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.

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 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?

Hatsu Day 12 Highlights

Kakuryu-Hand

The mad-cap roller-coaster of Sumo that is our wonderful Hatsu basho took another wild and exciting turn on day 12. Unlike Kyushu, which was another relentless march of the dai-Yokozuna towards an inevitable victory, the sole remaining (weak) Yokozuna has made this basho exciting, unpredictable and frankly a whole lot of fun. Read no further if you don’t want to know what happened.

On day 11, Yokozuna Kakuryu lost to Tamawashi, making a tactical mistake that his opponent knew would come, and was eager to exploit. In that moment when Kakuryu, the sole undefeated rikishi lost, the yusho race opened wide, and a giant bear of a man stepped up. On day 12, that picture changes again.

So many good matches today. Many good bouts from all rikishi at all levels of the banzuke. The Hatsu basho continues to delight and impress.

Following Herouth’s approach, let’s start at the bottom of the list

Day 12 Matches

Hidenoumi defeats Ishiura – Visiting from Juryo, Ishiura gifts him with a shiny new kachi-koshi. From the tachiai, Ishiura attempts to hit and shift left, but Hidenoumi tracks him perfectly. Now Ishiura’s gambit is in trouble, as his back is to the tawara, and he’s very close to being out. Ishiura manages to break contact and attempt a slap, but Hidenoumi is completely dialed into Ishiura’s sumo, wraps him up, and delivers the yorikiri.

Nishikigi defeats Kagayaki – Massive respect for Nishikigi, who refuses to give up and go away to Juryo again. The match starts with a big hit at the tachiai, and both men lock up with each going for a left hand inside grip. The crowd goes quiet as each leans in, working to wear the other down. When Kagayaki lifts and shifts to try to get his right hand inside, Nishikigi makes his move. Well executed sumo from both, but Nishikigi showed superior skill.

Kotoyuki defeats Asanoyama – It’s clear from the tachiai that Asanoyama wants to get a belt grip and negate Kotoyuki’s oshi attack. Asanoyama comes in low aiming for the belt, and Kotoyuki opens by pounding on Asanoyama’s face and neck. To his credit, Asanoyama stands up to the beating for a while, struggling to land a grip, but Kotoyuki knows this game, and keeps moving forward. Asanoyama changes tactics, and tries to pull, but his transition puts him off balance and Kotoyuki finishes him off. Oshidashi for the win.

Ryuden defeats Daishomaru – Ryuden kachi-koshi. This bout was quite one sided, with Ryuden landing a double inside grip straight out of the tachiai. Driving forward, Ryuden prevented Daishomaru from mounting any real defense. It’s been a long hard road for Ryuden, and this winning record from his first Makuuchi tournament must be a sweet victory indeed.

Daiamami defeats Terunofuji – Rather the Ghost of Terunofuji. The poor Kaiju has nothing left. I rarely feel sorry for anyone who competes in a warrior sport, but this is just brutal to watch.

Takekaze defeats Aminishiki – Really Isegahama? What on earth are you doing? You are already somewhat diminished by the Harumafuji scandal, and now you put on this show of pain and suffering for the fans?

Shohozan defeats Sokokurai – What an awesome match! It starts with a traditional Shohozan bull rush with arms flailing, and Sokokurai gives ground, but does not give up. As they circle, Sokokurai is trying like mad to wrap up one of Shohozan’s massive arms, and he gets a good hold on the left arm at the wrist. He parlays that into a left hand inside grip, and the two are dancing to set up a throw. Shohozan launches an uwatenage attempt first, but Sokokurai counters masterfully. As Sokokurai rotates to try his own throw, Shohozan moves forward strongly and Sokokurai collapses. Yoritaoshi. Shohozan is kachi-koshi.

Abi defeats Chiyomaru – Abi tries a slap down henka at the tachiai, but Chiyomaru is either expecting it, or his bulbous midsection kept him slow off the line. Either way the move fails and Chiyomaru attacks a now back-tracking Abi. But Abi is an unstoppable ball of energy, and launches his now familiar thrusting attack, most of which is landing on Chiyomaru’s neck and face. Chiyomaru rallies at one point, but Abi’s attack is too intense, and Chiyomaru steps out. Oshidashi, with Abi kachi-koshi in his first top division tournament.

Kaisei defeats Daieisho – The new plus size Kaisei seems to be nearly impossible to move. Even Daieisho’s normally solid pushing attack had no effect. The bulk of the match is Kaisei breathlessly chasing Daieisho around the dohyo until Daieisho steps out. Kaisei gets his 8th win.

Shodai defeats Chiyoshoma – What has happened to the soft, flabby and unimpressive Shodai? I think he’s on holiday somewhere in Okinawa. This is the other Shodai, the one who wants to be an Ozeki, has fairly good sumo and can win in spite of a somewhat high tachiai. His win over Chiyoshoma was straightforward, he kept moving forward while Chiyoshoma was trying to find a grip. Solid sumo again from Shodai.

Chiyonokuni defeats Arawashi – This match was lost at the tachiai, when Arawashi went to land a left hand outside grip and missed. Chiyonokuni opens with an oshi attack, and Arawashi does not really get a good second chance to lock things up on his terms. Arawashi keeps trying to work inside, but Chiyonokuni has his thrusting attack on full, and Arawashi can’t even establish a solid defensive footing. Chiyonokuni wins by tsukiotoshi as Arawashi does his gymnastics tumble once more.

Chiyotairyu defeats Takarafuji – Straightforward thrusting match. Takarafuji could not overcome Chiyotairyu’s massive bulk and strong upper body. Takarafuji still needs one win for kachi-koshi.

Hokutofuji defeats Ikioi – Ikioi is hurt, and not really able to execute Makuuchi grade sumo. From the tachiai Hokutofuji stood him up with a firm nodowa, and then slapped him down. Both men are make-koshi and will need to try again in Osaka.

Ichinojo defeats Yoshikaze – As predicted last night, this match was almost painful to watch. Yoshikaze seems to be only at 75% of his normal self, and Ichinojo’s massive size and strength mean that normal forces of sumo, much like space-time, are warped and distorted the closer you get to him. Yoshikaze comes in low at the tachiai, looking to get a grip at center-mass, but Ichinojo lands a brutal choke hold, and moves forward. There was absolutely nothing that Yoshikaze could do to stop it. Ichinojo goes kachi-koshi while Yoshikaze is now make-koshi, and probably has a headache. Ichinojo faces Tochinoshin on day 13. Hoo-boy!

Kotoshogiku defeats Takakeisho – Dare I whisper it? Kotoshogiku may come back from a dismal start to be in striking distance of kachi-koshi? Takakeisho is a bold young man of immense strength, and he decided to try to push against the Kyushu Bulldozer. Kotoshogiku masterfully shuts down Takakeisho’s wave action tsuppari, and it’s down to a contest of strength. While not quite able to get the hug-n-chug running, Kotoshogiku keeps moving forward, and avoids Takakeisho’s last minute attempt at a hineri at the edge. Takakeisho kept grabbing his mage after the match, I was curious if he was trying to signal something. Yeah, Kotoshogiku’s hand was on the back of his head, but I am not sure it’s a mage pull at all. Takakeisho now make-koshi.

Okinoumi defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi continues his meltdown, and it’s quite a disappointment to watch. As with prior matches, he tries to pull early on, but Okinoumi uses his backward motion to take control and win. After his failed pull, Mitakeumi cannot recover any forward momentum. Bad move, bad strategy, bad outcome for the Ozeki hopeful. Go back and try again.

Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – Tochinoshin prevails to stay at one loss, while Tamawashi is now make-koshi. From the tachiai Tamawashi lands a strong nodowa, but this seems to only power up the Georgain battle mech. With a strong shove, Tochinoshin breaks the neck grip and goes on the attack. Tamawashi puts everything he has into a couple of huge tsuppari, and nearly brings Tochinoshin down, but it also left him wide open. Tochinoshin surges forward and lands a double inside grip. We, of course, know how this ends with Tochinoshin’s massive yorikiri.

Takayasu defeats Goeido – Goeido, unable to exit debug mode, is once again stuck playing Tetris instead of Osumo. Takayasu is a half step ahead at the tachiai, and focuses on applying rapid pressure to Goeido’s shoulders. Goeido never has a chance to produce any offense, or set up any kind of defensive stance. Goeido now needs to pick up 2 wins to not go kadoban.. again.

Endo defeats Kakuryu – Yes, sumo fans. Big K dropped his match with Endo, leaving Tochinoshin as the sole leader of the yusho race at the end of day 12. As with day 11, his attempt to pull left him off balance, and Endo was ready for it. Endo moved strongly forward and made the Yokozuna pay. Endo picks up a kinboshi, and Kakuryu loses his share of the lead. The cushions fly in the Kokugikan.

That’s it for day 12. It’s a brawl right to the end now, with a decent chance that a rank-and-file rikishi could lift the Emperor’s Cup!

Hatsu Day 12 Preview

Tochinoshin-2

Day 11 dialed this basho up to maximum and then added a box of firecrackers. Takarafuji’s battle against Tochinoshin was magnificent, no other way to describe it. Time and again Takarafuji blunted the big Georgian’s move to land his mighty grip and out-muscle him. But the rikishi with no neck would have none of it. Sure Tochinoshin won in the end, but what a battle!

With that win, and Kakuryu’s loss, the Yusho race is now a head to head run to Sunday. If each man can close out the remainder of his bouts without a further loss, they will face off for the second time at the end of the basho. There are fans in Japan who are ready to dismiss it as an uninteresting battle of foreigners, but for sumo fans globally, it’s more about the strength, skill, and speed of the contestants that matter. To get to that Sunday showdown, Yokozuna Kakuryu has the harder path. He faces both Ozeki and Mitakeumi, though neither Goeido nor Mitakeumi are looking formidable at this point.

Mitakeumi, in particular, is proving he is not yet ready to try to compete at Ozeki levels. That said, look at the bench standard here: Goeido. I hate to say it, but Goeido needs to take 2 of the last 4 matches to avoid once again being kadoban. Sure, you tell me – no worries. He faces Takayasu on day 12 and will face Mitakeumi soon. With his past two losses, he has proven that even Wakaichiro might have a fair chance against him. Not good.

Hatsu Leader Board

The Yusho race is down to two for now. Both of them have already matched, with Kakuryu the winner.

Leaders – Kakuryu, Tochinoshin
Hunter Group – Takayasu, Daieisho

4 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 12

Nishikigi vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki is working closer to his kachi-koshi, and he may pick it up today. Somehow, Nishikigi is hanging on to Makuuchi with everything he has. Who can blame him? The chicks dig the top division guys, plus you can score free bi-ru (ビール) at any pub in Japan. Career record is 5-3 in Kagayaki’s favor.

Kotoyuki vs Asanoyama – Kotoyuki looked like he got a bit hurt in his day 11 match, but this guy has limped off the dohyo more times than I can accurately count. He tends to rebound and return, even if it looked like he was dismembered and on life support the prior day. Asanoyama is one win away from kachi-koshi, and a move away from the bottom edge of Maegashira. Kotoyuki took their only prior match.

Ryuden vs Daishomaru – Also in the category of new faces looking to pick up their 8th win is Ryuden. In his first ever match against Daishomaru, he will be looking to get things mobile and light, which favors his sumo. Daishomaru will look to pummel Ryuden into a disoriented mess and shove whatever remains out with enthusiasm.

Shohozan vs Sokokurai – Shohozan is fighting well, and a win here would give him kachi-koshi and Sokokurai make-koshi at the same time. Brutal but effective. Last basho, Sokokurai took the Juryo yusho, but he has been struggling in his return to the top division.

Abi vs Chiyomaru – The winner of this match will pick up the coveted kachi-koshi and an interview slot on the NHK broadcast. Plus, I would guess, several additional bi-ru payable on demand. Of course, Abi has never won against Chiyomaru, but perhaps Chiyomaru’s enormous bulk will somehow prevent him from winning. NAH! Of course, he will do just fine.

Shodai vs Chiyoshoma – What happened here? How is Shodai winning? Where did the man-droid version of Shodai go? That one was pretty crappy at sumo and just sort of flopped around like day old fugu in Tsukiji. Shodai is actually 2-0 against Chiyoshoma, and a win here would leave us facing the ugly possibility that Shodai could actually be promoted going to Osaka. Please, more bi-ru here. I need to get my head straight on this one.

Yoshikaze vs Ichinojo – There is no good way for this to go. Their career record is 3-3, and Ichinojo is looking genki, and Yoshikaze is not. As much as I love to see the berserker’s arms move at speed, there may be little to do against the boulder save to get him off balance and roll him over. Ichinojo, on the other hand, could probably bounce Yoshikaze on his knee like a toddler. Please, oh Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, don’t let this happen, and if it does, don’t let it make it to video.

Takakeisho vs Kotoshogiku – Both of these guys are in a bit of a mood to throw caution to the wind it seems. Takakeisho’s flipper fight against Yoshikaze left him bloody. Kotoshogiku has been finding people giving him the chance to land the hug-n-chug. Maybe everyone thinks because he is Maegashira 2, they don’t have to guard against it. I am sure that Takakeisho won’t let him grab hold. Their career record is an even 1-1.

Mitakeumi vs Okinoumi – Okinoumi is make-koshi. So, my guess is that he drops Mitakeumi who once again regains his feet blinking in surprise. Get it together man!

Tochinoshin vs Tamawashi – This is THE big match of the day. Tamawashi is the first, and so far only rikishi to put dirt on Kakuryu, and in doing so he pulled Tochinoshin back into the yusho lead. Now Tochinoshin gets to face down the same Tamawashi, who seems to have regained his sumo. Tamawashi typically presents a nearly unstoppable thrusting attack, which will be the antithesis of Tochinoshin’s yotsu style. We will see who sets the terms of the match coming out of the tachiai. Hopefully, Tamawashi is studying Takarafuji’s masterful defense.

Goeido vs Takayasu – Normally I would be very excited for an Ozeki battle. But Goeido is on hard times. He needs this win to keep outside of the kadoban penalty box, but Takayasu is looking slightly more genki. Notice I didn’t say a lot more genki. What is plaguing Takayasu, I can’t tell. It might be that he is worried about his senpai Kisenosato.

Kakuryu vs Endo – Lesson from day 11, Big K. Keep moving forward. Once you stepped back, Tamawashi had your number and you had no way to correct. Take the fight to Endo and power him out. You have this one, just be strong and go tonbo (蜻蛉) on him.

 

Hatsu Day 11 Preview

Hatsu Day 11

It’s a big day at the Kokugikan, and this another day that I strongly recommend fans find Kintamayama’s daily summary on YouTube and Jason’s fantastic videos.  There are just so many interesting matches, there is no way the NHK 25 minute highlight show can do it justice.

Today marks the return of Terunofuji. Why? I have no idea. That guy is horribly injured, suffering from diabetes, and already make-koshi. But I suppose he is trying to save some rank in the coming demotion to Juryo.

Day 11 seems to be the day the scheduling team decided to toss the banzuke and match some of the fresh faces at the bottom of the ranking sheet with some in the middle. Sort of a “trial by fire” phase for many of them, and it has led to some really interesting matches. I must admit, I am following the Maegashira 17-13 match more closely than the Maegashira 12-7 matches. It just seems that the crop at the bottom of the banzuke this time has all the fire, energy and crazy “danger be damned” sumo that the sport needs.

Hatsu Leader Board

Leader – Kakuryu
Chaser – Tochinoshin
Hunter – Daieisho

5 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 11

Aoiyama vs Nishikigi – Man-Mountain Aoiyama comes up to Makuuchi for the day, and faces off against Nishikigi. Both men are at 5-5 and need to win 3 of the next 5 matches to maintain rank, so there is a lot on the line. During his tenure in Makuuchi, Aoiyama was at times a powerful force of sumo. Some of it was an aversion by the other rikishi to land a hold in his upper torso region, and some of it was he is huge and fairly strong. But Nishikigi has bested him 3 of the 4 times they have fought.

Ryuden vs Daieisho – Daieisho is already kachi-koshi and the only rikishi besides Tochinoshin who as any chance of catching Kakuryu, should the surviving Yokozuna falter. His opponent is Ryuden, who is doing fairly well in his long-anticipated debut in Makuuchi. Daieisho’s winning streak may put him in line for a significant boost in rank for March.

Sokokurai vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama was red hot to start Hatsu, and now he can’t beg a win from anyone. Sokokurai took the Juryo yusho in Kyushu and has really struggled this basho. I do like the fact that Asanoyama shows up each day with what seems to be the same positive attitude.

Kotoyuki vs Kagayaki – Kotoyuki is another rikishi who is struggling for wins in the second half of the basho. He opened strong and now is 5-5. Kagayaki, whose man-boobs are nothing compared to Aoiyama, may find that can pick up pointers from the Bulgarian. Either way, I am guessing it’s going to be Kotoyuki trying to shove Kagayaki, with Kagayaki working to get a mawashi grip and toss the little brick-shaped rikishi off the dohyo.

Daiamami vs Aminishiki – I pray to Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that any available Kami protect Aminishiki’s knee. I am still wincing from day 10, and I don’t want to see Uncle Sumo exit the sport forever riding that giant wheelchair.

Terunofuji vs Ishiura – Better make it two wheelchairs at the ready because the Ghost of Terunofuji is returning to the dohyo day 11. He exited the basho earlier citing complications from diabetes. But even that is not going to help his fragile undercarriage. What madness has possessed Isegahama?

Yutakayama vs Kaisei – Kaisei really stacked on the weight over the holidays, and following his day 10 match he looked like he was going to pass out. I suspect that if Yutakayama slaps him in just the right location, it will set up a standing wave across his various fat pockets that could damage or fracture the dohyo. Interestingly enough, Kaisei has never won against Yutakayama.

Tochiozan vs Abi – Both of the Maegashira 8s fight the Maegashira 14s. Sure, why not? So we get Abi going against Tochiozan. This is their first meeting, and I am going to expect Abi to open with double arm thrusts, and Tochiozan to grab him under the arms and send him sailing.

Chiyomaru vs Endo – This should be an easy pickup for Endo, who is not looking nearly as genki as he was at the start of the basho. Chiyomaru has only taken one match from Endo, and that was back in 2013.

Takarafuji vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin, will someone please stop him from eating more spinach? Maybe that someone can be humble but capable Takarafuji. They have evenly split their 14 career matches, with Takarafuji dominating the last 7 of those. But this basho Tochinoshin is in firm contact with his spirit animal, a hydraulic car crushing machine.

Hokutofuji vs Ichinojo – Hokutofuji loves to win. For a long stretch of years, he never failed to rack up a kachi-koshi. Now here he is with the sting of a losing record. He faces our favorite boulder, who somehow has revived himself from his years-long sumo slumber and is happy to rumble around the dohyo crushing everything. You boys play safe now!

Takakeisho vs Yoshikaze – Scratch and dent bin match. I have no idea what has happened to Yoshikaze. But I would be willing to bet a can of Ebisu and a trip to Yoshinoya that he’s suffering from something along the lines of the flu. He just seems to have no energy right now, and that’s not possible under normal circumstances. Takakeisho has sadly found that most of the rikishi have figured out that when he starts his double arm “Wave Action Tsuppari” that you can lay a nodawa right in there and he stops it.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – Mitakeumi! Get it together man, you are a total mess right now! You lose to Shodai and I am going to give you a new nickname. You may not get another decent chance to start an Ozeki run for a while, so don’t squander this one. Hey, Shodai. You win this one and I may have to start believing in you again.

Okinoumi vs Takayasu – Takayasu by a mile. Okinoumi is a shadow of his former self.

Goeido vs Arawashi – Should be an easy Goeido win, but what the hell? This guy seems to be booted up in some kind of lame diagnostic mode that only plays Tetris. Goeido!, LEFT, LEFT, DOWN, RIGHT, DOWN, DOWN clears the level.

Kakuryu vs Tamawashi – Kakuryu, short of an injury, is looking likely to seal up his next yusho, and I am delighted that he is fighting well, looking strong and dominating. Tamawashi was eager to leave his mark in Sekiwake territory again, but he seems to be injured and not fighting well.

Hatsu Day 10 Preview

Tochinoshin

The snow was coming down in big, heavy globs today across Tokyo. It’s amazing how quickly a bit of snow turns a modern metropolis into Ukiyo-e scene, complete with burly figures in robes making their way through the drifts. At the end of day 9, there was really only one rikishi who had a chance to impact the yusho favorite, Kakuryu. In his winning match, Tochinoshin showed a level of power and vigor that he has been unable to bring to the dohyo for quite some time, and sumo fans worldwide are delighted to see him lift a smaller rikishi like Mitakeumi and carry him to the curb.

Day 10 marks the end of the second act, and true to form, on the closing day of the second act, we know who is a competitor, and whose dreams have been crushed. For Kakuryu, he enters the final five days of Hatsu as the sole surviving Yokozuna, and in a commanding lead. He is thus far unbeaten, and his sumo is as sharp and effective as the heady days when he was an unstoppable Ozeki on his way up.

Mitakeumi has faltered in the past few days, but his goal of a double-digit win record for Hatsu and the beginning of an Ozkei campaign is still within reach.

Hatsu Leader Board

Leader – Kakuryu
Chasers – Tochinoshin
Hunt Group – Mitakeumi, Daieisho

6 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 10

Ryuden vs Azumaryu – Juryo 2E Azumaryu joins Makuuchi for the day to even out the ranks. Azumaryu and Ryuden have had eight prior matches, and have split them evenly. Azumaryu is nowhere near contention for the Juryo yusho, but his one day pass to Makuuchi may give fans in the US their first look at another rikishi fighting to rejoin the upper division.

Abi vs Yutakayama – Abi has been steadily improving after starting with two straight losses. Though he has struggled in the past, this may be the basho where Yutakayama is able to secure a kachi-koshi in the top division and stick around. Yutakayama won their only prior engagement, but at present, there is likely a slight advantage to Abi.

Asanoyama vs Daishomaru – Asanoyama had an impressive 6-0 start, and has now endured three straight losses. He is looking to turn that around against a struggling Daishomaru, who has been fighting injuries since Aki. Daishomaru won their only prior match, which was during Aki.

Tochiozan vs Daieisho – Daieisho is fighting strong this tournament, so the schedulers pulled Maegashira 8 Tochiozan down to face off against Maegashira 13 Daieisho. This will be interesting because two of their prior matches went to Daieisho.

Chiyoshoma vs Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo returns! Fans around the globe dearly hope that he is well enough to compete, and is not risking further or increased injury. Although he is already make-koshi, a few wins might make the difference in allowing him to remain at the bottom of Makuuchi for March.

Takarafuji vs Kaisei – Two strong 6-3 rikishi battle it out in a fight of steady and strong. Takarafuji prefers to get a grip on Kaisei and yorikiri the Brazilian, where Kaisei tends to apply throws against Takarafuji. Their career record of 12-9 favors Kaisei.

Shohozan vs Endo – After a strong start, Endo has been struggling, and fans have to wonder if maybe he has aggravated one of his chronic injuries. Today he goes against Shohozan, who has been bludgeoning everyone into submission. Their career record of 4-2 favors Endo, but I am going to see if Shohozan can apply an immediate hatakikomi.

Tochinoshin vs Kotoshogiku – An injured and demoralized Kotoshogiku goes against a raging mass of genki named Tochinoshin. While it would be great to see the Kyushu Bulldozer put the doom on Tochinoshin, there is no way Kotoshogiku’s knees could withstand the amount of pressure it would take for him to force the big Georgian out. Career record of 24-5 favors Kotoshogiku.

Takakeisho vs Ichinojo – I am going to assume that the Boulder is going to use the same approach he used on Onosho, that is, to just go bowling with his roly-poly tadpole opponent. To be honest, it may not be that easy, as Ichinojo has never beaten Takakeisho in the three times they have faced off. But Ichinojo seems to have recovered the zen of mass and seems unafraid to use his enormity to win.

Mitakeumi vs Arawashi – Arawashi is struggling this basho, and will be lucky to hit kachi-koshi. But Mitakeumi needs three more wins to tick over to the magical double digits. After his humiliating defeat at the hands of Tochinoshin on day 9, Mitakeumi probably has a lot of frustration to resolve. Arawashi has never won a match against Mitakeumi so this could be a foregone conclusion.

Goeido vs Shodai – The Shodai match is a unit-test for GoeidOS 2.0. If he applies maximum upward force from below and inside Shodai’s high tachiai, we can assume that GoeidOS 2.0 is working as planned. Honestly, this should be pretty easy for Goeido.

Tamawashi vs Takayasu – Not going to be an easy day for a struggling Takayasu. Tamawashi more or less has his number, beating him 10 times out of their 16 career matches. With Takayasu looking disorganized and chaotic on the dohyo, he may fall prey to a focused, organized and concentrated attack. Sadly for Tamawashi, he has not been able to execute that kind of engagement this tournament.

Kakuryu vs Okinoumi – It would be a huge surprise if this were not a rapid win #10 for the surviving Yokozuna. Okinoumi has, in the past, been a worthy foe for Kakuryu, but this Kakuryu is strong and fast, Okinoumi is looking disorganized and injured once more.