Hatsu Day 15 Highlights

Congratulations to Ozeki Takakeisho for a glorious final match. It was not an upset given the long odds that Kotoshoho faced against you, but that was still some red-hot sumo action in the “Brawl to end it all”. With the final win, Takakeisho claims his third yusho, after racking up two jun-yusho in the prior year, the most recent in November. Sumo fans wonder if there is any desire to install Takakeisho as a second Yokozuna following what has been a solid 2-3 years of mostly high performance. It would give them an insurance policy against a lack of Ozeki, by ensuring that both he and Terunofuji could be out with injuries at the same time, and there would be no risk of having to bend the rules around the banzuke needing two men at the top. Silly as it seems, Japan loves its traditions.

With the end of Hatsu, we are once again left wondering who the next Ozeki will be. There was a great deal of talk around a cluster of hopefuls two weeks ago. There were at least three names: Hoshoryu, Wakatakakage, and Takayasu. All of them feel short of their goals. Meanwhile in Juryo, Asanoyama finished 14-1 with the yusho, and I think we will see him in the top division in Osaka. Given the typical need to rack up three double digit wins from san’yaku to be considered for promotion, we have to wonder if Asanoyama really might be the next man to be promoted (in this case re-promoted) to Ozeki. All three of the names above are restarting any Ozeki run in March, and the earliest they might qualify would be following Nagoya, but Kyushu is more likely. Could Asanoyama have 33 wins in san’yaku by the end of November? Not out of the question. Going to be a fun year for sumo.

Highlight Matches

Chiyomaru defeats Daiamami – I am surprised that Daiamami fell for the “stand him up, pull him down” combo, which was all Chiyomaru has been able to run for the past 10 days. But good enough! Chiyomaru finishes Hatsu 4-11, and will return to Juryo.

Oho defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki fails to overcome his Darwin status, and ends Hatsu make-koshi at 7-8. I had figured the chances that this was “gimmie” match to get him to kachi-koshi turned out to be wrong, as Oho rallies for the final day to squeeze out a win, and end at 4-11.

Ura defeats Azumaryu – Ura is able to maintain his super-low position from the tachiai, and once he had contact with Azumaryu, there was no stopping him. For a moment Azumaryu almost had control back, but could not stop Ura from attacking underneath. 7-8 finish for Ura, 9-6 for Azumaryu.

Sadanoumi defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma hits double digit losses with his final day loss to Sadanoumi. Sadanoumi was intent on establishing and then maintaining a left hand inside grip, and it left him open to several solid counter moves from Chiyoshoma. But has been the case this January, Chiyoshoma just lacked enough power to make it work. He finally got his throw in, but he had already stepped out before he could bring Sadanoumi down. Sadanoumi finishes 6-9, Chiyoshoma 5-10.

Ichiyamamoto defeats Nishikifuji – Ichiyamamoto hits double digits for his first time in the top division, with a hatakikomi over faltering Nishikifuji. A volley of double arm thrusts, into a quick pull down, and it was all over. Nishikifuji ends January 4-11, Ichiyamamoto 10-5.

Mitoryu defeats Midorifuji – Midorifuji could not overcome the tremendous size difference with Mitoryu. He was able to repel a couple of Mitoryu’s initial attacks, but lunged inside hard to grapple Mitoryu, and Mitoryu slapped him to the clay. Mitoryu gets a final win to finish 7-8, Midorifuji a final loss at 6-9.

Abi defeats Tsurugisho – Our second Darwin match, and it seems that Abi-zumo can still eek out a kachi-koshi this January. There was a moment where Tsurugisho broke Abi’s balance, but could not convert that into anything offensive. Abi ends Hatus 8-7, with Tsurugisho 7-8.

Tamawashi defeats Hiradoumi – First attempt was a matta, second attempt at a tachiai looked just as off tempo as the first, but the fight was on. Hiradoumi did fairly well, but he’s really out-classed against a healthy Tamawashi. Hiradoumi tried to maintain contact as Tamawashi dialed up the forward pressure, but a final shove tossed Hiradoumi down the hanamichi. Hiradoumi finishes 8-7, Tamawashi 9-6.

Mitakeumi defeats Takarafuji – This seems like an even match for both of these diminished top division mainstay. Mitakeumi’s ottsuke is able to stop Takarafuji from setting up any offense, and Mitakeumi kept pushing forward. Mitakeumi gets a final win to cushion his fall down the banzuke, his final score is 7-8, Takarafuji 8-7.

Daieisho defeats Aoiyama – Daieisho had the big attack group early, overwhelming Aoiyama, and making him take a step back. At that point, Aoiyama decided he needed a pull, and that ended just about as well as you might imagine. Aoiyama stepped out a moment later giving Daieisho double digit wins for Hatsu at 10-5, Aoiyama finished with a worthy 8-7.

Tobizaru defeats Kotoeko – The next Darwin match, Kotoeko starts with a double hand strike to Tobizaru’s shoulders, into an immeidate slap down. It fails and now Kotoeko has Tobizaru at full power, attacking his chest. Kotoeko can’t hold ground, and attempts a pull. In response Tobizaru delivers a strong shove to the chest, pushing Kotoeko out for his kachi-koshi, and an 8-7 final score for Hatsu. Kotoeko make-koshi at 7-8.

Wakamotoharu defeats Endo – A fascinating battle for grip and body position. With both of these rikishi wanting to set up a yotsu-zumo match on their terms, it was always going to be about where the other man’s hands fell. It was Wakamotoharu who got set up first, and he took only two steps to set Endo out by yorikiri. Both end Hatsu with 9-6 scores.

Meisei defeats Takanosho – I do hope that whatever has been causing problems for Takanosho during the past six months can be cleared up. Again today he loses a match he could have and maybe should have won. Meisei did a masterful job of keeping him moving, out of step and off balance until he could run him out by okuridashi. That final win for Meisei puts him at 5-10, Takanosho finishes 6-9.

Kotonowaka defeats Hokutofuji – The last of our Darwin matches, and I must express satisfaction that Kotonowaka was able to help Hokutofuji rack up, yet again, “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”. It just does not feel like a Hatsu basho unless Hokutofuji is make-koshi. Kotonowaka 8-7 to end the tournament, Hokutofuji 7-8.

Kiribayama defeats Ryuden – Congratulations to Kiribayama on his second technique prize, some outstanding sumo this entire month. Ryuden gave him a tough fight, featuring awkward endurance postures, circle dancing, and a long stalemate. Kudos to Ryuden for not conceding a single step on the clay, excellent sumo sir. Kiribayama finishes him by yorikiri, and ends Hatsu 11-4, Ryuden with a respectable 9-6.

Myogiryu defeats Shodai – As guessed in the preview, Shodai racks up the exact same score in his “ozekiwake” tournament that Mitakeumi did in November before being flushed down the banzuke to Maegashira 2. Myogiryu had the better tachiai, and a face slap after Shodai shut him down broke open an attack route to switch up his grip. Myogiryu charged ahead and walked Shodai out. Both finish the tournament at 6-9.

Hoshoryu defeats Onosho – Onosho misses out on a win, and a fighting spirit prize when he ends up pulling Hoshoryu’s top knot in the heat of their match. After driving Hoshoryu back, Onosho decides to pull him forward, and gets a hand on Hoshoryu’s mage as he brings him down. A mono-ii confirms it, and Onosho is disqualified, giving Hoshoryu a final day 8th win and kachi-koshi.

Wakatakakage defeats Nishikigi – Absolutely brilliant sumo from Nishikigi, this guy has made a visible step change in his sumo, and is fighting better than I have ever seen him fight before. I expect this quality of sumo from Wakatakakage, as he will be Ozeki before long, but this was quite the surprise from Nishikigi, good show sir. Wakatakakage eventually catches him lunging forward, and finishes Nishikigi by hatakikomi. Both end Hatsu with 9-6 records, and I am quite certain we will see Nishikigi in the joi-jin for March.

Takakeisho defeats Kotoshoho – My compliments to Kotoshoho for making it this far, you far exceeded all expectations and showed the fans what you are capable of. But HOLY CRAP! Who had Takakeisho winning the yusho with a throw in your list of “must see in 2023?”. I think it surprised Kotoshoho too, as Takakeisho opened with a typical thrusting combo, then hooked his left arm around Kotoshoho’s body and let it fly. Wow! Kotoshoho finishes Hatsu with the jun-yusho at 11-4, Takekeisho the cup and a 12-3 final.

That concludes our daily reporting of the 2023 Hatsu basho, a glorious festival of sumo that has been one of the better tournaments in a while. Thank you dear readers for sharing our joy of sumo as we brought you coverage during the past 15 days. We look forward to bringing you the action from Osaka in March.

Hatsu Day 15 Preview

We come to it at last, the final day of one of the better tournaments in a fair piece of time. Sure, there were problems, and it would be fun if we were looking forward to Takakeisho picking up a promotion next week, but the action on the dohyo has been fantastic, and everyone has put in a great effort to get us to this point.

We ended with 8 rikishi having a score of 7-7, and from that we have 3 Darwin matches scheduled. One man will earn kachi-koshi, the other make-koshi and demotion. The Darwin match is the ultimate refinement of sumo in some ways. Honbasho are constructed as zero-sum games, there are a fixed number of white stars that can be earned, and every time you earn one, you take one from the total that will be awarded. Thus, the chances for recovery and redemption grow scarce into the third act, until on the final day, only a handful of them remain. Six rikishi will fight it out for the last one, to see who can hold rank for Osaka 6 weeks away.

Then, in the final match of the tournament, the yusho will be decided. The lone surviving Ozeki, Takakeisho, will face off against a surprising challenger, Maegashira 13 East Kotoshoho. I have had my eye on Kotoshoho for a couple of years, and he started strong in the top division in 2020, and then hit a cold spot that saw him back in Juryo for almost a year. He struggled in 2022 as well after clawing his way back in to the top division a year ago with an 11-4 Juryo yusho. After climbing as hight at Maegashira 9E in May of last year, he racked up 4 consecutive make-koshi results, and is really only still in the top division thanks to some banzuke luck along the way. But he’s got his ticket to the big fight, and win or lose, he is announcing that he is finally healthy and in fighting form.

What We Are Watching Day 15

Daiamami vs Chiyomaru – The final Juryo visitor, Daiamami, comes to have a round with an injured Chiyomaru (3-11), captain of the Juryo barge of the damned. Daiamami is also already make-koshi at 5-9, so I am going to guess he is up here today because it was his turn. Daiamami has a 11-2 career lead, but given the state of Chiyomaru, a Daiamami win today was almost assured.

Kagayaki vs Oho – This is a gift to Kagayaki. He earned at 7-7 Darwin score, and instead of a brutal single elimination match, he gets to fight cream-puff Oho (3-11) for his kachi-koshi. I could shake my fist and yell at clouds as one reader has said, but to be honest someone had to fight Oho, may as well be him.

Azumaryu vs Ura – Whatever ailments plague Ura right now, I am happy he starts his 6 week recovery tomorrow. He’s not be quite up to spec, especially in the second week, where has has lost 5 in a row and is now at a make-koshi 6-8. It would be great if he could beat 9-5 Azumaryu, but if I were Azumaryu (9-5), I would hit double digits today. You broke the barrier, run free sir. Rack up the score as insurance against a pair of make-koshi some time in the future.

Chiyoshoma vs Sadanoumi – Both men start the day at 5-9, and have had a pretty rough time of it this January. Sadanoumi got torn up as a projectile while facing the san’yaku during the middle third of the tournament, and never really has recovered. Chiyoshoma just can’t seem to find the last 10% – 15% of his power, and thus his score is crummy. He does have a 7-4 career lead over Sadanomumi, and has won the last three in a row.

Nishikifuji vs Ichiyamamoto – I guess this one is to give Ichiyamamoto a chance at a double digit kachi-koshi? He’s 9-5 to start the day against 4-10 Nishikifuji, who has lost 6 of the last seven. Maybe they are giving Nishikifuji an early match on the fight card so he can head out and find a bar.

Mitoryu vs Midorifuji – Another pair of make-koshi rikishi, both with 6-8 records to start the day. I wonder if Mitoryu at Maegashira 15W is at risk of demotion, but maybe he will survive thanks to the log jam of people who have losing records and are demotable at the end of the tournament.

Abi vs Tsurugisho – First Darwin match, with both men at 7-7. I would think that this one will go to Abi, who is ranked higher at Maegashira 3 E, and generally outclasses Tsurugisho on most days. But Tsurugisho holds and even 2-2 career record against Abi, and has won his last three in a row to get here.

Hiradoumi vs Tamawashi – First ever match, both start the day with 8-6 kachi-koshi, and one of them will finish Hatsu with 9 wins. I would generally favor Tamawashi for this one, but I think Hiradoumi has an advantage if he can get the match to last more than 20 seconds.

Mitakeumi vs Takarafuji – We have defenestrated former Ozeki Mitakeumi with a 6-8 make-koshi against injured stalwart Takarafuji, blessedly kachi-koshi at 8-6. Mitakeumi has a 10-4 advantage in their 14 match career history, with only one match in the last year, which went to then sekiwake Mitakeumi during Hatsu day 14. Mitakeumi would go on to win a 13-2 yusho, and earn a short-lived promotion to Ozeki.

Aoiyama vs Daieisho – Both are make-koshi, with Aoiyama at 8-6, and Daieisho at 9-5. This is mostly just to figure out rank for the March banzuke, but with both of them being high impact tsuki/oshi fighters, there could be a lot of hard hits in this match. Their last fight was March 2022, and went to Daieisho.

Tobizaru vs Kotoeko – Second Darwin match, and it’s a good’un. We have a highly mobile flying monkey in Tobizaru, up against compact power house Kotoeko. Kotoeko makes excellent use of his highly muscled lower body, and brings a high degree of balance and stablity to his sumo. This makes Tobizaru, who uses a strike-and-move disruptive sumo, work harder to win. Tobizaru has won the last 4 matches between them.

Endo vs Wakamotoharu – Another fine match, both prefer a yotsu style of sumo, tend to go for a grip early, and like to attack from underneath. Well, only one of them can be the lowest attacker, sir, so lets see who can do it. 9-5 Endo, or 8-6 Wakamotoharu? It is a bit of a surprise that out of their three prior matches, only one of them has been won by yorikiri.

Meisei vs Takanosho – A battle of the make-koshi, it’s 4-10 Meisei vs 6-8 Takanosho. Meisei has taken a beating at komusubi, as is frequently the case. Takanosho? I wish we knew what was plaguing him. Whatever it is, I hope it’s gone by March. Meisei has won 8 of their 12 career matches.

Hokutofuji vs Kotonowaka – The next Darwin match, and we get a chance to see Hokutofuji achieve “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”! Yes that is like jumbo shrimp, or sterile dirt. Even when you see it, you marvel that it might exits. Both of these guys have struggled, but not too much, and I think I like Kotonowaka’s chances here today. He’s on a bit of a hot streak, winning 3 of the last 4 matches.

Kiribayama vs Ryuden – Both are kachi-koshi, with Kiribayama at 10-4, and Ryuden at 9-5. I think it would be great to see Ryuden hit double digits, and I would not be surprised if he did not have a special prize contingent on a win today. Kiribayama won their last match, which was day 11 of Kyushu 2022.

Myogiryu vs Shodai – There are some similarities between Shodai’s fall from Ozeki and Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi’s “ozekiwake” tournament was Kyushu, where he finished 6-9. Should Shodai lose today to Myogiryu (5-9), he will likewise finish at 6-9. They are evenly matched, splitting their 16 career matches 8-8.

Onosho vs Hoshoryu – Ah, Onosho. You did very well this tournament. You showed the power, strength and endurance you have been building piece by piece for the last 5 years. You were in the race for the cup up until the last weekend. I hope they give you a special prize, and I hope we can see you this genki again in March. In the mean time, you can take your 10-4 record and hit Darwin candidate 7-7 Hoshoryu with it as hard as you like.

Wakatakakage vs Nishikigi – I continue to marvel at Nishikigi. I know he has quietly been building his body up over the last 6 months, and he just keeps getting a bit stronger each time. He’s at 9-5, on the cusp of a double digit winning record at Maegashira 5. He’s against one time Ozeki hopeful Wakatakakage at 8-6, who is in dire need of a tune up and upgrade session soon.

Kotoshoho vs Takakeisho – The brawl to end it all, the match deluxe. Kotoshoho has never won against Takakeisho, and has 2 prior attempts. This version of Kotoshoho is more focused and aggressive, and I do hope Takakeisho takes him as a serious contender. It is odd to have the final match of the tournament be an Ozeki vs a Maegashira 13, but this way they resolve the yusho in a single match. Good luck to both, make it a brilliant fight.

Hatsu Day 14 Highlights

An excellent day of sumo, with quality matches front to back. My compliments to everyone in the sumo association for an outstanding group of matches. The two remaining leaders will fight head to head in the final match of the basho. The pairing is a bit unusual as you have the top man fighting, Ozeki Takakeisho taking on a Maegashira 13, rather than Sekewake 1E Wakatakakage in the ultimate fight of the basho. Un-conventional, but given that one will decide the yusho, it makes a lot of sense.

You have to be impressed by what Kotoshoho, win or lose tomorrow, has been able to put together. At 11-3 on day 14, he’s been able to maintain focus and stamina into the end of the second week, and has really been an outstanding fighter. I predict special prize or prizes for him tomorrow. Against Ozeki Takakeisho, he has never won in either of the two prior fights, the most recent being two years ago on day 5 of Hatsu 2021.

Highlight Matches

Tsurugisho defeats Kinbozan – Tsurugisho manages to qualify for the Darwin group at 7-7, and hand Asanoyama the Juryo yusho at the same time by mathematically eliminating Kinbozan from the race. I am not sure where the 11-2 Kinbozan went, as Tsurugisho used him as training ballast today. Tsurugisho now 7-7.

Ichiyamamoto defeats Azumaryu – Probably should have been a matta, as Ichiyamamoto leaps off the shikiri-sen early. He gets a nodowa on Azumaryu and dashes him out. This eliminates Azumaryu from the chaser group, and thus the far fetched dream of an Azumaryu yusho is forever lost. Both end the day 9-5.

Hiradoumi defeats Kotoeko – They tried thrusting first, then went to left hand outside / right hand inside grips. Nobody had the leverage or power to throw the other, and they stalemated in the center of the ring. Hiradoumi found a surge of power, and pushed Kotoeko out when Hiradoumi’s throw attempt could not be completed. Hiradoumi kachi-koshi at 8-6, Kotoeko at 7-7 and joins the Darwin group.

Mitoryu defeats Takanosho – They locked up at the tachiai, without either man having really any kind of a grip, save Takanosho having a nodowa against Mitoryu, and the match went into a very slow mode. Takanosho eventually got a grip, but it was absolutely pointless, as Mitoryu overpowered him, gently it seemed, and placed him over the bales. Takanosho picks up his 8th loss and is make-koshi at both finish the day 6-8.

Takarafuji defeats Hokutofuji – Three cheers for dear old Takarafuji, who finally got his 8th win on the 3rd attempt. It nearly did not turn out that way, as Hokutofuji was driving the offense of this match. A well timed Takarafuji step to the side as a nodowa wielding Hokutofuji surged to drive Takarafuji out put Hokutofuji face down on the clay. Takarafuji now 8-6, Hokutofuji 7-7, and joins the Darwin group.

Ryuden defeats Chiyoshoma – Another day, another Chiyoshoma battle where he shows good form, but can’t bring enough power to win. Try as him might, he can’t dislodge Ryuden, or move him around enough to make a run for the bales. They go for an endurance check, with Ryuden struggling to maintain a grip on Chiyoshoma’s loose mawashi. Chiyoshoma wears down first, and Ryuden walks him out of the ring, improving to 9-5. I would love to see Chiyoshoma have about 10% more power, he would make for an excellent “spoiler”.

Nishikigi defeats Aoiyama – Nishikigi continues to exceed my expectations, today against Aoiyama. Aoiyama gets a couple of good hits in early, and Nishikigi pushes right past them, gets his battle hug in, and walks Aoiyama out. Simple, effective and his 9th win to improve to 9-5.

Oho defeats Nishikifuji – Its good to know that Oho can still win a match once in a while. in fact, today he looked more like the rikishi who turned in a 10-5 in November. He battled Nishikifuji around for a while, then tossed him into the front row. Oho now 3-11.

Sadanoumi defeats Chiyomaru – As predicted, all Chiyoshoma has right now is the “stand them up, slap them down” routine. Everyone knows its coming, everyone knows what to do. Sadanoumi makes fast work of him today, and improves his score to 5-9. Sad to see Chiyomaru this degraded.

Endo defeats Abi – I have to wonder what has become of Abi-zumo. It’s not been present or active for the last few days, and today he let Endo disrupt him and toss him about. Sadly, they clobbered Konosuke in the process, who took a dive off the dohyo and into Ura’s lap. Abi now 7-7 and joins the Darwin gorup, Endo up to 9-5.

Mitakeumi defeats Ura – Ura tries a head pull against Mitakeumi, and it goes about as you would expect. Mitakeumi runs forward into the pull, and Ura gets tossed into Kagayaki’s lap. Not sure what Ura had in mind, but he’s at least a notch below his normal performance. Ura make-koshi as both end the day at 6-8.

Tobizaru defeats Kagayaki – The Great Sumo Cat smiles as we get a double-Darwin result from this match, both ending with a 7-7 score. Kagayaki tried an off tempo tachiai, which worked quite well for a time, and seemed to disrupt Tobizaru’s match plan. But Tobizaru kept his feet, stayed in the match and attacked with as much monkey-sumo as he could muster. It ends with Kagayaki blasting into that same poor salt basket thanks to a Tobizaru okuridashi.

Kotoshoho defeats Daieisho – Not the result I expected, Kotoshoho is really formidable right now. Solid strategy by Kotoshoho, he tangled up Daieisho’s arms, shutting down his thrusting attack. As Daieisho attempts to pivot and escape, Kotoshoho kept tight, getting a right hand outside grip. From there it was only a quick 4 steps to the edge, and a Kotoshoho yorikiri for him to pick up his 11th win, and maintain his spot in the leader group at 11-3. Wow.

Kiribayama defeats Onosho – Onosho failed to keep Kiribayama in front of him as he dialed up the forward pressure. Compliments to Kiribayama for selling that move to the side, just at the moment that Onosho went from tachiai to attack. Onosho hits the clay and drops out of the leader group, as both finish the day 10-4.

Wakamotoharu defeats Tamawashi – Did not expect Wakamotoharu to use that combo at the tachiai, and maybe Tamawashi did not expect it either. Wakamotoharu gets his hands inside and a quick three push combo was enough to unbalance Tamawashi and send him out of the ring by oshidashi. Wakamotoharu now kachi-koshi as both end the day 8-6.

Myogiryu defeats Meisei – Meisei repeatedly went to grab an arm and try a kotenage, I think. But it was easy to predict, and by the third grab, Myogiryu rotated against the grab, and slapped Meisei from behind, dropping him by hatakikomi. Myogiryu now 5-9.

Kotonowaka defeats Midorifuji – Kotonowaka overpowers the smaller and lighter Midorifuji, who gets bounced around and tossed into a waiting Takakeisho. Midorifuji now make-koshi at 6-8 and Kotonowaka, at 7-7, joins the Darwin group.

Wakatakakage defeats Shodai – Wakatakakage had good sumo mechanics on his side today. He kept his shoulders square against Shodai, and optimized the power he put into Shodai’s body. This kept Shodai from getting his “Wall of Daikon” going, and we never got to see Shodai set up any real defense. Wakatakakage now kachi-koshi at 8-6, and Shodai make-koshi at 6-8.

Takakeisho defeats Hoshoryu – Hoshoryu had a good tachiai, but found himself bounced back by the Ozeki’s first hit. That should have been a warning, but Hoshoryu responded as expected, lunging forward again, straight into Takakeisho’s hatakikomi. Hoshoryu hits the clay and joins the Darwin group at 7-7, while Takakeisho remains part of the leader group at 11-3.

Hatsu Day 14 Preview

It’s the final weekend of the Hatsu basho, and the crew that schedule and select the matches have done a masterful job of bringing everything together right at the end, with a high stakes battle for the cup that will unfold over the next two days. There is no way that anyone can take the yusho today, unless two of the three men leading the race go kyujo. That means two days of high stakes matches as they fight it out to see who gets to take home the hardware, and that giant macaron.

There are several rikishi to finish sorting into make and kachi-koshi, and we have the possibility for several Darwin matches on day 15, where two 7-7 rikishi face off to see who is kachi-koshi, and who is make-koshi. Right now there are 16 candidates, and we will see how many of them have 7-7 scores at the end of today.

Hatsu Leaderboard

All three leaders are in fights today against rikishi further back in the pack, with Onosho fighting Kiribayama and Kotoshoho fighting Daieisho. Should the two men from the chase group win their matches, it really would likely turn the final day into a multi-way brawl to end it all, which readers know I love. Then there is the most unlikely of outcomes – Azumaryu yusho… While confounding and outrageous, it would nicely represent the current state of sumo. I think we should have known, years ago, when Goeido won a zensho yusho that something had gone terribly wrong in the Matrix. May the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan shield us from such a result.

Leader: Takakeisho, Onosho, Kotoshoho
Chasers: Kiribayama, Daieisho, Azumaryu

2 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 14

Tsurugisho vs Kinbozan – Hulking sumo battle platform Kinbozan comes to visit the top division, and with 11-2 at Juryo 5, I think he’s going to be a top division man in Osaka. This may, in fact, be an exchange match. Should he win today, he would serve Tsurugisho (6-7) his make-koshi, and possibly his boarding pass for the Juryo barge of the damned.

Ichiyamamoto vs Azumaryu – Azumaryu needs to win this one to stay with the pack that are chasing the three leaders. He beat 8-5 Ichiyamamoto their only prior match, on day 3 of Kyushu 2022. Both men are kachi-koshi, so this is really just to decide the level of boost going into the March banzuke.

Kotoeko vs Hiradoumi – A Darwin qualifier, winner is kachi-koshi, loser gets to join the 7-7 Darwin pool. Hiradoumi has won both of their prior matches.

Takanosho vs Mitoryu – At 6-7, Takanosho has to win both remaining matches to avoid make-koshi, and a further setback in his climb back to the top ranks. He’s only won one of his 6 prior matches against 5-8 Mitoryu, with the win coming day 9 of Nagoya, 2019 – almost 4 years ago. In fact, they have not had a head to head since Aki of 2019, and oh how so much has changed since then.

Hokutofuji vs Takarafuji – A second Darwin qualifier. Winner is kachi-koshi, loser joins the Darwin pool. I have a sinking dread that Takarafuji will be the Darwin nominee, as he has really faded into week two, and Hokutofuji holds a 9-3 career advantage.

Ryuden vs Chiyoshoma – These two are already sorted, with 8-5 Ryuden being kachi-koshi and 5-8 Chiyoshoma being make-koshi. When the schedule was drawn up, this was possible a “fail safe” in case they were both eligible for Darwin selection today.

Aoiyama vs Nishikigi – Both men are 8-5, and this is a nice battle of sumo styles. We have Nishikigi who will want to move in close and give Aoiyama a battle hug, and Aoiyama who prefers to beat his opponents to pulp from medium range. However, Big Dan has shown surprising flexibility in some matches this January.

Nishikifuji vs Oho – Both men are already make-koshi, with Nishikifuji at 4-9, and Oho at 2-11. As poorly as Oho is doing, he seems to be employed as a white-star donor at the moment, helping cushion the fall for other rikishi who face demotion. As my granny used to tell me “Its good to be useful”.

Chiyomaru vs Sadanoumi – Take care, Chiyomaru, sorry your trip back into the top division was so rough and did not last longer. I hope you can come back with your undercarriage rebuilt or at least working. I don’t expect that he will be able to put up too much of a fight today, and his “stand them up, pull them down” routine should be expected by Sadanoumi.

Abi vs Endo – Endo, at 8-5, is kahci-koshi. He faced 7-6 Abi who will either find his 8th win today, or be joining the Darwin camp just down the road waiting for their doom on day 15. The good news for fans of Abi-zumo, he is 11-2 against Endo.

Mitakeumi vs Ura – This is one sad sad match for myself. We have an already make-koshi Mitakeumi at 5-8, with the option to relegate Ura to make-koshi as well if the former Ozeki can win today’s match. Ura is not moving well this tournament, and many of his standard crazy moves just are not executing crisply this time around. Should Ura win today, it’s off to the Darwin camp with him for day 15.

Tobizaru vs Kagayaki – In this match, we get to see if 6-7 Tobizaru can overcome his 2-4 career deficit to 7-6 Kagayaki and pick up a win today. Call this one a “mini Darwin”, if Kagayaki wins, he is kachi-koshi and Tobizaru is make-koshi. If Tobizaru wins, they are both put into the Darwin pool. Their last match was at Kyushu in 2021, and the win went to Tobizaru.

Kotoshoho vs Daieisho – First of the leaders to mount the dohyo, I don’t like 10-3 Kotoshoho’s chances here today. They last fought in November of 2020, when Kotoshoho was Maegashira 5. The match went to Daieisho, and Kotoshoho finished at 8-7. Given how well 9-4 Daieisho is fighting right now, it’s a long shot that Kotoshoho will prevail.

Kiribayama vs Onosho – As long as Onosho’s fighting spirit was not quenched by his loss on day 13 to Takakeisho, this will be one hell of a fight. With 10-3 Onosho having a narrow 4-3 winning record against 9-4 Kiribayama, the battle may be as potent as any so far this tournament. Of their two matches in 2022, both of them won a one and lost one, with Onosho having the most recent win, in Kyushu on day 14 as well.

Tamawashi vs Wakamotoharu – While the yusho race is worthy of a lot of attention, we still have some key rikishi to sort into make and kachi-koshi. Today its time to see where 7-6 Wakamotoharu ends up as he fights 8-5 Tamawashi. Wakamotoharu has lost 2 of the last three, and I am going to guess that it may be stamina starting to run low. Tamawashi has lost the last 2 in a row, and is already kachi-koshi.

Meisei vs Myogiryu – Both men are at 4-9, and this fight is really to see how far down the banzuke they will drop. We know what Meisei will be out of the named ranks, and hopefully he will be able to bounce back in better form and condition by March.

Midorifuji vs Kotonowaka – Another head to head, this time with both men at 6-7. The winner joins the Darwin group, the loser is make-koshi. Kotonowaka has won 4 of their 5 prior matches, and I think has a distinct advantage today over Midorifuji, who I suspect is feeling the effects of some injury this month.

Wakatakakage vs Shodai – It’s time for one last, rather high stakes mini-Darwin. We have 7-6 Wakatakakage up against 6-7 Shodai. One of them was hoping to become an Ozeki, one of them just got done being an Ozeki. Both of them have underperformed their abilities this January, and both need to regroup and try again. Shodai has won 7 of their 11 prior matches. A Wakatakakage win means kachi-koshi for him, and make-koshi for Shodai. A Shodai win, and they both get to be part of the Darwin group.

Hoshoryu vs Takakeisho – This match is a heavy burden to place on a man with an injured ankle. Hoshoryu is a lot less mobile than he normally is, and he struggles to keep his body in a fighting stance. On day 13, that bum ankle could not support much defensive sumo, and he took a disappointing loss. He has only won 2 of the prior 8 matches against the lone surviving Ozeki, Takakeisho, who must win this match to keep the lead in the race for the cup.