After giving YouTube a forceful yori-kiri, we finally have the final installment of the Hatsu podcast series. In this segment, Andy and Bruce preview some of the highlight matches from the upcoming January tournament.
Of course, we close it out with our always regrettable predictions. Onward to Tokyo!
Welcome to the final day of this year’s Aki basho, the Autumn Grand Sumo tournament.
I will be returning to Kokugikan for the final day’s matches, and will look forward to sharing my thoughts on the experience on these pages and upcoming podcast(s). Thanks to everyone for joining us for this wild and unpredictable tournament.
We enter the final day with no fewer than three rikishi still very much in contention for the Emperor’s Cup (and the macaron, and that enormous trophy that the USA created, and beer and gasoline and lots of other prizes besides).
Leaders: Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, Okinoumi
What We Are Watching Day 15
Takagenji vs Chiyoshoma – Neither of these guys have looked fit for their rank over the past two weeks and will probably be grateful to see the back of this tournament. Both men are makekoshi, and in the case of Takagenji, heavily so. Takagenji needs a win only to cushion his fall into Juryo. There’s not a lot in this.
Kagayaki vs Azumaryu – Another makekoshi pair, Azumaryu probably needs a win here to confirm his spot in the division next time out. Neither showed much to dream on in this basho. This is their first meeting for three years, with the head to head rivalry being even at three apiece.
Shohozan vs Yutakayama – I think Yutakayama has performed much the better of these two over the tournament, in spite of their equal 9-5 records. Both can be happy with that return, though I think Shohozan has just about scratched out some of his wins to get there. This will be an oshi-zumo match, and I think Yutakayama’s pushing attack is the more dominant of the two at the moment, despite his flaws. I’ll tip him to upset the form guide and get his first win over the veteran at the third time of asking.
Onosho vs Tsurugisho – Tsurugisho really deserves our applause after keeping himself in the yusho race until Day 14. Onosho has really grown into the tournament and while he looks some way short of the strength he has displayed in the past, it looks clear that his fiery red mawashi has brought some of his sumo back. I don’t think Tsurugisho was expecting to be in the yusho race but it will be interesting to see how his elimination will affect him. Onosho has won 5 from 8, has the stronger thrusting attack, and I think he’ll finish strongly and win this.
Sadanoumi vs Enho – Enho will be relieved to get his kachi-koshi after a thoroughly entertaining tournament in which he has fully captured the imagination of the public. Sadanoumi’s mobility is still a bit hobbled and I can see Enho targeting the much taller man’s bad leg for a possible leg pick or tripping move. Losing this match wouldn’t be the worst thing for Enho as a succession of 8-7s is probably best for him to acclimate to the higher levels of competition anyway. But I think he’ll win it and finish strongly.
Terutsuyoshi vs Nishikigi – The manner of Terutsuyoshi’s defeat on Day 14 was actually more worrying for me than any of his prior defeats, in so much as he had the match won several times over and couldn’t actually finish it. Unfortunately for him, Nishikigi, while make-koshi, brings a lot more to the party than Takagenji. If Terutsuyoshi is unable to commit any power moving forward with his thrusting attack, Nishikigi should simply be able to wrap him up and contain him.
Kotoshogiku vs Tochiozan – It’s the 40th meeting of these two beloved veterans, and it brings a chance for the former ozeki to level the scores at 20 apiece. That shows just how even this matchup has been. I don’t think the Kyushu Bulldozer has been as bad as his 5-9 record suggests, but he has faltered in the second week and will be happy to welcome the next tournament on home soil. Tochiozan probably needs a win here to keep himself in the division – although as lksumo has noted there aren’t too many folks from Juryo banging down the door. I think this match all comes down to whether Kotoshogiku can set the “hug and chug” and execute his gaburi-yori. Look for Tochiozan to accept the grip but then attempt a throw to toss him aside.
Shimanoumi vs Daishoho –
I stand amid the roar Of a surf-tormented shore, And I hold within my hand Grains of the golden sand — How few! yet how they creep Through my fingers to the deep, While I weep — while I weep! O God! Can I not grasp Them with a tighter clasp? O God! can I not save One from the pitiless wave?
Daishoho leads the lifetime series.
Kotoyuki vs Shodai – Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Kotoyuki – yes that Kotoyuki, the one who rolls around and goes flying off the dohyo and into people’s bento boxes in the fifth row of the masu seats – is a former sekiwake. He’s gone a long way to making us remember in the last couple of tournaments. His pushing and thrusting attack has largely been good this basho, and he’s coming up against an opponent who will probably let him execute it given Shodai’s lack of tachiai. Shodai may have found some kind of inspiration with his much needed Day 14 win, but I’d imagine Kotoyuki will be gunning hard to finish strong and find his way as far up the banzuke as he can.
Tamawashi vs Ishiura – Finally, ten matches into the day’s events we find our first “Darwin” matchup of a pair of 7-7 rikishi. Tamawashi is probably in slightly the better form although he did get manhandled on Day 14 by a resurgent Hokutofuji. This is where the banzuke will probably tell the story as Ishiura has been in and around the top division for quite a while now, but these two have never met as they’ve largely stayed at opposite ends. Assuming the Angel of Henka doesn’t try anything wacky, he’ll look to get in very low at the tachiai and get a frontal grip on Tamawashi’s mawashi. The Mongolian will just look to pummel him out, though whether and how exactly he raises up the much smaller man with his trademark nodowa is going to be an interesting tactical question. Advantage is very much with the decorated veteran, though I wouldn’t rule out a shock totally.
Chiyotairyu vs Tomokaze – This is another match where mental strength will be as important as anything technical, as we get to see how Tomokaze reacts to his first ever make-koshi. Tomokaze fought with more heart that we have seen from him most of the basho on Day 14, but it was too little too late when coming up against a highly skilled opponent who was in the middle of a yusho challenge. Chiyotairyu has been more or less buried, and Tomokaze should seize the opportunity to minimise his demotion and keep himself among the high level competitors next time out – that is what will continue to improve him.
Daieisho vs Kotoeko – Our second and final “Darwin” match sees this pair go head to head. I’m running out of superlatives for Daieisho, and the way he has continued his remarkable comeback to .500 by executing his strong pushing and thrusting attack really deserves credit. If there’s any justice, he will get it here. Kotoeko has faced poorer opposition over the course of the tournament to end up in the same place, and if Daieisho can come out of the blocks strong and keep his centre of gravity low while aiming his thrusts upward to raise his opponent, he’s got a good chance of completing a magnificent comeback.
Meisei vs Asanoyama – I think this might be a challenge too far for Meisei, who has stumbled badly in the second week after an incredible start to the basho that saw him atop the leaderboard at points. Asanoyama will not win this tournament, but has again raised his stature with double digit wins in the joi, regardless of the volume of opposition. I don’t think this tournament will end up factoring into an ozeki run, but it will be curious if an 11th win here changes the calculus for the banzuke committee as has happened before. Meisei will do best to utilise a pushing and thrusting attack – of which he is very capable, but if Asanoyama gets on the mawashi then the gunbai will fall to him.
Ryuden vs Aoiyama – After losing his first six, Aoiyama’s done well to at least stabilise himself and minimise his fall down the banzuke in the next tournament. Ryuden was moving along at a decent clip until getting drawn in to face much higher level opposition in the last three days. Both are make-koshi, and having seen what the last few days have taken out of Ryuden, and with him facing an opponent who won’t be entertaining a mawashi battle, I have to slightly favour Big Dan. Aoiyama should not be throwing henkas especially in matches with nothing to lose, and he will have an opportunity to bust out his pushing attack in this match.
Hokutofuji vs Takarafuji – It’s a Fuji battle, which has gone 3 times from 5 prior meetings to the man from Aomori. Nonetheless, Hokutofuji has stormed back with seven consecutive wins and his opponent has faded in the last couple of days in which he has shown weakness against a strong pushing attack (Abi). So I’m going to tip Hokutofuji to continue his incredible final weekend form and finish strong.
Abi vs Myogiryu – In normal circumstances, Abi would be facing Takakeisho and Myogiryu would probably have had a “Darwin” match against someone nearer his own rank on the final day. So that’s bad luck. Abi had some good fortune in week 1 but has followed it up with some impressive second week performances to grab his kachi-koshi and more besides. There’s nothing (apart from pride and kensho) at stake for him in this match, as he will end up K1E next tournament regardless of results here or elsewhere. Myogiryu has done admirably in adverse circumstances after his return from kyujo and his hope here will be to get inside and get a grip on Abi’s mawashi while his opponent is pummelling away at him. Myogiryu has the throwing ability to use the taller man’s momentum against him, especially given the high centre of gravity which Abi sustains through most matches. Whether he can actually execute that however, is another matter entirely.
Okinoumi vs Takakeisho – The first truly momentous bout of the day. The schedulers broke with precedent and brought up M8 Okinoumi to face Ozekiwake Takakeisho on Senshuraku and hopefully deliver the climax that this basho deserves. These two 11-3 rikishi facing off means that a 12th win is guaranteed to someone, and so all of the 10-4 chasers are thus eliminated. Okinoumi could do worse than reference some of the video of Goeido’s win over Takakeisho earlier in the week. He won’t be able to account for differences in the tachiai, but he can at least look to Goeido’s quick movement to get over the top to land a belt grip. I think Takakeisho will be too fast for him, however. Takakeisho’s pushing and thrusting attack to me has almost looked effortless in the second week, and it’s been astonishing to see how many matches he’s been able to win with three thrusts off the tachiai. Takekeisho is unquestionably the favourite here, though Okinoumi has beaten him once in four previous tries.
Mitakeumi vs Endo – There will be a lot of kensho on this one. Mitakeumi must win in order to force a playoff against the winner of the previous match. 8-6 Endo will be fighting for nothing apart from pride and money. This has been a closer rivalry than it might seem, Mitakeumi having won 5 out of 9. Endo is a hugely underrated technician and Mitakeumi will do well to keep this match away from the belt. While Endo does occasionally engage with and disarm oshi-zumo battles, the laconic pin-up is also prone to a quick blowout loss and so Mitakeumi will want this over with before Endo can find a way to execute a counter-attack.
Tochinoshin vs Goeido – It’s quite possible that this will be the last bout of Tochinoshin’s Ozeki career, and unfortunately it’s a match with little overall meaning. Fortunately, it may not be a down note that ends the basho in the likely event that there is, in fact, a playoff. This is the 28th matchup of these two Ozeki, with Goeido leading 17-10. It’s a match of “what if’s” for both men. Goeido, as the highest placed rikishi in the competition, could – and probably should – have won this basho. Tochinoshin needed some luck in this tournament to get the 8 wins needed to retain his rank, but none of the breaks have fallen his way. The neutral here might be rooting for the Georgian to give both something to cheer as well as some hope that he can make his second Ozekiwake campaign in November at least competitive and interesting.
This has been a weird basho. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. When watching Day 12 inside the arena, I found myself alternating between shaking my head and cheering enthusiastically. The tournament has swung wildly between some of the most exciting sumo we have seen in ages, and slippy/slappy/pulldown action.
Less than sixty top division bouts remain, and we will see a victor crowned. What sort of victor will it be? Well, three names were culled from the race on Day 12, and the yusho arasoi should get thinner than a 40 year old’s oicho-mage after another day of action.
Day 13 is also a pivotal day as it will crown several lower division yusho winners.
Let’s start off with a quick sweep of the nether regions, where the wheat will be separated from the… slightly less sellable wheat. Wheat that’s perfectly good for the mill but not the sort of stuff you’d see in a high-end depachika.
Jonokuchi: The very first bout of the day decides the yusho, with former blue chip prospect and Ms1 Murata looking to seal the deal against less-heralded fellow injury returnee Omura.
Jonidan/Sandanme: Both of these divisions has 3 undefeated rikishi, so it’s splitsville with one of the divisions being won outright on the day and the other heading for a playoff over the weekend:
In Jonidan, bottom ranked 6-0’ers Aomihama and Sadanohana do battle, while…
In Sandanme, top ranked 6-0’ers Tsushida and Sadanohikari lock horns. Both sets of winners will hope that…
Sandanme’s Fujinowaka and Jonidan’s Motobayashi lose their match against the other.
Motobayashi is of course no stranger to strange yusho permutations having beaten two of his Naruto-beya stablemates to the Jonokuchi yusho last time out. Tsushida is the only other prior yusho winner – also in Jonokuchi.
Makushita: The highlight bout of the title matches on the day is unquestionably an intriguing battle of two former Makuuchi favourites. Immediate injury returnee Chiyonokuni takes on the most prominent rikishi in the unsalaried tiers: former Ozeki Terunofuji, who continues his long old slog up from Jonidan. They’ve met twice, each winning once. Neither will be promoted to Juryo with a win, but the winner will be much better placed for promotion in November.
In Juryo, the highlight of the day sees leader Ikioi against his nearest chaser Kotonowaka in a match which won’t decide the title, but may go some way to clearing it up.
What (Else) We Are Watching Day 13
Takanosho vs Azumaryu – Back to the top division then, and Takanosho gets called up again in a sneak preview of Fukuoka action, having clinched his kachikoshi from Juryo 2. Azumaryu has a 3-2 edge over his rival and has cooled off a bit in the preceding days.
Yutakayama vs Enho – After being pulled up to the dizzy heights of second half action, burgeoning superstar Enho finds himself near the bottom of the day’s fight card against an opponent who is just barely on the fringes of the title race. Somehow, this is their first ever meeting. It has been said ad nauseum on the commentary this tournament that Enho fights better against much larger opponents, and I tend to agree his chances will be improved here against an opponent who may not be able to cope with his dynamism and movement. While I correctly predicted he might struggle to finish off Takarafuji, I think this match gives him a bit better potential to score his kachikoshi and end the giant Yutakayama’s spirited title challenge.
Onosho vs Nishikigi – I’m glad this is happening now because it has all the hallmarks of one of those horrible Day 15 Darwin matchups. These guys are indeed both .500, but have a couple days to work out their winning record regardless of what happens. It’s a clash of styles, with Onosho’s dynamic pushing attack against Nishikigi’s preference to lock up his opponent’s arms. Onosho’s in good nick right now so I think he’ll win the day – provided he can stay on his feet.
Shohozan vs Meisei – Shohozan’s unlikely dalliance with title contention ended on Day 12, and Meisei’s took a real hit. Both will want to turn things around for different reasons: Shohozan can seal kachikoshi and Meisei still finds himself just one win off the pace and in with a real shout of a special prize. Their meetings have been split one apiece, but I think Meisei is just about in the better shape here, especially if it’s a mawashi battle. Shohozan has still got it but appears to have lost a step, compensating with increased work on the belt. That plays into Meisei’s hands though, so I’m tipping the energetic youngster.
Sadanoumi vs Takagenji – Takagenji is clearly impacted by off-field activity and will hope to be back soon. Sadanoumi has to be unforgiving and punishing, as this is as good an opportunity as any to score one of the two remaining wins he needs this tournament. Sadanoumi leads the rivalry 2-0, and I’m backing him to make it 3.
Tochiozan vs Kotoyuki – Speaking of losing a step, Tochiozan has looked a bit blasé in this tournament, which isn’t a very good recipe for a match against the pushing attack of Kotoyuki. What he does still have however is ring sense, something that is very much his opponent’s achilles heel. Kotoyuki has lost at least two matches in this tournament from winning positions, and can’t afford to do that again here. I think Kotoyuki will win the tachiai with his trademark thrusting attack, but whether he’s able to actually put the veteran away is another matter.
Terutsuyoshi vs Ishiura – Terutsuyoshi must have summoned the henka genie with his olé move on Day 12, as the genie has arrived to battle him on Day 13! Ishiura has faded badly in terms of results since his hot start and at 6-6 needs to find the wins needed for this tournament to be a success. For makekoshi Terutsuyoshi, it’s all about damage limitation to make sure a bad situation doesn’t get worse. Ishiura tends to henka in desperate situations… surely he won’t here, right? These guys will see plenty of each other in keiko sessions given the close relationship of their heya, so I think we’ll see some straightforward little man sumo, and it could be a bit feisty.
Tsurugisho vs Takarafuji – These guys both improbably find themselves one off the pace heading into the final weekend. What a story! Tsurugisho has exceeded all expectations in his top flight debut. Takarafuji, meanwhile, did very well to stick to his incredibly disciplined style of sumo to take Enho out of the equation on Day 12. This is a first time matchup. Tsurugisho would do well to start with a pushing attack because he doesn’t want a mawashi battle against a more experienced yotsu practitioner who will have designs on simply wearing down the opponent until he can sniff out and exploit a weakness. While a win for the rookie would add to the chaos that has been this Aki basho, I’m going to tip Takarafuji to stay right in the yusho race with a win here.
Okinoumi vs Kagayaki – Okinoumi upended his cold spell and the yusho race by knocking Meisei off the top of the leaderboard in some style on Day 12, and keeping himself in unlikely contention. Kagayaki is 5-7 and will be desperate to avoid makekoshi, but Okinoumi really shouldn’t lose this. While Kagayaki is very good when it comes to his ring sense and overall control, I don’t think he’s better than a healthy, in-form Okinoumi at oshi or yotsu-zumo, including the execution of throws. I’m going to tip the veteran to grab his 10th win.
Daishoho vs Kotoeko – Daishoho is makekoshi and faces a 5-7 rikishi hoping not to suffer the same fate. As evidenced by his win over Tochiozan on Day 12, Daishoho does seem like a rikishi who performs better when the pressure is off. This will be a belt match, with both rikishi preferring the mawashi. The previous 12 meetings have been split evenly. This is kind of a boring one so the boring analysis is: the winner will get a better grip from the tachiai and win by trying to move forward. Prove me wrong, guys. Woof.
Daieisho vs Chiyotairyu – I know I have been singing Daieisho’s praises to the heavens in this tournament, but this guy has just had a really good basho for a 5-7 rikishi. He is establishing his style of sumo all the time, and he backed that up by how he dealt with Asanoyama. Chiyotairyu on the other hand has been neither been able to establish his style of sumo from the tachiai nor recover in order to get his pushing and thrusting attack going. If he were a little more genki this might be the closest we’d get to a good old fashioned street fight in this tournament, but Daieisho might see the light at the end of the tunnel here and keep the chains moving in his quest for an unlikely winning record.
Tamawashi vs Asanoyama – Tamawashi has ended the title challenges of Abi and Endo in consecutive days and the arm-breaking cavity merchant will look to make it a hat trick by finishing off Asanoyama’s slim hopes at a second yusho. As with yesterday, Asanoyama does not handle Tamawashi’s style of sumo particularly well as evidenced by the goose egg he’s sporting from three prior meetings. That all being said, I’m going to break with the prediction I made yesterday and tip him to upset the form guide in this one, as Tamawashi can be a little vulnerable to being escorted out by an opponent who’s able to land a quick belt grip. And that might just keep things interesting into the weekend.
Shodai vs Aoiyama – As Bruce related, Shodai is better than his 2-10 record. With both of these guys in such poor form (five wins between them from 24 matches in this tournament), it’s the kind of match you mark down as “toilet break” or “refill the drink.” Make it fast though, because this should be over quickly. If Aoiyama gets the V-Twin firing and can move Shodai back from the tachiai, he should win this. And if he doesn’t, Shodai will grab the mawashi and get his third win.
Hokutofuji vs Tomokaze – Rescuing us from that dreariness is another first time matchup, and a thoroughly intriguing one at that. Tomokaze is 6-6 and needs to find two wins from three to keep his amazing kachikoshi streak alive, after he started pulling again for some reason yesterday. Hokutofuji is in his now typical strong finish, fighting back with five straight wins and some fantastic oshi-zumo this week. Here’s a stat for you: Hokutofuji is 16-5 over the final weekend (Friday-Sunday) of his past seven tournaments. That’s some indication of his perseverance. He will open up with his typical pushing-thrusting attack here, and Tomokaze in current form is probably going to look for a pull. That isn’t quite as awful as it sounds in this case, as Hokutofuji can be very prone to the hatakikomi/slippiotoshi. Hokutofuji is the favourite, but only just.
Kotoshogiku vs Endo – Kotoshogiku is on the brink, but managed to keep himself afloat with his comfortable win over Tomokaze on Day 12. Endo started strong but has fizzled in the second week. These matches have been split pretty evenly since Kotoshogiku’s Ozeki demotion and I think this hangs on Endo’s focus as much as anything. After all, we know what Kotoshogiku is going to give in every match.
Abi vs Shimanoumi – These guys lock horns for the second time, Abi having won the first earlier this year. Shimanoumi has a decent oshi-attack, but I don’t think it’s on the level of Abi’s tsuppari. Shimanoumi is already make-koshi and while he will be still looking to finish strong, Abi has a chance to lock in his san’yaku position for another tournament and I expect him not to have to wait until Day 15 to do it this time.
Mitakeumi vs Myogiryu – Myogiryu came back from injury strong on Day 11, but then just flat out collapsed against Takakeisho on Day 12. Mitakeumi, meanwhile, rebounded from his own collapse with a thunderous win in a very tense, high stakes, matta-strewn affair against Tochinoshin. These two are actually fairly similar in terms of their ability, Mitakeumi simply operating on a higher level, perhaps apart from when it comes to throws. But I don’t think this match is going to get that far. Mitakeumi is the person that needs to keep the title race relevant into the final days, and he needs to establish a strong oshi attack. I don’t think Myogiryu defends particularly well against high level opposition so if Mitakeumi takes the initiative, he should win.
Tochinoshin vs Ryuden – Ryuden has been all over the shop lately, and we got to see a lot of him against Goeido in a match that was run multiple times due to various matta. For Tochinoshin’s part, he simply needs to win every match to avoid demotion. Their head to head record is 1-1, Ryuden winning most recently in Nagoya. Ryuden is in some ways a good opponent for the Georgian, in that he will allow Tochinoshin to get the belt. But he is also in some ways the absolute worst opponent, because very few rikishi manage to defend at the edge after giving up a belt grip like Ryuden. That effort, and his ability to turn losses into wins at the tawara, has won many fans. There’s nothing worse than seeing your heroes die a slow death and I think Tochinoshin will probably draw the pain out further by just about winning this.
Takakeisho vs Goeido – This is an enormous match to end the day, and for both men. The subtext is perhaps the most interesting. Goeido is safe from demotion, but this is a yusho he should have contended for, and a loss here will officially knock him out of the running. A Takakeisho win may be a symbolic changing of the guard and a big moment in the transition to the new generation of stars. Goeido leads the rivalry 7-3, and has beaten Takakeisho fairly consistently over time. As an all-rounder with a blistering attack, he is one of few rikishi with the tools to overwhelm the perplexing youngster. Goeido is certainly prone to the type of slap down technique that Takakeisho has mastered, but I think the youngster may find it harder to win just with oshi-zumo than against other opponents. I’m going to go out on a limb and tip the veteran Ozeki for the win here.
Hello again sumo fans! Very few people have ever confused me with a Yokozuna, and one more key difference is that unlike them, I’m back in action again on Day 12 at Kokugikan. This means I’m here to bring you the preview of the day’s events, and what I will be looking for in the top division matches. So without further ado:
Quick little burst from Juryo: The schedulers continue to keep 9-2 leaders Ikioi and Kotonowaka away from each other, so we could be in for some senshuraku fun to decide the title. Future caddy Ikioi gets 7-4 Daishomaru in an attempt to add some intrigue to the race, while Kotonowaka contents himself with a duel against Hokkaido’s melon man, 6-5 Kyokutaisei. In Makuuchi action…
Yutakayama vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma, owner of one of the most sported yukata designs in sumo, gets a chance to stress his makuuchi credentials. His dance partner is the rusty pusher-thruster of Tokitsukaze-beya who is finding his way back into form. I think Yutakayama will be heyagashira by Haru and I think he’ll show why in this match, as long as Chiyoshoma doesn’t pull any rude tricks.
Takagenji vs Nishikigi – Sometimes a makekoshi can lift the pressure and weight off a rikishi’s shoulders and allow them to perform better, kind of like when a team gets relegated from the Premier League and all the sudden beats the team at the top of the table. Nishikigi is very much not at the top of the table, but with six losses on his ledger he will desperately be looking to knock off the doomed Takagenji. The two have only met once previously, on the hot dirt of Nagoya where the Chiganoura man was the victor. I fancy Nishikigi to even the score here.
Tochiozan vs Daishoho – It has been a laborious tournament for each of these men, who have winded their way to rather different results. Tochiozan hasn’t looked marvellous but can still eke out a kachikoshi. Daishoho needs wins to stave off relegation to Juryo. Difficult as it may be to watch, another laboured battle may be the tonic for Tochiozan, who lacks the power but perhaps possesses the better grappling ability and stamina than his counterpart here.
Onosho vs Kagayaki – Onosho has shown a bit of life in recent days, and has rebounded to 5-6, the same score as his opponent. “Tactics” Kagayaki has a 5-4 edge in the rivalry and the ability to win by keeping himself square to his man and blunting the smaller rikishi’s thrusting attack. Kagayaki is of course much taller and Onosho will likely be the attacker, looking to push up and raise the centre of gravity in search of a push out win. This feels a bit like a coin flip.
Sadanoumi vs Tsurugisho – Tsurugisho could actually be a bit of a weird dark horse at the moment as he may have had a lot of the matches that he would have against other contenders. That doesn’t mean he has a straightforward shot either at the yusho or even a special prize however: matches like this against a 6-5 rikishi looking to secure a kachikoshi still keep the stakes high, even if the opponents may be lower on the banzuke. Sadanoumi has a 2-1 edge and is better on the belt, and Tsurugisho is probably a better thruster, so this may come down to which style wins out at the tachiai.
Terutusyoshi vs Azumaryu – I haven’t been too impressed with Azumaryu in recent days, but with four matches left, he needs to win two for a kachikoshi. Terutsuyoshi has been largely pretty disappointing after his revelatory Nagoya basho. The goal here for the small man needs to be keeping Azumaryu off the mawashi.
Shohozan vs Kotoyuki – Shohozan has not looked amazing in this tournament but somehow finds himself a win from a kachikoshi and on the distant edges of the slow race for honours. Kotoyuki’s story is as always: uncontrolled momentum. Shohozan has been blasted at the tachiai before but if he can get some tsuppari/harite going and wind Kotoyuki up a bit, or even get a mawashi grip, he can deal with the Sadogatake man. Kotoyuki has a 4-3 edge in the head to head.
Okinoumi vs Meisei – Here’s the undisputed highlight match of the first half of the day’s action, pitting the new unheralded co-leader against the former unheralded leader. Okinoumi leads the career series 2-0, but neither of those matches came in a 2019 which has shown great development for Meisei. That said, I don’t think his sumo has matched up to his 9-2 record and a few of his victories have seemed more fortuitous than commanding, so I think this really comes down to whether Okinoumi, a more experienced practitioner of mawashi work as well as beltless throws, can escape the rot of his 3 bout losing run.
Enho vs Takarafuji – It’s a battle of two of the closest stables in sumo, an intra-ichimon affair as Miyagino-Hakuho’s Enho takes on Isegahama’s Takarafuji. Further to that, it’s a clash of wildly different sumo styles – and I don’t mean yotsu vs oshi. In this fascinating match, weaver of magic and bringer of chaos Enho comes up against an opponent in Takarafuji who specialises in defensive sumo and prefers to stalemate his opponents, kill off their attacking manoeuvres and shepherd them to defeat. While a first time meeting would tend to favour the trickster, Takarafuji will have seen plenty of Enho up close and personal and I think he will be wise to kill Enho’s movement and end his faint title hopes.
Ishiura vs Kotoeko – Ishiura has hit an ice patch and gets brought up the banzuke to take on the similarly fading Kotoeko. Ishiura has taken 4 of 6 from Kotoeko, using some serious kimarite (I love a tottari, even moreso when deployed by someone from Tottori). Ishiura has a habit of being a bit streaky so while I think he’s overall in the better form, I think this becomes more of a coin flip.
Kotoshogiku vs Tomokaze – Man alive, did Kotoshogiku ever get done by Enho on Day 11. He now faces makekoshi which seemed a bit unlikely earlier in the tournament, but those losses can pile up quickly. Tomokaze has beaten Kotoshogiku in their only prior meeting, and finds himself just two wins now from another incredible kachikoshi to continue his streak and push him further into the joi in Fukuoka. He has started doing more positive sumo since his bid to become the first all-hatakikomi yusho winner fell apart. The veteran is very capable of winning this if he lands his grip early, but the youngster’s in the better form, so I’ll tip him to send Kotoshogiku down the banzuke.
Daieisho vs Asanoyama – This is a very dangerous match for Asanoyama. Daieisho obviously hasn’t been perfect, but I think his 4-7 record is very misleading and he has worked hard to execute his oshi-zumo style in almost all of his matches. He also absolutely owns Asanoyama, winning the last 6 out of their 7 matchups. This may be the match more than any other that determines whether Asanoyama can take the next step in his development, never mind challenge for the yusho: will he be a left-hand-outside-one-trick-pony like a certain kadoban Ozeki or, when the chips are down, can he win a match that absolutely opposes his preferred style?
Hokutofuji vs Chiyotairyu – Hokutofuji comes into this match in great form, hoping to come from behind and salvage a decent record in this basho off the back of several strong wins. He has a 6-2 career edge over Chiyotairyu, who looks lost. We all know Hokutofuji likes to slap himself but he will kick himself if he doesn’t win this.
Shimanoumi vs Aoiyama – Shimanoumi fights deep into the second half of the day’s action in a match littered with disappointment, as the 4-7 Kise-beya man takes his talents to Kasugano’s 2-9 Bulgarian. Big Dan has showed glimpses of his potential during this basho but has more often appeared listless. This presumable oshi-battle will be a good match for Shimanoumi to show whether he’s more often been outclassed or just outgunned.
Abi vs Shodai – Speaking of whipping boys, Abi will look to get his kachikoshi run back on track against 2-9 Shodai. Shodai isn’t a great opponent for Abi as evidenced by the Tokitsukaze man’s edge in their rivalry, so Abi needs to really use his double arm tsuppari to blow him away at the tachiai and sustain the blows. Sometimes Abi can make make one solid push off the shikiri-sen but then not make any forward progress after that no matter how many blows he lands. We know Shodai is just going to stand up and take it, and then look to evade the flailing arms in search of a belt grip. Shodai is already makekoshi and if Abi wants to hang around in san’yaku these are the matches he needs to win.
Tamawashi vs Endo – Tamawashi may have said he didn’t like picking up fusen-sho but the 6-5 cake decorator may have a few other thoughts if he ends this basho with 8 wins. 7-4 Endo had a lovely win against Shodai on Day 11 and is just hanging around the periphery of the yusho race. This incredibly streaky rivalry (6 for Endo, then 11 for Tamawashi) may have turned back towards Endo after he broke Tamawashi’s run against him in Nagoya. Endo has displayed the better sumo this tournament, and while he’s been hit and miss against pusher-thrusters in this tournament, he’s been more good than bad and I back him to win here.
Myogiryu vs Takakeisho – Myogiryu hasn’t faced anyone above Maegashira 4 this basho, so it must be some shock for the Maegashira 6 to find himself all of the sudden pulled up to face the past and future Ozeki and tournament leader after his return from kyujo. I tend to agree with Bruce’s point yesterday that kyujo returns seldom go well, but I think he might still get his 8 wins if he fights in the same manner as his Day 11 victory. Takakeisho can seal his return to Ozeki in this match, and he has incredibly won all six of their past meetings. Like his stablemate Goeido, Myogiryu is speedy, well rounded when it comes to his skills and maddeningly inconsistent. I wouldn’t rule out a shock but Takakeisho will be the presumptive favourite to finish the first job here and shift his focus to an unlikely and heroic Emperor’s Cup win.
Ryuden vs Goeido – 6-5 Ryuden has really turned his tournament around with four straight wins, perhaps none more impressive than the tide-turning victory over Mitakeumi on Day 11 which up-ended the yusho race once again. Goeido seems to bounce back from every loss with that angry scowl, and he seems to show up when he has something to prove. He is one win from ending his latest kadoban spell, but I’m not sure he’s going to get it here. He’s still technically in the yusho race, but the key for him is to suffocate Ryuden straight from the tachiai in the manner of his win against the hapless Chiyotairyu on Day 11. Ryuden tends to grow into matches and grow in stature and pull victory from the jaws of defeat, and Goeido can’t let that happen, because….
Tochinoshin vs Mitakeumi – This may be the highlight match of the second half of action. These two know all about each other (Mitakeumi is said to frequently go to Kasugano for degeiko), and the Georgian has an 8-3 edge in this rivalry. So, let’s look at it tactically:
Mitakeumi on paper is the kind of rikishi Tochinoshin does not want to face. He possesses an explosive pushing and thrusting attack, and Tochinoshin’s main defence in those matches lately has been pulling or slap-down attempts. This being said, Mitakeumi is also a good mawashi handler, but not in the league of Tochinoshin. The Dewanoumi man is also maddeningly inconsistent, conceding matches where he appears to lose focus when he should be in the thick of a title race.
Now let’s think about this: After this match, Tochinoshin is likely to face two mid-Maegashira opponents before Goeido on Senshuraku. Goeido will meanwhile get the two Sekiwake who are in the thick of the yusho hunt. What price on a couple of kadoban 7-7 Ozeki going head to head on the final day?