Hatsu Day 6 Highlights

It was a brutal day at the Kokugikan, with two competitors in top divisions matches leaving the arena in a wheel chair. It was truly ugly to watch, and in the case of Kizakiumi, I am really worried he may have suffered some level of neurological damage.

Then there is the matter of the leaderboard. Now we normally don’t even talk about the leaderboard until day 8, but I should note that none other than Shodai is the sole leader of the Hatsu basho going into day 7, with a spotless 6-0 record. I have been critical of Shodai for his poor tachiai, but it’s clear that he has been continuing to improve his sumo. But I have always believed the biggest problem was squarely his mind – he was prone to losing confidence at all the wrong times, and failing to exploit advantages when they were presented. For whatever reason, right now Shodai is on fire. In all honesty, I am impressed with his sumo right now, and I would love to see him carry the cup out of the Kokugikan next weekend. Best of luck to him.

Highlight Matches

Tochiozan defeats Kiribayama – The master of high efficiency sumo shows how to make it pay. As the match extended, Kiribayama frantic efforts tired him before Tochiozan even broke a sweat. The match went quite long, and Tochiozan was able to stay with the much younger Kiribayama due to his relentless conservation of energy.

Ikioi defeats Kizakiumi – A fairly standard pushing / thrusting match with a terrible end. Kizakiumi fell head-first backward from the dohyo, and collapsed. He did not move for quite some time, and frankly I wondered if he had broken his neck, as he pivoted on his neck as he landed.

Tokushoryu defeats Terutsuyoshi – Sadly Terutsuyoshi did not get a win for his birthday, as Tokushoryu stood him up and slapped him down. With this loss, only a single spotless record remained – Shodai.

Azumaryu defeats Kotoshogiku – Following a pattern now, Azumaryu released forward pressure just after the tachiai, and transitioned into a smooth uwatedashinage to send Kotoshogiku to the clay.

Kaisei defeats Kotoeko – Although Kotoeko attempted to force Kaisei to turn to attack him (usually a good tactic), Kaisei seemed to track better than normal, and made quick work of Kotoeko.

Shimanoumi defeats Tsurugisho – Another wheelchair match, the fight ended when Tsurugisho’s left knee collapsed while Shimanoumi was trying to twist, possibly to load a throw. Down went Tsurugisho, and out came the wheel chair after far too long a delay.

Chiyomaru defeats Ishiura – This match was Chiyomaru from the start, and Ishiura was stumped what to do to counter Chiyomaru’s powerful forward rush.

Chiyotairyu defeats Takanosho – Annnnd.. HENKA!

Yutakayama defeats Kagayaki – We previewed this as a high interest match, and it did not disappoint! Undefeated Kagayaki takes his first loss, but he gave Yutakayama a grand battle. I can now say with confidence that Yutakayama is noticeably improved since November.

Sadanoumi defeats Ryuden – Sadanoumi latches a left hand frontal grip at the tachiai, and that immediately put Ryuden into a defensive mode. Try as he might, he could not shake Sadanoumi’s grip and they stayed locked together until both toppled over into the salt basket.

Aoiyama defeats Takarafuji – Takarafuji employed his preferred defend and extend gambit, but Aoiyama was relentless. Big Dan tried everything, but could not get Takarafuji out. He finally seemed to give up and just apply an old “heave-ho” to Takarafuji’s armpits and out he went.

Shohozan defeats Meisei – Its amazing to watch that leap forward Shohozan put into his tachiai, leaving Meisei struggling to set up a defense as they went chest to chest. As Meisei began to work a grip, Shohozan swung him down for the win. Solid sumo, but I sense that Shohozan is still frustrated, not getting his daily requirement of hitting in yet again today.

Onosho defeats Enho – What a surprise this match was! Onosho suddenly found his balance and his sumo on the same day, and gave Enho no room to fight, locking him up and marching forward for a decisive win.

Shodai defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin got the better of the tachiai, but suddenly found himself tangled up and unable to even reach for a mawashi grip. At the moment he figured out he was trapped, it was one step from the tawara, and Shodai advanced to 6-0 to start Hatsu. Wow.

Abi defeats Hokutofuji – In a battle of the neck bruisers, whomever landed first was bound to win. As is so often the case, Abi had contact before Hokutofuji could even plant his feet to attack. And immediate neck pull and turn, and Hokutofuji was out.

Okinoumi defeats Daieisho – Okinoumi seems to finally have his body and his chronic injuries sorted out, and he is unleashing a textbook of versatile sumo every day. I love how heavy his sumo is right now. Look at how he moves his feet. Damn solid stuff.

Asanoyama defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu threw plan A, B ad C into the mix in just a few seconds before Asanoyama got control of the match and shut down any further attempts to attack. Asanoyama certainly does look like he’s headed to higher rank, but I am sure he has a lot of improvement left in him.

Endo defeats Takayasu – Endo hammers another nail in the casket of Takayasu’s Ozeki career, with a definitive win over the struggling Tagonoura rikishi. It seems that both of Tagonoura’s kanban rikishi will be lost to treatable injuries.

Takakeisho defeats Mitakeumi – The tadpole battle was all Mitakeumi at the open, but Takakeisho masterfully deflected Mitakeumi’s finishing move to send him tumbling to the clay. Wow, nice rescue. Ozeki!

Goeido defeats Tamawashi – Goeido stayed low, stayed moving forward strongly and completely paved Tamawashi. This is the kind of sumo Goeido does so well, and it was an enormous treat for my final match in Tokyo.

Hatsu Day 6 Preview

The sun is up on my final day in Tokyo, and before I wander off to Ryogoku to enjoy one more day of sumo at the Kokugikan, let’s take a look at what day 6 has in store. It’s the start of act 2 of the Hatsu basho, and this 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. Right now it’s safe to say that it’s going to be a tumultuous yusho race, where only 1 Ozeki is in any condition to contend.

But 10 days is a long time in honbasho. A lot of dirt, pain and injuries lie ahead for everyone, and by day 12 when the stamina fades, its going to be tough for some just to mount the dohyo. Prior to the basho, I had been working on the idea this might be the last triumph for some of the old guard, but thus far many of them are struggling. Sumo is a tough sport, and as any combat sport its physically punishing. The grueling schedule of tournaments and promotional tours give these athletes little time for healing up from injuries or treatment short of some kind of supervised medical intervention (such as surgery).

I will remark that that the Tachiai photo safari has been a massive success. The entire plan was to gather enough imagery that we would largely break our dependance on internet-sourced imagery to decorate our posts. In addition to hundreds of frames of “evergreen” shots we can use to make post banners, there has been a fountain of sumo action shots every day. It’s been a great trip, and as always it’s been fantastic to watch sumo in person.

Day 6 Matches

Tochiozan vs Kiribayama – I would say that Tochiozan is actually under-performing thus far. At this low of a rank, his level of skill and strength should be dominating almost any opponent. He does have a winning record, and I expect he is going to use his high-efficiency sumo against Kiribayama today with great effect.

Kizakiumi vs Ikioi – The bring the injured, 0-5 Kizakiumi up from Juryo to fight the damaged relic of Ikioi for the second match of the day. This kind of sumo is tough to watch.

Terutsuyoshi vs Tokushoryu – To make up for the torture match before it, we get this sparkling jewel. Undefeated Terutsuyoshi comes up against the “cab forward” sumo of Tokushoryu. What will Terutsuyoshi do about that giant forward protuberance that Tokushoryu wields with such great effect? I can’t wait to find out.

Kotoshogiku vs Azumaryu – As some of our readers have noted, somehow Kotoshogiku has pieced together a formula for winning matches with his damaged body, and he’s going to put it to work in his first ever match with Azumaryu.

Kaisei vs Kotoeko – After having a fantastic run in Kyushu, Kaisei is back to struggling daily. Kotoeko will have a lot of mass to move to take the match today, but his strength and lateral sumo skill will likely carry the day.

Tsurugisho vs Shimanoumi – These two are so evenly matched that they could possibly swap mawashi and swap sides and few would notice. Both of them had tough losses on day 5, and are looking to bounce back.

Chiyomaru vs Ishiura – Big man / little man match deluxe, we get to see if Chiyomaru can rally going into act 2. He fought well the first 5 days, but only had 1 white star to show for it, in spite of some high energy sumo.

Takanosho vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu is really looking at only about 75% of genki right now, and I think he is going to struggle to do much against Takanosho.

Kagayaki vs Yutakayama – Oh yes yes yes! This is the match to watch in the first half. It’s going to be Yutakayama’s strength and mobility up against Kagayaki’s fundamentals and stability. This could produce sparks visible from the US.

Sadanoumi vs Ryuden – Both of these rikishi are high-maneuver fighters, and either one of them will rapidly exploit any mistake in the other. I would expect Ryuden to attempt at least one matta to try and slow down / throw off the timing of Sadanoumi.

Takarafuji vs Aoiyama – I am looking for Big Dan to stand up, and knock down Takarafuji, simultaneously defeating his doppleganger, Takarafuhi.

Meisei vs Shohozan – “Big Guns” Shohozan lost traction against Enho on day 5, and took a face full of Tokyo clay. He gets a rebound match against floundering (1-4) Meisei. Maybe Shohozan can work out his frustrations by bludgeoning Meisei. A lot.

Onosho vs Enho – I kind of don’t want to watch this match, as Onosho is going to be like some kind of super bouncy ball for Enho to enjoy. I expect it will be over quickly, and I just hope Onosho does not complicate any ongoing problems with that reconstructed knee.

Tochinoshin vs Shodai – At some point Shodai is going to take his first loss, and that’s when we get to see if he really has turned a corner and taken his sumo to another level. His outstanding performance in the first 5 days of Hatsu 2020 just make it clear he really does have a lot of potential, if he can just keep his mind in the fight. Will that first Shodai loss come today? Tochinoshin is looking very fragile, so perhaps not.

Abi vs Hokutofuji – Oh this match is another gem. They are both going to go for each other’s throat at the tachiai and push with gusto. Whose neck will stand up to the torture?

Okinoumi vs Daieisho – Should be win #4 for Okinoumi today, as he seems to really be dialed into his sumo right now. He holds a 9-4 career advantage over Daieisho.

Asanoyama vs Myogiryu – Asanoyama has dropped the last two matches, and really needs to rally. He has made a couple of mistakes in the prior two matches that cost him a win, and it may be that most of the upper ranks have figured out this flaw. Let’s see what Myogiryu can do today.

Endo vs Takayasu – Another dread match, as I am sure that Endo is going to inch Takayasu closer to permanent loss of Ozeki rank. Endo is on a tear right now, and the fans in Tokyo can’t get enough of his sumo.

Takakeisho vs Mitakeumi – Its time for a tadpole battle, and may the roundest man win! I want to see some wave-action before I leave Tokyo, maybe today is the day.

Tamawashi vs Goeido – I am expecting Tamawashi to disrupt and dismantle Goeido today. Our relic Ozeki is just too banged up to fight too strongly against someone like Tamawashi. I am sure Goeido is going to give it all he can, but that ankle is close to losing structural integrity.

Hatsu Day 5 Highlights

It’s a tough time for fans of high ranking rikishi. Hakuho is out, Kakuryu is out, Takayasu is a long way from picking up his 10, and Goeido is struggling. Thankfully, Takakeisho is still doing well, and may even compete for the yusho this January.

But there is an enormous amount of high quality, exciting sumo taking place each day. Today the last rikishi who had not scored their first win, picked them up. For some it’s going to be a tough climb towards 8, but now everyone is at least on the path.

It’s been wonderful to be in Tokyo for the January tournament, and the sumo has been a notch or two higher than Kyushu, and that’s across the divisions. In Juryo, former Ozeki Terunofuji has started with a perfect 5-0, and is looking fighting fit and a bit unstoppable. Somehow we have Shodai, Kagayaki and Terustuyoshi all starting 5-0 in Makuuchi. The future is looking fantastic for sumo, and the talent just keeps rising to the top.

Day 5 Matches

Tokushoryu defeats Azumaryu – I don’t recall the last time I saw Tokushoryu this genki. The guy is really fighting well. Today he latched onto Azumaryu’s right arm and took complete control of the match. It was fast, effective, and I am guessing Azumaryu is still feeling it.

Kiribayama defeats Shimanoumi – A glorious battle of blows, each wanted to beat the other one into submission. Kiribayama focused his opening moves on Shimanoumi’s face, and Shimanoumi decided to return in kind. Grabbing, hitting, pushing, it was like lunch time at preschool. Kiribayama got a hold of Shimanoumi’s mawashi and ejected him with vigor. Great match.

Tochiozan defeats Kotoeko – Now that Tochiozan is back in good form, I am once again struck by just how efficient his sumo is. Every movement, every gambit is minimized, and expends not more movement than is absolutely needed to get the desired effect.

Kotoshogiku defeats Kaisei – As predicted, there was no lateral motion in this match it was grapple, hug and chug all the way. Kaisei always struggles with Kotoshogiku, and today was no exception.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Chiyomaru – I thought in the opening moments, Chiyomaru was going to crush Terutsuyoshi’s head like a grape. But while Chiyomaru was pressure-checking Terutsuyoshi’s skull, Terutsuyoshi somehow defied physics and landed a mawashi grip on Chiyomaru’s expansive green mawashi. Too late Chiyomaru discovered that Terutsuyoshi seems to be made from some incompressible substance, just as Terutsuyoshi rolls him like the human bowling ball he is. If it were not for the camera gaggle that broke is motion, Chiyomaru might still be rolling.

Ikioi defeats Tsurugisho – Yay! Ikioi won a match! They went chest to chest at the tachiai, but Ikioi had the better body position and the better grip. After consolidating his hold, Ikioi advanced and unleashed an uwatenage. The crowd breathed a sigh of contented relief.

Kagayaki defeats Chiyotairyu – Mr Fundamentals wins again. Chiyotairyu wasted precious energy on an ineffective face slap, which left his arms high as Kagayaki connected at the tachiai, and immediately had the inside position. Chiyotairyu began raining blows on Kagayaki, but because he was working outside, Kagayaki’s counter-strikes carried more force. It’s fun to watch Kagayaki use simple sumo, superbly executed, to win matches. 5-0… wow.

Ishiura defeats Sadanoumi – I had to watch this a few times before it made much sense. I would call it “strike and retreat” from Ishiura. With the Ishiura’s rapid release of forward pressure, Sadanoumi tumbled forward into the clay. A clumsy win, but it counts!

Yutakayama defeats Takanosho – Brutal opening gambit from Takanosho, as he attempts to pry Yutakayama’s head from his shoulders. But in response Yutakayama, an oshi practitioner, instead goes for a belt grip. Oh really? If this guy follows Asanoyama into gaining yotsu skill, this is going to be amazingly good fun. Ok, battle hugs it is. Yutakayama has the better grip, and Takanosho knows it. An attempt to escape leads to a well executed pull down by Yutakayama, and the win.

Aoiyama defeats Ryuden – In the preview, we estimated this match would last about 2 seconds, as one of these men pulled the other one down at the tachiai. They both tried to set it up, but this is Aoiyama’s favorite move, and Ryuden took a roll in the clay.

Onosho defeats Takarafuji – Onosho finally gets a win, and maybe that ring rust is now flaking away. Takarafuji’s normal tactic of stalemating and waiting was in full effect. But Onosho managed to keep his balance, and stay upright long enough to catch Takarafuji turned too far to one side. A push from behind, and it was okuridashi for Onosho’s first win this year.

Enho defeats Shohozan – Brutal match, Shohozan took an early launch to give Enho a solid shove. Shohozan loves to pull these matta at times, and it’s pure intimidation. I don’t know what Enho had in mind originally for this match, but I am sure you can guess what happened next. The second tachiai was and Enho henka that gave Enho a firm grip on Shohozan’s right arm, and position behind him. At this point Shohozan is visibly agitated, and out come the “Big Guns”. Furious blows against Enho’s head and face, which bloody Enho’s nose. But in his fury, he loses balance and hits the dohyo. The look Enho gave him following the match – oh, there’s going to be some fire in that rematch come March.

Meisei defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin’s disastrous attempt at a slap down cost him that match. Poorly timed, poorly executed.

Shodai defeats Hokutofuji – An absolutely huge match, as somehow Shodai has started Hatsu undefeated. Has he ever looked this strong? I don’t recall, to be honest. Hokutofuji failed to connect his nodowa correctly to Shodai’s neck, and Shodai rushed forward, collapsing any offensive Hokutofuji might have deployed. Shodai expertly shifted to thrusting center-mass, and it was all over. Tack-sharp sumo from Shodai, I am not sure where this guy has been, but I am happy he is here.

Abi defeats Myogiryu – Abi is clearly hurt, and this match was more challenging than it might have otherwise been. I would guess Abi can only generate about 80% of his normal forward force from those double arm thrusts. But he nearly always strikes first, and can many time (as with today) control the match. A welcome win for the Komusubi.

Daieisho defeats Takayasu – Takayasu had this match won a couple of times, but could not finish Daieisho. I am starting to fear there is no reasonable path to 10 for Takayasu. It’s going to be a shame to lose him too. I place blame squarely on Tagonoura oyakata. If Takayasu can’t regain Ozeki, Tagonoura will have grossly mis-managed the careers of two kanban rikishi. Compare this with Takakeisho’s injury, and the way Chiganoura oyakata handled it. The results could not be more different.

Endo defeats Asanoyama – In our daily episode of “Endo the Unstoppable”, he dismantles Asanoyama. I really like how Endo cycled through plans A, B and then C to get this win. I have not seen that kind of flexibility in him before.

Okinoumi defeats Goeido – The first match ended with a joint throw that saw them touch town together, and a monoii decided to call for a rematch. Frankly, Goeido should not have struggled this much with Okinoumi. I would say that re-constructed ankle is just about out of structural integrity, and every day is a challenge for our last “Legacy” Ozeki. The rematch was a quick tottari for an Okinoumi win, and a 1-4 start for Goeido.

Takakeisho defeats Tamawashi – This was forecasted to be another “2 second” match. Takakeisho stood Tamawashi up, and slapped him down.

 

Hatsu Day 5 Preview

The final day of Hatsu “Act One” is upon us! Act one is all about knocking the ring rust off of the competitors, and see who is hot, and who is not. We are once again on kyujo watch here in Tokyo, as we wait for word on if Yokozuna Kakuryu is going to withdraw from the January tournament after his 3rd consecutive loss.

Kakuryu is in an even tougher spot that Hakuho. Since the death of Izutsu Oyakata, there has been a thought to have Kakuryu take over the heya upon retirement. But to do that, he would require Japanese citizenship lined up first. Maybe he started working on that, but it would take a year or two to be granted. This implied that Kakuryu would remain active as a Yokozuna until he could take citizenship and assume leadership of his old stable.

But if Kakuryu does as expected, and withdraws from Hatsu today or tomorrow, we will be in yet another “Nokazuna” tournament. The beneficiaries of this might be Goeido and Takayasu, who won’t need to overcome any Yokozuna to reach their goals. But the younger generation is already taking the leadership away from the Yokozuna, and this is a natural part of the evolution.

What We Are Watching Day 5

Azumaryu vs Tokushoryu – Tokushoryu has proven highly proficient in the first 4 days of Hatsu. In spite of his odd physique (even for a sumo wrestler), he is effective and dominant. He is an even match with Azumaryu (8-9) with almost all of the matches ending in yorikiri.

Kiribayama vs Shimanoumi – A first time meeting, with both rikishi coming into the match with 2-2 records for January. I would look for Kiribayama to try an early slap down.

Tochiozan vs Kotoeko – Tochiozan’s guile and speed don’t seem to have much effect against Kotoeko, who holds a 3-0 career advantage in their matches.

Kotoshogiku vs Kaisei – Another fight between long-serving favorites, with Kotoshogiku having a distinct career advantage (10-2). Both have bad knees, and neither have any real lateral movement. So this will be an odd match with surprisingly little power from two heavy men.

Terutsuyoshi vs Chiyomaru – Terutsuyoshi takes his zero loss record into a fight with big Chiyomaru, who showed us yesterday that if you lock him up he will unleash hell upon your face. Terutsuyoshi’s face is several centimeters lower than Tsurugisho’s, but the effect may be similar. It would be interesting to see Terutsuyoshi start 5-0…

Tsurugisho vs Ikioi – Ikioi, after looking strong in November, has had a cold start to January, and is at real risk of starting Hatsu 0-5 if he can’t find a win against Tsurugisho today. But having watched Tsurugisho fight the first 4 days, Ikioi is going to have to try something new and different to get his first win.

Chiyotairyu vs Kagayaki – Readers know I am a fan of Kagayaki’s fundamentals-first sumo approach, and he has a real chance to start 5-0 if he can overcome Chiyotairyu today. Chiyotairyu has not brought his normal power and intensity to his matches this January, and I wonder if some injury or illness is at work.

Sadanoumi vs Ishiura – Career records favors Ishiura, but Sadanoumi has been fighting better this tournament, and I think it’s going to be a fast fight at the tachiai to see who dictates the form of this match. It would not be out of question to see an Ishiura henka today.

Takanosho vs Yutakayama – I have a high degree of interest in this match, its a clash of two strong oshi-zumo men. I expect Takanosho to go low and Yutakayama to go high at the tachiai, and its anyone’s guess which gambit will pay off.

Aoiyama vs Ryuden – This match will be decided if Ryuden can get a mawashi grip on Aoiyama’s expansive blue belt. If “Big Dan” can keep moving and keep Ryuden reacting to his attacks, he should be able to get Ryuden off balance and down.

Takarafuji vs Onosho – Onosho’s sumo seems to be completely disrupted and broken at the moment. His balance is all over the place, and he can’t seem to keep his feet when under attack. I am going to guess some new damage to that repaired knee, and it portends a miserable January and possibly a difficult recovery this spring.

Shohozan vs Enho – I imagine that Enho might be a bit eager to recover some dignity after yesterday’s loss to Tochinoshin. Frankly I have seen that carry employed on a toddler, and I am sure the effect was not loss on Enho. Sadly for the cause, Shohozan has never lost to Enho, but perhaps this is the day.

Meisei vs Tochinoshin – Winless Meisei comes up against Tochinoshin today, and although we saw the sky-crane in action on day 4, the condition of Tochinoshin’s knees have to be taken into consideration when assessing his ability to fight. Meisei has had a terrible start, and I am not sure he will be able to overcome Tochinoshin even in his weakened state.

Hokutofuji vs Shodai – Possibly the highest stakes, highest intensity match of the day. Both are undefeated, both bring size and strength to the match. Hokutofuji wins by speed, and Shodai wins by power. I can’t wait to see which factor carries this match.

Abi vs Myogiryu – After writing off Abi’s matches to his pre-basho knee problems, we saw a bit of the fire ad drive which have kept him in the San’yaku for 4 tournaments. Can he bring it back on day 5 against Myogiryu?

Daieisho vs Takayasu – Takayasu is unable to muster Ozeki class sumo performance, that’s the sad truth. But he has a 6-1 career advantage over Daieisho, and that may account for enough to bring him another desperately needed win.

Asanoyama vs Endo – The second high interest match, both of who are seen by the fans in Tokyo as “next generation leaders” for sumo as the old guard fade out. Both are skilled yotsu practitioners, and Endo is possibly the most technical rikishi in the top division. I am going to look for Endo to try for his favored frontal left hand mawashi grip during the tachiai, and for Asanoyama to focus on his footwork. This could be quite the match.

Okinoumi vs Goeido – Goeido has to be in survival mode at this point. He started the basho with 3 straight losses, and seems to still be having problems with his surgically reconstructed ankle. Okinoumi does have strong enough sumo to beat him, and this may be another disappointing day for the Ozeki.

Takakeisho vs Tamawashi – Battle of the power-pushers as it may come down to who can hit center mass with everything they can first. This match may end within the first 2 seconds, be warned.

Mitakeumi vs Kakuryu – I don’t think this match is going to happen, and if it does happen it’s likely to be another loss for the Yokozuna.