Hatsu Day 8 Highlights

With the middle day of the Hatsu basho behind us now, we have a clear look at what a post current Yokozuna basho looks like. A wide open, full throttle barnyard brawl of young, strong rikishi up and down the banzuke beating each other to bits every day for the cup. As sumo fans, we have naturally gotten used to a very orderly sumo world. Hakuho takes the cup if he is present, and if not, one of the other Yokozuna. This is what I think of as the “Hakuho Effect”. Fans don’t recognize it yet, but there really has never been a period in sumo where you had a single rikishi dominate so completely for so long. His overwhelming skill and power completely wicked away all possibility of anyone else really making much of a mark, and really shut down this kind of tournament.

As stated a couple of years ago when the transition started, a transition period like the one we are in the beginning stages of are hugely exciting times in sumo. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotion and thrill a minute. With “The Boss” frequently in dry dock these days, we get new champions on the rise, and we can enjoy them as they mature and their sumo evolves.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the two relics that are mounting the dohyo each day: Goeido and Takayasu. Both of them have given their lives to sumo, and have been arch competitors. For Takayasu, now at just 5 wins, he needs to take the remaining matches to regain Ozeki. Given his level of injuries, it’s quite unlikely. For Goeido, he needs to win 5 of the next 7 matches to retain Ozeki, also a very tall order. Its kind of heart breaking in some ways, as these are great rikishi who have turned in wonderful tournaments in the past. Everyone would want to see them continue. But sumo is a near perfect zero-sum evolutionary sport. Win to survive.

Highlight Matches

Kaisei defeats Ikioi – Ikioi choses to go chest to chest with Kaisei for some reason, and his one attempt at a throw falls far short of enough torque to move the big Brazilian. The look of pain ok Ikioi’s face at the end of the match tells the story.

Mitoryu defeat Shimanoumi – Mitoryu gets to the tachiai early, and Shimanoumi never really can stage much offense to counter.

Tokushoryu defeats Kotoshogiku – There was little doubt these two would go chest to chest immediately, with Kotoshogiku attempting the hug-n-chug, but finding that Tokushoryu’s bulbous abdomen is a near perfect damper for the force of that attack. Kotoshogiku keeps pressing the attack, but his balance fails at a crucial moment and Tokushoryu swings him to the clay.

Kiribayama defeats Kotoeko – Like so many of his bouts this basho, Kotoeko fights well, with solid technique, but can’t manage a win. He yields morozashi to Kiribayama, and the two mutually try to throw each other at the tawara, but its Kotoeko who lands first.

Tochiozan defeats Tsurugisho – After his day 6 wheelchair match, its clear that Tsurugisho can’t transmit power to ground at all. I do love and respect how gently Tochiozan treats him. It’s like how you would expect him to yorikiri his 2 year old son.

Chiyomaru defeats Azumaryu – Azumaryu is single mindedly focused on getting a mawashi hold on Chiyomaru. But the entire time he is fumbling for a hand hold, Chiyomaru is pushing away at his chest, and Azumaryu runs out of room to escape.

Yutakayama defeats Terutsuyoshi – Fantastic match from these two, I loved Terutsuyoshi’s submarine-lateral tachiai. Yutakayama is not normally a yotsu fighter, but I am really starting to like him in this mode. As a natural rival for Asanoyama, this expansion of his sumo technique is welcome, and I am going to say may signal his assent to higher rank. Terutsuyoshi throws a lot into this match, with an excellent combination of gambits, but Yutakayama counters all of them and prevails.

Kagayaki defeats Aoiyama – Big Dan misses his first attempt at his favorite hand on the neck pull down attack, and by the time he resets it, not only is Kagayaki chest to chest with him, but Aoiyama is out of real estate to employ it. The School of Fundamentals is still open, and it works again today.

Shohozan defeats Chiyotairyu – A set of matta to throw off the timing of Chiyotairyu’s all important tachiai gives Shohozan control of the match before it even begins.

Onosho defeats Ishiura – Onosho seems to have shed his ring-rust, gotten his balance under control and can now deliver good sumo several days in a row. Ishiura threw quite a bit into this match, but could not quite get Onosho off balance.

Takarafuji defeats Sadanoumi – Takarafuji’s preferred defend and extend tactic was not a good idea against the highly mobile Sadanoumi, so Takarafuji gets to work early and just drives Sadanoumi from the ring.

Takanosho defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin’s really got nothing left on that knee. He is not even making an attempt at face to face sumo really now, as his body just can’t support it. The former Ozeki takes his 5th loss.

Enho defeats Endo – The match that folks around the world were cheering for, master technician Endo faced power pixie Enho for the first time. Endo clearly had one approach only – land a mawashi grip and use his superior size and strength to dispatch Enho. But Enho masterfully focused on making sure Endo never could get his hands secured to his belt. The result was flailing arms and scampering feet, with Endo frustrated time after time. Endo’s is going to need a formula to overcome Enho, but given his work ethic and dedication to the sport, he is going to be working that in the months ahead almost every day.

Myogiryu defeats Mitakeumi – Myogiryu reaches around Mitakeumi’s big belly to find his mawashi, but Mitakeumi can’t return in kind. Although Mitakeumi had a strong opening, he was unable to finish Myogiryu at the bales. Mitakeumi’s road to reclaim a slot in San’yaku is going to be long and ugly indeed.

Daieisho defeats Tamawashi – This match was won at the tachiai, as Daieisho took the inside position and never let Tamawashi counter. A strong advance and it was done.

Shodai defeats Asanoyama – Its rare to see Shodai fight this well, and employ this level of sumo. It’s actually quite refreshing and I hope this is his new “normal”. Asanoyama for some reason allows Shodai’s choice of thrust and shift to be the tone of the match, which plays to his strengths. By the time Asanoyama finally gets a hold of him, he discovers that Shodai’s defensive stance is set for a throw, and Asanoyama rolls to the clay.

Hokutofuji defeats Takayasu – I am saddened by yet another Takayasu loss. Hokutofuji relentlessly attacks the former Ozeki’s injured left arm, with great effect. But there was so much more than that. Hokutofuji consistently kept his hips lower, and kept the pressure on Takayasu. The two times Takayasu managed to drop his hips, he was able to push Hokutofuji back, but Hokutofuji’s defensive sumo was at its peak today. I marvel at how Hokutofuji’s mind can at times seem to be working the upper and lower body independently. No matter what his upper body is doing, winning or losing, his lower body seems to keep moving forward.

Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – Wait… Takakeisho goes chest to chest with Okinoumi? Then throws him? For the win? Ok, this was unexpected and delightful.

Abi defeats Goeido – Goeido can’t overcome Abi-zumo, as it is an almost perfect foil for Goeido’s massive frontal assault style. There was a monoii to check Abi’s ballet move on the tawara, but slow motion replay only made it look more skillful.

Hatsu Nakabi Preview

The middle Sunday is upon us so it’s time to start looking at the yusho race in earnest. With no Yokozuna left in the competition and no wrestlers left with unblemished records, this is a free-for-all. Ten men are tied for the lead or one win back, and even those with two (or even three) losses are not out of it yet. The winner may not need 13 or 14 wins. If 11 or 12 can claim this, more than half the field are still technically “in it”. And for some odd reason, the Kyokai has chosen to have many so called Darwin bouts today to thin the herd quickly.

As for the other big storyline that Leonid has already mentioned, the Ozeki situation is getting dire for Takayasu and Goeido. Both men sit on three wins but Takayasu needs seven more while Goeido still needs to win five of the final eight to avoid Takayasu’s fate.

What We Are Watching Day 8

The Enxo bout – This is the first ever meeting of Endo vs Enho. Endo is a yorikiri specialist. His footwork and beltwork have been spectacular this tournament and he’s won the bouts he has needed to and seems to be enjoying sumo again. Sometimes when he was wearing the Gold mawashi he’d carry himself with his head down and just not look happy to be there. I think Enho will be a very interesting puzzle for him. I don’t think The Prince of Throws will get craned out or squished but we’ll have a fascinating technical bout.

Takakeisho vs Okinoumi – This is the big Darwin bout this early in the basho. With Shodai’s fall last night, Takakeisho is the top-ranked rikishi in the lead for the yusho. Okinoumi is one back so both men should have extra riding on their wins today as the yusho talk will start in earnest. The winner will be still in it. If Okinoumi loses, he may well be out altogether while a Takakeisho loss will tip Endo for the crown.

Shodai vs Asanoyama – Yesterday’s sole leader fights against the lead prospect for Ozeki status. Quite frankly, this is a battle between two future Ozeki and one may walk away from this tournament with the cup.

Yutakayama vs Terutsuyoshi – Lower down on the banzuke, we have another up-and-comer in Yutakayama who will grapple with a top pixie. Terutsuyoshi is having his best start to a tournament since July when he picked up the jun-yusho and a special prize to boot. Yutakayama, on the other hand, is off to his best start in makuuchi.

Kagayaki vs Aoiyama – This is a strength vs strength bout. Both men are oshizumo specialists so this will be a slapfest and not a grappling bout. Aoiyama’s technique, however, relies on a hatakikomi kicker. If Kagayaki can shift things to the belt, he’ll likely have the edge.

Hokutofuji vs Takayasu – Takayasu needs this. He can only lose one bout this week to reclaim his Ozeki status. There will be no easy wins against aging Yokozuna. Instead, he’s got to fight his way through a lot of top ranked Maegashira with their own sanyaku ambitions. Unfortunately for Takayasu, Hokutofuji’s oshizumo strength is Takayasu’s weakness and Hokutofuji is pretty successful at keeping opponents off his belt.

Abi vs Goeido – Goeido is pretty successful at getting to his opponent’s belt. Will he be able to force the issue with Abi? The worst news for Abi is that even when Goeido is forced into an oshi bout, he wins more than half the time, though he’s very susceptible to hatakikomi, especially when he’s not in the mood to move forward.

Hatsu Day 7 Preview

It’s a quick preview this morning, as I am on my way to Narita to fly back to Dallas. Thanks to Japan for another lovely sumo trip. I have to tip my hat to buysumotickets.com for once again provisioning Team Tachiai with quality seats and sterling customer support. If you are heading to Japan and intend to watch sumo, I strongly recommend them.

Its the middle weekend of the basho, and fankly there is no dominant rikishi who is clearly the favorite. There are some mighty bright hot streaks running, but it will come down to maintaining that intensity into the second week. Advantage may tip toward the rikishi who have taken the cup before. Fasten your seat belts and keep on your toes. There is so many ways this one might end up.

What We Are Watching Day 7

Tochiozan vs Kaisei – I am still liking Tochiozan’s 14-5 career record over Kaisei. Coupled with his highly efficent sumo style, and Kaisei’s damaged undercarriage, this fight may be terribly one-sided.

Azumaryu vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi comes back to the top division to fill the banzuke hole left by all of the kyujo rikishi. He won 4 of their 6 prior meetings, and in addition has been fighting well in Juryo. Let’s hope he can score well enough in January to return to the top division soon.

Terutsuyoshi vs Kiribayama – A first time meeting that puts red-hot Terutsuyoshi to the test. There will be a lot of salt thrown, but can Terutsuyoshi establish control early?

Tokushoryu vs Kotoeko – In spite of his excellent size to strength ratio, Kotoeko is struggling this January, and we have to hope that it was just ring-rust. Tokushoryu certainly has opened strong, but like many vets, stamina into week 2 may be a problem.

Kotoshogiku vs Ikioi – Battle of the legless heroes; we get to see whose lower extremities can handle the stress. Matches like these are terrible to watch, as I keep hoping they both survive intact.

Shimanoumi vs Chiyomaru – I have to think that at some point soon, Chiyomaru’s sumo is going to click into “active” mode, and he is going to start racking wins.

Tsurugisho vs Ishiura – I think this comes down to Tsurugisho getting a mawashi grip. If he can land a solid hand on Ishiura’s belt, he likely has the match. If Ishiura can stay un-captured, its his match to lose. [Given that Tsurugisho’s Day 6 bout ended with a ride in the big wheelchair, Ishiura likely gets a freebie. -lksumo]

Chiyotairyu vs Yutakayama – I am calling it now, Chiyotairyu is nursing an injury, and we are going to see poor performance from him for the rest of the basho. It’s a shame, as having him unleash his thundering tachiai against everyone is really rather fun.

Takanosho vs Kagayaki – Go ahead, Kagayaki, drop those hips and crab walk Takanosho out. We know you want to do it, and it looks great on camera.

Aoiyama vs Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi has enough speed and agility to avoid Aoiyama’s normal opening gambit. I expect this match will be a running battle, and that format probably favors Sadanoumi.

Shohozan vs Ryuden – I am still sensing a lot of pent up frustration in Shohozan. So I recommend a course of body blows, repeated frequently every few seconds, until Ryuden hits the dirt, or he grabs your mawashi and chucks you overboard.

Takarafuji vs Tochinoshin – Takarafuji loves to extend and defend, and that is not going to work in Tochinoshin’s favor. I am assuming he is still too damaged to really work the sky-crane today, although we all want him to.

Meisei vs Onosho – Both men have had terrible starts to Hatsu, and Meisei typically dominates Onosho. So as an Onosho booster, I have no expectations that he won’t end up once again face down in the clay.

Okinoumi vs Enho – Somehow, this is the first meeting between these two. I am eager to see what a rikishi with such an encyclopedic skill catalog as Okinoumi does in response to Enho’s power-pixie sumo.

Endo vs Tamawashi – Endo’s hopes of contesting for the yusho require him to maintain stamina and good health for another week. Fans around the world hope we don’t once again see Tamawashi’s “Arm Breaker” hold that shredded Takayasu’s sumo career. [They’ve met 20 times prior to this basho, with Tamawashi holding a 12-8 edge. -lksumo]

Mitakeumi vs Daieisho – Mitakeumi will work to disrupt Daieisho’s attack at the tachiai, and prevent him from planting his feet and getting a mawashi grip. A mobile, oshi-mode fight favors Mitakeumi, and I expect him to open strong and try to finish before Daieisho can rally.

Myogiryu vs Takayasu – Sigh, Takayasu. Myogiryu holds a 12-8 career advantage over the recent Ozeki, and the latter seems to lack any real power in that damaged arm.

Asanoyama vs Hokutofuji – A real high-interest match, as Asanoyama has maybe half a step at the tachiai to either land his mawashi grip before Hokutofuji’s nodowa hits, or move out of the way and engage at an angle.

Shodai vs Goeido – Is the Shodai hype going to overrun Goeido on day 7? Does anyone else join me in feeling a bit sorry for our relic Ozeki? It’s like looking at an endangered species at the zoo. You know they are dangerous, but you just want to find some way to comfort them somehow. [Shodai has five “ginboshi”—like a kinboshi, but when the upset victim is an Ozeki; not an official stat, but it’s a thing—in their 17 prior meetings. -lksumo]

Takakeisho vs Abi – Way to end on a high note! They’ve split their two prior meetings, with Abi pulling the upset in November, and this match features masters of the double arm thrusts. But you have extreme reach from Abi vs some of the shortest arms in sumo on Takakeisho. I don’t think its an automatic Abi win, though.

Hatsu Day 6 Highlights

It was a brutal day at the Kokugikan, with two competitors in top divisions matches leaving the arena in a wheel chair. It was truly ugly to watch, and in the case of Kizakiumi, I am really worried he may have suffered some level of neurological damage.

Then there is the matter of the leaderboard. Now we normally don’t even talk about the leaderboard until day 8, but I should note that none other than Shodai is the sole leader of the Hatsu basho going into day 7, with a spotless 6-0 record. I have been critical of Shodai for his poor tachiai, but it’s clear that he has been continuing to improve his sumo. But I have always believed the biggest problem was squarely his mind – he was prone to losing confidence at all the wrong times, and failing to exploit advantages when they were presented. For whatever reason, right now Shodai is on fire. In all honesty, I am impressed with his sumo right now, and I would love to see him carry the cup out of the Kokugikan next weekend. Best of luck to him.

Highlight Matches

Tochiozan defeats Kiribayama – The master of high efficiency sumo shows how to make it pay. As the match extended, Kiribayama frantic efforts tired him before Tochiozan even broke a sweat. The match went quite long, and Tochiozan was able to stay with the much younger Kiribayama due to his relentless conservation of energy.

Ikioi defeats Kizakiumi – A fairly standard pushing / thrusting match with a terrible end. Kizakiumi fell head-first backward from the dohyo, and collapsed. He did not move for quite some time, and frankly I wondered if he had broken his neck, as he pivoted on his neck as he landed.

Tokushoryu defeats Terutsuyoshi – Sadly Terutsuyoshi did not get a win for his birthday, as Tokushoryu stood him up and slapped him down. With this loss, only a single spotless record remained – Shodai.

Azumaryu defeats Kotoshogiku – Following a pattern now, Azumaryu released forward pressure just after the tachiai, and transitioned into a smooth uwatedashinage to send Kotoshogiku to the clay.

Kaisei defeats Kotoeko – Although Kotoeko attempted to force Kaisei to turn to attack him (usually a good tactic), Kaisei seemed to track better than normal, and made quick work of Kotoeko.

Shimanoumi defeats Tsurugisho – Another wheelchair match, the fight ended when Tsurugisho’s left knee collapsed while Shimanoumi was trying to twist, possibly to load a throw. Down went Tsurugisho, and out came the wheel chair after far too long a delay.

Chiyomaru defeats Ishiura – This match was Chiyomaru from the start, and Ishiura was stumped what to do to counter Chiyomaru’s powerful forward rush.

Chiyotairyu defeats Takanosho – Annnnd.. HENKA!

Yutakayama defeats Kagayaki – We previewed this as a high interest match, and it did not disappoint! Undefeated Kagayaki takes his first loss, but he gave Yutakayama a grand battle. I can now say with confidence that Yutakayama is noticeably improved since November.

Sadanoumi defeats Ryuden – Sadanoumi latches a left hand frontal grip at the tachiai, and that immediately put Ryuden into a defensive mode. Try as he might, he could not shake Sadanoumi’s grip and they stayed locked together until both toppled over into the salt basket.

Aoiyama defeats Takarafuji – Takarafuji employed his preferred defend and extend gambit, but Aoiyama was relentless. Big Dan tried everything, but could not get Takarafuji out. He finally seemed to give up and just apply an old “heave-ho” to Takarafuji’s armpits and out he went.

Shohozan defeats Meisei – Its amazing to watch that leap forward Shohozan put into his tachiai, leaving Meisei struggling to set up a defense as they went chest to chest. As Meisei began to work a grip, Shohozan swung him down for the win. Solid sumo, but I sense that Shohozan is still frustrated, not getting his daily requirement of hitting in yet again today.

Onosho defeats Enho – What a surprise this match was! Onosho suddenly found his balance and his sumo on the same day, and gave Enho no room to fight, locking him up and marching forward for a decisive win.

Shodai defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin got the better of the tachiai, but suddenly found himself tangled up and unable to even reach for a mawashi grip. At the moment he figured out he was trapped, it was one step from the tawara, and Shodai advanced to 6-0 to start Hatsu. Wow.

Abi defeats Hokutofuji – In a battle of the neck bruisers, whomever landed first was bound to win. As is so often the case, Abi had contact before Hokutofuji could even plant his feet to attack. And immediate neck pull and turn, and Hokutofuji was out.

Okinoumi defeats Daieisho – Okinoumi seems to finally have his body and his chronic injuries sorted out, and he is unleashing a textbook of versatile sumo every day. I love how heavy his sumo is right now. Look at how he moves his feet. Damn solid stuff.

Asanoyama defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu threw plan A, B ad C into the mix in just a few seconds before Asanoyama got control of the match and shut down any further attempts to attack. Asanoyama certainly does look like he’s headed to higher rank, but I am sure he has a lot of improvement left in him.

Endo defeats Takayasu – Endo hammers another nail in the casket of Takayasu’s Ozeki career, with a definitive win over the struggling Tagonoura rikishi. It seems that both of Tagonoura’s kanban rikishi will be lost to treatable injuries.

Takakeisho defeats Mitakeumi – The tadpole battle was all Mitakeumi at the open, but Takakeisho masterfully deflected Mitakeumi’s finishing move to send him tumbling to the clay. Wow, nice rescue. Ozeki!

Goeido defeats Tamawashi – Goeido stayed low, stayed moving forward strongly and completely paved Tamawashi. This is the kind of sumo Goeido does so well, and it was an enormous treat for my final match in Tokyo.