Haru Day 15 Preview

Once More…

It’s been a big crazy ride! Haru has been 14 days of the legends of sumo stomping with force through the rank and file, taking white starts wherever they go. Not a single kinboshi this tournament, let that sink in. Now that we are down to 2 Yokozuna, and they are both in fairly good health, the chances of a gold star are down. Looking at Kakuryu, there is a chance that his ankle is not quite right again, but with just one day left to go, I don’t think we will see him go kyujo.

The battle of day is, with no doubt, Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin. The landscape of the final day of the basho has been set up expertly by lksumo, as is his custom, but I wanted to examine this match. Tochinoshin is a mawashi rikishi, and he likes to use “lift and shift” sumo to remove his opponents bodily from the dohyo. When he is in good health, he can and does do it to anyone, including Ichinojo. Frequently this is accompanied by his opponent pedaling their legs furiously as the are lifted to height and carried to the janome like a crate of green bottles on Wednesday in Sumida. If Tochinoshin can get a hold of you, there is simply no way to stop it. It has even worked on Hakuho.

Takakeisho is a finely honed oshi-fighter, with the focus being primarily on thrusting / pushing attack and less on slapping his opponents around. He has perfected what we sometimes call a “wave action” attack, which features both arms working in tandem or near tandem to apply overwhelming force to his opponents body. This works best when he can get inside, and he can focus on center-mass. The day 14 match broke down when, for reasons we can’t explain, Takakeisho targeted Ichinojo’s neck, with absolutely zero effect. This double arm push is repeated in rapid succession, like a series of waves breaking against his opponent’s body. The result is that his opponents must constantly react and fight for stance and balance, all the while Takakeisho is moving them rapidly to the tawara.

The fight will hinge on if Takakeisho can move fast enough at the tachiai to land his first push before Tochinoshin can get a hand on Takakeisho’s mawashi. If Tochinoshin can grab a hold of this tadpole, it’s likely to Takakeisho’s doom. Tochinoshin’s sumo typically relies on him being able to set his feet and brace his shoulders and hips for his “sky crane” lift; this means if Takakeisho is landing wave after wave of heavy force thrusts against him, he won’t have a chance to use his lethal move.

A real clash of sumo styles and approaches, and on the line is who gets that 3rd Ozeki slot. The stakes could not be higher, and the rikishi nearly opposites.

What We Are Watching Day 15

Shohozan vs Chiyoshoma – The bottom man on the banzuke needs one more win to hold on to Makuuchi. Shohozan has lost 4 of the last 5, and seems out of gas. Should Chiyoshoma lose, he will join the platoon of rikishi that are eligible for return to Juryo.

Ryuden vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku has had a great tournament, and this is his highest score since his January 2016 yusho (14-1), but it seems to me he has run out of stamina, and he may be picked off by Ryuden on day 15. Many fans, myself included, are a bit let down that the schedulers did not put Kotoshogiku against Toyonoshima for their final match. Some of these guys need to take nostalgia into account.

Asanoyama vs Kotoeko – Asanoyama has been fighting for that 8th win for the last 4 days, and his chances are good on day 15, as he holds a 4-0 career advantage over Kotoeko.

Ishiura vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji is also in the 7-7 category, and will need to keep Ishiura in front of him to pick up #8. Ishiura may as well henka this one, in my opinion. But do make it acrobatic!

Kagayaki vs Abi – Abi, old bean, I worry you won’t diversify unless you lose more matches. Won’t you give something else a try? Your double arm attack is solid, but is that all you can do? You have so much talent. Ok, go ahead and win day 15, and while you are at it, give Kagayaki some reason to look a bit more excited. The poor fellow looks a bit like the walking dead some days. Thanks, signed: your fans.

Okinoumi vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze at 10 wins, Okinoumi at 7 wins… Yeah, I think Okinoumi gets this one.

Chiyotairyu vs Myogiryu – Although Chiyotairyu needs a win to get to 8, I am going say that Myogiryu has an advantage here due to his shorter stature, and his strength. Chiyotairyu can and does hit like a wrecking ball, but he loses stamina in a hurry.

Daieisho vs Ichinojo – “Hulk Smash!”

Tochinoshin vs Takakeisho – The big match, in my book. It may only last seconds, but it’s going to leave someone out in the cold.

Takayasu vs Goeido – Both Ozeki have 10 wins or better, so I see this as a “test match” of Takayasu’s tuned up sumo style. Goeido is going to blast in fast with everything he has. In the past that is sometimes enough to actually bowl the burly Takayasu over. But Takayasu has changed his “contact” stance a bit at the tachiai, and I think we may see this shift into a battle for grip in the first 4 seconds. If Takayasu can stalemate Goeido to the point his frustration leads Goeido into an attempt to pull, he will have his opening to strike.

Hakuho vs Kakuryu – The Boss goes up against Big K for the final match. Should Hakuho go down for some reason and Ichinojo prevail, we will get one more tasty sumo morsel before the long break leading up to Natsu. Wise money is on Hakuho to contain, constrain and then maintain his perfect record. But it will be fun to watch.

Haru Day 15 Ones To Watch

Wakatakamoto – Visiting Sick Children In The Hospital

With most of the lower division yusho already decided, there are only a few matches left to finish out everybody’s 7. For our “Ones to Watch” it has been a tough basho. Last night Wakaichiro went down to his 4th defeat, from a forceful hatakikomi delivered by Hokutoshin. This was his 4th loss, and holding a losing record, he is likely to find himself in the top ranks of Jonidan for May.

Further up the torikumi, Hoshoryu gamberized and prevailed against Kaisho for his 4th win. At Makushita 7, he will likely be close to or at the top of the 3rd division for May, with a very real shot of making it to Juryo for Nagoya. He should be sharing that space with Ichiyamamoto, who went 6-1 from Makushita 13, and will have a spot near the top of the division too. I am already eagerly anticipating them facing off during Natsu. Although Naya also finished 6-1, his starting point at Makushita 51 will see him in the top half of the division, and facing much more determined opposition.

That being said, a few of our favorites are up day 15…

Terunofuji vs Roga – Both of these rikishi finished their Jonidan matches with perfect 7-0 records, and now they will meet to decide the yusho. This is a battle between an injured and diminished Ozeki who can still generate enormous power for the briefest of moments, against a future powerhouse rikishi who has completely dominated almost every time he steps on the dohyo. It’s quite literally the past vs the future.

Wakatakamoto vs Bushozan – The last Onami brother to make sekitori has already secured a kachi-koshi, and will be joining what is likely to be a brutally competitive Makushita joi-jin for May. This final match will determine which of these two rikishi will get a higher rank. Bushozan is another “big’un”, and will have mass on his side.

Musashikuni vs Kotodairyu – Much of the Musashigawa clan is make-koshi this tournament. Among that ignoble group is Musashikuni, who enters today’s match 4-2. The good news is that he has beaten Kotodairyu before. The bad news is was 3 years ago when both were in Sandanme.

Kenho vs Takabayama – This is a 1-5 bracket match, and both rikishi are having a terrible basho. Kenho seems to continue to have health issues, and problems with his lower body’s durability. He will be lower in Jonidan for May, and hopefully will regroup.

Amakaze vs Umizaru – Both of these rikishi are 5-1, and I would expect the winner of today’s final match to be posted close to, or in Sandanme for May. It’s great to see Amakaze back on the dohyo, and I am happy that he has his kachi-koshi secure.

Haru Storylines, Day 14

A special expanded edition of the “storylines” series today, going into senshuraku.

The Yusho Race

Yokozuna Hakuho (14-0) stands one victory away from his 42nd championship, and 15th zensho yusho. Tomorrow, he faces fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu (10-4), whom he’s bested in 42 of 49 prior encounters, in the traditional closing match of the tournament. By then, he’ll know if his sole pursuer, M4 Ichinojo (13-1), has matched him at 14 wins. Ichinojo gets the highest-ranked available opponent who had a winning record going into Day 14, M2 Daieisho (7-7). Ichinojo lost their first bout 3 years ago, but prevailed in the next 3.

The Ozeki Playoff

A few days ago, it seemed rather unlikely that the senshuraku match between Ozeki Tochinoshin (7-7) and Sekiwake Takakeisho (9-5) would be a de facto “exchange bout,” but all the stars aligned so that this is indeed the case. For Tochinoshin, a win secures his rank, while a loss will see him at “Ozekiwake” in May, needing 10 wins to immediately reascend to Ozeki. For Takakeisho, a win means likely if not certain promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank, while a loss at the very least delays it till May, and it would probably take a near-yusho-winning performance at Natsu to pull it off. Takakeisho has dominated their matchup 5-1, with his only loss coming during Tochinoshin’s yusho-winning campaign in January 2018.

The San’yaku Ranks

It looks like three slots will be open, with West Sekiwake Tamawashi (5-9), East Komusubi Mitakeumi (6-8), and West Komusubi Hokutofuji (6-8) all dropping into the rank-and-file. One Sekiwake slot should be occupied by the loser of the Tochinoshin-Takakeisho bout, unless Takakiesho wins but is denied promotion.

Win or lose, Ichinojo should be Sekiwake at Natsu, rejoining the rank he held for the final four basho of 2018. One Komusubi slot should go to Aoiyama (M7, 11-3); the other will be decided between Daieisho and Kotoshogiku (M8, 11-3).

Special Prizes

Ichinojo should get one or more prizes for sure. Tomokaze should get a fighting spirit prize if he can reach double-digit victories in his Makuuchi debut by winning tomorrow; it won’t be easy, as he is matched with Aoiyama, who himself might claim a prize with a win. I’m not sure if, as a former Ozeki, Kotoshogiku would be in line for one even with a 12-3 record. Other possibilities are Takakeisho if he wins, and Meisei if he reaches double digits for the first time in Makuuchi.

The Make/Kachi Line

Eight rikishi have left their promotion/demotion fate to be decided on the final day, going into senshuraku with 7-7 records. One is the aforementioned Tochinoshin, who obviously has a lot more on the line than a mere winning vs. losing record. At the opposite end of the banzuke, the last man in Makuuchi, M17e Chiyoshoma, probably needs to win to stay in the top division. For the other six, pride and smaller moves up or down the banzuke are at stake. Some got off to a strong start only to fade; others have recorded most of their victories in the second week. Without further ado, the six are: M2 Daieisho (who could be in line for a San’yaku debut with a win), M5 Chiyotairyu, M6 Okinoumi, M6 Abi, M7 Takarafuji, and M8 Asanoyama. Somewhat surprisingly, there are no “Darwin bouts” matching 7-7 rikishi, so all eight men can succeed or fail in their quests to claim the all-important 8th victory.

The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange

This is a good basho to be bad in Makuuchi, as the performances in
Juryo did not create a lot of even borderline promotion candidates, and Chiyonokuni’s unfortunate kyujo accounts for one of the needed slots. Nevertheless, Yutakayama (M16w, 3-11) has managed to limbo under a very low bar, and will be in Juryo in May.

Who will be joining him? There is no shortage of candidates! Toyonoshima (M14w, 4-10) and Ikioi (M9w, 2-12) already sport records that would guarantee demotion in any normal tournament, but their victories today leave them hoping that a win tomorrow, combined with losses by others, could leave them clinging to the bottom of the top division by their fingernails. Who are the men they need to lose on senshuraku? Take your pick from among Daishoho (M16e, 6-8), Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 5-9), Kotoeko (M15w, 6-8), Chiyoshoma (M17e, 7-7), and Ishiura (M15e, 6-8). That’s a whopping nine men at risk of demotion, if you’re counting. There’s only one grisly pairing between two of them: Terutsuyoshi vs. Ikioi, with the loser all but assured of a trip to Juryo.

Who wants to go up to Makuuchi in May? Anybody? If you have 8 wins in Juryo, raise your hand! Going into Day 15, there are only two records in the second division that would normally warrant promotion, and these belong to the J1 pair who got snubbed the last time. Shimanoumi (J1e, 12-2) will make his top-division debut after an impressive second-straight Juryo yusho, going J11 -> J1 -> mid-maegashira! Chiyomaru (J1w, 9-5) is set to join him.

Since these are not normal times, Enho (J2w, 8-6) should reach the top division even with an 8-7 record, and Tokushoryu (J4w, 8-6) might be able to do so from an even lower rank; Enho is certainly in with a victory, and Tokushoryu likely is too. And while their records would not be good enough even with senshuraku victories under any other circumstances, I’m not crossing Takagenji (M4e, 7-7), Kyokyshuho (J6e, 8-6), and Wakatakakage (J5e, 7-7) off the list just yet.

Haru Day 14 Highlights

I think the big, double-wide story of this basho is going to be the enormous pile of rikishi who own demotion worthy scores at the end of this basho. If you take a look at the records vs banzuke position, I count at least 10 rikishi who might be worthy of a return to Juryo. That does not mean there will be 10 men dropping to the 2nd division, as Juryo has 3-5 rikishi who could be considered promotion worthy.

Before the basho, Team Tachiai remarked that all of the really great action might be in the bottom ⅓ of the banzuke, and for folks who enjoy the Darwinian nature of sumo, this basho has been a banquet of slaughter. There are 3 veterans below Maegashira 6 who have double digit wins, and a vast crater of make-koshi devastation around them that fed those double-digit win scores. Do we stop there? No indeed.

There are no fewer than 8 rikishi who will decide kachi/make koshi on the final day, including the man at the bottom edge of the banzuke, Chiyoshoma. The competition in the rank and file has been so brutal that even getting to 8 wins has been a struggle for most. While its tough to see so many great athletes come up short, this kind of tournament breeds excellence. Haru is somewhat unique, in that most of the rikishi have not had to do anything other than train and improve their bodies since Hatsu. The old veterans, who feel the pains and injuries of years of battle, have enough time to pull their sumo together for another hard climb to day 15, and that extended rest as let them once again use their experience and years of skill to edge out youthful vigor and health.

Highlight Matches

Takagenji defeats Ishiura – Ishiura suffered from not picking a strategy and enforcing it, as this match was very much a “try anything” affair. With the loss, Ishiura joins the growing pile of demotion worthy rikishi.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoeko – Sure, lets throw Kotoeko into the “return to Juryo” bin too! Terutsuyoshi gives us the “bounce” tachiai that works well when he uses it, and he gets a firm hold of Kotoeko, who can do little more than react. Both men are make-koshi and part of that pile of demotion capable rikishi.

Ryuden defeats Daishoho – Daishoho gets his 8th loss, and joins the incredibly crowded barge of rikishi who could find themselves in Juryo for May. Ryuden got a deep right hand inside grip and made it work, while Daishoho looked like he had nothing to give.

Tomokaze defeats Shohozan – While not in danger of heading to Juryo, Shohozan gets his make-koshi too. The fact that Tomokaze was able to out-slap him indicates that Shohozan is worn down from the lengthy competition.

Ikioi defeats Yutakayama – As the captain of the Juryo barge, Ikioi managed to take one from a horrifically demoralized Yutakayama, who seems to be capitulating for now.

Kagayaki defeats Asanoyama – Still no 8th win for Asanoyama. Kagayaki stays low and moving forward and just motors Asanoyama around the dohyo and finds him an exit.

Kotoshogiku defeats Yoshikaze – Kotoshogiku got the better of the tachiai, and never gave up the advantage.

Aoiyama defeats Meisei – Meisei somehow decided that taking on Aoiyama straight on was going to work for him, when in fact it threw away all of Meisei’s advantages. Aoiyama did not waste the gift, and slapped Meisei to the clay.

Shodai defeats Sadanoumi – Is that the second day in a row where Shodai came close to a proper tachiai? Sadly it looks like Sadanoumi may have hurt his good knee in this match.

Abi defeats Daieisho – Should Abi end with a kachi-koshi, it will simply delay the time when he diversifies his sumo. Sumo fans around the world are eager for that transition, and we hope it comes soon. Today’s win was a standard Abi-zumo attack that Daieisho did nothing to avoid.

Myogiryu defeats Okinoumi – Myogiryu used superior strength to out muscle Okinoumi into a throw position. Okinoumi’s final day match will decide his winning or losing record for March.

Kaisei defeats Onosho – Two things for Onosho to focus on. 1) Improve your balance, it seems to have taken a big hit from your injury / surgery / recovery, and everyone knows it now. 2) Bring back that red mawashi. Some powerful kami inhabited that one, and when you wore it onto the dohyo, it gave you some kind of edge.

Endo defeats Nishikigi – It seems that this match is a bit of a controversy. There is a point where Endo steps aside of a charging Nishikigi where toes on Endo’s left foot would seem to hit the janome. But the gumbai went to Endo, and there was no monoii. Endo did show some solid sumo today.

Mitakeumi defeats Chiyotairyu – Mitakeumi went flat out at the tachiai, attempting to overpower the mighty Chiyotairyu. Interestingly enough, today it worked. Mitakeumi got a double inside arm position, dropped his hips and marched forward.

Hokutofuji defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan joins Captain Ikioi in holding a dismal 2-12 record. Though not as visible beaten and broken as Ikioi, for Tochiozan to perform this poorly, he has to be having body problems.

Ichinojo defeats Takakeisho – Not sure what Takakeisho had in mind here. He seems to channel Abi, but lacks Abi’s height, his reach or his technique. Ichinojo looks puzzled for just a moment, and the all to familiar “hand of god” sweeps down and pulls Takakeisho to the clay. Ichinojo stays 1 behind Hakuho.

Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – Tochinoshin keeps his hopes alive, overcoming Tamawashi in what was an odd hybrid between oshi and yotzu. At times chest to chest, at times pushing and shoving. Tochinoshin as throwing everything he could into this win (as well he should), and looks rather sore at the end. He needs 1 more win to clear kadoban, and it will be decided by his day 15 match with Ozeki hopeful Takakeisho.

Hakuho defeats Takayasu – A lot of posturing, dominance display and tension in the run up to this match. Hakuho wins the tachiai, and was faster off the shikiri-sen. Takayasu is immediately balanced too far on his heels, and Hakuho digs in. Try as he might, Takayasu cannot connect with that left hand, and his struggle to land a grip continues to put him high and balanced unevenly. Hakuho capitalizes on this, and gets moro-zashi, and moves to put the Ozeki away. Takayasu’s last ditch attempt at a throw collapses into abisetaoshi, and Hakuho takes the match to remain undefeated.

Goeido defeats Kakuryu – As we expected, Goeido’s approach to this match was an all or nothing opening salvo so fast and so powerful that either Kakuryu would not have time to react, or Goeido would have no recovery. Goeido’s plan payed off, and Kakuryu had no time to react.

Haru Day 14 Preview

The Miyazaki Prefecture Trophy – A Delicious Cow Held Aloft By Strong Men

It’s all come down to the final weekend. With everyone but Ichinojo mathematically eliminated now, it’s up to Takayasu or Kakuryu to put dirt on Hakuho, or watch him go home with his 42nd cow, lifetime of gasoline, and giant trophy full of mushrooms. In fact, I would wager that Hakuho’s house is made of vitrified beef steaks, stacked high and painted to look like wood. Seriously, what does this guy do with all of these prizes? What does he do with all of that money?

The answer is, of course, a whole lot of good. American sumo fans don’t get a full media diet about sumo, and so we don’t see some of the amazing charity that the kanban rikishi undertake. Most of them have personal community enrichment projects, and the ones from Mongolia (I am looking at you, Harumafuji) work hard to improve life in that poor and isolated country. Some of my favorite photos of Harumafuji include him visiting children, some of them critically ill, in his yellow and black “hornet stripe” yukata. Hakuho has a laundry list of good deeds and causes he attends to and funds. In general these guys really do live up to a higher standard than what most western star athletes do.

Again lksumo takes on and explains how the final weekend will decide several important story lines for Haru, and I encourage everyone to read it. Part of that story are the 12 rikishi who can still mathematically reach kachi-koshi, who will be increasingly fighting for rank. This portends a great weekend of sumo ahead. For myself, I am going to be once again cooking a pot of chanko for Sunday, and taking it all in.

What We Are Watching Day 14

Ishiura vs Takagenji – Loser is make-koshi, and the list of rikishi in the bottom third of the banzuke who have 8 or more losses will be most impressive. There will be a veritable train-wreck of rikishi who could mathematically be demoted, if only there were stronger rikishi with winning records in upper Juryo.

Terutsuyoshi vs Kotoeko – Kotoeko could join that group with a loss today. Terutsuyoshi seems to have found his sumo again, and his over the top mobility and agility might be more than Kotoeko’s strength can overcome.

Ryuden vs Daishoho – Daishoho is also in a must-win situation, or join the herd that will be frustrating the banzuke committee.

Shohozan vs Tomokaze – Shohozan is safe from joining the Juryo candidate dog-pile, but he still needs to win both of his last 2 to end with a kachi-koshi. This first time match against Tomokaze will feature some energy.

Chiyoshoma vs Yago – Chiyoshoma’s match today could have him reach safety, if only he can overcome Yago’s giant head tempting him to just give it a tug… pull it down. Just a little hatakikomi… GIANT HEAD! G I A N T H E A D ….. There, I said it. The guy reminds me of Juggernaut from the X Men.

Asanoyama vs Kagayaki – Asanoyama has lost 3 straight looking for that 8th win. Kagayaki seems to be very calmly going about his sumo, and I have to wonder if Asanoyama has run out of steam now 2 weeks into this tournament.

Yoshikaze vs Kotoshogiku – In the battle of genki veterans, we will see what happens when you let seasoned rikishi go almost 4 months without a jungyo. You get sumo masters who have regained their strength and stamina, beating the tar out of the younger crowd. Now they face each other, both with 10 wins, both of them facing a huge leap higher on the banzuke for May. Kotoshogiku holds a 24-7 career lead.

Aoiyama vs Meisei – Another battle of the mega-genki, Meisei is quick enough that he does not have to let Aoiyama hit him if it’s not in his plan. Aoiyama has trouble with quick, busy guys like Meisei (see the day 13 match with Yoshikaze), they can duck and dive and get behind the man-mountain, and send him to the zabuton zone.

Daieisho vs Abi – We have Daieisho one win away from kachi-koshi, and Abi one loss away from make-koshi. If Abi were to pull out an 8th win this tournament, it would be amazing. But I think he might just do it. Thus it would postpone the day he figures out what more he can do in sumo now that everyone figured out his “one weird trick”.

Okinoumi vs Myogiryu – Okinoumi needs one more win for his 8, and the chances are good he will get it today. He tends to win against Myogiryu when his health is good, and he has been “well enough” for Haru.

Mitakeumi vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu needs one more for kachi-koshi, and possible big bounce up the banzuke for May. Mitakeumi will be vacating his Komusubi slot, and we know he will be back in the named ranks once he can get his undercarriage repaired.

Takakeisho vs Ichinojo – The records state that Takakeisho holds a 7-2 career advantage, but statistics cannot tell the story of this match in this basho. Ichinojo has uncovered a seemingly endless well of fighting spirit, and is using it to flatten every opponent save one. Takakeisho knows how to beat Ichinojo, but can he beat this version of Ichinojo? A win today would give Takakeisho his 10th, and punch his ticket, validating his bid to be considered for Ozeki.

Tochinoshin vs Tamawashi – Tochinoshin needs two wins, and his day 14 match against Tamawashi is probably his easier match. He has a 16-10 career advantage, and Tamawashi looks only about 80% of his normal self. Of course Tochinoshin has been less than the awesome rikishi he was a year ago.

Hakuho vs Takayasu – This is going to be fun to watch, for the reason that Takayasu seems to once again be under Kisenosato’s active tutorage. Kisenosato had a specific ability to confound and dismantle Hakuho’s sumo, and many times when no one else could stop the dai-Yokozuna’s winning streaks, up would step Kisenosato and drop the boss. Can Takayasu deploy some of that knowledge on day 14, and bring one last surge of excitement to a throughly enjoyable Haru Basho?

Goeido vs Kakuryu – Rapid attack vs rapid react. I am going to guess Goeido will go for a massive opening attack that either works before Kakuryu can counter, or will leave Goeido in such an indefensible position that it’s a quick loss.