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!

 

Onosho Unlikely For Haru

onosho

A story today in the Japanese press reports that rising star and member of the tadpole army, Onosho, will most likely not compete in March’s tournament in Osaka. During January’s Hatsu basho in Tokyo, Onosho withdrew from the competition following day 9, reporting an injury to his right knee. Now reports cite that the injury is not healed and that Onosho is only about 50% of his normal strength.

With many years ahead of him in his sumo career, pressing for a full recovery is a wise option. Should he sit out Haru, he will likely be demoted to Juryo for the Natsu tournament in May. Given his strength, power and sheer will to win, he won’t be down there for very long.

 

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.

Onosho Withdraws from Hatsu Basho

The Japanese news has reported that Komusubi Onosho has withdrawn from the 2018 Hatsu basho due to a right knee posterior cruciate ligament injury. While the severity of the injury is undisclosed as of yet, treatments range from simply resting and icing the joint to physiotherapy. Going kyujo with a 4-5 record coming into Day 9, Onosho will receive a demotion back into the Maegashira rank for March. As a result, we will have a new Komusubi for Haru, and with Takakeisho sitting dangerously close to a make koshi, we could potentially have two new faces holding the rank come Hatsu. We at Tachiai hope that the power of the red mawashi will heal Onosho and that he returns even stronger!

Hatsu Day 9 Preview

day-of-tickets

As we exit the middle weekend of the basho, it’s all a headlong charge to the final weekend, and the crowning of the Yusho for Hatsu 2018. Along that road, there are some interesting stories unfolding.

Firstly is Mitakeumi, a strong start at 7-1 puts a double digit Sekiwake win within reach for the first time. For fans following along, this would mark the start of a campaign for him to lay claim to an Ozeki slot. I like Mitakeumi a lot, and I am eager to see him score 10+ wins this basho, but he’s not quite up to Ozeki level sumo yet.

Man-Bear-Giant Tochinoshin (Mitakeumi’s day 9 opponent) is likewise having a surprisingly good tournament. Tochinoshin has underperformed for years due to injuries. When he is healthy his skill and outrageous strength produces records that are solid San’yaku material. But it almost always seems that just when he is on the march, his body betrays him.

This has also been the case far too frequently for our current yusho leader, Yokozuna Kakuryu. At the moment he seems unstoppable. But fans should keep in mind that he spent most of 2017 out of sumo action due to chronic problems with his legs and back. Sadly we are one injury away from losing him once more to a lengthy rehabilitation process. But we are all hoping not to see that this tournament. Short of an injury, this is his tournament to lose.

Hatsu Leader Board

Leader – Kakuryu
Chasers – Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Daieisho
Hunt Grop – Tochiozan, Shohozan, Asanoyama

7 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 9

Abi vs Asanoyama – There is still a lot of outstanding action going on at the bottom of the torikumi, with several of the lower ranked Maegashira turning in some excellent sumo. Day 9 gives us a match I have been eager to see: Abi and Asanoyama. In their only prior match, Asanoyama prevailed, but Abi really has his oshi sumo running strong.

Ishiura vs Daieisho – Daieisho is one loss behind the Yokozuna headed into day 9, and he meets Ishiura who is struggling to get above .500. Daieisho has been explosive out of the tachiai this tournament, and I am curious to see how that matches with Ishiura’s “submarine” sumo.

Shohozan vs Kagayaki – In spite of his day 8 loss, Shohozan’s sumo is winning matches at Hatsu. Kagayaki has been horribly inconsistent, but is still in the running for kachi-koshi later this week. This will likely be all Shohozan, but Kagayaki leads their career matches 4-2.

Takarafuji vs Tochiozan – Tochiozan has been cool and confident, and is looking genki. Takarafuji has managed to string together a 5-3 record thus far, and is showing us calm, confident and careful sumo. Tochiozan leads the series 10-7.

Kaisei vs Endo – After a strong start, Endo has gotten into a bit of a slump. Now he faces Brazilian mammoth Kaisei, whom he leads in their career records 6-3. Endo’s main inhibitor to good performance seems to be mental at the moment, and we all hope that he will find Kaisei a nice place out in the zabutan section.

Yoshikaze vs Kotoshogiku – Both of these sumo stalwarts are struggling this basho. Yoshikaze’s 3 wins all come against Yokozuna and Ozeki, but he can’t seem to muster any strong sumo for the rank and file. Kotoshogiku leads the career series 22-6, so this is likely a pickup for the Kyushu Bulldozer.

Ichinojo vs Onosho – Ichinojo brings his size based sumo against Onosho’s run-and-push sumo. Both are 4-4, and both are eager to keep themselves in the hunt for kachi-koshi. If Ichinojo gets a grip like he did day 8, it’s going to be his match.

Mitakeumi vs Tochinoshin – Mitakeumi made several tactical mistakes in his day 8 match with the boulder known as Ichinojo. His day 9 match is really no easier, as he faces Tochinoshin’s massive strength. Tochinoshin showed on day 8 that he was happy to win an oshi match, so Mitakeumi really needs to think this one through.

Shodai vs Takayasu – I would say Takayasu in a walk, but Takayasu’s sumo has been chaotic, unfocused and a bit frantic. This is a significant departure from the sumo that got him into the Ozeki ranks, and marks a dangerous turn for him. Still, it’s Shodai, so I am guessing that Takayasu may flatten him straight out of the tachiai.

Goeido vs Tamawashi – Goeido needs to bounce back, he is up to three losses, and seems to be stuck in the debugging mode of GoeidOS 1.5.1. He is evenly matched with Tamawashi in terms of score coming into day 9, and career record. Goeido will need to take control from the tachiai, or he’s going to end up moving backwards under Tamawashi’s blistering assault.

Kakuryu vs Arawashi – I am betting on a fairly straightforward win for the Yokozuna, to remain undefeated and the man to beat for the Emperor’s cup. Arawashi won their only prior match in January of 2017, but this version of Kakuryu is healthy and strong.

Hatsu Day 7 Preview

Kakuryu Kensho

Heading into the middle weekend of the Hatsu basho, fans around the globe are enjoying a wide open yusho race. In spite of a wave of withdrawals, that includes two of three yokozuna, the competition has been fierce and the sumo fantastic. After a slow start, Yoshikaze has gone on a tear through the named ranks. As we have described, he is possible the one man in sumo that you can count on to beat anyone on any day. His day 6 victory over Goeido is one for slow-motion replay. You can see him detect in a fraction of a second that the Ozeki was off balance, and brought his hands up and pulled Goeido forward.

The lower end of the torikumi continues to delight. In many basho, the guys from Maegashira 12-16 are earnest and hard-working, but are not typically generating exciting matches. But this has not been the case this tournament. The current crop occupying these ranks are fighting well, and delivering great sumo.

Going into this middle weekend, the job of the schedulers is to narrow the yusho race, and deliver exciting sumo for the fans. We can expect to see some fantastic matches, and day 7 will delvier.

Hatsu Leader Board

Leaders – Kakuryu, Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Asanoyama
Chasers – Shohozan, Daieisho

9 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 7

Ryuden vs Yutakayama – Both rikishi come in 3-3, and both of them are looking to secure a road to remain in Makuuchi. Both of them prefer to fight via thrusting, and the career record favors Yutakayama 3-1. But don’t count Ryuden out, Ryuden has been steadily improving since his Juryo days, where Yutakayama seems to be struggling to elevate his sumo. This one has potential.

Abi vs Nishikigi – It’s fun when the lower Makuuchi ranks are so evenly balanced. Again another 3-3 record matchup. This time is Abi bringing his excellent shiko to combat Nishikigi, who is frankly one hell of a survivor. How even are they? Their career record is 2-2.

Asanoyama vs Daieisho – Asanoyama brings his 6-0 starting record into day 7, and he faces Daieisho who has a respectable 5-1. They have met twice before, and both took one match. Can Asanoyama maintain his position on the leader board and knock Daieisho out of the chaser group?

Ishiura vs Kagayaki – Ishiura, in spite of his 3-3 start, is fighting better than he has in many months. After a strong start, Kagayaki is in a bit of a slump that he is eager to reverse. Ishiura seems to be reverting to his earlier “submarine” tactics, which almost everyone has figured out. Ishiura leads the series 5-2.

Tochiozan vs Kotoyuki – Evenly matched, even records, career matches evenly split yet again. But Kotoyuki went for a roll of the corner of the doyho against Shohozan day 6, and that has (in the past) given him an injury. We will see Saturday if he bounces back against a Tochiozan.

Chiyoshoma vs Shohozan – “Big Guns” Shohozan has been dominating his matches thus far, and is looking strong, stable and confident. I give him a slight edge against Chiyoshoma in his day 7 match, which will feature each man blasting the other with a flurry of blows.

Chiyonokuni vs Endo – Endo got smoked on day 6, plain and simple. He was surprised by Shodai (as was I) when “Big Blue” actually launched out of the tachiai like a champion and caught Endo off balance. Endo is better than that, and I don’t expect him to repeat that mistake on day 7. Grumpy Badger Chiyonokuni continues to fight well, but has been struggling to find a route from “Fighting like a madman” to “Winning like a champion”.

Shodai vs Takarafuji – Can Shodai do it again? For the first time in a long time, he did not blow his tachiai. He came in fast, hard and aggressive. Takarafuji makes for a tough target, because he is stable and keeps himself low. Career matches, Shodai has a 5-2 advantage. But I really want to see if Shodai has resolved his tachiai issues.

Kotoshogiku vs Onosho – Kotoshogiku has done a masterful job of standing up to the upper San’yaku over the last few days. And I think that Onosho has a real fight on his hands. Their prior two matches were split 1-1, and if Onosho can stay mobile, he can and will control the match. I am going to look for the Kyushu Bulldozer to land at least his right hand at the tachiai.

Mitakeumi vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze comes in with a middling record, but an impressive array of Hatsu scalps. At risk is Mitakeumi’s slot on the leaderboard, and Yoshikaze is dangerous to that perfect record. Their career matches are evenly split 3-3. I will look for Mitakeumi to try and open with a slap down or pull down, as Yoshikaze tries to launch hard off the line.

Ichinojo vs Takayasu – Takayasu caught an ugly surprise on day 6, when his poor posture, his reliance on his forearm blast and general sloppy sumo was dismantled in the blink of an eye by a fast, powerful tadpole. Now he faces the Mongol boulder Ichinojo. Ichinojo delivered a brutal first (and last) pitch in his match with Tamawashi day 6. Takayasu has a lot more heft, but his recent preference for highly mobile matches leaves him open for Ichinojo to toss him on his head.

Goeido vs Takakeisho – I am absolutely certain that Takakeisho paid close attention to Yoshikaze’s rapid takedown of Goeido day 6, and will be looking to repeat that attack. Goeido has a bit of a challenge due to Takakeisho low, round form. If this devolves into an oshi match, I am giving a slight advantage to Takakeisho.

Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – THE match, the match that could define this basho. Kakuryu will want to go chest to chest, the fans will want him to go chest to chest, Tochinoshin is daring him to go chest to chest. So I am going to call it now, Hatakikomi or Hikkake. If Big K lets him get a double arm grip on his mawashi, it’s probably going to result in our one remaining Yokozuna re-injuring his back.

Hatsu Day 6 Preview

Yoshikaze kensho-stack
Yoshikaze’s Mountain of Kensho

With Kisenosato now officially out of the tournament, we face another basho where only one Yokozuna shows up to compete. As predicted at the end of 2017, significant changes are going to sweep through sumo this year. I am happy that it looks like Kakuryu has returned genki and ready to compete, and seems to really be dominating this tournament with strength and poise.

If you did not see it, Aminishiki took a terrible fall from the dohyo at the end of his day 5 match. And by terrible I mean he could not re-mount the dohyo to bow. He needed help walking, and was in very rough shape. Uncle Sumo, as we lovingly call him, is a miracle of orthopedic braces, large bandages and sheer human determination. It’s that force of will that got him back to Makuuchi, but sadly this injury may be the one that ends it for him.

There is good news as well! Mitakeumi is half way to his goal of double digit wins, and the kick-off of an Ozeki run. To be clear, with only one Yokozuna active at any given tournament, the Ozeki promotion lane is wide open. In addition, Tochinoshin is looking surprisingly genki this basho. His day 5 performance against Goeido was one for the highlight reels.

Hatsu Leader board

Leaders – Kakuryu, Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Asanoyama
Chasers – Goeido, Takayasu, Endo, Chiyoshoma, Tochiozan, Shohozan, Kotoyuki, Daieisho

10 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 6

Ishiura vs Asanoyama – This one has a lot of potential, including the fact that this is the first time these two young men have met on the dohyo. Asanoyama comes in with zero defeats, but Ishiura brings speed and amazing strength.

Takekaze vs Ryuden – Ryuden is struggling a bit starting the second act of Hatsu, needing a few more wins to ensure a winning record. Takekaze has a terrible start to the basho, and needs to really step on the gas to avoid a possible demotion to Juryo for Osaka. This is also their first ever match.

Yutakayama vs Kagayaki – Struggling Yutakayama takes on “Buxom Rikishi” Kagayaki. Once again, these two meet for the first time. Both of them have similar approaches to their sumo, so I am going to suggest this will be evenly matched.

Shohozan vs Kotoyuki – Shohozan has been fighting well so far. His strength, speed and stability have carried him fairly far. Kotoyuki has been all over the map in prior tournaments, but seems to have his sumo running well for Hatsu. Kotoyuki brings a 4-2 career advantage to this match.

Okinoumi vs Chiyoshoma – For the last several days, Chiyoshoma has been attempting to deploy many of the tactics that were once the domain of Harumafuji. It’s been working for him, too. He comes in against a struggling Okinoumi who does not seem to be able to put together a winning recipe.

Shodai vs Endo – I am going to just say that Endo is likely to completely dominate Shodai, even though the career record (2-1) favors Shodai. Much as I love me some genki Shodai, that version is not showing up these days, whereas Endo is fighting as well as I have seen in at least a year.

Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin – Red hot Tochinoshin has a date with a tadpole, and it’s an epic clash of opposing sumo styles. Takakeisho will work to set up and run his “wave action tsuppari” from the tachiai. Tochinoshin needs to get inside, grab a hold of this guy and toss him like an angry pufferfish in Shimonoseki’s fish market. Interestingly enough, Tochinoshin has never beat Takakeisho. This one is a must-watch bout.

Mitakeumi vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji is on the receiving end of the traditional Maegashira 1 beating. This is necessary and important to bring him to the point when he will be a fixture of the upper ranks. But on day 6, its Mitakeumi’s turn to slap him around. Their career record of 2-2 shows an even match, so there is a chance that Hokutofuji can rally.

Goeido vs Yoshikaze – There are two Yoshikazes. The normal one is a fast, capable and a great all around athlete. He’s a force of sumo, and always gives it his all. The second one I call “The Berserker”. The Berserker can beat anyone, when he shows up. Not even Hakuho is safe from Yoshikaze in berserker mode. This is why nobody takes their match with him lightly. Goeido is fighting very well, but the career record of 12-11 favors Yoshikaze slightly, but underscores how big of match this could be.

Onosho vs Takayasu – Takayasu looks to be in his groove now, and it will be fun to see him chase Onosho around the dohyo for a few seconds. Hopefully he keeps his balance, and if he does I predict that Onosho is little more than a speed bump to another double digit tournament.

Kakuryu vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku is a shadow of his former self, but their career 22-24 record indicates these two are usually evenly matched. Kakuryu has been smooth and strong since the start of Hatsu, but Kotoshogiku’s recent wins have likely given him a needed confidence boost.

Hatsu Day 5 Preview

Kisenosato Worried

Day 4 was a fantastic day of sumo, the kind of day that makes a sumo fan wish they could see the entire 2 hour makuuchi broadcast. Perhaps one day? We can always dream.

Hakuho seems to have injured himself once more, and I would guess will push to go kyujo. Terunofuji’s medical slip for his kyujo recommends 1 week rest, implying that we could see him again in week 2 making a desperate bid to save himself from a demotion to juryo. With his health more or less out of control at this point, Terunofuji is a long way from his earlier Ozeki self.

Day 5 brings a close to the first act of Hatsu. Readers may recall that I divide the 15 day basho into three distinct 5 day arcs, as they always seem to form a pattern. The first act being where everyone shakes off the dust and settles into their “full power” sumo, and we get to see who is hot and who is not. Act two are where hopes get smashed and dreams get crushed. It’s also where we start to track the leaders, and look into the race for the Emperor’s cup. The second act contains the all important middle weekend, where the scheduling team usually tries to narrow the field through exciting matches between rikishi with strong winning records.

What We Are Watching Day 5

Kyokutaisei vs Asanoyama – Kyokutaisei comes up from Juryo to fill the empty slot left by Terunofuji. He faces an undefeated Asanoyama, who is looking very solid so far. Is it just me, or is Maegashira 12-17 really turning in some great sumo this basho? I know we talk about the tadpoles a lot (with good reason) but this class of rikishi really seem to be doing well, and dare I say it, having a lot of fun? Is sumo allowed to be fun?

Ishiura vs Ryuden – Ishiura hit the clay on day 4 in a surprising loss to Nishikigi, but day 5 he gets Ryuden, who in spite of his 1-3 record seems to be eager to battle each time on the dohyo. I am sure that Ryuden wants to stay in Makuuchi, so I expect him to dial up the intensity starting now.

Abi vs Kagayaki – Oh yes please! Abi seems capable of surprising any opponent thus far, where Kagayaki is sort of Kisenosato 2.0, steady, focused, straight ahead sumo with a lot of power behind it. Sure, Kagayaki is young and is not at Kisenosato skill or strength levels yet. Abi however, seems to be surprisingly adaptive, and fast on his feet. Could be a great match.

Kotoyuki vs Sokokurai – Kotoyuki has quietly put together a 3-1 record to start the basho. During his tour of Juryo in 2017, he was a mess. He seemed to constantly be injured and on a knife edge of further demotion. Now he is back in Makuuchi, and actually doing well enough. He faces the Kyushu Juryo Yusho winner, Sokokurai, who seems to be more than a little overwhelmed. Their career 7-1 record favors Kotoyuki.

Shohozan vs Chiyomaru – Big Guns Shohozan takes on the incredibly large Chiyomaru. I am sure that Shohozan can and possibly will squat press Chiyomaru, but with both of these men at 3-1, the workout is more likely to be blistering tsuppari with a side of uwatenage.

Okinoumi vs Endo – Okinoumi Seems to be in good enough physical condition, but thus far he has not quite been able to get his sumo to click. Fans may remember Nagoya 2016, where Okinoumi ripped up the San’yaku battle fleet before his injuries turned him into a cuddly petting zoo refugee. Endo on the other hand is cranked up and pushing higher for Osaka. They are evenly matched, with a career record of 5-4 slightly favoring Endo.

Shodai vs Ichinojo – Two giant, somewhat puffy and bloated men in blue mawashi. One is a bit slow and clumsy, and the other is frequently struggling to execute a decent tachiai. I have no clue what will happen here, but whatever it is, it will happen slowly.

Takakeisho vs Onosho – Yeah, let’s put the two angriest tadpoles in a bucket and let them battle! An idea so magical, it could result in a fantastic match. These two are actually real life friends, and have been working through sumo together for quite some time. But both are fierce competitors. I would give a slight advantage to Takakeisho, as he seems to be more “dialed in” right now.

Mitakeumi vs Tamawashi – Sekiwake fight! Tamawashi, who used to hold the East slot, takes his Oshi offense to the face and bulbous thorax of Mitakeumi, who has no intention of letting Tamawashi smudge his flawless 4-0 record. Mitakeumi holds an 8-2 career advantage.

Hokutofuji vs Takayasu – Forgive me, Takayasu fans, but I might make you mad. I think Takayasu has lost touch with the core of his sumo. His Tochinoshin match of day 4 was full of mistakes, and I think he really needs to focus on his fundamentals, which when he works in them, are outstanding. Hokutofuji comes in with a 1-3 record, but he’s been on a steady diet of Yokozuna sumo, and surviving fairly well. In fact, Takayasu has NEVER beaten Hokutofuji. Good grief.

Goeido vs Tochinoshin – Gut check time for Goeido! He knows he can’t go chest to chest with this beast of a man, so he’s got to stay mobile. When he does that, he tends to try and pull, and when he does that, he tends to lose. I will be interested to see if Tochinoshin has Goeido so psyched out that Goeido reverts to his buggy 1.0 software.

Hakuho vs Kotoshogiku – Hakuho has foot problems, and can’t transmit power to ground. I wonder if Kotoshogiku is feeling genki enough for his back bend, now that he dropped his arch-foe Kisenosato. For a healthy Hakuho, this is a straighforward win. But as-is, Kotoshogiku has a fair chance of another Kinboshi.

Kakuryu vs Chiyotairyu – Only really interesting because I am curious to see what Kakuryu does to put the big Sumo Elvis down. Kakuryu is fighting really well this basho, and if he can remain uninjured he will have a fantastic and convincing return to active status.

Yoshikaze vs Kisenosato – Even though Yoshikaze defeated Hakuho on Day 4, he still looks about a fraction of his normal self. Kisenosato has been high and unable to generate any arm strength on his go-to weapon, his left hand. Fair chance of another Yoshikaze kinboshi today.

Hatsu Day 4

Hakuho-Down

It wouldn’t be much* of an exaggeration to say that today’s Makuuchi matches consisted entirely of highlights.

Daiamami – Myogiryu. In the initial clash, Daiamami secures a good, strong, overhand left grip, and although the uwatenage attempt doesn’t send Myogiryu over, it does turn him around so Daiamami can easily show him out.

Ishiura – Nishikigi. Ishiura’s tachiai is quite low – not a proper submarine, but enough to get his head planted into Nishikigi’s chest. But Nishikigi gets an arm hooked under Ishiura’s chin to lever him upright, and soon has the smaller rikishi on the bales. Ishiura realizes he can’t win the test of strength, grabs the left arm with both hands and pulls hard (from the position, I’d almost say he was trying for something like an Ipponzeoi shoulder throw). But he can’t manage it – Daiamami’s footing is just too good, and Ishiura tumbles out of the ring.

Abi – Ryuden. This could be the bout of the day! Abi’s go-big-or-go-home tsuppari versus Ryuden’s beltwork. Abi has to give a lot of ground to keep Ryuden off the belt, trying for slap-downs which get Ryuden stumbling but not down. Just as it looks like he’s in real trouble at the bales, he manages to hook the back of Ryuden’s neck and pull him down and forward while sidestepping. That’s enough to get a good overarm mawashi grip and roll him down with an uwatenage.

Asanoyama – Yutakayama. Asanoyama might be Mr Happy, but he’s taking his sumo seriously, battling through some face-rearranging pushes to get a very deep left underarm grip. Yutakayama fights back with a credible attempt at gaburi-yori, but it leaves him off-balance, allowing Asanoyama to swing him around and out. Tomorrow, Asanoyama’s opponent is J1w Kyokutaisei, against whom he has two wins and no losses, so I would not be at all surprised to see him undefeated a third of the way in and competing for the yusho from Maegashira 16. Again.

Takekaze – Daiesho. Daiesho looks eager to start! He opens with a powerful oshi attack, but once he’s chest-to-chest with Takekaze, he doesn’t relent for a moment. This bout is all Daiesho, and he looks great.

Sokokurai – Kagayaki. A short one. Right after the tachi-ai, Sokokurai finds himself unbalanced by a double-handed shove, and the match is over a split second later. Sokokurai may be a victim of over-promotion; the competition in Makuuchi is much stronger than the guys that he minced for the Juryo yusho recently.

Kotoyuki – Daishomaru. From the tachiai, you might be expecting a repeat of Daiesho’s bout. Daishomaru has his hands down well in advance, and launches straight into a thrusting attack – but apparently Kotoyuki had been watching that one too. He turns to the left, putting a hand just below Daishomaru’s left shoulder to help him along, and Daishomaru’s enthusiastic tsuppari just results in him staggering past his opponent. Kotoyuki gives him a finishing shove a moment later.

Shohozan – Aminishiki. I really thought Uncle Sumo had this one for a moment! His slap-down doesn’t work, but he goes straight into a throw attempt, assisting his kotenage by lifting Shohozan’s leg with his foot. Unfortunately for the old man of sumo, Shohozan’s balance is just a bit too good. He gets his leg back down and it’s Aminishiki who goes over. Excellent throw counter from Shohozan.

Chiyomaru – Kaisei. Slow-motion replay not required as two rikishi who really need to lose some weight shove each other glacially around the dohyo. Chiyomaru’s “hikiotoshi” win is really more of a sidestep, Kaisei toppling like a column with very little help.

Chiyoshoma – Tochiozan. Chiyoshoma seems to be going for the rarely-seen kubinage (headlock throw), but he just can’t do anything about Tochiozan’s incredibly deep inside right grip, and is powered out. Their fifth honbasho meeting, and Tochiozan has now won all five.

Chiyonokuni – Ikioi. Ikioi finally picks up a win, surviving first a kotenage and then an uwatenage attempt on the way to forcing Chiyonokuni out.

Okinoumi – Takarafuji. Takarafuji’s seventh straight win against Okinoumi. He quickly gets a good, deep Hidari-yotsu (left hand under, right hand over) grip, and Okinoumi can’t break it, can’t establish a good grip of his own, and can’t keep himself low enough to resist being shoved out.

Endo – Arawashi. Endo does a fantastic job of preventing Arawashi from getting a good mawashi grip while forcing him back. Arawashi’s foot slides wildly on the clay, and his desperation hatakikomi attempt doesn’t work. It seems he realizes he’s done, and steps out.

Chiyotairyu – Shodai. This was the big let-down of the day. Chiyotairyu’s knee buckles less than a second into the bout, without Shodai doing a thing, and he hits the clay. Tsukihiza; take a drink.

Mitakeumi – Takakeisho. Mitakeumi grabs a handful of mawashi on the tachi-ai but can’t keep it, and a strong back-and-forth oshi-zumo battle breaks out. It ends with a perfectly-timed backstep from Mitakeumi, sending Takakeisho pitching forwards to the clay.

Onosho – Tamawashi. Onosho seems to cotton on to what he’s doing wrong, and despite several slap-down attempts from Tamawashi, doesn’t lose his footing. After some vigorous oshi-zumo, it’s Onosho who gets the hatakikomi win!

Goeido – Hokutofuji. The first half of this bout was cringe-worthy as Goeido retreated, looking for hatakikomi and hikiotoshi opportunities, letting Hokutofuji control the pace of the bout and looking like he was heading for an inglorious defeat. Thankfully for him and for all of us who enjoy his sumo, he apparently managed to reboot in the middle of the bout and started moving forward again. He secured an ottsuke to keep Hokutofuji’s right arm off the mawashi, drove him back, and pitched him out.

Tochinoshin – Takayasu. Two of the biggest, strongest rikishi collide with earthquake-like force. Takayasu had to retreat to keep Tochinoshin off the mawashi – including a nail-biting toes-on-the-tawara moment – but the big Georgian resisted the slap-down attempts and eventually caught up to him and got a strong belt grip. Takayasu, of course, is big and strong enough that he can fight Tochinoshin in a yotsu battle (although apparently he’d rather not). Tochinoshin pulls, Takayasu pushes, and the Ozeki runs out of balance a split-second before his opponent runs out of dohyo. A very, very close fourth win for Tochinoshin, and a very impressive bout from both of them.

Kakuryu – Ichinojo. Kakuryu looks awesome so far. And, full credit to Ichinojo, he battled on the tawara for a lot longer than he usually does! He even got the Yokozuna back to the bales early in the match, but he couldn’t finish it, and Kakuryu was able to force him out. No reactive sumo or tricks here, just straightforward yorikiri against the biggest man in the division.

Kotoshogiku – Kisenosato. Oh dear. Kotoshogiku locks up quickly with little resistance from Kisenosato and gets the gaburi-yori rolling. The Yokozuna isn’t so easy to move, though, and even away from the tawara, Kotoshogiku is bouncing away to little visible effect. He changes tactics and goes for a throw – and, amazingly, it works. Kisenosato hits the clay. While I’m happy to see Kotoshogiku earn a win (and a kinboshi), I’m rather worried that this may be Kisenosato’s last basho.

Hakuho – Yoshikaze. Are we sure this is Hakuho? He can’t muster sufficient force to drive Yoshikaze back, and when he goes for the retreating slap-down, it’s Yoshikaze who slaps him down. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a loss like that from the dai-yokozuna.

*Goddamnit Chiyotairyu.