There have been some very interesting storylines coming out of Hatsu but I want to focus on this one for this article. This tournament was very rough on our Ozeki as we only have one left. Four former Ozeki are fighting it out in the Makuuchi, with yet another (Terunofuji) knocking at the door to make a comeback. Terunofuji was the only one among them with a winning record at Hatsu.
As Leonid predicts, Takayasu will likely fall into the rank-and-file. Goeido will fall to Sekiwake. Tochinoshin may swap places with Kagayaki and fall to M11. Kotoshogiku may drop a slot to M14. Other than Takayasu, all have won a tournament. Getting that second one in a row…and the Yokozuna’s privilege of a break without drop in rank…is really hard.
Scanning for the Next Plateau
I’ve written about how this situation makes that Meat Puppets song (made famous by Nirvana) pop into my head. The last time I wrote about it, I looked really far down the banzuke. Perhaps I wasn’t aware how dire the situation would become. So I ask, who’s in a position to make a run now?
The criteria aren’t exact but 33 wins over three tournaments seems to be the line…though 32 may make it, as with Goeido’s 12-8-12 run. The run should also start in or near sanyaku but again we have recent exceptions. Tochinoshin’s run started from Maegashira 3 with a yusho 14Y-10-13. Ultimately, we’re looking for consistency at the sanyaku level.
I will start with Asanoyama because I think this is the strongest run, and the one that is the furthest along. Leonid has written about his run before, especially since he may be starting from Kyushu at Maegashira 2 with 10 wins. It’s also the first real chance since Mitakeumi blew his shot from late last year. His 11 wins in Tokyo this month likely means 12 in Osaka would give him the magic number of 33.
If Asanoyama’s run can start from Kyushu, Hokutofuji just started a run here at Hatsu. His 11 wins from the same rank Asanoyama occupied in Kyushu will hopefully be enough to force an extra sekiwake slot since Goeido will occupy a slot, as Leonid has speculated. I’m editorializing here but I think this would be a smart move by the Kyokai. I can’t imagine they would want a vacant Ozeki slot to last long which means they need candidates. I’m never an advocate of early promotion by relaxing criteria but I think that blocking otherwise worthy promotions because there should only be two Sekiwake would be a bit silly. 11 wins at Maegashira 2 is certainly a performance worthy of the Sekiwake rank.
Shodai’s case for a run starting now is likely weaker than Hokutofuji’s because of the lower rank, even though one of Hokutofuji’s wins was a fusen. Hokutofuji did pick up a kinboshi. But Maegashira 4 is in the joi and based on his 13-2 jun-yusho performance, Shodai certainly makes another strong case for Sekiwake. Two 10 win performances to follow and we may have Ozeki Shodai by Nagoya.
Endo’s case for a Sekiwake slot is weaker than those above but he is certainly deserving of a Komusubi slot. It would take a really special run but conceivably spectacular showings in Osaka and back in Tokyo in May could see Ozeki Endo in Nagoya but it is not going to happen. I just mention it because the run would make the newspapers go absolutely bonkers and that would be fun.
How do you like that? The last man on the banzuke beat the only (mostly) healthy Ozeki to win the Emperor’s cup on the final match of the final day. The resulting yusho interview and all ceremonies were so refreshingly genuine and unrehearsed as to give a western sumo fan like myself a giant ear to ear grin. Kise heya also had the returning fan favorite Ura pick up a yusho down in Jonidan. I predict monster hangovers and smiles that last a month.
The long term sumo fan might as: “What the hell happened?”, and rightfully so. If you have the lowest ranked man on the banzuke take the cup, that means either your ranking system is completely broken, or your talent just can’t quite seem to get its act together and execute orderly sumo. I would say that right now, in this transitional era, its double handfuls of both. Some of you readers may recall a post with a chart that showed the demise (around 2019-ish) of the current Yokozuna / Ozeki corps. I was roasted in comments for that one, but… here we are. There has been so much rank churn in the last 2 years that its tough to field a decent crew, and its nearly impossible to predict who is going to be hot and who is going to be cold in the next tournament.
The Yokozuna and Ozeki corps normally have the task of beating everyone Sekiwake and below day after day. With only one Ozeki, it’s a bit much, and so just about everyone is at the same level, and are able to rack up double digit wins if they are on a hot streak. If you place these same rikishi in the Hakuho / Harumafuji / Kisenosato / Terunofuji era (when they were competing and healthy), nobody is going over 11 wins if you are not at least a solid Sekiwake. So this kind of wild “Anyone can win” basho is going to be the new normal until sometime late in 2021 (I think) we will stabilize a new Ozeki / Yokozuna corps to keep the Maegashira from running up the score.
For Takakeisho, this was a huge missed opportunity, and sadly he knows it. A yusho at Ozeki when both Yokozuna are out and may be out for March as well was a path to the rope. Regardless of what the Grand Tadpole may say, his eye is on that prize. But I can already see from lksumo’s predictions that March is setting the stage for something. We can count on Takakeisho working on what to do when his opponent gets a mawashi grip until it is no longer a lethal move against him.
Kotoshogiku defeats Tochiozan – Kotoshogiku seems to surprise Tochiozan by generating quite a bit of forward pressure, and when Tochiozan switches to trying to pull, Kotoshogiku simply ad advances for the win. The Kyushu Bulldozer ends with a mild 7-8 make koshi.
Kiribayama defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru comes out strong against Kiribayama’s upper body, but a failed pull attempt by Kiribayama unbalances Chiyomaru enough for Kiribayama to get behind and drive him out with an okuridashi. 11 wins in your debut basho, nice work Kiribayama.
Tsurugisho defeats Terutsuyoshi – With that damaged knee, I am impressed that Tsurugisho was able to finish 6-9. Sure it’s a make-koshi, but I am going to guess he can stay in the top division. I hope he can get that thing repaired in time for Osaka. Terutsuyoshi lost his last 4 in a row. Need to work on that…
Kaisei defeats Chiyotairyu – Our first Darwin match goes to Kaisei because sometimes being enormous is a valid sumo strategy. Once Kaisei gets his battle hug on Chiyotairyu, he can’t do much except try to find an escape.
Sadanoumi defeats Kotoeko – We see it again today, Kotoeko cannot generate any forward pressure. Is it his back? His feet? His knees? To the Juryo barge with you sir! Recover and come back when you are genki.
Ikioi defeats Takanosho – Second Darwin match – the grizzled scar mass known as Ikioi won 6 of his last 7 to finish kachi-koshi. Today’s match was a chaotic mess of push and pull, and frankly Takanosho could have (should have) put him down a couple of times. But congratulations to Ikioi for a remarkable comeback.
Takarafuji defeats Shimanoumi – Really simple match, it’s Takarafuji who takes control at the tachiai, and directly escorts Shimanoumi to the nearest exit.
Kagayaki defeats Enho – Kagayaki hits double digits with his no-frills, fundamentals based sumo. He was horribly under promoted from Maegashira 13 to Maegashira 11 with another 10-5 record in Kyushu. Hey banzuke committee – as we say at Tachiai, “What the hell was that?”. Watch this match carefully, I am really impressed how Kagayaki has changed up his sumo for this bout, and how he is able to put pressure center mass against a much smaller opponent.
Okinoumi defeats Azumaryu – The next Darwin match goes to Okinoumi, as Azumaryu’s opening gambit failed and left him exposed to Okinoumi’s drive to the inside. From there it was all Okinoumi who finishes with a kachi-koshi.
Tamawashi defeats Ishiura – Denshamichi sumo. Ishiura tried a face slap tachiai and had no plan b.
Shodai defeats Mitakeumi – I know Shodai is a bit broken up about not taking the cup, but he had a fantastic run, and his sumo was a couple of notches better than we have seen from him before. But what is a bigger deal to me is that Mitakeumi finishes make-koshi. He was unable to hold an upper Maegashira rank this tournament. Some detractors will likely put it on some personal failing of his, but no arch competitor like him has this kind of 2 tournament slide without a physical problem. Please heal up Mitakeumi, we need you back.
Yutakayama defeats Hokutofuji – We predicted this match would have a lot of fight to it, and these two are in great form this January, and they delivered a solid match. I look forward to both of them ripping up the upper ranks in Osaka. My congratulations to Yutakayama for getting 11 freaking wins, coming off of injury, a drop to Juryo and recovery. Stay healthy, the party is about to start.
Myogiryu defeats Tochinoshin – Speaking of drop to Juryo, I think that Tochinoshin is headed that way in 2020. It was always a race against when that knee would be re-damaged, and we can see from his performance in January that is may be gone for good.
Endo defeats Shohozan – Endo denies Shohozan his kachi-koshi after Shohozan clearly wants to grab high and attempt a pull down at the tachiai. Endo is too low, too powerful and too fast forward to leave Shohozan any room to work, and he is out in a hurry. Endo, some great “plan a” sumo this January, but your “plan b” sumo needs work.
Daieisho defeats Abi – Abi with a double digit make-koshi makes all the kappa goofing off on the banks of the Sumida river cry. But he’s been hurt and had no time to train up for this basho. Today, Abi could muster no forward motion against Daieisho, so he is more or less spent for now. I hope he comes back genki for March.
Takayasu defeats Aoiyama – Takayasu won this one through superior lateral mobility. I do hope Takayasu has some sumo left in him, but I am going to guess that as long as that left elbow is weak, he’s going to be mid-Maegashira at best.
Asanoyama defeats Ryuden – Asanoyama finishes double digits at Sekiwake 1 East, and keeps an Ozeki bid alive for March. That Ryuden fake matta / cheap hit routine is very stale and covered with smelly fungus. Please put it away. I am going to assume that he got Asanoyama a little fired up, because Ryuden gets captured early, and driven to the edge. Rather than a simple, safe step out, Asanoyama pushes for a body slam into the salt basket. Asanoyama shows far greater hinkaku than I would have. I would have grabbed a handful of salt and sprinkled it on his mage as punctuation.
Onosho defeats Goeido – Wow, look who ripped up two Ozeki relics this basho (he beat Tochinoshin day 2). I know some commentators have doubts about Onosho, some of which are quite valid, but he’s coming to the joi-jin, and if he can keep away from his ring rust problem, he’s going to have a chance to really disrupt some people’s sumo.
Tokushoryu defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho started close and got closer to Tokushoryu, which genuinely gave Tokushoryu a wide open invitation to execute his preferred form. Once you get Takakeisho chest to chest, he’s not packing a large amount of offense, and it was clear he was going to struggle. The biggest worry is I saw Takakeisho’s knee move oddly in that final fall, and it would really be a shame if the last functioning Ozeki yet again was injured in the last match of a tournament. Congratulations to Tokushoryu, what an amazing 15 days of sumo from you. Completely unexpected and unprecedented.
Note to Tachiai Readers – We have had an absolute blast bringing you coverage of Hatsu – both from Japan and our normal locations. Thank you very much for sharing this wild basho with us, and we invite you to check back in the weeks ahead as we prepare for Osaka.
Thus we come to the end of Hatsu, what a change from 3 years ago this basho has been. At that time, we were watching Kisenosato win his first yusho, he was just days away from being elevated to Yokozuna, creating a rare situation where 4 Yokozuna existed at the same time. Sadly we were not to see that anticipated thrill of a full-throttle battle of grand champions due to injury, poor luck, and poor decisions.
Fast forward to 2020, we have a most unusual outcome before us. The man at the bottom of the Makkuchi banzuke, Tokushoryu, is alone atop the leader board. Should he lose to Takakeisho today, he may have to face off against Shodai, should Shodai win, to decide the yusho. A Tokushoryu win would give him the cup outright, a situation unparalleled in modern history, when a rikishi ranked that far down the banzuke was handed the Emperor’s Cup. But the cast of rank and file yusho winners has been growing since we entered the transitional period, and it won’t really change much until such time as the new champions can consolidate their sumo. With only one functioning Ozeki (and no function Yokozuna) this basho, there was now apex competitors to grind the lower ranked rikishi down.
We look forward to congratulating either Tokushoryu or Shodai at the end of the day. Both have done a tremendous job of keeping up the intensity this January.
Of course day 15 would not be the same without what we call “Darwin Matches”. These are two 7-7 rikishi facing off. The winner is kachi-koshi, the loser make-koshi. Only the fittest survive. Some folks find it brutal, but to them I would say that sumo is a brutal sport. Its two mostly naked men fighting each other in ritual combat. A reflection of nature’s dictum that there are contests where only one may survive is completely fitting given the Japanese culture’s reverence of the natural world.
What We Are Watching Day 15
Kotoshogiku vs Tochiozan – Grizzled veterans with 40 matches over their 13 year history of crashing into each other face off. Both have already secured their kachi/make koshi status, so this is just for “old time’s sake”.
Kiribayama vs Chiyomaru – This is really about seeing if Kiribayama can get to 11 wins, and what kind of special prize he might earn if any.
Tsurugisho vs Terutsuyoshi – In all likelihood (according to Tachiai’s ace prognosticator lksumo), Tsurugisho’s day 14 win may have secured his spot in the top division. So given that Terutsuyoshi is already kachi-koshi, this match is to see if a knee-less Tsurugisho has any sort of sumo to offer against whatever Terutsuyoshi has ready to go for the final day.
Chiyotairyu vs Kaisei – Darwin match #1. Kaisei holds a 11-4 career advantage over sumo’s thunder spirit. So he clearly comes in with a mental advantage. Chiyotairyu seems to have bounced back from the “arm breaker” kotenage on day 9, so he may be able to muster better offense that I might expect. But in reality, there is just a huge amount of kaisei to defeat in any battle.
Sadanoumi vs Kotoeko – I can’t wait to find out, post basho, what kind of injury Kotoeko has been nursing this January. He has been absolutely abysmal. But he is probably the captain of the slow barge to Juryo,
Takanosho vs Ikioi – Darwin match #2. Ikioi has managed to rally after a dismal 2-6 start to Hasu. Now he has to overcome a young and genki Takanosho in a battle of the 7-7 rikishi. Their 3 prior matches favor Takanosho 2-1.
Takarafuji vs Shimanoumi – Both are already make-koshi, and I would expect with how well Takarafuji has been fighting that he will dispatch Shimanoumi after playing with him for a while. As Inigo Montoya would say, “I am going to fight him left handed…”
Kagayaki vs Enho – I am going to assume that Kagayaki knows to make sure Enho cannot grab any stray body parts, and use them to tug him around like some wooden toy. While I rave about Kagayaki’s fundamentals based sumo, most of it is geared to fighting opponents that are close to his own size. The entire routine seems to have a significant gap with power pixie sumo.
Okinoumi vs Azumaryu – Darwin match #3. I would give advantage to Okinoumi, except that he has faded quite significantly in the second week. Both men are likely low on stamina. Both are veterans, both are likely “getting too old for this crap”. But that’s why you don’t want to end up 7-7 going into senshuraku, gents.
Tamawashi vs Ishiura – Both are make-koshi, with Tamawashi’s loss record in double digits. Still they had to fight someone…
Shodai vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi does not get a Darwin match, in spite of his 7-7 record, simply because they ran out of 7-7 candidates to match him against (he had already fought Shohozan). Instead they give him ultra-genki Shodai, who has ALWAYS been restrained by his mental processes. Has his confidence been shattered by his day 14 loss to Tokushoryu? I do hope not, and if he comes in genki and ready to fight, it might mark the most important development of his Makuuchi career. As a member of Team Kakuryu, I am going to guess the Yokozuna has been instrumental in keeping him focused in spite of Kakuryu’s kyujo status. They are tied 9-9 over their career.
Hokutofuji vs Yutakayama – The match you really wanted to see, but did not know you wanted to see until they posted it. Am I right? So I am guessing there is some manner of shansho (special prize) on the line for the winner of this match, and I expect them to tear into each other with reckless levels of violence.
Tochinoshin vs Myogiryu – Another pair that screams “We are getting too old for this kind of thing”. These veterans are injured and having a terrible basho. A Tochinoshin loss would secure a double-digit make-koshi.
Endo vs Shohozan – I will come out and say it. Endo is kachi-koshi, and Shohozan deserves a pride obliterating matanage (see Goeido vs Harumafuji). But I think that we may see a Shohozan cheap early hit via a matta, followed by Endo fumbling for grip and getting his pretty face smashed in. Not a fun day at the Kokugikan.
Abi vs Daieisho – This match will probably determine some factor in the upcoming demotion discussions. I am sad to see Abi vacate his Komusubi slot, but I assume that he will regroup, heal up and be back better than ever. Perhaps this injury will herald the moment when Abi finally starts employing Abi-Zumo 2.0, which we know exists, and we have seen him use on rare occasions.
Aoiyama vs Takayasu – Another make-koshi battle. Big Dan is at 10 losses, and he has a chance to send Takayasu to a matching score. I count on Big Dan taking square aim at Takayasu’s sore left elbow.
Asanoyama vs Ryuden – Raise your hand if you want to see Asanoyama complete dominate Ryuden and leaver him in a pretzel shape that requires two shimpan and a score of yobidashi to correct. A 10 win outcome for Asanoyama would be good for those that hope he may make Ozeki one day, but I would point out that most Ozeki hopefuls fail in their first bid.
Onosho vs Goeido – Well now, look who is up fighting an Ozek! Its none other than future joi-jin tadpole Onosho. Granted, this is Goeido’s last Ozeki fight possibly forever, but it will be a very good match for Onosho to experience. I am curious if Goeido will play to conserve what is left of his ankle, or will just open up the throttle and try to blast Onosho off the dohyo.
Takakeisho vs Tokushoryu – How do you know you are in an odd period of sumo? When the final match of the final day features your one surviving member of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps against the very last man on the banzuke. Oh, and chances are better than 50/50 that he leaves the Kokugikan with the yusho banner.
Last Man On The Banzuke -> Unstoppable Force. An amazing sumo Cinderella story.
3 Darwin matches on Senshuraku.
1 Emperor in attendance.
Azumaryu defeats Kaisei – I am kind of surprised that Kaisei lost this mawashi battle, but he falls to 7-7 and will face a Darwin match on day 15.
Tochiozan defeats Terutsuyoshi – An immediate slap-down as Tochiozan catches Terutsuyoshi too far forward.
Ikioi defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru gets the early advantage with a powerful attack against Ikioi’s neck at the tachiai. But Ikioi rallies and advances with strength to shove Chiyomaru into make-koshi, while nominating Ikioi for a Darwin match on Sunday.
Chiyotairyu defeats Shimanoumi – Sumo’s resident thunder spirit delivers a sharp, strong tachiai. Shimanoumi had no chance against this sort of opening gambit, and accepts his make-koshi for Hatsu. Chiyotairyu goes on to face a Darwin match tomorrow.
Tsurugisho defeats Sadanoumi – The injured Tsurugisho is somehow steeling himself daily in an effort to continue to fight. Today he managed to get morozashi against Sadanoumi and muscle him out before that knee once again gave way and sent him to the clay. Sadanoumi is now, dissapointingly, make-koshi in spite of some brilliant matches this tournament.
Kotoshogiku defeats Ishiura – Career win #700 for the Kyushu bulldozer, and if lksumo’s math is correct (it nearly always is), he had enough wins to remain in the top division for Osaka. Ishiura came in a bit too low, and found it tough to generate forward pressure against Kotoshogiku, who quickly realized his advantage and was on the march.
Kiribayama defeats Aoiyama – Kiribayama racks up win #10 in his debut top-division basho, sending “Big Dan” Aoiyama to double digit losses. Aoiyama has struggled this January, and I think it’s probably due to an undisclosed injury. We hope he heals up and returns genki in March. This fresh crop of rikishi wont bludgeon themselves to defeat, after all.
Takanosho defeats Okinoumi – Well, now both of them are 7-7, and face Darwin matches on day 15. Okinoumi opens strongly, but his repeated attempts to grab Takanosho’s head and pull him down threw the match away.
Tokushoryu defeats Shodai – Wow, what a match! Shodai starting with a weak tachiai? Check! Tokushoryu going chest to chest? Check! Shodai using his superior size and strength to seize control of the match, you bet! Tokushoryu once again defying imagination by performing ballet moves at the edge that should not be possible for a man of his size and somewhat comical body shape? Oh yes. Tokushoryu is now the sole leader of the yusho race.
Tamawashi defeats Kotoeko – Both of these men are having a terrible basho. Kotoeko could not even muster a reasonable defense, and just found the nearest exit point. Both of them need to heal up and return ready to fight in March.
Hokutofuji defeats Kagayaki – I really like that Kagayaki was able to get a half step ahead at the tachiai, he seems to be working on improving his speed. But his hips were high. Hokutofuji, in spite of superior body position at the tachiai, could not repel Kagayaki’s opening attack, and had to circle away. It was at this point where Kagayaki’s body position got a bit cattywompus, and Hokutofuji switched to attack mode. I am actually more impressed with Hokutofuji’s sumo instincts once again reacting at a speed almost too fast for video to catch to his opponents mistake.
Ryuden defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi drops to 7-7, and would have been given a Darwin match, save that there were an odd number of Darwin candidates for the torikumi. The one time future Ozeki’s body has really had a tough year, starting with the partial kyujo for a knee injury last January that I am quite sure is still hampering his performance. Ryuden is now at 10 wins, good stuff, shin-Ikioi!
Yutakayama defeats Endo – Endo wastes precious moments at the tachiai working for his preferred left hand frontal grip, just to find Yutakayama blasting away at his upper body. By the time Endo response to Yutakayama’s oshi-attacks, Endo is being dismantled a piece at a time. A quick Endo rally transitions into another attempt at a belt grip, and another punishing volley from Yutakayama. Even gymnastics at the edge of the ring could not save Endo today, as Yutakayama completely dominates him. With 10 wins, I am expecting Yutakayama to return to the joi-jin and be a force in Osaka.
Onosho defeats Myogiryu – Onosho takes 8 of his last 10 matches, and like he did at Aki, he rallied from a terrible start to a kachi-koshi. I nominate him as the official kami of ring-rust now. I am guessing he too will join the joi-jin for Osaka. Don’t screw it up this time, Onosho!
Takarafuji defeats Abi – Points to Abi for getting this far at Hatsu given the problems he had pre-basho. It shows a lot of guts and toughness to fight for 14 days with that damaged knee. Mistake 1 was that your sumo depends on double arm thrusts against your opponents neck, which Takarafuji donated years ago in the relief effort for the great Tohoku quake. But Takarafuji’s “defend and extend” strategy found you too far forward with one of those incredibly long arms carelessly adrift (mistake 2). To him it looked like a natural handle, and he pulled it.
Daieisho defeats Enho – Enho’s submarine tachiai blew up today, and he was never able to offer much resistance to Daieisho’s attacks. Thankfully he is already kachi-koshi, so we will see more of him fighting the top rikishi in sumo in March.
Takayasu defeats Tochinoshin – Takayasu went left hand outside at the tachiai and rapidly pivoted to his left. This forced Tochinoshin to rotate rapidly on his damaged right knee, and the expected result was obtained. I have no sympathy here, as Takayasu has had every last chonmage wearing so-and-so taking their sumo frustrations out on that sore left elbow every day for the past 2 weeks. Hey, injured giants! If you step on the dohyo, it’s going to hurt.
Asanoyama defeats Takakeisho – I will make no secret that I really was hoping that Takakeisho would take this one and force a complex final day yusho puzzle. But instead Asanoyama was able to get past the thrusting attack and get a hand hold. I was quite impressed that not only did Takakeisho return the gambit, but nearly made him pay for it. The Grand Tadpole still has improvements to make, but this new yotsu attack gambit is most interesting. I think with a win tomorrow, Ozeki talk for Asanoyama might be back in fashion.
Shohozan defeats Goeido – The Shohozan matta trick is really stale, and smells like the interior of an izakaya at 2:00 AM. Watch the match in slow motion, you can see that Shohozan makes sure Goeido’s weight, and a good amount of torque is on that damages left ankle. Yeah, he should not be testing it like that, but Goeido made the decision to fight even though its probably not taking the strain well any more.