Who’s That Rikishi #13: Nishikigi Tetsuya

NishikigiAge: 27
Birth Name: Tetsuya Kumagai
Home Town: Morioka, Japan
Stable: Isenoumi
Highest Rank: Maegashira 6

Tetsuya Kumagai was born in 1990 in the idyllic town of Morioka, Iwata Prefecture. Inspired by fellow Iwata born rikishi Yotsuguruma, Tetsuya joined Isenoumi Beya after graduating from high school. In 2006 he made his maezumo professional debut at the Haru Basho alongside fellow future Makuuchi stars Tochinoshin and Shohozan. Progress was slow but steady for Tetsuya, who reached the third highest division of Makushita at the 2010 Hatsu Basho. However, he was unable to handle the increase in competition and found himself back in Sandanme one tournament later. His second attempt at holding onto a Makushita went much better, but it marked something of a plateau for the young Tetsuya, who spent the next five years in Makushita, unable to put together a good enough run to get him to Juryo. It was during this time that he adopted the shikona of Nishikigi, becoming the first rikishi in one hundred and forty-four years to fight under this name.

While Nishikigi’s time in Makushita may have been arduous, it was not fruitless. At the 2010 November tournament, he nearly won his first championship in a multi-man playoff and took home the Makushita Yusho two years later at the 2012 Kyushu Basho. Nishikigi failed to carry the momentum of winning a championship forward and recorded only three wins at the following Basho, curtailing his chances of promotion to Juryo. After another two years of mediocre performances, he finally earned a spot in the Juryo Division for May 2015 after going 5-2 in four consecutive Basho. Nishikigi’s time in Juryo was drastically shorter than his Makushita stint, and one year later he made his top division debut. While his first showing in Makuuchi wasn’t stellar, he quickly got his sumo in gear, and by the 2016 Kyushu Basho, he reached a career-high rank of Maegashira 6. His new rank proved too much for the Iwata born rikishi to handle, and he recorded a terrible 4-11 record at Kyushu. This poor performance marked the beginning of a major nosedive down the banzuke, and by May Nishikigi was once more in Juryo.

Determined to get back into Makuuchi, Nishikigi recorded ten wins and clinched the 2017 Natsu Juryo Yusho in a senshuraku match against Aminishiki to punch his ticket back to the top division. Since returning to Makuuchi in July, Nishikigi has managed to stay in the top division despite being at risk of demotion several times in 2017-18. Nishikigi is well known for his severely limited sight, which requires him to wear glasses whenever he isn’t competing or practicing. His eyesight is so poor that he can’t even see the first row of fans while on the dohyo, a limitation Nishikigi has turned into an advantage, as he never feels nervous about competing in front of soldout crowds. A competent oshi-sumo fighter, Nishikigi employs strong yori-kiri and oshi dashi techniques to win his bouts.


Kyokutaisei (left) vs. Nishikigi (right), Hatsu Basho, 2018.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=6596
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile/2892/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nishikigi_Tetsuya

Haru Banzuke Crystal Ball

Aminishiki

Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Takayasu

Goeido

The rankings aren’t in doubt, but nonetheless there are many questions about this group. Which if any Yokozuna will show up? Kakuryu (ankle) and Hakuho (toes) are nursing injuries. Kisenosato has declared that the next tournament he enters will be his make-or-break one—perform at Yokozuna level for 15 days or retire. My guess a month before the basho is that Hakuho is very likely to participate, Kakuryu is also likely to compete, and Kisenosato will most likely sit this one out.

Lower San’yaku

S

Mitakeumi

Tochinoshin

K

Ichinojo

Chiyotairyu

In the upper ranks, a kachi-koshi (winning record) is no guarantee that your position within the rank won’t change: witness the Yokozuna and Ozeki getting reshuffled based on their performances at the previous basho. This used to be the case for Sekiwake as well, with 8-7 East Sekiwake frequently moving to West Sekiwake for the subsequent tournament when a more deserving candidate for East Sekiwake existed. However, this seems to have changed about ten years ago (perhaps someone can shed light on the history), and an 8-7 record at Sekiwake (or Komusubi) now appears to guarantee retention of rank and side. A recent example of this is S1e Tamawashi not switching sides with S1w Takayasu even after their respective 8-7 and 12-3 performances at last year’s Haru basho. Long story short, 8-7 Mitakeumi will retain his S1e rank, with 14-1 yusho winner Tochinoshin joining him at Sekiwake on the West side. Ichinojo and Chiyotairyu, the highest-ranked maegashira with winning records at Hatsu, should take over the Komusubi slots vacated by Takakeisho and Onosho.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Tamawashi

Endo

M2

Arawashi

Kotoshogiku

M3

Takakeisho

Takarafuji

M4

Shodai

Shohozan

M5

Chiyomaru

Onosho

Endo has been ranked M1 twice before, but has never broken through to San’yaku. Is this his time? Arawashi would similarly tie his highest rank, while Chiyomaru has never been ranked above M8. Everyone else in this group has been ranked in San’yaku, most of them within the last couple of years.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Kaisei

Hokutofuji

M7

Yoshikaze

Kagayaki

M8

Abi

Okinoumi

M9

Chiyoshoma

Chiyonokuni

M10

Daieisho

Tochiozan

M11

Yutakayama

Ryuden

A mix of rikishi in a holding pattern in this part of the banzuke (Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Chiyonokuni, Tochiozan), higher-ranked rikishi dropping down after rough Hatsu performances (Hokutofuji, Yoshikaze, Okinoumi), and up-and-comers making a move up the banzuke (Kagayaki, Abi, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Ryuden). Three of the rikishi promoted from Juryo for Hatsu put up good numbers and find themselves here.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Kotoyuki

Daishomaru

M13

Ishiura

Ikioi

M14

Asanoyama

Nishikigi

M15

Myogiryu

Sokokurai

M16

Daiamami

Hidenoumi

M17

Aoiyama


Predicted demotions to Juryo: Terunofuji, Aminishiki, Takekaze. Predicted promotions: Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama. Often, this area of the banzuke contains a bunch of poor performances from the previous basho, but the only one who really fits that bill is Ikioi, who is dropping from M6 after putting up a 4-11 record. Kotoyuki, Daishomaru, and Sokokurai put up mediocre numbers, but Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami all earned kachi-koshi records at Hatsu. Nevertheless, they’ll be fighting for their Makuuchi lives again in Osaka, as everyone in this group needs a minimum of 6 wins (more for those closer to the bottom) to be safe from demotion.

Ranking the 2018 Hatsu Undercard

The 2018 Hatsu Basho has come to a close, and what an incredible Basho it was! While the Cinderella story of Tochinoshin claiming his first Yusho – and as a Maegashira to boot – made the New Year Tournament special, this Basho was also notable for the incredible level of competition coming from the bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke. The undercard, comprised of the bottom nine rungs of the top division, consistently turned out high-quality matches day in and day out and made this January one of the most exciting months in sumo in quite some time. Here are my rankings for the 2018 Hatsu Basho undercard.

17. Terunofuji: 0-8-7
What can I say about Terunofuji that hasn’t been said countless times already? With a 0-8-7 record, Terunofuji’s performance is one of the worst seen in quite a while, and now the former Ozeki has fallen entirely out of the Makuuchi division. But all hope is not lost. The career paths of Tochinoshin and Chiyonokuni have demonstrated that taking much needed time off and starting over lower on the banzuke is not a death sentence. Hopefully, our Kaiju does the same and returns to wreak havoc in the top division one day soon.

16. Aminishiki: 3-9-3
Aminishiki’s performance was far from what many had hoped for after his splendid tournament in November. The crafty maneuvers he used in Kyushu were well scouted and dealt with by his Hatsu opponents. Coupled with a new injury that forced him to miss three days, Aminishiki racked up only three wins and is Juryo-bound. Here’s hoping we see that lovable old uncle back in the top division in the future!

15. Takekaze: 5-10
The other elder statesman of the undercard, Takekaze, will also leave the top division in March unless he has a barbers appointment booked before then. Grandpa Bullfrog didn’t go out without a fight though, and managed to put together a nice four-match win streak after a disastrous start. However it was too little, too late, and he finished Hatsu with a record of 5-10.

14. Sokokurai: 6-9
Juryo is probably looking pretty good right about now for the former second division champion. Sokokurai made his return to Makuuchi at Hatsu, but during his time away the top division has gone through a significant influx of talent and is now far more competitive than when he left it. The Chinese rikishi just couldn’t keep up with the young guns.

13. Daishomaru: 7-8
Daishomaru was kind of invisible this January, and with only seven wins (including a fusen win over Terunofuji) he failed to score his kachi koshi. However, 7-8 is far better than his abysmal 4-11 Kyushu record, so at least he is trending in the right direction.

12. Kotoyuki: 7-8
While Kotoyuki failed to get a winning record, his performance at Hatsu was more consistent than other the rikishi with make koshi records, and he could have very well finished in the winners’ column had he not bit so hard on Ishiura’s Day 15 henka. The Penguin will have to regroup for March.

11. Daiamami: 8-7
Daiamami, the man at the absolute bottom of the division, did just enough to remain in Makuuchi for Haru. With his size and strength, Daiamami has the makings of a sumo powerhouse, but he needs to get his consistency issues under control first.

10. Nishikigi: 8-7
Nishikigi lives to fight another day! The man in green managed to secure his kachi koshi, in dramatic fashion this time with a big senshuraku win. He won’t have to worry about demotion for a while. Well, at least for February.

9. Ishiura: 9-6
While I’m glad to see Ishiura make his return to Makuuchi, I was a little disappointed by the quality of his sumo near the end of the Basho. While I have no problem with a smaller rikishi pulling out a henka to get the upper hand, it got a little tiresome by the third time he used it. I hope Ishiura uses more of the creative sumo he employed in week one of Hatsu when the March tournament rolls around, and saves the henka for when he really needs it!

8. Asanoyama: 9-6
Asanoyama looked like he was having a major rebound Basho after the disaster of Kyushu last November, but he faded considerably in the latter half of Hatsu and went on another prolonged losing skid. A lack of self-esteem seems to be his most significant issue, and he needs to figure out how to keep it together when he starts to lose if he wants to make it in Makuuchi. Asanoyama did manage to pull out of his tailspin this Basho and put together nine wins. I hope he takes the next few weeks to tighten up his sumo and enters March with more confidence.

7. Yutakayama: 9-6
You may be asking yourself, why is Yutakayama so high on this list when he has just as many wins as a bunch of other rikishi? Well, the simple explanation is that with nine wins he more than exceeded all expectations the majority of fans had for him coming into Hatsu! Even if he had finished with a 5-10 record, Yutakayama would have improved on his previous ventures into the top division. But instead, he captured a bonafide Makuuchi kachi koshi, something many thought he was incapable of, and for that I commend him.

6. Chiyomaru: 9-6
Another solid outing for the marshmallow man. Chiyomaru has recorded nine wins in four of his last five tournaments, and it’s this consistency that earned him his spot near the top of this list. If he can keep this run of 9-win kachi koshis going, he could find himself in the Joi before the year’s end. At Maegashira 9 and assured a promotion, Chiyomaru will not be a part of the Makuuchi undercard come March.

5. Kagayaki: 9-6
I have a feeling we will be looking back on Hatsu 2018 as a turning point in the career of Kagayaki. The man in gold transformed from the clumsy, hesitant rikishi we knew into a much more confident, skilled athlete. Heck, he even fought on the mawashi a few times this Basho! If Kagayaki continues to build upon this success and strengthen his craft, 2018 could be his year.

4. Daieisho: 9-6
While my prediction of Daieisho fading in the second half of the tournament was right, his drop off wasn’t nearly as severe as in previous Basho, and he ended Hatsu with a very respectable 9-6 record. Daieisho has so much natural talent when it comes to sumo, and if he can figure out how to show up for the full 15 days of a tournament, then it won’t be long until he’s one of this sports brightest stars.

3. Shohozan: 9-6
Big Guns Shohozan has made a humongous return to form after his ghastly 3-12 Kyusho record. The man from Fukuoka was a consistent threat throughout the first half of Hatsu, and while he did drop off near the end of the tournament, he will be remembered for his colossal clash with Tochinoshin, giving the Yusho winner one of his toughest matches of the Basho. I look forward to seeing what Shohozan has in store for us at Haru, and I pity anyone who has to stand across the dohyo from this brawler.

2. Abi: 10-5
Sorry Asanoyama, but I think it’s time to pass on that Mr. Happy moniker to Abi. Things didn’t start off great for Abi, whose balance issues were exploited by his opponents. However, he never lost his smile, and once he got his balance under control, there was very little anyone could do to stop him from reaching his impressive 10-5 record. Even facing opponents ranked much higher than him didn’t seem to perturb the smiling one, who took them on with great determination! When I look Abi, with his long limbs and stocky body, he reminds me so much of a young Takanohana. While they are known for different fighting styles, if Abi can learn to use his proportions as effectively as the former Yokozuna, he has a very bright future ahead of him.

1. Ryuden: 10-5
Without a doubt, Ryuden was the star of the 2018 Hatsu undercard. Few have had as tough a road to the top division as Ryuden. Throughout his twelve-year career he has faced everything, including injuries that forced him to miss most of 2013 and 2014, but he never let these roadblocks stop him from reaching sumo’s biggest stage. Once he reached the top division, he not only held his own but flourished! After a rocky Act One, Ryuden took flight and won eight of his last nine out matches, clinching a sansho special prize for fighting spirit along the way! While he shares the same record as Abi, Ryuden gets the edge over the smiling youngster due to his consistency and his tenacity. It didn’t matter who he faced or how outmatched he was, Ryuden fought with everything he had each and every day, and sent a message that he is here to stay.

 

Hatsu 2018 sansho
Abi, Tochinoshin, and Ryuden, the stars of Hatsu

*This is just an opinion piece, and I would love to hear who you think were the standout rikishi of the 2018 Hatsu Basho.

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 13 Preview

Tochinoshin Hatsu Day 12

Can we beat the fountain of amazing sumo that was day 12? It’s possible, but day 12 set a very high bar indeed. Rolling into day 13, we have a real chance to see a rank and file rikishi take the Yusho for the first time in many many moons. In fact, I think the last time was Natsu 2012 when Maegashira 7 Kyokutenho (now Tomozuna Oyakata) hoisted the hardware. Prior to that, we have to go all the way back to Aki 2001 to find Kotomitsuki at Maegashira 2 winning the cup. Maegashira winning the cup is rare in the last 20 years, in part due to the absolute dominance of Asashoryu and Hakuho. Before we try to figure out who will carry the banner for Tochinoshin, keep in mind only one win separates Tochinoshin from Kakuryu, and Takayasu may still have a chance if they both drop a match or two.

As some readers have commented, there has been a flurry of pulling attempts in the past two days. Almost all of them have led to the defeat of the rikishi who pulls. Its baffling to see Kakuryu use this gambit two days in a row, but if we look at Kakuryu’s matches historically, he tends to pull for a win more frequently. But the difference being is that under normal conditions he develops the position to make it pay off. He coaxes his opponents into mistakes and over-committing. The past two days have seen him rush the process, and his opponents were waiting for it and exploited his mistake.

The day 13 torikumi shows a number of high/low battles, where the mid-Maegashira fight the bottom of the banzuke. In many cases, it seems like a happy rest period for the middle of the ranks, but in this tournament, the lower ranks have been excelling, and many mid-level Maegashira are finding themselves in a tight spot.

Hatsu Leader Board

Tochinoshin needs to stay off the clay and he will carry the day!

Leader – Tochinoshin
Chaser – Kakuryu
Hunter – Takayasu

3 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 13

Sorry, abbreviated notes for day 13, as I am in bed with the flu

Sokokurai vs Yutakayama – Yutakayama pushing for the 8th win. Sokokurai is already make-koshi, so my guess is Yutakayama picks up the shiroboshi.

Asanoyama vs Chiyomaru – Asanoyama also looking for win #8, but Chiyomaru is in the same position. Chiyomaru has been fighting well and is ranked 14 slots higher. Ouch!

Shohozan vs Daieisho – Both of them kachi-koshi, but the M9e vs M13w battle could be a bit intense. Daieisho is no pushover, but “Big Guns” Shohozan seems to really have his sumo dialed in.

Abi vs Kaisei – M14e vs M8w bout, with M8w now seemingly immune to all thrusting attacks due to the curvature of space-time around his ever-expanding gravity well. Given that’s all Abi does, this is going to be a tough day. Both are kachi-koshi, so only promotion velocity is on the line.

Nishikigi vs Chiyonokuni – Nishikigi forever has a place in my heart, he will not give up. No matter how bad his situation looks, he comes in and gives it his all. Now Nishikigi (M15w) goes up against the angry badger Chiyonokuni (M7w). Chiyonokuni is no easy draw, and Nishikigi needs two wins to survive in the top division.

Chiyoshoma vs Kagayaki – Also in the “one win to survive” camp is the buxom Kagayaki (M12w) who faces down Chiyoshoma (M7e) who needs two wins to secure a winning record. Of their 10 prior matches, Chiyoshoma has taken 6.

Takarafuji vs Ryuden – At the bleeding edge of the scale, neckless teamster boss Takarafuji (M6e) matches up against freshman MVP Ryuden (M16e) in a bout that will likely feature a lot of struggling and awkward battle-cuddles from Takarafuji. Thankfully Ryuden is already kachi-koshi

Endo vs Kotoshogiku – Can you believe its possible that Kotoshogiku could be back in San’yaku? Unlikely, but possible. But to get there he needs to win out. Stop one in that crazy train is Endo who is fresh from his Mongolian minted kinboshi.

Tochinoshin vs Ichinojo – THE match, hell if you can only watch one match, watch this one. I have NO CLUE how this one is going to go, as tame Ichinojo has been replaced with this wild and aggressive one. Tochinoshin has been over-the-top genki, and when that much strength goes up against that much boulder, someone is going to get hurt.

Hokutofuji vs Yoshikaze – I love both these guys, they are outstanding rikishi. They need to heal what ails them and return in Osaka ready for battle.

Shodai vs Tamawashi – I am not sure how, but Shodai needs one win to hit kachi-koshi. It seems quite odd to me, given that he has been a mess for the last few basho, but I am kind of hoping that he can keep it together. Tamawashi is a tough brawler who got Tochinoshin a bit too motivated day 12. Over their career, Shodai has only beaten Tamawashi once in 5 tries.

Arawashi vs Takayasu – A win here would give Takayasu his first double-digit win since he became an Ozeki. But Arawashi is coming in hungry as he needs 2 more wins to secure kachi-koshi. Takayasu has settled down a bit, but I fear that in the long run without Kisenosato to train against, he will continue to compound some of the bad habits he has picked up in the last 9 months.

Goeido vs Okinoumi – Well, now I want Okinoumi to hit Goeido really hard in his CPU chassis, in hopes it reboots him out of debug mode and back into Osumo mode. But I am pretty sure that the CPU board is no longer under warranty, and is going to require an expensive factory reset.

Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – Oh how embarrassing. The two chokers who like to back up and pull for a loss face off on day 13. Which one will choke harder, pull first and lose with vigor? Or will both of them remember they are outstanding rikishi with amazing technique and unique skills and decide to fight like the top men in the sport?