Nagoya banzuke crystal ball part 1


Following mixed success in predicting the Natsu banzuke, I’m going to take a shot at Nagoya.

Upper San’yaku

Y1 Hakuho Harumafuji
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu
O1 Terunofuji Goeido
O2 Takayasu  

The ranks here are determined by performance at Natsu, with the exception of Shin-Ozeki Takayasu, who will need to work his way up from O2e. Although we no longer have three sekiwake, Andy’s OCD will have to cope with three Ozeki instead.


Lower San’yaku

S Tamawashi Mitakeumi
K Yoshikaze Kotoshogiku

I would not be shocked to see Shodai at K1w in place of Kotoshogiku–will the NSK favor the popular up-and-comer or the grizzled vet?


The Meat Grinder

I’m going to include the M1-M4 ranks here. Along with the San’yaku, this group makes up the “joi” or upper ranks, and regularly faces San’yaku competition. When none of the rikishi in the San’yaku ranks are kyujo, there are currently 11 of them, so they need  to face 5 wrestlers outside the San’yaku to make up their 15 bouts. This takes us down to M3e. But as commenter Asashosakari noted, M3w has to face at least Harumafuji, Terunofuji, Kisenosato and Takayasu, who can’t face a wrester from the same heya. At Natsu, the numbers of San’yaku opponents for the M1-M4 ranks was 11, 11, 8, 9, 9, 5, 6, 2. So there was the expected drop-off at M3w (Aoiyama), but he and Tochiozan (M4e) still faced quite a few San’yaku opponents as a result of the combination of same-heya wrestlers and withdrawals of Kakuryu and Kisenosato. Shodai faced 3 San’yaku opponents (and defeated two of them!), and no one else ranked at M4w or lower faced more than 2.

Why “the meat grinder”? Well, as a group, these rikishi went a horrific 8-51 against their San’yaku opponents, a 0.136 winning percentage. The only one with more than one win was Endo, who sort of held his own at 4-7. Excluding his performance, the rest of this group went an abysmal 4-44 (0.083 winning percentage). Not surprisingly, the M1-M3 ranks will turn over completely, as they did after Haru, and most of this group will fall far down the banzuke, although Endo should hang on at M4.

M1 Shodai Takakeisho
M2 Tochinoshin Hokutofuji
M3 Ikioi Ura
M4 Endo Kagayaki

Shodai will probably just miss out on a komusubi slot; one more victory would have sealed the deal. He and Ikioi and Endo are no strangers to this level of competition. Neither is Tochinoshin, who is dangerous if healthy. It’ll be interesting to see how Takakeisho and Hokutofuji acquit themselves at this level. I’m afraid Nagoya will be a “learning experience” for Ura, just like Natsu was for Daieisho. Kagayaki is just here to balance the columns and not needlessly trigger Andy’s OCD.

Part 2 will cover the lower maegashira ranks.

Looking toward Nagoya


What a great tournament we just had! To me, what stood out is the large number of outstanding performances throughout the banzuke, from Hakuho‘s zensho yusho all the way down to Onosho‘s 10-5 record in his Makuuchi debut. Terunofuji got his Jun-yusho, and would have been in contention on the final day if not for his early hiccups on days 1 and 2. Takayasu handled the pressure and will be ozeki in Nagoya. Tamawashi may have started his own ozeki run, and has been fighting at that level. Mitakeumi and Yoshikaze held their own in San’yaku, and Shodai, Takakeisho, Tochinoshin, Hokutofuji, Ikioi, and Ura all put up great numbers in the maegashira ranks.

We don’t get the official Nagoya banzuke until June 26, but here are some early thoughts on the top and bottom of the banzuke.

The yokozuna ranks should get reshuffled as follows:

Y1 Hakuho Harumafuji
Y2 Kisenosato Kakuryu

We will have 3 ozeki: Terunofuji, Goeido, and Takayasu.

Tamawashi will keep his sekiwake rank, and Mitakeumi should join him.

Yoshikaze will keep his komusubi rank, and I think Kotoshogiku did just enough to only drop down to the other komusubi slot.

We should have a strong new crop of upper maegashira, who may even fare better than their predecessors at these ranks:

M1 Shodai Takakeisho
M2 Tochinoshin Hokutofuji
M3 Ikioi Ura

At the other end of the banzuke, Yutakayama, Myogiryu, and Toyohibiki will find themselves in Juryo, replaced in Makuuchi by Sadanoumi, Chiyomaru, and Nishigiki. I think Kaisei will just barely hang on to the top division at M16. They could swap him with Gagamaru, but what would be the point?

Full banzuke prediction to come once I’ve had some time to digest Natsu.

Natsu Day 14 Highlights


Goeido

This Basho Keeps Giving

I have recalled many tournaments where things fade a bit on the last few days, the yusho is kind of a foregone conclusion, or there are no really competitive things going on except maybe a few top matches. Given the number of sekitori that have withdrawn, this seemed quite possible this basho, but it has kept fans engaged right up until the end. This is a fine example of the schedulers spinning gold out of straw, and I complement them without reservation.

We were following the Komusubi, and both of them locked up kachi-koshi today, which is a fantastic and interesting development. There is one Sekiwake slot open for July, and it’s going to come down to the final day and total win count to see who gets it. Either of them would be a great choice, but in spite of being a huge Yoshikaze fan, I think Mitakeumi is the better fit.

Although no one in the Japanese sumo press discussing this much, it’s clear that Harumafuji’s performance took a step down after his bouts earlier this week. He had very little power to ground with Goeido today, who (thankfully) had the mojo to exploit the weakness and drive to a win. There had been some cat calls over Goiedo’s easy path to lift kadoban, but with a win over a Yokozuna, he’s got nothing to hide from now.

Juryo keeps refusing to behave. We now have two rikishi at 9-5, and 12 (!) at 8-6. Furthermore, the two leaders right now are none other than long suffering sekitori Nishikigi, who would be welcome back in Makuuchi, and the relic Aminishiki, who is now 38 years old! Never give up, never surrender!

Highlight Matches

Chiyotairyu defeats Gagamaru – Chiyotairyu picks up his kachi-koshi, and holds onto Makuuchi in a match against Planet Gagamaru. Gagamaru is a real mixed bag, like Ichinojo, he probably relies too much on a lot of mass as a defensive system. There is a lot to be said for bulk in sumo, but there are a host of sumotori who lose mobility and attack power as their weight climbs. I would count Gagamaru among them. I bet he would improve greatly if he shed 10-15 kg before July.

Onosho defeats Arawashi – Arawashi is now make-koshi, and Onosho keeps rolling on. It’s really kind of impressive the sumo he has been able to put together on his Makuuchi debut, and I hope it’s a sign of good battles to come. Arawashi was late in setting up his throw, and was out before he could swing Onosho down.

Shohozan defeats Kaisei – Kaisei’s demotion to Juryo or persistence in Makuuchi comes down to the final day, he is now at 7=7 after his loss to Shohozan.

Takakeisho defeats Ura – Ura has still never beaten Takakeisho in a match. Today Ura looked out of control, vague and confused. Takakeisho had Ura under control and off the dohyo in a hurry, and it was really impressive.

Hokutofuji defeats Endo – Ok… Endo beats two Ozeki and a Yokozuna this basho. He even put Yoshikaze away on day 11. Yet he is deeply make-koshi, and lost to a Maegashira 7 today. Granted, Hokutofuji is a powerful up-and-comer, but Endo either has some mechanical injury, or needs to get his mind in his sumo. We hope the stretch between now and July can help him get things together.

Yoshikaze defeats Tochiozan – Solid match from both, but it was all Yoshikaze today. He gets his kachi-koshi and will stay in San’yaku for July. I also get the impression that Yoshikaze is really have fun with his sumo this basho. He has not looked this dialed in since last summer.

Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – HENKA! The NHK commentator, Hiro Morita, was really upset by this. But let’s get real here, Tochinoshin was squirrels before the tachiai, he practically telegraphed this to Tamawashi. Tamawashi, keep your head up and eyes on your opponents center of mass during the tachiai. Everyone who plays a football lineman in the US understands this. It’s not that tough.

Kotoshogiku defeats Daieisho – Ojisan seems really sullen and resigned now, and it’s a bit depressing. I am sure he is trying to figure out if he stays in as he floats down the banzuke, or if he takes his kabu and transitions into a behind the scenes role. He is now and can always be a big deal in sumo, but he continues to diminish.

Shodai defeats Takayasu – This one was a bit of a surprise, and in my book, it was Takayasu who made a few mistakes and Shodai who had the sumo sense to make him pay. It’s possible he was out celebrating with his mother and father (and friends) last night, and may have been a bit ragged during the match. Shodai kept moving forward, no matter what, thus he won.

Goeido defeats Harumafuji – Harumafuji is back to suffering from his lower body problems. It robs him of mobility and a strong stable platform to bend opponents into odd shapes and hurl them into the sun. He will close out the basho with a respectable double digit record, and what could be a really fun match with Hakuho. Much respect to Harumafuji indeed!

Natsu Story 3 – Ozeki / Yokozuna Struggles


Yokozuna-Corps

Everyone Is Walking Wounded

Since the tragic bout in Nagoya where Hakuho broke his toe (which required surgery), the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps have suffered an endless cycle of injury. With the secretive nature of injury reporting, it is difficult to tell how damaged these top rikishi are, but we have seen (at a minimum)

  • Hakuho – Left leg damage, surgical repair to toes and knees
  • Harumafuji – Persistent problems with ankles and elbows
  • Kakuryu – Recurring lower back pain and unspecified injury
  • Kiseonsato – Ruptured pectoral muscle
  • Goeido – Shattered ankle requiring reconstructive surgery
  • Terunofuji – Persistent knee problems and pain

Each of these rikishi have been among the elite of a very difficult and competitive sport, but over time injuries only partially healed or completely ignored have degraded their performance to the point that each basho, fans are left to hope that at least two top ranked men survive to battle the final day.

As we have speculated in prior posts, it is clear that some of these stars of sumo will be leaving the dohyo in the near future, barring some significant medical intervention. Each of them (save perhaps Kisenosato) is a shadow of their former self on most days. For example, Terunofuji’s performance in Osaka was thrilling, and fans largely rejoyced to see him execute his amazing sumo once more. But it should be noted that it was an exception to the past few years, where Terunofuji has limped along, usually barely scraping by.

There are some indication coming from pre-basho practice that Hakuho may be in fairly good form, and we may see another basho of the Michael Jordan of sumo. Fans of one of the greatest man to ever step on the dohyo are all praying we can see him in top for at least one more time. But it’s very sad that for all of the top men of sumo, we now expect all of these stars to be in less than peak performance.

Though we saw a new Yokozuna crowned in January, the team at Tachiai still think we are on the cusp of a “changing of the guard” in Sumo.

Handicapping The Natsu Banzuke – Part 1


banzuke-1

No Surprises Here

After fairly reasonable success with the Haru banzuke, I dusted off the old spreadsheet and decided to turn the crank for May. The real banzuke is only a week away, and there are a few things that are deep in the unknown, given the chaos and decimation that took place in March to the upper Maegashira ranks. In this series, we take our best guess at where everyone will be ranked for the next tournament in Tokyo.

The San’yaku banzuke is fairly straightforward, with the question being who fills the empty slot at Komosubi vacated by Shodai, and what order the rest of the top men of sumo will take in their respective ranks.

East Rank West
Kisenosato Yokozuna Kakuryu
Harumafuji Yokozuna Hakuho
Terunofuji  Ozeki  Goeido
Takayasu Sekiwake Kotoshogiku
Tamawashi Sekiwake
Mitakeumi Komusubi Yoshikaze

Yokozuna

With just a slight shuffle from March, we now see two time yusho winner Kisenosato as 1 East, with Hakuho dropping to 2 West after sitting out most of Haru with lingering foot problems. During the spring jungyo, Kakuryu was the only Yokozuna making daily appearances for a few weeks, as everyone else was injured and recovering. This further underscores the problems with the current Yokozuna crowd. Now all of them are injured and degraded in some way.

As is frequently the case, there was scant coverage of the true extent of Kisenosato’s injuries, so it will be interesting to see if he is still weakened or if he has fully recovered. Hakuho and Harumafuji were both able to join the jungyo tour a few weeks ago, and were at least able to train with the other rikishi.

Ozeki

Terunofuji’s fantastic performance in March may have not been a sign of things to come, as it seems he re-injured his knees in his day 13 bout against Kakuryu. This explains a few things about his henka against Kotoshogiku, and also why an injured Kisenosato had any chance in his final day match. When Terunofuji is healthy and in fighting form, he is fast, effective and at times a bit scary. We hope he comes to Natsu in form and ready to fight, but fear his chronic injuries are going to hobble him yet again.

The same can be said about Goeido, who had a horrific injury towards the end of Hatsu, and had reconstructive surgery on his ankle. He competed during the March tournament in Osaka, and was a complete mess – clearly not recovered or ready for action. He enters this tournament kadoban once again.

Sekiwake

A second tournament with three Sekiwake, as none of them had a record worthy of demotion. Kotoshogiku has decided to remain active and fighting, though his chances of re-promotion to Ozeki are nonexistent. It is unknown if he is still plagued by the injuries that had degraded his performance to the point he was demoted. Tamawashi managed to hold on to his Sekiwake rank with a 1 win kachi-koshi. He is not yet strong enough to contend for an Ozeki slot, but the fact that he has been able to survive as Sekiwake this long is a testament both to his talent (and training) and the problems in the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps.

Of course, there is Takayasu. He is 10 wins away from securing a promotion to Ozeki, and he has been looking in form for the last several basho. But with Kisenosato out and injured, the logical question must be what effect that will have on Takayasu. Both men are constant training partners, and their mutual strength, determination and dedication is what has driven their increasing performance. Take that away, and it’s natural to wonder what effect Kiseonsato’s absence will have on Takayasu’s Ozeki efforts.

Komusubi

Mitakeumi, sumo’s next-next Ozeki, remains at Komusubi in spite of performance and records that would normally have him sharing Sekiwake with Takayasu. Mitakeumi has been bringing fantastic sumo to the dohyo every match, and I am eager to see him battle his way up to the next rank. Joining him at Komusubi is none other than my favorite, Yoshikaze. This was a tough call, as there was such a blood bath in the top 4 Maegashira ranks that Shodai actually had better computed rank, even with his horrific 4-11 record. So there was really only one choice, and that is veteran sumo berserker Yoshikaze.

Kisenosato Gambarized. He “walks the walk” of a Yokozuna


I chose today’s headline to highlight a word Bruce has written about before: 頑張る. Along with signs with wrestlers’ shikona, many supporters hold up signs with this word or its imperitive version, 頑張って. So, today’s headline comes from the Yomiuri newspaper which is another major Japanese newspaper. They also have their own English language publication. So, today’s headline:

痛みに耐えて頑張った!稀勢の里が歩む名横綱の道


Continue reading

Takayasu Obliterated by Harumafuji Day 12


Takayasu-12

Employed Rare Komatasukui Kimarite

On day 11, Takayasu was dealt his first defeat at the hands of Yokozuna Kakuryu, on day 12, he faced Yokozuna Harumafuji. This was a “Need to Win” bout if Takayasu was to remain in yusho contention, but the odds were long. Harumafuji has been competing through an increasing number of painful injuries and problems, but applies himself with gusto each and every day.

Harumafuji took Takayasu’s massive tachiai straight on, and immediately took control of the bout. Takayasu rallied and attempted a throw, but Harumafuji saw this coming and grabbed Takayasu’s leg. At this point it was all over, with the only question remaining being how embarrassing and painful the end would be. Takayasu was unceremoniously dumped at the edge of the dohyo, a second loss added to his tally. The Kimarite was recorded as Komatasukui (小股掬い), or over thigh scooping body drop, a real rare one.

Simply put, Takayasu, of whom I am a huge fan, was schooled by one of the great sumotori of our time.

This concludes the “hell” portion of Takayasu’s basho. His score stands at an impressive 10-2 at the end of day 12. His next move is to recover his mental posture and move forward with all his skill and strength. To continue his bid to be promoted to Ozeki, he needs 33 wins over 3 basho, and he must run his tally higher. The rest of the week he will face lower ranked Maegashira, although on day 13 he faces the ever dangerous Yoshikaze.

Make no mistake, Takayasu has the size, speed and skill to win his remaining 3 matches and end with an impressive 13-2 record. This is a mental test now, as in prior basho he has become discouraged after a high-profile loss midway in the second week and has lost the remainder of his bouts. To become a worthy Ozeki, he needs mental toughness to shrug aside a setback and persist.