought), and budding tadpole superstar Takakeisho moving over to Chiganoura-beya, it was clear that the stable would start to put itself at least among Kokonoe, Sadogatake and other mid-level mainstays of our rankings list.

What we did not anticipate was that the stable would rocket up to the levels of powerhouse stables like Miyagino (3 sekitori including one dai-yokozuna), Kasugano (epic year with big ozeki promotion and yusho champ), and Tagonoura (perpetually injured yokozuna plus serial jun-yusho bridesmaid). How far did the stable rise? Let’s check out the big chart:

Heya Power Rankings - Kyushu 18 Hatsu 19

And now this list in the usual Top 20 format:

  1. (**) Chiganoura. 108 points (+98)
  2. (+1) Tagonoura. 95 points (+15)
  3. (+1) Kasugano. 60 points (+4)
  4. (-2) Sakaigawa. 53 points (-32)
  5. (+1) Oitekaze. 43 points (even)
  6. (-5) Miyagino. 39 points (-65)
  7. (+9) Oguruma. 35 points (+18)
  8. (-3) Izutsu. 30 points (-15)
  9. (-2) Kokonoe. 27 points (-14)
  10. (+7) Tokitsukaze. 27 points (+12)
  11. (+2) Takadagawa. 23 points (+1)
  12. (+2) Isenoumi. 23 points (+3)
  13. (+6) Sadogatake. 23 points (+8)
  14. (-4) Dewanoumi. 20 points (-5)
  15. (-4) Minato. 20 points (-5)
  16. (-4) Hakkaku. 20 points (-2)
  17. (**) Onomatsu. 20 points (+12)
  18. (+-) Kataonami. 15 points (even)
  19. (+1) Isegahama. 15 points (+1)
  20. (-5) Tomozuna. 13 points (-4)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, tiebreaker 1: higher position in the previous chart, tiebreaker 2: highest ranked rikishi on the banzuke)

Analysis

We thought Chiganoura would become a big player in these rankings, but Takakeisho‘s (somewhat) unprecedented yusho and accompanying special prizes meant that the stable vaulted straight to the top in its inaugural posting. We’d expect this to cool down next time, as it looks like a repeat from the young starlet is a big ask. However, should be continue to push for Ozeki promotion, some special prizes would certainly be on offer. Takanoiwa‘s retirement will also take a small bite out of the stable’s points tally in our listing.

Tagonoura somewhat appropriately reclaims the #2 spot as its two sekitori have done on so many occasions, with Takayasu‘s jun-yusho more than offsetting the yokozuna’s partially kyujo and kachi-koshi-less tournament. It should be said that like the banzuke committee, this chart does also give Kisenosato more credit than his fellow yokozuna just for turning up.

Sakaigawa shifts down owing to the jun-yusho switch from Goeido to Takayasu, and the former’s partially kyujo tournament (in spite of his kachi-koshi) didn’t help matters, otherwise it would have been a closer run race for #3. Oguruma meanwhile vaults up the listings owing to Juryo-debutant Tomokaze‘s yusho – but unlike in previous occasions where a juryo yusho practically guaranteed a drop in the next rankings, there’s a good reason to believe Oguruma could hold serve with Tomokaze now the favorite for the Juryo-yusho race again, and Yago making his makuuchi debut at Hatsu to complement Yoshikaze‘s somewhat fortuitous placing just outside the likely joi-line.

Otherwise, further down the listings, it’s much of a muchness. Miyagino‘s big drop of 65 points is exactly what happens when a yusho-winning (+50) yokozuna doesn’t show up (-10), never mind get a winning record (+5). Dewanoumi and Minato lose points as both sekiwake came up short of a kachi-koshi.

Kokonoe was the most disappointing stable to end 2018, with its six sekitori posting a miserable 31-59 record in the final basho. Fans of the heya’s remaining sekitori will be hoping for better results from the former powerhouse. And speaking of former big time stables, on a final curious note, this marks the first positive points movement in well over a year for Isegahama-beya (owing to Terutsuyoshi‘s kachi-koshi). Hopefully in 2019 we’ll see Nishikifuji and Midorifuji complete their push from Makushita to replenish the heya’s depleted sekitori ranks.

 

NHK’s Hiro Morita’s Year in Review

hakuho-yusho-41

NHK Anchor and popular Sumo presenter/play-by-play man Hiro Morita has published his 2018 Year in Review this past week on the NHK World website, and if you haven’t seen it, click here to give it a read.

The full piece is well worth a look. As any listener of Hiro’s coverage – particularly his live sumo coverage – will know, he is prone to work in little bits and pieces he’s picked up directly from the rikishi themselves, and this bit at the end stood out in particular as we continue to debate the ability of current crop of Yokozuna:

I had a chance to talk to Hakuho during the winter provincial tour in Kumamoto, southwestern Japan in December, and the 41-time champion told me that he’s looking forward to take on all comers in the new year. The Mongolian Yokozuna strongly believes he has what it takes to prove that he’s still the king of the ring.

Especially if you’re new to sumo or just nostalgic, it’s a good look back on the year that was as we get ready for the year that will be.

Hatsu, Black Francis & The Reckoning

kokugikan

Andy and Bruce’s comments earlier in the week caused me to reflect on my own wishes for sumo in 2019. We’ve touched a bit on this in the Tachiai podcast (smash that subscribe button!), but in advance of marking the start of another spin around the sun and amidst an ever growing awareness of the passing of time, let me dive into what I’m looking for in sumo in 2019:

The Reckoning

While in Fukuoka, I accused Bruce of being the tin-hatted toilet-paper-hoarding apocalypse-touting fallout bunker dweller of Tachiai, so steadfast has been his insistence that we are on the verge of the great changing of the guard in sumo with never before seen masses of intai and tadpole-shaped superstars (plus Kagayaki) claiming scalps and kinboshi from the mass graves of fallen heroes.

I’ll stop putting words in Bruce’s mouth here, but let me just say, while maintaining the utmost reverence for those mainstays who have provided us joy, that I’m joining ranks with the big man and giving a full-throated welcome to sumo’s next dimension.

Does this mean I’m no longer Mr. Hakuho-2020-Ganbare? Hardly. But, I’m fine with the Boss serving up 2-3 glorious basho a year until the 2020 Olympics. As discussed in that latest Tachiai podcast (like and subscribe) however, we’ve been talking about this for the past year and the only major retirements we’ve actually seen have been tied to the Harumafuji Scandal. Woof.

I want to see a Yusho in 2019 from Takayasu. It’s been there for him to take and it’s time for him to step up and take it and show us he can at least make a case to be Yokozuna. I have a hard time buying into the idea that being a “good” Ozeki would be enough for Takayasu. As things stand he’s the only one of the top 7 ranked rikishi not to have claimed the Emperor’s Cup, and when you consider that sumo is usually dominated by a small group of men (a fact that has been especially true since the rise of Asashoryu and then Hakuho and to a lesser extent Harumafuji), he may never have a better moment.

By the way, The Reckoning doesn’t mean we don’t have time for romantic storylines. Do I want to see a sumo world without Kotoshogiku? Of course not (especially if he brings back the bend). But his two-way career-suicide pact with Toyonoshima adds intrigue as the latter continues his re-emergence as sekitori and continues his climb back towards Maegashira status so that the two men can resume their ages old rivalry. What price a torinaoshi, a final hug, chug and goodnight?

Hot Names for 2019

Takakeisho. Yutakayama. Onosho. Tomokaze. Meisei. Yago. Hokutofuji. Abi. These are the guys I think we will see regularly taking their lumps in the joi by the end of the year. Yes, even shin-Juryo man and yusho-grabber Tomokaze – who should make quick work of the second tier and establish his upper-top division credentials before the leaves turn.

The Pixies

I don’t know about you, but perhaps more than most, I like little-guy sumo. When you talk about the old times, I love Mainoumi. I couldn’t wait for Ura to make it up to the top division and I rooted for Ishiura and still do even when we could all see a henka coming through the thick gritty sludge of a protein shake.

While Ura packed on the pounds (leading some to question whether the bam-thwok of all the pressure on his knees led to his injury) and Ishiura slid out of the top division, there are still a number of smaller rikishi, rough diamonds who are making a considered assault on the slots held by the current crop of rank-and-filers. I predict that all of them will bossanova their way into the top division in 2019. Here come our men:

Terutsuyoshi is the closest, having maintained a lengthy stay in Juryo. The copious salt thrower is, for my money, the man to restore glory to Isegahama-beya and, given the way he shows no fear against gigantic opponents, I think he can ring the bell in the top division for a long time.

Wakatakakage is one of three brothers from Arashio-beya who have troubled the upper ranks of the amateur ranks over the past couple of years. However, he is the first to make it to Juryo and looks to be making quick work of the division. Like Terutsuyoshi, he is a tenacious rikishi, taking his opponents head on. He has a good grasp of fundamentals.

Enho is perhaps the newest darling of the sumo world, and you can tell from the wall of sound that echoes around the arena when he enters the dohyo. If I’m Endo I’m looking over my shoulder with some of these endorsement deals, because this new pretty boy packs a punch and delivers the enthusiasm and frankly excitement that’s been missing from the current pin-up boy’s sumo over the past year. Having quickly debased the credentials of the opposition in the bottom four divisions, his elastic antics call to mind Ura, and I for one can’t wait to see the erstwhile Hakuho-bagboy and the cherry blossom mawashi man have at it with kensho on the line.

The Tachiai Community

It’s been a pleasure to spend another year contributing along with the others on the site. It’s been incredible to see this community continue to grow, and even to meet folks in person at basho in Japan. Please continue to stay in touch with us, and tell your friends in the sumo community. And if the Natsu Tachiai meet-up comes to fruition, then we’ll look forward to seeing you there!