Key Matches, Day 7

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Let’s start from the bottom of the torikumi, and work our way up.

M16w Chiyomaru (1-5) vs. M13w Takanosho (1-5). This is as close as we get to an elimination bout this early in the basho. Chiyomaru was spared a trip to Juryo despite a demotable record at Aki (6-9 at M14w), and has carried his struggles over into Kyushu, where he can only afford 2 more losses in the remaining 9 days. Takanosho has hit a sophomore slump in his second top-division tournament, and while he has a little more breathing room at M13, he needs to start picking up victories fast. He won the only prior meeting between the two.

M13e Onosho (5-1) vs. M16e Arawashi (1-5). Onosho at anything close to 100% is ridiculously under-ranked at M13, and his record reflects this. He will attempt to keep pace in the yusho race against Arawashi, who picked up his first victory on day 6 and, like Chiyomaru, can ill-afford any more losses. Onosho leads the series 3-1.

M7e Abi (5-1) vs. M9w Daieisho (5-1). The 10 combined victories by this pair are the most of any day 7 matchup, and both are in the chase pack behind Takakeisho. We all know Abi has had a great start to the tournament, but Daieisho has been quietly keeping pace and holds a 3-1 career edge.

M3e Nishikigi (2-4) vs. M2w Tamawashi (3-3). What has possessed Nishikigi? Will the other rikishi be attempting an exorcism? The man who’s tripped up two contenders, not to mention Bruce’s culinary plans and seating posture, will seek an improbable third consecutive victory against a much more accomplished opponent. Although Tamawashi has as many losses as victories, he is through the hard part of his fight card, and I’m sure eyeing a return to san’yaku. He’s won both of their prior meetings.

M2e Tochiozan (5-1) vs. M1w Hokutofuji (3-3). Tochiozan and Goeido, somewhere, over beers: “How did we lose to that guy?”. Despite today’s loss, Tochiozan remains one off the pace in the yusho race, and both men are well-positioned for san’yaku promotion should Kaisei and/or Ichinojo vacate their slots. Their record is fairly even at 2-3.

M1e Myogiryu (4-2) vs. K1w Kaisei (1-3-2). As the top-ranked maegashira, Myogiryu is in pole position for any open san’yaku slots if he can maintain a winning record. With three more losses, Kaisei would create one such slot. Myogiryu leads their matchup 9-6, including victories in their last three meetings.

M5e Chiyotairyu (5-1) vs. S1w Ichinojo (1-5). Following his lenient demotion, Chiyotairyu is having a great basho. He takes on Ichinojo, who has had a lethargic start and sports a mirror record. Before we completely write off our favorite giant, let’s not forget that he started the two previous basho 3-6 before going 5-1 over the final days to earn a bare-minimum kachi-koshi and defend his rank. If he is to turn his fortune around in a similar fashion this time, he needs to start now. Their record is fairly even at 3-4.

S1e Mitakeumi (3-3) vs. K1e Takakeisho (6-0). In my most anticipated match of the day, the king of the tadpoles takes on the pretender to his throne. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. This is a huge match for the young guns, who’ve met in seven of the last eight basho, with the record narrowly favoring Mitakeumi 4-3. The Sekiwake will seek primacy in the rivalry, and try to keep the faint embers of his Ozeki run glowing. The Komusubi will be fighting to keep his lead in the yusho race, move up a rank, and launch an Ozeki run of his own. While both men started out as pusher-thrusters, Mitakeumi has added belt techniques to his repertoire, and will probably want to turn the bout into a mawashi battle.

M4w Yoshikaze (3-3) vs. O1w Tochinoshin (3-3). The veteran Yoshikaze has held his own after a 9-rank promotion, but now starts his tour of the upper ranks. First stop is Tochinoshin, who has largely dashed pre-tournament yusho hopes with a string of unconvincing performances. The two have met 24 times dating back to 2008 (!), with the Ozeki holding a 15-9 edge.

M3w Ryuden (1-5) vs. O1w Takayasu (5-1). Unlike his fellow over-promoted M3 neighbor, Ryuden has yet to pull off any miracles. I don’t expect this to change against Takayasu, though I am not making any rash bets. The Ozeki has looked solid despite his glitch against Tochiozan, and remains in contention for his first yusho and a step toward shoring up the Yokozuna ranks. Surprisingly, Ryuden has won their one prior bout … in 2009 … in Makushita.

O1e Goeido (3-3) vs. M4e Shodai (4-2). Goeido has been … Goeido, while Shodai is off to a strong start and will look to claim his second consecutive Ozeki scalp. Goeido holds a 7-4 edge in the rivalry, and the pair split their four previous bouts this year, so this match has the potential to close another exciting day of sumo on a high note.

 

San’yaku Bouts to Look Forward to on Day 5

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We have only completed four days of the Kyushu basho, but in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “it got late early.” This is especially true of Yokozuna Kisenosato, but there are other high-stakes bouts on tomorrow’s torikumi.

K1e Takakeisho (4-0) vs. S1w Ichinojo (1-3). Takakeisho has extended his rank-saving six-bout winning streak at the close of Aki with four straight wins to open Kyushu. If he continues his strong performance, he’ll be stating his case for promotion to Sekiwake, and perhaps starting his own Ozeki run. Could he even factor in the yusho race? His next challenge is Ichinojo, who is off to yet another lethargic start. Takakeisho holds a 5-2 edge in their rivalry, including victories in the last two basho.

S1e Mitakeumi (2-2) vs. K1w Kaisei (0-2-2). I still believe Mitakeumi could earn Ozeki promotion with 11 or more wins, but this question is being rapidly rendered moot by his lackluster performance. Kaisei has been his kryptonite, holding a 5-1 advantage. Mitakeumi’s only victory came in his breakthrough yusho-winning Nagoya basho; tomorrow is his chance to claim another against an opponent who is clearly less than 100%. By the way, I am not sure why we are getting two san’yaku pairings on Day 5, when there clearly won’t be enough of these to go around for the remaining ten days.

O1e Goeido (2-2) vs. M3e Nishikigi (0-4). Goeido has had an uneven start to the tournament, but this is a huge mismatch, as will be most of Nishikigi’s bouts at this rank. Unsurprisingly, this is a first meeting between the two.

M1w Hokutofuji (2-2) vs. O2w Tochinoshin (3-1). Hokutofuji has fought well, and his record is even, but his two victories came against struggling Kisenosato and Ichinojo. Tochinoshin recovered from his opening loss to Tamawashi with three straight victories, though he has yet to look like his dominant self from earlier in the year. The Ozeki has won both of their prior meetings.

M2e Tochiozan (4-0) vs. O1w Takayasu (4-0). Wow, a meeting between two of the three remaining undefeated rikishi on Day 5! Tochiozan has taken full advantage of the banzuke luck that elevated him to M2, while Takayasu has looked cool, calm and collected against underwhelming opposition. The career record actually favors Tochiozan 19-7, but most of those bouts took place years ago in Tochiozan’s heyday and before Takayasu’s rise to the upper ranks; they are 1-1 since the latter became Ozeki. Bout of the day.

Y2e Kisenosato (0-4) vs. M2w Tamawashi (2-2). Hoo boy. As of this writing, I haven’t seen anything about Kisenosato pulling out of the tournament, so we may indeed witness a winless Yokozuna ascending the dohyo on Day 5. Via the Sumo Forum, I’ve seen statements from members of the NSK that 8-7 would be good enough for Kise to continue his career, along with insinuations from forum members that he might be “gifted” some victories. Fun times. If the bout does take place, Kisenosato holds a 9-2 edge (not counting fusen), but those two losses came the last two times he’s faced Tamawashi, including their bout at Aki. Tamawashi has alternated dominant victories over Tochinoshin and Ichinojo with weak losses to Mitakeumi and Goeido; if this pattern holds, the prediction for tomorrow’s fight is [puts on Mr. T voice] PAIN 😮

Kyushu Banzuke Forecast Postmortem

As Bruce already noted, the Kyushu banzuke has been posted. I have to say that this time I am proud of my forecast. Despite the difficulties created by the lopsided performances at Aki, I correctly predicted the exact rank and side for 30 of the 42 Makuuchi slots, including all 10 named ranks and 20 of the 32 maegashira ranks, which are much less predictable. Of my 12 misses, 6 resulted from exchanges of rikishi pairs in adjacent banzuke positions: Hokutofuji and Tochiozan at M1w and M2e, Tamawashi and Nishikigi at M2w and M3e, and Kagayaki and Abi at M6w and M7e. Two additional misses were also by half a rank: Yoshikaze at M5e instead of M4w, and Yago at M16w instead of the top rank in Juryo. I also switched Ikioi and Daieisho at M8e and M9w. The other miss, by 3 whole ranks, resulted from the obligatory head-scratcher by the banzuke committee. It seems like every banzuke includes one decision that’s impossible to predict, understand, or defend. This time around, it’s the wildly disparate treatment of Ryuden and Takanoiwa. The two were ranked at M13e and M13w for Aki, and put up identical 10-5 performances that should have resulted in similar banzuke positions. Instead, Ryuden is ranked at M3, as predicted, while Takanoiwa ended up all the way down at M6 and has every reason to feel aggrieved.

Aside from the easy named ranks, my predictions were especially accurate in the lower portion of the banzuke. From M10 down, my only error was demoting Chiyomaru in favor of Yago.

Unfortunately, all my close misses line up in such a way as to earn me exactly zero points in Guess the Banzuke, which awards two points for exact matches, a point for correct rank but wrong side (e.g. 6e vs. 6w), but, frustratingly, no points for other adjacent rank misses (e.g. 6w vs. 7e). Nevertheless, I tied my highest previous point total, achieved exactly a year ago. Apparently, Kyushu for me is what Aki is for Goeido 😉 On to the basho!

Kyushu Juryo Debuts

Two wrestlers will be in the sekitori (Makuuchi + Juryo) ranks for the first time in Fukuoka: Gokushindo and Tomokaze. They enter the paid ranks following strong performances in the Makushita joi—Gokushindo won the 3rd-division yusho with a perfect 7-0 record from Ms5, while Tomokaze went 5-2 from Ms4. Tomokaze’s promotion was a surprise, as Daiseido (Ms2, 4-3) should have been ahead of him in the promotion queue according to historical precedents.

While the two debutants are of similar age (22 and 23), they took very different paths to Juryo. Tomokaze has had something of a meteoric rise. After a university sumo career, he entered professional sumo in May of 2017, debuting in maezumo, where he went 3-0. I’m not sure why he did not start higher up the banzuke, as some collegiate wrestlers do—either he wasn’t sufficiently successful in college, or he chose to enter at the bottom of the sumo ladder. After that, he flew through the three lower divisions in one tournament apiece (Jonokuchi 7-0 Yusho; Jonidan 6-1; Sandanmne 7-0 Yusho) before posting 5 consecutive kachi-koshi records in Makushita to earn a spot in Juryo. That’s right—he has yet to post a losing record.

Gokushindo, on the other hand, entered sumo all the way back in 2012 as a 15-year-old. It took him a few tournaments to get established in Sandanme, where he spent almost three years before making his Makushita debut in 2015. He also lost all or part of three tournaments to injuries. After bouncing back and forth between Sandanme and Makushita, he finally established himself in the third-highest division in May of 2017—the same tournament that saw Tomokaze make his maezumo debut. He worked his way to the top of the division, flopping in his first chance at promotion by going 3-4 at Ms4 in March, missing out on promotion despite a 6-1 record at Ms7 in May, and failing again from Ms2 in July (3-4) before finally succeeding in emphatic fashion with a zensho yusho.

It will be interesting to watch how the two men fare in the sekitori ranks. Will they make it to the top division? Who will get there first?

Juryo Banzuke Projections

Since questions about Juryo come up a fair bit, I though I’d post my projections for the Kyushu banzuke. The methodology is the same as for Makuuchi, but these have received a lot less curation by hand, and I know less about precedents that go into making the Juryo rankings—in particular, how promotions from Makushita are treated. Makuuchi demotions in red; Makushita promotions in green.

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