Mock Natsu Day 1 Highlights

The first day of the mock Natsu basho is in the record books. Both Ozeki start the tournament with a loss, and for Takakeisho, he can ill afford to lose some of these easy opening matches. As a kadoban Ozeki, he needs to win 8 in this tournament to hold onto his rank. In the lead up to the basho, the rikishi have not really been allowed full contact (or any contact) in training until 1 week before the start of the tournament. As a result, I am fairly sure quite a few of the competitors are far short of the necessary condition to fight.

Highlight Matches

Kotoyuki defeats Terunofuji (Oshidashi) – Everyone’s hopes are high around the former Ozeki, but today he seemed to struggle with mobility as Kotoyuki showed zero ring rust, and seems to be back in his genki form which saw him kachi-koshi at Maegashira 4 last November. He kept Terunofuji turning to face his blistering slaps, and the former Ozeki found himself out of the ring. The dismount looked a bit rough, but seemed ok.

Nishikigi defeats Kotoeko (Oshidashi) – Kotoeko is an odd hot / cold streak rikishi, and it’s clear that he has a lot of ring rust to start Natsu. He went chest to chest with Nishikigi, who attempted his double arm bar hold, but Kotoeko was able to escape, but a solid shove from Nishikigi as Kotoeko broke contact saw the Sadogatake step across the bales for a loss on opening day.

Chiyomaru defeats Kotoshoho (Tsukiotoshi) – Welcome to the top division, Kotoshoho! As a welcome gift, nearly 200 kg of curry chugging Chiyomaru. I think Kotoshoho was surprised by how quickly Chiyomaru came off the shikiri-sen, pushed inside and unleashed a relentless torrent of thrusts center-mass. Clearly overwhelmed, Kotoshoho went down in a heap. At Maegashira 15, a genki Chiyomaru could really clean up this May.

Kotoshogiku defeats Wakatakakage (Yoritaoshi) – Wakatakakage’s first match against the Kyushu bulldozer was a lesson in what not to do. He went for an outside grip at the tachiai, and Kotoshogiku had morozashi at the second step. Finding himself locked in a burly embrace, the hug-n-chug power assault was relentless, and Wakatakakage went down hard just shy of the tawara. For an old guy on the fade-out part of his career, it’s great to watch Kotoshogiku play his greatest hits.

Takayasu defeats Kotonowaka (Oshidashi) – What busted elbow? A thousand thanks, Oh Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan! I think Kotonowaka was not sure what to expect, given how fragile Takayasu has been since Tamawashi’s arm breaker kotenage last July. But it was a shoulder blast, then relentless forward drive against the much smaller Kotonowaka. A good escape move from Kotonowaka after Takayasu’s initial drive, but the former Ozeki lunged back into the fight and took the highest ranking Sadogatake rikishi out. Dare we hope Takayasu is genki?

Sadanoumi defeats Shohozan (Yorikiri) – Shohozan went for a big hit at the tachiai and missed, and Sadanoumi’s speed had Shohozan pinned to Sadanoumi’s chest, and completely off balance a heartbeat later. With a strong push forward, Shohozan was back and out. I worry that Shohozan, who is now 36(!) is starting to fade.

Shimanoumi defeats Tochinoshin (Oshidashi) – It’s painful to watch Tochinoshin struggle in matches like this, but unless some miracle brings his knee back from the happy hunting grounds, this is probably the best Tochinoshin can do. The limited training regimen prior to Natsu has clearly dampened whatever fighting edge he has left.

Kaisei defeats Myogiryu (Oshidashi) – Myogiryu took the fight to the big Brazilian, and manhandled him to the bales before loading a throw. But there’s just so much Kaisei to move that even the best placed pivot is a risk. Both men collapsed into the throw, and the gumbai went to Myogiryu. Replays show Myogiryu touching down first, and the gyoji ended up revised, giving Kaisei an opening day win.

Tamawashi defeats Ikioi (Kotenage) – Both of the rikishi have more injuries than is reasonable, but they mount the dohyo with grim determination and fighting sprit. But you have to wonder when Tamawashi is going to stop using that Kotenage. Ikioi took it today, and it seems to have been bothering him following the match.

Ishiura defeats Chiyotairyu (Tsukiotoshi) – As most fans know, I am not usually in favor of a henka, but today’s flying leap was a graceful work of sumo art, and thunder god Chiyotairyu went blasting forward at the tachiai, sealing his doom. Ok Ishiura, don’t make a habit out of that.

Tokushoryu defeats Terutsuyoshi (Okuridashi) – Am I too sentimental? Maybe. Terutsuyoshi got the better of the opening move, and took inside position at the tachiai. But as he drove forward, Tokushoryu set up his side step at the tawara that took him to the yusho this January. But points to Terutsuyoshi who read it well enough to stay on his feet and in the ring. But he was turned around to the point where a firm shove from behind by Tokushoryu sent him into the timekeeper’s lap.

Ryuden defeats Enho (Kotenage) – The first thing of note, Ryuden mounted the dohyo with un-stiffened sagari. Rather than some manner of sumo faux-pas, I have it on reasonable authority that those are / were Shobushi sagari! Enho’s opening gambit found it’s mark with a frontal grip on Ryuden’s mawashi, but in a deft move he was able to circle against Enho’s pivot, and was rewarded with a grip across Enho’s upper arm. Ryuden dropped his inside hip and launched Enho to the clay. Nice move from Ryuden today.

Abi defeats Hokutofuji (Hikiotoshi) – Hokutofuji’s handshake tachiai had zero chance today as Abi had his hands at Hokutofuji’s neck in the first step. Finding himself trapped, he pushed forward to find Abi stepping to the side, sending Hokutofuji to the clay. Messy fight for Hokutofuji.

Kagayaki defeats Aoiyama (Hikiotoshi)- A clean sweep for the Takadagawa rikishi, Big Dan Aoiyama opened strong, but Kagayaki was able to keep his feet and keep low. I love watching how heavy his feet are in this match, just damn impeccable footwork again from Kagayaki. As can happen with Aoiyama, Kagayaki caught him to far forward and Kagayaki helped him to the clay.

Daieisho defeats Kiribayama (Tsukuinage) – Daieisho got inside at the tachiai, but could not really dominate Kiribayama in the opening moments of the fight. The two locked up in the center of the ring for a few moments before Daieisho loaded a throw and unleashed a brutal Tsukuinage. He put so much energy into the twist that he went down with Kiribayama. It was close enough that the Shimpan wanted to review it, but the gyoji’s verdict was upheld, giving Daieisho an opening day win.

Mitakeumi defeats Takarafuji (Uwatenage) – I don’t know, but I was a bit surprised to see Mitakeumi look, well, hard. He’s still a giant bulbous tadpole, but he seems to have a bit of fire in his enormous belly right now. Takarafuji worked to stay mobile, and kept Mitakeumi moving until the moment that Mitakeumi found a handful of mawashi and unlaced an unexpected Uwatenage, tossing Takarafuji to the clay.

Shodai defeats Onosho (Yorikiri) – I love Onosho, but what the hell – you had to know that if you went chest to chest with Shodai he was going to own you. I am happy that Onosho was willing to give it a try, but it was doomed from the start.

Takanosho defeats Asanoyama (Hikiotoshi) – Ugly way to start your first basho as an Ozeki, and we once again get to see the power and versatility of Takanosho. Asanoyama takes Takanosho to his chest, and instantly goes for that classic sumo stance. But Takanosho deflects his forward power, turning him and pulling him forward by the arm. A surprisingly fast take down of the shin-Ozeki.

Yutakayama defeats Takakeisho (Tsukidashi) – Yutakayama found himself in the driver’s seat against Takakeisho today, who is not looking promising to defend his rank by making it to 8. Yutakayama got inside early, and kept up the pressure. Takakeisho was not able to set up much offense, but was able to stay on his feet and stay inbounds. A rescue move as Yutakayama lunged to finish the Ozeki appeared to work, but a Shimpan review showed that Takakeisho’s heal hit the janome before Yutakayama stepped out. Both Ozeki lose their opening day matches.

Kakuryu defeats Endo (Hatakikomi) – Endo goes for the frontal grip at the tachiai and immediately gets slapped down by the Yokozuna. Quick, brutal and effective.

Hakuho defeats Okinoumi (Yorikiri) – I was expecting an uwatenage, Okinoumi was expecting an uwatenage, I think even people who know nothing about sumo were expecting The Boss to give Okinoumi one of his famous flying lessons. Instead Hakuho kept it simple and scooted Okinoumi across the bales.

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.

Nagoya Day 3 Highlights

Nagoya Day 3 Highlight

With the ring rust now falling away, we are starting go see some good sumo from the men in the top division. Today’s big result is of course Chiyonokuni vs Takayasu. I don’t know if Takayasu is injured, distracted or simply not quite up to fighting form yet. Takayasu of 18 months ago would likely find his current sumo almost comical to watch, and fans of his (as I am) have to wonder if there is some way he will return to the sumo fundamentals that took him this far.

In the meantime, there were some fantastic matches today, and act 1 is doing it’s job of dividing the “Hot” from the “Not”.

Highlight Matches

Ryuden defeats Daiamami – Ryuden seems to have broken free of his off-season rust, and showed some great, strong, high-stamina sumo against Daiamami, who I hope will make it back to Makuuchi soon.

Ishiura defeats Hokutofuji – Ishiura starts with a mini-henka, but follows up with some great high mobility sumo. Hokutofuji is already a move or two behind as Ishiura gets to his side, and applies the pressure. It’s all over for Hokutofuji, who has no way to face Ishiura, or plant his feet. Nice work Ishiura!

Kotoeko defeats Tochiozan – Kotoeko gets his first win ranked in the top division. He tried a henka and multiple pull downs before finally using a nodowa to force Tochiozan out. Sloppy sumo, but a win is a win.

Asanoyama defeats Arawashi – Arawashi had the better tachiai, but Asanoyama dug in fast, lowered his hips and advanced with purpose. With a 0-3 start, I worry Arawashi is out of gas.

Sadanoumi defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama also seems to have shaken off his ring rust, and he was back in form, blasting away at Sadanoumi straight from the tachiai. Sadanoumi stood up to the blows, and fought to go chest to chest, which he eventually achieved. With a the man-mountain’s mawashi firmly in hand, Sadanoumi advanced and won. Great effort from Sadanoumi.

Nishikigi defeats Onosho – The first “what did I just watch?” moment of the day. Most sumo fans think of Nishikigi as this guy at the bottom of Makuuchi who is always just scraping by. Then he comes up against a real up and coming power like Onosho, and swiftly puts him away.

Myogiryu defeats Chiyomaru – The crowd certainly thought that Chiyomaru prevailed, but the gyoji’s gumbai pointed east, and the judges concurred. Myogiryu starts Nagoya 3-0.

Yutakayama defeats Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei can’t seem to buy a win so far. After a rather sloppy tachiai, Yutakayama advanced, but could not finish Kyokutaisei, who rallied. They battled back and forth, finding themselves at the tawara, and both went to throw, with Kyokutaisei stepping out first.

Takarafuji defeats Daieisho – Daieisho put a huge effort into trying to land a nodawa against Takarafuji’s nonexistent neck. That being said, Takarafuji gets his first win of the basho and needs to regroup.

Endo defeats Chiyoshoma – Fantastic sumo from Endo today. Chiyoshoma tries the flying henka, but Endo reads it like a boss. Endo hooks the left arm around Chiyoshoma, and latches his right hand at the front of Chiyoshoma’s mawashi. With his opponent laterally tethered, Endo backs Chiyoshoma over a waiting kneed for a really well executed kirikaeshi. The crowd goes wild. Endo with a 3-0 start.

Kagayaki defeats Yoshikaze – As a Yoshikaze fan, these matches are tough to watch. Clearly the Berserker is injured in some way, and just cannot maintain forward pressure. Kagayaki employs his excellent fundamentals and keeps moving forward. A clean and straightforward win.

Abi defeats Kaisei – Bizarre tachiai, it starts in slow motion, with Kaisei rising slowly, and Abi pulling a delayed action henka. From there it’s a fairly simple okuridashi / rear push out. Glad Abi got a win, but that is one strange match.

Mitakeumi defeats Takakeisho – My most anticipated match of the day, a battle of two tadpoles on the rise. Both of them stayed incredibly low, with the entire battle being fought well below the average person’s knee height. Mitakeumi succeeded in tying up Takakeisho and preventing him from getting any offense started. Takakeisho is fun, and potent, but if he gets his yotsu together he is headed much higher.

Tamawashi defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo once again goes soft after Tamawashi slaps him around a couple of times.

Chiyonokuni defeats Takayasu – Readers of the site know I take exception to the changes Takayasu has made to his sumo in the past year. Much of it is due to no longer training with Kisenosato, I suspect. But today he took an oshi battle against Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni is smaller, lighter and built for a run-and-gun sumo style. Takayasu, who has been looking iffy so far this basho, struggled with Chiyonokuni from the start. Surprisingly, Chiyonokuni goes for the mawashi first, and now Takayasu is completely unbalanced, and in trouble. After a failed throw at the edge, Chiyonokuni continues to attack, and Takayasu seems completely off tempo, and disoriented. After his second trip to the tawara, Takayasu reaches out and gets a left hand inside grip, and the two go chest to chest, but its clear that Chiyonokuni is still on offense, and in control of the match. Takayasu shrugs and turns, believing he has thrown Chiyonokuni, who maintains his right hand grip, and somehow stays on his feet. Meanwhile Takayasu has stopped trying to win, and is standing upright watching in disbelief. Chiyonokuni recovers and puts the big Ozeki down. Outstanding effort from Chiyonokuni, and Takayasu – get your sumo together man!

Goeido defeats Ikioi – Ikioi really taking a beating to start Nagoya, and today Goeido seemed to be more in form than prior matches: fast, tight, low inside and driving for the win. That was good to see. 6 more like that to clear kadoban, please!

Tochinoshin defeats Shohozan – Shohozan goes in with gusto, but Tochinoshin quickly goes chest to chest, and implements the sky-crane-tsuridashi / lift and shift sumo. With Shohozan supplying the obligatory desperate kicking in mid-air, it was all over.

Hakuho defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku tried to get inside and start the hug-n-chug, but Hakuho contained him, and had him rolling to the clay in the blink of an eye.

Kakuryu defeat Shodai – Shodai was little more than a plaything for Kakuryu, who kept Shodai rocking back and forth, and unable to establish either offense or defense. Once the imbalance was great enough, Kakuryu walked him to the north side an sent him diving for the cushions.