Haru Day 3 Preview

In Front of His Home-Town Crowd, Ozeki Goeido May Be Tough to Beat…

We are still early in this basho, and there are a number of compelling story lines that we are following. Here are a few

  • Hakuho wanting to win back-to-back: He said he would love to win the last tournament of the current imperial era, and the first tournament of the next era (May). His health seems a bit shaky right now, but he’s started 2-0.
  • Will Takayasu someday take a yusho? He has picked up where Ozeki Kisenosato left off. Plenty of jun-yusho without every taking the cup.
  • What will it take for Takakeisho to get the Ozeki nod?: Sure, it’s not a straight 33 wins and you are in formula, but I do wonder now what they are going to put this guy through.
  • Can Tochinoshin get his 8?: It’s clear he is both hurt, and rusty right now. I think everyone is pulling for him to clear kadoban and hopefully heal up.

What We Are Watching Day 3

Chiyoshoma vs Kotoeko – I am expecting Kotoeko to be wise enough to expect a henka, fast enough to react to it, and strong enough to make Chiyoshoma pay if he tries it. The are evenly matched at 4-4 for their career record.

Ishiura vs Yutakayama – Yutakayama does tend to plow ahead in a reckless manner, and we are back on the subject of henka again with Ishiura’s day 2 flagrant whopper. Yutakayama really needs 8 wins this tournament to stave off a return to Juryo. If he is relegated back to the junior division, I fear he is there for a while.

Tomokaze vs Toyonoshima – Two big powerful guys on deck for this match, so it comes down to youth vs experience. Toyonoshima had a good start day 1, but looked off his sumo day 2. Fans love a grizzled old vet fighting his way back to the top, so everyone wants to see Toyonoshima do well.

Terutsuyoshi vs Yoshikaze – I worry the Yoshikaze slide will continue, as he seems to be unable to generate much in the way of forward pressure. But this will be the first time that Terutsuyoshi has faced him, and maybe there is something useful he can learn via this match.

Kagayaki vs Meisei – Kagayaki has had 4 straight make-koshi tournaments, and for fans of his its quiet frustrating to see him struggle to produce the same power, focus and forceful sumo that took him to the top division. I am predicting Meisei may have his number for day 3.

Shohozan vs Yago – Shohozan has yet to get his first white star of Haru, and I hope he stays mobile on day 3. Yago may have seen how poorly his opponent does chest-to-chest, and decide to take that road. “Big Guns” is at his best when its run-and-gun.

Ryuden vs Ikioi – These two have so many similarities, it can be uncanny at times. Ikioi is 4 years older, but in so many ways, they are the same guy. Except that Ikioi seems to have a string in injuries he can’t seem to put behind him, and every time he steps on the dohyo, his fans reach for the aspirin. Ryuden has yet to take a match from Ikioi, but today could be his day.

Asanoyama vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku has looked very good so far, and I am expecting this to be an offense heavy match. Kotoshogiku will, of course, try to get chest to chest with Asanoyama, who I think will be focusing on a thrust-and-shift strategy, keeping the former Ozeki out of range.

Sadanoumi vs Takarafuji – No wins for either rikishi yet, and Takarafuji holds a 10-5 career advantage. Both have fought well enough thus far, but seem to be a half-step slower than their opponents.

Okinoumi vs Abi – Another winless duo, has Abi-zumo finally reached its end? I think that most rikishi have figured out how to disrupt his attack, and his double-arm thrust technique seems to be an all or nothing affair. Okinoumi can win with both yotzu and oshi combat techniques, so it will come down to shutting off Abi’s attack.

Aoiyama vs Onosho – Onosho has to focus on getting inside, and close to Aoiyama within the first few moments of the match. Once the man-mountain begins flailing those long, powerful arms, its usually all over. Onosho has beat him before (career record 3-2), but each time it was because he could move close early and thrust against Aoiyama’s considerable body.

Tochiozan vs Ichinojo – Though Tochiozan holds a 9-5 career advantage, Ichinojo may be in his “good” mode for now, and its quite tough for anyone to battle that much motivated rikishi. We have yet to see Ichinojo with his heels on the bales, which is where he tends to give up, so Tochiozan will need to drive hard out of the tachiai and back him up before Ichinojo can rally.

Chiyotairyu vs Shodai – I will be watching to see any signs of an improved Shodai tachiai in this match. Chiyotairyu puts all of his power up front, and if Shodai can remain in the match past the 6 second mark, Chiyotairyu quickly runs out of stamina.

Myogiryu vs Tamawashi – Tamawashi got distracted day 2, and ended up with a loss. He stated prior to the basho that his training routine was off because of all the extra duties he had as the yusho winner. Day 3 he has a chance to bounce back against a rikishi he holds a 5-3 career advantage against. The last time Myogiryu beat him was about 3 years ago.

Takakeisho vs Mitakeumi – Tadpole fight! Mitakeumi has been a surprisingly strong competitor for this first two days, and we know he is fighting hurt. Takakeisho will need to power past the elder tadpole to keep himself in the hunt for another bid at Ozeki promotion. Mitakeumi holds a 6-3 career advantage. This is my match of the day.

Nishikigi vs Goeido – Goeido has never beaten Nishikigi. I had to think about that for a minute, but it’s true: 2-0. Goeido is looking genki this time, and Nishikigi seems to be struggling with his sumo. I am going to predict that the Ozeki starts to even out the balance on day 3, and Nishikigi’s magical tour through the joi-jin is hitting some turbulence.

Takayasu vs Daieisho – I think this match is an easy win for Takayasu, but I am looking at the Ozeki each day, hoping to see signs of improvement in his already considerably excellent sumo. Everyone wants to see the big hairy man claim a yusho, and we hope he can do it this year.

Tochinoshin vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji is a shambles right now, and that’s great news for Tochinoshin, who needs to rack any win he can get in the first week before his matches get tougher. His magic number is 7 going into day three. These two have split their 4 career matches.

Endo vs Kakuryu – Likewise Endo is fairly shambolic right now, and Kakuryu seems to have shaken off whatever ring rust led to his day 1 loss against Mitakeumi. Kakuryu leads their career series 8-2. I am looking for a solid “reactive sumo” match from Kakuryu on day 3: Give Endo some room, let him make a mistake, then make him pay.

Hakuho vs Kaisei – Kaisei is 0-12 against Hakuho, which is more or less all you need to know here. I predict the big Brazilian will be on the clay, and Hakuho will remain unbeaten.

Haru Day 1 & 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more quick hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hatsu Day 1 Highlights

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

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

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

Highlight Matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hatsu Day 1 Preview

Kisenosato Aki 2018

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

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

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

What We Are Watching Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce’s Commentary – Kyushu Day 8 and Beyond

Bruce-Kokugikan

Thanks to Andy and Josh who managed the live blog while I succumbed to some nasty chest cold. Thought I am still far from genki, it’s worth the time to comment on the state of sumo in the middle of this highly transformative tournament in Kyushu. I say transformative because if we blur our eyes just a bit, we can see the future from here. The Yokozuna we love are not in the picture, and there is a crop of fiery young talent spanking the veteran headliners. The field is very flat, and there is a large scrum that can still possibly lay claim to the yusho by the middle of the tournament.

As fans, we have gotten conditioned by a handful of hyper-dominant rikishi winning the cup every single time. If it was not Hakuho, it was Harumafuji. Maybe once in a great while it would be Kakuryu, but everyone else scrapped for enough wins to piece together a kachi-koshi, and maybe a special prize here and there, and everyone got by. But, like all dynasties throughout history, as the central powers start to fade, things change rapidly as the strong and the prepared grab for leadership.

Prior to day 9, one lone rikishi holds a one-loss record. There are six (6!) rikishi who follow at two losses, and seven (7!) who follow them at three losses. As of today, any of them could lift the cup on day 15. I frequently joke about a no-holds barred barnyard brawl to finish a basho, but there is a chance we could get there this time.  While it seems to lower the level of broad interest in sumo (our site metrics bear this out), the No-kozuna tournaments are hell on wheels for flat out competition. For hard core fans, you come in to each day wondering which mighty hero is going to eat clay today.

Though Takakeisho holds the lead, it is very tough for young rikishi to stay dominant into week 2. Endurance and mental toughness are the key here. Takakeisho is untested in mental toughness, and the worries about “not blowing it” eat a bit more of your fighting spirit each day. This is where the Ozeki just one win behind him come into their own. They have had to endure the tough three-tournament process to get to their rank, and that required both endurance and mental focus that is not necessarily part of the make-up of the lower ranks. As predicted, the scheduling team saw that Takakeisho was on a hot streak, and held some of his Ozeki matches for week 2. The job of the schedulers is to have someone, anyone, put dirt on Takakeisho by day 12, setting up a battle royale on the final weekend for the hardware.

The picture is becoming more cloudy for the surviving Yokozuna. We know Hakuho intends to nurse himself along until late 2020, and we think he will get there unless the YDC and the NSK say otherwise. Kakuryu has been plagued with a miserable set of injuries since shortly after his elevation to Yokozuna. He has manfully been able to steel himself against the pain and limitations to continue to rack yushos, and his sumo is quite interesting and unique. We have documented the daylights out of Kisenosato, but with 9 kyujo out of the last 10 tournaments, I think his time to bow out is soon. Yes, in spite of the scandal that saw him leave sumo, I think from a competition standpoint we all miss Harumafuji. Like some epic World War 1 battleship, he would take damage again and again, and still be ready to fight and win.

But keep in mind, once these epic rikishi were young men, fighting their way up the ranks, looking to make a name for themselves. Looking through who is on the leaderboard going into day 9, there are a host of young faces, any of which could emerge on day 15 as the victor. Thought some top names are benched this tournament, the action is intense, the young stars are shining bright, and the future of sumo looks really fun.