The action of the past fortnight comes down to these few matches. It’s been a wild, entertaining ride. We came into the tournament with several storylines but those shifted during the tournament. We end with a strong class of Ozeki, a few contenders, and a crop of impressive young wrestlers beginning to develop.
Atamifuji is quickly becoming a favorite. After a rather timid debut to the division, he is establishing himself in this second go around. But he is not destined for the lower rungs of Makuuchi. He has been a player in the yusho for two consecutive tournaments. Two jun-yusho, and the accompanying special prizes suggest he will find a home in sanyaku. He will have new rivalries, perhaps Kotonowaka, Gonoyama and others.
Meanwhile, the newbies at the Ozeki rank, Kirishima and Hoshoryu, are finally establishing themselves with solid tournaments…Kirishima with potentially his second yusho. We will not have a kadoban Ozeki in the New Year and we have a couple of guys who might be able to start their own Ozeki runs.
But we can talk about that later, for now, let’s get to the action.
Nishikifuji (6-9)defeated Kagayaki (5-10). Kagayaki charged forward sending both to the floor. A mono-ii was called but it was determined the bout was too close to call. In the rematch, Kagayaki quickly secured an overarm grip with his left hand but Nishikifuji dominated with his right hand inside. He was able to press forward and force Kagayaki out. Yorikiri.
Hiradoumi (9-6) defeated Kitanowaka (5-10). Kitanowaka wouldn’t let Hiradoumi inside by using powerful tsuppari. But Hiradoumi caught him pitched too far forward and pulled him down to the ground. Hikiotoshi.
Ryuden (10-5) defeated Tsurugisho (9-6). Ryuden forced Tsurugisho into reverse. Tsurugisho stepped out gingerly. Yorikiri.
Oho (8-7) defeated Mitakeumi (8-7). Oho cornered Mitakeumi resisted forcefully at the bales, resulting in a brief stalemate. Mitakeumi used his left hand to sweep through Oho, likely attempting a twisting throw but this forced both to tumble out. Gunbai Oho. No mono-ii. Oshidashi.
Myogiryu (6-9) defeated Tomokaze (7-8) Tomokaze did not like Myogiryu’s nodowa, so he pulled to escape. Myogiryu pursued and pushed him out. Oshidashi.
Roga (5-10) defeated Endo (5-10). Endo pressed forward and seemed to have good control until he tried to shift his grip to a double-inside. Roga locked up Endo’s right arm in an armbar and pulled, forcing him to the ground. Kotenage.
Ichiyamamoto (11-4) defeated Kinbozan (8-7). Ichiyamamoto gets a Fighting Spirit Prize with the win. And win he did, with a quick slapdown. Remember Kinbozan hurt his arm/shoulder yesterday. He didn’t have much in the way of offense today. Hatakikomi.
Churanoumi (9-6) defeated Midorifuji (9-6). This was a very active bout. Churanoumi’s early plan was a pull and slapdown. But Midorifuji kept his balance and charged forward forcing Churanoumi to backpedal. Churanoumi realized he needed to change up his plan so he pressed forward and secured Midorifuji’s belt with his right hand inside. Midorifuji tried to use a kotenage but Churanoumi countered by wrapping his right foot around Midorifuji and then pressing forward. Oshidashi.
Gonoyama (8-7) defeated Shonannoumi (7-8). Darwin Match. Shonannoumi forced to reset, then Gonoyama jumped early. Finally the combatants leapt in sync. Shonannoumi pulled but Gonoyama’s forward churning sumo won, in the end. Oshidashi.
Sadanoumi (8-7) defeated Tobizaru (7-8). Darwin Match. Sadanoumi tried to end it quickly with a throw but Tobizaru slipped from his grip. Tobizaru could not press Sadanoumi forward so he pulled but Sadanoumi pursued well. Yorikiri.
Takayasu (10-5) defeated Tamawashi (9-6). Takayasu was a bit slow with his tachiai, and Tamawashi a bit eager, so he false started. When they got the timing right, Takayasu pulled and shifted directions, letting Tamwashi’s momentum carry him off the dohyo.
Meisei (4-11) defeated Tohakuryu (5-10). Tohakuryu pulled, again. Meisei caught him out and pressed forward. Tohakuryu’s pulling brand of sumo will be sent back to Juryo. Oshidashi. Regular readers will be familiar with my disdain for this type of sumo but new readers may wonder, “Takayasu literally just won with pulling sumo but you don’t give him crap. What gives?” Fair enough. But Takayasu can do what Takayasu wants. He’s not defined by his pull. He uses it as a tool…one of many. Tohakuryu is discovering that if the pull is your “brand of sumo,” a Makuuchi opponent will be prepared to let you run yourself off the dohyo. Tohakuryu seemed to be relying on this one tactic far too much to be successful here.
Shodai (6-9) defeated Takarafuji (6-9). Shodai pulled and Takayasu pushed. Gunbai to Takarafuji. Mono-ii. They decided they went out at the same time so they ordered a torinaoshi, rematch. In the rematch, Shodai may have saved himself by switching his grip to a morozashi, double-inside grip. Once he secured that, he countered Takarafuji at the edge and then pressed forward, pushing Takarafuji over the bales. Oshidashi.
Ura (8-7) defeated Hokuseiho (7-8). Darwin Match. Ura slipped from Hokuseiho’s grasp and locked onto Hokuseiho with an arm bar, spun him around and then drove forward pushing him over. Oshitaoshi.
Nishikigi (7-8) defeated Hokutofuji (5-10). Hokutofuji charged forward strongly but a bit blindly as Nishikigi dragged him forward and down. Hatakikomi.
Asanoyama (4-4-7) defeated Abi (6-9). Strong Abi-zumo met stronger Asanoyama. Abi was driving into Asanoyama’s face but Asanoyama got pissed off and reared up, driving into Abi from the side. This redirected Abi’s attack into the void…and let gravity do the rest. Tsukiotoshi.
Wakamotoharu (6-9) defeated Onosho (3-12). Yorikiri. A matta probably should have been called but wasn’t. Wakamotoharu drove Onosho quickly out. This bout will be forgotten since it was relatively meaningless but it’s another case of, “fight until you hear the gyoji.” This only becomes an issue when it happens in a big match and someone thinks they should have had a matta.
Kotonowaka (11-4) defeated Atamifuji (11-4). Atamifuji won a Fighting Spirit prize, unconditionally but Kotonowaka’s is conditional on a win here. Atamifuji’s Outstanding performance prize is conditional on a yusho, so he’d have to win here, have Kirishima lose, AND defeat Kirishima in the subsequent playoff. But in the end, Kotonowaka met Atamifuji head on and then shifted to the right, letting Atamifuji flop to the floor…aided by a gentle push from the left hand. Hikiotoshi.
Hoshoryu (10-5) defeated Daieisho (9-6). Daieisho went through all that cupping for nothing. Hoshoryu got inside Daieisho’s cannons quickly, wrapped him up, and forced him over the edge. Yorikiri.
Kirishima (13-2) defeated Takakeisho (9-6). Kensho applause. Takakeisho slow-rolls his tachiai. Matta. Kirishima met Takakeisho head on at the tachiai but quickly shifted right, and Takakeisho fell forward. Kirishima hits 13 wins and walks away with a fat stack of kensho to fund his yusho party.
Congratulations, Kirishima! And Congratulations Atamifuji and the other Sansho winners!
On the data front, it’s clear that we are in a new era of sumo. The aged, dominant veterans of the past few years have joined their elders in blue jackets (and even a few black hakama). It will take quite a bit of time to build up another set of great rivals. But we have certainly noticed how many “first time bouts” there have been every day this tournament. I’ll try to quantify that a bit better and see if we can trace that metric back through the past twenty years or so. I will not be surprised if this is near a peak for the most “first time bouts”.
My hypothesis is that the “Hakuho era” was not just down to him. He had great rivalries with Harumafuji, Kisenosato, Kotoshogiku, Kakuryu…guys who faced him, and each other, over and over for more than a decade. The key is, those guys were at the top and consistently defeating the guys who would fly in and out of their lives for the first 10 days of the tournament…before this half-dozen guys would set upon themselves basho-after-basho for years. I think that we will need time to see another class of legends and great rivals establish themselves in the division and we are just seeing the first few sprouts of those new rivalries.
While we fete Kirishima on his yusho, we should also celebrate the successes of these young up-and-comers because they will be carrying the sport for the next decade.