Guess the Natsu Banzuke 2.0


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, commenters noted 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.

Rank East West
K Mitakeumi Yoshikaze (3)
M1 Chiyonokuni (3) Endo (4)
M2 Okinoumi (3) Chiyoshoma (4)
M3 Daieisho (4) Takanoiwa (5)
M4 Takarafuji (4) Aoiyama (5)
M5 Takekaze (6) Ikioi (6)
M6 Tochiozan (5) Hokutofuji (6)
M7 Shodai (7) Takakeisho (6)
M8 Shohozan (8) Sokokurai (9)
M9 Ichinojo (10) Ura (11)
M10 Kagayaki (10) Arawashi (13)
M11 Tochinoshin (11) Kotoyuki (14)
M12 Ishiura (12) Tokushoryu (14)
M13 Toyohibiki (14) Onosho (15)
M14 Daishomaru (14) Chiyotairyu (16)
M15 Kaisei (17) Oyanagi (17)
M16 Osunaarashi (18)

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.

Osunaarashi (大砂嵐) Battling Back To Makuuchi


Image Courtesy of John Gunning and Inside Sport Japan

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Cannot Be Stopped, Will Not Be Stopped

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.

We focus on Egyptian born Osunaarashi, who was a Makuuchi rikishi for some time, and then had a series of injuries that left him barely able to compete. In fact during the last few basho, he would at times hobble to and from the dohyo, yet somehow fight with great spirit and vigor, at times winning in spite of his pain and problems.

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.

Hatsu Recap 1 – The Return of Osunaarashi (大砂嵐)


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A Fighting Spirit In A Damaged Body.

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.

Hatsu Basho Re-Analysis


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Why So Many Maegashira Wins?

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.

Hatsu Day 14 Summary – The New Talent Continues to Excel


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Sumo’s Bright Future On Display

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.

More Thoughts On Day 11


thegreatpumpkin

Good Sumo, Leaderboard Unchanged

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.

Hatsu Leader Board

LeaderKisenosato
Hunt Group – Hakuho, Takanoiwa, Sokokurai, Ichinojo
Chasers – Goeido, Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Hokutofuji

4 Matches Remain

Hatsu Day 11 Preview


day-11

The Final Act Begins

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.

Notable Matches

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.