Natsu 2018 was a fun ride of a basho, featuring the minting of a new Ozeki, and a long suffering Yokozuna beginning to come into his own. For our fans, we all noted that one of our favorite groups – the tadpoles – were in rough shape. Both Takakeisho and Onosho had gone kyujo during Osaka and had been tossed unceremoniously down the banzuke. In the case of Onosho, it was all the way to Juryo, landing with a wet, flabby thump.
But as sure as the sun rises, our brave tadpoles came croaking back with gusto. Onosho blasted his way to a 12-3 Juryo yusho, doing so even without the radiant power of his red mawashi. Takakeisho suffered some early ring-rust, starting the basho 2-5, then he went on to beat all challengers with sumo that improved daily, finishing the tournament with a respectable 10-5 record. Keep in mind, both of these rikishi were coming off of injuries, and may have not been at full tournament power.
Coming into Nagoya, fans should expect the tadpole army, led by Mitakeumi, Takakeisho and Onosho, to be a dominant force for the duration of the basho. Mitakeumi was bypassed by Tochinoshin on his rise to Ozeki, a slot that Mitakeumi has coveted, but the lead tadpole just can’t seem to take the next step up in his sumo. He trains hard, and is dedicated to his craft, but he is somehow just an inch short each time.
Takakeisho finished strong in Tokyo, but his sights are set on the San’yaku again, and he is ready to hunt. Our own forecast banzuke has Takakeisho at Maegashira 4 alongside Kagayaki, just inside the joi. I like this rank for Takakeisho, and I think he is going to play spoiler here. Note to fans, we have not seen him unleash “Wave Action Tsuppari” since January, perhaps due to injury.
We have Onosho at Maegashira 9, where I expect him to be a wrecking ball on the lower end of the banzuke. In fact, it’s possible that he could be counted in contention for the yusho at the end of act 2. This would be an interesting situation, as many folks lower down the banzuke who seem to be winning a lot have little chance of actually beating a Yokozuna or Ozeki – whereas Onosho has demonstrated his ability to surprise any rikishi on any day.
Nagoya 2018 should be an excellent season for the amphibians, and we will be watching closely as they battle their way through the tournament.
With the publication of the Aki banzuke, it’s looks that the Aki basho will feature another circus of injuries, and another shining opportunity for the up and coming rikishi to further their advances. Some comments on the banuke
Takayasu: Ozeki 1 East – The only healthy Ozeki now the lead man for the group, with both Terunofuji and Goeido kadoban and at risk of demotion.
Yoshikaze; Sekiwake West – There was a big question on who would get Sekiwake, and now we know that the Berserker is out man. He joins Mitakeumi in the toughest rank in sumo.
Kotoshogiku: Maegashira 1 West – Tough to think of the former Ozeki now down with the rank and file, but he continues to under perform. We hope he retires soon with some dignity remaining.
Onosho: Maegashira 3 East – Hoo boy! Onosho now has his chance to mix it up with the big men of sumo. I am sure he is going to get pounded into the clay, but it will be interesting if he can make a showing as strong as Ura’s
Ura: Maegashira 4 West – Losing just a single slot, moving from East to West, Ura is once again possibly going to face some punishing rounds in the joi. With his Nagoya injuries possibly still not quite healed, he needs to be careful.
Endo: Maegashira 14 East – Dropping 11 slots from Maegashira 3, Endo’s injury plagued Nagoya performance has given him a brutal boot to his pride.
Wakaichiro: Jonidan 4 East – Our favorite Jonidan rikishi now sits near the top of the division. A winning record will propel him up to the next higher division (Sandanme) for the Kyushu basho in November.
Video / Audio podcast later today fans, lets get ready for Aki!
There were many interesting themes that unfolded during the Nagoya basho, but as we cited prior to the start of the tournament, the rise of a new, young class of Maegashira will likely impact the sport for years to come. I sometimes joking refer to this group as the “Angry Tadpoles”, given that most of them seem to have a common, tadpole-like, body shape. Whatever their form, their function has been to upset the slowly evolving status quo in sumo’s upper division to an extent not seen for several years.
Nagoya was the first time we saw this group ranked at Maegashira 6 and above, and with the multiple kyujo in the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps, many of them were pulled into bouts with the San’yaku for the first time in their careers. Broadly, none of them triumphed, but none of them really embarrassed themselves too badly. Let’s review
Takakeisho – In only his 4th basho in Makuuchi, Takakeisho found himself ranked Maegashira 1. Of course he was going to get his head pounded in by the big guns, this was his “welcome to the big leagues” ceremony. He has had 4 lower division yusho in his short sumo career. He ended Nagoya 5-10, which actually is not bad for a first Maegashira 1 birth. His matches included a really unusual bout with Hakuho, and defeating Kotoshogiku and Mitakeumi. As IKSumo predicted, I am sure he will take a dive down the banzuke for Aki, and that’s quite alright. This guy is going to be back, as long as he can stay healthy.
Hokutofuji – His string of kachi-koshi tournaments notched one higher again, as the man who seems to prevail no matter what did it yet again. This rikishi is quite impressive, and I would expect he will make a valid campaign for his first San’yaku slot by this time in 2018. His wins in Nagoya included: Takayasu, Kakuryu (his first kinboshi), Terunofuji, Yoshikaze and Tamawashi. Of his 8 wins, 5 were San-yaku. But he also lost to hapless Ikioi who only managed to get 4 wins. He has room to improve, but as many others have noted – he has a classic Ozeki air about him already. Some bloggers have even mistaken him for Kaio.
Ura – The crowd goes wild for Ura. Sadly he got banged up in Nagoya and probably needs to rest well south of the joi threat line for at least one basho. During the summer jungyo he is restricted to light duty, and like Kisenosato has not been taking scrimmage matches with the other sekitori. Ura went into Nagoya with many detractors citing his sumo “gimmicks” that got him wins by less than expected means. In Nagoya Ura showed a new dimension to his sumo (along with his tricks) and faced many opponents in a more direct and yotsu-zumō style moves. If he can recover from his knee injuries, he should be quite an influential force in sumo.
Kagayaki – He had a hard make-koshi at the end of Nagoya. His most interesting win was against Ura on day 3, which surprised the fans, and Ura as well. As he is not yet a “famous” rikishi, he is likely to get a stiff demotion to mid or lower Maegashira with his 5-10 record, but I expect him to battle back by the Hatsu basho to the upper third. I would not be surprised to see him continuing his pace of slow, steady improvements.
Onosho – Two tournaments in Makuuchi, two 10-5 record. At Nagoya he was a respectable Maegashira 6, and IKSumo’s forecast puts him at or around Maegashira 3 for Aki. If he does indeed hold that rank (or higher), we will get to see how he fares against a wide swath of San’yaku in September. Onosho shows amazing poise, confidence and ring-sense at a fairly young age, and may in fact be a dominant rikishi in some future post-Hakuho era.
With just a few days remaining, the Nagoya yusho race came back to life with Mitakeumi’s surprise upset of Yokozuna Hakuho. Some Hakuho fans, like myself, had hoped that he could rack up at least one last back-to-back zensho run, but it’s clear that the new crop of rikishi are too competitive for that kind of dominance this year. The two rikishi who could challenge are both at least 2 tiers of skill below Hakuho on a bad day, so it’s clear that it’s still his yusho to lose.
A dominant Hakuho creates several effects on the upper ranks of sumo. For starters, it makes it practically impossible for anyone else to get close to a Yokozuna promotion. In order to even be considered, you have to beat the yokozuna with the most wins ever, who on an average day is unassailable and on a good day can find your sumo boring and uninspired. This has a knock on effect for Ozeki and San’yaku promotion slots too.
Watching Ura’s performance today, it’s evident that his injuries are limiting his performance now, and his ability to endure that damage for the remaining 4 bouts will determine a lot about the next 4 months for his sumo career. If he can win half his bouts, he will come away with a kachi-koshi, and likely be in one of the top 4 Maegashira slots in September. If we use Iksumo’s wonderful forecast, Ura is likely to face Kotoshogiku, Tamawashi, Yoshikaze, and Ichinojo. This would be a tall order if he was fully healthy, so my original prediction of make-koshi for him is looking like a reasonable outcome.
For Mitakeumi to get to 10 wins, and kick of a chance at an Ozeki bid, he needs two more wins out of a roster of Harumafuji, Tochinoshin, Ikioi, and Chiyoshoma. Not trivial but possible if he can stay focused and uninjured. Kotoshogiku is at the bottom of a deep hole now, and needs to win all 4 against a predicted schedule of Shodai, Ura, Tochinoshin, and Hokutofuji. While it is possible, his next defeat and he is out of san’yaku.
Heading to Aki, we already know that Terunofuji is kadoban, and if he is healed by September, he will easily shed that burden within the first 10 days. Goeido however is at real risk of being kadoban himself, in spite of some fairly good sumo this basho. He faces a predicted schedule of Tochiozan, Hakuho, Harumafuji, and Takayasu. He needs to win 2 of those to keep out of kadoban.
Chiyomaru vs Daishomaru – Chiyomaru trying again for his kachi-koshi, which would also make Daishomaru make-koshi at the same time. This is their first match up ever, so it’s going to be interesting too see how this goes.
Aoiyama vs Takarafuji – Both having winning records secure, so this is more of a sparring match. Aoiyama looked off form on day 11, can he bounce back?
Nishikigi vs Ishiura – Both rikishi are struggling with a middling record right now, but Nishikigi will be on the fast train back to Juryo if he cannot lock down his winning record. Ishiura has a 6-1 advantage in their career match ups.
Chiyotairyu vs Onosho – Onosho is gunning for a second consecutive special prize, and Chiyotairyu needs one more win for kachi-koshi. Right now momentum favors Onosho, and he holds a 2-1 advantage in their 3 career bouts.
Ura vs Ichinojo – Traditional big man / little man sumo contest. Sadly Ura is looking hurt, but given the schedule above, it may his best chance to pick up a badly needed win.
Hokutofuji vs Takakeisho – Hokutofuji is working hard to avoid his second ever tournament losing record. He has to defeat the explosive Takakeisho to reverse course. Takakeisho is already in a majority loss record, but he’s still fighting hard. He has also won both of their prior matches.
Yoshikaze vs Tochinoshin – Winner gets kachi-koshi, with Tochinoshin leading their career match ups 14-7. Tochinoshin has Yoshikaze out gunning in height, weight, strength and reach. But don’t count out the superior athletics of Yoshikaze.
Shodai vs Kotoshogiku – A Kotoshogiku loss would mark him make-koshi, and ensure a demotion out of san’yaku for September. The good news for Ojisan is that Shodai has been horrifically inconsistent this basho.
Kagayaki vs Goeido – The last of the “easy” bouts for Goeido, he needs to pick up this win if he wants to avoid kadoban status for September. I expect Goeido will go for the lighting charge out of the tachiai. Kagayaki, ever consider a henka?
Takayasu vs Tochiozan – You would think the Ozeki would have the advantage here, but Tochiozan leads their career match ups 18-6! In addition, Tochiozan has been fighting well this basho, and will likely give Takayasu a hard fight.
Hakuho vs Tamawashi – Tamawashi has never beaten Hakuho, and I don’t expect Hakuho’s day 11 loss to Mitakeumi to have any carry-over effect for today. This is likely the day that Hakuho ties Kaio.
Mitakeumi vs Harumafuji – I really want Harumafuji to win this one, but he is clearly suffering with problems in multiple joints. So I am going to say that Mitakeumi has a decent chance here. Their career record favors Harumafuji 3-2.