Aki Day 13 Preview

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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.

Aki Leaderboard

Leader: Takakeisho
Chasers: Mitakeumi, Okinoumi, Takarafuji, Meisei, Tsurugisho
Don’t Stop Believin’: Goeido, Asanoyama, Yutakayama

Three Yusho Decided Day 13

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.

Tamawashi Wins Hatsu Basho Yusho

Tamawashi Yusho Parade
Photo c/o @sumokyokai

With a final record of 13-2, Sekiwake Tamawashi of Kataonami-beya has won his first yusho in the 2019 Hatsu honbasho at the Kokugikan.

On Senshuraku, needing a win to clinch the cup (and the macaron, and the myriad other prizes) regardless of other results, Tamawashi saw off the challenge of Maegashira 9 Endo, winning by tsukiotoshi to seal the championship. Tamawashi is the fourth first-time winner in the past seven tournaments (following Tochinoshin, Mitakeumi and Takakeisho), and the second-oldest first time winner.

Remarkably, Tamawashi’s wife also gave birth to their second son on the day of his first Yusho, so we congratulate Tamawashi on an incredible day in his career and for his family!

The Hatsu basho championship originally looked to be heading the way of Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho, and despite some hairy moments, at 10-0 it seemed, as Bruce and I speculated on the latest Tachiai podcast, that a procession towards the legend’s 42nd yusho felt all but inevitable. However, in the second week, Hakuho’s injury problems told, and after successive losses, including Hakuho’s first ever loss to Tamawashi, the title race swung in favor of his fellow Mongolian.

Elsewhere, Inside Sport Japan have reported on their Instagram that despite racking up 33 wins over the past 3 basho, Jun-yusho grabbing Sekiwake Takakeisho will not be promoted to Ozeki. Apparently the nature of his final bout loss to Goeido meant that the NSK had not seen enough for him to be ready for sumo’s highest rank at this time.

Day 15’s results also mean that the sansho, or special prizes list has been confirmed as follows (following lksumo’s earlier post):

Shukun-sho – Outstanding Performance Prize
Tamawashi (first win)
Mitakeumi (fourth win)

Kanto-sho – Fighting Spirit Prize
Tamawashi (first win)

Gino-sho – Technique prize
Takakeisho (first win)

Congratulations again to Sekiwake Tamawashi! We now look ahead to a Haru-basho featuring two Ozeki runs, one kadoban Ozeki, and significant banzuke turnover, as spaces will need to be filled following the three intai that have occurred since the last banzuke was written.

What You Need To Know After Act One

Photo courtesy of the official NHK twitter account

The curtain has dropped on Act One of the 2019 Hatsu Basho, and what show stopper it’s been! With major developments happening on and off the dohyo, here’s a quick update to catch you up on everything you need to know before Act Two.

Leader Board

It’s very early days in the Yusho race, but we already have a small quartet of 5-0 rikishi separating themselves from the crowd. The Brazillion behemoth Kaisei, Onosho, Mitakeumi, and Yokozuna Hakuho have all avoided defeat (some more closely than others) and remain perfect after Act One. A mob of chasers is right on their heels, with Chiyonokuni, Yago, Aoiyama, Nishikigi, Ichinojo, and Takakeisho all ending Day 5 with 4-1 records. Act Two will undoubtedly separate the boys from the men in what should be an interesting Yusho race.

Not Looking So Hot

At the far end of the standings is another race to determine who will be the last winless rikishi of Hatsu. The contenders are Daishomaru, Asanoyama, and Yoshikaze, who have yet to pick up their first win. Not doing much better is the fivesome of Kagayaki, Tochiozan, Komosubi Myogiryu, and Ozeki Goeido. As for the rest of the sanyaku, there are some big names who haven’t been looking their best this January. Kakuryu and Takayasu have both dropped three early matches, and as for Tochinohsin? Well, we’ll get to him in a bit. All of these rikishi will need to make some serious adjustments during the remainder of Hatsu.

Kyujo and Intai

For the first time since Act One of the 2017 Aki Basho, I’ve had to add  Intai heading of this section, and it won’t be the last time in the coming months and years if Bruce is correct. Much has already been said about the retirements of Takanoiwa and Kisenosato so I won’t go into detail here. As for injuries, the only man to bow out of competition during Act One was Tochinoshin. Leg injuries have robbed the Georgian of his forward movement and strength which resulted in him going winless after four days. Hopefully, Tochinoshin will get the rest and recuperation he needs to clear his kadoban status come March.

Kinboshi

Prior to his retirement, Former Yokozuna Kisenosato gave up two kinboshi to Ichinojo and Tochiozan respectively. Ichinojo picked up a second gold star off of flagging Yokozuna Kakuryu. This was the second kinboshi Kakuryu has coughed up this January, as he also lost one to Nishikigi on Day 3. With Kakuryu looking precarious, and Hakuho off his game, we may come out of Act two with a few more kinboshi winners.

One for the Ages

Takakeisho & Takanosho - Takakeisho Victory Parade
Image via Sumo Kyokai on Instagram (@sumokyokai)

It has been a peculiar year in sumo – there’s no question about that. The Kyushu basho punctuated this in a number of ways.

We have often talked – on this site, on podcasts, on social media – about the “changing of the guard” currently underway in the sport. The latest basho offered a delightful confirmation of this in the championship victory by Komusubi Takakeisho.

Takakeisho’s victory was a disruption of the normal order of sumo: young, talented prospects will move their way through the lower divisions – but the big prizes are almost always won by established superstars. Even Mitakeumi’s yusho this year was a victory – especially under the circumstances – by a rikishi with an enormous fanbase who was heavily favored to go on an Ozeki run even before Tochinshin’s surprise ascendance earlier in the year. This “disruption,” however, is what turns talented prospects into superstars in their own right – it’s just that it’s something we only get to see every few years – at most.

But there’s another half of that earlier point: that talented youngsters, college veterans and other hot prospects, will usually have their fun in the unsalaried ranks. Taking that into account, not only was Takakeisho’s top division championship in this tournament special in its own right – especially in the face of the heavily favored Ozeki Takayasu – it was actually unique because all of the yusho winners from the bottom four divisions were returning veterans. As a result, in a rare and incredible coincidence, Makuuchi division winer Takakeisho was actually the youngest winner of any of the six divisions at the Kyushu basho:

  • Jonokuchi: won by Hatooka, a 24-year old former Makushita mid-ranker of Kise-beya. He was making his 12th basho appearance, and first full basho in a year.
  • Jonidan: won by Mitsuuchi, a 22-year old former Sandanme mid-ranker of The Onomatsu Group Jazz Combo Onomatsu-beya. This was his second consecutive yusho on his 9th basho, though he needed to come through a playoff against one of Sadogatake’s myriad prospects. Mitsuuchi is 3 months older than Takakeisho.
  • Sandanme: won by Ura, a 26-year old past and present scientific marvel who has been apparently explained by Neil DeGrasse Tyson as “wow,” prompting Vegas bookmakers to slash the odds on the next discovered element to be named Uranon, but only because Uranium is already taken. This was his fourth spotless tournament and second yusho – having coughed up two in playoffs to fellow future funster Hokutofuji, and his stablemate Shiba, who is in the midst of making his third sekitori promotion challenge.
  • Makushita: won by Sokokurai, a 34-year old injury-and-drama survivor of Arashio-beya, who rescued himself from a future as tsukebito to the Onami brothers. Generally liked despite just a single winning record* north of Maegashira 10. This was his fourth lower-division yusho in a 15-year sumo career.
    * edited thanks to an error spotted by commenter Savaros
  • Juryo: won by Tomokaze, a 23-year old big bopper from Oguruma-beya, who likes to push and thrust more than twist and shout. This was his 3rd yusho in 9 tournaments.
  • Makuuchi: won by Takakeisho, a 22-year old tadpole from Chiganoura-beya, his 1st top division championship and 5th such success at all levels.

This coincidence is obviously a rarity because it requires a young champion. It’s the first time it has been seen in sumo in over 11 years, since the third yusho from another 22 year old: then-Ozeki Hakuho. The person to do it before that? Ozeki Hakuho, with his first championship, a year prior. Takakeisho – who like many was a much more promising recruit than the famously unheralded future dai-Yokozuna – will be hoping that his ability to turn his early career momentum into a title, like his predecessor, will bring him similar results.