Aki Day 9 Highlights

Only one rikishi in the leader group (Takayasu) lost today, so we have six (6!) men headed into day 10 in contention for the yusho. This is going to be a wild run to the weekend, I do predict. It’s easy to favor Takakeisho in the yusho run, but his sumo is still very narrow, and I expect he will struggle with Shodai and Asanoyama. I have to like the chances of Terunofuji. Holding a Maegashira 1 slot, he’s already fought both Ozeki and all 3 Sekiwake. The rest of his schedule are people lower down the banzuke, and he is really fighting well. Stay tuned, sumo fans.

Highlight Matches

Kotonowaka defeats Shimanoumi – Kotonowaka is now one win away from a kachi-koshi, and a likely return to the top division. A couple of times he tried to pull against Shimanoumi, but Shimanoumi was not prepared to respond.

Shohozan defeats Ishiura – Shohozan picks up a very welcome first win against the injured Ishiura. Furthermore, Ishiura demonstrated why his return is such a gamble. Ishiura’s twisting fall from Shohozan’s hatakikomi rolled the dice on compounding that injured ankle. Ishiura now make-koshi.

Tobizaru defeats Meisei – Tobizaru stays in the leader group with this wild roaming brawl. Lots of hit high / hit low / pull me / push you exchanges in this match. If you want to see a pair or rikishi really mix it up, this is your match.

Kaisei defeats Hoshoryu – Hoshoryu discovers first hand just how massive Kaisei truly is. Hoshoryu got a right hand inside with a solid grip, but then could do nothing with it. Sometimes, being enormous is a sumo strategy. Both finish day 9 at 4-5.

Onosho defeats Kotoshoho – Great work by Kotoshoho, wrapping up Onosho. The only knock was that pull attempt just following the tachiai. But with Onosho’s known balance issues, it had possibilities. But Onosho got is hands into Kotoshoho’s armpits, and that was the end of Kotoshoho’s offense. Onosho remains with the leader group.

Enho defeats Ichinojo – This match was as awkward as a couple of 13 year olds at their first school dance. But at least Enho staved off make-koshi for another day.

Tokushoryu defeats Kotoshogiku – You can visibly see the strain on Kotoshogiku’s knees as Tokushoryu presses ahead against Tokushoryu. But of course Tokushoryu spins up his near magical tsukiotoshi, but the result is a slow motion collapse as Kotoshogiku goes down. Both end the day at 2-7.

Aoiyama defeats Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu could not find enough energy to really move Aoiyama back, and the match became a battle of shoving that Aoiyama was bound to win. Both exit day 9 with 5-4.

Kotoeko defeats Ryuden – Ryuden tried for a right hand frontal grip at the tachiai and missed. As a result Kotoeko got a left hand inside, and his right hand looped around Ryuden’s left. This was a perfect pivot point and the resulting kotenage took only a few steps to develop. Solid sumo today from Kotoeko.

Sadanoumi defeats Kagayaki – Standard Kagayaki oshi-fare, but Sadanoumi was expertly working thrust-and-shift. This kept Kagayaki working to react, and it paid off for Sadanoumi, when Kagayaki lost his balance and opened the door for Sadanoumi to rush forward and push Kagayaki out from the side.

Wakatakakage defeats Takayasu – It’s a new day indeed when you can see Wakatakakage overpower Takayasu. For a moment it’s a straight up power struggle, and… Wakatakakage gets the advantage? Takayasu attempts to break contact, and Wakatakakage catches him from the side and plows ahead. Wakatakakage stays with the leader group.

Tamawashi defeats Takarafuji – This match went to beans for Takarafuji when he attempted to reach for Tamawashi’s belt, lost his balance and Tamawashi expertly let him continue the fall. Really amazing reaction speed from Tamawashi here.

Terunofuji defeats Hokutofuji – The tachiai between these two seems to be an equal exchange. Terunofuji gets his hands low, and Hokutofuji gets his hands in Terunofuji’s arm pits. In a typical match, the armpit hold would degrade the opponent’s offense and raise them up. But it seems Terunofuji has been spending nights and weekends having his tsukebito poke him in the armpits while on the bench press. Seemingly immune to Hokutofuji’s hazuoshi pushes Hokutofuji around, and then releases pressure, bringing Hokutofuji to the clay. Terunofuji stays with the leader group.

Takanosho defeats Endo – Endo seemingly blows the tachiai, ricocheting to his right, and Takanosho follows and pushes him away and down. I am sure Endo wishes he could have a do-over on this one.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Okinoumi – Well, this restores my faith that Terutsuyoshi has not turned into a complete goon, as he shows solid, attack-forward sumo today. Okinoumi tried a pull down, and that was all the advantage Terutsuyoshi needed to take over offense, which Okinoumi was unable to recover. Both end the day at 3-6.

Mitakeumi defeats Myogiryu – Mitakeumi remembers his massive body, and decides to use it to move forward today. And guess what? He wins. Maybe Mitakeumi can forego his week 2 fade, having pre-faded in week one.

Shodai defeats Daieisho – The first match ended with both men exiting the ring together, and a rematch was called. The second try was an 80% re-hash of the first, but this time Daieisho really took his frustrations out on Shodai’s face and neck. Shodai, to his credit, kept his cool and waited for his moment. It came when Daieisho reached in with his left and lost balance. Shodai stays with the leader group.

Takakeisho defeats Kiribayama – Sadly, Kiribayama did not seem to get the memo that Takakeisho’s on-off switch is located on his mawashi. Instead Kiribayama decides he is going to engage the grand tadpole in a pushing match, and there are few things on planet Earth that Takakeisho enjoys more than a good game of Pengo. Takakeisho stays with the leader group.

Asanoyama defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin, that stuff was beyond it’s expiration date yesterday. I am not surprised that Asanoyama was ready. With the crummy henka a disaster, Tochinoshin tries for, and gets his left hand outside grip, but can do absolutely nothing with it. Asanoyama gives him a hearty uwatenage, and sends him home.

Aki Day 9 Preview

This is why we can’t have nice things. Look at what happened day 8! The entirety of the leaderboard hit the clay, and now Bruce gets his wish. A giant drunken barnyard brawl where half the banzuke is in contention for the cup at the start of week 2. I am sure the scheduling team is oscillating between giddy excitement and horrified concern about how they are going to bring this unruly cloud of rikishi together to determine a winner by Sunday.

Its clear to me, at least, that should either Ozeki pick up the yusho, there really should not be any talk about a Yokozuna promotion. Both of them are looking shaky, and that’s the last thing you need from a Yokozuna. I think both of them are still able to get 8, and maybe even 10. But total dominance on the dohyo is the sign of a Yokozuna, and neither of our current Ozeki have reached that level of performance yet. Furthermore, I think their path to get to that level of performance may have been damaged by COVID-19. With the shut down of join / inter-stable training, neither of the Ozeki has a chance to forge their technique to the level needed to become a Yokozuna. It takes a hard and hardy substance to forge strong metal. It’s no different in athletes. Without worthy competition to train against, frequently, the skills stagnate or worse yet, atrophy. With the 2 surviving Yokozuna injured and fading out, the future Yokozuna for a post-Hakuho era may be significantly handicapped.

I do think sumo will survive, and new champions will rise. But until the NSA opens up training rules, the best we can hope for is what 2 week 2 promised to be. Its going to be massive fun to watch, but for fans who long for the next Ozeki and Yokozuna – not happening any time soon.

Aki Leaderboard

Well, jump ball everyone!

Leaders – Takakeisho, Shodai, Terunofuji, Kiribayama, Takayasu, Wakatakakage, Onosho, Kotoshoho, Tobizaru
Chasers – Asanoyama, Takarafuji, Kagayaki, Chiyotairyu, Meisei, Ichinojo
Hunt GroupMitakeumi, Takanosho, Tochinoshin, Aoiyama, Kotoeko, Shimanoumi, Hoshoryu

7 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 9

Shimanoumi vs Kotonowaka – Kotonowaka comes to visit from Jury to fill the Yutakayama gap, and he is looking like a good bet to return in November. He is 2 wins away from his kachi-koshi at Juryo 2, so just a few more wins will put him into a promotable spot.

Shohozan vs Ishiura – Ishiura was able to overcome whatever doom is in his ankle to take his first win of Aki. Now he is against the paper-mache version of the formerly fearsome Shohozan. With any luck, lksumo might chime in with his idea of just how many wins Ishiura must gather in to maintain some toe hold on the top division.

Meisei vs Tobizaru – Co-co-co leader Tobizaru has yet to take a match from Meisei (3 tries), but he has been showing the best sumo of his career this September, and I would think that day 9 may be his time.

Hoshoryu vs Kaisei – Readers have noted that I have suggested that in matches where Kaisei can move and stay in control, he can win. Today, I think his enormity may be enough to confound Hoshoryu, who has never fought against Kaisei before.

Kotoshoho vs Onosho – A head to head battled between Co-co-co leaders, this will (thankfully) narrow the field. This is also a first time match between the lagging tadpole Onosho, and the young, fresh Kotoshoho. This will come down to who gets their hands inside at the tachiai, and if Onosho can keep his balance over his feet.

Enho vs Ichinojo – Good lord! He, schedulers – we know this is a quintessential big man / little man match. But its becoming aparent that Enho is not quite right. Lets not feed him to the monster just yet. Oh, it’s sumo and the monster needs to eat? Well then, in the name of the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, please don’t make him wear a pony costume today.

Tokushoryu vs Kotoshogiku – You would thing, “hey, to long-serving grizzled vets. They probably have like 218 matches between them”. But no, this is only their second ever match. Both of them are late in their careers, and running on what little sinew and gristle is left in their bodies.

Chiyotairyu vs Aoiyama – Now THIS is a match. To heavyweights in a clash of styles. Aoiyama loves to swat and bash his opponent into submissions. Chiyotairyu plays human wrecking ball and relies on his mass and lower body to provider his offense. Someone is going to hit the clay today.

Ryuden vs Kotoeko – Both of these rikishi are close to the make-koshi trend line, with Ryuden the more likely bet. His size will give him an advantage today, but only if Kotoeko agrees to stay in one spot long enough to get caught. Career record of 5-2 favors Ryuden.

Sadanoumi vs Kagayaki – Odd as it may seem, Kagayaki is 1 loss behind the yusho leaders now, and could conceivably contend for the cup. He may hav a slightly easier than normal time with Sadanoumi today, as it seems that taped shoulder continues to bother him a bit more each day.

Takayasu vs Wakatakakage – The only prior match featured a hearty tsukiotoshi sending Takayasu to the clay (July), Takayasu, who is a co-co-co-leader, is fighting better this tournament, and I give him a good chance to even the score.

Takarafuji vs Tamawashi – This Aki is the best I have seen Takarafuji look in at least a year. So I am going to give him a clear advantage over Tamawashi on day 9. I have to wonder if having a resurgent Terunofuji to train against has helped to greatly improve Takarafuji’s sumo.

Terunofuji vs Hokutofuji – Speak of the kaiju! This match is a real bell-weather, as Terunofuji has lost to Hokutofuji in all 3 prior meetings. The last one was November of 2017 (my how time flies), that featured a freshly de-frocked Ozeki Terunofuji unable to generate any effective offense.

Takanosho vs Endo – I admire Endo’s ability, and I keep hoping that “today” will be the day where it clicks for him and he fights like the bad-ass sumo assassin we all know he can be. He won the only 2 prior matches against Endo, so maybe he can at rack up a much needed white star.

Okinoumi vs Terutsuyoshi – Its sad that I look at this match and immediately wonder what kind of punk nonsense Terutsuyoshi might try today. I think Okinoumi has seen it all at this point, so I would urge Terutsuyoshi to fight a solid, fundamentals based match. It’s his best chance against a master technician like Okinoumi.

Myogiryu vs Mitakeumi – A sad thing seems to have happened in some parts of the US, or maybe it’s just the Dallas, TX area. I am having a tough time finding anything other than really poor grade or super high end sake right now. It could be global supply chain disruption due to COVID-19, or it could be the legions of Mitakeumi fans trying to drink their way through this basho. I would like to say that Mitakeumi is a clear favorite, but couple the 4-4 career record, and the fact that Mitakeumi has taken to sumo in reverse-gear, it’s anyone’s guess who has advantage here.

Shodai vs Daieisho – Shodai finds him back in the lead of this basho (along with 8 other really large men), but this may in fact energize him and drive him to higher performance. The 3-5 career record favors Daieisho – with Shodai losing 3 of the last 4! If prior matches are a guide, it will come down to Shodai’s right hand, and Daieisho’s ability to block Shodai’s primary weapon.

Kiribayama vs Takakeisho – Kiribayama won their only prior match. and I do hope that he keeps his eyes on Kiribayama during the tachiai. Both of these rikishi hold a share of the lead, so only one will remain at the end of this match.

Asanoyama vs Tochinoshin – Asanoyama should invite Tochinoshin to a hearty contest of strength today. I am fairly sure that bandaged knee could not maintain pressure against Asanoyama’s classic yotsu style. No tricks, no hopping about, just see if Tochinoshin still has the body for a straight up contest.

Aki Storylines, Day 8

Having passed the mid-point of the September tournament, let’s take a look at the storylines we’ll be following the rest of the way, shall we?

The Yusho Race

Although races like this are common in Juryo, we’ve rarely witnessed one in the top division. Nine men, ranging in rank from Ozeki to maegashira 14, are tied for the lead with 6-2 records. Six additional wrestlers, including the pre-tournament favorite Asanoyama, are one off the lead at 5-3. This is only the 4th time in the six-basho era (since 1958) that no Makuuchi rikishi has posted 7 or more wins on nakabi (interestingly, two of the previous 3  such tournaments were won with a 13-2 record). With no clear favorite, the race should go down to the wire, and we could be in for an exciting final day and yet another surprise winner.

The Named Ranks

Ozeki Takakeisho is in the lead group, and a second career title would be the start of a Yokozuna challenge for him. His fellow Ozeki Asanoyama was the one widely expected to mount such a challenge, and has recovered from his disastrous 0-3 start to post 5 straight white stars, albeit with the last one coming by default. The yusho race could well come down to what is likely to be the final bout (musubi-no-ichiban) on the final day (senshuraku) between these two men atop the banzuke.

East Sekiwake Shodai (6-2) has looked dominant in some matches and vulnerable in others, but nevertheless finds himself tied for the lead on day 8. Although an Ozeki promotion for November looks extremely unlikely short of a 13-2 yusho, a strong second week would place him in a strong position to finish off the run next time out. West Sekiwake Mitakeumi didn’t wait until week 2 to start his customary fade, and is more likely to spend the next 7 days trying to save his rank than mounting a title challenge or maintaining Ozeki hopes.

Shin-Sekiwake Daieisho has predictably struggled at his career-high rank, but has fought well and is not in terrible shape at 3-5. Finally, both Komusubi, Okinoumi and Endo, are also 3-5, scoring some big wins but dropping bouts they shouldn’t. It remains to be seen who can pull off a 5-2 final week to hold rank, and how many san’yaku slots might be open for the rank-and-file to aspire to. The top maegashira, Terunofuji (6-2), isn’t waiting for slots to open, instead looking to crash through the door and reclaim his rightful spot in the named ranks.

Division Exchanges

We know Abi will be dropping down to Juryo as part of the punishment for his extracurricular activities. Hapless M15w Shohozan (0-8) probably needs to win out to avoid joining him. M16e Kyokutaisei (2-3-3) also looks headed down barring a miraculous reentry with 5 wins. Returning M13w Ishiura (1-0-7) somehow managed to beat Shimanoumi on one leg; he’ll need to repeat this feat 4-5 more times to survive in the top division. Others with a lot of work left to do during the final week to avoid demotion include Tokushoryu, Kaisei, Enho, Kotoshogiku, Shimanoumi, Ichinojo, and Hoshoryu.

Makuuchi men who might find themselves on the bubble will be heartened to know that there are only two Juryo rikishi who’ve staked a strong promotion claim during week 1: the J2 Sadagotake duo of Kotoyuki and Kotonowaka, both 6-2. A dark-horse candidate is the Juryo yusho leader and former Makuuchi mainstay Chiyonokuni, 7-1, who could make the leap from all the way down at J11w with a 14-1 or 13-2 championship.

I’ll take a look at the likely Makushita-Juryo exchanges, which are complicated by the mandated absences and uncertain banzuke fates of J7 Azumaryu and J14 Fujiazuma, a little later in the tournament, but fan favorite Ura (Ms5w) is very much in the hunt at 4-0.