Mitakeumi & The Sekiwake Squad Face Down 1972

This man has some more winning to do.

I’ve focused quite a bit on mathematics in my first couple of posts, so I wanted to formulate a minor Natsu banzuke prediction in this post based more on history. As I detailed in looking at the shift in first week results, much of the change we’re seeing has come down to those at the Sekiwake rank punching above their weight. And much of the debate around the new banzuke seems to be focused on how many such ranked rikishi we may see as we prepare for the next tournament in Tokyo.

So let’s go back 45 years and look at an interesting turn of results that led the banzuke to shift from the standard 2 Sekiwake up to an incredible 5:
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Yokozuna Harumafuji Defeated By Sekiwake Tamawashi


Clinches Kachi-Koshi With Important Victory

In a further sign that the current Sekiwake ranked rikishi are on a path towards higher ranks, Tamawashi bested Yokozuna Harumafuji in a fast, aggressive bout. This victory gave Tamawashi his much needed kachi-koshi, signaling he will retain the rank of Sekiwake for his third consecutive tournament. Tamawashi cannot necessarily be considered to be in contention for promotion to Ozeki yet. He can only, at best, reach 9 wins this tournament, which would not make a strong case for promotion. But the ability to survive and even thrive in sumo’s toughest rank speaks volumes about his skill and tenacity.

It’s also noteworthy that there were multiple reports of heckling from the crowd directed towards Yokozuna Harumafuji. I am going to assume that it’s in response to Kisenosato’s injuries following the day 13 match with Harumafuji, and Tachiai hopes that Japanese sumo fans are just blowing off a bit of steam. The last thing sumo needs is some manner of endemic anti-Mongolian theme.

A Closer Look at San’yaku after Week 1

Moment of Silence
One of these men is more consistent than the others – and basically everyone else.

Hi there – this is my first guest post on the site, so thanks for having me! Following Bruce’s analysis last week, contrasting the early upper san’yaku vs lower san’yaku results from the current Basho to that of last year’s Nagoya tournament, I posited that it might be interesting to have a look at a larger sample size and determine if what we’re seeing is the product of a shift in the performance of the upper san’yaku over time, and what it might mean.

I pulled the first week win/loss data (up through day 8) of each tournament going back to January 2015, the logic being that a 2 year period of first week bouts would give us an idea of what it means to perform at the level of a Yokozuna or an Ozeki in this day and age. I selected 8 days because this has typically been the tipping point in the tournament after which the upper san’yaku (of which there have usually been 7) stop being polite and start being real, and are then starting to fight each other.

Finally, I removed forfeit matches due to rikishi going kyujo from the equation entirely. While these wins and losses show up in the history books, they don’t give us a true read on whether or not the rikishi involved are performing at the expected talent level.

This is all basic stuff and is meant to be a jumping off point from which assumptions can be based so that we can have some more detailed conversations in future. So let’s see what the data (which you can see in rawer form here) tells us:

* A Yokozuna can usually be counted on to lose one match in the first week. Over 2015 & 2016, the win rate (or wins per day in Bruce’s format) of a Yokozuna is 85.7%. Taking into account that healthy rikishi will fight 24 times, we’d expect to see 3 losses from the group and this is exactly what happened in 8 of those 12 tournaments.

* Ozeki typically perform 15% worse than the Yokozuna. So, they lose a little more than 1 more match apiece on average than their more prestigious counterparts. Interestingly, this is exactly what has transpired in 2017 as well as 2015 and 2016 – the downturn in Yokozuna performance (~10%) has been almost exactly matched by their Ozeki counterparts in spite of Kisenosato moving up a level: his brilliant Hatsu masked disasters from Terunofuji and Kotoshogiku, while his promotion has covered for the kyujo Hakuho and underperforming Harumafuji and Kakuryu.

Yokozuna Win Percentage 2015-16: 85.7%
Yokozuna Win Percentage 2017: 75.6%

Ozeki Win Percentage 2015-16: 70%
Ozeki Win Percentage 2017: 60.5%

* Hakuho isn’t in trouble – at least as far as week 1 is concerned. He was 7-1 in January and having gone kyujo twice in the 2 years prior (including once mid-basho), he came back with 8-0 and 7-1 starts. He clearly was struggling early in this tournament along with Harumafuji and Kakuryu (who have since seen their records improve), but if his body works then the early results bear out when fighting against his lower ranking san’yaku competitors.

* Sekiwake up their game. Over 2015-16, the expected win rate for a Sekiwake in week 1 was a paltry 46.3% – you wouldn’t even expect them to end up 4-4 never mind challenge for Ozeki promotion, which obviously only happened once (Terunofuji) in that time frame. However this has increased over the first two basho of 2017 to 64.6% – almost as good as an Ozeki would usually be expected to perform (70%).

* This hasn’t been reflected at Komusubi level. Usually Komusubi win 33.2% of their first week matches, but that’s only up to 35.4% this year. Tochinoshin’s tanking at Hatsu is somewhat to blame for this but of the four Komusubi performances this year, only Takayasu has turned in a winning performance at the level in matches fought, and even that was only a 4-3 standing after 8 days. This is still as hard of a level as ever to compete at.

* The recent lower san’yaku level of performance isn’t totally unprecedented, however. While we began to see the tide swing toward the lower san’yaku in January, there were actually 5 better performances over the past couple years – a 5 basho streak starting with a 50% success rate in March 2015 through to a 43.8% hit rate in December 2015 – from the up and comers than in January (42.9% success rate).

* Takayasu may be more special than we think. Most Sekiwake have never returned to the rank over the past 2+ years: only 3 prior rikishi have re-obtained the title after losing it since the start of 2015. However, unlike Ichinojo, Myogiryu and Okinoumi, Takayasu looks to be the first to fight back and look capable of not only hold the rank but have the stuff to move up. Of the prior three, only Myogiryu was even tenuously able to cling on for one more basho at the ranking.

* Kisenosato starts as well as anyone not named Hakuho. While his historical troubles with finishing off the yusho have been well detailed, his week 1 performances have outshined Kakuryu over the last 2+ years and he’s in a dead heat with Harumafuji’s level of performance. While it’s not clear yet that he’s better at this level than a healthy Hakuho, Hakuho’s toe problem means the Shin-Yokozuna was already for all intents and purposes the top dog coming out of the traps even before the the first grain of salt was thrown at Haru.

* No one’s success rate has taken a bigger hit than Goeido. The Ozeki from Osaka’s first week win rate has dropped over 20% in 2017. Historically he’d been expected to win almost exactly two thirds of his opening week matches, but he now sits at a lacklustre 46% – the exact tally we’d typically expect from a Sekiwake that’s might be demoted lower. He really shouldn’t have turned up unfit at Haru.

So what does all of this mean? There’s a certain shift as we’re seeing results that haven’t been there over the past several years, but it’s much too soon to call it a day on the current crop of Yokozuna. At Haru, they’ve lost 2 more matches as a group than we’d expect to have seen, but as recently as November they were turning in a vintage week 1 performance that stands up to anything else they’ve done recently, battering the lower san’yaku with better than expected results.

Health aside, in the short term the data shows that we can probably expect to see some more turbulence in the rankings of a small group of rikishi in between the Sekiwake and Ozeki tiers, and what it means to fight at those levels may become somewhat blurry if Kotoshogiku ends up as the first in what could be a string of yo-yo rikishi. The next two or three basho will be telling to be sure, and I’ll continue to update the data to see how the san’yaku bear out against each other in the early going to try and pick up more signals.

Haru Basho Day 3 Summary


Harumafuji Gifts a Kinboshi to Sokokurai

A few brief notes before I return to nursing what is a terrible cold. Day 3 action offered some really nice action, do make a point of checking them out on Kintamayama’s  youtube channel or Jason’s All Sumo Channel. Both are friends of the Tachiai team, and without them, overseas (from Japan) sumo fans would have to get by on the NHK summaries alone.

Ishiura looked strong and in control today in his win over Daieisho, you can definitely see some of the moves he has learned from Hakuho in today’s bout.

Ura lost his match against Tochiozan. Ura came in low, and Tochiozan kept him low and off balance. Isaac Newton took care of the rest. Tochinoshin (his first of the year) finally won one against the new winless Sadanoumi.

Okinoumi put in a great effort to overcome Kagayaki, who is yet to score a victory this basho. Chiyoshoma defeated Kotoyuki to remain at 3-0. So maybe Chiyoshoma is on a bit of a hot streak. Likewise Takarafuji is at 3-0 after he found no challenge from Endo.

Ichinojo? He’s doing real sumo these days. He looks like he could turn into a serious guy too. With his size and strength he could do a lot. He dominated Hokotofuji today.

Among the San’yaku battle fleet, Mitakeumi won convincingly over Tamawashi. Mitakeumi established a strong mawashi grip about 10 seconds in, and then had total control over Tamawashi. This is much to be learned here – Mitakeumi use to be a straight pusher/thruster. This worked great for him until he found there were limits to that technique, so he added mawashi sumo into the mix, and deploys it with skill. The result is that he is now a much better rikishi.

As expected, Takayasu contained Kotoshogiku and put him on the clay. The former Ozeki cold not get any power going against the Sekiwake, and appeared out of options when Takayasu took him down.

Terunofuji had no trouble with Shohozan, and is fighting much better than expected. I do hope that he has his body healed up, and we can see a lot of his sumo this tournament.

Goeido fell far too easily to Shodai today. It was clear that Goeido 1.0 was on the clay, and Shodai rolled him down and out. I have real concerns about that right ankle, as he was keeping pressure off of it today.

Takekaze gave Hakuho a honest, vigorous fight today. It was a beautiful thing to watch. But as is Hakuho’s style he took his time andwaited for his opportunity. That extra shove at the end is classic “old school” Hakuho. Surprised it showed up today. Maybe the Boss is getting frustrated.

Takanoiwa has yet to win a match this basho, but he is fighting well. Today against Kisenosato, he gave the shin-Yokozuna a decent challenge. At least twice Kiseonsato was off balanced, but recovered with remarkable speed for a man of his size, once again striking his Mae pose right at the end.

The Harumafuji match – The horse really looks out of his element now. His balance seems to be off, and he seems sluggish. I don’t know if he is taking pain meds to overcome his injuries or what, but I think that Sokokurai winning by a hatakikomi comes as a surprise to many fans.

Haru Basho Day 1 Results


Up And Coming Sanyaku Causing Trouble Early

A great opening day for the Haru basho in Osaka, with plenty of great sumo to enjoy. If you are new to enjoying sumo, keep in mind that the first few days of any basho may seem a bit odd, as the riskishi sometimes have to struggle to get into their competition “groove” and employ their best sumo.

The theme that we suspected was going to be prominent – one of the up and coming next generation challenging the established senior rikishi – played out on day one across multiple ranks of the banzuke.

Notable Matches

Ura defeats Sadanoumi – Low tachiai from Ura with a quick pivot to eject Sadanoumi across the bales. Ura made it look easy.

Ichinojo defeats Aoiyama – Ichinojo closed out Hatsu with an impressive 11-4 record, there were some indications that he was getting his sumo to a higher state, and his bout with Aoiyama today only furthers that theory. Ichinojo showed good balance and kept the pressure forward. A solid win for an up and coming giant.

Endo defeats Arawashi – Quite impressive sumo from Endo today. Arawashi attempted to set up and execute multiple throws, but Endo kept low and kept his feet wide, and persisted in moving Arawashi every close to the bales. Endo looked very good today.

Takayasu defeats Shohozan – Shohozan had Takayasu well out of his comfort zone, and struggling to win. Normally “Big T” likes to lock up and opponent and wear them down, in today’s bout, it was Shohozan in command for most of the match, breaking Takayasu’s hold several times. In the end Takayasu was able to get a good mawashi grip and marched Shohozan out.

Tamawashi defeats Takanoiwa – Tamawashi appears solid as Sekiwake, his match today against Takanoiwa had a strong Tachiai, but Takanoiwa lost his balance and hit the dohyo early.

Terunofuji defeats Sokokurai – Terunofuji got a strong mawashi grip early and lifted Sokokurai over the tawara. To me Terunofuji looked very cautious and somewhat tender, even though he managed a clear win.

Goeido defeats Ikioi – Well, that was Goeido 2.0! Ikioi got blasted in a blink of an eye. I would love to see another Goeido 2.0 basho. Thank goodness his ankle held up today.

Kotoshogiku defeats Harumafuji – Even a long, steep path like the one Kotoshogiku must walk begins with a single step, and he took that step today. He got Harumafuji high on the tachiai and kept moving forward with relentless power from his lower body. I guess the real question is about Harumafuji coming out of today. The crowd loved it.

Kakuryu defeats Mitakeumi – Kakuryu can be a very tough rikishi to defeat. His style is to wait for his opponent to over-commit and then exploit their momentum for his gain. Mitakeumi had Kakuryu wrapped up, moving backwards and in trouble. But that was just Kakuryu letting Mitakeumi do the hard work of moving all that mass to the edge of the ring. Faster than he could react, Kakuryu pivoted and directed Mitakeumi out.

Shodai defeats Hakuho – This match surprised me. Shodai was in command from the start, with Hakuho putting himself off balance when he tried a thrust-down against Shodai, who instead turned the tables and pushed the Yokozuna to the clay. Nice reaction, nice technique.

Haru Day 1 Preview

Day 1 Preview

Let’s Get Started!

At long last your Tachiai crew is back in Basho mode. The NSK schedulers gave us a great first day to prep us for what could be a pivotal basho as the old guard fights to remain in the face of a powerful new generation of rikishi.

There are many unanswered questions about the health of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps that may only reveal themselves by day 7 or so. The Yokozuna and Ozeki have an “easy” first week fighting the lower San’yaku and upper Maegashira. In fact during the Hatsu basho, we saw a new side of Hakuho where he barely moved during the tachiai in the first week. He stood up and waited for his practice rikishi to come to him for folding and ejection from the Doyho.

But this time is different, but the San’yaku hopefuls and the upper Maegashira smell blood in the water, and even without the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps to face in the first week, they want to best each other jockey for as many as 4 possible Ozeki slots this year. It’s going to be a San’yaku bloodbath, and if the injured upper ranks are not careful, their they may get seriously hurt.

To folks who are recent to Sumo tournaments, a few pointers. Most westerners like myself naturally like to divide things into halves and quarters. Even numbers are happy and comfortable. A basho is 15 days long and does not split evenly. In fact it was never meant to. A basho actually tends to happen in 3 five day acts, each one drives priority and placement in the daily torikumi or match schedule.

The first third is all about warming up your stars, you Ozeki and Yokozuna. Preferably by crushing the daylights out of the Komusubi and Sekiwake along with a few upstart Maegashira. The more of them with make-koshi the better. And you see who seems to be on a “hot” run.

The middle third is all about grooming a leader group, the rikishi who are clearly going to be among the handful that will take the yusho, and ensuring that the “right” group emerges. This is also where you start to see sumotori withdraw due to injury.

The final third is where dreams and crushed, and the champion emerges.

With that being said, let’s get down to business

Day 1 Matches We Like

Takakeisho vs. Daishomaru – There is a strange theme in the lower part of Makuuchi for day one, the ranks seem to be facing off. Here Maegashira 13e faces 13w. There only prior meeting saw Takakeisho win by pushing Daishomaru out from behind (okuridashi)

Sadanoumi vs. Ura – In this one the Maegashira 12s go head to head. If this makes the NHK World highlight real, this may be many US fan’s first chance to see a broadcast of Ura in action. Their only prior bout was in Juryo where Ura won by sukuinage, which is actually a really trick Judo throw.

Ishiura vs Tochiozan – Ishiura starts his climb back where he faces Tochiozan for the first time. Tochiozan has been struggling of late, so there may not be much to this match, but it will provide us an early look to see if Ishiura is getting more comfortable in his sumo at this level.

Ichinojo vs. Aoiyama – Battle of the giants! Ichinojo is one of the few rikishi who might not notice when Aoiyama lands one of his amazing slaps. I will be certain that both men will be flailing away with reckless abandon, and frankly I give a slight edge to Aoiyama this time, although Inchinojo leads there career record 5-2.

Endo vs. Arawashi – Arawashi had a farily bad record coming out of January, and Endo had a losing record as well. They have only matched 3 times prior, with Endo taking 2. If Endo can land a grip within the first few seconds, it’s all Endo. if Arawashi can keep him away at first, he will likely prevail.

Shohozan vs. Takayasu – Another fine scheduling idea – let’s have Kisenosato’s retainers fight each other the first day. Because you know they both want to know who is better. So send the sword-bearer and dew-sweeper in to sort it out like Sumotori do. in their prior 9 matches, Takayasu holds a very slight 5-4 edge. But by all accounts in the press, Takayasu has been training in “Beast Mode” in Kisenosato’s fight-club dungeon in Osaka. So this will be an early show of his current mode of sumo.

Tamawashi vs. Takanoiwa – Dont’ let his Maegashira 2 rank fool you, I call him “Demon Hunter Takanoiwa” for a reason. When he gets going his sumo if fast and effective, and even the Yokozuna are never safe. Tamawashi holds a 3-2 edge from their prior meetings, but it will be interesting to see if Tamawashi can deploy his Sekiwake moves. If Takanoiwa can set up for a throw, it’s all over, so keep you feed low and your stance wide, Tamawashi.

Sokokurai vs. Terunofuji – Time to see just how damaged Terunofuji is, and Sokokurai drew the reconnaissance mission. All indications is that Terunofuji is still hurt, not very well tuned up and in demotion condition. Keep in mind Sokokurai has never won against Terunofuji, but there is always a first.

Goeido vs. Ikioi – Ikioi has been steadily improving all through 2016. Now he will test Goeido’s bolt-on ankle repair kit. Ikioi has only won once in their prior 14 matches, but he has more than enough mojo to handle Goeido 1.0 if he is still only partially recovered. If Goeido 2.0 takes the doyho, Ikioi may need a doctor standing by.

Harumafuji vs Kotoshogiku – Demoted Ozeki against one of the strongest pure offenses in sumo. I hope and pray that none of these men do Kotoshogiku any favors, and that they honor him by giving him their full measure. This being Kotoshogiku, he will try to lock up Harumafuji for the hug-n-chug. I am hoping for a death-spin instead. But we are more likely to see the mini-henka or worse yet the old “Darth Vader”.

Mitakeumi vs Kakuryu – I think this will be the match of the day. Mitakeumi, if he stays healthy, is an important rikishi for many years to come. He had a chance to advance his cause with the most reactive and dynamic people in Sumo. I am convinced that Kakuryu has not pre-set plan, and waits for his opponent to open up, then concocts a series of countering moves that leaves that rikishi in increasingly bad positions, until Kakuryu just pushes them out or down. Kakuryu has won 2 of their 3 lifetime matches, so Mitakeumi has a chance to draw his mark early.

Special Wakaichiro Note

Tachiai favorite, Texas Sumotori Wakaichiro, fights his first bout in Jonokuchi early Sunday. He faces Jonokuchi 6 Shunpo, who has been strugging to escape Jonokuchi for 5 basho. Shunpo is only 16 years old and weighs about 213 pounds (97 kg). As always, we will post news and video as we can find it.

Haru Story 4 – Kotoshogiku


A Hard Road To Glory

The current crop of Ozeki (aside from Kisenosato) have been battling chronic injuries and a general lack of performance. The poster child for this miasma is Kotoshogiku, who just more than a year ago won the 2016 Hatsu basho, breaking a years long streak of Mongolian yusho. One year later, after being kadoban 3 times, he was demoted from Ozeki; a startling turn of fortunes for a powerful and iconic rikishi.

For Haru, he is one of 3 men who hold the Sekiwake rank, an unusual arrangement. Kotoshogiku as one chance to regain his rank – he must defeat 10 opponents out of the 15 he will face in Osaka. This will be no easy feat, and frankly, it should be impossible.

By his own admission, Kotoshogiku still suffers from the same injuries to his knees and back that have sapped his performance for the past year. His signature technique is to wrap up his opponent and apply a brutal, nearly unstoppable hip pumping attack. when he is healthy, and when he can get his “hug and chug” going, he is practically unstoppable. But without a strong and healthy lower body, Kotoshogiku cannot execute his signature move.

His path is steep and difficult to make 10 wins – meaning he can only lose 5 matches. In the first week, he will face Hakuho, Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Kisenosato, Goeido and Terunofuji. Granted several of those rikishi are currently battle damaged, but he has to survive this group only losing 5. In week two he will be facing the fierce San’yaku battle fleet, which is especially potent this basho, with some of the strongest performances during Hatsu in recent memory.

The Tachiai crew loves to watch a healthy, vigorous Kotoshogiku apply his brand of sumo, but we worry those days are now just a warm memory, and one of our favorites will now face a brutal rebuke on his campaign to reclaim Ozeki glory.