Natsu Banzuke Crystal Ball

I started writing these prediction posts exactly a year ago, so this will be my seventh banzuke forecast for Tachiai. The accuracy has varied from basho to basho, though I think it’s fair to say that the forecasts give a very good idea of roughly where each rikishi will land—in most cases, within one rank or closer.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

No changes here from the Haru banzuke.

Lower San’yaku

S

Tochinoshin

Ichinojo

K

Endo

Mitakeumi

With his 7-8 record, Mitakeumi will lose his Sekiwake rank, but should only fall to Komusubi. Tochinoshin moves over to the East side, while Ichinojo moves up to Sekiwake. Endo finally gets his San’yaku promotion, and is a sufficiently strong candidate with his 9-6 record at M1e that I have him on the East side, although the banzuke committee could certainly switch him and Mitakeumi.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Tamawashi

Kaisei

M2

Abi

Shohozan

M3

Daieisho

Yutakayama

M4

Chiyoshoma

Ikioi

M5

Shodai

Kotoshogiku

What’s certain is that there will be a lot of turnover in this area of the banzuke, as with the exception of Shohozan, everyone in the M2-M5 ranks checked in with a losing record, and only Shodai limited his losses to 8. Many in the ranks immediately below this group also did not distinguish themselves, meaning that we have to reach far down the banzuke for viable promotion candidates. Exactly how this will play out is much less certain, as there are many possible scenarios, and the considerations going into them are complex.

Let’s start with the easy part. Both Tamawashi and Kaisei did well enough to earn promotions to San’yaku, but since there are no open slots for them, they will have to be content with the top maegashira rank. Abi and Shohozan are the only plausible candidates for M2, although their ordering is uncertain. Abi will jump 5 ranks, and will join the joi in only his third top-division basho after earning 10-5 records in the first two. Similarly, Daieisho is the only plausible candidate for M3e. He will also jump 5 ranks, matching his highest career rank.

From here, things get complicated. The next best numerical score belongs to Shodai, but he can’t take the M3w slot due to his make-koshi record at M4w. The best he could do would be to remain at his current rank, though it’s more likely he gets a minimal demotion to M5e. Kotoshogiku could technically  be only demoted from M3e to M3w, but given his 6-9 record, this seems overly generous, and he should really be ranked below Shodai. The next best candidate for M3e is none other than Yutakayama, whose 10-5 record could vault him 8 ranks up the banzuke, all the way from M11.

If we put Shodai and M5e and Kotoshogiku right below him at M5w, who fills the M4 slots? The choice is between the next two strong kachi-koshi records, which belong to Chiyoshoma (9-6 at M10) and Ikioi (11-4 at M14), and the other two high-rankers due for big demotions, Komusubi Chiyotairyu (4-11) and M2 Takarafuji (5-10). My forecast favors the guys moving up the banzuke over those moving down. If the banzuke committee agrees, six out of the ten rikishi in this group would be moving up at least 5 ranks!

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Chiyotairyu

Takarafuji

M7

Chiyomaru

Ryuden

M8

Yoshikaze

Hokutofuji

M9

Kagayaki

Daishomaru

M10

Okinoumi

Daiamami

M11

Chiyonokuni

Takakeisho

At Natsu, this area of the banzuke will serve primarily as the landing zone for higher-ranked rikishi who achieved make-koshi records ranging from just below .500 (Yoshikaze, Kagayaki, Okinoumi, Chiyonokuni) to horrific (hello, Chiyotairyu and Takakeisho). The only bright spots are Ryuden, who moves up from M9 with a minimal kachi-koshi, and the Oitekaze stablemates Daishomaru and Daiamami, who vault up and out of the demotion danger zone with their 9-6 and 10-5 records.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Asanoyama

Arawashi

M13

Ishiura

Sadanoumi

M14

Takekaze

Tochiozan

M15

Aoiyama

Kyokutaisei

M16

Aminishiki

Kotoeko

M17

Gagamaru


The bottom of the banzuke is complicated by the fact that there are 6 Makuuchi rikishi who earned demotions by the usual criteria (in order from most to least deserving of demotion: Hedenoumi, Kotoyuki, Sokokurai, Onosho/Nishikigi, and Myogiryu), but only 3 Juryo rikishi who clearly earned promotion: Sadanoumi, Takekaze, and Kyokutaisei. Aminishiki is borderline, and the next two best candidates, Kotoeko (10-5 at J8) and Gagamaru (8-7 at J5), are ranked too low to be normally considered for promotion with those records. Obviously, the numbers moving up and down have to match. What to do?

My initial inclination was to demote Nishikigi in favor of Aminishiki, and save Onosho (who was kyujo) and Myogiryu. Over on the sumo forum, Asashosakari suggested that they could instead demote Onosho and save both Nishikigi and Myogiryu. The solution I’m currently favoring, given how poor their records were, is that both Nishikigi and Myogiryu will be demoted, as will Onosho. I’m guessing that the banzuke committee will be more likely to promote kachi-koshi Juryo rikishi with insufficiently strong records (after all, this has happened in the past) than to keep in the top division rikishi who failed to defend their places there. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see this play out in any number of ways. We’ll find out on April 26th!

 

Heya Power Rankings: Haru-Natsu 18

 

Kakuryu-Happy
Winning feels good, and feeling good is cool.

It’s not an April Fools joke: the Heya Power rankings are in (earlier than usual)! We love charts over here at Tachiai, and during the Haru basho, it was cool to note some of other contributors prognosticating in the comments what bearing the various results might have on the newest ranking sheet. I’d reiterate that this post is mostly for our own interest and fun, to see which stables are impacting the top end of the banzuke, rather than anything being paid attention by people within the sport itself. Our own Bruce put his bets on a nice jump in the standings for Oitekaze-beya. Was he right? Well let’s get into the bar chart and the “Billboard” style Top 20 ranking format:

HeyaPowerRankings_2018_04.png

Bruce was indeed right, because Bruce is a good sumo pundit. Let’s look at the Top 20 chart in slightly more verbose terms:

  1. (+6) Izutsu. 95 points (+50)
  2. (-1) Tagonoura. 90 points (-5)
  3. (+2) Oitekaze. 65 points (+19)
  4. (-1) Sakaigawa. 60 points (even)
  5. (+6) Tomozuna. 55 points (+32)
  6. (-4) Kasugano. 50 points (-44)
  7. (-3) Kokonoe. 48 points (-1)
  8. (-2) Miyagino. 36 points (-9)
  9. (-1) Takadagawa. 21 points (-9)
  10. (-1) Dewanoumi. 20 points (-5)
  11. (+4) Tokitsukaze. 20 points (even)
  12. (+8) Kise. 20 points (+4)
  13. (**) Minato. 20 points (+5)
  14. (-2) Isegahama. 19 points (-2)
  15. (-5) Shikoroyama. 17 points (-7)
  16. (-3) Hakkaku. 16 points (-4)
  17. (+-) Oguruma. 16 points (-3)
  18. (-4) Kataonami. 15 points (-5)
  19. (+-) Isenoumi. 15 points (-3)
  20. (**) Nishonoseki. 15 points (+2)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, higher position in the previous chart breaks the tie)

Movers

Izutsu-beya hits the summit for the first time, after Kakuryu’s ultimately comfortable yusho win. He is a Yokozuna and he won the yusho, and you get a lot of points for all of that action the way we calculate it. While the stable is almost empty behind Kakuryu, that has been the case for many years and Izutsu-oyakata is still about 8 years from mandatory retirement. They did add a tiny 16 year old named Bando Jinki in the last year, but he may be one to wash rather than ‘one to watch.’

That all said, what makes me feel good about this model is the way that it rewards stables that have a number of strong performers. Oitekaze-beya is that kind of heya (and Kokonoe would be that kind of heya if they could find this kind of consistency). Yes, Endo won a special prize and had a great tournament and will finally be in san’yaku and there is going to be a lot of cheering. But the stable had seven men in the top 2 divisions accumulating points here, and five of them grabbed kachi-koshi. The other two (Tsurugisho and Tobizaru) were towards the wrong end of Juryo where the stakes are lower anyway, so the stable top-loaded its best records.

The fan-and-rikishi-favorite, former-Kyokutenho-and-now-Tomozuna-oyakata’s heya also scales new heights owing to a thrilling yusho-and-ultimately-jun-yusho-challenge from the Kaisei mammoth. I probably should have tacked on a couple more points here, because in a sport where you don’t always get a lot of face, the Brazilian has been giving some wonderful reaction shots of late (Abi and Ikioi are also members of that club). Kaisei will be finally joined by movie-star Kyokutaisei in Makuuchi at Natsu. The schedulers did the Hokkaido man few favors at Haru by way of repeated call-ups to test his readiness, so he may well have a good chance to stick in the top division. Kyokushuho has been stuck back in Juryo for a year now, and there’s nobody coming up behind him imminently, so it’s going to be on the top two men’s shoulders to keep the good times rolling.

Let’s also talk about Sakaigawa-beya for a minute. Despite the fact that Goeido hasn’t won on Day 15 since September of 2016 (his yusho tournament), he’s actually managed to put together a fairly consistent if unspectacular run of results to keep himself out of kadoban recently. Admittedly, this is probably somewhat helped by the absence of many of the top men of the banzuke, but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Usually, the stable which wins the Juryo yusho gets a bit of a drop off in the following tournament as we award 15 points for that achievement. However, there’s no drop here as both the Hatsu winner (Myogiryu) and Haru winner (Sadanoumi) come from the stable. Our man lksumo believes that Myogiryu is going to dodge the demotion bullet, so the three sekitori will need strong performances to maintain the heya’s position on our chart after Natsu.

Despite their fall, I’m charitably going to include Kasugano-beya in this section. Asking for a repeat yusho was a lot and they were always bound for a big drop, but they are hanging in there at the top end in light of another very strong performance from Sekiwake Tochinoshin and his latest special prize. They could even be due another bounce in the next couple months if his Ozeki run is in fact successful.

Losers

We’ve talked a lot about the sea change that is (slowly) taking place atop the banzuke, and the three stables I’m going to mention here include two that didn’t even make the chart this time.

First of all, the fall of Isegahama continues. This is probably the bottoming out of their ranking as they just have too many sekitori competing at the moment. With 3 men in Juryo and another 2 in Makuuchi next time out, I just can’t see the performance getting lower, especially if Terunofuji can right the ship and challenge for the Juryo honours. Also, Takarafuji was better than his 5 win record at Haru, and even if he’s in for a stiff demotion, he hasn’t had a make-koshi at Maegashira 6 or lower in over 4 years. Additionally, we may see the next wave of Isegahama rikishi challenge for Juryo later this year: while, yes, there are plenty of rikishi in the stable stuck in Jonidan quicksand, Nishikifuji and Midorifuji are on a fast track for fun times.

The question will be whether their strength in numbers restores the stable to the force it was just a half year ago, or a stable like Kise or Kokonoe that’s big on numbers but low on prizes. The road to the former case would seem to run through Terunofuji redeploying his inner Kaiju, Terutsuyoshi making the next step in his development to move up a division and Nishikifuji and Midorifuji establishing themselves as sekitori (Midorifuji will also need to add some heft). And the other case? Well, that’s what you get if all of the above doesn’t happen, and Aminishiki retires.

The other two aforementioned stables are the former powerhouse Sadogatake and the beleaguered Takanohana. Sadogatake, which has an incredible number of rikishi in the lower divisions, hasn’t seen the reinforcements arrive for the struggling Kotoshogiku and Kotoyuki yet, and Kotoeko just hasn’t managed to put together a run for Maegashira promotion. He will have his best shot in some time at Natsu, but it may only serve to offset the continuing declines of the other sekitori in the heya.

As for Takanohana-beya, we gave nil points for the debut of Takayoshitoshi after his assault-inspired half-kyujo tournament, and the limping out of the tournament from Takakeisho was perhaps a metaphor for performances there and elsewhere. The stable combined to go 22-28-10 in the upper tiers, and unless Takakeisho can put together a storming return to sansho-grabbing form or someone can win a yusho in Juryo, it’s unlikely the stable will trouble these charts again soon.

Tachiai’s Haru Day 11 Preview

Tochinoshin
The East Side’s Reaction To Goeido’s Henka

The devastation across the yusho race was amazing on day 10, as all but four men out of nine dropped from contention. Thus ends act 2, and the goal of the torikumi is revealed. The good have been separated from the great, and the yusho race is formed.

Act 3 is to find which of these four rikishi will take home the hardware, and barring any injuries, it’s looking very good for Yokozuna Kakuryu. The goal over the next 5 days is for someone to get dirt on Big K, and right now he is looking very genki given his known injuries.

Haru Leaderboard

Leaders: Kakuryu
Chasers: Kaisei
Hunt Group: Takayasu, Ichinojo

5 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 11

Daiamami vs Kyokutaisei – Daiamami pushing for kachi-koshi in a very even match all around.

Daishomaru vs Hidenoumi – Another Oitekaze deshi going for kachi-koshi on day 11, they have done exceptionally well this basho, but the next two tournaments will tell if they just had a good basho, or if this is a step-change in their sumo.

Kotoyuki vs Yutakayama – Kotoyuki has yet to win one, so Yutakayama’s kachi-koshi looks pretty safe for today. If he continues to push he could be in range for a special prize.

Aoiyama vs Chiyonokuni – A rough and rowdy match today here, we are going to get speed and tenacity against reach and power. I am going to guess it will be a pretty good match, in spite of Chiyonokuni’s 8-3 career advantage.

Kagayaki vs Ikioi – Ikioi tries for his 8, after an unfortunate hair pulling incident on day 10. Like Kakuryu, Ikioi has persevered in the face of injuries and pain. The home town crowd loves him, and he is gamberizing.

Ryuden vs Yoshikaze – The loser of this match receives a make-koshi, and I fear it’ll be Yoshikaze. This is their first ever match, and it is a sad one to watch.

Shohozan vs Hokutofuji – both men have rallied in the last several days after difficult losing streaks. Shohozan is still a street brawler against the diligent and earnest Hokutofuji. I give the advantage to Shohozan.

Kaisei vs Takakeisho – Fans and readers may wonder what happened to Takakeisho, I can’t cite the news posting, but it seems he pulled his groin muscle on day 8 or 9. So he’s limping to the end of the basho for the most part. It’s his first ever match with Kaisei, who is likely going to keep jun-yusho in his sights.

Endo vs Takarafuji – Endo is still at .500, and needs to get that kachi-koshi for his first ever san’yaku posting. He has faded quite a bit since his opening week sprint. The flagging Takarafuji should be a solid match for him, and has beat Endo in 5 of their last 6 matches.

Mitakeumi vs Chiyomaru – Mitakeumi was fading into the second week, even before he managed to get himself hurt. Now he has to face to bulbous Chiyomaru in their first ever head-to-head meet up.

Shodai vs Goeido – Many people were very unhappy with Goeido’s mighty henka on day 10. I thought it was keeping in character for Goeido, who clearly encountered a bad driver and could not do real sumo today. Shodai has rallied, and is not as pathetic as he appeared in the first week.

Takayasu vs Tochinoshin – The schedule ends strong, with these two powerhouses up in the second-to-last match of the day. Tochinoshin is still smarting for swallowing Goeido’s henka with such vigor. Takayasu sometimes eases up once he gets his kachi-koshi, but I think he wants to keep chasing the Yokozuna.

Kakuryu vs Ichinojo – This is a dangerous match for the lone surviving Yokozuna. First and foremost is that Ichinojo could injure him if they are not both very careful. Secondly, Ichinojo could actually defeat Kakuryu. A loss on day 11 would open the yusho race to a mad scramble, with several worthy contenders suddenly within striking range. Nothing would please the lords of sumo more.

 

Haru Day 8 Highlights

Kaisei Salt

The second week is underway now for Haru. Act two is working as expected, as the number of rikishi who can contend for the cup keeps narrowing.  At this point, the contest is centered on Yokozuna Kakuryu. He has performed masterfully thus far and has certainly shown his detractors as fools.

That said, the dark horse contender, Maegashira 6 Kaisei, is a storied veteran who has held San’yaku rank in the past. At some point in the next week, it’s likely we will see Kakuyru and Kaisei meet on the dohyo.

Highlight Matches

Ikioi defeats Kyokutaisei – The gyoji originally awards the match to Kyokutaisei, but the Monoii reversed that. An eagle-eyed judge caught Kyokutaisei’s right hand touch the dohyo as he was chasing down Ikioi to finish pushing him out. The crowd goes wild as local man Ikioi racks another win.

Daiamami defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi put up an excellent fight, but Daiamami wins again to remain only one win behind the leaders. After going chest to chest, the two stalemated in the center of the dohyo for a considerable period of time, but Daiamami rallied and finished Nishikigi by yorikiri. As Maegashira 16, there are many higher-ranked opponents he might face as a “test” of how firm his score is.

Aoiyama defeats Daishomaru – The Bulgarian pulls down Daishomaru with his enormous reach to remove Daishomaru from the group 1 behind the leaders. Quick, effective and uncompromising.

Sokokurai defeats Asanoyama – Asanoyama took control of the match early, and they went chest to chest. Asanoyama began moving forward, but Sokokurai unloaded a fluid uwatenage against Asanoyama. Nice win for Sokokurai.

Ishiura defeats Hidenoumi – Dare I say it? Ishiura seems to be gaining confidence, and his sumo is looking better day by day. He dominated today’s match, and Hidenoumi was always a half step behind.

Myogiryu defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki has yet to pick up a single win and is now make-koshi. It’s been a disastrous basho for Mr 5×5.

Yutakayama defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki seems to always put up a good match, but today Yutakayama proved the stronger in this shoving battle.

Abi defeats Chiyonokuni – Excellent sumo from Abi today, he did not get too far forward, and he kept Chiyonokuni reacting to his sumo. His initial attempt to pull Chiyonokuni down failed, but he recovered to land a right-hand grip, which he then used to throw Chiyonokuni. I love the fact that on his way to the clay, Chiyonokuni tried one last attack – a foot grab, that nearly paid off.

Kaisei defeats Okinoumi – Kaisei picks up his kachi-koshi on day 8 and is a legitimate contender for the Emperor’s cup. His match against Okinoumi had more in common with the day to day functions of earth moving equipment than it did with sumo. Kaisei lowered the blade, engaged the treads, and cleared the dohyo.

Ryuden defeats Hokutofuji – Readers, know I am a sucker for a strength battle between two rikishi, and these two put on quite a show. They went chest to chest early and battled with vigor for any advantage. Unlike some matches that turn into a leaning contest, Ryuden kept pushing for a superior grip, and Hokutofuji kept blocking and breaking. Ryuden, unable to achieve any mawashi grip with his left hand, resorts to a boob-grab, much to the discomfort of Hokutofuji. This turned out to be the winning move, and he was able to keep Hokutofuji high and move him back and out. Although listed as yorikiri, I wonder if a new, breast specific, kimarite should be coined. We saw Harumafuji use this technique in the past against rikishi.

Takarafuji defeats Chiyomaru – Thank goodness Takarafuji finally wins one. I will be so glad if he can rally now, and actually achieve kachi-koshi. Chiyomaru was slapping him relentlessly, but as Takarafuji tends to do, he just kept working to get his position, which he achieved. From there it was a quick set of steps to heave Chiyomaru out.

Shodai vs Tamawashi – Ok, are we back go the “good” version of Shodai now? I would like this one to stay. The discouraged, ready to quit one should go on vacation, and maybe never come back. Shodai was still too high at the tachiai, but Tamawashi could not move forward, and ended up with his heel on the tawara. Anticipating his counter-advance, Shodai used Tamawashi’s forward push to swing him down.

Ichinojo defeats Arawashi – Arawashi injured and make-koshi. Ichinojo absorbed Arawashi’s initial vigorous attack, and then calmly took him outside the ring.

Endo defeats Chiyotairyu – Endo’s head snapped back from the force of Chiyotairyu’s tachiai, but his right hand latched shallow on Chiyotairyu’s mawashi. This probably saved him from being down and out immediately. It also seems to have really fired Endo up, as he came back strong, and in a blink of an eye he pushed Chiyotairyu out. Good work from Endo to even up to 4-4. Worth a re-watch on slow motion, that right hand grab was only active for a moment, but it was the key to his win.

Tochinoshin defeats Mitakeumi – The big Georgian forcibly removes Mitakeumi from the hunt group. Mitakeumi shifted at the tachiai, attempted a tottari, then came on strong. Tochinoshin gave ground, but quickly ran out of room. But he had enough of a grip to swing down the King of the Tadpoles for his 6th victory. [Mitakeumi looked to be limping after this bout; we all hope he’s ok. –PinkMawashi]

Takayasu defeats Takakeisho – Blink and you will miss this one. Takakeisho reaches for a left hand grip, but before he is set, he tries to pull the Ozeki down. Takayasu is ready, shifts to his right and pushes with considerable force. Takakeisho is out in a blink of an eye.

Goeido defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku gave him a very good match, but could not set up his hip thrusting attack. Goeido was off balance a few times, but manage to stay stable, and control the match. Both Ozeki are at a respectable 6-2 starting the second week.

Kakuryu defeats Shohozan – This was always going to be a tough match for the Yokozuna. Shohozan is a tough, brutal and fast rikishi. He prefers to pummel his opponents on the way to winning. Kakuryu started strong, looking to finish him early before anyone got hurt, but Shohozan rallied and began the pursuit. Kakuryu is incredibly mobile, and kept shifting, robbing Shohozan of each opportunity to rain blows down on the Yokozuna. As he moved, he kept striking Shohozan on the head, disorienting him. This worked, and he was able to slap down Shohozan for the win. Kachi-koshi for Big K, and he is the man to beat for the cup.

Haru Day 8 Preview

monoii

Please note – all articles written by Bruce H, IE Bruce Henderson formerly of San Diego, are in fact his opinion alone, and represent only his twisted outlook on the world of sumo. The very young, the very old and the easily outraged may find challenges ahead. [Occasionally there are comments from the proofreader, too. Those are objective fact. –PinkMawashi]

Day 7 was brutal for the chase group, with four contenders picking up losses and being demoted to the hunt group. While at the moment it looks like the zero loss crew can run away with it, keep in mind that the scheduling team is just starting to work their voodoo on the torikumi. The front-runners still face many challenges, and we may yet see both Kaisei and Kakuryu taste clay before we hit day 10.

As mentioned in the day 7 highlights, I am looking for Oitekaze-beya to get a strong showing in the post-basho power rankings. All of the Dai* crew are fighting well, and looking like they are moving towards a lift in basic rank, based on the steady improvements of their sumo. It will be interesting to watch them compete against the likes of Takakeisho and Onosho for lead tadpole.

I will say it again, I am damn impressed with Ikioi this basho. The last few tournaments, he seemed to be really struggling physically, but he put in his days on the dohyo with focus and workmanlike determination. This time (possibly due to his lower rank), he is finding ways to win. I am glad he is not yet ready for the downdraft into Juryo, but at his age his injuries may be slowly overtaking him.

Then there is the depressing case of Yoshikaze. Injuries are not widely publicized in sumo, even less so for rank and file rikishi, but there is no way that a warrior like Yoshikaze goes passive like this. The good news is that he can retire at any time, he has a kabu, he has a huge following, he has a passion for youth sumo, and as long as he has his health, he is going to be a big deal in the sumo world.

It would be remiss of me to go without stating that Kaisei also remains unbeaten at the start of the second week. He has done remarkably well, and I salute his effort and his skill. He has been hit or miss in the past, but this is great to see.

Haru Leaderboard

Leaders: Kakuryu, Kaisei
Chasers: Daishomaru, Daiamami
Hunt Group: Takayasu, Goeido, Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Ichinojo, Shohozan, Chiyonokuni, Okinoumi, Ikioi, Aoiyama

7 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 8

Ikioi vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei comes up from Juryo for the day and draws the injured but fierce Ikioi. I predict an Ikioi win, and then he’s 2 away from his kachi-koshi, and likely kyujo.

Daiamami vs Nishikigi – Team Oitekaze starts early on day 8, and the rikishi who never gives up is going to take on a member of the chase group. I predict a Daiamami win, with some good form. This is in spite of the fact that he has never taken a match from Nishikigi (0-3).

Daishomaru vs Aoiyama – Back to back bouts for team Oitekaze, this time the fierce Daishomaru goes up against the man-mountain Aoiyama. Aoiyama has won both of their prior matches, and this may be a tall order for Daishomaru. But a win against the Bulgarian would likely result in a tough match further up the banzuke for Monday. [The Monday torikumi will be set before Aoiyama’s match, so if the torikumi committee decide to start giving him tougher opposition, they’ll have to wait until Tuesday. –PinkMawashi, with thanks to Sakura]

Sokokurai vs Asanoyama – The Freshmen are having a painful basho, and that’s part of them settling into Makuuchi. Asanoyama has a 4-3 winning record, and he has never lost a match to Sokokurai, so I am hoping his sunny outlook will carry the day on Sunday.

Kagayaki vs Yutakayama – An all Freshman battle, Yutakayama has won their only prior match, but I think there is a slight advantage to Kagayaki for today’s match. Kagayaki is slowly improving, and I think his sumo is stronger than Yutakayama’s right now.

Tochiozan vs Daieisho – The highest ranked rikishi for Team Oitekaze takes on veteran Tochiozan. Tochiozan has been a half-step slow this basho, but his form is still very good. I think this comes down to Daieisho being about 2x as genki as Tochiozan, so advantage to Daieisho.

Abi vs Chiyonokuni – Massive ultra-mega oshi-battle here, and folks take note! Both of these young men could work a speed bag like a hungry man taking down the buffet at the Tropicana so this will be one for the slow-motion cameras. Abi will get too far forward, and Chiyonokuni’s tendency to go for haymakers will be the perils. I give an advantage to Chiyonokuni in this first-time match up.

Chiyoshoma vs Yoshikaze – I don’t even want to know. I am tempted to get on a plane and just hand Yoshikaze a bottle of scotch as some shallow form of comfort.

Kaisei vs Okinoumi – Their history shows this to be an even match up, but I am going to guess Kaisei has the advantage going into this. The thing about Okinoumi is that he has the experience and skill to dismantle Kaisei, but will the Brazilian give him an opening?

Ryuden vs Hokutofuji – Ryuden is getting his “welcome to mid-Maegashira” beating, while Hokutofuji is having a bad basho in a string of bad basho. The frustration for both men is palpable, and there may be some extreme effort as a result. This is their first meeting, but I am giving a slight edge to Hokutofuji because he looks a bit like Kaio.

Chiyomaru vs Takarafuji – The best 0-7 rikishi in the basho goes against the spherical man from Kokonoe. Given their upper bodies, there should be few if any neck attacks deployed today. Chiyomaru has yet to win one from Takarafuji, so maybe Takarafuji gets his first white star today. I promise to drink a generous shot of whisky if he does!

Shodai vs Tamawashi – I know Shodai is feeling genki now after his last two matches. But Tamawashi practices his sumo by driving nails into planks by hitting them with his thumb. The man has so much pectoral strength that he shoved Ichinojo around with ease. So I am guessing Shodai goes high at the tachiai, and Tamawashi helps to keep him moving up, up and away.

Ichinojo vs Arawashi – Arawashi can’t buy a win. Ichinojo needs to regroup. Someone get him some ice cream before its too late!

Endo vs Chiyotairyu – Sumo Elvis takes on the man in gold. Endo also needs to re-group, and this might be his time to get his sumo back together. One thing is clear now on day 8, Chiyotairyu’s might was all in his sideburns. He’s been soft and ineffective without them.

Mitakeumi vs Tochinoshin – Highlight bout #1. Anyone who tells you how this is going to end is guessing. I predict it’s going to be fast and brutal. Both are 5-2, and both want to stay in contention with the leaders. Loser goes to the back of the bus.

Takayasu vs Takakeisho – I know Takayasu triumphed in a protracted battle with Shohozan on day 7, but let’s be clear here. Pooh-bear tried three times to set the tempo of the match, and each time he had to follow Shohozan’s lead. His sumo was chaotic but powerful. Now he faces the man who I am pretty sure beat Kakuryu on day 7. This could be a great battle, as Takayasu is going to try to overpower Takakeisho, and Takakeisho’s proportions make him sumo’s greatest weeble. Dear Takayasu, make sure you have a really good plan B and don’t get too far forward or you are going down.

Kotoshogiku vs Goeido – Long and storied history between these two. They have turned in some great matches in the past. It’s not a given that the Ozeki is going to win this one, as Kotoshogiku may find a way to wrap up Goeido and drive him out. Slight advantage to Goeido, as he seems to be fighting well this tournament, and he wants to stay in contention for the cup.

Kakuryu vs Shohozan – Just to be clear, even though Shohozan wants to stay in the hunt group, this match is a challenge for Kakuryu. Shohozan is big, fast and incredibly aggressive. Kakuryu tends to face these matches with a defensive strategy, buying time until his opponent makes a mistake, and then he attacks. But Shohozan is so amped up this basho, Kakuryu may need to be brutal, fast and direct to prevent Shohozan from setting the pace and tone of the match like he did to Takayasu.

Haru Day 1 Highlights

Haru Headliners

Overnight, the Tachiai team conducted our first successful live blog in parallel with the NHK World Live broadcast of a portion of Makuuchi. The live broadcast was a real treat, but unfortunately for viewers, the torikumi was running about 10 minuets ahead of schedule. The commentary by Murray Johnson and John Gunning was engaging and delightful, definitely a cut above the remarks that make it into the highlight show. As several people have mentioned, we were shocked and delighted when our humble sumo fan site got mentioned on air. Wow. This is a testament to the team that puts Tachiai together, and the thousands of readers who share their time with us. Thank you to everyone for helping take the sport of Sumo to a broader audience. The broadcast started just as Chiyomaru and Shodai went for the tachiai, and it was (hopefully) the shape of things to come.

Earlier today, readers may have noted I posted a story about Kisenosato taking a full year off to address his injuries. This came from a prolific sumo poster on Twitter, SumoSoul, who has been quite reliable in the past. In my sleep deprived state, I went with it. At the moment we can’t find a second source in the Japanese press, so we consider it to be more of a rumor than a story at the moment. Apologies for the lapse in the QA process.

Highlight Matches

Aoiyama defeats Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei up from Juryo to fill the hole caused by Onosho going kyujo. The Bulgarian Man-Mountain makes fast work of Kyokutaisei, with a forceful pull down. Hopefully whatever problems Aoiyama suffered during Kyushu are resolved.

Daiamami defeats Hidenoumi – Now THAT was a tachiai! It reverberated through the EDION arena like a thunderclap. Both men went chest to chest and fought it out in a battle of strength and stability. Solid win by Daiamami.

Nishikigi defeats Myogiryu – Quite the battle here, another explosive tachiai, and both men went quickly for each other’s mawashi. Myogiryu held the advantage for most of the fight, but Nishikigi kept him blocked, and Myogiryu could never establish control or a solid throwing grip. At the tawara, Nishikigi rallied and put Myogiryu off-balance. Nishikigi got behind and shoved. Great match, great effort from both.

Ikioi defeats Sokokurai – Straightforward win for Ikioi, but he is clearly still hurt.

Ishiura defeats Kotoyuki – Ishiura shifts to the side during the tachiai, Kotoyuki expects the move and catches Ishiura, but Ishiura evades, gets behind and takes control.

Tochiozan defeats Chiyoshoma – Bout ended by mutual slippio-toshi, with Chiyoshoma hitting the clay first. Of course, there was a monoii, and the shimpan decided Chiyoshoma touched first.

Ryuden defeats Okinoumi – Okinoumi put up a solid fight, but he is not consistently able to produce high-powered sumo right now. Ryuden is fast, strong and in good shape right now, and after a mawashi battle, he puts Okinoumi over the bales.

Abi defeats Yoshikaze – I would almost guess that whatever has impacted Yoshikaze is still causing problems. Abi produced a flurry of thrusts, and completely took control of the match. Excellent win for Abi, he looked solid. Yoshikaze needs to revert to the green mawashi.

Kaisei defeats Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji was simply outmatched, and Kaisei appears to be back to fighting form. At one point, Hokutofuji was a solid San’yaku hopeful, but now seems to be struggling. We can only hope that he can get his sumo together soon.

Shodai defeats Chiyomaru – In spite of a sloppy tachiai, Shodai keeps up the pressure and gets Chiyomaru high, off balance, and moving backwards. From there it’s a quick trip over and out.

Shohozan defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho never had a chance to set up his deadly “Wave Action Tsuppari”, as Shohozan took immediate control, and forced Takakeisho into reactive sumo by going chest to chest. We know Takakeisho can fight this way, but he was outmatched by the massive strength and power from Shohozan. Outstanding strategy and execution from Shohozan, that was a solid win.

Ichinojo defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku took him to his chest and tried to set up the Hug-N-Chug attack, but Ichinojo is simply too massive. By the time his heels are on the tawara, rather than giving up Ichinojo rallies and finds Kotoshogiku can offer no resistance to that much mass in motion.

Tochinoshin defeats Takarafuji – Unlike their match at Hatsu, Takarafuji could not find a way to block Tochinoshin’s left hand grip, and from there the Hatsu yusho winner took command and used his superior strength to finish Takarafuji.

Mitakeumi defeats Arawashi – Missing his tomato red mawashi, Mitakeumi gets inside Arawashi’s defenses at the tachiai, and quickly converts to a rolling sukuinage that was all shoulder and hip power. Wow!

Tamawashi defeats Goeido – Goeido pushes inside at the tachiai, absorbing blows to his face, but can’t get Tamawashi off balance. Tamawashi keeps his sumo on track and attacks at once, and it’s Goeido who is forced to retreat. Goeido blows a shallow left mawashi grip attempt, and Tamawashi capitalizes to get behind and force him out.

Endo defeats Takayasu – I am a big Takayasu fan, but his sumo has gone to hell since Kisenosato got hurt. This match is a prime example. Endo knows his big, all or nothing shoulder blast is coming, and he is ready for it. The effort he puts into an up-front winning move leaves him unprepared for counter attack, and that’s exactly what he gets. Endo keeps him reaching forward, and unable to establish either an offensive or defensive posture. When you weigh as much as Takayasu, a clever opponent will use that mass and momentum against you. Try again Pooh-Bear.

Kakuryu defeats Chiyotairyu – I loved this match because the Yokozuna kept moving forward, landed a right-hand grip, which surprised Chiyotairyu. Kakuryu lifted hard with that injured hand and moved forward strongly. It was over in seconds. Way to win Big K!

Haru Day 1 Preview

Wasabi Mawashi

It seems like a long time, waiting for the Osaka basho to get underway. Part of that was due to the Olympic news blackout – the sumo world kept quiet in order to let the Olympics have the stage. Now the snow party in Korea is done, it’s time for the big men of Japan to take to the dohyo and compete. Oh boy, are we ready for some sumo!

If you are just now joining our coverage, a few things to note

  1. Tachiai is not spoiler free – we report things as they happen. If you want to wait until you can watch things on NHK or YouTube, you will want to visit us after you watch the highlights.
  2. We will attempt to live blog tonight, in conjunction with NHK showing the second half of Makuuchi live on NHK World. It may be a spectacular flaming train wreck, but it will be fun read along as we all watch live sumo together
  3. Tachiai is a team effort. There are multiple authors contributing to the content here, and we are greatful for all their efforts. Please be kind to them, or at least respectful. They give up their free time to comment on a sport we all love. Nobody here gets paid, we do it for the love of sumo.

With that down in writing, lets get started!

What We Are Watching Day 1

Aoiyama vs Kyokutaisei – The man-mountain Aoiyama made it back to the top division by the barest of margins, and his first match is against a Juryo rikishi filling a gap brought on by Onosho going kyujo. Aoiyama has been struggling, and frankly his mass has gotten out of control. We will be looking for him to put everything he has to stay in the top division.

Ikioi vs Sokokurai – Ikioi at Maegashira 14? What manner of cataclysm is this? Ikioi has been struggling for the last several basho, and his nursing injuries. With no jungyo tour this February, we all hope that he has gotten himself back together, and is ready to compete. Going against Sokokurai should be a fairly easy win for a healthy Ikioi, so it will be time to guess if he’s genki. Sokokurai holds a 5-1 career advantage

Daishomaru vs Asanoyama – Sumo’s happy boy goes up against Daishomaru, who has never lost to Asanoyama. This is usually a thrusting battle that gets Asanoyama off balance and out. With Asanoyama looking to bounce back from a somewhat disappointing Hatsu, he will need to break with tradition and defeat Daishomaru top one strong.

Ishiura vs Kotoyuki – My compliments to both rikish for surviving Hatsu, both of which have spent a good amount of time slumming in Juryo over the last year. Ishiura is still looking for a way to compete in spite of his small size, and tends to get confounded by larger opponents. Kotoyuki goes all out, and quite possibly Ishiura will use this against him. Even chances of a henka on this one.

Yutakayama vs Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni’s Grumpy Badger Sumo has not taken him as far as one might imagine, and after a disastrous Hatsu, he’s now down at Maegashira 10. Yutakayama won their only prior match, and his 30 kg mass advantage will likely be the deciding factor.

Okinoumi vs Ryuden – The perpetually injured veteran Okinoumi faces off against rising start Ryuden. One has to wonder how much longer Okinoumi will stick with professional sumo, where Ryuden has caught quite a bit of attention with double digit wins during his first Makuuchi tournament. This is their first match.

Abi vs Yoshikaze – I hope and pray that the NHK live stream starts here. This is possibly the highlight match of the day. Yoshikaze was a fraction of his normal level of genki during Hatsu, and I expect him to be fully recovered from the flu or cold or whatever plagued him. He faces off for the first time against leading man of the Freshman class, Abi. This will either be Yoshikaze dispatching the youngster with a deft and rapid kimarite, or it could be a great battle that rotates between oshi and yotsu-zumō in the blink of an eye. This is their first career match.

Kaisei vs Hokutofuji – Kaisei is near the top of his effective rank these days, given his weight and the limitations it places on his sumo. For a time Hokutofuji was a force of nature, but a series of small, but performance limiting, injuries kept him from living up to his awesome potential. With the Hatsu-Haru break, we can only hope that he returns to the dohyo healthy and ready to advance once more. These two have split their prior 2 matches.

Chiyomaru vs Shodai – The crew are all waiting for the day that Shodai fixes his tachiai and becomes a contender. Could Haru be the time we see him snap off shikiri-sen, catching the bulbous Chiyomaru by surprise? More likely, Chiyomaru will use his enormous belly to keep Shodai away from his mawashi, and dominate the match. Chiyomaru has won their only prior match.

Shohozan vs Takakeisho – Oh goodie! “Big Guns” Shohozan goes against Takakeisho’s “Wave Action Tsuppari!” In their prior two matches, Takakeisho has carried the day. But Shohozan is a street brawler with the strength to overwhelm the tadpole. This is likely to be fast and brutal, and we can watch it live!

Ichinojo vs Kotoshogiku – Ichinojo’s back in San’yaku, and he’s put on a vast amount of additional weight. This guy is so seriously huge that an awkward fall is an instant mechanical injury and possibly a ride in the oversized wheelchair. Day one he faces fading former Ozeki, the much loved Kotoshogiku. We all know that Kotoshogiku’s going to try for his hug-n-chug, and will likely get it. But will Ichinojo’s ridiculous bulk be too much for Kotoshogiku’s damaged knees?

Takarafuji vs Tochinoshin – January’s yusho winner goes up against Takarafuji the neck-less wonder. There have been reports that Tochinoshin may have injured himself in training, and this will be our first peek at if the party circuit post-Hatsu took its toll. Their match in January was some solid sumo, with Takarafuji able to block and counter Tochinoshin’s left hand with impressive skill. They are evenly matched with the 8-7 career score slightly favoring Tochinoshin.

Mitakeumi vs Arawashi – The Mitakeumi faithful are hoping that he will finally elevate his sumo and be able to turn in double digit wins at Sekiwake. With a likely cull in the Yokozuna ranks coming in the next 12 months, there is no better time to start driving for higher rank. But Arawashi is not going to be an accomplice to that plan. Though Mitakeumi leads their career bouts 3-1, Arawashi is fast, flexible and not afraid to deliver a henka.

Tamawashi vs Goeido – Tamawashi is frustrated. After losing his coveted Sekiwake slot, he has been a man on the outside looking in. He starts Haru by facing home town favorite Goeido, who may be the key man in this basho. If he delivers his “good” sumo style, he could be unstoppable. Tamawashi is a powerful oshi practitioner, and Goeido will need to get inside fast, and then endure punishing blows to win.

Takayasu vs Endo – Since his thigh injury, Ozeki Takayasu’s sumo has gotten sloppy. He tends to bounce around, not minding his hips or his center of gravity. He relies on a shoulder blast at the tachiai to put him in control of the match. Endo is my sleeper favorite going into Haru, and I would delight to see him counter the Ozeki’s predictable opening move. They are evenly matched at 6-6 for the career, so this is no easy walk over win for Takayasu.

Kakuryu vs Chiyotairyu – Though he is missing his side burns, Chiyotairyu will always be sumo-Elvis to me. We know he’s facing an injured and diminished Kakuryu, who’s main right hand weapon is not working well at all after a bad fall on the final day of Hatsu. So fans should restrain their reactions if Kakuryu uses a lot of pulls and “reverse sumo” this tournament. I give him huge credit for showing up and giving it his all.

Hatsu Basho Wrap Up and Predictions

Lift

What a great basho with an unexpected champion. Below, I will go through the various tiers of Makuuchi (and upper Juryo) and assess the performances, as well as what they likely mean for the Haru banzuke reshuffle (as usual, a full “banzuke crystal ball” post will follow once I’ve had a chance to more carefully digest the results).

The Yokozuna

At Haru, we should see Kakuryu atop the banzuke, followed by Hakuho and Kisenosato. Although he faded with 4 straight losses after a 10-0 start before recovering to beat Goeido on senshuraku, Kakuryu did enough to justify his rank. I would give him a solid B. Hakuho (re)injured his toes, and gets an Incomplete. Kisenosato had to pull out due to underperformance rather than injury after racking up 4 losses in 5 days and handing out 3 kinboshi. It’s not clear what the way forward is for him. A generous D–.

The Ozeki

The two Ozeki will swap sides in Osaka, with Takayasu fighting from the more prestigious East side. His 12-3 record is by far his most impressive in 4 tournaments as Ozeki, although he has to wonder what might have been in this wide-open basho. Any tsuna talk is highly premature, but if he can build on this performance, we may hear it in the near future. A–

The other Ozeki, Goeido, looked strong out of the gate but then went 4-7 over the last 11 days, ending with a minimal kachi-koshi. He avoided going kadoban by the narrowest of margins. A gentleman’s C.

The Old Lower Sanyaku

This highly touted group did not exactly distinguish itself, only managing 23 wins among the four of them. As a result, we should see almost complete turnover in the Sekiwake/Komusubi ranks. The one holdover is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who started 7-0 but then went 1-7 the rest of the way to maintain his rank by the narrowest of margins. Some of this can be chalked up to tougher second-week opposition, but it’s hard to excuse losses to Arawashi, Shodai, and Okinoumi. This is Mitakeumi’s 6th consecutive tournament in Sanyaku, all of them alternating 9-6 and 8-7 records. He will have to find another gear before the often-mentioned Ozeki run can materialize. Still, he stays at Sekiwake. B–

The rest of the group put up disastrous performances. Instead of starting his own Ozeki run, Sekiwake Tamawashi went 6-9 and will drop out of Sanyaku. It’s not clear what was wrong with his sumo, as he looked like his own formidable self on some days, and went meekly on others. The good news is that he should only drop to M1, and will have a chance to fight his way back up with a solid record in Osaka. C–

Shin-Komusubi Takakeisho had a typical shin-Komusubi rough tournament, going 5-10. He should stay in the joi in Osaka, falling to around M3. C– His friend and fellow Komusubi Onosho faired even worse in his second go-round at the rank, picking up only 4 wins before withdrawing with an injury. No miracle kachi-koshi finish this time. He should drop to around M5. D+

The New Lower Sanyaku

Joining Mitakeumi at Sekiwake will be the yusho winner, Tochinoshin. While there are many reasons to doubt he can replicate his amazing performance going forward, I’ll go out on a limb and say that if he accumulates 11-12 wins in each of the next two tournaments, we’ll see him at Ozeki. A+ Also rejoining the named ranks with a bang at Komusubi is Ichinojo, who really turned things around in the last two tournaments. If he can continue to bring convincing sumo to the dohyo, his size and skill could also see him at Ozeki before too long, although of course this is what was said about him after his amazing Makuuchi debut in 2014. A

Who gets the other Komusubi slot? The man who probably gained the most on senshuraku, sumo Elvis, Chiyotairyu. The big guy needed to win on the last day and have both Kotoshogiku and Endo lose, and this is exactly how things played out. The last and only time Chiyotairyu was ranked this high was also in 2014, and he’s spent most of the intervening time among the lower maegashira ranks, with 3 Juryo stints, so it’s good to see him climb the mountain again. A

The Joi

The upper maegashira ranks in Osaka will see more permutation than turnover. Based on the thinness and health issues of the Sanyaku, I’m going to generously extend the joi boundary down to M5. These ranks should look something like this:

M1 Tamawashi (S) Endo (M5)
M2 Arawashi (M4) Kotoshogiku (M2)
M3 Takakeisho (K) Takarafuji (M6)
M4 Shodai (M4) Shohozan (M9)
M5 Chiyomaru (M9) Onosho (K)

In addition to the aforementioned fallen Sanyaku rikishi, we have Kotoshogiku and Shodai treading water with their minimal make-koshi records and a pair of C‘s. Endo (A–) and Arawashi (B+) move up within these ranks. Takarafuji (B+) moves up from just below the joi, while Shohozan (A–) and Chiyomaru (A–) make some of the biggest moves up the board.

Dropping out of these ranks are Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze, who both had disastrous 4-11 tournaments, good for a pair of D‘s, along with Okinoumi (C–).

Makuuchi Promotions and Demotions

As has already been mentioned, the 8 lowest-ranked rikishi all earned winning records. For Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami, this saved them from demotion to Juryo, but without much of a cushion for Haru. Daieisho, Yutakayama, and the newcomers Abi and Ryuden should move up into solid mid-maegashira territory. Yutakayama in particular is to be commended for turning things around in his third Makuuchi tournament by going 9-6, after his previous two appearances each ended in 4-11 records and quick returns to Juryo.

Dropping down into the M13-M17 ranks and fighting for survival in Osaka will be Ikioi and Sokokurai, who narrowly staved off demotion.

As a result of the solid performances at the bottom of the banzuke, not a lot of slots will be open for promotion. Dropping down to Juryo are Terunofuji, who desperately needs to take a page from Tochinoshin’s book, and Aminishiki. Also joining them will be Takekaze, the only rikishi among those who desperately needed a senshuraku win to not get it. Their slots should be taken by Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, and most likely Aoiyama, with Kyokutaisei just missing out on making his Makuuchi debut despite doing enough for promotion in most tournaments.

Hatsu Day 15 Wrap Up

Abi Shiko

It was a satisfying end to a really tremendous basho. Over the course of the last 15 days, we have all enjoyed some really tremendous sumo in a tournament that once again featured only a single Yokozuna. Since the start of the Asashoryu era, much of each basho revolved around the absolute dominance of a pair of dai-Yokozuna. Tournament coverage was almost bifurcated along who the dai-Yokozuna would crush today, and then the battle for the remaining scraps.

For the past year or so, we have seen the emphasis shift. We continue to see an evolution, a “changing of the guard” in some sense, within the ranks of sumo. Rikishi who have been mainstays of Makuuchi for years or decades are making way for cohorts of healthy, strong and eager sekitori, ready for their time in the spotlight. While we are going to miss our long-time favorites, this basho helped us come to realize that the future of sumo is bright, and the next generation is going to continue to impress.

Look for 2018 to continue this trend, with at least one more Yokozuna headed for intai, and at least one more rikishi taking up the Ozeki rank.

As always, Tachiai will be along for the ride. We can’t help ourselves – we love sumo.

Highlights From Day 15

Daiamami defeats Aoiyama – Fairly straightforward oshi battle, with Daiamami picking up his 8th win, and keeping himself in Makuuchi for March. Aoiyama did not look amazing, but then he really did not need to pour it on for this match.

Nishikigi defeats Kyokutaisei – Nishikigi never gave up, stuck with it and managed to get kachi-koshi. That being said, he’s probably going to find himself down in Juryo soon if he cannot bring his performance up at least one notch. Nishikigi was slow at the tachiai, and let Kyokutaisei dominate the match right up until the final moments when Nishikigi rallied and forced Kyokutaisei out.

Asanoyama defeats Takekaze – I have been wondering what is wrong with the Oguruma team. I would guess they are suffering from the flu. All of them have been limping through this basho, and look to be in poor health. Hopefully by the time March rolls around, their health will return. Asanoyama stood Takekaze up at the tachiai, rolled left and guided the veteran to the clay. There is some discussion on if Takekaze will remain in Makuuchi, but I would think he will.

Ishiura defeats Kotoyuki – A pair of matta as each tried to smoke the other out on their tachiai plans. Yes, it was a raging henka fest that Ishiura got the better of. Kind of an uninspiring win, but a win nevertheless. Kotoyuki is make-koshi, but safe in Makuuchi for now. Ishiura will get promoted, but I am not sure his sumo will support his remaining at higher ranks. Train-train-train little muscle man!

Abi defeats Shohozan – Matta from Shohozan prior to the start, but the actual tachiai resulted in a slap-fest similar to day 14’s Tochinoshin match. Abi switched to double arm thrusts and started moving Shohozan back, and managed to turn him around and get behind. From here Shohozan is in serious trouble, and now struggling to recover while Abi continues to press the attack. Shohozan recovered for just a moment, but then it was all Abi. Nice win from the new Maegashira. I look for some wonderful sumo from him for the rest of the year.

Kagayaki defeats Shodai – This should have been a “gimme” for Shodai, but once again his weak tachiai cost him the match. Kagayaki moved forward aggressively from the line, and came in solidly underneath Shodai, lifting him under the arms. Though Shodai was able to counter and thrust Kagayaki back, Shodai’s feet were crooked, his hips high, and his lower body off balance. Kagayaki grappleds and marched Shodai out. This kind of match helps me think that Kagayaki has tremendous potential. His instincts are solid, and he does not hesitate to exploit even the smallest opening. Shodai needs more work.

Tochinoshin defeats Endo – This match was really all about Endo. Tochinoshin already had the yusho, but Endo needed to “win up” to stake a solid claim for the last remaining san’yaku slot. But Tochinoshin is genki enough for an entire heya, and although Endo gave him a good match, there was no stopping Tochinoshin. Endo has a great tachiai, coming in low and under Tochinoshin, who immediately grabs a hold of Endo’s arms and marches forward. Endo stops the charge at the tawara and nearly rolls Tochinoshin into a throw. Try as he might, Tochinoshin cannot land a solid grip on Endo, whose impressive flexibility and agility stymie the yusho winner time and again. Tochinoshin takes Endo to the edge again, and again Endo loads a throw that Tochinoshin backs away from. That final move puts Endo off balance, and sees him shoved out. Fantastic match from both men, very good sumo.

Chiyotairyu defeats Daieisho – Chiyotairyu gets his 8th win, against a much lower ranked opponent. This was a standard oshi match that was all Chiyotairyu (as it should have been). We will see Chiyotairyu at the top of the Maegashira ranks in March.

Takarafuji defeats Kotoshogiku – The day’s Darwin match. Winner advances, loser declines. This was actually a really solid match, with great sumo from both men. I had kind of wanted to see Kotoshogiku pick up kachi-koshi, but it seems the old Kyushu bulldozer is still on his way out to pasture. Takarafuji got a solid left hand inside grip early and kept Kotoshogiku bottled up. His first attempt to yorikiri Kotoshogiku was solidly beaten back, much to everyone’s delight. From there Kotoshogiku attempted to start the hug-n-chug assault, but sadly he can no longer generate the forward pressure due to his failing knees. Takarafuji turned him around at the tawara and took the win.

Ichinojo defeats Kaisei – If you want jumbo sized sumo, this match really packed the pounds. There was close to 1,000 pounds (yes, half a ton!) of rikishi fighting it out for one little shiroboshi. The fight was all Ichinojo: he got Kaisei sideways early and escorted him out. Huge, unbelievable turn around in Ichinojo the last two tournaments. This massive Mongolian has the potential to be a force within the san’yaku as long as he can stay healthy.

Arawashi defeats Takakeisho – Two real stories here, Arawashi was able to pick up kachi-koshi in spite of his debilitating knee injuries, and the mighty tadpole Takakeisho had a dud of a tournament. Takakeisho – he will be back, more fierce and determined than ever. This young rikishi is not ever going to settle for defeat, and I predict he will be invigorated by this deep make-koshi and the resulting demotion. Arawashi’s problems will probably require medical intervention, but as we have seen, the Kyokai and the Heyas don’t seem inclined to perform medical maintenance on their kanban rikishi. Kind of sick when I put it that way.

Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Takayasu storms into a strong jun-yusho closer. This match is worth a watch in slow motion. Takayasu starts with the now habitual shoulder blast that leaves him on one foot and high. Mitakeumi is braced on his left foot and marching forward. Suddenly the Ozeki has had the tables turned, and his wild bull tachiai has left him open and vulnerable. Mitakeumi is thrusting strongly against the Ozeki’s chest, and it’s moving him backward. Takayasu tries to pull but fails. They go chest to chest, and Mitakeumi channels the kami of Kotoshogiku’s mawashi and starts gaburi-yori. Takayasu is moving backward, and in real trouble. At the tawara, he suddenly remembers his “real” sumo, and switches modes into the Takayasu of 2016 – right hand outside grip, he lowers his hips and marches. Mitakeumi is now moving backward, and in deep trouble. Watch the Ozeki’s feet as he attacks. Low to the ground, each step just grazing the surface of the Sotho, his hips down, his shoulders forward. THIS is Takayasu sumo. Thank you, oh Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, for bringing him back, even for a moment. Mitakeumi stops the surge for just a moment by planting his left foot. Takayasu, now back in his old, amazing mode, senses the weight shift and helps Mitakeumi follow through by rolling him to his left and down to the clay. Wonderful, wonderful match.

Kakuryu defeats Goeido – Please note that Kakuryu created almost no forward pressure in this win, and instead used Goeido’s reliable cannon-ball tachiai to power his exit. I continue to maintain that Kakuryu re-injured himself, and that is why we had a sudden cold snap from the sole remaining Yokozuna. Hopefully, with this senshuraku win, Kakuryu can keep the critics quiet for a few months. Way to survive, Big-K.

That’s it for Hatsu – what a great tournament it’s been. Thank you, dear readers, for spending your time with us. We dearly appreciate all of you and hope you will be with us in the lead up to March’s Osaka tournament.

Hatsu Day 15 Preview

 

Tochinoshin Victorious
Kasugano Heya Welcomes Their Hero

 

We come to it at last, the final day on a thoroughly enjoyable sumo tournament. One of the better ones in the last few months, and a real delight to watch over the past two weeks. Some of my favorite rikishi have been doing poorly, but the overall Makuuchi crew has been competing with skill, vigor, and flashes of brilliance.

While none of the crew here at Tachiai (nor anyone I know of) predicted Tochinoshin would dominate this basho, his performance continues to follow the arc we believe will continue. That starting with Kotoshogiku’s yusho in 2016, the age of the Mongolian stranglehold on sumo is ending. This gives us great hope, as this is not the sumo of 20 years ago. The sport continues to have an ever-increasing international appeal, to the puzzlement of Japan.

For now, let’s enjoy the images and video that will flow from today, and know that we continue to see the glorious evolution of a great and ancient sport.

What We Are Watching Day 15

What, you thought because it’s senshuraku there’s nothing going on? Ha! But it does seem like a few folks were brought up from Juryo to try on their Makuuchi moves in preparation for March in Osaka.

Daiamami vs Aoiyama – For Daiamami to pick up his 8th win, and stay in the top division, he must overcome the man-mountain Aoiyama, and his enormous man-boobs. No easy accomplishment. I beg NHK to not show any slow-motion replays.

Kyokutaisei vs Nishikigi – Another likely Juryo promotee for March, he squares off against Nishikigi who also needs his 8th win. The good news for the man who never gives up, he holds a 6-1 career lead over Kyokutaisei.

Kotoyuki vs Ishiura – Someone call the henka police! Kotoyuki is also looking for #8 against the somewhat inconsistent Ishiura. I am sure that Kotoyuki is ready for Ishiura’s submarine tachiai.

Shohozan vs Abi – I am guessing the winner secures a special prize, both are 9-5, both are fighting well. Abi has had a great debut tournament, and I predict he is going to do great things for the next year or so.

Shodai vs Kagayaki – Shodai looking for win #8, and a small but interesting move higher in the Maegashira ranks for March. Shodai may in fact still be salvageable as a good san’yaku rikishi. Much of it will depend on him fixing some of the mechanical problems he has. His spirit and dedication are first rates. Kagayaki survived a somewhat rocky Hatsu, and comes out with a winning record. I look for him to be mid-Maegashira in Osaka.

Endo vs Tochinoshin – Sure, Tochinoshin has the yusho, and Endo is kachi-koshi, but this one is very interesting to me. Endo was at one time the “Great hope”, but injuries have hampered him. Surgery last year brought him back to some level of health, and he has been working hard to recover as a contender. I am fairly sure Tochinoshin will take this one, but Endo has shown some fantastic sumo this January. Perhaps he has one more surprise left for us.

Chiyotairyu vs Daieisho – Super-sized Chiyotairyu looks for a kachi-koshi and elevation to one of the top 4 slots of the Maegashira ranks for March. Chiyotairyu holds a 5-1 career advantage over Daieisho, and Chiyotairyu recently has been adding a sprinkle of neutron-star matter to his chanko, which has given him a steep gravity well.

Takarafuji vs Kotoshogiku – Ugly Darwin match. Winner kachi / loser make kochi. Not sure who I would rather have win. Takarafuji had a pretty tough card this basho but kept up the fight. But it’s tough to see Kotoshogiku fade away. Either way, Kotoshogiku holds a 12-6 career advantage.

Yoshikaze vs Ikioi – The saddest match of the whole basho, which could only be topped if Aminishiki and Terunofuji battled in wheelchairs with IV bottles hanging on them. Both of these great rikishi are in broken states, and I just hope they face each other on the dohyo, shrug and walk off to find a bar.

Kaisei vs Ichinojo – “Why don’t you go pick on someone your own size?” In response, I present you a battle of the gas giants. Both are kachi-koshi at this point, so this is just to see what happens when two massive objects collide. Hopefully, LIGO is tuned up and running.

Hokutofuji vs Aminishiki – Ok, I give up. Why is this happening?

Takakeisho vs Arawashi – Takakeisho wants a win to keep his banzuke drop as restrained as possible. Arawashi’s knees won’t give him too much support as he tries to resist Takakeisho’s powerful thrusting attack. This is actually the first time the two of these rikishi have faced off.

Mitakeumi vs Takayasu – Current Ozeki vs Future Ozeki. Good match here. If Mitakeumi can keep himself in touch with his sumo, and stay calm and strong, he can take this one from Takayasu. But I predict that Takayasu is going to go for his cannonball tachiai. Maybe Mitakeumi will give him a bit of a Harumafuji mini-henka, and send the fuzzy Ozeki launching into the shimpan gallery.

Kakuryu vs Goeido – Happy to see Goeido booted up in 2.0 mode on day 14. Kakuryu back to injured, so this one is all Goeido, I predict. Big K has no power to ground, possibly due to strain and pain once again in his lower back. I call 10-5 a worthy return, and he should get that back adjusted before it’s chronic again.

Hatsu Day 5 Preview

Kisenosato Worried

Day 4 was a fantastic day of sumo, the kind of day that makes a sumo fan wish they could see the entire 2 hour makuuchi broadcast. Perhaps one day? We can always dream.

Hakuho seems to have injured himself once more, and I would guess will push to go kyujo. Terunofuji’s medical slip for his kyujo recommends 1 week rest, implying that we could see him again in week 2 making a desperate bid to save himself from a demotion to juryo. With his health more or less out of control at this point, Terunofuji is a long way from his earlier Ozeki self.

Day 5 brings a close to the first act of Hatsu. Readers may recall that I divide the 15 day basho into three distinct 5 day arcs, as they always seem to form a pattern. The first act being where everyone shakes off the dust and settles into their “full power” sumo, and we get to see who is hot and who is not. Act two are where hopes get smashed and dreams get crushed. It’s also where we start to track the leaders, and look into the race for the Emperor’s cup. The second act contains the all important middle weekend, where the scheduling team usually tries to narrow the field through exciting matches between rikishi with strong winning records.

What We Are Watching Day 5

Kyokutaisei vs Asanoyama – Kyokutaisei comes up from Juryo to fill the empty slot left by Terunofuji. He faces an undefeated Asanoyama, who is looking very solid so far. Is it just me, or is Maegashira 12-17 really turning in some great sumo this basho? I know we talk about the tadpoles a lot (with good reason) but this class of rikishi really seem to be doing well, and dare I say it, having a lot of fun? Is sumo allowed to be fun?

Ishiura vs Ryuden – Ishiura hit the clay on day 4 in a surprising loss to Nishikigi, but day 5 he gets Ryuden, who in spite of his 1-3 record seems to be eager to battle each time on the dohyo. I am sure that Ryuden wants to stay in Makuuchi, so I expect him to dial up the intensity starting now.

Abi vs Kagayaki – Oh yes please! Abi seems capable of surprising any opponent thus far, where Kagayaki is sort of Kisenosato 2.0, steady, focused, straight ahead sumo with a lot of power behind it. Sure, Kagayaki is young and is not at Kisenosato skill or strength levels yet. Abi however, seems to be surprisingly adaptive, and fast on his feet. Could be a great match.

Kotoyuki vs Sokokurai – Kotoyuki has quietly put together a 3-1 record to start the basho. During his tour of Juryo in 2017, he was a mess. He seemed to constantly be injured and on a knife edge of further demotion. Now he is back in Makuuchi, and actually doing well enough. He faces the Kyushu Juryo Yusho winner, Sokokurai, who seems to be more than a little overwhelmed. Their career 7-1 record favors Kotoyuki.

Shohozan vs Chiyomaru – Big Guns Shohozan takes on the incredibly large Chiyomaru. I am sure that Shohozan can and possibly will squat press Chiyomaru, but with both of these men at 3-1, the workout is more likely to be blistering tsuppari with a side of uwatenage.

Okinoumi vs Endo – Okinoumi Seems to be in good enough physical condition, but thus far he has not quite been able to get his sumo to click. Fans may remember Nagoya 2016, where Okinoumi ripped up the San’yaku battle fleet before his injuries turned him into a cuddly petting zoo refugee. Endo on the other hand is cranked up and pushing higher for Osaka. They are evenly matched, with a career record of 5-4 slightly favoring Endo.

Shodai vs Ichinojo – Two giant, somewhat puffy and bloated men in blue mawashi. One is a bit slow and clumsy, and the other is frequently struggling to execute a decent tachiai. I have no clue what will happen here, but whatever it is, it will happen slowly.

Takakeisho vs Onosho – Yeah, let’s put the two angriest tadpoles in a bucket and let them battle! An idea so magical, it could result in a fantastic match. These two are actually real life friends, and have been working through sumo together for quite some time. But both are fierce competitors. I would give a slight advantage to Takakeisho, as he seems to be more “dialed in” right now.

Mitakeumi vs Tamawashi – Sekiwake fight! Tamawashi, who used to hold the East slot, takes his Oshi offense to the face and bulbous thorax of Mitakeumi, who has no intention of letting Tamawashi smudge his flawless 4-0 record. Mitakeumi holds an 8-2 career advantage.

Hokutofuji vs Takayasu – Forgive me, Takayasu fans, but I might make you mad. I think Takayasu has lost touch with the core of his sumo. His Tochinoshin match of day 4 was full of mistakes, and I think he really needs to focus on his fundamentals, which when he works in them, are outstanding. Hokutofuji comes in with a 1-3 record, but he’s been on a steady diet of Yokozuna sumo, and surviving fairly well. In fact, Takayasu has NEVER beaten Hokutofuji. Good grief.

Goeido vs Tochinoshin – Gut check time for Goeido! He knows he can’t go chest to chest with this beast of a man, so he’s got to stay mobile. When he does that, he tends to try and pull, and when he does that, he tends to lose. I will be interested to see if Tochinoshin has Goeido so psyched out that Goeido reverts to his buggy 1.0 software.

Hakuho vs Kotoshogiku – Hakuho has foot problems, and can’t transmit power to ground. I wonder if Kotoshogiku is feeling genki enough for his back bend, now that he dropped his arch-foe Kisenosato. For a healthy Hakuho, this is a straighforward win. But as-is, Kotoshogiku has a fair chance of another Kinboshi.

Kakuryu vs Chiyotairyu – Only really interesting because I am curious to see what Kakuryu does to put the big Sumo Elvis down. Kakuryu is fighting really well this basho, and if he can remain uninjured he will have a fantastic and convincing return to active status.

Yoshikaze vs Kisenosato – Even though Yoshikaze defeated Hakuho on Day 4, he still looks about a fraction of his normal self. Kisenosato has been high and unable to generate any arm strength on his go-to weapon, his left hand. Fair chance of another Yoshikaze kinboshi today.

Day 5 Undercard Matches to Watch

The early days of the 2018 Hatsu Basho keep on giving, and I’m very excited to see where things go from here. The undercard has proved to be exceptionally exciting this basho after the infusion of new and upcoming talent, and their matches are some of the ones I look forward to the most. Here are just a few Day 5 undercard matches that should be interesting.

Kyokutaisei Vs. Asanoyama

For those not familiar with the Juryo scene, Kyokutaisei Takuya may seem like any other rikishi. But if you’ve ever seen the 2009 documentary A Normal Life: Chronicle of a Sumo Wrestler, you may recognize him as the teen whose entrance into the world of sumo was documented in the film. Coming into Day 5 with a 3-1 record, Kyokutaisei has had a great start and may be on the path to a top division promotion in March. Tomorrow he meets the undefeated Asanoyama, who continued his winning streak today with a nice reversal to force Yutakayama over the tawara. Mr. Happy appears to be over the foot injury that plagued him in November, and his sumo has been top notch since. Asanoyama and Kyokutaisei have fought twice, with Asanoyama the victor both times.

Ishiura vs. Ryuden

While he may not have won, no one can say Ishiura didn’t try today his hardest today. The pint-sized Rikishi gave it his all, but Nishikigi proved too much for him to handle. Even a last minute throw attempt didn’t unsettle the bigger man, and Ishiura ended up sitting on the edge of the dohyo looking out at the amused crowd. Sadly this brought an end to Ishiura’s win streak so he will need to get back on the horse tomorrow when he meets Ryuden. Ryuden continues to work hard in his matches, but has only one win to show for it. While this Basho may not be going the way he had hoped, I’m sure Ryuden’s hard work will start to pay off soon.

Daiamami vs. Yutakayama

It’ll be the battle of the big hosses when these two take the dohyo. Weighing in at 183 kg apiece, Daiamami and Yutakayama are two of the largest men in the division. Both rely on their size and strength to win, so their bout tomorrow should be pretty straightforward. Daiamami managed to bring his record back to 500 yesterday after beating Myogiryu, while the 1-3 Yutakayama continues to struggle. The last time these two met was at the 2017 Nagoya Basho when Daiamami defeated Yutakayama in a playoff match for the Juryo Yusho.

Abi vs. Kagayaki

Kagayaki had a return to form in his Day 4 match with Sokokurai and drove the elder rikishi out of the dohyo in seconds. Tomorrow Kagayaki will square off against Abi, who picked up his second win after a flurry of a bout with Ryuden. Abi seems to be suffering from the same issues that Kagayaki faced when he entered the top division, and can’t seem to find the middle ground between powerful thrusts and steady balance. If Abi can stay upright tomorrow, then we may be in store for quite a slugfest! Tomorrow is their second meeting, with Kagayaki leading 1-0. Expect some frantic tsuppari from these lanky rikishi.

Kotoyuki vs. Sokokurai

After a quick tune-up in Juryo last year, Kotoyuki has made the most of his top division return. With a win tomorrow The Penguin will be halfway to his kachi-koshi, but he’ll first have to get through another man fresh off a stint in Juryo, Sokokurai. The Chinese rikishi put up little offense in his match with Kagayaki today and will have to come up with a better strategy to handle Kotoyuki. Out of the eight previous matches, Sokokurai has only beaten The Penguin once.

Tomorrow marks the end of Act One of the 2018 Hatsu Basho, and what a first act it has been! I can’t wait to see what Act Two will bring!