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!

 

Haru Final Day Highlights

Kakuryu Yusho.Parade

You might not know it by watching the matches today, but it was the final day of the Haru basho. Across the torikumi, everyone was fighting with some of their best sumo of the tournament. It was one of those days where it will be a good idea to seek out Jason’s All Sumo Channel or Kintamayama on YouTube to see all the bouts, and not just the highlights from NHK.

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Myogiryu – It’s kind of magical to me that we may see Uncle Sumo back in the top division yet again for Natsu. This guy should be an inspiration to everyone to stick to their dreams and keep working. Good things happen for those who refuse to give up. The match starts with a henka-matta, so Uncle Sumo needs to re-set and goes for a simple hatakikomi.

Daiamami defeats Yutakayama – Daiamami gets to double digits, but Yutakayama really made him earn it. A close-quarters thrusting match in which both men stayed low and kept applying the pressure. Daiamami closed the deal when he finally got inside on Yutakayama and drove forward.

Chiyonokuni defeats Hidenoumi – Chiyonokuni reminds us that he is a real battle machine with his energetic win over Hidenoumi. He finishes make-koshi, and we have to wonder what it will take for him to get his sumo to the next level.

Chiyoshoma defeats Nishikigi – Chiyoshoma’s leaping henka results in an airborne uwatenage. Go watch it! It’s amazingly acrobatic.

Ryuden defeats Asanoyama – Ryuden secures kachi-koshi on the final day. Asanoyama took him to his chest out of the tachiai, and from there it was a struggle. Multiple times Asanoyama went to throw Ryuden, but Ryuden somehow found a way to block the uwatenage. Great, great sumo from both.

Okinoumi defeats Aoiyama – After a strong start to the basho, Aoiyama faded down the stretch. Part of this may have been from the fact that he started facing much higher ranked rikishi, and some of it may be some unreported injury or just plain exhaustion.

Kagayaki defeats Ishiura – Ishiura tries a straight ahead fight, and can’t find a way to blunt Kagayaki’s forward drive. Ishiura seems to have forgotten some of his sumo from a year or two ago, or maybe his opponents are just much bigger / tougher now.

Abi defeats Daishomaru – A leaping hatakikomi at the edge gives Abi the win after a monoii. Impressive ring sense there! For his second tournament in a row, Abi is able to rack up double digit wins.

Kaisei defeats Ikioi – Sadly Ikioi could not pick up the special prize, but he has nothing to apologize for this basho. Even with a bandaged head, he met Kaisei with vigor and strength. But there is a lot of Kaisei to move, and even for Ikioi, it was a tall order. Ikioi has been progressively more injured each day of the basho, so I hope he goes and heals up.

Daieisho defeats Shodai – Even though he is make-koshi, Shodai seems to have found his sumo. Daieisho knew when to put him off balance and send him across the tawara. I do hope that Shodai can focus on returning in this form for the start of Natsu. He still has massive potential if he can get his sumo under control.

Kotoshogiku defeats Hokutofuji – Both men are deeply make-koshi, but you would never know it from watching their bout. This was one of the better matches of an already awesome day. The two men were chest to chest for most of the match, but neither seemed to be able to employ their favorite sumo attacks for more than a moment. In the end, it was Kotoshogiku who set up his hip-pump attack and ended the match.

Takarafuji defeats Kotoyuki – Is anyone surprised? Kotoyuki ends the the basho with a single win.

Yoshikaze defeats Arawashi – Arawashi needs to go heal. Yoshikaze finishes 7-8.

Tamawashi defeats Chiyomaru – Tamawashi is likely back in San’yaku for May, and will try again to muscle his way to his preferred Sekiwake position. Chiyomaru, meanwhile, is headed for the buffet table.

Shohozan defeats Endo – It takes a powerful tachiai from Shohozan and a couple of quick thrusts to put Endo the Golden back and out. Shohozan is kachi-koshi on the final day, after an alarming cold streak starting on day 6.

Chiyotairyu defeats Tochiozan – This looked like a Tochiozan win, and the gyoji gave the gumbai to Tochiozan, but then the sideburns of Chiyotairyu called out to the spiritual world, and the shimpan rose to their feet in abeyance. The monoii did not so much give the match to Chiyotairyu, but more to his sideburns. What did we learn here? Chiyotairyu must never remove his sideburns again. Whispered legends say that the kami that inhabits them is the same that gave Takamiyama his might, and they will only live in the facial hair of one who is worthy. [What. –PinkMawashi]

Tochinoshin defeats Ichinojo – Two enormously powerful rikishi test each other’s strength. After Ichinojo decided to lift Tochinoshin, he decided he was done playing and dialed his muscles to “Hulk” mode, finishing the boulder. With his 10-5 record, Tochinoshin has started an Ozeki campaign. Protect that knee, sir!

Mitakeumi defeats Goeido – Mitakeumi seems to have given Goeido 1.5.1 a solid match, and dropped the Osaka favorite on his backside in the middle of the ring. His sumo against both Ozeki has been great to watch. Maybe he is on the cusp of elevating his technique after all?

Takayasu defeats Kakuryu – The initial call by the gyoji went to Kakuryu, and it looked like Takayasu may have injured his right leg and maybe even re-damaged his right thigh. But just before they hand Kakuryu the kensho diorama of Osaka-jo, the shimpan decide it’s time to review it. The replays show Kakuryu’s heel touching out, so it’s torinaoshi time, with Takayasu limping. This time, Takayasu centers the Yokozuna and drives forward with his considerable strength. Kakuryu can’t plant his feet to defend, bringing the match and the basho to an exciting end as it’s Takayasu who hoists the kensho fort from the gyoji’s gumbai.

Haru Day 14 Highlights

Goeido - Kakuryu

As much as I hate to do this, I am putting a buffer up for people who cry about “spoilers” in a live sport they watch on delay. Some great sumo, especially from Mitakeumi and Ryuden today. Sadly for Mitakeumi, he’s dropping from his Sekiwake slot. It remains to be seen if he drops from san’yaku completely, but he really put forth excellent sumo in today’s match.

But the headline is Yokozuna Kakuryu’s 4th yusho. He earned it in spite of injuries and pain. He mounted the dohyo every day and battled with skill, guile and strength. He has been excellent in all of his matches, and thus far only dropping one match. As his only loss was to the prior yusho winner, there is no shame in that at all. With any luck, his detractors will be silent for a year or so. With Kisenosato possibly un-repairable, and Hakuho amazing but unreliable, Yokozuna Kakuryu may be the only rope-holder to oversee our dawning transitional era.

Highlight Matches

Kyokushuho defeats Nishikigi – Juryo visitor Kyokushuho is still one win shy of his kachi-koshi, but he was in good form over the struggling Nishiki, who is himself headed back to the Junior League for May.

Ikioi defeats Ishiura – Ikioi mounts the dohyo with a giant bandage over his right eye, looking like Franken-Ikioi. Does the crowd care? Hell no! It’s the home-town dashing and handsome rikishi, even if parts of him are taped together. Ishiura, to his credit, tried to give him a straight up fight, but Ikioi moved forward strongly, and kept Ishiura in front of him. [Ikioi is now an amazing 11-3 and will hopefully take home a special prize. –PinkMawashi]

Daiamami defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki charged forward strongly, and actually looked like he would deliver his second win of the basho. He had Daiamami pinned against the tawara, but then somehow just ran out of gas as Daiamami charged forward and won. I am unsure what kind of misery Kotoyuki suffers, but he seems to be fairly hopeless at this point.

Yutakayama defeats Asanoyama – Yutakayama certainly looks dialed in now, hitting his 10th win with one day to go. He completely dominated Asanoyama in today’s match.

Chiyoshoma defeats Aoiyama – The formula for winning over Aoiyama is to keep moving and get him to chase you. Chiyoshoma had this one down cold, and eventually the man-mountian had Chiyoshoma grab his arm and pull a throw. Chiyoshoma picks up his kachi-koshi, which was well earned today.

Daieisho defeats Chiyonokuni – Some impressive defense from Chiyonokuni, as Daiesho delivered some powerful nodowa at the edge. Chiyonokuni ends the match with a make-koshi, and Daiesho with his kachi-koshi.

Kaisei defeats Daishomaru – It can be fun to watch big-man sumo like this. Daishomaru gets bold at the tachiai and charges face first into the giant meat balloon that is Kaisei, and lands with a wet smack. With his face still embedded in Kaisei’s expansive upper torso, the giant Brazillian goes for an westward stroll, taking the now trapped and helpless Daishomaru along for the win. We can expect a big move up the banzuke for Kaisei in May.

Abi defeats Kotoshogiku – Abi’s henka is perfectly timed, and defeats Kotoshogiku’s only possible attack. But wait! (you say) – Bruce, you complain about Ishiura’s henkas! Yes, it gets old fast when a rikishi uses that as their go-to weapon. But in this case, it’s the correct way to blunt Kotoshogiku’s obligatory offensive opening. Well executed and correctly deployed. Abi goes to 9 wins.

Ryuden defeats Arawashi – Good gravy what a match this one is! The men lock up into a battle for grip at the tachiai, with Arawashi pinning Ryuden’s arms time and again. But Arawashi has control and works with what he has, backing Ryuden up to the bales strongly enough that Ryuden’s heels are dangerously close to being out. But Ryuden recovers! Arawashi advances strongly again, a second time Ryuden is a centimeter from being out, but rallies to the center of the dohyo. Stalemated, Arawashi is out of energy, and Ryuden backs him up and out. Excellent sumo from them both. Miraculously, Ryuden can still achieve his kachi-koshi.

Takarafuji defeats Kagayaki – Straightforward match at first, Takarafuji gets the gumbai, but then the shimpan want to talk it over, fairly late in the post-bout ritual. The judges decide on a torinaoshi, which Takarafuji wins by letting Kagayaki fall to the dohyo.

Endo defeats Hokutofuji – Endo now with 9 wins after this bout with a struggling Hokutofuji. The match featured Endo and Hokutofuji trading attempts to slap or thrust each other down, with Endo’s superior ring sense helping him time his third attempt to be at the edge, where Hokutofuji had no room to recover. Endo is headed to San’yaku for May, and the valiant Hokutofuji is make-koshi and desperately needing to re-group.

Tamawashi defeats Shohozan – As expected, it was energetic! Both men were landing a lot of powerful blows on each others neck and head, grabbing each other’s arms and generally carrying on in an aggressive sumo fashion. Shohozan seemed to have the advantage, setting the pace and moving forward while Tamawashi kept giving ground. The win came at the tawara when Tamawashi twisted to his right, guiding Shohozan down and out.

Ichinojo defeats Shodai – The super genki Shodai was not able to show up today, but he did a reasonable job against the man that NHK commentator Hiro Morita calls “The Mongolian Behemoth”. Fans started to worry that Ichinojo had re-injured his back due to his soft performance the day prior, but he was large and in charge today, getting Shodai airborne for the win.

Yoshikaze defeats Chiyotairyu – I am very pleased to see Yoshikaze fighting well again. I had some serious worries during week 1. Chiyotairyu opened strong, pushing Yoshikaze back, but then they go chest to chest, and Yoshikaze starts to control the match. He did a great job of keeping the massive Chiyotairyu high and unable to generate forward pressure.

Tochinoshin defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru left the dohyo today not only without a hope of kachi-koshi, but also without Tochinoshin’s meaty left leg, which he had planned as a victory snack. Tochinoshin still has an outside hope of continuing his Ozeki bid by winning his match against Ichinojo tomorrow.

Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Possibly Mitakeumi’s best match of the basho [Possibly the best match of the basho, period –PM], and sadly it gave him his demotion from the Sekiwake slot he has enjoyed for many tournaments. If this is not a wake-up call to Takayasu, I am not sure what is. Mitakeumi had him contained, restrained and for a time, in pain. All the Ozeki could do was react to the next contortion Mitakeumi placed him into and struggle to escape. Even when Takayasu managed to escape Mitakeumi, the Sekiwake re-secured control and kept the punishment coming. But Mitakeumi got too eager, ended up off balance and thrust down. The difference between Sekiwake Mitakeumi and Maegashira Mitakeumi is the ability to finish Pooh-Bear off when you have him at your mercy. [Mitakeumi’s match against Goeido tomorrow may determine whether he falls to Komusubi or Maegashira, so we’ll all be watching that one closely. –PM]

Kakuryu defeats Goeido – You have to wonder if Kakuryu is THE master of reactive sumo. Goeido must know that somewhere in his poorly formatted flash drive. Why do you advance strongly into the guy you KNOW is going to make you pay if your weight is not centered over the arches of your feet? Herouth tells us from inside EDION that she may have been the only soul cheering for the Yokozuna in the Ozeki’s home-town. But Kakuryu shows us that he is every bit a Yokozuna, and takes his fourth yusho.

Haru Day 12 Preview

kakuryu-kensho

For the third time (at least) this Haru basho, sumo fans are roiled by discussions over a controversial call from the shimpan. This time it was Tochinoshin seeming to defeat Takayasu, but it was ruled that his heel had stepped out several seconds before he tossed Takayasu to the clay. For myself, after looking at multiple sources, it was inconclusive, and quite impossible for me to decide what I think happened.

By sealing his 11th win, Yokozuna Kakuryu is looking very good indeed now. Even if he should re-injure himself and withdraw, all but the harshest critics would admit he had done his duty as a Yokozuna well. It’s clear, though, that such an outcome is the last thing on his mind. He wants to win, and win as big as he can. He stated prior to the basho when it was known he was injured and in pain, that it was his goal to win a basho as Yokozuna 1E, and he is only a few more wins from making that real.

Day 12 has a fantastic set of matches, with the challenges for the Yokozuna and Ozeki ramping up in difficulty. The drama is playing out further down the torikumi, as the schedule continues to grind on, sorting rikishi into the defeated and the survivors. As with the end of most recent basho, we are seeing matches between rikishi of widely different ranks now, and some of the matches are interesting, while some are likely comical.

Haru Leaderboard

Leader: Kakuryu
Chaser: Kaisei
Hunt Group: Takayasu

4 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 12

Ishiura vs Aoiyama – Ishiura is very fond of his henkas, and I do hope that Aoiyama knows not to rush headlong into him. Ishiura has yet to win a match over Aoiyama, so I am going to guess we get a tachiai where Aoiyama stands up and starts round-house blasting Ishiura on his head and neck.

Sokokurai vs Ryuden – Ryuden is getting dangerously close to make-koshi, and he’s going up against Sokokurai who had a rough start, but has won 3 of his last 4.

Kagayaki vs Nishikigi – If Nishikigi loses, he is make-koshi, and is a candidate for return to Juryo. He has been trying everything he can for the last 3 basho to avoid that outcome, and it may finally be time to face the music.

Asanoyama vs Daieisho – Asanoyama could pick up kachi-koshi, but he faces a much higher ranked Daieisho. Daieisho is not looking as genki as his fellow Oitekaze stable mates, but he is ranked well above Asanoyama.

Abi vs Yutakayama – Abi has yet to ever beat Yutakayama, and at 6-5, Abi needs every win he can get. But his sumo has become repetitive, and everyone is predicting his next move correctly. The man has talent, but he needs to broaden his approach. Yutakayama is already kachi-koshi, but I expect he is pushing for 10.

Daiamami vs Hokutofuji – The big crazy spread of the day, Daiamami (M16) takes on Hokutofuji (M6), whom he has fought twice but never beaten. A win here would not only be a surprise, but would give Daiamami a well earned kachi-koshi.

Endo vs Kaisei – Big match of the day. Endo can remove Kaisei from contention if he wins, and move a step closer in his bid to finally make it to san’yaku. Kaisei wants to maintain his pace just behind Kakuryu, but Endo holds a 6-4 career edge. Both men are looking their best right now, so I expect some solid sumo from this match.

Takarafuji vs Tamawashi – Takarafuji will end make-koshi, which belies the fact that he put up a strong match each day, win or lose. Tamawashi is on a campaign to return to san’yaku, and it’s still well within reach. Takarafuji holds a 11-7 career advantage.

Shohozan vs Chiyotairyu – Historically, Shohozan’s brute-oshi style has struggled to beat Chiyotairyu (2-5), and both men are fighting well this tournament. Chiyotairyu already has 9 losses, so this is for pride, and to soften his landing.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – Mitakeumi is fading like a 1980’s poster in a shop window, and for some reason, I think Shodai is going to give him a good fight today. Many fans still have hope that some day Shodai can elevate his sumo, and be a contender in the uppermost ranks.

Takayasu vs Chiyomaru – A battle of big round men who are fond or blasting off the line with overwhelming force. Takayasu won their only prior meeting, and I expect he will win this one unless Chiyomaru gets a lucky hit at the tachiai.

Ichinojo vs Goeido – I think I speak for many sumo fans when I say I am praying there is not another Goeido henka. I think he can take Ichinojo, and I want to see him try it in direct battle. They are tied 6-6 over their career matches, so it could actually be a good bout.

Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin has had a rough ride this basho. A number of tough calls went against him, and he has struggled to repeat his outstanding performance at Hatsu. I expect Kakuryu to stay mobile, and keep Tochinoshin from landing a mawashi grip. Out of their 22 prior matches, Tochinoshin has only won one.

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 5 Preview

Tochinoshin Flying Lesson

We come to the end of the first act, and it’s clear that there are a few “sleepers” in the ranks. Rikishi who have been ranked higher who have returned to their previous, genki ways. They are now ripping their opponents apart and having marvelous runs. The pace and rhythm of a basho takes this into account. The first act is all about seeing who is hot, and who is not. Starting on Friday, act two will take the hot, feed them into increasingly difficult bouts, seeking to winnow the great from the good. This should include Aoiyama, Kaisei, Shohozan and oddly enough, an injured Ikioi.

What We Are Watching Day 5

Aoiyama vs Myogiryu – The big Bulgarian will likely continue to act as a massive, flabby wrecking ball at the bottom end of the banzuke. Myogiryu has split their career record 9-9, but right now Aoiyama seems to be a man possessed, and he is giving everyone black stars as prizes.

Ikioi vs Daiamami – How long can Ikioi keep winning? He has only faced Daiamami once, and he won that match. So far the Osaka native has had a very good run, and he is halfway to a kachi-koshi. His key to winning has been moving fast and low out of the tachiai and for most of his opponents that has left them reacting, usually poorly, to his authoritative opening moves.

Nishikigi vs Asanoyama – Both men are fairly safe in Makuuchi if they can get at least 6 wins, but both are struggling to get past two. Asanoyama showed a lot of potential during his debut tournament, Aki 2017, but seems to have lost the throttle on his sumo. He faces off against Nishikigi who is working hard to keep himself at or above 50%.

Ishiura vs Chiyonokuni – In his 5 prior matches against Chiyonokuni, Ishiura has not found a way to beat the Grumpy Badger. Like many of the younger rikishi, they seem to have hit some kind of wall and are struggling to move to higher levels of performance. Ishiura at 2-2 could get his “go ahead” win on day 5 if he can stand up to Chiyonokuni’s typically frantic attacks.

Tochiozan vs Ryuden – The first match between the two, and Tochiozan is looking questionable already. I would give a definite advantage to Ryuden.

Daieisho vs Yoshikaze – Also a first-time match, we saw some small amount of fire from Yoshikaze on day 4, and fans can begin to hope that he will return to his high-energy sumo. But then again, he does turn 36 next week. Sumo life likely takes a heavy toll on his body.

Abi vs Kagayaki – Both are tall, Abi is lanky, Kagayaki is deliberate. Abi seems to jump about and attack with rapid blows, Kagayaki plans and moves with care and power. Could be a good match, or a complete snore fest.

Chiyomaru vs Kaisei – I love me some Chiyomaru, but I am not sure if anyone is going to slow down Kaisei during week one.

Arawashi vs Shohozan – Arawashi holds a 5-3 career advantage over Shohozan, but right now “Big Guns” is on a tear, and I don’t think the winless Arawashi will have any mojo to slow him down.

Ichinojo vs Endo – Oh you wonderful schedulers. It’s time to take a couple of hard-charging, genki guys from the joi, and face them off. I could say Ichinojo holds a slight 3-2 career advantage, but that’s not going to matter this time. The Boulder has outrageous mass, love of ice cream and no fear of wolves on his side. Endo has his enchanted golden mawashi, a legion of swooning little old ladies and some kind of bionic foot it seems. Who’s going to win? Maybe Endo shows up Thursday leading a horse to the dohyo. Ichinojo loses focus and it’s easy from there. I am hoping Endo is watching Mitakeumi’s day 4 bout.

Chiyotairyu vs Tochinoshin – Sumo Elvis against the Yusho Man. I am going with Tochinoshin, as I think day 4’s loss really motivated him.

Mitakeumi vs Tamawashi – The thing to note, Mitakeumi leads their career series 9-2, so in this case, that’s a clear advantage. Tamawashi is looking “good enough” to handle Mitakeumi this time around. I would be interested to see if we get a Henka here, it is almost begging for Mitakeumi’s cannonball tachiai to meet thin air.

Takakeisho vs Goeido – Takakeisho steps onto the dohyo with a plan to dismantle nearly everyone he might face. You can see it in the way he conducts himself, and how he fights. Goeido, sadly, is riddled with doubts and worries. I think Takakeisho will psych out the Ozeki, and that we are going to see a fast match, one way or the other. Slight edge to Goeido here, as he is in his hometown, and he’s not happy about his loss to Endo.

Takayasu vs Kotoshogiku – the match of great sadness, We have an Ozeki who discarded his excellent sumo form to become a street fighter, facing off against a broken wreck of a former Ozeki who’s body can no longer support his favorite technique. Someone please just let them toss a coin and go drinking.

Kakuryu vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji has only won a single time in 13 matches against Kakuryu. So my hope is that their match does not result in further injury to the surviving Yokozuna relic.

Haru Day 3 Highlights

Kakuryu

It seems the top division is starting to clear the cobwebs of two months without sumo and get into fighting form. Already there are a number of great surprises and some expected outcomes that are nice to see.

I have to give massive respect to Yokozuna Kakuryu. On the final day of the Hatsu Basho, he took a fall off the side of the dohyo in his match with Goeido, and in the process injured several fingers on his right hand. He is right-handed, and this has kept him from generating much – if any – grip strength. For whatever reason, he decided not to go kyujo, but instead gamberized and entered the competition. It’s quite early in the basho, but I am impressed that he has managed 3 consecutive wins. If you watch carefully, you can see him wince when he employs that right hand.

Then there is the case of Ichinojo. I know I had a bit of fun with his interview during last night’s preview, but if this giant of a man really has gotten his sumo back in fighting form, everyone is going to have to step up their game. He weighs over 500 lbs in the US system [over 225 kilos –PinkMawashi], yet he does not suffer from some of the mobility issues that plagued the Great Konishiki towards the end of his career at a similar weight. There are practical challenges with combating an opponent who is north of a quarter ton, as very few things will actually impact that kind of mass. The downside is that he is one ungraceful dismount from a career limiting mechanical injury. We wish him, his opponents, the shinpan, and everyone in the zabuton zone good luck and safety.

There was a LOT of good sumo on day 3, as everyone is starting to get their basho-grade sumo on.

Highlight Matches

Daiamami defeats Aminishiki – Aminishiki seems to put up some resistance, but this match is 100% Daiamami. I am glad that Uncle Sumo was able to push to return to Makuuchi earlier, but I fear he’s not got the mojo to compete at the top division level.

Aoiyama defeats Nishikigi – Very quick win for Aoiyama, who pulls Nishikigi down straight out of the tachiai. Aoiyama seems in better condition than he has been for a while, and may be well on his way to returning as a fixture of Makuuchi.

Ikioi defeats Hidenoumi – In spite of his injuries and pain, Ikioi keeps finding ways to win. Granted, Ikioi competing at Maegashira 14 is a bit silly, but he seems to be able to survive down here in his injured state.

Daishomaru defeats Kotoyuki – Once again, Daishomaru focuses on this opponents center of mass, applies pressure and marches forward. This guy has an excellent command of the fundamentals, and I like it. Of course, Kotoyuki goes airborne off the dohyo. I may give Kotoyuki a nickname – “The Porg”

Asanoyama defeats Ishiura – What a match! Neither man was willing to give an inch in this battle. No henka from Ishiura today, thank goodness. Asanoyama found himself challenged to get Ishiura under control, as Ishiura kept pressing inward and moving forward. Ishiura landed a left-hand grip, and try as he might, Asanoyama could not break it. The match was not so much won as lost, as I think Ishiura lost his footing, and Asanoyama let him drop.

Chiyonokuni defeats Ryuden – Chiyonokuni had a game plan, and he was able to execute it well. Ryuden over-committed at the tachiai (which he is inclined to do). Chiyonokuni gave token resistance, then allowed Ryuden to follow through all the way to the clay. Nicely done to Chiyonokuni, who has started this basho 3-0.

Okinoumi defeats Daieisho – Okinoumi finally picks up his first win. Daieisho was on the attack from the tachiai, but Okinoumi was able to shift his forward motion downward and to the right for the win.

Kagayaki defeats Chiyoshoma – I know Kagayaki does not attract much attention, as he is quiet and composed, but this guy is showing steady improvement. He’s off to a solid start, and I would guess this may another basho where he shows incremental increases in the power and skill of his sumo. Much like Kisenosato, he is not a gifted rikishi like Hakuho or Enho, but is willing to work himself endlessly to improve.

Abi defeats Hokutofuji – Abi pulls up early for a matta, but they get underway with reckless abandon on the second try. Hokutofuji is working with everything he has, but Abi’s freakishly long reach is giving him the advantage. Hokutofuji is relentlessly moving forward, but Abi plays matador and sends the charging Hokutofuji down and out.

Kaisei defeats Yoshikaze – Not sure if this is “What happened to Yoshikaze” or “What happened to Kaisei” question. Yoshizake is clearly a fraction of his normal attack power, while Kaisei seems to have decided to dust off his sumo and win. As a Yoshikaze fan, I would rather see him dominate, but it’s nice to see Kaisei running up the score for a change. Kaisei lands a deep left-hand grip early, and Yoshikaze seems to have no counterattack available.

Shohozan defeats Shodai – As predicted, Shodai was beaten up and lost his lunch money for a week. Shohozan applied a rotating “slap, slap, shoulder blast” program, and kept Shodai reacting to his sumo. Shohozan even landed a nice slap to Shodai’s face in there. Match finished with Shohozan applying a rolling sukuinage, with Shodai tumbling to the clay. Please, Shodai – get it together man!

Chiyomaru defeats Takakeisho – A surprising mawashi battle here, as both men are so rotund that their belts could be considered unreachable. Takakeisho is clearly looking to improve his yotsu chops, but in this bout, Chiyomaru comes out on top. Much respect to Takakeisho for working to expand his attack repertoire.

Ichinojo defeats Takarafuji – Over the past 24 hours, we have come to find out more about Ichinojo, including the fact that he used to wrestle small horses when he was living on the steppes of Mongolia. So now we will forever try to visualize what kind of pony he imagines each opponent to be. In the case of Takarafuji (aka, treasure-fuji), it’s better not to consider. Takarafuji, as always, gives it everything. But he is attempting to overpower a 500-pound mountain of Mongolian beef. With both men latched on to the other’s belt, there was only one way this was ever going to end. We can assume that Ichinojo routinely sleeps standing up against various fixtures and support beams, so leaning against the comparatively tiny and lightweight Takarafuji was unlikely to tire him. I do like the fact that when it came time to finish Takarafuji, Ichinojo was both careful and gentle. Neither man faced injury. Well done.

Tochinoshin defeats Kotoshogiku – Tochinoshin got his left-hand grip early, and no matter which way Kotoshogiku rotated, the Georgian stayed with him. Solid win for Tochinoshin using his preferred form.

Endo defeats Mitakeumi – Still sticking with my pre-basho proclamation: Keep an eye on Endo. Today he handed Mitakeumi his first loss of Haru, and he looked solid in the process. Mitakeumi launched low and compact into the tachiai, and once again Endo read the situation and reacted in a blink of an eye. He collapsed into Mitakeumi’s charge, turned him and got out of the way. Endo has always had outstanding ring sense, and split-second reactions. If he has resolved his health and injury issues, we could be seeing a new contender for a long duration San’yaku slot.

Goeido defeats Chiyotairyu – Don’t blink or you will miss it. Goeido delivers a face slap at the tachiai and then steps to the side. Chiyotairyu’s massive forward momentum does the rest.

Takayasu defeats Arawashi – Shoulder blast again from Takayasu leaves him dazed and off balance for a split second, but Arawashi does not notice or cannot capitalize. From there it’s a ragged chase scene that sees Arawashi step backward out of the ring. Kind of a dud match.

Kakuryu defeats Tamawashi – No complaints about that pull, as we all know Big K is hurt, and that right hand is the worst part of his body right now. Quite impressive that he beat Tamawashi off the line – that’s hard to do. Tamawashi once again came in strong, but Kakuryu was just enough ahead that he could force him back and up. From there the pull-down worked, and the Yokozuna had a victory before anyone got hurt.

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 Undercard Preview

Undercard

2018 Haru Basho Banzuke has been published, and while there have been many developments at the top of the rankings, even more changes have happened at the far end of the Torikumi. The undercard, comprised of Maegashira ranks 17 to 9, is shaping up to be just as exciting as it was in January. So let’s take a quick look at the men who will be fighting for their Makuuchi lives this March.

Starting at the bottom, we have a few familiar faces making their return to primetime sumo. At M17 is everyone’s favorite man mountain Aoiyama. The hulking Bulgarian has not been in Makuuchi since November, and it appears his health woes are behind him. He is joined by Miyogiryu, who returns to Makuuchi with a Juryo Yusho in hand. The final Juryo callup is Hidenoumi, better known as the Pink Panther due to his bright fuschia mawashi. Haru marks the first time Hidenoumi has been in Makuuchi since November 2016. Also occupying the bottom rungs of the Undercard are Daiamami and Sokokurai, and the man from Inner Mongolia will try to put his horrible Hatsu Basho in the rearview mirror.

Just above them is a group made up of some of Hatsu’s biggest winners and losers. In the winner’s column, we have Nishikigi, Asanoyama, Ishiura, and Yutakayama, who all scored eight or more wins. Asanoyama stayed in contention up until Day 6 but went on a prolonged losing spree before finishing with a 9-6 record. Ishiura also finished 9-6 but resorted to several henkas to get there instead of using his unpredictable style of sumo. Yutakayama surprised many by picking up his first Makuuchi kachi koshi, while Nishikigi once again staved off demotion. These men are joined by Ikioi, Daishomaru, Kotoyuki, Tochiozan, Chiyoshoma, and Choyonokuni, all of whom had disastrous Januarys. Ikioi had a horrible time at Hatsu, losing all but four matches and subsequently fell nine ranks down the Banzuke. After withdrawing from competition due to injury, Tochiozan will be looking to have a much better tournament this March. Daishomaru and Kotoyuki just missed out on their winning records, while stablemates Chiyoshoma and Chiyonokuni scored matching 6-9 records.

At the very top of the undercard, we find two men who had drastically different New Year tournaments. Following a great showing last November, Okinoumi’s nagging injuries resurfaced, and he registered a 5-10 record at Hatsu. This poor performance resulted in a four rank demotion to East Maegashira 9. His M9 counterpart in the West position is Ryuden, who along with crowd favorite Abi took the undercard by storm last Basho. Fresh off a great 10-5 Makuuchi debut that saw him receive a kanto-sho special prize, it is yet to be seen if Ryuden will carry his success forward or have a sophomore slump.

The 2018 Haru undercard looks just as stacked as it did in January and features several longtime veterans and up-coming rikishi who are sure to put on some spectacular matches this March.

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.