A major theme of early 2018 has been Tochinoshin’s surge into a successful Ozeki promotion bid. Always a large, powerful rikishi, the stars aligned for Tochinoshin’s body, his fighting spirit and his competition to present him with a narrow but workable path to sumo’s second highest rank. On his way to that achievement, he racked up a yusho in January followed by two strong double-digit tournaments. At the time of his much heralded promotion, Tachiai warned fans that Tochinoshin has a history of mechanical injuries that – more so than some other rikishi – significantly degrade his sumo.
Tochinoshin’s sumo approach is largely based on immense, overpowering brute strength. This is evidenced by his displayed tendency to lift any opponent he can land his preferred grip against (even Ichinojo). While there is little defense against being lifted from the clay, raising and carrying up to 200kg of fighting sumotori is loaded with risks.
In the heat of Nagoya, during his first basho as Ozeki, Tochinoshin sustained a toe injury. Some fans may wonder why injuries to a rikishi’s toes seem to have such an impact, but fighting in their bare feet, the contestants transmit the power of their bodies into the clay through their toes. It gives them the leverage to push, the agility to maneuver, and in the case of Tochinoshin, the stable platform to sky-crane his opponents out of the match. After starting Nagoya with 5 straight wins, this injury knocked him out of the competition and left him kadoban in his first Ozeki tournament.
This put enormous pressure on him for Aki, as a make-koshi would have seen the shin-Ozeki demoted back to Sekiwake after only a single full tournament. He started 3-2 for the first act, and it was clear he was still struggling with his feet. Act 2 saw him improve to 6-4, and on day 11, he managed to hand Yokozuna Kakuryu the first of what would become 5 consecutive losses to end Aki.
With consecutive losses against Hakuho and Shodai going into the final weekend, fans were rightly worried that he might not find his 8th win. But persistence paid off, and his day 14 match against Abi featured Tochinoshin quickly landing his preferred grip, completely shutting down Abi’s double-arm tsuppari sumo.
Tochinoshin finished Aki with a respectable 9-6 record, clearing his kadoban flag and buying him 4 months to get his sumo back in order. We suspect his toes were only 70% back in working order prior to Aki, and the strains of the impressively fierce competition during September may have complicated the injury.
Hello dear readers, I am back from Japan and the amazing action that concluded the Aki basho. I must thank the rest of Team Tachiai, including Herouth, lksumo, Liam, Pink Mawashi and Andy for the great coverage while I was in Tokyo. I will work to put together a trip report in hopes of helping others should they choose to travel to Tokyo to watch sumo live. It’s an experience I strongly recommend to any fan.
For fans who only recently started following sumo, the events of Aki 2018 may have been quite a thrilling surpise, as all of the top rikishi were competing, relatively on their sumo, and stayed in the competition for all 15 days. The result was an absolute make-koshi machine that butchered the ranks of many solid performers. Up until recently, this kind of basho was the norm, where the Yokozuna and Ozeki harvested win after win at the expense of the lower ranks of the joi-jin. As we are currently in a transition period, this kind of “strong” basho may not happen every time, but it was quite refreshing after an extended period of declining participation by the top two ranks.
Some short comments coming out of Aki
Hakuho – He is not what he once was, but it’s clear that he can still dominate every other man in sumo today. I am fairly certain we may not see anyone successfully bid to become Yokozuna as long as he remains active.
Kakuryu – Faded in week 2, but turned in a solid performance. If I had to guess he may have re-injured his hand. This also explains the odd ending to his day 15 match.
Kisenosato – He surprised me by getting his 10. The sumo fans in Tokyo adore this guy, and from what I understand some fans were in tears when he picked up his 8th win.
Goeido – Maybe he finally has his health under control, but he looked consistently good throughout the basho. I am delighted to see him in his best form, he’s kind of terrifying when he can do this.
Takayasu – For a man who started with performance limiting injuries, he gamberized his way to excellence.
Tochinoshin – I was really worried he was going to have to fight as an Ozekiwake at Kyushu. I think he has a lot of work to do to strengthen his injured feet.
Mitakeumi – He exited the basho with his kachi-koshi, but he was wholly unprepared for this basho. He consistently came up about 10% short, but it was enough to cost him the 2 wins he needed for an Ozeki bid. I am sure he will improve.
Ichinojo – The big Mongolian continues to be a puzzle. One day he is a teddy bear, the next an unstoppable force of nature.
Tamawashi – Solid, strong sumo, but totally obliterated. Everyone was taking his lunch money, daily. I expect him to be a terror in the mid-Maegashira for November.
Takakeisho – He matched Mitakeumi’s schedule, with nearly the same opponents. This guy is the real deal, and I expect him to be a san’yaku regular.
Ikioi – He had nothing to show for Aki until he blasted Mitakeumi off the dohyo. But is 3-12 record kicks him far down the banzuke
Kaisei – Sometimes being freaking huge can work as a sumo strategy.
As already noted in previous posts, there is going to be a mega-tsunami scale churn in the banzuke for Kyushu. If the top 6 are genki once more, it could be as high-energy and exciting as Aki turned out to be.
With just three days left of what has been an exceptional tournament, things really ramp up on Day 13 of the 2018 Aki Basho. Our Yusho race has widdled down to one name at the top: Hakuho. The Boss’ record goes into Friday unblemished, with the trio of Kakuryu, Goeido, and Takayasu trailing him with two losses each. However, Day 13 will bring this group down to at least two men as Kakuryu and Goeido will go toe to toe in what should be the match of the day.
Yago vs. Chiyomaru
Most readers of Tachiai should at least be familiar with the name Yago, as he is the very talented young rikishi highlighted several times by Herouth in her Jungyo tour articles. With his kachi-koshi in hand, and several men at the bottom of Makuuchi with losing records, Yago is looking extremly likely to be making his Makuuchi debut come November. He’ll get his first taste of the top division on Day 13 when he faces Chiyomaru, who is right on the edge of demotion with seven losses.
Aoiyama vs. Takanosho
Top division newcomer Takanosho is just one win away from securing his spot in the Kyushu Makuuchi division, and he can punch his ticket with a win over the man mountain Aoiyama. Aoiyama, who took care Ishiura today despite falling for his henka, is already make koshi and is in need of some wins to slow his fall down the banzuke. Takanosho has demonstrated some excellent skill this Basho, and could become a top division mainstay should he continue to hone his skills. Tomorrow marks the first time these two meet.
Hokutofuji vs. Nishikigi
after an excellent first week that saw Hokutofuji collect seven straight wins, the young up-and-comer has only eeked out one victory in the last four days. Luckily, that one win earned him that all-important kachi koshi, but Hokutofuji seems to have hit a wall and may not be able to replicate the fantastic numbers he put up at Nagoya. His Day 13 opponent, Nishikigi, is also looking for his kachi koshi. While tomorrow is the first time these two rikishi have met on the dohyo, Nishikigi holds a fusen win over Hokutofuji.
Kagayaki vs. Takanoiwa
Takanoiwa has been on one hell of a run since taking the Nagoya Juryo Yusho and returning to Makuuchi, and could improve his record to 10-3 tomorrow with a vicotry over the man in the golden mawashi, Kagayaki. Sitting with a 6-6 record, Kagayaki is at a crossroad and is just two wins away from a promotion in November. But on the flip side of that coin, he’s also two losses away from make koshi and will need to rely on his sound fundamental skills to avoid a drop down the banzuke. Neither men are strangers to one another, and their career rivalry sits at 7-4 in Takanoiwa’s favor.
Daieisho vs. Asanoyama
Daieisho has always been something of an enigma to me. He’s very talented, as shown by his long tenure in the top division, but with the exception of his 10-5 Makuuchi debut back in 2016, Daieisho has yet to do anything to really distinguish himself. Aki doesn’t seem to be bucking this trend, and while his solid sumo is enough to earn him a regular paycheck, I feel like he’s not living up to his full potential. Hopefully, he’ll show some of that potential tomorrow when he takes on Asanoyama, who is having another good tournament and is looking for his eighth win. These two young stars of the sport have a very interesting rivalry going, and Daieisho has dominated Asanoyama 3-1.
Onosho vs. Endo
This one may truly be the battle of the disappointments. Prior to Aki, I pegged Onosho as someone who could really shake things up this Basho, and I have to admit that I was wrong. Rather than making a big splash, Onosho has barely made a ripple and enters Friday with an abysmal 3-9 record. Luckily for him, he’s taking on a fellow rikishi whose underperformed this Basho in Endo, who only has one win to his name. While it appears that Onosho is still not fully rehabilitated from his knee injury, what’s afflicting Endo is something of a mystery. Regardless of how tomorrow goes, both men have a hefty demotion waiting for them come November.
Tamawashi vs. Takakeisho
Day 13 brings us the Komusubi clash, yet only one of these rikishi has a chance of retaining their rank for Nagoya. After twelve days, Tamawashi is 3-9 and will be a Maegashira once more in November, while Takakeisho could be one step closer to getting his kachi koshi if he wins tomorrow. Expect Tamawashi to go in swinging, and for Takakeisho charge in face first.
Chiyotairyu vs. Ichinojo
Seems that extra shove from Hakuho has awoken the sleeping giant Ichinojo, who recorded his first back to back win yesterday. It may be too little too late for the boulder, who is one loss away from losing his Sekiwake rank. Chiyotairyu, while already make koshi, has a chance to play spoiler FRiday, and hand Ichinojo his losing record unless the man from Mongolia gets into a pony spanking mood. Their rivalry is tied 3-3.
Mitakeumi vs. Myogiryu
Mitakeumi, what happened? A week ago it looked like you were well on your way to that Ozeki rank. Oh, gods of sumo, you giveth and you taketh away. After losing five straight matches, Mitakeumi comes into Day 13 with a record of 6-6 and his promotion hopes going up in smoke. He desperately needs to win his last three games to keep his Ozeki hopes alive, and gets a bit of a reprieve from the rest of the San’yaku on Day 13 when he takes on Myogiryu.
Shodai vs. Tochinoshin
Tochinoshin can remove his kadoban status with a win over Shodai on Day 13. However, he shouldn’t take the man in blue too lightly. Shodai is afflicted with very unpredictable bouts of excellent sumo, and already has one Ozeki scalp this basho. If he goes super saiyan Shodai on Friday, he could give the Georgian a run for his money. Their career rivalry is tied at five wins apiece.
Abi vs. Takayasu
Following his climatic Day 12 victory over Kakuryu, Takayasu gets rubber band man himself, Abi. With Endo proving to be about as harmless as a kitten this September, Abi has been getting his fair share of play time with the top members of the San’yaku. While this hasn’t done wonders for his record, the experience he’s receiving from taking on the best of the best will no doubt help his skill set grow. Plus you never know, it wasn’t that long ago the rubber band man beat Kakuryu, he may just surprise us all again tomorrow.
Kisenosato vs. Hakuho
This is it, the long-awaited, first ever Kisenosato-Hakuho Yokozuna showdown!!! Though how I wish the circumstances surrounding it were better. For someone who missed the dramatic events that led to his Yokozuna promotion, I never really got the whole Kisenosato craze. That being said, watching his redemption story unfold has been exhilarating and he’s made a true fan out of me. While there’s still three more days of sumo to go, I believe that Aki has been a tremendous success for Kise and I’m happy to see him back. Tomorrow, he faces his toughest competition: the Dai-Yokozuna and Yusho race leader, Hakuho. The Boss comes into Day 13 with Twelve wins and looks nearly unstoppable. While the deck is definitely stacked against Kise, I expect that with his Yokozuna pride on the line, he will bring his A-game when he meets Hakuho on the dohyo. Hakuho leads their rivalry 44-16.
Kakuryu vs. Goeido
As stated above, the Musubi no Ichiban for Day 13 has tremendous yusho implications. Both Kakuryu and Goeido find themselves tied for second place in the Yusho race, but one of them will leave the Kokukigan with their championship hopes potentially dashed, while the other will be hoping Hakuho slips up enough to force a Day 15 playoff. There is so much on the line for both men in this match. Kakuryu has dominated the series with Goeido 28-16.
Aki continues to be an all-time great basho, and now that we are reaching its end the dial is getting turned up to 11. The next three days of sumo are looking to be some of the best yet, and I’m so jealous that Bruce gets to be there to see it all live. Cheer extra loud for all of us!!!
Act two is in the record books, and the yusho race is down to three credible contenders. Entering into the final 3 days, the Ozeki and Yokozuna will face each other daily, and the level of competition will ratchet higher. It’s still possible that Aki will be won with an unbeaten 15-0 record, which would be a great mark to achieve during a year of tournaments plagued by injuries and absent rikishi.
Ishiura defeats Ryuden – With no room for another loss, and his position in the top division at stake, Ishiura finds his sumo. Today’s match was some of his best, and one has to wonder where this has been for the past year.
Yoshikaze defeats Nishikigi – I swear, you can see Nishikigi get nervous as Yoshikaze pulls him to his chest, and Nishikigi realizes he is in contact with the Yoshikaze mystery rash. You know, if its all over your torso anyhow, why not use it to help win? Dekimono-kiri anyone? In better news, it does look like the rash is clearing up.
Takanosho defeats Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi starts strong, but Takanosho rallies after he lands a nodowa. With his neck pinned back and his body too high, Sadanoumi can offer little defense as Takanosho drives forward and wins.
Kotoyuki defeats Kyokutaisei – Much to my surprise, Kotoyuki looked strong and forceful today, and did not go sailing into the zabuton. Instead he won over Kyokutaisei, who may have compounded his right knee injury.
Takanoiwa defeats Tochiozan – Takanoiwa reaches kachi-koshi on day 10, cementing his return to the top division after almost a year recovering from injury and battling his way back up the banzuke. Kimarite is listed as sotogake, for that leg trip he applied to Tochiozan at the tawara.
Kagayaki defeats Aoiyama – Kagayaki’s first ever win over the Bulgarian meat mountain. Clearly Aoiyama desperately needs some recovery time, and is now make-koshi.
Onosho defeats Daishomaru – A quick but effective hatakikomi, notable in that it’s only Onosho’s 3rd win of the tournament.
Myogiryu defeats Kotoshogiku – Myogiryu’s speed and intensity prevents Kotoshogiku from setting up any offensive sumo.
Asanoyama defeats Hokutofuji – After a blazing 7-0 start, Hokutofuji seems to have hit a wall, and is now on a three-match losing streak. Hokutofuji invested too much time trying to get his nodowa to pay off, all the while Asanoyama was moving forward and maneuvering Hokutofuji’s body into an increasingly perilous position.
Chiyonokuni defeats Shohozan – It was a given that these two would show a lot of action, and it did not disappoint. Repeatedly charging each other, it was more a game of bumper cars at first. The match ended before there could be any bloodshed when Shohozan lost his footing and stepped outside the bales.
Takarafuji defeats Abi – Takarafuji shows us how its done. He patiently absorbs Abi’s double arm thrusts, carefully deflecting part of each thrust and circling a step to his left each time. Forced to constantly adjust his stance, Abi’s rhythm is disrupted. Takarafuji reads this with great skill, finds an opening, and drives Abi out. Great tactics from Takarafuji today.
Shodai defeats Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu picks up his make-koshi. The NHK team did not necessarily concur with the gyoji’s indication that Shodai had won the match, but none of the judges asked to review the gunbai.
Tamawashi defeats Ikioi – Both rikishi fought with a lot of power, with Tamawashi finishing the match with a burst of strength that lifted and threw Ikioi from the dohyo. That was big!
Takakeisho defeats Yutakayama – Solid Takakeisho style oshi-zumo today, Yutakayama was powerless to mount any kind of useful defense. Why did he come back from kyujo again?
Tochinoshin defeats Kaisei – Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin sores a much needed win against Kaisei, keeping the chances of him clearing kadoban plausible. The two were chest to chest from the start, and both men were trying to outmuscle the other. Both were able to lift each other, but struggled to do more than stand in the center of the dohyo, keeping their opponent at bay. Kaisei tired first, and Tochinoshin lifted him enough to carry him out. Tochinoshin’s magic number is now 2.
Takayasu defeats Goeido – The two Ozeki surprisingly decided to go chest to chest and fight it out yotsu-style. This seems to have been a smart move for Takayasu, as Goeido’s mobility did not factor into the match, and Takayasu was able to contain and control his fellow Ozeki. For fans of unusual winning moves, we got to see Takayasu apply a kainahineri, or a two handed twist down. This leaves Takayasu as the sole rikishi one loss behind the Yokozuna.
Kisenosato defeats Endo – As expected, Kisenosato picks up his kachi-koshi and completes his return to active sumo competition. A series of matta marred the match, and when they finally launched on the fourth attempt, Kisenosato charged forward ahead and took Endo out quickly. With win number 8, the pressure on Kisenosato subsides a bit. He can remain an active, competing Yokozuna, and work to improve his performance at Kyushu. The sumo world breathes a sigh of welcome relief.
Hakuho defeats Ichinojo – Glad to see Ichinojo actually put in an effort today. He had Hakuho working to keep the giant contained, and several times Ichinojo was able to generate good forward pressure. However, Hakuho remains undefeated and tied for the lead.
Kakuryu defeats Mitakeumi – Points to Mitakeumi for a strong tachiai and backing the Yokozuna to the tawara, but Kakuryu rallies and hands Mitakeumi his 4th defeat. This likely puts his Ozeki bid on hold until Kyushu unless he can find a way to overcome both Kisenosato and Takayasu. Frankly, Mitakeumi is not looking genki enough to pull that one off, as stamina is starting to play a role in everyone’s sumo.
Act 2 comes to a close, and with a full roster of Yokozuna and Ozeki still competing every day, the carnage is back to pre 2017 levels. Kisenosato looks within range of his kachi-koshi today, Mitakeumi’s Ozeki run will hinge on winning every match from here to the end of the basho, and Tochinoshin is in a deep dark kadoban hole. As we did earlier, lets look at the joi-jin bloodbath. The combined record for all of the Komusubi to Maegashira 3 rikishi: 17 wins, 55 loses. That’s going to leave a mark!
The leaderboard continues to narrow, as the road to the yusho gets more challenging. So far the undefeated Yokozunas have control of their destiny.
Ryuden vs Ishiura – Make no mistake, Ryuden has been given the task to deliver the make-koshi doom to Ishiura, and relegate him back to Juryo. Given Ryuden is fighting well and already kachi-koshi, it’s not going to take him much effort to seal Ishiura’s fate.
Yoshikaze vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi has been trending towards going chest to chest and taking a grip on his opponent’s mawashi. But the Yoshikaze mystery body rash may give him a second thought. Their only prior match went to Yoshikaze.
Kotoyuki vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei draws the somewhat overly theatrical Kotoyuki for day 10. Both of them are in dire need of wins, with Kotoyuki much closer to the Juryo express than Kyokutaisei. I anticipate Kyokutaisei will be chased around the dohyo for a few seconds, then Kotoyuki will be launched into the crowd, even if he has to do it under his own power.
Takanoiwa vs Tochiozan – A win today would give Takanoiwa his kachi-koshi in his return to Makuuchi. After nearly a year on the road to battle back to the top division, it would be an interesting bookend to Harumafuji’s retirement at the end of the month.
Kagayaki vs Aoiyama – In 6 attempts, Kagayaki has never been able to defeat Aoiyama. But for Aki 2018, Aoiyama is hurt and only fighting at a fraction of his power. So the advantage today is clearly with Kagayaki. Aoiyama will try to keep Kagayaki at a preferred swatting distance, and Kagayaki will work to set up in much closer range.
Myogiryu vs Kotoshogiku – If Myogiryu can stay mobile, he has a chance of beating Kotoshogiku. But we know that Kotoshogiku tends to latch onto his opponent during the tachiai. Kotoshogiku will try to be inside to try to land a grip, and Myogiryu’s inclination will be to stay mobile, and that opens a narrow avenue for Kotoshogiku to seize control at the tachiai.
Hokutofuji vs Asanoyama – Both of these bright rising stars are working to regroup after losing their shares of the leaderboard. They are evenly matched, and I expect that they will throw fairly symmetrical sumo at each other. The “handshake tachiai” into a nodowa is not quite working for Hokutofuji in week 2, so hopefully he’s got another offensive gambit. If Asanoyama can constrain Hokutofuji’s sumo, he should be able to set the tempo and terms of the match.
Chiyonokuni vs Shohozan – We know that both of these men are looking forward to this match, as they probably want someone who they can pound the daylights out of. Both of them have had a rough time this basho, and probably have a lot of frustration to work out. Shohozan holds an 8-2 career advantage.
Takarafuji vs Abi – How many days out of Aki 15 can Abi-zumo actually work. We are keeping track, and so far it’s 5, plus 1 where he went for the mawashi. Takarafuji will try to get a hold of Abi and keep him from leaping around and using his double-hand oshi attack. Good luck with that.
Shodai vs Chiyotairyu – If Shodai can withstand the tachiai, he has a pretty good shot at winning another one. Chiyotairyu’s lateral motion is poor, and Shodai can use this to his advantage.
Tamawashi vs Ikioi – Both make-koshi, both having a rotten Aki basho. Both of them are strength-oshi rikishi, so I am looking for some high power, high mobility sumo.
Yutakayama vs Takakeisho – First time match up for these two, and it should be a good one. Yutakayama picked up his first win on day 9, and he’s back looking for a few shiroboshi to soften his fall down the banzuke. Yutakayama will bring strength and stamina to the match, where Takakeisho will bring speed an fury. Should be a good battle!
Kaisei vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin will continue his task to find 8 wins, and he may have an opportunity on day 10. Over the 16 career matches, Tochinoshin holds a 9-7 slight advantage. He needs this win, and I am going to guess he is willing to endure a lot of pain and possible injury to defeat the mighty Brazilian.
Goeido vs Takayasu – As we continue to rotate through the Ozeki matches, it’s time for speedy Goeido to take his sumo against the strong and chaotic Takayasu. Takayasu holds a 18-10 lead in the career series, but Goeido 2.2 seems to be increasingly effective executing his rapid, forceful sumo. This match may only take a moment, and it’s anyone’s guess who will prevail.
Kisenosato vs Endo – Endo is make-koshi, and clearly injured. So I am calling that Kisenosato will pick up his kachi-koshi today, and seal his successful return to sumo. We all know that “10” is a Yokozuna kachi-koshi, but no one is going to give a care about that. The Japanese sumo fans will have Kisenosato back, he will have successfully gotten a majority of wins, and he is free to improve and recover before Kyushu.
Ichinojo vs Hakuho – Hakuho is probably going to rack win #10, as Ichinojo is not fighting well. Regardless of whatever injuries “The Boss” might have, he’s still bringing some of the best sumo each day.
Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi’s Ozeki bid hangs by a thread now, and Kakuryu holds the other end of that thread. Their career record is 4-3 in favor of Kakuryu, so it’s not a given that Big-K can score a win. But Mitakeumi cannot afford a single loss from here on out, and he is in the toughest part of the schedule. Every eye in sumo fandom will be locked to this match.