Yokozuna Kakuryu Withdraws From the Aki Basho

Word has come to Tachiai via NHK news (and multiple other sources) that Yokozuna Kakuryu has decided to withdraw from the September tournament in Tokyo. Sadly this leaves us in a “nokazuna” situation, with a greatly depleted Ozeki corps to boot. Earlier in the tournament, Yokozuna Hakuho withdrew with a broken finger, leaving Kakuryu the sole Yokozuna competing.

We assume he was injured day 4 or 5, and gave up 3 consecutive losses, usually a mark of a performance limiting injury. For Team Tachiai, his kyujo was expected. As a result, his day 8 opponent, Tamawashi, picks up his second fushesho / forfeit win of the tournament.

At the moment there is no injury reported, but I would guess it is one of his multiple chronic injuries. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Aki Day 2 Preview

The scheduling committee has no business drawing up a day 2 card this compelling with a typhoon raging in the streets of Tokyo. But they did, and now I would gladly rather be standing in the driving rain to get a “day of” ticket in the upper reaches of the Kokugikan than spending a week at work.

What We Are Watching Day 2

Yutakayama vs Takagenji – Takagenji sputtered a bit on day 1, and he’s got to turn that around. But he’s facing down Yutakayama, who I would guess is on a mission to catch up to Asanoyama sooner rather than later and battle him for the lead of the Freshmen.

Daiamami vs Tochiozan – Daiamami is up from Juryo for the day to fill in the banzuke hole left by Takayasu. Tochiozan holds a 2-0 career lead over the Oitekaze man, and is not looking at all sharp to start Aki. He is another on my “watch list” of beloved veterans who might leave us in the near future.

Tsurugisho vs Ishiura – Ishiura suffered from being too low on day 1, and ate some Tokyo clay. Tsurugisho has gotten a formula for beating Ishiura (3-1) from their days in the lower divisions, so let’s see if Team Hakuho can pull out of the ditch on day 2.

Azumaryu vs Toyonoshima – A pair of storied vets go head to head? Oh do sign me up! Toyonoshima has not fared well in the past (1-3), but the typhoon may be blowing new atmosphere into the basho.

Shohozan vs Kagayaki – This makes 2 basho in a row where Kagayaki comes in encrusted with thick, heavy ring rust. Will we see the highly mobile combat style of Shohozan today, or will he continue with his new love of yotsu?

Nishikigi vs Daishoho – Nishikigi: living, walking proof that in sumo, you don’t really have to see your opponent to be victorious. Or even make it to the joi-jin it seems. He holds a 2-0 advantage over Daishoho. so maybe he squints out another win today.

Sadanoumi vs Onosho – Onosho’s red mawashi needs wins to power itself, and having failed to feed it on day 1, he tries again against Sadanoumi, whom has an 0-3 record against Onosho. We want that blazing belt of fire do its work. Let’s see some tadpole sumo!

Enho vs Meisei – Oh I am just very excited for this one. Something lit in Enho day 1, and it was magic. Maybe he is just racking wins in week 1 before everyone comes up to full basho level, or maybe he’s over that shoulder injury. What makes this great is that Meisei is no push-over, and seems to be bouncing back from his 4-11 make koshi in Nagoya.

Okinoumi vs Terutsuyoshi – As we saw in Nagoya, when Okinoumi fights a pixie, the normal mechanics seem to break down. This is his first ever match against Terutsuyoshi, and I think the young powerhouse is going to give the veteran a hard match.

Kotoyuki vs Takarafuji – I can’t believe that Kotoyuki is mid-Maegashira. If he somehow manages to kachi-koshi at this rank, it may be a sign of some sort. Kotoyuki has cut back on his crowd surfing, and it seems to have helped his sumo. Takarafuji will, of course, execute his excellent technical sumo.

Shimanoumi vs Kotoshogiku – I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by how long Kotoshogiku has been able to persist in the Maegashira ranks. He has somehow manage to keep his banged up knees in just good enough condition to rack up 8 wins when he needs them. Today he’s got newcomer powerhouse Shimanoumi.

Kotoeko vs Myogiryu – A pair of strong, heavily muscled, compact rikishi who love to grab a hold of an opponent and toss them around. I am hoping we don’t get some kind of cheap slap down action from these two, and instead its a battle of stamina and guile.

Tamawashi vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu let himself get locked up, boxed up and shipped home to Arakawa on day 1. Day 2 it’s toe to toe against skilled pugilist Tamawashi in a battle that may feature a tachiai detectable on seismometers.

Ryuden vs Shodai – Shin-Ikioi takes on Shodai, who in spite of his soft, flaccid tachiai, can actually produce some effective sumo if he can survive the first step. Ryuden needs a bounce back, as all of the “cool kids” are going to vie to stuff the San’yaku party bus to Kyushu.

Tomokaze vs Endo – A first time meeting between two high skill rikishi who both tend to come into a match with a masterful battle plan? This one is either going to be an epic war of warriors, or end in a blink. This match just oozes potential.

Mitakeumi vs Daieisho – Mitakeumi spent too much time with Ryuden on TV eating the contents of various fields around Japan just prior to the basho. As a result, I think Mitakeumi is still trying to digest all of that daikon, and may feel much better soon. In the mean time, we may see Daieisho dredge him in potato starch and deep fry him for 90 seconds, before serving him on a bed of cabbage.

Aoiyama vs Takakeisho – Folks, each one of these is going to be a nail-biter. Although he holds a 3-1 advantage over the man-Mountain, Takakeisho is clearly only about 80% right now. We have yet to see a proper wave-action attack. Aoiyama, I am confident, is going to bat Takakeisho around to see if Weebils really can fall down.

Ichinojo vs Goeido – This should show us how sturdy Goeido’s injured ankle is. If he blasts into Ichinojo and can beat him moving forward, Goeido may be tough to beat this time. Ichinojo, I predict, will use his enormity to his utmost.

Tochinoshin vs Asanoyama – I am going to assume both men go for yotsu, with Asanoyama spending a lot of attention keeping Tochinoshin from landing that left hand grip to set up the lift-and-shift. Look for Asanoyama to go right-hand outside at the tachiai if he can.

Kakuryu vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji already had one Yokozuna scalp. If Kakuryu can prevail, that may in fact be the deciding difference in the last 5 days, when I expect both Yokozuna to be contending for the yusho. Handshake tachiai to be certain, but I expect Kakuryu to give ground and let Hokutofuji’s natural inclination to get too far forward do most of the work.

Abi vs Hakuho – I an going to guess Hakuho is pretty wound up after day 1, and Abi may be the discharge path for all of that coiled up sumo aggression. Will we see “The Boss” give our favorite sick-insect a flying lesson?

Aki Day 1 Highlights

Welcome all to the start of the fall tournament. The first few days of any tournament will typically feature a few shaky starts by some rikishi, as they work to get into tournament form. Some sumo fans refer to this as “ring rust”, and it can take a few days before some rikishi can shake off its effects.

The Freshmen (Asanoyama, Yutakayama, Abi, Hokutofuji) really had an excellent day today, and I am happy with the future of sumo featuring them in years to come. Sadly the same cannot be said about the Tadpoles, who struggled quite a bit today. But one should never count out the tadpoles…

Day 1 featured some solid sumo action, and those of you who were watching NHK World in the middle of the (USA) night time were treated to some solid matches. Let’s get started.

Highlight Matches

Chiyomaru defeats Takagenji – Takagenji comes out of the tachiai strong, but I was surprised that Chiyomaru did a much better job than normal keeping his weight centered over the arches of his feet, and used that stability to overpower Takagenji’s vigorous attack. The result was a sort of half throw / half tsukiotoshi that was uncharacteristically agile for Chiyomaru.

Yutakayama defeats Tochiozan – Yutakayama continues to battle his way back from injury, and a trip to Juryo, with some solid sumo today. Yutakayama took an inside route at the tachiai, but nearly all of this match was the two of them fighting for grip, while pushing as hard to the front as they could manage. Tochiozan had better footwork, but Yutakayama had more strength. Welcome back Yutakayama, the future has been waiting.

Azumaryu defeats Ishiura – Azumaryu deftly deploys a uwatehineri while the two grappled for position at the center of the dohyo.

Tsurugisho defeats Toyonoshima – Tsurugisho’s early try for a pull down nearly cost him the match, but he was able to rally well as Toyonoshima tried the same thing and blew his early advantage.

Nishikigi defeats Kagayaki – Neither man gets a solid tachiai. But Kagayaki inexplicably focuses on some kind of face-hold, leaving Nishikigi a solid path to center-mass. Kagayaki realizes that he’s thrown away an opening, but he found Nishikigi effectively able to turn his hips and deflect Kagayaki’s forward pressure.

Shohozan defeats Daishoho – Not the typical Shohozan mobility-based sumo, as Daishoho traps him in a double arm-bar. Shohozan gets stalemated for a while, but keeps raising Daishoho and backing him up until he can finish him with shitatenage (it was 2 for 1 shitatenage day).

Enho defeats Onosho – Big news for me, Onosho has the red mawashi back. Yes, he lost this one to Enho, who uncorked some really gob-smack amazing sumo today, but that red mawashi was (at least at one point) home to a potent kami that powered Onosho’s early rise. To my eye, Onosho had this one boxed up and ready to ship before Enho produced some hard to explain, Ura level space-time distortion and threw Onosho to the clay.

Meisei defeats Sadanoumi – With that injured right knee, Sadanoumi lacks a good amount of his expected maneuverability, and Meisei expertly stays in motion until he can get Sadanoumi off balance and rolls him to the clay with a katasukashi. Nice kimarite!

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki has yet to take a single match from Terutsuyoshi, and we get a showcase of how that works today. Terutsuyoshi used some really fantastic ring sense to continue to give ground, forcing Kotoyuki to stay in motion and keep turning. When you are about as wide as you are tall (as Kotoyuki is), it’s a short amount of time before you find yourself off balance and in the wrong end of town. Terutsuyoshi chose his moment, and made it work. Great sumo from Terutsuyoshi today.

Takarafuji defeats Kotoeko – As always, journeyman sumo from Takarafuji, who absorbs everything Kotoeko can dish out. Takarafuji as Maegashira 8? Middle of the pack? This is the right spot for Takarafuji, and I am hoping he has a good basho this September.

Okinoumi defeats Kotoshogiku – The fun thing about Kotoshogiku these days is that he is frequently on fire the first week, before the strain on his injuries slows him down. Hugely energetic, high attack value sumo from him today, including an excellent throw at the end. Except that he stepped out quite some time before it got to that point, and the most exciting part of the match (Okinoumi was fighting well, too) was all for naught.

Myogiryu defeats Shimanoumi – When you watch this one, pay close attention to Myogiryu’s foot placement and stance. This is some class-A attention to detail in the middle of a match trying to constrain and contain a raging youngster who had the edge in speed and agility. Shimanoumi gets the advantage twice, but that fantastic defensive setup that Myogiryu had today carried the match.

Ryuden defeats Chiyotairyu – If Ryuden is genki, Maegashira 5 might be a bit low on the banzuke for him. He gets a left hand on Chiyotairyu’s mawashi, which puts him in the driver’s seat and takes away Chiyotairyu’s primary offensive technique. I was surprised that Chiyotairyu let him grab him and did not stay mobile.

Tamawashi defeats Shodai – Shodai looked a mess today, but if you want to see why Shodai can actually keep close to a winning record most basho, look at his multiple well-executed escapes from Tamawashi’s blistering attacks. If we could get that man a tachiai graft from ex-Kisenosato…

Tomokaze defeats Abi – Abi launches his traditional Abi-zumo opening, and Tomokaze is having none of it. Attempting a hatakikomi against Abi is a dangerous move, but Tomokaze makes it work. This guy needs to stay un-injured and fighting strong.

Takakeisho defeats Daieisho – I am not quite sure how Takakeisho recovered from that near-face-plant, but he threw everything including the kitchen sink at Daieisho, who was likewise dialed up to 11. The wave-action system does not seem to be quite up to battle-spec just yet, and I am going to assume that our tadpole has a lot of ring rust to overcome. But he’s on his march to 10, and sumo fans around the world are going to be riveted to his journey this September.

Asanoyama defeats Mitakeumi – This whole match came down to Asanoyama getting a shallow left hand grip at the tachiai, and never letting go. Mitakeumi then chose to rotate left and attempt a hatakikomi, and in the move to pull down Asanoyama, he more or less conceded the match. Asanoyama was too latched on to Mitakeumi to go down.

Ichinojo defeats Tochinoshin – I had a tough time watching both the match and the replays. It’s 100% clear now, from direct observation, that it’s never a good idea to make your crippled strong-man fight a giant. Tochinoshin does not look well enough to compete, and that knee is more or less done for. Grim.

Goeido defeats Aoiyama – Whatever injuries Goeido is nursing right now, he has contained. His blistering tachiai and all out center-mass attack against Aoiyama left the man-mountain nowhere to go. I recall with hopeful anticipation that for some reason Aki is always the time when we see Goeido shine.

Hokutofuji defeats Hakuho – Oh Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, what have you done? This match had all of Hokutofuji’s best elements stitched together in a lightning fast, seat of the pants battle. Hakuho loves to deliver a face slap at the tachiai, and many times it effectively disrupts an opponents attack. Today if left him wide open for Hokutofuji’s brutal handshake tachiai. Oh, how long have I been waiting to see someone make Hakuho pay for that move. Today was payday on that desire. With the nodowa in place, it forced Hakuho to waste precious time clearing it out before he could start an attack, and just like that Hokutofuji is calling the terms of the match. Hokutofuji lands a mawashi grip, and I think the speed and strength of that move surprised the Yokozuna. Hakuho gives ground and attempts to load a throw, but with absolute perfect timing, Hokutofuji catches the Yokozuna shifting his weight and lunges ahead. That’s all that it took, and The Boss gives up a well earned kinboshi. I am going to be looping through this match all day. Just fantastic. Hokutofuji doesn’t need to win another match this basho to be proud of his efforts.

Kakuryu defeats Endo – Endo is a master technician, and I am sure he had a solid, well constructed attack plan against the Nagoya yusho winner. None of that mattered as Kakuryu did not give him a chance to unpack any of it. A little dodgy winning with a hatakikomi, but he needed to shut Endo down quickly before the man in gold could get started.

Nagoya Day 15 Highlights

It just would not be a yusho if Tachiai did not run a picture of the macaron of victory!

And thus we have reached the end of the Nagoya Basho. I do love the fact that Kakuryu took the yusho in direct competition with Hakuho. Was Hakuho hurt? You bet! I have nothing but respect for the greatest Yokozuna of our time competing through the pain, and making a solid showing of it. But Kakuryu was on his sumo this time, dropping only a single match against upstart Tomokaze.

Thus continues the evolution out of the Hakuho era, an era that really began when none other than Kotoshogiku took the yusho in January 2016, marking the first time in 10 years since a Japanese-born man won the Emperor’s cup. Since then, we have seen a steady increase in “Other than Hakuho” yusho, as “The Boss” fades a bit each tournament. This is nature at work, and it’s worth asking, how much longer will Hakuho be able to continue working through what is probably increasing damage to his arms? We know that he needs to stay active for a bit longer. He is working to secure Japanese citizenship to become a member of the NSK, and he would dearly love to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which are just about a year way.

I would expect Hakuho to take at least half of the coming tournaments off, and work to preserve what function remains as much as possible. Without the headwinds of Hakuho’s career peak dominance as a cap, the new upper ranks are starting to form, just as they should. The next two to three years will be transitional, and we will see a lot of new heroes rise. If change makes you anxious, this is a poor time to be a sumo fan. If you love the drama of competition, and the path to glory, this is a golden age for sumo.

The statement above raises the question—what is sumo headed towards? I think parts of that were on display today.

Highlight Matches

Nishikigi defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru battled his way back to the top division out of the Juryo swamp, only to be pummeled into double-digit losses. For fans of “His Roundness”, it’s a disappointment. Former upper Maegashira Cinderella, Nishikigi, fared little better at 6-9 for Nagoya.

Enho defeats Daishoho – Enho matches seem to have a requirement for at least one matta. Is it because he moves at near relativistic speeds at the tachiai? The gyoji struggle to measure his hand placement due to the momentary inflection of space-time near Enho as he launches. Enho gets a front grip and drops Daishoho to his knees. Enho, if he can stay healthy, is going to be a fun addition to the top division.

Tochiozan defeats Shohozan – Tochiozan is also clearly fading out, and ends Nagoya 5-10, but managed to take his final match to possibly save his slot in the top division. Tochiozan got the better of the tachiai, and kept focusing his thrusting attack at center-mass. Good sumo fundamentals here, was it enough?

Okinoumi defeats Kagayaki – First Darwin match of the day favors experience over youth. Kagayaki got a double inside grip, but could not use it to finish Okinoumi. I think this is indicative of some injury with Kagayaki that we don’t know about, as his ability to generate forward pressure is not what it has been. Okinoumi switches his grip (make-kai), gets his right hand outside, and finishes the match for a kachi-koshi.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Tomokaze – This was fun because it was a bit of a playoff, with both at 11-3, both winning special prizes, and both in competition for the yusho well into the second week. Anyone else notice that Tomokaze’s pre-tachiai stance is a replica of Yoshikaze’s? That gave me a smile when I noticed it. Tomokaze attempted a pull-down early, and that was a fatal mistake.

Kotoyuki defeats Myogiryu – I continue to ask – which alien species abducted this Kotoyuki in 2016 and gave us the clown version for 3 years? Well, the good version is back, and wow! An 11-4 finish punctuated by a tsukidashi over his much higher ranked opponent, Myogiryu.

Chiyotairyu defeats Toyonoshima – Second Darwin match, Chiyotairyu stayed focused, in control and on the attack. Chiyotairyu kachi-koshi, and Toyonoshima make-koshi. As a consolation, Toyonoshima carried the yusho banner for Kakuryu in the yusho parade.

Takarafuji defeats Yago – Yago remains an injured rikishi fighting the toughest men in sumo. Back to Juryo with him, and our sincere hopes that he can get his body back to good health and return.

Ichinojo defeats Kotoeko – Ichinojo was on the attack today, and when that happens, you just have to take whatever he wants to give you.

Shodai defeats Takagenji – Shodai was in the driver’s seat the entire way, as Takagenji seems to have no defense with that injured right ankle.

Aoiyama defeats Daieisho – The Man-Mountain did what he needed to, and picks up his 8th for a kachi-koshi, but further complicating the pecking order at the top of the Aki banzuke. I am sure lksumo will sort it all out for us in time.

Endo defeats Hokutofuji – Possibly the best sumo match thus far in 2019, this was an absolute burner of a fight. Hokutofuji is delivering relentless forward pressure, and lightning attacks. Against that you have Endo who is unleashing combination gambits that only partially work before Hokutofuji deflects and resumes the attack. The fight raged between Endo’s and Hokutofuji’s control, with neither man gaining a clear advantage. Unable to finesse Hokutofuji to defeat, Endo resorts to simple sumo mechanics—he drives low and pushes ahead with everything he has. Wow, what a match!

Asanoyama defeats Sadanoumi – The sumo grumps have been criticizing Asanoyama’s performance this tournament. But I would note that his first trip this far up the banzuke, while it did end in the customary make-koshi, was a 7-8 make-koshi. There is some strength and endurance here, and he’s going to be pushing hard against the injured Ozeki and Yokozuna corps for the next year. I see Asanoyama, and in time Yutakayama, as wedges that will force some of the old guard down the banzuke, and help close out the Hakuho era. Let’s go boys, I can’t wait!

Meisei defeats Ryuden – I really want Ryuden to get it together by Kyushu. This was a tough tournament for him. We did not see the same level of sumo from him that was the engine for his promotion to Komusubi. Injury? Probably so. Heal up, Shin-Ikioi, we await your return.

Abi defeats Kotoshogiku – Not a hit and shift, not a henka, but a flying henka delivered at the tachiai. I was disappointed in that I wanted to see a clash of sumo styles. We got one, but not the one that was anticipated. Some of the crowd did seem to find it a bit amusing, which is unusual for a henka.

Mitakeumi defeats Shimanoumi – Mitakeumi finished with 3-4 in the final week. If he ever wants to truly contest for an Ozeki rank, he needs to fix that. I think that knee injury from Osaka is still bothering him, and until that is resolved, and his week 2 performance improves, the best he can manage will likely be Sekiwake.

Kakuryu defeats Hakuho – This was a real Yokozuna battle. Two men at the top of the sport going head to head, throwing everything they could muster at the end of a punishing 2-week ordeal into the fight. Hakuho got the better of the tachiai, but the lack of elbows robbed him of his coveted “nage” moves, which I would have expected him to unleash as soon as that left hand had Kakuryu’s mawashi. But the roll never came, and Kakuryu kept applying the pressure, fighting for a hold, and eventually finding it. The two lock up again in the center of the dohyo, finally comfortable in their preferred grip with left hand inside / right hand outside. But look at the feet. Hakuho’s feet are close together, his ankles aligned and his toes pointed at Kakuryu. Kakuryu is standing with his left foot behind and pointing out: He’s loading a throw. Hakuho tries a couple of time to drop his hips, but Kakuryu keeps digging deeper, waiting out Hakuho. The reactive sumo style has stalemated the greatest Yokozuna of our time, and Hakuho knows it. Hakuho tries one more advance, but can’t get far. Sensing that Hakuho has reached the limit his damaged elbows can take, Kakuryu shifts to a double inside grip, lifts Hakuho, and carries him out for the win, and the Emperor’s cup. Damn fine sumo.

Thank you all for joining us for a basho that I would call “other than expected” in almost every way, but it was still a solid tournament that gave a new crop of promising rikishi a chance to shine, and a chance to bring their sumo to higher levels of performance.