Takakeisho – Ozeki Denied (For Now)

Rising star Takakeisho pressed hard during the Hatsu basho to make the case that he should be promoted to Ozeki. Among sumo fandom, a general guideline is thought to be 33 wins for consideration by the NSK for promotion. To be clear, it’s not a standard of “win 33 over 3 basho and you get promoted”; reality shows that is the minimum for consideration. [It’s not even a minimum: Kisenosato and Goeido were both famously promoted with only 32 wins, and further back in time there were promotions with even lower totals. -lksumo] On the road to his 33rd win, Takakeisho has won a yusho, a jun-yusho, and shown that he can beat Yokozuna and Ozeki. For most fans, it was almost a foregone conclusion that his bid would be approved.

But following the Hatsu basho, the NSK committee of sumo elders concluded that in spite of winning a tournament, and nearly winning a second consecutive tournament, his performance was insufficient to qualify for promotion to Ozeki at this time. They encouraged him to try harder (?) at Osaka. Part of their citation was his loss to Ozeki Goeido on day 15, where the struggling Goeido overpowered Takakeisho and quickly ejected him from the dohyo. Later we learned that in the course of this match, Takakeisho suffered a foot injury.

Takakeisho, at 22 years of age, represents the next generation of rikishi who have been pressing hard to dislodge the old guard, and take their place in sumo’s top ranks. Young, strong, lacking chronic injuries that never quite healed, the rise of both the Tadpole and Freshman cohorts is part of the natural evolution of sumo that Tachiai has been forecasting for the past two years.

But it’s quite likely that western fans felt the young fellow was robbed by the curmudgeons in the NSK, who as of late have been working in increasingly mysterious ways. I was not, however, surprised that the NSK had decided to make young Takakeisho work a bit longer before he became Ozeki. It’s clear he is on an ascendant path, and with his youth, strength and quality of sumo, he will be Ozeki no matter what if he can keep from getting hurt. It is undeniable that the drama around both Sekiwake coming from recent yusho, and both working to make a valid Ozeki bid, will bring a lot of attention to the Osaka tournament, and with the Japanese Yokozuna now retired, the NSK needs compelling stories to keep the public engaged.

Hatsu Day 2 Highlights

What universe is this?

Takagenji visited makuuchi today from Juryo to face Daiamami but left empty handed. After a well met tachiai, it was all Daiamami as he drove through the Chiganoura beya youngster for a swift yorikiri win, his first of the tournament. Both men are 1-1. Chiyonokuni followed up, dispatching Kotoeko with a few forceful slaps to pick up his second win. Before the bout, my money was on Chiyonokuni by hatakikomi but as it worked out, he got the tsukidashi win before he even needed to pull. Kotoeko falls to 1-1.

Chiyoshouma studied Daishomaru and feared the oshidashi loss, effectively neutralizing the threat posed with a glorious henka – to the groans of the spectators. It was the smart move. Chiyoshoma is a solid grappler, winning mostly with throws but vulnerable to oshidashi…and yorikiri. Chiyoshouma picked up his first win while Daishomaru fell to 0-2.

Yutakayama and Yago offered up a great bout of very similar competitors yet different styles. Yago’s mawashi is a bit darker but both sport the royal purple with very similar builds. Yago favors the belt but Yutakayama is a much more committed oshi/pusher-thruster. Which style would prevail? Yutakayama’s forceful nodowa immediately after the tachiai effectively kept Yago from getting a grip and backed to the edge. Rather than be forced completely out, Yago circled and regrouped to the center. The fatal mistake was going for the hatakikomi. The backwards pull worked to his opponent’s advantage as he followed through with a successful oshi attack. Yutakayama is off to a great 2-0 start while Yago’s setback has him at 1-1.

Kotoyuki put another W in the win column for Team Oshi as Meisei allowed him to fight their bout his way. Relentless pushing-thrusting favors the Sadogatake man and Meisei had nowhere to run, eventually shoved out hard, nearly landing face first in the salt basket. Kotoyuki’s on 1-1 while Meisei is still looking for his first win, 0-2.

Two bouts into the tournament and Kagayaki draws blood yet again, this time from chasing Sadanoumi. Kagayaki came charging like a Pamplona bull, as Sadanoumi tried ducking, twisting and turning any which way of escape. This time, though, I worry for Sadanoumi’s knee as it buckled awkwardly. He was slow to get up but made it back down the hanamichi under his own power. Kagayaki and Sadanoumi are 1-1.

Ikioi charged out like a barnstormer yesterday but I hope he goes kyujo after today’s bout with Abi. Abi’s slaps could not be contained and as Ikioi tried to weather the storm, I’m afraid he may have been briefly knocked out as he dove straight forward, face first into the tawara when Abi side-stepped. In the fall he appeared re-injure his ankle. He also reopened yesterday’s headwound but that may have come from Abi’s tsuppari. Ouch. Both are 1-1. As a side note, Ikioi is a big guy. I’m not sure if he’s still the tallest guy in makuuchi, but it’s really surprising. It doesn’t really sink in until he’s standing there next to a guy like Abi, making Abi look small.

Takarafuji has yet to wake up from his “long winter nap,” as Kaisei barely shifted and Takarafuji lost his balance. It wasn’t a henka. Takarafuji just fell. Hopefully the ring rust will be knocked off by the end of Act One? Takarafuji falls to 0-2 while Kaisei takes the gift to move to 2-0. Endo followed by convincingly backing Asanoyama over the straw bales. Endo also improves to 2-0 while Asanoyama falls to 0-2.

Ryuden was too eager to get things going against Chiyotairyu, initiating a matta. But once they got things going, he grabbed Elvis in a bear hug and then just barreled through, forcing the Kokonoe man into the first row of seats. Ryuden picked up his first win, 1-1, while Chiyotairyu falls to 0-2.

Shou-time (sorry) as Onosho tangled with Daieisho. After a well met tachiai, Onosho backed to the edge where he used the leverage from the tawara to slip to the side and allow Daieisho’s own momentum to force him out and pick up his second win while Daieisho falls, literally, to 1-1.

Aoiyama never let the hug-n-chug get going, nearly breaking Kotoshogiku in half with a forceful hatakikomi. Aoiyama is 2-0. I know it’s early but he has been in yusho races before, only to fold under the pressure of top level bouts. Will he be in the hunt at the weekend? Definitely one to watch. Kotoshogiku is at 1-1.

Yoshikaze never got going against Okinoumi. Rather than a nodowa, it seemed Okinoumi wanted to force Yoshikaze’s cheeks into his ears. Ho-po-wa? I don’t think I’ve seen that attack before. With the backwards force, Yoshikaze’s left knee gave out. Koshikudake was the call, with Okinoumi picking up his first win while Yoshikaze fell to 0-2.

Finally, sanyaku. Takakeisho fought Takakeisho’s bout. Shohozan was just along for the ride. Once those T-Rex arms get going…look out. If you’re in the crowd, you may end up with a rikishi in your lap. So, while Shohozan (0-2) conversed with the second row spectators, Takakeisho (2-0) strolled over to pick up his kensho envelopes.

Tamawashi learned from Takakeisho’s bout and blasted Shodai off the dohyo. The blueprint against Shodai is just like what you learn playing tennis and golf. Follow through. Rather than bouncing off at the initial charge, you’ve got to just keep running through and do not let Shodai get a hand of the mawashi or space to regroup. Tamawashi was all attack and picked up his second win while Shodai is 0-2.

Takayasu picked up his first win in controversial style against Myogiryu. This was a gift as Takayasu was clearly down first while Myogiryu was still in the air. Takayasu was looking solid, had good tsuppari going and great position in the center of the dohyo. But then he lowered his shoulder and bulldozed into Myogiryu, who appeared to everyone to successfully jump out of the way as Takayasu fell to the dohyo…but no mono-ii.

Take Nishikigi and Tochinoshin, plop them in the middle of the ring, both with firm two-handed grips of each other’s mawashi. I ask you, “Who wins?” Not in a million years would I have said Nishikigi. Tochinoshin even did his textbook lift today but it came up a few feet short, and that appears to be the difference. As Nishikigi’s feet came down, he was able to use his belt grip to throw Tochinoshin. Two Ozeki scalps in two days and the same absolutely bewildered look as he picked up another fat stack of kensho-kin.

Goeido gave it his all against Hokutofuji today. His mistake, the pull. He drove Hokutofuji to the edge but couldn’t get him over. So they regrouped in the middle of the dohyo. Rather than be patient and try again to drive forward, Goeido decided he wanted to end it now. So he backed up but ran out of real estate as Hokutofuji maintained his balance and ran the ozeki out for his second loss in two days. 6 ozeki bouts, 5* losses…with an asterisk on the one win. Unbelievable. Well, pretty soon they’ll be facing off against each other so some will have to win.

Someone finally got it through to Kisenosato that he needs to shift his style because of his injury. He tried with all his might to push the big boulder it was for naught. The pivotal moment came early when Kisenosato was laying into Ichinojo but Ichinojo was able to easily manhandle the Yokozuna and yank him around like a My Little Pony. Rather than try to expend energy and drive through Kisenosato, the Mongolian used his positional advantage, and adequate space for a pull, to unleash a hatakikomi pull down. He claimed a gold star and made it look effortless. This Ichinojo is dangerous, and 2-0. Kisenosato is 0-2 and on intai watch.

Mitakeumi sent more shockwaves through Kokugikan as he simply pushed Kakuryu off the dohyo. Kakuryu seemed to want the leverage of the tawara, letting Mitakeumi drive him like a blocking sled to the edge. But when his feet hit the tawara, Mitakeumi’s attack kept coming and the Yokozuna never had a chance to offer a counter-attack or to try to deflect and dance his way to victory. Kakuryu falls to 1-1 and is likely only saved from his own intai-watch by the hapless Kisenosato.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, however, was saved for the Boss. His Houdini-like escape from a Tochiozan throw only emphasizes the dire state of the senior sanyaku. We saw a tantalizing glimpse of the old Hakuho against Myogiryu yesterday. We were so eager for him to destroy the maegashira from Kochi and show us all that he’s back and ready for another yusho run.

All that was shattered, however, as Tochiozan got his left hand on the Boss’s mawashi, spun the Boss around and up to the very edge. Hakuho’s tune-up must have come with a new set of brakes because just as it looked like he was done and Tochiozan had the biggest kinboshi story, screeeeech! Hakuho brought his momentum to a stop and gently guided Tochiozan out. Tochiozan falls to 0-2, Hakuho escapes and improves to 2-0. He’s clearly still the Boss…but for how long?

2018 Aki Basho Review

The 2018 Aki Basho is over, and I’m sure you’ll agree it was an incredible two weeks of sumo! In this video, I break down four major stories coming out of Aki and give a quick recap some breaking news making waves in the sumo world.

Video courtesy of the NHK Grand Sumo Highlights.

Nagoya Ozeki Report

goeido-21

With just over two weeks until the start of the Nagoya basho, Sumo’s ozeki corps is under pressure to deliver wins all round. The two incumbent ozeki are both kadoban, and the shin-ozeki, Tochinoshin, comes in nursing a hurt wrist. As a zero-sum sport, each win that the ozeki need comes at the expense of some other rikishi’s march towards kachi-koshi.

First up is the likely Ozeki 1 East, Goeido. With only 3 wins at Natsu, it’s tough to think of this man as the top Ozeki in sumo today. After injuring his ankle during the Osaka basho in 2017, he underwent surgery to have his joint rebuilt with pins and a lot of luck. While it seems to have kept his foot from falling off, he has mostly struggled to execute the kind of sumo that gives him winning records. When he is on his game, Goeido is a fast, brutal rikishi of pure offense. But we suspect he is still trying to find a way to keep his injured ankle together by any means he can muster. He comes into Nagoya looking to overcome his 8th career kadoban. While a healthy, strong Goeido running GoeiDOS 2.X is more than up to that task, he will have to overcome some fierce competition from the rest of the san’yaku to get to the safety of 8 wins. Forecast – Questionable.

But then we come to Takayasu, the likely Ozeki 1 West. Takayasu did not compete at all during Natsu, citing upper body injuries that were likely sustained due to changes he made to his sumo following the injury of his training partner and companion Kisenosato. During the second half of 2017, Takayasu’s sumo increasingly relied on a wild, flailing style that incorporated-a maxed out kachi-age at the tachiai. Being enormous and as strong as a C53 class locomotive can take you quite far when you are willing to go brutal at the open. Sadly his body suffered and his injuries were too much for him to compete in May. Now he heads to the balmy basho in Nagoya trying to overcome his 3rd foreshortened tournament of his Ozeki career, and erase his second kadoban. Recent press reports have featured Takayasu and an injured Kisenosato practicing in front of hundreds of spectators, with good effect. Some of this may simply be PR for the Yokozuna, as it seems most of the san-ban had been prior to the past four basho. Forecast – Hopeful.

Shin-Ozeki is a great slot, especially if it’s apparent that you finished your Ozkei bid with increasing momentum and increasingly powerful sumo. Ozeki 2 East Tochinoshin comes to the Nagoya dohyo as possibly the most powerful man in the Ozeki ranks. He can easily carry either of his fellow ozeki around like furniture, planting them in harmonious spots outside of the dohyo for optimal feng-shui. The worrying aspect is his repeated reports of injury to his wrist sustained during the final week of Natsu. This, naturally, limits his “lift and shift” sumo by removing his ability to transfer his enormous strength to his opponents mawashi. However, it’s reasonable to assume that Kasugano will have him squared away in time for shonichi. I personally hope that a strong rivalry between Tochinoshin and Takayasu takes root, which could help propel both of them to higher performance. Forecast – Rather-genki.

With two kadoban ozeki, it’s going to be time for both Takayasu and Goeido to dial it up to 11, but there is also a very real risk of losing at least one Ozeki this basho. Goeido has been teetering on the edge for quite some time. Takayasu may still be injured, but feel he is out of options. But with Tochinoshin bringing fresh blood and fresh sumo to the Ozeki ranks, Nagoya promises to step up the intensity of upper rank competition.

Nagoya ’18 Banzuke Crystal Ball

Meisei_banzuke

Don’t want to wait for the official banzuke announcement on June 25th? The Crystal Ball is here to give you a good idea of how it’s likely to play out.

Upper San’yaku

Y1

Kakuryu

Hakuho

Y2

Kisenosato

O1

Goeido

Takayasu

O2

Tochinoshin

Natsu saw Kakuryu take the yusho, Hakuho put up a creditable performance, and Kisenosato sit out. As a result, there is no change in the Yokozuna rankings. Goeido at least showed up, unlike Takayasu, and as a result, he takes over the O1e slot, with the shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin entering the upper ranks at O2e.

Lower San’yaku

S

Ichinojo

Mitakeumi

K

Tamawashi

Shohozan

Ichinojo did just enough at 8-7 to stay at Sekiwake, and Tochinoshin’s promotion allows him to move over to the East side. Mitakeumi moves up to West Sekiwake. Both Komusubi slots are open, one by promotion and the other by demotion, and should go to M1e Tamawashi and M2e Shohozan, the two highest-ranked maegashira to earn winning records.

Upper Maegashira

M1

Shodai

Chiyonokuni

M2

Kotoshogiku

Ikioi

M3

Abi

Kaisei

M4

Kagayaki

Takakeisho

M5

Daishomaru

Yoshikaze

Due to the depletion of the San’yaku ranks by injury, everyone ranked in this part of the banzuke at Natsu took a turn in the meat grinder. Most actually held up pretty well, with Tamawashi and Shohozan earning San’yaku promotions, and 5 others (in bold) holding on to the upper maegashira ranks. M3e Daieisho and M4e Chiyotairyu only managed 5 and 6 wins, respectively, and will fall out of this group. Falling the hardest will be M3w Yutakayama, who could only eke out 2 wins in his first tournament in the joi.

The opposite outcome in this games of chutes and ladders belongs to Chiyonokuni, who earned 12 victories from M11w and whom I have moving all the way up to M1w. His career-high rank, M1e, was at Natsu 2017, and ended in a 2-13 beating, from which it took him a year to work his way back. Taking lesser jumps up the banzuke are those from the mid-maegashira ranks with positive records (in italic): Kagayaki, Takakeisho, Daishomaru, and Yoshikaze.

Mid-Maegashira

M6

Chiyotairyu

Takarafuji

M7

Daieisho

Endo

M8

Chiyoshoma

Kyokutaisei

M9

Myogiryu

Onosho (J)

M10

Chiyomaru

Aoiyama

M11

Nishikigi

Sadanoumi

Being in this relatively safe part of the banzuke represents a promotion for Kyokutaisei, Myogiryu, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, and Sadanoumi and a demotion for Chiyotairyu, Daieisho, Endo, and Chiyomaru. Chiyoshoma and Takarafuji are treading water. Takarafuji, in particular, is forecast to benefit from good banzuke luck and hold on to his ranking at M6w despite a losing 7-8 record. He should be demoted, but the three guys I have ranked right below him all had worse make-koshi records and receive fairly lenient demotions as it is. Also making his Makuuchi return here is recent mainstay Onosho, who we hope continues his rapid re-ascent of the rankings.

Lower Maegashira

M12

Kotoeko (J)

Arawashi

M13

Asanoyama

Yutakayama

M14

Tochiozan

Okinoumi

M15

Ryuden

Hokutofuji

M16

Ishiura

Meisei (J)

Here we have the second-strongest promotion candidate from Juryo, Kotoeko, making his Makuuchi debut after narrowly missing out in the previous tournament. Kotoeko, 26, started in sumo in 2007, under a name which I kinda wish he’d kept just so we could listen to announcers trying to get it right—Kotokashiwadani. He’s been in Juryo for the past 12 tournaments.

The only Makuuchi holdover in this group with a kachi-koshi is Tochiozan, who moves up from M15e to M14e after going 8-7. Arawashi and Asanoyama each went 7-8 and get minimal demotions due to good banzuke luck, Yutakayama lands here after plummeting down the banzuke, while Okinoumi and, especially, the trio of Ryuden, Hokutofuji, and Ishiura are lucky to remain in the top division.

I have the last spot going to another rikishi making his Makuuchi debut—Meisei—who takes the place of Takekaze, the last man I have going down to Juryo. Meisei is only 22, having started in sumo in 2011. He’s had 7 fairly strong consecutive tournaments in Juryo, going 9-6, 9-6, 9-6, 7-8, 8-7, 7-8, and 10-5, so hopefully he’ll be ready for his first taste of the big leagues.