Ura To Compete, Terunofuji Kyujo

Ura-Cartoon

Tachiai can now confirm the competition status of two fan favorites. First, Ura is definitely a go for competition. He is ranked Sandanme 91 West. After hideous damage to his right knee Last year at Aki, he went the route of undergoing surgery, and has been working to rebuild his body since. This will be his first time in competition in a year, and I am very curious to see how long it takes him to re-connect with his sumo. Should he step up primed and genki, there is a strong chance that lower Sandanme rikishi may find themselves quickly going down to defeat.

The matter of Terunofuji is also hopeful, but with a different course of action. The big Kaiju is sitting out Aki, having also chosen to undergo reconstructive surgery. Terunofuji has mountains of talent, and a strong work ethic. It seems that he has accepted that he is rebooting his sumo career, and at this point it won’t matter what rank he falls to, as long as he comes back strong and healthy. He is currently ranked Makushita 47, but we expect him to be out several basho.

Aki starts in about 36 hours, and frankly Team Tachiai can’t wait.

Hat tip to Herouth for digging this up via Sanspo.

Nagoya Day 2 Preview

Hakuho Dohyo Iri

While we were enjoying day 1 action, so news surfaced about injured former Ozeki Terunofuji. Fans may recall that Terunofuji has suffered multiple injuries to his knees, along with diabetes and numerous other maladies that robbed him of any ability to execute sumo. As a result he lost his Ozeki rank, and then rocketed down the banzuke, where the Nagoya ranking sheet finds him in ranked Makushita 6 East. As reported prior to the basho, Terunofuji underwent a second set of surgeries to try to repair his knees, and is reported to still be recovering in the hospital. It is quite possible we may never see him on the dohyo again, and if we do it will be part of a long, painful restart of his sumo career. Terunofuji is currently a physical wreck, and likely a mental wreck as well. His sumo had been questionable for a time, but really took a dive following the Harumafuji scandal. To some fans, it seemed the events robbed him of his natural fighting spirit. But his drive, his energy, his cunning and his sumo skill remains. If he body can be repaired, it would be an overwhelming comeback story. We hope whatever path he takes, that he does well.

What We Are Watching Day 2

Hokutofuji vs Akiseyama – With Hokutofuji at the very bottom edge of the banzuke, he has a real opportunity to recover if he indeed has resolved the injuries that had plagued him for the past few tournaments. Today he faces Juryo man Akiseyama, whom he has never matched against in the past.

Meisei vs Ryuden – Both men lost their day 1 matches, but over their 8 career bouts, Meisei has won 6. Right now Ryuden needs to get back to a winning formula after a disastrous 3-12 record in May.

Okinoumi vs Asanoyama – These two would seem to be a very even match, although Asanoyama holds a 3-0 lead in their career series. Like many of the 30+ crowd in the top division, Okinoumi is slowly fading. His skills are still amazing, but his body is a half step slower than his peak.

Arawashi vs Onosho – Arawashi is fast and mobile, and Onosho works that kind of sumo ver well. I am sure this will be a match where Arawashi wants to move and strike, and Onosho wants to pin him down.

Chiyomaru vs Aoiyama – XXXL Chiyomaru has never beaten the Man-Mountain Aoiyama, but Aoiyama’s day 1 performance would seem to indicate he is at least mildly injured, so day 2’s match against super-heavyweights may be the chance for Chiyomaru to start evening up the score.

Nishikigi vs Yutakayama – After being permanently affixed to the bottom of the banzuke for many cycles, suddenly Nishikigi finds himself facing off against a tougher class of opponents. I think his day 2 match against Yutakayama has a lot of potential, as they have similar fighting styles. Given his poor eyesight, Nishikigi will work to stay in close.

Endo vs Takarafuji – This match pits two very technical, very studious rikishi against each other. We know that Endo has superb technique, and Takarafuji seems to be a master at finding ways to lose a match while executing great sumo. So if Takarafuji is genki on day 2, I would suggest Endo may have his hands full, as Takarafuji will likely work to let Endo set the cadence, then thwart him. Career record favors Takarafuji 6-4.

Chiyotairyu vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze, sadly, is firmly in the camp of the fading over 30 crowd. I love the guy’s sumo, but he seems to be struggling now. Their day 2 match will be a great data point to see if Chiyotairyu really has upped his endurance, and any match with Yoshikaze can turn into a protracted bar room brawl.

Kagayaki vs Takakeisho – I am really looking forward to this bout. Kagayaki is very traditional plan / execute, based firmly on fundamentals. Takakeisho seems to go into a match eager and full of enthusiasm for slapping around anyone who mounts the dohyo. Takakeisho is 0-4 against Kagayaki, could day 2 be his first win against Mr Fundamentals?

Ichinojo vs Abi – Both men lost their day 1 matches, and Abi is facing significant challenges in the form of the biggest and best men in sumo. When it comes to Ichinojo, it’s tough to know which version is going to mount the dohyo, the massive sumo machine, or the cuddly teddy bear. If Abi gets the sumo machine, this may be over quickly, as he does not really have much of a reach advantage over Ichinojo.

Ikioi vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi looked very good day 1 against Abi, but Ikioi is likely to be quite a bit more trouble. Ikioi has yet to beat Mitakeumi, and if Mitakeumi is in form this basho, he will likely use his tadpole body to confound Ikioi’s preferred attack style.

Goeido vs Tamawashi – Both men seem to have suffered day 1 bouts of explosive ring rust. But for Goeido the case is much more serious. The first week is the “easy” portion of his schedule. He needs to rack as many wins here as possible. For Tamawashi this is the “hard” part of his schedule, so he has room to work towards kachi-koshi starting next weekend. Their career record is 8-8. When both are on form, they are fast, low and can win within 3 steps of the tachiai.

Chiyonokuni vs Tochinoshin – Reports of Tochinoshin’s right hand being a problem seem to have not born out thus far. This will be a match of two clashing styles. Tochinoshin wins when he can get a belt war started, and Chiyonokuni is a mobile flurry of oshi. Chiyonokuni is 1-6 against the shin-Ozeki, but I am eager to see what Chiyonokuni tries to overcome Tochinoshin’s size and strength advantage.

Shohozan vs Takayasu – Its likely that Takayasu will be forced into a running battle with Shohozan, which I feel greatly favors Shohozan. Takayasu now seems to favor high force pushing and thrusting, which leaves him perilously misbalanced. Though Takayasu leads the career series 7-5, Shohozan has a real edge this time, as I think Takayasu is still hurt.

Kakuryu vs Kotoshogiku – Oh my, this one has history. They have faced off 49 times over their careers, with Kakuryu taking 27. They are more or less even. Though at this point I would put the advantage on Kakuryu. As he displayed in his day 1 match against Takayasu, Kotoshogiku is surprisingly resistant to displays of strength against him, so this match may be decided by misdirection and footwork.

Shodai vs Hakuho – Some learned sumo fans (who I respect) seem to think that Hakuho’s day 1 match was rough or worrisome. But I think his match against Shodai is going to be a better barometer of what kind of condition the boss is in right now. Advantage clearly to Hakuho, but Shodai’s opponents seem to be self destructing quite a bit as of late.

Nagoya Basho News

Hattorizakura

With just a handful of hours to go, here is the latest from Nagoya

The dohyo was consecrated this morning in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. Offerings to the deities were sealed in the center of the platform, in a ceremony that completes preparation for the Nagoya basho.

As hoped, some injured rikishi that we follow have decided to play it safe, and not compete in Nagoya. This includes Ura and Terunofuji.  Ura is being rightfully cautious in returning to action, as the surgery to repair his knee takes about 9 months to heal. He had also gained a large amount of weight that would put additional strain on his knee. With him sitting out Nagoya, he will drop to mid or lower Sandanme for Aki. The chances of a Wakaichiro – Ura match are still remote, but growing.

Terunofuji underwent surgery a few weeks ago for his knee problems, and is likely still a physical wreck.  We think it will be many months before we see him return. He may even have to re-start sumo from the bottom division, which would be both a complete shame for Terunofuji, and a terrifying ordeal for the young men he would be tasked to defeat to regain any sort of rank.

Wakaichro is in action early in day 1, with a rematch against Sadogatake heya’s Kotosato.  Their prior match, on day 10 of Natsu, went to Kotosato. This offers the rikishi from Humble, Texas a chance to even the score. The two of them are roughly the same height and weight, and it should be a great match.

Finally, thanks to Herouth for pointing it out, the opening match of the entire basho is none other than Hattorizakura vs. Wakaoyama. For sumo fans who don’t know, Hattorizakura is a scrawny kid who just can’t seem to win, but keeps training. The sumo word is on pins and needles at the thought that Hattorizakura might actually win the first bout tonight. If so, all of the hard core sumo nerds will celebrate.

The First Eleven Men of Makushita

Enho-Takayasu
… When you can see over the top of the mountain

Instead of a traditional “Ones to Watch” section this basho, we’ll mix things up with a few lower division storylines. We’ll start by taking a look at what’s going on at the top of Makushita.

This division is an absolute slog. There are 120 men in this division fighting for usually 2 to 4 of the 28 slots in Juryo. As described on a recent NHK World sumo preview, the division between Makushita and Juryo is like “heaven and hell,” given the resources and opportunities provided to rikishi once they reach the professional, sekitori level.

If you’re a college rikishi of good pedigree, usually you will cruise through the bottom 2-3 tiers before meeting your tougher matches here. Rikishi who have left school before college often take several years to reach the level as they get acclimated to the sport and the lifestyle. One of the reasons it’s tough to escape the level is because there’s a crush at the top – but Nagoya 2018 is unique. With respect to Natsu whipping boy Amakaze, usually there are a couple rikishi around the top of the division who have departed Juryo due to injury or performance, not soon to return back, and these guys get beat up by the hot young up-and-comers on the upswing of their career.

This time, however, there’s no filler at the top of the division and it’s going to be an all out melee to reach the professional ranks when sumo returns to Tokyo for the Aki tournament in September. Let’s look at who’s jockeying for position:

The Battle Scarred Veterans

I’m going to put 29 year olds Jokoryu (Ms5E) and Asabenkei (Ms4E) in this category, though their careers have taken different routes to the same location. The former Komusubi Jokoryu spent 4 years as sekitori before dropping down the divisions due to serious injury. He’s been stuck in the wilderness for 2 years, but has fought his way back up to striking distance of promotion. Asabenkei, who has been in sumo since 2007, recently made it back to Juryo after an 18 month hiatus. He then suffered a humiliating 3-win tournament in May, which started 0-7, en route to an immediate demotion back to the third tier.

While these guys have a wildly different pedigree and career accomplishments, it’s probably fair to say they have been operating on a similar talent level and with an ambition to scrape back up and re-establish themselves as professionals.

The Hot Shots

Enho (Ms2W) – the first man to open his career 21-0 since Jokoryu – arrived on the scene earlier than predicted in Osaka, but it was clear he was over-promoted before his time and was swiftly demoted back to Makushita. It’s good news for him that he has such an esteemed some-time sparring partner in Hakuho, however, and the hard work he’s put in has seen him rebound after a solid Natsu to the fourth position on the banzuke. We’ve been hot on Enho so long it’s hard to believe it’s still only his 8th tournament. 5 wins should see him back up.

Meanwhile, fellow “Ones to Watch” honorees and college men Murata (Ms1W) and Ichiyamamoto (Ms3E) reach the division’s summit in just their 9th tournaments (though Ichiyamamoto gets bonus points for having got here just as quickly from Jonokuchi). Murata is a big bopper who loves a good ol’ fashioned oshi-fuelled brawl. Ichiyamamoto mixes it up a little more but is still mostly a pusher-thruster.

The Brother

The youngest of Arashio-beya’s three Onami brothers, Wakatakakage not only made it first to Juryo but then stuck at the level, managing a kachi-koshi in his first trip to the pros. Middle brother Wakamotoharu (Ms4W) now finds himself on the brink – with the third and oldest brother Wakatakamoto not so far behind at Ms10. Having only eked out 3 wins from similar positions on the banzuke in the past, he’ll be looking to improve his record in this part of the sumo world this time, to set up a promotion challenge either this time or next. It’s a sprint between the two remaining brothers to catch Wakatakakage now, but Wakamotoharu is in the pole position.

The Cups of Coffee

27 year old Akua (Ms5W) and 23 year old Hakuyozan (Ms1E) both spent years making the long and winding trek through the lower reaches of the banzuke before managing just a “cup of coffee” in the pros, each returning back to Makushita after one tournament where they both clearly looked overmatched. They’ll be wanting to make sure the chance to establish themselves at a higher level does not go begging again.

The Wild Cards

22 year olds Gokushindo (Ms2E) and Kiribayama (Ms3W) have different origin stories and routes to this point, but what they have in common is a certain inconsistency. Kiribayama at times has looked utterly dominant in this division, and is the current yusho holder. Gokushindo has tended to take 2 steps forward followed by one step back as he adjust to the differences in quality in what is a Makushita tier which effectively has divisions within the division, such is the gulf in class between various areas of the ranks. Having posted a 6-1 record last time out, it would seemingly stand to reason he would need an adjustment period again this time, but he will face familiar foes having beaten Ichiyamamoto, Murata and Wakamotoharu in May (the latter two using a style best described as “Ichinojo” – a ponderously lengthy wait-out of a grapple in the centre of the dohyo followed by an escort over the bales and a throw respectively), losing only to Kiribayama.

The Terunofuji

At the time of writing, it appears to be unclear whether we’re going to see Terunofuji (Ms6E) in Nagoya. The man has undergone plenty of work on both knees, and suffered a less than fruitful spell in Juryo, which was also apparently hindered at times by diabetes related treatment. What his tournament ability is, at this point in the game, is still unclear. While it’s possible and even likely he may drop further (either due to performance or kyujo-status), the very presence of a former Ozeki in this part of the banzuke should give pause to each of the other names listed here – if he does show up, it’s obviously to compete and to win.

June 30th News Round Up

News Update Banner

Another news round up, as we are now one week away from the start of the Nagoya basho. Everyone who is going to participate is practicing now, and we are in the midst of inter-stable / ichimon cross training sessions and practice matches. In many cases, this is where people can start sizing up who is genki and who is not.

Sumo Kyokai

There are zero new recruits joining the sumo kyokai in Nagoya. This is a somewhat unusual situation, but in and of itself it’s not a cause for any alarm or assumptions that the Japanese public have given up their love for sumo. Today marked the dedication dohyo-iri at the Atsuta shrine. The party attending included shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin, marking the first time he has been of rank to participate.

Tagonoura Heya

First and foremost is Kisenosato. He looks like he is not even close to being ready. He lacks power, he lacks poise, he struggles against mid-tier Makuuchi rikishi. As someone who loves sumo and deeply respects Kisenosato’s commitment to the sport, this is painful to watch. But we can more or less assume that he won’t be competing. Takayasu, however, seems to have put his upper body injuries behind him, and has been fighting with gusto. We can expect him to enter and to strongly compete for the yusho.

Isegahama Heya

Our beloved kaiju, Terunofuji, once again went into surgery in a desperate attempt to repair his knees. It’s obvious that he is going to drop as far as he drops in a last ditch attempt to regain some kind of fighting form, and barring that some kind of mobility to use for the remainder of his life. Don’t look for his at Nagoya or Aki, I would say. Meanwhile, Harumafuji’s retirement is set for the end of September at the Kokugikan. Some elements of Team Tachiai may be in attendance…

Miyagino Heya

Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho took 38 practice bouts against rikishi of all levels down to Jonidan. He won 22 of them. He also called on Asashoryu’s nephew, Hoshoryu for 3 bouts. Speaking afterwards, Hoshoryu said, “”Glad to face the Yokozuna”. Hakuho stated, “It’ll be nice to hand over the baton to him”.