Hatsu Day 9 Preview

While we focus these posts on the top division (to match what most of our readers get to see via NHK World’s daily summary), there is a great story in Juryo. Former Ozeki Terunofuji was eliminated from his rank, and subsequently sat out 4 tournaments trying to overcome multiple problems and nurse his body back to health. He re-entered competition ranked all the way down at Jonidan 48 in March of last year, and has been battling to climb the banzuke. He won the Makushita yusho with a perfect 7-0 score in November, which launched him back into the salaried ranks.

Ranked near the bottom of Juryo, he has been fighting with strength and conviction, and is currently alone in the lead for the Juryo yusho with a perfect 8-0 record. More than just winning matches, he seems to have found a way to execute his sumo while protecting his badly damaged knees. There have a been a couple of glimpses of the old “Kaiju” form along the way, where some great power takes over and Terunofuji delivers overwhelming offense in the blink of an eye. While a yusho (even a perfect one) from Juryo 13 probably won’t bring him to the top division for March, the time is approaching where we may see him return in the top division. Its one of sumo’s great come-back stories, and I am eager to see how far he can take his return.

What We Are Watching Day 9

Terutsuyoshi vs Kaisei – They have only met once before, and that match went to Terutsuyoshi in Nagoya 2019. This January, Terutsuyoshi is fighting very well, and I think he’s going to give Kaisei a lot of trouble.

Ikioi vs Kotoeko – This version of Ikioi is injured and really unable to fight effectively. Kotoeko is in dire need of wins, so today may be most fortunate for him.

Kotoshogiku vs Kiribayama – First time meeting both come into the match with 4-4 records. I would say that Kiribayama needs to find a way to stalemate Kotoshogiku for at least 15 seconds, at which point the veteran may be in trouble with his knees.

Tochiozan vs Chiyomaru – Tochiozan has a good formula for beating Chiyomaru, holding a 5-1 career advantage. The plan will be to stay mobile and keep Chiyomaru from centering Tochiozan in his sights.

Tsurugisho vs Tokushoryu – This should be an easy match for the surprisingly genki Tokushoryu, as Tsurugisho has enough knee damage that he can barely walk, let alone fight. A Tokushoryu win will be a triumphant kachi-koshi for the veteran’s return to the top division.

Shimanoumi vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki continues to quietly go about his sumo, staying low and fighting well. I think in spite of the 1-1 career record, it’s his match to lose tomorrow.

Sadanoumi vs Azumaryu – These two are evenly matched, with a 3-2 career record, but in my opinion Sadanoumi has been fighting better this tournament. If the fight goes more than about 20 seconds, I would expect it to be one sided in favor of Sadanoumi.

Chiyotairyu vs Ryuden – Chiyotairyu’s sumo is focused on overwhelming power delivered at the tachiai, blasting his opponent to defeat at once, or disrupting their offense so much that Chiyotairyu can just mop them up. Ryuden will try to use a matta or two, I would expect, to disrupt Chiyotairyu’s tachiai, and work to either immediately slap down the larger man, or land a mawashi grip for a throw.

Aoiyama vs Ishiura – Aoiyama’s play will be to expect Ishiura to start low, possibly a submarine tachiai, and to swat Ishiura to the clay in the opening moments of the fight. Even if Ishiura can escape that opening gambit, Big Dan is surprisingly mobile right now, and Ishiura will have a lot of work to do.

Yutakayama vs Onosho – A high interest match for me, two nominal pusher-thrusters, with Onosho finally fighting well enough this basho to actually challenge Yutakayama. Onosho holds a 6-3 career advantage. When Yutakayama wins he usually does so by slapping Onosho down at the tachiai. When Onosho’s sumo is working he tends to bash Yutakayama about a bit before bodily throwing him out of the ring.

Shohozan vs Takanosho – The scheduling committee decided – Hey, two 4-4 guys with a 1-1 career record. Sounds like a match for a Monday! Its been a few days since Shohozan has drawn blood, so Takanosho may want to guard his face.

Tamawashi vs Tochinoshin – With his bum knee all but useless, Tochinoshin either deploys a henka or gets railroaded out by a stampeeding Tamawashi.

Okinoumi vs Mitakeumi – Many fans assumed that after his November san’yaku defenstration, that Mitakeumi would be down a few ranks, but would strongly battle his way back up in fine fashion. Well, maybe not. Coming in an 4-4, he has not looked strong at all. He faces Okinoumi today, who holds a 3-1 career advantage over the former Sekiwake.

Hokutofuji vs Myogiryu – We have yet another basho where Hokutofuji produces well for the big matches, but seems to not quite have the same intensity for the rest. This is a “bread and butter” match for Hokutofuji, and a strong showing today would do a lot for his ranking in March, as I suspect another log-jam of winning records making promotion tricky to predict.

Abi vs Endo – Endo always struggles in any fight where he can’t predictably get a hand on his opponent’s mawashi. His career record (2-6) against Abi bears this out. Endo will need to try and come in very low, and get that left hand frontal grip that he prefers.

Takarafuji vs Takayasu – Normally this would be a dependable win scenario for Takayasu, but the former Ozeki is so banged up that he is a fair target for Takarafuji. Again, I expect Takayasu’s opponent to focus on his left side, and exploit his injuries for a likely win.

Asanoyama vs Daieisho – Daieisho is quite skilled at defeating Asanoyama, holding a 7-2 advantage, Asanoyama struggled against Shodai, but I am looking for him to focus on going chest to chest with Daieisho, and overpowering him. If the match is mobile exchange of thrusts, its going to be a Daieisho win.

Enho vs Goeido – Goeido loves to deliver overwhelming offensive force in the first few seconds of the match. Even if he needs a second volley, its almost always something huge, powerful and focused to his front. This is not going to be effective against Enho unless he catches Enho off his game. First time match up that is sure to be exciting.

Takakeisho vs Shodai – I am sure everyone in the sumo world wants to know if Hatsu 2020 Shodai is genki enough to take down Takakeisho. He has only beaten him twice in their 9 matches, and right now Takakeisho seems to be in good form. Whomever wins today takes away kachi-koshi.

Hatsu Day 8 Highlights

With the middle day of the Hatsu basho behind us now, we have a clear look at what a post current Yokozuna basho looks like. A wide open, full throttle barnyard brawl of young, strong rikishi up and down the banzuke beating each other to bits every day for the cup. As sumo fans, we have naturally gotten used to a very orderly sumo world. Hakuho takes the cup if he is present, and if not, one of the other Yokozuna. This is what I think of as the “Hakuho Effect”. Fans don’t recognize it yet, but there really has never been a period in sumo where you had a single rikishi dominate so completely for so long. His overwhelming skill and power completely wicked away all possibility of anyone else really making much of a mark, and really shut down this kind of tournament.

As stated a couple of years ago when the transition started, a transition period like the one we are in the beginning stages of are hugely exciting times in sumo. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotion and thrill a minute. With “The Boss” frequently in dry dock these days, we get new champions on the rise, and we can enjoy them as they mature and their sumo evolves.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the two relics that are mounting the dohyo each day: Goeido and Takayasu. Both of them have given their lives to sumo, and have been arch competitors. For Takayasu, now at just 3 wins, he needs to take the remaining matches to regain Ozeki. Given his level of injuries, it’s quite unlikely. For Goeido, he needs to win 5 of the next 7 matches to retain Ozeki, also a very tall order. Its kind of heart breaking in some ways, as these are great rikishi who have turned in wonderful tournaments in the past. Everyone would want to see them continue. But sumo is a near perfect zero-sum evolutionary sport. Win to survive.

Highlight Matches

Kaisei defeats Ikioi – Ikioi choses to go chest to chest with Kaisei for some reason, and his one attempt at a throw falls far short of enough torque to move the big Brazilian. The look of pain ok Ikioi’s face at the end of the match tells the story.

Mitoryu defeat Shimanoumi – Mitoryu gets to the tachiai early, and Shimanoumi never really can stage much offense to counter.

Tokushoryu defeats Kotoshogiku – There was little doubt these two would go chest to chest immediately, with Kotoshogiku attempting the hug-n-chug, but finding that Tokushoryu’s bulbous abdomen is a near perfect damper for the force of that attack. Kotoshogiku keeps pressing the attack, but his balance fails at a crucial moment and Tokushoryu swings him to the clay.

Kiribayama defeats Kotoeko – Like so many of his bouts this basho, Kotoeko fights well, with solid technique, but can’t manage a win. He yields morozashi to Kiribayama, and the two mutually try to throw each other at the tawara, but its Kotoeko who lands first.

Tochiozan defeats Tsurugisho – After his day 6 wheelchair match, its clear that Tsurugisho can’t transmit power to ground at all. I do love and respect how gently Tochiozan treats him. It’s like how you would expect him to yorikiri his 2 year old son.

Chiyomaru defeats Azumaryu – Azumaryu is single mindedly focused on getting a mawashi hold on Chiyomaru. But the entire time he is fumbling for a hand hold, Chiyomaru is pushing away at his chest, and Azumaryu runs out of room to escape.

Yutakayama defeats Terutsuyoshi – Fantastic match from these two, I loved Terutsuyoshi’s submarine-lateral tachiai. Yutakayama is not normally a yotsu fighter, but I am really starting to like him in this mode. As a natural rival for Asanoyama, this expansion of his sumo technique is welcome, and I am going to say may signal his assent to higher rank. Terutsuyoshi throws a lot into this match, with an excellent combination of gambits, but Yutakayama counters all of them and prevails.

Kagayaki defeats Aoiyama – Big Dan misses his first attempt at his favorite hand on the neck pull down attack, and by the time he resets it, not only is Kagayaki chest to chest with him, but Aoiyama is out of real estate to employ it. The School of Fundamentals is still open, and it works again today.

Shohozan defeats Chiyotairyu – A set of matta to throw off the timing of Chiyotairyu’s all important tachiai gives Shohozan control of the match before it even begins.

Onosho defeats Ishiura – Onosho seems to have shed his ring-rust, gotten his balance under control and can now deliver good sumo several days in a row. Ishiura threw quite a bit into this match, but could not quite get Onosho off balance.

Takarafuji defeats Sadanoumi – Takarafuji’s preferred defend and extend tactic was not a good idea against the highly mobile Sadanoumi, so Takarafuji gets to work early and just drives Sadanoumi from the ring.

Takanosho defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin’s really got nothing left on that knee. He is not even making an attempt at face to face sumo really now, as his body just can’t support it. The former Ozeki takes his 5th loss.

Enho defeats Endo – The match that folks around the world were cheering for, master technician Endo faced power pixie Enho for the first time. Endo clearly had one approach only – land a mawashi grip and use his superior size and strength to dispatch Enho. But Enho masterfully focused on making sure Endo never could get his hands secured to his belt. The result was flailing arms and scampering feet, with Endo frustrated time after time. Endo’s is going to need a formula to overcome Enho, but given his work ethic and dedication to the sport, he is going to be working that in the months ahead almost every day.

Myogiryu defeats Mitakeumi – Myogiryu reaches around Mitakeumi’s big belly to find his mawashi, but Mitakeumi can’t return in kind. Although Mitakeumi had a strong opening, he was unable to finish Myogiryu at the bales. Mitakeumi’s road to reclaim a slot in San’yaku is going to be long and ugly indeed.

Daieisho defeats Tamawashi – This match was won at the tachiai, as Daieisho took the inside position and never let Tamawashi counter. A strong advance and it was done.

Shodai defeats Asanoyama – Its rare to see Shodai fight this well, and employ this level of sumo. It’s actually quite refreshing and I hope this is his new “normal”. Asanoyama for some reason allows Shodai’s choice of thrust and shift to be the tone of the match, which plays to his strengths. By the time Asanoyama finally gets a hold of him, he discovers that Shodai’s defensive stance is set for a throw, and Asanoyama rolls to the clay.

Hokutofuji defeats Takayasu – I am saddened by yet another Takayasu loss. Hokutofuji relentlessly attacks the former Ozeki’s injured left arm, with great effect. But there was so much more than that. Hokutofuji consistently kept his hips lower, and kept the pressure on Takayasu. The two times Takayasu managed to drop his hips, he was able to push Hokutofuji back, but Hokutofuji’s defensive sumo was at its peak today. I marvel at how Hokutofuji’s mind can at times seem to be working the upper and lower body independently. No matter what his upper body is doing, winning or losing, his lower body seems to keep moving forward.

Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – Wait… Takakeisho goes chest to chest with Okinoumi? Then throws him? For the win? Ok, this was unexpected and delightful.

Abi defeats Goeido – Goeido can’t overcome Abi-zumo, as it is an almost perfect foil for Goeido’s massive frontal assault style. There was a monoii to check Abi’s ballet move on the tawara, but slow motion replay only made it look more skillful.

Hatsu Nakabi Preview

The middle Sunday is upon us so it’s time to start looking at the yusho race in earnest. With no Yokozuna left in the competition and no wrestlers left with unblemished records, this is a free-for-all. Ten men are tied for the lead or one win back, and even those with two (or even three) losses are not out of it yet. The winner may not need 13 or 14 wins. If 11 or 12 can claim this, more than half the field are still technically “in it”. And for some odd reason, the Kyokai has chosen to have many so called Darwin bouts today to thin the herd quickly.

As for the other big storyline that Leonid has already mentioned, the Ozeki situation is getting dire for Takayasu and Goeido. Both men sit on three wins but Takayasu needs seven more while Goeido still needs to win five of the final eight to avoid Takayasu’s fate.

What We Are Watching Day 8

The Enxo bout – This is the first ever meeting of Endo vs Enho. Endo is a yorikiri specialist. His footwork and beltwork have been spectacular this tournament and he’s won the bouts he has needed to and seems to be enjoying sumo again. Sometimes when he was wearing the Gold mawashi he’d carry himself with his head down and just not look happy to be there. I think Enho will be a very interesting puzzle for him. I don’t think The Prince of Throws will get craned out or squished but we’ll have a fascinating technical bout.

Takakeisho vs Okinoumi – This is the big Darwin bout this early in the basho. With Shodai’s fall last night, Takakeisho is the top-ranked rikishi in the lead for the yusho. Okinoumi is one back so both men should have extra riding on their wins today as the yusho talk will start in earnest. The winner will be still in it. If Okinoumi loses, he may well be out altogether while a Takakeisho loss will tip Endo for the crown.

Shodai vs Asanoyama – Yesterday’s sole leader fights against the lead prospect for Ozeki status. Quite frankly, this is a battle between two future Ozeki and one may walk away from this tournament with the cup.

Yutakayama vs Terutsuyoshi – Lower down on the banzuke, we have another up-and-comer in Yutakayama who will grapple with a top pixie. Terutsuyoshi is having his best start to a tournament since July when he picked up the jun-yusho and a special prize to boot. Yutakayama, on the other hand, is off to his best start in makuuchi.

Kagayaki vs Aoiyama – This is a strength vs strength bout. Both men are oshizumo specialists so this will be a slapfest and not a grappling bout. Aoiyama’s technique, however, relies on a hatakikomi kicker. If Kagayaki can shift things to the belt, he’ll likely have the edge.

Hokutofuji vs Takayasu – Takayasu needs this. He can only lose one bout this week to reclaim his Ozeki status. There will be no easy wins against aging Yokozuna. Instead, he’s got to fight his way through a lot of top ranked Maegashira with their own sanyaku ambitions. Unfortunately for Takayasu, Hokutofuji’s oshizumo strength is Takayasu’s weakness and Hokutofuji is pretty successful at keeping opponents off his belt.

Abi vs Goeido – Goeido is pretty successful at getting to his opponent’s belt. Will he be able to force the issue with Abi? The worst news for Abi is that even when Goeido is forced into an oshi bout, he wins more than half the time, though he’s very susceptible to hatakikomi, especially when he’s not in the mood to move forward.

Hatsu Day 7 Preview

It’s a quick preview this morning, as I am on my way to Narita to fly back to Dallas. Thanks to Japan for another lovely sumo trip. I have to tip my hat to buysumotickets.com for once again provisioning Team Tachiai with quality seats and sterling customer support. If you are heading to Japan and intend to watch sumo, I strongly recommend them.

Its the middle weekend of the basho, and fankly there is no dominant rikishi who is clearly the favorite. There are some mighty bright hot streaks running, but it will come down to maintaining that intensity into the second week. Advantage may tip toward the rikishi who have taken the cup before. Fasten your seat belts and keep on your toes. There is so many ways this one might end up.

What We Are Watching Day 7

Tochiozan vs Kaisei – I am still liking Tochiozan’s 14-5 career record over Kaisei. Coupled with his highly efficent sumo style, and Kaisei’s damaged undercarriage, this fight may be terribly one-sided.

Azumaryu vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi comes back to the top division to fill the banzuke hole left by all of the kyujo rikishi. He won 4 of their 6 prior meetings, and in addition has been fighting well in Juryo. Let’s hope he can score well enough in January to return to the top division soon.

Terutsuyoshi vs Kiribayama – A first time meeting that puts red-hot Terutsuyoshi to the test. There will be a lot of salt thrown, but can Terutsuyoshi establish control early?

Tokushoryu vs Kotoeko – In spite of his excellent size to strength ratio, Kotoeko is struggling this January, and we have to hope that it was just ring-rust. Tokushoryu certainly has opened strong, but like many vets, stamina into week 2 may be a problem.

Kotoshogiku vs Ikioi – Battle of the legless heroes; we get to see whose lower extremities can handle the stress. Matches like these are terrible to watch, as I keep hoping they both survive intact.

Shimanoumi vs Chiyomaru – I have to think that at some point soon, Chiyomaru’s sumo is going to click into “active” mode, and he is going to start racking wins.

Tsurugisho vs Ishiura – I think this comes down to Tsurugisho getting a mawashi grip. If he can land a solid hand on Ishiura’s belt, he likely has the match. If Ishiura can stay un-captured, its his match to lose. [Given that Tsurugisho’s Day 6 bout ended with a ride in the big wheelchair, Ishiura likely gets a freebie. -lksumo]

Chiyotairyu vs Yutakayama – I am calling it now, Chiyotairyu is nursing an injury, and we are going to see poor performance from him for the rest of the basho. It’s a shame, as having him unleash his thundering tachiai against everyone is really rather fun.

Takanosho vs Kagayaki – Go ahead, Kagayaki, drop those hips and crab walk Takanosho out. We know you want to do it, and it looks great on camera.

Aoiyama vs Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi has enough speed and agility to avoid Aoiyama’s normal opening gambit. I expect this match will be a running battle, and that format probably favors Sadanoumi.

Shohozan vs Ryuden – I am still sensing a lot of pent up frustration in Shohozan. So I recommend a course of body blows, repeated frequently every few seconds, until Ryuden hits the dirt, or he grabs your mawashi and chucks you overboard.

Takarafuji vs Tochinoshin – Takarafuji loves to extend and defend, and that is not going to work in Tochinoshin’s favor. I am assuming he is still too damaged to really work the sky-crane today, although we all want him to.

Meisei vs Onosho – Both men have had terrible starts to Hatsu, and Meisei typically dominates Onosho. So as an Onosho booster, I have no expectations that he won’t end up once again face down in the clay.

Okinoumi vs Enho – Somehow, this is the first meeting between these two. I am eager to see what a rikishi with such an encyclopedic skill catalog as Okinoumi does in response to Enho’s power-pixie sumo.

Endo vs Tamawashi – Endo’s hopes of contesting for the yusho require him to maintain stamina and good health for another week. Fans around the world hope we don’t once again see Tamawashi’s “Arm Breaker” hold that shredded Takayasu’s sumo career. [They’ve met 20 times prior to this basho, with Tamawashi holding a 12-8 edge. -lksumo]

Mitakeumi vs Daieisho – Mitakeumi will work to disrupt Daieisho’s attack at the tachiai, and prevent him from planting his feet and getting a mawashi grip. A mobile, oshi-mode fight favors Mitakeumi, and I expect him to open strong and try to finish before Daieisho can rally.

Myogiryu vs Takayasu – Sigh, Takayasu. Myogiryu holds a 12-8 career advantage over the recent Ozeki, and the latter seems to lack any real power in that damaged arm.

Asanoyama vs Hokutofuji – A real high-interest match, as Asanoyama has maybe half a step at the tachiai to either land his mawashi grip before Hokutofuji’s nodowa hits, or move out of the way and engage at an angle.

Shodai vs Goeido – Is the Shodai hype going to overrun Goeido on day 7? Does anyone else join me in feeling a bit sorry for our relic Ozeki? It’s like looking at an endangered species at the zoo. You know they are dangerous, but you just want to find some way to comfort them somehow. [Shodai has five “ginboshi”—like a kinboshi, but when the upset victim is an Ozeki; not an official stat, but it’s a thing—in their 17 prior meetings. -lksumo]

Takakeisho vs Abi – Way to end on a high note! They’ve split their two prior meetings, with Abi pulling the upset in November, and this match features masters of the double arm thrusts. But you have extreme reach from Abi vs some of the shortest arms in sumo on Takakeisho. I don’t think its an automatic Abi win, though.