We come to it at last, the final day of one of the better tournaments in a fair piece of time. Sure, there were problems, and it would be fun if we were looking forward to Takakeisho picking up a promotion next week, but the action on the dohyo has been fantastic, and everyone has put in a great effort to get us to this point.
We ended with 8 rikishi having a score of 7-7, and from that we have 3 Darwin matches scheduled. One man will earn kachi-koshi, the other make-koshi and demotion. The Darwin match is the ultimate refinement of sumo in some ways. Honbasho are constructed as zero-sum games, there are a fixed number of white stars that can be earned, and every time you earn one, you take one from the total that will be awarded. Thus, the chances for recovery and redemption grow scarce into the third act, until on the final day, only a handful of them remain. Six rikishi will fight it out for the last one, to see who can hold rank for Osaka 6 weeks away.
Then, in the final match of the tournament, the yusho will be decided. The lone surviving Ozeki, Takakeisho, will face off against a surprising challenger, Maegashira 13 East Kotoshoho. I have had my eye on Kotoshoho for a couple of years, and he started strong in the top division in 2020, and then hit a cold spot that saw him back in Juryo for almost a year. He struggled in 2022 as well after clawing his way back in to the top division a year ago with an 11-4 Juryo yusho. After climbing as hight at Maegashira 9E in May of last year, he racked up 4 consecutive make-koshi results, and is really only still in the top division thanks to some banzuke luck along the way. But he’s got his ticket to the big fight, and win or lose, he is announcing that he is finally healthy and in fighting form.
What We Are Watching Day 15
Daiamami vs Chiyomaru – The final Juryo visitor, Daiamami, comes to have a round with an injured Chiyomaru (3-11), captain of the Juryo barge of the damned. Daiamami is also already make-koshi at 5-9, so I am going to guess he is up here today because it was his turn. Daiamami has a 11-2 career lead, but given the state of Chiyomaru, a Daiamami win today was almost assured.
Kagayaki vs Oho – This is a gift to Kagayaki. He earned at 7-7 Darwin score, and instead of a brutal single elimination match, he gets to fight cream-puff Oho (3-11) for his kachi-koshi. I could shake my fist and yell at clouds as one reader has said, but to be honest someone had to fight Oho, may as well be him.
Azumaryu vs Ura – Whatever ailments plague Ura right now, I am happy he starts his 6 week recovery tomorrow. He’s not be quite up to spec, especially in the second week, where has has lost 5 in a row and is now at a make-koshi 6-8. It would be great if he could beat 9-5 Azumaryu, but if I were Azumaryu (9-5), I would hit double digits today. You broke the barrier, run free sir. Rack up the score as insurance against a pair of make-koshi some time in the future.
Chiyoshoma vs Sadanoumi – Both men start the day at 5-9, and have had a pretty rough time of it this January. Sadanoumi got torn up as a projectile while facing the san’yaku during the middle third of the tournament, and never really has recovered. Chiyoshoma just can’t seem to find the last 10% – 15% of his power, and thus his score is crummy. He does have a 7-4 career lead over Sadanomumi, and has won the last three in a row.
Nishikifuji vs Ichiyamamoto – I guess this one is to give Ichiyamamoto a chance at a double digit kachi-koshi? He’s 9-5 to start the day against 4-10 Nishikifuji, who has lost 6 of the last seven. Maybe they are giving Nishikifuji an early match on the fight card so he can head out and find a bar.
Mitoryu vs Midorifuji – Another pair of make-koshi rikishi, both with 6-8 records to start the day. I wonder if Mitoryu at Maegashira 15W is at risk of demotion, but maybe he will survive thanks to the log jam of people who have losing records and are demotable at the end of the tournament.
Abi vs Tsurugisho – First Darwin match, with both men at 7-7. I would think that this one will go to Abi, who is ranked higher at Maegashira 3 E, and generally outclasses Tsurugisho on most days. But Tsurugisho holds and even 2-2 career record against Abi, and has won his last three in a row to get here.
Hiradoumi vs Tamawashi – First ever match, both start the day with 8-6 kachi-koshi, and one of them will finish Hatsu with 9 wins. I would generally favor Tamawashi for this one, but I think Hiradoumi has an advantage if he can get the match to last more than 20 seconds.
Mitakeumi vs Takarafuji – We have defenestrated former Ozeki Mitakeumi with a 6-8 make-koshi against injured stalwart Takarafuji, blessedly kachi-koshi at 8-6. Mitakeumi has a 10-4 advantage in their 14 match career history, with only one match in the last year, which went to then sekiwake Mitakeumi during Hatsu day 14. Mitakeumi would go on to win a 13-2 yusho, and earn a short-lived promotion to Ozeki.
Aoiyama vs Daieisho – Both are make-koshi, with Aoiyama at 8-6, and Daieisho at 9-5. This is mostly just to figure out rank for the March banzuke, but with both of them being high impact tsuki/oshi fighters, there could be a lot of hard hits in this match. Their last fight was March 2022, and went to Daieisho.
Tobizaru vs Kotoeko – Second Darwin match, and it’s a good’un. We have a highly mobile flying monkey in Tobizaru, up against compact power house Kotoeko. Kotoeko makes excellent use of his highly muscled lower body, and brings a high degree of balance and stablity to his sumo. This makes Tobizaru, who uses a strike-and-move disruptive sumo, work harder to win. Tobizaru has won the last 4 matches between them.
Endo vs Wakamotoharu – Another fine match, both prefer a yotsu style of sumo, tend to go for a grip early, and like to attack from underneath. Well, only one of them can be the lowest attacker, sir, so lets see who can do it. 9-5 Endo, or 8-6 Wakamotoharu? It is a bit of a surprise that out of their three prior matches, only one of them has been won by yorikiri.
Meisei vs Takanosho – A battle of the make-koshi, it’s 4-10 Meisei vs 6-8 Takanosho. Meisei has taken a beating at komusubi, as is frequently the case. Takanosho? I wish we knew what was plaguing him. Whatever it is, I hope it’s gone by March. Meisei has won 8 of their 12 career matches.
Hokutofuji vs Kotonowaka – The next Darwin match, and we get a chance to see Hokutofuji achieve “The most powerful make-koshi in all of sumo”! Yes that is like jumbo shrimp, or sterile dirt. Even when you see it, you marvel that it might exits. Both of these guys have struggled, but not too much, and I think I like Kotonowaka’s chances here today. He’s on a bit of a hot streak, winning 3 of the last 4 matches.
Kiribayama vs Ryuden – Both are kachi-koshi, with Kiribayama at 10-4, and Ryuden at 9-5. I think it would be great to see Ryuden hit double digits, and I would not be surprised if he did not have a special prize contingent on a win today. Kiribayama won their last match, which was day 11 of Kyushu 2022.
Myogiryu vs Shodai – There are some similarities between Shodai’s fall from Ozeki and Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi’s “ozekiwake” tournament was Kyushu, where he finished 6-9. Should Shodai lose today to Myogiryu (5-9), he will likewise finish at 6-9. They are evenly matched, splitting their 16 career matches 8-8.
Onosho vs Hoshoryu – Ah, Onosho. You did very well this tournament. You showed the power, strength and endurance you have been building piece by piece for the last 5 years. You were in the race for the cup up until the last weekend. I hope they give you a special prize, and I hope we can see you this genki again in March. In the mean time, you can take your 10-4 record and hit Darwin candidate 7-7 Hoshoryu with it as hard as you like.
Wakatakakage vs Nishikigi – I continue to marvel at Nishikigi. I know he has quietly been building his body up over the last 6 months, and he just keeps getting a bit stronger each time. He’s at 9-5, on the cusp of a double digit winning record at Maegashira 5. He’s against one time Ozeki hopeful Wakatakakage at 8-6, who is in dire need of a tune up and upgrade session soon.
Kotoshoho vs Takakeisho – The brawl to end it all, the match deluxe. Kotoshoho has never won against Takakeisho, and has 2 prior attempts. This version of Kotoshoho is more focused and aggressive, and I do hope Takakeisho takes him as a serious contender. It is odd to have the final match of the tournament be an Ozeki vs a Maegashira 13, but this way they resolve the yusho in a single match. Good luck to both, make it a brilliant fight.