Tokyo November Day 1 Preview

Welcome back sumo fans, it’s honbasho time once more, and I could not be more excited. With all of the uncertainty swirling around in the news, this basho is a true gift. For the next 15 days, we can set the world aside and embrace what may be the ultimate personal sport. Yes, we are facing a second straight basho with all active Yokozuna kyujo, and for many that means “basho-light”. Bollocks, I say! The next generation of sumo is now on the stage, and fighting it out for the future. Would it be better if we had a healthy and genki Hakuho and Kakuryu knocking heads? Of course. But both of those wonderful athletes are doing all they can to squeeze the last drops of their career into their sumo, and nothing can stop that.

As I cast my gaze at the torikumi for day 1, I see fantastic matches, and once again it could be anyone’s basho. As readers of the blog who watch or listen to our podcasts know, I favor Asanoyama to dominate this time, and to start talk of him as the next Yokozuna. The jitters of September are likely gone, and his disappointment likely left him hardened mentally, and focused on his goal. I see his primary foil right now as Shodai, who may struggle this tournament after all of the distractions of his period as shin-Ozeki and all of the media appearances, the well wishers and the general celebration the past six weeks. Takakeisho is the dark-horse this time. I expect him to get at least 10 if he does not get hurt, but I predict he will be chasing Shodai and Asanoyama for a fair portion of the tournament.

On to the preview!

What We Are Watching Day 1

Shimanoumi vs Chiyonoo – With 3 top division rikishi kyujo, there is a banzuke imbalance, and we will see visitors from Juryo daily until someone gets hurts and withdraws. First up is Chiyonoo – recent fans may not quite know who he is, he has ben a Juryo mainstay since 2013, save for an injury fueled tour of Makushita starting last year. Now at Juryo 1, a winning record would see him back in the top division for the first time since 2017. These two have split their prior 8 matches.

Chiyoshoma vs Akua – Unrepentant henka master and all around sumo heel Chiyoshoma has managed to climb back to the top division, where he has been a regular since 2016. He is going up against Akua on day one who has done his time in Juryo, and the meat grinder that is Makushita. Akua can be expected to attack straight ahead, and Chiyoshoma will be evading and looking to exploit any advantage he can find.

Chiyotairyu vs Kotonowaka – Kotonowaka is a good competitor for Chiyotairyu. Kotonowaka is massive enough he can absorb the cannon-ball tachiai, and both of them are excellent at tsuki-oshi sumo. I expect this to come down to who can get their hands inside and against their opponents chest first. Kotonowaka took their only prior match (in March at the silent basho).

Chiyonokuni vs Ichinojo – I must admit I am very happy, very excited to see Chiyonokuni return, yet again, to the top division. Like so many rikishi, he developed injuries to his knees, and has struggled ever since. His sumo attacks are rapid, focused and frequently overwhelming. I sometimes refer to him as the “Grumpy Badger”. Of course, who do you give him as a day 1 opponent? Yeah, “The Boulder”! I am keen to see which form of Ichinojo shows up to this tournament – the fluffy ice cream gourmet? Or the terrifyingly huge pony tosser?

Hoshoryu vs Kaisei – Hoshoryu has his work cut out for him, he has gotten about as far as he can with his current blend of body, sumo and spirit. I believe he is not anywhere near his potential, but he needs to find a path to take the next step. Maybe becoming some kind of hulking gym-monster like what happened to Ura, becoming a butter ball like what happened to Mitakeumi, or just becoming some kind of raging demon like Yoshikaze. He faces off against the ultra-massive Kaisei for his first match, having lost their only prior meeting.

Yutakayama vs Enho – Yutakayama looked very shaky prior to the Aki basho, and in fact he withdrew on day 8 and ended the tournament with a 2-13 finish. The big question must be, has he had a chance to recover? So many rikishi keep training, hoping to “work through” the problem, but never really recover their sumo. He has won all 4 of his prior matches with Enho, who seems to have hit some kind of wall with his sumo, much to the dismay of his fans.

Sadanoumi vs Meisei – I categorize this as a “stock and trade” match. A pair of hard core Makuuchi rikishi slugging it out in the middle of the torikumi. Sadanoumi has an edge of speed, Meisei an edge in strength. Both will bring an unknown quantity of ring rust to their first match.

Ryuden vs Kotoeko – Ryuden has been puttering around in the middle of the banzuke for the past year, always straggling the kachi/make-koshi line. These two last fought on day 9 in September, and it was Kotoeko’s match.

Tokushoryu vs Terutsuyoshi – Grizzled veterans like Tokushoryu tend to have a fair measure of ring rust to shake off before they can get up to real fighting form. I am sure he has sparring with Ura and Shimanoumi to tune up, but Terutsuyoshi is certain to come into the basho looking for blood. Probably going to be a short, intense match.

Aoiyama vs Endo – Once again Endo is expected to be competing with a nagging injury, having gone kyujo from Aki before the final weekend. He will have his hands full with Big Dan and the brutal V-Twin attack. Aoiyama tends to not have ring rust, and just shows up day one and slaps people around. He holds an 8-5 career lead over Endo, so there could be a fair amount of pain in this one.

Tochinoshin vs Tamawashi – Thirty two career matches! That’s some huge history. Tochinoshin holds an 21-11 leave on that list, but it will all come down to the condition of Tochinoshin’s right knee. If he’s good enough, he will dominate most matches. But in the past year we have seen him increasingly having to resort to “weak hand” sumo to score wins, as his body declares its had enough.

Takarafuji vs Kotoshoho – A solid first time match on opening day. We get rising start Kotoshoho at his highest ever rank going against top division mainstay Takarafuji. Takarafuji’s preferred approach is what I call “defend and extend” – drag the match out and wait for your opponent to tire or make a mistake. Kotoshoho will look for an early slap / pull down, which is a long shot given Takarafuji’s epic defensive foot placement and stability.

Hokutofuji vs Myogiryu – I truly, honestly want to see Hokutofuji fight and win this tournament. He has really solid sumo technique, but far too frequently he produces what I call “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”. He loses with overwhelming vigor. Has a 5-5 record against Myogiryu, who has won 2 of their last 3.

Tobizaru vs Okinoumi – I am very excited to see this high energy dynamo take his first match against Okinoumi, and his encyclopedic catalog of sumo attack and defense techniques. I look for Tobizaru to bring intensity, and for Okinoumi to respond with calm, efficient sumo. A great match for day 1.

Terunofuji vs Kagayaki – Apologies to Kagayaki.

Daieisho vs Takanosho – Daieisho is one of these rikishi who has been just a half step short a few times too many. I think he has the seeds of greatness, but needs to find that extra element he does not quite have yet. He is 1-3 against Takanosho, who seems to have a natural power to his sumo, and is clearly going to enjoy his posting to Sekiwake.

Mitakeumi vs Onosho – Thank you schedulers, I get a tadpole fight on opening day! If he’s healthy, the Original Tadpole (Mitakeumi) will be a heavy favorite (see what i did there?). Both of these guys do tend to have a fair amount of ring rust for the first few days, so we may see some sloppy sumo in this match.

Shodai vs Wakatakakage – Hey, shin-Ozeki Shodai, you get to face Mr Unpronounceable for your warm up in a battle of the blue mawashi. This is the first match between these two, and I think it will be interesting to watch Wakatakakage negotiate his first trip to the top echelon of Makuuchi. I fully expect Shodai to win this one.

Kiribayama vs Asanoyama – Kiribayama has yet to take a match from Asanoyama, but I doubt that Kiribayama will let that slow him down in the least. Asanoyama avoided the joint training session in the Kokugikan two weeks ago, preferring to train at his home stable. We will see today if that choice was to his advantage, as Kiribayama will likely be a tough opener for him.

Takakeisho vs Takayasu – An excellent choice for the final match of the day. I have to wonder how well recovered Takayasu is from his injuries last year and earlier this year. Healthy he tends to overwhelm Takakeisho, but he will need to be careful not to indulge himself in some of his favorite attacks, which tend to leave him off balance. Takakeisho is a master of disruption, and will have you out of the ring or on the clay if you give him the slightest opening.

Day 1 Torikumi Published, Yokozuna Hakuho Kyujo for November

A short time ago, the Japan Sumo Association published the match list (torikumi) for the top division days 1 and 2. Notably missing is Yokozuna Hakuho, who has chosen to be kyujo from the November tournament. While he was active in joint practice leading up to the tournament, he is just a few weeks past surgery. It is quite likely that following the practice sessions, he realized his body could not yet endure 15 days of full power sumo, and wisely chose to bide his time.

This makes the second “No-kazuna” tournament in a row, and once again the door is open for an enterprising Ozeki to open a bid to ascend to sumo’s highest rank. We can expect ultimatums from the YDC, threatening corrective action against both grand champions should they fail to mount the dohyo for 15 days in January. This lies in stark contrast to some recent Yokozuna. But I admit it seems clear to this sumo fan that the Hakuho and Kakuryu are nearly at the end of their fighting careers. We wish them both good health and a return to dominance in the new year.

JOINT PRACTICE!

“No Kensho…no Jungyo…no degeiko…no…”

This song has been playing on a loop inside my head since March, as events and gatherings that I had taken for granted were ripped away.

 

Slowly, activities are coming back in our own lives. And today, the sumo world took another step back to normalizing as several heavyweights gathered for the first joint practice session in half a year. No name is bigger than Hakuho, obviously. Kakuryu was not there, but stablemate Kiribayama was, along with Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, and yusho holder, Shodai.

Hakuho didn’t just sit on the sidelines, hamming for the camera, either. He got in a little action, here doing butsukari with Shodai and practicing his tachiai with Ikioi. It’s great to see the Boss back in a mawashi, offering his chest and a few pointers to up-and-comers. But now that he’s gotten a few pictures in it, hopefully he folded it neatly and left it in a corner to gather dust for a few more weeks. There’s no need to push it.

Aki Day 15 Highlights

Day 15 was an absolutely fantastic day of sumo. In contrast to some previous tournaments, no one really phoned it in today. It seems that everyone found they had a bit of energy left in the tank, and they threw it all into their final match. It was possibly the best day of sumo, all around, of the tournament.

First and foremost, my congratulations to Shodai. I know readers of this blog think I dislike this fellow, but my complaints were always technical. His sumo was sloppy, and his tachiai was ineffective. But following his 3-12 record last Aki, he changed. These kinds of changes are never on accident, they are the result of hard, relentless effort. Yokozuna Kakuryu’s influence can now clearly be seen in Shodai’s sumo with one critical difference – Shodai does not yet suffer the chronic injuries that will soon usher Kakuryu into his post competition life. My compliments to Kakuryu for finding a proper student, and nothing but praise to Shodai for taking this knowledge and making it his own through relentless work, and I would guess toughening up some degree. Word has come that he will be minted Ozeki in the days to come, and I think if he can stay healthy, he will make a formidable Ozeki for years to come.

Several of today’s matches had the sad overtones of a goodbye. We may have seen final matches from Kotoshogiku and Shohozan. I continue to wonder how much longer Ikioi is going to endure as well. These mainstays of sumo have given their all to the sport, but it seems their bodies are telling their unquenchable fighting spirit that it is time to move on.

While the focus is (rightly) on celebrating Shodai’s yusho, and his elevation to Ozeki, it’s worth noting the Ozeki yusho drought continues. Both Asanoyama and Takakeisho finished with fine scores (10-5, 12-3) worthy of an Ozeki. But both must have considered this no-kazuna basho to be their best chance at starting the promotion process by taking the cup. For Asanoyama, the pre-basho pressure was huge, and I think it disrupted his focus, and cost him important early matches. I also cannot stress enough that the lack of degeiko, and frankly jungyo, with its mass joint training sessions among top division rikishi has degraded the fighting capabilities of the top ranks. This may be especially true for Asanoyama, whose Takasago stable does not have another Makuuchi ranked rikishi to spar against. Shodai has Yutakayama, and Takakeisho has Takanosho, and yes, I think it did make a difference.

Highlight Matches

Ichinojo defeats Chiyonoo – Ichinojo’s sumo returns for this final match of Aki, and it was good to see. I would think he could have dispatched Chiyonoo at the tachiai, but the match went to extra time after Ichinojo got his left hand outside grip and decided to let Chiyonoo try to out muscle him. Credit to Chiyonoo, he rallied twice, and survived holding up the boulder longer than I thought he could. Ichinojo gets his 8th win, and will remain in the top division for November.

Shohozan defeats Ikioi – Shohozan has been struggling the entire tournament, but today he threw everything he had left into this fight against Ikioi (their 15th match). Both are heavily make-koshi, and I would expect at least one of them to consider intai following Aki. Shohozan will be ranked in Juryo for November, and Ikioi is just too hurt to really compete. But just for a moment, it was 2014 again, and these two were genki and beating the tar out of each other. Thanks guys.

Hoshoryu defeats Sadanoumi – I am happy that Hoshoryu was able to secure his kachi-koshi in his first top division basho. But the fact he was relegated to a Darwin match when ranked at Maegashira 16 shows that he still has work to do. I think because of his family connection to Asashoryu, people put a lot of pressure on this talented young guy, and just maybe it impacts his sumo at time. With luck he will shake that off one day, and we will see what he is capable of in his own right.

Wakatakakage defeats Shimanoumi – Absolutely brilliant tournament from Wakatakakage, and I am a bit surprised they did not award him a special prize. He will be riding a big wave toward the top of the banzuke, and I hope he can endure the intensity of the competition. To many it looked like Shimanoumi won this match at first glance, but Shimanoumi had clearly stepped out even before his throw attempt had completed rotation. An 11-4 final score for the leading Onami brother.

Tokushoryu defeats Onosho – Outstanding 10-5 final for Onosho, and we should see him back in the joi-jin for November. It was a bit troublesome that he dropped his last 2 matches. He ended up tucked in against Tokushoryu’s enormous belly, and from that position, it’s tough to do much. With the belly in control, even the remainder of Tokushoryu was forced to go where the belly demanded, and that was putting Onosho out of the ring.

Ishiura defeats Ryuden – By all rights, Ishiura should be trying to mend that ankle, but he not only showed up, we saw Ishiura’s quality sumo today. I was really impressed that he could shut down Ryuden’s forward power, and hold him checked at the center of the dohyo while he set up that throw. Ishiura finishes Aki 4-11. With any luck, lksumo may give us a hint on if that may be enough to keep him in the top division.

Kagayaki defeats Kaisei – The second “Darwin” match had a tough to describe kimarite. Really maximum effort from Kagayaki to keep Kaisei from establishing his desired hold, and preventing the Brazilian from overwhelming him. That attempt to finish the match fell apart in spectacular fashion, with each man counter-rotating and falling back to back.

Takayasu defeats Meisei – Takayasu controlled the center of the dohyo, and kept Meisei reacting to his sumo. Unable to really maintain his footing, Meisei found himself drive out of the ring. Both finish with respectable kachi-koshi, and we will see Takayasu in the joi-jin for November.

Kotoeko defeats Takarafuji – Holy smokes, what a battle! The third “Darwin” match was a long running chest to chest contest between Takarafuji’s defend and extend sumo, and Kotoeko’s overwhelming drive to beat him no matter what. Takarafuji eventually had to settle for a left hand outside grip, but could not overcome Kotoeko’s defense. Excellent sumo from these two.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoshogiku – This might have been the final for Kotoshogiku. My thanks to Terutsuyoshi for not employing some punk move or henka against the former Ozeki, and let him go out fighting.

Enho defeats Myogiryu – It gave me a smile to see Enho finish out with a solid match like this. Myogiryu went in with a solid plan, but if Enho is dialed into his sumo, you are sometimes just along for the ride. Both finish with 6-9.

Kotoshoho defeats Tamawashi – Tamawashi is another who seems to have lost about 30% of his power, and I have to wonder how long he will be able to keep up with the younger crop of rikishi who seem to be showing up in the top division, and coming into their own. Tamawashi had a big opening nodowa, but Kotoshoho just kept working forward, and overcame. A 10-5 finish for Kotoshoho – great stuff!

Hokutofuji defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin drove to get his left hand toward Hokutofuji’s mawashi, but could never connect. If you are Tochinoshin, and your main weapon gets shut down, what do you do? Why you pull of course! Hokutofuji is primed for that, puts the left hand death grip on Tochinoshin’s throat and moves him over the tawara.

Takanosho defeats Aoiyama – Impressed that Takanosho was able to resist Aoiyama’s initial attack. But I guess that if you share practice with Takakeisho every morning, you are used to getting a hundred or so kilograms of force applied to your face and shoulders. Takanosho focused center-mass and pushed forward for the win. Another solid 10-5 finish, and I am curious where that lands him in the san’yaku for November.

Daieisho defeats Okinoumi – Both end the tournament with more than 10 losses, and will be dropping out of the san’yaku. This match was dominated by Daieisho’s pulling effort at the close, which saw him galloping in reverse while tugging on Okinoumi’s head. Ok…

Kiribayama defeats Mitakeumi – Ah, Mitakeumi, the eternal Sekiwake. That last increment to Ozeki is outside of your grasp yet again. Mitakeumi was in reaction mode from the start today, and he let Kiribayama dominate the match. I am sure Kiribayama is delighted to return from kyujo and end the tournament with 9 wins, I just hope he did not permanently damage that left shoulder in the process.

Shodai defeats Tobizaru – A win here was all Shodai needed to finish his yusho run, and it was a great match. I have to compliment Tobizaru who contested strongly for the yusho in his first ever top division tournament. The opening gambit nearly overpower Shodai, and put Shodai’s heels on the tawara. Shodai rallied and bodily tossed Tobizaru nearly across the ring. Tobizaru grabbed an arm and reverse Shodai to the bales again, but an inspired pivot at the edge dropped Tobizaru as he lunged forward to finish Shodai. I would remind readers that, in my opinion, this is an early form of Shodai’s sumo, and a year from now, all of this stuff that looks rough and improvised may become polished and amazing to watch. I hope the Aki yusho winner and shin-Ozeki can stay healthy and compete with strength for many years to come.

Takakeisho defeats Asanoyama – Some might assume that with the yusho decided just minutes before, that this match would be anti-climatic. But to me it was quite informative in that Asanoyama, at the fundamental level, is a stronger and more versatile rikishi than Takakeisho. This was all about mental focus and stamina, and it seems, a bit to my surprise, that Takakeisho had more to bring to the dohyo today. I have not seen Asanoyama have to generate that much forward force in a long time, and it really distracted him from getting an effective hand hold, which is crucial to his sumo technique. With his offense disrupted, Asanoyama worked to break contact and re-engage. While that is solid sumo tactics, it merely set up Takakeisho’s penultimate attack. With all of that power now focused in Asanoyama’s chest through Takakeisho’s hands, Asanoyama found himself powerless to stop the fast run over the edge. Asanoyama has nothing to feel down about following this Aki basho, but I suspect he will assess his performance as falling short of expectations. Tip from an old man who has had wonderful successes in a few areas of life. Put the expectations aside, and enjoy what you are good at. When you can find a path to that, you will unlock your potential. You are an Ozeki, and the sumo fandom adores you. Have fun with it, like you did in your early days at the bottom of Makuuchi. The rest will take care of itself.

To our dear readers, thank you for spending the Aki basho with us. It’s been a blast covering this wide-open nokazuna tournament, and Team Tachiai appreciates you taking time to read and contribute.