Natsu Day 12 Preview

After day 11, it’s going to be a crazy run to the finish. For the most part I expect it to be down to Kakuryu and Tochinoshin now, unless one of them gets (more) hurt. I think both Ozeki will make their 8, but it’s clear they are not at 100% this basho, and are just looking to survive. I would urge Takayasu to take special care with Abi today, he could very well surprise you.

Speaking of surprises, for reasons that we can never know, Ichinojo returns to the dohyo today. Already make-koshi, I am going to guess he is looking to soften the drop down the banzuke for July. I doubt his knee is any better, but as we have seen many times, a rikishi will return hoping a few more wins will help, and just cause himself more problems. He is, however, welcome fodder for the rotation through the top ranks.

Natsu Leaderboard

How’s this for novel – Asanoyama sits alone atop the leader board! I am quite sure they will find some opponent that will put dirt on him once or twice, but for a young guy like him, this is quite an event! With both Ozeki losing day 11, they fall off the pace and only Kotoeko remains 2 behind the leader.

Leader: Asanoyama
Chasers: Kakuryu, Tochinoshin
Hunt Group: Kotoeko

4 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 12

Tokushoryu vs Takagenji – With Ichinojo back, the banzuke imbalance has returned, and we will see a visitor from Juryo. Today it’s the runaway yusho leader for Juryo, Takagenji. I am going to assume that Takagenji will make his Makuuchi debut on July, and we will see “Cab Forward” Tokushoryu back in Juryo.

Enho vs Onosho – Enho is still farming for #8, and this is going to be an interesting match for him. Onosho is big, round, and tends to move a lot. He has balance issues these days, so there is that to work with. But should Onosho be able to connect with his pushing attack, 99 kg is not going to take a lot of force to get headed skyward. First time ever match for these two.

Chiyomaru vs Tomokaze – Both men are at 5-6, and I have to think that the advantage is going to go to Tomokaze, mostly due to his better foot placement and balance. Chiyomaru will come out strong, slapping and swatting at Tomokaze. All Tomokaze has to do is stay upright and moving until Chiyomaru runs out of steam.

Shodai vs Tochiozan – Shodai going for kachi-koshi today against the veteran Tochiozan. Shodai showed a lot of endurance, balance and strength against Shohozan on day 11, and I would assume that Tochiozan will focus more on center-mass than Shohozan did.

Ishiura vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze is make koshi already, but I doubt he has given up, no matter how rough his sumo looks. Ishiura wants to be more mobile than his opponent, but Yoshikaze is typically excellent at move and strike sumo.

Myogiryu vs Nishikigi – Both rikishi are 4-7, and the loser walks away make-koshi. Myogiryu comes directly from a kinboshi against Yokozuna Kakuryu, maybe he will bring some of that fighting spirit to this match.

Asanoyama vs Tamawashi – Yusho race front runner Asanoyama faces a master of oshi-zumo today, and chances of Asanoyama leaving the dohyo with win 11 are fairly slim. Should Tamawashi prevail, it would mark his kachi-koshi.

Hokutofuji vs Endo – Another “loser gets make-koshi” match between two rikishi with a lot of potential who could not seem to muster their winning form this basho. Endo holds a 4-2 career advantage, and I think that will carry on in day 12 action.

Daieisho vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi finds himself 2 wins short of his 8th, with 4 matches left. I am sure he wants back in the Sekiwake slot, but his sumo has seemed a notch lower than some of his better performances in the past year.

Ichinojo vs Aoiyama – Clash of the Titans. All we need now is Russel Crowe to shout “Release the Kraken!”. This much mass in motion on the dohyo, I think the chances are high that one of these rikishi is going to get hurt. Ichinojo holds a 7-3 career advantage.

Meisei vs Tochinoshin – The Ozekiwake needs one more to resume his role at sumo’s second highest rank; can he take #10 from Meisei? It’s a first-time meeting between these two.

Abi vs Takayasu – Takayasu’s sumo is back in chaos mode, and that is good news for Abi. A Takayasu who tries to start a match with a bull-charge and a shoulder blast really works well for Abi-zumo. A win today would make it 8 for Takayasu.

Goeido vs Takarafuji – Goeido holds a 13-5 career advantage over Takarafuji, but where Takarafuji seems incredibly patient, Goeido seems to lose patience about 10 seconds into any match, and tries anything that comes to mind. Goeido will try to close the day on win 8 at the tachiai.

Ryuden vs Kakuryu – I do hope that the loss to Myogiryu re-focused the Yokozuna, and that we see him revert to his winning form. Ryuden’s sumo is certainly ascendant, but I have confidence that Kakuryu will be able to stalemate him for a time, find a mistake, and exploit it for the win.

Natsu Day 10 Preview

Myogiryu: “Then Takayasu said, pull my finger..”
Goeido: “No matter what, don’t pull Takayasu’s finger!”

We come to the end of act 2 now, and we have sorted the rikishi nicely into piles: the ones we know are doing well, the ones we know are doing poorly, and the third group who are struggling to stay afloat. For myself, I find the zero-sum game that is sumo quite fascinating. Every win comes at the expense of some other rikishi’s loss. When you have basho like Osaka, the devastation can be remarkable.

Launching into act 3, we are going to sort everyone into make and kachi koshi, and crown a tournament champion. With a broad front of 3 rikishi with 1 loss with 2 more just behind, there is a lot of competition left to play out this May. Starting on day 10, we will see a larger span of ranks in some matches, as the schedulers work to find pairs that keep the competition interesting and fair. Our worries about the 2 surviving Ozeki and the lone surviving Yokozuna seem to have been laid to rest, and we are all enjoying a re-energized Tochinoshin. I think that Team Pixie has really made a huge impression this basho, and I have to say that Enho may not be their captain, but he is certainly their heart. We are also watching Asanoyama have a great tournament, and we hope he can sustain this level of performance for the rest of the year.

Who has caught your eye this basho? Let us know in the comment section.

Natsu Leaderboard

Leaders: Kakuryu, Tochinoshin, Asanoyama
Chasers: Enho, Kotoeko
Hunt Group: Goeido, Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Abi, Ryuden, Shodai, Shohozan, Daishoho

6 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 10

Chiyomaru vs Daishoho – Chiyomaru: a man of substance who has been mugged by elves a couple of days in a row. His record is in tatters, and I am sure he wonders how he finishes out with 8 wins now. Going up against Daishoho is not going to help. Daishoho is near the bottom of the banzuke for Natsu, but he’s fighting well and dominating his matches. The NHK-G showed the comically large soaking tub in the rikishi’s changing room – I encourage one of Chiyomaru’s tsukibeto to have that thing loaded and steaming hot for day 10.

Ishiura vs Sadanoumi – Ishiura has been able to conduct some good “Enho inspired” sumo the past few days, but he has taken his time to develop his attack before being able to close the deal. The issue with Sadanoumi is that he is a “fast mover” – his plan is on the dohyo and executing at fast forward speed. If Sadanoumi can keep Ishiura in front of him, it’s win #6 for the Sakaigawa man.

Shimanoumi vs Terutsuyoshi – Both of these rikishi are struggling to stay close to the line that takes them to a winning record, so the schedulers put them head to head. But Terutsuyoshi holds a 4-1 career advantage, and seems to be finally in touch with his sumo.

Chiyoshoma vs Yago – Chiyoshoma, clinging to the bottom left corner of the banzuke, desperately needs a win, but then again, so does Yago. Is it time for Chiyoshoma to bring out his henka paddle and start evading the tachiai?

Enho vs Tochiozan – Enho might get his 8th win today, but the challenge is that Tochiozan is not large enough that the submarine tachiai is going to phase him, not slow enough that the normal scampering pixie sumo is going to baffle him, nor inexperienced enough that he is going to worry if Enho puts his face into his navel. First time match between these two.

Kagayaki vs Tokushoryu – Loser of this match receives a brand new make-koshi, and a hearty invitation to regroup and come back in July with their normal top-division class sumo. Kagayaki has stayed true to his form, but has bungled nearly every match. Tokushoryu has forgotten his form, but done what he could with whatever sumo came to mind. Try again guys.

Kotoeko vs Onosho – Although Kotoeko is 5 ranks lower on the banzuke, I personally think he may take this one from Onosho this time. Kotoeko seems to have some of his best sumo going in some time, and Onosho is still struggling with what seems to be a persistent balance problem.

Shodai vs Asanoyama – Someone on the scheduling team is really pushing my buttons, as they pair Shodai with Asanoyama. I am looking for some solid cartoon sumo out of Shodai day 10, and depending on what Asanoyama was doing most Saturday mornings as a child, he may have no idea what happened to him. Shodai won their only prior match, after opening a box from Acme moments before walking down the hanamichi.

Shohozan vs Meisei – Meisei has this “Little Engine That Could” vibe going on right now, so I am sure he will do his utmost. Shohozan seems to have gotten his punk moves out of his system, and has settled own into some first rate sumo in the past few days. This might be a really exciting match.

Takarafuji vs Tomokaze – Tomokaze has a 3 match losing streak going, and all of the piano time he wants is not fixing his sumo. But Takarafuji won’t take any pity on the Oguruma man, as Takarafuji is going to always execute his plan, no matter who he’s facing.

Nishikigi vs Yoshikaze – I predict this will result in Yoshikaze getting his make-koshi. What has been plaguing him for the past several basho? He’s not telling. I just hope that he’s ok when this is all done.

Myogiryu vs Tamawashi – Tamawashi has a real chance to be back in San’yaku, and maybe even back at Sekiwake. Myogiryu will have a very different opponent than his day 9 match with Takayasu – this one will be sharp, short and intense. There will be plenty of kinetic energy in play, Myogiryu will just need to make sure it’s working for him instead of Tamawashi.

Hokutofuji vs Chiyotairyu – Both come in with 3-6 records, and are looking at the make-koshi line racing toward them. Only one of them will exit with a much needed win. These schedulers are being complete bastards, aren’t they?

Daieisho vs Kotoshogiku – I know I commented on lksumo’s day 5 storyline post that I liked Kotoshogiku for a possible San’yaku slot. Of course that was the cue for the Kyushu-Bulldozer to suffer a performance-robbing breakdown. Since then Kotoshogiku has been unable to produce much in the way of offense, and looking poor. If it’s any help, he has a 4-1 career advantage over Daieisho.

Aoiyama vs Endo – Much like that Hokutofuji/Chiyotairyu match, team “3-6” throws two more onto the dohyo for a beating, this time the rubbery man-mountain Aoiyama and the perpetually “almost genki” Endo. Aoiyama holds a 7-3 career advantage, and may just smack Endo around for a while before sending him a loss closer to that make-koshi-bound angry bouillabaisse stewing in that soaking tub near the shitaku-beya.

Mitakeumi vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin got a day away from competition with the Takakeisho re-kyujo, so he comes to this match rested and ready. Sure, he’s going to try to to land the left hand outside, and engage the sky crane. We just want to see what Mitakeumi is going to do about it. I am sure Mitakeumi is well aware of the 7-3 Tochinoshin career advantage, and has no desire to make it 8-3.

Ryuden vs Takayasu – Did you know Ryuden (aka Shin-Ikioi) holds a 2-0 career lead over Takayasu? Sure, one of them is from Makushita in 2009, but this certainly removes some air of invincibility around the Ozeki. Takayasu seems to be working well enough that he can figure out a win on whatever terms evolve during the course of a match, so I think Ryuden has his hands full.

Goeido vs Okinoumi – You know what would go really well in the make-koshi hot tub? Some fresh Shimane Taimeishi! I am sure Okinoumi will give him a solid, but ultimately losing, fight. (The two have a long 25-bout history, which the Ozeki leads 19-6, though Okinoumi pulled off the upset the last time they met, in January. -lksumo)

Abi vs Kakuryu – These two have split their 2 prior matches, and I think Abi is due a win or two this week. I can see someone getting dirt on the Yokozuna at least one more time, and it may as well be a nice kinboshi.

Haru Day 1 & 2 Comments

Mitakeumi Calls The Tune During His Day 1 Match With Yokozuna Kakuryu

Although Andy was kind enough to put together a day 2 preview, I wanted to add a few comments as well. My thanks to Team Tachiai for covering during my day 1 kyujo!

It’s great that everyone in the top division was able to start the basho, with the exception of Chiyonokuni. For those of you who might have missed it, he destroyed his knee during Hatsu, and frankly I would be surprised to see him back before summer or fall.

It was evident that Hokutofuji was not mentally ready to bring any sort of serious challenge to Hakuho day 1. Though he lined up well and launched into the tachiai with vigor, you can see him close his eyes and almost wince as he comes up against the Yokozuna. Hakuho, who I am convinced sees at about 240hz, had a brief “what is this?” Look on his face before grabbing Hokutofuji’s forearm and guiding him to the clay. For day 2, Hokutofuji faces Goeido, who is in front of his home-town crowd. My biggest worry about Goeido? That day 1 match where Endo was propelled out of the dohyo – some fans noticed Goeido had stepped out. Rather his foot slipped off of the top of the tawara onto the janome. That’s the same foot he underwent reconstructive surgery for, that took titanium screws to rebuild.

Hakuho will get Endo for day 2. Frankly we don’t know what kind of condition Hakuho is actually in yet, and as happens in prior basho, his first match (or several) he finds way to win without using much in the way of mobility. As cited above, Hokutofuji did most of the work himself. Endo had little to offer Goeido on day 1, and I think he won’t have much luck with Hakuho either.

Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin did not reduce the worry level of his fans day 1. His reverse-gear sumo with a pull was not the kind of move you expect from Tochinoshin, who wins with his overwhelming strength applied vigorously in a forward direction. Can we assume that Tochinoshin’s still fairly injured? Too soon to tell. But his day 2 match against Myogiryu is no push-over. Myogiryu is a tough competitor who knows how to beat Tochinoshin, even when the Ozeki is healthy.

Call it a simple hunch, but Takayasu looked a lot less frantic on day 1 than I recall for many moths. Takayasu is at his best when he is calm, strong and forceful. This really gets put to the test day 2 when he draws Mitakeumi, who in spite of an injury that he might want to see surgery for, delivered a win against Yokozuna Kakuryu. Mitakeumi did little to practice before the basho due to the injury, and I am certain that every day is a struggle for him.

On the subject of Kakuryu – I don’t think that his chaotic day 1 loss to Mitakeumi is a sign he has problems. Kakuryu’s matches are frequently a “seat of the pants” affair, and it’s clear that the Yokozuna’s first gambit failed, and left him with little room for recovery. Against Kaisei, he won’t have to worry as much about mobility as he did against Mitakeumi, but there is the question of the Brazilian’s enormous mass.

Tamawashi struggled a bit more than might be expected against Nishikigi, who seems to be in the joi-jin for the long haul now. As Tamawashi himself noted prior to the basho, the number of collateral obligations he had as the yusho winner impacted his training program leading up to the basho. Daieisho may not provide too much of a challenge on day 2, and I expect the Hatsu yusho winner to continue to file down his ring rust for the first 5 days.

Takakeisho’s day 1 match was as close to his preferred blueprint as you might ask. He was low, he went for center-mass oshi straight away and he kept the pressure going for the win. His day 2 match against Nishikigi might have a surprise or two, as Nishikigi continues to show remarkable persistence, and an unexpected tendency to find ways not “not lose”, usually to the frustration of his opponents.

A few more quick hits

Ichinojo – Whoa! That was big, strong sumo day 1. I wonder about his posture post-match. He did not look right. But let’s hope the boulder is strong for the next 14 days.

Shodai – I do in fact think he is getting better on his tachiai. If this is real, watch out. His sumo mechanics are excellent otherwise.

Tochiozan – After a fairly dismal Hatsu, the “good” Tochiozan seems to have shown up day 1. Though aging out, he’s a sumo force of nature when he’s feeling healthy.

Aoiyama – Day 1 match featured some really excellent combat sumo from the Man-Mountain. Abi had no way to really keep Aoiyama from doing exactly whatever the big Bulgarian wanted.

Kotoshogiku – He sumo looked strong at Hatsu, even though he ended with disappointing 6-9 record. His day 1 tachiai was especially sharp. Day 2 he’s against Takarafuji, who always seems a half step behind now.

Ikioi – If you have not seen his day 1 match, it ended with a shove worthy of Superman himself. Shohozan nearly took flight from the force of it, and it was a welcome change from seeing Ikioi as the walking wounded.

Ishiura – Wow, this guy! I remember him! He burst into the top division at Kyushu 2016 – he was strong, fast and always had 2 attacks going at the same time. Then he devolved into a henka machine, and got boring. But look who is back! More of this, please!

Yutakayama – It hurts to watch this guy. Once the leader of the Freshman cohort, his visit to the joi at Aki 2018 saw him kyujo for 3 days, and never quite right since. I personally hope he can pull it together, as I think he has a lot to offer sumo in the years to come.

Hatsu Day 6 Preview

On day 6 we start act 2. Act 2 is all about sorting the survivors from the damned, and starting the yusho race. It’s were we get an idea of who will have the stamina to contend in the final act for the hardware. As long as Hakuho is still competing, it’s his to lose.

A primary rival was Yokozuna Kakuryu, at least in theory, but as noted earlier on Tachiai, he withdrew from competition this morning Japan time. He has struggled quite a bit to keep his undercarriage in good repair, and this is simply another in a long string of mechanical problems he has to overcome. We wish him a quick and full recovery.

The next rikishi who is on the kyujo bubble would have to be Goeido. Mathematically, he is in tough shape right now. He needs to win 7 out of the next 10 to avoid a make-koshi. It’s clear he is hurt, and needs medical attention to repair his right arm. We can only hope he does not go “Kisenosato” with this one. There is also a question around Takayasu, who is 2-3 going into day 6, and has been suffering due to influenza. Perhaps he is on the mend now.

For each Ozeki and Yokozuna who drops out, the way opens up for the new generation rikishi. At this point, the Freshmen are in poor shape physically, but the Tadpoles are on the march. Their combined score at the end of act 1 is 14-1. The boss is still undefeated, but I am sure Takakeisho is eager to try his sumo upgrades against the sole remaining Yokozuna.

What We Are Watching Day 6

Ishiura vs Chiyoshoma – Ishiura visits Makuuchi with a solid 4-1 start in Juryo. He holds a 6-4 career advantage over Chiyoshoma, and some may wonder if this will be the battle of the flying Henkanoids. We shall see soon enough!

Yago vs Kotoeko – Its odd watching 4-1 Yago in some ways. He seems both unseasoned, yet skilled. I can’t quiet put my mind around it yet. But this might be a fairly good match, as Kotoeko knows how to beat him.

Ikioi vs Endo – Ikioi is a banged up walking casualty, and Endo seems to be just getting by for now. I give Endo a clear advantage, as he is not nursing a damaged ankle or a head wound like Ikioi is.

Kaisei vs Sadanoumi – At some point along the way, Kaisei’s sumo improved. Maybe he finally healed a long-suffering injury. As I like to say about him, “Being huge is not a valid sumo tactic”, as in you cant just be massive and immobile and expect to win (seek Kenho and others). But since Kyushu, Kaisei’s mobility is actually pretty good, and his sumo is stronger and shows some aggressive direction. Starting act 2 at 5-0, he’s a dark horse contender right now, and I expect him to make fast work of Sadanoumi.

Aoiyama vs Daieisho – Aoiyama’s record is 4-1, but his sumo is 5-0. Perhaps a distinction without a difference, but the Man-Mountain from Bulgeria is in top form unseen for some time. I am certain he will get tougher pairings in act 2, but I think today’s match won’t be too tough for him to win.

Ryuden vs Yoshikaze – I don’t want to discuss Ryuden or Yoshikaze.

Onosho vs Chiyotairyu – As discussed prior to the basho, I really like Onosho at this rank, and I think he has a good chance to end up with double digits for this basho. This would put him in the joi-jin for Osaka, and I think he would be healed up enough to compete at the top by then. This could mean that all of the tadpoles would be in the joi, and it would mark a significant stage in the changing of the guard.

Myogiryu vs Mitakeumi – Right now Mitakeumi seems to be on a mission. He shows up each day looking dialed up to 11 – intensely focused and superbly ready to win. I don’t think Myogiryu, in spite of his excellent skill, will overcome Mitakeumi’s fighting spirit today.

Takakeisho vs Tochiozan – If Tochiozan can keep Takakeisho close, and prevent the wave-action tsuppari attack, he has a chance. But after letting Mitakeumi beat him this way, I am going to guess Takakeisho won’t allow him a chance.

Ichinojo vs Tamawashi – Ichinojo is competing at an intensity not seen in many years, and we don’t want him to stop. Tamawashi will be no walk in the park. He is fast, mobile and at times brutal. This could be the highlight match of the day.

Shohozan vs Goeido – “Big Guns” Shohozan would normally have his hands full with Goeido, but Goeido is struggling with an arm injury, and is having a tough time generating offensive pressure. I expect loss #5, or a henka.

Takayasu vs Nishikigi – Each time Nishikigi steps on the dohyo, you have to wonder what is about to happen. Takayasu is definitely short of 100%, but Nishikigi’s sumo seems to be surprising everyone right now. I would rather not face Osaka with all 3 Ozeki kadoban, so I am hoping Takayasu can win any match that comes his way.

Shodai vs Hakuho – Hakuho continues to confound opponents with his “Escape” sumo, his opponents think they have him beat, but he uses his unparalleled skill to find a way to not lose. Against Shodai there is a new dimension. He has this odd, almost otherworldly ability, to cause things to go chaotic. I call it “Cartoon sumo”, and it happens too frequently to be an accident. I am eager to see if he can employ it against The Boss today.

Hatsu Day 2 Preview

toilet-paper-stacking

Day 2 has a large mawashi to fill, as day 1 brought us more than expected. While there was great action across the top division for day 1, surprisingly little is being said about Kisenosato. Everyone expect this to be a rough ride for him, and sadly that is turning out to be the case.

In an article unearthed by Herouth, members of the YDC share their worries about Kisenosato, which is an unusual step and likely prefaces some more dramatic back-channel discussions with the ailing Yokozuna. Kisenosato went into battle on day 1 attempting to use his damaged left arm, and was roundly trounced by Mitakeumi. Now Mitakeumi is no push over, but Kisenosato had to know that leading left is no longer a viable attack strategy. The article mentions that he is falling back into the same bad, failed gambits that he used during his zero-win basho at Kyushu. For Kisenosato fans, this may be the last basho.

What We Are Watching Day 2

Daiamami vs Takagenji – Takagenji visits the top division, and we hope his dohyo etiquette is set to “excellent”. Daiamami did not look especially bright day 1, and I am sure he would like to even up his score with a win.

Yago vs Yutakayama – These two are similar in many ways, with the exception that Yutakayama is nursing multiple injuries. Yago may be on a energetic upward grind that may continue for the next few basho. The jury is out on Yutakayama and the status of his injuries.

Ikioi vs Abi – If Sadanoumi has Abi figured out, I am going to guess that Ikioi has as well. Hopefully Ikioi can exit the match without any blood this time, and I predict that Abi is going to bring out some of his alternate sumo if he faces an increasingly losing record.

Endo vs Asanoyama – Being an Endo fan is a rough ride, as the “Golden Boy” has a tough time maintaining rank above Maegashira 6. But he showed some good sumo against Takarafuji on day 1, and maybe he has it back together this time.

Daieisho vs Onosho – I expect Onosho to continue to dominate his matches. This basho is more of a test for his recovery more than anything else, and I think he will be slugging it out in upper Maegashira by mid-year.

Kotoshogiku vs Aoiyama – The Man-Mountain vs the Kyushu Bulldozer! Their series is always a battle to see who will win the tachiai, and set the terms of the match. Naturally Kotoshogiku wants to take Aoiyama to his chest and bounce him around and out, where Aoiyama will want to stay mobile and rain blows down on Kotoshogiku. Aoiyama’s mobility looked excellent day 1, so I may have to give him the edge this time, even though Kotoshogiku holds a 14-5 series lead.

Yoshikaze vs Okinoumi – The real question I have: Does Yoshikaze have any genki left in the batteries? Both men are fading stars of the era, and have long and well earned reputations as top division rikishi. But both are more frequently “muddling through” their matches, and show fewer sparks of their fondly remembered brilliance.

Takakeisho vs Shohozan – Shohozan’s poor footwork / ring rust on day 1 cost us a prolonged slug fest. He will need to focus on his stability in the face of Takakeisho’s increasingly complex wave-action attack modes.

Shodai vs Tamawashi – I am looking for Shodai to return to his improved form that we saw in Kyushu today. I think getting tossed around by Takakeisho may have woken him up. And if not, I am sure a couple blows to the head by Tamawashi may help.

Takayasu vs Myogiryu – Between the fever and the fact that Myogiryu holds an 11-5 advantage over Takayasu, I am looking for the Ozeki to have another crummy day on the dohyo. Takayasu is not overly nimble when genki, and he will be hard pressed to deal with Myogiryu’s mobility.

Nishikigi vs Tochinoshin – I am looking for Tochinoshin to bounce back today, too. I think Nishikigi caught Goeido trying to file down some ring-rust, and cashed in. Tochinoshin was rough on day 1, but Nishikigi likes to go chest to chest, and that will put Tochinoshin in the drivers seat.

Hokutofuji vs Goeido – I think Hokutofuji has one chance, and that’s to land that handshake tachiai again today. Goeido is going to be spun up and fierce after letting Nishikigi literally roll him around like a piece of discarded mochi. I look for the Ozeki to accelerate inside of Hokotufuji’s initial nodowa gambit and put maximum pressure full ahead. If he finds him mark, Hokutofuji may wonder what happened.

Kisenosato vs Ichinojo – Much to Josh’s delight, I am starting to stack my toilet paper horde for the approach Kiseno-pocolypse. Before he was a tragic Yokozuna, he was one of the most solid Ozeki the sport had seen in years. In spite of his damaged body and his deconditioning, Kisenosato has the capacity to find a way to win. If we see the same Ichinojo that chased Takayasu out of the ring, the Mongolian behemoth may find himself enjoying the rarely seen Tagonoura sandwich with tonight’s ice cream.

Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – Herouth pointed out that at the end of day 1’s match, Kakuryu looked disappointed at Tochiozan for a somewhat pathetic henka attempt. Day 2 will bring a more meaty battle against Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi dispatched a disoriented looking Kisenosato with solid sumo, and I predict he will will give Kakuryu a straight ahead fight.

Tochiozan vs Hakuho – The boss is back, and he’s looking lean, strong, and aggressive. Tochiozan needs better sumo than day 1, or he’s going to be on the receiving end of one of Hakuho’s famous flying lessons.

Hatsu Day 1 Highlights

Kisenosato Hatsu 2019
Photo from the Japan Sumo Association’s twitter feed

What a way to start a basho! Day 1 action was fierce and at times surprising. As a reminder to our readers, I tend to see a basho as a set of 3 acts, each 5 days long. Each act has its own feel and its own goals. Act 1 is all about knocking the ring rust off of the competitors, and finding out who is hot and who is not. It’s also usually the period where we will see if any Yokozuna are going to take an “out” by going kyujo.

The big news coming out of day 1 has to be that all 3 Ozeki went down to defeat. For Takayasu, it’s not a huge surprise, as he came into Hatsu with a case of the flu and a substantial fever that he should probably keep to himself. For Tochinoshin, it was clear he had hurt a thigh muscle, but was going to gamberize. Goeido, however, simply got beaten. By Nishikigi. Let that sink in. The guy who was doing everything he could last year to cling to the bottom edge of the Makuuchi banzuke took an Ozeki scalp in what looked to be a fair and straight-up fight. I have been pulling for the guy for a while now, but it’s amazing to see how far his sumo has come.

Highlight Matches

Terutsuyoshi defeats Daishomaru – Welcome to the top division! Terutsuyoshi is only visiting, but it was his first win in the big leagues, and it came with a few envelopes of kensho as well. We will be seeing quite a bit more of Terutsuyoshi soon, I would think.

Chiyonokuni defeats Daiamami – Tsuki? Oshi? Yotsu? Hitaki? These two threw everything including the kitchen sink into this match. It was rough, it was chaotic, but Chiyonokuni prevailed. He needs to get a kachi-koshi secured and escape the banzuke danger zone he finds himself in for Hatsu.

Yutakayama defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki starts strong, but in his normal pattern, as soon as Yutakayama mounts his response, Kotoyuki starts moving backward in a fairly reckless fashion. Not amazing sumo, but Yutakayama held on through Kotoyuki’s opening gambit and took the match.

Yago defeats Meisei – In Yago’s first top division ranked bout, he shows us why he’s going to be a mainstay of the future. Unlike most of the newer rikishi, he grabs Meisei’s mawashi and proceeds to go chest to chest. Meisei looks ready for the fight, and starts with a stronger, inside position. But give Yago that right hand outside and he gets to work. With his greater mass and exceptionally stable stance, Yago overpowers Meisei for a straightforward yoritaoshi.

Ikioi defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki leaves Ikioi bloody in this loss, with the die-hard warrior bleeding from his nose and face following the match. Ikioi looks to have gotten the jump on Kagayaki at the tachiai, and wasted no time in raising up Kagayaki. Both of these rikishi are better than their lower Maegashira rank, so I see this tournament as a “recovery” period for them.

Sadanoumi defeats Abi – It would seem that Sadanoumi has Abi-zumo cracked, and Abi could not produce much in the way of offensive pressure against Sadanoumi, who propelled Abi around the dohyo like a squeaky shopping cart headed back to the store. Come on Abi, unleash some new sumo. We know you can win!

Endo defeats Takarafuji – Firstly, congratulations to Takarafuji, who welcomed a new baby to his family in the past few weeks. Takarafuji gave Endo a good fight (and the crowd was happy), but Endo had superior position rom the start, and never let Takarafuji do much more than react to his sumo.

Kaisei defeats Asanoyama – Kaisei came to the dohyo in a mood to be strong and heavy today. When he uses his heavy sumo, there are few men in the world who can move him. A quick battle-hug to Asanoyama, and a drive forward for a win. The tachiai had a nice satisfying “whack!” to it as well.

Onosho defeats Chiyotairyu – Even Chiyotairyu’s somewhat legendary cannonball tachiai did not seem to impact Onosho much. Onosho stayed focused, and drove forward. With his opening blast expended against a prepared opponent, Chiyotairyu seemed to have little resistance to offer.

Aoiyama defeats Yoshikaze – Aoiyama looked on form today, and was able to focus his amazing strength against a fading Yoshikaze. Much as I love the old berserker, he is fading each passing tournament. Aoiyama kept the pressure coming, landing alternating thrusts against Yoshikaze’s upper body, keeping him high and off balance.

Tamawashi defeats Shohozan – We anticipated that this would be a brawl, and it began to look like a running battle until Shohozan lost his balance and went skidding to the clay. Good action from two rikishi who love to duke it out.

Takakeisho defeats Shodai – No cartoon sumo today. Takakeisho in what I think is a new steel-gray mawashi gets the inside advantage at the tachiai, and Shodai never recovers. Shodai is high from the start, and Takakeisho sets up the wave-action attack with great effect. Shodai attempted to return in kind, but his footing was poor and it threw him off balance. Takakeisho advances, and wins.

Hokutofuji defeats Tochinoshin – Handshake tachiai? – Check! Nodowa to keep Tochinoshin from starting any moves against the mawashi? – Check! Tochinoshin was packed, boxed and shipped in a manner of seconds. The Ozeki could not switch to offense at any point and was left trying to react to Hokutofuji’s sumo.

Nishikigi defeats Goeido – I have watched this maybe a dozen times, and it simply does not get old. I have no idea where this version of Nishikigi came from, but this sumo is unquestionably simple, sound and potent. This is not Goeido making some kind of mistake while trying to be slippery, he delivers his expected “speed” tachiai, but Nishikigi absorbs it, and breaks the Ozkei’s grip. Goeido continues to have superior body position as they go chest to chest, but Nishikigi seems to be intent on stalemating Goeido, which he somehow manages to do. Locked up in the center of the dohyo, Nishikigi has a deep right hand grip, but is a bit too high. The match ends as Nishikigi overpowers, then throws, Goeido! What a match!

Ichinojo defeats Takayasu – Two items of note – Takayasu is clearly ill, and Ichinojo’s sumo machine was switched to “attack” mode today, and it’s great to see him fight with vigor. Takayasu managed to back Ichinojo to the bales, but then the counterattack started, and there was no stopping that. Ichinojo was in great form, and I hope we can see more of that. [Ichinojo turned the tide with surprisingly nimble later movement. -lksumo]

Kakuryu defeats Tochiozan – When Big K is on his sumo, it’s amazing to watch. I tend to call his style “reactive”, and today is a perfect example. Tochiozan tries a hit-and-shift at the tachiai, but Kakuryu maintains contact with his right hand, and lets that right hand guide him to a now high and unweighted Tochiozan. The trap sprung, the Yokozuna powers into his response and drives Tochiozan back and out.

Hakuho defeats Myogiryu – Hakuho wanted to beat him twice, as Myogiryu hit the clay and bounced up, with Hakuho looking to continue the match. The boss seems to be hungry for sumo action after 4 months in dry-dock. Watch out.

Mitakeumi defeats Kisenosato – Kisenosato was high, his sumo was sloppy, and he really could do very little against Mitakeumi who seemed poised and in control the entire match. Might be time to sharpen the scissors. Josh, my toilet paper stash is ready.

Hatsu Day 1 Preview

Kisenosato Aki 2018

The time has come, and we are happy for it! It has been a long break since the Kyushu basho, and fans have had scant news to enjoy since the jungy ended several weeks ago. But now the sumo world gets back in action as the first tournament of the new year, the final year of Emperor Akihito’s reign, gets underway.

There has been a lot of speculation around the 6 men who occupy sumo’s top ranks, but it seems all 6 will start Hatsu, and we hope all of them can participate for all 15 days, and achieve good results. But we will be watching to see if Tochinoshin’s muscle injury, Takayasu’s flu / fever, Goeido’s latest buggy software update or Kisenosato’s general lurgy take their toll.

But with all of the old dragons fighting it out at the top, all eyes will be watching Kyushu yusho winner Takakeisho, competing at his highest ever rank, and within striking distance of a promotion to Ozeki. Should he find the energy, determination and sumo to pull it off, he would be the first of the new cohort to reach the top ranks. Only the next 2 weeks will tell what may come to pass, and frankly Team Tachiai is eager to get the show underway.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Terutsuyoshi vs Daishomaru – Many hoped that Terutsuyoshi would make the cut to Makuuchi for this basho, but instead he is posted to the top Juryo slot. As a consolation, he gets to visit the top division on day 1, and we may see him vie for his first ever prize money.

Chiyonokuni vs Daiamami – Former top Kokenoe man Chiyonokuni finds himself perilously close to the bottom edge of the banzuke, and will need to open strong, and keep the pressure up for the next 2 weeks to regain his rightful spot in mid-Makuuchi. He has a 2-1 career record against Daiamami, but his disasterous 5-10 finish in Kyushu, Chiyonokuni is under pressure to win early and often.

Yutakayama vs Kotoyuki – Former Maegashira 2 Yutakayama scored a Jun-Yusho in Nagoya, then was beaten to within an inch of his life at the brutal Aki basho. Since his withdrawal on day 5, he has been on a steady downward trajectory, in spite of his excellent sumo fundamentals. He faces off day 1 against Mr 5×5 – Kotoyuki. Kotoyuki seems to do very well in Juryo, but performs almost comically in Makuuchi. He frequently is seen diving into he zabuton rows, and always seems just one hair away from explosive disassembly. We hope he can do better for Hatsu.

Yago vs Meisei – Yago (spoken 2 octaves lower than normal), did not get re-labled with his expected “kaze” moniker, even though the folks at Tachiai put considerable effort on Twitter into suggesting many worthy shikona. But here is this bulky, aggressive rising star from Oguruma heya, making his Makuuchi debut. Yago and Meisei have fought before, and Yago has yet to take a single match from Meisei, so we will be eager to see if Yago can change that trend on day 1.

Sadanoumi vs Abi – Will we see a return of Abi-zumo, or did the smiling stick-insect of the sumo world hone any new attacks during the New Year’s break? As much as some fans claim “why should Abi branch out, what he is doing works”, his demotion to Maegashira 10 might indicate otherwise. I expect that Sadanoumi will come to the match expecting his normal offensive style, and may be able to finally take his first match from Abi.

Kaisei vs Asanoyama – Two solid rikishi that are in recovery mode at Maegashira 8. Kaisei will bring unmatched enormity to the match, along with a healthy measure of body hair. Asanoyama will bring his beaming positive attitude and perhaps some good fundamental sumo. In the case of these two, Kaisei’s sheer bulk is nearly impossible for Asanoyama to overcome.

Ryuden vs Daieisho – Ryuden suffered a heavy 6-9 make-koshi at Kyushu, in spite of some well executed sumo and some notable winning matches. Daieisho is very comfortable at this rank, and tends to pick up enough wins to keep himself in a narrow M4-M9 range. I expect that this is exactly the kind of rikishi Ryuden will need to beat predictably to advance to the next level. I give a slight advantage to Ryuden’s reach, but it’s an even fight.

Chiyotairyu vs Onosho – Possibly the highlight match of the first half (prior to the NHK World live stream). Onosho is still working to regain his former power following kyujo and knee surgery last year at this time. Onosho’s compact, powerful body will be put to the test against Chiyotairyu’s potent tachiai. If Onosho can stay inside the ring and upright for the first 10 seconds, the match should be his to lose.

Aoiyama vs Yoshikaze – Aoiyama has been looking very genki in practice, and his day 1 match against Yoshikaze will be an excellent test on just how genki the big Bulgarian is this January. Aoiyama has all of the right tools to be a top flight Maegashira, but he has to put them together and field them consistently. Meanwhile, Yoshikaze seems to be fading a bit each tournament, and it’s clear the years of sumo’s spoiler has caught up with him. He is still capable of nearly unstoppable sumo, but we see it less frequently, and his fans (myself included) worry that he’s hurt and going through each bout to stay connected to the sport he loves.

Shohozan vs Tamawashi – My suggestion to NHK that the live video of this match be replaced with “Batman” style animation (Biff! Pow! Slam!) went unanswered. But if both men come to the Hatsu dohyo ready to battle, there could be some peerless pugilistic power presented for the fans.

Takakeisho vs Shodai – A fan could be forgiven for thinking: “Wave action from the Sekiwake, Shodai goes jelly jiggler and bounces around until beaten”. But Shodai seems to have this uncanny power to invoke cartoon physics against his opponents, and many of them seem to suffer odd missteps and accidents that hand Shodai a win. If Takakeisho can keep Shodai centered, this should go Takakeisho’s way. If Shodai can land a mawashi grip, he will have control.

Hokutofuji vs Tochinoshin – What impressed me quite a bit about Hokutofuji’s performance at Kyushu – he looked hungry. He looked like he was going flat out to take each win, and he was leaving nothing in reserve. He will step up against a possibly injured Tochinoshin, who has had trouble with a muscle pull in his thigh during the work up to the basho. If Tochinoshin can land his “skyhook” grip, I am sure we will see the Georgian strong-man lift and shift his first win for January.

Nishikigi vs Goeido – I am so impressed that Nishikigi made it this far. More amazing is that Nishikigi won their only prior bout. But I am going to guess that Goeido is at least starting the basho in fine form, and we will see him apply a fierce amount of speed and power against the surprise darling of the joi-jin. But I am too big of a Nishikigi fan to discount him entirely. Everyone loves an underdog and survivor, and Nishikigi is both.

Takayasu vs Ichinojo – I am sure Ichinojo wants to return to San’yaku, but his week 1 is going to be a brutal parade of the upper ranks tuning up against him. Which Ichinojo will we get? The frighteningly powerful Mongolian behemoth, or the plush and cuddly pony tosser who goes soft at the tawara? With Takayasu at reduced fighting power due to the flu, this cold be a chance for Ichinojo to start off with an Ozeki scalp.

Kakuryu vs Tochiozan – 43 matches between these two, and they are almost evenly split. It’s been 4 months since we have seen Kakuryu compete, and we hope he returns rested and powerful. His reactive sumo is not especially effective against Tochiozan, who excels at working his opponent’s center-mass and keeping the fight bracketed to his forward 90°.

Myogiryu vs Hakuho – Myogiryu is a great come-back story, and he’s going down quickly on day 1. I am going to guess that Hakuho is at least genki enough to plow through his week 1 appetizers, and we won’t see what condition he is actually in until nakabe.

Kisenosato vs Mitakeumi – All of Japan will be dreading the outcome of this final match of the day. I think everyone who follows sumo expects Kisenosato is actually a shambolic sumo wreck who is ready to be run up on the beach and swarmed by ship-breakers in some far off equatorial country. Should the Yokozuna prevail, there will be a collective sigh of relief that may push the earth slightly out of orbit for a time. I would expect that either way, the NHK cameras will catch fans in the Kokugikan wiping tears from their eyes. Oh, and expect a LOT of kensho.