The Japanese Sumo Association has announced that four Makushita wrestlers are being promoted to Juryo for July’s tournament. Kotokuzan from Arashio-beya (apparently NOT from Sadogatake-beya) will make his Juryo debut. Yago, Kaisho, and Abi return to the salaried ranks.
The headline here is that Abi, and his shiko?, will return to Sekitori status after serving a suspension for breaking Covid protocols with Fukushima (then Gokushindo). He has stormed back in the most rapid fashion, scoring 14 straight regulation victories, including a victory over Kaisho. While Abi was away, Ichiyamamoto returned and has established himself as a solid Juryo rikishi with a very successful Natsu. I am eager to see if the two of them go toe-to-toe at some point.
Abi’s redemption comes at an awkward time as current Ozeki Asanoyama is facing down a similar scandal, though the facts in his case are still being investigated and thus a punishment has yet to be determined.
Yago will be eager to finally find a permanent foothold in the division. He is talented but has struggled with injuries, seemingly yo-yoing between Juryo and Makushita. Kaisho reached Juryo briefly in 2019 for two tournaments before falling back into Makushita. For Kotokuzan, his promotion has been a long struggle. He has been in Makushita since the end of 2016, back when Terunofuji was an Ozeki the first time ’round. It will be interesting to see if he’s got a spark in his sumo that can keep him around for a while.
While sumo fans wait on pins and needles for Grand Sumo action to begin next weekend in Fukuoka, Japan’s National University Sumo Championship took place in Osaka. Successful wrestlers at this stage often become successful wrestlers on the professional level with the Champions granted privileged entry into Makushita, makushita tsukedashi, upon turning pro. Current wrestlers taking this path from Uni-Yokozuna to Jr. Sekitori include Endo, Ichinojo, and Aki-basho yusho winner, Mitakeumi. (I’m making up the Junior Sekitori term because they’re not immediately Sekitori but just outside.)
The big story coming out of Osaka is that the yusho winner was a first year (freshman) student-athlete, Yasuteru Nakamura from Nippon Sports Science University. He defeated Koshiro Tanioka, with a dominating yorikiri. Last year’s champion, Yota Kanno was knocked out in the first round. Any relation to Yoko Kanno is unconfirmed, but the need to knock a little harder is undeniable. Regardless, keep an eye out for these talented young men to be highly sought-after recruits and to appear on a banzuke in the near future.
In team competition, Nihon University won the title for the first time in four years from Mitakeumi’s alma mater, Toyo University. Jokoryu and Mitoryu are products of the Nihon University program. Nakamura’s Nippon Sports Science University finished tied for third, and they count Hokutofuji among their graduates. These three universities have had historically strong sumo programs, with one of these three teams winning the title in each of the last nine years.
After the Kyushu basho, eyes will turn back to Kokugikan in Tokyo for the 68th National Amateur Sumo Championship, a title won by Yago and the fore mentioned Mitakeumi, Mitoryu and Endo, as well as Daishomaru, Yoshikaze, and Takamisakari. The year Endo won, Shodai picked up the jun-yusho and Mitakeumi and Hokutofuji were semi-finalists.
It just would not be a yusho if Tachiai did not run a picture of the macaron of victory!
And thus we have reached the end of the Nagoya Basho. I do love the fact that Kakuryu took the yusho in direct competition with Hakuho. Was Hakuho hurt? You bet! I have nothing but respect for the greatest Yokozuna of our time competing through the pain, and making a solid showing of it. But Kakuryu was on his sumo this time, dropping only a single match against upstart Tomokaze.
Thus continues the evolution out of the Hakuho era, an era that really began when none other than Kotoshogiku took the yusho in January 2016, marking the first time in 10 years since a Japanese-born man won the Emperor’s cup. Since then, we have seen a steady increase in “Other than Hakuho” yusho, as “The Boss” fades a bit each tournament. This is nature at work, and it’s worth asking, how much longer will Hakuho be able to continue working through what is probably increasing damage to his arms? We know that he needs to stay active for a bit longer. He is working to secure Japanese citizenship to become a member of the NSK, and he would dearly love to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which are just about a year way.
I would expect Hakuho to take at least half of the coming tournaments off, and work to preserve what function remains as much as possible. Without the headwinds of Hakuho’s career peak dominance as a cap, the new upper ranks are starting to form, just as they should. The next two to three years will be transitional, and we will see a lot of new heroes rise. If change makes you anxious, this is a poor time to be a sumo fan. If you love the drama of competition, and the path to glory, this is a golden age for sumo.
The statement above raises the question—what is sumo headed towards? I think parts of that were on display today.
Nishikigi defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru battled his way back to the top division out of the Juryo swamp, only to be pummeled into double-digit losses. For fans of “His Roundness”, it’s a disappointment. Former upper Maegashira Cinderella, Nishikigi, fared little better at 6-9 for Nagoya.
Enho defeats Daishoho – Enho matches seem to have a requirement for at least one matta. Is it because he moves at near relativistic speeds at the tachiai? The gyoji struggle to measure his hand placement due to the momentary inflection of space-time near Enho as he launches. Enho gets a front grip and drops Daishoho to his knees. Enho, if he can stay healthy, is going to be a fun addition to the top division.
Tochiozan defeats Shohozan – Tochiozan is also clearly fading out, and ends Nagoya 5-10, but managed to take his final match to possibly save his slot in the top division. Tochiozan got the better of the tachiai, and kept focusing his thrusting attack at center-mass. Good sumo fundamentals here, was it enough?
Okinoumi defeats Kagayaki – First Darwin match of the day favors experience over youth. Kagayaki got a double inside grip, but could not use it to finish Okinoumi. I think this is indicative of some injury with Kagayaki that we don’t know about, as his ability to generate forward pressure is not what it has been. Okinoumi switches his grip (make-kai), gets his right hand outside, and finishes the match for a kachi-koshi.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Tomokaze – This was fun because it was a bit of a playoff, with both at 11-3, both winning special prizes, and both in competition for the yusho well into the second week. Anyone else notice that Tomokaze’s pre-tachiai stance is a replica of Yoshikaze’s? That gave me a smile when I noticed it. Tomokaze attempted a pull-down early, and that was a fatal mistake.
Kotoyuki defeats Myogiryu – I continue to ask – which alien species abducted this Kotoyuki in 2016 and gave us the clown version for 3 years? Well, the good version is back, and wow! An 11-4 finish punctuated by a tsukidashi over his much higher ranked opponent, Myogiryu.
Chiyotairyu defeats Toyonoshima – Second Darwin match, Chiyotairyu stayed focused, in control and on the attack. Chiyotairyu kachi-koshi, and Toyonoshima make-koshi. As a consolation, Toyonoshima carried the yusho banner for Kakuryu in the yusho parade.
Takarafuji defeats Yago – Yago remains an injured rikishi fighting the toughest men in sumo. Back to Juryo with him, and our sincere hopes that he can get his body back to good health and return.
Ichinojo defeats Kotoeko – Ichinojo was on the attack today, and when that happens, you just have to take whatever he wants to give you.
Shodai defeats Takagenji – Shodai was in the driver’s seat the entire way, as Takagenji seems to have no defense with that injured right ankle.
Aoiyama defeats Daieisho – The Man-Mountain did what he needed to, and picks up his 8th for a kachi-koshi, but further complicating the pecking order at the top of the Aki banzuke. I am sure lksumo will sort it all out for us in time.
Endo defeats Hokutofuji – Possibly the best sumo match thus far in 2019, this was an absolute burner of a fight. Hokutofuji is delivering relentless forward pressure, and lightning attacks. Against that you have Endo who is unleashing combination gambits that only partially work before Hokutofuji deflects and resumes the attack. The fight raged between Endo’s and Hokutofuji’s control, with neither man gaining a clear advantage. Unable to finesse Hokutofuji to defeat, Endo resorts to simple sumo mechanics—he drives low and pushes ahead with everything he has. Wow, what a match!
Asanoyama defeats Sadanoumi – The sumo grumps have been criticizing Asanoyama’s performance this tournament. But I would note that his first trip this far up the banzuke, while it did end in the customary make-koshi, was a 7-8 make-koshi. There is some strength and endurance here, and he’s going to be pushing hard against the injured Ozeki and Yokozuna corps for the next year. I see Asanoyama, and in time Yutakayama, as wedges that will force some of the old guard down the banzuke, and help close out the Hakuho era. Let’s go boys, I can’t wait!
Meisei defeats Ryuden – I really want Ryuden to get it together by Kyushu. This was a tough tournament for him. We did not see the same level of sumo from him that was the engine for his promotion to Komusubi. Injury? Probably so. Heal up, Shin-Ikioi, we await your return.
Abi defeats Kotoshogiku – Not a hit and shift, not a henka, but a flying henka delivered at the tachiai. I was disappointed in that I wanted to see a clash of sumo styles. We got one, but not the one that was anticipated. Some of the crowd did seem to find it a bit amusing, which is unusual for a henka.
Mitakeumi defeats Shimanoumi – Mitakeumi finished with 3-4 in the final week. If he ever wants to truly contest for an Ozeki rank, he needs to fix that. I think that knee injury from Osaka is still bothering him, and until that is resolved, and his week 2 performance improves, the best he can manage will likely be Sekiwake.
Kakuryu defeats Hakuho – This was a real Yokozuna battle. Two men at the top of the sport going head to head, throwing everything they could muster at the end of a punishing 2-week ordeal into the fight. Hakuho got the better of the tachiai, but the lack of elbows robbed him of his coveted “nage” moves, which I would have expected him to unleash as soon as that left hand had Kakuryu’s mawashi. But the roll never came, and Kakuryu kept applying the pressure, fighting for a hold, and eventually finding it. The two lock up again in the center of the dohyo, finally comfortable in their preferred grip with left hand inside / right hand outside. But look at the feet. Hakuho’s feet are close together, his ankles aligned and his toes pointed at Kakuryu. Kakuryu is standing with his left foot behind and pointing out: He’s loading a throw. Hakuho tries a couple of time to drop his hips, but Kakuryu keeps digging deeper, waiting out Hakuho. The reactive sumo style has stalemated the greatest Yokozuna of our time, and Hakuho knows it. Hakuho tries one more advance, but can’t get far. Sensing that Hakuho has reached the limit his damaged elbows can take, Kakuryu shifts to a double inside grip, lifts Hakuho, and carries him out for the win, and the Emperor’s cup. Damn fine sumo.
Thank you all for joining us for a basho that I would call “other than expected” in almost every way, but it was still a solid tournament that gave a new crop of promising rikishi a chance to shine, and a chance to bring their sumo to higher levels of performance.
We come to it at last, the final day of Nagoya, a basho that has been marred by injury, but filled with heroic efforts at all levels of the banzuke. Hundreds of stories of struggle played out on the dohyo. Many lost but some won, and as is always the case in sumo, almost everyone will train, recover and test their sumo again in 2 months.
A note to readers – Team Tachiai are eternally grateful that you take time to visit our site and read our posts, and that some of you take the time to comment. We truly treasure the time you share with us. This is a site run by fans, for fans. We take no ads, and expect no revenue from our effort. Most of us are professionals in other areas of endeavor, and the time we devote to Tachiai is done purely for the love of sumo, and our desire to make sumo more accessible to the world.
Because it is more or less a hobby, it can become tough to find time to contribute. Long-time readers will note that my inter-basho posting fell off a cliff shortly after the birth of my first child 2 years ago. I personally would love to put more up during the gap between tournaments, but Tachiai has to take a back seat to my job and my family. Others have noted that recent posts are not necessarily always full coverage of a day’s matches. When my professional life makes demands that shove my normal sumo-writing time out of the way, or compress the 2 hours or so I would rather spend writing up the day’s results, the blog does suffer.
But I think I speak for the entire team in saying we remain committed to our cause, and while we can’t always spend as much time on sumo as we would like, we will spend all that we can with you, dear readers.
With day 15 racing towards us now, there are some great matches on tap. In fact, the torikumi was late to be published Saturday, and it was not available until I woke Saturday AM in Texas. I chuckled to myself, noting that even with a heavily depleted roster, they managed to keep our interest to the very end. But the one match that will top all others is the final bout of the day: Both Yokozuna will face each other for the Emperor’s cup. The advantage here goes to Kakuryu, as he needs just 1 win to take home the yusho, whereas the injured Hakuho must win twice. Put an extra bottle of sake on ice—it could be a big day.
Reminder – NHK World Japan will be streaming the last 90 minutes live overnight US time. Everything kicks off at 3:30 AM Eastern / 12:30 AM Pacific.
What We Are Watching Day 15
Chiyomaru vs Nishikigi – Both men come into this match with a horrible 5-9 record, with the loser walking away with 10 losses. Nishikigi tends to be able to trap Chiyomaru in his preferred arm-lock, and take away any mobility that Chiyomaru might use. 8-2 career record favors Nishikigi. Chiyomaru faces possible demotion to Juryo with a loss. -lksumo
Enho vs Daishoho – Enho has been injured this entire basho, and would have a daily allotment of tape across his upper body. But he managed to endure and get 8 wins, and will get at least some measure of safety higher up the banzuke for September. His opponent, the 6-8 Daishoho, is much higher ranked, already make-koshi, and at no risk of being sent to Juryo. So this match is just for a final score.
Shohozan vs Tochiozan – Unlike the match above, Tochiozan may be at risk of demotion back to Juryo, which he has not seen since 2007. Tochiozan has not had more than 6 wins in a basho this entire year, and it may soon be time for him to hang up the mawashi. Would a win here save him? I will leave that to lksumo’s skilled forecasting.
Kagayaki vs Okinoumi – Darwin match! Only one of them can take home a kachi-koshi from this one, the other gets a losing record. Kagayaki, specifically, has struggled this basho. His sumo has been rougher and less focused than at any time that I can remember in recent tournaments. As a master of razor-sharp execution of sumo fundamentals, I have to assume he is nursing some injury.
Terutsuyoshi vs Tomokaze – What an awesome match. Should Hakuho lose the final regulation bout, the winner will share the Jun-Yusho, and I expect both of these fresh faces to the top division to unleash hell. The big risk will be the slippery Nagoya clay, and the danger of losing traction. Though Tomokaze has a 2-1 career score against Terutsuyoshi, both rikishi are operating well outside their normal sumo envelope this tournament.
Myogiryu vs Kotoyuki – It’s remarkable to me that I will write this: I expect Kotoyuki to win this one. He has a 9-3 career record over Myogiryu, and for some reason the stars have aligned on Kotoyuki’s sumo this July, and I think he’s likely to “win out”.
Chiyotairyu vs Toyonoshima – Second Darwin match of the day, and this one tugs at my emotions. I love Chiyotairyu’s sumo when it clicks, but you have to sit in respect and awe of what Toyonoshima has accomplished. From his injury, to his recovery, to fighting his way back through the mosh-pit of Makushita, and finally back to the top division. Just to have a completely cold start and rally to be 7-7 on senshuraku. I want Toyonoshima to win, but even if Chiyotairyu bests him today, he has my respect.
Yago vs Takarafuji – Yago is damaged and not doing real Yago sumo. I suppose he can sort himself out in Juryo, and I hope that he does.
Kotoeko vs Ichinojo – First time match up, and I am sure Kotoeko will need to think through how he counters that much mass. Ichinojo already has his 8th win, so this is to determine rank for September. There is a traffic jam trying to push into the Komusubi slot(s), so Ichinojo will in all likelihood not be in San’yaku for Aki.
Shodai vs Takagenji – I am a bit down that Takagenji has had such a rough ride on his first trip to the top division, but I hope he can sharpen his sumo through these bouts. Day 15 he gets Shodai, who will spring unpredictable sumo on any opponent he gets into a real fight against. Takagenji won their only prior match.
Aoiyama vs Daieisho – I am calling it for Aoiyama unless something odd happens (slippiotoshi?), Why? Aoiyama is 7-7 and Daieisho has his 8. I am not saying Daieisho would throw the match, but it would be wise to not risk injury for the sake of making it 9. I expect Daieisho will put up a good fight, but the Man Mountain will prevail.
Endo vs Hokutofuji – I would guess this match may be to see who gets Ryuden’s Komusubi slot, and it’s a brilliant pairing. Endo is going to bring masterful planning and execution to this match. Hokutofuji will bring speed and power. I think this one may come down to balance, stance and defensive footwork on the slick Nagoya dohyo.
Asanoyama vs Sadanoumi – I am not sure I understand this pairing, other than that this is the leftovers from the Darwin and ranking matches. 6-8 Asanoyama holds a minor 5-3 career advantage over 9-5 Sadanoumi.
Meisei vs Ryuden – Perhaps we should call this the “Kassen no shitsubou” or battle of disappointments. Both are bringing in double digit losses, and both are eager to move on and try again in September.
Onosho vs Tamawashi – The Nagoya Precision Slip And Fall Squad takes to the dohyo to see who can be more off-balance, and get more clay on their face one more time, in this classic head-to-head showdown of feet moving one way, body moving another. Regroup guys, your fans love you and look forward to your rebound in September.
Abi vs Kotoshogiku – The final Darwin match of the day. If Abi can prevail, he can keep his Komusubi slot. He has to take out Kotoshogiku, fresh from a gold star win over Hakuho on day 14. If Abi can get his thrusting train running, it will be tough for Kotoshogiku to generate much offense.
Mitakeumi vs Shimanoumi – No restart of an Ozeki run for Mitakeumi, but then his sumo has not really been Ozeki class this basho. Both rikishi come in 8-6 to this first ever match-up. I would give an advantage to Mitakeumi to be certain.
Kakuryu vs Hakuho – The Boss has to be respected to come into the basho with two bad arms and tough it out for the whole 15 days. The man is a sumo machine. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk for Kakuryu, as “The Boss” holds a 41-7 career advantage over “Big K”. But Hakuho is hurt, and Kakuryu’s sumo has been excellent this July. If Kakuryu loses the first, they fight again for the yusho. Guys, blow us away with your sumo, but for the sake of everyone – DON’T GET HURT!