The Strange Mirror of the Mock Basho

“… the Mirror shows many things … some never come to be …”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

What will the upcoming July basho bring, assuming that it takes place as scheduled? Some rikishi must fervently hope that the mock Natsu basho was a preview of things to come, while for others, it’s a scenario to be avoided at all costs. Let’s take a look at three camps:

Would take the mock basho results in a heartbeat

Mitakeumi This is almost too obvious to state. A 13-2 record, an unprecedented third non-Ozeki yusho, back-to-back victories over both reigning Yokozuna, and a solid chance to make Ozeki in the following basho—what’s not to like?

Asanoyama No shin-Ozeki hangover here: a solid 12-3 jun-yusho, a win in what’s shaping up to be a great rivalry with the yusho winner, and victories over both Yokozuna, including a first-time defeat of Hakuho. Sure, Asanoyama must wonder what might have been without the losses to lower-ranked Takanosho, Daieisho, and Aoiyama, but you can’t have everything.

Shodai, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Takanosho, Onosho, Aoiyama A winning record in lower san’yaku or joi maegashira is never something to sneeze at. Shodai would extend his run at Sekiwake to a 3rd-straight basho, Daieisho would have his first san’yaku kachi-koshi, Yutakayama would make his first-ever san’yaku appearance, and Takanosho would record a 5th-straight career-high rank.

Chiyotairyu, Tokushoryu, Ishiura, Sadanoumi, Kotoshogiku, Nishikigi Everyone in this group recorded 10-11 wins, not something one would predict. And while former Ozeki Kotoshogiku might not be happy to find himself lumped with the other names on this list, a 10-5 record would be a remarkable turn-around after 6 straight losing records that saw him drop from M1 to M14.

Acceptable, with room for improvement

Hakuho The greatest rikishi of all time cannot be satisfied with an 11-4 record, including back-to-back losses to Onosho and Takarafuji, but finishing the tournament with a solid Yokozuna kachi-koshi and being in the race until the final day certainly extends his career, providing more opportunities to add to his unequalled laurels.

Wakatakakage, Kotoshoho When your Makuuchi debut is derailed by an injury after a promising 4-0 start, sending you back to Juryo for two tournaments, you’ll take a 9-6 record in your second top-division appearance. And while Kotoshoho failed to claim his conditional kanto-sho on the final day, a kachi-koshi has to count as a successful start for the shin-Maku.

Everyone else with a kachi-koshi or mild make-koshi, with the exception of Kakuryu (see below) and Takayasu (injury).

Let’s pretend this never happened … oh wait

Kakuryu The often-beleaguered “other Yokozuna” surely wouldn’t want to withdraw for the 4th time in the last 5 tournaments.

Takakeisho The only acceptable outcome for a kadoban Ozeki is reaching 8 wins.

Okinoumi Seven losing records in seven san’yaku appearances? Not great!

Endo His worst performance in almost two years would bring to an end an 8-basho streak in the joi.

Enho Everyone’s favorite pixie surely would not want to follow his worst record in the top division with an even worse one.

Kaisei, Tochinoshin Two proud veterans we’re used to seeing much higher up the banzuke would find themselves on the demotion bubble.

Chiyomaru, Kotoeko, Kotoyuki The first rule of the top division is that you want to stay in the top division.

Terunofuji Saving the worst for last: obviously, the former Ozeki does not want his return to Makuuchi for the first time since January 2018 to ignominiously end with an 0-7-8 record. The last time the kaiju finished a basho in the top division with a winning record? May of 2017, when he recorded his second-straight jun-yusho from the East Ozeki rank, and looked headed for Yokozuna, not Jonidan.

Which rikishi do you hope put up either similar or very different performances in the next real tournament? Let us know in the comments.

Wrapping Up the Mock Natsu Basho

Thanks for following our coverage of the mock Natsu basho. In the alternate timeline where this tournament took place, what do the results mean for the rikishi?

The upper ranks

While Yokozuna Hakuho cannot be happy with an 11-4 record and a final-day loss, he did enough to extend his own record of 53 appearances at the top Y1e rung of the banzuke. Yokozuna Kakuryu pulled out after recording 8 wins and 4 losses, a result that will be questioned by the YDC. Oh, and he’ll once again occupy the odd Yokozuna-Ozeki rank, because we will have a lone (East) Ozeki, ascendant Asanoyama (12-3, jun-yusho), who did not miss a beat in his debut at sumo’s second-highest rank. Kadoban Ozeki Takakeisho failed to record 8 wins, dropping to Sekiwake on the next banzuke.

Lower san’yaku

Mitakeumi’s 13-2 yusho should vault him over fellow Sekiwake Shodai (8-7) for the East Sekiwake rank, with Shodai sliding over to the West side. Takakeisho will occupy an extra Sekiwake slot (S2w to balance the banzuke). Daieisho (8-7) left it late, but his final-day victory will extend his stay at East Komusubi, while his counterpart on the West side will be shin-san’yaku Yutakayama, who also recorded an all-important 8th win on senshuraku.

Upper maegashira

The top 5 maegashira ranks should be occupied, in order, by M2e Takanosho (8-7), M2w Onosho (8-7), M4w Aoiyama (9-6), M8w Chiyotairyu (11-4), M5w Hokutofuji (9-6), M7w Tokushoryu (10-5), M8e Ishiura (10-5), M3e Takarafuji (7-8), Kw Okinoumi (5-10), and M4e Kagayaki (7-8), with M12e Sadanoumi (11-4) just outside this range.

Demotions and promotions

We have 4 clear demotions from the top division: M17 Terunofuji (0-7-8), M16 Kotoeko (5-10), M17 Kotoyuki (6-9), and M15 Chiyomaru (5-10). There are only three clear promotions in Juryo: the yusho winner J5e Kyokutaisei (12-3), the top-ranked J1e Meisei (9-6), and J4e Daiamami (10-5). The lucky fourth promotion should go to J3w Kyokushuho (8-7).

Two more Makuuchi rikishi have demotable records, but may survive by virtue of banzuke luck: M10 Kaisei (3-12) and M11 Tochinoshin (4-11). Tochinoshin’s final-day win likely ensured a stay in the top division, while Kaisei lost and is on the bubble, with the best candidate to replace him being J5w Ichinojo (9-6).

Mock Natus Basho – Videos?

It seems some amazing soul has been piecing together daily highlight reels (where possible) from the Grand Sumo Breakdown Mock Natsu basho from prior matches. I know more than a couple of readers said “I wish I could see that match” in response to my write ups, well some enterprising soul named Tanar Dial gave it a shot. I am impressed.

Go take a look at enjoy the basho that could have been.

https://www.youtube.com/user/TSwank/videos

Mock Natsu Day 15 Highlights

Welcome, dear readers, to the final installment of our mock Natsu basho coverage. With Mitakeumi’s win over Tokushoryu, he claimed his 3rd yusho, matching his 13-2 run that marked his first yusho at Nagoya 2018. Although his highest rank is Sekiwake, he now has more yusho than anyone active in the sport, save the two Yokozuna. This is a testament to his challenges with producing constantly good results. When Mitakeumi is genki, he is tough to beat. Perhaps the ultimate expression of the “tadpole” form, he does not suffer from the short arms that makes Takakeisho’s sumo somewhat one-dimensional. Some fans (and he has many) may hope that this would be the start of a 3rd (or 4th?) attempt to reach the Ozeki rank, but his prior 10-5 result in March was from a Maegashira 3 rank, and may not be counted.

Congratulations to Mitakeumi for an excellent basho.

For those of you who have been following along for all or part of our coverage of this tournament, thank you for taking the time to read our write ups. Yes, they were complete fabrications, but given the lack of sumo for the next several weeks, it offers a glimpse into a basho that “could have been”. While this is not to say that the simulation software predicts what would have happened, it did make for some fairly interesting results. The final outcome was mostly plausible. That being said, I sincerely hope there is never again a reason for us to even consider simulating a sumo tournament. It was more work than I could have imagined.

Thank you again or sharing your love of sumo with us. We look forward to the next actual basho.

Day 15 Matches

Tochinoshin (4-11) defeats Tamawashi (6-9) Yorikiri – Injured former Ozeki Tochinoshin manages a 4th win on the final day. It may be enough to keep him on the bottom rung of the top division.

Chiyotairyu (11-4) defeats Wakatakakage (9-6) Yorikiri – Chiyotairyu managed to stay strong and vigorous through the entire 15 days this may, and finished with double digit wins for the first time since Nagoya 2017. A fantastic effort from the Kokenoe thunder-god. We are likely to see him in the joi-jin.

Nishikigi (11-4) defeats Ishiura (10-5) Tsukiotoshi – Also in the “nice score, zeki!” Category are both of these rikishi. This mock-basho marks Nishikigi’s best ever result from a top-division basho, beating out his Aki 2018 (10-5) by a win. Ishiura matched his debut basho (10-5, Kyushu 2016) score, and for a time was in sole possession of the yusho Arasoi lead.

Chiyomaru (5-10) defeats Terutsuyoshi (5-10) Hatakikomi – Chiyomaru got in a quick slap down to put Terutsuyoshi on the clay in his final match. With 10 losses at Maegashira 15, he is probably headed to Juryo once more. Terutsuyoshi’s matching score at Maegashira 7 will see him much further down the banzuke.

Ryuden (7-8) defeats Kotoyuki (6-9) Oshidashi – Kotoyuki was in lower and harder at the tachiai, forcing Ryuden to work outside and high – mostly on Kotoyuki’s face and neck. A solid right hand nodowa later, and Kotoyuki lost all offensive forward motion. Overcoming Kotoyuki’s continued thrusting attacks, Ryuden drove forward and forced Kotoyuki from the ring. Kotoyuki came into this mock basho as the last man on the banzuke, and his 6-9 result will see him further down the Juryo ranks.

Shimanoumi (7-8) defeats Enho (5-10) Oshitaoshi – Enho has a massive following in Japan and around the world, with good reason. When he’s healthy, he produces dynamic, exiting sumo that is full of surprises. But it’s clear Enho was hurt some time before the basho, possibly in the final few days before competition when they finally allowed rikishi full contact. The long period of light training during the height of the pandemic clearly de-conditioned him. At Maegashira 6, he is safe from Juryo demotion, and we hope that he can train up and return fighting fit for the next tournament.

Hokutofuji (9-6) defeats Kotoshoho (9-6) Yorikiri – Kotoshoho, marking his first tournament in the top division, manages a good kachi-koshi with 9-6, and gets a brutal final day against Hokutofuji. Kotoshoho tends to have a slow and gentle tachiai, which Hokutofuji used to land a right hand on Kotoshoho’s neck before he could even finish his initial charge. Hokutofuji tends to work a left hand forearm push to raise his opponent followed by an immediate right hand palm thrust to send them back. Three combos of that and Kotoshoho was done. Hokutofuji sometimes manages what I call “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”, but he did well this mock basho and finished kachi-koshi.

Aoiyama (9-6) defeats Myogiryu (6-9) Hatakikomi – This match was marked by a great deal of hissing. With no crowd noise, the sounds the rikishi make are sometimes very produced and distinct. Both competitors tend to breath with this hissing sound during a match, and with both of them on the dohyo, it was like a box of vipers. They both went for each other’s necks at the tachiai, and then traded volleys of over-arm blows. Aoiyama was able to move Myogiryu back, who pushed forward harder to counter Aoiyama’s force. Big Dan used this forward bias to unleash a Hatakikomi which put Myogiryu on all 4s. A solid kachi-koshi for Aoiyama.

Kiribayama (6-9) defeats Kotoeko (5-10) Oshidashi – With both men deeply make-koshi, this match was all about how large of a drop down the banzuke Kotoeko would suffer. Although marginally better than his disastrous 2-13 result from Hatsu 2020, we may see him return to mid-rank Juryo for the next tournament. Points to Kotoeko for putting a huge effort into this final match. He was able to dictate the form at the tachiai by securing a left hand inside grip and locking Kiribayama into a mostly yotsu zumo fight. But Kiribayama was able to break contact, and switch to thrusting attacks, putting Kotoeko out and handing him his 10th loss.

Shohozan (8-7) defeats Takarafuji (7-8) Uwatenage – The first of our Darwin matches, where both rikishi are 7-7 to start the match. The winner gets a kachi-koshi, and the loser a make-koshi. Takarafuji had a great tournament, including 2 kinboshi, but managed to still end senshuraku with a losing record.

Kotoshogiku (10-5) defeats Onosho (8-7) Yorikiri – The last time Kotoshogiku was able to turn in double digit wins for a tournament was Osaka of 2019. While I am sure his knees are still little more than tangles of gristle and undigested bits of tonkatsu, they managed to carry him to an impressive 10-5 result, including a delightful hug-n-chug parade to today against Onosho.

Takanosho (8-7) defeats Kotonowaka (8-7) Oshidashi – Takanosho had a 5-2 start, but faded into week 2 after scoring a kinboshi against Yokozuna Kakuryu. This battle for Takanosho’s kachi-koshi featured Kotonowaka going for an early hitakekomi against Takanosho, but Takanosho keeping his feet and moving smartly forward. From the second step, Kotonowaka struggled to regain position that the hitakekomi attempt cost him, and he had little position to resist Takanosho aggressive charge.

Yutakayama (8-7) defeats Kagayaki (7-8) Oshidashi – The second of our Darwin matches of the day saw two of my up and coming favorites toe to toe in a hybrid thrusting and grappling bout. Kagayaki started with a strong ottsuke, shutting Yutakayama out from an inside position. With Kagayaki’s hands against Yutakayama’s pectorals, Yutakayama could only press forward and try to reduce Kagayaki’s attack force. Kagayaki was slowly accumulating enough advantage to finish the match, and I think moved for a finishing move too early. Yutakayama deflected him, and swapped from right hand lead to left hand lead, confounding Kagayaki’s normally impeccable balance. With his defense in tatters, Yutakayama drove him over the bales to claim his kachi-koshi.

Endo (4-11) defeats Kaisei (3-12) Uwatenage – A battle of utter sadness. Two solid rikishi who terrible, deep make-koshi records. There was no crowd in the Kokugikan to see this throw, but everyone would have been either sorry for both men, or too loaded on beer and yakitori to care.

Ikioi (5-10) defeats Okinoumi (5-10) Yorikiri – A second battle of beloved veterans fighting it out to double digit losses each. For both of these rikishi, things were not just bad this tournament, they were horrible. Both have chronic injuries that likely played a part in their final score, so we hope they can recover and return to fight in better for for the next basho.

Daieisho (8-7) defeats Abi (6-9) Hikiotoshi – Fairly impressed that Daieisho could overcome Abi-zumo to claim his 8th win today. Abi had him by the neck at the tachiai, and although Daieisho was able to break contact, Abi was able to resume a heartbeat later, with his left hand covering Daieisho’s face. Daieisho returned the choke hold, his left palm lifting Abi’s chin and forcing his neck back. This headache inducing dance broke apart after a few seconds, and Abi found himself forced to retreat under Daieisho’s withering thrusting attack.

Mitakeumi (13-2) defeats Tokushoryu (10-5) Oshidashi – Mitakeumi took no chances with Tokushoryu’s trademark move. The veteran and Hatsu yusho winner never had a moment to set up any real offense. Mitakeumi had hands of Tokushoryu shoulders at the tachiai, and every attempt that Tokushoryu made to land any hand hold failed to find its mark. Mitakeumi maintained contact and forward force in spite of 2 attempt to deflect by Tokushoryu. Excellent sumo across the 15 days from Mitakeumi. Congratulations on your 3rd yusho.

Shodai (8-7) defeats Sadanoumi (11-4) Yoritaoshi – The question for this match – would Shodai remain in the Sekiwake slot? Coming into today 7-7, he managed to find a way to overpower Sadanoumi, who turned in his best ever top division score. But when he needs to win, Shodai seems to be able to produce these chaotic, unexpected little bursts of sumo that seem to cause his opponents to defeat themselves. This was the case today, when an odd shrug and double arm sweep to the right by Shodai sent Sadanoumi to the clay in a heap.

Asanoyama (12-3) defeats Hakuho (11-4) Yorikiri – Was this a kind of passing of the torch? I know myself and some of team tachiai have been looking for someone from the “new guard” to really overpower Hakuho in the final days of a basho as another sign that the Yokozuna’s time is drawing to a close. As an Ozeki, Asanoyama is meant to be able to give the Yokozuna a tough match, and today he showed that he is worthy of his rank. Asanoyama was able to get a left hand inside grip, and Hakuho never was able to break that grip. I have to wonder what role that bandaged left elbow of Hakuho played in his performance this tournament. It’s been getting a little weaker each basho, and may be the deciding factor on when the greatest Yokozuna of our age hangs up his mawashi.