For your viewing pleasure, the video edition of the podcast. Josh and Bruce discuss the 2019 Hatsu Basho.
As we close out act 2, we have a very clear picture of the yusho race. In a nut shell, it’s Hakuho’s to lose. The dai-Yokozuna is a brutally skilled competitor, and after a couple of shaky matches to start the basho, he is dispatching all opponents with flair and style. For any other rikishi to have even a chance of contending for the cup, Hakuho would need to lose 2 matches. Short of injury over the next 6 days, that would be unlikely.
The only chaser is a resurgent Chiyonokuni, who while performing well, would likely prove no real challenge for Hakuho. Though a match between Hakuho and Yago would be interesting.
But the more interesting story might be Takakeisho’s bid to become Ozeki. After his 13 wins to take the Kyushu yusho, his magic number to reach 33 is 11 during the Hatsu basho. Headed into day 10. he is 7-2, and needs 4 wins over the next 6 days. But he has Takayasu and Hakuho to face. He last faced Hakuho at Aki, for a loss. After their initial match during Nagoya 2017, each subsequent bout has seen Takakeisho coming closer to presenting a worthy challenge. We expect the Takakeisho / Hakuho to be one of the highlights of act 3, and may happen as soon as day 11.
Hunt Group: Takakeisho, Tamawashi, Kaisei, Yago
6 Matches Remain
The kadoban watch continues on day 9, where we find both Ozeki continuing to struggle with injuries, and finding the mathematics of the remaining 6 days crushing their hopes against reality. Meanwhile there are fewer routes where the undfeated Hakuho might drop enough matches (short of injury) to allow anyone to even challenge him for the yusho.
Many other rikishi who had surprised early in the basho have reverted to form, and in some cases it’s disappointing for fans. At the end of the day, for most rikishi, the goal is 8 wins and a kachi-koshi. Some have lost the blazing momentum of their act 1 starts (Aoiyama, Nishikigi, Hokutofuji) while others seem to have finally awoken their sumo (Asanoyama, Chiyotairyu) and somehow Ikioi keeps fighting in spite of all of the battle damage.
Takanosho defeats Daiamami – Takanosho visits from Juryo and delivers top-vision sumo against a flagging Daiamami. Daiamami is one loss away from make-koshi and a return to Juryo. Takanosho was kyujo for a couple of days, and is on the bubble himself.
Kotoeko defeats Yutakayama – Yutakayama’s bulk and stability saw him dominating the opening moments of the match, Kotoeko’s superior agility and maneuverability let him set up a partial throw / tsukiotoshi that won the match. Yutakayama, once the start of the “Freshmen” bounced hard off of the joi-jin and has been struggling to recover ever since.
Chiyonokuni defeats Meisei – Significantly under-ranked, Chiyonokuni picks up another win, and is 1 behind Hakuho. Be aware, Chiyonokuni is no real threat to Hakuho at this time in terms of speed and power, and his position in 2nd place is a function of match and his position too low on the banzuke.
Kagayaki defeats Chiyoshoma – After spending most of the first half of the basho all over the map, administering head woulds to everyone, Kagayaki goes back to fundamentals and wins. But as Kagayaki has 7 losses already, a make-koshi is likely for him.
Ikioi defeats Yago – Ikioi continues to remind us of Monty Python’s Black Knight, who continues to fight no matter what injury he suffers. Yago showed excellent form, but Ikioi produced a surge of strength that overpowered Yago for the win.
Sadanoumi defeats Daishomaru – Daishomaru continues winless after Sadanoumi’s superior experience and ring sense carries the day.
Abi defeats Kotoyuki – The shine is off of Abi-zumo, but it worked against Kotoyuki today. Can Abi end his string of make-koshi tournaments since last March? Kotoyuki attempted a slap-down that almost worked, but Kotoyuki ran out of ring before Abi landed face first on the clay.
Takarafuji defeats Daieisho – Takarafuji is the embodiment of “slow and steady wins the race”. Maegashira 10 is an easy rank for him, and he has little trouble with Daieisho, working him over a piece at a time until he pushes him out from the side / behind.
Ryuden defeats Kaisei – Some surprising sumo from Ryuden, he manages to block Kaisei from putting his right hand to work, and uses his body to keep Kaisei high. Without a solid grip, Kaisei was unable to generate much forward pressure, and Ryuden kept moving forward.
Endo defeats Onosho – Have no fear, Onosho fans. As much as you want to think that Onosho is fully genki and ready to battle the top men of sumo, he’s still recovering a bit from surgery. Going into Hatsu, we said that Maegashira 6 was a great rank for him, and would allow him to tune up a bit more before his predicted run at the San’yaku later this year. His goal is kachi-koshi plus an extra white star or two, and he seems to be on track for that. Meanwhile, Endo is clearly in his “good” phase, and is fighting well.
Chiyotairyu defeats Asanoyama – Chiyotairyu henkas a win, much to the dismay of many, but most specifically Asanoyama. All of the Freshmen have been struggling since Nagoya, when the heat seems to have baked the fighting spirit right out of them.
Yoshikaze defeats Shohozan – Yoshikaze found some energy somewhere in the back of a closet at home, and showed a brief flash of the drive and vigor that has made him a legend. Yoshikaze staves off a likely make-koshi for another day.
Shodai defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama’s loss to Chiyotairyu has put him on a losing streak, which now extends into a 3rd day. After a strong start, his sumo has lost its edge, and his mobility is down from the first week. Shodai exploits this well and pulls a win out of what should have been Aoiyama’s match after Shodai’s traditionally poor tachiai.
Tochiozan defeats Hokutofuji – A number of rikishi have figured out that Hokutofuji’s “handshake tachiai” leave him quite far forward, and that can be exploited to slap or thrust him down in the first moments of the bout. I think Hokutofuji’s opening gambit is useful, but needs some variations and refinement.
Myogiryu defeats Ichinojo – Gone is the fierce Ichinojo of the Act 1, and we have reverted to the hesitant, contemplative Ichinojo from Kyushu. To be fair, Myogiryu tends to be trouble for Ichinojo, but for fans of the big Mongolian, this kind of sumo from his is frustrating.
Takakeisho defeats Nishikigi – Takakeisho’s sights are fixed on double digits, and Nishikigi’s act 1 magic is nowhere to be found today. Solid “Wave Action” work from the Ozeki aspirant. Nishikigi still has a solid chance at kachi-koshi at Maegashira 2.
Tamawashi defeats Takayasu – Regardless of rank, these former Sekiwake rivals are an even match. Add to that Takayasu’s health questions, and it was advantage Tamawashi. Of concerns were signs of pain from the Ozeki following the match, when it seems his right knee may have been bothering him. Takayasu is dangerously close to make-koshi and joining the kadoban corps.
Okinoumi defeats Goeido – If you want an honest indication of how banged up Goeido is, watch Okinoumi man-handle him like a Sandanme debutant. I am predicting that Goeido will join Ozeki Tochinoshin in the kadoban corps in Osaka, where his home town fans will likely carry him to victory.
Hakuho defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku gave it his best shot, but there was no chance that the former Ozeki was going to best Hakuho today. In spite of his shaky start, Hakuho is on his sumo, and there are very few upper ranked rikishi (see the Ozeki corps) who are genki enough to give him much of a challenge. But everyone waits to for his much anticipated match with Takakeisho coming up in Act 3.
With the first eight days of the January tournament in the books, here are the storylines we’ll be following as the concluding week unfolds.
The Yusho Race
Yokozuna Hakuho (8-0) leads by one in his quest for a record-extending 42nd yusho. He is chased by a trio of lower-ranked rikishi with 7-1 records: M8 Kaisei, M13 Yago, and M15 Chiyonokuni. Still in the hunt at 6-2 are the two Sekiwake, Takakeisho and Tamawashi, as well as M6 Onosho and M12 Meisei. Hakuho’s opponent tomorrow is M4 Kotoshogiku, aganist whom he is 55-5 on the dohyo. Barring further withdrawals, the Yokozuna’s remaining opponents should include the two remaining Ozeki, the two Sekiwake, and two maegashira—probably Okinoumi and either Chiyotairyu, Onosho, or Kaisei, depending on their performances in the next couple of days.
How many of the Ozeki will be able to reach the eight wins required to not have their rank on the line in March? With today’s absence, Tochinoshin is mathematically unable to do so, and will need to accumulate eight wins in Osaka. After today’s losses, Takayasu will need to go at least 4-3 the rest of the way, while Goeido needs a 5-2 finish. Given their current form, this will be touch-and-go, even with the depleted field. A key bout tomorrow is Takayasu vs. Tamawashi. The two have met often, and their career series is nearly even at 11-10 in favor of the Ozeki, who reversed Tamawashi’s earlier edge by winning all five of their meetings last year.
Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run
The shin-Sekiwake picked up right where he left off in Kyushu, dropping only two bouts (to Mitakeumi and Tochiozan) on his way to a 6-2 record. With 11 wins likely needed for promotion, he needs a finish of 5-2 or better, which probably means running the table against his remaining maegashira opponents and picking up at least one victory against the three remaining Ozeki and Yokozuna. The quest continues tomorrow against M2 Nishikigi (4-4), who gave the Sekiwake a scare on senshuraku in what ended up being his yusho-clinching victory in Kyushu.
Takakeisho is enjoying a strong basho in his debut as Sekiwake, while Tamawashi looks set to defend the rank he seemed to own for a while before a five-basho hiatus. Mitakeumi’s unfortunate injury makes it unlikely that he’ll stay Komusubi (he’d need to return and pick up three victories against a tough slate of opponents), and Myogiryu (3-5) needs a near-perfect finish to make his return to sanyaku last more than a single tournament. It’s thus likely that either two or three slots in the named ranks will open up, depending on whether or not Takakeisho moves up. There is a lot of competition for these slots, and too many bouts are left to forecast how it will play out, but currently M1 Ichinojo (5-3) and M2 Hokutofuji (5-3) have a lead on the rest of the pack.
Normally, the number of demotions from the top division has to match the number of promotions from Juryo. However, we have the unusual situation of two retirements (Takanoiwa and Kisenosato) opening up two extra slots in Makuuchi, so there will be two more promotions than demotions. The only near-certainty right now is that M16 Daishomaru (0-8) will be going down to Juryo after a three-year run in the top division. Fellow M16 and heya-mate Daiamami (2-6) looks most likely to join him; among the other maegashira, M12 Kagayaki (1-7), M14 Chiyoshoma (3-5), and M15 Kotoeko (4-4) have the most work left to do.
Who is likely to take their places? J1 Terutsuyoshi (6-2) leads the promotion race by a sizable margin, and needs two more victories to clinch a top-division debut. Fellow M1 Daishoho (4-4) should join him if he can finish with a winning record. At the moment, J3 Ishiura (5-3) and J6 Chiyomaru (6-2) are in the best position to benefit from the extra openings in Makuuchi. Also in contention is J5 Toyonoshima (5-3), with undefeated Shimanoumi making a push from all the way down at J11. The veteran Toyonoshima has been in sumo since 2002, rising as high as Sekiwake, a rank he last held in March of 2016 before injuries dropped him into Makushita. Shimanoumi, about whom I didn’t know much until now, entered sumo in 2012, rapidly rising all the way to Makushita 4 (and picking up a Sandanme yusho along the way) before sitting out five basho and dropping all the way back to the lowest Jonokuchi division. Upon his return, he made quick work of Jonokuchi and Jonidan, with two 7-0 basho and two yusho, and then spent three years fighting through the Makushita wall, followed by five unremarkable tournaments in Juryo. Shimanoumi seems to be having a breakthrough basho, and perhaps someone who follows the lower divisions more closely than I do call tell us more about him, and what’s been different in this tournament.
After day 8’s cornucopia of lower division action, day 9 is a leaner beast, with a handful of matches, many with great interest. Wakaichiro battles in the elite group of undefeated Jonidan rikishi, and Wakamotoharu visits Juryo to measure for his hoped-for sekitori promotion in March.
Wakaichiro vs Hokutoo – With his kachi-koshi already secure, Wakaichiro enters an elite group of 13 rikishi with 4-0 records to sort out who gets a shot at the Jonidan yusho. First stop is 26 year sumo veteran Hokutoo from Hakkaku heya. They met once before in September, with Wakaichiro beating him.
Kenho vs Yoshimura – Kenho is winless, and looking to be in poor physical form. With an 0-4 start, the question is how far down the banzuke he will drop for Osaka. His opponent, the much smaller Yoshimura, is suffering through an 0-4 record as well. This may be a chance for Kenho to pick up a much needed win.
Torakio vs Dewaazuma – The Naruto heya rikishi starts day 9 with a 2-2 record. He has fought Dewaazuma twice before, with them splitting the series 1-1. By all counts, this is an even match, and may make for some good sumo.
Musashikuni vs Chiyoarashi – Musashikuni is 1-3, but battled through his physical difficulties for a much need win on day 8. His day 9 match is against Kokonoe heya’s Chiyoarashi, who won their only prior match. Chiyoarashi is a former Juryo man, who was injured in 2013, and has thus far not returned to higher rank.
Midorifuji vs Kitaharima – A 2-2 bracket match features Midorifuji’s second bout with former Maegashira 15 Kitaharima. Midorifuji took their prior match at Kyushu 2018.
Wakamotoharu vs Takekaze – With a 4-0 score in the top ranks of Makushita, Wakamotoharu has a solid chance of getting promoted to Juryo for Osaka, and joining his brother Wakatakakage. But day 9 he faces the ur-veteran Takekaze to test his mettle.