Hatsu Day 4


Hakuho-Down

It wouldn’t be much* of an exaggeration to say that today’s Makuuchi matches consisted entirely of highlights.

Daiamami – Myogiryu. In the initial clash, Daiamami secures a good, strong, overhand left grip, and although the uwatenage attempt doesn’t send Myogiryu over, it does turn him around so Daiamami can easily show him out.

Ishiura – Nishikigi. Ishiura’s tachiai is quite low – not a proper submarine, but enough to get his head planted into Nishikigi’s chest. But Nishikigi gets an arm hooked under Ishiura’s chin to lever him upright, and soon has the smaller rikishi on the bales. Ishiura realizes he can’t win the test of strength, grabs the left arm with both hands and pulls hard (from the position, I’d almost say he was trying for something like an Ipponzeoi shoulder throw). But he can’t manage it – Daiamami’s footing is just too good, and Ishiura tumbles out of the ring.

Abi – Ryuden. This could be the bout of the day! Abi’s go-big-or-go-home tsuppari versus Ryuden’s beltwork. Abi has to give a lot of ground to keep Ryuden off the belt, trying for slap-downs which get Ryuden stumbling but not down. Just as it looks like he’s in real trouble at the bales, he manages to hook the back of Ryuden’s neck and pull him down and forward while sidestepping. That’s enough to get a good overarm mawashi grip and roll him down with an uwatenage.

Asanoyama – Yutakayama. Asanoyama might be Mr Happy, but he’s taking his sumo seriously, battling through some face-rearranging pushes to get a very deep left underarm grip. Yutakayama fights back with a credible attempt at gaburi-yori, but it leaves him off-balance, allowing Asanoyama to swing him around and out. Tomorrow, Asanoyama’s opponent is J1w Kyokutaisei, against whom he has two wins and no losses, so I would not be at all surprised to see him undefeated a third of the way in and competing for the yusho from Maegashira 16. Again.

Takekaze – Daiesho. Daiesho looks eager to start! He opens with a powerful oshi attack, but once he’s chest-to-chest with Takekaze, he doesn’t relent for a moment. This bout is all Daiesho, and he looks great.

Sokokurai – Kagayaki. A short one. Right after the tachi-ai, Sokokurai finds himself unbalanced by a double-handed shove, and the match is over a split second later. Sokokurai may be a victim of over-promotion; the competition in Makuuchi is much stronger than the guys that he minced for the Juryo yusho recently.

Kotoyuki – Daishomaru. From the tachiai, you might be expecting a repeat of Daiesho’s bout. Daishomaru has his hands down well in advance, and launches straight into a thrusting attack – but apparently Kotoyuki had been watching that one too. He turns to the left, putting a hand just below Daishomaru’s left shoulder to help him along, and Daishomaru’s enthusiastic tsuppari just results in him staggering past his opponent. Kotoyuki gives him a finishing shove a moment later.

Shohozan – Aminishiki. I really thought Uncle Sumo had this one for a moment! His slap-down doesn’t work, but he goes straight into a throw attempt, assisting his kotenage by lifting Shohozan’s leg with his foot. Unfortunately for the old man of sumo, Shohozan’s balance is just a bit too good. He gets his leg back down and it’s Aminishiki who goes over. Excellent throw counter from Shohozan.

Chiyomaru – Kaisei. Slow-motion replay not required as two rikishi who really need to lose some weight shove each other glacially around the dohyo. Chiyomaru’s “hikiotoshi” win is really more of a sidestep, Kaisei toppling like a column with very little help.

Chiyoshoma – Tochiozan. Chiyoshoma seems to be going for the rarely-seen kubinage (headlock throw), but he just can’t do anything about Tochiozan’s incredibly deep inside right grip, and is powered out. Their fifth honbasho meeting, and Tochiozan has now won all five.

Chiyonokuni – Ikioi. Ikioi finally picks up a win, surviving first a kotenage and then an uwatenage attempt on the way to forcing Chiyonokuni out.

Okinoumi – Takarafuji. Takarafuji’s seventh straight win against Okinoumi. He quickly gets a good, deep Hidari-yotsu (left hand under, right hand over) grip, and Okinoumi can’t break it, can’t establish a good grip of his own, and can’t keep himself low enough to resist being shoved out.

Endo – Arawashi. Endo does a fantastic job of preventing Arawashi from getting a good mawashi grip while forcing him back. Arawashi’s foot slides wildly on the clay, and his desperation hatakikomi attempt doesn’t work. It seems he realizes he’s done, and steps out.

Chiyotairyu – Shodai. This was the big let-down of the day. Chiyotairyu’s knee buckles less than a second into the bout, without Shodai doing a thing, and he hits the clay. Tsukihiza; take a drink.

Mitakeumi – Takakeisho. Mitakeumi grabs a handful of mawashi on the tachi-ai but can’t keep it, and a strong back-and-forth oshi-zumo battle breaks out. It ends with a perfectly-timed backstep from Mitakeumi, sending Takakeisho pitching forwards to the clay.

Onosho – Tamawashi. Onosho seems to cotton on to what he’s doing wrong, and despite several slap-down attempts from Tamawashi, doesn’t lose his footing. After some vigorous oshi-zumo, it’s Onosho who gets the hatakikomi win!

Goeido – Hokutofuji. The first half of this bout was cringe-worthy as Goeido retreated, looking for hatakikomi and hikiotoshi opportunities, letting Hokutofuji control the pace of the bout and looking like he was heading for an inglorious defeat. Thankfully for him and for all of us who enjoy his sumo, he apparently managed to reboot in the middle of the bout and started moving forward again. He secured an ottsuke to keep Hokutofuji’s right arm off the mawashi, drove him back, and pitched him out.

Tochinoshin – Takayasu. Two of the biggest, strongest rikishi collide with earthquake-like force. Takayasu had to retreat to keep Tochinoshin off the mawashi – including a nail-biting toes-on-the-tawara moment – but the big Georgian resisted the slap-down attempts and eventually caught up to him and got a strong belt grip. Takayasu, of course, is big and strong enough that he can fight Tochinoshin in a yotsu battle (although apparently he’d rather not). Tochinoshin pulls, Takayasu pushes, and the Ozeki runs out of balance a split-second before his opponent runs out of dohyo. A very, very close fourth win for Tochinoshin, and a very impressive bout from both of them.

Kakuryu – Ichinojo. Kakuryu looks awesome so far. And, full credit to Ichinojo, he battled on the tawara for a lot longer than he usually does! He even got the Yokozuna back to the bales early in the match, but he couldn’t finish it, and Kakuryu was able to force him out. No reactive sumo or tricks here, just straightforward yorikiri against the biggest man in the division.

Kotoshogiku – Kisenosato. Oh dear. Kotoshogiku locks up quickly with little resistance from Kisenosato and gets the gaburi-yori rolling. The Yokozuna isn’t so easy to move, though, and even away from the tawara, Kotoshogiku is bouncing away to little visible effect. He changes tactics and goes for a throw – and, amazingly, it works. Kisenosato hits the clay. While I’m happy to see Kotoshogiku earn a win (and a kinboshi), I’m rather worried that this may be Kisenosato’s last basho.

Hakuho – Yoshikaze. Are we sure this is Hakuho? He can’t muster sufficient force to drive Yoshikaze back, and when he goes for the retreating slap-down, it’s Yoshikaze who slaps him down. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a loss like that from the dai-yokozuna.

*Goddamnit Chiyotairyu.

Hatsu Day 3 Highlights


Yoshikae-Down

With three days worth of data, its becoming clear that the mandated changes to Hakuho’s tachiai have really put him off tempo. In addition, I have to wonder if there may be an additional physical problem that is robbing him of his normal excellent performance. Not to detract from Hokutofuji’s excellent sumo on day 3, but he has been quite a bit less than himself for each of the first three days.

However, the real danger is Kisenosato. There was quite a bit of talk pre-basho on how he was nearly back to his old self. His fans and people who generally think he’s a good guy hoped that was the case. But then the science of medicine strongly suggested that was just not possible. Sadly it seems that medicine may hold the final say.

On top of that, poor old Terunofuji withdraws due to complications from diabetes. The original report in the Japanese press was that his knee was once again preventing him from good sumo, but later reports changed it to “ill health”, which the sumo grapevine clarified to diabetes. We all hope that Terunofuji can get his body well, and come back strong.

Highlight Matches

Asanoyama defeats Ryuden – Asanoyama seems to be back in his groove again after struggling in Kyushu. He has a respectable 3-0 start to Hatsu, and his win over Ryuden was convincing.

Ishiura defeats Daiamami – Fast and strong again today from Ishiura. At the tachiai he deployed a henka, but immediately latched a deep left hand grip on Daiamami, and from there he controlled the match. Being short in stature, he was close to Daiamami’s knees already, so he picked one up and danced Daiamami out for a shitatenage.

Abi defeats Takekaze – Abi picks up his first win of the basho with a straight ahead shoving match with Takekaze, who seems to be sharing whatever malady has plagued Yoshikaze.

Daieisho defeats Kagayaki – Daieisho unleashes a very strong and well coordinated oshi attack, which Kagayaki seems unable to counter. While I think Kagayaki has potential, he is far to easy to bring high and off balance.

Chiyoshoma defeats Endo – Chiyoshoma is lightning fast this bout, employing something similar to Harumafuji’s mini-henka. Following the hit-and-shift, Chiyoshoma gets behind Endo and pulls the uwatenage. Endo never had a moment to recover.

Tochinoshin defeats Okinoumi – Clearly Tochinoshin is feeling well and can apply his enormous strength. Okinoumi puts up a valiant effort to try to block Tochinoshin’s grip, but he eventually goes chest to chest, at which point Tochinoshin overpowers him for the win.

Takakeisho defeats Tamawashi – This was always going to be a mighty Oshi-battle, but like some of Takakeisho’s earlier fights, it took an odd turn, with Takakeisho engaging in a flurry of tsuppari, then breaking off and diving back in time and again. This seemed to throw Tamawashi completely off his sumo, and the end was fairly sedate.

Mitakeumi defeats Onosho – Onosho came out strong and had Mitakeumi moving backwards. But Mitakeumi used Onosho’s forward momentum at the edge of the dohyo to slap him down for the win. Onosho really having a crummy start to Hatsu.

Takayasu defeats Chiyotairyu – Takayasu continues to employ his shoulder-blast off the tachiai, and it successfully disrupts Chiyotairyu’s battle plans. From there it’s an Oshi-battle with Takayasu controlling the short match.

Goeido defeats Kotoshogiku – It’s very painful to watch Kotoshogiku fade away, but he is fading quickly. Goeido on the other had seems to have his sumo together this basho, and is fighting well. He may not face a real challenge until week two.

Ichinojo defeats Kisenosato – Much as I want Kisenosato to be healthy, it’s nice to see Ichinojo grab a kinboshi. But really, Kisenosato is not even fighting at Ozeki level right now. Again. Ichinojo completely overpowered him, and Kisenosato could do nothing to stop it. I am going to assume we will be losing another Yokozuna soon.

Hokutofuji defeats Hakuho – The second kinboshi of the day, Hokutofuji has now taken a gold star from four different Yokozuna, quite an achievement so early in his career. After a false start, Hokutofuji took the fight squarely to The Boss. Hakuho seemed to be searching for an offense, while Hokutofuji kept moving forward. One of the great things about Hokutofuji is that you can beat his upper body to a pulp, but his lower body keeps moving forward. Great sumo from a rising star today.

Kakuryu defeats Yoshikaze – Something is seriously amiss with Yoshikaze. Is it the flu? It’s almost as if he’s not got any strength at all. Kakuryu simply rolls him in the first few seconds. I hope whatever the Berserker has going on, he can overcome and return strong.

Hatsu Day 3 Preview


Kotoshogiku-Flying Lesson
Kotoshogiku Gets A Flying Lesson

The first two days of Hatsu have exceeded my expectations, producing some exciting and enjoyable sumo. One of the Tachiai team, Josh, is in Tokyo this time, and I am incredibly envious.

Meanwhile, we seem to have all three surviving Yokozuna in workable condition, and turning in solid performances. Add to that that both Ozeki also seem to be on top of their sumo, and we are anticipating final day scores to see a dramatic departure from recent history. Over the past year we saw multiple upper Maegashira and San’yaku rikishi turning in double digit scores. Over the history of sumo, this is an unusual occurrence. Normally the named ranks completely wreck everyone from Sekiwake down into the joi. So don’t be shocked or disappointed if your favorite tadpole gets sent packing down the banzuke this time.

What We Are Watching Day 3

Ryuden vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama comes into day 3 with 2 wins, and I am quite sure Ryuden will give him a good test. These two have only had one prior match, in Juryo, and Asanoyama was the winner. Both rikishi are looking sharp and aggressive early in this tournament.

Ishiura vs Daiamami – I am starting to hope that Ishiura has gotten back on top of his sumo. His tachiai looks greatly improved, and he’s not submarining into an inevitable hatakikomi so far. Can he make it 3-0 to start the new year? This is their first career match.

Daieisho vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki is also looking to establish his credibility as a solid Maegashira rikishi, and his next stop is long term opponent Daieisho. Kagayaki will work to try and land a grip and use his superior strength, and Daieisho will try to stay mobile and work towards a throw / thrust out. Their career record of 5-6 indicates they are evenly matched.

Tochiozan vs Kaisei – Greatly inflated Panda-kun Kaisei faces Tochiozan day 3, and Tochiozan may have his hands full trying to maneuver that much churrasqueiro. As I have stated many times, being enormous is not a long term sumo strategy. But in some cases, it can be decisive. Tochiozan is a skilled technician, and may show us how its done.

Chiyoshoma vs Endo – Excellent pairing from the schedulers, we take two experienced, skilled rikishi with no losses thus far facing off. Endo holds a 4-2 career advantage, and tends to win by throwing Chiyoshoma.

Okinoumi vs Tochinoshin – I am going to make a guess that Okinoumi is in reasonably good health for now. He faces off against Tochinoshin, and his incredible strength. These two will go chest to chest from the start, and it will come down to who gets the best grip. If this goes long, it favors Tochinoshin, so look for Okinoumi to end it in the first 30 seconds. Their 5-6 career record shows how evenly these two are matched.

Takakeisho vs Tamawashi – Another great match from scheduling. Two tsuppari / oshi masters going head to head is a formula for an explosive bout. Even thought Takakeisho holds a slight 2-1 career advantage, Tamawashi is pressing hard for double digits.

Mitakeumi vs Onosho – Mitakeumi is looking genki, and Onosho has yet to settle down and get his sumo running well. So this may be all Mitakeumi. But this could also be the day that Onosho clears the cobwebs and brings his blistering offense to the dohyo.

Chiyotairyu vs Takayasu – Match of the burly-men, I am quite sure this is all Takayasu, and it’s going to be over in short order, I expect.

Goeido vs Kotoshogiku – A long term rivalry that goes back years, this match strongly favors Goeido. The first two days have seen Kotoshogiku hit the clay twice. He seems to be cold and disorganized, which is a huge shame.

Ichinojo vs Kisenosato – Ichinojo presents a significant challenge to Kisenosato. Given his performance in the past two days, it seems that he is still not nearly as strong as he was prior to his injury last March. At 215 kg, Ichinojo represents a huge mass to overcome, and Ichinojo has been fighting well.

Hakuho vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has never been able to present a reasonable challenge to Hakuho, and much as I love Hokutofuji, I don’t expect his day 3 match to be appreciably different.

Kakuryu vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze really seems to be lacking any kind of spark in his first two matches, and frankly fans have to wonder if he is injured. On the other hand, Kakuryu seems quite genki, and he has been calling the shots in his first two matches.

Hatsu Day 2 Highlights


Kisenosato Sigh of Relief

Top line result – Kisenosato won today. He won in a tough battle against a strong, healthy youngster in Hokutofuji. Meanwhile, Hakuho looks uncharacteristically tentative, Kakuryu dismantles Takakeisho’s wave action attack, Takayasu goes the distance with a persistent Kotoshogiku, and I worry there is something amiss in Yoshikaze-land.

Highlight Matches

Daiamami defeats Ryuden – A pair of loose mawashi leads to a rather challenging battle, where Daiamami was able to muscle Ryuden out at the edge.

Asanoyama defeats Nishikigi – I am starting to hope that Asanoyama has gotten his sumo back under control. Asanoyama was double-inside at the tachiai, and Nishikigi offered very little resistance.

Ishiura defeats Abi – Ishiura seems to have gotten his sumo together. He is looking focused, tight and he is using his size and strength to his advantage. Abi, in spite of his sunny disposition and outstanding shiko, is still looking for the recipe to get a Makuuchi win.

Kagayaki defeats Daishomaru – This version of Kagayaki is quite different from the disorganized mess of the last three basho. It’s probably the case that Kagayaki is not yet ready to succeed at upper Maegashira level, but here at the bottom, he is doing great.

Aminishiki defeats Chiyomaru – Uncle Sumo locked up Chiyomaru and went chest to chest with the big man, and won! Not a great or glorious battle, but good to see Aminishiki going straight out into battle.

Kaisei defeats Chiyonokuni – Two false starts put both contestants in a hesitant mode, and Kaisei took control of the smaller but more aggressive Chiyonokuni. I am really concerned about Kaisei’s bulk. At that size, one bad fall and it’s all downhill.

Endo defeats Ikioi – In the battle of the Japanese virtues, it was Endo all the way. There was some question on who touched down first, but Endo prevailed. I am starting to be cautiously optimistic that Endo has put his health problems behind him.

Tochinoshin defeats Arawashi – It was not even close, and frankly it was startling to see how small Arawashi (who is not small in person) looked as Tochinoshin lifted him over the tawara. I am eager to see how Tochinoshin does when he starts facing the San’yaku in a few days.

Tamawashi defeats Yoshikaze – Alright, that’s two weak days from Yoshikaze in a row. As a fan I am starting to worry that something is wrong with the berserker.

Goeido defeats Onosho – Goeido has started Hatsu strong, and he’s completely dialed in on the 2.0 software. The ankle repair appears to have been a complete success, and I think he’s fighting as well right now as I have seen in the past two years.

Takayasu defeats Kotoshogiku – For recent joiners of the sumo fan world, this was a classic Takayasu match. Enormous strength and almost inhuman endurance. It’s also a huge measure of respect for Kotoshogiku as he was able to match the Ozeki during that lengthy battle, and never gave up one inch without a fight. Classic match.

Hakuho defeats Ichinojo – That’s two days in a row where the boss has struggled. Yes, Ichinojo is the Obelix of sumo, but in prior engagements, Hakuho has been able to eliminate Ichinojo’s size as a factor. One can assume that the change up in his tachiai has significantly disrupted his sumo.

Kakuryu defeats Takakeisho – Amazing bout from Big K! I refer to Takakeisho’s big weapon as a “Wave Action Tsuppari”: he tends to do a double arm thrust 3 times then move. Kakuryu knows this, stops the first wave at the tachiai and moves inside with a shallow grip. Takakeisho moves to escape and Kakuryu does not let him re-set. Takakeisho’s out in the blink of an eye.

Kisenosato defeats Hokutofuji – And all of Japan breathes a sigh of relief. This was actually a very good match, and my compliments to Hokutofuji, who put up one hell of a fight. From the tachiai, Hokutofuji works hard to block Kisenosato’s left hand grip. He then makes the mistake of grabbing Kisenosato’s left forearm and pulling. This seems to really fire Kisenosato up, and he unleashes a hell of a storm on his opponent. After a few very strong blows, Kisenosato lands his deep left hand grip, at which point it’s all over. Great match, if a bit sloppy.

Hatsu Day 2 Preview


kisenosato-down

Day 1 got off to a very solid start, better than either of the last two basho, and I am cautiously enthusiastic about what we are in store for. With so many excellent matches on day 1, I encourage everyone to at least try out Kintamayama’s review on YouTube. While I love the NHK highlights show, and days when there are a large amount of quality bouts in a rather lengthy torikumi, it’s worth it to pick up the matches you missed.

I finally got to see the NHK highlight show at 2:30 Pacific today. Yes, I am in San Diego for a bit instead of the mighty bastion of Texas. Counter programming to it was a show on PBS about black holes, and super-massive black holes. I thought nothing of it…

But then here’s Murray Johnson remarking that Kaisei has packed on over 20 kg since November. Dear readers, that’s the size of a small Panda Bear, whose form Kaisei seems determined to emulate. It appears something similar has taken place within orbit of the gas giant Chiyomaru, who may have swallowed a nearby moon. Both of these two balloons will find their added mass a terrible strain on their bodies, and I fear for their longevity.

Say, you know what has me really delighted so far? Great matches at the bottom of Makuuchi! These guys are on fire. The Tadpoles had best consolidate their position in a hurry, as it seems there is yet another cohort advancing on their positions.

What We Are Watching Day 2

Ryuden vs Daiamami – Ryuden looked very poised on day 1, I am going to be watching to see if he can repeat that with his match against Daiamami, who holds a 5-2 career advantage of him.

Asanoyama vs Nishikigi – I am calling for Asanoyama to try to set up a throw early on. If Nishikigi can block the outside grip, he will probably have a chance to get inside and dismantle Asanoyama.

Abi vs Ishiura – An early match with a lot of interest. Both guys are on the lighter side of the scales, and both of them like to move around and mix it up. If Ishiura gets stuck, will he resort to his submarine attack that gets him in such trouble?

Yutakayama vs Daieisho – See, this time I spelled it correctly. Yutakayama has won both their prior matches. I expect a flurry of thrusting and a lot of mobility. Yutakayama seems to choke when he gets into Makuuchi, and I think everyone is hoping that this time he can settle down and show us some great sumo.

Kagayaki vs Daishomaru – When I said keep an eye on Kagayaki, people laughed. I get it, he has ridiculous man-boobs. He seems to have come to terms with it, and possibly uses it to distract his opponents. They say life in the heya can be lonely, and perhaps these poor guys find the display captivating. But hell no! Kagayaki takes his sumo with all of the earnest concentration you might expect from a rikishi who wants to be somebody. Like Kiesnosato, this guy is willing to train himself to death to get there. Never count that out.

Terunofuji vs Kotoyuki – Did you read Herouth’s discussion of Terunofuji? It’s toward the bottom of her typically awesome post. If you have not read it, go read it. It seems that in addition to Kaisei and Chiyomaru, Terunofuji may have spent time at the Gagamaru body sculpting clinic. If he can’t toss Kotoyuki around like a rotten bag of miso on day 2, it’s very dim indeed for our once mighty Kaiju. (shout out to Joshua who is in Tokyo… Lucky bastard)

Aminishiki vs Chiyomaru – Uncle Sumo vs the Gas Giant. Not good as Chiyomaru’s intense gravity well may crush Aminishiki’s space age metal support structure. Seriously, Aminishiki is in lower mid-Maegashira territory now. I hope he’s able to keep himself from getting injured.

Kaisei vs Chiyonokuni – Panda-kun vs Grumpy Badger. Chiyonokuni came out blazing day 1, but in typical fashion could not close the deal. He’s got strength, speed and energy, but for whatever reason he can’t seem to put together a consistent approach to get a win.

Ikioi vs Endo – Looking forward to this fight, as I am keeping my eye on Endo, who I would not be surprised to see hit 10 wins this tournament. A genki Endo may come as a bit of a shock to the tadpoles, as he brings a surgical precision and some depth of experience to the dohyo. I am looking for him to contain Ikioi’s superior strength and reach, and work inside and backwards.

Shodai vs Okinoumi – Shodai looked better on day 1 than he has in a while, and I am going to guess that for now Okinoumi is in good health. So this is probably a fairly good match, if Shodai does not blow the tachiai. Both of them will go for a mawashi grip from the start, and it will come down to strength and tactics.

Mitakeumi vs Chiyotairyu – Mitakeumi needs a 10 win basho to be taken seriously as an Ozeki contender. So it’s time for him to produce before he faces the upper San’yaku next week. Chiyotairyu is bigger, strong and looks a lot more like Elvis. So Mitakeumi is going to have to gamberize.

Yoshikaze vs Tamawashi – I am sure Yoshikaze is disappointed in day 1’s outcome. His shot at recovery is with the tough as nails Tamawashi on day 2. Tamawashi is back at Sekiwake after a stumble at Aki and Nagoya, and he wants his back in line for an Ozeki run.

Goeido vs Onosho – Battle of the manic over-committing rikishi, where both of them tend to charge forward with everything they have. Although I tend to be against the use of henka, this is the correct case where it’s of most use. Free tacos if they do simultaneous henka and orbit each other for the first few seconds.

Kotoshogiku vs Takayasu – All the fans want Kotoshogiku to do the big back bend. We know its the source of his magic powers, and he needs every ounce of power against an especially genki looking Takayasu.

Hakuho vs Ichinojo – Hakuho looked a bit lost without his slap-n-grab power combo. Against Ichinojo he needs some clarity, as once that much Mongolian gets moving, he’s headed somewhere. I am expecting the Boss to try another tachiai variation, hopefully with improved effect.

Kakuryu vs Takakeisho – Takakeisho’s post match interview had me rolling. When asked about the sumo he used against Kisenosato, he more or less said, “I can’t really remember, I was just trying to win”. Damn straight! He was all over the map throwing everything including the kitchen sink at The Great Pumpkin, and he prevailed. Now of course comes Kakuryu, whose whole sumo approach is to let his opponent get rolling, then use their motion and attacks against them. I can’t wait to see how this one goes. This is the first time these two have fought.

Hokutofuji vs Kisenosato – The final match of the day, it it carries a lot of weight. Kisenosato needs wins on the board. But in their only prior match, Hokutofuji won convincingly. On day 1, Kisenosato let Takakeisho dictate the match. I am hoping to see him control the bout like his 2016 self would do with such calm and effortless power.

Hatsu Story 3 – Harumafuji’s Long Shadow


Harumafuji

With the new year’s basho about to begin, many sumo fans may feel the controversy around former Yokozuna Harumafuji is in the distant past. (In case there is one fan out there who does not know, Harumafuji was at the center of a controversy stemming from a night out with other rikishi in which he repeatedly struck Takanoiwa with his fists and a karaoke machine remote. The reaction to this regrettable incident included Harumafuji’s resignation from the sumo world.)

As the first five days of the basho unfold, we will see a new dynamic at play, as Harumafuji previously played a large role in shaping each tournament’s pace and outcome. True, he was usually good for a handful of kinboshi, but Harumafuji was a relentless competitor who delivered massive offense each time he mounted the dohyo. Without his participation in this tournament, we may see several differences even in the early days.

  • Increased Tadpole Dominance: So far, the league of up-and-coming rikishi has been storming the gates of the old guard. While four healthy Yokozuna would make life very hard for the younger Rikishi, many fans think that we may only get Hakuho for the full 15 days of Hatsu, and possibly not even that. This means that we may once again see the youngsters turn in solid, double-digit records from high Maegashira or San’yaku ranks. In the past, Harumafuji would tough it out and cull the next generation as much as he was able.
  • Increased Pressure on Hakuho: As noted in the earlier commentary, Kakuryu and Kisenosato are “on the bubble”. While both of them have put forth a mighty effort to be ready for Hatsu, there is a real threat that either or both of them are simply too hurt to continue. This could possibly leave Hakuho as the only Yokozuna for this tournament, or the only Yokozuna period. This would have the effect of motivating “The Boss” to continue to compete in spite of injuries that in the past would have put him to kyujo, knowing that Harumafuji would carry on. If that should happen, it might hasten the end of Hakuho.
  • The Battle For The Next Ozeki: The fight for the next Ozeki slot is already underway, with Tamawashi and Mitakeumi clear front-runners. But with the Yokozuna ranks thinned and possibly thinning more, Takakeisho and Onosho are primed to step up their sumo. Both Goeido and Takayasu have stabilized their performance somewhat, but neither of them are clear favorites to begin a campaign for the tsuna.

Kyushu Day 13 Highlights


Hakuho

Hakuho’s Chasers Keep Up The Pressure.

An impressive number of rikishi are still sitting one win away from kachi-koshi, and it looks like the final weekend will be what I call a “Darwin Torikumi”, with the schedulers pairing up the folks that need just one more win to (as much as possible) put make/kachi koshi on the line. Several of these “Darwin” rikishi had been on losing streaks, rallied and are now pressing to secure a winning record – examples of this are Ikioi and Shodai. Still others waltzed up to the 7 win mark, but can’t seem to make it across into the happy valley of kachi-koshi – an example of this is Uncle Sumo, Aminishiki.

Takayasu re-injured his right thigh on day 12 and is kyujo, which gave a fusen-sho to Goeido, securing his kachi-koshi. I am very happy Goeido won’t, yet again, be kadoban. He has been fighting well this basho but seems to be missing something. Reminder to readers that he recently had his ankle surgically rebuilt, and it’s impossible to know how much that limits his sumo. With Takayasu’s kyujo, that makes 3 Yokozuna and 1 Ozeki out for Kyushu. Clearly, sumo continues to have difficulty fielding its top-line talent. We are only a few months from a probable house-cleaning, in my opinion.

Highlight Matches

Ikioi defeats Aminishiki – Not even a tough bout. Aminishiki has bad knees and tends to win through misdirection and guile. When he faces rikishi who know his tricks, defeating him is a matter of simple sumo mechanics. Both men are one win away from kachi-koshi.

Kaisei defeats Asanoyama – Kaisei picks up his kachi-koshi against sumo’s happiest rikishi, who picked up his make-koshi via the same bout. Kaisei has looked better this basho than he has in about a year, and we are happy to see him back in fighting form. Asanoyama has faded from his stellar performance at Aki, but we think he will be a force in the future.

Shodai defeats Kotoyuki – Shodai blows the tachiai (naturally), and Kotoyuki makes him pay. But before Kotoyuki can take him out, Shodai rallies and turns it into a real match. Kotoyuki again advances, but Shodai pulls a Kotenage at the edge. Sloppy, but still a win. Shodai was on a losing streak but has remembered some of his sumo, and is now one win away from kachi-koshi.

Okinoumi defeats Tochinoshin – Okinoumi defeats the big Georgian to remain one win behind Hakuho. For fans of the man from Shimane-ken, it’s been tough to watch him struggle to overcome a chronic, painful injury. Somehow he has it all wired together this basho and is fighting well. At the tachiai, Okinoumi established a right-hand inside grip early, which he improved to a moro-zashi as Tochinoshin advanced. With the Georgian pushing him to the tawara, Okinoumi used his grip to throw Tochinoshin. Nice win, and Okinoumi goes to 11 wins.

Takakeisho defeats Tochiozan – Traditional Takakeisho yo-yo sumo again today. Tochiozan’s multiple pain points keep him from being a credible threat anywhere in the torikumi, and we hope that he can recover by New Years. Takakeisho keeps up the pressure to take a san’yaku slot for the next basho.

Tamawashi defeats Endo – This was a great test match for Endo: just how recovered are you? The answer is, “Not quite enough to defeat Tamawashi”. We are likely to see Endo in the joi for Hatsu, so this match may have been to help decide if he is ready. The tachiai was a bit mistimed, but the fight continued (see how it’s done Hakuho?). Tamawashi stays even with Takakeisho in the “Make me San’yaku” derby.

Onosho defeats Shohozan – After dropping the majority of his bouts at the start of Kyushu, Onosho reverted to the holy red mawashi of the ancients and began kicking ass. Now up to 6 wins, he is two away from kachi-koshi. Home-town boy Shohozan has not been able to produce wins this basho, but he shows up every day and fights like a madman.

Ichinojo defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi is solidly in the “can’t get to 8” club, and today he was completely outmatched by Ichinojo. Mitakeumi is competing with a painful foot injury, and it limits how much defensive pressure he can apply to anyone’s attack. When your attacker is 400 pounds of Mongolian rikishi, you try to make your dohyo exit safe.

Hokutofuji defeats Yoshikaze – Also squarely in the busted foot club, Yoshikaze took his turn with the surprisingly genki Hokutofuji, who remains 1 behind Hakuho. As is always the case, there are no easy wins over Yoshikaze, but it was clear the Berserker was only at about 80% today. Chances of Yoshikaze going make-koshi are up quite a bit post foot injury, and that would open a coveted Sekiwake slot for all of the team pressing to launch into San’yaku.

Hakuho defeats Takarafuji – What a fantastic effort from Takarafuji! A perfectly timed move to the left as the Yokozuna leaped to put him off the dohyo sent Hakuho sailing perilously close to the tawara, but he arrested his overshoot and re-engaged. Takarafuji pressed the advantage, but he was no match for the Yokozuna, who was able to slap him down. My compliments to Takarafuji. Please note that Hakuho’s normal tachiai face-slap missed, most likely due to computational errors stemming from his intended target’s lack of neck, which places Takarafuji’s face in an unexpected location.