Kyushu 2019, Days 4-5, Bouts From The Lower Divisions

Sorry for letting life take me away from entertaining (or boring) you with bouts from the lower divisions. I’ll try to catch up over the weekend. And to do that, let’s start with a collection from days 4 and 5.

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Ozeki Train Wreck Part 7 – This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things….

For some readers, you may not be happy with this post. Feel free to skip it – it’s Bruce’s opinion only.

Tachiai has been writing for at least 2 years about the trouble sumo has with kanban rikishi and injuries. When we first started, it looked bad, but we had no idea how ugly it would get at the end of 2019. We have 6 top division rikishi who are out of the the tournament, including 2 members of the OZeki corps, a Yokozuna and a handful of fan favorites. Some of these men are going to be out for medical treatment for months.

Worse still, the two remaining Ozeki are both hurt to the point where they are not doing sumo worthy of the rank right now, and are clearly degrading day after day of competition. I also suspect that Hakuho is banged up, but his ego will keep him in the tournament no matter what now. He knows the fans deserve to see the top men of sumo compete, and with Kakuryu out, it’s up to his leadership to show the lower ranks: no matter how much they hurt, that the top guy is willing to suck it up and compete.

The result? The sumo in Kyushu is thus far average at best. Even Hakuho hit the clay on day 2 against a delighted Daieisho. Where does this go now?

Kakuryu – I am sure the calls for him to consider resignation will start up again now. Last time he faced lower back problems, it lead to an extended series of kyujo absences that went on for 4 tournaments. That was when Kakuryu was 31, he is now 34. In broader context, I am expecting Kakuryu to try to stay engaged until such time as he can try to take up the Izutsu kabu, and succeed his Oyakata, which I suspect was Izutsu Oyakata’s wish when he passed away this year. This is a long shot for Kakuryu, but I would be delighted to see it.

Goeido – Once he went kyujo, he entered the traditional wall of silence that surrounds rikishi not competing during honbasho. But its known that he re-injured the ankle that underwent reconstruction in 2017. Now 33 years old, he is in a tough spot in orthopedic terms if the pins and screws that held that ankle together have come undone. Going into Kyushu, he was seen by everyone as the “stable one”, the foundation of the Ozeki corps for this tournament.

Takayasu – Its clear he’s still in bad shape with regards to his left arm / elbow. Everyone knows it, his opponents are exploiting it, and I would guess its getting a bit more injured every day he fights. Readers may note, that he was considered the next “hope” for a Japanese born Yokozuna, but the time for him to make that move was really this year. Now that his sumo is constrained by that elbow, those possibilities are now most likely lost. I find it a pity that Kisenosato’s promising understudy is now facing a similar outcome: an attenuated career due to an injury to his left upper body.

Takakeisho – Takakeisho was not ready to compete, we can now declare. While he has tried to bring his body back into fighting form, he’s not even fighting at Komusubi level now for most of his matches. Points for giving it a try, but now the question must be: what will it take for him to return to form? I worry that he’s not going to get that range of motion or power back from that damaged pectoral muscle, and this is more or less it for one of the most promising young rikishi in a while.

Tochinoshin – As we sadly noted on his ascendancy to Ozeki, Tochinoshin has been a glass cannon for years. When he is healthy he is unstoppable, but when he is not he’s a paper tiger, and it was really only a matter of time before that injured knee failed again, which sadly it has. He’s out now with a rib injury, which is quite debilitating, but the reason he was pushed down to Ozekiwake was that knee. With his withdrawal from Kyushu, he is now assured to plummet down the banzuke in 2020.

Yep, it’s a grim picture at the top. But what’s really going on here? We see injuries hitting the top division quite hard right now, and frankly for most of this year. Is it the jungyo schedule? Is it the training? Something is wrong in sumo, and some great competitors are paying the price. As a fan it’s heartbreaking, but we know that as our favorites succumb to injury, a new generation of heroes will rise. But will they face the same fate?

Kyushu Day 6 Highlights

My thanks to the rest of Team Tachiai for covering the dailies for me while I was traveling the US drumming up business for my day job. I really enjoyed reading the rest of the teams views on the matches, and your comments.

On this tournament (which I hope to write more on this theme later today), I can only say “what the hell?” The top division for the Kyushu Basho has many aspects of what we have gotten used to seeing in Juryo, where everyone has middling records, and on any given day your favorite is just as likely to disappoint you as to carry the day. Even most of the wins are not necessarily what I would call “Good Sumo”. I assume that everyone is putting in what they have, but damn this is some weak honbasho. That being said, it’s the best damn sumo tournament I am going to watch this November, so I am in for the long haul.

My bright spot is that in Juryo, Ikioi is still undefeated, and may in fact be rolling his way back to the top division for New Years.

Highlight Matches

Kagayaki defeats Daishoho – At least it was easy to tell you were in bizzaro world for day 6. We had Kagayaki change up to yotsu-zumo when he grabbed Daishoho’s mawashi and won. It was like going to a fancy Christmas dinner and finding the desert was clam and gouda ice cream.

Takanosho defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi went for his expected battle-hug, but generated less than expected forward pressure, and really only put up a token fight against Takanosho.

Daishomaru defeats Chiyotairyu – A failure to launch properly resulted in the head shimpan directing a “do-over”, where Daishomaru met Chiyotairyu’s tachiai and shifted. Chiyotairyu was never quite on balance again, and got too far forward. Easy thrust down for Daishomaru.

Shimanoumi defeats Terutsuyoshi – This match was little more than Shimanoumi chasing Terutsuyoshi around the dohyo while Terutsuyoshi tried to figure out what to do to reverse his fortune. That did not happen, Shimanoumi caught him and swung him to the clay.

Chiyomaru defeats Shodai – Uncharacteristic fire from Chiyomaru the past couple of days, he gave Shodai’s neck a proper flexing, which kept Shodai quite high. A flurry of tsuppari to Shodai’s shoulders, followed by a dive for Shodai’s exposed chest ended the match.

Ishiura defeats Yutakayama – Ishiura changes his mawashi color to a nice army green, and honestly it did seem to change his attitude. A bit of a Hakuho style face slap at the tachiai? It seems to get Yutakayama fired up, but the match ends with a monoii, and a rematch. Ok, who did not see a henka coming from a mile away for the rematch? Yutakayama, that’s who. It was not a complete henka, but a hit and shift, and it was brilliantly done.

Kotoshogiku defeats Tsurugisho – Tsurugisho attempts to shift to his left at the tachiai, but Kotoshogiku read this perfectly and follows. Now Kotoshogiku has solid foot placement, and Tsurugisho is still trying to move. The Kyushu Bulldozer catches him across the chest and drives forward for the win. Experience carried the day for Kotoshogiku.

Onosho defeats Sadanoumi – Onosho drove hard at the tachiai into Sadanoumi’s chest, an unusual move for the man in red. Sadanoumi obliges by latching a commanding mawashi grip and setting up a throw which falls apart when Onosho, through some miracle, has his weight centered over the arches of his feet and is in proper defensive position. Sadanoumi re-establishes his grip, but… so does Onosho? Onosho’s overwhelming strength kicks in, and even Sadanoumi’s superior grip can’t save him as Onosho pushes ahead and wins. Hey, Onosho – brilliantly done. Expand on that one, I think it will take you far.

Shohozan defeats Enho – Another chapter in the WTF annals of Kyushu 2019. Enho goes for the henka, but Shohozan recovers his balance masterfully. They battle for a moment before Shohozan reaches over Enho’s shoulders to grab his mawashi, and forces Enho to the clay. Well – Enho does the splits and loses when his… well.. groin touches down. I am sure at this moment the sumo world is struggling for a kimarite, allow me to suggestion chinponage? If you see Enho’s face just after he’s down, there is a look of surprised amusement, I concur.

Ryuden defeats Kotoeko – Kotoeko tried to pull straight out of the tachiai, and had no forward pressure against Ryuden’s advance. Not sure what happened to Kotoeko, but that was terrible.

Aoiyama defeats Okinoumi – Big Dan fires up the V-Twin for just a moment and that’s all it took to send Okinoumi out.

Abi defeats Daieisho – I am going to start hoping that Abi has put the distraction of the social media ban behind him and is back to Abi-zumo form. He certainly looked frantic, intense and unstoppable. Daieisho had all the composure and offense-oriented sumo of a man caught in an industrial dough kneading machine, as Abi’s long arms repeatedly slammed into his neck.

Hokutofuji defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki held the advantage at the start of this match, and masterfully blunted and deflected everything Hokutofuji tried. But Hokutofuji did manage to land a hand on Kotoyuki’s right arm and pull him forward, rolling him to the clay and giving him a long overdue visit to the zabuton section.

Endo defeats Asanoyama – Endo once again shows why he referred to as a master technician. While Asanoyama brought brawn and energy into the match, Endo had a plan. As Asanoyama was pushing forward following the tachiai, Endo traded dohyo space for a grip change, and that was all it took to set his favored throw. Asanoyama realized a fraction of a second too late that he had been out-maneuvered, and down he went. There are days when Endo is wonderful to watch, and I hope Asanoyama gains experience from this loss, as Endo has much to teach.

Takarafuji defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi is way off form. It’s still the first week, and normally he is still full of energy and fight. But that bang he took to the head earlier seems to have have robbed him of enough of his sumo that he’s kind of an easy mark right now. With the absolute chaos in the Ozeki ranks right now, this would be his best shot probably ever to run up the score. But Mitakeumi is just not healthy right now.

Tamawashi defeats Takakeisho – Speaking of not healthy, Ozeki Takakeisho just is not even close to his normal level of genki. It’s great to see the master disruptor, Tamawashi, completely hash the tadpole, but I have to hope that Takakeisho is not compounding that chest muscle tear at this point. Takakeisho’s balance is off, his power is way down, and we have yet to see him really execute a coordinated attack.

Myogiryu defeats Takayasu – Myogiryu has a track record of beating Takayasu that goes back years, but today’s drubbing was especially uncomfortable to watch. We know that Takayasu’s left arm is useless right now, but today’s match saw Takayasu having almost zero offensive pressure, and absolutely terrible body position.

Hakuho defeats Meisie – We nearly get a second chinponage today as Meisie looses traction and finds himself doing the splits. Odd and awkward match to end a somewhat puzzling day of sumo. Unless Hakuho hurts himself, there is no way anyone’s sumo this November is going to even pose a real challenge for him.

Kyushu Storylines, Day 5

Bruce likes to call the first five days of a tournament “Act One”, when ring rust is knocked off and we start to see the storylines that will define the basho emerging. Let’s take a look at where things stand at the end of Act One of the last tournament of 2019.

The yusho race

Obviously, it’s way too early, but we can make a couple of interesting observations. The first is that this is only the 14th time in the six-basho era that no rikishi are undefeated after Day 5, and the first since Aki 2001. That tournament ended with a victory by M2 Kotomitsuki, and we could be in for another unexpected finish. The second is that, although we saw Tamawashi do it in January, a yusho is rarely won by a man with more than one loss after Day 5—this has happened on only 11 occasions in the same timeframe. So the smart money has to be on one of the 4-1 rikishi to take the title. This group includes the GOAT with 42 titles, a one-time winner in Komusubi Asanoyama, and a motley crew of rank-and-filers that you could have gotten very long odds on before the basho, and probably still can: M2 Meisei, M6 Enho, M8 Sadanoumi, M9 Yutakayama, and M10 Shodai (I’m not counting the injured Wakatakakage).

The Ozeki and aspiring Ozeki

We could have had as many as five Ozeki at the Hatsu basho, but now it looks like the over/under is 2.5. Tochinoshin’s injury has ended his hopes of regaining the rank for the second time this year, and he will likely fall into the mid-maegashira ranks (in his “Ozekiwake” basho, Terunofuji went 0-5-10 and was ranked M10 for the following tournament). After 3 first-week losses, Mitakeumi’s chances of promotion hang by the thinnest of threads, and he will likely need to shift focus to extending his san’yaku streak to 18 basho, one short of the record. And kadoban Ozeki Takayasu, also 2-3, has his work cut out for him if he wants to avoid giving us an unprecedented fourth Ozekiwake basho in the span of a year. Only Goeido and Takakeisho are certain to appear on the Hatsu banzuke at sumo’s second-highest rank; the former will be kadoban for certain, and the latter needs a strong finish to avoid that dubious honor.

The San’yaku ranks

This tournament, we have an embarrassment of riches in six lower san’yaku rikishi; this number should go down to at most five, and likely the customary four, for Hatsu. Tochinoshin’s pending demotion will vacate one slot. Even an out-of-form Mitakeumi should be able to scrape together the 8 wins he needs to remain Sekiwake, or at least the 7 that would limit his demotion to Komusubi. Among the current Komusubi, the “extras”, Hokutofuji and Asanoyama, look likely to push for higher rank, while the higher-ranked duo of Abi and Endo are no sure bets to escape demotion to the rank-and-file. We’ll have to wait and see if any of the upper maegashira can stake a strong promotion claim and make things tricky for the banzuke committee and your humble prognosticator.

Demotion danger

Three slots in the top division are set to open with the injury-driven demotions of Tomokaze (although he could just hang on to the bottom of Makuuchi, not that he’ll be competing at Hatsu), Ichinojo, and Wakatakakage. Aside from the unfortunate Tomokaze, everyone ranked M1e-M5e has already done enough to stay out of Juryo, as have M6w Enho, M7e Tsurugisho, and M8w Sadanoumi. Everyone else still needs to notch additional white stars, but most have plenty of bouts left to do so. The deepest hole after Day 5 belongs to M15w Daishoho (1-4), who’s looked lifeless and doesn’t have any room for error given his position one rung from the bottom of Makuuchi. The likes of M15e Daishomaru (2-3), M14w Nishikigi (2-3), M14e Terutsuyoshi (2-3), and M11e Ishiura (1-4) also need to start winning more frequently.