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.