My Worries About Tochinoshin

Tochinoshin-salt

Tochinoshin has secured his promotion to Ozeki, sumo’s second highest rank. He did this through hard work, grim determination, and focusing with overwhelming intensity to training his body, his mind and his reflexes. As a result he has an astounding 37 wins over the past 3 tournaments, with double digits in each of the last 3. He greatly exceeds the 33 wins / 3 basho guideline, and is one of the strongest men in sumo for 2018. Much has been said, and still more will be said about his work ethic, his rise from ruin following knee surgery, and his drive to win.

But looking at Tochinoshin, I worry there is a chance for heartbreak in the near future. While I think he has potential to be a great Ozeki, I also see the seeds of misfortune on the path ahead.

Please keep in mind, I am one lone armchair sumo fan in the wilds of Texas. I have as much influence on the world of sumo as any of the readers of this site – almost none. So this represents one fan’s opinion only.

1. Age – Tochinoshin has been a part of professional sumo since 2006. He is currently 30 years old. His physical condition exceeds most 30 year old men (or 20 year old men for that matter) that you could ever meet. But sumo is a physical sport, and the damage can be cumulative. While his Ozeki career may be outstanding, it may also be short. He is the 4th oldest promotee in the modern era.

2. Injury – Tochinoshin has already sustained, and boldly battled back from a significant mechanical injury. The massive bandage he wears on his knee is testament to that battle, which he has won for now. We dearly hope he stays free from further injury, but fans should note we are in a transitional period in sumo. Many of our old favorites are reaching the end of their workable careers in the top division, and will soon be demoted down the banzuke, and retire. As a result we will see young men soon pressing harder for top rank. These youngsters will be fast, strong, aggressive and possibly less injured that our favorites. This includes Tochinoshin. Sumo is a pure zero-sum sport. If the rikishi of the future overwhelm stalwarts like Tochinoshin, so be it. But someone like Onosho or Takakeisho, or perhaps a stronger version of Abi could, through no malice, re-injure him. But this is sumo, and it’s a chance everyone takes.

3. Consistency – My biggest concern about Tochinoshin is consistency. Looking at his last 3 basho he’s been an overwhelming powerhouse of sumo. But if we take a longer look, the view is a bit cloudy. Let’s look at the past 2 years.

Basho Rank Result
Natsu 2016 M4 10-5
Nagoya 2016 S1 6-9
Aki 2016 M2 5-10
Kyushu 2016 M6 10-5
Hatsu 2017 K1 0-6(9 kyujo)
Osaka 2017 M10 7-8
Natsu 2017 M10 12-3
Nagoya 2017 M2 9-6
Aki 2017 M1 4-11
Kyushu 2017 M6 9-6
Hatsu 2018 M3 14-1
Osaka 2018 S1 10-5
Natsu 2018 S1 13-2

The chart below to compares his ranking in the past 2 years to a set of san’yaku mainstays including Tamawashi, Mitakeumi and Takayasu

Tochinoshi-Rank-Chart

It’s a see-saw trip up and down the banzuke. He has shown no ability to hit and hold San’yaku rank in the past. This is in contrast to Mitakeumi, Tamawashi and Takayasu.

The guy gets hurt, and he can’t fight for beans when he’s hurt. Sumo is a combat sport, people get hurt. But I worry that we will have another frequent kadoban Ozeki, who fights with gusto when his health is good, but spends about half of the tournaments trying to scrape by.

But only time will tell. I am eager to see what Ozeki Tochinoshin can do.

Natsu Wrap-up and Nagoya Forecast

Upper San’yaku

Kakuryu added to his Yokozuna bonafides with his second consecutive yusho, his 5th overall. He has to be the early yusho favorite going into Nagoya. Hakuho showed some rust and was clearly fighting at less than 100%, but nevertheless stayed in yusho contention until the penultimate day. I hope that we see a stronger and more motivated dai-Yokozuna in Nagoya. Whither Kisenosato? Who knows.

Both of the current Ozeki will be kadoban in Nagoya, Takayasu after sitting out the entire tournament and Goeido after withdrawing on Day 9 with a 3-5 record. We can only hope that they will be sufficiently recovered from their injuries to attempt to achieve the 8 wins they need to maintain their rank. And of course, the big news of the basho is that we will have a third Ozeki, Tochinoshin!

Lower San’yaku

Ichinojo did just enough to defend his Sekiwake rank, and Mitakeumi will join him after recording 9 wins. Nagoya will be Mitakeumi’s 9th consecutive tournament in San’yaku, and will mark his return to sumo’s third-highest rank, which he held for 5 straight basho before Natsu.

The Komusubi ranks were determined on the final day, and should go to M1e Tamawashi and M2e Shohozan. Tamawashi has been a San’yaku regular in recent years, and only bad banzuke luck kept him in the maegashira ranks for Natsu. Shohozan will match his highest career rank, which he previously held 4 times, most recently in 2014. Both men had to overcome tough starts, which is typical for the upper maegashira ranks: Tamawashi needed to win his final 5 bouts to achieve kachi-koshi, while Shohozan won 6 of his last 7.

Upper Maegashira

Narrowly missing out on promotion in a final-day de facto play-off with Tamawashi was Shodai, who should hold the top maegashira slot in Nagoya. He will be joined in the joi by M11 Chiyonokuni, who’ll make a huge leap up the banzuke after his best-ever 12-3 tournament. His previous trip to the top of the maegashira ranks resulted in a 2-13 implosion, so hopefully he’s better-equipped to handle that level of competition. Despite their losing records, Abi and Kaisei acquitted themselves well enough for another turn in the meat grinder, and while Kotoshogiku and Ikioi got roughed up after being pressed into joi duty at M5, and did not quite do enough for promotion, their 8-7 records will place them firmly in the joi in Nagoya. With the San’yaku ranks being replenished to ten, the joi line might not extend as far down the banzuke, but standing ready to take their turns if injury strikes are the top performers from the mid-maegashira ranks: Kagayaki, Takakeisho, and Daishomaru.

Lower Maegashira

Makuuchi newcomer and special prize winner Kyokutaisei fought his way out of the M12-M16 danger zone, as did Aoiyama and the habitual basement-dwelling duo of Myogiryu and Nishikigi, who both uncharacteristically earned double-digit victories. Taking another turn in the lower portion of the banzuke are Arawashi, Asanoyama, Sadanoumi, Tochiozan, and Ishiura. They’ll be joined by the worst performers from the mid-maegashira ranks—Okinoumi, Ryuden, and Hokutofuji—as well as by M3 Yutakayama, who predictably got pummeled after jumping 8 ranks into the joi, and who’ll continue his roller-coaster ride by dropping about 10 ranks. Yutakayama fought well despite the heavy loss total, and we can expect a much better performance from him in a more comfortable region of the banzuke.

Promotions and Demotions

Ishiura saved himself with his final-day victory, while Takekaze’s win was too little, too late, and he’ll be returning to Juryo. Daimami lost the elimination bout to Ryuden, and will also be going down. And Aminishiki will be seeing more of today’s Juryo opponent, Takonosho, in Nagoya.

Juryo yusho winner Onosho and runner-up Kotoeko should be ranked fairly high for Juryo promotees on the Makuuchi banzuke in Nagoya, while Meisei should occupy the very last M16w rung (Tochinoshin’s promotion eliminates the M17e rank). Just missing out is Akiseyama, who will have the opportunity to earn his second trip to the top division from J1.

Natsu Senshuraku Comments

Natsu-Macaron

With the final day in the books, we have already covered some of the big news of the day. But before we can consider Natsu complete, there are a few other topics to bring up.

Special Prizes

There was a flurry of special prizes awarded today, in fact more of them than I can remember in recent tournaments.

Shukun-Sho (Outstanding Performance) went to Shohozan, for being the only rikishi to beat the yusho winner, Kakuryu. The prize was dependant on Kakuryu winning the final match. In his sansho interview, you actually get to see Shohozan smile! Nah, it’s still moderately scary.

Kanto-Sho (Fighting Spirit) went off in cluster-bomb fashion to: Tochinoshin, Chiyonokuni and Kyokutaisei. Tochinoshin because he was some kind of European winning machine, Chiyonokuni because he seems to have finally found his sumo at his higher weight, and Kyokutaisei because he went double digits in his first top division basho, and he was a movie star.

Gino-Sho (Technique) went to Tochinoshin, as it seems the NSK want to load him up with sansho before his Ozeki promotion, as a way of saying “Nice work you big bear!”.

Notable Matches

There were also a handful of matches that were worth note

Ishiura executed some actually solid sumo against Juryo visitor Kyokushuho for a win. That win may have saved him from relegation back to the farm division, and we may get to see him occupy the Nishikigi memorial “last slot on the banzuke” position for Nagoya.

Speaking of Nishikigi, he went double digits and handed Asanoyama his make-koshi. For a man who has struggled much the last couple of years, I was impressed to see Nishikigi that genki. I just worry he may get over-promoted.

Takakeisho sounded the call heralding Nagoya’s tadpole march, by racking his 10th win of the basho against Sadanoumi. Takakeisho closed out the basho with 8 continuous wins, after having a very rough start that made his fans worry that he was not going to get his sumo back after going kyujo in Osaka. Never fear, he’s back and he’s ready now it seems. Nagoya will see ur-Tadpole Onosho rejoin the crew, and it’s tadpole sumo once again. Frankly, I can’t wait.

Chiyonokuni put Kagayaki away by controlling the form and pace of the match. With Chiyonokuni hitting 12 wins, he’s going to get a huge promotion for Nagoya, and I am going to guess he is going to suffer much like Natsu of 2017 where he was promoted to the joi, and it took him months to recover. Kagayaki will escape a disastrous promotion velocity and have time to patiently continue to incrementally improve. This guy is going to be a big deal if he can stay healthy.

Yoshikaze got a first hand look at Abi-zumo, and shrugged. Abi was all over the place, doing all kinds of things that don’t normally work in sumo. He’s up on his toes, he’s leaning far forward, and his balance is shifting moment to moment. But hey, it got him 7 wins in the joi, and a kinboshi. But honestly the veterans are starting to deconstruct his attacks, and he’s going to be bottled up soon enough. Hopefully he learns some new tricks, because I think he has a lot of potential.

Tamawashi really needed the win he grabbed over Shodai, he scoped by into kachi-koshi territory, and will likely be back in san’yaku for Nagoya. If he can keep his injuries under control, he will have a chance to dislodge the likes of Ichinojo from his transitional Sekiwake rank.

With Natsu done, all of the rikishi have about 60 days to train, seek treatment for injuries, fly off to Europe to see family or just generally carry on with sumo functions. Big events will come next week, as we are expecting to see at least a handful of retirement announcements, announcements of shin-Sekitori coming from Makushita into Juryo, and the announcement of a new Ozeki in the world of sumo. I will write more later about Tochinoshin, as there is much to examine.

But for now, thanks for reading Tachiai, we have had a great time covering the Natsu basho, and we hope you have enjoyed our site.

Yokozuna Kakuryu Wins The Natsu Yusho

Kakuryu Yusho Parade

In the final bout of the basho, Yokozuna Kakuryu defeated Yokozuna Hakuho, to outright win the Emperor’s Cup. There was, for a time, a possibility of a Tochinoshin-Kakuryu playoff to decide the yusho, but the presumptive shin-Ozeki’s loss on day 14 proved to be the deciding element for the cup.

Tachiai congratulates Yokozuna Kakuryu, who has claimed his 5th yusho, and his first back-to-back titles ever. For the victory parade, Kakuryu chose Shodai for his flag-bearer. An amusing choice, as Shodai’s surprise win over Tochinoshin did much to set up the yusho win for Kakuryu.

Tochinoshin’s Ozeki Promotion Confirmed

Tochinoshin-happy

News from Japan, relayed by Tachiai contributor Herouth, that the shimpan will conduct a special board meeting, and affirm Tochinoshin’s promotion to Ozeki. The official announcement will happen on Wednesday in Japan.

Tachiai congratulates the shin-Ozeki, and we look forward to his continued excellent sumo in the tournaments to come.

Natsu State of Play, Day 14

The Yusho Race

Ichinojo’s win over Hakuho had two major consequences, the first of which was to knock the Yokozuna out of yusho contention. Hakuho can still play spoiler though. I’m sure he’d love to prevail over Kakuryu in the senshuraku clash of the Yokozuna. Should he do so, and should Tochinoshin beat Ikioi, we will have a two-man playoff for all the marbles. Otherwise, it’s Kakuryu’s yusho. Hakuho holds a 39-6 career edge over Kakuryu, while Tochinoshin has defeated Ikioi 7 times in 11 bouts.

Remaining matches

Day 15: Tochinoshin vs. IkioiHakuho vs. Kakuryu

The San’yaku

The other consequence of Ichinojo’s victory is that we know he and Mitakeumi will occupy the two Sekiwake slots in Nagoya. The two meet tomorrow, with only pride at stake.

However, there is still a lot to settle on senshuraku in terms of who will take over the two vacant Komusubi slots. Shodai remains in pole position, and can clinch promotion with a win over Tamawashi, simultaneously knocking the latter out of the race. Should Tamawashi prevail, he would get his kachi-koshi and claim one slot, with the other going either to Shodai, Shohozan if he beats Takarafuji, or Abi if he beats Yoshikaze and Shohozan loses. Should Tamawashi, Shohozan, and Abi all lose, going make-koshi and hence being ineligible for promotion, then four men would be in contention, in the following rank order: Kotoshogiku, Ikioi, Chiyonokuni, Kagayaki (with the last two facing each other). The highest-ranked member of this quartet to win should get the slot.

The Line Between Makuuchi  and Juryo

Takekaze’s loss today will probably send him down to join his fellow elder statesman Aminishiki in Juryo. A loss tomorrow to Okinoumi will seal his fate.  If he wins, he still needs to hope for at least two losses among the trio of IshiuraDaiamami and Ryuden. Ishiura may have a lifeline in the form of a bout with Juryo visitor Kyokushuho, while Daiamami faces Ryuden in what could well be a playoff for the last spot in Makuuchi. Arawashi reached safety with today’s win, leaving Hokutofuji as the only other maegashira at less than 100% safety.

KotoekoOnosho and Meisei should all be in the top division in Nagoya, although Meisei’s loss today, which knocked him out of the Juryo yusho race, leaves him one win short of being guaranteed promotion. He’ll try again tomorrow against Kotoyuki. J5 Akiseyama has a slim chance of promotion if he beats Terutsuyoshi and things really go south for the men above trying to hang on to Makuuchi.

Natsu Day 14 Highlights

The-Boulder

Great day of sumo… Our operatives inside the Kokugikan report that the Great Cat himself was well pleased with today’s activities, and blessed sumo fans with some fantastic matches. Find a way to watch all of day 14.

Nagoya has enormous potential, given today’s results. I will discuss more in the day 15 preview. The Natsu yusho is for Kakuryu to lose now, and his sumo was absolutely amazing today. Many sumo fans had dismissed Kakuryu in the prior year, perhaps thinking he was lazy, or would rather not compete. His style of sumo is rather unique, and it’s quite difficult to watch at times. Many fans want to see an all out, guns blazing battle. Where the best attack wins. Sometimes, the best attack is not to try and overpower your opponent, but rather to keep your opponent from winning. It’s somewhat alien in western sports, but it’s amazing to see Kakuryu use it with such great effect.

In Juryo, we are indeed going to have a final day barnyard brawl for the yusho. There are 3 Juryo rikishi with 11 wins at the end of day 14: Onosho, Kotoeko and Tsurugisho. I urge you to find and watch Kotoeko’s day 14 match – because he is bringing that kind of sumo to Makuuchi in Nagoya.

Highlight Matches

Ishiura defeats Kyokutaisei – Ishiura wins doing actual sumo. This is noteworthy.

Aoiyama defeats Daiamami – A large man oshi-matsuri, with Aoiyama once again focusing on his opponents head. This is not really working for him, and then he decides, “Yeah, let’s put some force center-mass!”, and shifts to Daiamami’s chest. Hey! Look, out goes Daiamami! Aoiyama gets his 8th win and his kachi-koshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Tochiozan – Chiyonokuni takes it to 11, and hands Tochiozan his make-koshi. I would guess we may see Chiyonokuni pick up a special prize, and that would be his first! If he can stay this genki, he is going to be a lot of fun in Nagoya.

Takakeisho defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu having a great basho, but Takakeisho seems to have snapped back into his sumo finally, and he’s on a mission. I am so eager now for Nagoya, as Takakeisho will be in the top half of the banzuke, Onosho will be back, and it’s going to be tadpole time.

Yoshikaze defeats Nishikigi – First match resulted in a monoii, and a re-match. Second match was a clear Yoshikaze win. It’s still possible for him to pick up a kachi-koshi on the final day, when his opponent will be Abi. That, dear readers, could be a wild and chaotic match.

Kagayaki defeats Asanoyama – Asanoyama failed to get his kachi-koshi today, and will have to hope for a win on the final day. Kagayaki continues to execute solid, basic sumo, and has been winning with it. Any hopes Kagayaki has for double digits are going to be tempered by his final day bout against Chiyonokuni. Yikes!

Aminishiki defeats Ryuden – Ryuden (now 2-12) in a world of hurt with the Nagoya banzuke now, as Uncle Sumo uncorks some kind of magic genki sauce and blasts him out of the ring after some preliminary struggle. As always, the crowd in the Kokugikan goes nuts whenever Aminishiki is on the dohyo, and goes double nuts when he wins.

Sadanoumi defeats Chiyomaru – Sadanoumi somehow survives a really powerful osha-battle with Chiyomaru to pick up his kachi-koshi. To me it looks like Chiyomaru had a tough time getting into basho mode, and is struggling with his sumo. Maybe a bit too much mass from the bulbous one? Sadanoumi lands his 8th win and can take comfort in his kachi-koshi.

Shohozan defeats Daieisho – This one was another in a series of Shohozan brawls disguised as sumo matches. Both men were going for some kind of painful death grip on the other, and the winning move was a nicely executed watashikomi thigh trip. Shohozan can still finish kachi-koshi if he wins day 15.

Tamawashi defeats Ikioi – Tamawashi switches to freight-train / densha michi mode and runs Ikioi down the tracks, improving to 7-7 going into the final day.

Kotoshogiku defeats Kaisei – Kotoshogiku kachi-koshi!!! The two go chest to chest straight away, and the enormous mass of Kaisei is clearly near the limit for the Kyushu Bulldozer. But he revs up, engages his tracks and lowers his blade.

Shodai defeats Mitakeumi – What the hell Shodai? Again, his mechanics are abysmal, but his instincts are dead on. Big outcome of this match may be the fact that Shodai seems to have crushed Mitakeumi’s right ankle when they both went to cuddle the kita-kata shimpan.

Kakuryu defeats Tochinoshin – Watch this match, maybe a few times. Tochinoshin really puts a lot into this match, and Kakuryu does some of his best “Big K Sumo” ever. Kakuryu is a reactive sumo expert. His plan is to stalemate Tochinoshin until he makes some kind of mistake, and then use that mistake to finish him. Tochinoshin immediately goes to land his left, and Kakuryu shuts that down, opting for a palm to the face. Tochinoshin tries to go left again, and gets a bit of a grip, but Kakuryu shifts his hips and denies him leverage. Tochinoshin now has a double outside grip on Kakuryu’s loose mawashi, and can’t find a way to keep the Yokozuna from shifting around, robbing Tochinoshin of his ability to lift and shift (his primary weapon). Kakuryu is deep double inside, and leaning in at 45 degrees, stalemate for the Georgian Ozeki hopeful. Tochinoshin tries to pull out a leg trip, but Kakuryu is too far back for the trip, shifting his hips again as Tochinoshin is now dangerously unbalanced. Kakuryu advances, and Tochinoshin tries to pivot for a throw, further impeding his defensive stance, Kakuryu has his opening now, raises his foot and pops a trip against Tochinoshin’s left knee (the good one), and collapses the Georgian at the tawara. Holy smokes! What a match!

Ichinojo defeats Hakuho – Sumo fans could have ended their day with the Kakuryu v Tochinoshin match with satisfaction, but the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan had one last treat in store for us. The Boulder squared off against the dai-Yokozuna, but this was not the passive version of Ichinojo today. Huge, powerful and motivated, Hakuho, who is clearly not quite at full power, had his hands full with 500 pounds of pony tossing, ice cream eating behemoth. Hakuho unleashed a pair of his usually disruptive moves at the outset, but Ichinojo must have gone into the match with the intent to endure the Yokozuna’s initial attacks however he could. It seems he wanted to play a longer game. With Hakuho’s initial gambits exhausted, they spent a moment leaning chest to chest in the center of the dohyo. As Ichinojo moved to advance, Hakuho timed a weight shift to load a throw against Ichinojo. Ichinojo sensed the Yokozuna shifting for leverage, and took advantage of it, pivoting into the uwatenage as the Yokozuna went to the clay. Kokugikan erupts, cushions fly and it’s ice cream and ponies for everyone.

Wakaichiro Loses Final Match

Finishes Natsu With Kachi-Koshi

In the morning bouts of day 14, Texan sumotori Wakaichiro went up against Asanotosa, a much larger and more experienced rikishi. The bout was quick, energetic and unsuccessful for Wakaichiro. He finishes the Natsu basho with a 4-3 record, which may either place him at the top of Jonidan or the bottom of Sandanme.

Wakaichiro has shown steady progress improving his body, and his sumo. His fans around the world and the team at Tachiai look forward to his matches in July, when the Nagoya basho will be in full swing in the heat of the Japanese summer.

Congratulations to Wakaichiro for a successful Natsu!

Natsu Day 14 Preview

Natsu Day 14

The scheduling committee was able to achieve their goal, but by unexpected means. With Hakuho unable to stop Tochinoshin’s zero loss march to the yusho, it came about from an unexpected source – Shodai. Easily one of the easy to overlook under performers, Shodai is both a disappointment and a well of potential at the same time. He is tenacious, large and earnest in his sumo. His mechanics are frequently terrible, and he shows a loose grasp of the fundamentals. But his instincts are solid.

With the match between Tochinoshin and Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 14, we will know who will get to battle it out of the yusho, and the yusho probably won’t be decided until possibly the final match on the final day. There are several paths that end in a three way or even 4 way barnyard brawl on the final day, with the winner the resulting playoff walking out there there with the hardware. Fortunately for folks in the US and much of the EU, this is a 3 day weekend, and if we indulge with an orgy of overnight or early morning sumo goodness, we can recover by the start of the work week.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leaders – Kakuryu, Tochinoshin
Chaser – Hakuho
HunterChiyonokuni

*Edit by lksumo: Since 12-1 Kakuryu and 12-1 Tochinoshin face off tomorrow, and they can’t both lose, 10-3 Chiyonokuni is mathematically out, unless we get the following scenario dreamed up by Andy: “Double kyujo as they both stub their toes walking to Kokugikan.”

2 Matches Remain.

What We Are Watching Day 14

Daiamami vs Aoiyama – The man-mountain is once again trying for his kachi-koshi, against the smaller and more mobile Daiamami.

Tochiozan vs Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni wants to keep winning to stay on the pace with the group at the top of the torikumi slugging it out for the yusho. There are some fringe scenarios that would have him possibly in contention if specific sequence of people win and lose over day 14 and 15.

Myogiryu vs Takakeisho – Both are already kachi-koshi, so this is a safe match in terms of their slots on the Nagoya banzuke. But it pits two fairly mobile but shorter rikishi against each other, separated by many spaces in the banzuke. With Myogiryu fighting as well as he has been the last week, this could be a fun and interesting match.

Yoshikaze vs Nishikigi – First time meeting between these two, Yoshkikze needs to win out to get a kachi-koshi. But our Berserker is looking like he’s just not feeling it right now. Nishikigi is shopping for additional boost points for the banzuke.

Asanoyama vs Kagayaki – Asanoyama comes into this needing one more win for his kochi-kochi, and he’s going up against Mr. Fundamentals. That means that Asanoyama is going to need to be sharp and crisp in his attack and defense moves to get past Kagayaki, whom he has never beaten.

Sadanoumi vs Chiyomaru – Sadanoumi needs one more win for kachi-koshi, facing already make-koshi Chiyomaru. The career record favors Chiyomaru 6-1, so Sadanoumi has his work cut out for him against “The Anchor”.

Tamawashi vs Ikioi – Tamawashi needs to win out to stake any kind of claim to a return to San’yaku for Nagoya, and he has Mr. “Can’t Stop – Shan’t Stop” in Ikioi. Tamawashi’s pugilist style may be the ticket to overwhelm an already injured Ikioi, who will likely be firmly in the joi for Nagoya.

Kotoshogiku vs Kaisei – To me this is possibly the most important match of the day. If Kotoshogiku can roll the Kaisei, he’s kachi-koshi, and with luck we will see a healthy Kotoshogiku do battle in the heat of Nagoya against all the top men of sumo. Kaisei struggled at the top of Maegashira, and I think will be more comfortable around Maegashira 7-5 in July.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – “Shodai the Unexpected”, “Shodai the Surpriser”, “Shodai the Unlikely”. Any way I try to put it, I find it tough to reason back through the prior 13 days and future out how we get to a kachi-koshi Shodai. Today he faces Mitakeumi, who in some ways is almost the same rikishi at times. Will he get Mitakeumi to step on a rake, as he has convinced so many of his opponents to do this tournament? Could Shodai be up for a special prize? I think I need to put more sake in the fridge…

Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – Another pivotal match in the yusho race. This one sets in motion the selection between the various combinations that Herouth (and hopefully lksumo) are thinking through. I am fairly confident that Tochinoshin has his Ozeki bid wrapped, but he is still (in my opinion) the man to beat for the cup right now. Kakuryu leads their career series 21-2, with Kakuryu handing Tochinoshin one of his few losses on the way to his Hatsu yusho, and Tochinoshin handing Kakuryu one his few losses on his way to the Osaka yusho. This one is wound tight, and ready to snap!

Ichinojo vs Hakuho – Ichinojo needs one more win to hold on to Sekiwake, but I am going to guess he won’t find it on day 14. Even though Hakuho seems to be will be focused on “improving” his Ichinojo with an overwhelming match.

Wakaichiro’s Final Natsu Match – Day 14

Wakaichiro May 20

The Sumo-Texan, Wakaichiro, wrapped up his winning record in fine fashion on day 12, and has one remaining match in his fight card for the May tournament in Tokyo. On Saturday morning he will face off against another 4-2 record Jonidan rikishi, Asanotosa. Asanotosa is a long-serving veteran sumo wrestler who has been in the sport since January of 2000. He eventually ranked as high as Makushita 21, but has been slowly fading down the banzuke since 2008.

This contest will pit the young, rising Wakaichiro against the larger, heavier veteran in Asanotosa. This is actually an outstanding preview of how Wakaichiro will fare in Sandanme, as this is precisely the kind of rakish that gave him a lot of trouble during his past postings to that division. Wakaichiro of Natsu is stronger, faster and more aggressive. We will see if he has improved enough to wrangle the wide-bodies.

As always we will bring you coverage of the results, and video of the match once we find it on line.

Natsu State of Play, Day 13

The Yusho Race

Well, well, well. Tochinoshin did not display his usual patience and went down in defeat to, of all people, Shodai! This result means that the yusho will come down to the final bouts on senshuraku. Kakuryu won, matching Tochinoshin at 12-1, and Hakuho also won, moving to one off the lead at 11-2. With the two leaders meeting tomorrow, we know that the winner will go into the final day with 13 victories. Thus, the yusho will be won with either a 14-1 or a 13-2 record. This means that Hakuho can’t win it outright, and must defeat Ichinojo tomorrow and Kakuryu on senshuraku to have a chance of getting into a playoff.

The winner of tomorrow’s clash between Tochinoshin and Kakuryu is guaranteed at least a spot in the playoff, and can clinch the yusho with a final-day victory. The loser needs the winner to lose on senshuraku to have a chance at a playoff. So the possible scenarios still include a Tochinoshin outright yusho, a Kakuryu outright yusho, a playoff between any pair of the three contenders, or every fan’s dream, a three-way playoff. Four matches, with 16 possible outcomes, will determine which we get, and Herouth has put together a handy spreadsheet to track the possibilities.

Remaining matches

Day 14: Tochinoshin vs. KakuryuHakuho vs. Ichinojo

Day 15: Tochinoshin vs. Ikioi (?), Hakuho vs. Kakuryu

The San’yaku

Mitakeumi won today to clinch a San’yaku slot and a promotion back up to Sekiwake. Ichinojo lost, and needs one more win to ensure that he remains Sekiwake.

With his upset victory, Shodai is in the pole position for promotion to San’yaku. He takes on Mitakeumi tomorrow, and, I am going to predict, Tamawashi on senshuraku. The winner of Tamawashi-Ikioi tomorrow will take the lead in the race for the second open slot. ShohozanAbi, and  Kotoshogiku all still have a chance at promotion, and even M11 Chiyonokuni, the only rikishi outside the Big Three to earn double-digit victories, is on the outskirts of the San’yaku picture.

The Line Between Makuuchi  and Juryo

If the tournament ended today, the men going down would be AminishikiIshiura, and Takekaze. The latter two may save themselves by winning both of their remaining matches. Arawashi, Daiamami and Ryuden need one win apiece for safety, and the latter two might need two. Given that three men in Juryo have clearly earned promotion, absent Hokutofuji is looking less than 100% safe.

KotoekoOnosho and Meisei should all be in the top division in Nagoya. J5 Akiseyama has a slim chance to join them if he wins his final two matches and things really go south for the men above trying to hang on to Makuuchi.

Natsu Day 13 Highlights

Kakuryu Day 13

I note with great enthusiasm that the Juryo yusho is coming down to a final weekend barnyard brawl of epic proportions. Even though I am greatly enjoying my beautiful TV Japan feed now, it sadly does not include Juryo that I must find some other way to watch. Tied with 10 wins each at the end of day 13 are: J1w Onosho, J2e Kotoeko, J4e Meisei and all the way down at J14e Tsurugisho.

The big news from day 13 is that Tochinoshin lost today against Shodai of all people. I have to credit Shodai for stalemating Tochinoshin’s attack, and for reading the right time to drop the big Georgian to the clay. With this loss, Day 14’s match against Kakuryu is more or less going to decide the yusho. A Kakuryu win would open the amazing possibility we could end day 15 with a 3-way 13-2 playoff between both Yokozuna and the presumptive shin-Ozeki. If you think I am going to stay up all night to watch that, should it unfold, you are right.

Highlight Matches

Takekaze defeats Asanoyama – Strange little match that ended when Asanoyama staggered towards the tawara and fell down. Kimarite was listed as hatakikomi, but looked more like a slippiotoshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Sadanoumi – My earlier assumption about Chiyonokuni is clearly wrong, and he keeps up the pressure. His win today saw him defuse a decent throw attempt by Sadanoumi.

Nishikigi defeats Daiamami – The survivor giving himself some breathing room for the Nagoya banzuke. This was a great yotsu match, with both men really giving it a lot of effort. This style of sumo favors Nishikigi, as his eyesight is rather poor, and when he had his opponent in a chest to chest position, it negates the problems with his eyes.

Takakeisho defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama’s superior reach stymied after the hit and bounce back tachiai. Aoiyama continued to land meaty blows to Takakeisho’s face, but it seems Takakeisho decided to endure it, and kept thrusting center-mass, as is his preferred technique. Aoiyama may have been enjoying himself to the point he did not notice that Takakeisho had him moving in reverse. Takakeisho kachi-koshi. Nagoya may be the revenge of the tadpoles.

Aminishiki defeats Okinoumi – Uncle sumo wins another, and he looked fairly good with this one. Aminishiki was known to be in less that optimal condition before the start of the basho, and his record is quite miserable. But it was good to see him use a somewhat rickety but effective uwatenage for a win.

Kagayaki defeats Myogiryu – Kagayaki racks up his kachi-koshi in a really solid win. Again I will state that this guy focuses on sumo fundamentals, and you can see great sumo from him almost any day. A bit more mass, a lot more muscle and a bit more seasoning and this guy is going to be a handful.

Kyokutaisei defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze really is a half step or full step slower than he was a year ago. Kyokutaisei continues to look strong in his debut tournament.

Tochiozan defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru surged out strongly at the tachiai, and almost had Tochiozan out, but Tochiozan rallied, and Chiyomaru found it tough to do anything other than continuously back away. Tochiozan wins the match and is kachi-koshi. Chiyomaru is now make-koshi.

Abi defeats Takarafuji – Abi uses his preferred opening gambit once again, and it is only partially effective on Takarafuji, who keeps working inside. But even Takarafuji’s solid sumo fundamentals are breaking down due to Abi’s near ridiculous proportions. With Takarafuji applying pressure at the extreme end of Abi’s reach, Abi releases the pressure and lets Takarafuji fall.

Shohozan defeats Endo – This match was a running brawl that underscores just how poor the decision was to have Endo return. Shohozan can win out and still get kachi-koshi, Endo is headed south on the banzuke for Nagoya.

Mitakeumi defeats Kotoshogiku – They went yotsu right away, with Mitakeumi getting a double inside grip, but this is not normally a problem for Kotoshogiku. Fantastic battle of strength that featured Kotoshogiku disrupting Mitakeumi’s repeated attempts to finish him. I am going to guess Kotoshogiku’s knees are in better working order these days, and that’s nothing but a recipe for fun. The yorikiri came with Mitakeumi unleashing a Kotoshogiku style hip pumping attack. Nice match

Shodai defeats Tochinoshin – Shodai has been stumbling through his matches this tournament, and somehow he took down the presumptive shin-Ozeki. The key was blowing Tochinoshin’s repeated attempt at a grip, until he lunges forward to land his left, and Shodai backpedals with vigor, leaving Tochinoshin falling flat to the clay. This came as a huge surprise to everyone, but in general the crowd seemed to thing it was a wonderful thing. This loss opens the yusho race again, and it just gets crazy this weekend. Who would have though Shodai could do what Hakuho could not? Shodai kachi-koshi.

Hakuho defeats Ikioi – I am going to say it, The Boss is only about 80% right now. Who cares why. He’s still the dai-Yokozuna, and he’s still going into the final weekend with 11 wins. Ikioi once again looked solid, persistent and aggressive. This was harder for Hakuho than his fans would expect.

Kakuryu defeats Ichinojo – Big K now tied for the yusho, and the possibility that he could earn his goal of back-to-back yusho is now within reach. This match was a mawashi battle, with Kakuryu taking the fight to The Boulder on his own terms. Even though Ichinojo used the tawara to help make himself immobile, Kakuryu affirmed that he is the Yokozuna, and overcame. He faces Tochinoshin to possibly decide the Emperor’s cup tomorrow.

Natsu State of Play, Day 12

The Yusho Race

Kakuryu outlasted Ikioi, and Tochinoshin prevailed over Hakuho in an epic battle. Congratulations, Shin-Ozeki! Going into the final three days, Tochinoshin leads at 12-0, followed by 11-1 Kakuryu and 10-2 Hakuho. Tochinoshin obviously controls his destiny: win out, and he claims a zensho yusho. He also has the easiest remaining schedule. Kakuryu also controls his destiny: if he can win out, defeating Tochinoshin on Saturday, the yusho would likely come down to a playoff between the two on senshuraku. Hakuho needs a lot of help to get into a playoff: even if Kakuryu defeats Tochinoshin, he needs the Georgian to pick up a second loss in one of his other two matches. If Tochinoshin defeats Kakuryu, he’d have to drop both of his other matches, which seems unlikely.

Remaining matches

Day 13: Tochinoshin vs. Shodai, Hakuho vs. Ikioi, Kakuryu vs. Ichinojo

Day 14: Tochinoshin vs. KakuryuHakuho vs. Ichinojo

Day 15: Tochinoshin vs. Ikioi (?), Hakuho vs. Kakuryu

The San’yaku

Two San’yaku slots will open up with Endo’s demotion and Tochinoshin’s promotion. Mitakeumi lost today and still needs to pick up a win to make sure it’s not three. A lot is on the line: if he can win one of his remaining 3 matches, he’ll move up to Sekiwake; if not, he’ll drop out of San’yaku altogether. Ichinojo also lost, and needs one more win to ensure that he remains Sekiwake. One of them is guaranteed to pick up a win when they face off on senshuraku, and this may be Ichinojo’s best chance, as his other remaining bouts are against the two Yokozuna. Mitakeumi has Kotoshogiku tomorrow, and likely Shodai on Saturday.

Ikioi and Shodai lead the promotion candidates for now, followed by Kotoshogiku and, surprisingly, Tamawashi, whom we’ve written off but who may yet get back to San’yaku if he can win all three of his remaining matches. Shohozan and Abi dropped off the paces with their losses today, and also need to win out to have a chance.

The Line Between Makuuchi  and Juryo

One slot in the top division will open up with Aminishiki’s demotion. Ishiura won today, but still needs to win out to survive, while Takekaze lost, putting him in the same position. Arawashi probably needs to win twice to be safe, while Daiamami and Ryuden need one win apiece. Everyone else has done enough to remain in Makuuchi in July.

Kotoeko has guaranteed a top-division debut, while Onosho has locked up a quick return to Makuuchi. Meisei still needs a win to join them, and that rounds out the list of legitimate promotion candidates in Juryo.

Natsu Day 12 Highlights

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The big match is history, and we know that we will have a new Ozeki. The NHK broadcast team did a lot to tease and play up the basho-defining match, and I must admit they did it well. The battle itself did not disappoint. Starting Nagoya we will see three Ozeki in action, and at least one Yokozuna.

Tough day to be seated by the dohyo, as a number of rikishi went flying into the first row of cushions.

Highlight Matches

Ishiura defeats Aminishiki – As if Uncle Sumo did not have enough problems, his knee looked to be working poorly after he took a dive into a ringside fan at the end of his match.

Asanoyama defeats Arawashi – The first match resulted in a monoii, and a rematch. These two were battling to throw each other the first time, and they both succeeded. Second match was much more straightforward, but for a moment it looked like they would both try mirror-image throws yet again.

Daishomaru defeats Nishikigi – Straightforward match, but Daishomaru scores his kachi-kochi.

Yoshikaze defeats Daiamami – Daiamami is now make-koshi, and Yoshikaze picks up an unusual kimarite, okurinage (a rear throw down).

Kagayaki defeats Takekaze – Takekaze is also make-koshi now, and may be on his way back to Juryo depending on how the remaining bouts play out.

Takakeisho defeats Chiyoshoma – Takakeisho picks up his 5th straight win, and is starting to look closer to his prior self. I think he still has some recovery to do, but Nagoya might be labeled “The Tadpoles Strike Back”.

Myogiryu defeats Takarafuji – One of the biggest banzuke gaps on the fight card for day 12, and the lower ranked man wins. The match swung between a grip and pushing match, and a bit of run and gun. Takarafuji kept working to grab a hold of Myogiryu, which he eventually achieved. But some fantastic maneuvering by Myogiryu broke Takarafuji’s grip, and handed the commanding position to Myogiryu for the win.

Shodai defeats Shohozan – These two played bumper cars for a moment, but Shodai mustered a burst of strength and with one mighty shove, gave Shohozan the heave-ho.

Chiyotairyu defeats Mitakeumi – When Chiyotairyu’s cannonball tachiai works, you can almost feel it through the video. The impact of those two bodies probably reverberated through the tunnels of the Edo line for 2 minutes. Chiyotairyu avoids make-koshi, and Mitakeumi avoids kachi-koshi.

Kaisei defeats Endo – Well, not sure why Endo came back. He’s been ineffective and is risking compounding that injury.

Kotoshogiku defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo goes chest to chest early, possibly confident that his ponderous bulk will be too much for Kotoshogiku to maneuver. WRONG. Kotoshogiku is relentless, working to get and then keep Ichinojo off balance and moving. Once The Boulder is in motion, The Kyushu Bulldozer deftly maneuvers his out.

Kakuryu defeats Ikioi – Ikioi gave it everything he could muster, but Kakuryu was all over the place, swapping attack plans in the blink of an eye. Ikioi stayed steady, but Kakuryu’s combat-spam is designed to overwhelm his opponents decision loop, and it was only a matter of time before Ikioi was caught trying to dodge the last move and not the blow that was coming. Kakuryu wants the yusho, but his mind has to be on Tochinoshin Saturday.

Tochinoshin defeats Hakuho – Hakuho decides he will concede the form and go chest to chest with Tochinoshin. I am not sure if it was hubris of wanting to add a touch of the unexpected. But Tochinoshin of Natsu 2018 was ready for this, and responded with power and strength that could not be matched. After a brief struggle, Tochinoshin had complete control over the Yokozuna and took him to the edge, and out.

Tochinoshin’s Final Exam Results

 

Tochinoshin

Up until day 12, the “grumpy” elements of the sumo world maintained that Tochinoshin might be denied an Ozeki promotion due to some concerns about the strength of his opponents in this tournament. Through no fault of his own, this tournament went “Nozeki” fairly early. But Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin focused on his sumo, and winning his matches one day at a time.

Day 12 was an unexpected wrinkle in the anticipated order of things, when his match against Yokozuna Hakuho was brought forward by one day. This provided an opportunity should Hakuho win of having a 3 way tie for the yusho going into the final weekend. The odds seemed good, Hakuho held a 25-0 advantage over the Georgian, and while Hakuho was not quite his genki self, he seemed sufficiently potent to apply the brakes on the Tochinoshin yusho train.

But all of the chatter and expectations fall away when two men face each other on the dohyo. It comes down to strength, speed, training an no small amount of luck. The match was excellent, and I urge readers to watch it as soon as they can.

Tochinoshin’s win over Hakuho marks a fundamental shift in the sumo world. We all know that the long serving stalwarts are fading; its the natural order of things. But it’s a identifiable point in time where one rikishi who had been completely dominated by possibly the greatest Yokozuna ever to mount the dohyo was able to train, to work and to overcome his history and emerge victorious.

Nothing stands in the way of his promotion to Ozeki, and little stands in his way of his second yusho in three tournaments. Tochinoshin’s story is one of the great stories of sumo, and indeed one of the great stories of individual sports competition. The team at Tachiai wish him a long an prosperous reign as Ozeki, and we will continue to cheer him on.