Nagoya Day 1 Preview

Photo Courtesy Of The Japan Sumo Association’s Twitter Feed

After a long, very dry spell, its once again time for sumo! Earlier on Saturday, the Dohyo Matsuri was conducted, and everything is now ready for the first matches on Sunday morning. There is a somewhat clearer picture of who is genki and who is not as we count down the final hours to the start of the basho. Some headlines

  • Hakuho – The right arm is advertised to be back to full power, and he seems healthy and ready to go.
  • Kakuryu – His chronic back problems seem to have returned, so it may be a less than average performance from Big K
  • Goeido – No word at all. I am going to guess is has been practicing like a maniac as he always does.
  • Takayasu – Also reported to be having body issues, but Andy maintains we will see his best sumo ever this July.
  • Tochinoshin – Possibly jet lagged, some reports of injury, but I am going to expect him to be back to fighting like a bear that has the strength of two bears.
  • Takakeisho – Sitting out Nagoya, he will be Ozekiwake in September with a 10 win mountain to climb. A tough outcome for the most successful of the tadpole clan.
  • Yoshikaze – Injury to a ligament on his right knee, with a mandatory 2 month rest period. I would guess this is probably an intai situation, as he has a kabu and is going to make an outstanding sumo elder.
  • Enho – Shoulder, thigh, whatever – this guy is banged up but has enough heart to fight anyhow.

To fans new to Tachiai (and welcome, we are glad you are here!) – we tend to talk about any basho as a series of 3 acts, each of which are constructed to have specific tone and desired outcome. Each act lasts 5 days, and their job is to take us from a wide open field of eager, healthy competitors to a lone champion on day 15.

  • Act 1 – We knock the ring rust off of the rikishi and see who is genki and who is not. I expect a great deal of ring rust in the first 3 days.
  • Act 2 – We can finally start thinking about a leader board as we head into the middle weekend, and we start to sort the competitors from the survivors from the damned.
  • Act 3 – The intimate sumo test of endurance sorts the make/kachi koshi roster, pits the upper ranks against one another, and crowns a yusho winner.

With that, it’s on day 1!

What We Are Watching Day 1

Kotoyuki vs Terutsuyoshi – Mr 5 x 5 (so named because he is about as wide as he is tall) managed to wobble his way back to the top division. He starts the tournament against pixie salt-blaster Terutsuyoshi, who is at the bottom rung of Makuuchi with another chance to stay in the top division. After a great run in Juryo, Terutsuyoshi looked a notch less genki in May – will the heat of Nagoya bring him back to life?

Kaisei vs Yago – Is Kaisei healthy this time? His big body is more than adequate to just out-jumbo most rikishi in the bottom of Makuuchi. But I think we are going to see massive ring-rust this match, with both Kaisei and Yago likely looking clumsy, slow and uncertain.

Toyonoshima vs Enho – Welcome back to the top division once again to former sekiwake Toyonoshima, who refuses to give up and keeps fighting onward. His first match is against an injured Fire-Pixie Enho, who holds a 4-0 lead over Toyonoshima. This match will give fans some idea of how banged up Enho really is.

Chiyomaru vs Sadanoumi – I expect this match to be extra rusty, as both men tend to have slow starts to any tournament, historically the advantage goes to Chiyomaru (9-3), but big Chiyo is also typically one of the most rusty fellows on the banzuke.

Tochiozan vs Kagayaki – Both of these rikishi suffered terrible performance in May, and find themselves in the bottom third of Makuuchi for Nagoya. Both of them are technical rikishi, but Tochiozan’s vast experience and superior range of technique will probably prevail over Mr Fundamentals, Kagayaki.

Nishikigi vs Takagenji – Takagenji’s first match ranked in the top division. He’s had a tough fight to get here, but he’s ranked all the way up at M10 – a testament on how jumbled the promotion / demotion graph was at the end of Natsu. Nishikigi is still smiling and looking at photos of his magical holiday in the joi-jin, but his sumo seems to have faded a bit. This is their first ever match up.

Kotoeko vs Daishoho – After displaying Shodai level banzuke luck (he held M15W for 3 tournaments with losing records), he is finally ranked a bit further up the roster and finds himself in a test of who is ready to rumble against Daishoho. Two of a handful of lower Maegashira rikishi to kachi-koshi in May, Kotoeko and Daishoho get a chance to tune up on day 1.

Shohozan vs Okinoumi – By accounts on social media (thanks Melissa), Shohozan broke his phone this week, and the typically dour faced rikishi is possibly even more sour than ever. This is actually an interesting match as both rikishi are highly skilled veterans. Shohozan will try to keep things mobile, and Okinoumi will want to go chest to chest. With ring rust and the traditionally slippery Nagoya dohyo, it could be messy.

Onosho vs Tomokaze – Still no make-koshi for Tomokaze, who is now the senior ranked rikishi from Oguruma (Yoshikaze fans like myself note this with sadness). Now the lowest ranked tadpole, Onosho is still struggling to get his sumo back following an extensive kyujo for knee repairs, an even that his friend Takakeisho is sadly suffering now. I predict that both of these men will be in the joi-jin for September, and today is all about getting the ready for that duty in 60 days.

Myogiryu vs Shimanoumi – Shimanoumi had a slow start to his debut Makuuchi tournament, but rallied and finished strongly, earning him a Maegashira 6 slot. Myogiryu spent all of Natsu fighting well but losing, a sad form of sumo that sadly too many rikishi adopted in May. This is their first ever career match.

Chiyotairyu vs Takarafuji – If Takarafuji can keep the match going longer than 20 seconds, he can take Chiyotairyu down when he loses stamina. But of course we will see Chiyotairyu trend towards his canon ball tachiai. Mix with a liberal dusting of ring rust and it could make for some very sloppy sumo.

Kotoshogiku vs Ichinojo – I think a big question for a lot of sumo fans is what kind of state is Ichinojo in? The Mongolian Monster is hot or cold, and when he’s hot he’s not beatable without some kind of sorcery. We get our first peek today when Kotoshogiku is going to have to try something other than his traditional hug-n-chug. Ichinojo is just too enormous.

Meisei vs Daieisho – Daieisho followed the Myogiryu pattern of fighting well but losing during Natsu, while Meisei battled to a 10-5 win, and I expect that we may see Meisei pick up where he left off. He is not prone to ring rust, and I would guess he spent the intervening 8 weeks training hard and getting ready.

Shodai vs Tamawashi – I really want to see Tamawashi bundle, tape and Fedex Shodai back to Kumamoto for Monday AM delivery, but when Shodai gets in trouble with an oshi-zumo specialist, he turns on some kind of chaos-generation engine that causes all kinds of odd things to happen. I tend to call this Shodai’s “Cartoon Sumo”, and it means Tamawashi needs to be careful.

Mitakeumi vs Aoiyama – Aoiyama tends to get quite rusty, but so does Mitakeumi. We can be certain Mitakeumi will try to dodge the nodowa at the tachiai, and close the distance to Aoiyama’s enormous pasty chest in an effort to shut down the haymakers from Aoiyama. If he can get close enough, it’s Mitakeumi’s match.

Endo vs Tochinoshin – I expect Tochinoshin to be extra rusty, as he traveled back to Georgia during the break, and I think he’s not quite a tuned up as he would normally be. This is dangerous when facing Endo, who is an extremely technical rikishi who likes to pre-visualize his matches. Tochinoshin will go left hard at the tachiai, and I expect Endo to use this to his advantage.

Hokutofuji vs Takayasu – We will get an early read on how healthy Takayasu is, when he takes on the highly maneuverable Hokutofuji on day 1. These two are evenly matched, and their 4-4 career records underscores that. If Takayasu wants to win his first yusho, he needs to rack up the white stars week 1 against his lower ranked opponents.

Goeido vs Asanoyama – As stated above, Goeido’s condition is unknown, and presumed genki. Meanwhile we know Asanoyama suffered a concussion during a training session with Yokozuna Hakuho. This either left him somewhat impaired in action speed and reflex, or really motivated him apply maximum beat-down on everyone. I expect Asanoyama will go for the mawashi early, but I am sure Goeido knows that, and I think he will go for a frontal (mae-mitsu) grip during the tachiai.

Abi vs Hakuho – I am sure Abi is coming into this one excited to take on the dai-Yokozuna. I am also sure that this is the absolute best chance anyone is going to have to drop Hakuho. While Abi-zumo is not going to do much to phase Hakuho, with an extended kyujo, I expect Hakuho’s reflexes to be off. Good luck Abi.

Kakuryu vs Ryuden – A first look at Kakuryu, and to what extent (if any) his back is going to impact his performance. If we se him moving in reverse, it’s going to be a short basho for sumo’s other Yokozuna.

Japanese TV Show “Arashi ni Shiyagare” at Kokugikan Saturday

This Saturday at 9pm (Japan time), TV Japan will slip into Kokugikan for a segment. They will be accompanied by Shibatayama oyakata and everyone’s favorite bruiser, Yoshikaze. We will hopefully be able to bring you a clip!

Natsu Day 15 Highlights

Enho Gives Everything In His Day 15 Match With Shohozan
Image courtesy of friend of Tachiai, NicolaAnn08 on Twitter

Described by one friend as “Anti-climatic”, day 15 in general was a study in how many rikishi were hurt and fighting poorly vs a small core who managed to stay healthy. The schedulers threw in a good number of “Darwin Matches” where both rikishi were 7-7, and one walked away with winning record, the other with a losing record and demotion. The atmosphere in the Kokugikan was off, as vending machines were taken off line, there were hour long lines to be screened to enter, and there were protective guards everywhere. But some solid sumo did take place, and the final day of the Natsu Basho went off without a hitch.

As expected, US President Trump did appear with Prime Minster Abe, and both handed trophies to Asanoyama who looked happy, overwhelmed and just a little bit uncertain. President Trump was courteous, and at times appeared very happy (handing over the Presidents Cup) and bored (during some of the matches). If the President or any of his staff find themselves taken with the notion of sumo, I strongly recommend reading Tachiai, watching Jason and Kintamayama, and listening to Grand Sumo Breakdown during the next 2 months to be primed for what should be an epic battle in Nagoya.

We are all eagerly awaiting lksumo’s crystal ball post due up later today, but I can say that this basho was a death march for far too many rikishi. A few big names were missing, and the ones who hung in there were fighting well below their normal capabilities. I think this basho greatly underscored just how tough it is to keep a group of 40 or so rikishi healthy, fighting and fit.

Highlight Matches

Chiyoshoma defeats Ikioi – Chiyoshoma delivers a slap and a pull to drop Ikioi to 4-11. Is this the end of Ikioi as we know him? Clearly he is still too hurt to fight effectively. Its tough to see long time favorites go out banged up and down.

Shohozan defeats Enho – The first of the Darwin matches, Shohozan threw in all of his unsavory behavior including multiple matta (one with a full charge and slap) before the match could get underway for real. When the match did finally start, it was a wild brawl with Enho dodging and weaving at his best, but Shohozan was clearly in charge. The two went chest to chest, and Enho struggled to get leverage over the larger Shohozan, but “Big Guns” remained upright and stable, while Enho became increasingly tired. Eventually Enho’s attacks left him too low, and Shohozan helped him to take a face full of Natsu clay. Huge effort by Enho, and typical crummy attitude from Shohozan, but he did pick up his 8th win.

Onosho defeats Chiyomaru – Second Darwin match, Onosho’s propensity to put too much pressure in front of his ankles was no worry with Chiyomaru’s mass to push against, and Chiyomaru found himself without any room to work, or any chance to move to the side.

Kagayaki defeats Ishiura – Both men end the basho 5-10, with Ishiura likely headed to Juryo. Ishiura lost the last 5 consecutive matches, and is in dire need to regroup. The entire Pixie contingent looks to have faded through week 2, as Enho also lost his last 6 consecutive matches, after a strong start.

Tomokaze defeats Sadanoumi – Another Darwin match, Tomokaze lets Sadanoumi come to him, then employs superior strength and stability to overpower, lift and eject Sadanoumi. Tomokaze has yet to endure his first make-koshi of his professional career.

Meisei defeats Daishoho – Meisei has over-performed this basho, finishing with a 10-5 record, and a solid win over Daishoho. Meisei took a mae-mitsu grip early, and never gave an inch.

Shodai defeats Kotoeko – Shodai finishes with double digit wins, after finishing Osaka with double digit losses. I think his sumo looked better, and his opponents were in worse condition this tournament. I insist if this guy could improve his tachiai, he would be a force of sumo.

Tokushoryu defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze puts forth an effort to win on the final day, but the amount of force he can put into any move seems to be just a fraction of his normal. This comes after double digit wins in Osaka. His performance is either on or off the past 18 months, and I have to wonder if he’s starting to eye that kabu now.

Shimanoumi defeats Takarafuji – Two time Juryo yusho winner Shimanoumi came roaring back from a middling start to win his last 6 in a row, and end with at 10-5 record. That was a lot of Makuuchi jitters and ring rust to scrape off, but once he settled in he produced some solid sumo. He may find himself in a tougher crowd in Nagoya.

Abi defeats Tamawashi – Two false starts by Abi left him a bit slow at the tachiai, but he still landed his double arm shoulder attack, and used Tamawashi’s lateral move to send him arcing into the clay. Both men end Natsu 10-5, and Abi receives the Kanto-sho.

Chiyotairyu defeats Tochiozan – This bout was a mess, it featured a solid forward start from Chiyotairyu, followed by a lateral collapse that saw the big Kokenoe man hit the clay, but win because Tochiozan had already stopped out.

Daieisho defeats Terutsuyoshi – Both rikishi end Natsu make-koshi, with Terutsuyoshi following a cold start to the basho with a week 2 fade. There are a good number of rikishi at the bottom of the banzuke with really terrible records, and it may be another log-jam in the demotion queue that sees some incredible banzuke luck bestowed on the least terrible of the lot. Will that include Terutsuyoshi?

Endo defeats Yago – Endo catches Yago’s tachiai, lets him begin to push and then drops him to the clay. Simple, easy, effective.

Kotoshogiku defeats Okinoumi – A fairly traditional Kotoshogiku hug-n-chug win, but his hip pumping was less focused than normal, and it took quite a bit of time and effort to finish Okinoumi. Both men end the basho with losing records.

Hokutofuji defeats Nishikigi – Hokutofuji’s “Handshake Tachiai” pays off as Nishikigi puts all of his hopes into grabbing a piece of Hokutofuji’s mawashi, and comes up with air. Left without anything to hold on to, Nishikigi is quickly propelled out for an oshidashi loss.

Mitakeumi defeats Asanoyama – Many fans will declare this a bellwether match, as it shows that Asanoyama did not have the mettle to be the Natsu champion. They may have a point, but that’s not how honbasho works. Mitakeumi is able to enact his preferred sumo strategy, and try as he might, Asanoyama cannot get into the grip and foot placement we have seen him use to rack up 12 wins prior to today. Does this foreshadow Asanoyama’s upcoming opponents in Nagoya? Probably, yes.

Ryuden defeats Aoiyama – Ryuden finishes with double digits, and I have to say his sumo was dead on this tournament. Aoiyama was only a fraction of his normal strength by this stage of the tournament, and Ryuden masterfully absorbed everything Aoiyama delivered in terms of tsuppari.

Ichinojo defeats Myogiryu – When Ichinojo is “on” he turns his opponents into rag-dolls and tosses them around at his leisure. This happened today with Myogiryu, who looked like an play-thing in a giant’s toy box.

Takayasu defeats Tochinoshin – Both of these rikishi are fighting hurt, and are only at a fraction of their expected power and speed. Takayasu takes a big chance going chest to chest against Tochinoshin, but rather than set up the sky crane, Tochinoshin oddly decides to try and pull Takayasu, which was all the Ozeki needed to rush forward and take Tochinoshin to the clay. Yeah, Tochinoshin is clearly hurt, and that was crap sumo compared to his first week performance.

Kakuryu defeats Goeido – They made a good match of it, no shady moves, no cheap sumo here, the top two surviving rikishi finished the day with a solid yotsu match that saw the Yokozuna take his 11th win.

That’s it for our daily highlight coverage. Thank you, dear readers, for sharing the Natsu Basho with us!

Natsu Day 14 Highlights

Edo or Tokyo? – The Classic Stylings of Asanoyama

Day 14 showed us another look at the future of sumo. We have been getting these a few times a year since Hakuho has gone into an on again / off again mode, and can no longer be counted on to dominate a basho. With Harumafuji out of sumo all together, the mainstays that would keep the lower ranks beat down have been removed, and new champions are free to emerge. We have moved from the homogenized “Every yusho is Hakuho” world into an environment where a hard working, dedicated and skilled Maegashira 8 can take the yusho. Our hearty congratulations to Asanoyama.

We noticed Asanoyama some time ago, and he distinguished himself early with his solid sumo, and his fantastic attitude. Every day he mounted the dohyo, no matter what the score, he was just happy to be doing sumo that day. Since his top division debut, I made and used the somewhat humorous tag “Asanoyama ❤️ Sumo”, but it really shows. Some time in the past year, he has dialed in a classic style that looks straight out of a 19th century wood block print, and has used it this May with great effect.

Congratulations to Asanoyama, it could not have happened to a nicer guy.

Highlight Matches

Toyonoshima defeats Ishiura – Toyonoshima picks up his 8th win, and more or less ensures that Ishiura will be headed back to Juryo. Ishiura is still struggling to enact a working pixie sumo formula, and Juryo is a fine place to sort that out once again. But Hakuho’s dream of having a dohyo-iri with Enho and Ishiura is on hold for a while longer.

Shimanoumi defeats Enho – After a cold start, Shimanoumi comes roaring back to score at least 9 wins for Natsu, and putting Enho on the make/kachi-koshi line. Enho is clearly still suffering from whatever happened to his right thigh, and it may have gotten worse in his day 14 loss.

Shohozan defeats Terutsuyoshi – That’s 2 of the 3 pixies with make-koshi records for May. The entire cohort faded into week 2, but I hope nobody thinks this is a repudiation of the pixie sumo style. They will be back after some tune-ups. But this many losing records at the bottom of the banzuke raises the question of who is going back to Juryo.

Daishoho defeats Tochiozan – Daishoho once again executes well, picking up his 9th win while giving Tochiozan his make-koshi. The match was really all Daishoho, who took the inside road at the tachiai, and did as he pleased with Tochiozan.

Kagayaki defeats Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi’s opening gambit fails, and he finds himself without workable defensive foot placement. Kagayaki plows ahead and bodily removes Sadanoumi from the dohyo for the win.

Yago defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi’s preferred arm-bar hold seems to have run out of gas at least for this basho. He manages to pin Yago’s left arm, but after consoldiatinlg his position, Yago uses a maemitsu grip to maneuver Nishikigi over and out for a loss.

Tomokaze defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma goes down to his 10th loss, and will be deep back in the Juryo pack for July. Tomokaze has one more day to secure his 12th consecutive kachi-koshi.

Abi defeats Meisei – I cringe now when I see a monoii in the top division. It’s like “What kind of nonsense is Onomatsu oyakata going to utter this time?”. They give the win to Abi, both men advance to a respectable 9-5.

Chiyotairyu defeats Tokushoryu – Out running Chiyoshoma in the race back to Juryo is Tokushoryu, who has looked absolutely terrible this basho. His sumo is so much better than this, and I just have to assume some new or old injury has limited him.

Tamawashi defeats Kotoeko – Tamawashi goes to double digits, and complicates the Nagoya San’yaku picture somewhat. His sumo is back to being strong, focused and able to overcome quite a bit. Will he he turn it up to 11?

Endo defeats Onosho – Did you see the point where Onosho is driving forward, and decides he wants to try to pull Endo down? Yes, that’s the moment where the match was lost. Endo is too sharp to throw that kind of opportunity away.

Daieisho defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru seemed to have zero power today, and Daieisho was fully charged. Solid center-mass thrusting attack from Daieisho for the win. Although he is make-koshi, his sumo is holding up well into the end of the second week.

Hokutofuji defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze’s sumo is completely broken right now. His style is usually fast paced strike-and-move combos that leave his opponents reacting, usually at least a half step behind. Whatever is plaguing you, Yoshikaze, we hope you can heal.

Myogiryu defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku held the advantage in this match until he got a bit too eager to close the deal, giving Myogiryu a narrow window to rally and execute a throw. Great kubinage in a tight spot from Myogiryu.

Okinoumi defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama decides to pull, and gets it stuffed in his mawashi by Okinoumi. Cut it out guys!

Mitakeumi defeats Takarafuji – Mitakeumi picks up his 8th win and secures a return to at least Komusubi for July. This match was all Mitakeumi, with him gaining the inside grip at the tachiai, staying low and just driving ahead.

Ryuden defeats Ichinojo – Ryuden picks up win 9 in this well executed match against Ichinojo, who is fighting better than I expected given his injury. I think we are just starting to see what Ryuden is capable of.

Shodai defeats Takayasu – Takayasu is a complete wreck this basho. He seems to have neglected the superior lateral mobility that Shodai brings to nearly every match, and finds his forward pressure against Shodai’s chest instantly transformed into a tumbling move into thin air.

Asanoyama defeats Goeido – Good sumo today from Goeido, but Asanoyama was better. Congratulations to overcoming both an Ozeki and an Ozekiwake to take the cup! His only losses where to hard core oshi-power rikishi (Tamawashi and Onosho) who shut down Asanoyama’s yotsu attack. Goeido took him on chest-to-chest, but Asanoyama kept low and focused his power forward.

Tochinoshin defeats Kakuryu – Well, can’t put it off any more. That henka had really no place at this level of sumo. I get why he did it; he’s hurt, he needed one more win to get back to Ozeki, and he thinks he was robbed day 13. He needed one more white star by any means he could get one. Kakuryu should have known this and made him eat it, but Kakuryu is himself at only about 80% genki, and is probably expecting the left hand outside followed by the sky crane. Welcome back to Ozeki Tochinoshin. If you don’t get your body back in fighting shape, you are going to be right back here again by Kyushu.