Hatsu Day 7 Preview

I am impressed that we have gotten to day 7 with no additional kyujo, though I suspect that there are a few rikishi who would be eligible. I am sure that with so many already sidelined, the remaining athletes feel they need to compete at all costs to make sure the fans get a solid tournament. I think this weighed most heavily on Takakeisho, who I think may have an over active sense of responsibility at times. He’s hanging in, probably until he gets 8 losses, which may come as soon as this Monday. It’s tough to see him struggle, but for whatever reason, he is still with us.

I am also impressed that at the start of the middle weekend of the tournament, we have Daieisho and Akiseyama undefeated. I am not sure if these two are going to be at the head of the yusho race at the start of act 3, but it’s fun to think that we could have another Maegashira yusho in 2021 as well. While Akiseyama is not the last man on the banzuke, he is just 1 slot ahead of Sadanoumi.

What We Are Watching Day 7

Sadanoumi vs Churanoumi – Speaking of the last man on the banzuke, he’s up against a Juryo visitor on day 7, and this is their first ever match. While Sadanoumi is not doing exceptionally well, he is still in a position to finish with a kachi-koshi. 7 wins or less would certainly relegate him to Juryo after 3 years in the top division. Both have 3-3 records.

Kotonowaka vs Midorifuji – Kotonowaka won the only prior match, and is fighting quite well at 5-1. Midorifuji is likely to find a home, at least for a time, in the top division. I am curious if he will get a tradition double digit debut that nets him a special prize. This happens a fair amount of the time, and it’s certainly within reach for Midorifuji.

Yutakayama vs Terutsuyoshi – I am very happy to see that Yutakayama seems to be back in good-enough form. He’s big, and surprisingly agile, which will come in handy against the highly maneuverable Terutsuyoshi, who in spite of his 2-4 score, can easily dispatch Yutakayama if he gets to dictate the form the match takes.

Ichinojo vs Akiseyama – At 6-0, Akiseyama brings momentum into this match against “The Boulder”. Ichinojo dropped yesterday’s match to Kotonowaka, and I think he will be looking to bounce back. While Ichinojo is much taller, these two each carry a significant amount of bulk.

Hoshoryu vs Kotoeko – From a battle of the mega-fauna to a battle of the nimble. Hoshoryu won his first match on day 6, though he did look a bit hurt following to my eye. Should he completely dud out the rest of Hatsu, he could find himself in Juryo for March. He won the only prior match with Kotoeko, but I will be watching to see if Hoshoryu has gotten his sumo together enough to make a stand.

Shimanoumi vs Akua – Akua is giving Hokutofuji a run for the title of “Most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo” this Hatsu. He is putting a lot of power and energy into his sumo each day, but he’s only had one win. Shimanoumi had a hot start to the basho, but has dropped 3 of his last 4. They have split their prior fights at 4-4, so lets see who can take the win today.

Aoiyama vs Kiribayama – Both have 4 wins, and both are headed toward kachi-koshi if they keep their form going for another 9 days. Even though Kiribayama won their only prior match, I favor Big Dan Aoiyama in this match. He’s got his V-Twin form up and running, and it’s tough to take an offensive position when he starts slapping you around.

Myogiryu vs Kagayaki – Both are 3-3, both are struggling a bit, I give an advantage to Myogiryu, as Kagayaki is not looking quite right. He’s high in the tachiai, he’s not keeping his feet low and heavy.

Ryuden vs Tokushoryu – Ugh, another pair of struggling rikishi facing off. They have had 4 prior matches, which they have split 2-2. I think that if Ryuden can stay mobile he has a good chance of picking up a much needed second win. I think if they grapple, it will be advantage Tokushoryu.

Tobizaru vs Okinoumi – Is Tobizaru too small and light to survive competition in the top division? I am starting to wonder. Something has him loosing the bulk of his matches, and it’s not lack of effort. I have noticed that he runs out of stamina, and his opponents tend to wait him out until his intensity drops, then turn on the attack and usually win.

Endo vs Meisei – Meisei is in the elite 1 loss group going into the final weekend, and I would love to see him stay in the running into act 3. Although Endo comes in at only 3-3, he’s always capable of surprising any opponent with exceptional skill and cunning. Endo will go for a grip early, and if he gets it, he will likely end up controlling the match.

Takarafuji vs Tamawashi – Twenty Four (24) career matches between these two, and they have split it right down the middle at 12 and 12. Tamawashi has shown some great power surges in his matches this tournament, and it’s kind of neat to watch him suddenly overflow with strength and just dispatch his opponent. Takarafuji will try to stay away from whatever blast effect Tamawashi will come up with, and wait for his chance to turn the tables.

Takayasu vs Hokutofuji – Takayasu’s gotten very loud in his matches. He tends to start with a big bellowing roar, and it seems to my eye the louder he roars, the less power connects at the tachiai. We have not seen much of Hokutofuji’s handshake tachiai this tournament, so maybe he will bring it back for today. The two are evenly matched, so this has potential to be a good fight.

Daieisho vs Takanosho – Daieisho finishes his tour of the named ranks today with Takanosho, and to be honest, Takanosho may be fighting the best out of all of them. Should Daieisho win, he will have dropped all 7 named ranked rikishi. Quite the accomplishment.

Terunofuji vs Mitakeumi – Now with a 3-3 record, Terunofuji is struggling a bit compared to prior tournaments. While he had thoughts of double digit records and Ozeki runs dancing in his head, I think he now is focused on getting to 8, and that’s the right approach for now. Mitakeumi also had such dreams, but by now he needs to know that it’s not going to happen until he and spend more time practicing against rikishi his own rank.

Asanoyama vs Kotoshoho – I do want to see Asanoyama clear kadoban, but going into the middle weekend with a 3-3 record does not inspire a lot of confidence in that outcome. Luckily he’s got more or less a freebie with a first time match against Kotoshoho, who starts day 7 with a 0-6 record.

Onosho vs Shodai – Onosho has shown a fair amount of explosive sumo this basho. He starts off fast and comes in strong at the start. An all-or-nothing proposition that underscores that he puts everything on the line each day. Shodai is doing the best out of all the Ozeki, and I think his superior balance will allow him to completely disrupt Onosho, removing his primary attack form.

Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin – Takakeisho, are you even genki enough to keep the big Georgian from grabbing your mawashi and rolling you off the dohyo like the dumpling you are? I want you to be strong and healthy, and I know there was a rare chance to be promoted to Yokozuna, but that’s all gone now. Good luck against Tochinoshin, I wonder who is more banged up.

Hatsu Day 6 Highlights

A suggestion for the sumo association. You should be lining up about 2000 doses of one of the vaccines. Do it now so you have them in November. Then just vaccinate the whole association – everyone. Initial priming dose after the basho, booster shot 3 or 4 weeks later. Your COVID drama is done, and you can at least make sure your athletes are able to train, compete and interact. It would set you back some money, but when you think that your primary product is getting these giant guys to fight it out on TV, it’s really just a way to make sure your big names show up and compete. Plus it would set a great example for the rest of Japan that the vaccine is safe, effective, and is a pathway back to some restoration of normal life.

Highlight Matches

Hoshoryu defeats Nishikigi – Good news (if you like Hoshoryu), he has finally scored his first win. As is traditional, Nishkigi went for a double arm bar lockup at the tachiai. It seemed to set Hoshoryu back for just a moment, but then he used Niskikigi’s iron grip to pivot and throw. Hoshoryu looked to my eye to be moving a bit tenderly following the match.

Midorifuji defeats Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi was useless today, Midorifuji had this match won from the second step. He succeeded in getting his hands inside and on Sadanoumi’s chest, then a big push forward against center-mass. Midorifuji improves to 4-2.

Kotonowaka defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo had his hands inside at the tachiai, but could not keep the dominant position. Kotonowaka reached around Ichinojo’s chest and found he had both hands inside. Suddenly in control of the match, Kotonowaka drove forward before Ichinojo could rally. He improves to 5-1.

Akiseyama defeats Terutsuyoshi – Terutsuyoshi starts low and gets a double hand frontal grip at the tachiai, and transitions into a battle hug around Akiseyama’s chest and enormous belly. As Terutsuyoshi is rushing forward to drive Akiseyama out, Akiseyama pivots and sends Terutsuyoshi to the clay. Wow, Akiseyama starts Hatsu 6-0. Terutsuyoshi’s left arm looks like it’s not doing well.

Yutakayama defeats Kotoeko – Kotoeko put a lot of energy into this match, against a much larger opponent to boot. But Yutakayama seemed to be just too heavy today to be moved. Kotoeko lost when he tried to escape at the tawara and put a foot over the bales. Yutakayama 4=2 now. If he is healthy, he should be cleaning up at this rank.

Aoiyama defeats Akua – Traditional Big Dan sumo today. He stood Akua up and slapped him down. Aoiyama seems to be dialed into his sumo now, and will also likely be quite the wrecking ball at this rank.

Shimanoumi defeats Tobizaru – Tobizaru can’t buy a win right now. He had the better of the tachiai, took control of the match, and was dominating Shimanoumi. Shimanoumi worked hard to stay on balance, stay in the ring and just endure all that Tobizaru was producing. It worked, and Tobizaru lost stamina, then lost his balance, then lost the match. Shimanoumi improves to 3-3.

Myogiryu defeats Ryuden – Myogiryu’s tachiai gambit paid off. His grip on Ryuden’s face raised him up, and Myogiryu slapped him down. Quick and brutal, Myogiryu improves to 3-3.

Kiribayama defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki has been really high for most of the tachiai thus far in January. It immediately puts him in a tough position, and we see it again today that Kiribayama requires less effort to control the match. Kagayaki got a nice rally in, but was still too high. A well timed side step, and Kagayaki was ripe for a slap down. Kiribayama improves to 4-2.

Endo defeats Tokushoryu – Another match with a super low Endo battle crouch. He tried hard for his much desired frontal grip, but Tokushoryu’s big belly was just too much to reach around. A nod to Tokushoryu for working hard to keep Endo centered, and his own hips low. But once Endo gets a hold of you, it’s not going to go your way. He improves to 3-3.

Okinoumi defeats Meisei – Great job of stalemating from Okinoumi. Meisei started the match looking to dictate a tsuppari battle, but Okinoumi focused on batting him away. This progressively put Meisei more off balance, and set up the tsukiotoshi. Meisei takes his first loss, and Okinoumi improves to 4-2.

Hokutofuji defeats Kotoshoho – Kotoshoho is the only man left in the tournament without a win, as Hokutofuji grapples, jostles and muscles Kotoshoho out with a body slam worthy of a rodeo. Good to see Ol’Stompy pick up his second win, but I remain convinced he will once again rack up the “most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”.

Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Takayasu continues his dominant streak over Mitakeumi, now 16-6. Mitakeumi opened strong, and nearly put Takayasu away in the first moments of the match. But a Takayasu right hand outside grip gave him a shot to swing Mitakeumi around, and it worked to improve Takayasu to 3-3.

Daieisho defeats Terunofuji – Much as team Tachiai loves some Kaiju sumo, there was no stopping the run away freight train that is Daieisho at the moment. My bigger concern is Terunofuji tends to defeat himself in his own mind when things get rough. Daieisho improves to 6-0, and remains the man to beat. He has one san’yaku rikishi left to fight, in Takanosho, which will happen day 7.

Tamawashi defeats Takanosho – What year is it? That was 2016 style Tamawashi in full glory. I am not sure Takanosho even had time to try plan “B”, as Tamawashi rushed him off the dohyo. Both end the day 4-2.

Shodai defeats Tochinoshin – I really liked Tochinoshin’s lightning fast attempt to throw Shodai at the tachiai. Sadly it did not work, and it was just a few steps later that Shodai had Tochinoshin pinned against his body, and marched him across the bales. Shodai at 5-1 now, leading the Ozeki pack.

Onosho defeats Takakeisho – I love both of these wonderful tadpoles. But anyone who thinks Takakeisho is healthy and just having a string of bad matches should be convinced now. That’s not the same rikishi who won in November. He’s got no forward power, and he’s really not bringing much to any of his matches. Onosho just powers up and launches him deep into the zabuton zone. Onosho improves to 4-2, Takakeisho now 1-5.

Takarafuji defeats Asanoyama – We saw good sumo from Asanoyama the past couple of days, but then he fell into a bit of a Takarafuji trap. Its quite easy to anticipate that once Asanoyama gets into fight mode, he’s going to try for that left hand outside grip. Today, Takarafuji used Asanoyama’s drive to reach in as the start of an uwatenage. As Asanoyama moved his left shoulder, Takarafuji just continued the motion and rolled the Ozeki to the clay. That was some masterful sumo from Takarafuji, who improves to 3-3.

Hatsu Day 6 Preview

Welcome to act 2 of the Hatsu Basho. Act 2 is where we narrow the field to find out who has what it takes to compete for the yusho, and to start sorting the survivors from the damned. With so many out kyujo this basho, it’s tough to know exactly how the March banzuke is going to be built and staffed. I have to think that it’s going to take an ass-ton of Sake.

What We Are Watching Day 6

Hoshoryu vs Nishikigi – Welcome back Nishikigi. Once, not that long ago, humble Nishikigi took a magical trip into the joi-jin, where he met a large and mighty Yokozuna. The Yokozuna looked at him with scorn and disbelief. This pudgy, near-sighted piece of flotsam challenges me? But Nishikigi steeled his will, focused his sumo, and beat the Yokozuna. It seems like a fairytale now as Nishkigi finds himself struggling with just 1 win in the middle of Juryo. If it helps, he’s up against a smaller fellow who has an injured back, and no wins this month to his name.

Sadanoumi vs Midorifuji – This first ever match up features two rikishi that can fight at speed, and I am hoping that we see some action that requires slow motion replays to untangle. They have matching 3-2 records coming into day 6, so I expecting good things.

Ichinojo vs Kotonowaka – A great test match for the lurking question of “Just how genki is Ichinojo?”. We have seen him really just swat around anyone he mistakes for a misbehaving pony this January, but Kotonowaka is not going to be a push over for him. In fact he has yet to take a match from Kotonowaka in 2 attempts. A win from “The Boulder” today would be a strong indicator that he is in excellent fighting from.

Akiseyama vs Terutsuyoshi – Akiseyama has his fans, and rightly so. The man is a self-propelled paradox. At the same time he is immensely flabby and fat, but when you see him start to fight, his bulging, ripped leg muscles describe what kind of athlete’s body is encased in that mountain of blubber just above his waist. In some way he has found an optimal rikishi formula. A body of a prize fighter encased in a layer of lard to give him gravity and heft. He’s got Terutsuyoshi today, and they are fairly evenly matched (3-2 favoring Terutsuyoshi). Fight it out, gentlemen!

Yutakayama vs Kotoeko – I really liked Yutakayama’s day 5 match against Sadanoumi, which just so happened to end in the lap of Isegahama Oyakata. Perks of the job, I suppose, to have about 600 pounds of sweaty, brawling rikishi come crashing into you with just a moments notice. This is going to be another even match with high potential as Kotoeko needs to win this one to get back to even in the win / loss column, and he certainly can deliver some excellent, high velocity sumo.

Akua vs Aoiyama – I checked, and yes its true – these two have never matched before. Akua is a 30 year old veteran, yet he will be facing down the V-Twin for the first time ever. Will Big Dan be able to fire up his primary attack mode? Or will Akua grab a hold of the nearest roll of pasty white flesh and dump Aoiyama over the side like the chum bucket on a trawler?

Shimanoumi vs Tobizaru – Oh, Tobizaru is only 1-4 at the start of act 2. He’s likely headed for some serious make-koshi action. This is a far cry from his 11-4 at Aki, and it’s probably working on his thoughts. He has a 10 match history with Shimanoumi, split 5-5. Thus the only think between him and win #2 is air and opportunity.

Ryuden vs Myogiryu – Ryuden has a lot of work to do to try and rescue himself from a make-koshi. At his rank (M6) he is unlikely to have an threat of demotion to Juryo, but his sumo has been rough an inconsistent since day 1. Maybe he’s cleared things up with his pelvic distractions, and is focusing solely on that first step now.

Kiribayama vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki has settled down, and shed his considerable ring rust. He seems to almost always show up with heavy encrustation, and he seldom gets dialed in until act 2. Right on plan, he’s starting to focus on the fundamentals and fight well. With both Kagayaki and Kiribayama having 3-2 records, and a 2-2 career match score, this one has even fight from top to bottom. Fundamentals, or raw energy?

Endo vs Tokushoryu – Endo holds a 10-0 career advantage over Tokushoryu. That may tell you all you need to know about this match in the middle of day 6.

Meisei vs Okinoumi – Meisei is undefeated in act 1, and act 2 is where these early streak rikishi get put to the test. It’s too early to really think about a yusho race leader board, and many of these 5-0 starts will pick up their first loss (and maybe second) in act 2. In fact, Meisei has not beaten Okinoumi in 5 tries, so this may be the day that he hits the clay.

Hokutofuji vs Kotoshoho – I hate to say it, but it seems that once again Hokutofuji is on course to win the title of “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”. I don’t know how he does it, frankly. He fights huge each and every day, but he always seems to be the one to leave without the kensho. I adore the guy, but something is keeping that last 10% from being deployed most fights.

Takayasu vs Mitakeumi – This is an old rivalry, going back to the peak of the 4 Ozeki era, when sumo fans (myself included) saw Mitakeumi as a likely contender for sumo’s second highest rank. The 2015 me would be astounded to find out that 6 years later, Takayasu was an Ozeki for a time, but Mitakeumi could never quite get it done. They both come in with 2-3 records for Hatsu, with Takayasu having a 15-6 career advantage.

Terunofuji vs Daieisho – Daieisho’s sumo has been impressive. He’s dominated every match, and none of his first 5 have even been close. That’s not atypical for a rikishi on a hot streak, but he also all 3 active Ozeki, and both Komusubi. Having completed that collection, he’s starting on the Sekiwake with Terunofuji up first. I am really starting to look forward to his matches. Good luck against the Kaiju today!

Tamawashi vs Takanosho – Speaking of Takanosho, he draws Tamawashi today, who is fighting well this January, and needs to do something about the 0-3 career deficit against Takanosho. The human rice ball has a splendid 4-1 record, and hopefully will stay sharp, strong and focused.

Tochinoshin vs Shodai – We saw a little cartoon sumo on day 5, but lets all admit that Shodai is at his best when he’s a heartbeat from losing and he pulls some crazy combo out of thin air, and his opponent goes down. Tochinoshin showed on day 5 that his knees can’t take the forward pressure to resist a strong forward push, and that’s exactly how Shodai has won most of his matches this tournament. So I expect a rapid exit for Tochinoshin. I am beginning to think that the day 4 mini-skycrane may have been damaging to what was left of his knee.

Takakeisho vs Onosho – Ah, a tadpole fight. Normally I would be very excited for this one, except that Takakeisho is in poor shape, fighting with one arm, and most likely not fit for purpose right now. His saving grace is that Onosho will frequently get too far forward over his toes, and makes an easy mark for a side step or slap down.

Asanoyama vs Takarafuji – The past two days we have seen the “good” version of Asanoyama, finally. I hope he can now run the banzuke from here on out. Takarafuji has only won once against him in 8 attempts.

Hatsu 2021 Day 5 Highlights

At the close of Act One, some of our storylines have already reached their conclusion. There will be no rope for Takakeisho. Shodai and Asanoyama appear strong enough to shed their kadoban. Hakuho is safe, healthy, and has recovered from the Corona virus. Our list of kyujo remains unchanged from Day One.

In their place, we find some fun new threads. Will Akiseyama be the next low-ranker to make a push for the yusho? Where did this giant-killing Daieisho come from? Ichinojo is showing signs that he’s back! Might we see other sanyaku rikishi making moves for Ozeki?

Bout Highlights

Sadanoumi (3-2) defeated Yutakayama (3-2) Yutakayama sure let Sadanoumi have it with both barrels. Sadanoumi sure earned my respect with the way he weathered the storm of thrusts from Yutakayama and escaped whenever it appeared Yutakayama had him dead to rights. Finally, Yutakayama appeared to tire and Sadanoumi wrapped him up with the left and pressed forward, sending the pair off the dohyo and into Isegahama-oyakata. Both fighters spent, it took them a while to muster the resources to get to their feet and climb back to the playing surface to conclude the bout. yorikiri

Hidenoumi defeated Midorifuji (3-2) Hidenoumi, our Juryo visitor, prevented any attempt at an early throw by keeping Midorifuji at arm’s length from the outset. Hidenoumi shook off Midorifuji’s tsuppari from their brief oshi-battle. Once he worked the smaller Midorifuji to the edge, he pounced, seeking out a belt grip. Midorifuji retreated by skirting the edge of the ring but Hidenoumi gave chase, cut off all exit and ushered him out. yorikiri

Akiseyama (5-0) defeated Hoshoryu (0-5) Hoshoryu had the advantage early and backed Akiseyama to the tawara but Akiseyama composed himself and brought the action back to the center. Hoshoryu lashed out with a trip…but Akiseyama wasn’t moving forward. Instead Akiseyama bided his time to reach in underneath. As he pushed forward from below, Hoshoryu had nowhere to run. yorikiri

Kotonowaka (4-1) defeated Terutsuyoshi (2-3) The two tussled for advantage out of the tachiai, with Terutsuyoshi seeking position from below, while Kotonowaka was left with the high ground. Kotonowaka may have not really known what to do because Terutsuyoshi took the initiative and drove forward into the Sadogatake youngster. As they neared the bales, Kotonowaka pivoted on his left and swung Terutsuyoshi out with his right-hand belt-grip. uwatenage

Kotoeko (2-3) defeated Akua (1-4) Kotoeko met Akua’s tachiai with a shoulder blast. As Akua primed Kotoeko’s head placement for some vigorous slapping, Kotoeko launched his top-knot into Akua’s face. The lavender lothario then wrapped up his quarry for a cuddle and started in with some rather asynchronous gaburi-yori hip action to drive Akua back and out over the tawara. yoritaoshi

Ichinojo (4-1) defeated Shimanoumi (2-3) Shimanoumi’s had some good runs lately but when Ichinojo is focused, there’s not a lot one can do. Ichinojo got in a nodowa just after the tachiai and with all that mass behind a nodowa, Shimanoumi just knew he needed to search for a soft place to land. oshidashi

Aoiyama defeated Myogiryu: At the tachiai, Myogiryu pushed Aoiyama, holding him at arm’s length. As Bruce mentioned in his preview, we were expecting a brawl. Just when I thought Aoiyama would start pounding with some tsuppari, he pulled and tried to force Myogiryu down. But Myogiryu maintained his balance. As Myogiryu advanced, Aoiyama circled behind and wrapped up Myogiryu’s arms, looking for a kimedashi. Myogiryu resisted, briefly at the edge and when Aoiyama adjusted his grip, Myogiryu tried to dance on the tawara but Aoiyama pushed him out. yorikiri

Kiribayama defeated Tobizaru: Kiribayama met Tobizaru head-on at the tachiai but as Tobizaru tried to sneak under for a belt grip, Kiribayama shifted to his left and came over Tobizaru to secure a left-handed belt grip back near the knot. Tobizaru’s own right-hand inside grip seemed a bit ineffective as his right arm was more extended – like he was just trying to hang on – while Kiribayama controlled the action and spun around. Tobizaru then let go with the right and tried to wrap up Kiribayama in a head-lock. Kiribayama continued with the spin and wrangled Tobizaru down to the ground. shitatenage

Meisei defeated Tokushoryu: Tokushoryu won the advantage at the tachiai and looked to usher Meisei out but Meisei had a solid left-hand grip and used that leverage to attempt his own throw near the edge. Tokushoryu pivoted and as they jostled to re-engage, Meisei moved forward, forcing Tokushoryu out. yorikiri

Okinoumi defeated Ryuden Like a pair of old mountain goats, Okinoumi and Ryuden locked horns at the tachiai. As they circled, Okinoumi snuck his right hand up behind Ryuden’s head and pushed down, forcing Ryuden to the clay. Evolution may favor the goat who thinks to wrap that front leg up over his opponent. katasukashi

Kagayaki defeated Endo: Kagayaki pushed forward with a strong tachiai, not giving Endo a chance to set his feet or even think of a belt grip. By the time Endo could compose his thoughts, he was already out. oshidashi

Tamawashi defeated Onosho by near decapitation. As Onosho drove forward with his tachiai, Tamawashi grabbed his head like a beachball and shoved back, hard. Onosho’s lower half still drove forward so Tamawashi shifted left and threw Onosho’s head down, to lay on the clay with the rest of his body. Ouch. tsukiotoshi

Daieisho defeated Takayasu. This was a spirited oshi-zumo bout, Izutsu oyakata’s pick for his favorite bout of the day. Takayasu played ball but Daieisho was in control, advancing on Takayasu from the start, eventually tossing the former ozeki out of the ring. oshidashi

Takanosho defeated Mitakeumi: Mitakeumi showed spirit and strength as he forced Takanosho back to the bales with a dominant tachiai. As Takanosho resisted, Mitakeumi appeared to try to shift his right arm. Takanosho used this moment to attack and drove Mitakeumi back across the ring, through the gyoji and over the tawara. yorikiri

Terunofuji defeated Hokutofuji: Hokutofuji certainly brought it to Terunofuji and angered the kaiju with a strong nodowa. He even appeared to catch Terunofuji off-balance early but Big T recovered and wrapped him up in the middle of the ring. Terunofuji rendered Hokutofuji’s left arm virtually useless, flailing in the air with his right arm in Fuji’s armpit, while he sought out a belt grip with the left. Even in this state, Hokutofuji’s continued pressure forced an uneasy stalemate for some time there in the center. Terunofuji’s one good right leg would have to drive forward alone. The left appears to be there for only balance at this point. Hokutofuji started to back Terunofuji up but Terunofuji summoned enough power from his genki-reserves to drive Hokutofuji back again. As Hokutofuji tried to disengage and escape to the side, Terunoufuji pushed him over the bales. oshidashi

Takakeisho defeated Kotoshoho: Takakeisho gets his shonichi at the close of Act 1. Solid tachiai. Takakeisho attempted a nodowa off the bat, rather than moving straight into wave action. Kotoshoho resisted strongly…perhaps too strongly. The nodowa had forced him to stand straight up as he tried to bull his way through. Takakeisho caught him with his weight too far forward, released, and thrust Kotoshoho down as his momentum carried him forward. tsukiotoshi

Asanoyama defeated Tochinoshin: Asanoyama caught out Tochinoshin’s half-hearted henka. Tochinoshin slapped Asanoyama and shifted left, seeking a belt grab but Asanoyama recovered, drove straight into the up-right Tochinoshin, and forced the Georgian out quickly. yorikiri

Shodai defeated Takarafuji: Shodai rose to meet Takarafuji and absorb his tachiai but Takarafuji was not moving forward at a lightning pace, so the tachiai here was rather weak. Shodai reached under Takarafuji’s right arm with his left to try to get a belt grip. When Takarafuji clamped down with his right arm, Shodai pulled backward, pivoting on his right foot, trying to fling Takarafuji toward the tawara. Takarafuji arrested his momentum short of the tachiai but Shodai pivoted again on his right foot, and forced Takarafuji over the bales. Shodai did not seem happy with his sumo after the bout, but the win is a win. Yorikiri

A Yokozuna’s Discontent

After witnessing the night’s action, Asashoryu lamented this weak crop of wrestlers over on Twitter. While this is not a literal translation, he expressed dismay, “They’re all weak. Sorry, folks.” He lays the blame squarely on practice, saying they’re spoiled with this state of easy practice.

For context, I’ve linked below to a video of Asashoryu’s brand of practice. Alan Iverson may have paid more attention under this regime. Here is Asashoryu, beating the crap out of a rising 19-year-old maegashira named Hakuho during a degeiko trip to Miyagino stable. Hakuho appears to win a practice bout, then catches hell in some brutal-looking kawaigari.

We’ll probably flinch at that slap…but an Asashoryu slap in the ring would have been a bit harder than what was dished out here. At the 2-minute mark of the video, Hakuho, with mud still coating his back, thanks Asashoryu for the privilege of having had his butt kicked. He gives him a drink from his water bottle, this time, instead of splashing chikaramizu in his face. But we know how this story ended. After the dragon was banished, our Phoenix then rose from those fires to lay waste to all who opposed him on the dohyo as he reigned supreme for more than 10 years. Now, as the flames of age and injury lap at his back and begin to consume him, we ponder, “Who will rise from the ashes?”

As we recall, an overly-intense practice session between Hakuho’s stablemate, Ishiura, and a lower-ranker blew up as scandal when the fists started flying, nevermind the ladles of power water. Without such a fierce up-bringing, will the Blue Phoenix, who flew in from the North, be as resilient? I cannot imagine many parents signing off on the rough and tumble style of Asashoryu’s tutelage.

Those days are over. And let’s face it, the metal poles and wooden bats mentioned in this article have no place on a dohyo, or in a keikoba. Oyakata are tasked with raising wrestlers, not beating them and certainly not killing them. But with no degeiko at all, not even our 21st Century sanitized version, the quality of sumo and condition of the wrestlers may be subpar.

Still, hopefully, the sumo we see and discuss here will take our minds off the pandemic and problems that our world faces outside the heya’s walls. I’m eager to see who wins this tournament and what challenges that winner will face when all those well-rested Covid-kyujo wrestlers come back in March. The next ten days will be very fun to watch unfold.