As reported today in the Japan Times, the Sumo Association has agreed that sumo rising star Asanoyama is to be promoted to Ozeki, sumo’s second highest rank. In comments following the completion of the Haru basho in Osaka, the shimpan committee had broadly signaled that they would vote in favor to promote Asanoyama. There will be a formal meeting held on Wednesday to compile the May banzuke, which will mark the official promotion. Following this meeting, representatives from the association will travel to the Takasago stable to announce the promotion. For fans who have seen this in the past, such as Tochinoshin and Takakeisho, the Asanoyama, Takasago oyakata and Takasago okamisan will all be in formal clothes, and will assume a saikeirei bow, and accept the promotion.
Although Asanoyama feel short of the customary 33 wins over 3 tournaments from San’yaku (he ended the run with 32), the NSK has decided that sumo needs to replenish the upper ranks, and have wisely bestowed Ozeki on this talented young man. With the only remaining Ozeki hurt, and now kadoban, and both Yokozuna nearing the point of retirement, a strong, healthy and talented younger rikishi is a perfect promotion candidate. We think that we will see at least one more top rank promotion this year, and likely at least one more next year as the old guard continues to fade, and the next generation of kanban rikishi take their places.
Asanoyama won his first yusho in may of 2019 from Maegashira 8, finishing 12-3, and picking up 2 special prizes. He also is the only rikishi to ever be awarded the Trump Cup. Since then he has picked up 2 more special prizes and a jun-yusho. He has scored double digits in 5 of the last 6 basho. Tachiai predicts that if he can stay healthy and keep his body working well, Asanoyama will make a fine Ozeki.
A smashing ending to the March tournament, it was a Yokozuna battle in the final match of the final day. Both of them fought well, and Hakuho prevailed. Congratulations to the dai-Yokozuna, Hakuho Sho, “The Boss” for his 44th yusho. In some future age, there may be a rikishi that can equal or succeed what Hakuho has done, but I can’t conceive of a time or a rikishi who could best the marks and records he continues to exceed.
It seems that with his day 15 win over Takakeisho, Asanoyama has been deemed worth of Ozeki promotion. This is excellent news as with a single, injured and now kadoban Ozeki, and two remaining Yokozuna both nearing the end of their careers, it was high time to promote someone. I recall that for both Tochinoshin and Takakeisho they held the promotion back for one tournament to check for “good performance”. They both made the cut the next basho, but I am glad that they were flexible given the situation. The new Ozeki is young, healthy and strong. He is a convert to yotsu-zumo and he continues to gain skill. Long time readers will note the tag, “Asanoyama ❤️ Sumo” that has adorned some posts featuring him. When he first entered the top division, he would bring the same positive attitude to the dohyo no matter who he faced. He could get completely whacked and thrown into the shimpan, he would mount the dohyo to bow, and you could just read his face. “Man, what a great day to do sumo! I can’t wait for tomorrow.” With that kind of attitude, there was little doubt he would find his way higher in time. Congratulation to the new Ozeki.
Ishiura defeats Aoiyama – Nice up and duck tachiai from Ishiura, it bought him some time as Aoiyama had to shift to chase him down, and delayed Big Dan’s opening attack. As Aoiyama closed in, Ishiura deftly landed a left hand grip, and kept the match on his terms. What a surprise to see these two go chest to chest, and an even bigger surprise to see Ishiura prevail with a yorikiri. Ishiura finishes Haru 9-6.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Daiamami – Second match in a row where the smaller rikishi opts for a mawashi battle, and scores a win. Just seconds into the match, Terutsuyoshi has morozashi, and hapless Daiamami can find no way to use his superior height and mass to any advantage. Terutsuyoshi finishes Haru 9-6
Shimanoumi defeats Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu gave it a strong start, but when it was clear that Shimanoumi had the match in hand, Chiyotairyu eased up and took his 7th loss. Shimanoumi finishes Haru at 9-6.
Nishikigi defeats Sadanoumi – An uncharacteristically slow tachiai from Sadanoumi, and he allowed Nishikigi to land a left hand inside grip that quickly turned to morozashi. Nishikigi engaged a lift-and-shift attack for the win. Both finish Haru at 6-9.
Kotonowaka defeats Tochinoshin – A huge back and forth battle, which saw Tochinoshin struggle for grip and body placement. He allowed Kotonowaka to box him in early, and found himself without many paths to execute offensive sumo. The match ended when Tochinoshin bucked his hips to grab the left hand outside grip, and it looks like that bandaged right knee collapsed. Painful sumo to watch, without a doubt. Kotonowaka ends Haru with 9-6.
Kagayaki defeats Meisei – Our first Darwin match goes to Kagayaki. Mr Fundamentals kept Meisei centered, and kept his feet heavy, thrusting at all times. It’s the kind of sumo that we see from Kagayaki when he is dialed in, and he finishes Haru 8-7. This is his 3rd kachi-koshi tournament in a row, and the highest rank he has ever had a winning record over 15 days.
Tochiozan defeats Myogiryu – It does my heart good to see Tochiozan muster one last win in the top division before he possibly ends up in Juryo for the next tournament. To be honest, it was as much Myogiryu’s slippiotoshi as anything Tochiozan did, but the win still counts.
Ryuden defeats Azumaryu – Azumaryu had the early advantage in this match, but could not finish it in the opening moments. It was great to see Ryuden battle back, and inch at a time and slowly gain control of the fight. Really nice endurance, persistence and incremental sumo from Ryuden today. He finishes Haru 6-9.
Abi defeats Kaisei – Abi went for the double arm thrust, and quickly discovered Issac Newton was in control of this match. The mass that is Kaisei was in motion, and no amount of force that Abi could muster would have a meaningful effect. But Abi deftly moved aside and let momentum do 90% of the work, finishing Kaisei with a well placed shove. Abi finishes Haru 7-8.
Enho defeats Ikioi – This was Ikioi’s first encounter with Enho’s pixie magic, and for the uninitiated, it can be quite the shock. That shallow right hand grip look like it was painfully close to Ikioi’s dangly parts, and the fact that it was the subject of a torque and pull my have given Ikioi a moment of grave concern. The kimarite is listed as shitatenage, but could also be called (at least in English) a “twisting genital pull down”. Anyone with higher skill in Japanese want to take a crack at that for me? Enho ends Haru 6-9.
Onosho defeats Mitakeumi – I am very happy that Onosho ended Haru with a 9-6, and he looked very dominant today. But I was hoping that Mitakeumi would hit 11, and force a slot to open for him. But a week 2 fade has always been part of his sumo, and he lost 3 of his last 4 against the likes of Takanosho and Aoiyama. Onosho finishes Haru with a winning record and a special prize. I look forward to him being a harrier to the named ranks in the next basho.
Yutakayama defeats Chiyomaru – Our next Darwin match, “Big Unit” Yutakayama stood up to Chiyomaru’s thrusting attack, and returned it measure for measure. Unable to move that much mass, Yutakayama gave ground and let Chiyomaru’s naturally foward center of gravity do some of the work for him. Risky move for a backward-motion pull down, but Yutakayama made it work. The gumbai went to Chiyomaru, but a monoii reversed that and gave the win to the Yutakayama. He finishes with an 8-7 kachi-koshi, and I am eager to see him join Onosho in being semi-permanent members of the next generation joi-jin.
Tamawashi defeats Tokushoryu – Everyone wanted Hatsu yusho winner Tokushoryu to close out with a win, except for Tamawashi. Tamawashi has been fighting poorly this basho, but managed to overpower Tokushoryu and score his 6th win to finish Haru 6-9.
Okinoumi defeats Kotoshogiku – The final Darwin match was two long serving veterans, who must be starting to think, “I am getting to old for this”. Although Kotoshogiku was able to get his hug-n-chug attack running, his damaged knees cannot support more than a fraction of the attack’s full power. Okinoumi circled away and when Kotoshogiku slipped, Okinoumi followed through and took him to the clay. Okinoumi finishes kachi-koshi at 8-7.
Kiribayama defeats Daieisho – Daieisho came out strong and aggressive, pushing Kiribayama back to the bales in the first 3 steps. Facing an immedate loss, Kiribayama pivoted into a last ditch uwatenage, which found its mark and won the match for Kiribayama. He ends Haru 9-6.
Takarafuji defeats Endo – Takarafuji shut down Endo’s preferred weapon, the left hand frontal grip, and dispatched him shortly after the tachiai. Interesting variation from a rikishi who typically will prolong a match and wear his opponent down. Takarafuji ends with a well deserved 9-6 record, and Endo finishes Haru make-koshi at 7-8.
Shohozan defeats Hokutofuji – A Shohozan henka was only partially effective, but when the two re-engaged, there was a well placed face slap that seemed to distract Hokutofuji at the exact moment Hokutofuji wanted to get his left hand inside. Shohozan showed outstanding mobility and kept Hokutofuji from really setting up much offense, and finished Shohozan with a move to the side and a shove over the bales. Both end Haru with 4-11 records, and badly need to return to Tokyo and regroup.
Takanosho defeats Shodai – I think Takanosho surprised Shodai today. Takanosho had Shodai turned to his side and was pushing from Shodai’s left two steps after the tachiai. From that position, even the best struggle to defend. But Shodai had the sense to try a desperation throw as he was headed out. It failed and the win went to Takanosho, who finishes Haru with a blistering 12-3, and the fighting spirit prize.
Asanoyama defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho worked hard to keep Asanoyama away from his belt, and for the most part it worked. But all of the time and effort on defense meant the Ozeki generated precious little offense, and he spent the majority of the match reacting to Asanoyama. Asanoyama stayed focused and exploited an awkward step by Takakeisho. The win seems to have clinched his Ozeki promotion while simultaneously sending Takakeisho into make-koshi, and kadoban. Head home and heal up, Grand Tadpole. We await your next tournament. Asanoyama finishes Haru 11-4.
Hakuho defeats Kakuryu – Both had a lot of action in this match, but the defining moment was Kakuryu attempting to change his grip, and Hakuho getting lower than I have seen him in several months and driving forward like some over powered battle crab. I am very happy to see Hakuho can still summon sumo like that at least once a tournament. He finishes Haru 13-2, and takes home his 44th yusho. I think this is the 3rd oldest yusho in history, as Hakuho is 35 years old now, and still able to dominate the sport.
With the Haru basho in the history books, we pause to thank our readers, the Japan Sumo Association, and the sumo work for 15 days of much needed distraction from the increasingly worrisome headlines of the world around us. Against all odds they successfully conducted and completed an intensive event spanning more than 2 weeks in an age of a virulent disease. Nobody got sick (that we know of), and everyone gave it their best in spite of an empty hall that, in the beginning, seemed quite spooky. I am personally quite grateful for the competition, and the spectacle of sumo. Thank you all.
We go screaming into the final weekend of this tournament with the very real possibility of a double-digit Maegashira taking the cup on day 15. As has been said by sumo luminaries much more accomplished than myself, in this day—everyone is a contender. As lksumo has assured me many times, the schedule mostly goes by a well-understood formula, and that means that a lower-ranked rikishi can catch fire and run up a score high enough to take the cup, having never really been tested against the top-ranked men. This is also a function of the top-ranked men being too evenly matched to produce a score high enough to ensure that the cup remains in the named ranks.
As we set up for the last 3 days of this basho, it’s time to start trying to wonder who will suffer through the 7-7 matches on the final day. I call these “Darwin matches”, because only one survives with a winning record. Quite a few rikishi are on the perilous path that leads to a Darwin battle, so let’s see who can evade that outcome.
Aoiyama has sole possession of the lead in the race for the cup. He faces Takanosho on day 13.
Kotonowaka vs Ikioi – The winner here picks up kachi-koshi today. Both have fought well, and both deserve it. I think whoever loses today is possibly going to find themselves in a Darwin match on day 15. Please, don’t let it be you, Ikioi.
Ishiura vs Shimanoumi – I am sure that Ishiura is quite happy to be going into the final weekend with 8 wins locked up. The question is, at Maegashira 12, does he really want to push for a big boost up the banzuke? He seems to do well around this rank, and running up the score enough to get him at the bottom of the joi-jin might not be a wise idea. Luckily, Shimanoumi has never lost to Ishiura, so maybe he can end up in a Darwin match on day 15.
Chiyotairyu vs Meisei – Chiyotairyu needs just one more win to get his 8. He has faded into week 2, losing 4 of his last 5. He has only fought Meisei once before, and he took the match. Good luck, Chiyotairyu!
Chiyomaru vs Tochiozan – Chiyomaru is very much on the Darwin path, but he has a chance to add a white start to his tally when he faces the miserable wreckage of Tochiozan. Normally, Tochiozan gives Chiyomaru the business (6-1), but he’s too beat up and injured now to pose much of a threat.
Sadanoumi vs Daiamami – Sadanoumi can dispense some sumo doom today if he can hand Daiamami his 8th loss and a make-koshi for Haru. He won their only prior match, and still seems to have some fighting spirit left.
Kotoshogiku vs Tochinoshin – Battle of the battered and broken former Ozeki. It’s like if your two favorite stuffed animals as a child got mangled in a horrific laundry accident, but hung around your bedroom anyhow because you were too sentimental to toss them out. A Tochinoshin loss today is make-koshi for him.
Takanosho vs Aoiyama – It’s a lot of weight to put on Takanosho—shutting down the yusho juggernaut that is Aoiyama. But that’s exactly who has gotten the nod to try his mettle on day 13. He and Aoiyama have a 3 match history that favors Takanosho 2-1. But right now, Big Dan’s V-Twin seems to be set to take him far, and I am not sure who might stop him from lifting the cup on Sunday with those enormous, pale, meaty arms.
Kaisei vs Kiribayama – The last time that Kaisei beat Kiribayama was in the multi-way playoff for the Juryo yusho during November of 2019. Ah, the good old days, when there was no plague loose in the world, and people got to go to the venue to watch sumo. But it may come down to Kaisei having his 8, and not wanting to run up the score, or risk injury. A win today would keep Kiribayama on track for a Darwin match on Sunday.
Azumaryu vs Tamawashi – Can Tamawashi muster enough genki energy to hand fellow Mongolian Azumaryu his make-koshi? Maybe…but an Azumaryu win today sets him on the path for inclusion in the round of Darwin matches we eagerly await on Sunday.
Myogiryu vs Nishikigi – These two miserable sots just need to hug it out. Luckily, Nishikigi’s sumo seems tailor-made for such a format, even if Myogiryu may find it distasteful. Both are already make-koshi, both need to just get past this basho, and for Nishikigi, he’s likely once again captain or at least boatswain of the Juryo barge of the dammed.
Terutsuyoshi vs Onosho – After a long and withering stretch of depressing matches, we get this lovely gem. One of these fine rikishi will exit the dohyo with a freshly minted kachi-koshi, and both of them deserve it. The loser is probably headed for Darwin with the rest of the condemned souls that are slated for the day 15 bloodletting. I expect a lot of intense action that will favor Terutsuyoshi early, and Onosho the longer it goes.
Takarafuji vs Mitakeumi – Both are kachi-koshi, but frankly, I really want to see Mitakeumi run up the score. At least 1 san’yaku slot will be open, and I would love to see the original tadpole return to the named ranks, and perhaps restart a bid to ascend to Ozeki this year.
Shohozan vs Tokushoryu – Another dry husk of a match between two grizzled veterans sporting deep losing records before the final weekend. Sure, Shohozan has a 6-3 career lead, but this one is just more misery.
Okinoumi vs Yutakayama – Yutakayama has never beaten Okinoumi in 3 attempts, and a win today would be yet another marker that the early leader of the Freshman cohort is back in business. He shares Maegashira 3 with Mitakeumi, so if there ends up being only 1 San’yaku slot, he may have to settle for a modest bump up the Maegashira ranks.
Daieisho vs Enho – Daieisho need just 1 more win to get his 8th, and Enho is looking hurt and dispirited now. Clearly he is headed back down the banzuke to calmer waters, but how far will he drop? They have split their prior 2, and with the abundance of rikishi now shutting down Enho’s pixie magic, there is ample footage of Enho losses for Daieisho to review.
Kagayaki vs Endo – Both of these mainstays are dangerously close to the Darwin path, with Endo serving as vanguard of the Darwin sacrifices marching toward day 15. They share a 5-5 career record, so this one is going to come down to Endo getting his frontal grip at the tachiai, and Kagayaki’s sometimes impressive footwork.
Hokutofuji vs Ryuden – Another match of disappointment: both of them are solid fighters, both are make-koshi, and both just need to finish the tournament without additional injuries. I am sure Hokutofuji will show up with more fighting spirit (he always does), but it’s a mystery if it will do him any good.
Abi vs Shodai – In spite of beating Hakuho on day 12, Shodai has to pick up 2 more wins for a kachi-koshi at his highest-ever rank. More likely, he too is on the Darwin path, and we may see him face off on day 15 in a 7-7 battle to survive. A loss today would be make-koshi for Abi, and a further slide down the banzuke.
Takakeisho vs Kakuryu – Takakeisho starts his tour through hell. Needing 2 wins to escape kadoban, he comes up against Yokozuna Kakuryu, who honestly is fighting better than Hakuho right now. He has beaten the Yokozuna once in their 4 career matches, but Takakeisho’s injuries may mean that Kakuryu makes fast work of the Grand Tadpole today.
Hakuho vs Asanoyama – I can’t even tell you how eager I am for this match. To make the score for Ozeki promotion, Asanoyama needs to beat a Yokozuna. Given the baloney sumo from Hakuho on day 12, I expect him to be brash, hasty and probably careless on day 13. That gives Asanoyama a sliver of an opening. We know Hakuho loves to fight high skill yotsu-zumo rikishi, and Asanoyama is that in spades. But if he gives Asanoyama his chance, he may find himself surprised. Good luck, Asanoyama!