Nagoya Day 12 Highlights

Takayasu Day 12b

For those of you worried about spoilers, you can stop reading now until you have had a chance to watch your time-delayed broadcasts. This commentary will still be here later.

For fans who are outranged about today’s final match, I have some words to perhaps help explain. Mitakeumi is still the leader, and is still likely to take the yusho. He’s clearly on an Ozeki campaign now, and he is showing his best sumo ever. He lost nothing today, and possibly gained much. Its possible that on this day, when there was a chance for the shimpan to make a call, they chose to think about things in a broader strategic context. I do not agree with the way they decided this, but then again I am not a sumo elder, or a member of the NSK, or anything more than a sumo fan typing away on a blog.

Let’s look at the possible outcomes.

  1. Call the match for Mitakeumi – Well, it looks like Takayasu’s big toe touched the sand before Mitakeumi’s foot landed out. So, close enough. Mitakeumi goes to 12-0, and everyone else had 9 wins. The only way that the yusho might be contested in the last weekend is if Mitakeumi loses his last 3 matches.
  2. Call the match for Takayasu – Ok, Takayasu goes kachi-koshi, and clears kadoban. One of the few remaining kanban rikishi is protected and whatever injuries that are plaguing him have more time to heal before he feels the need to defend his rank. Mitakeumi exits the day still 2 wins ahead of everyone else, just the way it started, and there is a tiny tiny chance that someone with experience (Goeido) might be able to contest for the yusho. That goes double as Mitakeumi faces Goeido in day 13’s final match. This is good for competition, the fans, TV ratings and the sport. If NHK’s ratings follow similar ratios to Tachiai’s web traffic, the lack of kanban rikishi in this tournament have dropped viewership.
  3. Call for a torinaoshi / rematch – The last thing you want to do is have an already injured Takayasu possibly compounding his problems in a second bout against your rising star. Given what we could see on the replays, this looked like the right thing to do for the match, but I am going to guess the Shimpan took option 2 as the best thing to do for sumo.

Day 12 Matches

Takanoiwa defeats Kotoeko – Soon to be returning Takanoiwa dispatches soon to be departing Kotoeko in this first Makuuchi bout of the day. Takanoiwa seems like maybe he picked up some mass. Today’s match was a simple push-pull win.

Sadanoumi defeats Ishiura – Ishiura tries to submarine the tachiai, but Sadanoumi is unfazed and continues to march forward with Ishiura crumpled against his chest. Ishiura now one loss away from a likely demotion back to Juryo.

Aoiyama defeats Ryuden – Ryuden loses thanks to Aoiyama’s henka. Wait, what? Aoiyama henka? If you are Ryuden, are you more embarrassed that you lost, or that you let Aoiyama henka you?

Myogiryu defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan gets his third loss and drops back into the peloton. Myogiryu was fast and aggressive, and did not let Tochiozan disrupt his offense. Myogiryu gets his kachi-koshi.

Yutakayama defeats Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji was once again low and fast at the tachiai, but he gave up the inside thrusting position to Yutakayama and was never able to gain offensive traction. Excellent sumo today from Yutakayama. While Hokutofuji fans would love to see him run up the score and be mid-Maegashira at Aki, his kachi-koshi is what he needed to pull back from the bottom edge of the Makuuchi banzuke. His sumo is looking strong and he seems to be past the injuries that had him underperforming. Yutakayama is looking very genki, and we may get to see him try the joi again after his disastrous 2-13 at Natsu.

Onosho defeats Chiyoshoma – Even though he beat Chiyoshoma today, I have gotten the impression that Onosho is not quite 100% right now. I don’t know if its lingering effects of his injury, or the heat of Nagoya or what. He needs one more win for kachi-koshi. I think we will continue to see him regrouping for at least one more basho. Hopefully by then the red mawashi will be back from the cleaners.

Kyokutaisei defeats Arawashi – With his heels against the make-koshi bales, Kyokutaisei has found the mojo to win yet again. Sadly Arawashi’s 3-9 record is bad enough he is getting close to what could be an aggressive demotion to Juryo line.

Daieisho defeats Meisei – Daieisho punches Meisei’s return ticket to Juryo by handing him his make-koshi with a pride obliterating side-step and pull down. I think its possible we will see a mighty Makuuhci-Juryo churn headed into Aki.

Chiyomaru defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze continues to push the envelope on his unstoppable march to a totally winless anti-yusho. As a Yoshikaze fan, I just have to hope that whatever is wrong with him is not painful, fatal or crippling. Whats more, I think most of the rikishi know what’s going on, as you can see Chiyomaru take extreme care to keep him safe. And he’s not the first to do it this tournament.

Kaisei defeats Asanoyama – Kaisei gets a well earned kachi-koshi. His performance this basho has been above his recent average, and we hope he can stay healthy and genki. Asanoyama threw quite a bit of sumo at him, but Kaisei’s superior reach, and mass-driven stability carried the match. With this loss, Asanoyama also drops back into the peloton.

Takakeisho defeats Chiyotairyu – Takakeisho breaks out the “Wave Action” sumo again, and today it works against an increasingly frustrated Chiyotairyu, who just can’t seem to get that win that will give him kachi-koshi. Takakeisho will likely be top Maegashira / bottom San’yaku for Aki.

Ikioi defeats Takarafuji – Can two men turn ottsuke into a match long battle strategy? Hell, these two sure tried to do it. This was followed by an endurance lean-off at the shikiri-sen. After perhaps a minute, Ikioi rallies and tries to advance. And what is Takarafuji doing? Why more ottsuke of course. Alright, congrats to Ikioi on what was a somewhat ridiculous match.

Shodai defeats Daishomaru – Now that he is make-koshi, Shodai decides to show up and try some sumo today. With the exception of his normally high and flat tachiai, he actually executed well. Clearly the young man needs to regroup, as I still think there is hope for him and his sumo.

Tamawashi defeats Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni recovers brilliantly after he loses his balance early in the match, but Tamawashi chases him down and finishes Chiyonokuni with a kotenage, which like Kotoshogiku, seems to have injured his elbow. Sadly Chiyonokuni faces Ikioi day 13 rather than Shodai, because if Chiyonokuni were to go kyujo, we could have had one of the 2 fusensho men give the other 2 fusensho man a fusensho.

Abi defeats Shohozan – Abi works the double arm tsuppari attack successfully today, and the already make-koshi shohozan gets a close look at the tokudawara.

Ichinojo defeats Kagayaki – Ichinojo hands Kagayaki his make-koshi when Kagayaki’s sumo fundamentals break down as they are confronted by 500 pounds of pony tossing Ichinojo. Points to Kagayaki for trying to set the tone and form of the match against an opponent who has been far too docile this tournament, but Ichinojo was ready to fight today, and took Kagayaki to his chest and pacified him. Unable to improve his grip or get a firm hold against the boulder, Kagayaki was stalemated in a war of attrition. I was impressed by how well Kagayaki fought off the uwatenage when it came, but there was just too much force bundled in that move by Ichinojo to shut it down.

Goeido defeats Endo – Endo is ejected from the peloton by Goeido after a false start at the tachiai. Goeido wins in his preferred “good” mode: low, fast, and more or less unstoppable. Endo compounded the problem by trying to pull against Goeido’s denshamichi attack.

Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Fans were howling long before my alarm woke me this morning over this match, and I think rightly so. The match did achieve it’s strategic goal, which was to hand Miakeumi his first kuroboshi, and open up the yusho race heading into the final weekend. But Mitakeumi dominated that match, set the terms and the cadence of the fight, and literally made Takayasu dance to his sumo. The match ended with both men moving at speed over the bales on the north side of the dohyo, and visiting the VIPs in the first two rows of tawara. The gyoji loses his mind and points both east and west, and it’s clear the shimpan is going to sort this one out. To my eye, this was a very clear situation for torinaoshi (rematch). But the decision of the shimpan is best framed in that by awarding the match to Takayasu, they would achieve the strategic goal of day 12. So they did. Takayasu did a masterful job of staying airborne, and that was quite impressive. Takayasu gets his 8th win for kachi-koshi, and clears kadoban.

Nagoya Day 12 Preview

Tochiozan

It had to happen…

Day 12 seems to be the day the schedulers have decided to start combining the most volatile components in attempts to induce a big, smoke and fire producing reaction in the laboratory that is Nagoya. As is typical with every basho, once we get to act 3, the normal formula for matches gives way to a series of “Hey that’s neat” matches, which frequently feature huge banzuke gaps to bring rikishi with similar styles, records or fierce rivalries together.

At the end of day 11, Mitakeumi needed to reach at least 14 wins to mathematically eliminate his closest rivals, Asanoyama and Tochiozan who could reach (in theory) 13 wins by Sunday. So Mitakeumi needs to face the remaining Ozeki, no matter how banged up they are, to see if he has what it takes to beat all opponents. In parallel, Tochiozan and Asanoyama need stiffer challenges. Ideally they can bring everyone in this group to 3 losses by Sunday, opening the possibility of a broader competition with the remaining stragglers in the peloton.

Nagoya Leaderboard

LeaderMitakeumi
Chasers – none
Hunters – Asanoyama, Tochiozan
PelotonGoeido, Endo, Yutakayama, Hokutofuji

4 Matches Remain.

What We Are Watching Day 12

Kotoeko vs Takanoiwa – Takanoiwa comes to Makuuchi to fill in the gap left by Kotoshogiku, and for orientation for his return to Makuuchi. He can wave at poor Kotoeko who is likely to be headed back to Juryo for additional seasoning and ripening.

Aoiyama vs Ryuden – First time meeting between to 6-5 rikishi, who are still very much in the hunt for a kachi-koshi. For Ryuden, wins now are a must. Aoiyama may already be safe.

Myogiryu vs Tochiozan – Tochiozan is holding fast to his spot 2 wins behind Mitakeumi, hoping that King Tadpole can lose at least 2 matches. In the mean time I expect he will continue to execute his high-efficiency sumo. These two are evenly matched over their career at 11-12, and Myogiryu needs one more win to secure kachi-koshi.

Hokutofuji vs Yutakayama – Though it is toward the bottom of the banzuke, this one might just be the most anticipated match of the day. Both are already kachi-koshi, both are still in the peloton group, and both are fighting in fantastic form right now. Hokutofuji has been able to overpower some of his opponents, but I am going to guess Yutakayama won’t be so easily dispatched.

Arawashi vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei tries once again to stave of make-koshi after taking a win from hapless Yoshikaze. Arawashi is already make-koshi, but he’s likely to continue to driver for wins to try and soften his demotion.

Meisei vs Daieisho – Maegashira 16 vs Maegashira 7, and the loser gets make-koshi. Their first ever match.

Kaisei vs Asanoyama – With Asanoyama 2 wins behind Mitakeumi, the schedulers decided it was time he played with some bigger men. Enter one of the largest available, the enormous Kaisei. Fresh from a loss to yusho leader Mitakeumi, the big Brazilian needs one more win to secure kachi-koshi.

Chiyotairyu vs Takakeisho – Another “Winner kachi-koshi” match, this time against the enormous Chiyotairyu and the highly rhythmic Takakeisho. I will be very interested to see Takakeisho tries his “wave action” again today after Endo shut him down on day 11.

Ikioi vs Takarafuji – Even match up in skill, but Ikioi seems to be at full strength while Takarafuji seems to just be working to survive. Takarafuji leads their career series 11-9, but I am looking for Ikioi to bring a win to his column.

Shodai vs Daishomaru – Both 3-8, both make-koshi and both of them in dire need of a return to Tokyo to regroup and rest up. Daishomaru tends to dominate Shodai, which is sad news as I think Shodai has been dominated enough already this basho.

Tamawashi vs Chiyonokuni – Both favor a run-and-gun style of sumo, so I am looking for a highly mobile, highly kinetic, and possibly violet match between these two. Tamawashi holds a 3-1 career advantage, but Chiyonokuni seems terribly genki in the Nagoya heat.

Abi vs Shohozan – Clearly Abi is having an extra crummy basho, but how can we make it worse? Oh yes, lets feed him to “Big Guns” Shohozan to tenderize a bit more. Both of them are make-koshi, so this match is to help gauge how big a drop each of them face for Aki.

Ichinojo vs Kagayaki – I favor Kagayaki in this one, if for no other reason than I have not seen Ichinojo be motivated and aggressive two days in a row this tournament. He certainly was aggressive against Takayasu, but I think that his 6-1 career advantage over Kagayaki may not play much of a factor day 12.

Goeido vs Endo – This match had to happen, if for no other reason than to showcase these two rikishi, and to test Endo to see how he might fare in the joi for Aki. Both rikishi are kachi-koshi now, so this match is more of a test, and about racking up the wins. Their career history is 4-4, so it will likely come down to if Goeido is running the right version of GoeiDOS on day 12.

Mitakeumi vs Takayasu – It’s time for the yusho leader to prove his mettle. Takayasu is not well, but is still a fierce opponent. A loss today would give Takayasu his kachi-koshi, release his kadoban status, and bring Mitakeumi within range of the hunt group. But fans would be right to suspect that Mitakeumi may use the same cold, rapid and effective sumo we saw day 11 against Kaisei.

Juryo: Haru Storylines Week 2

EDION Arena - Enho vs Wakatakakage - Haru 2018 Day 8 Juryo

As we’re midway through the competition and have already revisited our “Ones to Watch” from the bottom four divisions, let’s check in on the storylines facing the men of the Juryo division heading into the second week of action:

1. Can Kyokutaisei win promotion?

Needs for success: 8 wins

Second week prognosis: He’s on the right path, but has been tested. He sits 4-4 after 8 days. He’s at a rank where you’re going to be called up to makuuchi to get tested and make up the numbers, and he’s failed both tests so far (against Aoiyama and Ikioi). His day 8 loss was maybe a bit unlucky in that he nearly pulled out the win, but he’s going to have to find four wins from former top division men like Terunofuji, Gagamaru, and Chiyonoo in the coming days.

2. Golden Oldie Revival?

Needs for success: Old timers show results that state their case for a return to the big time in circumstances where more questions are being asked about how much longer they’ll remain in the sport.

Second week prognosis: Of the five rikishi we’re picking on, Takekaze, Sadanoumi, and Gagamaru look as though they are positioning themselves for quick and perhaps once thought improbable returns to the top flight. All men have six wins after 8 days. Aminishiki, meanwhile, looks set for a rather longer stay in the second tier, clearly hobbled by injuries and destined for a potentially brutal make-koshi. Tokushoryu looks like he might be treading water at his level with a 3-5 start.

3. Whither Kaiju?

Needs for success: passing expectations with a competent kachi-koshi, exceeding expectations with a thunderous yusho challenge and return to makuuchi.

Second week prognosis: Terunofuji is going to run into a handful of guys looking to state their promotion claim in the second week which he starts at a record of 4-4. It’s been a mixed slate so far: the technique is still there, but the strength has eluded him as he looks to rebuild his status following injury and diabetes related issues. Odds are he pulls out four more wins from seven, but he may need another tournament at this level in Tokyo this May before making his return to the big time. Curiously, when I attended Day 8, the applause for Terunofuji during both the Juryo dohyo-iri and his own match was muted compared to many other former makuuchi men in the Juryo division. I would have thought he’d get a least a little more love than he did, all things considered.

4. Takanoiwa

Needs for success: passing expectations with a competent kachi-koshi to knock off the cobwebs, exceeding expectations with a yusho challenge.

Second week prognosis: He won’t challenge for the yusho or even much of a move up the rankings list at Natsu on current form. He finds himself 4-4 and shouldn’t be in any danger of demotion, but he needs to find at least 3 wins to keep himself in the division and regroup for next time. At times the strength of the Takanoiwa we are used to seeing has shown up, but he’s found himself amidst a group of young, hungry rikishi who aren’t giving any quarter in their own efforts to establish themselves as sekitori. The rest of his matches should be against mid-Juryo veterans having middling tournaments, so there’s an opportunity at least to build momentum – after Mitoryu he’ll have faced all the fierce young talents in his way this tournament.

5. The Second Wave

Needs for success: These talented youngsters either need to: Cobble together enough wins to consolidate place in division (Yago, Takagenji, Daishoho, Terutsuyoshi), limit damage and try to avoid demotion if possible (Enho, Takayoshitoshi), continue progress with good kachi-koshi (Mitoryu)

Second week prognosis: Mixed bag, as expected.

Out of the first group (Yago, Terutsuyoshi, Daishoho and Takagenji), only Daishoho looks safe right now with a 5-3 record. Yago’s 2-6 tally leaves him in immediate danger of demotion, and the others are 3-5 and need to find 4 wins from somewhere.

Unfortunately for all of them, they won’t come at the expense of Takayoshitoshi as the kyujo man has faced all of them (except his brother), so none of them will pick up a helpful fusen-sho from his abdication in light of pummeling his tsukebito (instead it will be Ms1 Hakuyozan who picks up the win). Takayoshitoshi was 3-5 and likely heading for the demotion that has now been all but confirmed, and should he indeed remain withdrawn from the entire tournament then he will likely face a drop steep enough to leave him without a tsukebito for at least a couple more tournaments.

Enho, meanwhile, has delivered on his excitement, but hasn’t delivered in terms of wins. His overpromotion has left him a little exposed at the level as he’s even dropped 2 matches to visiting makushita men (and future sekitori) Hakuyozan and Wakatakakage. You can’t do that if you’re trying to stay in the division, and it’s likely that he may face an equally steep demotion as Takayoshitoshi: on current form both men will probably find themselves somewhere between Ms8 and Ms10.

Finally, if there’s a silver lining, it’s been Mitoryu. Much like his progress in Makushita, after taking one basho to settle, he’s really found his form and posted a 7 win tally over the first 8 days. Guys like Takanosho, Kotoeko and Gagamaru are in his future, and possibly if he continues to lead the yusho arasoi, potentially even Takekaze. So, it’s possible that this week we may already get to see what the talented young Mongolian can do against men with top level pedigree, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that on current form he will pass  his compatriot Terunofuji on the May banzuke.

Juryo: Haru 2018 Storylines

kyokutaisei-kachi-koshi
Kyokutaisei: can he finally win promotion to makuuchi?

While we tend to focus the lion’s share of our attention on what’s happening in the top division, or who the hot up-and-comers are in the sport, the banzuke announcement for Haru 2018 has prompted an unusual amount of intrigue at Juryo level. The division typically features a handful of grizzled vets trying to make it back to the big time, a couple interesting prospects, and/or some rikishi trying to recover form and rank following some recent injuries. But this time, we get all of those features and more in larger than usual numbers. Incredibly, 11 out of the 28 rikishi are also fighting at their highest ever rank. So, here’s a look at some storylines heading into next Sunday’s action:

1. Can Kyokutaisei win promotion?

He’s not a household name and was never a hot prospect, but Kyokutaisei has been an interesting follow for a while now, and plies his trade under the former fan-and-rikishi-favorite Kyokutenho at Tomozuna-beya. He’s an intriguing name, not least due to his rare status as a rikishi with a starring film credit in the film “A Normal Life,” which detailed the then-18 year old’s entry into the sumo world. It’s a fascinating, highly-recommended watch, and details a lot of the less-glamourous aspects of the life of a young rikishi.

Since debuting at this tournament 10 years ago, it’s been a slow and steady progression for the 28 year old. He reached the rank of Juryo 1 West and put up a 8-7 record at Hatsu, but it wasn’t enough to clinch one of the three promotion places and he’ll start Haru as the top ranked man in Juryo. He has clearly benefitted from the tutelage of Tomozuna-oyakata, and after a collapse that saw him fritter away a promotion opportunity having won 2 from his last 7 at Hatsu, hopefully he will be able to find the consistency to push him up to the top division after an incredible journey.

2: Golden Oldie Revival?

While 30 is not so old in the scheme of things, it is the age in many sports where serious fitness questions start to be asked. Of the eight rikishi directly behind Kyokutaisei in the banzuke, six are 30 or over, with the other two being 29 year old Azumaryu who will turn 30 by Natsu and the 22 year old up-and-comer Meisei.

This group includes the fan favorites and recently demoted makuuchi pair Aminishiki and Takakaze, as well as Gagamaru, Tokushoryu and Sadanoumi, who have recently spent more time in the Juryo wilderness than out of it. Haru should give us a good sense of whether any of these men can win the day and emphatically book their ticket back to the top division, or whether we will see an attritional battle indicative of the winding down of their careers.

3: Whither Kaiju?

Terunofuji’s health and the direction of the career have been the subjects of much debate, on these pages as well as within the comments section of the site. How long has it been since he last pushed someone out of the dohyo? The Juryo 5’s last win came as an Ozeki (interestingly, against current Emperor’s Cup holder Tochinoshin). He’s 0 for his last 15, and 2 for his last 21 excluding fusen losses, and has withdrawn at some stage of the last four tournaments.

The numbers, then, don’t look encouraging. But longtime followers will know what Terunofuji is capable of, and it’s possible that the jungyo-less time between Hatsu and Haru will have provided a platform for him to recapture some kind of form, and maybe even enough to find a promotion opportunity or at least get himself in a better position for Natsu. This tournament will be one year since the Haru 2017 Day 14 ‘henka heard round Osaka’ which halted Kotoshogiku from regaining his Ozeki rank – and at that time it would have taken a bold punter to bet that Kotoshogiku would be so far in front of his former Ozeki colleague a year later on the banzuke. Sumo is better for seeing the Isegahama man at his incredible best – but even some fraction of that will be a positive step forward for the Mongolian.

4. Takanoiwa

The Takanohana man hasn’t been seen since the Remote-Control-gate scandal that cost Yokozuna Harumafuji his sumo career. While the scandal rolled on through the end days of 2017, Takanoiwa abstained from duty while his head injuries healed. Now he finds himself near the bottom of the Juryo division at J12, surrounded by a plethora of talented youngsters. The Mongolian, in good health on his day is a match for anyone in the top division owing to his incredible strength. It stands to reason then that, if active, he should be an automatic title favorite in the Juryo yusho race. But will he even be active for Haru, and if so, will he be able to knock off the cobwebs and challenge for it?

5. The Second Wave

Much has been made of the new wave of talent that has rolled into makuuchi in the last year. While Takakeisho and Onosho and Hokutofuji have taken the division by storm and already established themselves in the top half, more up and comers like Asanoyama, Yutakayama and Abi have latterly pushed on and forced their way into the tournament story lines, grabbing special prizes and charming audiences along the way.

Now there’s another new crop of youngsters looking to depose the favorites who have dominated the sport over the past few years: as mentioned above, 11 of the 28 Juryo men are competing at a new or joint-highest ranking. But digging a little deeper, of the 11 men at the bottom of the Juryo ranks, seven are 23 years of age or younger, with the much watched Enho and Takayoshitoshi making their debuts in the division this time out as part of the incredible 7 promotees from the Makushita tier at Hatsu.

Different questions will be asked of each of these rikishi. For Yago, Takagenji, Daishoho and Terutsuyoshi, the challenge is simple: they need to put cobble together enough wins to consolidate their place in the division, and establish themselves at the level. For Enho and Takayoshitoshi, who were promoted with records at ranks that wouldn’t normally justify a promotion, it’s about damage limitation and seeing if they can put a surprise run together: no one, after being promoted with the records they had last time out for the very first time at this level, would begrudge them a return to Makushita, but you can be sure that isn’t what they are thinking about. They are here to prove they belong. Enho in particular is a comparatively very small rikishi who can provide entertaining all-action sumo, but he’s got to keep himself healthy.

Finally, that leaves Mitoryu. The enormous, much hyped Mongolian made a strong start at Hatsu before fading with just 2 wins over the last week, but that was enough to get him a kachi-koshi in his first tournament as a sekitori. Now, he’s got a great chance to push on, in a very competitive field.

While the five story lines above are interesting in their own right – incredibly, they may not even facilitate the top headlines when it’s all said and done. Youngsters Meisei and Takanosho are two rikishi not discussed here in detail, and they could well make waves this time out as well after their progress over the last year. While Juryo is sometimes a bit of a difficult division to get excited about, at Haru, it will certainly be “one to watch.”

Takanoiwa Withdraws from Hatsu Basho

Takanoiwa Yoshimori, the victim at the centre of the Harumafuji scandal that rocked sumo in November of last year, has officially withdrawn from competition for the 2018 Hatsu Basho, citing the cranial injury he sustained after being repeatedly struck with a karaoke controller by the former Yokozuna Harumafuji. Takanoiwa missed the entirety of the Kyushu Basho due to the same head injury and was subsequently demoted from the top division to the rank of Juryo 3. Given the circumstances surrounding his injury and having provided the proper medical assessment, the Japanese Sumo Association has declared that Takanoiwa will not receive another demotion for missing the Hatsu Basho.

While many were devastated by the retirement of Harumafuji, it’s important to not blame the victim in this situation. We at Tachiai hope that Takanoiwa makes a full recovery and returns to the top division once more.

Yokozuna Harmuafuji Incident Heads To A Prosecutor

Harumafuji-Questioned

In an article in today’s Japan Times, it is reported that police have decided to refer Takanoiwa’s assault by Yokozuna Harumafuji to a prosecutor for adjudication. This does not mean that Haruamfuji will be charged with a crime, simply that police think there is sufficient evidence to allow a lawyer for the state to decide if he should be charged with assault.

During police questioning, Harumafuji did admit to hitting Takanoiwa with his open hands, his fists and the remote to a karaoke machine during an attempt to discipline Takanoiwa for poor manners. It should be noted that both rikishi were intoxicated at the time. The incident happened in front of a sizable contingent of sumotori during an overnight stop on sumo’s fall jungyo promotional tour.

It has been reported that both Harumafuji and Takanoiwa are cooperating with police. The same cannot be said for the Sumo Kyokai’s investigation, where Takanoiwa and Takanoiwa’s Oyakata, the former Yokozuna Takanohana, are impeding progress. Takanohana’s behavior in the matter, and in the events leading up to the scandal breaking during the Kyushu basho, have been difficult to understand. Reports in the past week have suggested that Takanohana, who leads the jungyo promotional tour segment of the Sumo Kyokai, will be suspended for not maintaining proper order and discipline.

For fans wondering what action the Sumo Kyokai will take, I suggest that we will have no word until the final day of the Kyushu basho on Sunday the 26th. Typically the Yokozuna Deliberation Council meets following each tournament, and there will likely be a good deal of commentary from that body.

NHK World Harumafuji Update

harumafuji

During the day Friday, US Time, NHK World has been leading their broadcast (video at the link) with an update on the investigation into Harumafuji’s assault of Takanoiwa. Leading the report is news that Harumafuji told police investigators that he did attack Takanoiwa, but only used his hands, rather than a beer bottle as earlier reports stated.

This comes on the back of reports this morning Japan time that the health report filed by Takanoiwa and his Oyakata, former Yokozuna Takanohana, may have included descriptions of injuries sustained well before his hospitalization. This includes the skull fracture and the cerebral-spinal fluid reported in Takanoiwa’s ears. From Tachiai’s own lead Japanese press-hawk, Herouth;

 

 

As well as this translation:

 

If true, this departs greatly from the events that were reported when the story broke earlier this week, and greatly change the context of the scandal.  Tachiai will continue to track this story as the investigation continues.

Everything You Need to Know After Act One

 

With the first act of the Kyushu basho coming to an end, here is a quick rundown of everything you need to know to get all caught up.

Yusho Race

Five days in and the leaderboard has already dwindled down to three men, all with perfect records. Maegashira 13 Aminishiki, Ozeki Goeido, and a very genki Yokozuna Hakuho have five wins each and are neck and neck in the yusho race. Behind them with four wins are Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, Arawashi, and surprisingly, Okinoumi. I expect this group to be much smaller by the end of act two.

Kinboshi

So far, there have been three kinboshi surrendered this basho. Tamawashi earned the first of these gold star victories on day 1 when he defeated Yokozuna Kisenosato. Up and comer Takakeisho claimed the other two when he beat Harumafuji on day 2 and Kisenosato on day 4.

Kyujo and Absences

There are currently six men on the banzuke who have pulled out of the competition. Ura, Takanoiwa and Yokozuna Kakuryu withdrew citing health issues before the start of the basho. Aoiyama joined them on day 3 after sustaining an ankle injury in his match with Okinoumi. Day 3 would also see Yokozuna Harumafuji pull out of the competition following accusations of an assault on Takanoiwa during the October jungyo tour. After four straight losses, former Ozeki Terunofuji withdrew on day 5 to address the multiple health issues that have been plaguing him as of late.

Tozai-Sei

On day 1, I mentioned that I would be keeping track of the unofficial Tozai-sei Championship going on between the East and West sides of the banzuke. The Tozai-sei was an award used in the early 20th century and was given to the side of the banzuke with the most wins, and I’ve decided to resurrect it for a bit of added fun this basho. The rules are simple: for every win a rikishi gets, his side receives a point. After five days, the West leads the East with a record of 53 to 46. This lead is no doubt thanks to Aminishiki, Ichinojo, Takayasu, and Hakuho, who have a combined 18 points thus far. The top point earners on the East side are Okinoumi, Mitakeumi, and Goeido, who have 14 points between them.

With day 6 set to start in just a few short hours, there are still so many great sumo highlights to look forward to as the Kyushu basho rolls on.

Whither… Takanoiwa?

Takanoiwa
There’s still him.

As Bruce did a great job of detailing, Harumafuji is in hot water for his role in potentially putting Takanoiwa out of action for quite some time and inflicting what may potentially be some degree of lasting damage to the head of his fellow rikishi. Much of the speculation, owing to the shocking nature of this incident and Harumafuji’s standing as a Yokozuna, has been around the subject of intai (by his choice or the association’s), what kind of punishment might be forthcoming, or what Harumafuji’s life will be like going forward.

But let’s not forget there is another side of this as well, and that’s the future of Takanoiwa’s career. Obviously, he has received extensive hospital treatment, and it’s unclear where and when we will see him functioning again on the dohyo as we have seen him function before. This passage from the Japan Times article on the scandal caught my eye:

Takanoiwa, 27, was one of the early withdrawals from the Nov. 12-26 tournament. He is expected to miss the entire meet and be demoted to the lower juryo rank at the meet in January.

It is certainly true that anyone kyujo from the entire tournament from the level of Maegashira 8 under normal injury circumstances would be demoted to Juryo. It has happened 14 times in the last 40 years and in the 9 of those times that the kōshō seido system was not applied, the rikishi concerned ended up ranked between J3 and J7 on the banzuke for the following basho.

However, these are not normal circumstances – and they also fall at a time when there have been renewed calls from luminaries of the sumo world (as well as, for what it’s worth, from these pages) to reconsider a reinstatement or a replacement for kōshō seido. While this isn’t a new thing (and you can find hot debates on sites like sumoforum about this, going back at least ten years), the increase in injuries certainly makes the conversation more relevant. John Gunning recently doubled down on the comments he made in the Japan Times regarding the size of rikishi during the NHK World Sumo Preview episode, the training regimen for fitness and injury recovery has been scrutinised in light of failed recoveries by key competitors, and the rigorous Jungyo schedule has not only strained the health of sekitori further but was the time during which the above incident occurred.

One should wonder then, whether special consideration will be given to Takanoiwa’s rank for Hatsu 2018 (if he is able to compete). After all, it is not like this was a normal injury caused on the dohyo or even the case of a clumsy accident at home: if the reports are correct, he was taken out of commission by an act of another rikishi for which there is an ongoing police investigation. If this special consideration to preserve Takanoiwa’s rank is given, could that then be a springboard to a new system that enables rikishi to get urgent appropriate medical attention in order to preserve their rank for even just one tournament?

There are no definitive answers to that latter question right now. But at a time when there’s seemingly nothing good coming out of this saga (the potential loss of a great – and sometimes also good – yokozuna’s career, a rikishi with potentially life changing injuries), the Association has an opportunity to reserve insult from injury. I, for one, hope they mark out this extraordinary circumstance, and allow Takanoiwa to resume his career in the division in which he has worked to establish himself over the past couple of years.

Sumo’s Harumafuji Scandal

Harumafuji-Press

Overview

The story broke Monday evening US time, and when I read the first version (published in a ridiculously large font on Sponichi), I could not actually believe what I was reading.  Granted it was all in Kanji, so I assumed that I had completely blown the translation. The core of the story was that during a Jungyo tour stop in Tottori in late October, Harumafuji attended a dinner party with a number of Mongolian rikishi. Over the course of the dinner, many of the rikishi became intoxicated.

During the course of their drinking and carrying on, Takanoiwa took a blow to the head that resulted in damage to his skull, his brain, his inner ear and general mayhem. Now it seems that this blow was delivered by Yokozuna Harumafuji, wielding a beer bottle.

The story was not immediately reported, but the press started digging when Takanoiwa was kyujo from day 1, with a rather worrisome list of injuries. At the start of day 3, the Japanese press exploded with the news. It was deemed important enough that it even appeared on NHK World’s English language news broadcast an hour after it broke.

In spite of my early disbelief in such an outrageous and sensational story could be true, the wide broadcast of the basics of the story seem to indicate there is some veracity to the claims.

takanoiwa

Time Line

  • October 26th – (day) Jungyo tour stop in Tottori
  • October 26th – (evening) Nikkan Sports has put together the details of the story based on evidence from participants and/or their heya staff. There was a dinner party in which all three Mongolian Yokozuna, as well as Terunofuji and Takanoiwa, who are considered “Local” in Tottori, having gone to high school there, and a few Japanese rikishi and others, totaling around 10 people, took part.The party itself went well enough, but then the participants continued to an after-party. It was at this point that some of those present became inebriated. Harumafuji took exception to the greeting he was given by Takanoiwa, which he deemed was insufficient, and started berating him, when Takanoiwa’s smartphone, stuck in his obi, started ringing. As Takanoiwa attempted to answer the call, the Yokozuna exclaimed “Not when somebody is talking to you!”, took a beer bottle and smashed it on the right side of Takanoiwa’s forehead.Takanoiwa fell down bleeding, and the Yokozuna dropped on top of him and continued to deliver some additional 20-30 blows with his bare hands, while Takanoiwa tried to fend him off. Apparently, Terunofuji, who was within range, also received some of the blows.Hakuho tried to come in between the parties and end the fight, only to be thrusted away by the enraged Harumafuji, who also snapped at Kakuryu: “It’s all because of you, you’re not guiding his behavior”.
  • October 26th – (night) Takanoiwa receives initial medical attention.
  • October 29th – Takanohana (Takanoiwa’s Oyakata) files a police report, detailing the assault.
  • November 3rd – Kasugano oyakata and head of Crisis Management Kagamiyama oyakata have telephone conversations with Isegahama oyakata and Takanohana oyakata to understand what happened.
  • November 5th – 9th – Takanoiwa is admitted to a Fukuoka hospital.  He stays for 5 days.
  • November 10th – Takanoiwa reports kyujo for the Kyushu basho.
  • November 12th – Takanoiwa hands the Sumo Kyokai his medical certificate which he receives from the Fukuoka hospital: Concussion (脳震盪); laceration on the front left of the head (左前頭部裂傷); external inflammation of the right ear (右外耳道炎); fractured skull (右中頭蓋底骨折); suspected cerebrospinal fluid leak (髄液漏の疑い).
  • November 13th – Details of the assault appear first in Sponichi, then rapidly spread throughout the Japanese press. When questioned by the press, he does not deny the attack, but instead apologies for the embarrassment and problems he has caused. Harumafuji and Isegahama Oyakata travel to the Kyushu location of Takanohana, but former Yokozuna Takanohana deftly avoided any interaction with the Isegahama delegation. The scene created some very somber and depressing photographs of Harumafuji.

Fallout

Simply put, Yokozuna Harumafuji is done. As a Yokozuna, he holds a high rank not only in the Sumo world, but in Japanese society. He has caused a tremendous loss of mentsu (メンツ), meaning reputation (literally “face”) for himself, his Oyakata, the Sumo Association and many others.

I have no doubt that Harumafuji takes his Yokozuna rank quite seriously, and I would guess he has already offered multiple times to fall on his sword and resign his rank and leave the world of sumo. I am also sure that will happen soon, but only after the Sumo Association figure out a way for him to do it while minimizing the damage to sumo as a whole.

This entire episode is sad, depressing an horrific.  Harumafuji did something really unacceptable, but at the same time he has been behind in a number of really kind and generous acts across the years. I can’t help but wonder if this is being cast in the worst possible light right now for some other reason.

Likely Outcomes

Harumafuji apologies in the most profound way, and resigns his role as Yokozuna, and fades away.  This is a given, the only question is if he will be allowed to resign or if the Sumo Kyokai will insist on ejecting him as a display of their control over sumo.

Jungyo will be altered, within a few short weeks we have seen a the press cite the intense jungyo schedule for a breakdown in sumo training, and now we have a high profile event that could be used to claim a breakdown in discipline during jungyo.

Damage for Takanohana, as the NSK’s man handling the Jungyo, and the Oyakata for Takanoiwa, a lot of this insanity came on his watch. He has, perhaps, suffered the greatest amount of embarrassment.

Damage for Isegahama, for some time, they have been a leading stable. Now they are about to lose their Yokozuna in disgrace, their Ozeki is damaged beyond repair, and their reputation is in tatters.

Damage for the Sumo Kyokai, sumo had been in a well earned ascendence both in Japan, and globally.  Scandals happen in every public endeavor, but if Harumafuji’s behavior is as described above, it does incalculable damage to sumo’s brand and reputation. This is especially acute for the rest of the Mongolian rikishi cohort, who already endure some public scorn because they are not Japanese.

For the Japanese press’ take on the matter, this report from the Japan Times is worth the read.  Sadly the article is quick to label the entire sport as “yet to improve its reputation tainted by scandals over match-fixing, violence and bullying”

For readers who are willing to wade into Kanji web sites, some links to help you come to grips with the story:

https://www.nikkansports.com/battle/sumo/news/201711140000699.html

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2017/11/14/kiji/20171114s00005000046000c.html

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2017/11/14/kiji/20171114s00005000076000c.html

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/20171114/sum17111423060029-n1.html

Who’s That Rikishi #8: Takanoiwa Yoshimori

TakanoiwaAge: 27
Birth Name: Adiya Baasandorj
Home Town: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Stable: Takanohana
Highest Rank: Maegashira 2

Born in Ulaanbaatar in 1990, the future Takanoiwa Yoshimori was introduced to Japan’s national sport when the sumo coach from Johoku High School came looking for Mongolian talent to join his team. Having passed the selection test, he moved to Japan when he was sixteen and began honing his skills at Johoku. In 2008 he joined Takanohana beya to train under his childhood idol, former Yokozuna Takanohana. After a successful première at the 2009 Haru basho, Takanoiwa was promoted to Jonidan for the May tournament, where he recorded a perfect 7-0 record but lost the division yusho in a playoff. He won his first championship two basho later when he once again recorded a 7-0 record and took home the Kyushu Sandanme yusho. Takanoiwa’s championship performance earned him a promotion up the banzuke into the Makushita division in January, but he struggled to find success. Takanoiwa’s luck didn’t improve in early 2011, as he was forced to pull out part way through the Natsu basho and missed the entirety of the Nagoya basho due to injury. As a result, he found himself back in the Sandanme division upon his return. Unperturbed, Takanoiwa won six of his seven matches in September and was promoted back to Makushita. Another 6-1 record in Kyushu put him in contention for the Makushita yusho, but another playoff loss cost him the championship.

Takanoiwa made his Juryo debut in July of 2012, but subsequent back-to-back make-koshi nearly cost him his position in the division. He had a return to form for the 2013 Hatsu basho and took the Juryo yusho with an impressive twelve wins. The rest of the year saw Takanoiwa produce winning records in four out of the five remaining tournaments, and he broke into sumo’s top rank at the beginning of 2014. He returned to Juryo three tournaments later, after suffering a staggering thirteen losses at the May basho. The Mongolian rikishi would spend the next year and a half in and out of Makuuchi until cementing his place in the division in early 2016. Takanoiwa’s first top division success came at the 2016 Nagoya basho, where he finished second place behind Harumafuji and was awarded his first sansho special prize for fighting spirit. Following this incredible performance, he was promoted to Maegashira 3 for Aki, but struggled against the joi and fell back into the middle of Makuuchi by November. 2017 started with a bang for Takanoiwa, who collected eleven wins, including one kinboshi victory over Hakuho. Beating the Dai-Yokozuna had a tremendous impact on the Hatsu basho and the sumo world, as it cost Hakuho the Emperor’s Cup and lead to Kisenosato picking up the long-sought-after yusho he needed to become the first Japanese born Yokozuna since Takanoiwa’s own oyakata, Takanohana, retired in 2003. For his efforts, Takanoiwa was awarded his first outstanding performance award and his highest rank to date, Maegashira 2. Once again the joi proved to be too much for Takanoiwa, who fell back to the mid-Magashira where he remains to this day. When meeting his opponents on the Dohyo, Takanoiwa mainly employs yotsu-zumo to win his bouts. His preferred grip is a left hand outside right hand inside migi-yotsu. His most common kimarite is a yori-kiri force out, but he is known to employ an uwatenage overarm throw to win as well.


Takanoiwa (left) vs. Goeido (right), Aki basho, 2017.


Links:
http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?r=11724
http://www.sumo.or.jp/EnSumoDataRikishi/profile?id=3146
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takanoiwa_Yoshimori

Kyushu Banzuke Crystal Ball

image

Like every tournament, Wacky Aki will have reshuffled the wrestlers’ ranks. The new banzuke for Kyushu won’t be announced until October 30, two weeks before the start of the basho on November 12. But if you want to get a good idea of where your favorite rikishi will end up being ranked, without having to wait a month, you’ve come to the right place. The banzuke forecast below should be accurate to within one or at most two ranks. There’s one real wildcard this time around, where the forecast might miss wildly, but we’ll get to that later in the post.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Harumafuji Hakuho
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu
O1 Goeido Takayasu

As the only Yokozuna to start, finish, and win the tournament, Harumafuji takes over the top spot, switching places with Hakuho. The other three Yokozuna retain their rank order relative to each other. As the only Ozeki to finish Aki, as runner-up no less, Goeido takes over the O1e rank, switching places with Takayasu, who will be kadoban at Kyushu. And of course, we are down to two Ozeki: Terunofuji will drop to Sekiwake for Kyushu, with one chance to reclaim Ozeki status with double-digit wins. Whether or not he’ll be healthy enough to participate, much less get double-digit wins, is an open question; the same goes for Takayasu, who will need 8 wins to retain his rank.

Lower San’yaku

S1 Mitakeumi Yoshikaze
S2 Terunofuji
K Kotoshogiku Onosho

Mitakeumi and Yoshikaze both did just enough at Aki to retain their rank, each going 8-7. They will return as Sekiwake 1e and Sekiwake 1w, respectively. Terunofuji appears at the slightly unusual rank of S2e. Both Tamawashi (7-8) and Tochiozan (6-9) will vacate their Komusubi slots after failing to get their kachi-koshi. Among the higher-placed rank-and-filers, only Kotoshogiku and Onosho earned double-digit wins, and will take over the Komusubi slots.

Upper Maegashira

M1 Tamawashi Chiyotairyu
M2 Takakeisho Tochiozan
M3 Hokutofuji Shohozan
M4 Chiyonokuni Ichinojo
M5 Takarafuji Arawashi

This group is a mix of upper-ranked rikishi who are dropping in rank, but not very far (Tamawashi, Tochiozan, and Hokutofuji) and those in the upper half of the maegashira ranks with the strongest performances at Aki. Depending on the health and participation of the San’yaku ranks in Kyushu, some or all of this group will make up the joi. A case can easily be made for switching the positions of Hokutofuji and Shohozan.

Mid-Maegashira

M6 Chiyoshoma Daishomaru
M7 Tochinoshin Shodai
M8 Takanoiwa Chiyomaru
M9 Endo Ikioi
M10 Daieisho Kaisei
M11 Aoiyama Asanoyama

Twice as many kachi-koshi as make-koshi records in this group. Daishomaru, Endo, and Asanoyama make big jumps up the banzuke after earning double-digit wins at Aki. Conversely, the injured Tochinoshin and Aoiyama take big tumbles. This group also contains the underperforming Shodai and Ikioi. A case can be made for dropping Shodai (and, less likely, Tochinoshin) below Takanoiwa and Chiyomaru, and for dropping Ikioi below Daieisho and Kaisei.

Lower Maegashira

M12 Kagayaki Takekaze
M13 Okinoumi Aminishiki
M14 Kotoyuki Ura
M15 Nishikigi Myogiryu
M16 Daiamami

This group contains one of the worst performers at Aki, Kagayaki, as well as two rikishi who narrowly held on to their places in Makuuchi: Okinoumi and Nishikigi. It also contains the four rikishi who should be promoted from Juryo: top-division returnees Aminishiki, Kotoyuki and Myogiryu, as well as the amusingly named newcomer Daiamami Genki—may he live up to his family given name in his Makuuchi debut. These four take the places of rikishi demoted to Juryo: Ishiura, Tokushoryu, Yutakayama, and Sadanoumi.

Now, the wildcard: our favorite pink-sporting rikishi, Ura, who badly aggravated his already injured knee and had to drop out after two days and only one win. Based on a very limited history of similar cases, I placed him at M14w. I’d be surprised to see him ranked much higher, and he could be ranked as low as M16e, or even demoted from Makuuchi altogether, in favor of marginal promotion candidate Homarefuji. Of course, Ura’s participation in Kyushu is a huge question mark at best, but being ranked in the top division would limit the rate at which he drops down the banzuke if he sits out one or more tournaments.

For a Juryo forecast, I don’t think I can do any better than point you to predictions made on SumoForum by frequent Tachiai commenter Asashosakari and others.

Aki Day 15 Preview

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After many twists and turns, we have reached the final day of the 2017 Aki basho. I would like to thank our readers for joining us for the ride, and we are grateful for each of you taking the time to read our musings for the past 15 days. The fall out from Aki is likely to be quite dramatic. The old guard re-asserted their dominance in the second week, but the trend is clear that the younger rikishi are coming into their own. But first day 15 – it comes down to the rikishi still struggling for kachi-koshi, and the final act of the yusho race.

Going into day 15, there are 5 rikishi who will decide their kachi-koshi in their final match. Two of them are San’yaku! The list is: Mitakeumi, Tamawashi, Ichinojo, Chiyoshoma, Okinoumi. Mitakeumi in particular is a tight spot, as he faces Yoshikaze. But the 3 Maegashira who are on the bubble all have relatively easy draws for the final day.

The yusho race was narrowed to a simple contest between Yokozuna Harumafuji and Ozeki Goeido. The final match, of the final day. If Goeido wins, he is champion. If he loses, there is an immediate tie-breaker match between them again to determine the winner. For the scheduling team, this is a remarkable triumph in the face of absolutely miserable conditions. Ideally the yusho will come down to a high-stakes match on the final day. This draws viewers and fans, and creates overwhelming excitement. So my congratulations to that team for succeeding in spite of a difficult situation.

Please note, the Tachiai Yusho Drinking Game is still valid for day 15, if readers choose to participate.

What We Are Watching Day 15

Okinoumi vs. Sadanoumi – Okinoumi is battling for kachi-koshi but lksumo has him safe at the bottom of Makuuchi regardless. Sadanoumi seem to have found his sumo, and has won the two prior days. He is certainly returning to Juryo, but with any luck his injuries will be healed enough that he won’t be there long.

Kaisei vs. Arawashi – Kaisei test match, going up against the higher ranked Arawashi. Kaisei looks lighter, faster and generally in much better condition than any prior 2017 appearance, and I am delighted to see him back in form. With any luck he will continue his improvements and be fordable in Kyushu. Arawashi has been eating his Wheaties, and is generally doing awesomely this basho.

Chiyoshoma vs. Yutakayama – Scheduling throws Maegashira 8 Chiyoshoma a bone by making him face Maegashira 15 Yutakayama for his kachi-koshi on the final day.

Ichinojo vs. Daieisho – Another gift from scheduling, Maegashira 6 Ichinojo faces Maegashira 11 Daieisho for his kachi-koshi deciding match. A win will likely put Ichinojo in the joi-jin for Kyushu. We hope he can find some of his old energy and vigor.

Shodai vs. Endo – Another Endo test match, these are likely helping the banzuke team figure out just how healed up Endo is, and how high they can safely rank him for Kyushu. With Ura and possibly a few others out for a while, they need more kanban rikishi in the public eye to keep sumo compelling.

Asanoyama vs. Chiyotairyu – Likely a test match for Asanoyama, to help judge where to rank him for Kyushu. I am sure sumo-Elvis Chiyotairyu will dismantle him, but it’s important to see how Asanoyama holds up.

Tamawashi vs. Takakeisho – Komusubi Tamawashi needs a win to keep his San’yaku rank alive, and he’s going to have a tough time taking a win from Takakeisho. I have no doubt that Takakeisho is eager to rejoin the joi-jin and revisit his experience with Yokozuna Hakuho.

Mitakeumi vs. Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze has been very docile the past two days, and one has to wonder if he is injured or just throttled back for now. Mitakeumi needs to hope that he’s off his sumo on day 15, or the future Ozeki will lose his coveted Sekiwake rank. Yoshikaze holds a 3-1 advantage in their career statistics.

Goeido vs. Harumafuji – The ultimate match to end the basho, the yusho is on the line, and it’s Japan vs Mongolia. It’s the unreliable Ozeki against a battle scared war machine Yokozuna who never gives up. Harumafuji holds a 31-11 career advantage. If the same Goeido shows up that was on the dohyo day 14, this will be one for the highlight reels.

Aki Day 14 Preview

sake
Recommended Toolkit For Day 14

Everyone knew that the 2017 Aki basho was going to be a strange animal. With Yokozuna sitting out, Ozeki dropping like flies, and even Maegashira (Ura) getting in on the act. The ranks for Makuuchi were decimated in the style of the old Roman legions. This lack of top end talent has led to a large group of Rikishi with nearly the same score as of the end of day 13. We have seen this phenomenon in Juryo in many of the past several basho. Without the upper San’yaku around to thrash the rank and file, most rikishi are around .500.

Which brings us to the question of the yusho winner’s record. We don’t know who it will be yet, but we know for certain it will be no better than 12-3, and that only happens if Goeido’s is undefeated in his final two matches. It’s perhaps a bit more likely that the final score may be 11-4, or even a dreaded 10-5. Now to be sure, a 10-5 record is a good score in sumo, but keep in mind just how many rikishi who are active in this basho have turned in a 10-5 score. There are even disastrous possibilities that Goeido loses his last 2 matches, and Harumfuji loses one. Many of the 13 (yes, THIRTEEN!) rikishi currently at 8 wins will be at 10 wins by the final day. While the chances have faded for now, the specter of the barnyard brawl / Senshuraku Showdown is still there.

But first all competitors must negotiate a rather treacherous day 14. The scheduling gods have constructed a set of bouts to winnow that field of 13 to a hopefully more manageable number.

Aki Leader board

Goeido needs to win, and needs Harumafuji and Asanoyama to both lose, and he will win the Aki basho. Please note the numbers below are not a parody, but are the actual stats for the yusho race.

Leader – Goeido
Hunt Group – (2) Harumafuji, Asanoyama
Chasers – (13) Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Onosho, Chiyotairyu, Takakeisho, Takarafuji, Takanoiwa, Arawashi, Daieisho, Chiyomaru, Daishomaru, Kaisei, Endo

2 Matches Remain

URGENT NOTIFICATION TO TACHIAI READERS

Please note, due to the special circumstances surrounding this basho and the stakes of day 14, please feel welcome to observe the following Tachiai Yusho Drinking Game:

  1. Get a 330 ml or 750 ml of drinkable sake. I will be using a fine Hakkaisan, myself.
  2. Pour a standard sized cup, if you are in Japan, have someone pour it for you.
  3. These events require a sip from your sake cup:
    1. a matta
    2. a monii
    3. a match with more than 1 wave of banners
    4. Yoshikaze bleeds for any reason
    5. Someone secures their kachi-koshi
  4. These events require you to drain and refill your cup:
    1. a member of the hunt group or chasers loses a match
    2. Someone suffers a mawashi oriented wardrobe malfunction.
    3. A combatant collides with a gyoji, seated or standing
    4. A combatant lands on one of the shimpan
    5. A combatant deploys a henka
    6. A combatant lands on an elderly lady ringside, who seems far too pleased by the event.
  5. These events requires you to drain the sake bottle in one go:
    1. Tochiozan bursts into flames
    2. Someone gets carted off in the big wheelchair
    3. Hakuho suddenly re-enters the basho just to give Goeido a swirly
    4. Kisenosato’s uninjured right leg appears, grafted to Takayasu’s body and begins to do shiko in the hanamichi
    5. Goeido wins the yusho

What We Are Watching Day 14

Okinoumi vs. Takekaze – Loser of the match gets make-koshi. With Okinoumi at M14w, he could end up in Juryo for November.

Chiyonokuni vs. Kaisei – Our favorite badger, Chiyonokuni, goes against a surprisingly and delightfully resurgent Kaisei, who already has his kachi-koshi. Chiyonokuni picks up his kachi-koshi with a win.

Shohozan vs. Chiyomaru – “Big Guns” vs the ever bulbous Chiyomaru, with Shohozan looking to take a win from the lower ranked, higher mass Chiyomaru. A win for Shohozan is his kachi-koshi, but a win for Chiyomaru keeps him in the group 2 losses behind Goeido.

Onosho vs. Asanoyama – You know they are trying to break up Asanoyama’s bid to compete for a possibly yusho match when they match him (Maegashira 16) with Onosho (Maegashira 3). I do know that whatever the outcome, Asanoyama will think he is the luckiest man in the Kokugikan for just getting a chance to compete.

Endo vs Chiyotairyu – Maegashira 14 vs Maegashira 3… Well the M14 is Endo, but this shows just how far the schedulers are going to try and trim that block of 13 (15 total if you count Harumafuji and Asanoyama) down to something smaller. I sure they are worried about nightmare scenarios that would require an 16 rikishi mini-tournament.

Tochinoshin vs. Ishiura – File this one under “The Gurney Is The Reward”, both of these guys need medical attention, and are really in no condition to compete. They both have matching horrible 3-10 records.

Daieisho vs. Kotoshogiku – At this point I want to see Ojisan Kotoshogiku in the big basho barnyard brawl. If you are in the twilight of a pretty interesting career, what better way to spend one of your remaining basho? Another M1 to M11 giant gap “weeding” match. Bottom of the banzuke guys are taking it in the onions today.

Takakeisho vs. Tochiozan – After today’s match between Takakeisho and Goeido, I have no idea what is going to happen to Tochiozan, but I fear possible spontaneous human combustion. Checking sumodb, there are no matches I can find that have ended with that kimarite, but I am sure they would have just called it “hatakikomi” instead.

Arawashi vs. Yoshikaze – Another “weeding” match, this one featuring an 11 rank gap. I am sure both these guys will apply themselves, and this could actually be a really good match. But I am going to guess that Yoshikaze puts the doom on this guy, and keeps pushing for double digit wins.

Takanoiwa vs. Goeido – THE pivotal match. Demon Hunter Takanoiwa, secure in his kachi-koshi, has the yusho race run through his match today. Win, and Takanoiwa has a chance to participate in the big basho barnyard brawl. Lose and he sets up a possible Goeido finish should Harumafuji lose the match following. We have no idea what version of GoeidoOS will boot up on Saturday, but I am guessing his software crew is patching like mad given today’s software faults on the mobility platform.

Mitakeumi vs. Harumafuji – Mitakeumi is still struggling to find the wins to hang onto his Sekiwake position. He might be able to take one from Harumfuji, but it’s clear the Yokozuna has caught the scent of the sake dried to the inside of the Emperor’s cup, and today I saw a fire in his eyes that replaced the weary gloom from earlier this basho. Mitakeumi has it within him to win this one, but he has struggled to tap the fountain of strength and energy that has visited him so easily in past tournaments.

Aki Day 13 Preview

Goeido-Mug

Time to crank up the final weekend for the Aki basho, and what a weekend it is likely to be. Yes, there are two paths (you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on) to the finish line. One is likely and it involves Goeido staying in charge and holding course until Day 15, when it won’t matter what happens when he faces Harumafuji. The other, more interesting and unlikely path involves some brave soul (Takakeisho?) finding a way to defeat the lone surviving Ozeki, and forcing the option of a Senshuraku Showdown. Then it all comes down to Harumafuji, and a win would force the barnyard brawl that we know would light the sumo world on fire. While the 10 rikishi who are 2 wins behind Goeido will likely thin quite a bit before Sunday, a multi-way battle for the cup would be a fitting end to Wacky Aki.

Aki Leader board

Goeido is 2 ahead of an army of 10 chasers, which is everyone who is kachi-koshi as of day 12. Amusingly enough, that means even Endo and Asanoyama!

Leader – Goeido
Chasers – Harumafuji, Yoshikaze, Kotoshogiku, Onosho, Chiyotairyu, Takanoiwa, Arawashi, Daieisho, Endo, Asanoyama

3 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 13

Nishikigi vs. Sadanoumi – Nishikigi is one loss away from make-koshi, and he faces Sadanoumi who is headed southbound in a big way. Nishikigi has a series advantage for 7-4, but both rikishi are struggling this tournament.

Daishomaru vs. Arawashi – Daishomaru working to close out his winning record against a strong and fierce Arawashi. Arawashi has faded a bit in week 2, but not as severely as Daishomaru. The two have split the previous matches 4-3, favoring Daishomaru.

Takanoiwa vs. Chiyomaru – Former leader board occupant Chiyomaru is hosting to finish out his kachi-koshi today as well, but he has to overcome Takanoiwa to get there. I am going to assume this match will come down to a pulling / thrust down kimarite, as both of these men are hoping to avoid a protracted battle.

Endo vs. Takarafuji – Clearly at test match for Endo, with the question being “how well has he healed up?”. Takarafuji has been fighting well, and a win here will give him his kachi-koshi. Takarafuji also holds a series lead of 5-2 over Endo.

Chiyonokuni vs. Kotoshogiku – This match has real potential, as the grumpy badger Chiyonokuni tests his mettle against the Kyushu Bulldozer Kotoshogiku. Chiyonokuni needs 2 more wins to lock down a winning record, but I don’t think that Kotoshogiku is going to cut him any slack. The real question is if the match is going to be Kotoshogiku wrapping up Chiyonokuni from the tachiai, and applying the yori-gabori, or if Chiyonokuni is going to stay mobile (not Kotoshogiku’s strong suit in spite of recent improvements) and force it to be a battle of footwork and balance. I can’t wait to watch this one.

Tamawashi vs. Aoiyama – The man-mountain Aoiyama seems to have gotten in step with his sumo now, and he is using his enormous reach and huge strength to manhandle his opponents. Tamawashi is one loss away from make-koshi and a his first demotion out of San’yaku in about a year, so I expect him to fight like it’s his last stand. Also another match with huge potential, as it could come down to Tamawashi’s blistering speed vs Aoiyama’s enormous strength. Also of note, Tamawashi has a habit of false and shaky starts to his matches, and he could employ that to throw of Aoiyama’s timing.

Mitakeumi vs. Ichinojo – Both rikishi come into today’s match 6-6, and can only drop one more match to have a hope of a winning record at the end of the day Sunday. Big Ichinojo has been hit or miss this basho, but in the past week has been more hit than miss. Mitakeumi seems to be at about 80% of his typical power, so it’s tough to know how this match is going end. Ichinojo won their only prior meeting.

Takakeisho vs. Goeido – This is a pivotal match, and Goeido has a complex problem to solve. Takakeisho has an impressively low center or gravity, he holds a great deal of mass below his belly button. This makes him quite stable as long as he can keep his balance. This is one case where it may be critical that Goeido be able to employ a solid henka. Goeido really needs to sell it, and get the relatively inexperienced Takakeisho to push off the tachiai with full force. Even a hit and shift could work in this case. For Takakeisho, Goeido’s best attack is to likely try and do a torpedo tachiai and blast him from from the dohyo before Takakeisho can set up his “Wave Action Tsuppari”. So actually, Takakeisho either needs to just stand up at the tachiai, or henka himself. For Goeido, this is a “must win” match if he wants to put the cup out of reach of the chasers.

Yoshikaze vs. Harumafuji – There was a match between these two in Nagoya in 2016 that turned into a bloody street fight that sent Yoshikaze to the hospital to get his face rebuilt. Since then these two have been strictly business when it comes to their bouts. Yoshikaze is now safe in his Sekiwake slot, so the question comes down to how high does he want to try and run up the score? Harumafuji is kachi-koshi as well, but Yokozuna have a higher bar, and anything less than double digit wins may be seen as sub standard performance. These two are evenly matched 9-9 in their prior bouts.