Haru Banzuke Crystal Ball

Aminishiki

Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

The rankings aren’t in doubt, but nonetheless there are many questions about this group. Which if any Yokozuna will show up? Kakuryu (ankle) and Hakuho (toes) are nursing injuries. Kisenosato has declared that the next tournament he enters will be his make-or-break one—perform at Yokozuna level for 15 days or retire. My guess a month before the basho is that Hakuho is very likely to participate, Kakuryu is also likely to compete, and Kisenosato will most likely sit this one out.

Lower San’yaku

S

Mitakeumi

Tochinoshin

K

Ichinojo

Chiyotairyu

In the upper ranks, a kachi-koshi (winning record) is no guarantee that your position within the rank won’t change: witness the Yokozuna and Ozeki getting reshuffled based on their performances at the previous basho. This used to be the case for Sekiwake as well, with 8-7 East Sekiwake frequently moving to West Sekiwake for the subsequent tournament when a more deserving candidate for East Sekiwake existed. However, this seems to have changed about ten years ago (perhaps someone can shed light on the history), and an 8-7 record at Sekiwake (or Komusubi) now appears to guarantee retention of rank and side. A recent example of this is S1e Tamawashi not switching sides with S1w Takayasu even after their respective 8-7 and 12-3 performances at last year’s Haru basho. Long story short, 8-7 Mitakeumi will retain his S1e rank, with 14-1 yusho winner Tochinoshin joining him at Sekiwake on the West side. Ichinojo and Chiyotairyu, the highest-ranked maegashira with winning records at Hatsu, should take over the Komusubi slots vacated by Takakeisho and Onosho.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Tamawashi

Endo

M2

Arawashi

Kotoshogiku

M3

Takakeisho

Takarafuji

M4

Shodai

Shohozan

M5

Chiyomaru

Onosho

Endo has been ranked M1 twice before, but has never broken through to San’yaku. Is this his time? Arawashi would similarly tie his highest rank, while Chiyomaru has never been ranked above M8. Everyone else in this group has been ranked in San’yaku, most of them within the last couple of years.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Kaisei

Hokutofuji

M7

Yoshikaze

Kagayaki

M8

Abi

Okinoumi

M9

Chiyoshoma

Chiyonokuni

M10

Daieisho

Tochiozan

M11

Yutakayama

Ryuden

A mix of rikishi in a holding pattern in this part of the banzuke (Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Chiyonokuni, Tochiozan), higher-ranked rikishi dropping down after rough Hatsu performances (Hokutofuji, Yoshikaze, Okinoumi), and up-and-comers making a move up the banzuke (Kagayaki, Abi, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Ryuden). Three of the rikishi promoted from Juryo for Hatsu put up good numbers and find themselves here.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Kotoyuki

Daishomaru

M13

Ishiura

Ikioi

M14

Asanoyama

Nishikigi

M15

Myogiryu

Sokokurai

M16

Daiamami

Hidenoumi

M17

Aoiyama


Predicted demotions to Juryo: Terunofuji, Aminishiki, Takekaze. Predicted promotions: Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama. Often, this area of the banzuke contains a bunch of poor performances from the previous basho, but the only one who really fits that bill is Ikioi, who is dropping from M6 after putting up a 4-11 record. Kotoyuki, Daishomaru, and Sokokurai put up mediocre numbers, but Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami all earned kachi-koshi records at Hatsu. Nevertheless, they’ll be fighting for their Makuuchi lives again in Osaka, as everyone in this group needs a minimum of 6 wins (more for those closer to the bottom) to be safe from demotion.

Ranking the 2018 Hatsu Undercard

The 2018 Hatsu Basho has come to a close, and what an incredible Basho it was! While the Cinderella story of Tochinoshin claiming his first Yusho – and as a Maegashira to boot – made the New Year Tournament special, this Basho was also notable for the incredible level of competition coming from the bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke. The undercard, comprised of the bottom nine rungs of the top division, consistently turned out high-quality matches day in and day out and made this January one of the most exciting months in sumo in quite some time. Here are my rankings for the 2018 Hatsu Basho undercard.

17. Terunofuji: 0-8-7
What can I say about Terunofuji that hasn’t been said countless times already? With a 0-8-7 record, Terunofuji’s performance is one of the worst seen in quite a while, and now the former Ozeki has fallen entirely out of the Makuuchi division. But all hope is not lost. The career paths of Tochinoshin and Chiyonokuni have demonstrated that taking much needed time off and starting over lower on the banzuke is not a death sentence. Hopefully, our Kaiju does the same and returns to wreak havoc in the top division one day soon.

16. Aminishiki: 3-9-3
Aminishiki’s performance was far from what many had hoped for after his splendid tournament in November. The crafty maneuvers he used in Kyushu were well scouted and dealt with by his Hatsu opponents. Coupled with a new injury that forced him to miss three days, Aminishiki racked up only three wins and is Juryo-bound. Here’s hoping we see that lovable old uncle back in the top division in the future!

15. Takekaze: 5-10
The other elder statesman of the undercard, Takekaze, will also leave the top division in March unless he has a barbers appointment booked before then. Grandpa Bullfrog didn’t go out without a fight though, and managed to put together a nice four-match win streak after a disastrous start. However it was too little, too late, and he finished Hatsu with a record of 5-10.

14. Sokokurai: 6-9
Juryo is probably looking pretty good right about now for the former second division champion. Sokokurai made his return to Makuuchi at Hatsu, but during his time away the top division has gone through a significant influx of talent and is now far more competitive than when he left it. The Chinese rikishi just couldn’t keep up with the young guns.

13. Daishomaru: 7-8
Daishomaru was kind of invisible this January, and with only seven wins (including a fusen win over Terunofuji) he failed to score his kachi koshi. However, 7-8 is far better than his abysmal 4-11 Kyushu record, so at least he is trending in the right direction.

12. Kotoyuki: 7-8
While Kotoyuki failed to get a winning record, his performance at Hatsu was more consistent than other the rikishi with make koshi records, and he could have very well finished in the winners’ column had he not bit so hard on Ishiura’s Day 15 henka. The Penguin will have to regroup for March.

11. Daiamami: 8-7
Daiamami, the man at the absolute bottom of the division, did just enough to remain in Makuuchi for Haru. With his size and strength, Daiamami has the makings of a sumo powerhouse, but he needs to get his consistency issues under control first.

10. Nishikigi: 8-7
Nishikigi lives to fight another day! The man in green managed to secure his kachi koshi, in dramatic fashion this time with a big senshuraku win. He won’t have to worry about demotion for a while. Well, at least for February.

9. Ishiura: 9-6
While I’m glad to see Ishiura make his return to Makuuchi, I was a little disappointed by the quality of his sumo near the end of the Basho. While I have no problem with a smaller rikishi pulling out a henka to get the upper hand, it got a little tiresome by the third time he used it. I hope Ishiura uses more of the creative sumo he employed in week one of Hatsu when the March tournament rolls around, and saves the henka for when he really needs it!

8. Asanoyama: 9-6
Asanoyama looked like he was having a major rebound Basho after the disaster of Kyushu last November, but he faded considerably in the latter half of Hatsu and went on another prolonged losing skid. A lack of self-esteem seems to be his most significant issue, and he needs to figure out how to keep it together when he starts to lose if he wants to make it in Makuuchi. Asanoyama did manage to pull out of his tailspin this Basho and put together nine wins. I hope he takes the next few weeks to tighten up his sumo and enters March with more confidence.

7. Yutakayama: 9-6
You may be asking yourself, why is Yutakayama so high on this list when he has just as many wins as a bunch of other rikishi? Well, the simple explanation is that with nine wins he more than exceeded all expectations the majority of fans had for him coming into Hatsu! Even if he had finished with a 5-10 record, Yutakayama would have improved on his previous ventures into the top division. But instead, he captured a bonafide Makuuchi kachi koshi, something many thought he was incapable of, and for that I commend him.

6. Chiyomaru: 9-6
Another solid outing for the marshmallow man. Chiyomaru has recorded nine wins in four of his last five tournaments, and it’s this consistency that earned him his spot near the top of this list. If he can keep this run of 9-win kachi koshis going, he could find himself in the Joi before the year’s end. At Maegashira 9 and assured a promotion, Chiyomaru will not be a part of the Makuuchi undercard come March.

5. Kagayaki: 9-6
I have a feeling we will be looking back on Hatsu 2018 as a turning point in the career of Kagayaki. The man in gold transformed from the clumsy, hesitant rikishi we knew into a much more confident, skilled athlete. Heck, he even fought on the mawashi a few times this Basho! If Kagayaki continues to build upon this success and strengthen his craft, 2018 could be his year.

4. Daieisho: 9-6
While my prediction of Daieisho fading in the second half of the tournament was right, his drop off wasn’t nearly as severe as in previous Basho, and he ended Hatsu with a very respectable 9-6 record. Daieisho has so much natural talent when it comes to sumo, and if he can figure out how to show up for the full 15 days of a tournament, then it won’t be long until he’s one of this sports brightest stars.

3. Shohozan: 9-6
Big Guns Shohozan has made a humongous return to form after his ghastly 3-12 Kyusho record. The man from Fukuoka was a consistent threat throughout the first half of Hatsu, and while he did drop off near the end of the tournament, he will be remembered for his colossal clash with Tochinoshin, giving the Yusho winner one of his toughest matches of the Basho. I look forward to seeing what Shohozan has in store for us at Haru, and I pity anyone who has to stand across the dohyo from this brawler.

2. Abi: 10-5
Sorry Asanoyama, but I think it’s time to pass on that Mr. Happy moniker to Abi. Things didn’t start off great for Abi, whose balance issues were exploited by his opponents. However, he never lost his smile, and once he got his balance under control, there was very little anyone could do to stop him from reaching his impressive 10-5 record. Even facing opponents ranked much higher than him didn’t seem to perturb the smiling one, who took them on with great determination! When I look Abi, with his long limbs and stocky body, he reminds me so much of a young Takanohana. While they are known for different fighting styles, if Abi can learn to use his proportions as effectively as the former Yokozuna, he has a very bright future ahead of him.

1. Ryuden: 10-5
Without a doubt, Ryuden was the star of the 2018 Hatsu undercard. Few have had as tough a road to the top division as Ryuden. Throughout his twelve-year career he has faced everything, including injuries that forced him to miss most of 2013 and 2014, but he never let these roadblocks stop him from reaching sumo’s biggest stage. Once he reached the top division, he not only held his own but flourished! After a rocky Act One, Ryuden took flight and won eight of his last nine out matches, clinching a sansho special prize for fighting spirit along the way! While he shares the same record as Abi, Ryuden gets the edge over the smiling youngster due to his consistency and his tenacity. It didn’t matter who he faced or how outmatched he was, Ryuden fought with everything he had each and every day, and sent a message that he is here to stay.

 

Hatsu 2018 sansho
Abi, Tochinoshin, and Ryuden, the stars of Hatsu

*This is just an opinion piece, and I would love to hear who you think were the standout rikishi of the 2018 Hatsu Basho.

Hatsu Basho Wrap Up and Predictions

Lift

What a great basho with an unexpected champion. Below, I will go through the various tiers of Makuuchi (and upper Juryo) and assess the performances, as well as what they likely mean for the Haru banzuke reshuffle (as usual, a full “banzuke crystal ball” post will follow once I’ve had a chance to more carefully digest the results).

The Yokozuna

At Haru, we should see Kakuryu atop the banzuke, followed by Hakuho and Kisenosato. Although he faded with 4 straight losses after a 10-0 start before recovering to beat Goeido on senshuraku, Kakuryu did enough to justify his rank. I would give him a solid B. Hakuho (re)injured his toes, and gets an Incomplete. Kisenosato had to pull out due to underperformance rather than injury after racking up 4 losses in 5 days and handing out 3 kinboshi. It’s not clear what the way forward is for him. A generous D–.

The Ozeki

The two Ozeki will swap sides in Osaka, with Takayasu fighting from the more prestigious East side. His 12-3 record is by far his most impressive in 4 tournaments as Ozeki, although he has to wonder what might have been in this wide-open basho. Any tsuna talk is highly premature, but if he can build on this performance, we may hear it in the near future. A–

The other Ozeki, Goeido, looked strong out of the gate but then went 4-7 over the last 11 days, ending with a minimal kachi-koshi. He avoided going kadoban by the narrowest of margins. A gentleman’s C.

The Old Lower Sanyaku

This highly touted group did not exactly distinguish itself, only managing 23 wins among the four of them. As a result, we should see almost complete turnover in the Sekiwake/Komusubi ranks. The one holdover is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who started 7-0 but then went 1-7 the rest of the way to maintain his rank by the narrowest of margins. Some of this can be chalked up to tougher second-week opposition, but it’s hard to excuse losses to Arawashi, Shodai, and Okinoumi. This is Mitakeumi’s 6th consecutive tournament in Sanyaku, all of them alternating 9-6 and 8-7 records. He will have to find another gear before the often-mentioned Ozeki run can materialize. Still, he stays at Sekiwake. B–

The rest of the group put up disastrous performances. Instead of starting his own Ozeki run, Sekiwake Tamawashi went 6-9 and will drop out of Sanyaku. It’s not clear what was wrong with his sumo, as he looked like his own formidable self on some days, and went meekly on others. The good news is that he should only drop to M1, and will have a chance to fight his way back up with a solid record in Osaka. C–

Shin-Komusubi Takakeisho had a typical shin-Komusubi rough tournament, going 5-10. He should stay in the joi in Osaka, falling to around M3. C– His friend and fellow Komusubi Onosho faired even worse in his second go-round at the rank, picking up only 4 wins before withdrawing with an injury. No miracle kachi-koshi finish this time. He should drop to around M5. D+

The New Lower Sanyaku

Joining Mitakeumi at Sekiwake will be the yusho winner, Tochinoshin. While there are many reasons to doubt he can replicate his amazing performance going forward, I’ll go out on a limb and say that if he accumulates 11-12 wins in each of the next two tournaments, we’ll see him at Ozeki. A+ Also rejoining the named ranks with a bang at Komusubi is Ichinojo, who really turned things around in the last two tournaments. If he can continue to bring convincing sumo to the dohyo, his size and skill could also see him at Ozeki before too long, although of course this is what was said about him after his amazing Makuuchi debut in 2014. A

Who gets the other Komusubi slot? The man who probably gained the most on senshuraku, sumo Elvis, Chiyotairyu. The big guy needed to win on the last day and have both Kotoshogiku and Endo lose, and this is exactly how things played out. The last and only time Chiyotairyu was ranked this high was also in 2014, and he’s spent most of the intervening time among the lower maegashira ranks, with 3 Juryo stints, so it’s good to see him climb the mountain again. A

The Joi

The upper maegashira ranks in Osaka will see more permutation than turnover. Based on the thinness and health issues of the Sanyaku, I’m going to generously extend the joi boundary down to M5. These ranks should look something like this:

M1 Tamawashi (S) Endo (M5)
M2 Arawashi (M4) Kotoshogiku (M2)
M3 Takakeisho (K) Takarafuji (M6)
M4 Shodai (M4) Shohozan (M9)
M5 Chiyomaru (M9) Onosho (K)

In addition to the aforementioned fallen Sanyaku rikishi, we have Kotoshogiku and Shodai treading water with their minimal make-koshi records and a pair of C‘s. Endo (A–) and Arawashi (B+) move up within these ranks. Takarafuji (B+) moves up from just below the joi, while Shohozan (A–) and Chiyomaru (A–) make some of the biggest moves up the board.

Dropping out of these ranks are Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze, who both had disastrous 4-11 tournaments, good for a pair of D‘s, along with Okinoumi (C–).

Makuuchi Promotions and Demotions

As has already been mentioned, the 8 lowest-ranked rikishi all earned winning records. For Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami, this saved them from demotion to Juryo, but without much of a cushion for Haru. Daieisho, Yutakayama, and the newcomers Abi and Ryuden should move up into solid mid-maegashira territory. Yutakayama in particular is to be commended for turning things around in his third Makuuchi tournament by going 9-6, after his previous two appearances each ended in 4-11 records and quick returns to Juryo.

Dropping down into the M13-M17 ranks and fighting for survival in Osaka will be Ikioi and Sokokurai, who narrowly staved off demotion.

As a result of the solid performances at the bottom of the banzuke, not a lot of slots will be open for promotion. Dropping down to Juryo are Terunofuji, who desperately needs to take a page from Tochinoshin’s book, and Aminishiki. Also joining them will be Takekaze, the only rikishi among those who desperately needed a senshuraku win to not get it. Their slots should be taken by Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, and most likely Aoiyama, with Kyokutaisei just missing out on making his Makuuchi debut despite doing enough for promotion in most tournaments.

Hatsu Day 15 Preview

 

Tochinoshin Victorious
Kasugano Heya Welcomes Their Hero

 

We come to it at last, the final day on a thoroughly enjoyable sumo tournament. One of the better ones in the last few months, and a real delight to watch over the past two weeks. Some of my favorite rikishi have been doing poorly, but the overall Makuuchi crew has been competing with skill, vigor, and flashes of brilliance.

While none of the crew here at Tachiai (nor anyone I know of) predicted Tochinoshin would dominate this basho, his performance continues to follow the arc we believe will continue. That starting with Kotoshogiku’s yusho in 2016, the age of the Mongolian stranglehold on sumo is ending. This gives us great hope, as this is not the sumo of 20 years ago. The sport continues to have an ever-increasing international appeal, to the puzzlement of Japan.

For now, let’s enjoy the images and video that will flow from today, and know that we continue to see the glorious evolution of a great and ancient sport.

What We Are Watching Day 15

What, you thought because it’s senshuraku there’s nothing going on? Ha! But it does seem like a few folks were brought up from Juryo to try on their Makuuchi moves in preparation for March in Osaka.

Daiamami vs Aoiyama – For Daiamami to pick up his 8th win, and stay in the top division, he must overcome the man-mountain Aoiyama, and his enormous man-boobs. No easy accomplishment. I beg NHK to not show any slow-motion replays.

Kyokutaisei vs Nishikigi – Another likely Juryo promotee for March, he squares off against Nishikigi who also needs his 8th win. The good news for the man who never gives up, he holds a 6-1 career lead over Kyokutaisei.

Kotoyuki vs Ishiura – Someone call the henka police! Kotoyuki is also looking for #8 against the somewhat inconsistent Ishiura. I am sure that Kotoyuki is ready for Ishiura’s submarine tachiai.

Shohozan vs Abi – I am guessing the winner secures a special prize, both are 9-5, both are fighting well. Abi has had a great debut tournament, and I predict he is going to do great things for the next year or so.

Shodai vs Kagayaki – Shodai looking for win #8, and a small but interesting move higher in the Maegashira ranks for March. Shodai may in fact still be salvageable as a good san’yaku rikishi. Much of it will depend on him fixing some of the mechanical problems he has. His spirit and dedication are first rates. Kagayaki survived a somewhat rocky Hatsu, and comes out with a winning record. I look for him to be mid-Maegashira in Osaka.

Endo vs Tochinoshin – Sure, Tochinoshin has the yusho, and Endo is kachi-koshi, but this one is very interesting to me. Endo was at one time the “Great hope”, but injuries have hampered him. Surgery last year brought him back to some level of health, and he has been working hard to recover as a contender. I am fairly sure Tochinoshin will take this one, but Endo has shown some fantastic sumo this January. Perhaps he has one more surprise left for us.

Chiyotairyu vs Daieisho – Super-sized Chiyotairyu looks for a kachi-koshi and elevation to one of the top 4 slots of the Maegashira ranks for March. Chiyotairyu holds a 5-1 career advantage over Daieisho, and Chiyotairyu recently has been adding a sprinkle of neutron-star matter to his chanko, which has given him a steep gravity well.

Takarafuji vs Kotoshogiku – Ugly Darwin match. Winner kachi / loser make kochi. Not sure who I would rather have win. Takarafuji had a pretty tough card this basho but kept up the fight. But it’s tough to see Kotoshogiku fade away. Either way, Kotoshogiku holds a 12-6 career advantage.

Yoshikaze vs Ikioi – The saddest match of the whole basho, which could only be topped if Aminishiki and Terunofuji battled in wheelchairs with IV bottles hanging on them. Both of these great rikishi are in broken states, and I just hope they face each other on the dohyo, shrug and walk off to find a bar.

Kaisei vs Ichinojo – “Why don’t you go pick on someone your own size?” In response, I present you a battle of the gas giants. Both are kachi-koshi at this point, so this is just to see what happens when two massive objects collide. Hopefully, LIGO is tuned up and running.

Hokutofuji vs Aminishiki – Ok, I give up. Why is this happening?

Takakeisho vs Arawashi – Takakeisho wants a win to keep his banzuke drop as restrained as possible. Arawashi’s knees won’t give him too much support as he tries to resist Takakeisho’s powerful thrusting attack. This is actually the first time the two of these rikishi have faced off.

Mitakeumi vs Takayasu – Current Ozeki vs Future Ozeki. Good match here. If Mitakeumi can keep himself in touch with his sumo, and stay calm and strong, he can take this one from Takayasu. But I predict that Takayasu is going to go for his cannonball tachiai. Maybe Mitakeumi will give him a bit of a Harumafuji mini-henka, and send the fuzzy Ozeki launching into the shimpan gallery.

Kakuryu vs Goeido – Happy to see Goeido booted up in 2.0 mode on day 14. Kakuryu back to injured, so this one is all Goeido, I predict. Big K has no power to ground, possibly due to strain and pain once again in his lower back. I call 10-5 a worthy return, and he should get that back adjusted before it’s chronic again.

Hatsu Day 12 Highlights

Kakuryu-Hand

The mad-cap roller-coaster of Sumo that is our wonderful Hatsu basho took another wild and exciting turn on day 12. Unlike Kyushu, which was another relentless march of the dai-Yokozuna towards an inevitable victory, the sole remaining (weak) Yokozuna has made this basho exciting, unpredictable and frankly a whole lot of fun. Read no further if you don’t want to know what happened.

On day 11, Yokozuna Kakuryu lost to Tamawashi, making a tactical mistake that his opponent knew would come, and was eager to exploit. In that moment when Kakuryu, the sole undefeated rikishi lost, the yusho race opened wide, and a giant bear of a man stepped up. On day 12, that picture changes again.

So many good matches today. Many good bouts from all rikishi at all levels of the banzuke. The Hatsu basho continues to delight and impress.

Following Herouth’s approach, let’s start at the bottom of the list

Day 12 Matches

Hidenoumi defeats Ishiura – Visiting from Juryo, Ishiura gifts him with a shiny new kachi-koshi. From the tachiai, Ishiura attempts to hit and shift left, but Hidenoumi tracks him perfectly. Now Ishiura’s gambit is in trouble, as his back is to the tawara, and he’s very close to being out. Ishiura manages to break contact and attempt a slap, but Hidenoumi is completely dialed into Ishiura’s sumo, wraps him up, and delivers the yorikiri.

Nishikigi defeats Kagayaki – Massive respect for Nishikigi, who refuses to give up and go away to Juryo again. The match starts with a big hit at the tachiai, and both men lock up with each going for a left hand inside grip. The crowd goes quiet as each leans in, working to wear the other down. When Kagayaki lifts and shifts to try to get his right hand inside, Nishikigi makes his move. Well executed sumo from both, but Nishikigi showed superior skill.

Kotoyuki defeats Asanoyama – It’s clear from the tachiai that Asanoyama wants to get a belt grip and negate Kotoyuki’s oshi attack. Asanoyama comes in low aiming for the belt, and Kotoyuki opens by pounding on Asanoyama’s face and neck. To his credit, Asanoyama stands up to the beating for a while, struggling to land a grip, but Kotoyuki knows this game, and keeps moving forward. Asanoyama changes tactics, and tries to pull, but his transition puts him off balance and Kotoyuki finishes him off. Oshidashi for the win.

Ryuden defeats Daishomaru – Ryuden kachi-koshi. This bout was quite one sided, with Ryuden landing a double inside grip straight out of the tachiai. Driving forward, Ryuden prevented Daishomaru from mounting any real defense. It’s been a long hard road for Ryuden, and this winning record from his first Makuuchi tournament must be a sweet victory indeed.

Daiamami defeats Terunofuji – Rather the Ghost of Terunofuji. The poor Kaiju has nothing left. I rarely feel sorry for anyone who competes in a warrior sport, but this is just brutal to watch.

Takekaze defeats Aminishiki – Really Isegahama? What on earth are you doing? You are already somewhat diminished by the Harumafuji scandal, and now you put on this show of pain and suffering for the fans?

Shohozan defeats Sokokurai – What an awesome match! It starts with a traditional Shohozan bull rush with arms flailing, and Sokokurai gives ground, but does not give up. As they circle, Sokokurai is trying like mad to wrap up one of Shohozan’s massive arms, and he gets a good hold on the left arm at the wrist. He parlays that into a left hand inside grip, and the two are dancing to set up a throw. Shohozan launches an uwatenage attempt first, but Sokokurai counters masterfully. As Sokokurai rotates to try his own throw, Shohozan moves forward strongly and Sokokurai collapses. Yoritaoshi. Shohozan is kachi-koshi.

Abi defeats Chiyomaru – Abi tries a slap down henka at the tachiai, but Chiyomaru is either expecting it, or his bulbous midsection kept him slow off the line. Either way the move fails and Chiyomaru attacks a now back-tracking Abi. But Abi is an unstoppable ball of energy, and launches his now familiar thrusting attack, most of which is landing on Chiyomaru’s neck and face. Chiyomaru rallies at one point, but Abi’s attack is too intense, and Chiyomaru steps out. Oshidashi, with Abi kachi-koshi in his first top division tournament.

Kaisei defeats Daieisho – The new plus size Kaisei seems to be nearly impossible to move. Even Daieisho’s normally solid pushing attack had no effect. The bulk of the match is Kaisei breathlessly chasing Daieisho around the dohyo until Daieisho steps out. Kaisei gets his 8th win.

Shodai defeats Chiyoshoma – What has happened to the soft, flabby and unimpressive Shodai? I think he’s on holiday somewhere in Okinawa. This is the other Shodai, the one who wants to be an Ozeki, has fairly good sumo and can win in spite of a somewhat high tachiai. His win over Chiyoshoma was straightforward, he kept moving forward while Chiyoshoma was trying to find a grip. Solid sumo again from Shodai.

Chiyonokuni defeats Arawashi – This match was lost at the tachiai, when Arawashi went to land a left hand outside grip and missed. Chiyonokuni opens with an oshi attack, and Arawashi does not really get a good second chance to lock things up on his terms. Arawashi keeps trying to work inside, but Chiyonokuni has his thrusting attack on full, and Arawashi can’t even establish a solid defensive footing. Chiyonokuni wins by tsukiotoshi as Arawashi does his gymnastics tumble once more.

Chiyotairyu defeats Takarafuji – Straightforward thrusting match. Takarafuji could not overcome Chiyotairyu’s massive bulk and strong upper body. Takarafuji still needs one win for kachi-koshi.

Hokutofuji defeats Ikioi – Ikioi is hurt, and not really able to execute Makuuchi grade sumo. From the tachiai Hokutofuji stood him up with a firm nodowa, and then slapped him down. Both men are make-koshi and will need to try again in Osaka.

Ichinojo defeats Yoshikaze – As predicted last night, this match was almost painful to watch. Yoshikaze seems to be only at 75% of his normal self, and Ichinojo’s massive size and strength mean that normal forces of sumo, much like space-time, are warped and distorted the closer you get to him. Yoshikaze comes in low at the tachiai, looking to get a grip at center-mass, but Ichinojo lands a brutal choke hold, and moves forward. There was absolutely nothing that Yoshikaze could do to stop it. Ichinojo goes kachi-koshi while Yoshikaze is now make-koshi, and probably has a headache. Ichinojo faces Tochinoshin on day 13. Hoo-boy!

Kotoshogiku defeats Takakeisho – Dare I whisper it? Kotoshogiku may come back from a dismal start to be in striking distance of kachi-koshi? Takakeisho is a bold young man of immense strength, and he decided to try to push against the Kyushu Bulldozer. Kotoshogiku masterfully shuts down Takakeisho’s wave action tsuppari, and it’s down to a contest of strength. While not quite able to get the hug-n-chug running, Kotoshogiku keeps moving forward, and avoids Takakeisho’s last minute attempt at a hineri at the edge. Takakeisho kept grabbing his mage after the match, I was curious if he was trying to signal something. Yeah, Kotoshogiku’s hand was on the back of his head, but I am not sure it’s a mage pull at all. Takakeisho now make-koshi.

Okinoumi defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi continues his meltdown, and it’s quite a disappointment to watch. As with prior matches, he tries to pull early on, but Okinoumi uses his backward motion to take control and win. After his failed pull, Mitakeumi cannot recover any forward momentum. Bad move, bad strategy, bad outcome for the Ozeki hopeful. Go back and try again.

Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – Tochinoshin prevails to stay at one loss, while Tamawashi is now make-koshi. From the tachiai Tamawashi lands a strong nodowa, but this seems to only power up the Georgain battle mech. With a strong shove, Tochinoshin breaks the neck grip and goes on the attack. Tamawashi puts everything he has into a couple of huge tsuppari, and nearly brings Tochinoshin down, but it also left him wide open. Tochinoshin surges forward and lands a double inside grip. We, of course, know how this ends with Tochinoshin’s massive yorikiri.

Takayasu defeats Goeido – Goeido, unable to exit debug mode, is once again stuck playing Tetris instead of Osumo. Takayasu is a half step ahead at the tachiai, and focuses on applying rapid pressure to Goeido’s shoulders. Goeido never has a chance to produce any offense, or set up any kind of defensive stance. Goeido now needs to pick up 2 wins to not go kadoban.. again.

Endo defeats Kakuryu – Yes, sumo fans. Big K dropped his match with Endo, leaving Tochinoshin as the sole leader of the yusho race at the end of day 12. As with day 11, his attempt to pull left him off balance, and Endo was ready for it. Endo moved strongly forward and made the Yokozuna pay. Endo picks up a kinboshi, and Kakuryu loses his share of the lead. The cushions fly in the Kokugikan.

That’s it for day 12. It’s a brawl right to the end now, with a decent chance that a rank-and-file rikishi could lift the Emperor’s Cup!

Day 12 Undercard Matches to Watch

This Basho is the gift that keeps on giving, especially considering the excellent matches coming out of the undercard. Day 12 looks like it’s going to be just as good as Day 11, and there are many high-stakes matches throughout the torikumi! Here are a few exciting undercard matches to watch on Day 12.

Nishikigi vs. Kagayaki

Kagayaki is back to using his strong sumo again, winning his last four bouts and coming into Day 12 just one victory shy of his kachi koshi. While the Kagayaki of old would have fallen flat on his face after a henka, the new and more confident Kagayai stayed upright and managed to throw Kotoyuki off the dohyo and into the first row today. Tomorrow he faces Nishikigi, who is once more walking the tightrope between Makuuchi and Juryo, and will need to win three out of his four remaining matches to secure a winning record. The two have faced off eight times before, and Kagayaki holds a 5-3 series lead.

Kotoyuki vs. Asanoyama

Tokyo wasn’t the only thing that cooled down last weekend. After blazing through the first six days of competition, Asanoyama lost four matches in a row before picking up his seventh win today versus Sokokurai. Mr. Happy looked incredibly relieved after his victory, leading me to believe that a mental block was a factor in his losing skid. With the monkey off his back, hopefully, he can get back to his stellar sumo and clinch his kachi koshi on Day 12. He meets Kotoyuki, who is also experiencing a string of recent losses. To make things worse, the Penguin took another tumble off the dohyo and was last seen needing help to walk the rest of the way to the locker room. Tomorrow will mark their second meeting, with Kotoyuki holding a 1-0 edge over Asanoyama.

Terunofuji vs. Daiamami

If Terunofuji is in fighting form, we certainly didn’t get a chance to see it today. The towering Kaiju was swiftly sidestepped at the tachiai by the much smaller Ishiura, who got behind Terunofuji to force him over the tawara. Tommorrow will be a true test of Terunofuji’s ability to compete, as he meets fellow big man Daiamai on the dohyo. Daiamami comes into Day 12 looking to pick up his sixth win and bring his record back to .500. Success tomorrow will put him two wins away from his first Makuuchi kachi koshi. Day 12 will be the first meeting between these two behemoths.

Takekaze vs. Aminishiki

Wednesday marks the thirty-third, and potentially final, time veterans Takekaze and Aminishiki face one another on the dohyo. Takekaze comes into Day 12 with a dreadful 3-8 record and is at risk of falling out of Makuchi come March. There is a good chance he will go intai if this happens. Aminishiki also has a poor record, and unless he can run the gambit and win his final four matches, he will be demoted. At Maegashira 10, ‘Shiki has a bit of a buffer between himself and Juryo, but his presence in the top division at Haru is looking very uncertain. Given his recent lower body issues, Uncle Sumo may choose to hang up the mawashi if his Makuuchi swan song comes to an end. As much as it is hard to hear, the changing of the guard is going to start sooner rather than later. With the elder statesmen of sumo unable to keep up with the new generation, Hatsu 2018 may mark the beginning of that change.

Abi vs. Choyomaru.

It’s hard to believe that Abi is one now win away from his kachi koshi considering the rough start he had this Basho. The shiko master has been a great addition to the top division and is one of the brightest stars on the undercard! Day 12 sees Abi face marshmallow man Chiyomaru, who is also one victory away from a winning record. While Abi’s tsuppari attacks are powerful, they’ve so far been ineffective against Chiyo’s bulky physique, and the big man has never lost to Abi. Will that change tomorrow, or will Abi have to wait until Day 13 to claim his kachi koshi?

Day 11 will be pretty hard to beat, but Day 12 has just as much fantastic undercard action to enjoy, in what is becoming n all-time great Basho!

Hatsu Day 11 Preview

Hatsu Day 11

It’s a big day at the Kokugikan, and this another day that I strongly recommend fans find Kintamayama’s daily summary on YouTube and Jason’s fantastic videos.  There are just so many interesting matches, there is no way the NHK 25 minute highlight show can do it justice.

Today marks the return of Terunofuji. Why? I have no idea. That guy is horribly injured, suffering from diabetes, and already make-koshi. But I suppose he is trying to save some rank in the coming demotion to Juryo.

Day 11 seems to be the day the scheduling team decided to toss the banzuke and match some of the fresh faces at the bottom of the ranking sheet with some in the middle. Sort of a “trial by fire” phase for many of them, and it has led to some really interesting matches. I must admit, I am following the Maegashira 17-13 match more closely than the Maegashira 12-7 matches. It just seems that the crop at the bottom of the banzuke this time has all the fire, energy and crazy “danger be damned” sumo that the sport needs.

Hatsu Leader Board

Leader – Kakuryu
Chaser – Tochinoshin
Hunter – Daieisho

5 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 11

Aoiyama vs Nishikigi – Man-Mountain Aoiyama comes up to Makuuchi for the day, and faces off against Nishikigi. Both men are at 5-5 and need to win 3 of the next 5 matches to maintain rank, so there is a lot on the line. During his tenure in Makuuchi, Aoiyama was at times a powerful force of sumo. Some of it was an aversion by the other rikishi to land a hold in his upper torso region, and some of it was he is huge and fairly strong. But Nishikigi has bested him 3 of the 4 times they have fought.

Ryuden vs Daieisho – Daieisho is already kachi-koshi and the only rikishi besides Tochinoshin who as any chance of catching Kakuryu, should the surviving Yokozuna falter. His opponent is Ryuden, who is doing fairly well in his long-anticipated debut in Makuuchi. Daieisho’s winning streak may put him in line for a significant boost in rank for March.

Sokokurai vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama was red hot to start Hatsu, and now he can’t beg a win from anyone. Sokokurai took the Juryo yusho in Kyushu and has really struggled this basho. I do like the fact that Asanoyama shows up each day with what seems to be the same positive attitude.

Kotoyuki vs Kagayaki – Kotoyuki is another rikishi who is struggling for wins in the second half of the basho. He opened strong and now is 5-5. Kagayaki, whose man-boobs are nothing compared to Aoiyama, may find that can pick up pointers from the Bulgarian. Either way, I am guessing it’s going to be Kotoyuki trying to shove Kagayaki, with Kagayaki working to get a mawashi grip and toss the little brick-shaped rikishi off the dohyo.

Daiamami vs Aminishiki – I pray to Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that any available Kami protect Aminishiki’s knee. I am still wincing from day 10, and I don’t want to see Uncle Sumo exit the sport forever riding that giant wheelchair.

Terunofuji vs Ishiura – Better make it two wheelchairs at the ready because the Ghost of Terunofuji is returning to the dohyo day 11. He exited the basho earlier citing complications from diabetes. But even that is not going to help his fragile undercarriage. What madness has possessed Isegahama?

Yutakayama vs Kaisei – Kaisei really stacked on the weight over the holidays, and following his day 10 match he looked like he was going to pass out. I suspect that if Yutakayama slaps him in just the right location, it will set up a standing wave across his various fat pockets that could damage or fracture the dohyo. Interestingly enough, Kaisei has never won against Yutakayama.

Tochiozan vs Abi – Both of the Maegashira 8s fight the Maegashira 14s. Sure, why not? So we get Abi going against Tochiozan. This is their first meeting, and I am going to expect Abi to open with double arm thrusts, and Tochiozan to grab him under the arms and send him sailing.

Chiyomaru vs Endo – This should be an easy pickup for Endo, who is not looking nearly as genki as he was at the start of the basho. Chiyomaru has only taken one match from Endo, and that was back in 2013.

Takarafuji vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin, will someone please stop him from eating more spinach? Maybe that someone can be humble but capable Takarafuji. They have evenly split their 14 career matches, with Takarafuji dominating the last 7 of those. But this basho Tochinoshin is in firm contact with his spirit animal, a hydraulic car crushing machine.

Hokutofuji vs Ichinojo – Hokutofuji loves to win. For a long stretch of years, he never failed to rack up a kachi-koshi. Now here he is with the sting of a losing record. He faces our favorite boulder, who somehow has revived himself from his years-long sumo slumber and is happy to rumble around the dohyo crushing everything. You boys play safe now!

Takakeisho vs Yoshikaze – Scratch and dent bin match. I have no idea what has happened to Yoshikaze. But I would be willing to bet a can of Ebisu and a trip to Yoshinoya that he’s suffering from something along the lines of the flu. He just seems to have no energy right now, and that’s not possible under normal circumstances. Takakeisho has sadly found that most of the rikishi have figured out that when he starts his double arm “Wave Action Tsuppari” that you can lay a nodawa right in there and he stops it.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – Mitakeumi! Get it together man, you are a total mess right now! You lose to Shodai and I am going to give you a new nickname. You may not get another decent chance to start an Ozeki run for a while, so don’t squander this one. Hey, Shodai. You win this one and I may have to start believing in you again.

Okinoumi vs Takayasu – Takayasu by a mile. Okinoumi is a shadow of his former self.

Goeido vs Arawashi – Should be an easy Goeido win, but what the hell? This guy seems to be booted up in some kind of lame diagnostic mode that only plays Tetris. Goeido!, LEFT, LEFT, DOWN, RIGHT, DOWN, DOWN clears the level.

Kakuryu vs Tamawashi – Kakuryu, short of an injury, is looking likely to seal up his next yusho, and I am delighted that he is fighting well, looking strong and dominating. Tamawashi was eager to leave his mark in Sekiwake territory again, but he seems to be injured and not fighting well.