Haru Day 10 – Kinjite, Henka, and a Lone Yokozuna

What a marvellous day we had today at the EDION arena in Osaka.

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Ikioi grabbing Yutakayama’s oicho-mage

The first bout in Makuuchi featured a visitor from Juryo, Takekaze, who seems to be quite on the genki side and ready to come back to the top level. He was faced with Aoiyama, still part of the Yusho arasoi.

This time, no Henka, and Aoiyama pulled away from the tachiai to give himself space for his usual tsuppari attack, then pushed Takekaze forward – but one advantage the little bullfrog has over Aoiyama is that he is much lighter on his feet. Lateral movement, and the Bulgarian’s inertia did the rest. Aoiyama now out of the yusho race, but he will get his kachi-koshi, and probably double digits.

Asanoyama faced shocking pink Hidenoumi, but was not blinded by his mawashi. He got a safe hold on Hidenoumi’s mawashi, tried a yori in one direction, then a yori in the other direction, then just pulled the man down. Uwatedashinage, and Hidenoumi is make-koshi and heading back to Juryo.

Ishiura didn’t do the most flagrant henka on the dohyo today. It was only a half-henka. Myogiryu managed to turn around at the edge, but not quickly enough to avoid the push.

Kotoyuki must be spending a large fraction of his keiko time perfecting his rolling technique. Even when he doesn’t roll off the dohyo, he still manages to roll. And today the bowler was Sokokurai, with a very typical uwatenage. Kotoyuki still winless.

Daiamami, who has had a strong basho this far, surprises by doing a henka. Still not the most flagrant one of the day. And also rather ineffectual. Tochiozan easily recovers and returns the favor, and it’s Daiamami who is on the receiving end of the hatakikomi, and off the yusho race.

Ikioi seems as good as he has been this basho. Pushes here and there, and then slams Yutakayama to the ground. Yutakayama’s hand goes straight to his topknot before he even rises, and for a good reason. His hair got pulled. Was it a forbidden hair pull or a hand accidentally getting caught in the elaborate hairdo? A monoii is called. The shimpan confer and decide: he pulled.

It’s worth noting that the point here is not so much if the hand in the hair is what caused Yutakayama to fall, and it’s also not whether it was intentional or not. Japanese culture regards people’s intentions and feelings as something that can’t be judged easily from the outside, so it tends to concentrate on observable behavior. The point is, therefore, whether Ikioi was grabbing the hair or not. And the replays show him bending his fingers as they get caught in the hair. This makes it a grab. Hatakikomi experts like Aminishiki know to keep their fingers straight when this happens. If your fingers are straight, you’re pretty much safe.

Ikioi, therefore, loses by hansoku – a disqualification – for using a kinjite – a forbidden technique. This is very rare in the top divisions. Ikioi says he thought his hand was already free of the mage when he pulled down.

Chiyonokuni gives Nishikigi his standard treatment. Forward attack with fierce tsuppari, and then a sharp pull. Nishikigi, as he has been for quite a few basho, is struggling to string wins together.

Kagayaki beats Daishomaru by a straightforward yori-kiri. Kagayaki has really improved his sumo style, and I would have expected him to be more than 5-5 at this point. Daishomaru missed his kachi-koshi opportunity this time.

Daieisho tries to develop an oshi battle against Chiyoshoma, but Chiyoshoma catches his mawashi and it turns into a yotsu battle. Chiyoshoma goes back and forth trying to create one of his favorite throws. He is having a hard time of it this basho, though. Eventually he gives up and completes this by a simple, straightforward yori-kiri.

The two rikishi who won the kanto-sho together last basho, Ryuden and Abi, are now being sorted into two different levels. Ryuden, though he is a very nice rikishi, will stay at the low to middle ranks, while Abi is definitely going places. Abi did his standard routine. Long hands landing a barrage of tsuppari, long legs moving forward fast. Ryuden could not withstand that attack or try anything. Abi, if he improves his footwork, may get to sanyaku in a couple of basho.

Something very strange is happening to Yoshikaze. Are we seeing the initial signs of concussion-related issues? He looks pretty much alright in his match with Okinoumi, when suddenly his left foot develops a mind of its own and he crumbles to the ground. The kimarite is kainahineri, but it doesn’t really look like one, and the only reason he escaped being sent off with a tsukihiza (which is a hiwaza – a non-technique, a default) is that Okinoumi was, in fact, applying some force to his body.

Takakeisho continues his weak, supposedly injury-related, sumo vs. the struggling Hokutofuji. For a couple of basho, the tadpoles have been the great hope for the future, and now they are all crumbling together.

Takarafuji showed today what he is really worth, in a patient and strong match with Kotoshogiku. He even attempts to gaburi the gaburi-master at some point there, but eventually finishes with a cleanly executed throw. The Isegahama man is a clear demonstration of the hardship of the joi. In the first week he got pummeled by much superior rikishi, and then, with low confidence and accumulated bangs, lost a couple of matches he should have won if they were in the beginning of his schedule. Thus, a make-koshi for an otherwise excellent wrestler. All he can do is try to pad his slide down the banzuke with a few wins.

Arawashi, whose left knee bandage seems to grow larger every day, is no real match for Endo, who gets him quickly out of the circle. Off-dohyo issues may also be affecting the injured Eagle, as apparently his tsukebito, Hikarugenji, is involved in yet another violence scandal and is kyujo as of today.

And now we come to the highlight match of the day. 420kg on the dohyo, not counting the gyoji. On one side, the new kaiju, Ichinojo, flexing his muscles and looking for young horses to toss around. On the other side, Kaisei, with a perfect 9-0 record, eyeing the yusho. Tachiai. Boom! The meeting of bodies nearly causes the seismographs in the Kansai area to send the signal for all shinkansen to stop in their tracks. It’s lucky that the honbasho dohyo is not made of beer crates like the jungyo dohyo are.

Kaisei takes the initiative and manages to get Ichinojo to the bales, but the Kyomusubi rallies and step by step pushes back to the middle of the ring. Then he sets his alarm clock for the next day, finds a soft spot on Kaisei’s shoulder to rest his head and goes to sleep. Remember, there are no wolves in Japan. Ichinojo can allow himself to sleep deeply, while Kaisei’s eyes start to bulge. The next day, Ichinojo wakes up, pushes a bit, sees that Kaisei still has some stamina left, hits the snooze button, and sleeps some more. Then he wakes up, picks the spent Brazilian up, and heaves him across the tawara.

Kaisei is too heavy to stop dead, and drops down, but Ichinojo still has enough stamina to pull at the Tomozuna man, enough to make him land lightly on his feet with little impact. Well done, Kyomusubi. Ichinojo is kachi-koshi, and Kaisei receives his first loss.

(OK, OK, I’m sure my Japanese jokes are lost on the crowd here. I’m calling him Kyomusubi because Komusubi – 小結 – means “little knot”, but 巨結 – Kyomusubi – giant knot – seems somehow more appropriate).

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Ichinojo, feeling refreshed after a long nap

But would you believe that this battle of titans, with immediate implications for the yusho run, was honored with not a single envelope of kensho? None. Zero. Ichinojo got to take home only his pride and the fans’ adoration.

Tamawashi has settled into a “one day sunshine, the next day rain” pattern. Where is the strong Tamawashi of yesterday? Chiyotairyu pushes him off the dohyo before the gyoji completes his first “hakkioi”.

The bout between Mitakeumi and Shohozan turns out to be a very nice piece of sumo. Shohozan goes for a harizashi but doesn’t quite gets the “zashi” part (slap-and-grab, but where’s the grab?). Then a slapfest ensues. Another harite! And another! And a body clash! Then Shohozan attempts to pull and sidestep. Mitakeumi keeps his balance and manages to re-engage. But Shohozan has now achieved the “grab” he was looking for, with a right-hand-outside. Mitakeumi’s left hand goes outside Shohozan’s grip, and he attempts to grab at Shohozan with his right, but this only ends with Shohozan having a tight morozashi with both hands firmly on Mitakeumi’s left back mawashi. Mitakeumi tries to do something with the arm he has on Shohozan’s neck, but Shohozan’s mighty pythons are doing their job, and Mitakeumi finds himself rolling below the dohyo.

Takayasu makes short work of Shodai. Kachiage. A couple of Nodowa, and good-bye. Takayasu is kachi-koshi, safe from kadoban, and looks pretty much like he did in the previous basho.

And now we come to the most flagrant henka of the day. By, you guessed it, Ozeki Go-Away-Do. And I don’t want to hear any complaints about me using that nickname when he does this. Are you under 170cm, Ozeki? Perhaps you weigh less than 100kg? Are you injured? Coming back from a long, rust inducing kyujo? In kadoban? Facing a man ranked 10 levels above you? Bah. Chicken. His home crowd at Osaka didn’t like it, either. There was a babble of disapproval where there should have been applause for their hero. The Osaka crowd are sumo aficionados. They know what’s right and what’s not. Tochinoshin managed to circle around in time, but couldn’t rally fast enough. He is now out of the yusho race. But I certainly hope he can continue the Ozeki run. Goeido, on the other hand, gets about 20 envelopes of kensho for this display.

Kakuryu, after his display of tawara-waltz yesterday, probably decided it’s time to show some Yokozuna-worthy sumo. He starts with a harizashi (which some argue is not yokozuna sumo. Well, at least not when the Yokozuna is Hakuho). Then gets his typical migi-yotsu, firmly holding to Chiyomaru‘s mawashi with his right hand.

This was, in fact, only the second time he used that grip in this basho. That’s the injured hand, and most of his bouts have been about working around it. He attempts to use it for the yori, but it’s actually Chiyomaru who advances. The yokozuna changes his overarm grip – the left hand – placing it closer to the front of Chiyomaru’s mawashi, and then uses it cleanly and efficiently and Chiyomaru finds himself outside in no time. This has been the first time for Chiyomaru to appear on the musubi-no-ichiban, or engage with a Yokozuna at all. He said “It was an atmosphere which I have never experienced before”.

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Sniff, sniff. Love your aftershave, Maru.

Kakuryu achieves his “Yokozuna kachi-koshi”. It now remains to see if his faith is going to be different than in the previous basho, as he goes into the last third where he faces the strongest opponents. And the first challenge is Kyomusubi Ichinojo!

Yusho Arasoi

  • 10-0 – Y1E Kakuryu
  • 9-1 – M6E Kaisei
  • 8-2 – OE Takayasu, KE Ichinojo

Juryo

As I said, I’m combining my coverages today, and here is the Juryo summary.

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Takanoiwa can’t find his sea legs as yet

At the very bottom, Enho is edging closer to a make-koshi, and his chance of winning all of his next five bouts are vanishingly small, much like himself. He will need to spend some more time at Makushita and get those kilograms rolling.

 

 

Tobizaru pretty much sweeps the floor with him.

Terutsuyoshi is not fairing much better, and I believe he is heading back to Makushita yet again, despite being stronger than Enho. He complains of various injuries on the Isegahama website.

 

The rest of the Isegahama sekitori surprisingly all won today, while all of Takanohana’s lost. In fact, Takanoiwa lost to Homarefuji.

Homarefuji got him into an oshi battle, which is clearly not his specialty.

Terunofuji got to meet the much higher-ranked Kyokutaisei. And once again, showed a glimpse of the old Terunofuji:

Harizashi, yotsu, yori-kiri. The former Ozeki and Kyokutaisei both hit the even 5-5 mark.

For some reason, One And Only seems not to like Aminishiki, and never posts a video of his bouts. So here is a time-stamped (46m 18s) full Juryo video from Miselet:

I have a hunch Aminishiki is going to announce his retirement soon – after this basho, or maybe the next. He is having a real hard time, and I suppose he is getting tired of suffering pain day after day and seeing not much in return.

But for the time being, he manages to scrape another win and break his fall down Juryo somewhat. Tokushoryu tries a tottari, but Aminishiki uses the same elbow to push him away and out.

Mitoryu and Sadanoumi are the only two Juryo wrestlers to achieve kachi-koshi by day 10. Tsurugisho and Amakaze are, alas, make-koshi.

Finally, at Jonokuchi, here is the Hoshoryu of the day. Congratulations, first kachi koshi!

Five Interesting Matches on Day 13

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With the Kyushu basho wrapping up, many of the matches on day 13 are in some ways more about the New Year tournament than the current one. Several rikishi, such as Okinoumi, Endo, and Kagayaki, will be facing opponents five or six ranks above them tomorrow, as the schedulers try to get an idea of what the Hatsu banzuke will look like. Here are just five interesting matches to keep an eye on for day 13.

Aoiyama vs. Daiamami

Although it wouldn’t do much to improve his current situation, I do think Aoiyama deserved a win on day 12. From the replays, it was pretty clear that Kotoyuki’s arm touched the clay a split second before the big Bulgarian’s heel stepped out, and I was very surprised there wasn’t at least a monoii. Aoiyama will have to leave the past behind and focus on tomorrow when he meets Daiamami, who despite losing the majority of his bouts has been giving it his all in the last half of this basho. Day 13 will be the first time these two rikishi meet.

Aminishiki vs. Ikioi

Everyone’s favorite uncle will once again try to secure his spot in the top division tomorrow. Aminishiki’s tournament started off strong, but he has faded a bit in the later half of this basho as his opponents began to figure out his tactics. Yet there is a man who may just fall for the wily veteran’s tricks, and his name is Ikioi. On any given day, Ikioi can show incredible skill and determination on the dohyo. But then there are days where he wrestles like a man with banana peels taped to his feet. It’s impossible to predict which Ikioi will show each day and if he decides to lace up the peels tomorrow, Aminishiki shouldn’t have much trouble making a fool of him.

Endo vs. Tamawashi

Apparently, Okinoumi isn’t the only one putting his health issues behind him, as crowd favorite Endo has been having another great tournament. Coming into day 13 with a 9-3 record, Endo is fighting much like he did when he first emerged on the Makuuchi scene and captured the hearts of sumo fans. His impressive showing has resulted in a massive jump up the torikumi, and he will face Maegashira 1 Tamawashi tomorrow. These two have had a very interesting series, with Endo dominating their first six bouts and Tamawashi taking the last five.

Onosho vs. Shohozan

It would be quite the comeback story if Onosho could somehow get his kachi koshi after an abysmal start to the tournament. Since donning the red mawashi once more, he has only lost once and will need to win his last three matches to get an 8-7 record. His first and perhaps greatest challenge comes in the form of Shohozan, who has also underperformed this basho. Onosho has faced off against the Fukuoka native three times before and has never beat him. Can Onosho keep his kachi koshi dream alive, or will Shohozan hand him his first Makuuchi losing record?

Ichinojo vs. Mitakeumi

Ichinojo has definitely been one of the MVPs of this basho. He dominated Kisenosato, gave Hakuho his first taste of real competition, and had a highlight bout with Goeido on day 12. While I don’t know if Ichinojo will have a good enough record by the end of the basho to contend for the opening(s) in the Komusubi rank, he does have a pretty good shot at Maegashira 1. Ichinojo may also be in the running for a sansho special prize if he can bring his record up to ten or eleven wins. His day 13 opponent is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who will want to get back in the win column after a concise loss to Hakuho. Mitakiumi will be  looking for his eighth victory to secure his kachi koshi and keep his Sekiwake rank for January. He has met Ichinojo on the clay twice, and the two are tied at one win apiece.

Everything You Need to Know After Act Two

Sumo wrestlers line up as they pray before the start of the annual 'Honozumo' ceremonial sumo tournament dedicated to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

The curtain has dropped on act two. The stage is now set, and the actors are ready for the grand finale of the Kyushu basho. While the early days of this tournament were overshadowed by scandal, the sumo took center stage in act two. So far we’ve seen triumph, defeat, skill and and even a little luck. But the best is yet to come! Here is a quick run down of everything you need to know going into the last five days of sumo in 2017.

Yusho Race

After two acts, only one man remains lord on high in the yusho race: Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho. With a 10-0 record and a two-win cushion separating him from second place, this is truly Hakuho’s yusho to lose. The story is not over yet, however, as two men are trailing Hakuho, just waiting for him to make one crucial mistake that will bring them closer to yusho contention. These rikishi are Okinoumi and Hokutofuji, who both ended day 10 with eight wins apiece. Should he keep his record spotless, Hakuho can clinch the yusho with a win on day 14, if not sooner.

Kachi Koshi and Make Koshi

There were only three men who secured their kachi koshi by the end of act two. In addition to Hakuho, only Okinoumi and Hokutofuji have earned a winning record so far, and are safe from demotion for the New Year Tournament. Conversely, there are three rikishi with make koshi losing records, beginning with Tochiozan who went winless in his first eight bouts. Chiyonokuni and Kotoshogiku also have losing records and can expect to move down the banzuke for January. For a closer look at the kachi koshi and make koshi  projections, please see this article by fellow Tachiai authour lksumo.

Kinboshi

Yokozuna Kisenosato surrendered three more kinboshi during the second act of the kyusho basho, bringing the overall total to six. These kinboshi were claimed by Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, and Takarafuji respectively. Having lost to five Maegashira rikishi, Kisenosato tied the record for the most kinboshi given up in a single basho since 1949.

Kyujo and Absences

On day 3 it was announced that Aoiyama had withdrawn from competition due to issues with his ankle. He returned to action on day 8 in what many believe to be a desperate attempt to stave off a major demotion down the banzuke. Since the end of act one, only one more rikishi has joined those who have pulled out of the Kyushu basho. Early in day 10, Kisenosato withdrew from the competition due to ankle and lower back issues. This marks the third time he has had to end a tournament prematurely this year. The kyujo and Absentee list so far includes Kakuryu, Ura, Takanoiwa, Harumafuji, Terunofuji, and Kisenosato.

Tozai-Sei

After ten days, the West now leads the East by a score of 104-85. The West side of the banzuke is really beginning to pull away from the East, mostly due to Hakuho, Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, and Arawashi, who have all won seven or more matches. That being said, the East has been far more affected by injuries and has lost many top point-earners this basho. The next five days will see the crowning of the first unofficial Tozai-sei championship.

Like a play, each act of the Kyushu basho has been better than the last. There’s still so much fantastic sumo that awaits us as we head into the final days of competition. So with that, let’s open the curtain on act 3. Let the finale begin!

Everything You Need to Know After Act One

 

With the first act of the Kyushu basho coming to an end, here is a quick rundown of everything you need to know to get all caught up.

Yusho Race

Five days in and the leaderboard has already dwindled down to three men, all with perfect records. Maegashira 13 Aminishiki, Ozeki Goeido, and a very genki Yokozuna Hakuho have five wins each and are neck and neck in the yusho race. Behind them with four wins are Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, Arawashi, and surprisingly, Okinoumi. I expect this group to be much smaller by the end of act two.

Kinboshi

So far, there have been three kinboshi surrendered this basho. Tamawashi earned the first of these gold star victories on day 1 when he defeated Yokozuna Kisenosato. Up and comer Takakeisho claimed the other two when he beat Harumafuji on day 2 and Kisenosato on day 4.

Kyujo and Absences

There are currently six men on the banzuke who have pulled out of the competition. Ura, Takanoiwa and Yokozuna Kakuryu withdrew citing health issues before the start of the basho. Aoiyama joined them on day 3 after sustaining an ankle injury in his match with Okinoumi. Day 3 would also see Yokozuna Harumafuji pull out of the competition following accusations of an assault on Takanoiwa during the October jungyo tour. After four straight losses, former Ozeki Terunofuji withdrew on day 5 to address the multiple health issues that have been plaguing him as of late.

Tozai-Sei

On day 1, I mentioned that I would be keeping track of the unofficial Tozai-sei Championship going on between the East and West sides of the banzuke. The Tozai-sei was an award used in the early 20th century and was given to the side of the banzuke with the most wins, and I’ve decided to resurrect it for a bit of added fun this basho. The rules are simple: for every win a rikishi gets, his side receives a point. After five days, the West leads the East with a record of 53 to 46. This lead is no doubt thanks to Aminishiki, Ichinojo, Takayasu, and Hakuho, who have a combined 18 points thus far. The top point earners on the East side are Okinoumi, Mitakeumi, and Goeido, who have 14 points between them.

With day 6 set to start in just a few short hours, there are still so many great sumo highlights to look forward to as the Kyushu basho rolls on.

Day 2 – Slip Slidin’ Away

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The Battle of the Tsuyuharai

Before we turn to Aminishiki, who is still carrying Isegahama beya on his shoulders all alone (well, Homarefuji also won today), let’s drop and visit one of our favorites down in Makushita.

Yes. Unfortunately, Tokoryu was not letting the boy wonder outdo him. Hakuho’s pretty uchi-deshi tastes his first defeat.

In my personal watch list of Naruto beya – Torakio wins, Sumidagawa lost yesterday to Ezuka, who is a third of his size. Gap starts to open?


So, back up to Makuuchi. Nishikigi shows good fighting spirit and pushes Ishiura’s face with his lower arm several times. Ishiura, on the other hand, shows why he is in Juryo. Something is not working there.

Takekaze gets Kotoyuki down, stumbles over him, and both fall awkwardly below the dohyo. Takekaze seems to be OK, but Kotoyuki limping. Unfortunately, it’s not the worst injury of the day. Following the Aminishiki-Kagayaki bout, we have Aoiyama vs. Okinoumi. Aoiyama somehow damages his foot against the tawara, and ends up in the dreaded giant wheelchair. Following the doctor’s check, his stablemaster says that he hurt his heel, and that there was a “snapping sound”. This does not bode well for the Bulgarian.

This is not basho-related, but if we’re in the hospital already, the NSK finally released the reason for Takanoiwa’s kyujo, and it sounds very unpleasant: Concussion, ear canal inflammation, skull fracture, and a suspicion of cranial fluid leakage. For some unfathomable reason, the press says the expected recovery time is two weeks. From a skull fracture? Hmmm. Wishes of health go out to Kotoyuki, Aoiyama and Takanoiwa.

So, rewind a bit to the battle of the Tsuyuharai. That is, Kagayaki is Kisenosato’s tsuyuharai, whereas Aminishiki continues to serve as Harumafuji’s tsuyuharai, despite the fact that it strains his knees and ankles, and that it leaves him precious little time to get ready for his bouts. An honor is an honor. And anyway, he doesn’t seem to be affected by it too much, and might be running out of Yokozuna pretty soon the way things look up the banzuke. The torikumi itself was pretty short: Uncle chose to rise high at the tachiai to match Kagayaki’s height, and already had a grip in preparation whilst rising. Then it was left, down, and 2-0.

Endo and Kaisei take some time to fight over their mawashi grips, when Endo decides he has had enough, pulls on the one side of Kaisei’s mawashi he has a firm grip on, and twists him down. Shitatehineri. Nice!

Chiyomaru seems to have had a good night sleep, and came back with his usual genki today. Slap-slappity-slap, grab, push, and out with Daieisho.

Chiyoshoma on the other hand, makes the mistake of retreating after a good tachiai vs. Shodai, tries to grab something for one of his throws, but runs out of dohyo doing so.

Chiyonokuni loses by slippiotoshi – not the last one of the day – to Arawashi. Today was not a very good day for Kokonoe, either. But really, their fare is better than Isegahama…

What mode did Ichinojo boot up in for this basho? What a lovely bout against Takarafuji. Shoulder blast at the tachiai, a combination of oshi and yotsu zumo, some patience, and a couple of gaburi to put the Isegahama man out. As a general Isegahama fan this makes me a bit sad, but on the other hand, I really like Ichinojo. Especially when he’s wide awake.

OK, we’re up in the sanyaku. Hokutofuji looks convincing vs. Mitakeumi. Or is it that Mitakeumi is all… fishy…? Sorry, but that man’s face…

The ghost of Terunofuji tries to do all sorts of things with Shohozan, but, quite expectedly, fails. Shohozan is kind enough not to push the ailing Kaiju off the dohyo.

Chiyotairyu drops the lid on Yoshikaze‘s hopes to make an Ozeki run.

Goeido. Well, Goeido. That is, Goeido. He does to Kotoshogiku exactly what Harumafuji did to him in the playoff match in Aki. Simply prevents the henka and pushes the local man out so quickly he doesn’t know what hit him. Well, it was Goeido, Giku-zeki. He studied the monitor well and probably watched that match dozens of times since. The way Goeido looks right now, Hakhuo can start worrying.

Takayasu is back. Blast, push, and Tochiozan learns the pain of the joi. So, you’re saying the man from Tagonoura was injured? When was that?

And now we’re into the Yokozuna. And… when was the last time Harumafuji had two black stars from day one? The answer is Natsu 2010. Never as a Yokozuna, of course. He tried to tackle Takakeisho. Once. Didn’t work. Twice. Didn’t work. Third time… and he ran out of clay. Takakeisho was benevolent enough to pull him in so he will not roll off the dohyo (this is the real meaning of karma, by the way). The Yokozuna has as much chance of becoming a dai-yokozuna as I have of becoming a Japanese…

The bout between Kisenosato and Onosho was, in Onosho’s words, “Not what I thought it would be”. It looked a bit like a cartoon character starting to run, with feet shuffling but no forward motion. Big, big, slippiotoshi, and all Kisenosato had to do was let him fall in a way that could be called a kimarite.

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Slippiotoshi, reverse angle

The Japanese broadcaster said he did a “left ottsuke”. Anybody see an ottsuke there? Because I don’t. I see a man falling down.

Finally, Hakuho back in the musubi-no-ichiban. Slips in his usual face slap. Disengages for a second, and before Tamawashi can think of anything, shows him the way out.

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Get out, trespasser!

So, two days go by. Maybe we’ll see a yusho playoff between Hakuho, Goeido, and, er… Aminishiki? Nah, I’m just jinxing him talking like that. Seriously, though, Hakuho, Goeido and Takayasu are currently the only dominant-looking rikishi on the clay.

 

Nagoya Day 4 Highlights

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Nagoya Crazy Train Still Rolling On.

Many sumo fans assumed that at some point this week, the Nagoya bahso would settle down to a standard sumo grind, but this basho is a run away beer truck rolling down hill. The only hope we have is to climb on board and drink the contents while the ride lasts.

With Yokozuna Kakuryu’s withdrawal from the basho, the noises of his retirement have returned at an elevated volume. I think it would be a great loss for sumo, given that his style is fairly unique. But it’s clear that his body is not up to the challenge of supporting the intense schedule of the modern sumo year.

There was a good amount of concern and confusion in today’s match between Ura and Onosho. To the fans in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnaisum, it must have looked that Onosho was a clear winner. In fact it seems that both rikishi were not quite certain who had won. As the gyoji handed the kensho to Ura, the shimpan rose, and Ura assumed that a monoii had been called. Looking confused, he tried to hand the kensho back to the gyoji. In fact it was simply the half way break, and the Shimpan were changing over.

Lastly, in a bout that I loved, but that many in Japan are criticizing, Hakuho completely and utterly deconstructed fast rising star Takakeisho in the final match of the day. It’s quite understandable that Takakeisho would be in awe of his first ever match against the dai-Yokozuna, and Hakuho played on that. After a series of tsuppari delivered to the young challenger, Takakeisho backed off and waited. This prompted Hakuho to encourage him to attack, and it devolved into butsugari geiko. This may not quite make sense, but in that 30 second bout, Hakuho reduced Takakeisho from challenger, to student. Personally I found it endearing, but it seems that a good amount of the sumo mainstays in the NSK found it quite insulting.

Selected Matches

Nishikigi defeats Sokokurai – Nishikigi continues to look renewed in his return to Makuuchi. He is now 4-0 and half way to his kachi-koshi. Sokokurai put up a good fight, but Nishikigi was not going to lose.

Tokushoryu defeats Chiyonokuni – Tokushoryu completely overpowered Chiyonokuni in this match, which resulted in a monii. I have to wonder if Chiyonokuni is nursing some injury from Natsu, as he continues to turn in dismal results.

Aoiyama defeats Shohozan – Aoiyama the man mountain continues to dominate, and remains unbeaten thus far. I am certain that Maegashira 8 is the perfect rank for Aoiyama, as he seems to be doing very well with this degree of difficulty.

Ishiura defeats Chiyotairyu – Ishiura showed up with some really solid sumo today, and the crowd loved it. I am not sure if he has physical or confidence problems, but everyone is hoping to see that same hard-charging sumo machine that first entered Makuuchi in January.

Ura defeats Onosho – In addition to the post-match confusion, this was some really solid sumo from both men. Onosho really pushed hard from the tachiai, but lost momentum moments from victory. His final pulling throw at the edge saw his foot out for just a moment as Ura took flight.

Tochiozan defeats Endo – Something happened at the tachiai, and Endo more or less stopped trying just after the initial charge. All of sumo hopes Endo is not harboring some performance limiting injury.

Takayasu defeats Mitakeumi – Takayasu’s initial shoulder blast seems to have disoriented Mitakeumi, who was never able to get stable and attack. Takayasu continued to press the attack and move forward, and prevailed. This is two days in a row where it seems Mitakeumi became disoriented after a really solid blow to the head on the tachiai.

Goeido defeats Ikioi – Example of Goeido 2.0 behavior. Explode into the tachiai, carry that momentum into your opponent’s chest and just run him off the dohyo. Sadly Ikioi is winless.

Hokutofuji defeats Terunofuji – Hokutofuji is holding up very well against sumo’s top ranks. If he can stay healthy, he will join them before long. It’s clear that Terunofuji is struggling daily to compete through the pain.

Kisenosato defeats Shodai – All of the sumo world breaths a sigh of relief. Not only did he win, but he was producing power through his left side. Maybe he can make a go of it after all. Shodai, of course, had a terrible tachiai.

Harumafuji defeats Tochinoshin – Excellent deploy of Harumafuji’s mini-henka, against an opponent who sort of expected it.

Hakuho defeats Takakeisho – In what I can only call “Mole Boss Sumo”, Hakuho is cat to Takakeisho’s mouse. When they made this Yokozuna, they broke the mould. Much respect to Takakeisho for continuing to try to attack in spite of Hakuho batting him around like a piece of twine.

Nagoya Day 3 Highlights

Hokotofuji

The Ozeki Recover.

The Nagoya basho has a reputation for being a wild and bumpy ride. With the large number of young rikishi in the top half of Makuuchi for the first time, each day’s torikumi is loaded with potential. Only 3 days into the tournament, the amount of upsets and unexpected results continues to climb. It makes for a huge amount of fan interest because we literally do not know what to expect. I love it.

One thing that is starting to become clear is that some of the Yokozuna and Ozeki remain injured and are not up to the level of performance that they would want. But even so, they are still giving everything they have. In some past basho, you could expect Hakuho to steam-roll everyone, and whoever was injured could gamberize and get by. This works best when the rikishi know each other fairly well, and can assume what kind of sumo they will bring to each match.

Today was the first time that Kisenosato saw purple rain. In his loss in the final match of the day, the fans threw their zabuton at the dohyo. During the basho in Tokyo, Kisenosato racked up several losses, but the fans did not send their cushions sailing. Perhaps it was because they understood how banged up he still was. That consideration seems to be over, and his loss triggered a flurry of purple zabuton floating skyward. Interior decorating choices aside, Kisenosato has little hope of ever recovering to Yokozuna level without surgery on his pectoral. The sooner they get him under the knife the better. Even then, it’s not a sure thing that he will ever be back.

Selected Matches

Nishikigi defeats Chiyomaru – Nishikigi remains undefeated. He has really found his motivation after his demotion to Juryo. This rikishi has a lot of potential, and I am glad to see him engaged and winning.

Chiyonokuni defeats Okinoumi – Chiyonokuni finally wins one against hapless Okinoumi. For this first time this basho, Chiyonokuni actually looked solid and on his game.

Aoiyama defeats Ishiura – Ishiura continues to look lost and helpless, which is amazing given the strength of his debut basho in January. Aoiyama seems to be at a nearly perfect rank this basho, where his ponderous bulk allows him to slap his way to victory most of the time.

Onosho defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo is looking really lack luster again this basho, and Onosho seems hungry and aggressive. The match was quick and very one sided, Onosho just moved Inchinojo out in a hurry.

Kagayaki defeats Ura – This was all Kagayaki, and he countered Ura quite well. Ura seemed to have not really found his footing from the tachiai on. Kagayaki finally picks up his first win.

Yoshikaze defeats Tamawashi – This is the best I have seen Yoshikaze fight since Nagoya last year. In his day 3 match against Tamawashi, the big Mongolian came on strong, and had Yoshikaze off balance for a moment but could not finish him. Yoshikaze battled back fiercely and was able to lock up Tamawashi’s belt. From there, Yoshikaze took charge and won.

Goeido defeats Mitakeumi – Great to see Goeido back in a 2.0 boot up again. Also Mitakeumi seems to have decided he stepped out and accepted defeat perhaps a moment early. Either way, Goeido finally gets his first win.

Terunofuji defeats Ikioi – Monster effort here by Ikioi, and it’s clear as glass that Terunofuji is injured once more. In spite of this, and Ikioi’s fantastic sumo today, Terunofuji found a way to pick up his first win. Frankly it could have gone either way.

Takayasu defeats Kotoshogiku – It’s really sad to watch a former great like the Kyushu Bulldozer go 0-3. But Ojisan Kotoshogiku seems to have nothing left of his legs, which was the heart of his sumo.

Harumafuji defeats Takakeisho – Very happy that Harumafuji was able to finally pick up his first win, though for a moment Takakeisho had him on one leg and in perilous position. Harumafuji recovered well and took over effectively.

Hakuho defeats Shodai – Now at 1039 wins, Hakuho dispatched Shodai to remain unbeaten. Hakuho delivered a slap at the tachiai, and it seemed to make Shodai collapse. Not sure what happened there.

Hokutofuji defeats Kakuryu – Big K started strong, but an amazing rally from Hokutofuji results in his first kinboshi for his very first match with a Yokozuna. We keep seeing really impressive sumo from Hokutofuji, and he will be a big deal in the not too distant future.

Tochinoshin defeats Kisenosato – Kisenosato is still quite injured, and not performing well. It’s sad, it’s depressing, the NSK would rather nobody notice, but it’s there for all to witness. Prior to his injury, Kisenosato went left, always. Now with his injury, he seems to have no power on his left, and is almost helpless on the dohyo. Please, Great Pumpkin, only medical intervention has a chance at putting you back together. Kinboshi for Tochinoshin.

Nagoya Day 3 Preview

Big-K

Young Blood Creating An Exciting Dynamic

Video from this Nagoya basho always features one thing in every shot – the crowd desperately fanning themselves. I had heard that this event was a hot, sweaty and sticky affair. On top of that, Japan has turned it’s heat and formidable humidity to 11. The greatest and most troubling manifestation of Japan’s tropical tendencies are the catastrophic rain in western Japan, including parts of Kyushu and extreme western Honshu.

While the discomfort for the fans in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium is quite real, the heat endured by the athletes is even more extreme. Within the dohyo awning suspended from the ceiling, There is a battery of high intensity flood lamps, cameras and microphones. These lamps are meant to light the action, and easily raise the temperature on the dohyo by 10°. So if you wonder why the rikishi are drenched in sweat when you see them either exit the arena, or in the interview room after a bout, this plays a significant part.

As anticipated, the placement of so many strong, healthy and new rikishi this high in the banzuke is creating some unpredictable results in the first third of Nagoya. Readers of this site know that it is my theory that any basho follows a fairly predictable evolution, that can be thought of as 5 day “thirds”. The first third is the warm up, the second is the heart of the competition, where you see who is hot and who is not, and the final third determines the yusho. The roster of who is in Makuuchi has been surprisingly stable for at least a year, and so the pace and contests within each day’s torikumi can feel almost familiar.

With this much new talent in the top Maegashira, it’s a surprise each day. First time match up coupled with raw talent, uninjured rikishi scrapping to make their mark on the sport they will likely dominate for the next decade or so. Let the chaos cauldron continue to boil! Nagoya is just getting started!

Matches We Like

Nishikigi vs Chiyomaru – Both have started the basho with two wins, and both are Maegashira 15. Looks like it’s time to sort these two on the clay.

Arawashi vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji as never lost to Arawashi, but Arawashi has won his first two bouts of the basho. I would expect that Arawashi will need to do something to escape Takarafuji superior reach and complete lack of neck.

Aoiyama vs Ishiura – Classic sumo big man / little man match. We have yet to see any real sumo from Ishiura this tournament, and it would warm the hearts of many fans to see these two provide a good battle. This is, in fact, their first match.

Ichinojo vs Onosho – Another big man / little man match, Onosho has really been high energy and dangerous since May. As always Ichinojo is hit or miss. Another of the great first ever meetings between these two.

Ura vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki has been struggling to get his sumo running in Nagoya. Now he is up against Ura, who has dialed back the acrobatics and is winning with solid sumo fundamentals. Perhaps today Ura will unleash some of his non newtonian physics for the fans.

Tamawashi vs Yoshikaze – Both rikishi are coming into the match with two win starts, and this one could be one of the better matches of the day. Yoshikaze has been surprisingly deliberate in his two prior wins. Tamawashi has been unleashing explosive sumo from the start, and making it work. Their career match ups are essentially even, so this could be a real battle.

Mitakeumi vs Goeido – Mitakeumi has only beaten Goeido once before, but Mitakeumi could care less. Mitakeumi is starting to remind me of a Honey Badger now. Goeido is getting into a really troublesome mode right now, I had jokingly nominated him for kadoban, but he seems to be on a fast track this time.

Terunofuji vs Ikioi – One could imagine a healthy Terunofuji would stop by the Ryogoku McDonalds for some dipping sauce to enjoy with what was left of Ikioi. But it’s clear that the big Ozeki is injured. Ikioi could really use the win, so it will be somewhat unpleasant to see what happens here. Surprisingly, Ikioi leads their career bout record 7-2.

Takayasu vs Kotoshogiku – Another cringe inducing match. As we stated before we hate watching Kotoshogiku suffer, but he insists on turning up to compete. But for Takayasu, he needs to settle down and produce Ozeki class result. Hopefully Ojisan Kotoshogiku will provide him with a good match.

Takakeisho vs Harumafuji – We can assume after the first two days that Harumafuji has some medical / mechanical issues in Nagoya. The question is does he soldier on? Takakeisho is a big mystery here, this is their first ever match, and he is both nervous and fired up.

Hakuho vs Shodai – The boss is looking for win #1039 on his march to the record. Shodai will likely provide some contest for a few seconds, but I expect Hakuho to dispatch him. Short of injury, Hakuho is making the case that he will be the man to beat.

Hokutofuji vs Kakuryu – Another potential for a great match. These two are meeting for the first time, and we will have two rikishi who have mass, strength and a great defensive approach to sumo. Sure Hokutofuji can implement a masterful attack, but I am expecting to recognize that a match with Big K is going to be a game of cat and mouse.

Kisenosato vs Tochinoshin – Someone is going to really hurt Kisenosato, I fear. And with the overwhelming strength of Tochinoshin, I fear this could be the match that unleashes agony for the Yokozuna and the Japanese sumo loving public. If The Great Pumpkin can make it through this match and even win, it would do a lot to shut people like me up, who think his current left arm is some cutting edge robotic attachment from the labs at Tohoku University.

Handicapping The Natsu Banzuke – Part 2

banzuke-3

The Meat Grinder & Cannon Fodder

*Updated after reader lksumo pointed out that my spreadsheet had somehow skipped special prize winner Takakeisho.

After the relative ease of the San’yaku ranks, we enter the mine field of the upper Maegashira. In Osaka, the upper 3 Maegashira ranks all had painfully bad losing records, and each of them will be handed a significant demotion for the upcoming tournament. When this happens, it’s a complete toss up who will be placed where in the upper rank and file. As was evidenced by Yoshikaze at Maegashira 4 having an 8-7 record, but probably begin placed at Komusubi.

The upper Maegashira ranks are some of the toughest in sumo. They will face the San’yaku, which should be 11 rikishi this tournament, and will likely face a lot of losses. All of the sumotori know this, but that is how it goes.

As with Osaka, we are using a series of formulas that I have been working to refine to help predict where each rikishi will be placed on the banzuke. It takes into account the wins, losses, the relative strength of the opponent for each, and a scoring factor that reflects the fact that the higher up the banzuke you are, the more difficult it is to advance.

Pouring all of that into the model, we end up with this computed ranking:

East Rank West
Chiyonokuni Maegashira 1 Endo
Chiyoshoma Maegashira 2 Okinoumi
Takarafuji Maegashira 3 Shodai
Tochiozan Maegashira 4 Takekaze
Ikioi Maegashira 5 Takanoiwa
Daieisho Maegashira 6 Aoiyama
Takakeisho Maegashira 7 Sokokurai

Top of the rank-and-file corps this time is Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni has been working himself silly to improve, and it really shows. He has also picked up considerable mass in the past year, and is better able to cope with massive beasts that inhabit Makuuchi. While his rank velocity was not massive, he had a stronger finish than most of the upper Maegashira. Joining him from the west is crowd favorite Endo who debuts at his highest rank ever. Many fans in Japan love Endo, and they are hoping that he can claim another kachi-koshi which would likely propel him into the San’yaku for July.

At Maegashira 2 we find Chiyoshoma, who launches up from Maegashira 5 on a comparatively strong record in March. This is his highest rank ever, and he has worked hard to reach this point. He is joined by veteran (and my wife’s favorite) Okinoumi, who has been battling injuries for some time. When he is well enough to compete, he is a significant factor in the tournament. We all hope he is in fighting shape this May.

At Maegashira 3 we surprisingly find Takarafuji. I can hear you asking: “Didn’t he finish with a make-koshi?”. The problem really is, who is worthy of Maegashira 3? The top 10 Maegashira ranked rikishi in March saw only two finish with winning records – Yoshikaze and Endo. Takarafuji finished with a 7-8, but surprisingly, that was better than most. Joining him is Shodai who has fallen three ranks from Komusubi

Tochiozan had a very strong finish in Osaka, and he will return to the upper Maegashira at 4e in May. The level of completion is quite different than his prior Maegashira 10 rank, and we hope he arrives at the basho ready to battle. Joining him is veteran Takekaze, who suffered a 10-5 record in March.

Ikioi take up a Maegashira 5 position for Natsu, after his terrible 10-5 record at Haru. Ikioi has a lot of potential, but has been terribly hit or miss for the past year. Joining him is Takanoiwa, who was also part of the group of upper Maegashira who had horrific records in Osaka.

Daieisho achieves his highest rank ever with a posting to Maegashira 6, moving up 5 places after a very strong tournament in March. Daieisho shows a lot of promise, and it will be interesting to see his performance against higher ranked rikishi. He will likely face some of the San’yaku during this tournament. Aoiyama joins him. Aoiyama has not really been overly impressive for several tournaments, and this may be the extent of his sumo, but we always leave the door open for improvement.

Rounding out the upper Maegashira is Takakeisho at Maegashira 7. Takakeisho turned in a fantastic 11-4 record in March, and earned a special prize. He vaults 5 places up the banzuke to a fairly challenging rank.  Joining him is Sokokurai. Sokokurai took home a brutal 4-11 record in March, and will be down in the much easier ranks for May.

Tune in Wednesday for the final installment, when I take a crack at the lower Maegashira.

Haru Day 15 Preview

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Final Day Of the Osaka Tournament

It’s been a strange and crazy basho, and now we face the final day of competition. The yusho race had focused almost entirely on Kisenosato for the bulk of the tournament, but it’s now clear that bar some strange occurrence, Terunofuji will lift the Emperor’s Cup tomorrow. Prior to day 14’s henka against Kotoshogiku, most sumo fans would have cheered his return to glory, after more than a year of crippling injuries and constant pain.

Fans have commented on Tachiai, Twitter and Facebook that the henka is part of the sport. This is true, and there are times when it’s employment is kind of neat. What troubles me about day 14 is that Kotoshogiku was not going to be able to best Terunofuji’s kaiju mode. To me the henka this time smelled of cruelty. I restrain myself, I hope, from layering too many American / European idioms on what is a completely Japanese cultural phenomenon. But it was clear that Kotoshogiku intended to go out, guns blazing, giving his all every match. This was the match where his bid to return was to be lost, and he was not allowed to end with dignity.

So you may see some noise from the Japanese fan community about Terunofuji, and I worry, about the Mongolian contingent as a whole. This would be a huge mistake, in my opinion, as the Mongolian rikishi have hugely enriched the sport, and have done fantastic things for Japan and the Japanese people.

Key Matches, Day 15

Terunofuji vs Kisenosato – This one decides the yusho. If Kisenosato some how manages to win the first one, the two will fight a tie breaker after Harumafuji and Kakuryu fight the last match of the basho. Given that Kisenosato can’t really do anything with his left arm (and he’s left handed) it’s going to be a long shot. My hope is that Kisenosato can survive without additional injury, and Terunofuji does not do anything to further lose face.

Harumafuji vs Kakuryu – This bout has very little impact, save to see if Kakuryu can get to double digits this time. Both are out of the yusho race, Harumafuji is banged up and struggling. I hope no one gets hurt and both can recover soon.

Tamawashi vs Takayasu – If Takayasu can win this one, it means that he will need 10 wins in May to become Ozeki. It’s still a tall order, but a 12-3 record might also give him Jun-Yusho status for the first time in his career. Tamawashi will likely stay at Sekiwake for May, but needs wins to start making the case for promotion to Ozeki himself.

Kotoshogiku vs Yoshikaze – I hope both of these well loved veterans have some fun with this match. Both have kachi-koshi, and both are looking at retirement in the not too distant future. Kotoshogiku will try to wrap up Yoshikaze, and Yoshikaze will try to stay mobile.

Kachi/Make-Koshi

A number of rikishi go into the final day at 7-7, and will exit the final day either with promotion or demotion as their next move. This includes

Ishiura vs Takarafuji – First meeting between these two, Takarafuji already make-koshi

Endo vs Tochinoshin – Both at 7-7, the loser gets a demotion. Prior meetings are evenly split, but Tochinoshin is a shadow of his former self.

Daishomaru vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has his first make-koshi of his sumo career, but Daishomaru has a chance of kachi-koshi if he can win.

Myogiryu vs Aoiyama – Should be an easy win for Aoiyama, Myogiryu already make-koshi

Ichinojo vs Ura – Maegashira 7 Ichinojo vs Maegashira 12 Ura. Ichinojo already make-koshi, Ura trying to stay in the top division. A huge mismatch in size and speed. This may be a strange one indeed.

Haru Day 10 Recap

Yoshikaze-Kinboshi

Kinboshi #7 For Yoshikaze

A wild and wonderful day of Sumo at Osaka overnight saw no change to the leaderboard, as the top 4 rikishi all won their matches. But there was plenty of drama, and a healthy dose of the unexpected. Because both Kakuryu, Chiyoshoma lost on day 10, there is really no one outside of Terunofuji or Tochiozan who can hope to challenge the unbeaten leaders Kisenosato and Takayasu.

Ura continues to struggle, but has kept an even record and hopes of kachi-koshi alive.

Ishiura seems to be a step ahead of Ura in his adjustment to the world of Makuuchi. Today he showed some amazing strength and balance in overcoming Takakeisho. Every so often he pulls a move that betrays his uncommon power to size ratio, and fans are left wondering “did I just see that”?

Tochiozan’s win over Diashomaru was henka powered, and that’s rather sad given he is one of the leader group. But Diashomaru was off balance at the tachiai, and may have not survived long anyhow. Tochiozan is either having a great streak, or has revived is prior winning ways, we hope he can maintain this going forward into May.

There was a monii in the Aoiyama vs Okinoumi bout, where once again the “dead body” policy played a role. Aoiyama applied a powerful throw which sent Okinoumi flying head-first off the dohyo, but stepped out a fraction of a second before Okinoumi landed. The Shimpan awarded the bout to Okinoumi.

Kotoshogiku keeps hope alive by winning decisively over Takekaze. He needs 3 more wins to regain his Ozeki rank, and at this point I think he may actually be able to do it if the schedulers give him a chance.

Takanoiwa deployed a henka against Takayasu. As Takayasu charged ahead strongly at the tachiai, Takanoiwa leapt to the side. In one of the more impressive moves I have seen in sumo, many hundreds of pound of sumotori came to a screeching halt, maintained balance, pivoted and attacked. With a single blow to the side of Takanoiwa’s head put him on the clay.

Just when I think Shodai is all hype, he gave Terunofuji a big fight, and nearly won. He’s still too high on his tachiai, but yes, he has promise still. Terunofuji continues to impress, and you can scarcely believe it’s the same rikishi who has limped and hobbled throughout the last year of sumo.

Yoshikaze, in my favorite match of the day, completely and utterly overwhelmed Kakuryu. Yoshikaze had control of the bout front the tachiai, and kept pressing the attack. As is frequently the case, Kakuryu was waiting to exploit an off balance move or mistake by Yoshikaze. I just checked with the EDION arena, he’s still waiting. Kinboshi for the mobile combat platform, the berserker Yoshikaze.

It’s no surprise that Tamawashi failed to provide much of a challenge for the apparently unstoppable Kisenosato, who seems destined to close strong in Osaka. Fans are hoping for a pair of 15-0 combatants facing off on the final day for the gusto, but there are still many challenges to overcome before that is a real possiblity.

Endo was not too much work for Harumafuji, who seems to be back in his grove in spite of his ever increasing roster of physical injuries. Harumafuji shows up every day and gives it his all.

Haru Day 7 Preview

Kise-Kensho-Pile

Our First Look At The Leaderboard

After the awesome that constituted day 6, the schedulers have a tough time given the injuries and some key rikishi being kyujo. The challenge is to keep the schedule interesting, and the matches compelling. At the moment the basho is in the hands of Kisenosato, and to a lesser degree his stable mate Takayasu. While Tochiozan’s matching flawless record is impressive, the schedulers will take care of him in the next few days.

Haru Leader board

LeadersKisenosato, Takayasu, Tochiozan
Hunt Group – Terunofuji, Takarafuji, Chiyoshoma
Chasers – Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Tamawashi, Kotoshogiku, Chiyonokuni, Okinoumi, Daishomaru, Tokushoryu

9 Matches Remain

As noted earlier, the lower San’yaku ranks continue to out-perform their historic trends. It is the job of the Ozeki and the Yokozuna to defeat them daily for the first week, and it has not really happened to the extent it normally does. Now with one Ozeki and one Yokozuna out, the chances of this trend reversing are small. In my opinion, this signals that these lower San’yaku rikishi are competitive with the upper San’yaku, and that means promotions this year. It may also mean retirements soon.

Matches We Like

Tokushoryu vs Daishomaru – Meeting of what I am calling the “Smash Bros”, these two are likely to throw a lot of slaps, jabs and thrusts. Tokushoryu has yet to defeat Daishomaru, but there is always a first time…

Takakeisho vs Ura – Ura is still struggling to deal with the size, speed and strength of Makuuchi class rikishi. It was always going to be a learning experience for him, and a challenge to boot. Takakeisho came up from Juryo in January, and seems to have settled in quite well. Ura has never won against Takakeisho (formerly Sato in Juryo).

Tochiozan vs Okinoumi – Not sure what has enlivened Tochiozan this basho, but I am really enjoying it. Okinoumi seems to have his painful medical problems contained for the moment, and is fighting quite well. This will probably be a very good match, with a slight edge to Okinoumi. Their career record is 11-10, so very evenly matched.

Endo vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma has only one loss, and is fighting well this basho. Endo seems to be struggling, but has shown moments of excellence. It will be up to Endo to keep Chiyoshoma from establishing a throwing hold, which Chiyoshoma will try for right at the tachiai.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyonokuni – A pair of high-intensity rikishi means this may be a fast moving battle of jabs and thrusts. Both of them are small, strong and maneuverable. Yoshikaze has the edge on experience, and leads their career match set 6-1.

Aoiyama vs Takarafuji – Aoiyama leads the series 13-2, believe it or not. Takarafuji has been doing great this basho, so it will be interesting to see if he can overcome the giant Belgian’s punishing reach. Look for Aoiyama to keep thrusting Takarafuji away.

Kotoshogiku vs Shohozan – Shohozan is fresh off of a very nice gold star win against Yokozuna Kakuryu. Kotoshogiku refuses to give in until he regains his Ozeki title. Shohozan needs to stay mobile and don’t let Kotoshogiku get his inside grip.

Sokokurai vs Takayasu – Interestingly enough, Takayasu is 3-2 against Sokokurai, so this is not a sure thing. Takayasu has been presenting the best sumo of his career, but he has also had persistence problems in past basho. Namely that by the second half his vigor and energy start to fade. Sokokurai is no slouch, having taken both the Jun-Yusho and Gino-sho in January.

Mitakeumi vs Kisenosato – On day 6, Mitakeumi made a huge mistake of thinking if he went chest-to-chest with Kotoshogiku, he could show the washed up Ozeki it was time to move on. Give ‘ku his chest meant a fast hug-n-chug parade across the tawara. Let’s hope that Mitakeumi’s hubris is contained, and he takes his bout with Kisenosato seriously.

Handicapping The Haru Banzuke – Part 2

banzuke2a

The Meat Grinder & Cannon Fodder

In the first of our series speculating on the Haru banzuke, we took at look at the San’yaku ranks, which face fierce competition for the competitive ranks, and significant injury and problems in the “permanent” ranks.

Today we look at the rikishi who have hard work to earn their pay, the upper half of Maegashira ranks.  As with the first group, this is all purely speculative, and based on some formula concocted by myself in an attempt to guess where the Nippo Sumo Kyokai will rank the men for the March tournament in Osaka.

Plugging everyone’s win/loss record, the difficulty of their foes, a scoring factor for their rank (harder to move up the higher you were in the banzuke) and a few other magic elements, we get this prospective ranking:

East Rank West
Ikioi Maegashira 1 Takekaze
Takarafuji Maegashira 2 Sokokurai
Tochinoshin Maegashira 3 Shohozan
Arawashi Maegashira 4 Takanoiwa
Yoshikaze Maegashira 5 Endo
Ichinojo Maegashira 6 Chiyonokuni
Hokutofuji Maegashira 7 Aoiyama

Ikioi is an amazingly popular rikishi with the public, and his posting to Maegashira 1e for the Osaka basho will only ramp public interest higher, above and beyond the current Kisenosato mania sweeping Japan.  Ikioi’s sumo has been improving steadily, and the NSK probably assume it’s time to give him a test for a San’yaku slot in the near future. Interestingly enough, the sumotori with the highest “mathematical” rank is Sokokurai! Sokokurai had 11 wins, his “rank velocity” (win vs loss * rank factor * schedule difficulty) was an astounding 9.9, higher than anyone and well ahead of second highest Ichinojo. But I think the Maegashira 1 ranks are prized positions, and the Nippon Sumo Kyokai will likely put Ikioi’s impact on the popularity of sumo foremost. Takekaze moves up from Maegashira 5 to a Maegashira 1 spot at Haru, and we will see if the veteran can fend off the up-and-coming crowd.

Takarafuji benefits from the chaos and blood bath at the upper end of Makuuchi in January, landing solidly at Maegashira 2e, and a chance to rack up kinboshi against a wounded Yokozuna crew.  Joining him is Sokokurai at Maegashira 2w, the rikishi who computed out to the highest “rank velocity” of anyone coming out of Hatsu. If he continues his strong streak from Hatsu, he will present a really good opponent to many top rikishi.

Tochinoshin drops 3 slots from Komusubi to Maegashira 3, he had a terrible record before his injuries forced him to withdraw. To be honest, it will be interesting to see if he is even healed up enough to compete, but as always Tachiai wishes the big Georgain the best of fortune. Joining him at Maegashira 3w is Yokozuna Kisenosato‘s dew-sweeper, Shohozan.

Takanoiwa,  who has been really blowing the doors off of his competition, raises from Maegashira 10 to Maegashira 4. I put him on the west side, which draws a slightly easier schedule.  However, if there is a lack of fierce Ozeki class competition, we may once again see score inflation among the up-and-coming rikishi, and I would look for Takanoiwa to excel. Joining him is Arawashi falling from Maegashira 2 in January.

Yoshikaze (a favorite of mine) seems to have been ranked in a very comfortable spot, as the computation put him at the same rank, but moved him from West to East. Joining him at Maegashira 5 is fan favorite Endo, whose make-koshi in January pushed him down from M2.

Another of the levitating next-gen rikishi, Ichinojo, leaps to Maegashira 6 from his prior spot at Maegashira 13.  Frankly, I am not sure if he is ready for this intensity of competition, but we will see in March how he fares. His computed “rank velocity” was an impressive 7.7, which was more than Takanoiwa.  Joining him is Chiyonokuni, who turned in a solid performance in January at Maegashira 8.

Rounding out the upper portion of the Maegashira ranks, we the rather impressive Hokutofuji at Maegashira 7e, with man-mountain Aoiyama broadly occupying the Maegashira 7w position.  This is one of the cases where even though Aoiyama was able to turn in a winning record (8-7), there was a huge cohort with strong winning records, with victories over higher ranked rikishi, and they ended up passing him by.

Keep in mind – this exercise is for discussion purposes for the most part. So feel free to leave comments, and alternate opinions. I am hoping to tune my formulas over time, and this first attempt should not be taken too seriously.

Tune in Friday for part 3!

Hatsu Day 14 Preview

day-14

Final Weekend Begins

Hatsu has been an interesting tournament for fans, but it has been brutal for Sumo’s talent. In the top division alone there have been 4 rikishi that have withdrawn with injuries, and many more (such as Kotoshogiku and Osunaarashi) who continue on although they should probably be nursing their wounds.

It would be easy to think of day 14 is filler while we all wait for the final, all important battle between Yokozuna Hakuho and Ozeki Kisenosato, but in fact there are a number of sumotori who are still fighting to secure their winning record (kachi-koshi). This includes

Sadanoumi who will fight Ura in the first bout of Makuuchi, Aoiyama who fights Kagayaki in a battle of slaps, Chiyoshoma who fights Daishomaru , and Ikioi who faces hapless doomed Ozeki Kotoshogiku.

There also seems to be a number of “test matches” that feature men from much lower down the banzuke trying their sumo against upper ranked rikishi. These will likely give us some good idea of how they might perform after their expected promotions. This includes

Takayasu vs Sokokurai – Komusubi (working to start an Ozeki run) vs Maegashira 10, but they have even records, and Sokokurai is a real contender. I am certain that Takayasu will take this match seriously, and it could be a real brawl.

Kisenosato vs Ichinojo – The dai-Ozeki vs Maegashira 13, but Ichinojo will be no walk in the park. He has lost a lot of weight, and is in good fighitng form now. Its expected that Kisenosato will dispatch him, but Ichinojo’s size, weight and strength means it’s going to take some work.

Mitakeumi vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji shows hints of being a very strong, dominant member for the new class of rikishi. He goes against Mitakeumi who has really impressed this tournament. On day 13, Mitakeumi looked a little bit spent, but we think he will gamberize for this match.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyotairyu – The mobile attack platform know as Yoshikaze will test Chiyotairyu, who is only Maegashira 14. The Berserker is a personal favorite, but he seems to be slowing down a bit these days. He still has skill and speed on his side.

Hakuho vs Takanoiwa – So the greatest Yokozuna of our age is going against a Maegashira 10. Takanoiwa comes in at 10-3, but it’s all against the bottom half of Makuuchi. I expect Hakuho to fold him like a paper airplane and send him up, up and away.

Hatsu Basho Day 10 Summary

chiyoo

Osunaarashi faced off against the Sadanoumi in the first Makuuchi bout of day 10. This was a long and difficult match, and clearly Osunaarashi is fighting with a lot of pain from his chronic injuries. Sadanoumi is looking good now, and I really hope he can keep this level of sumo and begin again to improve. Osunaarashi now one loss from make-koshi and certain return to Juryo.

Chiyoo showed some very nice work against the massive Aoiyama, who continues to struggle with anything other than a straight pushing attack. Arawashi’s bout against Shohozan was a thing of beauty, with Arawashi employing a great arm bar throw (tottari). Arawashi seems to have found his strength and his sumo, and is now fighting with vigor and purpose.

In a battle of the up and comings, Mitakeumi beat Shodai, though both rikishi put forth some solid effort. The battle was fast paced and highly mobile. Whatever Mitakeumi did to prepare for Hatsu, it was the right formula – more of that.

The Kisenosato bout showed that in spite of his injuries, Terunofuji is not giving one inch to anyone. He went into the match with a loose mawashi, and it was effective, making Kisenosato work to gain control of the big Mongolian Terunofuji. But Kisenosato got inside, got low – he was not going to make the same mistake he made against Kotoshogiku. Kisenosato lowered his hips and applied force, and won. He remains the sole leader

Goeido showed great skill and ring sense in defeating the struggling Kotoshogiku. He pressed Kotoshogiku back to the bales, and as Kotoshogiku began to ramp up a thrusting counter attack, Goeido used that force to propel Kotoshogiku into the throw as he stepped aside. Nice sumo from the Aki champion. Kimarite was katasukashi – under-shoulder swing down

Now I wonder if Hakuho has re-injured his legs or feet. In the past three days his sumo has been defensive rather than mostly offense, which is his style. He handled Ikioi with a bit of difficulty, which says that Ikioi is doing better, and Hakuho doing a bit worse. Sumo shines when Hakuho is healthy and winning. So I hope he is physically ok.

Hatsu Leader Board

LeaderKisenosato
Hunt Group – Hakuho, Takanoiwa, Sokokurai, Ichinojo
Chasers – Goeido, Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Ikioi, Takekaze, Hokutofuji

5 Matches Remain