Hatsu Day 9 Highlights

The kadoban watch continues on day 9, where we find both Ozeki continuing to struggle with injuries, and finding the mathematics of the remaining 6 days crushing their hopes against reality. Meanwhile there are fewer routes where the undfeated Hakuho might drop enough matches (short of injury) to allow anyone to even challenge him for the yusho.

Many other rikishi who had surprised early in the basho have reverted to form, and in some cases it’s disappointing for fans. At the end of the day, for most rikishi, the goal is 8 wins and a kachi-koshi. Some have lost the blazing momentum of their act 1 starts (Aoiyama, Nishikigi, Hokutofuji) while others seem to have finally awoken their sumo (Asanoyama, Chiyotairyu) and somehow Ikioi keeps fighting in spite of all of the battle damage.

Highlight Matches

Takanosho defeats Daiamami – Takanosho visits from Juryo and delivers top-vision sumo against a flagging Daiamami. Daiamami is one loss away from make-koshi and a return to Juryo. Takanosho was kyujo for a couple of days, and is on the bubble himself.

Kotoeko defeats Yutakayama – Yutakayama’s bulk and stability saw him dominating the opening moments of the match, Kotoeko’s superior agility and maneuverability let him set up a partial throw / tsukiotoshi that won the match. Yutakayama, once the start of the “Freshmen” bounced hard off of the joi-jin and has been struggling to recover ever since.

Chiyonokuni defeats Meisei – Significantly under-ranked, Chiyonokuni picks up another win, and is 1 behind Hakuho. Be aware, Chiyonokuni is no real threat to Hakuho at this time in terms of speed and power, and his position in 2nd place is a function of match and his position too low on the banzuke.

Kagayaki defeats Chiyoshoma – After spending most of the first half of the basho all over the map, administering head woulds to everyone, Kagayaki goes back to fundamentals and wins. But as Kagayaki has 7 losses already, a make-koshi is likely for him.

Ikioi defeats Yago – Ikioi continues to remind us of Monty Python’s Black Knight, who continues to fight no matter what injury he suffers. Yago showed excellent form, but Ikioi produced a surge of strength that overpowered Yago for the win.

Sadanoumi defeats Daishomaru – Daishomaru continues winless after Sadanoumi’s superior experience and ring sense carries the day.

Abi defeats Kotoyuki – The shine is off of Abi-zumo, but it worked against Kotoyuki today. Can Abi end his string of make-koshi tournaments since last March? Kotoyuki attempted a slap-down that almost worked, but Kotoyuki ran out of ring before Abi landed face first on the clay.

Takarafuji defeats Daieisho – Takarafuji is the embodiment of “slow and steady wins the race”. Maegashira 10 is an easy rank for him, and he has little trouble with Daieisho, working him over a piece at a time until he pushes him out from the side / behind.

Ryuden defeats Kaisei – Some surprising sumo from Ryuden, he manages to block Kaisei from putting his right hand to work, and uses his body to keep Kaisei high. Without a solid grip, Kaisei was unable to generate much forward pressure, and Ryuden kept moving forward.

Endo defeats Onosho – Have no fear, Onosho fans. As much as you want to think that Onosho is fully genki and ready to battle the top men of sumo, he’s still recovering a bit from surgery. Going into Hatsu, we said that Maegashira 6 was a great rank for him, and would allow him to tune up a bit more before his predicted run at the San’yaku later this year. His goal is kachi-koshi plus an extra white star or two, and he seems to be on track for that. Meanwhile, Endo is clearly in his “good” phase, and is fighting well.

Chiyotairyu defeats Asanoyama – Chiyotairyu henkas a win, much to the dismay of many, but most specifically Asanoyama. All of the Freshmen have been struggling since Nagoya, when the heat seems to have baked the fighting spirit right out of them.

Yoshikaze defeats Shohozan – Yoshikaze found some energy somewhere in the back of a closet at home, and showed a brief flash of the drive and vigor that has made him a legend. Yoshikaze staves off a likely make-koshi for another day.

Shodai defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama’s loss to Chiyotairyu has put him on a losing streak, which now extends into a 3rd day. After a strong start, his sumo has lost its edge, and his mobility is down from the first week. Shodai exploits this well and pulls a win out of what should have been Aoiyama’s match after Shodai’s traditionally poor tachiai.

Tochiozan defeats Hokutofuji – A number of rikishi have figured out that Hokutofuji’s “handshake tachiai” leave him quite far forward, and that can be exploited to slap or thrust him down in the first moments of the bout. I think Hokutofuji’s opening gambit is useful, but needs some variations and refinement.

Myogiryu defeats Ichinojo – Gone is the fierce Ichinojo of the Act 1, and we have reverted to the hesitant, contemplative Ichinojo from Kyushu. To be fair, Myogiryu tends to be trouble for Ichinojo, but for fans of the big Mongolian, this kind of sumo from his is frustrating.

Takakeisho defeats Nishikigi – Takakeisho’s sights are fixed on double digits, and Nishikigi’s act 1 magic is nowhere to be found today. Solid “Wave Action” work from the Ozeki aspirant. Nishikigi still has a solid chance at kachi-koshi at Maegashira 2.

Tamawashi defeats Takayasu – Regardless of rank, these former Sekiwake rivals are an even match. Add to that Takayasu’s health questions, and it was advantage Tamawashi. Of concerns were signs of pain from the Ozeki following the match, when it seems his right knee may have been bothering him. Takayasu is dangerously close to make-koshi and joining the kadoban corps.

Okinoumi defeats Goeido – If you want an honest indication of how banged up Goeido is, watch Okinoumi man-handle him like a Sandanme debutant. I am predicting that Goeido will join Ozeki Tochinoshin in the kadoban corps in Osaka, where his home town fans will likely carry him to victory.

Hakuho defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku gave it his best shot, but there was no chance that the former Ozeki was going to best Hakuho today. In spite of his shaky start, Hakuho is on his sumo, and there are very few upper ranked rikishi (see the Ozeki corps) who are genki enough to give him much of a challenge. But everyone waits to for his much anticipated match with Takakeisho coming up in Act 3.

What You Need To Know After Act One

Photo courtesy of the official NHK twitter account

The curtain has dropped on Act One of the 2019 Hatsu Basho, and what show stopper it’s been! With major developments happening on and off the dohyo, here’s a quick update to catch you up on everything you need to know before Act Two.

Leader Board

It’s very early days in the Yusho race, but we already have a small quartet of 5-0 rikishi separating themselves from the crowd. The Brazillion behemoth Kaisei, Onosho, Mitakeumi, and Yokozuna Hakuho have all avoided defeat (some more closely than others) and remain perfect after Act One. A mob of chasers is right on their heels, with Chiyonokuni, Yago, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, Ichinojo, and Takakeisho all ending Day 5 with 4-1 records. Act Two will undoubtedly separate the boys from the men in what should be an interesting Yusho race.

Not Looking So Hot

At the far end of the standings is another race to determine who will be the last winless rikishi of Hatsu. The contenders are Daishomaru, Asanoyama, and Yoshikaze, who have yet to pick up their first win. Not doing much better is the fivesome of Kagayaki, Tochiozan, Komosubi Myogiryu, and Ozeki Goeido. As for the rest of the sanyaku, there are some big names who haven’t been looking their best this January. Kakuryu and Takayasu have both dropped three early matches, and as for Tochinohsin? Well, we’ll get to him in a bit. All of these rikishi will need to make some serious adjustments during the remainder of Hatsu.

Kyujo and Intai

For the first time since Act One of the 2017 Aki Basho, I’ve had to add  Intai heading of this section, and it won’t be the last time in the coming months and years if Bruce is correct. Much has already been said about the retirements of Takanoiwa and Kisenosato so I won’t go into detail here. As for injuries, the only man to bow out of competition during Act One was Tochinoshin. Leg injuries have robbed the Georgian of his forward movement and strength which resulted in him going winless after four days. Hopefully, Tochinoshin will get the rest and recuperation he needs to clear his kadoban status come March.

Kinboshi

Prior to his retirement, Former Yokozuna Kisenosato gave up two kinboshi to Ichinojo and Tochiozan respectively. Ichinojo picked up a second gold star off of flagging Yokozuna Kakuryu. This was the second kinboshi Kakuryu has coughed up this January, as he also lost one to Nishikigi on Day 3. With Kakuryu looking precarious, and Hakuho off his game, we may come out of Act two with a few more kinboshi winners.

Hatsu Day 3 Highlights

Hatsu Day 3
Photo From the Sumo Kyokai’s Twitter Feed

Tachiai’s “Man in foreign lands”, Josh, was in the Kokugikan today, and he shared a great bit of color commentary on the atmosphere for day 3. I think aside from evolving tragedy that is Kisenosato, the big story is the weakness of the Ozeki rank. Two of them are injured (Goeido and Tochinoshin) and Takayasu has the flu. The resulting mess means that all 3 men are fighting well below their abilities, and for the injured ones, they have yet to rack their first win. At this point, its probably more prudent to swallow the kadoban and go seek direct medical treatment. For Takayasu, well, it sucks doing anything when you are running a fever, and battling a 300+ pound rikishi must be completely impossible right now.

Highlight Matches

Chiyonokuni defeats Daishomaru – Chiyonokuni has opened Hatsu with 3 straight wins, and seems to be charting a course away from the bottom edge of the banzuke. Winless Daishomaru attempted a rather limp henka, and Chiyonokuni had no problem reacting quickly for the win.

Chiyoshoma defeats Daiamami – Chiyoshoma in control from the tachiai, and he finished Daiamami with a swinging uwatenage. Hopefully this indicates that Chiyoshoma is getting his sumo back in order.

Yago defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki beat Yago off the line, and his inital attack succeeded in driving Yago back. But Yago has quite the sumo-sense, and dropped his hips and counter attacked. Yago sealed his win by pulling Kotoyuki forward, sending him to his favorite spot, the crowd. Of course Kotoyuki milled about with the fans for a time.

Sadanoumi defeats Ikioi – Today’s “Battle Damage” match, both men had massive bandaged on their foreheads where they seem to have matching wounds following their respective bouts with Kagayaki. Sure, Sadanoumi won, but it looked like both of them should be on bed rest. At least there was no blood splatter today.

Abi defeats Kagayaki – Abi shows why he is a rising star, as he escapes his match with Kagayaki without picking up a head wound. Good job!

Kaisei defeats Endo – This is a great match, and worth watching a couple of times. The two drive chest to chest from the tachiai, and yotsu battle ensues. What impresses me is in spite of Kaisei’s tremendous advantage in weight and reach, how Endo manages to stay in the fight. Great effort from both rikishi.

Onosho defeats Ryuden – Onosho opens Hatsu 3-0, and seems to have put his knees into working order. I expect him to follow a trajectory similar to his friend Takakeisho for the remainder of 2019. All 3 leading tadpoles are unbeaten thus far.

Aoiyama defeats Okinoumi – Aoiyama has his sumo in great condition this tournament. His matches have been fairly one-sided thus far, and he won by simply grabbing hold of Okinoumi and marching forward.

Kotoshogiku defeats Yoshikaze – It’s clear that Yoshikaze has nothing left in his genki-box right now. He only offered token resistance to Kotoshogiku.

Shodai defeats Shohozan – Shohozan opened strong, and Shodai took it all, and waited for an opportunity to attack. When it came, he planted a hand on Shohozan’s throat and pushed him clear of the tawara. Shohozan is still looking for his first win.

Takakeisho defeats Tamawashi – Tamawashi absorbs Takakeisho’s initial thrusting attack, and rallies to re-center the match. During a split second pause, you can imagine Takakeisho moving the “wave action” dial off of setting 1, and unleashing setting 2, which blasts Tamawashi into the west side zabuton. Takakeisho opens the new year 3-0.

Mitakeumi defeats Goeido – This one was tough for me to watch. Goeido’s right arm is clearly unable to function well, and the Ozeki creates minimum forward pressure as a result. Mitakeumi seems determined NOT to phone it in this basho, and has been looking focused, strong and genki each match. The two go chest to chest, and Goeido just cant seem to find the leverage to overcome Mitakeumi. Goeido winless at the end of day 3.

Hokutofuji defeats Takayasu – Takayasu should be in bed nursing his fever, but instead he wanted to come play with the delightful Hokutofuji, who completely disrupted the Ozeki’s attempt at offense. Hokutofuji continues to improve his “handshake tachiai”, and its starting to really pay. Takayasu was high, off balance and looks like he feels miserable.

Myogiryu defeats Tochinoshin – Also in the winless column, Ozeki Tochinoshin can’t find his grip while Myogiryu gets to work straight away. I supsect that Tochinoshin’s thigh injury is impacting his performance, he is looking quite out of his element.

Hakuho defeats Ichinojo – I wanted to send Ichinojo a truck full of ice cream and a couple of freshly brushed ponies after this match. He really took the fight to the dai-Yokozuna, and made him work. What’s impressive is to note that for a time early in this mawashi battle, Ichinojo’s hips are actually lower than Hakuho’s. That is quiet and accomplishment for someone his size. Hakuho tries several of his distraction tricks, and Ichinojo does not fall for any of it. Great sumo all around, and Ichinojo continues to give me hope.

Tochiozan defeats Kisenosato – Of course he did. Kisenosato and Tagonoura oyakata may be the only two people in Japan who thinks the Yokozuna can still compete. Kisenosato gives up his 2nd kinboshi of the only 3 day old Hatsu basho.

Nishikigi defeats Kakuryu – Nishikigi takes a kinboshi in his first ever match against a Yokozuna. The two went chest to chest at the tachiai, and Nishikigi advanced strongly. Driving the Yokozuna back, Kakuryu attempted a throw at the bales, and both men went out in unison. The gyoji gave the gumbai to Nishikigi, but a monoii ensued. Watching the replay, I am not sure that Kakuryu was the dead body here, but the shimpan upheld the gumbai, and it was Nishikigi’s 3rd consecutive win.

Hatsu Day 1 Highlights

Kisenosato Hatsu 2019
Photo from the Japan Sumo Association’s twitter feed

What a way to start a basho! Day 1 action was fierce and at times surprising. As a reminder to our readers, I tend to see a basho as a set of 3 acts, each 5 days long. Each act has its own feel and its own goals. Act 1 is all about knocking the ring rust off of the competitors, and finding out who is hot and who is not. It’s also usually the period where we will see if any Yokozuna are going to take an “out” by going kyujo.

The big news coming out of day 1 has to be that all 3 Ozeki went down to defeat. For Takayasu, it’s not a huge surprise, as he came into Hatsu with a case of the flu and a substantial fever that he should probably keep to himself. For Tochinoshin, it was clear he had hurt a thigh muscle, but was going to gamberize. Goeido, however, simply got beaten. By Nishikigi. Let that sink in. The guy who was doing everything he could last year to cling to the bottom edge of the Makuuchi banzuke took an Ozeki scalp in what looked to be a fair and straight-up fight. I have been pulling for the guy for a while now, but it’s amazing to see how far his sumo has come.

Highlight Matches

Terutsuyoshi defeats Daishomaru – Welcome to the top division! Terutsuyoshi is only visiting, but it was his first win in the big leagues, and it came with a few envelopes of kensho as well. We will be seeing quite a bit more of Terutsuyoshi soon, I would think.

Chiyonokuni defeats Daiamami – Tsuki? Oshi? Yotsu? Hitaki? These two threw everything including the kitchen sink into this match. It was rough, it was chaotic, but Chiyonokuni prevailed. He needs to get a kachi-koshi secured and escape the banzuke danger zone he finds himself in for Hatsu.

Yutakayama defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki starts strong, but in his normal pattern, as soon as Yutakayama mounts his response, Kotoyuki starts moving backward in a fairly reckless fashion. Not amazing sumo, but Yutakayama held on through Kotoyuki’s opening gambit and took the match.

Yago defeats Meisei – In Yago’s first top division ranked bout, he shows us why he’s going to be a mainstay of the future. Unlike most of the newer rikishi, he grabs Meisei’s mawashi and proceeds to go chest to chest. Meisei looks ready for the fight, and starts with a stronger, inside position. But give Yago that right hand outside and he gets to work. With his greater mass and exceptionally stable stance, Yago overpowers Meisei for a straightforward yoritaoshi.

Ikioi defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki leaves Ikioi bloody in this loss, with the die-hard warrior bleeding from his nose and face following the match. Ikioi looks to have gotten the jump on Kagayaki at the tachiai, and wasted no time in raising up Kagayaki. Both of these rikishi are better than their lower Maegashira rank, so I see this tournament as a “recovery” period for them.

Sadanoumi defeats Abi – It would seem that Sadanoumi has Abi-zumo cracked, and Abi could not produce much in the way of offensive pressure against Sadanoumi, who propelled Abi around the dohyo like a squeaky shopping cart headed back to the store. Come on Abi, unleash some new sumo. We know you can win!

Endo defeats Takarafuji – Firstly, congratulations to Takarafuji, who welcomed a new baby to his family in the past few weeks. Takarafuji gave Endo a good fight (and the crowd was happy), but Endo had superior position rom the start, and never let Takarafuji do much more than react to his sumo.

Kaisei defeats Asanoyama – Kaisei came to the dohyo in a mood to be strong and heavy today. When he uses his heavy sumo, there are few men in the world who can move him. A quick battle-hug to Asanoyama, and a drive forward for a win. The tachiai had a nice satisfying “whack!” to it as well.

Onosho defeats Chiyotairyu – Even Chiyotairyu’s somewhat legendary cannonball tachiai did not seem to impact Onosho much. Onosho stayed focused, and drove forward. With his opening blast expended against a prepared opponent, Chiyotairyu seemed to have little resistance to offer.

Aoiyama defeats Yoshikaze – Aoiyama looked on form today, and was able to focus his amazing strength against a fading Yoshikaze. Much as I love the old berserker, he is fading each passing tournament. Aoiyama kept the pressure coming, landing alternating thrusts against Yoshikaze’s upper body, keeping him high and off balance.

Tamawashi defeats Shohozan – We anticipated that this would be a brawl, and it began to look like a running battle until Shohozan lost his balance and went skidding to the clay. Good action from two rikishi who love to duke it out.

Takakeisho defeats Shodai – No cartoon sumo today. Takakeisho in what I think is a new steel-gray mawashi gets the inside advantage at the tachiai, and Shodai never recovers. Shodai is high from the start, and Takakeisho sets up the wave-action attack with great effect. Shodai attempted to return in kind, but his footing was poor and it threw him off balance. Takakeisho advances, and wins.

Hokutofuji defeats Tochinoshin – Handshake tachiai? – Check! Nodowa to keep Tochinoshin from starting any moves against the mawashi? – Check! Tochinoshin was packed, boxed and shipped in a manner of seconds. The Ozeki could not switch to offense at any point and was left trying to react to Hokutofuji’s sumo.

Nishikigi defeats Goeido – I have watched this maybe a dozen times, and it simply does not get old. I have no idea where this version of Nishikigi came from, but this sumo is unquestionably simple, sound and potent. This is not Goeido making some kind of mistake while trying to be slippery, he delivers his expected “speed” tachiai, but Nishikigi absorbs it, and breaks the Ozkei’s grip. Goeido continues to have superior body position as they go chest to chest, but Nishikigi seems to be intent on stalemating Goeido, which he somehow manages to do. Locked up in the center of the dohyo, Nishikigi has a deep right hand grip, but is a bit too high. The match ends as Nishikigi overpowers, then throws, Goeido! What a match!

Ichinojo defeats Takayasu – Two items of note – Takayasu is clearly ill, and Ichinojo’s sumo machine was switched to “attack” mode today, and it’s great to see him fight with vigor. Takayasu managed to back Ichinojo to the bales, but then the counterattack started, and there was no stopping that. Ichinojo was in great form, and I hope we can see more of that. [Ichinojo turned the tide with surprisingly nimble later movement. -lksumo]

Kakuryu defeats Tochiozan – When Big K is on his sumo, it’s amazing to watch. I tend to call his style “reactive”, and today is a perfect example. Tochiozan tries a hit-and-shift at the tachiai, but Kakuryu maintains contact with his right hand, and lets that right hand guide him to a now high and unweighted Tochiozan. The trap sprung, the Yokozuna powers into his response and drives Tochiozan back and out.

Hakuho defeats Myogiryu – Hakuho wanted to beat him twice, as Myogiryu hit the clay and bounced up, with Hakuho looking to continue the match. The boss seems to be hungry for sumo action after 4 months in dry-dock. Watch out.

Mitakeumi defeats Kisenosato – Kisenosato was high, his sumo was sloppy, and he really could do very little against Mitakeumi who seemed poised and in control the entire match. Might be time to sharpen the scissors. Josh, my toilet paper stash is ready.

Hatsu Day 1 Preview

Kisenosato Aki 2018

The time has come, and we are happy for it! It has been a long break since the Kyushu basho, and fans have had scant news to enjoy since the jungy ended several weeks ago. But now the sumo world gets back in action as the first tournament of the new year, the final year of Emperor Akihito’s reign, gets underway.

There has been a lot of speculation around the 6 men who occupy sumo’s top ranks, but it seems all 6 will start Hatsu, and we hope all of them can participate for all 15 days, and achieve good results. But we will be watching to see if Tochinoshin’s muscle injury, Takayasu’s flu / fever, Goeido’s latest buggy software update or Kisenosato’s general lurgy take their toll.

But with all of the old dragons fighting it out at the top, all eyes will be watching Kyushu yusho winner Takakeisho, competing at his highest ever rank, and within striking distance of a promotion to Ozeki. Should he find the energy, determination and sumo to pull it off, he would be the first of the new cohort to reach the top ranks. Only the next 2 weeks will tell what may come to pass, and frankly Team Tachiai is eager to get the show underway.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Terutsuyoshi vs Daishomaru – Many hoped that Terutsuyoshi would make the cut to Makuuchi for this basho, but instead he is posted to the top Juryo slot. As a consolation, he gets to visit the top division on day 1, and we may see him vie for his first ever prize money.

Chiyonokuni vs Daiamami – Former top Kokenoe man Chiyonokuni finds himself perilously close to the bottom edge of the banzuke, and will need to open strong, and keep the pressure up for the next 2 weeks to regain his rightful spot in mid-Makuuchi. He has a 2-1 career record against Daiamami, but his disasterous 5-10 finish in Kyushu, Chiyonokuni is under pressure to win early and often.

Yutakayama vs Kotoyuki – Former Maegashira 2 Yutakayama scored a Jun-Yusho in Nagoya, then was beaten to within an inch of his life at the brutal Aki basho. Since his withdrawal on day 5, he has been on a steady downward trajectory, in spite of his excellent sumo fundamentals. He faces off day 1 against Mr 5×5 – Kotoyuki. Kotoyuki seems to do very well in Juryo, but performs almost comically in Makuuchi. He frequently is seen diving into he zabuton rows, and always seems just one hair away from explosive disassembly. We hope he can do better for Hatsu.

Yago vs Meisei – Yago (spoken 2 octaves lower than normal), did not get re-labled with his expected “kaze” moniker, even though the folks at Tachiai put considerable effort on Twitter into suggesting many worthy shikona. But here is this bulky, aggressive rising star from Oguruma heya, making his Makuuchi debut. Yago and Meisei have fought before, and Yago has yet to take a single match from Meisei, so we will be eager to see if Yago can change that trend on day 1.

Sadanoumi vs Abi – Will we see a return of Abi-zumo, or did the smiling stick-insect of the sumo world hone any new attacks during the New Year’s break? As much as some fans claim “why should Abi branch out, what he is doing works”, his demotion to Maegashira 10 might indicate otherwise. I expect that Sadanoumi will come to the match expecting his normal offensive style, and may be able to finally take his first match from Abi.

Kaisei vs Asanoyama – Two solid rikishi that are in recovery mode at Maegashira 8. Kaisei will bring unmatched enormity to the match, along with a healthy measure of body hair. Asanoyama will bring his beaming positive attitude and perhaps some good fundamental sumo. In the case of these two, Kaisei’s sheer bulk is nearly impossible for Asanoyama to overcome.

Ryuden vs Daieisho – Ryuden suffered a heavy 6-9 make-koshi at Kyushu, in spite of some well executed sumo and some notable winning matches. Daieisho is very comfortable at this rank, and tends to pick up enough wins to keep himself in a narrow M4-M9 range. I expect that this is exactly the kind of rikishi Ryuden will need to beat predictably to advance to the next level. I give a slight advantage to Ryuden’s reach, but it’s an even fight.

Chiyotairyu vs Onosho – Possibly the highlight match of the first half (prior to the NHK World live stream). Onosho is still working to regain his former power following kyujo and knee surgery last year at this time. Onosho’s compact, powerful body will be put to the test against Chiyotairyu’s potent tachiai. If Onosho can stay inside the ring and upright for the first 10 seconds, the match should be his to lose.

Aoiyama vs Yoshikaze – Aoiyama has been looking very genki in practice, and his day 1 match against Yoshikaze will be an excellent test on just how genki the big Bulgarian is this January. Aoiyama has all of the right tools to be a top flight Maegashira, but he has to put them together and field them consistently. Meanwhile, Yoshikaze seems to be fading a bit each tournament, and it’s clear the years of sumo’s spoiler has caught up with him. He is still capable of nearly unstoppable sumo, but we see it less frequently, and his fans (myself included) worry that he’s hurt and going through each bout to stay connected to the sport he loves.

Shohozan vs Tamawashi – My suggestion to NHK that the live video of this match be replaced with “Batman” style animation (Biff! Pow! Slam!) went unanswered. But if both men come to the Hatsu dohyo ready to battle, there could be some peerless pugilistic power presented for the fans.

Takakeisho vs Shodai – A fan could be forgiven for thinking: “Wave action from the Sekiwake, Shodai goes jelly jiggler and bounces around until beaten”. But Shodai seems to have this uncanny power to invoke cartoon physics against his opponents, and many of them seem to suffer odd missteps and accidents that hand Shodai a win. If Takakeisho can keep Shodai centered, this should go Takakeisho’s way. If Shodai can land a mawashi grip, he will have control.

Hokutofuji vs Tochinoshin – What impressed me quite a bit about Hokutofuji’s performance at Kyushu – he looked hungry. He looked like he was going flat out to take each win, and he was leaving nothing in reserve. He will step up against a possibly injured Tochinoshin, who has had trouble with a muscle pull in his thigh during the work up to the basho. If Tochinoshin can land his “skyhook” grip, I am sure we will see the Georgian strong-man lift and shift his first win for January.

Nishikigi vs Goeido – I am so impressed that Nishikigi made it this far. More amazing is that Nishikigi won their only prior bout. But I am going to guess that Goeido is at least starting the basho in fine form, and we will see him apply a fierce amount of speed and power against the surprise darling of the joi-jin. But I am too big of a Nishikigi fan to discount him entirely. Everyone loves an underdog and survivor, and Nishikigi is both.

Takayasu vs Ichinojo – I am sure Ichinojo wants to return to San’yaku, but his week 1 is going to be a brutal parade of the upper ranks tuning up against him. Which Ichinojo will we get? The frighteningly powerful Mongolian behemoth, or the plush and cuddly pony tosser who goes soft at the tawara? With Takayasu at reduced fighting power due to the flu, this cold be a chance for Ichinojo to start off with an Ozeki scalp.

Kakuryu vs Tochiozan – 43 matches between these two, and they are almost evenly split. It’s been 4 months since we have seen Kakuryu compete, and we hope he returns rested and powerful. His reactive sumo is not especially effective against Tochiozan, who excels at working his opponent’s center-mass and keeping the fight bracketed to his forward 90°.

Myogiryu vs Hakuho – Myogiryu is a great come-back story, and he’s going down quickly on day 1. I am going to guess that Hakuho is at least genki enough to plow through his week 1 appetizers, and we won’t see what condition he is actually in until nakabe.

Kisenosato vs Mitakeumi – All of Japan will be dreading the outcome of this final match of the day. I think everyone who follows sumo expects Kisenosato is actually a shambolic sumo wreck who is ready to be run up on the beach and swarmed by ship-breakers in some far off equatorial country. Should the Yokozuna prevail, there will be a collective sigh of relief that may push the earth slightly out of orbit for a time. I would expect that either way, the NHK cameras will catch fans in the Kokugikan wiping tears from their eyes. Oh, and expect a LOT of kensho.