Congratulations to Ozeki Takakeisho for a glorious final match. It was not an upset given the long odds that Kotoshoho faced against you, but that was still some red-hot sumo action in the “Brawl to end it all”. With the final win, Takakeisho claims his third yusho, after racking up two jun-yusho in the prior year, the most recent in November. Sumo fans wonder if there is any desire to install Takakeisho as a second Yokozuna following what has been a solid 2-3 years of mostly high performance. It would give them an insurance policy against a lack of Ozeki, by ensuring that both he and Terunofuji could be out with injuries at the same time, and there would be no risk of having to bend the rules around the banzuke needing two men at the top. Silly as it seems, Japan loves its traditions.
With the end of Hatsu, we are once again left wondering who the next Ozeki will be. There was a great deal of talk around a cluster of hopefuls two weeks ago. There were at least three names: Hoshoryu, Wakatakakage, and Takayasu. All of them feel short of their goals. Meanwhile in Juryo, Asanoyama finished 14-1 with the yusho, and I think we will see him in the top division in Osaka. Given the typical need to rack up three double digit wins from san’yaku to be considered for promotion, we have to wonder if Asanoyama really might be the next man to be promoted (in this case re-promoted) to Ozeki. All three of the names above are restarting any Ozeki run in March, and the earliest they might qualify would be following Nagoya, but Kyushu is more likely. Could Asanoyama have 33 wins in san’yaku by the end of November? Not out of the question. Going to be a fun year for sumo.
Chiyomaru defeats Daiamami – I am surprised that Daiamami fell for the “stand him up, pull him down” combo, which was all Chiyomaru has been able to run for the past 10 days. But good enough! Chiyomaru finishes Hatsu 4-11, and will return to Juryo.
Oho defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki fails to overcome his Darwin status, and ends Hatsu make-koshi at 7-8. I had figured the chances that this was “gimmie” match to get him to kachi-koshi turned out to be wrong, as Oho rallies for the final day to squeeze out a win, and end at 4-11.
Ura defeats Azumaryu – Ura is able to maintain his super-low position from the tachiai, and once he had contact with Azumaryu, there was no stopping him. For a moment Azumaryu almost had control back, but could not stop Ura from attacking underneath. 7-8 finish for Ura, 9-6 for Azumaryu.
Sadanoumi defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma hits double digit losses with his final day loss to Sadanoumi. Sadanoumi was intent on establishing and then maintaining a left hand inside grip, and it left him open to several solid counter moves from Chiyoshoma. But has been the case this January, Chiyoshoma just lacked enough power to make it work. He finally got his throw in, but he had already stepped out before he could bring Sadanoumi down. Sadanoumi finishes 6-9, Chiyoshoma 5-10.
Ichiyamamoto defeats Nishikifuji – Ichiyamamoto hits double digits for his first time in the top division, with a hatakikomi over faltering Nishikifuji. A volley of double arm thrusts, into a quick pull down, and it was all over. Nishikifuji ends January 4-11, Ichiyamamoto 10-5.
Mitoryu defeats Midorifuji – Midorifuji could not overcome the tremendous size difference with Mitoryu. He was able to repel a couple of Mitoryu’s initial attacks, but lunged inside hard to grapple Mitoryu, and Mitoryu slapped him to the clay. Mitoryu gets a final win to finish 7-8, Midorifuji a final loss at 6-9.
Abi defeats Tsurugisho – Our second Darwin match, and it seems that Abi-zumo can still eek out a kachi-koshi this January. There was a moment where Tsurugisho broke Abi’s balance, but could not convert that into anything offensive. Abi ends Hatus 8-7, with Tsurugisho 7-8.
Tamawashi defeats Hiradoumi – First attempt was a matta, second attempt at a tachiai looked just as off tempo as the first, but the fight was on. Hiradoumi did fairly well, but he’s really out-classed against a healthy Tamawashi. Hiradoumi tried to maintain contact as Tamawashi dialed up the forward pressure, but a final shove tossed Hiradoumi down the hanamichi. Hiradoumi finishes 8-7, Tamawashi 9-6.
Mitakeumi defeats Takarafuji – This seems like an even match for both of these diminished top division mainstay. Mitakeumi’s ottsuke is able to stop Takarafuji from setting up any offense, and Mitakeumi kept pushing forward. Mitakeumi gets a final win to cushion his fall down the banzuke, his final score is 7-8, Takarafuji 8-7.
Daieisho defeats Aoiyama – Daieisho had the big attack group early, overwhelming Aoiyama, and making him take a step back. At that point, Aoiyama decided he needed a pull, and that ended just about as well as you might imagine. Aoiyama stepped out a moment later giving Daieisho double digit wins for Hatsu at 10-5, Aoiyama finished with a worthy 8-7.
Tobizaru defeats Kotoeko – The next Darwin match, Kotoeko starts with a double hand strike to Tobizaru’s shoulders, into an immeidate slap down. It fails and now Kotoeko has Tobizaru at full power, attacking his chest. Kotoeko can’t hold ground, and attempts a pull. In response Tobizaru delivers a strong shove to the chest, pushing Kotoeko out for his kachi-koshi, and an 8-7 final score for Hatsu. Kotoeko make-koshi at 7-8.
Wakamotoharu defeats Endo – A fascinating battle for grip and body position. With both of these rikishi wanting to set up a yotsu-zumo match on their terms, it was always going to be about where the other man’s hands fell. It was Wakamotoharu who got set up first, and he took only two steps to set Endo out by yorikiri. Both end Hatsu with 9-6 scores.
Meisei defeats Takanosho – I do hope that whatever has been causing problems for Takanosho during the past six months can be cleared up. Again today he loses a match he could have and maybe should have won. Meisei did a masterful job of keeping him moving, out of step and off balance until he could run him out by okuridashi. That final win for Meisei puts him at 5-10, Takanosho finishes 6-9.
Kotonowaka defeats Hokutofuji – The last of our Darwin matches, and I must express satisfaction that Kotonowaka was able to help Hokutofuji rack up, yet again, “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”. It just does not feel like a Hatsu basho unless Hokutofuji is make-koshi. Kotonowaka 8-7 to end the tournament, Hokutofuji 7-8.
Kiribayama defeats Ryuden – Congratulations to Kiribayama on his second technique prize, some outstanding sumo this entire month. Ryuden gave him a tough fight, featuring awkward endurance postures, circle dancing, and a long stalemate. Kudos to Ryuden for not conceding a single step on the clay, excellent sumo sir. Kiribayama finishes him by yorikiri, and ends Hatsu 11-4, Ryuden with a respectable 9-6.
Myogiryu defeats Shodai – As guessed in the preview, Shodai racks up the exact same score in his “ozekiwake” tournament that Mitakeumi did in November before being flushed down the banzuke to Maegashira 2. Myogiryu had the better tachiai, and a face slap after Shodai shut him down broke open an attack route to switch up his grip. Myogiryu charged ahead and walked Shodai out. Both finish the tournament at 6-9.
Hoshoryu defeats Onosho – Onosho misses out on a win, and a fighting spirit prize when he ends up pulling Hoshoryu’s top knot in the heat of their match. After driving Hoshoryu back, Onosho decides to pull him forward, and gets a hand on Hoshoryu’s mage as he brings him down. A mono-ii confirms it, and Onosho is disqualified, giving Hoshoryu a final day 8th win and kachi-koshi.
Wakatakakage defeats Nishikigi – Absolutely brilliant sumo from Nishikigi, this guy has made a visible step change in his sumo, and is fighting better than I have ever seen him fight before. I expect this quality of sumo from Wakatakakage, as he will be Ozeki before long, but this was quite the surprise from Nishikigi, good show sir. Wakatakakage eventually catches him lunging forward, and finishes Nishikigi by hatakikomi. Both end Hatsu with 9-6 records, and I am quite certain we will see Nishikigi in the joi-jin for March.
Takakeisho defeats Kotoshoho – My compliments to Kotoshoho for making it this far, you far exceeded all expectations and showed the fans what you are capable of. But HOLY CRAP! Who had Takakeisho winning the yusho with a throw in your list of “must see in 2023?”. I think it surprised Kotoshoho too, as Takakeisho opened with a typical thrusting combo, then hooked his left arm around Kotoshoho’s body and let it fly. Wow! Kotoshoho finishes Hatsu with the jun-yusho at 11-4, Takekeisho the cup and a 12-3 final.
That concludes our daily reporting of the 2023 Hatsu basho, a glorious festival of sumo that has been one of the better tournaments in a while. Thank you dear readers for sharing our joy of sumo as we brought you coverage during the past 15 days. We look forward to bringing you the action from Osaka in March.