Hatsu Storylines for Senshuraku

Today’s post includes two new storylines to follow on the final day.

Who will lift the Emperor’s Cup?

It will be a maegashira yusho for only the 20th time in the 6-basho era (372 tournaments). If Shodai (12-2) can prevail over Mitakeumi and Tokushoryu (13-1) loses to Ozeki Takakeisho (his first upper-rank opponent), we will have a playoff between the two; any other outcome, and we will have a two-way tie for the lowest-ranked yusho winner in sumo history.

Who will fill the Sekiwake and Komusubi ranks at Haru?

The two regular Sekiwake slots will be occupied by Asanoyama and Goeido, while both Komusubi slots are open. Hokutofuji (11-3) and Shodai (12-2) have the strongest promotion claims, and Endo (8-6) can probably cement his by defeating Shohozan tomorrow. Will an extra san’yaku slot be created, or will someone be extremely unlucky?

Who will be awarded special prizes?

There are three special prizes (san-sho) that can be given to rikishi who’ve distinguished themselves during the basho. These are the outstanding performance prize (shukun-sho), the technique prize (gino-sho), and the fighting spirit prize (kanto-sho). Multiple rikishi can receive each of the prizes, and a prize is not awarded if there’s no worthy candidate. Only those ranked below Ozeki are eligible.

Here are some guesses as to the wrestlers the prize committee will discuss a few hours from now. The yusho winner should receive the shukun-sho, and may get a second prize. If Shodai wins, it’s possible that both he and Tokushoryu would get a shukun-sho. Each of them should get at least one of the prizes in any case. Hokutofuji seems like a strong candidate for a gino-sho or a kanto-sho. Kiribayama should get a kanto-sho, as is traditional for a Makuuchi newcomer who records double-digit victories. I am not sure if anyone else (Ryuden? Yutakayama?) will be deemed to have posted a sufficiently distinguished performance, although Enho’s name has come up in the context of the technique prize, which he won once before.

Who’ll prevail in the Darwin bouts?

Eight rikishi have 7-7 records going into the final day, when their kachi/make-koshi fate will be decided. As noted above, two (Mitakeumi and Shohozan) fight other men with a lot at stake (Shodai and Endo, respectively). The other six have been paired up, so that only one can achieve the goal of every sumotori, more wins than losses. We have Chiyotairyu vs. Kaisei, Takanosho vs. Ikioi, and Okinoumi vs. Azumaryu. All six should be safely in the top division in Osaka, and none are up for san’yaku promotion, so these battles are for pride and placement within the rank-and file. Especially for those near the bottom of the banzuke (Kaisei, Ikioi, and Azumaryu), a victory would buy a much needed safety margin for the Haru basho, while a loss would leave them teetering even more precariously on the edge of the second division.

Who could be fighting in Juryo in March?

Everyone who needed a win today got one, so we don’t have any obvious demotion candidates beyond Kotoeko (2-12), Kotoyuki (0-0-14), and Meisei (1-7-6). Basho with only one exchange between Makuuchi and Juryo are rare, but they do happen (as do ones with no exchanges); the last one was in 1999.

At the moment, the only solid promotion candidate is J4 Nishikigi (10-4). He’ll be joined by the winner of tomorrow’s bout between the man he handed the first defeat to today, J13 Terunofuji (13-1), and J6 Daiamami (10-4), while the loser of that bout will in all likelihood stay in Juryo. The J5 duo of Wakatakakage and Daishoho (both 9-5) can add their names to what would be a crowded promotion queue with final-bout victories.

Hatsu Day 15 Preview

Thus we come to the end of Hatsu, what a change from 3 years ago this basho has been. At that time, we were watching Kisenosato win his first yusho, he was just days away from being elevated to Yokozuna, creating a rare situation where 4 Yokozuna existed at the same time. Sadly we were not to see that anticipated thrill of a full-throttle battle of grand champions due to injury, poor luck, and poor decisions.

Fast forward to 2020, we have a most unusual outcome before us. The man at the bottom of the Makkuchi banzuke, Tokushoryu, is alone atop the leader board. Should he lose to Takakeisho today, he may have to face off against Shodai, should Shodai win, to decide the yusho. A Tokushoryu win would give him the cup outright, a situation unparalleled in modern history, when a rikishi ranked that far down the banzuke was handed the Emperor’s Cup. But the cast of rank and file yusho winners has been growing since we entered the transitional period, and it won’t really change much until such time as the new champions can consolidate their sumo. With only one functioning Ozeki (and no function Yokozuna) this basho, there was now apex competitors to grind the lower ranked rikishi down.

We look forward to congratulating either Tokushoryu or Shodai at the end of the day. Both have done a tremendous job of keeping up the intensity this January.

Of course day 15 would not be the same without what we call “Darwin Matches”. These are two 7-7 rikishi facing off. The winner is kachi-koshi, the loser make-koshi. Only the fittest survive. Some folks find it brutal, but to them I would say that sumo is a brutal sport. Its two mostly naked men fighting each other in ritual combat. A reflection of nature’s dictum that there are contests where only one may survive is completely fitting given the Japanese culture’s reverence of the natural world.

What We Are Watching Day 15

Kotoshogiku vs Tochiozan – Grizzled veterans with 40 matches over their 13 year history of crashing into each other face off. Both have already secured their kachi/make koshi status, so this is just for “old time’s sake”.

Kiribayama vs Chiyomaru – This is really about seeing if Kiribayama can get to 11 wins, and what kind of special prize he might earn if any.

Tsurugisho vs Terutsuyoshi – In all likelihood (according to Tachiai’s ace prognosticator lksumo), Tsurugisho’s day 14 win may have secured his spot in the top division. So given that Terutsuyoshi is already kachi-koshi, this match is to see if a knee-less Tsurugisho has any sort of sumo to offer against whatever Terutsuyoshi has ready to go for the final day.

Chiyotairyu vs Kaisei – Darwin match #1. Kaisei holds a 11-4 career advantage over sumo’s thunder spirit. So he clearly comes in with a mental advantage. Chiyotairyu seems to have bounced back from the “arm breaker” kotenage on day 9, so he may be able to muster better offense that I might expect. But in reality, there is just a huge amount of kaisei to defeat in any battle.

Sadanoumi vs Kotoeko – I can’t wait to find out, post basho, what kind of injury Kotoeko has been nursing this January. He has been absolutely abysmal. But he is probably the captain of the slow barge to Juryo,

Takanosho vs Ikioi – Darwin match #2. Ikioi has managed to rally after a dismal 2-6 start to Hasu. Now he has to overcome a young and genki Takanosho in a battle of the 7-7 rikishi. Their 3 prior matches favor Takanosho 2-1.

Takarafuji vs Shimanoumi – Both are already make-koshi, and I would expect with how well Takarafuji has been fighting that he will dispatch Shimanoumi after playing with him for a while. As Inigo Montoya would say, “I am going to fight him left handed…”

Kagayaki vs Enho – I am going to assume that Kagayaki knows to make sure Enho cannot grab any stray body parts, and use them to tug him around like some wooden toy. While I rave about Kagayaki’s fundamentals based sumo, most of it is geared to fighting opponents that are close to his own size. The entire routine seems to have a significant gap with power pixie sumo.

Okinoumi vs Azumaryu – Darwin match #3. I would give advantage to Okinoumi, except that he has faded quite significantly in the second week. Both men are likely low on stamina. Both are veterans, both are likely “getting too old for this crap”. But that’s why you don’t want to end up 7-7 going into senshuraku, gents.

Tamawashi vs Ishiura – Both are make-koshi, with Tamawashi’s loss record in double digits. Still they had to fight someone…

Shodai vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi does not get a Darwin match, in spite of his 7-7 record, simply because they ran out of 7-7 candidates to match him against (he had already fought Shohozan). Instead they give him ultra-genki Shodai, who has ALWAYS been restrained by his mental processes. Has his confidence been shattered by his day 14 loss to Tokushoryu? I do hope not, and if he comes in genki and ready to fight, it might mark the most important development of his Makuuchi career. As a member of Team Kakuryu, I am going to guess the Yokozuna has been instrumental in keeping him focused in spite of Kakuryu’s kyujo status. They are tied 9-9 over their career.

Hokutofuji vs Yutakayama – The match you really wanted to see, but did not know you wanted to see until they posted it. Am I right? So I am guessing there is some manner of shansho (special prize) on the line for the winner of this match, and I expect them to tear into each other with reckless levels of violence.

Tochinoshin vs Myogiryu – Another pair that screams “We are getting too old for this kind of thing”. These veterans are injured and having a terrible basho. A Tochinoshin loss would secure a double-digit make-koshi.

Endo vs Shohozan – I will come out and say it. Endo is kachi-koshi, and Shohozan deserves a pride obliterating matanage (see Goeido vs Harumafuji). But I think that we may see a Shohozan cheap early hit via a matta, followed by Endo fumbling for grip and getting his pretty face smashed in. Not a fun day at the Kokugikan.

Abi vs Daieisho – This match will probably determine some factor in the upcoming demotion discussions. I am sad to see Abi vacate his Komusubi slot, but I assume that he will regroup, heal up and be back better than ever. Perhaps this injury will herald the moment when Abi finally starts employing Abi-Zumo 2.0, which we know exists, and we have seen him use on rare occasions.

Aoiyama vs Takayasu – Another make-koshi battle. Big Dan is at 10 losses, and he has a chance to send Takayasu to a matching score. I count on Big Dan taking square aim at Takayasu’s sore left elbow.

Asanoyama vs Ryuden – Raise your hand if you want to see Asanoyama complete dominate Ryuden and leaver him in a pretzel shape that requires two shimpan and a score of yobidashi to correct. A 10 win outcome for Asanoyama would be good for those that hope he may make Ozeki one day, but I would point out that most Ozeki hopefuls fail in their first bid.

Onosho vs Goeido – Well now, look who is up fighting an Ozek! Its none other than future joi-jin tadpole Onosho. Granted, this is Goeido’s last Ozeki fight possibly forever, but it will be a very good match for Onosho to experience. I am curious if Goeido will play to conserve what is left of his ankle, or will just open up the throttle and try to blast Onosho off the dohyo.

Takakeisho vs Tokushoryu – How do you know you are in an odd period of sumo? When the final match of the final day features your one surviving member of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps against the very last man on the banzuke. Oh, and chances are better than 50/50 that he leaves the Kokugikan with the yusho banner.

Hatsu Day 14 Highlights

Last Man On The Banzuke -> Unstoppable Force. An amazing sumo Cinderella story.

3 Darwin matches on Senshuraku.

1 Emperor in attendance.

Highlight Matches

Azumaryu defeats Kaisei – I am kind of surprised that Kaisei lost this mawashi battle, but he falls to 7-7 and will face a Darwin match on day 15.

Tochiozan defeats Terutsuyoshi – An immediate slap-down as Tochiozan catches Terutsuyoshi too far forward.

Ikioi defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru gets the early advantage with a powerful attack against Ikioi’s neck at the tachiai. But Ikioi rallies and advances with strength to shove Chiyomaru into make-koshi, while nominating Ikioi for a Darwin match on Sunday.

Chiyotairyu defeats Shimanoumi – Sumo’s resident thunder spirit delivers a sharp, strong tachiai. Shimanoumi had no chance against this sort of opening gambit, and accepts his make-koshi for Hatsu. Chiyotairyu goes on to face a Darwin match tomorrow.

Tsurugisho defeats Sadanoumi – The injured Tsurugisho is somehow steeling himself daily in an effort to continue to fight. Today he managed to get morozashi against Sadanoumi and muscle him out before that knee once again gave way and sent him to the clay. Sadanoumi is now, dissapointingly, make-koshi in spite of some brilliant matches this tournament.

Kotoshogiku defeats Ishiura – Career win #700 for the Kyushu bulldozer, and if lksumo’s math is correct (it nearly always is), he had enough wins to remain in the top division for Osaka. Ishiura came in a bit too low, and found it tough to generate forward pressure against Kotoshogiku, who quickly realized his advantage and was on the march.

Kiribayama defeats Aoiyama – Kiribayama racks up win #10 in his debut top-division basho, sending “Big Dan” Aoiyama to double digit losses. Aoiyama has struggled this January, and I think it’s probably due to an undisclosed injury. We hope he heals up and returns genki in March. This fresh crop of rikishi wont bludgeon themselves to defeat, after all.

Takanosho defeats Okinoumi – Well, now both of them are 7-7, and face Darwin matches on day 15. Okinoumi opens strongly, but his repeated attempts to grab Takanosho’s head and pull him down threw the match away.

Tokushoryu defeats Shodai – Wow, what a match! Shodai starting with a weak tachiai? Check! Tokushoryu going chest to chest? Check! Shodai using his superior size and strength to seize control of the match, you bet! Tokushoryu once again defying imagination by performing ballet moves at the edge that should not be possible for a man of his size and somewhat comical body shape? Oh yes. Tokushoryu is now the sole leader of the yusho race.

Tamawashi defeats Kotoeko – Both of these men are having a terrible basho. Kotoeko could not even muster a reasonable defense, and just found the nearest exit point. Both of them need to heal up and return ready to fight in March.

Hokutofuji defeats Kagayaki – I really like that Kagayaki was able to get a half step ahead at the tachiai, he seems to be working on improving his speed. But his hips were high. Hokutofuji, in spite of superior body position at the tachiai, could not repel Kagayaki’s opening attack, and had to circle away. It was at this point where Kagayaki’s body position got a bit cattywompus, and Hokutofuji switched to attack mode. I am actually more impressed with Hokutofuji’s sumo instincts once again reacting at a speed almost too fast for video to catch to his opponents mistake.

Ryuden defeats Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi drops to 7-7, and would have been given a Darwin match, save that there were an odd number of Darwin candidates for the torikumi. The one time future Ozeki’s body has really had a tough year, starting with the partial kyujo for a knee injury last January that I am quite sure is still hampering his performance. Ryuden is now at 10 wins, good stuff, shin-Ikioi!

Yutakayama defeats Endo – Endo wastes precious moments at the tachiai working for his preferred left hand frontal grip, just to find Yutakayama blasting away at his upper body. By the time Endo response to Yutakayama’s oshi-attacks, Endo is being dismantled a piece at a time. A quick Endo rally transitions into another attempt at a belt grip, and another punishing volley from Yutakayama. Even gymnastics at the edge of the ring could not save Endo today, as Yutakayama completely dominates him. With 10 wins, I am expecting Yutakayama to return to the joi-jin and be a force in Osaka.

Onosho defeats Myogiryu – Onosho takes 8 of his last 10 matches, and like he did at Aki, he rallied from a terrible start to a kachi-koshi. I nominate him as the official kami of ring-rust now. I am guessing he too will join the joi-jin for Osaka. Don’t screw it up this time, Onosho!

Takarafuji defeats Abi – Points to Abi for getting this far at Hatsu given the problems he had pre-basho. It shows a lot of guts and toughness to fight for 14 days with that damaged knee. Mistake 1 was that your sumo depends on double arm thrusts against your opponents neck, which Takarafuji donated years ago in the relief effort for the great Tohoku quake. But Takarafuji’s “defend and extend” strategy found you too far forward with one of those incredibly long arms carelessly adrift (mistake 2). To him it looked like a natural handle, and he pulled it.

Daieisho defeats Enho – Enho’s submarine tachiai blew up today, and he was never able to offer much resistance to Daieisho’s attacks. Thankfully he is already kachi-koshi, so we will see more of him fighting the top rikishi in sumo in March.

Takayasu defeats Tochinoshin – Takayasu went left hand outside at the tachiai and rapidly pivoted to his left. This forced Tochinoshin to rotate rapidly on his damaged right knee, and the expected result was obtained. I have no sympathy here, as Takayasu has had every last chonmage wearing so-and-so taking their sumo frustrations out on that sore left elbow every day for the past 2 weeks. Hey, injured giants! If you step on the dohyo, it’s going to hurt.

Asanoyama defeats Takakeisho – I will make no secret that I really was hoping that Takakeisho would take this one and force a complex final day yusho puzzle. But instead Asanoyama was able to get past the thrusting attack and get a hand hold. I was quite impressed that not only did Takakeisho return the gambit, but nearly made him pay for it. The Grand Tadpole still has improvements to make, but this new yotsu attack gambit is most interesting. I think with a win tomorrow, Ozeki talk for Asanoyama might be back in fashion.

Shohozan defeats Goeido – The Shohozan matta trick is really stale, and smells like the interior of an izakaya at 2:00 AM. Watch the match in slow motion, you can see that Shohozan makes sure Goeido’s weight, and a good amount of torque is on that damages left ankle. Yeah, he should not be testing it like that, but Goeido made the decision to fight even though its probably not taking the strain well any more.

Emperor Naruhito to Attend Day 14

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The new Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, whose enthronement ushered in the Reiwa Era, will make his first official appearance at the Ryogoku Kokugikan on Day 14. Based on previous visits to the Kokugikan by his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, we can expect Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako to arrive at the mid-point of the Makuuchi Division to what I anticipate will be great fanfare. The attendance of the Emperor and Empress will certainly make what was already an exciting day of sumo that much better.