As expected, Hakuho’s big toe injury is still causing him problems, and in an abundance of caution, he has decided to not compete in Osaka’s Haru basho. This is the first time in his career that he has been kyujo for two consecutive tournaments. He underwent surgery to repair this same toe in 2016, which caused him to miss the Aki basho.
While some fans may wonder why problems with a single toe might be cause to withdraw, in sumo all power is transmitted to the dohyo via the feet. The role of the toes, and most especially the “big toe” (or as the Japanese call it, the foot thumb) is crucial in maintaining balance while in motion.
This leaves Yokozuna Kakuryu as the only Yokozuna who will start the Haru basho.
We hope Hakuho is able to recover and re-join competition in May.
It’s nearly dawn on Thursday in Osaka, and later this morning the day 1 torikumi (fight card) will be drawn up. The deadline for the Yokozuna to decide if they are going to start the Haru basho is today, which allows the scheduling team to draw up a proper roster for the opening days of the tournament. Tachiai is expecting at least one Yokozuna to not start Haru, and for none of the Yokozuna to be competing by day 10.
Some reasons why:
Hakuho – Damage to both big toes caused him to withdraw from Hatsu. He has struggled to train, but has recently started test matches against rikishi in his own stable. At Hakuho’s age, significant re-injury to his right big toe could possibly end his career.
Kakuryu – Probably in the best condition of the three Yokozuna, his ankle is probably well enough to begin competition, but injury to his right hand on the final day of Hatsu is still causing him problems with establishing and maintaining a mawashi grip.
Kisenosato – His un-repaired left pectoral muscle injury may have no way to heal to full capacity. During the past year, Kisenosato has put himself on light duty in hopes of “Healing Naturally”. As a result, he has become de-conditioned, and no longer has the strength, balance or ring sense required to compete at Yokozuna levels.
For the past year, the sumo world has grappled with the specter of a tournament with no Yokozuna able to complete the entire 15 day competition. All three surviving grand-champions each suffer from chronic injuries that they nurse, bandage, brace or ignore to compete. But up until recently, at least one of them could muster enough healthy to oversee an entire 15 day basho. With the retirement of Harumafuji at the end of 2017, the roster of Yokozuna dropped to three, each of which come to Haru with medical issues. If no Yokozuna can compete for all 15 days, will this be the first tournament in years that features Ozeki as the highest rank competing on the final day?
In 2016, Hakuho underwent surgery to repair his big toe. It took months for him to recover enough to credibly compete once more. News during January’s Hatsu basho was that Hakuho had not only re-injured that toe, but the other one as well. He has been training as best as he can manage, but may be questionable for the entire tournament.
Japan’s great hope – Yokozuna Kisenosato, has not sought surgical treatment for his torn left pectoral muscle, and may have very few options to regain strength in his dominant left side. He has been admonished to stay out of competition until he is completely healed, and able to perform at Yokozuna levels again.
Rounding out the list is the eternally injured Kakuryu. He looked almost unbeatable during the first 10 days of Hatsu, until he injured his ankle and struggled to win. While he took surgery to repair damage to that ankle, but an awkard fall on the final day match against Goeido left his hand injured, and now he struggles to generate any grip strength.
While fans may worry about a tournament with no Yokozuna competing, this is in fact all part of the natural evolution of Sumo. We are in a transitional period where may well loved rikishi at all ranks reach the end of their careers, and retire. While we will miss all of the ones who say goodbye this year, it’s evident that at least two strong, eager classes of young men are ready to step up and take the ranks they vacate.
First and up-front, the normal Tachiai banzuke podcast has been delayed due to yours-truly being away on business. We will work to have it ready for your viewing and listening pleasure on Friday.
With the publication of the Haru banzuke, Hakuho has set a new record by appearing for 64 consecutive tournaments as a Yokozuna. The man continues to rack up records, and although age is starting to nip at his heels, he refuses to slow down.
Mitakeumi holds on for a fifth consecutive tournament at the Sekiwake slot. Sadly he has yet to summon the mojo to start an Ozeki campaign, but fans are impressed that he is proving quite resilient at this rank. He is joined by Hatsu yusho winner Tochinoshin. The big Georgian has been out of the Sekiwake slot since July of 2016, and returns in glorious fashion. Fans are eager to see if he can run his score to double digits once again.
As lksumo posted, his banzuke forecast was once again amazingly good, but what surprised me was just how far down former Ozeki Terunofuji dropped. Now down at Juryo 5 (which he shares with Gagamaru), his fans cringe and wonder if his damaged body can even hold this rank. We all want our kaiju back. Fortunately for Takekaze, his drop was only to Juryo 1, and with a winning record he will be back in the top division by May. The road for Uncle Sumo (Aminishiki) is almost the same, but with his damaged knees, the task is much harder.
Abi and Ryuden seem to be carrying the banner for the “Freshmen” (as I have taken to calling them). Ranked in mid-Maegashira, they are going to have their hands full with a number of veterans who had a terrible tournament in January. If Yoshikaze is over whatever illness plagued him at Hatsu, we are likely to see a lot of great, madcap sumo in the middle tier this time.
Of course I have my eye on the giant at Komusubi 1 East, our favorite boulder, Ichinojo. He was last in the San’yaku at Nagoya 2015, and has not been able to maintain consistant good sumo since. This could be a huge turning point for the Mongolian giant, and everyone is eager to see if he continues his excellent performance from Kyushu and Hatsu. It’s been an even longer drought for Chiyotairyu, who was last Komusubi in September of 2014.
Much further down, Tachiai congratulates Texas sumotori Wakaichiro on his return to Sandanme. After an outstanding performance at Hatsu, the man from Nagasaki finds himself Sandanme 89 East. We can be certain that his coaches at Musashigawa have been tuning him up for his second run at this rank.
A great tournament starts two weeks from today, and Tachiai’s wall-to-wall coverage starts now!
The Haru basho starts in 21 days. The tournament’s banzuke will be released a week from today.
Over the previous week, all rikishi have attended mandatory training classes conducted by the NSK. The goal has been to teach sumo’s athletes how to conduct themselves, in the hope of avoiding repeats of recent scandals involving bad conduct in public.
Yokozuna Kakuryu is struggling to recover from a pair of injuries suffered during January’s hatsu basho. He underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left ankle earlier but is hampered by a dislocated right ring finger injury suffered in a match against Goeido.
Kokonoe heya mainstay Chiyonokuni celebrated his recent marriage with a grand and broadly attended reception in Tokyo this past week.
Yokozuna Hakuho continues to face difficulties in training related to re-injury of his big toe. Last year, he underwent surgery to remove a bone chip from that toe, but injury during the January basho forced him to withdraw from the competition.
Grand Sumo Breakdown has published a new podcast: The First Yokozuna. Go forth and listen!
Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.
The rankings aren’t in doubt, but nonetheless there are many questions about this group. Which if any Yokozuna will show up? Kakuryu (ankle) and Hakuho (toes) are nursing injuries. Kisenosato has declared that the next tournament he enters will be his make-or-break one—perform at Yokozuna level for 15 days or retire. My guess a month before the basho is that Hakuho is very likely to participate, Kakuryu is also likely to compete, and Kisenosato will most likely sit this one out.
In the upper ranks, a kachi-koshi (winning record) is no guarantee that your position within the rank won’t change: witness the Yokozuna and Ozeki getting reshuffled based on their performances at the previous basho. This used to be the case for Sekiwake as well, with 8-7 East Sekiwake frequently moving to West Sekiwake for the subsequent tournament when a more deserving candidate for East Sekiwake existed. However, this seems to have changed about ten years ago (perhaps someone can shed light on the history), and an 8-7 record at Sekiwake (or Komusubi) now appears to guarantee retention of rank and side. A recent example of this is S1e Tamawashi not switching sides with S1w Takayasu even after their respective 8-7 and 12-3 performances at last year’s Haru basho. Long story short, 8-7 Mitakeumi will retain his S1e rank, with 14-1 yusho winner Tochinoshin joining him at Sekiwake on the West side. Ichinojo and Chiyotairyu, the highest-ranked maegashira with winning records at Hatsu, should take over the Komusubi slots vacated by Takakeisho and Onosho.
Endo has been ranked M1 twice before, but has never broken through to San’yaku. Is this his time? Arawashi would similarly tie his highest rank, while Chiyomaru has never been ranked above M8. Everyone else in this group has been ranked in San’yaku, most of them within the last couple of years.
A mix of rikishi in a holding pattern in this part of the banzuke (Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Chiyonokuni, Tochiozan), higher-ranked rikishi dropping down after rough Hatsu performances (Hokutofuji, Yoshikaze, Okinoumi), and up-and-comers making a move up the banzuke (Kagayaki, Abi, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Ryuden). Three of the rikishi promoted from Juryo for Hatsu put up good numbers and find themselves here.
Predicted demotions to Juryo: Terunofuji, Aminishiki, Takekaze. Predicted promotions: Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama. Often, this area of the banzuke contains a bunch of poor performances from the previous basho, but the only one who really fits that bill is Ikioi, who is dropping from M6 after putting up a 4-11 record. Kotoyuki, Daishomaru, and Sokokurai put up mediocre numbers, but Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami all earned kachi-koshi records at Hatsu. Nevertheless, they’ll be fighting for their Makuuchi lives again in Osaka, as everyone in this group needs a minimum of 6 wins (more for those closer to the bottom) to be safe from demotion.
Following the Hatsu basho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council head a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss the state of the sumo world. In prior meetings, the council has rendered opinions on a variety of subjects including Hakuho’s controversial tachiai habits. Some notable elements (thanks to Herouth):
Kakuryu has passed his “compete or else” challenge satisfactorily. Council members were concerned about his week 2 fade. They urged him to rest up, heal up and return ready for Osaka.
Kisenosato was once again admonished not to return to the dohyo until he is fit and capable of Yokozuna-grade sumo. Kisenosato can’t keep dropping mid-basho. Next time he does that, the YDC will “make a decision” (choose one of its available tools such as reprimand or recommendation to retire).
Hakuho is encouraged to heal up and return for Osaka. While public sentiment has turned negative on the dai-Yokozuna, the fact is he is still the strongest and most capable rikishi in any tournament he enters, and the NSK needs him to continue competing if he is at all able. They cautioned him to restrain from using his habitual harizashi+violent kachiage for future matches. As we have seen, this recommended change in his fighting style left Hakuho off tempo and unfocused.
In other news, Hakuho’s toes are improving, and he is practicing shiko (leg stomps) at the stable.
Please note that there is no jungyo promotional tour until after the March basho in Osaka, so rikishi are focusing on training, and participating in a handful of promotional events around Tokyo and Osaka.