Natsu Day 10 Highlights


Takayasu

The Hard Chargers Already Achieve Kachi-Koshi.

Day 10, we saw a number of hard charging rikishi achieve their tournament winning records, known as kachi-koshi. This includes

  • Takayasu (actually secured day 9)
  • Terunofuji
  • Shodai
  • Tochinoshin
  • Ura

Kisenosato is in a tough spot – he is too injured to be competitive against the other Yokozuna and probably Terunofuji. There is a real chance he could end up with a make-koshi. Does he go kyujo? I think everyone would understand, but his pride would prevent him from sitting out the rest of the tournament. I am sure the NSK is worrying about what to do next.

The mess in Juryo continues to decay into radioactive slag. The chances of anyone being really worth to promote to Makuuchi is quite slime, as everyone in the top half of Juryo (and could be considered for promotion) has a record no better than 6-4. While there are several rikishi in Makuuchi worthy of return to Juryo, it’s going to be a real wild guess how the July banzuke is going to end up.

Takayasu’s Ozeki run has some problems, though he is likely to overcome. It’s the same issue that Kisenosato and Goeido face. With either Harumafuji or Hakuho healthy, it’s really tough towards impossible to be too dominant. With both of them healthy, you have to be thankful for every win in the upper ranks you can score. Fans will recall that this was the status quo for many years, and it’s one of the primary reasons Kisenosato stayed an Ozeki.

Selected Matches

Yutakayama defeats Ishiura – This was a bit of a strange match. It quickly went to Yutakayama holding Ishiura by the armpits, with Ishura bent over at the waist with a firm grip on Yutakayama’s mawashi. They stayed like this for quite a while until Yutakayama broke the stalemate, and tossed Ishura like a pizza crust into the Shimpan.

Tochinoshin defeats Daishomaru – Another weird one, there were two mattas, each time Daishomaru attempted a very poor henka without putting his hands on the dohyo at the tachiai. The third try? Henka again, but Tochinoshin was having none of it, and Daishomaru was done. Congratulations to Tochinoshin for a fairly early kachi-koshi

Ura defeats Kaisei – Kaisei seemed to struggle to figure out what to do with Ura, who once again was very low at the tachiai. Ura established a firm double hand flab-hold and began to lead Kaisei around like some kind of farm animal. Ura finished Kaisei off with a rather clever leg trip, and had his 8th win. Congratulations to Ura for his kachi-koshi, too.

Ichinojo defeats Takanoiwa – Very good bout right from the tachiai. Both rikishi struggled for control back and forth several times, and it seemed that Takanoiwa finally got the upper hand. Ichinojo was able to halt Takanoiwa’s charge at the tawara, and applied a rather well executed tsukiotoshi for the win.

Shodai defeats Sokokurai – Sokokurai had early control of this match, and looked to be in charge. But he could not put Shodai away. Shodai allowed Sokokurai to do all the work, and as Sokokurai tired, Shodai battled him back to the center of the dohyo. Sokokurai rallied and moved Shodai to the edge, but once again could not finish him. With his heels on the tawara, Shodai applied a somewhat clumsy tsukiotoshi to win the match. Shodaim also picks up his kachi-koshi

Terunofuji defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze started out with an attack plan, and engaged with vigor. However, he was up against a kaiju, who had no interest in playing with the berserker. Terunofuji picked him up like a puppy and set him outside the tawara. Yoshikaze to his credit knew the match was lost and went along with it. Terunofuji also hits 8 wins and claims his kachi-koshi.

Goeido defeats Chiyoshoma – Looked like Goeido 2.0. Keep in mind Goeido is kadoban this tournament, and is still 2 wins from reaffirming his rank. He has some tough matches coming up during the rest of this week.

Harumafuji defeats Tochiozan – Showing that he was not as injured as we feared yesterday, Harumafuji launched off the line and pushed Tochiozan directly out. It was no contest.

Kotoshogiku defeats Kisenosato – The sad tale of Kisenosato’s injuries continues. In his loss, the Japanese Yokozuna prolonged the inevitable for Kotoshogiku by another day.

Hakuho defeats Takayasu – Takayasu put everything he had into this match, but he was completely out-classed by Hakuho. Hakuho secured a solid mawashi grip early, and Takayasu struggled to get any traction. As Takayasu struggled to set up a throw, Hakuho decided he was done playing, lowered his head and his hips and drove them both off the dohyo, landing in the first row of zabuton. Some really good sumo. But it’s clear that the last 2 wins Takayasu needs to secure a bit to be promoted to Ozei will not be an easy run.

Natsu Day 6 Preview


Takayasu-Endo

Start Of The Middle Act.

The middle part of any basho is where we find out who is going to have a shot at the yusho, and who is going to struggle to stay above 500. Right now its clear that both Hakuho and Harumafuji are fit, strong and in their groove. We also have a very solid performance from Takayasu thus far, and he seems to be well on his way towards hitting the 10 wins needed for consideration for promotion to Ozeki.

Indeed, Takayasu has stated in recent interviews that he is pressing for the yusho, and believes he sumo is up to the task. His tests against Hakuho and Harumafuji are yet to happen, but they are likely to decide if Takayasu’s goal might be within reach. We could reasonably expect those matches this weekend, though the scheduling team may hold them for later next week, as they are certain to be a big draw for fans. Takayasu is a bona fide hit with fans in the Kokugikan, and you can safely assume that carries out to fans watching at home. Right now, most of Japan wants to see Takayasu succeed.

Day 6 is next, though, and while there will likely be some great sumo today, there are no huge earth shattering bouts on the torikumi.

Matches We Are Following

Tokushoryu vs Chiyotairyu – Both rikishi have be fighting well this tournament, and their prior 8 matches are evenly split. I expect Chiyotairyu to try an early hatakikomi, and Tokushoryu working hard to lock up the mawashi.

Onosho vs Kotoyuki – This is their first meeting. Kotoyuki has been looking lack-luster for the past year or so, and may have finally sunk down the banzuke far enough that he is competitive. He certainly has been brining very good sumo this tournament, and was surprisingly fast to react in the first 5 days. Both are pushers so, lots of flailing arms here.

Ichinojo vs Ura – The fans love a big man – little man match, and this is one of the ultimates. I hope that Ura keeps his eyes on Ichinojo, and can stay mobile.

Hokutofuji vs Sokokurai – Sokokurai won both their prior match ups, but don’t assume Hokutofuji is going to lose this one. Hokutofuji is still working to become comfortable in Makuuchi, but from watching the first 5 days, he is starting to get his sumo together at this level.

Takanoiwa vs Shodai – Shodai has been hit or miss, and is night fighting as well this tournament as his 4-1 record would indicate. But he does somehow seem “blessed’ inside and outside the ring. Statistically Takanoiwa has a slight edge.

Tamawashi vs Takayasu – Sekiwake battle today, with most of Japan rooting for Takayasu. Takayasu has found a way to win every match thus far, but he and Tamawashi are a career 6-6. Probably one of the better matches today.

Terunofuji vs Chiyonokuni – Another match with a lot of potential, Chiyonokuni is losing a lot this tournament, but fighting very well. Terunofuji may have rekindled the spark of his sumo again that was so compelling during Osaka, so I would anticipate a brawl. Interestingly, Terunofuji lost their only prior match up.

Mitakeumi vs Goeido – We have seen hints of Goeido 2.0 in the past couple of days, but Mitakeumi is at his career best right now. Mitakeumi did manage to beat Goeido once. It will be down to who shows up, Goeido 1.0 will lose this match, 2.0 will win it with a massive, rapid burst of offense that will overwhelm Mitakeumi.

Endo vs Hakuho – Only interesting because I am curious what kind of maneuver The Boss is going to use to crumple Endo.

Handicapping The Natsu Banzuke – Part 2


banzuke-3

The Meat Grinder & Cannon Fodder

*Updated after reader lksumo pointed out that my spreadsheet had somehow skipped special prize winner Takakeisho.

After the relative ease of the San’yaku ranks, we enter the mine field of the upper Maegashira. In Osaka, the upper 3 Maegashira ranks all had painfully bad losing records, and each of them will be handed a significant demotion for the upcoming tournament. When this happens, it’s a complete toss up who will be placed where in the upper rank and file. As was evidenced by Yoshikaze at Maegashira 4 having an 8-7 record, but probably begin placed at Komusubi.

The upper Maegashira ranks are some of the toughest in sumo. They will face the San’yaku, which should be 11 rikishi this tournament, and will likely face a lot of losses. All of the sumotori know this, but that is how it goes.

As with Osaka, we are using a series of formulas that I have been working to refine to help predict where each rikishi will be placed on the banzuke. It takes into account the wins, losses, the relative strength of the opponent for each, and a scoring factor that reflects the fact that the higher up the banzuke you are, the more difficult it is to advance.

Pouring all of that into the model, we end up with this computed ranking:

East Rank West
Chiyonokuni Maegashira 1 Endo
Chiyoshoma Maegashira 2 Okinoumi
Takarafuji Maegashira 3 Shodai
Tochiozan Maegashira 4 Takekaze
Ikioi Maegashira 5 Takanoiwa
Daieisho Maegashira 6 Aoiyama
Takakeisho Maegashira 7 Sokokurai

Top of the rank-and-file corps this time is Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni has been working himself silly to improve, and it really shows. He has also picked up considerable mass in the past year, and is better able to cope with massive beasts that inhabit Makuuchi. While his rank velocity was not massive, he had a stronger finish than most of the upper Maegashira. Joining him from the west is crowd favorite Endo who debuts at his highest rank ever. Many fans in Japan love Endo, and they are hoping that he can claim another kachi-koshi which would likely propel him into the San’yaku for July.

At Maegashira 2 we find Chiyoshoma, who launches up from Maegashira 5 on a comparatively strong record in March. This is his highest rank ever, and he has worked hard to reach this point. He is joined by veteran (and my wife’s favorite) Okinoumi, who has been battling injuries for some time. When he is well enough to compete, he is a significant factor in the tournament. We all hope he is in fighting shape this May.

At Maegashira 3 we surprisingly find Takarafuji. I can hear you asking: “Didn’t he finish with a make-koshi?”. The problem really is, who is worthy of Maegashira 3? The top 10 Maegashira ranked rikishi in March saw only two finish with winning records – Yoshikaze and Endo. Takarafuji finished with a 7-8, but surprisingly, that was better than most. Joining him is Shodai who has fallen three ranks from Komusubi

Tochiozan had a very strong finish in Osaka, and he will return to the upper Maegashira at 4e in May. The level of completion is quite different than his prior Maegashira 10 rank, and we hope he arrives at the basho ready to battle. Joining him is veteran Takekaze, who suffered a 10-5 record in March.

Ikioi take up a Maegashira 5 position for Natsu, after his terrible 10-5 record at Haru. Ikioi has a lot of potential, but has been terribly hit or miss for the past year. Joining him is Takanoiwa, who was also part of the group of upper Maegashira who had horrific records in Osaka.

Daieisho achieves his highest rank ever with a posting to Maegashira 6, moving up 5 places after a very strong tournament in March. Daieisho shows a lot of promise, and it will be interesting to see his performance against higher ranked rikishi. He will likely face some of the San’yaku during this tournament. Aoiyama joins him. Aoiyama has not really been overly impressive for several tournaments, and this may be the extent of his sumo, but we always leave the door open for improvement.

Rounding out the upper Maegashira is Takakeisho at Maegashira 7. Takakeisho turned in a fantastic 11-4 record in March, and earned a special prize. He vaults 5 places up the banzuke to a fairly challenging rank.  Joining him is Sokokurai. Sokokurai took home a brutal 4-11 record in March, and will be down in the much easier ranks for May.

Tune in Wednesday for the final installment, when I take a crack at the lower Maegashira.

Haru Day 7 Recap


Testicle-blow-by

Better Late Than Never!

There were few surprises in today’s action, but there was a massive amount of great sumo. We continue to see the lower San’yaku out-perform their historical averages, and this is led by Takayasu really dominating every match. This is, without a doubt, the best I have seen Takayasu perform ever, and he has been a strong contender for over a year. Pleasant surprises continue with Kotoshogiku, who seems to have survived the Sekiwake “hell” week with a winning score, and the possibility or racking up 10 wins. While in general I would encourage him to retire and move on to his new career of being a coach, it would be outstanding if his last act as a sekitori were to regain his Ozeki title.

Also in Ozeki land, Terunofuji – the real Terunofuji – has been gracing the dohyo once more after a long and miserable absence. If you have recently started to follow sumo, his performance this basho is more in line with the kind of sumo that made him Ozeki, and once made him actually feared.

Highlight Matches

Takakeisho defeats Ura – Takakeisho was in charge the whole time, even though Ura twice attempted his space-time defying back bend. Ura fans, like myself, need to keep in mind that there will be an adjustment period where he figures out Makuuchi. My only desire for him this basho is Kachi-koshi. Ura’s apology to the shimpan for the spontaneous lap dance was nice – the guy is total class.

Sadanoumi defeats Kyokushuho – Huge effort from both rikishi, this battle was a strength contest that played out across the dohyo of an extended period. Great effort from Kyokushuho in spot of his hurt knee.

Ishiura defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi is totally hapless these days, and I kind of feel sorry for him. Today’s bout with Ishiura was no exception, where the two grappled to a stalemate, then Ishirua unleashed an improvised move that turned into a rare kimarite: shitatehineri. Or as I would call it an under arm tea-bagging.

Tochinoshin defeats Myogiryu – via a dirty henka

Okinoumi defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan is no longer undefeated, and Okinoumi made it look easy.

Endo defeats Chiyoshoma – Outstanding technicals on this bout. Every time I think Endo has lost his mojo, he has a day like today where he does some really nice “if you are watching closely” stuff and stumps his opponent.

Hokutofuji defeats Arawashi – Hokutofuji went yotsu-zumō today, and it worked really well. Arawashi had a good chance at a throw, bout could not close the deal. As a college Yokozuna, I hope that Hokutofuji will employ mawashi fighting more now that he is in the top division.

Chiyonokuni defeats Yoshikaze – This lasted only a second, and Chiyonokuni won via hikiotoshi, or if you watch it the kimarite was really the “testicle-blow-by technique” deftly employed by Chiyonokuni. I would not be surprised to find out later that Chiyonokuni broke wind as Yoshikaze went sailing past his nethers. Strange and wonderful sumo indeed.

Kotoshogiku defeats Shohozan – Shohozan repeated Mitakeumi’s mistke: Hey, lets go chest to chest with the human bulldozer! Once again, having done the hard work for him, Shohozan was out backwards over the tawara before he could react.

Takayasu defeats Sokokurai – Winning technique should have been “Tachiai so strong that it loosened three fillings”. Not sure what kind of magic Takayasu is using, but he is ripe for a Henka in the coming week. That Tachiai is brutal and strong.

Terunofuji defeats Takekaze – Or should read, Terunofuji picks up 330 pound Takekaze like a bale of hay and removes him from the dohyo. If Terunofuji gets tired of sumo he can seek gainful employment as a piece of heavy machinery.

Kisenosato defeats Mitakeumi – Of course he does. Can anyone stop the great pumpkin now? He is so in his grove and his sumo is exactly what he wants every time. Everyone who thought he was not Yokozuna worthy can now get to the back of the line.

Harumafuji defeats Shodai – This bout made me very happy. Not because I don’t love me some Shodai, but Harumafuji looked more like his own self for the first time this basho. Word to Shodai, you are always too high on the tachiai. I know you are trying to protect your face, but it’s how you lose in the first moment of battle. You have to decide if you want to stay pretty or be good. Keep in mind, Yoshikaze was once a very handsome man.

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 2 — New Ozeki?


All eyes will be on Kisenosato as he makes his debut as the newest Yokozuna. Kisenosato is one of the greatest ozeki of all time. His run of 31 consecutive tournaments at the rank, averaging 10.7 wins per tournament, is a testament to his longevity and his consistency. The answer to the question, “Why hasn’t he won or been promoted before?” needs a one word answer: “Hakuho.” As Bruce wrote in “Haru Story 1,” this new yokozuna chapter of his career is the top question going forward.

However, talk will quickly turn to the diminished ozeki ranks. The door is wide open for a young up-and-comer to challenge for promotion. So, I ask of our readership, “Who will be the next Ozeki?” I’m not asking who will make the “next ozeki run” but who will actually be the next wrestler to secure a promotion? It will happen this year(…or else I will be in a lot of pain).

The leading candidates are in the poll below. Takayasu is arguably already on an ozeki run. We will need to see him carry this through summer. He leads the group of youngsters, including Mitakeumi & Shodai. He’s the most experienced of the three and has been pretty consistently in the top portion of the makuuchi for the past few years. Mitakeumi and Shodai have both made their starts in professional sumo a full 10 years after Takayasu but their rises have been meteoric. Can one of them make a quick Terunofuji-like charge for a championship?

Tamawashi’s chances likely put him at the top of the “veterans,” which I’m including Sokokurai and Kotoshogiku (whose path is obviously easiest). Tamawashi’s been around for ages. He’s as old as Sokokurai and Kotoshogiku, all born in 1984 and all three having been in sumo for more than a decade, but as recently as May 2013 he was down in Juryo. He’s been a solid wrestler but unassuming. Has he just been biding his time?

Alright, enough with me asking the questions. Here’s the one I hope you all will answer: