It’s time to close out the second act of this basho. For those new to the site, we tend to discuss any 15 day basho as 3 distinct acts, each with their own themes and goals. For act 2, we narrow the field to find out who has what it takes to compete for the yusho, and to start sorting the survivors from the damned. With both Yokozuna out, and with 2 of the 3 Ozeki floundering, it was a wide open brawl for the cup. But who could have ever imagined that would mean Maegashira 17 West (last spot on the banzuke) Tokushoryu and Maegashira 4 West Shodai. Shodai? Yes, Shodai. Long time readers note that I have, in the past, frequently expressed disappointment with Shodai. Its not that he is not a likable figure. I have found his sumo sloppy and inconsistent, and his technique to be chaotic. There is also a whiff that some elements of the NSK tend to give him banzuke luck most of the time.
But in Hatsu 2020, Shodai has earned his slot at the top of the leaderboard. He has fought consistently and strongly across all 9 days to date. If this really is Shodai’s new grade of sumo, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with for some time to come, and I am quite happy about it. His one loss was to Goeido, who used his normal opening gambit to just blast Shodai off the shikiri-sen. Shodai has already fought both Ozeki, and both Sekiwake. You could say the “hard” part of his schedule is behind him. But I would expect someone to put more dirt on Shodai before day 15. But should he hoist the cup on senshuraku, I will be cheering him on.
Leaders: Shodai, Tokushoryu
Chasers: Takakeisho, Yutakayama, Kagayaki
Hunt Group: Asanoyama, Endo, Hokutofuji, Ryuden, Terutsuyoshi, Tochiozan, Kaisei
6 matches remain
What We Are Watching Day 10
Tochiozan vs Shimanoumi – I am really enjoying watching Tochiozan’s minimal sumo. I hope we get to see him simply stand in place today, deflecting Shimanoumi as he charges, and calmly smiling while Shimanoumi stumbles and crashes to the clay.
Tsurugisho vs Kiribayama – We all hope that youngster Kiribayama has received the memo to win gently against the injured hulk of Tsurugisho. The senior rikishi have set the tone, please comply.
Tokushoryu vs Chiyomaru – Tokushoryu faces one of his most constant rivals, the even rounder and more bulky Chiyomaru. He holds an 8-2 career lead over the co-leader for the Hatsu 2020 yusho. That’s going to be a lot of belly meat in motion at the tachiai.
Chiyotairyu vs Ikioi – I want to know just how damaged Chiyotairyu’s left elbow is now from Ryuden’s day 9 “arm breaker” kotenage. Ikioi seems to be on the road to make-koshi and a berth on the Juryo barge of the damned. It’s sad to see a storied veteran struggle, and Ikioi is back to being walking wounded, it seems.
Kotoeko vs Kagayaki – Mr Fundamentals could score his kachi-koshi today with a win, and it would hand Kotoeko his make-koshi at the same moment. Kotoeko still seems to have decent sumo mechanics, but he seems to lack strength this January.
Sadanoumi vs Kotoshogiku – Sadanoumi will bring speed to this match, Kotoshogiku will bring size and mass. If Kotoshogiku had healthy knees, this would be no contest, but with his damaged undercarriage, it’s Sadanoumi’s match to win.
Takanosho vs Kaisei – First time meeting for these two, and with Kaisei fighting well this basho, I am going to say that he has the advantage due to his resemblance to a granite outcropping near Gifu.
Azumaryu vs Yutakayama – A win today would give Yutakayama his kachi-koshi, and would likely see him close in on those top 4 Maegashira ranks where I think he belongs this year. It’s been a slow recovery from injury for Yutakayama, but he is finally starting to look like his prior condition.
Aoiyama vs Terutsuyoshi – Another first time match, I think that Aoiyama is going to be on his balance to keep from having Terutsuyoshi dancing him to the bales and into the lap of a nearby shimpan.
Ishiura vs Ryuden – I want a rarely seen, simultaneous flying henka. I want them both to leap upward like a pair of scalded cats who just encountered a cucumber.
Okinoumi vs Onosho – Onosho dug himself a really generous hole with his act 1 ring rust, but he is slowly climbing his way back toward .500. He has to overcome Okinoumi’s world class balance, stability and lexicon of sumo technique. Onosho will bring speed and sheer power.
Shohozan vs Shodai – Yusho race co-leader Shodai will face “Big Guns” Shohozan. You might thing Shohozan’s high mobility, high impact style would give him a distinct edge, but in fact Shodai holds a 10-2 career advantage.
Endo vs Mitakeumi – This match will come down to Endo being able to land a front mawashi grip within the first few seconds. What he must not do is flail around fumbling for a hand hold against Mitakeumi, as Mitakeumi is expert at exploiting such moments of indecision.
Tamawashi vs Myogiryu – A loss today gives Tamawashi a make-koshi. He has really looked low-energy this basho, and I have to wonder if it’s the cumulative injuries of years in the top division, or some new malady that his robbed him of his sumo.
Hokutofuji vs Daieisho – Both rikishi are going to put a lot of fight into this match, but right now it seems Hokutofuji has an edge in any fight. They are 3-3 over the course of their career. They seem to trade hatakikomi and oshidashi wins back and forth since Osaka 2018.
Asanoyama vs Tochinoshin – If Asanoyama can keep this a chest to chest grappling match, he will likely carry the win. I think we are going to see one more sky crane from Tochinoshin this basho, and I am sort of hoping that
Abi vs Takayasu – Part of me thinks Takayasu should just own his injury at this point, go kyujo, get surgery, drop a division or two and come back and knock heads. He’s big enough, he’s strong enough and his sumo is good enough provided he can get his body into working order. But instead we are going to watch Abi shove him around for a few seconds before he takes a dive from the dohyo, possibly compounding that injury.
Takakeisho vs Enho – The Grand Tadpole against the Power Pixie. Its going to come down to Enho grabbing one of Takakeisho’s arms and giving it a solid tug. Is the Ozeki going to change up his sumo? If he can connect even one of those wave-action tsuppari to Enho, he could place Enho in an arcing trajectory toward the distant Aogashima island.
Takarafuji vs Goeido – The Goeido Blitzkrieg will match off against Mr Defend and Extend. If Takarafuji can blunt Goeido’s opening gambits, he will own the match, as Goeido tends to get sloppier the longer any bout goes on. The 14-5 career advantage underscores that Goeido usually can blast through Takarafuji’s opening defense.