Haru Day 1 & 2 Comments

Mitakeumi Calls The Tune During His Day 1 Match With Yokozuna Kakuryu

Although Andy was kind enough to put together a day 2 preview, I wanted to add a few comments as well. My thanks to Team Tachiai for covering during my day 1 kyujo!

It’s great that everyone in the top division was able to start the basho, with the exception of Chiyonokuni. For those of you who might have missed it, he destroyed his knee during Hatsu, and frankly I would be surprised to see him back before summer or fall.

It was evident that Hokutofuji was not mentally ready to bring any sort of serious challenge to Hakuho day 1. Though he lined up well and launched into the tachiai with vigor, you can see him close his eyes and almost wince as he comes up against the Yokozuna. Hakuho, who I am convinced sees at about 240hz, had a brief “what is this?” Look on his face before grabbing Hokutofuji’s forearm and guiding him to the clay. For day 2, Hokutofuji faces Goeido, who is in front of his home-town crowd. My biggest worry about Goeido? That day 1 match where Endo was propelled out of the dohyo – some fans noticed Goeido had stepped out. Rather his foot slipped off of the top of the tawara onto the janome. That’s the same foot he underwent reconstructive surgery for, that took titanium screws to rebuild.

Hakuho will get Endo for day 2. Frankly we don’t know what kind of condition Hakuho is actually in yet, and as happens in prior basho, his first match (or several) he finds way to win without using much in the way of mobility. As cited above, Hokutofuji did most of the work himself. Endo had little to offer Goeido on day 1, and I think he won’t have much luck with Hakuho either.

Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin did not reduce the worry level of his fans day 1. His reverse-gear sumo with a pull was not the kind of move you expect from Tochinoshin, who wins with his overwhelming strength applied vigorously in a forward direction. Can we assume that Tochinoshin’s still fairly injured? Too soon to tell. But his day 2 match against Myogiryu is no push-over. Myogiryu is a tough competitor who knows how to beat Tochinoshin, even when the Ozeki is healthy.

Call it a simple hunch, but Takayasu looked a lot less frantic on day 1 than I recall for many moths. Takayasu is at his best when he is calm, strong and forceful. This really gets put to the test day 2 when he draws Mitakeumi, who in spite of an injury that he might want to see surgery for, delivered a win against Yokozuna Kakuryu. Mitakeumi did little to practice before the basho due to the injury, and I am certain that every day is a struggle for him.

On the subject of Kakuryu – I don’t think that his chaotic day 1 loss to Mitakeumi is a sign he has problems. Kakuryu’s matches are frequently a “seat of the pants” affair, and it’s clear that the Yokozuna’s first gambit failed, and left him with little room for recovery. Against Kaisei, he won’t have to worry as much about mobility as he did against Mitakeumi, but there is the question of the Brazilian’s enormous mass.

Tamawashi struggled a bit more than might be expected against Nishikigi, who seems to be in the joi-jin for the long haul now. As Tamawashi himself noted prior to the basho, the number of collateral obligations he had as the yusho winner impacted his training program leading up to the basho. Daieisho may not provide too much of a challenge on day 2, and I expect the Hatsu yusho winner to continue to file down his ring rust for the first 5 days.

Takakeisho’s day 1 match was as close to his preferred blueprint as you might ask. He was low, he went for center-mass oshi straight away and he kept the pressure going for the win. His day 2 match against Nishikigi might have a surprise or two, as Nishikigi continues to show remarkable persistence, and an unexpected tendency to find ways not “not lose”, usually to the frustration of his opponents.

A few more quick hits

Ichinojo – Whoa! That was big, strong sumo day 1. I wonder about his posture post-match. He did not look right. But let’s hope the boulder is strong for the next 14 days.

Shodai – I do in fact think he is getting better on his tachiai. If this is real, watch out. His sumo mechanics are excellent otherwise.

Tochiozan – After a fairly dismal Hatsu, the “good” Tochiozan seems to have shown up day 1. Though aging out, he’s a sumo force of nature when he’s feeling healthy.

Aoiyama – Day 1 match featured some really excellent combat sumo from the Man-Mountain. Abi had no way to really keep Aoiyama from doing exactly whatever the big Bulgarian wanted.

Kotoshogiku – He sumo looked strong at Hatsu, even though he ended with disappointing 6-9 record. His day 1 tachiai was especially sharp. Day 2 he’s against Takarafuji, who always seems a half step behind now.

Ikioi – If you have not seen his day 1 match, it ended with a shove worthy of Superman himself. Shohozan nearly took flight from the force of it, and it was a welcome change from seeing Ikioi as the walking wounded.

Ishiura – Wow, this guy! I remember him! He burst into the top division at Kyushu 2016 – he was strong, fast and always had 2 attacks going at the same time. Then he devolved into a henka machine, and got boring. But look who is back! More of this, please!

Yutakayama – It hurts to watch this guy. Once the leader of the Freshman cohort, his visit to the joi at Aki 2018 saw him kyujo for 3 days, and never quite right since. I personally hope he can pull it together, as I think he has a lot to offer sumo in the years to come.

Haru Day 1 Recap

EDION Arena Interior - Makuuchi Match
The EDION Arena, Osaka

With Day 1 of the 2019 Haru honbasho in the books, the most unique tournament in sumo is officially underway. I have to say, I like the Haru basho the most of the non-Tokyo venues, and am looking forward to bringing everyone coverage of the tournament live from Osaka later this week.

What notable news do we have to report? Well, Terunofuji is IN, and Ura is OUT – and to those asking – unlikely to be seen before Aki at the earliest. At the top level, Chiyonokuni is the first makuuchi name to hit the kyujo list. As for Terunofuji, he fought – and won – in his long awaited return to the dohyo on Day 1, but it was clear that he’s not in anything resembling sumo form, never mind the Terunofuji we know from his heyday. It would be wise to maintain measured optimism for the rest of his tournament without looking too far down the line, on the basis of the early evidence. We’ll see our first glimpse of our favorite Texan sumotori, Wakaichiro, on Day 2, as he makes his return to Sandanme.

So, how did the top rankers get on? After we’ve seen several tournaments chock full of early shocks, did we have any today? You’ll just have to read on…

Day 1 Results

Chiyoshoma defeats Shimanoumi – Chiyoshoma just can’t henka soon enough. This bout was so anticlimactic, and not the way you want to open a basho. It was hard to learn much from that, apart from that Juryo visitor Shimanoumi will have to get streetwise to the henka if and when he does make it to the top division.

Yutakayama defeats Daishoho – Welcome to the top division Daishoho! Yutakayama starts with a nodowa and then blocks all of Daishoho’s attempts to get anything going, before finishing him off with a simple oshidashi. This is the sumo Yutakayama needs to show on a consistent basis.

Ishiura defeats Kotoeko – There are about four matches in this match. Ishiura predictably starts low and gets to the side, locking up Kotoeko’s arms. He drives him back several times before losing his grip, and it looks like Kotoeko may seize the advantage when Ishiura tries to pull. But, the little man reacts wildly with a number of (missed) roundhouses before dragging Kotoeko back across the dohyo, where Kotoeko gets twisted down very awkwardly on his knee and looks visibly pained. Good stuff from Ishiura, and the knee will be a worry for Kotoeko.

Toyonoshima defeats Terutsuyoshi –  The crowd is very appreciative of Toyonoshima’s win on his top division return. Hiro Morita actually predicted him as a yusho contender in the NHK Preview show, so if you thought Andy was wild with his Tamawashi yusho prediction last year, think again. Terutsuyoshi takes the initiative from the tachiai twice, driving the larger man back but can’t finish him off. The vet ultimately hits the pulldown. Again, if there’s a teachable moment to a newcomer, it’s that maybe Terutsuyoshi can be more streetwise at this level.

Tomokaze defeats Kagayaki – One thing that’s remarkable about Tomokaze is that physically he looks very much the part of a top division rikishi. If you were bracing for an oshi fight, he’s not going to oblige, and it’s clear from the off he’s not one of these pusher/thrusters that comes up to the top division with no plan B. This match is over in a second and it’s very good sumo from the new man. Kagayaki tried to get under his arms and lift him up from the tachiai, and as the tall man is bent over, Tomokaze simply pulls him down by the head in a very simple and decisive motion.

Yoshikaze defeats Meisei – Meisei goes with the silver mawashi/towel combination, which is a strong dedication to a colorless existence. He starts with all kinds of verve however and I even thought he might have even jumped the gun for a matta. Yoshikaze deals well however, and it’s a third consecutive pulling manoeuvre for a win. Meisei launches with all kinds of intention and flailing arms, but Yoshikaze won’t be moved. Eventually the veteran gets his arms on top, gets a hand on Meisei’s head and pulls for the white star.

Ryuden defeats Yago – Three Oguruma-beya rikishi take the dohyo in succession, but this time, the vaunted stable comes up empty. They say “start as you mean to go on” and so it’s no surprise that Ryuden, as usual, opens with a matta. This guy can’t get enough matta. Both men get a decent left hand grip, but Yago can’t really do anything with his, Ryuden is much more stable and pulls the throw, a shitatenage.

Ikioi defeats Shohozan – Ikioi’s ready for a new tournament with a whole suite of fresh looking bandages. He looks genki in front of his home crowd, and Shohozan is a great opponent for some heavy metal sumo. Shohozan pulls a hit and shift, but Ikioi isn’t buying any of it. It’s a brilliant move when it works against someone who lunges as much as Ikioi does, but if you don’t execute then you’re in trouble and Ikioi shoves the older rikishi out in one strong maneuver, and then picks up the spare by bowling him directly into the salt barrel in the process, with salt flying everywhere. There’s always something very fulfilling about seeing a rikishi flung straight into the salt barrel.

Kotoshogiku defeats Sadanoumi – Abema leads into this match with a very cheery Kotoshogiku interview. He utterly dominates Sadanoumi, even lifting him briefly off the ground at the tachiai. This is vintage Kotoshogiku. He immediately starts the hug and chug, and it’s over less than 4 seconds later.

Asanoyama defeats Takarafuji – This ends in a nice sukuinage from Asanoyama. As predicted, Takarafuji plays a mostly defensive game, as Asanoyama has to work to turn his initial tsuppari attack into a winning strategy. Eventually Asanoyama is able to lock both of Takarafuji’s arms. His winning move ultimately could be the “chug and hug.” After moving Takarafuji clear across the dohyo, and having both arms inside, he finally gets the leverage to toss him down.

Aoiyama defeats Abi – Again, as predicted, this ends up with a furious Abi flailing arms at the boobous Bulgarian, whose strategy is just to keep him at arm’s length. As they hurtle toward the edge, Aoiyama steps to the side and Abi goes flying into the shimpan in comedy fashion, limbs spread everywhere.

Onosho defeats Okinoumi – Onosho has a lovely bow in his hair for his Abema interview. He starts right on the shikiri-sen while Okinoumi is well back, most of the way to the tawara. The run up does not work in Okinoumi’s favor as Onosho takes control of this from the beginning, keeping Okinoumi high, starting low, driving the man from Shimane-ken back and out. No ring rust from Onosho here.

Ichinojo defeats Chiyotairyu – Ichinojo looks pretty genki here, though we did say that at the start of the last basho as well. Let’s see if he keeps it up 14 more days. Ichinojo takes the hit from Chiyotairyu, which moves him back briefly, but then lands a number of strong shoves which ultimately move Chiyotairyu off balance. He finishes the Kokonoe man with a tsukiotoshi.

Tochiozan defeats Shodai – In the lead up to this match, which happens just as NHK World went live, Abema shows more of the actual shiko while NHK decides to just show pictures of Takakeisho walking around and sitting down. Shodai spends most of the match in trouble and on the run after absorbing the tachiai, but he does show a lot of tenacity at least to stay in the match. This is kind of like watching your drunk friend on a mechanical bull – everyone knows they’re going to fall off but every second they stay on seems an order of magnitude more impressive. This all being said, Shodai doesn’t really get an opportunity to regroup and go on the offensive, and eventually Tochiozan wins with the katasukashi under shoulder swing down.

Tamawashi defeats Nishikigi – Tamawashi has abandoned his teal mawashi and that’s a real shame. I hate when rikishi have great success and then change up from a signature color. Teal was his signature look! The new mawashi is a very deep navy blue. This match requires a little more effort than Tamawashi maybe will have wanted. There’s a lot of hustle but not much bustle. One thing Nishikigi has been great at, especially in these last two basho in the joi, has been positioning himself as a less movable opponent. But it’s an oshi bout, and Nishikigi is not going to be able to go toe to toe with the reigning champion in that kind of fight. Eventually Tamawashi is able to pivot and march forward, shoving Nishikigi out.

Takakeisho defeats Myogiryu – The speed from Takakeisho in this bout is incredible and the crowd loves it. Myogiryu takes the tachiai head on and in this kind of form that’s going to be a mistake. This is overwhelming sumo from Takakeisho and what a response to the concept that his last match against Goeido cost him his promotion – this was everything that wasn’t. He wins by tsukidashi. Over in a second, straightforward, and as the NHK team agrees, he’s got (probably) nine more to go.

Tochinoshin defeats Daieisho – Tochinoshin has abandoned his purple mawashi and I’m here for it. He’s gone back to the filthy looking grey thing that he was so dominant in, winning yusho and throwing around lesser men like bags of rotten miso. In spite of this, Tochinoshin gets in all kinds of trouble from the start and pushed back from the tachiai, but at the tawara he manages to hit the pulldown. This was dangerous stuff from Tochinoshin, it was kind of a Aminishiki-esque pulldown at the edge, but you wouldn’t call it masterful. Perhaps the kindest thing you can say is it’s the kind of pulldown attempt that always seems to see Yokozuna Kakuryu lose, but the Ozeki managed to nail it. Ultimately, it was a match he needed to win and he did.

Goeido defeats Endo – Goeido gets a rapturous applause as he mounts the dohyo. The noise is everything I love about the Haru Basho and am looking very much forward to being in the arena later this week. We start with a matta from Endo. On the restart, Goeido responds straight away with a face slap. Don’t matta Goeido! Goeido attacks with the pace that he’s known for, and it’s him at his best. He’s got Endo facing the wrong way and Endo is driven back and shoved out in a flash. Goeido gets an enormous stack of kensho and we see him clapped by the fans in the hallway on his way out, another one of this unique basho’s hallmarks. I’d go home more often too if I had that to look forward to!

Takayasu defeats Kaisei – As Takayasu takes the dohyo, Araiso Oyakata looks on in his new blue jacket. Kaisei gets the better of the tachiai, but both men lock up and few men can move forward successfully out of an endurance battle like Takayasu. He’s got a better grip than Kaisei, who can’t manoeuvre his arm into a meaningful position. Takayasu moves forward and wins by yorikiri.

Mitakeumi defeats Kakuryu – It’s amazing to see Mitakeumi with no bandaging on his knee at all – he says he felt he just didn’t need any. I didn’t think Mitakeumi’s footwork looked all that good at the start of this match but certainly his knee didn’t seem hobbled. Kakuryu starts moving forward with a nodowa and Mitakeumi looks a little slippery, but he grows into the match. Mitakeumi finally gets planted and moving forward, and Kakuryu is in all kinds of trouble, eventually getting spun out backwards. You don’t see a Yokozuna lose by okuridashi that often. I still think the goal for Mitakeumi has to be 8 wins but let’s see if he can maintain this form at least through the next few days before revising that at all. In the interview room after the match, Mitakeumi attributes to the win to his ability to take advantage of Kakuryu’s moving backward. We’ve heard that before.

Hakuho defeats Hokutofuji – The musubi-no-ichiban is a bit of a non event, and Hakuho doesn’t get tested much here. This win is ruled a tsukiotoshi but this was less a win for Hakuho than a loss for Hokutofuji. Hokutofuji tried to get an angle around the outside to Hakuho’s left from the tachiai, but just slips and it’s over in a second. We won’t know more about the dai-yokozuna’s fitness and form until at least Day 2.

Hatsu Day 11 Highlights

Day 11 featured some of the best sumo action of the basho thus far, as the Ozeki – with their backs against the wall – found the strength to put up a good fight at last. Lower down the torikumi, many fan favorites are starting to reach the safety of their 8th win. But day 11 was marred with kyujo, as both Chiyonokuni and Kotoyuki withdrew with leg and knee injuries.

Highlight Matches

Daiamami defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki is make-koshi yet again (now 4 times in a row), and we have to wonder what kind of chronic problem this lad is battling to overcome. His usually excellent sumo mechanics have been hit or miss this basho, and he seems to have lost confidence in his approach. In a perfect world we could see Araiso oyakata work with Kagayaki for a time, as their approaches are quite similar, but Kagayaki seems to have lost faith in his ability to prevail, something Araiso (Kisenosato) never lost, even in the depths of his injury.

Daishomaru defeats Ikioi – Daishomaru finally wins one, from Japan’s top ICU candidate Ikioi. How this guy keeps going, I will never know.

Chiyoshoma defeats Takarafuji – Readers know I am not fan of henkas, but when Chiyoshoma unloads his “Flying Henka” the entertainment value is off the charts. Takarafuji rolls out into the zabuton zone, and gets “encouragement” from an enthusiastic fan.

Asanoyama defeats Yago – Yago seems to have stalled 1 win from the kachi-koshi line. Yago also seems to be following the route of going soft at the bales, is it an approach to avoid injury? Asanoyama’s win keeps his kachi-koshi hopes alive.

Ryuden defeats Meisei – The two go chest to chest and it quickly evolves into both men trying to finish a throw of the other first. Both go down in tandem but Ryuden touches last. Ryuden stays away from make-koshi for another day.

Onosho defeats Yutakayama – Onosho got the better of the tachiai, and focuses on a series of nodowa, which Yutakayama seemed able to withstand, and waited for Onosho to release, then took Onosho to his chest. Now outside his comfort zone, Onosho continues to try to thrust, and find some way to break contact. Yutakayama moves to the edge and throws, but the gumbai goes to Onosho.

Kaisei defeats Chiyotairyu – Great example of Kaisei-zumo. Chiyotairyu puts so much power into the tachiai, but Kaisei absorbs it all, and works to land his left hand outside grip. Once hooked, Kaisei advances and escorts Chiyotairyu out. Kaisei is kachi-koshi.

Endo defeats Yoshikaze – Rather the ghost of Yoshikaze. Whatever that sad remnant of Yoshikaze has going on, he has my sympathy. But with this rather disappointing match did give Endo his kachi-koshi.

Shohozan defeats Ichinojo – Shohozan does a great job of executing a Harumafuji style mini-henka, and Ichinojo’s combination of mass and forward velocity do all of the work.

Tochiozan defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi is fading toward make-koshi, and the surprisingly genki guy from Kyushu and the first half of Hatsu is just a fond memory. I suspect we will see him again, and he will turn up throughout the coming year.

Myogiryu defeats Shodai – If Shodai goes make-koshi and stays in the joi-jin I am going to be outraged. This puffball rikishi gets an insane amount of banzuke grace applied to him, and frankly it’s hurting his sumo. Make him grind through the bottom, or take a trip back to Juryo. It’s the only way he’s ever going grow into his potential.

Tamawashi defeats Kotoshogiku – For an old timer with bum knees, Kotoshogiku shows remarkable agility and persistence. Tamawashi throws the kitchen sink into this match, and responds with skill and strength when Kotoshogiku lands his grip and begins to push. Holding Kotoshogiku’s head down, Kotoshogiku breaks off and rallies, but Tamawashi has him on the run, and knocks him out. Good sumo from both.

Takakeisho defeats Hokutofuji – As good as the prior match was, this match took things a notch higher. Both rikishi were blasting away with tsuki and oshi attacks, with advantage shifting every moment. Most opponents succumb to Takakeisho’s wave action attack after a few cycles, but Hokutofuji took them all, and kept fighting. Hokutofuji’s big weakness is his reliance on a nodowa, and Takakeisho defended against that with great skill, and it kept Hokutofuji from getting into a winning position. Meanwhile Takakeisho focused center-mass, and carried the day. Dare I hope for a long running rivalry between these two?

Takayasu defeats Okinoumi – Takayasu is back in form, and makes quick work of Okinoumi. Takayasu is now above the .500 line, and I am getting hopeful he can rescue a kachi-koshi out of this basho.

Goeido defeats Aoiyama – It was clear that Aoiyama was nervous going into this match, and Goeido knew what to do. Aoiyama has a habit of being very far forward the step after his tachiai, ands Goeido used that problem with Aoiyama’s balance to bring him down. Dare we hope Goeido can avoid going kadoban, even with that manky arm?

Mitakeumi defeats Hakuho – Day 11 had one more gift to offer. Coming back from kyujo, fans noted that injured Mitakeumi was given Hakuho for his first match. Thoughts of body parts being torn asunder and landing in the balcony came to mind. Instead we saw Mitakeumi come in low, hard and fast – he took the fight to the Yokozuna and kept control of the match. Hakuho immediately found himself in trouble, as Mitakeumi stayed Kisenosato low, and advanced. Normally Hakuho would have have an emergency exit move or two he could deploy, but Mitakeumi gave him no room to work with. Damn impressive effort from Mitakeumi, think I will go watch it again…

Nope, it’s even better the 4th time

Chiyonokuni, Takanosho, and Kotoyuki go Kyujo

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As expected, Chiyonokuni has gone kyujo following the knee injury he sustained during his Day 10 match with Ikioi.  He has been prescribed two weeks rest and treatment for left knee ligament damage. This is a very disappointing turn of events, as Chiyonokuni was having his best tournament since his fantastic 12-3 performance last May. However, with 8 wins Chiyonokuni has secured his position for the Haru Basho and won’t have to worry about how far he’ll drop down the rankings. Chiyonokuni’s Day 11 opponent Abi will pick up a fusen win.

[Update] Down in Juryo, Takanosho has bowed out of the Hatsu Basho for a second time due to a nagging knee injury he sustained on Day 2. He has submitted a medical form to the NSK for one month of treatment due to a right anterior cruciate ligament injury.

[Update] Completing the trio of Day 10 victims is Kotoyuki, who has also gone kyujo. According to his medical form, Kotoyuki is suffering from a right femor contusion and right leg joint lateral ligament damage. His Day 11 opponent Daieisho will get a much-needed walkover win.

We at Tachiai hope Chiyonokuni, Takanosho, and Kotoyuki make full recoveries.