Haru Day 15 Preview


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Final Day Of the Osaka Tournament

It’s been a strange and crazy basho, and now we face the final day of competition. The yusho race had focused almost entirely on Kisenosato for the bulk of the tournament, but it’s now clear that bar some strange occurrence, Terunofuji will lift the Emperor’s Cup tomorrow. Prior to day 14’s henka against Kotoshogiku, most sumo fans would have cheered his return to glory, after more than a year of crippling injuries and constant pain.

Fans have commented on Tachiai, Twitter and Facebook that the henka is part of the sport. This is true, and there are times when it’s employment is kind of neat. What troubles me about day 14 is that Kotoshogiku was not going to be able to best Terunofuji’s kaiju mode. To me the henka this time smelled of cruelty. I restrain myself, I hope, from layering too many American / European idioms on what is a completely Japanese cultural phenomenon. But it was clear that Kotoshogiku intended to go out, guns blazing, giving his all every match. This was the match where his bid to return was to be lost, and he was not allowed to end with dignity.

So you may see some noise from the Japanese fan community about Terunofuji, and I worry, about the Mongolian contingent as a whole. This would be a huge mistake, in my opinion, as the Mongolian rikishi have hugely enriched the sport, and have done fantastic things for Japan and the Japanese people.

Key Matches, Day 15

Terunofuji vs Kisenosato – This one decides the yusho. If Kisenosato some how manages to win the first one, the two will fight a tie breaker after Harumafuji and Kakuryu fight the last match of the basho. Given that Kisenosato can’t really do anything with his left arm (and he’s left handed) it’s going to be a long shot. My hope is that Kisenosato can survive without additional injury, and Terunofuji does not do anything to further lose face.

Harumafuji vs Kakuryu – This bout has very little impact, save to see if Kakuryu can get to double digits this time. Both are out of the yusho race, Harumafuji is banged up and struggling. I hope no one gets hurt and both can recover soon.

Tamawashi vs Takayasu – If Takayasu can win this one, it means that he will need 10 wins in May to become Ozeki. It’s still a tall order, but a 12-3 record might also give him Jun-Yusho status for the first time in his career. Tamawashi will likely stay at Sekiwake for May, but needs wins to start making the case for promotion to Ozeki himself.

Kotoshogiku vs Yoshikaze – I hope both of these well loved veterans have some fun with this match. Both have kachi-koshi, and both are looking at retirement in the not too distant future. Kotoshogiku will try to wrap up Yoshikaze, and Yoshikaze will try to stay mobile.

Kachi/Make-Koshi

A number of rikishi go into the final day at 7-7, and will exit the final day either with promotion or demotion as their next move. This includes

Ishiura vs Takarafuji – First meeting between these two, Takarafuji already make-koshi

Endo vs Tochinoshin – Both at 7-7, the loser gets a demotion. Prior meetings are evenly split, but Tochinoshin is a shadow of his former self.

Daishomaru vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has his first make-koshi of his sumo career, but Daishomaru has a chance of kachi-koshi if he can win.

Myogiryu vs Aoiyama – Should be an easy win for Aoiyama, Myogiryu already make-koshi

Ichinojo vs Ura – Maegashira 7 Ichinojo vs Maegashira 12 Ura. Ichinojo already make-koshi, Ura trying to stay in the top division. A huge mismatch in size and speed. This may be a strange one indeed.

Kotoshogiku’s Ozeki Bid Ends


Kotoshogiku-14

Terminated by Terunofuji’s Henka

In on of the most disappointing 5 minutes of sumo of my life, Sekiwake Kotoshogiku’s bid to reclaim his Ozeki rank, and likely retire on a high note, ended when Terunofuji chose to employ a henka rather than give the fading rikishi an honest fight. The match had trouble getting started, with Terunofuji coming off the line prematurely, and matta was called.

On the restart, Kotoshogiku launched into the tachiai, but found that Terunofuji had leapt to the side. Thus ends a valiant effort by a long serving rikishi to end things on a high note. The crowd in Osaka was shocked, and I might say insulted. Everyone assumed that Terunofuji was going to win this bout, but they wanted to see him win via strength and skill. The expression on the crowd’s faces on the image above speak volumes.

Takarafuji Defeats Kotoshogiku


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Ozeki Revival Campaign At The Breaking Point

On day 12, de-frocked Ozeki (now Sekiwake) Kotoshogiku lost his match with Maegashira 3 Takarafuji. With his fifth loss this basho, Kotoshogiku must win all 3 remaining bouts to earn back his Ozeki rank. At this point, it’s clear that he does not have the strength and stamina to serve as a Ozeki. While I adore Kotoshogkiku, and respect everything he has brought to sumo, there should be no concession given to try and accommodate his return to rank. Sadly, as of day 12, Kotoshogiku has not even yet secured his kachi-koshi.

Oddly enough, early in the basho he defeated both Yokozuna in fairly straight-up matches, but is now losing to much lower ranked rikishi. It’s clear that whatever chronic injuries ore problems have robbed Kotoshogiku of his Ozeki vigor and might have re-attacked him.

Terunofuji Contains And Defeats Endo


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Breathing Down Kisenosato’s Neck

Sumo fans have been pleasantly surprised to see an old friend return to the dohyo in Osaka. None other than a ferocious competitor of massive strength and stature, Ozeki Terunofuji.

Terunofuji is not a newcomer to the sport, but what has been missing is the form, power, strength and sheer offensive focus that propelled him from rank-and-file into an Ozeki slot in mid 2015. This has been due to a series of injuries to his legs and his back, that had left him a ridiculous shell of his former self. For a time during his meteoric ascent in rank, some rikishi were actually worried about facing him, as he had a habit of mangling his opponents (Terunofuji’s Kaiju-Mode).

All of that seems to be back, at least for one basho. Looking back from day 12, it’s clear that Terunofuji was being groomed this entire basho as the spoiler, the sharp tool that could be used to derail upper ranked rikishi marching towards yusho. Today, it was Endo’s turn to face the Kaiju, and while Endo put up a glorious effort, Terunofuji has his mind fixed at bypassing Kisenosato, and once again hosting the Emperor’s Cup in victory.

Endo quickly established advantage in the match, and early had Terunofuji’s heels on the tawara, hip pumping to force to big Ozeki out. But Terunofuji rallied, picked up Endo and marched him to the center of the dohyo. Having rendered his opponent helpless, Terunofuji belly flopped onto a supine Endo, crushing him. The kimarite is recorded as Abisetaoshi (backward force down).

The final three days will Terunofuji fight 2 Yokozuna: Kisenosato and Kakuryu, and it would be my guess that Kisenosato will come day 15. At this point, the only rikishi who has a chance of derailing a Kisenosato yusho is Terunofuji, and the NSK will likely play this for all it’s worth.

Takayasu Obliterated by Harumafuji Day 12


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Employed Rare Komatasukui Kimarite

On day 11, Takayasu was dealt his first defeat at the hands of Yokozuna Kakuryu, on day 12, he faced Yokozuna Harumafuji. This was a “Need to Win” bout if Takayasu was to remain in yusho contention, but the odds were long. Harumafuji has been competing through an increasing number of painful injuries and problems, but applies himself with gusto each and every day.

Harumafuji took Takayasu’s massive tachiai straight on, and immediately took control of the bout. Takayasu rallied and attempted a throw, but Harumafuji saw this coming and grabbed Takayasu’s leg. At this point it was all over, with the only question remaining being how embarrassing and painful the end would be. Takayasu was unceremoniously dumped at the edge of the dohyo, a second loss added to his tally. The Kimarite was recorded as Komatasukui (小股掬い), or over thigh scooping body drop, a real rare one.

Simply put, Takayasu, of whom I am a huge fan, was schooled by one of the great sumotori of our time.

This concludes the “hell” portion of Takayasu’s basho. His score stands at an impressive 10-2 at the end of day 12. His next move is to recover his mental posture and move forward with all his skill and strength. To continue his bid to be promoted to Ozeki, he needs 33 wins over 3 basho, and he must run his tally higher. The rest of the week he will face lower ranked Maegashira, although on day 13 he faces the ever dangerous Yoshikaze.

Make no mistake, Takayasu has the size, speed and skill to win his remaining 3 matches and end with an impressive 13-2 record. This is a mental test now, as in prior basho he has become discouraged after a high-profile loss midway in the second week and has lost the remainder of his bouts. To become a worthy Ozeki, he needs mental toughness to shrug aside a setback and persist.

Ikioi Gamberizes – Kotoshogiku’s Dream Shaken


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Needs To Win 3 of Remaining 4

Kotoshogiku has been hit-or-miss since his stunning yusho in January 2016. Some tournaments he’s strong and dominant, others he is clearly in pain, injured and just can’t make his sumo work. At the end of the January tournament in 2017, he failed to clear his kadoban status and was demoted to Sekiwake, with a single chance of returning to Ozeki – if he scored 10 wins in the following basho.

The Tachiai crew agreed, this was a hard road, and might require some rikishi doing “favors” for the big bulldozer from Kyushu. But then Haru started, and it was clear that Kotoshogiku was in fighting form. He has been winning, using his sumo, against foes who are putting out full effort.

Ikioi is a fine sumotori with a solid future in Makuuchi, but he has had a terrible basho. In fact, he is already deep in make-koshi by day 10 shows just how poorly he has been doing at Maegashira 1. But somehow he found his sumo on day 11, and bested Kotoshogiku, in what was probably expected by most to be win #8 for the struggling former Ozeki.

Kotoshogiku was unable to lock up Ikioi for a Hug-n-Chug win, but instead, Ikioi kept mobile and slapped down Kotoshogiku when his balance went too far forward.

With today’s loss, Kotoshogiku can only lose 1 more bout and still regain his Ozeki title. Everyone loves a comeback story, especially when the hero is a nice guy that people like. But Kotoshogiku’s comeback story now hangs by a thread.

Yokozuna Kakuryu Defeats Takayasu


Takayasu-Down

Kisenosato Undefeated, Sole Leader

There was a generous amount of fantastic sumo action from Day 11, but chief in terms of the yusho race was Kakuryu’s victory over Takayasu, in a hard fought and highly mobile battle. After a strong tachiai, the combatants alternated between thrusting attacks and grappling. Each tried to position the other for throws multiple times, and as is the usual Kakuryu tactic, he played for time rather than overpowering win, waiting for Takayasu to make a mistake. He got his mistake when Takayasu pressed hard to circle right and created momentum for Kakuryu to boost and send him off the edge of the dohyo.

It was fantastic sumo, and it’s the kind of sumo you would expect to see from an Ozeki, which I can only assume will be Takayasu’s title later this year. Now we see if Takayasu is ready to be a champion. In past basho when he was handed a disappointing loss, Takayasu has gone into a losing streak. He faces Harumafuji on day 12, which may be an even greater challenge than Kakuryu.

This leaves Kisenosato the sole leader in the yusho race, and make no mistake that getting him at least one loss is a priority for the schedulers. It will come down to his fellow Yokozuna to achieve that goal, at which point the yusho race could be expanded in the final days.