Reports from Tokyo today that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee have agreed to postpone this year’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The hope is to re-schedule the games for the summer of 2021, provided the threat of COVID-19 has been controlled by then. This move marks the biggest pandemic triggered postponement or cancellation in the world of sports to date, and comes on the heels of multiple national olympic teams requesting cancelation or postponement of the games. This is a huge blow to Japan, that has spent billions of Yen preparing for the games, building stadiums and venues, and Japanese businesses across the country, who had been gearing up for the massive influx of world tourists to enjoy the games.
For the world of sumo, it’s open knowledge that Yokozuna Hakuho was seeking to crown his matchless career with a ceremonial dohyo-iri at the Tokyo games this summer, after which it was expected he would retire. With the delay of the Olympics until next year, this throws the entire time table into doubt. Hakuho boosters would rightly reply, “Well, he can just stay in the sport and continue to dominate”. But as we saw at the end of Haru, Hakuho was physically struggling, though he continued to dominate. Sumo is an intense, combat driven sport, and the damage to the human body of years of competition is cumulative. We can imagine that Hakuho’s skill has not decreased on bit, but his body may be telling him that he is nearly done. The sumo public has no insight to just what challenges he faces every day he competes.
Team Tachiai hopes the re-scheduled Olympics in 2021 take place in a period of celebration as the world emerges from the pandemic, and the public across the globe turn to international sporting competition with hope and enthusiasm.
A smashing ending to the March tournament, it was a Yokozuna battle in the final match of the final day. Both of them fought well, and Hakuho prevailed. Congratulations to the dai-Yokozuna, Hakuho Sho, “The Boss” for his 44th yusho. In some future age, there may be a rikishi that can equal or succeed what Hakuho has done, but I can’t conceive of a time or a rikishi who could best the marks and records he continues to exceed.
It seems that with his day 15 win over Takakeisho, Asanoyama has been deemed worth of Ozeki promotion. This is excellent news as with a single, injured and now kadoban Ozeki, and two remaining Yokozuna both nearing the end of their careers, it was high time to promote someone. I recall that for both Tochinoshin and Takakeisho they held the promotion back for one tournament to check for “good performance”. They both made the cut the next basho, but I am glad that they were flexible given the situation. The new Ozeki is young, healthy and strong. He is a convert to yotsu-zumo and he continues to gain skill. Long time readers will note the tag, “Asanoyama ❤️ Sumo” that has adorned some posts featuring him. When he first entered the top division, he would bring the same positive attitude to the dohyo no matter who he faced. He could get completely whacked and thrown into the shimpan, he would mount the dohyo to bow, and you could just read his face. “Man, what a great day to do sumo! I can’t wait for tomorrow.” With that kind of attitude, there was little doubt he would find his way higher in time. Congratulation to the new Ozeki.
Ishiura defeats Aoiyama – Nice up and duck tachiai from Ishiura, it bought him some time as Aoiyama had to shift to chase him down, and delayed Big Dan’s opening attack. As Aoiyama closed in, Ishiura deftly landed a left hand grip, and kept the match on his terms. What a surprise to see these two go chest to chest, and an even bigger surprise to see Ishiura prevail with a yorikiri. Ishiura finishes Haru 9-6.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Daiamami – Second match in a row where the smaller rikishi opts for a mawashi battle, and scores a win. Just seconds into the match, Terutsuyoshi has morozashi, and hapless Daiamami can find no way to use his superior height and mass to any advantage. Terutsuyoshi finishes Haru 9-6
Shimanoumi defeats Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu gave it a strong start, but when it was clear that Shimanoumi had the match in hand, Chiyotairyu eased up and took his 7th loss. Shimanoumi finishes Haru at 9-6.
Nishikigi defeats Sadanoumi – An uncharacteristically slow tachiai from Sadanoumi, and he allowed Nishikigi to land a left hand inside grip that quickly turned to morozashi. Nishikigi engaged a lift-and-shift attack for the win. Both finish Haru at 6-9.
Kotonowaka defeats Tochinoshin – A huge back and forth battle, which saw Tochinoshin struggle for grip and body placement. He allowed Kotonowaka to box him in early, and found himself without many paths to execute offensive sumo. The match ended when Tochinoshin bucked his hips to grab the left hand outside grip, and it looks like that bandaged right knee collapsed. Painful sumo to watch, without a doubt. Kotonowaka ends Haru with 9-6.
Kagayaki defeats Meisei – Our first Darwin match goes to Kagayaki. Mr Fundamentals kept Meisei centered, and kept his feet heavy, thrusting at all times. It’s the kind of sumo that we see from Kagayaki when he is dialed in, and he finishes Haru 8-7. This is his 3rd kachi-koshi tournament in a row, and the highest rank he has ever had a winning record over 15 days.
Tochiozan defeats Myogiryu – It does my heart good to see Tochiozan muster one last win in the top division before he possibly ends up in Juryo for the next tournament. To be honest, it was as much Myogiryu’s slippiotoshi as anything Tochiozan did, but the win still counts.
Ryuden defeats Azumaryu – Azumaryu had the early advantage in this match, but could not finish it in the opening moments. It was great to see Ryuden battle back, and inch at a time and slowly gain control of the fight. Really nice endurance, persistence and incremental sumo from Ryuden today. He finishes Haru 6-9.
Abi defeats Kaisei – Abi went for the double arm thrust, and quickly discovered Issac Newton was in control of this match. The mass that is Kaisei was in motion, and no amount of force that Abi could muster would have a meaningful effect. But Abi deftly moved aside and let momentum do 90% of the work, finishing Kaisei with a well placed shove. Abi finishes Haru 7-8.
Enho defeats Ikioi – This was Ikioi’s first encounter with Enho’s pixie magic, and for the uninitiated, it can be quite the shock. That shallow right hand grip look like it was painfully close to Ikioi’s dangly parts, and the fact that it was the subject of a torque and pull my have given Ikioi a moment of grave concern. The kimarite is listed as shitatenage, but could also be called (at least in English) a “twisting genital pull down”. Anyone with higher skill in Japanese want to take a crack at that for me? Enho ends Haru 6-9.
Onosho defeats Mitakeumi – I am very happy that Onosho ended Haru with a 9-6, and he looked very dominant today. But I was hoping that Mitakeumi would hit 11, and force a slot to open for him. But a week 2 fade has always been part of his sumo, and he lost 3 of his last 4 against the likes of Takanosho and Aoiyama. Onosho finishes Haru with a winning record and a special prize. I look forward to him being a harrier to the named ranks in the next basho.
Yutakayama defeats Chiyomaru – Our next Darwin match, “Big Unit” Yutakayama stood up to Chiyomaru’s thrusting attack, and returned it measure for measure. Unable to move that much mass, Yutakayama gave ground and let Chiyomaru’s naturally foward center of gravity do some of the work for him. Risky move for a backward-motion pull down, but Yutakayama made it work. The gumbai went to Chiyomaru, but a monoii reversed that and gave the win to the Yutakayama. He finishes with an 8-7 kachi-koshi, and I am eager to see him join Onosho in being semi-permanent members of the next generation joi-jin.
Tamawashi defeats Tokushoryu – Everyone wanted Hatsu yusho winner Tokushoryu to close out with a win, except for Tamawashi. Tamawashi has been fighting poorly this basho, but managed to overpower Tokushoryu and score his 6th win to finish Haru 6-9.
Okinoumi defeats Kotoshogiku – The final Darwin match was two long serving veterans, who must be starting to think, “I am getting to old for this”. Although Kotoshogiku was able to get his hug-n-chug attack running, his damaged knees cannot support more than a fraction of the attack’s full power. Okinoumi circled away and when Kotoshogiku slipped, Okinoumi followed through and took him to the clay. Okinoumi finishes kachi-koshi at 8-7.
Kiribayama defeats Daieisho – Daieisho came out strong and aggressive, pushing Kiribayama back to the bales in the first 3 steps. Facing an immedate loss, Kiribayama pivoted into a last ditch uwatenage, which found its mark and won the match for Kiribayama. He ends Haru 9-6.
Takarafuji defeats Endo – Takarafuji shut down Endo’s preferred weapon, the left hand frontal grip, and dispatched him shortly after the tachiai. Interesting variation from a rikishi who typically will prolong a match and wear his opponent down. Takarafuji ends with a well deserved 9-6 record, and Endo finishes Haru make-koshi at 7-8.
Shohozan defeats Hokutofuji – A Shohozan henka was only partially effective, but when the two re-engaged, there was a well placed face slap that seemed to distract Hokutofuji at the exact moment Hokutofuji wanted to get his left hand inside. Shohozan showed outstanding mobility and kept Hokutofuji from really setting up much offense, and finished Shohozan with a move to the side and a shove over the bales. Both end Haru with 4-11 records, and badly need to return to Tokyo and regroup.
Takanosho defeats Shodai – I think Takanosho surprised Shodai today. Takanosho had Shodai turned to his side and was pushing from Shodai’s left two steps after the tachiai. From that position, even the best struggle to defend. But Shodai had the sense to try a desperation throw as he was headed out. It failed and the win went to Takanosho, who finishes Haru with a blistering 12-3, and the fighting spirit prize.
Asanoyama defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho worked hard to keep Asanoyama away from his belt, and for the most part it worked. But all of the time and effort on defense meant the Ozeki generated precious little offense, and he spent the majority of the match reacting to Asanoyama. Asanoyama stayed focused and exploited an awkward step by Takakeisho. The win seems to have clinched his Ozeki promotion while simultaneously sending Takakeisho into make-koshi, and kadoban. Head home and heal up, Grand Tadpole. We await your next tournament. Asanoyama finishes Haru 11-4.
Hakuho defeats Kakuryu – Both had a lot of action in this match, but the defining moment was Kakuryu attempting to change his grip, and Hakuho getting lower than I have seen him in several months and driving forward like some over powered battle crab. I am very happy to see Hakuho can still summon sumo like that at least once a tournament. He finishes Haru 13-2, and takes home his 44th yusho. I think this is the 3rd oldest yusho in history, as Hakuho is 35 years old now, and still able to dominate the sport.
With the Haru basho in the history books, we pause to thank our readers, the Japan Sumo Association, and the sumo work for 15 days of much needed distraction from the increasingly worrisome headlines of the world around us. Against all odds they successfully conducted and completed an intensive event spanning more than 2 weeks in an age of a virulent disease. Nobody got sick (that we know of), and everyone gave it their best in spite of an empty hall that, in the beginning, seemed quite spooky. I am personally quite grateful for the competition, and the spectacle of sumo. Thank you all.
And thus we come to the end of it, the silent basho. We have grown oddly comfortable with now cheering crowd, the noises of the rikishi preparing for battle oddly loud on the video, and the sights of row after row of empty boxes. It was a bold move to hold the tournament without spectators, and the issue orders to the stables to sequester then athletes. But it seems, against the odds, it worked. The final day is upon us, and as far as we can tell nobody contracted or transmitted COVID-19, and there was a fair amount of quality sumo.
The yusho will be decide in the final match of the day, between Yokozuna Hakuho and Yokozuna Kakuryu, both come into the day with 12-2 records. The winner gets the hardware, and the loser gets dirty. But my focus is on Asanoyama. In one of the most brutal Darwin matches of my sumo fandom, we have this battle between the one surviving Ozeki, Takakeisho, and the Ozeki presumptive, Asanoyama. If Takakeisho wins, it will be his 8th, and he will avoid kadoban, but Asanoyama will have no hope of making Ozeki following the Osaka basho. But not to fear, should this be the case, his chances look the same for the next tournament, assumed to the May in Tokyo. Should Asanoyama win, he might get Ozeki, but Takakeisho would be kadoban, needed into get 8 wins to retain Ozeki in May. Of course its possible that Asanoyama wins, the promotion committee says “try again”, and we get a horrific day 15 match in May where it’s Asanoyama’s promotion vs Takakeisho’s holding on to Ozeki. Note to the NSK – this is not an outcome you want.
What We Are Watching Day 15
Ishiura vs Aoiyama – Now out of the yusho race, Big Dan gets a final match against the already kachi-koshi Ishiura, with nothing to be decided save rank on the next banzuke. Aoiyama has not had a kachi-koshi tournament above Maegashira 3 since 2015, so I have to wonder about his push to higher rank. Maybe he’s resolved all of his troubles and is ready to shine?
Daiamami vs Terutsuyoshi – With Daiamami likely headed to Juryo, he gets one last shot at Terutsuyoshi. This will be the 6th match of their careers, and Terutsuyoshi is behind 2-3. Terutsuyoshi already has 8 wins, so this is all about rank on the next Banzuke.
Chiyotairyu vs Shimanoumi – Both kachi-koshi, both fighting for their next rank. I would expect Chiyotairyu to be a bit less intense today, at his size he does not have to go full power and roll the dice on an injury.
Sadanoumi vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi is still looking for safety to stay off of that dreaded Juryo barge, and he has one last chance against speed demon Sadanoumi. He holds a 9-7 career advantage over Sadanoumi, but its pretty clear Nishikigi is not quite himself, either.
Kotonowaka vs Tochinoshin – After losing 5 of his first 6, former Ozeki Tochinoshin rallied to 6-8, and a win today against newcomer Kotonowaka would give him a small make-koshi at 7-8. I expect that although Kotonowaka has his 8 wins, he will bring everything he can muster to his first ever match with Tochinoshin.
Meisei vs Kagayaki – Our first Darwin match of the day. Only one of them will leave the dohyo with a winning record. Meisei holds a 3-0 career advantage over Kagayaki, so this might be a tough day for Mr Fundamentals.
Myogiryu vs Tochiozan – Both are beat up veterans that are deeply make-koshi, and for Tochiozan, it looks like a ride on the Juryo demotion barge of the damned no matter what happens today. They have 28 career matches, which they have split 14-14.
Ryuden vs Azumaryu – Another pair of grizzled veterans with losing records, each having a matching 5-9 to start day 15. For Azumaryu, it’s likely he has a seat next to Tochiozan on the Juryo barge.
Kaisei vs Abi – I think one is fairly simple, Kaisei has his 8, and wants no part of risking injury in this tournament for another win. So he may put up a token fight, and allow Abi to finish Haru with 7-8. At Kaisei’s size, a awkward fall could be a career ender.
Enho vs Ikioi – First ever match between Enho and trusty battle wagon Ikioi. Ikioi comes into day 15 with 8 wins on the board, so he will be promoted for May, but I expect him to be full power against Enho, as this is their first ever match.
Onosho vs Mitakeumi – Another tadpole head to head, and I think this might have a lot of fireworks. Mitakeumi may want to force another San’yaku slot, and it’s possible that 11 wins might help make the case. Onosho has only ever won once against the “Original Tadpole”, so today might be the day to show his improved sumo.
Yutakayama vs Chiyomaru – Second Darwin match, and much as I love Chiyomaru, I am all in for Yutakayama. My hope is he stays in the joi-jin for most of this year and provides a constant source of competition to Asanoyama, as it will drive them both to higher performance. He holds a 5-2 career advantage over Chiyomaru, who has done pretty well since coming back from kyujo.
Tamawashi vs Tokushoryu – Both are make-koshi, and I think both are going to be much lower down the banzuke for May. I think we may see Tokushoryu bounce back, now that the pressure and distractions associated with being a yusho winner have passed. Tamawashi holds a 9-7 career edge.
Okinoumi vs Kotoshogiku – The second Darwin match pits two long serving veterans, both of whom will prefer a mawashi battle, going head to head for kachi-koshi. Only one of them will exit the match with their 8th win. Kotoshogiku’s career advantage is 16-9 over Okinoumi.
Daieisho vs Kiribayama – Both are 8-6 at the start of the final day, so this is all about rank. Daieisho has a strong claim to any open San’yaku slot, but another win would help boost his upward momentum.
Takarafuji vs Endo – Endo is 7-7, and I would bet you a tall glass of beer that he gets his 8 against Takarafuji today. Simply put, there is no reason for Takarafuji to press for win #9, and with his penchant for efficiency, I can see him being especially defensive today to ensure a safe end to Haru.
Hokutofuji vs Shohozan – How depressing is this match? It’s like watching the end of “Ole Yeller” in 4k with AR. Skip the match gentlemen and catch the early train back to Tokyo. Enjoy many beers on the way.
Takanosho vs Shodai – Upstart Takanosho vs Shodai? Yes please! This will be a nice match as I think Shodai is showing us some of his best sumo ever. He is kachi-koshi at Sekiwake, and has shown that he can take a pounding an still put your face in the clay. But Takanosho is on a bit of a hot streak, and may find a way to overwhelm the man in blue. Takanosho was unable to beat Shodai in either of their prior matches.
Takakeisho vs Asanoyama – As outlined above, a high stakes match. It will come down to if Asanoyama can get a hold of the Grand Tadpole. If he can land a grip, its his match all the way. I know Takakeisho is hurt, and trying to conserve what he can of his damaged body, but if there was every a day to fire up the wave action tsuppari system, it’s today. We promise you can take 6 weeks off to heal up.
Hakuho vs Kakuryu – This one is for the cup. A surprisingly low yusho score given who is fighting it out in the final. Hakuho leads their series 43-8, so this is a tough one for Kakuryu. Good luck to Big K and The Boss. Thanks for a great basho!
As it so frequently does, the world of sumo has simplified matters going into the final day. The yusho race as been reduced into a single winner take all match between the Yokozuna, the winner takes the cup. Asanoyama’s Ozeki bid will probably fall short, as his match went to a monoii, and the judges overturned the gyoji’s gumbai (and rightly so). There are a slew of Darwin matches for the final day, and a number of deserving rikishi scored their 8th win today, to reach safety. Let’s dive into the action.
Kotonowaka defeats Nishikigi – Kotonowaka overcame poor body position at the tachiai to pick up his 8th win. Nishikigi’s attempt to change his grip opened door for Kotonowaka to go on the attack, and he rapidly put Nishikigi on the clay. That’s kachi-koshi for Kotonowaka in his first tournament in the top division.
Meisei defeats Ishiura – Ishiura lost this match when he attempted to set up a throw and released forward pressure, and Meisei read it correctly and charged ahead. Meisei improves to 7-7, and will enjoy a lovely Darwin match on the final day.
Shimanoumi defeats Ikioi – Ikioi gave it a full measure today, but Shimanoumi had acres of motivation, and a keen desire to stay out of the Darwin mosh pit on day 15. If you want to see two very strong people grapple and struggle to overpower each other, this match is for you. Both men exit the match 8-6 with well deserved kachi-koshi results for March.
Chiyotairyu defeats Kotoshogiku – Chiyotairyu gave ground at the tachiai, and pulled Kotoshogiku forward and down for a quick win to reach the safety of kachi-koshi. Chiyotairyu opened strong, but lost 5 of his last 7, and is fortunate to get 8 in March. Kotoshogiku drops to 7-7 and joins the Darwin squad.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Chiyomaru – Terutsuyoshi did a masterful job of disrupting Chiyomaru’s preferred attack mode, and took control of the match when he got beside the big man and danced him to the bales. I liked the little “get away from me kid!” slap as Chiyomaru’s overwhelming inertia drove him stumbling across the bales. Terutsuyoshi: kachi-koshi, Chiyomaru: Darwin time.
Tochiozan defeats Azumaryu – Tochiozan manages to piece together his second win of the tournament. You can see him losing power as Azumaryu increases his attack, but Tochiozan found some reservoir of genki and gave his opponent a final vigorous shove for the win. Both were deeply make-koshi before this match, so it’s down to 5-9 for Azumaryu and 2-12 for Tochiozan.
Sadanoumi defeats Shohozan – The timing on that tachiai was odd, and may have contributed to the lack of real offense from Shohozan. Sadanoumi uses his speed to get a hold of Shohozan at the tachiai, and escorts him out to improve to 6-8.
Tamawashi defeats Daiamami – Nice to see a little flavor of the Tamawashi of old. He came off the shikiri-sen looking to attack, and was able to get inside at once and apply a lot of energy into Daiamami. Both end day 14 at 5-9.
Myogiryu defeats Enho – Nearly everyone has done a solid job of shutting down Enho’s two main weapons, “Grabby and Squeezy”. They keep him at distance and hit him repeatedly. Today Myogiryu applied this well, but Enho did manage to get a left hand inside grip. As Enho pivoted to throw, Myogiryu expertly shut it down and send Enho to the clay for his 9th loss. Both are deeply make-koshi, and will end March with stiff demotions.
Tochinoshin defeats Yutakayama – Yutakayama, for some reason, focused high – putting all of his force against Tochinoshin’s face and neck. Tochinoshin focused on Yutakayama’s body, and got good results. Yutakayama has massive potential, but is still working out some of his mechanics, and Tochinoshin’s experience got him a much needed, and well deserved win. Yutakayama drops to 7-7, and joins the Darwin mosh pit.
Takanosho defeats Mitakeumi – Impressive that Takanosho overpowered Mitakeumi at the tachiai, I was not expecting that. Takanosho followed up with a solid right hand ottsuke, pinning Mitakeumi’s arms to his body, and shutting down any real offense. Mitakeumi went to shift his grip, and that just furthered Takanosho’s advantage. Realizing he was almost out of space, Mitakeumi tried a pull, which released forward pressure and allowed Takanosho to drive him from the ring. Nice sumo today from Takanosho, he advances to 11-3. In spite of his loss, Mitakeumi is in double digits for the first time sine his Aki 2019 yusho (12-3).
Kiribayama defeats Okinoumi – Kiribayama took control of this match at the tachiai with a left hand inside grip, and moments later converted it to an uwatehineri. The win gives him a kachi-koshi at his highest ever rank. He has been kachi-koshi in 8 of his last 9 tournaments. Wow! Okinoumi drops to 7-7 and joins the Darwin group.
Tokushoryu defeats Kaisei – A bit more of the Tokushoryu magic came out today. He did a masterful job of controlling Kaisei’s Newtonian sumo, and was able to execute his step back / pivot / thrust finishing move that fans loved in January. Tokushoryu improves to 4-10.
Daieisho defeats Ryuden – Amazing the amount of aggressive sumo that Daieisho output today. Ryuden is no easy mark, but Daieisho battered him with vigor, leaving Ryuden really no means to counter attack. That’s Daieisho’s 8th win, and kachi-koshi for March.
Hokutofuji defeats Kagayaki – Hokutofuji finds his tachiai after being a bit dull for most of March, and blasts Kagayaki out in a hurry, dropping him to 7-7 and placing him in the Darwin group.
Abi defeats Endo – Abi stood him up and then pulled him down. Given Abi’s height advantage and long arms, if he can get that set up, there is little that anyone of Endo’s stature can do to prevent it. Endo drops to 7-7 and is likewise relegated to the Darwin group.
Shodai defeats Takarafuji – Surprisingly sharp tachiai from Shodai today, I think it surprised Takarafuji as well, as Shodai was immedately on the advance, and Takarafuji had no chance to set up any manner of defense or deflection. Shodai now kachi-koshi, and he retains a Sekiwake slot. Nicely done.
Takakeisho defeats Onosho – Onosho had the early advantage, but Takakeisho got a moment to get both arms primed for a double arm blast, and that was really all it took to change the tone of this match. This is the first of many in the years to come, and I am glad they are going to battle it out as mainstays of the new era of sumo. This was a must-win match for Takakeisho, and he improves to 7-7. He has Asanoyama on the final day, and the contest more or less comes down to kadoban vs Ozeki promotion, I would guess.
Hakuho defeats Aoiyama – I am not sure I would call it nerves, but Aoiyama took his time to set up the V-Twin attack, and when he did, Hakuho so expertly deflected it that Aoiyama could not keep his footing. This kind of mistake Hakuho exploits with great skill and energy, and Big Dan was flat on the clay a moment later. Hakuho’s win sets the stage for the final match of the basho to decide the yusho.
Kakuryu defeats Asanoyama – Absolute showcase of Kakuryu’s reactive sumo. Asanoyama brought strong, careful offense today, and the Yokozuna absorbed it all. Asanoyama kept pouring it on, and for a long stretch he saw victory before him. Loading a throw at the bales, he pivoted just as Kakuryu pivoted as well. The went down in tandem, but poor body control saw Asanoyama’s left arm touch down first, costing him the match. That was solid sumo from the Ozeki candidate, but this means he cannot reach 12 wins to reach 33 over 3 tournaments this march. Will it matter? He showed excellent power, and great skill in this match in spite of the loss. Kakuryu joins Hakuho at 12-2, and will contest for the cup on the final match of the tournament.