Unlike the Hatsu banzuke mess, the Hatsu results should make for a fairly predictable Haru banzuke.
The rankings aren’t in doubt, but nonetheless there are many questions about this group. Which if any Yokozuna will show up? Kakuryu (ankle) and Hakuho (toes) are nursing injuries. Kisenosato has declared that the next tournament he enters will be his make-or-break one—perform at Yokozuna level for 15 days or retire. My guess a month before the basho is that Hakuho is very likely to participate, Kakuryu is also likely to compete, and Kisenosato will most likely sit this one out.
In the upper ranks, a kachi-koshi (winning record) is no guarantee that your position within the rank won’t change: witness the Yokozuna and Ozeki getting reshuffled based on their performances at the previous basho. This used to be the case for Sekiwake as well, with 8-7 East Sekiwake frequently moving to West Sekiwake for the subsequent tournament when a more deserving candidate for East Sekiwake existed. However, this seems to have changed about ten years ago (perhaps someone can shed light on the history), and an 8-7 record at Sekiwake (or Komusubi) now appears to guarantee retention of rank and side. A recent example of this is S1e Tamawashi not switching sides with S1w Takayasu even after their respective 8-7 and 12-3 performances at last year’s Haru basho. Long story short, 8-7 Mitakeumi will retain his S1e rank, with 14-1 yusho winner Tochinoshin joining him at Sekiwake on the West side. Ichinojo and Chiyotairyu, the highest-ranked maegashira with winning records at Hatsu, should take over the Komusubi slots vacated by Takakeisho and Onosho.
Endo has been ranked M1 twice before, but has never broken through to San’yaku. Is this his time? Arawashi would similarly tie his highest rank, while Chiyomaru has never been ranked above M8. Everyone else in this group has been ranked in San’yaku, most of them within the last couple of years.
A mix of rikishi in a holding pattern in this part of the banzuke (Kaisei, Chiyoshoma, Chiyonokuni, Tochiozan), higher-ranked rikishi dropping down after rough Hatsu performances (Hokutofuji, Yoshikaze, Okinoumi), and up-and-comers making a move up the banzuke (Kagayaki, Abi, Daieisho, Yutakayama, Ryuden). Three of the rikishi promoted from Juryo for Hatsu put up good numbers and find themselves here.
Predicted demotions to Juryo: Terunofuji, Aminishiki, Takekaze. Predicted promotions: Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, Aoiyama. Often, this area of the banzuke contains a bunch of poor performances from the previous basho, but the only one who really fits that bill is Ikioi, who is dropping from M6 after putting up a 4-11 record. Kotoyuki, Daishomaru, and Sokokurai put up mediocre numbers, but Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami all earned kachi-koshi records at Hatsu. Nevertheless, they’ll be fighting for their Makuuchi lives again in Osaka, as everyone in this group needs a minimum of 6 wins (more for those closer to the bottom) to be safe from demotion.
The 2018 Hatsu Basho has come to a close, and what an incredible Basho it was! While the Cinderella story of Tochinoshin claiming his first Yusho – and as a Maegashira to boot – made the New Year Tournament special, this Basho was also notable for the incredible level of competition coming from the bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke. The undercard, comprised of the bottom nine rungs of the top division, consistently turned out high-quality matches day in and day out and made this January one of the most exciting months in sumo in quite some time. Here are my rankings for the 2018 Hatsu Basho undercard.
17. Terunofuji: 0-8-7
What can I say about Terunofuji that hasn’t been said countless times already? With a 0-8-7 record, Terunofuji’s performance is one of the worst seen in quite a while, and now the former Ozeki has fallen entirely out of the Makuuchi division. But all hope is not lost. The career paths of Tochinoshin and Chiyonokuni have demonstrated that taking much needed time off and starting over lower on the banzuke is not a death sentence. Hopefully, our Kaiju does the same and returns to wreak havoc in the top division one day soon.
16. Aminishiki: 3-9-3
Aminishiki’s performance was far from what many had hoped for after his splendid tournament in November. The crafty maneuvers he used in Kyushu were well scouted and dealt with by his Hatsu opponents. Coupled with a new injury that forced him to miss three days, Aminishiki racked up only three wins and is Juryo-bound. Here’s hoping we see that lovable old uncle back in the top division in the future!
15. Takekaze: 5-10
The other elder statesman of the undercard, Takekaze, will also leave the top division in March unless he has a barbers appointment booked before then. Grandpa Bullfrog didn’t go out without a fight though, and managed to put together a nice four-match win streak after a disastrous start. However it was too little, too late, and he finished Hatsu with a record of 5-10.
14. Sokokurai: 6-9
Juryo is probably looking pretty good right about now for the former second division champion. Sokokurai made his return to Makuuchi at Hatsu, but during his time away the top division has gone through a significant influx of talent and is now far more competitive than when he left it. The Chinese rikishi just couldn’t keep up with the young guns.
13. Daishomaru: 7-8
Daishomaru was kind of invisible this January, and with only seven wins (including a fusen win over Terunofuji) he failed to score his kachi koshi. However, 7-8 is far better than his abysmal 4-11 Kyushu record, so at least he is trending in the right direction.
12. Kotoyuki: 7-8
While Kotoyuki failed to get a winning record, his performance at Hatsu was more consistent than other the rikishi with make koshi records, and he could have very well finished in the winners’ column had he not bit so hard on Ishiura’s Day 15 henka. The Penguin will have to regroup for March.
11. Daiamami: 8-7
Daiamami, the man at the absolute bottom of the division, did just enough to remain in Makuuchi for Haru. With his size and strength, Daiamami has the makings of a sumo powerhouse, but he needs to get his consistency issues under control first.
10. Nishikigi: 8-7
Nishikigi lives to fight another day! The man in green managed to secure his kachi koshi, in dramatic fashion this time with a big senshuraku win. He won’t have to worry about demotion for a while. Well, at least for February.
9. Ishiura: 9-6
While I’m glad to see Ishiura make his return to Makuuchi, I was a little disappointed by the quality of his sumo near the end of the Basho. While I have no problem with a smaller rikishi pulling out a henka to get the upper hand, it got a little tiresome by the third time he used it. I hope Ishiura uses more of the creative sumo he employed in week one of Hatsu when the March tournament rolls around, and saves the henka for when he really needs it!
8. Asanoyama: 9-6
Asanoyama looked like he was having a major rebound Basho after the disaster of Kyushu last November, but he faded considerably in the latter half of Hatsu and went on another prolonged losing skid. A lack of self-esteem seems to be his most significant issue, and he needs to figure out how to keep it together when he starts to lose if he wants to make it in Makuuchi. Asanoyama did manage to pull out of his tailspin this Basho and put together nine wins. I hope he takes the next few weeks to tighten up his sumo and enters March with more confidence.
7. Yutakayama: 9-6
You may be asking yourself, why is Yutakayama so high on this list when he has just as many wins as a bunch of other rikishi? Well, the simple explanation is that with nine wins he more than exceeded all expectations the majority of fans had for him coming into Hatsu! Even if he had finished with a 5-10 record, Yutakayama would have improved on his previous ventures into the top division. But instead, he captured a bonafide Makuuchi kachi koshi, something many thought he was incapable of, and for that I commend him.
6. Chiyomaru: 9-6
Another solid outing for the marshmallow man. Chiyomaru has recorded nine wins in four of his last five tournaments, and it’s this consistency that earned him his spot near the top of this list. If he can keep this run of 9-win kachi koshis going, he could find himself in the Joi before the year’s end. At Maegashira 9 and assured a promotion, Chiyomaru will not be a part of the Makuuchi undercard come March.
5. Kagayaki: 9-6
I have a feeling we will be looking back on Hatsu 2018 as a turning point in the career of Kagayaki. The man in gold transformed from the clumsy, hesitant rikishi we knew into a much more confident, skilled athlete. Heck, he even fought on the mawashi a few times this Basho! If Kagayaki continues to build upon this success and strengthen his craft, 2018 could be his year.
4. Daieisho: 9-6
While my prediction of Daieisho fading in the second half of the tournament was right, his drop off wasn’t nearly as severe as in previous Basho, and he ended Hatsu with a very respectable 9-6 record. Daieisho has so much natural talent when it comes to sumo, and if he can figure out how to show up for the full 15 days of a tournament, then it won’t be long until he’s one of this sports brightest stars.
3. Shohozan: 9-6
Big Guns Shohozan has made a humongous return to form after his ghastly 3-12 Kyusho record. The man from Fukuoka was a consistent threat throughout the first half of Hatsu, and while he did drop off near the end of the tournament, he will be remembered for his colossal clash with Tochinoshin, giving the Yusho winner one of his toughest matches of the Basho. I look forward to seeing what Shohozan has in store for us at Haru, and I pity anyone who has to stand across the dohyo from this brawler.
2. Abi: 10-5
Sorry Asanoyama, but I think it’s time to pass on that Mr. Happy moniker to Abi. Things didn’t start off great for Abi, whose balance issues were exploited by his opponents. However, he never lost his smile, and once he got his balance under control, there was very little anyone could do to stop him from reaching his impressive 10-5 record. Even facing opponents ranked much higher than him didn’t seem to perturb the smiling one, who took them on with great determination! When I look Abi, with his long limbs and stocky body, he reminds me so much of a young Takanohana. While they are known for different fighting styles, if Abi can learn to use his proportions as effectively as the former Yokozuna, he has a very bright future ahead of him.
1. Ryuden: 10-5
Without a doubt, Ryuden was the star of the 2018 Hatsu undercard. Few have had as tough a road to the top division as Ryuden. Throughout his twelve-year career he has faced everything, including injuries that forced him to miss most of 2013 and 2014, but he never let these roadblocks stop him from reaching sumo’s biggest stage. Once he reached the top division, he not only held his own but flourished! After a rocky Act One, Ryuden took flight and won eight of his last nine out matches, clinching a sansho special prize for fighting spirit along the way! While he shares the same record as Abi, Ryuden gets the edge over the smiling youngster due to his consistency and his tenacity. It didn’t matter who he faced or how outmatched he was, Ryuden fought with everything he had each and every day, and sent a message that he is here to stay.
*This is just an opinion piece, and I would love to hear who you think were the standout rikishi of the 2018 Hatsu Basho.
What a great basho with an unexpected champion. Below, I will go through the various tiers of Makuuchi (and upper Juryo) and assess the performances, as well as what they likely mean for the Haru banzuke reshuffle (as usual, a full “banzuke crystal ball” post will follow once I’ve had a chance to more carefully digest the results).
At Haru, we should see Kakuryu atop the banzuke, followed by Hakuho and Kisenosato. Although he faded with 4 straight losses after a 10-0 start before recovering to beat Goeido on senshuraku, Kakuryu did enough to justify his rank. I would give him a solid B. Hakuho (re)injured his toes, and gets an Incomplete. Kisenosato had to pull out due to underperformance rather than injury after racking up 4 losses in 5 days and handing out 3 kinboshi. It’s not clear what the way forward is for him. A generous D–.
The two Ozeki will swap sides in Osaka, with Takayasu fighting from the more prestigious East side. His 12-3 record is by far his most impressive in 4 tournaments as Ozeki, although he has to wonder what might have been in this wide-open basho. Any tsuna talk is highly premature, but if he can build on this performance, we may hear it in the near future. A–
The other Ozeki, Goeido, looked strong out of the gate but then went 4-7 over the last 11 days, ending with a minimal kachi-koshi. He avoided going kadoban by the narrowest of margins. A gentleman’s C.
The Old Lower Sanyaku
This highly touted group did not exactly distinguish itself, only managing 23 wins among the four of them. As a result, we should see almost complete turnover in the Sekiwake/Komusubi ranks. The one holdover is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who started 7-0 but then went 1-7 the rest of the way to maintain his rank by the narrowest of margins. Some of this can be chalked up to tougher second-week opposition, but it’s hard to excuse losses to Arawashi, Shodai, and Okinoumi. This is Mitakeumi’s 6th consecutive tournament in Sanyaku, all of them alternating 9-6 and 8-7 records. He will have to find another gear before the often-mentioned Ozeki run can materialize. Still, he stays at Sekiwake. B–
The rest of the group put up disastrous performances. Instead of starting his own Ozeki run, Sekiwake Tamawashi went 6-9 and will drop out of Sanyaku. It’s not clear what was wrong with his sumo, as he looked like his own formidable self on some days, and went meekly on others. The good news is that he should only drop to M1, and will have a chance to fight his way back up with a solid record in Osaka. C–
Shin-Komusubi Takakeisho had a typical shin-Komusubi rough tournament, going 5-10. He should stay in the joi in Osaka, falling to around M3. C– His friend and fellow Komusubi Onosho faired even worse in his second go-round at the rank, picking up only 4 wins before withdrawing with an injury. No miracle kachi-koshi finish this time. He should drop to around M5. D+
The New Lower Sanyaku
Joining Mitakeumi at Sekiwake will be the yusho winner, Tochinoshin. While there are many reasons to doubt he can replicate his amazing performance going forward, I’ll go out on a limb and say that if he accumulates 11-12 wins in each of the next two tournaments, we’ll see him at Ozeki. A+ Also rejoining the named ranks with a bang at Komusubi is Ichinojo, who really turned things around in the last two tournaments. If he can continue to bring convincing sumo to the dohyo, his size and skill could also see him at Ozeki before too long, although of course this is what was said about him after his amazing Makuuchi debut in 2014. A
Who gets the other Komusubi slot? The man who probably gained the most on senshuraku, sumo Elvis, Chiyotairyu. The big guy needed to win on the last day and have both Kotoshogiku and Endo lose, and this is exactly how things played out. The last and only time Chiyotairyu was ranked this high was also in 2014, and he’s spent most of the intervening time among the lower maegashira ranks, with 3 Juryo stints, so it’s good to see him climb the mountain again. A
The upper maegashira ranks in Osaka will see more permutation than turnover. Based on the thinness and health issues of the Sanyaku, I’m going to generously extend the joi boundary down to M5. These ranks should look something like this:
In addition to the aforementioned fallen Sanyaku rikishi, we have Kotoshogiku and Shodai treading water with their minimal make-koshi records and a pair of C‘s. Endo (A–) and Arawashi (B+) move up within these ranks. Takarafuji (B+) moves up from just below the joi, while Shohozan (A–) and Chiyomaru (A–) make some of the biggest moves up the board.
Dropping out of these ranks are Hokutofuji and Yoshikaze, who both had disastrous 4-11 tournaments, good for a pair of D‘s, along with Okinoumi (C–).
Makuuchi Promotions and Demotions
As has already been mentioned, the 8 lowest-ranked rikishi all earned winning records. For Ishiura, Asanoyama, Nishikigi, and Daiamami, this saved them from demotion to Juryo, but without much of a cushion for Haru. Daieisho, Yutakayama, and the newcomers Abi and Ryuden should move up into solid mid-maegashira territory. Yutakayama in particular is to be commended for turning things around in his third Makuuchi tournament by going 9-6, after his previous two appearances each ended in 4-11 records and quick returns to Juryo.
Dropping down into the M13-M17 ranks and fighting for survival in Osaka will be Ikioi and Sokokurai, who narrowly staved off demotion.
As a result of the solid performances at the bottom of the banzuke, not a lot of slots will be open for promotion. Dropping down to Juryo are Terunofuji, who desperately needs to take a page from Tochinoshin’s book, and Aminishiki. Also joining them will be Takekaze, the only rikishi among those who desperately needed a senshuraku win to not get it. Their slots should be taken by Myogiryu, Hidenoumi, and most likely Aoiyama, with Kyokutaisei just missing out on making his Makuuchi debut despite doing enough for promotion in most tournaments.
Let the trumpets blow, and the banners fly! We are entering the final weekend of what has been a fantastic basho. Should mighty Tochinoshin manage one more wins sumo fans will be treated to the rare event of a rank-and-file rikishi winning the Emperor’s cup. The only path for this not to happen would be for Tochinoshin to lose his last two matches, and for either Takayasu or Kakuryu to win both of their last two. This would force a day 15 playoff. The odds of this are very very slim.
As I mentioned in comments on Herouth’s fantastic day 13 summary, I believe the Yokozuna Kakuryu has re-injured himself, possibly his lower back. He is no longer generating much in the way of forward pressure. If this were a normal basho, he would probably consider withdrawing at this point, as he has a healthy 10 wins. But a combination of him being the lone surviving Yokozuna, and the mandate from the YDC that he finishes his next basho keeps him on the torikumi, even though it seems pretty clear that he is no longer fit to fight.
Takayasu, on the other hand, is fit to fight. He has picked up some unhealthy habits in the past 9 months but seems strong, stable and unhurt. Because he faces Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 14, the winner of this match will likely pick up the Jun-Yusho for Hatsu 2018. If that honor falls to Takayasu, it would be his second. If it’s Kakuryu, it would be his 7th.
For the second day in a row, the scheduling team has created huge moves across the banzuke, with upper and lower rikishi facing off. Many have kachi/make-koshi on the line.
Hatsu Leader Board
Its all down to Tochinoshin – one more win and he’s in.
Leader – Tochinoshin Hunter Group – Takayasu, Kakuryu
2 Matches Remain
What We Are Watching Day 14
*Abbreviated again as your humble associate editor continues to nurse the flu.
Kotoyuki vs Daieisho – Kotoyuki looking for win #8, and Daieisho may not put up too much of a fight. Kotoyuki holds a 3-1 career advantage.
Yutakayama vs Daishomaru – Yutakayama also trying to pick up #8, but he has never taken a match from Daishomaru, who needs 2 wins to secure a winning record.
Ishiura vs Chiyomaru – One of the big gap matches, Ishiura (M15) goes up against the bulbous Chiyomaru (M9). Ishiura is still one win away from a kachi-koshi to hold on to his position as a Makuuchi rikishi. Chiyomaru already kachi-koshi. Chiyomaru will look to keep Ishiura from getting too low and grabbing the mawashi to set up a throw. Given Chiyomaru’s enormous girth, that grip could be hard to achieve.
Ryuden vs Kaisei – Both men are kachi-koshi, but Ryuden is pushing for 10 wins and a possible sansho to start the year. Ryuden (M16) has actually beaten Kaisei (M8) the only time they matched, during Kaisei’s Juryo furlough.
Chiyoshoma vs Asanoyama – The happy rikishi Asanoyama (M16) has his first time meeting with Chiyoshoma (M7). This is a real Darwin match as Chiyoshoma needs both wins to secure a winning record, and Asanoyama needs one more to avoid being returned to Juryo for March.
Kagayaki vs Endo – Our very own buxom rikishi Kagayaki (M12) will try his sumo against the surprisingly agile and balanced Endo (M5) who had a fantastic match against Kotoshogiku on day 13. Both are kachi-koshi, so this is more of a “test match” than anything. Kagayaki has a surprising 4-1 career advantage over Endo.
Shohozan vs Tochinoshin – This one is for all the hardware. Shohozan is never a pushover and will fight hard to slap the presumptive Yusho winner away from his belt at every chance. He can rest assured that once Tochinoshin lands his grip, he’s going to take Shohozan out for a loss.
Abi vs Kotoshogiku – The biggest banzuke gap match of the day pits Abi (M14) against former Ozeki Kotoshokigu (M2). Kotoshogiku wants to pick up at least one more win, and Abi wants to qualify for one of the magical sansho special prizes he has coveted. This is their first ever match.
Takarafuji vs Ichinojo – Calm and competent Takarafuji needs one more win in the last two days to secure a winning record. While we get to see if Ichinojo got hurt in Friday’s match, or if he returns ready to swat the smaller rikishi around like bugs once more. Ichinojo holds a 9-2 career advantage.
Takakeisho vs Shodai – Takakeisho’s record is a lost cause for Hatsu, but against all odds, Shodai could still walk out of this one with kachi-koshi. Takakeisho is looking slightly rough, and I am not sure if it’s because he has gotten a right good beating this basho, or if he is nursing some nagging mechanical injury.
Arawashi vs Tamawashi – Battle of the Eagles sets Arawashi of the damaged legs against Tamawashi the smiter of men. Tamawashi holds a 6-3 career advantage, and I am expecting Arawashi to end up make-koshi after this bout.
Goeido vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi seems to have remembered his sumo on day 13, and we are all glad for it. Now if whatever happened to him can be uploaded to GoeidOS 0.5 beta 3 before the unit is declared defective and stamped “kadoban” once again, the sumo world will rejoice.
Kakuryu vs Takayasu – My guess is Takayasu blasts Kakuryu out in a hurry, and Big K offers little resistance. Not because he does not care or does not want to win, I will state again I am pretty sure he is injured. If I am wrong, this could be a really first-class battle as Kakuryu has a 12-5 career advantage over Takayasu, and when healthy can generally cause all kind of havoc with a rikishi (even an Ozeki) that is chaotic and sloppy as Takayasu has become.
Can we beat the fountain of amazing sumo that was day 12? It’s possible, but day 12 set a very high bar indeed. Rolling into day 13, we have a real chance to see a rank and file rikishi take the Yusho for the first time in many many moons. In fact, I think the last time was Natsu 2012 when Maegashira 7 Kyokutenho (now Tomozuna Oyakata) hoisted the hardware. Prior to that, we have to go all the way back to Aki 2001 to find Kotomitsuki at Maegashira 2 winning the cup. Maegashira winning the cup is rare in the last 20 years, in part due to the absolute dominance of Asashoryu and Hakuho. Before we try to figure out who will carry the banner for Tochinoshin, keep in mind only one win separates Tochinoshin from Kakuryu, and Takayasu may still have a chance if they both drop a match or two.
As some readers have commented, there has been a flurry of pulling attempts in the past two days. Almost all of them have led to the defeat of the rikishi who pulls. Its baffling to see Kakuryu use this gambit two days in a row, but if we look at Kakuryu’s matches historically, he tends to pull for a win more frequently. But the difference being is that under normal conditions he develops the position to make it pay off. He coaxes his opponents into mistakes and over-committing. The past two days have seen him rush the process, and his opponents were waiting for it and exploited his mistake.
The day 13 torikumi shows a number of high/low battles, where the mid-Maegashira fight the bottom of the banzuke. In many cases, it seems like a happy rest period for the middle of the ranks, but in this tournament, the lower ranks have been excelling, and many mid-level Maegashira are finding themselves in a tight spot.
Hatsu Leader Board
Tochinoshin needs to stay off the clay and he will carry the day!
Sorry, abbreviated notes for day 13, as I am in bed with the flu
Sokokurai vs Yutakayama – Yutakayama pushing for the 8th win. Sokokurai is already make-koshi, so my guess is Yutakayama picks up the shiroboshi.
Asanoyama vs Chiyomaru – Asanoyama also looking for win #8, but Chiyomaru is in the same position. Chiyomaru has been fighting well and is ranked 14 slots higher. Ouch!
Shohozan vs Daieisho – Both of them kachi-koshi, but the M9e vs M13w battle could be a bit intense. Daieisho is no pushover, but “Big Guns” Shohozan seems to really have his sumo dialed in.
Abi vs Kaisei – M14e vs M8w bout, with M8w now seemingly immune to all thrusting attacks due to the curvature of space-time around his ever-expanding gravity well. Given that’s all Abi does, this is going to be a tough day. Both are kachi-koshi, so only promotion velocity is on the line.
Nishikigi vs Chiyonokuni – Nishikigi forever has a place in my heart, he will not give up. No matter how bad his situation looks, he comes in and gives it his all. Now Nishikigi (M15w) goes up against the angry badger Chiyonokuni (M7w). Chiyonokuni is no easy draw, and Nishikigi needs two wins to survive in the top division.
Chiyoshoma vs Kagayaki – Also in the “one win to survive” camp is the buxom Kagayaki (M12w) who faces down Chiyoshoma (M7e) who needs two wins to secure a winning record. Of their 10 prior matches, Chiyoshoma has taken 6.
Takarafuji vs Ryuden – At the bleeding edge of the scale, neckless teamster boss Takarafuji (M6e) matches up against freshman MVP Ryuden (M16e) in a bout that will likely feature a lot of struggling and awkward battle-cuddles from Takarafuji. Thankfully Ryuden is already kachi-koshi
Endo vs Kotoshogiku – Can you believe its possible that Kotoshogiku could be back in San’yaku? Unlikely, but possible. But to get there he needs to win out. Stop one in that crazy train is Endo who is fresh from his Mongolian minted kinboshi.
Tochinoshin vs Ichinojo – THE match, hell if you can only watch one match, watch this one. I have NO CLUE how this one is going to go, as tame Ichinojo has been replaced with this wild and aggressive one. Tochinoshin has been over-the-top genki, and when that much strength goes up against that much boulder, someone is going to get hurt.
Hokutofuji vs Yoshikaze – I love both these guys, they are outstanding rikishi. They need to heal what ails them and return in Osaka ready for battle.
Shodai vs Tamawashi – I am not sure how, but Shodai needs one win to hit kachi-koshi. It seems quite odd to me, given that he has been a mess for the last few basho, but I am kind of hoping that he can keep it together. Tamawashi is a tough brawler who got Tochinoshin a bit too motivated day 12. Over their career, Shodai has only beaten Tamawashi once in 5 tries.
Arawashi vs Takayasu – A win here would give Takayasu his first double-digit win since he became an Ozeki. But Arawashi is coming in hungry as he needs 2 more wins to secure kachi-koshi. Takayasu has settled down a bit, but I fear that in the long run without Kisenosato to train against, he will continue to compound some of the bad habits he has picked up in the last 9 months.
Goeido vs Okinoumi – Well, now I want Okinoumi to hit Goeido really hard in his CPU chassis, in hopes it reboots him out of debug mode and back into Osumo mode. But I am pretty sure that the CPU board is no longer under warranty, and is going to require an expensive factory reset.
Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – Oh how embarrassing. The two chokers who like to back up and pull for a loss face off on day 13. Which one will choke harder, pull first and lose with vigor? Or will both of them remember they are outstanding rikishi with amazing technique and unique skills and decide to fight like the top men in the sport?
The snow was coming down in big, heavy globs today across Tokyo. It’s amazing how quickly a bit of snow turns a modern metropolis into Ukiyo-e scene, complete with burly figures in robes making their way through the drifts. At the end of day 9, there was really only one rikishi who had a chance to impact the yusho favorite, Kakuryu. In his winning match, Tochinoshin showed a level of power and vigor that he has been unable to bring to the dohyo for quite some time, and sumo fans worldwide are delighted to see him lift a smaller rikishi like Mitakeumi and carry him to the curb.
Day 10 marks the end of the second act, and true to form, on the closing day of the second act, we know who is a competitor, and whose dreams have been crushed. For Kakuryu, he enters the final five days of Hatsu as the sole surviving Yokozuna, and in a commanding lead. He is thus far unbeaten, and his sumo is as sharp and effective as the heady days when he was an unstoppable Ozeki on his way up.
Mitakeumi has faltered in the past few days, but his goal of a double-digit win record for Hatsu and the beginning of an Ozkei campaign is still within reach.
Ryuden vs Azumaryu – Juryo 2E Azumaryu joins Makuuchi for the day to even out the ranks. Azumaryu and Ryuden have had eight prior matches, and have split them evenly. Azumaryu is nowhere near contention for the Juryo yusho, but his one day pass to Makuuchi may give fans in the US their first look at another rikishi fighting to rejoin the upper division.
Abi vs Yutakayama – Abi has been steadily improving after starting with two straight losses. Though he has struggled in the past, this may be the basho where Yutakayama is able to secure a kachi-koshi in the top division and stick around. Yutakayama won their only prior engagement, but at present, there is likely a slight advantage to Abi.
Asanoyama vs Daishomaru – Asanoyama had an impressive 6-0 start, and has now endured three straight losses. He is looking to turn that around against a struggling Daishomaru, who has been fighting injuries since Aki. Daishomaru won their only prior match, which was during Aki.
Tochiozan vs Daieisho – Daieisho is fighting strong this tournament, so the schedulers pulled Maegashira 8 Tochiozan down to face off against Maegashira 13 Daieisho. This will be interesting because two of their prior matches went to Daieisho.
Chiyoshoma vs Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo returns! Fans around the globe dearly hope that he is well enough to compete, and is not risking further or increased injury. Although he is already make-koshi, a few wins might make the difference in allowing him to remain at the bottom of Makuuchi for March.
Takarafuji vs Kaisei – Two strong 6-3 rikishi battle it out in a fight of steady and strong. Takarafuji prefers to get a grip on Kaisei and yorikiri the Brazilian, where Kaisei tends to apply throws against Takarafuji. Their career record of 12-9 favors Kaisei.
Shohozan vs Endo – After a strong start, Endo has been struggling, and fans have to wonder if maybe he has aggravated one of his chronic injuries. Today he goes against Shohozan, who has been bludgeoning everyone into submission. Their career record of 4-2 favors Endo, but I am going to see if Shohozan can apply an immediate hatakikomi.
Tochinoshin vs Kotoshogiku – An injured and demoralized Kotoshogiku goes against a raging mass of genki named Tochinoshin. While it would be great to see the Kyushu Bulldozer put the doom on Tochinoshin, there is no way Kotoshogiku’s knees could withstand the amount of pressure it would take for him to force the big Georgian out. Career record of 24-5 favors Kotoshogiku.
Takakeisho vs Ichinojo – I am going to assume that the Boulder is going to use the same approach he used on Onosho, that is, to just go bowling with his roly-poly tadpole opponent. To be honest, it may not be that easy, as Ichinojo has never beaten Takakeisho in the three times they have faced off. But Ichinojo seems to have recovered the zen of mass and seems unafraid to use his enormity to win.
Mitakeumi vs Arawashi – Arawashi is struggling this basho, and will be lucky to hit kachi-koshi. But Mitakeumi needs three more wins to tick over to the magical double digits. After his humiliating defeat at the hands of Tochinoshin on day 9, Mitakeumi probably has a lot of frustration to resolve. Arawashi has never won a match against Mitakeumi so this could be a foregone conclusion.
Goeido vs Shodai – The Shodai match is a unit-test for GoeidOS 2.0. If he applies maximum upward force from below and inside Shodai’s high tachiai, we can assume that GoeidOS 2.0 is working as planned. Honestly, this should be pretty easy for Goeido.
Tamawashi vs Takayasu – Not going to be an easy day for a struggling Takayasu. Tamawashi more or less has his number, beating him 10 times out of their 16 career matches. With Takayasu looking disorganized and chaotic on the dohyo, he may fall prey to a focused, organized and concentrated attack. Sadly for Tamawashi, he has not been able to execute that kind of engagement this tournament.
Kakuryu vs Okinoumi – It would be a huge surprise if this were not a rapid win #10 for the surviving Yokozuna. Okinoumi has, in the past, been a worthy foe for Kakuryu, but this Kakuryu is strong and fast, Okinoumi is looking disorganized and injured once more.
Heading into the middle weekend of the Hatsu basho, fans around the globe are enjoying a wide open yusho race. In spite of a wave of withdrawals, that includes two of three yokozuna, the competition has been fierce and the sumo fantastic. After a slow start, Yoshikaze has gone on a tear through the named ranks. As we have described, he is possible the one man in sumo that you can count on to beat anyone on any day. His day 6 victory over Goeido is one for slow-motion replay. You can see him detect in a fraction of a second that the Ozeki was off balance, and brought his hands up and pulled Goeido forward.
The lower end of the torikumi continues to delight. In many basho, the guys from Maegashira 12-16 are earnest and hard-working, but are not typically generating exciting matches. But this has not been the case this tournament. The current crop occupying these ranks are fighting well, and delivering great sumo.
Going into this middle weekend, the job of the schedulers is to narrow the yusho race, and deliver exciting sumo for the fans. We can expect to see some fantastic matches, and day 7 will delvier.
Ryuden vs Yutakayama – Both rikishi come in 3-3, and both of them are looking to secure a road to remain in Makuuchi. Both of them prefer to fight via thrusting, and the career record favors Yutakayama 3-1. But don’t count Ryuden out, Ryuden has been steadily improving since his Juryo days, where Yutakayama seems to be struggling to elevate his sumo. This one has potential.
Abi vs Nishikigi – It’s fun when the lower Makuuchi ranks are so evenly balanced. Again another 3-3 record matchup. This time is Abi bringing his excellent shiko to combat Nishikigi, who is frankly one hell of a survivor. How even are they? Their career record is 2-2.
Asanoyama vs Daieisho – Asanoyama brings his 6-0 starting record into day 7, and he faces Daieisho who has a respectable 5-1. They have met twice before, and both took one match. Can Asanoyama maintain his position on the leader board and knock Daieisho out of the chaser group?
Ishiura vs Kagayaki – Ishiura, in spite of his 3-3 start, is fighting better than he has in many months. After a strong start, Kagayaki is in a bit of a slump that he is eager to reverse. Ishiura seems to be reverting to his earlier “submarine” tactics, which almost everyone has figured out. Ishiura leads the series 5-2.
Tochiozan vs Kotoyuki – Evenly matched, even records, career matches evenly split yet again. But Kotoyuki went for a roll of the corner of the doyho against Shohozan day 6, and that has (in the past) given him an injury. We will see Saturday if he bounces back against a Tochiozan.
Chiyoshoma vs Shohozan – “Big Guns” Shohozan has been dominating his matches thus far, and is looking strong, stable and confident. I give him a slight edge against Chiyoshoma in his day 7 match, which will feature each man blasting the other with a flurry of blows.
Chiyonokuni vs Endo – Endo got smoked on day 6, plain and simple. He was surprised by Shodai (as was I) when “Big Blue” actually launched out of the tachiai like a champion and caught Endo off balance. Endo is better than that, and I don’t expect him to repeat that mistake on day 7. Grumpy Badger Chiyonokuni continues to fight well, but has been struggling to find a route from “Fighting like a madman” to “Winning like a champion”.
Shodai vs Takarafuji – Can Shodai do it again? For the first time in a long time, he did not blow his tachiai. He came in fast, hard and aggressive. Takarafuji makes for a tough target, because he is stable and keeps himself low. Career matches, Shodai has a 5-2 advantage. But I really want to see if Shodai has resolved his tachiai issues.
Kotoshogiku vs Onosho – Kotoshogiku has done a masterful job of standing up to the upper San’yaku over the last few days. And I think that Onosho has a real fight on his hands. Their prior two matches were split 1-1, and if Onosho can stay mobile, he can and will control the match. I am going to look for the Kyushu Bulldozer to land at least his right hand at the tachiai.
Mitakeumi vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze comes in with a middling record, but an impressive array of Hatsu scalps. At risk is Mitakeumi’s slot on the leaderboard, and Yoshikaze is dangerous to that perfect record. Their career matches are evenly split 3-3. I will look for Mitakeumi to try and open with a slap down or pull down, as Yoshikaze tries to launch hard off the line.
Ichinojo vs Takayasu – Takayasu caught an ugly surprise on day 6, when his poor posture, his reliance on his forearm blast and general sloppy sumo was dismantled in the blink of an eye by a fast, powerful tadpole. Now he faces the Mongol boulder Ichinojo. Ichinojo delivered a brutal first (and last) pitch in his match with Tamawashi day 6. Takayasu has a lot more heft, but his recent preference for highly mobile matches leaves him open for Ichinojo to toss him on his head.
Goeido vs Takakeisho – I am absolutely certain that Takakeisho paid close attention to Yoshikaze’s rapid takedown of Goeido day 6, and will be looking to repeat that attack. Goeido has a bit of a challenge due to Takakeisho low, round form. If this devolves into an oshi match, I am giving a slight advantage to Takakeisho.
Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – THE match, the match that could define this basho. Kakuryu will want to go chest to chest, the fans will want him to go chest to chest, Tochinoshin is daring him to go chest to chest. So I am going to call it now, Hatakikomi or Hikkake. If Big K lets him get a double arm grip on his mawashi, it’s probably going to result in our one remaining Yokozuna re-injuring his back.