Lately, Terunofuji’s Instagram photos have largely come from the weight room. Monday he shared some pics and a few video clips of him sparring with Fukuoka Daigaku judoka. This is a fantastic development as he will need to dramatically expand his tool kit to bring himself back to the top ranks.
Terunofuji’s rise was very quick, based on a no-nonsense, take no prisoners, Kaiju mode where he would simply overpower nearly all opponents. Here, he defeated Mr. Sky Crane, himself, Tochinoshin. This was on his way to winning the makuuchi Yusho in May of 2015.
However, less than a year after the Yusho and his Ozeki promotion, knee injuries began to nag him, hobbling hopes of more yusho and muting earlier Yokozuna chatter. In an early career of epic yotsu battles, including bouts against Ichinojo and Osunaarashi, below, took their toll.
As much as we loved Kaiju, we would love to see Terunofuji back in the Big Leagues in any form. To get back, he will have to adapt and training with judo wrestlers will hopefully provide new emphasis on grappling techniques to lessen the strain on his knees.
After compiling data from the SumoDB, we can see from his position near the top ranks of Makushita, he will likely need a yusho to jump that Juryo threshold. I’ve not updated the data since the end of the September basho so he has already inched closer to that red line. The recent ranks (blue tick marks) are based on the September data and do not reflect the latest banzuke release. The grey bars represent the wrestlers’ highest positions.
This has been a weird basho. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. When watching Day 12 inside the arena, I found myself alternating between shaking my head and cheering enthusiastically. The tournament has swung wildly between some of the most exciting sumo we have seen in ages, and slippy/slappy/pulldown action.
Less than sixty top division bouts remain, and we will see a victor crowned. What sort of victor will it be? Well, three names were culled from the race on Day 12, and the yusho arasoi should get thinner than a 40 year old’s oicho-mage after another day of action.
Day 13 is also a pivotal day as it will crown several lower division yusho winners.
Let’s start off with a quick sweep of the nether regions, where the wheat will be separated from the… slightly less sellable wheat. Wheat that’s perfectly good for the mill but not the sort of stuff you’d see in a high-end depachika.
Jonokuchi: The very first bout of the day decides the yusho, with former blue chip prospect and Ms1 Murata looking to seal the deal against less-heralded fellow injury returnee Omura.
Jonidan/Sandanme: Both of these divisions has 3 undefeated rikishi, so it’s splitsville with one of the divisions being won outright on the day and the other heading for a playoff over the weekend:
In Jonidan, bottom ranked 6-0’ers Aomihama and Sadanohana do battle, while…
In Sandanme, top ranked 6-0’ers Tsushida and Sadanohikari lock horns. Both sets of winners will hope that…
Sandanme’s Fujinowaka and Jonidan’s Motobayashi lose their match against the other.
Motobayashi is of course no stranger to strange yusho permutations having beaten two of his Naruto-beya stablemates to the Jonokuchi yusho last time out. Tsushida is the only other prior yusho winner – also in Jonokuchi.
Makushita: The highlight bout of the title matches on the day is unquestionably an intriguing battle of two former Makuuchi favourites. Immediate injury returnee Chiyonokuni takes on the most prominent rikishi in the unsalaried tiers: former Ozeki Terunofuji, who continues his long old slog up from Jonidan. They’ve met twice, each winning once. Neither will be promoted to Juryo with a win, but the winner will be much better placed for promotion in November.
In Juryo, the highlight of the day sees leader Ikioi against his nearest chaser Kotonowaka in a match which won’t decide the title, but may go some way to clearing it up.
What (Else) We Are Watching Day 13
Takanosho vs Azumaryu – Back to the top division then, and Takanosho gets called up again in a sneak preview of Fukuoka action, having clinched his kachikoshi from Juryo 2. Azumaryu has a 3-2 edge over his rival and has cooled off a bit in the preceding days.
Yutakayama vs Enho – After being pulled up to the dizzy heights of second half action, burgeoning superstar Enho finds himself near the bottom of the day’s fight card against an opponent who is just barely on the fringes of the title race. Somehow, this is their first ever meeting. It has been said ad nauseum on the commentary this tournament that Enho fights better against much larger opponents, and I tend to agree his chances will be improved here against an opponent who may not be able to cope with his dynamism and movement. While I correctly predicted he might struggle to finish off Takarafuji, I think this match gives him a bit better potential to score his kachikoshi and end the giant Yutakayama’s spirited title challenge.
Onosho vs Nishikigi – I’m glad this is happening now because it has all the hallmarks of one of those horrible Day 15 Darwin matchups. These guys are indeed both .500, but have a couple days to work out their winning record regardless of what happens. It’s a clash of styles, with Onosho’s dynamic pushing attack against Nishikigi’s preference to lock up his opponent’s arms. Onosho’s in good nick right now so I think he’ll win the day – provided he can stay on his feet.
Shohozan vs Meisei – Shohozan’s unlikely dalliance with title contention ended on Day 12, and Meisei’s took a real hit. Both will want to turn things around for different reasons: Shohozan can seal kachikoshi and Meisei still finds himself just one win off the pace and in with a real shout of a special prize. Their meetings have been split one apiece, but I think Meisei is just about in the better shape here, especially if it’s a mawashi battle. Shohozan has still got it but appears to have lost a step, compensating with increased work on the belt. That plays into Meisei’s hands though, so I’m tipping the energetic youngster.
Sadanoumi vs Takagenji – Takagenji is clearly impacted by off-field activity and will hope to be back soon. Sadanoumi has to be unforgiving and punishing, as this is as good an opportunity as any to score one of the two remaining wins he needs this tournament. Sadanoumi leads the rivalry 2-0, and I’m backing him to make it 3.
Tochiozan vs Kotoyuki – Speaking of losing a step, Tochiozan has looked a bit blasé in this tournament, which isn’t a very good recipe for a match against the pushing attack of Kotoyuki. What he does still have however is ring sense, something that is very much his opponent’s achilles heel. Kotoyuki has lost at least two matches in this tournament from winning positions, and can’t afford to do that again here. I think Kotoyuki will win the tachiai with his trademark thrusting attack, but whether he’s able to actually put the veteran away is another matter.
Terutsuyoshi vs Ishiura – Terutsuyoshi must have summoned the henka genie with his olé move on Day 12, as the genie has arrived to battle him on Day 13! Ishiura has faded badly in terms of results since his hot start and at 6-6 needs to find the wins needed for this tournament to be a success. For makekoshi Terutsuyoshi, it’s all about damage limitation to make sure a bad situation doesn’t get worse. Ishiura tends to henka in desperate situations… surely he won’t here, right? These guys will see plenty of each other in keiko sessions given the close relationship of their heya, so I think we’ll see some straightforward little man sumo, and it could be a bit feisty.
Tsurugisho vs Takarafuji – These guys both improbably find themselves one off the pace heading into the final weekend. What a story! Tsurugisho has exceeded all expectations in his top flight debut. Takarafuji, meanwhile, did very well to stick to his incredibly disciplined style of sumo to take Enho out of the equation on Day 12. This is a first time matchup. Tsurugisho would do well to start with a pushing attack because he doesn’t want a mawashi battle against a more experienced yotsu practitioner who will have designs on simply wearing down the opponent until he can sniff out and exploit a weakness. While a win for the rookie would add to the chaos that has been this Aki basho, I’m going to tip Takarafuji to stay right in the yusho race with a win here.
Okinoumi vs Kagayaki – Okinoumi upended his cold spell and the yusho race by knocking Meisei off the top of the leaderboard in some style on Day 12, and keeping himself in unlikely contention. Kagayaki is 5-7 and will be desperate to avoid makekoshi, but Okinoumi really shouldn’t lose this. While Kagayaki is very good when it comes to his ring sense and overall control, I don’t think he’s better than a healthy, in-form Okinoumi at oshi or yotsu-zumo, including the execution of throws. I’m going to tip the veteran to grab his 10th win.
Daishoho vs Kotoeko – Daishoho is makekoshi and faces a 5-7 rikishi hoping not to suffer the same fate. As evidenced by his win over Tochiozan on Day 12, Daishoho does seem like a rikishi who performs better when the pressure is off. This will be a belt match, with both rikishi preferring the mawashi. The previous 12 meetings have been split evenly. This is kind of a boring one so the boring analysis is: the winner will get a better grip from the tachiai and win by trying to move forward. Prove me wrong, guys. Woof.
Daieisho vs Chiyotairyu – I know I have been singing Daieisho’s praises to the heavens in this tournament, but this guy has just had a really good basho for a 5-7 rikishi. He is establishing his style of sumo all the time, and he backed that up by how he dealt with Asanoyama. Chiyotairyu on the other hand has been neither been able to establish his style of sumo from the tachiai nor recover in order to get his pushing and thrusting attack going. If he were a little more genki this might be the closest we’d get to a good old fashioned street fight in this tournament, but Daieisho might see the light at the end of the tunnel here and keep the chains moving in his quest for an unlikely winning record.
Tamawashi vs Asanoyama – Tamawashi has ended the title challenges of Abi and Endo in consecutive days and the arm-breaking cavity merchant will look to make it a hat trick by finishing off Asanoyama’s slim hopes at a second yusho. As with yesterday, Asanoyama does not handle Tamawashi’s style of sumo particularly well as evidenced by the goose egg he’s sporting from three prior meetings. That all being said, I’m going to break with the prediction I made yesterday and tip him to upset the form guide in this one, as Tamawashi can be a little vulnerable to being escorted out by an opponent who’s able to land a quick belt grip. And that might just keep things interesting into the weekend.
Shodai vs Aoiyama – As Bruce related, Shodai is better than his 2-10 record. With both of these guys in such poor form (five wins between them from 24 matches in this tournament), it’s the kind of match you mark down as “toilet break” or “refill the drink.” Make it fast though, because this should be over quickly. If Aoiyama gets the V-Twin firing and can move Shodai back from the tachiai, he should win this. And if he doesn’t, Shodai will grab the mawashi and get his third win.
Hokutofuji vs Tomokaze – Rescuing us from that dreariness is another first time matchup, and a thoroughly intriguing one at that. Tomokaze is 6-6 and needs to find two wins from three to keep his amazing kachikoshi streak alive, after he started pulling again for some reason yesterday. Hokutofuji is in his now typical strong finish, fighting back with five straight wins and some fantastic oshi-zumo this week. Here’s a stat for you: Hokutofuji is 16-5 over the final weekend (Friday-Sunday) of his past seven tournaments. That’s some indication of his perseverance. He will open up with his typical pushing-thrusting attack here, and Tomokaze in current form is probably going to look for a pull. That isn’t quite as awful as it sounds in this case, as Hokutofuji can be very prone to the hatakikomi/slippiotoshi. Hokutofuji is the favourite, but only just.
Kotoshogiku vs Endo – Kotoshogiku is on the brink, but managed to keep himself afloat with his comfortable win over Tomokaze on Day 12. Endo started strong but has fizzled in the second week. These matches have been split pretty evenly since Kotoshogiku’s Ozeki demotion and I think this hangs on Endo’s focus as much as anything. After all, we know what Kotoshogiku is going to give in every match.
Abi vs Shimanoumi – These guys lock horns for the second time, Abi having won the first earlier this year. Shimanoumi has a decent oshi-attack, but I don’t think it’s on the level of Abi’s tsuppari. Shimanoumi is already make-koshi and while he will be still looking to finish strong, Abi has a chance to lock in his san’yaku position for another tournament and I expect him not to have to wait until Day 15 to do it this time.
Mitakeumi vs Myogiryu – Myogiryu came back from injury strong on Day 11, but then just flat out collapsed against Takakeisho on Day 12. Mitakeumi, meanwhile, rebounded from his own collapse with a thunderous win in a very tense, high stakes, matta-strewn affair against Tochinoshin. These two are actually fairly similar in terms of their ability, Mitakeumi simply operating on a higher level, perhaps apart from when it comes to throws. But I don’t think this match is going to get that far. Mitakeumi is the person that needs to keep the title race relevant into the final days, and he needs to establish a strong oshi attack. I don’t think Myogiryu defends particularly well against high level opposition so if Mitakeumi takes the initiative, he should win.
Tochinoshin vs Ryuden – Ryuden has been all over the shop lately, and we got to see a lot of him against Goeido in a match that was run multiple times due to various matta. For Tochinoshin’s part, he simply needs to win every match to avoid demotion. Their head to head record is 1-1, Ryuden winning most recently in Nagoya. Ryuden is in some ways a good opponent for the Georgian, in that he will allow Tochinoshin to get the belt. But he is also in some ways the absolute worst opponent, because very few rikishi manage to defend at the edge after giving up a belt grip like Ryuden. That effort, and his ability to turn losses into wins at the tawara, has won many fans. There’s nothing worse than seeing your heroes die a slow death and I think Tochinoshin will probably draw the pain out further by just about winning this.
Takakeisho vs Goeido – This is an enormous match to end the day, and for both men. The subtext is perhaps the most interesting. Goeido is safe from demotion, but this is a yusho he should have contended for, and a loss here will officially knock him out of the running. A Takakeisho win may be a symbolic changing of the guard and a big moment in the transition to the new generation of stars. Goeido leads the rivalry 7-3, and has beaten Takakeisho fairly consistently over time. As an all-rounder with a blistering attack, he is one of few rikishi with the tools to overwhelm the perplexing youngster. Goeido is certainly prone to the type of slap down technique that Takakeisho has mastered, but I think the youngster may find it harder to win just with oshi-zumo than against other opponents. I’m going to go out on a limb and tip the veteran Ozeki for the win here.
What? Ones to watch? I have slacked off on these posts because Herouth covers the action so very well in her daily video round up. It’s some fantastic stuff. At this point, our lower division competitors have had 5 matches, and more than a few of them have hit their 4 wins and are safely kachi-koshi. A few are event at 5-0, and are competing for their division yusho.
But today there are a few matches I wanted to talk about, so let’s get rolling.
Akua vs Tsurubayashi – Yusho elimination match, can Akua leap-frog quite a few higher ranked rikishi to snatch a return to Juryo? It’s a long shot, but if he is the eventual yusho winner, it’s not out of the question.
Hoshoryu vs Nogami – If Hoshoryu prevails, it would mark his 4th win, and quite possibly his debut in September in Juryo. I am looking forward to lksumo discussing the promotion / demotion prospects later this week. I know there is a lot of hype and a lot of buzz around Hoshoryu, and I worry it would be too soon for him to start battling against the “bigs” in Juryo.
Terunofuji vs Roga – This is it. The BIG it. We had hoped there would be a rematch, and it seems the schedulers are finally going to throw the red meat to the fans. These two last met during the Jonidan yusho playoff in Osaka, with Roga taking the playoff match. Since then they have been on an almost parallel track to their current posting at the bottom of Makushita. Both rikishi are greatly improved since that Jonidan meeting. I know every fan wants to see if Terunofuji’s weight loss and muscle tone changed the calculus between these two, or if Terunofuji’s knees are just too far gone for him to present a young hard-charging rikishi a challenge.
Shoji vs Asanojo – Winner takes home kachi-koshi. For Shoji it’s doubtful he can return to Makushita for September, but the top of Sandanme would be a fine mark to hit.
Wakaichiro vs Kotokume – After a strong start, Wakaichiro had a couple of matches he was winning go south, and then his 5th match was against a rather round fellow, who seemed to be immune to Wakaichiro’s thrusting attack. He comes into his day 11 match 2-3, and needing to win his last 2 for kachi-koshi. He has done this before, and we are sure he can do it now
With Day 4 about to begin, the rest of our “Ones to Watch” will be on the dohyo for their second match. During day 3 action, Wakaichiro went down to defeat after taking a bad step during his match and launching himself from the dohyo. He came out very strong at the tachiai, and frankly looked like he was doing some damage to Kamitani before that stumble took him down. Amakaze picked up his second win, Hoshoryu lost to former Makuuchi rikishi Seiro, while Roga and Musashikuni both picked up their first wins.
Naya vs Fujiazuma – Both are looking for their first win. Fujiazuma is a former Juryo mainstay, so this will be a hard match for Naya. Neither of these rikishi are really in promotion range this basho, unless the top ranks all go down to make-koshi.
Wakamotoharu vs Akua – Again Akua is in a Ones to Watch head to head match. Both rikishi are 1-0, so the winner will join the leader group. These two actually have some history together, with Wakamotoharu holding a slight 3-2 edge.
Midorifuji vs Asabenkei – Midorifuji won their only prior match, but it’s just the one match, though it was just at Natsu. Speed will likely be the order of the day.
Terunofuji vs Onojo – Former Ozeki continues his march to return to the salaried ranks, though he is now at the bottom end of Makushita with a long road ahead. His sumo still seems off, mostly due to mobility issues from his unrepairable knees.
Shoji vs Tsugaruumi – Another 1-0 bracket match, Shoji is up against long serving Sandanme mainstay Tsugaruumi, who has suffered several absenceses in his 45 tournament sumo career.
Kitanowaka vs Chiyooga – After dominating Jonikuchi, Kitanowaka finds himself in mid Jonidan, and facing relative newcomer Chiyooga on day 4 for his second match. I think Kitanowaka may still be a bit under ranked at Jonidan 46, but lets see if anyone can slow him down.