Natsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

I started writing these prediction posts exactly a year ago, so this will be my seventh banzuke forecast for Tachiai. The accuracy has varied from basho to basho, though I think it’s fair to say that the forecasts give a very good idea of roughly where each rikishi will land—in most cases, within one rank or closer.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

No changes here from the Haru banzuke.

Lower San’yaku

S

Tochinoshin

Ichinojo

K

Endo

Mitakeumi

With his 7-8 record, Mitakeumi will lose his Sekiwake rank, but should only fall to Komusubi. Tochinoshin moves over to the East side, while Ichinojo moves up to Sekiwake. Endo finally gets his San’yaku promotion, and is a sufficiently strong candidate with his 9-6 record at M1e that I have him on the East side, although the banzuke committee could certainly switch him and Mitakeumi.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Tamawashi

Kaisei

M2

Abi

Shohozan

M3

Daieisho

Yutakayama

M4

Chiyoshoma

Ikioi

M5

Shodai

Kotoshogiku

What’s certain is that there will be a lot of turnover in this area of the banzuke, as with the exception of Shohozan, everyone in the M2-M5 ranks checked in with a losing record, and only Shodai limited his losses to 8. Many in the ranks immediately below this group also did not distinguish themselves, meaning that we have to reach far down the banzuke for viable promotion candidates. Exactly how this will play out is much less certain, as there are many possible scenarios, and the considerations going into them are complex.

Let’s start with the easy part. Both Tamawashi and Kaisei did well enough to earn promotions to San’yaku, but since there are no open slots for them, they will have to be content with the top maegashira rank. Abi and Shohozan are the only plausible candidates for M2, although their ordering is uncertain. Abi will jump 5 ranks, and will join the joi in only his third top-division basho after earning 10-5 records in the first two. Similarly, Daieisho is the only plausible candidate for M3e. He will also jump 5 ranks, matching his highest career rank.

From here, things get complicated. The next best numerical score belongs to Shodai, but he can’t take the M3w slot due to his make-koshi record at M4w. The best he could do would be to remain at his current rank, though it’s more likely he gets a minimal demotion to M5e. Kotoshogiku could technically  be only demoted from M3e to M3w, but given his 6-9 record, this seems overly generous, and he should really be ranked below Shodai. The next best candidate for M3e is none other than Yutakayama, whose 10-5 record could vault him 8 ranks up the banzuke, all the way from M11.

If we put Shodai and M5e and Kotoshogiku right below him at M5w, who fills the M4 slots? The choice is between the next two strong kachi-koshi records, which belong to Chiyoshoma (9-6 at M10) and Ikioi (11-4 at M14), and the other two high-rankers due for big demotions, Komusubi Chiyotairyu (4-11) and M2 Takarafuji (5-10). My forecast favors the guys moving up the banzuke over those moving down. If the banzuke committee agrees, six out of the ten rikishi in this group would be moving up at least 5 ranks!

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Chiyotairyu

Takarafuji

M7

Chiyomaru

Ryuden

M8

Yoshikaze

Hokutofuji

M9

Kagayaki

Daishomaru

M10

Okinoumi

Daiamami

M11

Chiyonokuni

Takakeisho

At Natsu, this area of the banzuke will serve primarily as the landing zone for higher-ranked rikishi who achieved make-koshi records ranging from just below .500 (Yoshikaze, Kagayaki, Okinoumi, Chiyonokuni) to horrific (hello, Chiyotairyu and Takakeisho). The only bright spots are Ryuden, who moves up from M9 with a minimal kachi-koshi, and the Oitekaze stablemates Daishomaru and Daiamami, who vault up and out of the demotion danger zone with their 9-6 and 10-5 records.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Asanoyama

Arawashi

M13

Ishiura

Sadanoumi

M14

Takekaze

Tochiozan

M15

Aoiyama

Kyokutaisei

M16

Aminishiki

Kotoeko

M17

Gagamaru


The bottom of the banzuke is complicated by the fact that there are 6 Makuuchi rikishi who earned demotions by the usual criteria (in order from most to least deserving of demotion: Hedenoumi, Kotoyuki, Sokokurai, Onosho/Nishikigi, and Myogiryu), but only 3 Juryo rikishi who clearly earned promotion: Sadanoumi, Takekaze, and Kyokutaisei. Aminishiki is borderline, and the next two best candidates, Kotoeko (10-5 at J8) and Gagamaru (8-7 at J5), are ranked too low to be normally considered for promotion with those records. Obviously, the numbers moving up and down have to match. What to do?

My initial inclination was to demote Nishikigi in favor of Aminishiki, and save Onosho (who was kyujo) and Myogiryu. Over on the sumo forum, Asashosakari suggested that they could instead demote Onosho and save both Nishikigi and Myogiryu. The solution I’m currently favoring, given how poor their records were, is that both Nishikigi and Myogiryu will be demoted, as will Onosho. I’m guessing that the banzuke committee will be more likely to promote kachi-koshi Juryo rikishi with insufficiently strong records (after all, this has happened in the past) than to keep in the top division rikishi who failed to defend their places there. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see this play out in any number of ways. We’ll find out on April 26th!

 

Haru Final Day Highlights

Kakuryu Yusho.Parade

You might not know it by watching the matches today, but it was the final day of the Haru basho. Across the torikumi, everyone was fighting with some of their best sumo of the tournament. It was one of those days where it will be a good idea to seek out Jason’s All Sumo Channel or Kintamayama on YouTube to see all the bouts, and not just the highlights from NHK.

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Myogiryu – It’s kind of magical to me that we may see Uncle Sumo back in the top division yet again for Natsu. This guy should be an inspiration to everyone to stick to their dreams and keep working. Good things happen for those who refuse to give up. The match starts with a henka-matta, so Uncle Sumo needs to re-set and goes for a simple hatakikomi.

Daiamami defeats Yutakayama – Daiamami gets to double digits, but Yutakayama really made him earn it. A close-quarters thrusting match in which both men stayed low and kept applying the pressure. Daiamami closed the deal when he finally got inside on Yutakayama and drove forward.

Chiyonokuni defeats Hidenoumi – Chiyonokuni reminds us that he is a real battle machine with his energetic win over Hidenoumi. He finishes make-koshi, and we have to wonder what it will take for him to get his sumo to the next level.

Chiyoshoma defeats Nishikigi – Chiyoshoma’s leaping henka results in an airborne uwatenage. Go watch it! It’s amazingly acrobatic.

Ryuden defeats Asanoyama – Ryuden secures kachi-koshi on the final day. Asanoyama took him to his chest out of the tachiai, and from there it was a struggle. Multiple times Asanoyama went to throw Ryuden, but Ryuden somehow found a way to block the uwatenage. Great, great sumo from both.

Okinoumi defeats Aoiyama – After a strong start to the basho, Aoiyama faded down the stretch. Part of this may have been from the fact that he started facing much higher ranked rikishi, and some of it may be some unreported injury or just plain exhaustion.

Kagayaki defeats Ishiura – Ishiura tries a straight ahead fight, and can’t find a way to blunt Kagayaki’s forward drive. Ishiura seems to have forgotten some of his sumo from a year or two ago, or maybe his opponents are just much bigger / tougher now.

Abi defeats Daishomaru – A leaping hatakikomi at the edge gives Abi the win after a monoii. Impressive ring sense there! For his second tournament in a row, Abi is able to rack up double digit wins.

Kaisei defeats Ikioi – Sadly Ikioi could not pick up the special prize, but he has nothing to apologize for this basho. Even with a bandaged head, he met Kaisei with vigor and strength. But there is a lot of Kaisei to move, and even for Ikioi, it was a tall order. Ikioi has been progressively more injured each day of the basho, so I hope he goes and heals up.

Daieisho defeats Shodai – Even though he is make-koshi, Shodai seems to have found his sumo. Daieisho knew when to put him off balance and send him across the tawara. I do hope that Shodai can focus on returning in this form for the start of Natsu. He still has massive potential if he can get his sumo under control.

Kotoshogiku defeats Hokutofuji – Both men are deeply make-koshi, but you would never know it from watching their bout. This was one of the better matches of an already awesome day. The two men were chest to chest for most of the match, but neither seemed to be able to employ their favorite sumo attacks for more than a moment. In the end, it was Kotoshogiku who set up his hip-pump attack and ended the match.

Takarafuji defeats Kotoyuki – Is anyone surprised? Kotoyuki ends the the basho with a single win.

Yoshikaze defeats Arawashi – Arawashi needs to go heal. Yoshikaze finishes 7-8.

Tamawashi defeats Chiyomaru – Tamawashi is likely back in San’yaku for May, and will try again to muscle his way to his preferred Sekiwake position. Chiyomaru, meanwhile, is headed for the buffet table.

Shohozan defeats Endo – It takes a powerful tachiai from Shohozan and a couple of quick thrusts to put Endo the Golden back and out. Shohozan is kachi-koshi on the final day, after an alarming cold streak starting on day 6.

Chiyotairyu defeats Tochiozan – This looked like a Tochiozan win, and the gyoji gave the gumbai to Tochiozan, but then the sideburns of Chiyotairyu called out to the spiritual world, and the shimpan rose to their feet in abeyance. The monoii did not so much give the match to Chiyotairyu, but more to his sideburns. What did we learn here? Chiyotairyu must never remove his sideburns again. Whispered legends say that the kami that inhabits them is the same that gave Takamiyama his might, and they will only live in the facial hair of one who is worthy. [What. –PinkMawashi]

Tochinoshin defeats Ichinojo – Two enormously powerful rikishi test each other’s strength. After Ichinojo decided to lift Tochinoshin, he decided he was done playing and dialed his muscles to “Hulk” mode, finishing the boulder. With his 10-5 record, Tochinoshin has started an Ozeki campaign. Protect that knee, sir!

Mitakeumi defeats Goeido – Mitakeumi seems to have given Goeido 1.5.1 a solid match, and dropped the Osaka favorite on his backside in the middle of the ring. His sumo against both Ozeki has been great to watch. Maybe he is on the cusp of elevating his technique after all?

Takayasu defeats Kakuryu – The initial call by the gyoji went to Kakuryu, and it looked like Takayasu may have injured his right leg and maybe even re-damaged his right thigh. But just before they hand Kakuryu the kensho diorama of Osaka-jo, the shimpan decide it’s time to review it. The replays show Kakuryu’s heel touching out, so it’s torinaoshi time, with Takayasu limping. This time, Takayasu centers the Yokozuna and drives forward with his considerable strength. Kakuryu can’t plant his feet to defend, bringing the match and the basho to an exciting end as it’s Takayasu who hoists the kensho fort from the gyoji’s gumbai.

Haru Day 15 Preview

Macaroon
Time To Hoist The Giant Macaron of Victory And Call It a Basho!

And so we come to the close of a most enjoyable tournament. It ends with a satisfying result, and with the Sekitori corps advancing well along the path. The Tadpole league took a body blow, with Onosho not starting, Takakeisho going kyujo, and Mitakeumi ending up make-koshi. The veterans had much to celebrate, with Ikioi and Kaisei racking up double digit wins, Endo clearly on the mend, and Tochinoshin still potent. The Freshmen are finding their footing now, and I expect some great challenges by the time we get to kyushu, with the first of that cohort looking to enter san’yaku for their introductory make-koshi.

The match preview is brief on this final day, as most questions have already been settled, but I am sure there will be some good sumo for all the fans.

Haru Leaderboard

Yokozuna Kakuryu Wins the Haru Yusho!

What We Are Watching Day 15

Aminishiki vs Myogiryu – The mind boggles! Uncle Sumo, who if he wins is kachi-koshi, and possibly headed back to Makuuchi for Natsu, faces off against Myogiryu, who is already make-koshi and probably headed to Juryo. Go Uncle Sumo!

Daiamami vs Yutakayama – I think it would be fun if Daiamami ended up with 10 wins, but he’s going up against a very genki Yutakayama. It’s a tough climb, but I think Daiamami has a good chance.

Asanoyama vs Ryuden – You would think that the Maegashira 9 Ryuden would be favored to pick up his final win, and his kachi-koshi, over a Maegashira 13 opponent. But Ryuden has never won against Asanoyama.

Kagayaki vs Ishiura – Can Ishiura henka another win? He just needs one. Kagayaki, can you spare a white star for a brother rikishi?

Abi vs Daishomaru – This battle of the 9-5 Freshmen has a lot of potential for good sumo. Its a challenge for Daishomaru to get inside Abi’s enormous reach, but it will be easiest at the tachiai.

Kaisei vs Ikioi – Both men 11-3, both of them must be genuinely proud of their performance this tournament. This match will probably decide a special prize, and a slice of the jun-yusho. Well deserved, both!

Daieisho vs Shodai – Tough to think that with all of the energetic beatings Shodai has suffered this basho that he still has a chance at kachi-koshi. I have a soft spot in my heart for the guy, and I do hope he picks up his win here.

Kotoyuki vs Takarafuji – Both men in the 10+ loss club. Maybe they should just spread out a checkered square of cloth between the shikiri-sen, and enjoy rice-balls and sake instead.

Endo vs Shohozan – Shohozan wants that 8th win, and he’s going to really have to work for it. Endo is kachi-koshi, but he’s keen for 10 wins at his highest ever rank, giving him a firm launch into San’yaku. Endo leads the series 5-2.

Ichinojo vs Tochinoshin – This has a lot of potential. As we say from Hatsu, Tochinoshin can actually lift Ichinojo, so what will the Boulder do? Who would not love to see an Ichinojo henka? It would be like seeing Mt. St.Helens sing opera.

Mitakeumi vs Goeido – History favors Goeido, but Mitakeumi showed some real painful sumo to Takayasu on Saturday. Hopefully Mitakeumi knows that Goeido is going to come out hard, fast and low.

Kakuryu vs Takayasu – Both of these guys are very chaotic in their sumo. I would expect Kakuryu to allow Takayasu to take the lead until he over-comits, and then it’s time for an Osaka clay norimaki.

Haru Day 9 Highlights

Kakuryu-Happy

A few quick bites of the day 9 action – apologies to fans if their favorite rikishi is skipped due to lack of time. Act 2 is working its magic, as the leaderboard is being shredded by the bout schedule. Kakuryu and Kaisei are still undefeated. At the end of day 9, there are no 1-loss rikishi remaining, and a decent group have fallen out of the 2-loss crowd as well.

With the nearest competitors now 2 losses behind, the next task is to see if Kaisei and Kakuryu can go the distance. At this point, both men would need to pick up 2 losses to re-open the yusho race. While that would be great for fan excitement and TV ratings, it’s a tall order. Kakuryu seems to still be healthy, wily, fast and strong. Kaisei is plain enormous and is no easy man to move, even when he is not ultra-genki. [Kakuryu is matched up against Chiyomaru tomorrow. Since there are five days of basho left after that, and five san’yaku opponents still for Kakuryu to face, it is unlikely we will see Kakuryu vs. Kaisei unless the yusho goes to a playoff or someone goes kyujo. –PinkMawashi]

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Hidenoumi – Aminishiki picks up a much-needed win, but he sure does look rough. Uncle Sumo is clearly banged up all the time now, but I admire his drive.

Aoiyama defeats Sokokurai – Sokokurai really provided no significant challenge for the Bulgarian Man-Mountain. Aoiyama’s 7-2 (8-1?)

Asanoyama defeats Daiamami – The happy sumotori drops the sole remaining man with one loss. It’s now two wins that separate the leaders from everyone else.

Daishomaru defeats Myogiryu – Daishomaru is not going to give up, he wins on day 9 to keep rooted in the 2 loss group.

Ikioi defeats Kotoyuki – A fight so nice, they did it twice. The shimpan called for a rematch after both men touched down in tandem, and Ikioi blasted Mr 5×5 over and out. Yep, Ikioi is part of that 2 loss crowd!

Yoshikaze defeats Chiyonokuni – Good to see Yoshikaze pick up a win. I would consider Chiyonokuni a possible heir to Yoshikaze’s berserker form in time, and he gave Yoshikaze a solid fight today. Double bonus points today for camera work. As Chiyonokuni drops to the clay, Yoshikaze has a grip on his mawashi knot, and it comes undone. With a palpable sense of urgency, the camera pans to the ceiling before Chiyonokuni can rise from the dohyo.

Abi defeats Okinoumi – Abi showed better form today, he kept his weight from getting too far forward and powered through Okinoumi’s defenses.

Kaisei defeats Ryuden – Again on day 9, there seems to be no stopping Kaisei. He faces Ichinojo on day 10, so it’s time to see how genki the Brazilian actually is.

Arawashi defeats Takarafuji – Arawashi finally gets his first win. Sadly it’s at the expense of Takarafuji picking up his make-koshi.

Tamawashi defeats Endo – Endo needs to come up with a few new battle plans. This match was far too similar to prior bouts with Tamawashi, and it was all Tamawashi.

Ichinojo defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho looked hurt yesterday and looked more hurt today. Something about the right leg, or perhaps a groin pull. Ichinojo was surprisingly gentle with him once he won.

Tochinoshin defeats Shohozan – Wow, Tochinoshin looks really solid today. Shohozan is struggling now, after a fantastic start.

Kotoshogiku defeats Mitakeumi – Old school Kotoshogiku came from the shadows, with most of his strength but all of his skill today against Mitakeumi, and it was great to see. Mitakeumi is once again fading hard. What will it take for this guy to get double digits in san’yaku?

Chiyomaru defeats Goeido – Big surprise today, and it was the Ozeki who stepped out first by a wide margin in this “fling fest”. Goeido did not look bad today, he just had a mistimed step.

Takayasu defeats Chiyotairyu – Takayasu delivers a mini-henka and rolls Chiyotairyu down. The surprise is that the spherical Chiyotairyu can actually stop before reaching Nagasaki.

Kakuryu defeats Shodai – This bout is one part Kakuryu’s reactive sumo in spades, one part “Dancing with the Stars”. As expected, Shodai is high at the tachiai, and Kakuryu plays with him for a few moments before evading Shodai’s charge.

Juryo: Haru Storylines Week 2

EDION Arena - Enho vs Wakatakakage - Haru 2018 Day 8 Juryo

As we’re midway through the competition and have already revisited our “Ones to Watch” from the bottom four divisions, let’s check in on the storylines facing the men of the Juryo division heading into the second week of action:

1. Can Kyokutaisei win promotion?

Needs for success: 8 wins

Second week prognosis: He’s on the right path, but has been tested. He sits 4-4 after 8 days. He’s at a rank where you’re going to be called up to makuuchi to get tested and make up the numbers, and he’s failed both tests so far (against Aoiyama and Ikioi). His day 8 loss was maybe a bit unlucky in that he nearly pulled out the win, but he’s going to have to find four wins from former top division men like Terunofuji, Gagamaru, and Chiyonoo in the coming days.

2. Golden Oldie Revival?

Needs for success: Old timers show results that state their case for a return to the big time in circumstances where more questions are being asked about how much longer they’ll remain in the sport.

Second week prognosis: Of the five rikishi we’re picking on, Takekaze, Sadanoumi, and Gagamaru look as though they are positioning themselves for quick and perhaps once thought improbable returns to the top flight. All men have six wins after 8 days. Aminishiki, meanwhile, looks set for a rather longer stay in the second tier, clearly hobbled by injuries and destined for a potentially brutal make-koshi. Tokushoryu looks like he might be treading water at his level with a 3-5 start.

3. Whither Kaiju?

Needs for success: passing expectations with a competent kachi-koshi, exceeding expectations with a thunderous yusho challenge and return to makuuchi.

Second week prognosis: Terunofuji is going to run into a handful of guys looking to state their promotion claim in the second week which he starts at a record of 4-4. It’s been a mixed slate so far: the technique is still there, but the strength has eluded him as he looks to rebuild his status following injury and diabetes related issues. Odds are he pulls out four more wins from seven, but he may need another tournament at this level in Tokyo this May before making his return to the big time. Curiously, when I attended Day 8, the applause for Terunofuji during both the Juryo dohyo-iri and his own match was muted compared to many other former makuuchi men in the Juryo division. I would have thought he’d get a least a little more love than he did, all things considered.

4. Takanoiwa

Needs for success: passing expectations with a competent kachi-koshi to knock off the cobwebs, exceeding expectations with a yusho challenge.

Second week prognosis: He won’t challenge for the yusho or even much of a move up the rankings list at Natsu on current form. He finds himself 4-4 and shouldn’t be in any danger of demotion, but he needs to find at least 3 wins to keep himself in the division and regroup for next time. At times the strength of the Takanoiwa we are used to seeing has shown up, but he’s found himself amidst a group of young, hungry rikishi who aren’t giving any quarter in their own efforts to establish themselves as sekitori. The rest of his matches should be against mid-Juryo veterans having middling tournaments, so there’s an opportunity at least to build momentum – after Mitoryu he’ll have faced all the fierce young talents in his way this tournament.

5. The Second Wave

Needs for success: These talented youngsters either need to: Cobble together enough wins to consolidate place in division (Yago, Takagenji, Daishoho, Terutsuyoshi), limit damage and try to avoid demotion if possible (Enho, Takayoshitoshi), continue progress with good kachi-koshi (Mitoryu)

Second week prognosis: Mixed bag, as expected.

Out of the first group (Yago, Terutsuyoshi, Daishoho and Takagenji), only Daishoho looks safe right now with a 5-3 record. Yago’s 2-6 tally leaves him in immediate danger of demotion, and the others are 3-5 and need to find 4 wins from somewhere.

Unfortunately for all of them, they won’t come at the expense of Takayoshitoshi as the kyujo man has faced all of them (except his brother), so none of them will pick up a helpful fusen-sho from his abdication in light of pummeling his tsukebito (instead it will be Ms1 Hakuyozan who picks up the win). Takayoshitoshi was 3-5 and likely heading for the demotion that has now been all but confirmed, and should he indeed remain withdrawn from the entire tournament then he will likely face a drop steep enough to leave him without a tsukebito for at least a couple more tournaments.

Enho, meanwhile, has delivered on his excitement, but hasn’t delivered in terms of wins. His overpromotion has left him a little exposed at the level as he’s even dropped 2 matches to visiting makushita men (and future sekitori) Hakuyozan and Wakatakakage. You can’t do that if you’re trying to stay in the division, and it’s likely that he may face an equally steep demotion as Takayoshitoshi: on current form both men will probably find themselves somewhere between Ms8 and Ms10.

Finally, if there’s a silver lining, it’s been Mitoryu. Much like his progress in Makushita, after taking one basho to settle, he’s really found his form and posted a 7 win tally over the first 8 days. Guys like Takanosho, Kotoeko and Gagamaru are in his future, and possibly if he continues to lead the yusho arasoi, potentially even Takekaze. So, it’s possible that this week we may already get to see what the talented young Mongolian can do against men with top level pedigree, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that on current form he will pass  his compatriot Terunofuji on the May banzuke.

Haru Day 9 Preview

Haru Day 8 Dohyo Iri

Act 2 is running on overdrive and rikishi are being shunted away from the yusho hunt, but our leaders – the undefeated Kaisei and Yokozuna Kakuryu – have yet to show any inclination to lose a single match. At this point, the main group of contenders are two wins behind, and we would need to see both men lose not just one, but two of their next six matches. Mathematically possible, but it could be a tall order.

The easier mark is, of course, Maegashira 6 Kaisei. But don’t be fooled, Kaisei is huge, powerful and seems to be quite determined to keep pushing forward. He is, in fact, a serious contender. Given that Kaisei has in the past served and even had a winning record in San’yaku, he is not a total stranger to the pinnacle of sumo competition.

But this entire yusho race pivots on Yokozuna Kakuryu. Once again we head into the second week with him as the lone Yokozuna, and undefeated. At Hatsu, he struggled in the second week because he sustained an injury to his ankle which robbed him of the ability to create any forward pressure. If we see him looking hesitant, or not moving strongly forward, let’s all do ourselves a favor and assume he’s hurt, rather than that he lacks the fiber, courage or endurance to be a Yokozuna. Frankly, in the back half of this year and into 2019, he may be the only Yokozuna that survives.

Day 9’s matches continue to act 2’s theme – the scheduling team are creating increasingly interesting pairings, working to create three distinct groups, the contenders, the defeated and the survivors.

Haru Leaderboard

Leaders: Kakuryu, Kaisei
Chasers: Daiamami
Hunt Group: Takayasu, Goeido, Tochinoshin, Ichinojo, Daishomaru, Ikioi, Aoiyama

8 Matches Remain

What We are Watching Day 9

(Abbreviated due to a shortage of time – apologies if I miss your favorite rikishi)

Aminishiki vs Hidenoumi – Uncle Sumo continues to suffer in Juryo. Now at 2-6, he is nursing a worsening of his injured knee. Likely a Hidenoumi pick-up.

Sokokurai vs Aoiyama – I am going to come out and say it. Aoiyama has only 2 losses. Had he not been robbed in the first week, he would be 7-1 and the second man in the chase group. No going back, but this would be the second time in 12 months that he would have been a contender. As it is, this match is strongly in favor of the Bulgarian.

Daiamami vs Asanoyama – The lone man with 7 wins steps off against Asanoyama. They are evenly matched at 3-3 over their career, but Daiamami is having a good basho, so I expect him to come in genki and strong.

Ikioi vs Kotoyuki – Mr 5×5 has been unable to produce any offense this tournament. I expect Ikioi to dispatch him with a wince and grimace of pain.

Abi vs Okinoumi – First meeting between these two, but it seems to have potential. Abi looked very good on day 8, but he will need to think fast as Okinoumi has a deep library of sumo knowledge and experience to draw upon.

Kaisei vs Ryuden – Odd fact that Kaisei has never beaten Ryuden, they have had two prior matches. But Kaisei is looking very genki, and this is almost a kind of cupcake for him, I would think.

Endo vs Tamawashi – This has the potential to be a great match. Endo’s ablative sumo on day 8 really caught my attention – he took a huge blast to land the grip he wanted, and he made his opponent pay. Tamawashi also likes to open big and open strong. They have had 12 prior matches, and they are split evenly 6-6.

Ichinojo vs Takakeisho – You can see the frustration on Takakeisho’s face now. His oshi attack will face a significant uphill struggle against the Boulder. Takakeisho has beaten him 3 times out of 4, so I think he has a plan, and it’s time to see which version of Ichinojo shows up day 9: The one that beat Takakeisho in January, or the one that lost in November.

Shohozan vs Tochinoshin – Power and speed are in ample supply when these two are fighting. Shohozan will stay mobile and try to keep the Hatsu Yusho Winner away from his mawashi. Tochinoshin holds a career advantage, but Shohozan is looking to uproot Tochinoshin from the hunt group and return him to the survivor pool.

Mitakeumi vs Kotoshogiku – Mitakeumi is firmly in the survivor pool now, and it’s somewhat frustrating as I think Mitakeumi is going to contend for higher rank at some point, but he just can’t seem to muster any bold forward drive. Kotoshogiku has the aura or make-koshi hanging over him already, but Mitakeumi seems like he may have been hurt day 8.

Chiyomaru vs Goeido – Actually the first time these two have matched, I am going to give the nod to Goeido, as he seems to have a stable build of GoeiDOS 1.5.1 running right now.

Takayasu vs Chiyotairyu – Both of these giant men like to open with a huge overpowering tachiai. If Chiyotairyu were a little lighter, I would suspect a henka, as it would be an easy way to beat Takayasu if you can pull it off.

Kakuryu vs Shodai – Kakuryu loves to exploit mistakes of his opponents. We can assume Shodai will be high off the shikiri-sen and Big K will take over and put him down.

 

Haru Day 3 Highlights

Kakuryu

It seems the top division is starting to clear the cobwebs of two months without sumo and get into fighting form. Already there are a number of great surprises and some expected outcomes that are nice to see.

I have to give massive respect to Yokozuna Kakuryu. On the final day of the Hatsu Basho, he took a fall off the side of the dohyo in his match with Goeido, and in the process injured several fingers on his right hand. He is right-handed, and this has kept him from generating much – if any – grip strength. For whatever reason, he decided not to go kyujo, but instead gamberized and entered the competition. It’s quite early in the basho, but I am impressed that he has managed 3 consecutive wins. If you watch carefully, you can see him wince when he employs that right hand.

Then there is the case of Ichinojo. I know I had a bit of fun with his interview during last night’s preview, but if this giant of a man really has gotten his sumo back in fighting form, everyone is going to have to step up their game. He weighs over 500 lbs in the US system [over 225 kilos –PinkMawashi], yet he does not suffer from some of the mobility issues that plagued the Great Konishiki towards the end of his career at a similar weight. There are practical challenges with combating an opponent who is north of a quarter ton, as very few things will actually impact that kind of mass. The downside is that he is one ungraceful dismount from a career limiting mechanical injury. We wish him, his opponents, the shinpan, and everyone in the zabuton zone good luck and safety.

There was a LOT of good sumo on day 3, as everyone is starting to get their basho-grade sumo on.

Highlight Matches

Daiamami defeats Aminishiki – Aminishiki seems to put up some resistance, but this match is 100% Daiamami. I am glad that Uncle Sumo was able to push to return to Makuuchi earlier, but I fear he’s not got the mojo to compete at the top division level.

Aoiyama defeats Nishikigi – Very quick win for Aoiyama, who pulls Nishikigi down straight out of the tachiai. Aoiyama seems in better condition than he has been for a while, and may be well on his way to returning as a fixture of Makuuchi.

Ikioi defeats Hidenoumi – In spite of his injuries and pain, Ikioi keeps finding ways to win. Granted, Ikioi competing at Maegashira 14 is a bit silly, but he seems to be able to survive down here in his injured state.

Daishomaru defeats Kotoyuki – Once again, Daishomaru focuses on this opponents center of mass, applies pressure and marches forward. This guy has an excellent command of the fundamentals, and I like it. Of course, Kotoyuki goes airborne off the dohyo. I may give Kotoyuki a nickname – “The Porg”

Asanoyama defeats Ishiura – What a match! Neither man was willing to give an inch in this battle. No henka from Ishiura today, thank goodness. Asanoyama found himself challenged to get Ishiura under control, as Ishiura kept pressing inward and moving forward. Ishiura landed a left-hand grip, and try as he might, Asanoyama could not break it. The match was not so much won as lost, as I think Ishiura lost his footing, and Asanoyama let him drop.

Chiyonokuni defeats Ryuden – Chiyonokuni had a game plan, and he was able to execute it well. Ryuden over-committed at the tachiai (which he is inclined to do). Chiyonokuni gave token resistance, then allowed Ryuden to follow through all the way to the clay. Nicely done to Chiyonokuni, who has started this basho 3-0.

Okinoumi defeats Daieisho – Okinoumi finally picks up his first win. Daieisho was on the attack from the tachiai, but Okinoumi was able to shift his forward motion downward and to the right for the win.

Kagayaki defeats Chiyoshoma – I know Kagayaki does not attract much attention, as he is quiet and composed, but this guy is showing steady improvement. He’s off to a solid start, and I would guess this may another basho where he shows incremental increases in the power and skill of his sumo. Much like Kisenosato, he is not a gifted rikishi like Hakuho or Enho, but is willing to work himself endlessly to improve.

Abi defeats Hokutofuji – Abi pulls up early for a matta, but they get underway with reckless abandon on the second try. Hokutofuji is working with everything he has, but Abi’s freakishly long reach is giving him the advantage. Hokutofuji is relentlessly moving forward, but Abi plays matador and sends the charging Hokutofuji down and out.

Kaisei defeats Yoshikaze – Not sure if this is “What happened to Yoshikaze” or “What happened to Kaisei” question. Yoshizake is clearly a fraction of his normal attack power, while Kaisei seems to have decided to dust off his sumo and win. As a Yoshikaze fan, I would rather see him dominate, but it’s nice to see Kaisei running up the score for a change. Kaisei lands a deep left-hand grip early, and Yoshikaze seems to have no counterattack available.

Shohozan defeats Shodai – As predicted, Shodai was beaten up and lost his lunch money for a week. Shohozan applied a rotating “slap, slap, shoulder blast” program, and kept Shodai reacting to his sumo. Shohozan even landed a nice slap to Shodai’s face in there. Match finished with Shohozan applying a rolling sukuinage, with Shodai tumbling to the clay. Please, Shodai – get it together man!

Chiyomaru defeats Takakeisho – A surprising mawashi battle here, as both men are so rotund that their belts could be considered unreachable. Takakeisho is clearly looking to improve his yotsu chops, but in this bout, Chiyomaru comes out on top. Much respect to Takakeisho for working to expand his attack repertoire.

Ichinojo defeats Takarafuji – Over the past 24 hours, we have come to find out more about Ichinojo, including the fact that he used to wrestle small horses when he was living on the steppes of Mongolia. So now we will forever try to visualize what kind of pony he imagines each opponent to be. In the case of Takarafuji (aka, treasure-fuji), it’s better not to consider. Takarafuji, as always, gives it everything. But he is attempting to overpower a 500-pound mountain of Mongolian beef. With both men latched on to the other’s belt, there was only one way this was ever going to end. We can assume that Ichinojo routinely sleeps standing up against various fixtures and support beams, so leaning against the comparatively tiny and lightweight Takarafuji was unlikely to tire him. I do like the fact that when it came time to finish Takarafuji, Ichinojo was both careful and gentle. Neither man faced injury. Well done.

Tochinoshin defeats Kotoshogiku – Tochinoshin got his left-hand grip early, and no matter which way Kotoshogiku rotated, the Georgian stayed with him. Solid win for Tochinoshin using his preferred form.

Endo defeats Mitakeumi – Still sticking with my pre-basho proclamation: Keep an eye on Endo. Today he handed Mitakeumi his first loss of Haru, and he looked solid in the process. Mitakeumi launched low and compact into the tachiai, and once again Endo read the situation and reacted in a blink of an eye. He collapsed into Mitakeumi’s charge, turned him and got out of the way. Endo has always had outstanding ring sense, and split-second reactions. If he has resolved his health and injury issues, we could be seeing a new contender for a long duration San’yaku slot.

Goeido defeats Chiyotairyu – Don’t blink or you will miss it. Goeido delivers a face slap at the tachiai and then steps to the side. Chiyotairyu’s massive forward momentum does the rest.

Takayasu defeats Arawashi – Shoulder blast again from Takayasu leaves him dazed and off balance for a split second, but Arawashi does not notice or cannot capitalize. From there it’s a ragged chase scene that sees Arawashi step backward out of the ring. Kind of a dud match.

Kakuryu defeats Tamawashi – No complaints about that pull, as we all know Big K is hurt, and that right hand is the worst part of his body right now. Quite impressive that he beat Tamawashi off the line – that’s hard to do. Tamawashi once again came in strong, but Kakuryu was just enough ahead that he could force him back and up. From there the pull-down worked, and the Yokozuna had a victory before anyone got hurt.

Haru Day 3 Preview

Ichinojo

We are only on day 3, but it strikes me that we are back to a roster very similar to Hatsu, with a somewhat injured Yokozuna Kakuryu really the only upper ranked rikishi who seems to be delivering wins. Takayasu is all over the map and looking out of control. Goeido is working to settle down and focus on his sumo. Much as we suspected leading up to this basho, it’s going to be a free for all, and we may, in fact, see another Maegashira win the yusho this time, too.

This is all part of the transitional period that is natural after we have had a dominant cohort who have been able to hold on to and maintain the top slots for 10+ years in many cases. Much as I love Yoshikaze, Ikioi, Shohozan and all of that crowd, they are in their final tournaments of the top division, and we should enjoy them. They have an important and useful function – knock the youngsters around enough to make them proper sekitori.

Then there is Ichinojo (whom we affectionately call The Boulder); rarely have I seen a better return from a moribund state in any athlete. He seems strong, confident, poised and clearly benefiting from the lack of wolves prowling Japan, which allows him ample rest.

What We Are Watching Day 3

Daiamami vs Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo once again returns to the upper divisions. Sadly he enters with zero wins and is in fact not looking very genki at all this time around. He and Daiamami are evenly matched with a 4-3 career record in Daiamami’s favor.

Aoiyama vs Nishikigi – Bulgaria’s own self-propelled man-mountain is eager to defeat everything so he can earn his stay in Makuuchi. Nishikigi is likewise focused on survival but may have problems with Aoiyama’s superior reach, and impressive bulk.

Ikioi vs Hidenoumi – It was clear following day 2 that Ikioi was injured and in pain. He is clearly on the bubble this tournament, and a losing record or kyujo might put him in Juryo for a while, or for keeps. Hidenoumi has never found a way to beat Ikioi, but with Ikioi hurt, this may be his change.

Ishiura vs Asanoyama – Ishiura’s henka dispenser is getting boring. Sadly there is a good chance that Asanoyama will buy it at full price. Ideally, we would see these two scrap it out, but Ishiura seems to be very worried about his height disadvantage these days. It’s a far cry from his sumo during Kyushu 2016.

Chiyonokuni vs Ryuden – Maegashira 10 seems to be a comfortable rank for Chiyonokuni, who has always fought well no matter what rank he holds, but at this point, he is (so far) winning. Chiyonokuni delivers frantic, high energy action on the dohyo, and I am expecting he will overwhelm Ryuden.

Abi vs Hokutofuji – It makes me sad to think that Hokutofuji seems to have become the Eeyore of the sumo world. There is always some sort of negative outcome for him, no matter what. He can’t seem to muster a winning record these days, and his sumo is just not cutting it, even down at Maegashira 6. Abi gets his first meeting with him on day 3, and he is eager to bounce back from being Kaisei’s toy on day 2.

Kaisei vs Yoshikaze – Kaisei seems to be back in the groove with his sumo. It’s odd because he was doing poorly for a while, clearly fading out from his heights in 2016. But he rallied during his time in Juryo and seems to be on the march now. Sadly Yoshikaze has yet to look genki or even really at 80% of his normal crazy levels. Is time finally nipping at the heels of our favorite berserker? Yoshikaze fans may want to look away, the big Brazilian holds a 10-4 career advantage.

Shohozan vs Shodai – Oh lord. Shodai continues to be reactionary rather than dictating the match. When you are reacting, Shodai, you are like the worm waiting for the hook. Now he goes up against a resurgent Shohozan. Let me guess, more round-house slaps inbound to Shodai’s face. Interestingly enough, Shodai holds a 6-2 career advantage.

Chiyomaru vs Takakeisho – Chiyomaru has yet to take a match from Takakeisho, and the fact that it’s day 2 and the angriest tadpole in the squadron has already dusted off the “Wave Action” attacks may indicate that he’s looking to do more than an 8-7 kachi-koshi.

Ichinojo vs Takarafuji – Ichinojo seems mega-genki right now. That’s a lot of genki. Today, Tachiai’s own Herouth found an article on him in the Japanese press where he actually talked about tossing young horses about in his native Mongolia. Takarafuji is going to put up a good fight, he always does, but Ichinojo holds a 10-2 advantage over the man with no neck.

Kotoshogiku vs Tochinoshin – Kotoshogiku seems to be undergoing a gradual mummification process, where he had large amounts of his right abdomen and hip covered with flesh colored tape. Tochinoshin’s fans know that he’s only a fierce competitor when he’s not hurt, and we are all dreading the haunting possibility that one of these matches could see him hurt. Over their career, Kotoshogiku holds a 24-6 advantage over Tochinoshin, but with Kotoshogiku hurt, and Tochinoshin looking to move past his day 2 loss, that trend may have no meaning.

Mitakeumi vs Endo – Endo wants to recover from his hasty leap to take Kakuryu’s bait on day 2, which cost him the match. Mitakeumi pushes to do well the first week, knowing that many times he fades against the more senior rikishi. They are evenly matched 2-2 over their career, but I would give a slight edge to Endo this time.

Chiyotairyu vs Goeido – Goeido, look past the fact you have a losing record against super-sized-sumo-Elvis. Just plow him over. Takayasu is in trouble this time, and we need you to carry the Ozeki banner. Should Kakuryu get (more) hurt, you could end up the senior man for the rest of the basho.

Takayasu vs Arawashi – Oh Takayasu, please get your sumo under control. I think I know why Kisenosato was winning practice matches against you. You may have gone a bit off the rails with your technique. Arawashi’s dismounts are usually high on drama, and he has given Takayasu an excellent 2-3 career run. Pooh-bear, you don’t want to go into day 4 with zero wins.

Kakuryu vs Tamawashi – This one may be the match that puts Kakuryu out of action for the basho. Tamawashi has not been really genki for a while, and he is no joke this basho. I expect Kakuryu to attempt a pull or two, and he may not have much power from his primary right hand. Tamawashi, of course, is going to try to slap the Yokozuna into a mistake, and then make him pay.

Juryo: Haru 2018 Storylines

kyokutaisei-kachi-koshi
Kyokutaisei: can he finally win promotion to makuuchi?

While we tend to focus the lion’s share of our attention on what’s happening in the top division, or who the hot up-and-comers are in the sport, the banzuke announcement for Haru 2018 has prompted an unusual amount of intrigue at Juryo level. The division typically features a handful of grizzled vets trying to make it back to the big time, a couple interesting prospects, and/or some rikishi trying to recover form and rank following some recent injuries. But this time, we get all of those features and more in larger than usual numbers. Incredibly, 11 out of the 28 rikishi are also fighting at their highest ever rank. So, here’s a look at some storylines heading into next Sunday’s action:

1. Can Kyokutaisei win promotion?

He’s not a household name and was never a hot prospect, but Kyokutaisei has been an interesting follow for a while now, and plies his trade under the former fan-and-rikishi-favorite Kyokutenho at Tomozuna-beya. He’s an intriguing name, not least due to his rare status as a rikishi with a starring film credit in the film “A Normal Life,” which detailed the then-18 year old’s entry into the sumo world. It’s a fascinating, highly-recommended watch, and details a lot of the less-glamourous aspects of the life of a young rikishi.

Since debuting at this tournament 10 years ago, it’s been a slow and steady progression for the 28 year old. He reached the rank of Juryo 1 West and put up a 8-7 record at Hatsu, but it wasn’t enough to clinch one of the three promotion places and he’ll start Haru as the top ranked man in Juryo. He has clearly benefitted from the tutelage of Tomozuna-oyakata, and after a collapse that saw him fritter away a promotion opportunity having won 2 from his last 7 at Hatsu, hopefully he will be able to find the consistency to push him up to the top division after an incredible journey.

2: Golden Oldie Revival?

While 30 is not so old in the scheme of things, it is the age in many sports where serious fitness questions start to be asked. Of the eight rikishi directly behind Kyokutaisei in the banzuke, six are 30 or over, with the other two being 29 year old Azumaryu who will turn 30 by Natsu and the 22 year old up-and-comer Meisei.

This group includes the fan favorites and recently demoted makuuchi pair Aminishiki and Takakaze, as well as Gagamaru, Tokushoryu and Sadanoumi, who have recently spent more time in the Juryo wilderness than out of it. Haru should give us a good sense of whether any of these men can win the day and emphatically book their ticket back to the top division, or whether we will see an attritional battle indicative of the winding down of their careers.

3: Whither Kaiju?

Terunofuji’s health and the direction of the career have been the subjects of much debate, on these pages as well as within the comments section of the site. How long has it been since he last pushed someone out of the dohyo? The Juryo 5’s last win came as an Ozeki (interestingly, against current Emperor’s Cup holder Tochinoshin). He’s 0 for his last 15, and 2 for his last 21 excluding fusen losses, and has withdrawn at some stage of the last four tournaments.

The numbers, then, don’t look encouraging. But longtime followers will know what Terunofuji is capable of, and it’s possible that the jungyo-less time between Hatsu and Haru will have provided a platform for him to recapture some kind of form, and maybe even enough to find a promotion opportunity or at least get himself in a better position for Natsu. This tournament will be one year since the Haru 2017 Day 14 ‘henka heard round Osaka’ which halted Kotoshogiku from regaining his Ozeki rank – and at that time it would have taken a bold punter to bet that Kotoshogiku would be so far in front of his former Ozeki colleague a year later on the banzuke. Sumo is better for seeing the Isegahama man at his incredible best – but even some fraction of that will be a positive step forward for the Mongolian.

4. Takanoiwa

The Takanohana man hasn’t been seen since the Remote-Control-gate scandal that cost Yokozuna Harumafuji his sumo career. While the scandal rolled on through the end days of 2017, Takanoiwa abstained from duty while his head injuries healed. Now he finds himself near the bottom of the Juryo division at J12, surrounded by a plethora of talented youngsters. The Mongolian, in good health on his day is a match for anyone in the top division owing to his incredible strength. It stands to reason then that, if active, he should be an automatic title favorite in the Juryo yusho race. But will he even be active for Haru, and if so, will he be able to knock off the cobwebs and challenge for it?

5. The Second Wave

Much has been made of the new wave of talent that has rolled into makuuchi in the last year. While Takakeisho and Onosho and Hokutofuji have taken the division by storm and already established themselves in the top half, more up and comers like Asanoyama, Yutakayama and Abi have latterly pushed on and forced their way into the tournament story lines, grabbing special prizes and charming audiences along the way.

Now there’s another new crop of youngsters looking to depose the favorites who have dominated the sport over the past few years: as mentioned above, 11 of the 28 Juryo men are competing at a new or joint-highest ranking. But digging a little deeper, of the 11 men at the bottom of the Juryo ranks, seven are 23 years of age or younger, with the much watched Enho and Takayoshitoshi making their debuts in the division this time out as part of the incredible 7 promotees from the Makushita tier at Hatsu.

Different questions will be asked of each of these rikishi. For Yago, Takagenji, Daishoho and Terutsuyoshi, the challenge is simple: they need to put cobble together enough wins to consolidate their place in the division, and establish themselves at the level. For Enho and Takayoshitoshi, who were promoted with records at ranks that wouldn’t normally justify a promotion, it’s about damage limitation and seeing if they can put a surprise run together: no one, after being promoted with the records they had last time out for the very first time at this level, would begrudge them a return to Makushita, but you can be sure that isn’t what they are thinking about. They are here to prove they belong. Enho in particular is a comparatively very small rikishi who can provide entertaining all-action sumo, but he’s got to keep himself healthy.

Finally, that leaves Mitoryu. The enormous, much hyped Mongolian made a strong start at Hatsu before fading with just 2 wins over the last week, but that was enough to get him a kachi-koshi in his first tournament as a sekitori. Now, he’s got a great chance to push on, in a very competitive field.

While the five story lines above are interesting in their own right – incredibly, they may not even facilitate the top headlines when it’s all said and done. Youngsters Meisei and Takanosho are two rikishi not discussed here in detail, and they could well make waves this time out as well after their progress over the last year. While Juryo is sometimes a bit of a difficult division to get excited about, at Haru, it will certainly be “one to watch.”

Bruce’s Haru 2018 Banzuke Commentary

Banzuke 2017
Yes, A Banzuke from 2017…

First and up-front, the normal Tachiai banzuke podcast has been delayed due to yours-truly being away on business. We will work to have it ready for your viewing and listening pleasure on Friday.

With the publication of the Haru banzuke, Hakuho has set a new record by appearing for 64 consecutive tournaments as a Yokozuna. The man continues to rack up records, and although age is starting to nip at his heels, he refuses to slow down.

Mitakeumi holds on for a fifth consecutive tournament at the Sekiwake slot. Sadly he has yet to summon the mojo to start an Ozeki campaign, but fans are impressed that he is proving quite resilient at this rank. He is joined by Hatsu yusho winner Tochinoshin. The big Georgian has been out of the Sekiwake slot since July of 2016, and returns in glorious fashion. Fans are eager to see if he can run his score to double digits once again.

As lksumo posted, his banzuke forecast was once again amazingly good, but what surprised me was just how far down former Ozeki Terunofuji dropped. Now down at Juryo 5 (which he shares with Gagamaru), his fans cringe and wonder if his damaged body can even hold this rank. We all want our kaiju back. Fortunately for Takekaze, his drop was only to Juryo 1, and with a winning record he will be back in the top division by May. The road for Uncle Sumo (Aminishiki) is almost the same, but with his damaged knees, the task is much harder.

Abi and Ryuden seem to be carrying the banner for the “Freshmen” (as I have taken to calling them). Ranked in mid-Maegashira, they are going to have their hands full with a number of veterans who had a terrible tournament in January. If Yoshikaze is over whatever illness plagued him at Hatsu, we are likely to see a lot of great, madcap sumo in the middle tier this time.

Of course I have my eye on the giant at Komusubi 1 East, our favorite boulder, Ichinojo. He was last in the San’yaku at Nagoya 2015, and has not been able to maintain consistant good sumo since. This could be a huge turning point for the Mongolian giant, and everyone is eager to see if he continues his excellent performance from Kyushu and Hatsu. It’s been an even longer drought for Chiyotairyu, who was last Komusubi in September of 2014.

Much further down, Tachiai congratulates Texas sumotori Wakaichiro on his return to Sandanme. After an outstanding performance at Hatsu, the man from Nagasaki finds himself Sandanme 89 East. We can be certain that his coaches at Musashigawa have been tuning him up for his second run at this rank.

A great tournament starts two weeks from today, and Tachiai’s wall-to-wall coverage starts now!

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!