Early Ozeki Runs Hatsu 2020

The Collapse of Champions

There have been some very interesting storylines coming out of Hatsu but I want to focus on this one for this article. This tournament was very rough on our Ozeki as we only have one left. Four former Ozeki are fighting it out in the Makuuchi, with yet another (Terunofuji) knocking at the door to make a comeback. Terunofuji was the only one among them with a winning record at Hatsu.

As Leonid predicts, Takayasu will likely fall into the rank-and-file. Goeido will fall to Sekiwake. Tochinoshin may swap places with Kagayaki and fall to M11. Kotoshogiku may drop a slot to M14. Other than Takayasu, all have won a tournament. Getting that second one in a row…and the Yokozuna’s privilege of a break without drop in rank…is really hard.

“Show of hands, who wants a promotion?”

Scanning for the Next Plateau

I’ve written about how this situation makes that Meat Puppets song (made famous by Nirvana) pop into my head. The last time I wrote about it, I looked really far down the banzuke. Perhaps I wasn’t aware how dire the situation would become. So I ask, who’s in a position to make a run now?

The Criteria

The criteria aren’t exact but 33 wins over three tournaments seems to be the line…though 32 may make it, as with Goeido’s 12-8-12 run. The run should also start in or near sanyaku but again we have recent exceptions. Tochinoshin’s run started from Maegashira 3 with a yusho 14Y-10-13. Ultimately, we’re looking for consistency at the sanyaku level.

Asanoyama

I will start with Asanoyama because I think this is the strongest run, and the one that is the furthest along. Leonid has written about his run before, especially since he may be starting from Kyushu at Maegashira 2 with 10 wins. It’s also the first real chance since Mitakeumi blew his shot from late last year. His 11 wins in Tokyo this month likely means 12 in Osaka would give him the magic number of 33.

Hokutofuji

If Asanoyama’s run can start from Kyushu, Hokutofuji just started a run here at Hatsu. His 11 wins from the same rank Asanoyama occupied in Kyushu will hopefully be enough to force an extra sekiwake slot since Goeido will occupy a slot, as Leonid has speculated. I’m editorializing here but I think this would be a smart move by the Kyokai. I can’t imagine they would want a vacant Ozeki slot to last long which means they need candidates. I’m never an advocate of early promotion by relaxing criteria but I think that blocking otherwise worthy promotions because there should only be two Sekiwake would be a bit silly. 11 wins at Maegashira 2 is certainly a performance worthy of the Sekiwake rank.

Shodai

Shodai’s case for a run starting now is likely weaker than Hokutofuji’s because of the lower rank, even though one of Hokutofuji’s wins was a fusen. Hokutofuji did pick up a kinboshi. But Maegashira 4 is in the joi and based on his 13-2 jun-yusho performance, Shodai certainly makes another strong case for Sekiwake. Two 10 win performances to follow and we may have Ozeki Shodai by Nagoya.

Endo

Endo’s case for a Sekiwake slot is weaker than those above but he is certainly deserving of a Komusubi slot. It would take a really special run but conceivably spectacular showings in Osaka and back in Tokyo in May could see Ozeki Endo in Nagoya but it is not going to happen. I just mention it because the run would make the newspapers go absolutely bonkers and that would be fun.

Thoughts?

I’m eager to hear what y’all think.

What to expect from Hatsu’s second week ?

The Hatsu basho’s first week has been pretty eventful, seeing both yokozuna pulling out win just one win under their belts. The yusho race is open as ever, and a few interesting sidestories are quite promising, too. So, what should one expect from the seven last days of the tournament ?

1. Can the “ozeki old guard” salvage its status ?

This question, unfortunately, calls for a quick answer for Takayasu. Mathematically, he is still on track to regain is ozeki status, as the five losses he has allow him to hope for a 10-5 results. However, the chances to see that happen are very slim. Takayasu’s sumo is weak and sloppy ; his arm is in no good shape, and each bout looks like a pain for him.

Both in real trouble : sekiwake Takayasu (3-5, left) and ozeki Goeido (3-5, right)

It’s doutbul he’ll even manage to keep a san’yaku spot. Sadly, it looks like his late career will take place on the maegashira ranks.

What about Goeido ? For once, we have to say he’s fighting. The problem for hi mis that he’s kadoban, diminished, and with only three wins so far. He’ll need to end up 5-2, at least, to sake his ozeki rank ; otherwise, he’ll end up as an ozekiwake, like Takayasu this tournament.

Another problem for him ? He’ll have to face tougher opponents like Asanoyama, Takakeisho, etc. He might snatch a win against a weakened Takayasu, and perhaps find a way to pull down Enho tomorrow.

Still, the future for both rikishi looks grim.

2. What about the “ozeki new guard wanna-be” ?

The higher ranks are in increasingly urgent need for new blood. The situation that has arisen or that is about to rise may well lead, in my opinion, to one or two cheap ozeki promotions, as it already happened in the past. But who is likely to step up ?

Asanoyama has been the leading candidate for a few months, but an average 5-3 record is not really what one could expect from him. His losses were against Abi, Endo and Shodai – solid opponents, sure, but a solid ozeki should, at most, end such a first week with two losses – at most.

Disappointing so far : Asanoyama (5-3)

What does it mathematically mean for him ? Basically, ozeki promotion in Osaka is about to be over, unless he finished the basho with a storming 12-3 record. That would mean probably being jun-yusho at least, and, more significantly, having beaten both ozeki. He would have gotten 33 wins during the last three honbashos, and, given the aforementioned situation on the ozeki ranks, might be sufficient.

But it does not look likely to happen ; Asanoyama, on track for ozeki promotion, rather delivered a Mitakeumi-like performance. More reallistically, he’d better preserve his chances for the next tournament or two – that means, getting at least ten wins, and beating one of the two ozeki. If not, his tournament will have brought no quality, and he’ll be good to start all over again.

The situation is almost the opposite for Endo : having been 7-8 last tournament, he is in no run whatsoever, but delivered fantastic performances, beating both yokozuna in the process. That means, the current basho is an excellent start for an ozeki run. Being at 6-2, he’s perfectly capable to reach, say, 11-4, and kick on in Osaka.

Other possible future candidates have been quoted from time to time: Abi, Hokutofuji, Mitakeumi. But none of them does better than 5-3, so any ozeki talk is pretty much premature. A word about Mitakeumi, who aims to regain a san’yaku spot. It seems that this would be the best he can hope for – being 4-4, ozeki hopes are hibernating for the time being.

3. Who is in danger to drop to juryo ?

Kiribayama is the only newbie in makuuchi this tournament. He showed interesting things so far – today’s win against Kotoeko was good. But he’s been a bit irregular, and gave away some light losses – to Terutsuyoshi, for example. He’ll need a kachi koshi to save his makuuchi place.

No honeymoon in makuuchi : Kiribayama (4-4)

I like to watch his rise – having Kakuryu as mentor is of a great benefit for him. I’m afraid, however, the end of the tournament might prove a bit too tiring for him. He’ll perhaps finish at 6-9 and have to rise again from juryo. I’m not too worried about him having a bright future, though.

The situation is more critical for Ikioi, whose foot is a real worry for him during this basho. He’s at 2-6 and doesn’t seem to be able to produce consistent performances. He’ll probably drop again to juryo.

The “yo-yo old guard” – experienced rikishi who had to endure a recent juryo stint, like Kaisei, Tochiozan, Azumaryu, are doing pretty well, all at 5-3. Still, they’ll need to be careful to maintain their form, as they haven’t reach the safety zone yet. Azumaryu could be safe with just one more win, while Kaisei and Tochiozan need two, or three. While expressing a few doubts about Tochiozan, I believe they should scrap their way to safety.

A solid makuuchi return: Kaisei (5-3)

Ishiura raised expectations after a combattive Kyushu basho, but fails to deliver with a 2-6 record. He needs three more wins to be entirely safe. Having lost the first three bouts, and the three last ones, I’d advise him to start collecting wins sooner rather than later. Perhaps another juryo drop here.

Kotoeko is in real danger at maegashira 13, with a 2-6 record. He lost the five (!) last bouts, and will have to find solutions soon.

Shimanoumi is also one to watch. After a convincing start of the year 2019, and reaching a career high maegashira 6, he got make kochi is the two last tournaments, and his sumo seems to have evaporated. I’d tip him to join the juryo drops.

Tsurugisho had a big injury scare, which saw him use the wheelchair. Fortunately, the hospital report concluded that no bone had been broken, and that he was in sufficient condition to wrestle. If I expect him to end up the basho with a make kochi record, his relatively safe maegashira 12 spot may preserve him from the drop.

Still fit to fight ? Tsurugisho (3-5)

Things are different for Kotoshogiku. After a poor start, he seemed to find his energy back, and evened scored at 4-4. Fortunately, we’ll probably see him again in Osaka.

Let’s have a thought for Meisei, who had to pull out of the tournament. He’ll en dit up at 1-7-7, and may well drop from his maegashira 5 spot right to juryo. 

And, finally, the situation will be similar for Kotoyuki, the maegashira 3 who does not compete this basho.

4. Who will win this basho ?

My tip for the yusho : ozeki Takakeisho (7-1)

The most straightforward question for the end ! My answer will be as clear cut : Takakeisho. After a hesitant start, his sumo is looking good, solid, albeit still not perfect. Although he has serious rivals, I doubt Endo or Shodai could maintain their winning habits indefinitely – that’s exactly what happened to Endo today. Tokushoryu, Terutsuyoshi, Kagayaki and Yutakayama are having good tournaments, but don’t look likely to end up lifting the cup. Should they go on winning, they would be paired together, if not against stronger opposition.This is definitely Takakeisho to lose that one, and I wish him to finish strongly to initiate his yokozuna quest.

Asanoyama Keiko With Araiso-oyakata

As Herouth noted yesterday, Asanoyama was not exactly thrilled to receive an invitation to join Tagonoura-beya for degeiko (出稽古) or keiko outside of one’s own heya. Perhaps the risk of kawaigari with the former yokozuna was a bit less scary than the idea of kawaigari with the current dai-yokozuna, so Asanoyama did make the trip.

Welcome to Tagonoura-beya!

I digress, but for those going to Tokyo or in Tokyo, Asanoyama’s stable, Takasago, is in a great location for a visit. I LOVE THIS PLACE. I could just walk around these areas for days. Oh, wait, I actually do that whenever I’m there. It is a bit of a hike from Ryogoku station, between Ryogoku and Kinshicho of the Sobu Line and the Asakusa Line’s Honjo-Azumabashi station. Ryogoku is the station that is home to Kokugikan. Honjo-Azumabashi is in between Sky Tree (Oshiage) and Asakusa (home of the Kaminarimon Gate). Honjo-Azumabashi is on the side of the river with the big unchi, otherwise known as the headquarters of Asahi beer.

Maybe Asanoyama went with the longer trip?

So in his case it may have made more sense for Asanoyama and his entourage to go from Kinshicho, and take the Sobu line up to Koiwa…or get someone to drive them. I favor the idea of a bunch of sumo wrestlers on the train, especially if Asanoyama wanted to delay his punishment.

At least Araiso seems to have had fun, judging by the maniacal laughter while Asanoyama lies, defeated, on the dohyo behind him. The former Yokozuna took 16 of their 17 bouts. While Takayasu was available, the opposing sekiwake opted for butsukari with Asanoyama rather than doing any bouts. This worries me because if Takayasu isn’t ready for keiko bouts against a sekiwake — a week before the honbasho — he won’t be ready to win 10 of 15 real bouts against 1) a pair of Yokozuna with something to prove, 2) two desperate ozeki hoping to maintain their status, and, 3) a half-dozen up-and-comers gunning for his place.

Sumo debates for 2020 – 1/3

Right after having enjoyed the countdown to the new decade, we’re already about to begin another countdown, till the first honbasho of the year.

Amongst New Year’s traditions, rikishi reveal on television their wishes and expectations for the coming year.

This article may be the occasion for us to discuss specific issues, which may become critical in 2020 or which are already razor sharp.

I’ll give my personal opinion on the matters but everyone should feel free to fuel some awesome debates !

1. Will Takayasu be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

Probably the hottest topic currently. Takayasu’s been around for a while – he entered maku’uchi in 2011, and hasn’t had a very long ozeki career – about two years and a half.

Takayasu’s rise was no fluke however, as he produced some great performances, earning kinboshi twice in 2013 and twice in 2014. The Ibaraki-born has a first ozeki run in 2016, but a disappointing 7-8 record in Kyushu wasted fine 11-4 and 10-5 performances.

He returned stronger next year, though, and reached the second highest rank after 11-4, 12-3 and 11-4 performances early in 2017.

Takayasu’s quest for glory undoubtly reached its peak in 2018. Aged 28, he ended up runner up thrice. He narrowly missed a spot in a playoff in the last honbasho of that year.

Last year was much more difficult for him. Before sustaining a serious injury in Nagoya, he produced indifferent 9-6, 10-5 and 9-6 performances. He failed to recover properly from his arm injury, and will start 2020 as an “ozekiwake”.

His repeated training sessions with retired yokozuna Kisenosato – now Araiso oyakata – and new tachi-ai strategy have been criticized among Twitter followers.

In trouble : former ozeki Takayasu

Takayasu has to think his tale isn’t over at the top, as he never lifted the Emperor’s Cup. Turning 30 in February, with an irreversible injury to his arm, will he produce the necessary ten wins to regain his ozeki rank ? If he does, can he maintain his performances during 2020 ?

My prediction : no

2. Will Goeido be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

A tricky question. It seems Goeido has been hanging around forever – he produced a noticed 11-4 performance for his maku’uchi debut, back in 2007. He had short stints in san’yaku but spent several years in the maegashira ranks.

The Osaka-native famously began an impressive run at sekiwake in May of 2012, which lasted fourteen tournaments until ozeki promotion after a fine 12-3 performance in Nagoya 2014. His inability to consistently produce strong performances raised doubts about his promotion quest. He got promoted a bit below the common 33 wins standards, with an indifferent 8-7 performance between two 12-3 results.

Goeido has been kadoban nine times (this year’s first tournament included), finished seven tournaments with just eight wins, and followers expected Goeido to produce an anonymous ozeki career.

Being kadoban, Goeido upset the odds during the Aki basho of 2016, winning his only yusho so far with a perfect 15-0 record. Suddenly a yokozuna candidate, he notched just nine wins the following tournament.

Exactly one year after, Goeido wasted a golden opportunity to lift the Emperor’s Cup during the Aki basho again, letting Harumafuji fill a three win deficit before defeating him in the ensuing playoff.

Holding his rank since 2014 : ozeki Goeido

Years 2018 and 2019 were solid albeit unspectacular from Goeido. However, he had to pull out of two of the last three tournaments through injury. Entering 2020 kadoban, aged 33, will Goeido suffer from the weight of the years ? Or will he regain full fitness and enjoy a Kaio-like ozeki career, until the age of 39 ?

My prediction : no

3. Will Asanoyama become an ozeki in 2020 ?

All eyes are watching Asanoyama since he unexpectedly won the May 2019 tournament. After a honourable 7-8 record as then highest ranked maegashira 1, he ended up the year strongly, with 10-5 and 11-4 records. He’ll make his sekiwake debut in 2020.

Officially, Asanoyama is not on an ozeki run – his two last ranks were maegashira 2 and komosubi ; he might also regret not having collected one or two more feasable wins in Kyusho.

Sumo’s next big hope ? Asanoyama Hideki

Nevertheless, Asanoyama’s quest is likely to be eased by the need for new blood at the ozeki ranks – Tochinoshin has been demoted, Takayasu is an uncertain ozekiwake for January, while Takakeisho and Goeido’s recent injury records are no cause for optimism.

Can Asanoyama be promoted as early as March after a tremendous yusho in January ? Or will he simply consolidate his performances, and reach the second highest rank this year ? Or will he fail to meet expactations, as Mitakeumi did so far ?

My prediction : yes

4. Will someone else reach the ozeki rank in 2020 ?

Note : that question does not include Takayasu or Asanoyama.

Abi seems more of a candidate than Mitakeumi, who disappointed again, after clinching his second yusho. Well he get another shot ?

Abi is on the rise, with 8-7, 9-6 and 9-6 records in san’yaku. Can he move up even higher ? His utter aversion for yotsu zumo might prove a stumblingblock, however.

Other candidates would be more original, but also wake up fans from all over the world ! Endo, Daieisho, Ichinojo, Hokutofuji fans and others are welcomed !

 My prediction : no

5. How many yokozuna will remain after 2020 ?

This is a delicate question. Hakuho’s immediate target has long been identified: lasting at least until the Olympics. With his wish about to be granted, the obvious question is: what next ? Hakuho is on the top of almost every record – but is not the oldest rikishi having won a yusho: Kyokutenho achieved that feat, aged 37 years and 8 months.

He also said during the post-basho interview in November that he targeted 50 yushos – he currently has 43.

Many questions remain open: was he serious ? Is that goal actually realistic, given the general state of the field ? Will the ageing yokozuna (he’ll turn 35 in March) manage to hold his form ? Will he stay motivated ?

On a positive note, 2019 has been better for Hakuho than 2018, where he fully competed in just two tournaments. The past year, he competed in “three and a half” tournaments (he pulled out right at the end of the January basho), and won two of them.

Both yokozuna : Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu (right)

About the opposite can be said about Kakuryu’s recent form. After a bright start in 2018, with 11-4, 13-2 and 14-1 records, he had to pull out of part or all of five tournaments. His win in Nagoya of 2019 gave him some respite. Turning 35 in August of this year, will he be able to compete during the whole year ?

My prediction: it’s difficult to answer. Hakuho might decide to retire and Kakuryu to thrive during 2020. But the opposite might also be true, with Hakuho clinching a few more yushos and Kakuryu being unable to challenge properly for the Cup. There’s a chance of seeing one yokozuna retiring and one yokozuna remaining.