The Kisenosato Dilemma


Kise-Arm

No Easy Way Out

With Kisenosato out for kyujo for a second straight basho, there is a growing concern among the men who run sumo. Kisenosato’s elevation to Yokozuna has been a huge boon for the sport, raising it’s profile among the broader Japanese public, and driving huge ratings for the daily broadcasts. But as it becomes clear that Kisenosato cannot “heal naturally”, the sumo world faces a set of tough choices.

Fans who have come to sumo recently may not know how far out of the public’s minds sumo had wandered earlier this decade. The Japanese are proud people, and rightfully so. The nation of Japan and Japanese culture wield an oversized influence across the globe. They consider sumo to be their national sport, and it is in fact a sacred ritual. When it became clear that the top men of sumo were Mongolian for the foreseeable future, a section of the population lost interest. Sumo still had it’s fans, but it had become a sport dominated by outsiders, making it more like football (soccer) or any other imported event.

At the new years basho in 2017, this dynamic changed. For some time, the sumo association had wanted to promote Kisenosato, but lacked the final ingredient: a Yusho. In January, there was a confluence of events that gave Kisenosato his best chance ever at a tournament championship, and he took it. With his promotion secure, suddenly sumo had a Japanese born man at the highest rank. The public went absolutely insane for sumo and all things Kisenosato. He was Babe Ruth and John Glenn rolled into one. He had broken the lock Mongolia had on sumo.

March 2017 in Osaka, and Kisenosato is a freshly minted Yokozuna. The Japanese public is glued to their televisions, as the Osaka arena sold out all 15 days in mere minutes. In his day 13 match against Yokozuna Harumafuji, Kisenosato takes a hard fall off the dohyo and ruptures his left pectoral. Kisenosato is left handed by birth, and this injury robs him of his massive strength. Like every other sumo injury, nobody wants to talk about it. But the Japanese public (even if you are not a sumo fan) knows that the hero of Sumo is wounded. Somehow, he takes the yusho by defeating Ozeki Terunofuji not just once but twice on the final day. Again Japan erupts in jubilation as not only has their champion won his first tournament as Yokozuna, he overcame a grievous injury and prevailed against all odds.

After the party that follows a yusho, there were serious decisions to be made. Kisenosato had an injury that always requires surgery to heal. This would mean that the hero of sumo would be out of commission for at least 6 months, and even then might not ever return. This would remove the key figure that was driving interest in the sport back to where it belonged from the stage, possibly forever.

For whatever reason, the decision was made to try and “heal naturally”. This mean Kisenosato was to spend weeks resting his left upper body. He did not train much, and he was to do everything he could to not use that muscle group. Anyone who has trained athletically can tell you, over a period of weeks of non use, the related and supporting muscle groups de-condition, and lose their power. By resting, Kisenosato was losing the strength and stamina that had made him Yokozuna.

For the past two basho, he has tried to compete, but he is completely out of shape now, and most likely that pectoral muscle is still damaged and generating a faction of its former power. Kisenosato cannot compete in his present physical form, and that form cannot change without medical intervention.

So the question is – what do to? All of the answers have huge down side. Here are a few

  • Continue to wait and hope – So continue to “heal naturally” knowing that every day that goes by without intense strain on the left upper body diminishes your strength. Medically, there is no way to naturally heal a pectoral tear. So Kisenosato never regains left side upper body strength. We get a sub-standard Yokozuna lingering in the shadows (like Kakuryu) but instead it’s your Japanese born hero rikishi. Eventually (probably later this year) he is pushed to retire due to lack of performance.
  • Medical intervention – You take your prize Yokozuna to the best sports medicine doctors in the world, and just tell the fans he’s gone for 6 months. Surgical repair of the pectoral and any other nagging bits that were plaguing him. Hakuho did this for the big toe on his right foot, and he had to train like a madman for months just to step on the dohyo and not embarrass himself. It took him a year to return to 90% of his former glory. For Kisenosato this would likely mean intense physical therapy and endless workouts with Takayasu to try to get back to the form that won Hatsu 2017.
  • Admit you are done – Ugly solution, but if you are not going to try surgery to fix your left upper body, may as well go intai now and save yourself further damage or the fans any further disappointment. This would be a nightmare scenario of the sumo association, as it would return them to the days of being considered a foreign dominated sport.
  • Hold the fort – The most cruel of the outcomes, Kisenosato can continue to compete as best he can until another Japanese rikishi is ready for promotion. The most likely candidate would be Takayasu, although Goeido 2.0 could get it done sooner. This would allow the sumo association to shift everyone’s affections to a new hero, and Kisenosato could quietly bow out and retire.

Yokozuna Kisenosato Withdraws From Nagoya Basho


Angry-Kisse

Too Much Damage To Continue.

Sadly, Yokozuna Kisenosato has announced that he is withdrawing from the Nagoya basho, effective on day 6. This means that his opponent Kotoshogiku picks up his second win of the tournament. Kisenosato is still nursing his left pectoral tear (and subsequent complications), and an now add to that damage to his left ankle, courtesy of a flying toss from the dohyo supplied by his day 5 opponent, Ikioi.

Tachiai thinks that it would be best for Kisenosato to concede that he is in rough and declining physical condition, and just sign up for a multi month surgical and recuperation cycle. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Nagoya Day 6 Preview


Kisenosato-Dohyo-iri

Who Will Sit, And Who Will Fight?

Word just as this was going on the blog is that Ozeki Terunofuji has wisely decided that his newly repaired knee is not ready for combat, and he will sit out the remainder of the Nagoya basho. Though he will be kadoban (he was going to be anyhow) for Aki, if his knee is healthy he is more than capable of fixing that situation in the first 10 days.

We still away the “day of” decision on Kisenosato, who seems to have really damaged his ankle as Ikioi launched him from the dohyo into the Tate Gyoji. Right now, Kisenosato is a sports medicine superfund site. I would almost suggest that he just give up until Kyushu, develop and execute a complete rebuild plan. Yes, it would be a let down to the fans, but I think it would be less of a let down than seeing their hopes dashed by an increasingly crippled Japanese born Yokozuna.

Matches We Like

Sadanoumi vs Nishikigi – Although he suffered his first defeat on day 5, Nishikigi is already half way to his kach-koshi. Today he faces Sadanoumi, whom he leads on the career totals 6-4. Sadanoumi is fighting well this tournament, and this could be a really vigorous battle.

Takarafuji vs Chiyomaru – Another Juryo escapee, Chiyomaru, is fighting hard to ensure he’s not relegated back to the farm league any time soon. Today he faces Takarafuji whom he has never beaten.

Takanoiwa vs Aoiyama – Unbeaten Aoiyama faces a rikishi with zero wins so far. Aoiyama has a limited range of sumo, but at this rank he is able to fight with great effect. Right now he is tied with Hakuho for the leader position of the basho.

Daieisho vs Onosho – Onosho shows no sign of slowing down, and in fact is looking sharper every day that he is on the dohyo. He has a slight career edge of Daieisho. Both of them are avid oshi-zumō disciples, so the blows will fly in their bout. Look for Daieisho to try to win the tachiai and keep Onosho outside and on the move.

Tochiozan vs Kagayaki – Tochiozan is quietly racking up an impressive score so far, and seems to be very effective at taking control of the bout and imposing his plans on each match. Kagayaki is a young up-and comer, and may not have much to counter the veteran’s battle plan. This is a first meeting between these two.

Ura vs Takakeisho – Ura has never beaten Takakeisho. In their 6 prior matches, he’s not been able to overcome Takakeisho’s blistering attacks. Typically Takakeisho begins with a massive tachiai, and then rains blows down on Ura until he crumbles. Maybe Ura will take a page from Hakuho and offer him the chest?

Yoshikaze vs Mitakeumi – Match with one of the highest potentials for awesome on day 6. Although common sense would be to vote for the Sekiwake over the Komusubi, Mitakeumi has lost all 3 of their prior bouts. I am sure Yoshikaze is looking for some actual sumo after day 5’s Hakuho Henka (Henkaho? Hakukaka?).

Tamawashi vs Goeido – Please oh please let Goeido 2.0 come out to play today. If we can get that this could be a huge brawl between two practitioners of sumo at lighting speed with overwhelming amounts of aggression. Just what we need to start the second act.

Takayasu vs Tochinoshin – Big and strong meets big and strong. Time fans to find out not only what kind of condition Tochinoshin’s knee is in, but also how lose both rikishi’s fillings are. I predict a monster collision at the tachiai followed by a burly man mega brawl. But be on the look out for a Tochinoshin henka. He uses it sparingly, and with Takayasu’s tendency to rush forward strongly, it would be highly effective.

Hakuho vs Hokotofuji – Hokotofuji will get a very different reception, I would guess, than Takakeisho did. Where Takakeisho is kind of small and almost like a capsule toy, Hokotofuji is a lumbering hulk who spends a lot of time studying his opponents. Hakuho will likely try to nullify him at the tachiai and blast him out early. To have any chance, Hokotofuji will have to sacrifice everything, and endure a torrent of tsuppari to get inside. Without that, it’s all Hakuho.

Kisenosato vs Kotoshogiku – Both of these two wrecks should be in dry dock, not on the dohyo. Not that it really matters much given both of them would qualify for wheel chairs, but Kotoshogiku has a slight career edge at 34-31.

Ikioi vs Harumafuji – I am sure Ikioi is happy his only win is a kinboshi. So I am sure that Harumafuji will pommel him around a bit before he takes Ikioi to the clay.

Nagoya Day 5 Highlights


Kisenosato

Less Crazy, More Pushing, Thrusting, Throws!

Day 5 closed out the first act of the Nagoya basho with a day that seems to have been devoted to pushing, shoving and all things oshi-zumō. Even the big guys got in on it, and the results were really exciting. As noted last night, Endo is out fairly hard, likely for a couple of months with damage to his ankle to compliment the problem he was already having with his ACL.

This means Ura is now on deck to provide fodder for the upper ranks, as the lack of Kakuryu and Endo (and possibly soon Kisenosato and Terunofuji) means that the lower ranked Maegashira will be tapped to participate in joi level bouts that they might normally avoid. Ura looked very good today (more on that below), so he is going to be alright in his joi bouts over the next 10 days.

Terunofuji is clearly very hurt, and I wonder if he is risking the repair work he had done to his knee by competing. With any luck he will be taken aside by his stable master or some official in the NSK and convinced to heal. We may lose 1-2 Yokozuna this year, and it would be really wonderful to see Terunofuji push for a shot at the rope.

As predicted, the retirement rumors are swirling around Yokozuna Kakuryu. Truth be told that he has the speed and skill to perform at Yokozuna levels, but his body is falling apart, and can’t support the intensity of competition that the modern sumo league has adopted. This raises a question that has been rattling my poor tired brain. Are 6 basho per year too many? Should the NSK move to 4? Perhaps 2 in Tokyo and 2 “Not in Tokyo”. With the Not in Tokyo venues changing to bring sumo to a larger area of Japan. I am sure that to the existing Kyushu, Osaka and Nagoya, a basho in Hokkaido would be greatly welcomed (especially in the height of summer), and an old-timey outdoor basho in Kyoto would be a real marque event.

Last but certainly not least – it was clear that Kisenosato had sustained some injury to his left ankle during today’s match with Ikioi. The big Yokozuna took a dive into the first row of zabuton, landing on a Gyoji. Word from Kintamayama’s daily newsletter is that he was taken directly to the hospital, and they are leaving his status for day 6 as a decision for the morning.

Highlight Matches

Kaisei defeats Gagamaru – To me it looks like Kaisei may have lost weight, or at least is more healthy than he has been in months. He handled a failing Gagamaru well.

Arawashi defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi finally loses one. Match started with a matta. that should have been two matta, but Arawashi found his mark and Nishikigi went down.

Shohozan defeats Takekaze – After a Shohozan matta, Takekaze employs a henka, but Shohozan is having none of it. In fact it seemed to really crank up “Big Guns” and what followed was Shohozan chasing Takekaze around the dohyo. Though Takekaze battled back briefly, Shohozan was out for blood.

Onosho defeats Ishiura – Huge tachiai from Onosho was carried into a blistering attack. Match ended with Ishiura taking flight into the second row. Onosho is really impressing me right now.

Ura defeats Tochinoshin – I am trying to restrain my superlatives, but this was damn brilliant work by Ura. Tochinoshin had him on size, reach, weight and strength. What was he to do? His plan seems to have been to get inside and push like mad. Tochinoshin, being the veteran he is, knew this was going to happen, and masterfully kept striking Ura away. Ura set a trap, by backing up to the tawara, baiting Tochinoshin to come push him out. As Tochinoshin moved to take the bait, inside went Ura – who grabbed a leg, and with a quick pivot it was Tochinoshin who left the ring. Ura doubters, take note – this was a big match in the progression of Ura.

Mitakeumi defeats Tamawashi – Mitakeumi continues unbeaten against Tamawashi, as he strongly took command from the tachiai and forced Tamawashi from the dohyo in short order.

Kotoshogiku defeats Terunofuji – As a gauge of how damaged and in pain Terunofuji is, he allowed Kotoshogiku to set up and execute his trademark hip pump attack, and could do nothing to stop it. I pray that Terunofuji goes kyujo soon, as i am sure if he is healthy he can battle out of the kadoban status at Aki.

Takayasu defeats Takakeisho – A far cry from day 4’s match with Hakuho, Takakeisho faced the run away freight train that is Takayasu. The tachiai stood Takakeisho upright and rocked him back on his heels, and from there Takayasu batted him around a few times and then threw him down.

Goeido defeats Shodai – Shodai once again brings his weak tachiai, and Goeido really blasted him hard. But from there, Shodai put up a really good fight. I also like that we are seeing more Goeido 2.0 action, as I really like that guy.

Ikioi defeats Kisenosato – Kisenosato seems to have become an injury magnet. Ikioi focused on Kisenosato’s left arm, and cranked it for all he was worth. The Yokozuna took a dive off the dohyo, and seems to have sustained a left ankle injury as well. Ikioi’s first win of Nagoya is a kinboshi against Kisenosato, whom he has never defeated before in 16 attempts.

Harumafuji defeats Hokotofuji – Harumafuji delivers his sumo in a big way today. Hokotofuji is good, and one day he is going to be great, I think, but today it was speed and maneuverability that carried the day. Hokotofuji never had time to counter the Horse’s rocket propelled tachiai, which Harumafuji transitioned seamlessly into a brilliant sukuinage.

Hakuho defeats Yoshikaze – Nobody should be surprised. Yoshikaze was a real threat, and was likely to blast off the tachiai into the boss. That moment of uncertanty would have deicded the match, and there was a fair chance that if Yoshikaze landed a good tsuppari, it could have gotten ugly for Hakuho. I hate to see a Yokozuna throw a henka against my favorite rikishi, but it was kind of the right thing to do here.

Nagoya Day 5 Preview


yoshikaze

Act One Draws To A Close

At the end of day 5, the first third of the Nagoya basho will be complete, or as I like to call it the first act. Scheduling for the first third of the basho is pretty much by formula, and the goal of this period is to find out who is out of gas, who is getting by, and who is really genki.

For the closing scene of the first act, you don’t get more genki than the undefeated dia-Yokozuna Hakuho up against the undefeated berserker Yoshikaze. Hakuho is looking very good thus far, even better than he did during Natsu, if that is possible. When he is in this state, there are few rikishi who can defeat him. But then there is Yoshikaze, a man of such explosive sumo that he reasonably can beat anyone on the right day. It’s a great way to see if anyone is going to slow down Hakuho.

Speaking of “The Boss”, another zensho yusho remains possible, but not predictable at this time. There is an odd thought ratting in the back of my sleep-deprived mind. Hakuho wanted to to break the all time back to back win record held by Futabayama, but some pipsqueak named Kisenosato stopped him short. Now the Futabayama record is from an earlier time in sumo, long before the 6 x 15 day basho per year death march started. But Hakuho is a man driven, and you can be sure that should he be able to go 15-0 in Nagoya, he will steel himself for another run at the “unbreakable” record.

Going into day 5, we have still more of those fantastic first ever matches between the old guard and the young blood. Will it be as chaotic as day 4? Ask me in about 8 hours.

Matches We Like

Gagamaru vs Kaisei – Gagamaru has been doing poorly this basho, and really seems to be walking wounded. Due to Kakuryu’s kyujo, Kaisei visits from Juryo for a battle of the rotund. Kaisei was really out of gas during Natsu, so I am hoping he is now drinking the same juice that Nishikigi seems to have enjoyed last basho.

Arawashi vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi is still undefeated. so it’s time to give him over to Arawashi. Arawashi is capable, but very much hit-or-miss as of late. He has strength, speed and skill, but Nishikigi seems driven. They are perfectly tied 4-4 for career bouts.

Takekaze vs Shohozan – Takekaze has a solid start to Nagoya, and he faces “Big Guns” on day 5. This might be a very good time for Takekaze to employ his oft favored henka rather than face a battle of the belt with Shohozan.

Ishiura vs Onosho – This match has a lot of potential. Onosho has been fighting very well, and steps onto the dohyo ready to win, even if he has to eat someone to do it. In contrast, we only saw real fire from Ishiura on day 4, so maybe he can supply his offense oriented sumo again today. Onosho leads the series 9-5.

Tochinoshin vs Ura – This is either going to be a match of the day, or a complete blow out. Tochinoshin is straight ahead strong man sumo, which if he connects will make quick work of Ura. Ura is a mobile attack platform, he can make 2 moves for every 1 of Tochinoshin. So it will come down to who takes control. Might see Ura’s reverse tachiai today, which would make me very happy. Tochinoshin won their only prior meeting, so let’s see if PlasticMan has studied his loss.

Tamawashi vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi had a tough couple of days, and can recover some momentum against his fellow Sekiwake. Clearly Tamawashi is working to make the case for an Ozeki promotion run, and will need to box in Mitakeumi early. Interestingly enough, Mitakeumi has won all 7 of their prior matches.

Takayasu vs Takakeisho – This will be a radically different match than the one Takakeisho faced on day 4. Fans expect Takayasu to blast this youngster hard from the start, and push with nearly impossible strength. Goal for Takakeisho should be to stretch out the match and wait for Takayasu to overcommit. Takakeisho took quite a bit of punishment from Hakuho on day 4, let’s see what he can do with the big Ozeki.

Shodai vs Goeido – This is only interesting in that I want to see if Goeido 2.0 shows up for this match as well. If he does, we could have some great Goeido matches coming in the next 10 days, which would make me very happy.

Kisenosato vs Ikioi – Ikioi is winless! He needs to pick up a white circle or two, but he may have a challenge from the injured Kisenosato. I am still predicted Kisenosato goes Kyujo within the next 5 days.

Hokutofuji vs Harumafuji – Another huge potential match of the day. Hokutofuji has really impressed fans so far, he is fighting at a much tougher level this basho, and he has risen to the challenge. It’s clear that Harumafuji is holding it together under sheer force of will and stubborn Yokozuna pride. So this could be a chance for another kinboshi, sadly.

Hakuho vs Yoshikaze – Hakuho felt at ease to toy with Takakeisho on day 4, but he has no such luxury on day 5. In addition to having a very strong start in Nagoya, Yoshikaze has changed up his sumo somewhat. Hakuho is great at being able to think and move in an instant, so could be a great match up, even if Yoshikaze has only beaten Hakuho once in their 15 prior matches.

Nagoya Day 4 Highlights


Hakuho-Classroom

Nagoya Crazy Train Still Rolling On.

Many sumo fans assumed that at some point this week, the Nagoya bahso would settle down to a standard sumo grind, but this basho is a run away beer truck rolling down hill. The only hope we have is to climb on board and drink the contents while the ride lasts.

With Yokozuna Kakuryu’s withdrawal from the basho, the noises of his retirement have returned at an elevated volume. I think it would be a great loss for sumo, given that his style is fairly unique. But it’s clear that his body is not up to the challenge of supporting the intense schedule of the modern sumo year.

There was a good amount of concern and confusion in today’s match between Ura and Onosho. To the fans in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnaisum, it must have looked that Onosho was a clear winner. In fact it seems that both rikishi were not quite certain who had won. As the gyoji handed the kensho to Ura, the shimpan rose, and Ura assumed that a monoii had been called. Looking confused, he tried to hand the kensho back to the gyoji. In fact it was simply the half way break, and the Shimpan were changing over.

Lastly, in a bout that I loved, but that many in Japan are criticizing, Hakuho completely and utterly deconstructed fast rising star Takakeisho in the final match of the day. It’s quite understandable that Takakeisho would be in awe of his first ever match against the dai-Yokozuna, and Hakuho played on that. After a series of tsuppari delivered to the young challenger, Takakeisho backed off and waited. This prompted Hakuho to encourage him to attack, and it devolved into butsugari geiko. This may not quite make sense, but in that 30 second bout, Hakuho reduced Takakeisho from challenger, to student. Personally I found it endearing, but it seems that a good amount of the sumo mainstays in the NSK found it quite insulting.

Selected Matches

Nishikigi defeats Sokokurai – Nishikigi continues to look renewed in his return to Makuuchi. He is now 4-0 and half way to his kachi-koshi. Sokokurai put up a good fight, but Nishikigi was not going to lose.

Tokushoryu defeats Chiyonokuni – Tokushoryu completely overpowered Chiyonokuni in this match, which resulted in a monii. I have to wonder if Chiyonokuni is nursing some injury from Natsu, as he continues to turn in dismal results.

Aoiyama defeats Shohozan – Aoiyama the man mountain continues to dominate, and remains unbeaten thus far. I am certain that Maegashira 8 is the perfect rank for Aoiyama, as he seems to be doing very well with this degree of difficulty.

Ishiura defeats Chiyotairyu – Ishiura showed up with some really solid sumo today, and the crowd loved it. I am not sure if he has physical or confidence problems, but everyone is hoping to see that same hard-charging sumo machine that first entered Makuuchi in January.

Ura defeats Onosho – In addition to the post-match confusion, this was some really solid sumo from both men. Onosho really pushed hard from the tachiai, but lost momentum moments from victory. His final pulling throw at the edge saw his foot out for just a moment as Ura took flight.

Tochiozan defeats Endo – Something happened at the tachiai, and Endo more or less stopped trying just after the initial charge. All of sumo hopes Endo is not harboring some performance limiting injury.

Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Takayasu’s initial shoulder blast seems to have disoriented Mitakeumi, who was never able to get stable and attack. Takayasu continued to press the attack and move forward, and prevailed. This is two days in a row where it seems Mitakeumi became disoriented after a really solid blow to the head on the tachiai.

Goeido defeats Ikioi – Example of Goeido 2.0 behavior. Explode into the tachiai, carry that momentum into your opponent’s chest and just run him off the dohyo. Sadly Ikioi is winless.

Hokutofuji defeats Terunofuji – Hokutofuji is holding up very well against sumo’s top ranks. If he can stay healthy, he will join them before long. It’s clear that Terunofuji is struggling daily to compete through the pain.

Kisenosato defeats Shodai – All of the sumo world breaths a sigh of relief. Not only did he win, but he was producing power through his left side. Maybe he can make a go of it after all. Shodai, of course, had a terrible tachiai.

Harumafuji defeats Tochinoshin – Excellent deploy of Harumafuji’s mini-henka, against an opponent who sort of expected it.

Hakuho defeats Takakeisho – In what I can only call “Mole Boss Sumo”, Hakuho is cat to Takakeisho’s mouse. When they made this Yokozuna, they broke the mould. Much respect to Takakeisho for continuing to try to attack in spite of Hakuho batting him around like a piece of twine.

Nagoya Day 4 Preview


Endo-Doomed

With Kakuryu Out, Endo Joins The Meat Grinder.

Blog contributor and reader Iksumo has correctly pointed out that with Yokozuna Kakuryu’s withdrawal from the Nagoya Basho, Maegashira 3w joins the joi. Readers may have seen us use the term “joi” in the past. It is a fairly loose reference to the top echelon of Makuuchi; those that will have to face Yokozuna and Ozeka as fodder for their sport. Luckily Endo has been in the joi several times before, and is more than ready to take his turn in the meat grinder.

Day 3 gave some comfort to long time sumo fans. At long last all 3 Ozeki won, and Yokozuna Harumafuji scored his first win. But Harumafuji looked far from his poised, aggressive self both before the match and after. He is clearly in a good amount of pain in his lower body, and I worry that he too may find it necessary to sit out some part of this basho.

Sadly, Kisenosato is also looking damaged, and we face a real possibility that we could only have one Yokozuna active (Hakuho) during week two.

Matches We Like

Gagamaru vs Kotoyuki – Both of these rikishi have had a terrible start to this tournament. Gagamaru especially has not been doing well, and is clearly in pain. Kotoyuki as well suffers from a host of injuries, and spent a day kyujo during Natsu.

Nishikigi vs Sokokurai – Nishikigi really has found his stride, and is working to show that he belongs in Makuuchi. He has only faced Sokokurai once before, and lost. Given his 3-0 start, he may be ready to even the score.

Aoiyama vs Shohozan – “Big Guns” Shohozan goes up against the man-mountain Aoiyama. Aoiyama wins in terms of bulk, power and reach. But Shohozan can take a shot and give as good as he gets. If they get started well, this could be a slap fest for the ages. Aoiyama leads the career series 12-6, so advantage to the Bulgarian.

Ura vs Onosho – Ura was off his sumo on day 3, and I wager he will be back in form for Onosho, whom he has faced several times in the past, and defeated 3 times to 1 loss. Onosho is unbeaten so far this basho, and is looking quite strong and confident. This match has a lot of potential.

Tochiozan vs Endo – Both of these rikishi come into today with 2-1 records, and both of them have been looking fairly well thus far. Endo needs to tune up for his rotation through the upper ranks, but Tochiozan tends to beat Endo with a high degree of predictability.

Takayasu vs Mitakeumi – The shin-Ozeki vs the future-Ozeki. Day 3 Mitakeumi seemed to have stopped prematurely, so he will get a chance today to apply his sumo with gusto. Takayasu leads their series 5-3, but Mitakeumi has a lot to prove.

Terunofuji vs Hokutofuji – Injured Terunofuji vs the up-and-coming Maegashira who has shown a lot of poise, ingenuity and strength. This is their first meeting, so once again we get to see how both men handle the first encounter.

Kisenosato vs Shodai – Should Kisenosato drop this bout to Shodai, it will be very dark days for the newest Yokozuna indeed. It is clear that he has not recovered, and that thus far he has not been fighting at even Ozeki level. Shodai will (hopefully) get his tachiai together for day 4.

Tochinoshin vs Harumafuji – With Harumafuji sore, Tochinoshin has a real chance for another kinboshi. More recent followers of sumo may not know this, but at one time Tochinoshin (before his injuries) as a serious contender for upper ranks. It is really nice to see him competing at this level once more. Harumafuji leads the career bouts 21-6.

Hakuho vs Takakeisho – Yet another first meeting, this time the hard charging up and comer goes face to face with the dai Yokozuna. I am sure that Takakeisho will be a bundle of nerves, but I just hope he puts up a good struggle.