Aki Story 3 – Fallen Heroes

We are now deep into a transitional period in sumo. The cohort that had been dominant for 10 years or more are finding time catching up to them. Their sumo is not as sharp, their bodies can no longer endure the punishment of the fight, and they are staring down a significant change in their careers. It’s heartbreaking to watch great rikishi close out their careers, and I suspect Aki is going to be the finishing stroke for more than one storied rikishi.

Yoshikaze – Fans who have been reading the blog know Yoshikaze is my absolute favorite, and has been for years. The guy has been an absolute giant-killer, and has been able to sumo a nearly demonic fighting spirit at times. Because of this, and his willingness to sacrifice his body to the fight, I nicknamed him “the Berserker”, which at least a couple of fans though of as an insult. For those who have studied Nordic history, we know that being called a Berserker is a high compliment. But Yoshikaze has been suffering a variety of physical problems for most of the last year. He had a mystery rash for a time, and in May he damaged a knee, which saw him seek surgery. He did not compete in Nagoya, and dropped to Juryo 7. Yoshikaze last competed in Juryo in 2007. There is also word from the Japanese sumo press that he has not recovered, and is unlikely for Aki. Failure to start in September would surely mean a demotion to Makushita. At 37 years old, he probably would rather not break back into Sekitori status. The good news for Yoshikaze fans – he has an oyakata slot waiting for him upon retirement. Already heavily involved with youth sumo, I think the future Nakamura oyakata is going to be responsible for bringing sumo to new generations of people in Japan.

Ikioi – Ranked at Juryo 12w for Aki, fan favorite Ikioi’s heart is still in the fight, but his body is too broken to really continue. His last kachi-koshi was at Hatsu of 2019, and there has been no sign that his injuries are actually improving. He continues to rack up double digit losses, in spite of being reduced to a lower division. While the full extent of Ikioi’s injuries are probably not published, we know that he has taken many blows to the head, suffered with cellulitis, and has ankle and knee problems. Each time the man steps on the dohyo, you want to call an ambulance. But the warrior spirit in him refuses to relent, and each bought he leaves just a bit more damaged. Like Yoshikaze, he has a oyakata slot waiting for him (Kasugayama). I think that if he gets his 8th loss in September, we may see him take a hair cut and put on a nice suit sooner rather than later.

Kaisei – The picture around Kaisei is less clear. As a foreigner (Brazil) he has no access to an oyakata slot. He is also quite banged up, ranked Juryo 8, and I think he is in serious peril of being demoted to Makushita with a losing record. He has managed only 7 wins over the last 3 tournaments. Ouch! He’s a fan favorite, and a real sweet heart in real life, so we can only hope that he can either rally in September, or he can find something to pay the bills if he is demoted further down the banzuke. At 32, he may only have 1 big campaign up the banzuke left, if any.

Arawashi – This guy is a mess. His sumo skill is fantastic, but he has been walking wounded since last year, and has struggled to hold onto a Juryo rank. Now 33 years old, and at Makushita 1, he has more or less one shot to get 4 wins against the brutal Makushita joi-jin to regain a salaried rank, or face a long, unfunded road to the exit. Like Kaisei, he is a foreigner and has no access to buying his way into a kabu.

A reminder to fans – sumo is a combat sport, and a literal zero-sum game. It is by its nature brutal and elminationist. It’s Darwin in action, and only the fittest of the pack can survive each new tournament. While we love our aging heroes, their slow fade makes room for new rikishi to leave their mark on the sumo world.

Kyushu Day 11 Highlights

The topsy-turvey Kyushu Basho continues into Day 11, and much like before, Wednesday’s action did not disappoint. Our leaderboard stayed mostly intact, with Takakeisho at the top with ten wins and Aoiyama, Daieisho, and Takayasu right behind with nine. The only casualty in the Yusho race was Onosho, who dropped his match and joined Okinoumi and Goiedo in the hunt group. Without further ado, let’s get on to today’s action.

Highlight Bouts:

Yago (7-4) defeats Arawashi (1-10): We begin with another visit from Yago, up from Joryu for the day. He and his Day 11 opponent, Arawashi, could very well swap places in January. After a matta, the two clashed and try as he might, Arawshi could do nothing against the much larger man. Yago takes the match with a yoritaoshi and moves one step closer to the Makuuchi division.

Aoiyama (9-2) defeats Yutakayama (4-7): You gotta hand it to Aoiyama, the man has been on an incredible tear at Kyushu. After dropping his first two bouts, the Bulgarian bull has steamrolled every rikishi he’s faced, and today was no different. Yutakayama, injured as he is, put up a good fight and nearly got Aoiyama out, but the big man fought back with bludgeoning tsuppari until Yutakayama was unstable. A quick slap down followed, and Aoiyama extended his winning streak to nine.

Shohozan (7-4) defeats Onosho (8-3): With his loss to Shohozan today, Onosho has fallen out of the chase group. Onosho started strong, nearly driving Shohozan out, but Big Guns Sho dug in at the edge and used his immense strength to push Onosho back and over the tawara. Shohozan improves to 7-4 and is one win away from his kachi koshi, but he’ll have to go through the eaquily burley Chiyotairu first.

Endo (7-4) defeats Abi (5-6): Following a great first half of Kyushu, Fan favourite Abi continues to fall closer and closer to another make koshi record after three consecutive losses. His Day 11 opponent, Endo, kept low and used his forehead to bear the brunt of Abi’s thrusts. Once he was within his reach, Endo sprang his trap and grabbed Abi around the waist. Once that happened, there was little Abi could do but be guided out of the ring. Endo is just one win away from kachi koshi, while Abi needs to win two for his winning record.

Daieisho (9-2) defeats Kagayaki (3-8): Daieisho maintained his spot in the 9-2 hunt group with a decisively one-sided win over Kagayaki. Daieisho has a habit of letting his sumo slide during the back half of a Basho, but he seems to have bucked this bad habit and could finish with double-digit wins for the first time since last March. Kagayaki is now make koshi and will need to review the fundamentals before January.

Ryuden (4-7) defeats Asanoyama (4-7): This one was a great match between two very promising rikishi. Coming into Act 3 with wins over an Ozeki and a Sekiwake, Ryuden seemed more confident during his Day 11 match against Asanoyama. Asanoyama started strong and nearly got Ryuden over the bales, but the man in black used some excellent footwork and got himself away from the tawara and back into the middle of the ring. Now with a secure double-handed grip, Ryuden drove forward but Asanoyama was ready and used Ryu’s own momentum against him. Asanoyama overcorrected, however, and in turning Ryuden towards the edge of the ring, he lost his own balance and succumbed to the smaller man’s uwatenage. Despite an excellent match, both men are now 4-7 and are one misstep away from demotion. While this has not been their Basho, hopefully, they have been learning from their losses and come into Haru better prepared.

Nishikigi (5-6) defeats Hokutofuji (5-6): Nishikigi continues to surprise this Basho and dominated Hokutofuji right from the start of their bout. Hokutofuji tried to push Nishikigi around, but the blind one wouldn’t budge. Using Hokutofuji’s forward movement against him, Nishikigi busted out a tsukiotoshi and sent Hokutofuji sprawling on the ground. This is Hokutofuji’s third straight loss.

Takakeisho (10-1) defeats Tochiozan (6-5): Takakeisho and Tochiozan have been two of the most surprising rikishi this November. While Tochiozan has since fallen out of the Yusho race, he’s so far proved that he can beat anyone on any given day. However, today was not that day, and Tochiozan joined an ever-growing list of rikishi who have fallen prey to Takakeisho’s wave attack. Right from the tachiai, the Komusubi began slamming into Tochiozan, disrupting his balance and negating his offence. This left him vulnerable to Takakeisho’s well-placed hatakikomi slap down. Takakeisho improved his record to 10-1 and still remains the leader in the Yusho race.

Yoshikaze (6-5) defeats Mitakeumi (5-6): Yoshikaze and Mitakeumi began their bout today with a series of headbutts. Yoshikaze, whose head is no stranger to abuse, weathered the storm and managed to get under Mitakeumi’s arms, forcing them up and out of the way. One quick uwatedashinage later and Mitakeumi found himself face down in the dirt. Prior to Kyushu, there was quite a lot of discussion about Mitakeumi salvaging his Ozeki run. Now with a 5-6 record, the conversation has changed to whether or not he can hold on to his Sekiwake slot. With three Ozeki bouts in his near future, Mitakeumi better get his sumo in gear if he wants to save his rank.

Goeido (8-3) defeats Kaisei (3-6-2): Kaisei figured it out: Goiedo can’t henka someone who doesn’t move. The big Brazilian stood right up at the Tachiai and forced the Ozeki to come to him. Goeido obliged and the Komosubi managed to turn him until Goeido had his back to the tawara. Kaisei went in for the final blow but Goiedo shifted and managed to get Kaisei off balance and hopping towards the bales. A final push sealed the deal and Goeido picked up his kachi koshi.

Tochinoshin (6-5) defeats Chiyotairyu (5-6): Tochinoshin had his hands full today when he faced Chiyotairyu. The man in the salmon Mawashi kept the Georgian off his belt with some fierce tsuppari blows, but Tochinoshin didn’t relent and eventually forced Chiyotairyu towards the edge. Chiyotairyu kept on fighting but lost his balance and landed knee first on the clay. Tochinoshin wins via tsukihiza.

Takayasu (9-2) defeats Ichinojo (3-8): Now, If this Ichinojo had showed up at the start of Kyushu, I doubt he’d be make koshi. After a thunderous Tachiai, Takayasu pushed Ichinojo to the tawara but the Mongolian didn’t go meekly out of the ring this time. The Boulder stands his ground so Takayasu changes tactics, jumping back and attempting to slap him down. This only causes Ichinojo to move forward with tremendous force, driving Takayasu back. Ichinojo tries his own slap down, but neither men are falling for that move today. The hulking Mongolian goes back to pushing and has Takayasu back-peddling until the two go tumbling to the tatami below (with Ichinojo’s colossal knee taking a large chunk of the dohyo with it). But wait! The gyoji motions towards Takayasu. A monoii is called, and video replay shows that Ichinojo’s big toe went out a fraction of a second before Takayasu’s foot touched down. Takayasu wins this very close match and stays in the hunt for the Yusho, while Ichinojo says goodbye to his Sekiwake rank and perhaps his spot in the Sanyaku as well.

Kyushu Day 11 Preview

Kyushu Banzuke 2

Welcome to the final act of the Kyushu basho. This is where we crown the yusho winner, and a lot of people suffer. For Makuuchi and Juryo rikishi, fifteen solid days of top form sumo is exhausting, and the final five days in particular are a huge grind. Many of the rikishi are already losing energy, while others seem to be limitless heading into act three.

During act three, many of the normal match ranges amongst the rank and file are set aside, as the schedulers are eager to shape the yusho race and sort the make- from the kachi-koshi. We see this kicking in already on day 11, and you may notice my rank annotations on some matches from here on out to highlight the wide gaps between competitors.

Kyushu Leaderboard

Leader: Takakeisho
Chasers: Takayasu, Daieisho, Aoiyama, Onosho
Hunt Group: Goeido, Okinoumi

5 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 11

Arawashi vs Yago – While we give our heartfelt condolences to Arawashi for his impending demotion to Juryo, we marvel at the possibility that our Juryo visitor for the day, the 6-4 Yago, might get two more wins and possibly make a top division debut in January. Yago is a bit of a protege, and we will be looking for his typical good fighting form. Sadly Arawashi is in no condition to give him much of a fight.

Chiyoshoma vs Okinoumi – A win today would be an Okinoumi kachi-koshi, and it would be Okinoumi’s third in a row. For a man with a chronic injury that might have ended his career, his perseverance is humbling.

Aoiyama vs Yutakayama – Aoiyama is, at times, a sumo puzzle. When his health is good, his body is working and he is on his sumo, he’s a bit unstoppable except for rikishi in the named ranks. He appears to be in that mode going into day 11, and he faces a disrupted Yutakayama, who is still not quite right after injury, kyujo and returning to a beating or five during Aki. Should Aoiyama win again on day 11, we will see him face higher ranked opponents soon.

Kotoshogiku (M9e) vs Daiamami (M15e) – First match between these two, and I can almost imagine that they are feeding the smaller rikishi into the maws of hometown favorite Kotoshogiku to see what he will do. I think a kachi-koshi for the “Kyushu Bulldozer” could come before day 14, and maybe he can run up the score.

Onosho (M13e) vs Shohozan (M7w) – I have been saying since the start of the basho that Onosho was woefully under-ranked. Now it’s time for him to deliver some of his typically aggressive sumo to another hometown favorite, Shohozan. Both of these rikishi like to knock their opponents around, but I am going to give an edge to “Big Guns” today, as he seems to soak up the enthusiasm from the crowd.

Abi (M7e) vs Endo (M12w) – Endo has yet to beat Abi, so lets see if he can use the same disruption technique that saw Abi lose the prior two days with the same effect.

Daieisho vs Kagayaki – Daieisho holds a share of the chase group, and will look to hand Kagayaki his make-koshi today to remain one loss behind Takakeisho. Kagayaki is in no danger of a deep demotion at this point, and I expect that he will benefit from a period at the bottom end of Makuuchi.

Shodai vs Takanoiwa – Takanoiwa holds a 5-2 career advantage, but is only fighting at a fraction of his normal power. Shodai, aside from his tachiai, is showing consistent and strong sumo for the past 5 days, and I give him the advantage today.

Asanoyama vs Ryuden – Ryuden is also one loss away from make-koshi, which is not an uncommon result when a rikishi joins the joi-jin for the first time. It’s a rougher schedule at the top, and Ryuden will walk away from Kyushu with plenty of sore joints and bruises, but also a couple of great wins over high ranking opponents.

Nishikigi vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has never beaten Nishikigi, and given how he faltered in his match against tournament leader Takakeisho on day 10, we have to wonder if it was nerves or indication that he’s running out of gas in the marathon to senshuraku. Nishikigi has surprised everyone a few times, and I am sure we will all be watching to see if he can do it again. While I think a kachi-koshi is unlikely this time, I think he may actually be able to hold his own at Maegashira 3 some time in 2019.

Myogiryu vs Tamawashi – It took Tamawashi a while to get warmed up, but he seems dialed into his sumo now. I expect he is going to give Myogiryu a fierce battle on day 11. Myogiryu holds the edge in agility and speed, Tamawashi the edge in strength and precision. This will either be over in the blink of an eye, or a great battle.

Takakeisho vs Tochiozan – After opening strong, Tochiozan has lost 4 of the last 5 matches. But he is the same rikishi who defeated Takayasu, Goeido and Kisenosato last week, and given the right scenario, he could be trouble for yusho race leader Takakeisho. The odds are against it, as Takakeisho holds a 5-1 career advantage.

Mitakeumi vs Yoshikaze – What’s going to happen here? Lord, who knows. I would like to think Mitakeumi is going to break out of his doldrums against the always intense Yoshikaze. Yoshikaze is still on a trajectory that could see him secure a kachi-koshi, but he is not nearly as genki right now as he was during Aki.

Goeido vs Kaisei – Go ahead Goeido, I dare you.

Chiyotairyu vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin’s opponents seem to have gotten very good at keeping the Ozeki away from a working mawashi grip this tournament, and it would seem to be frustrating the Georgian’s sumo. Chiyotairyu has a lot of fast power, but seldom shows much stamina, which Tochinoshin seems to possess in buckets. So I am going to expect for the Ozeki to let Chiyotairyu discharge his opening gambit, then get to work.

Ichinojo vs Takayasu – It seems that Takayasu might give Ichinojo his 8th loss today, and many in the sumo world would be sad to see the big Mongolian behemoth vacate the Sekiwake slot that had to be enlarged, at great cost, just to hold him. The one redeeming thought in this match up is that Takayasu has a lot of trouble winning against Ichinojo, with a slim 5-4 margin. A loss by Takayasu would disrupt his chances to contend for the yusho.

Kyushu Day 10 Highlights

Kyushu Day 10

It’s the end of act 2, and we saw another narrowing of the yusho race. But there is still a broad set of genki rikishi that remain in the hunt, waiting for Takakeisho to lose another match. Takakeisho thus far shows no signs of easing up. As we had expected, Takakeisho is likely to be an important rikishi in the future, provided he can keep his body healthy and his mind sharp.

There may be a few new folks reading the web site, and it’s been a while since I have done this, so let me explain some of the “why” of Tachiai.

Tachiai is purely a fan weblog. It is a non-revenue site, meaning we don’t sell ads, we don’t sell your data, and we don’t ask our readers to do anything more than spend some time with us and enjoy sumo with us. The contributors to this site, myself included, receive no compensation for our efforts, and do it purely for the love of the sport, and our shared desire to bring sumo to more people in the English speaking world. That means all of us have “day jobs” that pay the bills, and allow us enough free time to follow sumo.

As far as I know, none of the contributors are journalists, or people who write for a living. On Tachiai, there should be no expectations of the following:

  • Protection from “spoilers”: Sumo happens in the middle of the night, US time. Most US fans won’t get a chance to see results until much later in the day. But we report on proceedings well before most sumo fans have watched video of the matches. It’s ok to wait to read Tachiai until after you have enjoyed your favorite video feed (we recommend the excellent NHK World, Jason’s All Sumo Channel on Youtube, and of course Kintamayama).
  • Objective reporting: As fans, all of the contributors have favorites. We have things we like in sumo, and things we don’t like. All of the contributors (along with the readers and commenters) can and should feel free to chime in with their views too, but we insist you keep it polite.
  • Comprehension of Japan, Japanese custom XYZ, mastery of Japanese culture: To “get” sumo, it helps to have some knowledge of how it came about, and how it relates to the broader cultural landscape of Japan. That being said, I am pretty sure none of the contributors to this site are Japanese, or wish to replace their own cultural aesthetic with that of Japan. We do our best, but we are not, and never will be Japanese.

Good, with that back in writing for the first time in several months, let’s enjoy today’s mayhem.

Highlight Matches

Kotoeko defeats Chiyomaru – Big Chiyomaru goes down to Kotoeko’s slapping attack, and is now make-koshi. Barring some improbable circumstance, he will return to Juryo to sort out his health and his sumo. His most recent tour of Makuuchi began in July of 2017, and he has gathered a following. We hope whatever is plaguing him, he overcomes in short order.

Onosho defeats Chiyoshoma – Onosho stays in the yusho hunt, and picks up his kachi-koshi. Chiyoshoma took an early advantage, but Onosho rallied and repulsed the Mongolian, with both visiting the west side zabuton.

Endo defeats Arawashi – Arawashi can barely stand on his injured leg, so this was a “gimme” for Endo. Arawashi will be joining the barge of sadness sailing back to Juryo.

Meisei defeats Sadanoumi – Meisei picks up his first ever win over Sadanoumi, and Sadanoumi made him work very hard for it. In fact Sadanoumi was in the driver’s seat for the balance of the match, but Meisei unleaded a well time hatakikomi at the edge to rescue the win.

Daieisho defeats Takanosho – Daieisho stays in the hunt group and scores his kochi-kochi. The match was a messy thrusting battle that could have gone either way, but Daieisho got the gumbai, and the shimpan upheld.

Aoiyama defeats Takarafuji – Aoiyama may be the only man in sumo to accomplish the nearly impossible: finding and then attacking Takarafuji’s neck. Takarafuji battled bravely, but Aoiyama had too much forward pressure interleaved with powerful blows to Takarafuji’s upper body. Aoiyama joins the rest of the crew who achieved kachi-koshi today, and remain 1 loss behind Takakeisho.

Okinoumi defeats Abi – Veteran Okinoumi completely disrupts Abi-zumo, the second straight loss via the same processes. We may have reached the expiration date on the daily use of the double arm thrusting attack from Abi. Now it gets interesting, because we will see what else this guy can do.

Shohozan defeats Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni was protecting his right arm the past two days, but that was gone in today’s match against “Big Guns” Shohozan. Both men are brawlers, and both men got their match today. A running brawl that traversed the dohyo repeatedly, they exchanged fierce blows, thrusts and anything they could think of. The crowd was going wild for home town boy Shohozan, and then the two went chest to chest. Go watch this match. Then go watch it again. Chiyonokuni is now make-koshi, but he fought was great vigor today.

Yutakayama defeats Kagayaki – Another high effort bout, and it was unusual to see Kagayaki having a difficult time controlling his balance. Yutakayama is still less than 100%, but he put forth a great effort today, and was rewarded with a much needed win.

Takanoiwa defeats Ryuden – Ryuden’s false start / matta likely blew his concentration, and Takanoiwa applied an expertly timed slap down for the win.

Yoshikaze defeats Tochiozan – A brief struggle for grip or inside position at the tachiai quickly evolved to Yoshikaze bracketing Tochiozan and motoring ahead in 2nd gear. A monoii reviewed the final moments, but Yoshikaze got a much needed 5th win to keep kachi-koshi hopes alive.

Nishikigi defeats Myogiryu – I dare say that after his string of strong wins, Myogiryu’s loss to Nishikigi may come as something of a surprise. But Nishikigi was able to contain Myogiryu, and progressively work his position into a win. Nishikigi is holding up to his tour through the upper ranks much better than I could have hoped.

Takakeisho defeats Hokutofuji – An uneven tachiai that might have been a matta, or just Hokutofuji missing the launch, but the goyji did not call it and the fight was on. Hokutofuji had no chance to set up either offense or defense in any real sense, and Takakeisho completely blasted him up and back.

Tamawashi defeats Kaisei – Tamawashi had to put in a lot of effort, as there is just a tremendous amount of Kaisei to move. Tamawashi’s normal bash-bash-push approach was rendered, but yielded little forward motion, as Kaisei for a moment reminded me of Andre the Giant in “The Princess Bride”, looking at Wesley mid battle, and saying “I want you to feel like you are doing well…”

Shodai defeats Mitakeumi – I kid a lot about Shodai, but his effort at Kyushu has been noteworthy. Today against the one time Ozeki hopefully once again illustrates that if he can survive the tachiai, Shodai has solid fundamentals, and acres of strength. Mitakeumi is in dire need of 3 more wins in the next 5 days.

Tochinoshin defeats Ichinojo – and the Tochinoshin fans breath a well-earned sigh of relief. Ichinojo consents to allow the Ozeki an attempt at a lift and shift, and Tochinoshin is all to happy to oblige.

Takayasu defeats Chiyotairyu – A solid yotzu battle from two enormous, burly rikishi. This is not Chiyotairyu’s strong sumo, but he put up a good battle. Takayasu prevailed for his kachi-koshi, and remains in the yusho hunt group.