What The Haru Results Mean for Natsu

The State of the Yokozuna

Yokozuna Hakuho (15-0) extended his own record by claiming an unprecedented 42nd top-division championship, a total equivalent to winning every single tournament for seven years. Hakuho is now ahead of second-place Taiho by 10 yusho, a number that by itself is generally considered the mark for Dai-Yokozuna status. Hakuho’s 15 zensho yusho is nearly double Taiho’s 8. There is a beautiful symmetry in winning all 15 bouts 15 times. That’s 225 victories in just his zensho tournaments—to put this in perspective, Kakuryu has 225 total victories as a Yokozuna!

It is concerning that in claiming this championship in a hard-fought match against Kakuryu, Hakuho injured his arm. Tachiai hopes that the cost was not too high, that the Dai-Yokozuna gets the necessary treatment and takes the time to recover, and that we will see him dominating on the dohyo again before too long.

Of the last 5 tournaments, Kakuryu sat out one, pulled out of two, and faded in the second week of the other two. He eked out the “Yokozuna kachi-koshi” of ten wins this time, and we’ll have to see how healthy and genki he is in May.

The State of the Ozeki

The big news, of course, is that we lose one Ozeki (at least temporarily) and gain another. Tochinoshin (7-8) will be ranked Sekiwake at Natsu, with a one-time shot to regain his rank with 10 victories. If he can get healthy, and that’s a big if, this should be doable. Many of us remember Kotoshogiku just missing out with 9 in his “Ozekiwake” basho. Sekiwake Takakeisho (10-5) will in fact be promoted after a very creditable Ozeki run of 13-2 Y, 11-4 J, 10-5. The promotion comes in only his 14th tournament in the top division, and Tachiai wishes him a long and successful career as Ozeki and possible future Yokozuna.

Goeido, who will take over the top O1e rank in May, had a great tournament at 12-3. His loss to Daieisho was basically an unfortunate inadvertent step-out, and his other two losses were to a rampaging Ichinojozilla and the zensho-yusho-winning greatest Yokozuna of all time. Goeido’s performance level would have been good enough to win many a recent tournament. Takayasu (10-5) also had a strong tournament despite fading at the end with three consecutive defeats. He lost to the same opponents as Goeido, plus Goeido himself and a promotion-seeking Takakeisho. These performances bode well for the future of the Ozeki corps.

The San’yaku Ranks

Ichinojo will be the East Sekiwake at Natsu. We’ve always known there’s a Yokozuna inside Ichinojo, but we weren’t sure it would ever be unleashed. If the big guy can maintain his focus and health, it wouldn’t be going too far out on a limb to suggest that he could make Ozeki by July, and even take a run at the next rank by the end of the year. Hopefully, this time Lucy won’t pull away the football. Tochinoshin will attempt to reascend to Ozeki with 10 wins from West Sekiwake.

Fighting spirit prize winner Aoiyama (M7, 12-3) will be East Komusubi, making his first San’yaku appearance since 2014. What about West Komusubi? The only solid promotion contender is former Ozeki Kotoshogiku (M8, 11-4), but his loss on senshuraku opens the door for East Komusubi Mitakeumi (7-8) to merely slide over to the West side.

The New Joi-Jin Maegashira

Who will hold the top 8 (or so) slots in the rank-and-file, which come with the dubious honor of getting pummeled by the named ranks? Two or three will go to the demoted San’yaku rikishi (Tamawashi, Hokutofuji, and possibly Mitakeumi). Four of the incumbents handed out 45 white stars among them and will be dropping far down the banzuke (yes Bruce, even Shodai, though not as far as Kaisei, Nishikigi, and especially Tochiozan). Ichinojo, of course, was in class by himself, and the only rikishi in the top eight to get his kachi-koshi. The other incumbents (Endo, Daieisho, and possibly Myogiryu) did enough to earn another spin in the meat grinder despite finishing with losing records. Joining them will be Kotoshogiku if he isn’t Komusubi, M5 Chiyotairyu, and likely one or both of the M6 duo Okinoumi and Abi, all 8-7.

The Make/Kachi Line

Of the eight rikishi going into senshuraku with 7-7 records, half were able to record victories: Chiyotairyu, Okinoumi, Abi, and Takarafuji. For three, failure to get to 8 wins had a considerable cost: loss of Ozeki rank for Tochinoshin, likely Juryo demotion for Chiyoshoma, and no Komusubi debut for Daieisho. In total, a whopping 10 rikishi finished the tournament with a minimal 7-8 make-koshi, one shy of the all-time record. This will play havoc with the banzuke-making for Natsu.

The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange

The final-day results cleared up the demotion/promotion scenarios somewhat, but it’s still a mess. Victories by Kotoeko (M15w, 7-8) and newcomers Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 6-9) and Daishoho (M16e, 7-8) should be just enough to keep them in the top division.

Chiyonokuni (M12e, 0-0-15) and Yutakayama (M16w, 3-12) will be dropping deep into Juryo. Ikioi (M9w, 2-12) should be joining them in the second division after 39 tournaments in Makuuchi, unless the banzuke committee decides to draw the promotion line at two, with the clearly promotable Shimanoumi (J1e, 13-2) and Chiyomaru (J1w, 10-5), and deny borderline candidates Enho (J2w, 8-7) and Tokushoryu (J4w, 9-6). Shimanoumi should make his top-division debut at one of the highest ranks in recent memory.

That leaves three other demotion candidates: Ishiura (M15e, 6-9), Toyonoshima (M14w, 5-10), and Chiyoshoma (M17e, 7-8). I predict that Ishiura will survive despite sporting a demotable record, as the other two have stronger cases for demotion, and there are not enough legitimate promotion candidates to go around. Of the remaining duo, Toyonoshima has the worse combination of rank and record, while Chiyoshoma got his make-koshi at the very bottom of Makuuchi. They could keep both and deny the 4th promotion candidate (likely Tokushoryu), demote one and keep the other, or drop both and promote Takagenji (M4e, 8-7). I’m not sure how seriously to take the rumblings on Sumo Forum that the fact that the latter is a protégé of you-know-who might count against him. If Ishiura were to join the demotion crew, his spot would have to go to Wakatakakage (J5e, 8-7).

Haru Day 15 Highlights

The Haru basho is a wrap! Day 15 closed out the tournament with some decent matches, and a couple of worrisome developments. While there will be plenty of talk about promotions and demotions in the days to come, the real story to me is just how much of the Makuuchi division was make-koshi this time (25). Sumo is in fact a zero-sum sport, but to see so many rikishi underwater at once is quite the throwback to an earlier time, when the giants of sumo were all healthy and active.

Now that the spoiler buffer is out of the way, we bring you the news. Yokozuna Hakuho took the cup for his 42nd yusho, his 15th zensho yusho. In the process he injured his right arm, enough that he was not able to move it following his match with Kakuryu. How bad is it? I would say bad enough. From a wild guess, it could be a pectoral injury or a bicep injury. Hopefully unlike Kisenosato he will seek immediate attention. We may not see “The Boss” for a while.

Takakeisho was able to win against struggling Ozeki Tochinoshin, to pick up his 10th win. Ounomatsu Oyakata and Hakkaku Rijicho have confirmed that Takakeisho will be promoted to Ozeki this week, and I think the sumo world is quite happy about that. The stone-faced Takakeisho, who it seems had kept his emotions in check for this whole time, finally realized that he had reached a significant goal, and succumbed to the moment.

Tochinoshin will be demoted for May to a Sekiwake rank, or in this special case, we call it Ozekiwake. With 10 wins he will regain his Ozeki rank. We know that a healthy Tochinoshin can clear 10 wins, especially if Hakuho and some of the others are in less than stellar condition. But the question comes down to Tochinoshin’s injuries, and how much they limit him. Sadly, Tachiai took a look at Tochinoshin’s history when he was on the cusp of promotion, and forecasted this scenario with fairly good accuracy.

Highlight Matches

Shohozan defeats Chiyoshoma – I think Shohozan was certain that Chiyoshoma was going for a henka, and so Shohozan launched early (a clear matta) but took a moment to slap Chiyoshoma and launch him into the east side zabuton. When the match started, Chiyoshoma tried a leg sweep, but Shohozan was unphased. He cased Chiyoshoma down and personally welcomed him to make-koshi, and Juryo.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Ikioi – Ikioi had no business being on the dohyo after day 5, yet here he is doing “dead man sumo”. The good news is that maybe, just maybe, Terutsuyoshi with 6 wins can stay in Makuuchi. This is in part due to the wholesale make-koshi outbreak in the bottom ranks. 6-9 from Maegashira 14 should normally punt you back to the 2nd division, but there are so many bad records at lower ranks ahead of him, it’s possible that he stays.

Ryuden defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku’s special prize was contingent on a day 15 win, and he could not overpower Ryuden, who picked up win #10 to finish Haru with double digits. Sometime around day 12, Kotoshogiku’s stamina just seemed to fade out. 11 wins is his best finish since his yusho in 2016, and it was a great basho for both of these rikishi.

Kotoeko defeats Asanoyama – Asanoyama loses the last 5 in a row to end with a make-koshi. Kind of an epic collapse on his part – injury? stamina? Bad batch of takoyaki?

Aoiyama defeats Tomokaze – The winner of this match took home the kanto-sho / fighting spirit prize. Tomokaze did well in his first top division basho, but Aoiyama was completely dialed into his sumo this March, Tomokaze attempted a pull down early, but Aoiyama rallied and showed Tomokaze what that salt basket looks like… up close.

Abi defeats Kagayaki – Abi gets win #8 on the final day, and we can assume that Abi-zumo will not evolve for a while longer.

Okinoumi defeats Yoshikaze – As expected, Okinoumi was able to pick up his kachi-koshi in his match against Yoshikaze today. Yoshikaze was very low at the tachiai, and Okinoumi did not give him a second chance.

Chiyotairyu defeats Myogiryu – Some different sumo from Chiyotairyu today, and his choice of mawashi sumo at the open nearly cost him the match, but with his feet sliding back toward the bales, he changed course and poured on the oshi-yaki, which Myogiryu could not answer. Chiyotairyu gets his kachi-koshi.

Ichinojo defeats Daieisho – 14 wins in frequently more than sufficient to take a yusho, but for Ichinojo it was only good to take him to runner-up against a Hakuho zensho campaign. His sumo this basho has been formulaic, but oh so effective. Can he continue to make it work for him? Next chapter is written in May. This is his second Jun-Yusho, with his first being his 2014 debut tournament where he turned in an impressive 13-2. We expect him to join Tochinoshin at Sekiwake for May.

Mitakeumi defeats Nishikigi – Mitakeumi finishes with a minimal, 7 loss, make-koshi. He has a number of issues to address including his knee injury and his difficulty in carrying the “big” matches. Interestingly enough, its possible both both Komusubi (Hokutofuji also finished 7-8) may have an odd demotion path, as there are not that many rikishi who are making the case for joining the san’yaku.

Shodai defeats Tamawashi – Both men end the tournament with 5-10 records, and the Shodai’s rally is just as big a story as Tamawashi’s collapse. I do tend to rip on Shodai, mostly because he has really enormous potential that he just can’t seem to capitalize. Perhaps his rally in Osaka will give him new confidence that will show itself in Tokyo this May.

Takakeisho defeats Tochinoshin – This match was won at the tachiai. Takakeisho delivered his first push, inside, at the moment of contact. You can see Tochinoshin impotently reach for that left hand mawashi purchase as his torso is propelled to the rear by the force of Takakeisho’s impact. Unable to deliver offense, he finds himself immediately under “wave action” attack. Tochinoshin allowed Takakeisho to dictate the form of the match, and lost. Takakeisho takes his Ozeki rank, and picks up the Gino-sho technique award. At just a pip over 22 years of age, we are looking at the future of sumo in this young man. His sumo is fairly one dimensional, and that is his biggest risk to maintaining the Ozeki rank. But we congratulate Takakeisho for persistence, hard work, and the courage to get it done.

Goeido defeats Takayasu – Some of the best Goeido sumo since Aki 2016, where he went undefeated and took the cup. When Goeido is healthy and focused, like he was in Osaka, he is a great example of a rikishi with absolute focus on offense. Again Takayasu went for the shoulder blast at the tachiai, so that is 2 attempts, 2 losses. I continue to think Takayasu is in a transitional state, and we are going to possibly see it result in a step change to his sumo that could see him bid for higher rank.

Hakuho defeats Kakuryu – Exceptional sumo from both men, this is the kind of match you would expect from two Yokozuna, one of them being the best that has stepped on clay in my lifetime. Three times Kakuryu forced an opening that gave him a shot to win, and three times Hakuho shut him down. The big worry is that the final shitatenage seems to have injured Hakuho’s arm. Both men fought well this March, and both of them are worthy to be considered the top men in sumo.

With that, we bring to a close our daily coverage of the Haru basho. What a great adventure it has been, and we have enjoyed sharing our love of sumo with you, our treasured readers. Join us in the coming weeks as we cover the promotion of Takakeisho to Ozeki, and events leading up to the Natsu basho in Tokyo. [but first, stay tuned for a post later today wrapping up the Haru storylines and making some predictions for Natsu -lksumo]

Haru Special Prizes

The January winners

Sanshō 三賞, literally “three prizes” are the three special prizes awarded to top (Makuuchi) division sumo wrestlers for exceptional performance during a sumo honbasho or tournament. The prizes were first awarded in November 1947. The three prizes are:
Shukun-shō (殊勲賞), Outstanding Performance prize
Kantō-shō (敢闘賞), Fighting Spirit prize
Ginō-shō (技能賞), Technique prize

Wikipedia

Who will get the trophies and the ¥2 million that comes with them? The prizes are voted on before the final day’s bouts take place, but some are conditional on a rikishi winning his last bout or on more exotic outcomes, such as winning the yusho. This Chris Gould video provides a rare inside look into the deliberations that took place in January:

The results of the vote for the March tournament have just been announced. And the only unconditional award is a well-deserved Outstanding Performance Prize for Ichinojo. There are quite a few conditional prizes as well: Kotoshogiku and Takakeisho could claims theirs with victories, and a prize is on the line in the Aoiyama vs. Tomokaze bout.

Shukun-sho (Outstanding Performance Award)

West Maegashira #4 Ichinojo (Altankhuyag Ichinnorov) 
(13-1)
Minato Beya
Date of Birth: April 7, 1993 (25 years old)
Place of Birth: Mongolia
2014 January Debut

Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Maegashira #7 Aoiyama (Daniel Ivanov)  conditionally
(11-3)
Kasugano Beya
Date of Birth: June 19, 1986 (32 years old)
Place of Birth: Bulgaria
2009 July Debut

Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)

West Maegashira #8 Kotoshogiku (Kazuhiro Kikutsugi)  conditionally
(11-3)
Sadogatake Beya
Date of Birth: January 30, 1984 (35 years old)
Place of Birth: Fukuoka
2002 January Debut

Kanto-sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)

East Maegashira #13 Tomokaze (Yuta Minami)  conditionally
(9-5)
Oguruma Beya
Date of Birth: December 2, 1994 (24 years old)
Place of Birth: Kanagawa
2017 May Debut

Gino-sho (Technique Prize)

East Sekiwake Takakeisho(Takanobu Sato)  conditionally
(9-5)
Chiganoura Beya
Date of Birth: August 5, 1996 (22 years old)
Place of Birth: Hyogo
2014 September Debut

Haru Day 15 Preview

Once More…

It’s been a big crazy ride! Haru has been 14 days of the legends of sumo stomping with force through the rank and file, taking white starts wherever they go. Not a single kinboshi this tournament, let that sink in. Now that we are down to 2 Yokozuna, and they are both in fairly good health, the chances of a gold star are down. Looking at Kakuryu, there is a chance that his ankle is not quite right again, but with just one day left to go, I don’t think we will see him go kyujo.

The battle of day is, with no doubt, Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin. The landscape of the final day of the basho has been set up expertly by lksumo, as is his custom, but I wanted to examine this match. Tochinoshin is a mawashi rikishi, and he likes to use “lift and shift” sumo to remove his opponents bodily from the dohyo. When he is in good health, he can and does do it to anyone, including Ichinojo. Frequently this is accompanied by his opponent pedaling their legs furiously as the are lifted to height and carried to the janome like a crate of green bottles on Wednesday in Sumida. If Tochinoshin can get a hold of you, there is simply no way to stop it. It has even worked on Hakuho.

Takakeisho is a finely honed oshi-fighter, with the focus being primarily on thrusting / pushing attack and less on slapping his opponents around. He has perfected what we sometimes call a “wave action” attack, which features both arms working in tandem or near tandem to apply overwhelming force to his opponents body. This works best when he can get inside, and he can focus on center-mass. The day 14 match broke down when, for reasons we can’t explain, Takakeisho targeted Ichinojo’s neck, with absolutely zero effect. This double arm push is repeated in rapid succession, like a series of waves breaking against his opponent’s body. The result is that his opponents must constantly react and fight for stance and balance, all the while Takakeisho is moving them rapidly to the tawara.

The fight will hinge on if Takakeisho can move fast enough at the tachiai to land his first push before Tochinoshin can get a hand on Takakeisho’s mawashi. If Tochinoshin can grab a hold of this tadpole, it’s likely to Takakeisho’s doom. Tochinoshin’s sumo typically relies on him being able to set his feet and brace his shoulders and hips for his “sky crane” lift; this means if Takakeisho is landing wave after wave of heavy force thrusts against him, he won’t have a chance to use his lethal move.

A real clash of sumo styles and approaches, and on the line is who gets that 3rd Ozeki slot. The stakes could not be higher, and the rikishi nearly opposites.

What We Are Watching Day 15

Shohozan vs Chiyoshoma – The bottom man on the banzuke needs one more win to hold on to Makuuchi. Shohozan has lost 4 of the last 5, and seems out of gas. Should Chiyoshoma lose, he will join the platoon of rikishi that are eligible for return to Juryo.

Ryuden vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku has had a great tournament, and this is his highest score since his January 2016 yusho (14-1), but it seems to me he has run out of stamina, and he may be picked off by Ryuden on day 15. Many fans, myself included, are a bit let down that the schedulers did not put Kotoshogiku against Toyonoshima for their final match. Some of these guys need to take nostalgia into account.

Asanoyama vs Kotoeko – Asanoyama has been fighting for that 8th win for the last 4 days, and his chances are good on day 15, as he holds a 4-0 career advantage over Kotoeko.

Ishiura vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji is also in the 7-7 category, and will need to keep Ishiura in front of him to pick up #8. Ishiura may as well henka this one, in my opinion. But do make it acrobatic!

Kagayaki vs Abi – Abi, old bean, I worry you won’t diversify unless you lose more matches. Won’t you give something else a try? Your double arm attack is solid, but is that all you can do? You have so much talent. Ok, go ahead and win day 15, and while you are at it, give Kagayaki some reason to look a bit more excited. The poor fellow looks a bit like the walking dead some days. Thanks, signed: your fans.

Okinoumi vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze at 10 wins, Okinoumi at 7 wins… Yeah, I think Okinoumi gets this one.

Chiyotairyu vs Myogiryu – Although Chiyotairyu needs a win to get to 8, I am going say that Myogiryu has an advantage here due to his shorter stature, and his strength. Chiyotairyu can and does hit like a wrecking ball, but he loses stamina in a hurry.

Daieisho vs Ichinojo – “Hulk Smash!”

Tochinoshin vs Takakeisho – The big match, in my book. It may only last seconds, but it’s going to leave someone out in the cold.

Takayasu vs Goeido – Both Ozeki have 10 wins or better, so I see this as a “test match” of Takayasu’s tuned up sumo style. Goeido is going to blast in fast with everything he has. In the past that is sometimes enough to actually bowl the burly Takayasu over. But Takayasu has changed his “contact” stance a bit at the tachiai, and I think we may see this shift into a battle for grip in the first 4 seconds. If Takayasu can stalemate Goeido to the point his frustration leads Goeido into an attempt to pull, he will have his opening to strike.

Hakuho vs Kakuryu – The Boss goes up against Big K for the final match. Should Hakuho go down for some reason and Ichinojo prevail, we will get one more tasty sumo morsel before the long break leading up to Natsu. Wise money is on Hakuho to contain, constrain and then maintain his perfect record. But it will be fun to watch.

Haru Day 15 Ones To Watch

Wakatakamoto – Visiting Sick Children In The Hospital

With most of the lower division yusho already decided, there are only a few matches left to finish out everybody’s 7. For our “Ones to Watch” it has been a tough basho. Last night Wakaichiro went down to his 4th defeat, from a forceful hatakikomi delivered by Hokutoshin. This was his 4th loss, and holding a losing record, he is likely to find himself in the top ranks of Jonidan for May.

Further up the torikumi, Hoshoryu gamberized and prevailed against Kaisho for his 4th win. At Makushita 7, he will likely be close to or at the top of the 3rd division for May, with a very real shot of making it to Juryo for Nagoya. He should be sharing that space with Ichiyamamoto, who went 6-1 from Makushita 13, and will have a spot near the top of the division too. I am already eagerly anticipating them facing off during Natsu. Although Naya also finished 6-1, his starting point at Makushita 51 will see him in the top half of the division, and facing much more determined opposition.

That being said, a few of our favorites are up day 15…

Terunofuji vs Roga – Both of these rikishi finished their Jonidan matches with perfect 7-0 records, and now they will meet to decide the yusho. This is a battle between an injured and diminished Ozeki who can still generate enormous power for the briefest of moments, against a future powerhouse rikishi who has completely dominated almost every time he steps on the dohyo. It’s quite literally the past vs the future.

Wakatakamoto vs Bushozan – The last Onami brother to make sekitori has already secured a kachi-koshi, and will be joining what is likely to be a brutally competitive Makushita joi-jin for May. This final match will determine which of these two rikishi will get a higher rank. Bushozan is another “big’un”, and will have mass on his side.

Musashikuni vs Kotodairyu – Much of the Musashigawa clan is make-koshi this tournament. Among that ignoble group is Musashikuni, who enters today’s match 4-2. The good news is that he has beaten Kotodairyu before. The bad news is was 3 years ago when both were in Sandanme.

Kenho vs Takabayama – This is a 1-5 bracket match, and both rikishi are having a terrible basho. Kenho seems to continue to have health issues, and problems with his lower body’s durability. He will be lower in Jonidan for May, and hopefully will regroup.

Amakaze vs Umizaru – Both of these rikishi are 5-1, and I would expect the winner of today’s final match to be posted close to, or in Sandanme for May. It’s great to see Amakaze back on the dohyo, and I am happy that he has his kachi-koshi secure.