Aki Day 2 Preview


Dohyo-iri

Day 1 was not a kind in San’yaku land. Not only was there a clear losing streak among the named ranks, but many of the men who really needed to shine looked value and ill-prepared. Many of the up-and-coming rank and file rikishi seem to sense that there is a magic opportunity now, and pounced on the opening day. Some random comments before we preview day 2.

Harumafuji looked a bit stiff, but got the job done. I am very thankful he is going to try to tough it out. He is the man to beat this basho. Takayasu finally decided to wear the black mawashi, and he took the fight to Tochinoshin with gusto. Tochinoshin has a really bad left knee, and he is only one bad fall away from retirement, so it was worrisome to see him sail off the dohyo day 1.

Goeido should have known better, so should have Terunofuji. Hopefully they got that initial choke behind them and they can get down to business. Mitakeumi, sorry bloke! Onosho wanted it more. So up your sumo and let your day 1 loss motivate you for the next 14 days. Yoshikaze got smoked at the tachiai and could never recover. Chiyotairyu really was in outstanding form, and never gave the Berserker any opening to even start any offense.

Poor Shodai, his tachiai is still high and clumsy. Ura read him like some cheap manga and put him away just as Shodai overcommitted to a kimarite. Endo looks like he has a long road to full health. I get that he is competing to try and avoid demotion to Juryo or lower, but he may have a tough time of it.

I am going to be very interested to see if the day 1 problems in the San’yaku are just cobwebs being cleared away, or a further sign that the next generation are coming into their own.

What We Are Watching Day 2

Endo vs Asanoyama – Endo looked vague and fairly disoriented in his day 1 match, where Asanoyama seemed to have a plan and executed it well. it’s an open question on just how well recovered Endo is from his surgery in August. This is their first contest.

Daishomaru vs Kaisei – Kaisei looked strong but lethargic against Nishikigi. He has also never beaten Daishomaru in their prior two matches. Daishomaru, on the other hand, was fast, precise and in control day 1.

Chiyonokuni vs Takarafuji – Chiyonokuni has been struggling to regain his fighting spirit after a brutal outcome from the May tournament. He looked solid day one, but he faces the neckless wonder of Takarafuji, who leads their career series 4-2.

Ikioi vs Kagayaki – Ikioi’s day 1 match was also lack-luster, though he won, he did so in what seemed to be a sloppy and clumsy kimarite. Kagayaki is also one who is struggling for consistency, and has flashes of brilliance. Kagayaki has yet to win a match with Ikioi.

Shodai vs Ichinojo – I cite this because it has the potential to be a real yawner. Ichinojo is once again looking slow and lethargic, and I think he has gained a good amount of mass in the last few months. Shodai is stuck in a bit of a rut, and looked poor in his day 1 match with Ura.

Takakeisho vs Ura – Ura is fighting injured, but it was fun to see him improvise a win over Shodai on day 1. Takakeisho, on the other hand, is the epitome of the Angry Tadpole crew. He was blazingly fast and give his match everything, and came away a winner. Takakeisho leads their series 6-1. My hope is that Ura just comes away without further injury.

Shohozan vs Tochiozan – This has a lot of potential for an excellent bout. They are closely matched, and have similar styles of sumo. I give a slight edge to Tochiozan for this bout, in spite of the fact that Shohozan leads 11-7 over their career.

Mitakeumi vs Chiyotairyu – Mitakeumi was caught half way to his first step on day 1’s tachiai. This is quite unusual for him, and he was dead weight for Onosho to remove from the dohyo. Chiyotairyu’s outing against Yoshikaze was fast, effective and brutal. If Mitakeumi is serious about his Sekiwake rank, it’s time to bring his top-shelf sumo.

Onosho vs Yoshikaze – It’s tough to get the drop on Yoshikaze, but it happened day 1. Onosho has a chance to do it again, as hie is fast, strong and low to the ground. I expect Yoshikaze to be far more aggressive off the line today.

Takayasu vs Tamawashi – Takayasu is finally wearing his black mawashi, and it seems to suite him quite well. Tamawashi’s day 1 loss was more about balance problems than anything, and I am confident his day 2 sumo will be much improved. This could be a really good battle.

Terunofuji vs Kotoshogiku – I am really worried about Terunofuji. I know he is not in good shape, and he gets into a negative mood, and his mood really drives his sumo. When he is down, it seems as if he cannot win no matter what. Kotoshogiku’s day 1 mini henka was executed well, but he needs to use it sparingly.

Hokutofuji vs Goeido – Hokutofuji has something to prove, and it’s something rather spectacular. Goeido really can’t afford to lose bouts to rank-and-file rikishi, as he need to clear his kadoban flag early. Goeido won their only prior match.

Tochinoshin vs Harumafuji – Harumafuji is clearly in a lot of pain, but his sumo on day 1 was excellent. i expect him to not let Tochinoshin get anywhere near his belt, and to attempt his famous nodowa to keep the big Georgain under control.

Aki Banzuke Crystal Ball


image

My Nagoya banzuke predictions turned out to be reasonably accurate. This last basho created quite a mess, and a less predictable banzuke––I don’t envy the guys who have to make the real thing, which we will get to see on August 28. I’m going to take a crack at it anyway.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Hakuho Harumafuji
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu
O1 Takayasu Goeido
O2 Terunofuji  

No change in the Yokozuna pecking order after Nagoya. The real question is whether we will have more than one Yokozuna start, much less finish, the next basho. Takayasu takes over the top Ozeki spot after putting up the only reasonably solid Ozeki performance at Nagoya. Goeido and Terunofuji are both kadoban, and I hope Terunofuji can recover from his persistent injuries.


Lower San’yaku

Usually, this part of the banzuke is relatively predictable. Not so this time. Kotoshogiku drops out of San’yaku for the first time since 2010. The only certainties are that Mitakeumi will hold the S1e slot, and that Yoshikaze will remain in San’yaku after going 9-6 at Komusubi. Otherwise, there’s quite a logjam for the remaining slots, and a lot of uncertainty as to who will end up where. The contenders:

Tamawashi, who went 7-8 at Sekiwake and will drop at least to Komusubi after four tournaments at the higher rank.

Tochiozan, who had a great tournament at 12-3 as maegashira 5, defeating an Ozeki and both Sekiwake along the way.

Aoiyama, the Jun-Yusho and special prize winner, who went an amazing 13-2 as maegashira 8, but didn’t beat or even fight anyone of note until his defeat of a fading Yoshikaze on the final day.

Tochinoshin, who more than held his own in the meat grinder as maegashira 2, fighting all the big guns and defeating a Yokozuna, an Ozeki, both Sekiwake and a Komusubi on his way to a 9-6 record.

By the numbers, I would rank-order the 5 contenders for the 3 slots behind Mitakeumi as  Tochiozan, Yoshikaze, Aoiyama, Tochinoshin, Tamawashi, placing Tochiozan in the S1w slot, Yoshikaze and Aoiyama in the Komusubi slots, and leaving Tochinoshin and Tamawashi out in the cold. However, being in San’yaku confers certain privileges: Yoshikaze probably gets first dibs on the Sekiwake slot, and Tamawashi is unlikely to drop lower than Komusubi despite coming in last on the list above. Judging by past history, none of the performances were sufficiently strong to “force” the creation of extra San’yaku slots. So I’m going to go with the prediction below, much as it pains me to leave out Tochinoshin.

S Mitakeumi Yoshikaze
K Tochiozan Tamawashi

The Meat Grinder

I’m going to include the M1-M4e ranks here. Along with the San’yaku, this group makes up the “joi” or upper ranks, and regularly faces San’yaku competition (as we saw in Nagoya, the exact “joi” boundary is fuzzy, and changes during the tournament after withdrawals and, to some extent, based on performances to that point).

The meat grinder ranks actually acquitted themselves relatively well in Nagoya, unlike the disasters of the previous two basho. Tochinoshin and Hokutofuji both earned their kachi-koshi, and each deserves to be one rank higher up the banzuke, but there isn’t room. Onosho should find himself at M3 after two extremely impressive 10-5 tournaments following his Makuuchi debut. He seems unintimidated by anyone, and may hold his own despite his lack of experience. Chiyotairyu and Shohozan put up the only other solid records in the mid-maegashira ranks, and find themselves vaulting up the banzuke from M10.

M1 Tochinoshin Aoiyama
M2 Hokutofuji Kotoshogiku
M3 Onosho Chiyotairyu
M4 Shohozan

Mid-maegashira

The rest of Makuuchi was a mess of of make-koshi records, ranging from bad to worse, and some weak kachi-koshi performances among the lower ranks. This makes it difficult to come up with a fair and consistent rank order. Rikishi with 7-8 records in a weak field are especially hard to place, as their computed rank may suggest a promotion, which as far as I know is never done for kachi-koshi records. One can start by dividing the rikishi into groups of similar projected rank, and then worry about the order within each group.

Group 1, M4w-M5w: Ura, Shodai, Takakeisho.

Everyone’s favorite Ura managed a 7-8 record at M4e despite being thrown into the meat grinder prematurely and getting injured as a result. Shodai and Takakeisho each went 5-10 at M1. It would be reasonable either to place Ura at M4w, with the other two at M5, or to flip this order. Given that Ura went make-koshi, that he was under-ranked last basho, and that Shodai tends to get over-ranked, I have a feeling NSK will do the latter, despite Ura’s slightly higher computed rank.

Group 2, M6: Ichinojo, Kagayaki.

Ichinojo put up another lackluster performance, going 7-8. He should drop in rank, but there are no other reasonable contenders for M6e. Kagayaki has the best claim of the rest to M6w.

Group 3, M7-M9: Ishiura, Ikioi, Chiyoshoma, Takanoiwa, Chiyonokuni, Takarafuji.

A mix of poor records higher up the banzuke and better records quite far down the banzuke. Ikioi, Chiyoshoma, and Takanoiwa deserve bigger drops in rank, but Chiyonokuni and Takarafuji did not earn this much of a promotion. Ishiura actually has the best computed rank, and deserves the M7e slot, but since he went make-koshi (7-8) at M8w, he can’t be ranked any higher than that. The main question in this group is whether to place him at M8w, or move him below the two kachi-koshi guys, Chiyonokuni and Takarafuji. As with Ura, I’m opting for the lower rank.

Group 4, M10: Arawashi, Takekaze.

This is straightforward: M12 guys both went 8-7 and move up to M10.

Group 5, M11-M12: Daieisho, Chiyomaru, Daishomaru, Kaisei.

This order drops Daishomaru (M11w, 7-8) below Chiyomaru (M15w, 9-6), but keeps him above Kaisei, the top Juryo escapee.

M4 Shodai
M5 Takakeisho Ura
M6 Ichinojo Kagayaki
M7 Ikioi Chiyoshoma
M8 Takanoiwa Chiyonokuni
M9 Takarafuji Ishiura
M10 Arawashi Takekaze
M11 Daieisho Chiyomaru
M12 Daishomaru Kaisei

Lower maegashira, promotions, and demotions

Sadanoumi and Nishigiki earned Makuuchi stays by going kachi-koshi. Endo and Okinoumi suffer big drops but should be safe. Gagamaru earned a quick return to Juryo and should fall far down the Juryo banzuke, while Kotoyuki also definitely earned a demotion. Yutakayama and Asanoyama should definitely join Kaisei in Makuuchi, one of them at the expense of Sokokurai. This would mark a Makuuchi debut for Asanoyama. I think that Myogiryu will claim the last promotion slot, which will be vacated by Tokushoryu, and that Aminishiki will just miss out on promotion.

M13 Sadanoumi Endo
M14 Okinoumi Nishikigi
M15 Yutakayama Asanoyama
M16 Myogiryu
J1 Aminishiki Tokushoryu
J2 Sokokurai

San’yaku Torikumi Forecast


Since the schedulers only give us the Torikumi one day in advance, it’s fun to speculate about the days ahead. Below is a guess for the bouts for the remaining San’yaku rikishi for days 12-15. Others who know more about scheduling than I do should chime in.

  Day 12 Day 13 Day 14 Day 15
Hakuho Tamawashi Goeido Takayasu Harumafuji
Harumafuji Mitakeumi Takayasu Goeido Hakuho
Goeido Tochiozan Hakuho Harumafuji Takayasu
Takayasu Kagayaki Harumafuji Hakuho Goeido
Tamawashi Hakuho Hokutofuji Ura Kagayaki
Mitakeumi Harumafuji Tochinoshin Ikioi Chiyoshoma
Yoshikaze Tochinoshin Ikio Kagayaki Ura
Kotoshogiku Shodai Ura Tochinoshin Hokutofuji

The Yokozuna schedule should be very straightforward. The only question is the order in which they face the Ozeki, and given the cache of the HakuhoTakayasu bout, I’m guessing they’ll hold it till day 14, even though Goeido is ranked higher than Takayasu on the Banzuke.

This also sets the Ozeki schedule except for day 12. They will already have fought the rest of the San’yaku and the upper maegashira after day 11, and Kagayaki and Tochiozan are next in line. Given his stronger record, I have Takayasu facing the higher-ranked of the two.

The two sekiwake have their remaining Yokozuna bouts on day 12, and then face the upper maegashira they haven’t fought yet. The two komusubi are done with their San’yaku schedule, and will face maegashira from here on out.

Beyond the high-rank bouts with obvious yusho implications, I’m looking forward to Ura facing Kotoshogiku, Tamawashi, and Yoshikaze, as I’m sure is everyone else. Goeido is fighting to avoid kadoban status. All four sekiwake/komusubi slots are mathematically up for grabs (although Mitakeumi needs only one more win), with multiple candidates to move up to the San’yaku should slots open up, so the remaining Tochinoshin and Hokutofuji bouts also have a lot of meaning and should be fun to watch.

It’s looking like a great final act to Nagoya!

Nagoya Day 10 Preview


Giant-Sumo-Macaroon
Behold! The Giant Macaroon of Victory!

Closing The Second Act

My template for any basho is a series of 3 acts, with the second one being focused on trimming the field to a handful of rikishi who will compete for the cup. For Nagoya, we have slim chance of anyone other than Hakuho winning this one. The only credible rikishi is Aoiyama at 8-1, and there is little hope that he could best Hakuho in any kind of head-to-head match should it come to that. Right now it’s Hakuho’s basho to lose.

The strong story of this basho, as we outlined in the weeks leading up to Nagoya, is the strength of the new blood that had entered Makuuchi since the Kyushu basho in November. Up to that point, the upper ranks were largely populated by men who had been Sekitori for more than 4 years, many of whom were getting a bit long in the tooth. It was clear that we would have a cull as soon as a strong class of men were able to fight their way past Juryo, and into position to dethrone the old guard.

Today we see that outcome beginning to manifest itself, with the startling surprise that in spite of injury, surgery, hospitalization and a brutal road to recovery, Hakuho one again sits atop the sumo world. For fans who are new to sumo, or those who cannot recall, with Hakuho Genki, the chances of anyone being able to reach Yokozuna are very close to zero. It’s one thing to win two yusho in a row when you have fierce men holding down the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks (such as a healthy Terunofuji or Kisenosato), and another matter entirely when you have to overcome Hakuho.

What’s in store for act 3? I suspect the Nagoya basho has a few more tricks up its sleeves, and we are likely to see at least one more crazy day before the winner can claim the coveted giant macaroon of victory.

Nagoya Leader board

Leader – Hakuho
Chaser – Aoiyama
Hunt Group – Takayasu, Onosho, Chiyotairyu, Takarafuji

6 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 10

Takarafuji vs Gagamaru – Takarafuji going for kachi-koshi, while Gagamaru is praying he can stay out of Juryo for another basho. Sad news for Planet G, Takarafuji has won all 6 of the prior bouts.

Nishikigi vs Takekaze – After a strong start, Nishikigi is on a 3 bout losing streak. He has never won against Takekaze, so this could be an inch closer to the edge of make-koshi and an unfortunate return to Juryo. Time to gamberize!

Aoiyama vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu pushing for kachi-koshi against the man mountain today. I will be curious to see if Aoiyama will back off the throttle now that he has secured a winning record. He has to know that a trip to the upper Maegashira is now likely, and it brings plenty of pain. Aoiyama leads the series 6-2.

Tokushoryu vs Onosho – Onosho has a shot at kachi-koshi today too, but he needs to overcome the man with biggest overhang in sumo, none other than Tokushoryu. only 3 prior matches, and Tokushoryu has taken 2 of them.

Tochinoshin vs Ichinojo – Big and strong takes on strong and huge. Tochinoshin is back in fighting form, and could be headed for San’yaku if he can get his last 3 wins. Tochinoshin leads their series 8-4.

Kagayaki vs Hokutofuji – Nice match between the fresh rikishi. Both of them have losing records at the moment, but a lot of that is due to their tours through the upper ranks. Kagayaki has never won against Hokutofuji, but today could be his day.

Yoshikaze vs Takakeisho – Yoshikaze completely dismantled Takayasu on day 9, and being a fan of both, it was glorious to watch. As some of our readers have mentioned, Takayasu has gotten a bit one dimensional in the past 3 bouts. Compare his sumo for Aki 2016 to today, and you can see the change. Now, he did what he needed to do in order to reach Ozeki, but he is clearly getting easier to read and counter.

Shodai vs Mitakeumi – I am guessing no henka today. Shodai’s tachiai may be high and sloppy, but he keeps his eyes center-mass of his opponent. I expect he is going to try to get inside on Mitakeumi fast before Mitakeumi can get the tsuppari torrent running. Shodai leads their series 5-3

Kotoshogiku vs Goeido – Kotoshogiku wants to set up for his hip-pump attack, it’s his one thing. Goeido needs to keep this a run-and-gun match, which the Goeido 2.0 software is actually tuned for. These two have met 43 times in the past, but Goeido is the clear winner of their matches.

Takayasu vs Ura – Over to you Takayasu, can you handle this guy? He seems to command the fabric of the universe at times, if you let him. I am hoping that rather than his ordinary shoulder blast, he goes for a strong left hand inside at the tachiai and brings Ura in close. Ura will not last long trying to support the burly bulk that is Takayasu. This is their first bout.

Hakuho vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma is actually fighting pretty well this basho, and if he did not have to fill in for some kyuju talent at the top end, would likely be in for a nice kachi-koshi. But instead he gets to be cannon fodder for the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps in the final days. Only their second meeting, with Hakuho taking the last match.

Tamawashi vs Harumafuji – Let’s watch them trade choke holds! Bring it on, who can hold their breath longest while man-handling 300+ pounds of rikishi on a slippery clay surface? Yeah, Harumafuji for sure because he has been known to hold his breath for a hour while engaging in Butsukari with Terunofuji.

The crystal ball was pretty clear for Nagoya


I learned some banzuke projection lessons from Natsu, and stuck closer to my quantitative system, with fewer subjective adjustments. This worked much better, as detailed below. I also think that Nagoya was easier to predict, largely due to many fewer rikishi with 8-7 or 7-8 records.

The San’yaku went exactly to form. The only real question was whether Kotoshogiku would hold on to the second Komusubi slot, and he did. The meat grinder also went almost exactly as predicted, with only Endo and Ura switching positions. Ura had a better computed rank, and I thought Endo would drop further after his 6-9 record, but given his popularity and how well he did against the San’yaku, relatively speaking, this isn’t a huge surprise. Ura might have a slightly easier schedule at M4e than at M3w, which he can use in his first tournament this high up the banzuke, although he’ll still get at least a taste of San’yaku opponents.

The lower maegashira ranks are always harder to predict, but even here, all the projection misses were by one rank, and involved switches of rikishi who had identical computed ranks. It’s hard to see a consistent pattern in NSK’s choices of Takanoiwa above Aoiyama, Okinoumi above Chiyotairyu, Takekaze above Takarafuji, or Kotoyuki above Chiyomaru. In the coin flip M16 slot, Gagamaru got the nod over Kaisei.

Overall, my projection resulted in 28 “bullseyes” (correct rank and side), 3 additional correct ranks on the wrong side, and 11 misses, all of them by one rank. Among the maegashira projections, there were 17 bullseyes, 3 hits, and 11 misses. I’m gaining some confidence that the projections can give us a good early idea of what the official banzuke ends up looking like.

Nagoya banzuke crystal ball part 1


Following mixed success in predicting the Natsu banzuke, I’m going to take a shot at Nagoya.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Hakuho Harumafuji
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu
O1 Terunofuji Goeido
O2 Takayasu  

The ranks here are determined by performance at Natsu, with the exception of Shin-Ozeki Takayasu, who will need to work his way up from O2e. Although we no longer have three sekiwake, Andy’s OCD will have to cope with three Ozeki instead.


Lower San’yaku

S Tamawashi Mitakeumi
K Yoshikaze Kotoshogiku

I would not be shocked to see Shodai at K1w in place of Kotoshogiku–will the NSK favor the popular up-and-comer or the grizzled vet?


The Meat Grinder

I’m going to include the M1-M4 ranks here. Along with the San’yaku, this group makes up the “joi” or upper ranks, and regularly faces San’yaku competition. When none of the rikishi in the San’yaku ranks are kyujo, there are currently 11 of them, so they need  to face 5 wrestlers outside the San’yaku to make up their 15 bouts. This takes us down to M3e. But as commenter Asashosakari noted, M3w has to face at least Harumafuji, Terunofuji, Kisenosato and Takayasu, who can’t face a wrester from the same heya. At Natsu, the numbers of San’yaku opponents for the M1-M4 ranks was 11, 11, 8, 9, 9, 5, 6, 2. So there was the expected drop-off at M3w (Aoiyama), but he and Tochiozan (M4e) still faced quite a few San’yaku opponents as a result of the combination of same-heya wrestlers and withdrawals of Kakuryu and Kisenosato. Shodai faced 3 San’yaku opponents (and defeated two of them!), and no one else ranked at M4w or lower faced more than 2.

Why “the meat grinder”? Well, as a group, these rikishi went a horrific 8-51 against their San’yaku opponents, a 0.136 winning percentage. The only one with more than one win was Endo, who sort of held his own at 4-7. Excluding his performance, the rest of this group went an abysmal 4-44 (0.083 winning percentage). Not surprisingly, the M1-M3 ranks will turn over completely, as they did after Haru, and most of this group will fall far down the banzuke, although Endo should hang on at M4.

M1 Shodai Takakeisho
M2 Tochinoshin Hokutofuji
M3 Ikioi Ura
M4 Endo Kagayaki

Shodai will probably just miss out on a komusubi slot; one more victory would have sealed the deal. He and Ikioi and Endo are no strangers to this level of competition. Neither is Tochinoshin, who is dangerous if healthy. It’ll be interesting to see how Takakeisho and Hokutofuji acquit themselves at this level. I’m afraid Nagoya will be a “learning experience” for Ura, just like Natsu was for Daieisho. Kagayaki is just here to balance the columns and not needlessly trigger Andy’s OCD.

Part 2 will cover the lower maegashira ranks.

Natsu Sanshō / Special Prize Winners


Natsu Sansho

San’yaku Cleans Up

At the conclusion of every basho, the sumo kyokai award a series of special prizes. They are intended to recognize rikishi who have over-performed and achieved greatly in the basho. At the end of Natsu, 4 special prizes were awarded, and all but one went to members of the San’yaku.

Natsu Special Prizes

Ginō-shō (技能賞), Technique prize
Yoshikaze (his 3rd award)
Takayasu (his 2nd award)

Kantō-shō (敢闘賞), Fighting Spirit prize
Onosho (1st award)

Shukun-shō (殊勲賞), Outstanding Performance prize
Mitakeumi (1st award)

Onosho is notable in that he really tore through the ranks on his first Makuuchi basho, going 10-5 from Maegashira 14 rank. Mitakeumi was notable in that he defeated two Yokozuna in his Natsu matches.

Congratulations to all sanshō winners.