Hatsu Recap 8 – Ishiura (石浦)

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Disappointing Second Makuuchi Tournament.

Ishiura debuted in Makuuchi during the November basho in Kyushu, bringing a lot of power in a compact package. Entering the tournament at the bottom of the Maegashira ranks (M15), he faced a fairly easy list of competitors, and pounded them into the clay, finishing 10-5 and securing the fighting spirit special prize. With such a strong opening, we wondered how he would fare in his second tournament.

In his second basho, he was ranked Maegashira 9, and faced somewhat more fierce competition. While most of the “up and coming” were running wild while the Sanyaku crumbled, Ishiura continued to struggle. A protoge of Hakuho, Ishiura has been working on a model of intense sumo training coupled with impressive strength in a small, fast frame.

It is not uncommon for rikishi to have problems with their second tournament in a new division, and it was clear that Ishiura had a limited set of opening moves that he was comfortable using. But after Kyushu, most of the Makuuchi men had watched the video of his bouts, and knew what to do to blunt his attacks. He also got distracted a bit from his sumo when he became a spokesman for the Tokyo McLaren dealership. As a result he turned in a disappointing 6 win / 9 loss record in January.

Tachiai continues to watch Ishiura with great interest, as we think that he represents a bold experiment in building a better rikishi – one that does not rely on mass alone – to dominate. We expect he will be training hard with the rest of the crew at Miyagino Beya, and we hope that Hakuho is motivating him daily to higher levels of performance.

We certainly hope that Ishiura will return to Osaka ready to win.

Hatsu Recap 7 – Yokozuna Kakuryu

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Still Struggling To Stay Healthy.

Sumo fans were heartened by Kakuryu’s masterful win at the Kyushu basho. At last he was looking strong, mobile and fit – after many tournaments of less than Yokozuna performance. Tachiai had hoped that this was a dawning of a new era for Kakuryu, and that we could hope to see him contend and dominate in tournaments to come. Heading into Hatsu, we were even wondering if he might be able to turn in back-to-back yusho.

Kakuryu seemed to get off to a healthy start, winning his first three matches. But on day 4, he faced Mitakeumi in the final match of the day, and lost. Like many of Kakuryu’s matches, it was highly reactive. Kakuryu seems to have a strategy of getting his opponent moving and coaxes them into making mistakes that he can then exploit. The risk of this is that Kakuryu is frequently moving backwards while he is doing this, and a stable opponent, like Mitakeumi, can just keep him headed out.

This loss on day 4 was the start of a streak of losses across the first 10 days of Hatsu, culminating with his withdrawal on day 11, claiming knee and back pain.

Clearly whatever problems Yokozuna Kakuryu has, he is in a tight situation. It seems that his body is unable to support his sumo now, and short of some kind of miraculous recovery or medical intervention, Kakuryu is likely to face an increasing amount of discussion about retirement. When he is healthy, Kakuryu is an important player in sumo, and brings a unique and challenging style to the dohyo. When he is injured he dispenses kinboshi, and worries the fans.

Tachiai sincerely hopes that Yokozuna Kakuryu can return to health, and provide worthy competition for next month’s Heru basho in Osaka.

Hatsu Recap 6 – Wakaichiro’s Debut

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American Sumotori’s First Tournament

During the Kyushu basho, we noted with some excitement that a young man from Texas, Ichiro Young, had been training with the Mushashigawa stable in Japan, and had applied to join the ranks of professional sumo. He had been accepted during Kyushu after passing the the Maezumo competition successfully, winning all 3 of his bouts. We were eager to see what he could do in Jonokuchi.

Following the acceptance ceremony, Ichiro Young took the ring name “Wakaichiro” (若一郎), which literally means Young Ichirio. Jonokuchi ranked wrestlers only fight for 7 of a tournament’s 15 days. Wakaichiro faced a variety of opponents in is debut tournament, and fought well. But in spite of his efforts, he came away with a losing (3-4) record.

The Jonokuchi rank encompasses rikishi just starting their sumo careers, as well as more experienced rikishi who are re-entering sumo after medical treatment or some absence. Wakaichiro won decisively against opponents that were starting their careers, but had difficulty with opponents that had re-joined sumo from higher ranks.

Wakaichiro is 5′ 10″ 250 pounds, and played a fair share of American football during his youth in Texas, and is clearly very comfortable blasting off the line and using his strength to move his opponents. But in his first tournament, he was clearly new to the sport, and had much to learn. Tachiai thinks that even though he had a slight losing record, he shows a great deal of promise, and we are looking for significant improvements in Osaka.

Hatsu Recap 5 – Takayasu Recovers

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Back On An Ozeki Path

For the second half of 2016, Takayasu was on a march towards a bid to be promoted to Ozeki. At Kyushu, the goal was before him, needing a strong 12 wins to close the deal, and secure his promotion. Sadly, faced with victory, he utterly failed, and finished with a losing record, and demoted back down to Komusubi. Going into Hatsu, we asked if Takayasu could re-focus on his sumo, and return to his winning ways.

For fans of Takayasu, Hatsu was a triumph. With most of the Ozeki and Yokozuna out or hurt, he was able to rack up 11 wins, and a special prize. In the process he defeated 3 Ozeki and 2 Yokozuna. This set him squarely on the path back to Sekiwake, and re-ignited his bid to claim a promotion to Ozeki.

But there is a cloud on Takayasu’s shining path to Ozeki. At the Hatsu basho, we witnessed the ascendency of Mitakeumi, who also turned in an 11-4 record. Mitakeumi was strong, relentless and executed his sumo well. In Takayasu’s past efforts during 2016, he was the sole sekitori who stood any chance of promotion. It appears in 2017 there will be at least two, and possibly three that push towards sumo’s second highest rank.

The criteria for Takayasu’s promotion is 33 wins over 3 tournaments. That continues in Osaka, provided the March banzuke places him, as we expect, at Sekiwake.

Hatsu Recap 4 – Kotoshogiku Kadoban

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Injured, Defeated, Demoted

Former Ozeki Kotoshogiku has been a concern of ours for several tournaments. His injuries are chronic and their impact icreasing. In fact he can seldom muster the strength to really contend at a sanyaku level at times, let alone perform his duties as an Ozeki.

During Hatsu, Kotoshogiku was the sad spot to every day. Here is a great rikishi, although he is kind of a one tactic guy, he does it better than anyone, and he won and won and won with it for a long time.

In fact, it was last year at the 2016 Hatsu basho that Kotoshogiku broke the unending string of Mongolian Yusho winners when he took the Emperor’s cup going 14-1. In the year that followed, his injuries plagued him, and his performance suffered. He turned in a weak showing for Haru/Osaka 2016 (Andy might say had a foul ordor), a strong showing for May and then sat out most of Nagano after going 1-6 to start. His record in Kyushu was 5-10, which made him Kadoban once again, and he repeated at Hatsu going 5-10, securing his removal from the Ozeki rank.

Now he heads back to Osaka as one of a crowded Sekiwake field. His goal will be to secure 10 wins and return to Ozeki, but frankly there are only 2 paths to that achievement. 1. Medical treatment. He could undergo treatment for the problems in his hips and knees, of there is anything left to save. Though it is doubtful that he could be healed by early March. 2. A lot of people do very big favors for him by making sure he wins matches that he might otherwise lose.

There has been some speculation among sumo fans that Kotoshogiku will retire before then. He has a Kabu, and secured a place in the senior ranks of the sumo business once he leaves the dohyo. But thus far he has made no announcement. Other fans (myself included) believe he will give it a try, and go down fighting.

Hatsu Recap 3 – Endo vs. Shodai 2

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The Battle Of The Next Generation

Even before the start of the Hatsu basho, it was clear that we were starting to witness a changing tide in sumo. Prior to the basho, Tachiai mused on these two popular, next generation greats.

Both of them had a fairly decent tournament, both rikishi ended Hatsu with a slight losing record of 7-8. Shodai was “enjoying” his first trip to the meat grinder of sanyaku, and lost to the Yokozuna and the lone healthy Ozeki (Kisenosato). Still his 7-8 record means he may just be punted down to Komusubi for Osaka, or lower because of the crowd shoving their way towards sanyaku..

Endo had a slightly easier schedule, but managed to win over Goeido. The Endo vs Goeido bout is the one that sent Goeido to surgery to repair his broken ankle. In general Endo did not really shine this time out, and will probably drop a couple of spots to Maegashira 6 or so for Osaka.

Of course the stand out next-generation rikishi for Hatsu is without a doubt Mitakeumi, who finished 11-4, with kinboshi and special prizes. He faced the sanyaku and took home a pile of kensho that he liberated from Ozeki and Yokozuna opponents. A stalwart in collegiate sumo, he had primarily been a pusher/thruster. But like all pusher, he discovered it could only take him so far. In the past two tournaments he has increasingly shown skill with fighting via the mawashi, and this adaptation has been the key to his success.

Although Takayasu is striving hard to qualify for Ozeki, we will keep an eye on Mitakeumi, who may begin the process this year as well.

Hatsu Recap 2 – A Japanese Yokozuna

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Giving The People What They Want

Prior to the beginning of the January tournament, sumo fans were wondering if this could be the tournament that we finally see the 19 year drought broken, and a Japanese Ozeki elevated to Yokozuna.

A year ago, Kotoshogiku won the Hatsu basho, and broke a multi-year streak of Mongolians winning sumo tournaments. For a long time, both sumo fans and the Japanese public, believed that the Mongolian rikishi were too strong, to fierce to be defeated. Many had believed that Japan could no longer compete effectively in sumo. Kotoshogiku’s win in January 2016 appears in hind sight to have been the start of a change. Since then we have seen each of the Mongolian Yokozuna injured, at times requiring hospitalization, and all of them struggling to recover and maintain performance. As 2016 drove on, the Japanese public and the Yokozuna Deliberation Council increasingly voiced a desire for a Japanese grand champion.

At Hatsu Basho 2017 that wish was granted.

Through a combination of good fortune and skill, Kisenosato finally won a tournament. Good fortune via the continuing injuries and performance problems of the Ozeki and Yokozuna corps. There are times in life where you can win just be showing up, and for Kisenosato, this was his basho. Kisenosato also showed some remarkably solid sumo. He has always been a massive force on the dohyo, and at times displays text book, ukiyo-e worthy mastery of yotsu-zumō.

With Kisenosato supplying a yusho, the Yokozuna Deliberation Council had enough of a fig-leaf to act, and just a few hours after the close of the Hatsu basho, they unanimously recommended Kisenosato for promotion to Yokozuna, which the Japan Sumo association accepted.

How Kisenosato will perform as Yokozuna remains an open question. Many of his biggest fans, and some of the sumo press have noted that Kisenosato is not speaking and acting differently. As if some great worry has been lifted from his heart. There has been speculation that Kisenosato over thinks matters, and his achievement of both the Yusho and elevation to Yokozuna may have freed him from his doubts and his demons, and we may see a new vigor to his sumo.

The other hopeful, Goeido, withdrew due to what could be a serious injury. Prior to that, Goeido struggled to deliver the same kind of “bulldozer sumo” that swept him to an undefeated victory at Aki. Readers may have noticed that Andy and I refer to the Aki performance as “Goeido 2.0” and the normal mode of muddling through a basho as “Goeido 1.0“. We have seen in Goeido the seeds of greatness, but something within him holds him back.

Now, if reports in the sumo press are accurate, Goeido may face a career ending injury to his right ankle. But to be clear, there is likely to be at least one or two more Yokozuna slots available within 12 months, as both Harumafuji and Kakuryu seem to be having persistent medical problems. There may still be a chance that Goeido can make his 2.0 upgrade permanent, and become a truly excellent offense driven Yokozuna.

Hatsu Recap 1 – The Return of Osunaarashi (大砂嵐)

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A Fighting Spirit In A Damaged Body.

Story line 1 for Hatsu was the celebration of Egyptian sumotori Osunaarashi’s return to the top division. Osunaarashi had a sponsor arrangement that only really paid out when he was competing in top division matches, so he had a substantial financial incentive to return to Makuuchi. During the Kyushu basho, Osunaarashi drove himself relentlessly to compete in spite of obvious personal injuries and great physical pain. No one could question his devotion to sumo or his fighting spirt. But his injuries overcame him, and on day 13 of Kyushu, he withdrew from the tournament.

In spite of this withdrawal, the Japan Sumo Association gave him a chance for Hatsu basho. It was with great joy that his followers and fans noted that he had made the very last spot: Maegashira 16 East, on the Makuuchi banzuke. Everyone hoped that Osunaarashi would arrive day 1 in good physical condition and ready to compete and hopefully secure a winning record.

Sadly, after a fairly strong start where he defeated a trio of Kokonoe rikishi (M15e Chiyoo, M14e Chiyootori and M14w Chiyotairyu), he proceeded to grow progressively weaker, and more injured day after day. His finishing record was 4 wins, 11 losses: an ugly make-koshi.

This means that Osunaarashi will be deep in the Juryo pack for Osaka, and once again out of the top division. Osunaarashi needs time to heal and recover, or he is likely never to be a serious competitor again. Each basho he seems a bit more damaged, and his performance is declining.

Tachiai hopes that Osunaarashi will find the time to have his injuries addressed, and can return to fighting form.

Kisenosato’s Thanks For Takayasu

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Faithful Lieutenant Was Key To Training

Kisenosato has perpetually been second best, always just behind tournament winners. But in his stoic and stubborn nature, he continued to train, working to improve with the mindless drive to one day succeed. All valid concerns aside, this past Sunday he finally reached that goal that he has devoted his entire life to achieving.

But it would likely never have been possible without the dedicated, relentless devotion of Takayasu, Kisenosato’s right hand man and boon companion.

Some rikishi are naturally gifted athletes. This includes people like Hakuho and Harumafuji. Anyone can learn the basics of sumo, the rules are quite simple. And like any physical sport, a handful seem to have natural talent and skill. Others are driven to train themselves to the point where they can compete with these natural talents. This is where I believe Kisenosato falls. He has an overflowing love of sumo, but he is not the gifted natural that some others are.

So he trains. But that training is really only effective if Kisenosato has a sparring partner who drives him to excel, who is good enough and tough enough to make him better. Reports are that Takayasu and Kisenosato have been training endlessly, dozens of bouts per day. This allowed the Hatsu champion to hone his skills, and arrive at the first day of the tournament ready to win.

I find it touching that in one of his victory speeches, Kisenosato thanked Takayasu directly.

Should the YDC promote Kisenosato to Yokozuna this week, I will be looking for Takayasu to carry his katana.

My Rant Against Promotion

Let’s face facts. This yusho was won by an ozeki who did not battle another healthy ozeki or yokozuna before his coronation on Day 14. His Day 14 bout was against a lethargic Ichinojo who’s spent the last two tournaments at M13. He will, no doubt, climb higher. But does anyone among my readers believe Ichinojo today is a serious sanyaku contender? And as for Kisenosato, over this fortnight he beat 5 men who ended the tournament with winning records (I’m not counting the walkover victory against Goeido). He fought nine maegashira.

In contrast, last tournament was won by Kakuryu with the same 14-1 record. His only loss was actually to Kisenosato. But he defeated two yokozuna & three ozeki, only fighting five rank-and-filers, the lowest ranked being Endo at M3. When he was awarded his yokozuna rope after his first yusho, he had lost the previous title in a play0ff with a 14-1 record. Kisenosato’s jun-yusho record against that field was 12 wins. Solid for an ozeki but is that really tsuna worthy?

I will likely be alone in asking the Yokozuna Deliberation Council to hold off and see if he can pick up another jun-yusho or yusho in the next tournament. He’s a solid ozeki. Why taint his legacy by elevating him too quickly, like Goeido and Kakuryu? The answer is obvious: as Bruce has pointed out, the first Japanese yokozuna will be a coup as the Sumo Kyokai hopes to continue to bring more fans into the sport after the dark days of yaocho.

But is this how they want it to be done? When many fans watch these matches and wonder openly about fishiness that may have kept Kotoshogiku in his rank longer than he should? When his very yusho last year, coincidentally fell 10 years from the last Japanese yusho? Within a year he loses his rank after chronic kadoban status with his kadoban twin, Goeido? My point is clear. Make Kisenosato earn his rope against a full, healthy crop of sanyaku competitors. What will the Kyokai do? Likely the same thing as the NFL post-9/11: please the local fans. Invent the tuck rule so the Patriots get to the Super Bowl over the Raiders. There’s been a lot more interest with ESPN being a two-hour drive from Foxboro, no?

Hatsu 2017, Day 15: A New Champion

This was the weakest performance by sanyaku wrestlers I’ve seen in a long time. I will try to dig through the stats a bit more for concrete numbers, but wow…what a depleted, underwhelming field. As Bruce noted, there were many double-digit performers this tournament but only 3 were in sanyaku: Kisenosato, Hakuho, and Takayasu. Only five winning records. Three kyujo, who the yusho winner did not have to face. The yokozuna and ozeki ranks should be picking up double-digit wins on a regular basis. They are not and that is why Kotoshogiku will be demoted to sekiwake, Terunofuji will be kadoban, retirement talk swirls around Harumafuji, Kakuryu, and even Hakuho.

Hakuho came out of the gate very aggressive. Kisenosato retreated, bided his time, and deflected Hakuho’s surge at the tawara. Kotoshogiku defeated Terunofuji in the Great Battle of Irrelevant Ozeki. If Kotoshogiku wins 10 bouts next tournament, the rotten egg smell emanating from Osaka may keep me away from sumo for a while. Terunofuji needs to sit and heal. I’ve said it about 10 times now but he shouldn’t have been competing in this tournament. He shouldn’t be in Osaka, either. Since the sanyaku ranks have been so utterly decimated, those were the only two bouts featuring two sanyaku wrestlers.

Unfortunately, many of our sanyaku regulars have not been able to maintain peak performance on a consistent basis over more than a couple of tournaments. I sincerely hope this changes with Takayasu’s performance of late. Myogiryu, Uncle Takara, Kaisei, Aoiyama, Tochinoshin, Tochiozan, Shohozan, Ikioi, Takayasu…and the list adds Shodai this tournament with his make-koshi record and likely fall back into the upper maegashira. Tamawashi and Takayasu will take the first swipe at advancement. Tamawashi’s 9 wins this tournament means any ozeki run will likely begin NEXT tournament but at least he maintained a winning record at Sekiwake…something we really haven’t seen since Goeido. But, is he healthy? He appeared injured in his loss today against Takekaze (who had a great tournament). Takayasu was also solid but let’s see more tournaments against sanyaku opponents. He won an 11th win and the Fighting Spirit prize after his hatakikomi win against Endo.

While sanyaku wrestlers underperformed, many of the maegashira really impressed me during this first tournament of 2017. My sincere hope is that our sanyaku wrestlers will be healthy in March and really put forward worthy tests for these up-and-comers. Sokokurai retreated steadily, finally catching Takanoiwa off-balance for the hikiotoshi win. Sokokurai won 12 matches, his best performance ever, won his first jun-yusho and first special prize – the technique prize. It’s an amazing achievement for someone who spent two years out of sumo during the yaocho scandal. His skill is clearly worthy of the upper reaches of maegashira as he mopped the floor with his opponents in these lower ranks. His best, most impressive bout was against Takayasu. Takanoiwa also out-performed his rank, picking up the award for outstanding performance by virtue of his 11-wins and Gold-Star victory over Hakuho. Both of these wrestlers will find themselves in the top half of the maegashira. We’ll see if they can have the same success in the higher ranks.

Mitakeumi has fought extremely well at this high rank but he will need to build on this experience if he wants to be a sanyaku regular. He also picked up a technique prize as well as an 11th win at the expense of Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni has also shown real flourishes of ability as we may be trending away from immovable objects to skilled grapplers. Chiyoshoma also had a great tournament, though a bit inconsistent, as in today’s match with Sadanoumi. Sadanoumi needed the win today to cling onto his makuuchi berth. Both appear healthy and should do well next tournament.

Look for Kotoyuki to do well in March. His 6 wins belies his true abilities. In today’s bout with Chiyotairyu, he focused too much on going for the head with those short, stubby arms of his. Chiyotairyu got him spun around and ushered him out, uncomfortably by the thong of his mawashi. Kotoyuki is aggressive and that might have tripped him up during this two weeks. Count on him to adjust and perform well at the bottom of the rank-and-file.

The injured: Tochiozan and Osunaarashi need a break. Osunaarashi picked up a win but may have hurt his knee even more falling off the dohyo. Tochiozan put up only token resistance against Daishomaru and will tumble down the banzuke along with Tochinoshin. Myogiryu has also not been 100% and will plummet into the lower ranks.

 

Hatsu Basho Re-Analysis

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Why So Many Maegashira Wins?

A hallmark of the Hatsu 2017 basho were the fantastic scores racked up by mid and lower level Maegashira / rank and file rikishi. To followers of sumo, this immediately looks strange, as typically there are 2-3 (at most) stand outs, and the rest is a brutal blood-bath of demotion and make-koshi.

We had 6 rikishi (outside of Yokozuna and Ozeki) who had double digit wins, which is frankly unusual. What happened?

Devastation at the top end of the banzuke. During the second half of the tournament, there was only one functioning Yokozuna and one functioning Ozeki. While two other Ozeki remained in rotation, both were fighting well below Ozeki level, and were not presenting much challenge to anyone.

Not to detract from Kisenosato’s yusho and imminent promotion to Yokozuna, but this basho was perhaps the easiest possible configuration for his victory. The Yokozuna and Ozeki are there to cull the Maegashira and test the San’yaku, and in Hatsu they failed. The result was run-away score inflation by some young, healthy and talented men.

This underscores some important facts about sumo:

  • Sumo is a combat sport. Unlike what most Americans are used to in terms of wrestling on television, these men are really battling to win, each and every time. When you weigh in excess of 300 pounds and someone throws you off of a 4 foot high clay platform, you may get hurt. Over time these injuries, if not healed or treated, will degrade your performance.
  • The upper ranks are past their prime on average. Due to the nature of sumo as a combat sport, it is rare that a rikishi can remain truly competitive past age 30. Takekaze is a wonderful and noted exception. The upper 2 ranks (Ozeki and Yokozuna) have been largely static for several years, as the men in the ranks have been exceptional performers, and have dominated the sport in ways unseen in the modern age. For those of us (such as myself) who dearly love to see them perform, the time is coming to say goodbye as the retire and move to coaching and fostering the sport they love
  • The current sumo year leaves not time for recovery, rest, recuperation or proper medical treatment. With the exception of the Yokozuna, there are no breaks in sumo. You show up and compete every tournament or you face some fairly brutal demotions (for example, Osunaarashi). This means that talented rikishi such as Okinoumi, Terunofuji, Kotoshogiku and possibly many others much continue to compete with injuries that may have been simple to treat at first. But lack of prompt and thorough therapy translated them into performance limiting and eventually career ending problems.

As of the end of Hatsu, we have Yokozuna Kakuryu and Harumafuji, and Ozeki Goeido, Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku injured. The start of the Osaka basho is about 6 weeks away, and the chances that any of the men above will be back to full potential is close to zero.

Sadly, we are looking at what may become a changing of the guard, as high-skill rikishi are forced out by their failing bodies, and a younger, healthier crop of wrestlers step forward to fill the gap.

Kisenosato Defeats Yokozuna Hakuho

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Yokozuna Promotion Likely This Week

In the final match of the Hatsu basho, Kisenosato overcame a vigorous challenge from Yokozuna Hakuho with a masterful sukuinage (belt less arm throw) at the edge of the ring. While Kisenosato had already locked up the tournament victory on day 14, this defeat of Hakuho is a fitting punctuation to a fantastic effort by Kisenosato this January.

Kisenosato entered the world of sumo in 2002 at the age of 16, and has dedicated his life to everything sumo.

There are already strong indications that the Japanese sumo fans will be finally given a native Yokozuna. The Yokozuna Deliberation Committee will meet early this week, and any announcement is expected to take place Wednesday. if this happens, shin-Yokozuna Kisenosato will do his first dohyo-iri a few days later at a local shrine. I would expect the celebrations will be epic. It is also quite likely that the popularity of Sumo will increase dramatically among the Japanese public, as many did not have passion about the sport due to Mongolian dominance.

Hatsu Basho Day 15 Preview

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Thus Ends A Great Tournament

It’s been a great two weeks of sumo, and this basho has been an exciting departure from the prior tournaments. After years of effort, Kisenosato has finally won a tournament. There is rampant speculation in the Japanese press that he is also going to undergo serious consideration for promotion to Yokozuna shortly after the tournament concludes on Sunday. This is typically the time that such deliberations take place given the cost and complexity of setting up all of the accessories and materials needed for life as a Yokozuna.

There a several rikishi who have one more chance to secure their winning record and stave off demotion, this includes – Kaisei, Chiyoo, Chiyoshoma, Sadanoumi. Yoshikaze and Endo. Interestingly enough, Chiyoshoma and Sadanoumi will fight each other. There can be only one!

There really is only one bout with gravity on day 15, the match between Hakuho and Kisenosato. As Kisenosato has already won the Yusho for the Hatsubasho, this bout is largely symbolic. But keep in mind Hakuho needs to tally wins in his attempt to break the all time win record this year, and Kisenosato wants his Yusho win record as high as possible for Yokozuna promotion consideration. But men will likely give it full throttle.

Other Notable Matches

Takanoiwa vs Sokokurai – Both Maegashira 10’s turned in incredible 11-3 records up to today, the winner will go an incredible 12-3, which in some past bashes has been enough to win.

Chiyonokuni vs Mitakeumi – Great performance from Chiyonokuni, and a win here will send him into double digit wins. Mitakeumi wants to get o 11 wins to stake his claim to a Sanyaku slot for March.

Takayasu vs Endo – Endo wants his kachi-koshi, and needs one more win. Takayasu wants 11 wins to re-start his Ozeki bid in March. Takayasu was not on his sumo day 14, and Endo is not going to let any mistake go unexploited.

Juryo – It’s down to 11-3 Ura and Daieisho, both of which are likely to be promoted to Makuuchi in March, but both want the Yusho for Hatsu Juryo

Hatsu Day 14 Summary – The New Talent Continues to Excel

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Sumo’s Bright Future On Display

The second to last day of the January tournament turned in several thrilling matches, as low ranked Maegashira paired off against senior Sekitori to test their potential at future higher ranks. In general the new talent gave a very good showing, and in some cases surprised their senior opponents.

First there were visitors from Juryo today in the upper division, starting with Ura. Clearly Ura liked his first taste of Kensho, and was looking for more. Sadanoumi had a straight ahead approach, but a match with Ura requires improvisation. Juryo Daieisho also showed a great deal of poise and balance in his win over Takakeisho, having him his make-koshi (ouch!). The battle looked all Takakeisho until Daieisho executed a stunning thrust / throw at the tawara.

Ishiura’s dirty henka over Osunaarashi was demeaning, and Osunaarashi’s icy glare post match told the whole story. It was not like Osunaarashi had the strength in his lower body to offer much of a challenge. This was purely an insult. Chiyoo looked very good handing Kotoyuki his make-koshi, and survived a lot of really well place thrusts from Kotoyuki. Chiyoo eventually got a belt hold and gave Kotoyuki a nice hug-n-chug to exit him from the ring.

Takekaze displayed yet another fantastic, crowd pleasing Judo style throw in his win over Chiyootori, who sadly is now make-koshi and may be headed back to Juryo. Kaisei seems to have finally remembered his sumo, and will possibly save himself from further demotion. It does beg the question of why it seems to take him so many bouts in a tournament to get warmed up. His limited box of moves is “I am enormous and weight more than a side of beef”, so it limits him.

Mitakeumi gets to double digit wins in his blistering match against Hokutofuji, who is certainly fighting strong this basho. Keep an eye on Hokutofuji, as he has yet to turn in a losing record in his sumo career. Much as I worried, Takayasu was surprised by Sokokurai, who executed a fantastic move at the tawara that seems to have embarrassed Takayasu. This should be a lesson to the joi – don’t underestimate Sokokurai.

I felt a bit sorry for Ichinojo taking on Kisenosato. Here is a Maegashira 13 facing the dai-Ozeki, and clearly he is as nervous as can be. After a false start, you can clearly see his composure crumple and drift away. On the second attempt, Kisenosato easily escorts him out. If Ichinojo can stay healthy, and stay at this weight or lower, he has potential. But I fear he may end up like Terunofuji, where his body fails him after a few years. Ikioi picked up his kachi-koshi against poor Kotoshogiku who now carries a double-digit loss, and has nothing left.

Lastly, once again, Takanoiwa defeated Yokozuna Hakuho convincingly. The Yokozuna was driven back, raised up and Takanoiwa applied a series of hip-pumps to push Hakuho out. It was a shocking upset, and re-awakens concerns over Hakuho’s post-surgery strength and endurance.