Haru Undercard Preview

Undercard

2018 Haru Basho Banzuke has been published, and while there have been many developments at the top of the rankings, even more changes have happened at the far end of the Torikumi. The undercard, comprised of Maegashira ranks 17 to 9, is shaping up to be just as exciting as it was in January. So let’s take a quick look at the men who will be fighting for their Makuuchi lives this March.

Starting at the bottom, we have a few familiar faces making their return to primetime sumo. At M17 is everyone’s favorite man mountain Aoiyama. The hulking Bulgarian has not been in Makuuchi since November, and it appears his health woes are behind him. He is joined by Miyogiryu, who returns to Makuuchi with a Juryo Yusho in hand. The final Juryo callup is Hidenoumi, better known as the Pink Panther due to his bright fuschia mawashi. Haru marks the first time Hidenoumi has been in Makuuchi since November 2016. Also occupying the bottom rungs of the Undercard are Daiamami and Sokokurai, and the man from Inner Mongolia will try to put his horrible Hatsu Basho in the rearview mirror.

Just above them is a group made up of some of Hatsu’s biggest winners and losers. In the winner’s column, we have Nishikigi, Asanoyama, Ishiura, and Yutakayama, who all scored eight or more wins. Asanoyama stayed in contention up until Day 6 but went on a prolonged losing spree before finishing with a 9-6 record. Ishiura also finished 9-6 but resorted to several henkas to get there instead of using his unpredictable style of sumo. Yutakayama surprised many by picking up his first Makuuchi kachi koshi, while Nishikigi once again staved off demotion. These men are joined by Ikioi, Daishomaru, Kotoyuki, Tochiozan, Chiyoshoma, and Choyonokuni, all of whom had disastrous Januarys. Ikioi had a horrible time at Hatsu, losing all but four matches and subsequently fell nine ranks down the Banzuke. After withdrawing from competition due to injury, Tochiozan will be looking to have a much better tournament this March. Daishomaru and Kotoyuki just missed out on their winning records, while stablemates Chiyoshoma and Chiyonokuni scored matching 6-9 records.

At the very top of the undercard, we find two men who had drastically different New Year tournaments. Following a great showing last November, Okinoumi’s nagging injuries resurfaced, and he registered a 5-10 record at Hatsu. This poor performance resulted in a four rank demotion to East Maegashira 9. His M9 counterpart in the West position is Ryuden, who along with crowd favorite Abi took the undercard by storm last Basho. Fresh off a great 10-5 Makuuchi debut that saw him receive a kanto-sho special prize, it is yet to be seen if Ryuden will carry his success forward or have a sophomore slump.

The 2018 Haru undercard looks just as stacked as it did in January and features several longtime veterans and up-coming rikishi who are sure to put on some spectacular matches this March.

Osunaarashi guilty of driving without a license, may be facing dismissal

The story broke out a few days after the beginning of the Hatsu basho. NHK found out that Osunaarashi has rear-ended a car while visiting the Nagano prefecture with his wife, on January 3rd. There were no bodily injuries, and Osunaarashi apparently compensated the other car’s owner.

osunaarashi

However, the Egyptian wrestler failed to inform either the NSK or his stablemaster of this incident. Admitting to this failure to report, he was put on punitive kyujo for the rest of the basho.

The problems were only beginning for the young former Maegashira. The first problem was that driving is strictly forbidden to all active rikishi. This is not an obscure sub-item in some rule book nobody pays attention to. All rikishi know this and this is the reason why you see many rikishi in public transport or riding bicycles (motor bikes are also forbidden).

There are precedents for rikishi breaking this regulation. Famously, Kyokutenho (currently Tomozuna oyakata) has rear-ended a car waiting at a traffic light back in 2007 and caused its driver a minor injury. Besides his legal proceedings, he was punished by the NSK with a suspension for one basho and 30% were docked from his salary for three months.

If Osunaarashi had reported the incident and admitted to driving that car, he would have probably fared no worse, especially given that there were no injuries. However, he made a serious error of judgement, and gave various conflicting statements to both the police and the NSK. He claimed that he had an international driving license. It was found that the license was not valid. An International driving license is valid in Japan for only one year from entering the country. After that, you have to acquire a Japanese driving license. So he was driving without a license.

The exact order of the statements is not entirely clear, but apparently at this point his wife claimed that she was driving the car. However, evidence including footage from a surveillance camera showed Osunaarashi in the driver’s seat. he then admitted to the police that he was driving the car.

It was at this point that the story was revealed to the NSK. However, in his hearing by the NSK crisis committee, though he admitted to not reporting the incident, he and his lawyer continued to claim that his wife was the one driving the car. His explanation was that his wife was pregnant, and that because she only had an Egyptian license, not an International one, he had switched seats with her to protect her, because he believed his International license was good.

This put him in a position in which he was lying either to the police or to the NSK. The NSK called him in for questioning several times more, and the details of the story kept changing, according to Kagamiyama oyakata.

Since then, the Nagano police found out that he has been driving not just on the occasion that ended in the accident, but also twice before. Once in Nakano city on January 1st, and then twice in the town of Yamanouchi. Of course, they were only investigating within their own jurisdiction. The police then filed charges with the Nagano prosecution.

Today, the Nagano prosecutor decided on a summary indictment for three counts of driving without a valid license. Within the same day, he was fined ¥500,000. (It is perhaps noteworthy that this is the same sum Harumafuji was fined for injuring Takanoiwa. This suggests that cooperation with police makes a world of difference). He also paid the fine within the day.

However, this still leaves him to face the NSK, and this is where it is probably going to get a lot more serious for the popular Egyptian. The NSK board is going to hold a regular meeting on March 9th, and the subject of Osunaarashi’s punishment is on the agenda. They intend to listen to him and his lawyer again before making their judgement. However, the prospects do not look good. In addition to breaking the NSK regulation, he broke the law, and he was dishonest. The press expects a severe punishment, not ruling out a dismissal.

Dismissal is the heaviest weapon the NSK has. Below it there is a “recommendation to retire”. The recommendation becomes mandatory if the rikishi doesn’t hand in his resignation. There is a subtle difference between the two punishments, but both of them mean that Osunaarashi will not be mounting the dohyo again. Of course, there is still a possibility that they will decide on a long suspension and additional fine. Osunaarashi is already heading for Makushita following his forced kyujo, so there is no possibility to dock his salary, as he won’t have one.

Also expect his stablemaster to be punished. In the case of Kyokutenho, his stablemaster’s salary was also docked. Otake oyakata has already apologized several times for this unfortunate incident. Although Osunaarashi did not report to him, the NSK usually takes stablemasters to task for the scandals caused by their deshi, viewing it as lack of proper guidance.

Tachiai will keep you updated on the final decision.

Ranking the 2018 Hatsu Undercard

The 2018 Hatsu Basho has come to a close, and what an incredible Basho it was! While the Cinderella story of Tochinoshin claiming his first Yusho – and as a Maegashira to boot – made the New Year Tournament special, this Basho was also notable for the incredible level of competition coming from the bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke. The undercard, comprised of the bottom nine rungs of the top division, consistently turned out high-quality matches day in and day out and made this January one of the most exciting months in sumo in quite some time. Here are my rankings for the 2018 Hatsu Basho undercard.

17. Terunofuji: 0-8-7
What can I say about Terunofuji that hasn’t been said countless times already? With a 0-8-7 record, Terunofuji’s performance is one of the worst seen in quite a while, and now the former Ozeki has fallen entirely out of the Makuuchi division. But all hope is not lost. The career paths of Tochinoshin and Chiyonokuni have demonstrated that taking much needed time off and starting over lower on the banzuke is not a death sentence. Hopefully, our Kaiju does the same and returns to wreak havoc in the top division one day soon.

16. Aminishiki: 3-9-3
Aminishiki’s performance was far from what many had hoped for after his splendid tournament in November. The crafty maneuvers he used in Kyushu were well scouted and dealt with by his Hatsu opponents. Coupled with a new injury that forced him to miss three days, Aminishiki racked up only three wins and is Juryo-bound. Here’s hoping we see that lovable old uncle back in the top division in the future!

15. Takekaze: 5-10
The other elder statesman of the undercard, Takekaze, will also leave the top division in March unless he has a barbers appointment booked before then. Grandpa Bullfrog didn’t go out without a fight though, and managed to put together a nice four-match win streak after a disastrous start. However it was too little, too late, and he finished Hatsu with a record of 5-10.

14. Sokokurai: 6-9
Juryo is probably looking pretty good right about now for the former second division champion. Sokokurai made his return to Makuuchi at Hatsu, but during his time away the top division has gone through a significant influx of talent and is now far more competitive than when he left it. The Chinese rikishi just couldn’t keep up with the young guns.

13. Daishomaru: 7-8
Daishomaru was kind of invisible this January, and with only seven wins (including a fusen win over Terunofuji) he failed to score his kachi koshi. However, 7-8 is far better than his abysmal 4-11 Kyushu record, so at least he is trending in the right direction.

12. Kotoyuki: 7-8
While Kotoyuki failed to get a winning record, his performance at Hatsu was more consistent than other the rikishi with make koshi records, and he could have very well finished in the winners’ column had he not bit so hard on Ishiura’s Day 15 henka. The Penguin will have to regroup for March.

11. Daiamami: 8-7
Daiamami, the man at the absolute bottom of the division, did just enough to remain in Makuuchi for Haru. With his size and strength, Daiamami has the makings of a sumo powerhouse, but he needs to get his consistency issues under control first.

10. Nishikigi: 8-7
Nishikigi lives to fight another day! The man in green managed to secure his kachi koshi, in dramatic fashion this time with a big senshuraku win. He won’t have to worry about demotion for a while. Well, at least for February.

9. Ishiura: 9-6
While I’m glad to see Ishiura make his return to Makuuchi, I was a little disappointed by the quality of his sumo near the end of the Basho. While I have no problem with a smaller rikishi pulling out a henka to get the upper hand, it got a little tiresome by the third time he used it. I hope Ishiura uses more of the creative sumo he employed in week one of Hatsu when the March tournament rolls around, and saves the henka for when he really needs it!

8. Asanoyama: 9-6
Asanoyama looked like he was having a major rebound Basho after the disaster of Kyushu last November, but he faded considerably in the latter half of Hatsu and went on another prolonged losing skid. A lack of self-esteem seems to be his most significant issue, and he needs to figure out how to keep it together when he starts to lose if he wants to make it in Makuuchi. Asanoyama did manage to pull out of his tailspin this Basho and put together nine wins. I hope he takes the next few weeks to tighten up his sumo and enters March with more confidence.

7. Yutakayama: 9-6
You may be asking yourself, why is Yutakayama so high on this list when he has just as many wins as a bunch of other rikishi? Well, the simple explanation is that with nine wins he more than exceeded all expectations the majority of fans had for him coming into Hatsu! Even if he had finished with a 5-10 record, Yutakayama would have improved on his previous ventures into the top division. But instead, he captured a bonafide Makuuchi kachi koshi, something many thought he was incapable of, and for that I commend him.

6. Chiyomaru: 9-6
Another solid outing for the marshmallow man. Chiyomaru has recorded nine wins in four of his last five tournaments, and it’s this consistency that earned him his spot near the top of this list. If he can keep this run of 9-win kachi koshis going, he could find himself in the Joi before the year’s end. At Maegashira 9 and assured a promotion, Chiyomaru will not be a part of the Makuuchi undercard come March.

5. Kagayaki: 9-6
I have a feeling we will be looking back on Hatsu 2018 as a turning point in the career of Kagayaki. The man in gold transformed from the clumsy, hesitant rikishi we knew into a much more confident, skilled athlete. Heck, he even fought on the mawashi a few times this Basho! If Kagayaki continues to build upon this success and strengthen his craft, 2018 could be his year.

4. Daieisho: 9-6
While my prediction of Daieisho fading in the second half of the tournament was right, his drop off wasn’t nearly as severe as in previous Basho, and he ended Hatsu with a very respectable 9-6 record. Daieisho has so much natural talent when it comes to sumo, and if he can figure out how to show up for the full 15 days of a tournament, then it won’t be long until he’s one of this sports brightest stars.

3. Shohozan: 9-6
Big Guns Shohozan has made a humongous return to form after his ghastly 3-12 Kyusho record. The man from Fukuoka was a consistent threat throughout the first half of Hatsu, and while he did drop off near the end of the tournament, he will be remembered for his colossal clash with Tochinoshin, giving the Yusho winner one of his toughest matches of the Basho. I look forward to seeing what Shohozan has in store for us at Haru, and I pity anyone who has to stand across the dohyo from this brawler.

2. Abi: 10-5
Sorry Asanoyama, but I think it’s time to pass on that Mr. Happy moniker to Abi. Things didn’t start off great for Abi, whose balance issues were exploited by his opponents. However, he never lost his smile, and once he got his balance under control, there was very little anyone could do to stop him from reaching his impressive 10-5 record. Even facing opponents ranked much higher than him didn’t seem to perturb the smiling one, who took them on with great determination! When I look Abi, with his long limbs and stocky body, he reminds me so much of a young Takanohana. While they are known for different fighting styles, if Abi can learn to use his proportions as effectively as the former Yokozuna, he has a very bright future ahead of him.

1. Ryuden: 10-5
Without a doubt, Ryuden was the star of the 2018 Hatsu undercard. Few have had as tough a road to the top division as Ryuden. Throughout his twelve-year career he has faced everything, including injuries that forced him to miss most of 2013 and 2014, but he never let these roadblocks stop him from reaching sumo’s biggest stage. Once he reached the top division, he not only held his own but flourished! After a rocky Act One, Ryuden took flight and won eight of his last nine out matches, clinching a sansho special prize for fighting spirit along the way! While he shares the same record as Abi, Ryuden gets the edge over the smiling youngster due to his consistency and his tenacity. It didn’t matter who he faced or how outmatched he was, Ryuden fought with everything he had each and every day, and sent a message that he is here to stay.

 

Hatsu 2018 sansho
Abi, Tochinoshin, and Ryuden, the stars of Hatsu

*This is just an opinion piece, and I would love to hear who you think were the standout rikishi of the 2018 Hatsu Basho.

Hatsu Special Prizes Awarded

With Senshuraku underway in Tokyo, the Special Prize Selection Committee has announced the recipients of sansho prizes for the 2018 Hatsu Basho. Tochinoshin has been granted two awards for his tremendous performance this Basho and will receive the Shukun-sho Outstanding performance prize and the Gino-sho Technique prize. A Kanto-sho fighting spirit prize will go to Ryuden for winning ten matches in his Makuuchi debut. Ryuden was also in the running for a Gino-sho, but he did not gain enough votes from the committee to qualify. Fellow top division newcomer Abi will also receive the Kanto-sho if he can win his Day 15 match against Shohozan and finish with a 10-5 record.

Congratulations to all the Sansho winners!

Update: With a win over Shohozan, Abi has earned the Kanto-sho prize!

 

Day 13 Undercard Matches to Watch

The competition level continues to rise as we get near the end of Hatsu, and Day 13 will see many stars of the undercard compete for their spot in the top division come March. Here are some great undercard matches that you shouldn’t miss!

Sokokurai vs. Yutakayama

Yutakayama is one win away from kachi koshi. That phrase sounds so strange to me, but considering how wild the last few days of this Basho have been, I guess anything is possible now! Having picked up a fusen win from Tochiozan on Day 12, Yutakayama can earn his winning record with a victory over Sokokurai tomorrow. The November Juryu Champ Sokokurai continues to look like a fish out of water this January and is already make koshi. These two have met twice before, and their series is tied 1-1.

Kotoyuki vs. Daiamami

The last two days have been pretty easy on big Daiamami. On Day 11 he gently plopped Aminishiki over the bales without much fuss, and on Day 12 he picked up another win by quietly walking Terunofuji out of the ring. The competition level picks up on Thursday when he takes on Kotoyuki. Despite limping away from the dohyo on Day 11, Kotoyuki didn’t look very injured in his match versus Asanoyama and had little trouble pushing Mr. Happy over the bales. In four previous meetings, the Penguin has beaten Daiamami thrice.

Terunofuji vs. Takekaze

Takekaze seems hellbent on capping his losses at eight and has now won his last three matches. On Thursday he has a chance to extend that streak to four when he faces the hollow shell of what used to be Terunofuji. If there’s any life left in the Kaiju, tomorrow would be the perfect time to show it as Takekaze is one of the easier opponents he’ll face over the next three days. A win could go a long way in restoring Terunofuji’s confidence, which seems to be a big factor in his listless sumo.

Asanoyama vs. Chiyomaru

What is going on with Asanoyama? During week one he looked like the skilled young rikishi who turned heads at Aki, but in the second week, he appears just as lost as he did  in Kyushu. While he could be injured again, I think the major culprit is his self-esteem. Prior to Aki, Asanoyama had a career record of 98-30, giving him a win rate of 76.6%. During this time his longest losing streak was only three matches. Since then, he has lost 42 matches, and his win rate has dropped to 34.4%. It was during this period that Asanoyama also picked up his first make koshi. This guy has been a winner almost his entire career, and now he needs to figure out how to handle losing in the big leagues, or he won’t be there much longer. Tomorrow he’ll face Chiyomaru and have another chance to clinch his kachi koshi. Chiyo is also coming into Day 13 looking for his kachi koshi and will be a stiff opponent for Mr. Happy.

Chiyoshoma vs. Kagayaki

Kagayaki will be making a trip up the torikumi tomorrow when he faces off with Maegashira 7 Chiyoshoma. Chiyoshoma fell victim to the new and improved Shodai yesterday, and now has to deal with the new and improved Kagayaki as well. While Kagayaki has been performing far better this Basho, he still has a lot to learn when it comes to yotsu-sumo. Nishikigi took full advantage of this weakness yesterday, and if Kagayaki tries to engage a skilled grappler like Chiyoshoma in some mawashi fighting, he can expect the same kind of results. Chiyoshoma has a 6-4 series lead.

Abi vs. Kaisei & Takarafuji vs. Ryuden

Kagayaki isn’t the only one taking on a higher ranked opponent on Day 13. Two of the brightest young stars of the undercard, Abi and Ryuden, will leap up the match schedule to face Makuuchi mainstays Kaisei and Takarafuji. These matches, for the most part, are to help the schedulers figure out where the chips will fall for Haru, as every man except for Takarafuji has a kachi koshi. Since neither pair has faced one another before, these matches should be very entertaining!

I’ve been blown away by the quality of the Hatsu Basho this year, and Day 13 can’t come soon enough!