As we count down the days until the Natsu basho kicks off in Tokyo, rikishi are preparing to battle it out for the tournament’s 15 days. In training we have seen alarming problems for Takayasu, who collapsed in pain during training at Tagonoura,but later seemed to recover. We have also seen Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin confess to a right shoulder injury during the jungyo tour, that may cause him significant problems as he pushes for double digit wins.
Perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato seems to be doing better, but is (in my opinion) doubtful for this tournament. In reports from Herouth, there has been some kabu shuffling as of late, which could indicate that he has owned up to the prospects of ever recovering full use of his left arm, and is seeking a dignified exit from the dohyo, and a transition into coaching, running a stable or other role within the NSK.
Meanwhile, compact powerhouse Ishi-ura became the father of a baby at 3:30 AM Japan time. Both mother and child are doing well, and we congratulate the new father on his family. Former sekitori Osunaarashi has decided to switch to mixed martial arts (MMA), and we will likely see him in battle again before too long. We wish the big Egyptian luck, but recognize the battered condition his body was in during his final tournaments, and urge him find a way to stay healthy.
You want more from today’s soken? Josh and Nicola are attending, and Nicola is posting lots of great photos!
The board decided to issue a recommendation to retire, which is the second most severe punishment for members’ misconduct in the NSK’s arsenal. In addition, his severance pay will be docked 30%.
Osunaarashi has already handed in his retirement documents before the board meeting. The NSK will now formally accept them.
And so ends the career of the first representative of Africa in the sumo world. Osunaarashi joined the sumo world in 2012, and by the end of 2013 was already in Makuuchi. He was the first sumo wrestler in the modern era to win kinboshi on two consecutive days.
Now appearing on the NSK web site, the official banzuke for the Kyushu basho, starting two weeks from today. Some notable elements include Terunofuji as Sekiwake 2E (“Ozekiwake”), Mitakeumi holds fast at Sekiwake 1E, Kotoshogiku returns to San’yaku in the Komusubi 1E slot, Onosho has his first try at San’yaku, and Takakeisho is at Maegashira 1.
Further down the banzuke, we have Aminishiki (aka Uncle Sumo) back in Makuuchi, Asanoyama levitating to Maegashira 11, and Ura still listed at Maegashira 16, even though I would be surprised if he shows up.
The story in Juryo is pretty interesting, Egyptian Osunaarashi somehow manages to hang onto a Juryo slot and is posted to Juryo 13, followed by Takagenji and Yao. Meanwhile Ishiura is ejected from Makuuchi, and appears as Juryo 1.
Meanwhile, as predicted, the Texas sumotori Wakaichiro is confirmed as promoted to Sandanme 85, and will fight at his highest rank ever.
Again, our forecast expert scored many direct hits in his banzuke forecast, and fans should feel free to compare them side by side. Hats off to lksumo!
The crew will likely have our banzuke podcast up before long, be ready!
Sumo fans may note that after most basho, there is a tour of regional cities by a cadre of available sumotori. They demonstrate their practice techniques, some of the culture and activities around sumo, and even sing songs! We have written on this in the past, and it’s known as Jungyo, literally “Making the rounds”.
But after Natsu, there is no Jungyo. The rikishi have 6 weeks to train with intensity, to undergo medical care, fly home to wherever that may be, or just take care of business. There are a handful of Makuuchi rikishi I am going to scan the press for daily, in hopes of catching some news:
Kisenosato – This guy needs surgical help. If he goes under the knife now, he could be back in fighting form in time for Aki. I really want him to be able to perform, as he would make such an awesome counterbalance to the resurgent Hakuho. The cultural counterpoint between the brash, enthusiastic Mongolian showman vs the quiet, almost bookish, but overflowing with confidence and strength Japanese master craftsman would be such a wonderful story arc.
Harumafuji – Not sure there is much that can fix his chronic undercarriage problems. He plays, perhaps, the most critical role in sumo right now. That of “the Hammer”. On any given day he can wipe out even Hakuho. He is explosive, relentless and driven to succeed. No one can advance to or survive San’yaku unless they can face him on the dohyo and put up a decent fight. As such, I hope there is something that can be done to get him well. I don’t see anyone in Makuuchi that might be able to take over this role.
Goeido – This guy is still not 100%, and frankly I don’t know if he ever can be once he had his ankle rebuilt out of lego and superglue. I would be delighted if he never went Kadoban again.
Terunofuji – The knee-less wonder somehow managed to keep on the offensive during Hatsu, even though it was clear to everyone that each day the pain in his knees became worse. When he is healthy he is an unstoppable beast of an Ozeki, and that’s very good news for sumo. Surgical knee treatment is very much hit or miss, so I don’t blame Terunofuji for seeing if there is some way to avoid it.
Okinoumi – This guy has been competing in spite of a very serious personal injury that would require surgery and about 4 weeks hospitalization to resolve. Would he still be able to compete once they are done with him? I don’t know. But it’s brutal to watch him mount the dohyo and get pummeled daily. I can’t imagine how brutal it is for him.
Tochinoshin – He’s in the same boat at Terunofuji. That knee has been his bane for a while now. With it working and healthy, he fights at at least upper Maegashira level. Hurt he’s day by day between upper Juryo and mid Maegashira. It would be great to see him return healthy and not face any further leg and foot problems.
Osunaarashi – I wish we could pull this guy out of sumo for a few months and let him get healthy. He’s another dauntless competitor whose spirit won’t give up, but his body seems to be failing him. But such a move would likely end his career effectively. But out of everyone on this list, he seems to possibly be the most in need. He has not been healthy for several basho now.
As always, we accept tips in the comments section if you read something that helps us know and share with the world how these or any rikishi are faring over the next 6 weeks before we start Nagoya basho.
As we begin the last 5 days of this awesome tournament, it’s time to check up on a few of our story threads
Takayasu’s Ozeki Run – I would declare this on uncertain footing but still quite possible. Takayasu needs to face another Yokozuna who is currently unbeaten, and both Ozeki, one of which is operating in kaiju mode. That leaves him with 2-3 plausible wins, so still possible.
Injured Yokozuna Corps – Kakuryu already has withdrawn. He is probably facing pressure now to retire. He can in fact hang his hopes of delaying that by his November yusho in Fukuoka. Kisenosato insists on competing even though he lacks the strength in his upper body to present a reasonable threat to the upper San’yaku. Harumafuji and Hakuho have reverted to their genki forms, and are unbeaten and undeterred. It’s wonderful to see them both back to their former potency, and we are reminded of how they dominated everything sumo for years.
No-Zeki – Goeido is kadoban, this tournament, and is only 6-4 as of today. It’s not too far of a stretch to think he can pick up 2 more wins, but that’s very weak performance for an Ozeki. This week he faces all 3 Yokozuna, so I would guess at least 2 more losses are inbound. His match with Tamawashi may be the decider. Terunofuji on the other hand seems to be in the same mode he was in during Osaka. That of a rampaging sumo powerhouse with unbeatable strength. He has yet to face any Yokozuna, and I am guessing that he has a fair chance of beating any of them, except Kisenosato. I think he could actually injure Kisenosato.
Mitakeumi’s Komisubi Residency – He was out to strong start, but then hit some very rough patches. Now, Mitakeumi is in real danger of going make-koshi and being pushed back to rank and file Maegashira. I personally don’t think that’s going to harm him, as there is still a bunch of brush clearing that needs to take place in San’yaku before the promotion lanes are actually open. He has faced all of the Ozeki, but still needs to get by Harumafuji on day 11. After that he should draw some easier matches, and may end up 8-7 if he is not too discouraged.
Ojisan Kotoshogiku – We are at day 10, and he is still not make-koshi. His next loss seals his demotion, but he has faced both Ozeki and all three Yokozuna. Is it possible he can win his last 5 matches and escape demotion? Yes, but it would be highly improbably. But look at who he is likely to face: Chiyonokuni (2-8), Okinoumi (1-9!), Daieisho (2-8), Aoiyama (2-8)? We get to Tochiozan before we find a rikishi who is looking strong. So don’t write of Kotoshogiku yet. Then there is the thought of a Shodai – Kotoshogiku match, which might be a big deal.
Upper Maegashira Blood Bath – Ranks M1 – M5 contain 10 rikishi, only 3 of them have even or winning records. This is not atypical by any means, as the upper Maegashira are frequently the punching bags of the San’yaku, but the last few basho had been relatively gentle on these folks. But Natsu has brought the pain back with vengeance.
Juryo Meat Grinder – Upper Juryo is in worse shape than anything I have seen in some time. None of the top 6 Juryo ranks has anyone with more than 6 wins. Without a strong leader or leaders, it throws the promotion picture into chaos. It’s clear that a number of rikishi will be booted out of Makuuchi, but are any of these Juryo guys worthy to replace them?
Osunaarashi In Trouble – He is 1-9 right now. Given that the NSK has given him brutal demotions in the past, it’s reasonable to ask how far down the banzuke he will fall. It was clear from watching him in person that his multiple, unrecovered injuries have robbed him of the physical presence he used to command.
* Note, we are almost to the point where the math required for anyone to catch Hakuho or Harumafuji becomes unworkable.
Matches We Like
Kaisei vs Toyohibiki – In spite of his injuries, it seems Kaisei decided he is not going back to Juryo, no matter what. He needs 2 more wins to make that a reality. He has a 10-5 career advantage over Toyohibiki.
Tochinoshin vs Tokushoryu – Tokushoryu trying for kachi-koshi against a resurgent Tochinoshin. I am looking for Tochinoshin to employ his massive strength and size advantage if he can grab the mawashi, Tochinoshin will be thrusting with everything to keep the big Georgian away.
Chiyotairyu vs Takakeisho – Less of a mismatch than a M7 vs M14 bout should be. If Takakeisho wins, he claims his kachi-koshi. But Chiyotairyu has beaten him 2 out of their 3 times they have matched before. I would guess Chiyotairyu is going to try for a quick slap down before Takakeisho can set his feet and start his sumo.
Ura vs Shodai – Also a match likely better than you would expect with a M10 vs M5 bout. Ura deploy his quantum sumo against Shodai’s flawed tachiai. As Ura will probably go low and crazy, it’s going to be fun to see how Shodai reacts. This is their first ever match. May be the best match of day 11.
Endo vs Yoshikaze – Time to see if Endo learned anything from the Mitakeumi vs Yoshikaze bout. I am guessing he did not. Interestingly enough, these two are tied 5-5 over their career. Endo is looking a bit off now, and may be hurt, where Yoshikaze seems to actually be enjoying himself almost as much as Hakuho is.
Kotoshogiku vs Chiyonokuni – Yes, Chiyonokuni is already make-koshi, but he has not been phoning in his matches. He has stepped on the dohyo each day with a plan to win, and he has given it his all. Kotoshogiku has a narrow path to hold onto Sekiwake, and the next step is defeating Chiyonokuni.
Tochiozan vs Takayasu – This is a must win for Takayasu. Given the brutality of the rest of his schedule, he needs to bank this win. Tochiozan is stronger this basho than he has looked since Nagoya 2016, so it’s not a foregone conclusion. Also of note is Tochiozan leads the career matches 18-5, so he has a habit of beating Takayasu. Much as Kintamayama seems to play on it, it does seem true that Takayasu is a chronic worrier, and it may restrain his sumo on day 11.
Terunofuji vs Aoiyama – The only question is what look of pain Aoiyama will have on his face moments after the tachiai. Kailua for the win over the man shaped meat mountain.
Hakuho vs Goeido – Only Goeido 2.0 has a chance here, and it would be so very magical if he appeared and battled Hakuho to a win. But reality says Hakuho is going to play with Goeido for a bit, then toss him around. Success here means that Goeido can come out of it without an injury.
Harumafuji vs Mitakeumi – I am still hoping to see the death-spin. It’s been many months since Harumafuji tried to put a man in orbit, and I do so hope he can pull that one out this basho. Mitakeumi is still going to be a big deal in a while, but day 11 he gets to “enjoy” Harumafuji.
Kisenosato vs Tamawashi – Although Kisenosato has won all 9 of their prior meetings, Tamawashi has a fair chance against the one-armed Yokozuna. I am still looking for Kisenosato to do the responsible thing and go kyujo.
Two key criteria for developing good predictions are: (1) quantitative evaluation of the prediction and (2) accountability. With that in mind, I take a look at how my banzukeprediction performed.
Upper San’yaku was “chalk” as expected. In the lower San’yaku, I (and other predictions on this site) correctly had Yoshikaze filling the komusubi slot vacated by Shodai. I don’t understand the order of the three sekiwake ranks, as it appears unchanged despite the very different performances at Haru that had all of us predicting the order as Takayasu 1E, Kotoshogiku 1W and Tamawashi 2E.
In the maegashira ranks, of the 31 predictions, I had 11 “bulls-eyes” (correct rank and side” and 3 more correct rank predictions. This is way fewer than I expected or would have liked. The 17 misses were mostly not too bad: 13 missed by one rank, 3 missed by two ranks, and I had Osunaarashi (J1) moving up to M16 and Myogiryu (M15) dropping to J1.
There are three parts to the prediction: the computed ranks, tie-breaking among rikishi with identical ranks, and the departures I make from the computed ranks based on past banzuke patterns. Let’s look at these in turn.
The computed ranks were quite accurate: the official banzuke departs from these in only a couple of places. The computed rank would have Takarafuji at M3, but because of his make-koshi at that rank at Haru, the prediction and the banzuke moved him down to M4. Shodai (one of my two-rank misses) should be down at M7, and I still feel like the NSK cut him way too much slack after his 4-11 performance. And Arawashi and Ishiura would switch sides (but not ranks).
My tie-breaker was higher rank at Haru. This largely resulted in both of my other two-rank misses, as Takanoiwa should have been ranked above Tochiozan (and Aoiyama) by this rule. Presumably his 6-9 record at Haru led to his being dropped further down, although this is not necessarily consistent with past banzuke patterns. In a number of other cases, the tie-breaker got the relative order right, and I will need to look closely to see if the tie-break part of the prediction can be improved.
So, on to the departures from the computed rank order. One rule that resulted in many of my misses was to drop rikishi with 7-8 make-koshi records one spot from their rank at Haru, even if the computed rank would have them retaining their rank. This has often (but not always) been done in past banzuke. Although this rule correctly placed Takarafuji at M4, it placed Kagayaki, Tochinoshin, Ishiura and Daishomaru one slot too low, which also led to one-rank misses in the other direction for Ura, Arawashi, Kotoyuki and Onosho. It seems that the NSK is inconsistent in this scenario, and I’ll have to see if any pattern can be identified.
So overall, I am happy with my computed ranks, need to think more about the tie-break procedure, and need to be more careful with subjective departures from the computed ranks (this also includes demoting Myogiryu in favor of promoting Osunaarashi, even though Myogiryu had a better computed rank).
Others can chime in with how they fared. There will be another opportunity to predict the Nagoya banzuke after Natsu is the in books, and in the meantime we’ll have some actual sumo to watch!
*Updated after reader lksumo pointed out that my spreadsheet had somehow skipped special prize winner Takakeisho. This caused a complete re-compute of the lower 8 ranks.
In the last of our series prognosticating the banzuke for Natsu, we take a look at the lower half Makuuchi, including the rikishi who are likely to be demoted down to Juryo and promoted out of Juryo to the upper division.
As stated in the prior posts, the records at the end of Haru left a chaotic mess for predicting the Natsu banzuke. There were a number of strong finishers in Juryo, and a lot of losing records in Makuuchi. In fact the lower Maegashira suffered a preponderance of losing records, and in fact it was difficult this basho not to promote rikishi with losing records, simply because there were so few winning records, and most of those had already moved up the banzuke into upper Maegashira.
Gone from the upper division is Nishikigi, who had been a lower Maegashira for some time. He will go back to Juryo to adjust and try again. His rank velocity was a horrific -7.5, as he went 5-10 in March. Also back to Juryo is Chiyoo, who was injured and withdrew on day 11, after already having secured his make-koshi. We hope he has recovered and is ready to dominate in Juryo.
Also gone from Maegashira is Sadanoumi who had a 4-11 record in March. His rank velocity was -7, and he was tagged for a return to Juryo fairly early on. Joining him is Mongolian Kyokushuho, whose 5-10 record from Maegashira 14 was his ticket back to the second division.
Joining Makuuchi from Juryo is a set of hard charging rikishi ready to compete in the top division. Chief among these is Juryo yusho winner Toyohibiki, who returns after a single basho in Juryo. Tachiai also predicts that veteran Chiyotairyu’s winning record will return him to lower Maegashira as well.
We also predict that Onomatsu beya’s Onosho will be making his Makuuchi debut. This up-and-comer has been in Juryo for 13 tournaments, and finally appears to be ready to join the top division. When filling in the banzuke, it was clear that there needed to be one more name kept in Makuuchi, or brought up from Juryo. I am going out on a limb here, but I am going to predict that Osunaarashi will make his return once more to the top division.
Running everyone’s scores through the magic computations gives us the following list:
First up at Maegashira 8; Hokutofuji, who drops 2 ranks after turning in his first career losing record. Hokutofuji displays significant skill, strength and fighting spirit. I am going to assume that he will start Natsu with a burning desire to continue his march up the banzuke. At 8 west we find Shohozan, who is part of Kisenosato’s dohyo-iri team. He drops 5 places from Maegashira 3, after receiving a brutal pounding in March.
At Maegashira 9 we find Arawashi who suffered a 5 rank demotion after going 4-11. Arawashi has a lot of potential, but for some reason he was out of his element in Osaka. Joining him is Mongolian giant Ichinojo, who drops from Meagashira 7. In spite of a strong losing record, he was actually less terrible than some of his peers, so his demotion is less severe.
Journeyman Kagayaki, who is still struggling to put together a winning plan for surviving his Makuuchi bouts, holds the east slot for Maegashira 10. Ura was one of the few bright spots in March’s lower Maegashira, and he rises 2 ranks to take the west slot of the 10th rank.
Leading Meagashira 11 is Tochinoshin, who has been seriously hurt for a few tournaments now, and is a shadow of his former self. Juryo yusho winner Toyohibiki joins in the west slot, and we predict he will feel right at home resuming his Makuuchi duties after a single basho in Juryo.
Ishiura has been struggling to put together a consistent winning strategy for Makuuchi. His compact size, excellent speed and outstanding strength supply him with a lot of building blocks, but we wait for him to come up with a knock-out combination that shows us what he is really capable of. I suspect he may be getting ready to bounce back from a pair of somewhat disappointing tournaments. Joining him, Onosho makes a strong Makuuchi debut at the rank of Maegashira 12.
Kotoyuki, falls 4 ranks given his dismal 5-10 results from the Haru basho to Maegashira 13. Computationally, I suspect that Kotoyuki will be further down the banzuke, but at the present my calculations are a bit fuzzy on where the Juryo promotees will be inserted into Makuuchi. At 13 west, Tokushoryu, who was one of the few kachi-koshi sumotori from March. He gets a bump up 2 ranks and hopefully can turn in a second winning record in May.
For Maegashira 14, Chiyotairyu returns from a single basho in Juryo. He achieved a winning record from Juryo 1 rank, and will return to Maegashira for May. On the west, we find Kaisei still hanging on to a bert in the top division. Kaisei sat out several days of Haru with injuries, and then joined and had a miserable time of it. Somehow this guy is able to evade demotion to Juryo every time, and I predict that he will somehow survive yet again, albeit at a much lower rank.
Daishomaru drops two ranks to Maegashira 15, after a 7-8 result in Osaka. If he has another losing record he will likely return to Juryo to tune himself up. Bring promoted from Juryo is Oyanagi. This will only be his 8th basho! Oyanagi has experienced a meteoric rise, and is now in Makuuchi after only 3 tournaments in Juryo.
Bringing up the final slot in Makuuchi, is my wish-casting of yet another return of the sandstorm, Osunaarashi, to Maegashira. His last Maegashira appearance saw Osunaarashi become injured, and unable to compete strongly. I will be surprised to see him actually re-joing the top division, but as stated earlier, the lower end of Makuuchi ranking was very difficult this time.
That’s Bruce’s guess for Natsu 2017. As always, please feel free to post your ideas too!
In my previous guest post, I made predictions for the Natsu banzuke right after the conclusion of the Haru basho. With the release of the official Natsu banzuke only 10 days away, I thought I’d update my predictions, based partly on the feedback I received from Tachiai readers. In addition to pointing out the inherent unpredictability of the banzuke due to subjective NSK committee decisions, commentersnoted that the committee tends to favor higher-ranked rikishi over lower-ranked ones to a greater extent than my predictions did. With that in mind, here is a second attempt at the Natsu banzuke.
I rank-ordered the rikishi by a score based on their rank in the previous basho and their win-loss record. This score, given in parentheses, roughly corresponds to the rank the wrestler “deserves,” (i.e. 3 = M3), though of course the actual rank is affected by the ranks of others and the need to fill all the slots. So for instance, this time around, even though nobody below Mitakeumi had a score above 3, the KW, M1 and M2 slots still needed to be filled.
I then generally simply filled in the ranks from K1W to M16E in this order, with ties broken in favor of higher rank at Haru. The main consistent departure from this order is that those with make-koshi must drop a rank; this affected Takarafuji, Kagayaki, Tochinoshin, Ishiura, and Daishomaru, who otherwise might have been placed a rank or two higher. Takanoiwa, Ura, Arawashi, Kotoyuki, and Onosho benefited by being ranked a bit higher as a result of this rule.
I’ve indicated other deviations from this rank order by italics. I gave the nod to Endo over Okinoumi for M1W given Endo’s popularity and higher rank. I placed Tochiozan at M6 instead of M5 so that Takekaze and Ikioi, who had identical Haru performances at the same rank, would remain at the same rank. And I brought Osunaarashi back to makuuchi in favor of Myogiryu, who drops to Juryo, along with Sadanoumi, Kyokushuho, Nishikigi, and Chiyoo.
Differences in rank from my previous prediction are in color, red for higher and blue for lower; bold indicates differences of more than one step in rank. These predictions are more sensitive to assumptions about how rikishi with identical or very similar scores are ranked relative to each other, and therefore have lower confidence.
Have at it with your own predictions! I might try to compile how we did after the banzuke is released.
Most of the time the Tachiai crew focuses on Makuuchi, as that’s the extent of what we US based fans get to watch on the NHK highlights. But there is a great story that has been unfolding in the next division down, Juryo.
For the Hatsu basho, he was Maegashira 16, but could not eek out a winning record, and was sent back to Juryo to fight his way back to the upper division. Ranked as Juryo 7, he was likely to face at least 2 tournaments before he could make a bid to return to the top division. But perhaps not.
As of day 10, Osunaarashi has an 8-2 record, and is tied for the Juryo yusho. He has been absolutely dominating his matches, and appears healthy, healed and strong. As Osunaarashi is a favorite of the sumo fans, and Tachiai as well, we are cheering him on and hope he can win back his place in Makuuchi.
Video below of Osunaarashi (Large sand storm) blasting Hidenoumi on day 10.
Story line 1 for Hatsu was the celebration of Egyptian sumotori Osunaarashi’s return to the top division. Osunaarashi had a sponsor arrangement that only really paid out when he was competing in top division matches, so he had a substantial financial incentive to return to Makuuchi. During the Kyushu basho, Osunaarashi drove himself relentlessly to compete in spite of obvious personal injuries and great physical pain. No one could question his devotion to sumo or his fighting spirt. But his injuries overcame him, and on day 13 of Kyushu, he withdrew from the tournament.
In spite of this withdrawal, the Japan Sumo Association gave him a chance for Hatsu basho. It was with great joy that his followers and fans noted that he had made the very last spot: Maegashira 16 East, on the Makuuchi banzuke. Everyone hoped that Osunaarashi would arrive day 1 in good physical condition and ready to compete and hopefully secure a winning record.
Sadly, after a fairly strong start where he defeated a trio of Kokonoe rikishi (M15e Chiyoo, M14e Chiyootori and M14w Chiyotairyu), he proceeded to grow progressively weaker, and more injured day after day. His finishing record was 4 wins, 11 losses: an ugly make-koshi.
This means that Osunaarashi will be deep in the Juryo pack for Osaka, and once again out of the top division. Osunaarashi needs time to heal and recover, or he is likely never to be a serious competitor again. Each basho he seems a bit more damaged, and his performance is declining.
Tachiai hopes that Osunaarashi will find the time to have his injuries addressed, and can return to fighting form.
A hallmark of the Hatsu 2017 basho were the fantastic scores racked up by mid and lower level Maegashira / rank and file rikishi. To followers of sumo, this immediately looks strange, as typically there are 2-3 (at most) stand outs, and the rest is a brutal blood-bath of demotion and make-koshi.
We had 6 rikishi (outside of Yokozuna and Ozeki) who had double digit wins, which is frankly unusual. What happened?
Devastation at the top end of the banzuke. During the second half of the tournament, there was only one functioning Yokozuna and one functioning Ozeki. While two other Ozeki remained in rotation, both were fighting well below Ozeki level, and were not presenting much challenge to anyone.
Not to detract from Kisenosato’s yusho and imminent promotion to Yokozuna, but this basho was perhaps the easiest possible configuration for his victory. The Yokozuna and Ozeki are there to cull the Maegashira and test the San’yaku, and in Hatsu they failed. The result was run-away score inflation by some young, healthy and talented men.
This underscores some important facts about sumo:
Sumo is a combat sport. Unlike what most Americans are used to in terms of wrestling on television, these men are really battling to win, each and every time. When you weigh in excess of 300 pounds and someone throws you off of a 4 foot high clay platform, you may get hurt. Over time these injuries, if not healed or treated, will degrade your performance.
The upper ranks are past their prime on average. Due to the nature of sumo as a combat sport, it is rare that a rikishi can remain truly competitive past age 30. Takekaze is a wonderful and noted exception. The upper 2 ranks (Ozeki and Yokozuna) have been largely static for several years, as the men in the ranks have been exceptional performers, and have dominated the sport in ways unseen in the modern age. For those of us (such as myself) who dearly love to see them perform, the time is coming to say goodbye as the retire and move to coaching and fostering the sport they love
The current sumo year leaves not time for recovery, rest, recuperation or proper medical treatment. With the exception of the Yokozuna, there are no breaks in sumo. You show up and compete every tournament or you face some fairly brutal demotions (for example, Osunaarashi). This means that talented rikishi such as Okinoumi, Terunofuji, Kotoshogiku and possibly many others much continue to compete with injuries that may have been simple to treat at first. But lack of prompt and thorough therapy translated them into performance limiting and eventually career ending problems.
As of the end of Hatsu, we have Yokozuna Kakuryu and Harumafuji, and Ozeki Goeido, Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku injured. The start of the Osaka basho is about 6 weeks away, and the chances that any of the men above will be back to full potential is close to zero.
Sadly, we are looking at what may become a changing of the guard, as high-skill rikishi are forced out by their failing bodies, and a younger, healthier crop of wrestlers step forward to fill the gap.
The second to last day of the January tournament turned in several thrilling matches, as low ranked Maegashira paired off against senior Sekitori to test their potential at future higher ranks. In general the new talent gave a very good showing, and in some cases surprised their senior opponents.
First there were visitors from Juryo today in the upper division, starting with Ura. Clearly Ura liked his first taste of Kensho, and was looking for more. Sadanoumi had a straight ahead approach, but a match with Ura requires improvisation. Juryo Daieisho also showed a great deal of poise and balance in his win over Takakeisho, having him his make-koshi (ouch!). The battle looked all Takakeisho until Daieisho executed a stunning thrust / throw at the tawara.
Ishiura’s dirty henka over Osunaarashi was demeaning, and Osunaarashi’s icy glare post match told the whole story. It was not like Osunaarashi had the strength in his lower body to offer much of a challenge. This was purely an insult. Chiyoo looked very good handing Kotoyuki his make-koshi, and survived a lot of really well place thrusts from Kotoyuki. Chiyoo eventually got a belt hold and gave Kotoyuki a nice hug-n-chug to exit him from the ring.
Takekaze displayed yet another fantastic, crowd pleasing Judo style throw in his win over Chiyootori, who sadly is now make-koshi and may be headed back to Juryo. Kaisei seems to have finally remembered his sumo, and will possibly save himself from further demotion. It does beg the question of why it seems to take him so many bouts in a tournament to get warmed up. His limited box of moves is “I am enormous and weight more than a side of beef”, so it limits him.
Mitakeumi gets to double digit wins in his blistering match against Hokutofuji, who is certainly fighting strong this basho. Keep an eye on Hokutofuji, as he has yet to turn in a losing record in his sumo career. Much as I worried, Takayasu was surprised by Sokokurai, who executed a fantastic move at the tawara that seems to have embarrassed Takayasu. This should be a lesson to the joi – don’t underestimate Sokokurai.
I felt a bit sorry for Ichinojo taking on Kisenosato. Here is a Maegashira 13 facing the dai-Ozeki, and clearly he is as nervous as can be. After a false start, you can clearly see his composure crumple and drift away. On the second attempt, Kisenosato easily escorts him out. If Ichinojo can stay healthy, and stay at this weight or lower, he has potential. But I fear he may end up like Terunofuji, where his body fails him after a few years. Ikioi picked up his kachi-koshi against poor Kotoshogiku who now carries a double-digit loss, and has nothing left.
Lastly, once again, Takanoiwa defeated Yokozuna Hakuho convincingly. The Yokozuna was driven back, raised up and Takanoiwa applied a series of hip-pumps to push Hakuho out. It was a shocking upset, and re-awakens concerns over Hakuho’s post-surgery strength and endurance.
There was a lot of great sumo action during day 11, and in the and of the day the basho is still waiting for Kisenosato to choke. Most sumo fans (myself included) hope and pray every time he steps in the ring that this time, he will stand fast and carry the day. But history teaches not to hold much hope until about 20 minutes after day 15 is done.
Incredibly enough, Ichinojo is still part of the pack in second place – tied with Hakuho. To underscore the bizzaro nature of Hatsu this year, we are now up to starting day 12, and the yusho race is still pretty much wide open. His opponent day 11 was the battered Osunaarashi, who had Ichinojo hand him his losing record and demotion today. Ichinojo is fighting pretty well now, after a somewhat lethargic start. If he can continue this intensity through a few more tournaments, he will be a real force.
Likewise Sokokurai, also tied for second place with Hakuho, delivered a fantastic bout against Takakeisho, who if fighting better than his 4-7 record would indicate. This is the big big news coming out of Hatsu – there seems to be a real power and skill surge in the lower and middle ranks of Makuuchi, and it is in sharp contrast to the weakness that is plaguing the Ozeki and Yokozuna ranks.
Another example, that blistering battle between Hokutofuji and Chiyotairyu. Chiyotairyu really needs to bring some new tactics to his sumo. It seemed the only thing he wants to try is pulling and slapping down his opponents. Hokutofuji, on the other hand, was damn impressive. He showed outstanding balance and ring sense under Chiyotairyu’s attack. Hokutofuji took his time and waited for an opening, then attacked. Both of these rikishi are college competitors, but Hokutofuji has been outstanding this basho.
But there was more, Takanoiwa (also tied with Hakuho for 2nd place) won a raging battle with Chiyoshoma. They bout covered the dohyo, with both men trying to throw each other repeatedly. Fantastic sumo from both.
Mitakeumi fever is gripping the Kokugikan, each day there seems to be a larger phalanx of Mitakeumi fans, all of them cheering their hearts out for him. Today Takekaze threw all of his tricks into the bout, and Mitakeumi did not fall for any of the side step or slap down attempts. Mitakeumi just kept pushing the attack, and moving forward. Mitakeumi earned his kachi-koshi today, so it’s time to see how many wins he can rack up.
Takayasu also hit kachi-koshi today in his win over Shodai, which was quite a one sided match. It’s now time to see if he can get to 10 or 11 wins and start another Ozeki campaign.
But the big match was Kisenosato vs Endo. I know most fans thought the Dump Truck got into trouble, and maybe he did. But I watch that match in awe of that win. Endo had the moves and mechanics to beat him, but when it came time for Endo to close the deal he could not. There was just too much Kisenosato to move. At time Kisenosato shows almost perfect defensive form, and it’s a thing of beauty. It’s kind of amazing to watch him lower his center of gravity to make himself immobile and yet remain highly combative. Props to Endo for having the mechanics, but not the leverage to move Kise.
The front ⅔ of Hatsu basho is complete. Now we enter the final act where heros are crowned and dreams get crushed.
Everyone is thinking it, but no one wants to say it. Kisenosato stands a good chance of winning this one, but he is expected to find a way to choke out and fumble what may be his best chance ever to finally claim a tournament championship. The most spectacular form this could take would be to lose to Hakuho sometime in the next few days, creating a tie (possibly a multi-way tie) for the lead. Nearly every sumo fan world wide would love to see that happen almost as much as they would feel satisfied that Kisenosato finally won a yusho. Hey, if it can happen for the Chicago Cubs, it can happen for Kisenosato.
Meanwhile today is the day that Kotoshogiku can get his make-koshi and finally end all of the drama around his perpetual kadoban status. I really enjoy watching Kotoshogiku fight, but if Ozeki is not a standard, it’s just a meaningless fancy name. There is big talk about him mounting a campaign in March for a 10 win return to Ozeki, but I am going to assume that he takes retirement with honor and dignity. All of that hinges on Kakuryu actually being up to the task of beating him. Which is far from certain.
Osunaarashi vs Ichinojo – broken and battered Osunaarashi likely to get his make-koshi today at the hands of the giant Mongolian. I dearly hope he immediately withdraws from the tournament and checks into a hospital or physical therapy center to get repaired. He has top-flight rikishi spirit in a broken down body.
Hokutofuji vs Chiyotairyu – I am expecting Hokutofuji to get his kachi-koshi today. Hokutofuji is looking very solid this basho, and I hope it’s the way he will be from here on out.
Takekaze vs Mitakeumi – Oh yes, this could be a fun fun bout. You have fired up youngster Mitakeumi against henka champ and all around unpredictable Takekaze. Definitely one to watch
Takayasu vs Shodai – Takayasu is on a mission to get 10 wins or more. Doing so will likely re-start his Ozeki campaign, which is his total focus. Shodai needs to learn to overcome Takayasu’s sumo, which I think is fairly tough to do given that he has the stamina of a bull elephant. One shame with Takayasu and Kiseonsato being from the same stable is that we never get to see them fight. I would bet that Takayasu takes a fair share of their in-house matches.
Ikioi vs Goeido – Winner gets his kachi-koshi. Ikioi seems to have a driving hunger this basho that he was previously not able to transmit to action. Goeido seems to be back in his grove, and will be tough to beat. This is also a really good match to watch.
Kisenosato vs Endo – This could be the match that brings the Kisenosato train to a sputtering close. Endo is just the guy to do it, too.
Kakuryu vs Kotoshogiku – Kakuryu is in trouble, a Yokozuna being 5-5 at this stage means he is probably hurt again, which is a terrible shame because I really like the fierce one from Kyushu.
Osunaarashi faced off against the Sadanoumi in the first Makuuchi bout of day 10. This was a long and difficult match, and clearly Osunaarashi is fighting with a lot of pain from his chronic injuries. Sadanoumi is looking good now, and I really hope he can keep this level of sumo and begin again to improve. Osunaarashi now one loss from make-koshi and certain return to Juryo.
Chiyoo showed some very nice work against the massive Aoiyama, who continues to struggle with anything other than a straight pushing attack. Arawashi’s bout against Shohozan was a thing of beauty, with Arawashi employing a great arm bar throw (tottari). Arawashi seems to have found his strength and his sumo, and is now fighting with vigor and purpose.
In a battle of the up and comings, Mitakeumi beat Shodai, though both rikishi put forth some solid effort. The battle was fast paced and highly mobile. Whatever Mitakeumi did to prepare for Hatsu, it was the right formula – more of that.
The Kisenosato bout showed that in spite of his injuries, Terunofuji is not giving one inch to anyone. He went into the match with a loose mawashi, and it was effective, making Kisenosato work to gain control of the big Mongolian Terunofuji. But Kisenosato got inside, got low – he was not going to make the same mistake he made against Kotoshogiku. Kisenosato lowered his hips and applied force, and won. He remains the sole leader
Goeido showed great skill and ring sense in defeating the struggling Kotoshogiku. He pressed Kotoshogiku back to the bales, and as Kotoshogiku began to ramp up a thrusting counter attack, Goeido used that force to propel Kotoshogiku into the throw as he stepped aside. Nice sumo from the Aki champion. Kimarite was katasukashi – under-shoulder swing down
Now I wonder if Hakuho has re-injured his legs or feet. In the past three days his sumo has been defensive rather than mostly offense, which is his style. He handled Ikioi with a bit of difficulty, which says that Ikioi is doing better, and Hakuho doing a bit worse. Sumo shines when Hakuho is healthy and winning. So I hope he is physically ok.