Natsu Day 11 Preview


kaiju mode
Ozeki Terunofuji Headed to McDonalds In Ryogoku, 11:22 PM Tuesday

We Start The Final Act

As we begin the last 5 days of this awesome tournament, it’s time to check up on a few of our story threads

Takayasu’s Ozeki Run – I would declare this on uncertain footing but still quite possible. Takayasu needs to face another Yokozuna who is currently unbeaten, and both Ozeki, one of which is operating in kaiju mode. That leaves him with 2-3 plausible wins, so still possible.

Injured Yokozuna Corps – Kakuryu already has withdrawn. He is probably facing pressure now to retire. He can in fact hang his hopes of delaying that by his November yusho in Fukuoka. Kisenosato insists on competing even though he lacks the strength in his upper body to present a reasonable threat to the upper San’yaku. Harumafuji and Hakuho have reverted to their genki forms, and are unbeaten and undeterred. It’s wonderful to see them both back to their former potency, and we are reminded of how they dominated everything sumo for years.

No-Zeki – Goeido is kadoban, this tournament, and is only 6-4 as of today. It’s not too far of a stretch to think he can pick up 2 more wins, but that’s very weak performance for an Ozeki. This week he faces all 3 Yokozuna, so I would guess at least 2 more losses are inbound. His match with Tamawashi may be the decider. Terunofuji on the other hand seems to be in the same mode he was in during Osaka. That of a rampaging sumo powerhouse with unbeatable strength. He has yet to face any Yokozuna, and I am guessing that he has a fair chance of beating any of them, except Kisenosato. I think he could actually injure Kisenosato.

Mitakeumi’s Komisubi Residency – He was out to strong start, but then hit some very rough patches. Now, Mitakeumi is in real danger of going make-koshi and being pushed back to rank and file Maegashira. I personally don’t think that’s going to harm him, as there is still a bunch of brush clearing that needs to take place in San’yaku before the promotion lanes are actually open. He has faced all of the Ozeki, but still needs to get by Harumafuji on day 11. After that he should draw some easier matches, and may end up 8-7 if he is not too discouraged.

Ojisan Kotoshogiku – We are at day 10, and he is still not make-koshi. His next loss seals his demotion, but he has faced both Ozeki and all three Yokozuna. Is it possible he can win his last 5 matches and escape demotion? Yes, but it would be highly improbably. But look at who he is likely to face: Chiyonokuni (2-8), Okinoumi (1-9!), Daieisho (2-8), Aoiyama (2-8)? We get to Tochiozan before we find a rikishi who is looking strong. So don’t write of Kotoshogiku yet. Then there is the thought of a Shodai – Kotoshogiku match, which might be a big deal.

Upper Maegashira Blood Bath – Ranks M1 – M5 contain 10 rikishi, only 3 of them have even or winning records. This is not atypical by any means, as the upper Maegashira are frequently the punching bags of the San’yaku, but the last few basho had been relatively gentle on these folks. But Natsu has brought the pain back with vengeance.

Juryo Meat Grinder – Upper Juryo is in worse shape than anything I have seen in some time. None of the top 6 Juryo ranks has anyone with more than 6 wins. Without a strong leader or leaders, it throws the promotion picture into chaos. It’s clear that a number of rikishi will be booted out of Makuuchi, but are any of these Juryo guys worthy to replace them?

Osunaarashi In Trouble – He is 1-9 right now. Given that the NSK has given him brutal demotions in the past, it’s reasonable to ask how far down the banzuke he will fall. It was clear from watching him in person that his multiple, unrecovered injuries have robbed him of the physical presence he used to command.

Natsu Leader board

LeadersHarumafuji, Hakuho
Chasers – Terunofuji, Takayasu, Shodai, Tochinoshin, Ura

5 Matches Remain

* Note, we are almost to the point where the math required for anyone to catch Hakuho or Harumafuji becomes unworkable.

Matches We Like

Kaisei vs Toyohibiki – In spite of his injuries, it seems Kaisei decided he is not going back to Juryo, no matter what. He needs 2 more wins to make that a reality. He has a 10-5 career advantage over Toyohibiki.

Tochinoshin vs Tokushoryu – Tokushoryu trying for kachi-koshi against a resurgent Tochinoshin. I am looking for Tochinoshin to employ his massive strength and size advantage if he can grab the mawashi, Tochinoshin will be thrusting with everything to keep the big Georgian away.

Chiyotairyu vs Takakeisho – Less of a mismatch than a M7 vs M14 bout should be. If Takakeisho wins, he claims his kachi-koshi. But Chiyotairyu has beaten him 2 out of their 3 times they have matched before. I would guess Chiyotairyu is going to try for a quick slap down before Takakeisho can set his feet and start his sumo.

Ura vs Shodai – Also a match likely better than you would expect with a M10 vs M5 bout. Ura deploy his quantum sumo against Shodai’s flawed tachiai. As Ura will probably go low and crazy, it’s going to be fun to see how Shodai reacts. This is their first ever match. May be the best match of day 11.

Endo vs Yoshikaze – Time to see if Endo learned anything from the Mitakeumi vs Yoshikaze bout. I am guessing he did not. Interestingly enough, these two are tied 5-5 over their career. Endo is looking a bit off now, and may be hurt, where Yoshikaze seems to actually be enjoying himself almost as much as Hakuho is.

Kotoshogiku vs Chiyonokuni – Yes, Chiyonokuni is already make-koshi, but he has not been phoning in his matches. He has stepped on the dohyo each day with a plan to win, and he has given it his all. Kotoshogiku has a narrow path to hold onto Sekiwake, and the next step is defeating Chiyonokuni.

Tochiozan vs Takayasu – This is a must win for Takayasu. Given the brutality of the rest of his schedule, he needs to bank this win. Tochiozan is stronger this basho than he has looked since Nagoya 2016, so it’s not a foregone conclusion. Also of note is Tochiozan leads the career matches 18-5, so he has a habit of beating Takayasu. Much as Kintamayama seems to play on it, it does seem true that Takayasu is a chronic worrier, and it may restrain his sumo on day 11.

Terunofuji vs Aoiyama – The only question is what look of pain Aoiyama will have on his face moments after the tachiai. Kailua for the win over the man shaped meat mountain.

Hakuho vs Goeido – Only Goeido 2.0 has a chance here, and it would be so very magical if he appeared and battled Hakuho to a win. But reality says Hakuho is going to play with Goeido for a bit, then toss him around. Success here means that Goeido can come out of it without an injury.

Harumafuji vs Mitakeumi – I am still hoping to see the death-spin. It’s been many months since Harumafuji tried to put a man in orbit, and I do so hope he can pull that one out this basho. Mitakeumi is still going to be a big deal in a while, but day 11 he gets to “enjoy” Harumafuji.

Kisenosato vs Tamawashi – Although Kisenosato has won all 9 of their prior meetings, Tamawashi has a fair chance against the one-armed Yokozuna. I am still looking for Kisenosato to do the responsible thing and go kyujo.

Natsu Banzuke Prediction Post-mortem


Two key criteria for developing good predictions are: (1) quantitative evaluation of the prediction and (2) accountability. With that in mind, I take a look at how my banzuke prediction performed.

Upper San’yaku was “chalk” as expected. In the lower San’yaku, I (and other predictions on this site) correctly had Yoshikaze filling the komusubi slot vacated by Shodai. I don’t understand the order of the three sekiwake ranks, as it appears unchanged despite the very different performances at Haru that had all of us predicting the order as Takayasu 1E, Kotoshogiku 1W and Tamawashi 2E.

In the maegashira ranks, of the 31 predictions, I had 11 “bulls-eyes” (correct rank and side” and 3 more correct rank predictions. This is way fewer than I expected or would have liked. The 17 misses were mostly not too bad: 13 missed by one rank, 3 missed by two ranks, and I had Osunaarashi (J1) moving up to M16 and Myogiryu (M15) dropping to J1.

There are three parts to the prediction: the computed ranks, tie-breaking among rikishi with identical ranks, and the departures I make from the computed ranks based on past banzuke patterns. Let’s look at these in turn.

The computed ranks were quite accurate: the official banzuke departs from these in only a couple of places. The computed rank would have Takarafuji at M3, but because of his make-koshi at that rank at Haru, the prediction and the banzuke moved him down to M4. Shodai (one of my two-rank misses) should be down at M7, and I still feel like the NSK cut him way too much slack after his 4-11 performance. And Arawashi and Ishiura would switch sides (but not ranks).

My tie-breaker was higher rank at Haru. This largely resulted in both of my other two-rank misses, as Takanoiwa should have been ranked above Tochiozan (and Aoiyama) by this rule. Presumably his 6-9 record at Haru led to his being dropped further down, although this is not necessarily consistent with past banzuke patterns. In a number of other cases, the tie-breaker got the relative order right, and I will need to look closely to see if the tie-break part of the prediction can be improved.

So, on to the departures from the computed rank order. One rule that resulted in many of my misses was to drop rikishi with 7-8 make-koshi records one spot from their rank at Haru, even if the computed rank would have them retaining their rank. This has often (but not always) been done in past banzuke. Although this rule correctly placed Takarafuji at M4, it placed Kagayaki, Tochinoshin, Ishiura and Daishomaru one slot too low, which also led to one-rank misses in the other direction for Ura, Arawashi, Kotoyuki and Onosho. It seems that the NSK is inconsistent in this scenario, and I’ll have to see if any pattern can be identified.

So overall, I am happy with my computed ranks, need to think more about the tie-break procedure, and need to be more careful with subjective departures from the computed ranks (this also includes demoting Myogiryu in favor of promoting Osunaarashi, even though Myogiryu had a better computed rank).

Others can chime in with how they fared. There will be another opportunity to predict the Nagoya banzuke after Natsu is the in books, and in the meantime we’ll have some actual sumo to watch!

Handicapping The Natsu Banzuke – Part 1


banzuke-1

No Surprises Here

After fairly reasonable success with the Haru banzuke, I dusted off the old spreadsheet and decided to turn the crank for May. The real banzuke is only a week away, and there are a few things that are deep in the unknown, given the chaos and decimation that took place in March to the upper Maegashira ranks. In this series, we take our best guess at where everyone will be ranked for the next tournament in Tokyo.

The San’yaku banzuke is fairly straightforward, with the question being who fills the empty slot at Komosubi vacated by Shodai, and what order the rest of the top men of sumo will take in their respective ranks.

East Rank West
Kisenosato Yokozuna Kakuryu
Harumafuji Yokozuna Hakuho
Terunofuji  Ozeki  Goeido
Takayasu Sekiwake Kotoshogiku
Tamawashi Sekiwake
Mitakeumi Komusubi Yoshikaze

Yokozuna

With just a slight shuffle from March, we now see two time yusho winner Kisenosato as 1 East, with Hakuho dropping to 2 West after sitting out most of Haru with lingering foot problems. During the spring jungyo, Kakuryu was the only Yokozuna making daily appearances for a few weeks, as everyone else was injured and recovering. This further underscores the problems with the current Yokozuna crowd. Now all of them are injured and degraded in some way.

As is frequently the case, there was scant coverage of the true extent of Kisenosato’s injuries, so it will be interesting to see if he is still weakened or if he has fully recovered. Hakuho and Harumafuji were both able to join the jungyo tour a few weeks ago, and were at least able to train with the other rikishi.

Ozeki

Terunofuji’s fantastic performance in March may have not been a sign of things to come, as it seems he re-injured his knees in his day 13 bout against Kakuryu. This explains a few things about his henka against Kotoshogiku, and also why an injured Kisenosato had any chance in his final day match. When Terunofuji is healthy and in fighting form, he is fast, effective and at times a bit scary. We hope he comes to Natsu in form and ready to fight, but fear his chronic injuries are going to hobble him yet again.

The same can be said about Goeido, who had a horrific injury towards the end of Hatsu, and had reconstructive surgery on his ankle. He competed during the March tournament in Osaka, and was a complete mess – clearly not recovered or ready for action. He enters this tournament kadoban once again.

Sekiwake

A second tournament with three Sekiwake, as none of them had a record worthy of demotion. Kotoshogiku has decided to remain active and fighting, though his chances of re-promotion to Ozeki are nonexistent. It is unknown if he is still plagued by the injuries that had degraded his performance to the point he was demoted. Tamawashi managed to hold on to his Sekiwake rank with a 1 win kachi-koshi. He is not yet strong enough to contend for an Ozeki slot, but the fact that he has been able to survive as Sekiwake this long is a testament both to his talent (and training) and the problems in the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps.

Of course, there is Takayasu. He is 10 wins away from securing a promotion to Ozeki, and he has been looking in form for the last several basho. But with Kisenosato out and injured, the logical question must be what effect that will have on Takayasu. Both men are constant training partners, and their mutual strength, determination and dedication is what has driven their increasing performance. Take that away, and it’s natural to wonder what effect Kiseonsato’s absence will have on Takayasu’s Ozeki efforts.

Komusubi

Mitakeumi, sumo’s next-next Ozeki, remains at Komusubi in spite of performance and records that would normally have him sharing Sekiwake with Takayasu. Mitakeumi has been bringing fantastic sumo to the dohyo every match, and I am eager to see him battle his way up to the next rank. Joining him at Komusubi is none other than my favorite, Yoshikaze. This was a tough call, as there was such a blood bath in the top 4 Maegashira ranks that Shodai actually had better computed rank, even with his horrific 4-11 record. So there was really only one choice, and that is veteran sumo berserker Yoshikaze.

Guess the Natsu Banzuke 2.0


In my previous guest post, I made predictions for the Natsu banzuke right after the conclusion of the Haru basho. With the release of the official Natsu banzuke only 10 days away, I thought I’d update my predictions, based partly on the feedback I received from Tachiai readers. In addition to pointing out the inherent unpredictability of the banzuke due to subjective NSK committee decisions, commenters noted that the committee tends to favor higher-ranked rikishi over lower-ranked ones to a greater extent than my predictions did. With that in mind, here is a second attempt at the Natsu banzuke.

Rank East West
K Mitakeumi Yoshikaze (3)
M1 Chiyonokuni (3) Endo (4)
M2 Okinoumi (3) Chiyoshoma (4)
M3 Daieisho (4) Takanoiwa (5)
M4 Takarafuji (4) Aoiyama (5)
M5 Takekaze (6) Ikioi (6)
M6 Tochiozan (5) Hokutofuji (6)
M7 Shodai (7) Takakeisho (6)
M8 Shohozan (8) Sokokurai (9)
M9 Ichinojo (10) Ura (11)
M10 Kagayaki (10) Arawashi (13)
M11 Tochinoshin (11) Kotoyuki (14)
M12 Ishiura (12) Tokushoryu (14)
M13 Toyohibiki (14) Onosho (15)
M14 Daishomaru (14) Chiyotairyu (16)
M15 Kaisei (17) Oyanagi (17)
M16 Osunaarashi (18)

I rank-ordered the rikishi by a score based on their rank in the previous basho and their win-loss record. This score, given in parentheses, roughly corresponds to the rank the wrestler “deserves,” (i.e. 3 = M3), though of course the actual rank is affected by the ranks of others and the need to fill all the slots. So for instance, this time around, even though nobody below Mitakeumi had a score above 3, the KW, M1 and M2 slots still needed to be filled.

I then generally simply filled in the ranks from K1W to M16E in this order, with ties broken in favor of higher rank at Haru. The main consistent departure from this order is that those with make-koshi must drop a rank; this affected Takarafuji, Kagayaki, Tochinoshin, Ishiura, and Daishomaru, who otherwise might have been placed a rank or two higher. Takanoiwa, Ura, Arawashi, Kotoyuki, and Onosho benefited by being ranked a bit higher as a result of this rule.

I’ve indicated other deviations from this rank order by italics. I gave the nod to Endo over Okinoumi for M1W given Endo’s popularity and higher rank. I placed Tochiozan at M6 instead of M5 so that Takekaze and Ikioi, who had identical Haru performances at the same rank, would remain at the same rank. And I brought Osunaarashi back to makuuchi in favor of Myogiryu, who drops to Juryo, along with Sadanoumi, Kyokushuho, Nishikigi, and Chiyoo.

Differences in rank from my previous prediction are in color, red for higher and blue for lower; bold indicates differences of more than one step in rank. These predictions are more sensitive to assumptions about how rikishi with identical or very similar scores are ranked relative to each other, and therefore have lower confidence.

Have at it with your own predictions! I might try to compile how we did after the banzuke is released.

A Closer Look at San’yaku after Week 1


Moment of Silence
One of these men is more consistent than the others – and basically everyone else.

Hi there – this is my first guest post on the site, so thanks for having me! Following Bruce’s analysis last week, contrasting the early upper san’yaku vs lower san’yaku results from the current Basho to that of last year’s Nagoya tournament, I posited that it might be interesting to have a look at a larger sample size and determine if what we’re seeing is the product of a shift in the performance of the upper san’yaku over time, and what it might mean.

I pulled the first week win/loss data (up through day 8) of each tournament going back to January 2015, the logic being that a 2 year period of first week bouts would give us an idea of what it means to perform at the level of a Yokozuna or an Ozeki in this day and age. I selected 8 days because this has typically been the tipping point in the tournament after which the upper san’yaku (of which there have usually been 7) stop being polite and start being real, and are then starting to fight each other.

Finally, I removed forfeit matches due to rikishi going kyujo from the equation entirely. While these wins and losses show up in the history books, they don’t give us a true read on whether or not the rikishi involved are performing at the expected talent level.

This is all basic stuff and is meant to be a jumping off point from which assumptions can be based so that we can have some more detailed conversations in future. So let’s see what the data (which you can see in rawer form here) tells us:

* A Yokozuna can usually be counted on to lose one match in the first week. Over 2015 & 2016, the win rate (or wins per day in Bruce’s format) of a Yokozuna is 85.7%. Taking into account that healthy rikishi will fight 24 times, we’d expect to see 3 losses from the group and this is exactly what happened in 8 of those 12 tournaments.

* Ozeki typically perform 15% worse than the Yokozuna. So, they lose a little more than 1 more match apiece on average than their more prestigious counterparts. Interestingly, this is exactly what has transpired in 2017 as well as 2015 and 2016 – the downturn in Yokozuna performance (~10%) has been almost exactly matched by their Ozeki counterparts in spite of Kisenosato moving up a level: his brilliant Hatsu masked disasters from Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku, while his promotion has covered for the kyujo Hakuho and underperforming Harumafuji and Kakuryu.

Yokozuna Win Percentage 2015-16: 85.7%
Yokozuna Win Percentage 2017: 75.6%

Ozeki Win Percentage 2015-16: 70%
Ozeki Win Percentage 2017: 60.5%

* Hakuho isn’t in trouble – at least as far as week 1 is concerned. He was 7-1 in January and having gone kyujo twice in the 2 years prior (including once mid-basho), he came back with 8-0 and 7-1 starts. He clearly was struggling early in this tournament along with Harumafuji and Kakuryu (who have since seen their records improve), but if his body works then the early results bear out when fighting against his lower ranking san’yaku competitors.

* Sekiwake up their game. Over 2015-16, the expected win rate for a Sekiwake in week 1 was a paltry 46.3% – you wouldn’t even expect them to end up 4-4 never mind challenge for Ozeki promotion, which obviously only happened once (Terunofuji) in that time frame. However this has increased over the first two basho of 2017 to 64.6% – almost as good as an Ozeki would usually be expected to perform (70%).

* This hasn’t been reflected at Komusubi level. Usually Komusubi win 33.2% of their first week matches, but that’s only up to 35.4% this year. Tochinoshin’s tanking at Hatsu is somewhat to blame for this but of the four Komusubi performances this year, only Takayasu has turned in a winning performance at the level in matches fought, and even that was only a 4-3 standing after 8 days. This is still as hard of a level as ever to compete at.

* The recent lower san’yaku level of performance isn’t totally unprecedented, however. While we began to see the tide swing toward the lower san’yaku in January, there were actually 5 better performances over the past couple years – a 5 basho streak starting with a 50% success rate in March 2015 through to a 43.8% hit rate in December 2015 – from the up and comers than in January (42.9% success rate).

* Takayasu may be more special than we think. Most Sekiwake have never returned to the rank over the past 2+ years: only 3 prior rikishi have re-obtained the title after losing it since the start of 2015. However, unlike Ichinojo, Myogiryu and Okinoumi, Takayasu looks to be the first to fight back and look capable of not only hold the rank but have the stuff to move up. Of the prior three, only Myogiryu was even tenuously able to cling on for one more basho at the ranking.

* Kisenosato starts as well as anyone not named Hakuho. While his historical troubles with finishing off the yusho have been well detailed, his week 1 performances have outshined Kakuryu over the last 2+ years and he’s in a dead heat with Harumafuji’s level of performance. While it’s not clear yet that he’s better at this level than a healthy Hakuho, Hakuho’s toe problem means the Shin-Yokozuna was already for all intents and purposes the top dog coming out of the traps even before the the first grain of salt was thrown at Haru.

* No one’s success rate has taken a bigger hit than Goeido. The Ozeki from Osaka’s first week win rate has dropped over 20% in 2017. Historically he’d been expected to win almost exactly two thirds of his opening week matches, but he now sits at a lacklustre 46% – the exact tally we’d typically expect from a Sekiwake that’s might be demoted lower. He really shouldn’t have turned up unfit at Haru.

So what does all of this mean? There’s a certain shift as we’re seeing results that haven’t been there over the past several years, but it’s much too soon to call it a day on the current crop of Yokozuna. At Haru, they’ve lost 2 more matches as a group than we’d expect to have seen, but as recently as November they were turning in a vintage week 1 performance that stands up to anything else they’ve done recently, battering the lower san’yaku with better than expected results.

Health aside, in the short term the data shows that we can probably expect to see some more turbulence in the rankings of a small group of rikishi in between the Sekiwake and Ozeki tiers, and what it means to fight at those levels may become somewhat blurry if Kotoshogiku ends up as the first in what could be a string of yo-yo rikishi. The next two or three basho will be telling to be sure, and I’ll continue to update the data to see how the san’yaku bear out against each other in the early going to try and pick up more signals.

Imbalance In San’yaku By The Numbers


San'yaku

The Yokozuna and Ozeki Are Hurting

It’s clear that the Ozeki / Yokozuna problems from January have not abated, and we are seeing a strong effort from the lower San’yaku. As most sumo fans will tell you, the Sekiwake and Komusubi ranks are horrific assignments that see rikishi get handed brutal losing records that typically launch them down the banzuke for several tournaments. Let’s take a look at Nagoya 2016

Nagoya – Yokozuna / Ozeki (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
4 0 Hakuho
3 1 Harumafuji
3 1 Kakuryu
4 0 Kisenosato
2 2 Goeido
0 4 Kotoshogiku
4 0 Terunofuji

Total of 20 wins, 8 losses after 5 days, or a 0.71 wins / day from this crew. Very powerful. They Yokozuna crew produced 0.83 wins / day, which is even more dominant.

Meanwhile, lower San’yaku was a blood bath

Nagoya – Sekiwake / Komusubi (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
3 1 Kaiesei
0 4 Tochinoshin
0 4 Kotoyuki
3 1 Takayasu

6 wins, 10 losses by day 4. Kaisei and Takayasu were pulling hard, but Kotoyuki and Tochinoshin were being beaten bloody. In fact, now almost a year later and neither one has actually recovered from that basho’s pounding. This crew turned in 0.3 wins / day. Very ugly, right? And this is how it typically is for these ranks.

Now lets see what is happening during the first 4 days of Haru

Osaka – Yokozuna / Ozeki (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
2 2 Hakuho
3 1 Kakuryu
2 2 Harumafuji
4 0 Kisenosato
1 3 Goeido
4 0 Terunofuji

Not as strong, they are producing an average of 0.66 wins / day, with Kisenosato and Terunofuji really hauling most of that themselves. Meanwhile, in lower San’yaku land

Osaka – Sekiwake / Komusubi (day 4)

Win Loss Shikona
2 2 Tamawashi
4 0 Takayasu
3 1 Kotoshogiku
2 2 Mitakeumi
2 2 Shodai

Also averaging a respectable 0.66 wins / day. Instead of the normal beating, the Sekiwake and Komusubi are keeping pace with the Ozeki and Yokozuna. While the basho is still young, this would seem to indicate that there is a real challenge to the top men of sumo from the lieutenant ranks now. Also keep in mind, the first week is “Hell Week” for the Sekiwake and Komusubi, where they are typically pounded to a bloody mess by the Ozeki and Yokozuna. Week 2 has them returning the favor to the Makuuchi troops.

As with Hatsu, this is going to be a departure from the typical basho, and is a further signal that we will likely see a change soon.

Haru Day 1 Preview


Day 1 Preview

Let’s Get Started!

At long last your Tachiai crew is back in Basho mode. The NSK schedulers gave us a great first day to prep us for what could be a pivotal basho as the old guard fights to remain in the face of a powerful new generation of rikishi.

There are many unanswered questions about the health of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps that may only reveal themselves by day 7 or so. The Yokozuna and Ozeki have an “easy” first week fighting the lower San’yaku and upper Maegashira. In fact during the Hatsu basho, we saw a new side of Hakuho where he barely moved during the tachiai in the first week. He stood up and waited for his practice rikishi to come to him for folding and ejection from the Doyho.

But this time is different, but the San’yaku hopefuls and the upper Maegashira smell blood in the water, and even without the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps to face in the first week, they want to best each other jockey for as many as 4 possible Ozeki slots this year. It’s going to be a San’yaku bloodbath, and if the injured upper ranks are not careful, their they may get seriously hurt.

To folks who are recent to Sumo tournaments, a few pointers. Most westerners like myself naturally like to divide things into halves and quarters. Even numbers are happy and comfortable. A basho is 15 days long and does not split evenly. In fact it was never meant to. A basho actually tends to happen in 3 five day acts, each one drives priority and placement in the daily torikumi or match schedule.

The first third is all about warming up your stars, you Ozeki and Yokozuna. Preferably by crushing the daylights out of the Komusubi and Sekiwake along with a few upstart Maegashira. The more of them with make-koshi the better. And you see who seems to be on a “hot” run.

The middle third is all about grooming a leader group, the rikishi who are clearly going to be among the handful that will take the yusho, and ensuring that the “right” group emerges. This is also where you start to see sumotori withdraw due to injury.

The final third is where dreams and crushed, and the champion emerges.

With that being said, let’s get down to business

Day 1 Matches We Like

Takakeisho vs. Daishomaru – There is a strange theme in the lower part of Makuuchi for day one, the ranks seem to be facing off. Here Maegashira 13e faces 13w. There only prior meeting saw Takakeisho win by pushing Daishomaru out from behind (okuridashi)

Sadanoumi vs. Ura – In this one the Maegashira 12s go head to head. If this makes the NHK World highlight real, this may be many US fan’s first chance to see a broadcast of Ura in action. Their only prior bout was in Juryo where Ura won by sukuinage, which is actually a really trick Judo throw.

Ishiura vs Tochiozan – Ishiura starts his climb back where he faces Tochiozan for the first time. Tochiozan has been struggling of late, so there may not be much to this match, but it will provide us an early look to see if Ishiura is getting more comfortable in his sumo at this level.

Ichinojo vs. Aoiyama – Battle of the giants! Ichinojo is one of the few rikishi who might not notice when Aoiyama lands one of his amazing slaps. I will be certain that both men will be flailing away with reckless abandon, and frankly I give a slight edge to Aoiyama this time, although Inchinojo leads there career record 5-2.

Endo vs. Arawashi – Arawashi had a farily bad record coming out of January, and Endo had a losing record as well. They have only matched 3 times prior, with Endo taking 2. If Endo can land a grip within the first few seconds, it’s all Endo. if Arawashi can keep him away at first, he will likely prevail.

Shohozan vs. Takayasu – Another fine scheduling idea – let’s have Kisenosato’s retainers fight each other the first day. Because you know they both want to know who is better. So send the sword-bearer and dew-sweeper in to sort it out like Sumotori do. in their prior 9 matches, Takayasu holds a very slight 5-4 edge. But by all accounts in the press, Takayasu has been training in “Beast Mode” in Kisenosato’s fight-club dungeon in Osaka. So this will be an early show of his current mode of sumo.

Tamawashi vs. Takanoiwa – Dont’ let his Maegashira 2 rank fool you, I call him “Demon Hunter Takanoiwa” for a reason. When he gets going his sumo if fast and effective, and even the Yokozuna are never safe. Tamawashi holds a 3-2 edge from their prior meetings, but it will be interesting to see if Tamawashi can deploy his Sekiwake moves. If Takanoiwa can set up for a throw, it’s all over, so keep you feed low and your stance wide, Tamawashi.

Sokokurai vs. Terunofuji – Time to see just how damaged Terunofuji is, and Sokokurai drew the reconnaissance mission. All indications is that Terunofuji is still hurt, not very well tuned up and in demotion condition. Keep in mind Sokokurai has never won against Terunofuji, but there is always a first.

Goeido vs. Ikioi – Ikioi has been steadily improving all through 2016. Now he will test Goeido’s bolt-on ankle repair kit. Ikioi has only won once in their prior 14 matches, but he has more than enough mojo to handle Goeido 1.0 if he is still only partially recovered. If Goeido 2.0 takes the doyho, Ikioi may need a doctor standing by.

Harumafuji vs Kotoshogiku – Demoted Ozeki against one of the strongest pure offenses in sumo. I hope and pray that none of these men do Kotoshogiku any favors, and that they honor him by giving him their full measure. This being Kotoshogiku, he will try to lock up Harumafuji for the hug-n-chug. I am hoping for a death-spin instead. But we are more likely to see the mini-henka or worse yet the old “Darth Vader”.

Mitakeumi vs Kakuryu – I think this will be the match of the day. Mitakeumi, if he stays healthy, is an important rikishi for many years to come. He had a chance to advance his cause with the most reactive and dynamic people in Sumo. I am convinced that Kakuryu has not pre-set plan, and waits for his opponent to open up, then concocts a series of countering moves that leaves that rikishi in increasingly bad positions, until Kakuryu just pushes them out or down. Kakuryu has won 2 of their 3 lifetime matches, so Mitakeumi has a chance to draw his mark early.

Special Wakaichiro Note

Tachiai favorite, Texas Sumotori Wakaichiro, fights his first bout in Jonokuchi early Sunday. He faces Jonokuchi 6 Shunpo, who has been strugging to escape Jonokuchi for 5 basho. Shunpo is only 16 years old and weighs about 213 pounds (97 kg). As always, we will post news and video as we can find it.