Nagoya ’18 Banzuke Crystal Ball

Meisei_banzuke

Don’t want to wait for the official banzuke announcement on June 25th? The Crystal Ball is here to give you a good idea of how it’s likely to play out.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Goeido

Takayasu

O2

Tochinoshin

Natsu saw Kakuryu take the yusho, Hakuho put up a creditable performance, and Kisenosato sit out. As a result, there is no change in the Yokozuna rankings. Goeido at least showed up, unlike Takayasu, and as a result, he takes over the O1e slot, with the shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin entering the upper ranks at O2e.

Lower San’yaku

S

Ichinojo

Mitakeumi

K

Tamawashi

Shohozan

Ichinojo did just enough at 8-7 to stay at Sekiwake, and Tochinoshin’s promotion allows him to move over to the East side. Mitakeumi moves up to West Sekiwake. Both Komusubi slots are open, one by promotion and the other by demotion, and should go to M1e Tamawashi and M2e Shohozan, the two highest-ranked maegashira to earn winning records.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Shodai

Chiyonokuni

M2

Kotoshogiku

Ikioi

M3

Abi

Kaisei

M4

Kagayaki

Takakeisho

M5

Daishomaru

Yoshikaze

Due to the depletion of the San’yaku ranks by injury, everyone ranked in this part of the banzuke at Natsu took a turn in the meat grinder. Most actually held up pretty well, with Tamawashi and Shohozan earning San’yaku promotions, and 5 others (in bold) holding on to the upper maegashira ranks. M3e Daieisho and M4e Chiyotairyu only managed 5 and 6 wins, respectively, and will fall out of this group. Falling the hardest will be M3w Yutakayama, who could only eke out 2 wins in his first tournament in the joi.

The opposite outcome in this games of chutes and ladders belongs to Chiyonokuni, who earned 12 victories from M11w and whom I have moving all the way up to M1w. His career-high rank, M1e, was at Natsu 2017, and ended in a 2-13 beating, from which it took him a year to work his way back. Taking lesser jumps up the banzuke are those from the mid-maegashira ranks with positive records (in italic): Kagayaki, Takakeisho, Daishomaru, and Yoshikaze.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Chiyotairyu

Takarafuji

M7

Daieisho

Endo

M8

Chiyoshoma

Kyokutaisei

M9

Myogiryu

Onosho (J)

M10

Chiyomaru

Aoiyama

M11

Nishikigi

Sadanoumi

Being in this relatively safe part of the banzuke represents a promotion for Kyokutaisei, Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, and Sadanoumi and a demotion for Chiyotairyu, Daieisho, Endo, and Chiyomaru. Chiyoshoma and Takarafuji are treading water. Takarafuji, in particular, is forecast to benefit from good banzuke luck and hold on to his ranking at M6w despite a losing 7-8 record. He should be demoted, but the three guys I have ranked right below him all had worse make-koshi records and receive fairly lenient demotions as it is. Also making his Makuuchi return here is recent mainstay Onosho, who we hope continues his rapid re-ascent of the rankings.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Kotoeko (J)

Arawashi

M13

Asanoyama

Yutakayama

M14

Tochiozan

Okinoumi

M15

Ryuden

Hokutofuji

M16

Ishiura

Meisei (J)

Here we have the second-strongest promotion candidate from Juryo, Kotoeko, making his Makuuchi debut after narrowly missing out in the previous tournament. Kotoeko, 26, started in sumo in 2007, under a name which I kinda wish he’d kept just so we could listen to announcers trying to get it right—Kotokashiwadani. He’s been in Juryo for the past 12 tournaments.

The only Makuuchi holdover in this group with a kachi-koshi is Tochiozan, who moves up from M15e to M14e after going 8-7. Arawashi and Asanoyama each went 7-8 and get minimal demotions due to good banzuke luck, Yutakayama lands here after plummeting down the banzuke, while Okinoumi and, especially, the trio of Ryuden, Hokutofuji, and Ishiura are lucky to remain in the top division.

I have the last spot going to another rikishi making his Makuuchi debut—Meisei—who takes the place of Takekaze, the last man I have going down to Juryo. Meisei is only 22, having started in sumo in 2011. He’s had 7 fairly strong consecutive tournaments in Juryo, going 9-6, 9-6, 9-6, 7-8, 8-7, 7-8, and 10-5, so hopefully he’ll be ready for his first taste of the big leagues.

Natsu Day 14 Highlights

The-Boulder

Great day of sumo… Our operatives inside the Kokugikan report that the Great Cat himself was well pleased with today’s activities, and blessed sumo fans with some fantastic matches. Find a way to watch all of day 14.

Nagoya has enormous potential, given today’s results. I will discuss more in the day 15 preview. The Natsu yusho is for Kakuryu to lose now, and his sumo was absolutely amazing today. Many sumo fans had dismissed Kakuryu in the prior year, perhaps thinking he was lazy, or would rather not compete. His style of sumo is rather unique, and it’s quite difficult to watch at times. Many fans want to see an all out, guns blazing battle. Where the best attack wins. Sometimes, the best attack is not to try and overpower your opponent, but rather to keep your opponent from winning. It’s somewhat alien in western sports, but it’s amazing to see Kakuryu use it with such great effect.

In Juryo, we are indeed going to have a final day barnyard brawl for the yusho. There are 3 Juryo rikishi with 11 wins at the end of day 14: Onosho, Kotoeko and Tsurugisho. I urge you to find and watch Kotoeko’s day 14 match – because he is bringing that kind of sumo to Makuuchi in Nagoya.

Highlight Matches

Ishiura defeats Kyokutaisei – Ishiura wins doing actual sumo. This is noteworthy.

Aoiyama defeats Daiamami – A large man oshi-matsuri, with Aoiyama once again focusing on his opponents head. This is not really working for him, and then he decides, “Yeah, let’s put some force center-mass!”, and shifts to Daiamami’s chest. Hey! Look, out goes Daiamami! Aoiyama gets his 8th win and his kachi-koshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Tochiozan – Chiyonokuni takes it to 11, and hands Tochiozan his make-koshi. I would guess we may see Chiyonokuni pick up a special prize, and that would be his first! If he can stay this genki, he is going to be a lot of fun in Nagoya.

Takakeisho defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu having a great basho, but Takakeisho seems to have snapped back into his sumo finally, and he’s on a mission. I am so eager now for Nagoya, as Takakeisho will be in the top half of the banzuke, Onosho will be back, and it’s going to be tadpole time.

Yoshikaze defeats Nishikigi – First match resulted in a monoii, and a re-match. Second match was a clear Yoshikaze win. It’s still possible for him to pick up a kachi-koshi on the final day, when his opponent will be Abi. That, dear readers, could be a wild and chaotic match.

Kagayaki defeats Asanoyama – Asanoyama failed to get his kachi-koshi today, and will have to hope for a win on the final day. Kagayaki continues to execute solid, basic sumo, and has been winning with it. Any hopes Kagayaki has for double digits are going to be tempered by his final day bout against Chiyonokuni. Yikes!

Aminishiki defeats Ryuden – Ryuden (now 2-12) in a world of hurt with the Nagoya banzuke now, as Uncle Sumo uncorks some kind of magic genki sauce and blasts him out of the ring after some preliminary struggle. As always, the crowd in the Kokugikan goes nuts whenever Aminishiki is on the dohyo, and goes double nuts when he wins.

Sadanoumi defeats Chiyomaru – Sadanoumi somehow survives a really powerful osha-battle with Chiyomaru to pick up his kachi-koshi. To me it looks like Chiyomaru had a tough time getting into basho mode, and is struggling with his sumo. Maybe a bit too much mass from the bulbous one? Sadanoumi lands his 8th win and can take comfort in his kachi-koshi.

Shohozan defeats Daieisho – This one was another in a series of Shohozan brawls disguised as sumo matches. Both men were going for some kind of painful death grip on the other, and the winning move was a nicely executed watashikomi thigh trip. Shohozan can still finish kachi-koshi if he wins day 15.

Tamawashi defeats Ikioi – Tamawashi switches to freight-train / densha michi mode and runs Ikioi down the tracks, improving to 7-7 going into the final day.

Kotoshogiku defeats Kaisei – Kotoshogiku kachi-koshi!!! The two go chest to chest straight away, and the enormous mass of Kaisei is clearly near the limit for the Kyushu Bulldozer. But he revs up, engages his tracks and lowers his blade.

Shodai defeats Mitakeumi – What the hell Shodai? Again, his mechanics are abysmal, but his instincts are dead on. Big outcome of this match may be the fact that Shodai seems to have crushed Mitakeumi’s right ankle when they both went to cuddle the kita-kata shimpan.

Kakuryu defeats Tochinoshin – Watch this match, maybe a few times. Tochinoshin really puts a lot into this match, and Kakuryu does some of his best “Big K Sumo” ever. Kakuryu is a reactive sumo expert. His plan is to stalemate Tochinoshin until he makes some kind of mistake, and then use that mistake to finish him. Tochinoshin immediately goes to land his left, and Kakuryu shuts that down, opting for a palm to the face. Tochinoshin tries to go left again, and gets a bit of a grip, but Kakuryu shifts his hips and denies him leverage. Tochinoshin now has a double outside grip on Kakuryu’s loose mawashi, and can’t find a way to keep the Yokozuna from shifting around, robbing Tochinoshin of his ability to lift and shift (his primary weapon). Kakuryu is deep double inside, and leaning in at 45 degrees, stalemate for the Georgian Ozeki hopeful. Tochinoshin tries to pull out a leg trip, but Kakuryu is too far back for the trip, shifting his hips again as Tochinoshin is now dangerously unbalanced. Kakuryu advances, and Tochinoshin tries to pivot for a throw, further impeding his defensive stance, Kakuryu has his opening now, raises his foot and pops a trip against Tochinoshin’s left knee (the good one), and collapses the Georgian at the tawara. Holy smokes! What a match!

Ichinojo defeats Hakuho – Sumo fans could have ended their day with the Kakuryu v Tochinoshin match with satisfaction, but the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan had one last treat in store for us. The Boulder squared off against the dai-Yokozuna, but this was not the passive version of Ichinojo today. Huge, powerful and motivated, Hakuho, who is clearly not quite at full power, had his hands full with 500 pounds of pony tossing, ice cream eating behemoth. Hakuho unleashed a pair of his usually disruptive moves at the outset, but Ichinojo must have gone into the match with the intent to endure the Yokozuna’s initial attacks however he could. It seems he wanted to play a longer game. With Hakuho’s initial gambits exhausted, they spent a moment leaning chest to chest in the center of the dohyo. As Ichinojo moved to advance, Hakuho timed a weight shift to load a throw against Ichinojo. Ichinojo sensed the Yokozuna shifting for leverage, and took advantage of it, pivoting into the uwatenage as the Yokozuna went to the clay. Kokugikan erupts, cushions fly and it’s ice cream and ponies for everyone.

Natsu Day 14 Preview

Natsu Day 14

The scheduling committee was able to achieve their goal, but by unexpected means. With Hakuho unable to stop Tochinoshin’s zero loss march to the yusho, it came about from an unexpected source – Shodai. Easily one of the easy to overlook under performers, Shodai is both a disappointment and a well of potential at the same time. He is tenacious, large and earnest in his sumo. His mechanics are frequently terrible, and he shows a loose grasp of the fundamentals. But his instincts are solid.

With the match between Tochinoshin and Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 14, we will know who will get to battle it out of the yusho, and the yusho probably won’t be decided until possibly the final match on the final day. There are several paths that end in a three way or even 4 way barnyard brawl on the final day, with the winner the resulting playoff walking out there there with the hardware. Fortunately for folks in the US and much of the EU, this is a 3 day weekend, and if we indulge with an orgy of overnight or early morning sumo goodness, we can recover by the start of the work week.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leaders – Kakuryu, Tochinoshin
Chaser – Hakuho
HunterChiyonokuni

*Edit by lksumo: Since 12-1 Kakuryu and 12-1 Tochinoshin face off tomorrow, and they can’t both lose, 10-3 Chiyonokuni is mathematically out, unless we get the following scenario dreamed up by Andy: “Double kyujo as they both stub their toes walking to Kokugikan.”

2 Matches Remain.

What We Are Watching Day 14

Daiamami vs Aoiyama – The man-mountain is once again trying for his kachi-koshi, against the smaller and more mobile Daiamami.

Tochiozan vs Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni wants to keep winning to stay on the pace with the group at the top of the torikumi slugging it out for the yusho. There are some fringe scenarios that would have him possibly in contention if specific sequence of people win and lose over day 14 and 15.

Myogiryu vs Takakeisho – Both are already kachi-koshi, so this is a safe match in terms of their slots on the Nagoya banzuke. But it pits two fairly mobile but shorter rikishi against each other, separated by many spaces in the banzuke. With Myogiryu fighting as well as he has been the last week, this could be a fun and interesting match.

Yoshikaze vs Nishikigi – First time meeting between these two, Yoshkikze needs to win out to get a kachi-koshi. But our Berserker is looking like he’s just not feeling it right now. Nishikigi is shopping for additional boost points for the banzuke.

Asanoyama vs Kagayaki – Asanoyama comes into this needing one more win for his kochi-kochi, and he’s going up against Mr. Fundamentals. That means that Asanoyama is going to need to be sharp and crisp in his attack and defense moves to get past Kagayaki, whom he has never beaten.

Sadanoumi vs Chiyomaru – Sadanoumi needs one more win for kachi-koshi, facing already make-koshi Chiyomaru. The career record favors Chiyomaru 6-1, so Sadanoumi has his work cut out for him against “The Anchor”.

Tamawashi vs Ikioi – Tamawashi needs to win out to stake any kind of claim to a return to San’yaku for Nagoya, and he has Mr. “Can’t Stop – Shan’t Stop” in Ikioi. Tamawashi’s pugilist style may be the ticket to overwhelm an already injured Ikioi, who will likely be firmly in the joi for Nagoya.

Kotoshogiku vs Kaisei – To me this is possibly the most important match of the day. If Kotoshogiku can roll the Kaisei, he’s kachi-koshi, and with luck we will see a healthy Kotoshogiku do battle in the heat of Nagoya against all the top men of sumo. Kaisei struggled at the top of Maegashira, and I think will be more comfortable around Maegashira 7-5 in July.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – “Shodai the Unexpected”, “Shodai the Surpriser”, “Shodai the Unlikely”. Any way I try to put it, I find it tough to reason back through the prior 13 days and future out how we get to a kachi-koshi Shodai. Today he faces Mitakeumi, who in some ways is almost the same rikishi at times. Will he get Mitakeumi to step on a rake, as he has convinced so many of his opponents to do this tournament? Could Shodai be up for a special prize? I think I need to put more sake in the fridge…

Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – Another pivotal match in the yusho race. This one sets in motion the selection between the various combinations that Herouth (and hopefully lksumo) are thinking through. I am fairly confident that Tochinoshin has his Ozeki bid wrapped, but he is still (in my opinion) the man to beat for the cup right now. Kakuryu leads their career series 21-2, with Kakuryu handing Tochinoshin one of his few losses on the way to his Hatsu yusho, and Tochinoshin handing Kakuryu one his few losses on his way to the Osaka yusho. This one is wound tight, and ready to snap!

Ichinojo vs Hakuho – Ichinojo needs one more win to hold on to Sekiwake, but I am going to guess he won’t find it on day 14. Even though Hakuho seems to be will be focused on “improving” his Ichinojo with an overwhelming match.

Natsu Day 13 Highlights

Kakuryu Day 13

I note with great enthusiasm that the Juryo yusho is coming down to a final weekend barnyard brawl of epic proportions. Even though I am greatly enjoying my beautiful TV Japan feed now, it sadly does not include Juryo that I must find some other way to watch. Tied with 10 wins each at the end of day 13 are: J1w Onosho, J2e Kotoeko, J4e Meisei and all the way down at J14e Tsurugisho.

The big news from day 13 is that Tochinoshin lost today against Shodai of all people. I have to credit Shodai for stalemating Tochinoshin’s attack, and for reading the right time to drop the big Georgian to the clay. With this loss, Day 14’s match against Kakuryu is more or less going to decide the yusho. A Kakuryu win would open the amazing possibility we could end day 15 with a 3-way 13-2 playoff between both Yokozuna and the presumptive shin-Ozeki. If you think I am going to stay up all night to watch that, should it unfold, you are right.

Highlight Matches

Takekaze defeats Asanoyama – Strange little match that ended when Asanoyama staggered towards the tawara and fell down. Kimarite was listed as hatakikomi, but looked more like a slippiotoshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Sadanoumi – My earlier assumption about Chiyonokuni is clearly wrong, and he keeps up the pressure. His win today saw him defuse a decent throw attempt by Sadanoumi.

Nishikigi defeats Daiamami – The survivor giving himself some breathing room for the Nagoya banzuke. This was a great yotsu match, with both men really giving it a lot of effort. This style of sumo favors Nishikigi, as his eyesight is rather poor, and when he had his opponent in a chest to chest position, it negates the problems with his eyes.

Takakeisho defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama’s superior reach stymied after the hit and bounce back tachiai. Aoiyama continued to land meaty blows to Takakeisho’s face, but it seems Takakeisho decided to endure it, and kept thrusting center-mass, as is his preferred technique. Aoiyama may have been enjoying himself to the point he did not notice that Takakeisho had him moving in reverse. Takakeisho kachi-koshi. Nagoya may be the revenge of the tadpoles.

Aminishiki defeats Okinoumi – Uncle sumo wins another, and he looked fairly good with this one. Aminishiki was known to be in less that optimal condition before the start of the basho, and his record is quite miserable. But it was good to see him use a somewhat rickety but effective uwatenage for a win.

Kagayaki defeats Myogiryu – Kagayaki racks up his kachi-koshi in a really solid win. Again I will state that this guy focuses on sumo fundamentals, and you can see great sumo from him almost any day. A bit more mass, a lot more muscle and a bit more seasoning and this guy is going to be a handful.

Kyokutaisei defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze really is a half step or full step slower than he was a year ago. Kyokutaisei continues to look strong in his debut tournament.

Tochiozan defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru surged out strongly at the tachiai, and almost had Tochiozan out, but Tochiozan rallied, and Chiyomaru found it tough to do anything other than continuously back away. Tochiozan wins the match and is kachi-koshi. Chiyomaru is now make-koshi.

Abi defeats Takarafuji – Abi uses his preferred opening gambit once again, and it is only partially effective on Takarafuji, who keeps working inside. But even Takarafuji’s solid sumo fundamentals are breaking down due to Abi’s near ridiculous proportions. With Takarafuji applying pressure at the extreme end of Abi’s reach, Abi releases the pressure and lets Takarafuji fall.

Shohozan defeats Endo – This match was a running brawl that underscores just how poor the decision was to have Endo return. Shohozan can win out and still get kachi-koshi, Endo is headed south on the banzuke for Nagoya.

Mitakeumi defeats Kotoshogiku – They went yotsu right away, with Mitakeumi getting a double inside grip, but this is not normally a problem for Kotoshogiku. Fantastic battle of strength that featured Kotoshogiku disrupting Mitakeumi’s repeated attempts to finish him. I am going to guess Kotoshogiku’s knees are in better working order these days, and that’s nothing but a recipe for fun. The yorikiri came with Mitakeumi unleashing a Kotoshogiku style hip pumping attack. Nice match

Shodai defeats Tochinoshin – Shodai has been stumbling through his matches this tournament, and somehow he took down the presumptive shin-Ozeki. The key was blowing Tochinoshin’s repeated attempt at a grip, until he lunges forward to land his left, and Shodai backpedals with vigor, leaving Tochinoshin falling flat to the clay. This came as a huge surprise to everyone, but in general the crowd seemed to thing it was a wonderful thing. This loss opens the yusho race again, and it just gets crazy this weekend. Who would have though Shodai could do what Hakuho could not? Shodai kachi-koshi.

Hakuho defeats Ikioi – I am going to say it, The Boss is only about 80% right now. Who cares why. He’s still the dai-Yokozuna, and he’s still going into the final weekend with 11 wins. Ikioi once again looked solid, persistent and aggressive. This was harder for Hakuho than his fans would expect.

Kakuryu defeats Ichinojo – Big K now tied for the yusho, and the possibility that he could earn his goal of back-to-back yusho is now within reach. This match was a mawashi battle, with Kakuryu taking the fight to The Boulder on his own terms. Even though Ichinojo used the tawara to help make himself immobile, Kakuryu affirmed that he is the Yokozuna, and overcame. He faces Tochinoshin to possibly decide the Emperor’s cup tomorrow.

Natsu Day 12 Preview

Natsu Day 12

The yusho race is down to Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin, and both Yokozuna. Faced with a lack of San’yaku rikishi, and possibly a desire to have a three way yusho race going into the final weekend of the basho, the planned match between Hakuho and Tochinoshin has been scheduled for day 12. Sure we can talk about other matches of note, but this one is going to be pivotal for several reasons.

Firstly, we can think of it as Tochinoshin’s final exam for his Ozeki bid. Many would successfully argue that he is the only rikishi in this tournament who is performing and Ozeki levels, and they would certainly not be wrong. But beating the dai-Yokozuna would dismiss even the most negative decision maker’s concern.

We can also consider that a loss by Hakuho here would possibly knock him out of the yusho race, and it would be the strongest signal yet that his days are waning. Given how fierce a competitor Hakuho is, and how ruthless he is when the chips are down, I think he will bring everything he has to this day 12 match.

At this point, the topic of a Tochinoshin yusho is front of mind as well. He is looking as least as good as he did in January when he took the Hatsu yusho, and many of the weakness in the upper San’yaku ranks persist today. Simply put, the promotion lanes are wide open. Some rikishi who have been wanting to get in position for some time, Mitakeumi and Tamawashi, appear to be missing their chance as a tougher, stronger, more dedicated man beats them to the prize.

In the rest of the matches, the schedulers are starting to give us huge leaps in the banzuke, with mid-Maegashira taking on men at the bottom of the roster. Many of these are simple “gimme” matches, others are fun examples of testing out the lower ranked men against their possible slots in Nagoya. Others represent the problems in the torikumi due to kyujo, dominant heya and other factors that impinge on rank-appropriate matches.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leader – Tochinoshin
Chasers – Kakuryu, Hakuho

4 Matches Remain.

What We Are Watching Day 12

Daishomaru vs Nishikigi – Daishomaru has a legitimate chance to pick up kachi-koshi, as it’s possible that Nishikigi will succumb to the 9-2 career advantage, and huge difference in the banzuke between M9 Daishomaru and M17 Nishikigi.

Takekaze vs Kagayaki – M14 vs M8 with Kagayaki needing 2 more wins for kachi-koshi. Takekaze in converse is 1 loss away from make-koshi. The career records favors Kagayaki 5-2.

Ryuden vs Sadanoumi – M7 vs M14, with Ryuden already make-koshi and Sadanoumi having a legitimate shot at kachi-koshi. They have fought 3 times before, with Ryuden taking 2 of them. Having watched Ryuden the last few days, he seems genuinely dispirited at this point, so the outcome is very much in play.

Aoiyama vs Chiyomaru – A battle of the big’uns, we get M13 Aoiyama vs M7 Chiyomaru, both of whom are within reach of a kachi-koshi. Chiyomaru has shown some glimpses of sharp sumo in the last few days, including his day 11 match with Asanoyama.

Chiyoshoma vs Takakeisho – M10 Takakeisho is a fierce competitor who has displayed overwhelming tenacity thus far. His sumo may appear to some as “run around crazy and get the other guy to fall down”, but his oshi-style sumo is quite distinct, and in some ways more effective than the rest of the army of pusher-thruster rikishi. He holds a 4-2 career advantage over M6 Chiyoshoma.

Shohozan vs Shodai – Even though Shodai lost his day 11 match with Yokozuna Hakuho, he once again produced a slapstick result, with Hakuho somehow bumbling his face into Shodai’s shoulder. This leads me to consider if Shodai is actually some kind of cartoon character, and will manage to drop an anvil on Shohozan. Surprisingly, out of their 9 prior matches, Shodai has won 6 of them.

Daieisho vs Abi – Abi’s day 11 match was a fine example of how to dismantle his offense, and if Daieisho was watching, I hope he spends the morning practicing with his tsukebito. Otherwise his short reach may be to Abi’s advantage.

Mitakeumi vs Chiyotairyu – A Mitakeumi win here would give him a kachi-koshi and Chiyotairyu a make-koshi at the same time. Chiyotairyu is looking dispirited in the past few days, as it seems everyone has his number right now. His biggest issue is lateral movement. He’s very strong forward. His balance is also hampered by his belly.

Kaisei vs Endo – Now that he is make-koshi, perhaps Endo will win a few to cushion his fall down the Banzuke. I am sure the NSK would like Endo healthy, genki and back in the San’yaku for September in Tokyo. So I am going to guess they want him as close to 7-8 as he can manage.

Kotoshogiku vs Ichinojo – Ichinojo pushing for kachi-koshi here. Kotoshogiku will try to go chest to chest right away, and I am sure that Ichinojo will give it to him for the asking. The Kyushu Bulldozer holds a slight 5-4 advantage over The Boulder, so this match is far from certain.

Kakuryu vs Ikioi – Ikioi limps around and is in pain, but he’s also kachi-koshi now. Kakuryu needs to dispatch him to keep 1 behind Tochinoshin. Ikioi has won 3 of their 11 career matches, but with his injuries and Kakuryu’s focus on staying in range for the yusho weekend barnyard brawl, I am guessing Ikioi is going down.

Tochinoshin vs Hakuho – Tochinoshin has never beaten Hakuho. If that changes today, it will (as described above) mark a fundamental shift in sumo. Welcome to the final exam, Tochinoshin. We are eagerly waiting your outcome.

Natsu Day 10 Preview

IMG_3099-e1526791006270.jpg

Hello friends! The Natsu Day 8 live blog was a whole lot of fun, and I hope we were able to bring some of the flavor of live sumo to the site. I’m happy to report I’ll be back in action from Kokugikan on Day 10, my final day of live sumo for this tournament. But while this brings “Act 2” to a close, there’s still a whole lot of sumo to come, and plenty of storylines yet to develop as we reach the business end of the second week.

So, let’s get into it.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leader – Tochinoshin
ChasersKakuryu, Hakuho, Chiyonokuni
Hunt Group – Ikioi, Myogiryu

6 Matches Remain.

Day 9’s action certainly thinned out the “hunt group,” which should bring some clarity and focus to the scheduling we’re likely to see over the coming days.

What We Are Watching Day 10

Myogiryu vs Kotoeko – With Goeido having swapped places on the sidelines with Endo, Kotoeko gets called up from Juryo to make up the numbers and test his promotion mettle – not unlike Kyokutaisei, who was called up several times in March for experience which has clearly stood him in good stead. Myogiryu has looked surprisingly strong this basho, leads their lifetime matchup 2-0, and I would expect him to win here and grab the kachi-koshi he needs to solidify his place in Makuuchi.

Arawashi vs Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi got absolutely dismantled by Yoshikaze on Day 9, and that’s notable because Yoshikaze has not been “Mr. Feisty” in several months. None of Arawashi’s three wins have come against especially strong opponents this basho, and with both men really needing a win, it may come down to who wants it more.

Aminishiki vs Asanoyama – I think this is a big moment in Asanoyama’s development. He’s an affable man in the ring, but his great manners should not extend to respecting his elders here if he wants to take the next step. Aminishiki has been utterly broken this tournament, and his sumo can maybe best be described as “If Kakuryu didn’t work.” He will backpedal and try to hit the slap down. Asanoyama will need to show a killer instinct, put him away and take a big step towards that kachi-koshi.

Nishikigi vs Chiyonokuni – Similarly, Chiyonokuni at 8-1 has a glorious opportunity here to continue his run and hang around the yusho race while the other competitors are doing their business much further up the banzuke. Nishikigi has made a great go of it at M17 – a rank that won’t likely exist next basho – where he has no margin for error, but Chiyonokuni, who has never won more than 9 matches in Makuuchi, needs to continue to take advantage of the gift of kind scheduling he has been given.

Okinoumi vs Kyokutaisei – 5-4 Okinoumi did well on Day 9 to deal with a Ryuden who fought hard and was desperate to avoid his make-koshi. Here, he gets the 6-3 newcomer from Hokkaido who had an outstanding first week but has come a bit unstuck the last few days. The two have never met.

Tochiozan vs Takakeisho – Takakeisho has turned things around the past couple of days, and here he gets a veteran who was said to look in great shape before the basho but whose results have indicated something rather different. Again this is a step in Takakeisho’s development: he is facing the lowest ranked opponent of this basho by far, an opponent he has beaten 4 times in 5 tries, and in order to move up he needs to find his best sumo and put him away.

Daishomaru vs Takekaze – Daishomaru gets a breather after being banged around the last couple days higher up the banzuke with a visit to M14 Takekaze. We haven’t seen a whole lot of good sumo from the 4-5 veteran this tournament, so it’s an opportunity for 6-3 Daishomaru to get back on form. Takekaze leads the career series 6-3.

Yoshikaze vs Aoiyama – Takakeisho must have really slapped some life into Yoshikaze with all of those roundhouses on Day 8 because Yoshikaze meant business on Day 9 against Sadanoumi and still didn’t look remotely satisfied with his win afterwards. You got the impression he was ready to do it two or three more times, he looked that angry afterwards. Aoiyama, at 4-5, is in fairly poor form this tournament and Yoshikaze leads the career matchup 11-8, but more likely that not, we’re going to see some sumo that won’t be easy on the eye here.

Ishiura vs Kagayaki – I tend to agree with Bruce and think Kagayaki’s ceiling may be Ozeki Kisenosato. On the other hand, the reason Kisenosato was such a great Ozeki is because of his consistency, and Kagayaki has found consistency difficult to come by. Ishiura is a real wild card. He’s attempting less henkas, and I don’t think he’ll deploy one against Kagayaki whose new found composure means he’s not as likely to fall for that trick. Ishiura is, however, desperate for wins to avoid demotion to Juryo, and though he leads the career series 6-3, Kagayaki has won 3 of the last 4 and is odds-on to seal the smaller man’s make-koshi here.

Ryuden vs Hokutofuji – Back to the drawing board for the 1-8 sumotori bobblehead Ryuden, after he huffed and puffed and still couldn’t escape the throw on Day 9. Hokutofuji should see this as a good opportunity to overcome yesterday’s blip and get back on form. Ryuden won their only prior match.

Daiamami vs Chiyomaru – Neither of these guys have been showing their best sumo this tournament. The winner will plant the penultimate nail in the loser’s make-koshi coffin. Daiamami leads the all time record 2-1 here, but I have a good feeling about Chiyomaru for this one.

Daieisho vs Takarafuji – Daieisho’s been knocked around on both occasions he’s entered the joi, and while there’s not a whole lot that anyone could do right now if faced with his Day 9 opponent Tochinoshin, I think he’ll still find it difficult against an opponent as technically gifted as Takarafuji. He’s having a solid tournament and will likely replace Daieisho in the joi next tournament. If Daieisho wants a good omen as he looks to stave off his make-koshi, it’s that he leads their head to head rivalry 2-1.

Chiyoshoma vs Yutakayama – Chiyoshoma (2-7) is just having an awful tournament, but Yutakayama has fought rather better than the goose egg after his name would indicate. If he can keep his fighting spirit and energy going, and avoid a flying henka or any other tricks that Chiyoshoma might bring to the party, he’s got a golden chance to open his account here.

Tamawashi vs Abi – In a year, Abi has supplanted Ura as the star entertainer among the up and coming Makuuchi rikishi. On the NHK broadcast earlier in the week, it was pointed out that Shikoroyama-oyakata had set him a target of 4 wins for this basho – but the man himself was gunning for the yusho! With the first target achieved and the second out of reach, he takes on a man who has perhaps been the benchmark for how to establish yourself as a pusher-thruster and live in this part of the banzuke over the past couple years. Neither man seems to have especially good traction with his feet at the moment, so we could be in for more of an ice skating competition in which someone gets slapped into a triple axle off the side of the dohyo.

Shohozan vs Kaisei – It’s been a brutal re-introduction to the upper ranks for Kaisei (2-7) after his brilliant Haru basho. Here he meets an opponent with whom he is more evenly matched after a rough first week. Big Guns Shohozan (3-6) is no pushover either, but these men have met 18 times and have split the bills right down the middle.

Mitakeumi vs Ikioi – Ikioi has played a blinder in the first week in his typical style of high-octane, full-throttle, heavy-metal sumo. But, having not faced anyone above M4 until now, the challenge will get considerably harder as he’s pulled up to face a resurgent Mitakeumi who holds a pristine 100% record over his taller opponent. Mitakeumi has still yet to face Kakuryu or Ichinojo, so with that in mind he’ll be looking to bank this one and take a step closer to rubber-stamping his return to the Sekiwake rank in Nagoya.

Tochinoshin vs Chiyotairyu – If you look up “genki” in the dictionary, you won’t find it. That’s because Tochinoshin got a left-hand outside grip on the page, ripped it out and ate it (along with one of the five packets of natto he apparently consumes daily). While we all eagerly await Tochinoshin vs Hakuho and Tochinoshin vs Kakuryu, he still has to take care of business for the next few days to make those matches matter. Which technique Chiyotairyu tries to take to defend himself from this and halt his losing streak will be interesting, but it’s likely to center around a momentus tachiai and trying at all costs to keep Tochinoshin’s hands off his mawashi. Even that may be of little use: their last meeting ended in Tochinoshin spinning him out for an easy okuridashi/rear push out.

Shodai vs Ichinojo – This may be the longest tachiai in history. Shodai made a decent go of it on Day 9 against Kakuryu, while Ichinojo is well rested from his fusen-sho win over Goeido. Shodai will know he has a shot at making it back to san’yaku with a strong finish, but Ichinojo is going to want to secure his kachi-koshi as soon as possible and establish himself at his rank so he can push on for an ozeki run later in the year. We could see a long match here between two mawashi fighters with the edge going to whoever’s mentally strong enough to take it.

Kakuryu vs Kotoshogiku – I felt Kotoshogiku was desperately unlucky against Hakuho on Day 9 and he may want to prove a point here and try and grab a kinboshi. In Kakuryu, who continues to move backwards, he’s certainly got a willing opponent for him to deploy his trademark hug-n-chug. Kotoshogiku has got to get his feet set however, because this has been his downfall in recent months. The technique is there but if Kakuryu senses he can get his man off balance, Kotoshogiku will get slapped to the floor. This will be their 49th match and Kakuryu holds a narrow 26-22 edge.

Endo vs Hakuho – It’s worth remembering Hakuho’s antics on the side of the dohyo, making an appeal for a matta that wasn’t given last November, when considering his bizarre win against Kotoshogiku yesterday. He didn’t need the luck to win that tournament, but he might now, and he may be in the luck for a second day in a row as he faces an Endo who makes his comeback from kyujo status, and who we’d written off as thoroughly injured. Hakuho owns this matchup (as he does most) by a 6-1 scoreline, as the Uncle Scrooge of kinboshi has gifted just the one gold star to the man in the gold mawashi. There’s no kinboshi at stake here of course, and probably little danger of an upset.

Natsu Day 9 Preview

Natsu Day 9

After last night’s marathon live-blogging session, most of the Tachiai team is rightfully tired and looking for an early bed. But first, let’s discuss the matches that will happen day 9 in Tokyo while the US portion of the crew is tucked into their beds.

With two days remaining in act 2, the one remaining goal for the scheduling team is to get Tochinoshin to pick up at least one loss. They also would like to get (as lksumo points out) a loss or two onto Chiyonokuni and Daishomaru. The ideal situation would be a three-way tie between Hakuho, Kakuryu and Tochinoshin going into or shortly after the start of act 3. This would drive some excitement, and some ratings. The difficulty being that for the moment, Tochinoshin is the most genki of the whole Makuuchi division.

Normally one could place their trust in Hakuho as the ultimate governor of who wins and loses, but his sumo is off at the moment. Many fans are speculating like mad as to why, but you need to look no further than the recent death of his father, and the disruption to his family life and emotional state.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leader – Tochinoshin
ChasersKakuryu, Hakuho, Daishomaru, Chiyonokuni
Hunt Group – Shodai, Kotoshogiku, Ikioi, Daishomaru, Kyokutaisei, Myogiryu

7 Matches Remain.

What We Are Watching Day 9

Onosho vs Aminishiki – As we expected, Onosho is making a visit to Makuuchi to fill a gap left by Endo’s kyujo. It’s also likely the case that he is going to be back in the top division for July. Poor Uncle Sumo is in terrible shape right now, and likely to pick up his make-koshi against Onosho.

Ishiura vs Nishikigi – As the lowest ranked man in the top division, Nishikigi needs nothing less than a kachi-koshi to remain a Maegashira. Today’s match is tough luck for him, as he has a 7-4 deficit when facing off against Ishiura. Nishikigi needs 3 more wins out of the remaining 7 to hold on.

Takekaze vs Chiyonokuni – Takekaze seems to be fading fairly rapidly, and has not really had much sumo this tournament. He is still at 4-4, so it’s possible he could pick up enough wins to keep out of Juryo. Takekaze is highly evasive, where Chiyonokuni is direct and violent. The veteran holds a 5-3 career advantage over Chyonokuni.

Aoiyama vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki has never won against Aoiyama, but for this basho, Aoiyama is clearly hurt, and Kagayaki is fighting in possibly his best form ever. If there was a chance to start correcting that 0-5 losing streak against Aoiyama, day 9 looks like it could be the day.

Takakeisho vs Chiyomaru – I think this one will be a blast. We have the near constant motion of Takakeisho against the bulbous Chiyomaru, who showed on day 8 that he actually has some decent sumo chops against Okinoumi. Takakeisho has won 3 of their 4 prior meetings.

Hokutofuji vs Takarafuji – Notable to me in that Hokutofuji seems to be getting some sense of his sumo back together, and may actually offer some kind of challenge to Takarafuji who has been struggling this tournament with rikishi who tend to stay low. Hokutofuji has a long way to go to recover to the kind of genki he was last year, but his fans believe he has it in him.

Chiyotairyu vs Ikioi – This match is more even than it may seem. Ikioi has been fighting above his recent average during Osaka and Natsu. Ikioi delivered a winning hatakikomi, and I think he will find a way to overcome Chiyotairyu’s cannon ball tachiai and win again.

Abi vs Kaisei – This one seems just for fun, as I am going to guess that unless Abi applies some force behind his long-arm tsuppari, it’s going to come down to Kaisei’s mighty bulk as the deciding factor. They have split their two other matches, so it’s anyone’s guess. I know Abi is having a fun time regardless.

Tochinoshin vs Daieisho – Tochinoshin needs just three more, and I am guessing that his 3-1 career advantage over Daieisho means he’s going to likely get one of them today. Daieisho did surprise Goeido, but I doubt he will be able to overcome Tochinoshin.

Ichinojo vs Goeido – If my guess that Goeido is having ankle problems again is correct, he won’t have much resistance to whatever Ichinojo brings to the early portion of the match. Goeido’s only hope is to use his favorite and best tuned offense – speed. Rapid movement is not an Ichinojo aspect.

Kotoshogiku vs Hakuho – Hakuho leads the series 53-6. I am going to say 54-6 shortly. Kotoshogiku is looking better this basho than he has in some time, and Hakuho looking rough and chaotic. But I still think “The Boss” will dispatch the Kyushu Bulldozer. Maybe not cleanly, but effectively.

Kakuryu vs Shodai – The career record favors Kakuryu 7-0, so he is clearly likely to win this one. But Shodai has been getting his opponents to more or less defeat themselves somehow this tournament. Perhaps some kind of Jedi mind trick. So there’s a small chance he my find a way to get Kakuryu to do himself in, and I will be eagerly watching the final match of the day.

Natsu Day 7 Preview

Natsu Day 7

Welcome to the middle weekend of the Natsu basho! NHK is going live early Sunday morning for the last 50 minutes of Makuuchi, and Tachiai will be live-blogging all of Makuuchi in sympathy. If you are up in the middle of the night for some reason (any reason) feel free to follow along with us as we enjoy expanded coverage from NHK World. Depending on how well our tech works, we may have people contributing from inside the Kokugikan.

Take a look at the leaderboard below, like a massive wedge of swirling chaos, with Tochinoshin at its apex. For the scheduling crew, the goal is to get dirt on that Ozeki hopeful soon, blowing the yusho race wide open once more. There has been plenty of coverage of Abi’s kinboshi on Japanese news programs in the past 12 hours, and it’s fun to see someone like Abi who is so obviously having a good time really getting a chance to enjoy himself.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leader – Tochinoshin
Chasers – Kakuryu, Hakuho, Shodai, Daishomaru, Chiyonokuni, Kyokutaisei
Hunt Group – Ichinojo, Mitakeumi, Chiyotairyu, Kotoshogiku, Ikioi, Yoshikaze, Kagayaki, Asanoyama, Sadanoumi, Myogiryu

9 Matches Remain.

What We Are Watching Day 7

Somewhat abbreviated tonight due to constraints of baby wrangling…

Tochiozan vs Kyokutaisei – First time meeting between these two, Kyokutaisei is coming in with the better record, and he seems to be an unknown quantity for most of the long-term rikishi. Given Tochiozan’s experience, I am sure he is going to put up a decent fight.

Aoiyama vs Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni has been fighting well, but both of these men love to beat the daylights out of their opponents. So I am going to predict a couple of haymakers and a flurry of frantic footwork.

Daishomaru vs Takakeisho – It came to me today as I was re-watching coverage. Right now Takakeisho is fighting like someone who is imitating Takakeisho’s sumo. It’s like some cheap knock-off, that you know is not legit but looks good enough. This has let me to worry that Takakeisho has been replaced with some bad replicant or Man-droid of some sort. Then it came to me that they are using Takakeisho to debut Goeido. They load their bug fixes into this unit to see if they work at all. Sumo is doomed.

Hokutofuji vs Chiyomaru – Hokutofuji holds a 3-0 career advantage over the bulbous one, and he could really use the win.

Yoshikaze vs Ikioi – A pair of banged up veterans who are struggling daily to overcome the pain, you have to feel for these two. Their career record is 7-7, so that means someone has to lose a finger if they fall off the dohyo.

Kotoshogiku vs Ryuden – First time meeting. Ryuden is having a terrible basho, and Kotoshogiku a good one. I am betting on some hug-n-chug delivery around 5:00 PM, just after the news break.

Mitakeumi vs Kaisei – Mitakeumi has never beaten Kaisei! This giant bulky Brazilian has some kind of magic spell over the tadpoles, it seems.

Shohozan vs Ichinojo – What changed in Ichinojo since day 3? Nothing, except the brain-meat that is holding him back. Hopefully he had a nice bucket of ice cream, story time with his favorite tossing pony and a nice nap where no wolves would get him.

Tochinoshin vs Endo – Feeling genki Endo? You are going to need to find a way to keep his left hand from finding its mark. Endo studies films of his opponents on many days, and if someone can figure out a way to blunt Tochinoshin, it’s going to be Endo.

Abi vs Goeido – Goeido is a fun little sumo bot. He’s fast when he wants to be, powerful when he cares to be, but he’s not very long in the arms or legs. I am going to guess he rockets off the shikiri-sen and tries to cannonball Abi out in the blink of an eye. But I predict that if he fails at that, the length of his appendages is going to confound the GoeidOS software, possibly causing him to reboot.

Chiyotairyu vs Hakuho – The boss had an off day on day 6, I am going to guess he comes back dialed in and looking for a way to vent his frustration. The one wrinkle in this plans will be the kami that inhabits Chiyotairyu’s sideburns. I suggest incense and purification at a shrine before arriving at the Kokugikan.

Kakuryu vs Yutakayama – Leave your predictions on which side Kakuryu will drop him from, and who he will land upon.

Natsu Day 6 Highlights

Abi-Head

The first few days of Natsu were each “as expected”, and many of the great fans across the sumo world worried that this basho was going to be boring. Today the Natsu basho tore off it’s salaryman costume in front of everyone to reveal an atomic monster with 18 inch fangs. A reminder that Tachiai is not spoiler free, so stop reading if you don’t want to be exposed to the news.

Typically, we won’t take a look at the yusho race until previewing day 7, but it’s worth noting that Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin is all alone in the undefeated column, with a mass of rikishi, including both Yokozuna, following at one loss. Tochinoshin has yet to face any serious challenger, so its far too early to begin to consider a Tochinoshin yusho, but today it’s his to lose. But going into the middle weekend, it’s a drunken barnyard brawl at the top.

We will discuss further in the highlight section, but Abi racked his first kinboshi today, much to everyone’s delight. He is still likely headed into a make-koshi as the ultimate reward for his first visit to the joi, but the kid has a bright future. His unusual body proportions coupled with an unquenchable can-do attitude has the potential to take him far.

Highlight Matches

Kyokutaisei defeats Aoiyama – This match begins with Aoiyama on the offensive, pushing Kyokutaisei around at will. Kyokutaisei persists but gives ground, and at one point I can only assume that Aoiyama decides that he had him out, and ceases his oshi-attack. At that moment Kyokutaisei rallies and drives him out. Kyokutaisei is doing quite well in his first Makuuchi tournament.

Ishiura defeats Daiamami – Ishiura blasts off the shikiri-sen, landing against Daiamami, grabbing his right arm and pivoting. Ishirua then delivers a brutal round-house slap to Daiamami’s face, which only seems to fire Ishiura up even more. Diving in against the now somewhat stunned Daiamami, Ishiura grabs the mawashi and a leg, and carries the now completely disoriented Daiamami to the curb like it’s recycling day.

Chiyonokuni vs Okinoumi – Chiyonokuni cranks it up again today, seizing the initiative straight out of the tachiai, and controlling Okinoumi. When Chiyonokuni is fighting like this, he is tough to beat his combination of offense, drive and sheer speed. His biggest impediment is that he seems to not be able to consistently deliver wins except when he is ranked below Maegashira 7.

Asanoyama defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho took control from the tachiai, and got slap happy almost at once. It put Asanoyama into a reactive defense mode, but as he frequently does, Takakeisho’s upper body tried to attack while his lower body was not quite under control. Asanoyama reads this and slaps him down. Odd as it may seem, enrollment in a high intensity yoga program would get Takakeisho over that problem in a few months.

Hokutofuji defeats Arawashi – Remarkable because Hokutofuji actually looked strong, poised and in charge of his sumo for once. Please keep doing that.

Yoshikaze defeats Chiyoshoma – Great to watch, as Yoshikaze executes the most leisurely tachiai of the day. I am sure he realized the chances of a Chiyoshoma henka were quite high, so he took his time just inching forward until Chiyoshoma made solid contact. Watch it in slow-motion, it’s almost comical.

Kagayaki defeats Takarafuji – What a fantastic display of two strong, disciplined rikishi executing fantastic sumo fundamentals. I tell you, keep an eye on Kagayaki. He has a somewhat unfortunate body shape, but this man seems driven, and he continues to improve his already solid sumo.

Chiyomaru defeats Ikioi – Impressive bout, once again a clearly injured Ikioi threw any notion of protecting himself to the winds and attacked with everything he could muster against the bulbous Chiyomaru. As indomitable as your spirit might be, Ikioi, that’s a lot of rikishi to move. Chiyomaru kept cool and found a way to deliver a tsukiotoshi as Ikioi pressed the attack, it was a really nice win.

Kotoshogiku defeats Shohozan – Kotoshogiku locks up Shohozan with a double arm-bar hold and then delivers the hug-n-chug for a win. Kotoshogiku is looking surprisingly genki.

Kaisei defeats Shodai – I have no idea why Shodai should suddenly get soft against Kaisei, but he has never managed to beat the Brazilian ever. Today was no exception, Shodai was almost not even trying.

Mitakeumi defeats Endo – This was all Mitakeumi from the start. At one point Endo tries to shift out of oshi-mode, with a right hand grab towards the front of Mitakeumi’s mawashi. Even that amount of weight shift brought him forward enough that Mitakeumi applied the swing down for the win. Mitakeumi got inside early and never gave up advantage, nice work.

Tochinoshin defeats Yutakayama – Winless Yutakayama really made him work hard for this victory, which surprised me. This bout was unusual as Tochinoshin did not even seem to try to grab Yutakayama’s mawashi, but instead went to match him in tsuppari. The final seconds of the match feature Tochinoshin rapidly moving backward trying to pull Yutakayama down.

Tamawashi defeats Ichinojo – We can now worry that his day 5 loss has shattered Ichinojo’s confidence, and it may take him a day or two to regroup. Tamawashi was in control the entire time, with Ichinojo looking a bit lost.

Chiyotairyu defeats Goeido – Its now clear that Goeido 2.1 is a dud, and his technicians are going to try to roll him back to the buggy but highly aggressive 2.0 version over night.

Kakuryu defeats Daieisho – Really worrisome because Kakuryu seems to have just given up and decided he is going to win every match by pulling. The good news for him is that as soon as someone puts dirt on Tochinoshin, the yusho race is wide open again.

Abi defeats Hakuho – Yes, it was time to let the zabuton fly in the Kokugikan, and with good reason. The gangly stick insect with a heart of gold overwhelmed the dai-Yokozuna, and the roar from the Kokugikan was likely heard in Tsukiji. Hakuho looked unprepared, off balance and perhaps a bit disoriented. Abi’s first kinboshi, and it was great to see him achieve it. The look on Abi’s face has he takes the mountain of kensho from the gyoji’s gunbai is priceless, in fact it is my computer desktop’s background picture for the remainder of the day.

Kensho-Mountain.jpg

Natsu Day 6 Preview

Natsu Day 6

Now that we have a list of who is hot, and who is not, it’s time to unleash the schedule to try and narrow the field down to a handful of men who will compete for the yusho, and the broader field that will battle for kachi-koshi. A reminder to fans that some of their hopes around rikishi undefeated or with one loss going into day 6 may not survive. The scheduling team will specifically try to test lower ranked rikishi with good records against higher ranked opponents, and many of these records will lie in tatters as we close Act 2 at the end of Monday.

In Juryo, Onosho is a tadpole shaped wrecking machine that is thus far untouchable. If anyone from Makuuchi goes kyujo, I am certain we will see him pull a guest slot for a day, and we can see just how genki he is. Should we be so fortunate as to see Ura return, he will likely be in Sandanme or lower, and the carnage he might deliver would be proportional. Frankly, I can’t wait. In fact I am contemplating a day or two in Tokyo for Aki in anticipation of his return.

What We Are Watching Day 6

Kyokutaisei vs Aoiyama – Kyokutaisei is doing very well so far in his first upper division tournament. He’s had a tough road to get here, and we hope he continues to do well. He goes against an injured dreadnought-class Aoiyama on day 6, who needs at least two more wins to make sure he holds a Makuuchi rank in July.

Okinoumi vs Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni is operating at 100%, and is usually a swirling mass of arms and legs moving with speed and purpose. This is opposed to Okinoumi who is very steady, calculating and efficient. Their career record is 4-4, so a great clash of styles to watch here on day 6.

Asanoyama vs Takakeisho – Interestingly enough, this is their first match ever. Takakeisho seems to still be scrubbing away the ring-rust, but I predict once he gets settled in, he’s going to produce at least a kachi-koshi, and perhaps more. Asanoyama remains a perpetual happy guy, even if his sumo this time out has yet to catch fire.

Ryuden vs Daishomaru – Ryuden is in a tough spot with a 1-4 coming out of act one. Daishomaru, in contrast, has been in fine form and is fighting well. Ryuden is no slouch, and I hope that now that he has his first win, he will rally and rack up the shiroboshi. He did win their only prior match.

Chiyoshoma vs Yoshikaze – Ok, getting more hopeful now. It’s been two days in a row that we have seen a somewhat genki Yoshikaze. If it is as Josh said in his comments: ““you call me Mr. Feisty and I like that, but I’m not so feisty anymore” and says he is feeling his age and the recovery time”, we are likely going to see him intai before long. He has a great future ahead of him in the world of sumo, and I can’t wait to follow him as he grows the sport. But for day 6, give ’em hell Berserker!

Kagayaki vs Takarafuji – Great contest of similar styles here. Both of them are careful, strong rikishi who focus on solid fundamentals. This may be a real contest as both men tend to take a strong balanced approach between offense and defense.

Chiyomaru vs Ikioi – Ikioi is really banged up, but he seems to be saying “is that all you have?” every day. Today it’s a battle of force against the “hungry man”. If Ikioi ends up bleeding as he was day 5, if could trigger Chiyomaru’s instinctual feeding frenzy reflex. Look for NHK cameras to pan rapidly towards the ceiling and Ikioi’s militant Estrogen Brigade to mount the dohyo in his defense, no matter what the shimpan say.

Shohozan vs Kotoshogiku – Both of these rikishi have been fighting much better than their record indicates. So I am going to have an eye on this match. It’s mobile tsuppari attack platform vs the Kyushu Bulldozer. I predict that if Kotoshogiku can get the grip, he’s going to ride Shohozan like Aquaman rides a porpoise on the hunt for tuna.

Shodai vs Kaisei – Kaisei is underperforming in a big way right now, and I think it would be interesting to see him reverse his fortune against the undefeated Shodai. I think that Shodai may find it difficult to deal with that much mass. Shodai has faced Kaisei 5 times, and never won. If he wins on day 6, it will be noteworthy.

Mitakeumi vs Endo – Endo is looking solid with his win against Ichinojo, and I think Mitakeumi is on notice that he may have his hands full. Endo is a very technical sumotori, so I expect Mitakeumi’s normal speed and slap routine to face some additional complexities.

Tochinoshin vs Yutakayama – First match between these two, and short of an injury, Yutakayama is more or less yorikiri ballast.

Tamawashi vs Ichinojo – Time to see if Ichinojo’s day 5 loss to Endo will rattle his fighting spirit. The old Ichinojo would be set back for a few days, worried that he is somehow not capable. If we see Ichinojo come out guns blazing against the Mongolian Hitting Machine, it will mark a step change for the Boulder.

Chiyotairyu vs Goeido – This is actually a good Goeido puzzle. Chiyotairyu loves to do cannonball tachiai, and that tempts Goeido 2.X to move in reverse. With any luck the shock collar will be fitted and his oyakata can correct any malfunctions mid-fight.

Kakuryu vs Daieisho – First meeting between these two, Daieisho is fighting well, but completely winless. Kakuryu is still straying towards pulling, which can be his undoing. It would be a shame to see him give up another kinboshi.

Abi vs Hakuho – As a serious match this one is going to fall short. As entertainment, though, it might be pretty good. I can’t wait to see what the dai-Yokozuna does with this spindly rikishi, and just how much all of Abi’s limbs try to flee from his torso in abject terror.

Everything You Need to Know After Act One

 

Act 1

After a somewhat tepid start, the 2018 Natsu Basho is beginning to heat up. So far we’ve seen some excellent sumo from one end of the banzuke to the other, especially from the men in the Joi who are in top form and have been delivering some great bouts. With Act One done and dusted, here’s everything you need to know after the first five days of the Natsu Basho!

Yusho Race

It’s still early in the Yusho race, but five days of sumo has quickly whittled down the numbers and we now have a very competitive leaderboard. At the top, we have Shodai, Tochinoshin, and Yokozuna Hakuho who all still have perfect records after Act One. Right behind them is the chase group of 4-1 rikishi such as Kyokutaisei, Chiyonokuni, Daishomaru, Ichinojo, and Kakuryu. brining up the rear is a massive hunt group of rikishi all with two losses, including Sadanoumi, Daiamami, Asanoyama, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Mitakeumi, and Endo just to name a few.

Kachi Koshi and Make Koshi

While fortunes certainly can change,  there are several rikishi with a good shot of reaching their kashi koshi by the end of Act Two, and even more who will have to put some serious work in to avoid their make koshi. Kyokutaisei, Chiyonokuni, Daishomaru, Ikioi, Shodai, Ichinojo, Tochinoshin, Kakuryu, and Hakuho all have four wins or more after the first act and are halfway to their coveted winning records. On the flip side of the coin, Aminishiki, Ishiura, Arawashi, Hokutofuji, Ryuden, Chiyomaru, Shohozan, Kaisei, Yutakayama, Tamawashi, Daiesihso, and Abi have all gotten at least four losses and will have to get their sumo in gear to avoid demotion in July.  Everyone else will have their fates decided later on in the Basho.

Kinboshi

We have only seen one gold star victory handed out so far this basho, and it was awarded to Maegashira 2 Shohozan, who defeated Yokozuna Kakuryu on Day 4. with upper Maegashira men such as Shodai and Ikioi off to very impressive starts, we may see the number of kinboshi rise if/when they get a crack at the two standing Yokozuna.

Kyujo

With the exception of Yokozuna Kisenosato and Ozeki Takayasu pulling out before the official tournament start, the Makuuchi Division has been remarkably kyujo-free so far. While this certainly can change later on in the competition, it does seem like the men in the mawashis are taking extra care of late to ensure that nasty falls off the dohyo are less common. With any luck, this new sense of camaraderie will mean fewer rikishi pulling out due to fall related injuries.

Act Two will see the heat rise in Tokyo as the competition gets fiercer and fiercer at the 2018 Natsu Basho. The Mid-Basho weekend is shaping up to be an excellent display of sumo and this fan can’t wait to see what will happen! Let Act Two begin!!

 

 

Natsu Day 5 Highlights

Endo-Badge

With Act 1 in the books now, we can start to look forward to Act 2, where we sort the strong from the struggling, and a lot of hopes and dreams get crushed. While it may seem brutal to put it that way, each basho is a clean slate, and each rikishi has a chance to be completely different than the time before, if they have the means to do so. I would say the biggest surprise for me thus far is Shodai. How or why Shodai is 5-0 at the end of act 1 is a complete mystery to me, but I congratulate him on the effort and the achievement. I have always maintained the man has seeds of greatness within him, if he could just fix some of the mechanics of his sumo.

A close second place would be Ikioi. He was a force of nature in Osaka, in spite of what looked like the kind of injuries that might require hospitalization. Nope! He’s at it again. He has one loss but he is in “badass” mode every day. Today he dismantled Kotoshogiku in a wild “kitchen sink” match that delighted and entertained. I swear he has decided that playing it safe is no way to close out a sumo career, and he’s just going to throw caution to the winds and fight like a angry swan. For those of you who have never had a swan attack you, let me tell you, don’t try it.

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Takekaze – Uncle sumo finally wins one. It has been awesome to see him battle his way back up to Makuuchi once again, but he’s a poor broken fellow with more courage than fortitude remaining.

Aoiyama defeats Nishikigi – The giant Bulgarian wins by getting an armpit grip on Nishikigi and forcing him out. It’s painful watching Aoiyama fight, as it’s clear he is in a bunch of pain, but pushing to keep himself in the top division. Nishikigi’s position is even more precarious, so any loss must be a worry for him.

Tochiozan defeats Asanoyama – Asanoyama, featuring a massive elbow bandage, had the initiative for the bulk of this match. Tochiozan, to his credit, waited for an opportunity. Asanoyama continued to thrust against Tochiozan’s chest but eventually went off balance, and Tochiozan converted that quickly into a win. Experience pays.

Chiyonokuni defeats Daiamami – Wow, what a match! The start out with some oshi, punctuated with Daiamami taking a round house slap to the face. Having had enough of that he latches onto Chiyonokuni’s mawashi. Chiyonokuni struggles for a bit, but responds in kind. At one point Daiamami gets the deep double inside grip, but Chiyonokuni blazes ahead, forcing his opponent backward and out. Great match.

Takakeisho defeats Arawashi – This was won at the tachiai. Take a good look at how Takakeisho lands his first thrust against Arawashi’s shoulders before Arawashi can finish lunging forward. There was no recovering from that.

Kagayaki defeats Okinoumi – Kagayaki’s battle plan was simple, powerful and effective. He got under both arms of Okinoumi and marched forward. This guy keeps reminding me at times of a young Kisenosato, and I think if he can keep working upward and stay free of injury, he may follow a similar trajectory. Never glamorous, just solid sumo fundamentals.

Ryuden defeats Chiyomaru – Ryuden picks up his first win, much to his relief. Chiyomaru really made him work for it.

Yoshikaze defeats Takarafuji – I am starting to get hopeful. Yoshikaze looked stronger and faster today, and maybe a touch genki. The match was all about battling for grip, until Takarafuji lunged forward, and Yoshikaze instantly converted to exploiting his off-balance stance.

Ikioi defeats Kotoshogiku – Ikioi comes in low and goes chest to chest with the Kyushu Bulldozer straight out of the tachiai. When Kotoshogiku flexes to lift him up, Ikioi declares he will have none of that, and moves forward strongly, causing them both to lose their grip. After a failed attempt to throw Kotoshogiku, the resulting mess was completely off balance, but under Ikioi’s control, which he kept in motion until Kotoshogiku found the edge of the ring. Great work by Ikioi today, but once again post match he can barely walk.

Shodai defeats Chiyoshoma – Another mediocre to lame tachiai from Shodai, but then he takes over and just fork-lifts Chiyoshoma at the edge of the dohyo. Undefeated Shodai? I am going to make a bet that the scheduling team has some fun with him in act 2.

Mitakeumi defeats Tamawashi – Mitakeumi took a head butt as the price to get inside, but he got his preferred offensive stance and went to work. Tamawashi immediately gave ground, but rallied. In his aggressive forward attack, he put his balance too far forward and Mitakeumi pulled him forward. His own momentum carried him out. Tamawashi is looking poorly right now, and I wonder if he is hurt. Mitakeumi ended the match dripping blood from his right eye, ouch!

Endo defeats Ichinojo – The big outcome of the day, and it was not an easy match for either man. Ichinojo gave Endo the inside grip immediately and went chest to chest, I am going to assume that his superior size and strength would carry the day. While Endo latched his right hand on Ichinojo’s mawashi, Ichinojo could not find a reciprocal grip. Finally getting deep with his right hand over Endo’s back, Ichinojo tried repeatedly to load an uwatenage, but Endo countered with some very impressive footwork. Stalemated, Ichonojo locks up Endo and works out a stage 2 plan, but Endo lands a left hand frontal grip for his third attack. Ichinojo realizes that his size is not going to stop this onslaught, and he is too high, with Endo buried in his chest, he has no room to lower his hips. Endo gives it all he has, and advances, winning a fantastic match. Complements to both rikishi on some outstanding sumo. The roar in the Kokugikan must have been deafening.

Tochinoshin defeats Kaisei – Kaisei was completely out-classed. No one can match the intensity of Tochinoshin right now, it’s a think of beauty.

Goeido defeats Yutakayama – Goeido almost attempted a pull against today. Someone fit that guy with a shock collar and give his oyakata the button to set it off.

Hakuho defeats Daieisho – I am going to assume that Hakuho is bored right now. No one has really given him even a decent warm up.

Kakuryu defeats Abi – Much as I assumed, Kakuryu found those long arms a bit of a problem, but they also are great leverage if you can grab one. Big K pulling again, but he got the win.

Natsu Day 2 Highlights

Hakuho-Dohyo-Iri

With Andy’s apt description of the GoeiDOS 2.1 upgrade described below, what is there left to say?  Another day with few surprises in the top division, but some entirely watchable sumo with plenty of matches to enjoy. It’s clear that both Ichinojo and Tochinoshin are in good form, and Goeido has yet to revert to “bad” form yet. Let’s go straight to the highlights.

Natsu Day 2 Highlights

Nishikigi defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu opened strong, but Nishikigi rallied with considerable strength and prevailed. I wonder if his precarious position on the banzuke motivates Nishikigi to higher levels of performance.

Kyokutaisei defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo tries a henka, but Kyokutaisei reads it correctly and overpowers the aged rikishi, winning with a susoharai leg sweep. Hopefully Aminishiki did not pick up an additional injury.

Sadanoumi defeats Tochiozan – Word in the practice sessions leading up to the basho was that Tochiozan was in fantastic condition and performing very well. He seems to be genuinely struggling in the first two days.

Takekaze defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama opened strong and kept up the pressure, which was probably a mistake. Takekaze got Aoiyama moving forward, and then got out of his way.

Arawashi defeats Ishiura – Ishiura attempts a henka, and Arawashi is ready for him, grabbing him with his wide spread left arm and reeling him in for a quick push out. Ishiura needs some new tricks.

Okinoumi defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho opened strong, and got some mighty shoves into Okinoumi, but Okinoumi returned the favor. As Takakeisho gave ground, he attempted a pull down, but Okinoumi was quite prepared for that, and thwarted his attack.

Daiamami defeats Hokutofuji – Wow, Daiamami made fast work of Hokutofuji who seems to be low-energy and somewhat uncertain of how to regain his former mojo. It’s sad to watch, and I am going to assume its due to some injury we fans don’t know about.

Daishomaru defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze did not look good today.

Chiyoshoma defeats Ryuden – Ryuden took the fight to Chiyoshoma with vigor and strength, but it was all Chiyoshoma, who completely ran this match and finished it with a resounding shitatenage. Ryuden is good, but has more work to do.

Ikioi defeats Takarafuji – Ikioi once again throws caution to the wind, and gives Takarafuji a stiff battle, ending with Ikioi hurling the man with no neck to the clay like a boss. The crowd goes wild.

Kotoshogiku defeats Chiyotairyu – Kotoshogiku was large and in charge today. He paid no attention to Chiyotairyu’s massive bulk and cannon-ball tachiai. It’s good to see that the Kyushu Bulldozer can still be a force of sumo.

Shodai defeats Daieisho – Daieisho opened strong and kept up the pressure on Shodai, who was on the defensive and moving backwards, a lucky pull from Shodai put Daieisho off balance and he could not recover. An ugly win for Shodai, but a white-star none the less.

Endo defeats Yutakayama – Endo struggled more than he should have in this match. That is a sign that Endo is not quite all there yet, and that Yutakayama put his heart into this match. Endo’s win came via a pull down from the edge of the ring.

Tochinoshin defeats Abi – I did not expect Abi to win, but he impressed the hell out of me with the fight he brought to Tochinoshin. Abi’s superior reach was used with great effect out of the tachiai, and frankly caught Tochinoshin by surprise. With the Ozeki hopeful in a strong nodowa, Abi had early control of the match. But Tochinoshin was not to be denied, and remember to go for the belt. Well done to Abi, a glorious loss. Your intro to the joi will be painful, but it’s part of the sport.

Ichinojo defeats Kaisei – A battle of the super-heavies, and as anticipated, it was all about how could do more with their ponderous bulk. Kaisei found the mawashi early, but it seemed to have little effect on The Boulder. After a bit of leaning on each other, Ichinojo stood Kaisei up and marched him out.

Goeido defeats Shohozan – Andy may have been right, the maintenance release Goeido 2.1 may be stable, on line and doing well. He make quick work of Shohozan with many characteristics of the “good” Goeido. Moving forward strongly with lightning speed and no consideration to restraint for the sake of any defense. Please do keep it up Goeido!

Kakuryu defeats Tamawashi – Kakuryu’s reactive sumo takes the day again. It’s not too tough to get Tamawashi to shift his weight quite far forward, and he readily obliged the Yokozuna, who politely encouraged him to exit the ring.

Hakuho defeats Mitakeumi – Hakuho struggled, no two ways about it. Mitakeumi is probably bringing everything he can to his sumo this outing, but I am starting to come around to Kintamayama’s point of view that “The Boss” is not quite healed up yet.

Natsu Day 1 Highlights

Natsu Day 1

No Surprises

The Natsu basho got started on form, with no real surprises, but some good sumo. Fans, do keep in mind that for the first few days, many of your favorites will be working to find their groove, and we may see some “ring rust” as John Gunning puts it. Most basho follow a 3 act process. Act 1 is all about finding who is hot, and who is not. Act 2 is all about who can compete for the yusho, and Act 3 is where we separate the winners from the losers, and crown the champion. In the early stages of Act 1 (the first few days), you are likely to see some unexpected events. Today was not populated with the unexpected, but keep your eyes open.

Highlight Matches

Nishikigi defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo ups the record as the oldest man ever to start a Makuuchi bout, and we salute him. But Nishikigi dispatched him with little trouble.

Myogiryu defeats Kyokutaisei – This match had one of everything, a Monoii, a Matta, and a Torinaoshi. The first version of this bout was an excellent mawashi match, with both men working hard to set up a throw, and each move being countered expertly. Both men hit the clay at the same time, so the Shimpan signaled a rematch. The second try saw Kyokutaisei try a henka, but Myogiryu landed a belt grip and controlled the match for the win. Nice sumo.

Sadanoumi defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama started strong, pounding away at Sadanoumi, who endured the blows and pushed to get inside. He achieved that, and then proceeded to move Aoiyama backwards and out. Aoiyama (in my guess) suffered some severe ring rust today, and will likely bounce back by day 3.

Asanoyama defeats Ishiura – Ishiura attempts to step to the left, but Asanoyama’s wide-armed tachiai traps him, and they grapple. At this point Asanoyama’s superior mass and better body position allows him to dominate the match.

Takakeisho defeats Hokutofuji – New sea-foam green mawashi for Takakeisho, perhaps it will change his luck? Takakeisho took the match to Hokutofuji’s face and shoulders early, and nearly overwhelmed him. But Hokutofuji rallied at the tawara, and counter-attacked. A deft side step by Takakeisho left Hokutofuji, and gave Takakeisho the win.

Yoshikaze defeats Chiyomaru – Yoshikaze launched low and hard against Chiyomaru’s chest, standing the hungry-man upright. From there Yoshikaze drove him back. Chiyomaru was never able to regain balance or set up a proper defensive or offensive stance, and it was all Yoshikaze.

Takarafuji defeats Ryuden – Ryuden came straight at Takarafuji, perhaps hoping to overpower him, but found that Takarafuji was in a firm stance, and had the power to resist his attack. Ryuden never was able to recover, Takarafuji took him back and out.

Ikioi defeats Chiyoshoma – I am sure they heard that tachiai at the adjacent Edo museum! Both rikishi bounced back after that mighty collision, and went straight for competing throws. In Ikioi’s favor, Chiyoshoma landed first, but a monoii was called and the win went to Ikioi.

Shodai defeats Kotoshogiku – An impressive win by Shodai. Maybe he is genki this time? His tachiai looked decent, and he kept Kotoshogiku of being able to square his shoulders and begin the hug-n-chug. The Kyushu Bulldozer tried it anyhow, but Shodai deftly used the uneven thrust to maneuver Kotoshogiku, get him off balance and thrown. Nicely done!

Chiyotairyu defeats Yutakayama – Chiyotairyu has a favorite opening – blast off the line with the force of a freight train, lock up his opponent and just keep moving forward. Yutakayama give him the opening, and it was over fast. Please note the kati-infused sideburns are in full effect on Chiyotairyu, and there were plenty of sumo-grannies who received a Yutakayama visit, as it looks like Chiyotairyu put him in the 3rd row of zabuton.

Mitakeumi defeats Daieisho – A whiplash tachiai from both, but Mitakeumi pushed ahead with fierce vigor, and Daiesho never really had a chance to set up any offense or defense. Solid fundamentals from Mitakeumi this time.

Ichinojo defeats Abi – I will compliment Abi on coming up with a plausible battle plan. He went for a neck attack at the tachiai, and while Ichnojo pushed forward to attack, Abi shifted right and tried to grab the mawashi. Sadly he missed, and ended up chest to chest with the boulder. It only took 2 ½ shoves from the 225 kg Ichinojo to propel Abi down range.

Tochinoshin defeats Shohozan – I was impressed by Shohozan’s lightning fast tachiai, closing the distance to Tochinoshin before the big Georgian could finish standing from his starting crouch. In a move that showed a lot of moxie, he took a hold of Tochinoshin’s mawashi and started pivoting for a throw. He almost go away with it, but Tochinoshin rallied and started to work Shohozan’s rather lose mawashi, marching forward. Shohozan was able to stop him, so Tochinoshin simply lifted Shohozan (twice) and placed him out.

Goeido defeats Kaisei – Goeido lands a shallow left hand straight into the tachiai, and uses that to control Kaisei completely. The Brazilian could never find his footing and was sideways to Goeido’s continued attack. Clean, easy, fast.

Hakuho defeats Tamawashi – Another of Hakuho’s strange pseudo-butsugari matches. Hakuho kept going for the mawashi, and Tamawashi kept landing blows to the Yokozuna’s shoulders and face. The Boss wins, but it was weird. Note that Hakuho reverted to deploying his left-hand face slap at the tachiai.

Kakuryu defeats Endo – Classic Kakuryu sumo. He stalemated Endo in the early phase of the bout, which was all tsuppari, and waited for Endo to get too far forward, and pulled him down. Kakuryu’s reactive sumo is at times almost it’s own unique form, and I think a few decades from now, sumo scholars may study how he conducts his matches.

Natsu Day 1 Preview

Sumo-Evolution

Yes, dear readers, it is time! We have waited long enough. In the next few hours, set aside your worries about your favorites being hurt: It’s honbasho time! It’s a full day of raging action for day 1 at the Kokugikan, and frankly I can’t wait for all the amazing stories that are about to unfold. Many folks will be focused on the top of the banzuke as the drama there plays out, but I find myself increasingly draw to Josh’s “Ones to watch”. This series has proven remarkably insightful while educating and entertaining. Most folks in the US (and other parts of the world) don’t even get to see all of Makuuchi, let alone all of the great action in Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme and Jonidan.

Just as it was in Osaka, my favorite stories are likely to be at the lower end of the Makuuchi banzuke. Nishikigi continues to refuse to ever give up, and somehow holds onto the last Maegashira slot at the edge of the earth. Aminishiki may have nothing more than courage and gristle left in his knees, but he will mount the dohyo today and give challenge. Kyokutaisei somehow adapted to life in the sumo heya, and excelled. Now he’s in Makuuchi and Hokkaido can finally represent once more. Go Hams!

Fans, keep in mind it will take a few days for everyone to settle into the tournament, so you may see some favorites looking like they are not quite their normal genki selves, and some great surprises. So expect anything!

What We Are Watching Day 1

Hell, I am going to watch all of it. But I am sure you don’t have the time to read everything I might write up about the outstanding fight card we have to start the basho. I will do my best.

Nishikigi vs Aminishiki – Nishikigi will never make San’yaku. He’s kind of blind as a bat without his specs, but even blind he’s good enough to find a way to stay in Makuuchi. Now he’s up against Uncle Sumo on day 1. I am sad for folks who are going to view the highlights, as you are not going to believe the roar that will rip through he Kokugikan as the yobidashi sings out his name. People LOVE Aminishiki. To many folks who might struggle with some challenge in their life, he is a reminder that “Nana korobi ya oki” can always apply! (Fall down seven times, get up eight)

Myogiryu vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei’s first match in the top division is against Myogiryu, a solid veteran who has been drifting between the top of Juryo and the bottom of Makuuchi during the past year.  These two are no strangers to each others’ fighting style. I will be curious to see if Kyokutaisei has any top division jitters.

Tochiozan vs Takekaze – I am very glad to see Takekaze back in the top division after a brief tour of Juryo. For reasons that I can’t imagine, all of the Oguruma upper echelon has been on the skids as of late. I have to wonder if maybe they are having problems with their Chanko supply… Tochiozan, on the other hand, has been reported to be ripping through folks during joint training in the past week. We know Tochiozan is capable of some explosive and powerful sumo, it would be acres of fun to see him have a great basho this May.

Sadanoumi vs Aoiyama – The Bulgarian man-mountain is back for more, like a giant angry dollop of sour cream with the reach to slap you from across the dohyo. Sadanoumi is a seasoned veteran who is probably happy to be pulling down Makuuchi pay again. My bet is on Aoiyama, who always seems to start tournaments strong. With Sadanoumi preferring the belt, he will have to survive the withering rain of blows from Aoiyama to get there.

Ishiura vs Asanoyama – The happy rikishi goes up against Ishiura, whose sumo seems a bit lost these days. He opened big a bit over a year ago, but his limited arsenal of moves has left him in something of a corner. I think he has amazing potential if he can find his sumo again. We can count on Asanoyama being happy just to get to do sumo today, even though he really likes to win.

Arawashi vs Chiyonokuni – As discussed in the podcast, both of these rikishi are tremendous fighters. They bring huge energy and go flat out with nothing in reserve. Both of them deserve a good, turn-around basho this May, but first they need to beat the daylights out of each other.

Takakeisho vs Hokutofuji – One of my highlight matches. Hopefully both men are healed up from the injuries that have left them underperforming. With significant changes at the top of the banzuke anticipated this year, now is the right time for both of them to press hard for the top ranks. We have not seen Takakeisho’s wave action tsuppari in several basho, and we need him to bring it back with gusto. Likewise I want to see Hokutofuji channel Kaiō again. There is a big role that may open up for a huge, powerful rikishi who moves low and balances offense and defense.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyomaru – Another match where the fans are going to erupt when the yobidashi call the rikishi. People adore Yoshikaze, in part because he never ever gives up, and is always bright, witty and a gentleman. And people love Chiyomaru because who the hell can hold a grudge against a guy like that? Word on the street is that with Yoshikaze getting free meals anywhere in Sumida, they are going out for supper afterwards. The same rumor cites Chiyomaru for a spate of early restaurant closures in the area (they run out of food), as well as a rash of missing house plants, vending machines and even a pair of manhole covers. Listen for him to clank suspiciously as he mounts the dohyo.

Ryuden vs Takarafuji – One of my freshmen takes on the highest ranking man remaining at the once-mighty Isegahama beya. Both men are going to go for a mawashi grip early, but I would give Takarafuji a slight edge.

Chiyoshoma vs Ikioi – Only question to ask here – is Ikioi healed up? It was painful to watch him walk the hanamichi in Osaka. We can only hope that he was able to heal fully. This is two seasoned vets going head to head, so I am sure it’s going to be a solid match.

Kotoshogiku vs Shodai – Well, Shodai is probably going to get owned. Mostly because he tends to let Kotoshogiku do whatever he wants, and he wants to give you a sweet, passionate battle hug.

Chiyotairyu vs Yutakayama – Another of my freshmen, Yutakayama, is going up against Chiyotairyu, who had BETTER HAVE HIS SIDEBURNS! Seriously, the kami that inhabits his sideburns is the source of his sumo power. Granted the kami is some kind of sprit of a smelly mountain aesthetic from the feudal period who never ever washed, and ate nothing but fermented sardines, but we take what we can get in life, right?

Mitakeumi vs Daieisho – The King of the Tadpoles needs to make a comeback. The big jump ball at the top of the banzuke is coming, and if Mitakeumi wants a ticket to that dance, he needs to be producing double-digit wins every basho from here on out. He has the body, the skill, the heart to do it. But I suspect he doubts himself just a tiny bit. That’s all it takes at the top of this sport to keep yourself from greatness. Daieisho, however, is point man on team Oitekaze. I can’t wait to see if he starts Natsu as genki as he ended Haru.

Abi vs Ichinojo – Could be the match of the day. We get the lead Freshman against The Boulder. Large, tough as granite, and when roused, quite dangerous. He has added an astonishing 20 kg to his already ponderous bulk, and rumor has it, two new cuddle-ponies at Minato beya. Much to the chagrin of his tsukebito. Abi has to stay mobile, and use Ichinojo’s mass against him.

Tochinoshin vs Shohozan – If you wanted cake and ice cream for Mothers Day, here we go. Big guns goes up against unstoppable strength. Win or lose, nobody leaves a match with Shohozan without being sore. But Tochinoshin’s fantastic strength will likely carry the day, provided his upper body is healed.

Kaisei vs Goeido – I think this one is all Goeido. Goeido is lightning fast, and Kaisei seems to be huge, powerful and kind of slow. Andy thinks that he’s been upgraded to GoeiDOS 2.1, so we will see what shows up tomorrow.

Tamawashi vs Hakuho – It’s Hakuho time! It will be good to see The Boss back in action. But Tamawashi is a tough first customer. As long as Tamawashi is not psyched out by facing the dai-Yokozuna, I think he will give him a good, if brief, fight. Boss all the way on this one. [Past history is 10-0 in Hakuho’s favour. –PinkMawashi]

Kakuryu vs Endo – Woo! Saving the best for last, and what a match-up. Endo is a very technical rikishi, I have heard that he studies video of his opponent before each match. He looks for habits, things they like to do. He comes up with ways to counter strong moves and attack weak ones. He starts against Kakuryu who is the master of “reactive sumo”. He loves to stalemate an opponent and wait for them to make a mistake, which he turns against them in a blink of an eye.