Aki Wrap-up and Predictions for Kyushu

The smell of victory

Congratulations to Sekiwake Mitakeumi on lifting the Emperor’s Cup for the second time! While the path to the yusho wasn’t without controversy, I would argue that the best man won. Congratulations also to Sekiwake Ozeki Takakeisho, who not only achieved the 10 wins he needed to regain his rank against the expectations of many, but made it all the way into a championship playoff. Tachiai wishes good health to both (the early reports on Takakeisho after the playoff bout are worrying), and expects more titles from them in the future.

Takakeisho (O2e) and Goeido (O1e) will be ranked at Ozeki on the Kyushu banzuke, joining kadoban Ozeki Takayasu (O1w). We know that at least the first two will also be ranked at Ozeki for Hatsu 2020. Can Mitakeumi join them? He has 21 victories as a Sekiwake in the last two basho, which means that 12 more in November would give him the unofficial promotion standard of 33, and it’s hard to see the longtime san’yaku regular not getting the nod with a line of 9-12Y-12. Could we see him promoted with 11? It worked this decade for two other popular Japanese san’yaku mainstays

The Lower San’yaku

Mitakeumi will occupy the East Sekiwake slot for the 3rd straight basho, while newly re-demoted Tochinoshin will take over from Takakeisho as West Sekiwake, with the now all-too-familiar one-time shot to reascend to Ozeki with 10 wins. This means that Abi (9-6) will continue at the East Komusubi rank, with Endo (8-7) remaining West Komusubi.

So, you ask, what will they do with M1e Hokutofuji (9-6) and M10w Asanoyama (10-5), who did more than enough to earn san’yaku promotions under normal circustances? A maegashira one east with nine wins has never failed to be promoted, while a maegashira two with ten has had to settle for M1e once in the modern era (Kotoshogiku, after Kyushu 2006). At the same time, an extra Komusubi slot hasn’t been created for an M1 since 2006 (Roho, with 10 wins), and for an M2 in over two decades. An extra complication is that while Hokutofuji would seem to have the stronger case for forcing an extra slot, as it’s the only way he can get a well-deserved promotion, Asanoyama should be ranked ahead of him based on rank and record. And that’s before we even get to the difficulty of filling the maegashira ranks without ridiculous over-promotions and under-demotions if these two are not there to hold down the M1e and M1w slots.

Upper Maegashira

The only other rikishi in the M1-M5 ranks to earn his kachi-koshi is M3e Daieisho (8-7), although M3w Tomokaze and M4e Tamawashi ended with minimal 7-8 make-koshi records, and M6w Myogiryu (8-5-2) fought enough of the upper-rankers to be considered a member of the joi. These four will be back in the joi in Fukuoka. They will be joined by well-performing mid-maegashira: M8e Okinoumi (11-4), M8w Takarafuji (9-6), and M10w Meisei (10-5). Beyond that, we have to reach for M1w Aoiyama (5-10), M5w Ryuden (7-8), and M9w Kotoyuki (9-6). This group slots in much more palatably at M2-M6 than they do at M1-M5.

Three other joi maegashira had disastrous tournaments and will plummet down the banzuke in November. M4w Shodai (3-12) should drop to around M11, and he will fare the best of the trio. For all the flack Shodai gets, he hadn’t been ranked lower than M7 since making his top-division debut in January of 2016 at M12w, and has been ranked M5 or better in 19 of his 23 Makuuchi tournaments. Tachiai hopes he comes back strong in November, where he should have the opportunity to clean up against much weaker opposition. M2e Ichinojo (1-4-10), who withdrew with an injury after his Day 4 bout against Kakuryu, should be ranked just below Shodai. And M5w Chiyotairyu, who managed a tournament-low 2 wins among rikishi competing for all 15 days, will fall even lower, into the group of “broken toys” holding down the last 10 or so slots in the top division (see below). Have I mentioned these are 3 of my favorite rikishi? 😢

Top-Division Demotions and Promotions

Going into the final day, we had two definite demotions—Toyonoshima and Takagenji—and two definite promotions—Takanosho and Chiyomaru. In Day 15 bouts, Terutsuyoshi extended his stay in Makuuchi with a victory, as did Kagayaki, simultaneously relegating Azumaryu to Juryo. He’ll be joined there by Tochiozan, who has previously never dropped from the top division since making his debut in March of 2007. Daishoho picked up his 10th loss, but should just survive given the lack of strong promotion candidates.

The places of Tochiozan and Azumaryu should be occupied by J3 Wakatakakage (9-6), marking his top-division debut, and J5 Daishomaru, making his return after 4 tournaments in the second division, which were preceded by a three-year run in Makuuchi.

Juryo-Makushita Exchanges

Five slots in the salaried ranks should open up for sure: one via retirement (Yoshikaze) and four via demotion: Seiro, Chiyonoumi, Takanofuji (unless he also “retires”) and Asagyokusei. Four should be occupied by Ms1e Wakamotoharu and Ms2e Akua, both 6-1, and Ms4w Kototebakari and Ms5e Hoshoryu, both 4-3. The 5th man going up to “heaven” will probably be Ms5w Akiseyama, who won his “Darwin bout” to go 4-3. The other contender is Ms6e Churanoumi (5-2), but someone at his rank hasn’t been promoted with that record since the exceptional situation in 2011. If one of the two isn’t promoted, that would mean keeping J13e Irodori (6-9), but once again, someone with that rank and record has most recently escaped demotion on the same 2011 banzuke. Well, will find out the promotions to sekitori and can deduce the corresponding demotions on Wednesday, unlike the rest of the banzuke, for which we will have to wait until October 28.

Aki Day 15 Highlights

It was a tadpole playoff for the cup, and you know I was overjoyed. Well done to all competitors who made the final weekend of the basho one to remember. Congratulations Mitakeumi on his second yusho!

Thus ends Aki 2019, which many fans (myself included) will consider a departure from what we have come to accept as normal. As the team at Tachiai have written in the past, in absence of strong ur-Rikihsi such as Hakuho in a basho, new heroes shall rise. If nothing else, the past 18 months in sumo has taught us that. Today we saw the second yusho for Mitakeumi. As with his prior yusho, he is on the path toward Ozeki again, and maybe this time he can finish the evolution. The departure of the “old guard” is accelerating now, and the field is being swept clean for a new order that will bring with it new rivalries, new defeats and new triumphs. It’s a great time to be a sumo fan.

It will come to no surprise to the readers of Tachiai that out of the new leaders, we find Asanoyama, Yutakayama, Takakeisho and Mitakeumi. These are rikishi we have been watching evolve, coming into the power band where youth, strength, stamina, skill and sheer determination create legends. But don’t expect the fading kings of sumo to go out without a fight. In fact I had expected this basho to be the one where Kakuryu and Hakuho were both genki and brutally beat the new generation at every turn. But perhaps the fade is harder and faster than I assumed, or maybe my timing is off.

Tachiai congratulates Mitakeumi on his second yusho, it was masterfully done, and your sumo continues to energize.

Highlight Matches

Chiyoshoma defeats Takagenji – Aannnnnd HENKA! (Like Hollywood, sumo seems addicted to crummy sequels)

Kagayaki defeats Azumaryu – Kagayaki stayed as low as he could, and stayed focused on center mass. Kagayaki really has not had his sumo “together” this basho, so I am wondering if he’s got some kind of injury that is disrupting his normally excellent form. The Azumaryu nostalgia effect is gone, and I think he’s going to be a candidate rebuild in Juryo.

Yutakayama defeats Shohozan – Yutakayama wins a yotsu match! Sort of an unusual form for these two to take, but I loved it. Check out Yutakayama’s footwork! He was employing almost a gaburi-yori attack there.

Onosho defeats Tsurugisho – I love the Onosho story for this basho. He came in still hurting from his surgery, his balance was poor, his sumo was disorganized. He put on his classic red mawashi that led us to label him on his first run up the banzuke “The Tadpole Red Menace”. After a fairly cold start, he closed with 6 straight wins to go 9-6. No knock against Tsurugisho, who opened 10-5 in his debut Makuuchi posting.

Enho defeats Sadanoumi – Enho tries, and eventually succeeds in getting a left hand inside grip, and uses that to run the table. What’s fun about Enho’s size is that he is small enough that his hips are about 4″ lower than Sadanoumi’s, so cocking the eventual shitatenage is rather simple mechanics for him. Enho will be mid-Maegashira for Kyushu, so some new opponents to test against, I can’t wait.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi tries for his favored arm-bar, but finds that the “death clench” works both ways. Terutsuyoshi grabs an arm and pulls him into a rarely seen sakatottari. Even if he is relegated back to Juryo, it’s wonderful to see Terutsuyoshi close out the basho with a great win and a great move.

Kotoshogiku defeats Tochiozan – Aannnnnd HENKA! Well, but it does not work, as Kotoshogiku is waiting for it. I don’t blame Tochiozan for trying it, he has to know he is facing demotion to Juryo, and would rather not end up there. And indicator of how hurt Tochiozan is would be how weak that henka attempt was.

Shimanoumi defeats Daishoho – Daishoho opened strong early, but Shimanoumi rallied and put him down. Both end with a miserable 5-10 recored for Aki.

Kotoyuki defeats Shodai – Shodai gets an opening to win a couple of times, but can’t make any of them pay out. Really sad to see him close out 3-12, but it was quite impressive sumo form Kotoyuki today, who threw everything he could at Shodai, and took the match.

Ishiura defeats Tamawashi – The first of our Darwin matches features a false start, as both want this one badly, and both suspect the other of a henka at the tachiai. Ishiura gets inside quickly, and robs Tamawashi of his mobility, and rapidly focus his pressure on his abdomen and advances. It’s over in a hurry, and Ishiura manages his kachi-koshi, and rescues himself from the growing log-jam of Juryo-qualified Maegashira.

Tomokaze defeats Chiyotairyu – I apologize dear readers, but am I ever tired of the reverse-gear sumo from Tomokaze. A win is a win, but it’s a shame to see so much talent and so much potential sidelined for this kind of sumo. Chiyotairyu ends with 2-13, the lowest finishing score for any man who fought day 15.

Daieisho defeats Kotoeko – Second Darwin match, and boy did these two really turn up the power. It’s a full hybrid battle-plan as they swap between yotsu and oshi at will. But Daieisho prevails and takes his 8th win. Fantastic sumo from both today.

Meisei defeats Asanoyama – Meisei surprises Asanoyama with his first ever win, and I can tell he put a lot of thought and prep into this match. Meisei when right hand inside at the tachai, and kept himself close to 90° to Asanoyama, not allowing Asanoyama to advance and push Meisei back. Of course Asanoyama pivots to correct that, and Meisei uses this rotational force to whip Asanoyama around and put him on the bales. As Asanoyama is focused on rescuing himself from that mistake, Meisei goes mae-mitzu, and goes in for the kill. Nice sumo Meisei!

Ryuden defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama fires up the big V-Twin power today, but he is lacking the forward pressure from his lower body to make it work. Ryuden figures this out and steps to the side, grabs an arm and pulls Aoiyama to the clay. Tough basho for Big Dan the man-mountain. I hope he can get his health back soon.

Hokutofuji defeats Takarafuji – Here it was again, it’s as if Hokutofuji’s lower body is working on its own. After grappling at the tachiai, Takarafuji actually defeats the upper body of Hokutofuji. But Hokutofuji’s lower body is not conceding a thing, and keeps him in the fight, off-balance with arms spread at the tawara. Takarafuji assumes that’s the end, but that lower body is still fighting, turns more or less on it’s own to square Hokutofuji’s hips against Takarafuji and drives. A moment later the upper body catches up and puts both hands on Takarafuji’s chest. Odd but amazing sumo from Hokutofuji today. He won the last 8 matches in a row.

Myogiryu defeats Abi – First match was inconclusive as they touched down / out together, and a torinaoshi was called. The second match, Abi tried to pull as Myogiryu went inside and pushed, giving the match to Myogiryu. Congrats to Myogiryu for coming back from kyujo and picking up 8.

Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – Takakeisho goes for the armpits at the tachiai and never gives up the hold. Sort of a different attack style from the “wave action” one might expect, but it got the job done smartly.

Mitakeumi defeats Endo – Endo tried for a left hand inside grip at the tachiai, but quickly discovered this was a denshamichi match, Mitakeumi was in Shinkansen mode. The Tadpole playoff is a go!

Goeido defeats Tochinoshin – Goeido gets a excellent left hand outside grip and exploits Tochinoshin’s knee-less left leg with great effect. Tochinoshin has no power to stop the spin and push into the west side zabuton. I am really worried that Tochinoshin has nothing left in that knee, and we may not be seeing a graceful decline like we saw with Kotoshogiku.

THE PLAYOFF – Takakeisho’s propensity to push then pull at the tachiai has become easy to predict. Clearly Mitakeumi did, and figured if Takakeisho was going to give up forward pressure, he could take a trip to the tawara. Takakeisho realizes his opening gambit failed spectacularly, and tries to hold back Mitakeumi at the edge. But Mitakeumi lowers his hips and pushes, and wins.

Thank you dear readers for sharing your Aki Basho with us. We have had an absolute blast covering this tournament for the past two weeks. Be sure to stay with us as we cover the weeks leading up to the next tournament, November’s Kyushu basho.

Aki Special Prizes

July’s winners

Sanshō 三賞, literally “three prizes” are the three special prizes awarded to top (Makuuchi) division sumo wrestlers for exceptional performance during a sumo honbasho or tournament. The prizes were first awarded in November 1947. The three prizes are:
Shukun-shō (殊勲賞), Outstanding Performance prize
Kantō-shō (敢闘賞), Fighting Spirit prize
Ginō-shō (技能賞), Technique prize

Wikipedia

Who will claim the trophies and the ¥2 million that comes with each one? The prizes are voted on before the final day’s bouts take place, but some are awarded conditionally. Usually, the condition is that the rikishi must win his last bout, but sometimes it can be something else, such as winning the yusho.

The September prizes have just been announced. Mitakeumi will get an outstanding performance award and a fighting spirit prize, both conditionally (it’s not clear if the condition is getting into a playoff or taking the yusho). Asanoyama will receive an unconditional outstanding performance award, while Okinoumi will also get one conditionally (again, I’m not sure if the condition is getting into a playoff or taking the yusho). Okinoumi will also receive an unconditional fighting spirit prize, and, as expected, so will Tsurugisho for posting double-digit wins in his top-division debut. It looks like no one was deemed worthy of a technique prize. The full list is below:

Shukun-sho(Outstanding Performance Award)

East Sekiwake Mitakeumi(Hisashi Omichi)  conditionally
(11-3)
Dewanoumi Beya
Date of Birth: December 25, 1992 (26 years old)
Place of Birth: Nagano
2015 March Debut

Shukun-sho(Outstanding Performance Award)

West Maegashira #2 Asanoyama(Hiroki Ishibashi)  
(10-4)
Takasago Beya
Date of Birth: March 1, 1994 (25 years old)
Place of Birth: Toyama
2016 March Debut

Shukun-sho(Outstanding Performance Award)

East Maegashira #8 Okinoumi(Ayumi Fukuoka)  conditionally
(11-3)
Hakkaku Beya
Date of Birth: July 29, 1985 (34 years old)
Place of Birth: Shimane
2005 January Debut

Kanto-sho(Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Sekiwake Mitakeumi(Hisashi Omichi)  conditionally
(11-3)
Dewanoumi Beya
Date of Birth: December 25, 1992 (26 years old)
Place of Birth: Nagano
2015 March Debut

Kanto-sho(Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Maegashira #8 Okinoumi(Ayumi Fukuoka)  
(11-3)
Hakkaku Beya
Date of Birth: July 29, 1985 (34 years old)
Place of Birth: Shimane
2005 January Debut

Kanto-sho(Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Maegashira #14 Tsurugisho(Kentaro Abiko)  
(10-4)
Oitekaze Beya
Date of Birth: July 27, 1991 (28 years old)
Place of Birth: Tokyo
2014 January Debut

Aki Storylines for Senshuraku

The Yusho Race

What had been a very muddled picture became clear as a result of Day 14 action. Only three men, all with 11-3 records, still have a shot at lifting the Emperor’s Cup: Sekiwake Mitakeumi, Sekiwake Takakeisho, and, controversially, M8 Okinoumi. By scheduling the latter pair against each other—and forgoing the traditional Abi vs. Takakeisho bout—the torikumi committee has guaranteed that the yusho will be won with a 12-3 record, thereby eliminating 10-win Asanoyama and Tsurugisho from contention.

The scenarios are simple: should Mitakeumi lose, the winner of the Takakeisho vs. Okinoumi bout is the champion. If Mitakeumi wins, he will face that winner in a playoff for all the marbles. I recommend Josh’s excellent preview post for an analysis of the matchups.

The Ozeki

Sadly, Tochinoshin’s quest to defend his Ozeki rank came to an end with his loss to Myogiryu today. He will be ranked at West Sekiwake for Kyushu, and the 10 wins needed to re-regain his rank seem like a big ask unless what ails him can somehow be fixed in six weeks. With 20 wins in 29 bouts over the last two basho, Mitakeumi probably needs 12 or 13 in November to finally become Ozeki, depending on tomorrow’s outcome, and beyond mere numbers, winning the yusho (or even losing a playoff) would certainly help his cause.

The Lower San’yaku

With Mitakeumi locked in as East Sekiwake, Tochinoshin falling to West Sekiwake, and both Komusubi recording at least 8 wins, all the regular slots are spoken for. According to Asashosakari, this is the first time that’s happened since Aki 2006. Neither Abi nor Endo can end the basho with 11 wins, which means that they will almost certainly stay where they are. M1e Hokutofuji can get to 9 wins, and M2w Asanoyama can get to 11, but it’s not clear whether either outcome would be sufficient to open an extra Komusubi slot; I’m guessing that we will see the duo as extremely hard-luck M1e and M1w, respectively.

Darwin Bouts

Only five rikishi go into Day 15 with 7-7 records and their kachi/make-koshi fate on the line. And of course, four of them are matched up: it’s Tamawashi vs. Ishiura and Daieisho vs. Kotoeko. The 5th, Myogiryu, takes Takakeisho’s place against Abi. There are no major promotions or demotions on the line for this group—only the direction of their move for the Kyushu banzuke.

Demotion Danger

Here’s where things stand with one day to go. There are two definite demotions from Makuuchi: Toyonoshima and Takagenji. Conveniently, they are matched by two definite promotions from Juryo: Takanosho and Chiyomaru.

Beyond that, things are a bit murky. Tochiozan will be in serious trouble with a loss, and not completely safe with a win. The loser of its own kind of Darwin bout, Kagayaki vs. Azumaryu, will also be eligible for demotion, as will Terutsuyoshi with a loss. Daishoho’s win today makes his stay in the top division likely but not certain.

Whether or not any of these laggards actually end up on the boat to Juryo will depend on the existence of palatable promotion candidates there. J3 Wakatakakage (8-6) would probably qualify with a win, and might exchange places with Tochiozan should both lose. J5 Daishomaru (9-5) is in similar shape, while Juryo yusho winner and erstwhile Makuuchi mainstay J12 Ikioi (12-2) must win and hope for a lot of losses by others, as well as favorable treatment by the banzuke committee.

And down at the other end of Juryo, it looks to me like we’ll have one spot in the salaried ranks opening up via retirement (Yoshikaze) and five more via demotion: Seiro, Chiyonoumi, Takanofuji (unless he also “retires”), Asagyokusei, and Irodori. Who are the lucky six Makushita men ascending to “heaven”? At the moment, we have four qualified candidates in the Ms1-Ms5 promotion zone: Ms1e Wakamotoharu and Ms2e Akua, both 6-1, and Ms4w Kototebakari and Ms5e Hoshoryu, both 4-3. Yes, readers, barring anything unexpected, Hoshoryu should be a sekitori in November! One more rikishi will join them on the final day: the winner of a Darwin bout between Ms2w Chiyonoo and Ms5w Akiseyama, both 3-3. I am not sure what will happen with the 6th slot. It might go to Ms6e Churanoumi (4-2) if he can win his final bout, or else to Ms7w Chiyotoori (5-2). Or J13e Irodori might survive if he can manage a 6th win on senshuraku.