BuySumoTickets Contest Winner

Winner! Yay-sayer!

I wanted to take this opportunity to announce Tachiai’s Hatsu Basho contest winner, Andrew B.! Congratulations, Andrew! And thank you to BuySumoTickets for sponsoring the contest! I’m looking thinking up a new contest for March, possibly Ochiai’s record as a Juryo debutant? What do you all think?

Andrew has watched a sumo tournament in person before, watching multiple days of the Natsu 2019 tournament — where Asanoyama actually won. Unfortunately, he’d missed out on his next opportunity because of the pandemic. But he feels May is a great time to go since it avoids January’s cold and the heat of August. He actually also already had tickets to Hakuho’s retirement ceremony, an event which I will summarize in my next post (along with Toyohibiki’s ceremony). He does not expect to see Yokozuna Takakeisho at Natsu, quite yet. With so much instability at Ozeki at the moment, other chances may come. I, for one, am eager to learn of the T-Rex’s new yotsu skills will develop into a reliable weapon, especially for opponents above Maegashira 13. If he’s got that second weapon, it might put him over the edge and turn a nay-sayer, like myself into Yeasayer.

Yes, I made a terrible pun in order to have an excuse to share a song that I have been absolutely obsessed with…even if the video is a bit weird (even for a Tool fan). I go a little stir-crazy in between tournaments. Once again, Congratulations to Andrew for winning, and good luck to all future contestants in March! Stay tuned for more details on this weekend’s activities.

The Case For Yokozuna Takakeisho

With the tournament now complete, I am eager to see what becomes of Takakeisho. There was a thought at the beginning of all of this, that he might begin March as the second Yokozuna alongside Terunofuji. Most likely that would have been contingent on a strong performance and a yusho. Some readers have pointed out that at 12-3 yusho against a Maegashira 13 is not at all strong. They are correct, but allow me to present the case why he many get the rope anyhow

Merit – At the end of Hatsu, Takakeisho had earned his third yusho, he had also just had a yusho doten, and the jun-yusho in July of 2022. Is that Hakuho level? Of course not, but it’s pretty close to Kakuryu level. But looking across the landscape of ozumo right now, who else is dominant in any sort of consistent fashion? No one, that’s who. There was a time a few tournaments ago, where it looked like Wakatakakage was going to hit and sustain a higher level of dominance, but he has since receded closer to his averages. Which takes us to our next point.

Safety – The Sumo Kyokai has a kanban rikishi problem. They have a Yokozuna, for as long as they can keep him going. There are likely regular update from Isegahama on his status, and they are well aware how his recovery is going. For a time they thought they might mint a new Ozeki this basho, and it would solve a thorny issue for them. Right now, they need Takakeisho if they are going to uphold the tradition of having at minimum 2 Ozeki on the banzuke. It may seem odd to westerners, but the sumo world really does love their traditions. There is a risk that Takakeisho might become injured in training, or worse yet in a match, and be 2 tournaments away from following Mitakeumi and Shodai down the banzuke. With no successor yet apparent, they need to give themselves some time should that happen. So, make Takakeisho a Yokozuna, and he can be on the banzuke even if he is taking a few months off to recover from some injury. Problem solved. It could also bring some beneifts…

Support – Sumo is largely a Japanese sport made for Japanese speaking fans living in Japan. Those who know and love Japan, understand that having a Japanese yokozuna is a big deal for the popularity of the sport nationally. Minting a new Yokozuna would boost interest and visibility of the sport, as it increasingly competes for attention of fans in a crowded media market. Simply put, it may be worth some much needed cash to mint a Japanese Yokozuna right now.

So there are my three points, I think he’s earned it, it solves a problem with the banzuke until such time as one of the next generation can get their sumo together, and it will be good for business. Feel free to chime in in the comment section below.

UPDATE: The Yokozuna Deliberation Council has now met, and while some members felt there should have been a promotion discussion by the JSA (there wasn’t one), most members believed that it wasn’t a high-level yusho, so there wasn’t much to discuss. The run is on for Haru, with promotion conditions unspecified. -lksumo, via Kintamayama over on Sumo Forum.

Hatsu Day 15 Highlights

Congratulations to Ozeki Takakeisho for a glorious final match. It was not an upset given the long odds that Kotoshoho faced against you, but that was still some red-hot sumo action in the “Brawl to end it all”. With the final win, Takakeisho claims his third yusho, after racking up two jun-yusho in the prior year, the most recent in November. Sumo fans wonder if there is any desire to install Takakeisho as a second Yokozuna following what has been a solid 2-3 years of mostly high performance. It would give them an insurance policy against a lack of Ozeki, by ensuring that both he and Terunofuji could be out with injuries at the same time, and there would be no risk of having to bend the rules around the banzuke needing two men at the top. Silly as it seems, Japan loves its traditions.

With the end of Hatsu, we are once again left wondering who the next Ozeki will be. There was a great deal of talk around a cluster of hopefuls two weeks ago. There were at least three names: Hoshoryu, Wakatakakage, and Takayasu. All of them feel short of their goals. Meanwhile in Juryo, Asanoyama finished 14-1 with the yusho, and I think we will see him in the top division in Osaka. Given the typical need to rack up three double digit wins from san’yaku to be considered for promotion, we have to wonder if Asanoyama really might be the next man to be promoted (in this case re-promoted) to Ozeki. All three of the names above are restarting any Ozeki run in March, and the earliest they might qualify would be following Nagoya, but Kyushu is more likely. Could Asanoyama have 33 wins in san’yaku by the end of November? Not out of the question. Going to be a fun year for sumo.

Highlight Matches

Chiyomaru defeats Daiamami – I am surprised that Daiamami fell for the “stand him up, pull him down” combo, which was all Chiyomaru has been able to run for the past 10 days. But good enough! Chiyomaru finishes Hatsu 4-11, and will return to Juryo.

Oho defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki fails to overcome his Darwin status, and ends Hatsu make-koshi at 7-8. I had figured the chances that this was “gimmie” match to get him to kachi-koshi turned out to be wrong, as Oho rallies for the final day to squeeze out a win, and end at 4-11.

Ura defeats Azumaryu – Ura is able to maintain his super-low position from the tachiai, and once he had contact with Azumaryu, there was no stopping him. For a moment Azumaryu almost had control back, but could not stop Ura from attacking underneath. 7-8 finish for Ura, 9-6 for Azumaryu.

Sadanoumi defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma hits double digit losses with his final day loss to Sadanoumi. Sadanoumi was intent on establishing and then maintaining a left hand inside grip, and it left him open to several solid counter moves from Chiyoshoma. But has been the case this January, Chiyoshoma just lacked enough power to make it work. He finally got his throw in, but he had already stepped out before he could bring Sadanoumi down. Sadanoumi finishes 6-9, Chiyoshoma 5-10.

Ichiyamamoto defeats Nishikifuji – Ichiyamamoto hits double digits for his first time in the top division, with a hatakikomi over faltering Nishikifuji. A volley of double arm thrusts, into a quick pull down, and it was all over. Nishikifuji ends January 4-11, Ichiyamamoto 10-5.

Mitoryu defeats Midorifuji – Midorifuji could not overcome the tremendous size difference with Mitoryu. He was able to repel a couple of Mitoryu’s initial attacks, but lunged inside hard to grapple Mitoryu, and Mitoryu slapped him to the clay. Mitoryu gets a final win to finish 7-8, Midorifuji a final loss at 6-9.

Abi defeats Tsurugisho – Our second Darwin match, and it seems that Abi-zumo can still eek out a kachi-koshi this January. There was a moment where Tsurugisho broke Abi’s balance, but could not convert that into anything offensive. Abi ends Hatus 8-7, with Tsurugisho 7-8.

Tamawashi defeats Hiradoumi – First attempt was a matta, second attempt at a tachiai looked just as off tempo as the first, but the fight was on. Hiradoumi did fairly well, but he’s really out-classed against a healthy Tamawashi. Hiradoumi tried to maintain contact as Tamawashi dialed up the forward pressure, but a final shove tossed Hiradoumi down the hanamichi. Hiradoumi finishes 8-7, Tamawashi 9-6.

Mitakeumi defeats Takarafuji – This seems like an even match for both of these diminished top division mainstay. Mitakeumi’s ottsuke is able to stop Takarafuji from setting up any offense, and Mitakeumi kept pushing forward. Mitakeumi gets a final win to cushion his fall down the banzuke, his final score is 7-8, Takarafuji 8-7.

Daieisho defeats Aoiyama – Daieisho had the big attack group early, overwhelming Aoiyama, and making him take a step back. At that point, Aoiyama decided he needed a pull, and that ended just about as well as you might imagine. Aoiyama stepped out a moment later giving Daieisho double digit wins for Hatsu at 10-5, Aoiyama finished with a worthy 8-7.

Tobizaru defeats Kotoeko – The next Darwin match, Kotoeko starts with a double hand strike to Tobizaru’s shoulders, into an immeidate slap down. It fails and now Kotoeko has Tobizaru at full power, attacking his chest. Kotoeko can’t hold ground, and attempts a pull. In response Tobizaru delivers a strong shove to the chest, pushing Kotoeko out for his kachi-koshi, and an 8-7 final score for Hatsu. Kotoeko make-koshi at 7-8.

Wakamotoharu defeats Endo – A fascinating battle for grip and body position. With both of these rikishi wanting to set up a yotsu-zumo match on their terms, it was always going to be about where the other man’s hands fell. It was Wakamotoharu who got set up first, and he took only two steps to set Endo out by yorikiri. Both end Hatsu with 9-6 scores.

Meisei defeats Takanosho – I do hope that whatever has been causing problems for Takanosho during the past six months can be cleared up. Again today he loses a match he could have and maybe should have won. Meisei did a masterful job of keeping him moving, out of step and off balance until he could run him out by okuridashi. That final win for Meisei puts him at 5-10, Takanosho finishes 6-9.

Kotonowaka defeats Hokutofuji – The last of our Darwin matches, and I must express satisfaction that Kotonowaka was able to help Hokutofuji rack up, yet again, “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”. It just does not feel like a Hatsu basho unless Hokutofuji is make-koshi. Kotonowaka 8-7 to end the tournament, Hokutofuji 7-8.

Kiribayama defeats Ryuden – Congratulations to Kiribayama on his second technique prize, some outstanding sumo this entire month. Ryuden gave him a tough fight, featuring awkward endurance postures, circle dancing, and a long stalemate. Kudos to Ryuden for not conceding a single step on the clay, excellent sumo sir. Kiribayama finishes him by yorikiri, and ends Hatsu 11-4, Ryuden with a respectable 9-6.

Myogiryu defeats Shodai – As guessed in the preview, Shodai racks up the exact same score in his “ozekiwake” tournament that Mitakeumi did in November before being flushed down the banzuke to Maegashira 2. Myogiryu had the better tachiai, and a face slap after Shodai shut him down broke open an attack route to switch up his grip. Myogiryu charged ahead and walked Shodai out. Both finish the tournament at 6-9.

Hoshoryu defeats Onosho – Onosho misses out on a win, and a fighting spirit prize when he ends up pulling Hoshoryu’s top knot in the heat of their match. After driving Hoshoryu back, Onosho decides to pull him forward, and gets a hand on Hoshoryu’s mage as he brings him down. A mono-ii confirms it, and Onosho is disqualified, giving Hoshoryu a final day 8th win and kachi-koshi.

Wakatakakage defeats Nishikigi – Absolutely brilliant sumo from Nishikigi, this guy has made a visible step change in his sumo, and is fighting better than I have ever seen him fight before. I expect this quality of sumo from Wakatakakage, as he will be Ozeki before long, but this was quite the surprise from Nishikigi, good show sir. Wakatakakage eventually catches him lunging forward, and finishes Nishikigi by hatakikomi. Both end Hatsu with 9-6 records, and I am quite certain we will see Nishikigi in the joi-jin for March.

Takakeisho defeats Kotoshoho – My compliments to Kotoshoho for making it this far, you far exceeded all expectations and showed the fans what you are capable of. But HOLY CRAP! Who had Takakeisho winning the yusho with a throw in your list of “must see in 2023?”. I think it surprised Kotoshoho too, as Takakeisho opened with a typical thrusting combo, then hooked his left arm around Kotoshoho’s body and let it fly. Wow! Kotoshoho finishes Hatsu with the jun-yusho at 11-4, Takekeisho the cup and a 12-3 final.

That concludes our daily reporting of the 2023 Hatsu basho, a glorious festival of sumo that has been one of the better tournaments in a while. Thank you dear readers for sharing our joy of sumo as we brought you coverage during the past 15 days. We look forward to bringing you the action from Osaka in March.

Hatsu Day 15 Preview

We come to it at last, the final day of one of the better tournaments in a fair piece of time. Sure, there were problems, and it would be fun if we were looking forward to Takakeisho picking up a promotion next week, but the action on the dohyo has been fantastic, and everyone has put in a great effort to get us to this point.

We ended with 8 rikishi having a score of 7-7, and from that we have 3 Darwin matches scheduled. One man will earn kachi-koshi, the other make-koshi and demotion. The Darwin match is the ultimate refinement of sumo in some ways. Honbasho are constructed as zero-sum games, there are a fixed number of white stars that can be earned, and every time you earn one, you take one from the total that will be awarded. Thus, the chances for recovery and redemption grow scarce into the third act, until on the final day, only a handful of them remain. Six rikishi will fight it out for the last one, to see who can hold rank for Osaka 6 weeks away.

Then, in the final match of the tournament, the yusho will be decided. The lone surviving Ozeki, Takakeisho, will face off against a surprising challenger, Maegashira 13 East Kotoshoho. I have had my eye on Kotoshoho for a couple of years, and he started strong in the top division in 2020, and then hit a cold spot that saw him back in Juryo for almost a year. He struggled in 2022 as well after clawing his way back in to the top division a year ago with an 11-4 Juryo yusho. After climbing as hight at Maegashira 9E in May of last year, he racked up 4 consecutive make-koshi results, and is really only still in the top division thanks to some banzuke luck along the way. But he’s got his ticket to the big fight, and win or lose, he is announcing that he is finally healthy and in fighting form.

What We Are Watching Day 15

Daiamami vs Chiyomaru – The final Juryo visitor, Daiamami, comes to have a round with an injured Chiyomaru (3-11), captain of the Juryo barge of the damned. Daiamami is also already make-koshi at 5-9, so I am going to guess he is up here today because it was his turn. Daiamami has a 11-2 career lead, but given the state of Chiyomaru, a Daiamami win today was almost assured.

Kagayaki vs Oho – This is a gift to Kagayaki. He earned at 7-7 Darwin score, and instead of a brutal single elimination match, he gets to fight cream-puff Oho (3-11) for his kachi-koshi. I could shake my fist and yell at clouds as one reader has said, but to be honest someone had to fight Oho, may as well be him.

Azumaryu vs Ura – Whatever ailments plague Ura right now, I am happy he starts his 6 week recovery tomorrow. He’s not be quite up to spec, especially in the second week, where has has lost 5 in a row and is now at a make-koshi 6-8. It would be great if he could beat 9-5 Azumaryu, but if I were Azumaryu (9-5), I would hit double digits today. You broke the barrier, run free sir. Rack up the score as insurance against a pair of make-koshi some time in the future.

Chiyoshoma vs Sadanoumi – Both men start the day at 5-9, and have had a pretty rough time of it this January. Sadanoumi got torn up as a projectile while facing the san’yaku during the middle third of the tournament, and never really has recovered. Chiyoshoma just can’t seem to find the last 10% – 15% of his power, and thus his score is crummy. He does have a 7-4 career lead over Sadanomumi, and has won the last three in a row.

Nishikifuji vs Ichiyamamoto – I guess this one is to give Ichiyamamoto a chance at a double digit kachi-koshi? He’s 9-5 to start the day against 4-10 Nishikifuji, who has lost 6 of the last seven. Maybe they are giving Nishikifuji an early match on the fight card so he can head out and find a bar.

Mitoryu vs Midorifuji – Another pair of make-koshi rikishi, both with 6-8 records to start the day. I wonder if Mitoryu at Maegashira 15W is at risk of demotion, but maybe he will survive thanks to the log jam of people who have losing records and are demotable at the end of the tournament.

Abi vs Tsurugisho – First Darwin match, with both men at 7-7. I would think that this one will go to Abi, who is ranked higher at Maegashira 3 E, and generally outclasses Tsurugisho on most days. But Tsurugisho holds and even 2-2 career record against Abi, and has won his last three in a row to get here.

Hiradoumi vs Tamawashi – First ever match, both start the day with 8-6 kachi-koshi, and one of them will finish Hatsu with 9 wins. I would generally favor Tamawashi for this one, but I think Hiradoumi has an advantage if he can get the match to last more than 20 seconds.

Mitakeumi vs Takarafuji – We have defenestrated former Ozeki Mitakeumi with a 6-8 make-koshi against injured stalwart Takarafuji, blessedly kachi-koshi at 8-6. Mitakeumi has a 10-4 advantage in their 14 match career history, with only one match in the last year, which went to then sekiwake Mitakeumi during Hatsu day 14. Mitakeumi would go on to win a 13-2 yusho, and earn a short-lived promotion to Ozeki.

Aoiyama vs Daieisho – Both are make-koshi, with Aoiyama at 8-6, and Daieisho at 9-5. This is mostly just to figure out rank for the March banzuke, but with both of them being high impact tsuki/oshi fighters, there could be a lot of hard hits in this match. Their last fight was March 2022, and went to Daieisho.

Tobizaru vs Kotoeko – Second Darwin match, and it’s a good’un. We have a highly mobile flying monkey in Tobizaru, up against compact power house Kotoeko. Kotoeko makes excellent use of his highly muscled lower body, and brings a high degree of balance and stablity to his sumo. This makes Tobizaru, who uses a strike-and-move disruptive sumo, work harder to win. Tobizaru has won the last 4 matches between them.

Endo vs Wakamotoharu – Another fine match, both prefer a yotsu style of sumo, tend to go for a grip early, and like to attack from underneath. Well, only one of them can be the lowest attacker, sir, so lets see who can do it. 9-5 Endo, or 8-6 Wakamotoharu? It is a bit of a surprise that out of their three prior matches, only one of them has been won by yorikiri.

Meisei vs Takanosho – A battle of the make-koshi, it’s 4-10 Meisei vs 6-8 Takanosho. Meisei has taken a beating at komusubi, as is frequently the case. Takanosho? I wish we knew what was plaguing him. Whatever it is, I hope it’s gone by March. Meisei has won 8 of their 12 career matches.

Hokutofuji vs Kotonowaka – The next Darwin match, and we get a chance to see Hokutofuji achieve “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”! Yes that is like jumbo shrimp, or sterile dirt. Even when you see it, you marvel that it might exits. Both of these guys have struggled, but not too much, and I think I like Kotonowaka’s chances here today. He’s on a bit of a hot streak, winning 3 of the last 4 matches.

Kiribayama vs Ryuden – Both are kachi-koshi, with Kiribayama at 10-4, and Ryuden at 9-5. I think it would be great to see Ryuden hit double digits, and I would not be surprised if he did not have a special prize contingent on a win today. Kiribayama won their last match, which was day 11 of Kyushu 2022.

Myogiryu vs Shodai – There are some similarities between Shodai’s fall from Ozeki and Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi’s “ozekiwake” tournament was Kyushu, where he finished 6-9. Should Shodai lose today to Myogiryu (5-9), he will likewise finish at 6-9. They are evenly matched, splitting their 16 career matches 8-8.

Onosho vs Hoshoryu – Ah, Onosho. You did very well this tournament. You showed the power, strength and endurance you have been building piece by piece for the last 5 years. You were in the race for the cup up until the last weekend. I hope they give you a special prize, and I hope we can see you this genki again in March. In the mean time, you can take your 10-4 record and hit Darwin candidate 7-7 Hoshoryu with it as hard as you like.

Wakatakakage vs Nishikigi – I continue to marvel at Nishikigi. I know he has quietly been building his body up over the last 6 months, and he just keeps getting a bit stronger each time. He’s at 9-5, on the cusp of a double digit winning record at Maegashira 5. He’s against one time Ozeki hopeful Wakatakakage at 8-6, who is in dire need of a tune up and upgrade session soon.

Kotoshoho vs Takakeisho – The brawl to end it all, the match deluxe. Kotoshoho has never won against Takakeisho, and has 2 prior attempts. This version of Kotoshoho is more focused and aggressive, and I do hope Takakeisho takes him as a serious contender. It is odd to have the final match of the tournament be an Ozeki vs a Maegashira 13, but this way they resolve the yusho in a single match. Good luck to both, make it a brilliant fight.