With just over two weeks until the start of the Nagoya basho, Sumo’s ozeki corps is under pressure to deliver wins all round. The two incumbent ozeki are both kadoban, and the shin-ozeki, Tochinoshin, comes in nursing a hurt wrist. As a zero-sum sport, each win that the ozeki need comes at the expense of some other rikishi’s march towards kachi-koshi.
First up is the likely Ozeki 1 East, Goeido. With only 3 wins at Natsu, it’s tough to think of this man as the top Ozeki in sumo today. After injuring his ankle during the Osaka basho in 2017, he underwent surgery to have his joint rebuilt with pins and a lot of luck. While it seems to have kept his foot from falling off, he has mostly struggled to execute the kind of sumo that gives him winning records. When he is on his game, Goeido is a fast, brutal rikishi of pure offense. But we suspect he is still trying to find a way to keep his injured ankle together by any means he can muster. He comes into Nagoya looking to overcome his 8th career kadoban. While a healthy, strong Goeido running GoeiDOS 2.X is more than up to that task, he will have to overcome some fierce competition from the rest of the san’yaku to get to the safety of 8 wins. Forecast – Questionable.
But then we come to Takayasu, the likely Ozeki 1 West. Takayasu did not compete at all during Natsu, citing upper body injuries that were likely sustained due to changes he made to his sumo following the injury of his training partner and companion Kisenosato. During the second half of 2017, Takayasu’s sumo increasingly relied on a wild, flailing style that incorporated-a maxed out kachi-age at the tachiai. Being enormous and as strong as a C53 class locomotive can take you quite far when you are willing to go brutal at the open. Sadly his body suffered and his injuries were too much for him to compete in May. Now he heads to the balmy basho in Nagoya trying to overcome his 3rd foreshortened tournament of his Ozeki career, and erase his second kadoban. Recent press reports have featured Takayasu and an injured Kisenosato practicing in front of hundreds of spectators, with good effect. Some of this may simply be PR for the Yokozuna, as it seems most of the san-ban had been prior to the past four basho. Forecast – Hopeful.
Shin-Ozeki is a great slot, especially if it’s apparent that you finished your Ozkei bid with increasing momentum and increasingly powerful sumo. Ozeki 2 East Tochinoshin comes to the Nagoya dohyo as possibly the most powerful man in the Ozeki ranks. He can easily carry either of his fellow ozeki around like furniture, planting them in harmonious spots outside of the dohyo for optimal feng-shui. The worrying aspect is his repeated reports of injury to his wrist sustained during the final week of Natsu. This, naturally, limits his “lift and shift” sumo by removing his ability to transfer his enormous strength to his opponents mawashi. However, it’s reasonable to assume that Kasugano will have him squared away in time for shonichi. I personally hope that a strong rivalry between Tochinoshin and Takayasu takes root, which could help propel both of them to higher performance. Forecast – Rather-genki.
With two kadoban ozeki, it’s going to be time for both Takayasu and Goeido to dial it up to 11, but there is also a very real risk of losing at least one Ozeki this basho. Goeido has been teetering on the edge for quite some time. Takayasu may still be injured, but feel he is out of options. But with Tochinoshin bringing fresh blood and fresh sumo to the Ozeki ranks, Nagoya promises to step up the intensity of upper rank competition.
With the Nagoya basho behind us, we welcome a new Ozeki into the top two ranks of sumo, and reinforcements could not come at a more important moment. In a continuation of a trend Tachiai has been following for some time, the continued weakness within the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks is causing significant distortions in sumo. Thus it is time for another of our periodic genki reports, looking exclusively at the world of the top two ranks.
From the chart above, we can see that since this time in 2016, the participation rate of the total Yokozuna and Ozeki corps has been on a steady downward trend. This is computed as a percentage of the number Yokozuna & Ozeki that could participate compared to the number who did participate on day 15. Clearly the men in sumo’s top two ranks are finding it difficult to show up and participate in tournaments on a regular basis.
Sumo is a combat sport, and people who reach the top two ranks have had to battle for every promotion, and every kachi-kochi they have ever achieved. Along the way they have accumulated injuries that range from annoying to severe, but still attempt to find some way to show up and compete.
Let’s take a look at the rikishi:
Yokozuna Kakuryu Genki: ✭✭✭ Notes: After taking almost a year to recover from a suite of injuries, Kakuryu may in fact be the genkiest of the Yokozuna. He exited Natsu with the Emperor’s Cup, and his first back to back yusho in his career. The injuries sustained during Hatsu have either been mitigated, healed or he is just ignoring them. Clearly he is the man to beat for Nagoya, but odds of him taking 3 in a row are rather thin.
Yokozuna Hakuho Genki: ✭✭ Notes: There were a number of red flags for Hakuho going into Natsu. His father, who was a driving force in his life, had just recently died. He had sat out Osaka due to re-injured big toes. While it may seem a trivial complaint, the big toe of each foot is massively important to both offense and defense. Hakuho’s sumo depends greatly on his mobility and speed, and injured feet rob him of a significant advantage. I think that going to Nagoya we are going to see a greatly improved Hakuho, as long as he can keep those feet healthy.
Yokozuna Kisenosato Genki: ✭- Notes: Tachiai has written extensively about the nature and severity of Kisenosato’s injured left pectoral. While we were controversial in our early call that it was surgery or the scissors, the rest of the sumo world seems to have come around to our point of view. The guy’s Yokozuna career is a tragedy worthy of a new Kabuki story. Our opinion is that there is no road back for him, and the only question now is does he just admit defeat, or does he enter one more basho and go out guns blazing?
Ozeki Goeido Genki: ✭✭ Notes: Where to start with this guy. First off, we complain a lot about Goeido and his flaky sumo. We have likened him to a faulty consumer gadget in dire need of software fixes. In truth, he has been hurt quite a bit in the past two years. None of those injuries are necessarily healed properly, and each time he re-injures himself in a basho, his sumo goes into the toilet. It’s actually quite easy to detect. When his ankles are working and not hurting, he is a fast, aggressive Ozeki who will take you down or out before you can finish your tachiai. You never give him an opening or you are on your face in the clay, and the fat stack of kensho is headed towards his bank account. When he’s hurt he’s vague, he pulls, he moves backward, he loses a bit over half the time. Given that a proper repair job would require about a year of healing, it’s unlikely he will take that step while he is still active.
Ozeki Takayasu Genki: ✭✭ Notes: This guy is a favorite of mine. But once Kisenosato got hurt, and he earned Ozeki, his sumo took an unfortunate turn. He came to rely on an increasingly chaotic style that places a big bet up front on a massive, brutal forearm or shoulder hit at the tachiai. Now it comes as no surprises he is having upper body problems, especially with his leading shoulder. This man is a powerhouse of sumo, and an excellent rival for Tochinoshin if he is healthy. I wish he could take after his senpai a bit more now. Kisenosato’s Ozeki sumo was frequently low, powerful and relentless. I fear until he fixes his sumo, he will continue to suffer.
Ozeki Tochinoshin Genki: ✭✭✭✭✭ Notes: Though I have my concerns about this guy, thank the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan that he has shown up. Though his injuries may come to ruin him at any time, he’s clearly strong, enthusiastic and competing flat out 15 matches each basho. I hope he throttles back on his “lift and shift” kimarite, as it’s rolling the dice on that bandaged knee each time. As mentioned above, a solid Tochinoshin / Takayasu Ozeki rivalry would electrify the sumo world, and might be a catalyst to drive either or both to higher rank. But it requires both of them to find a way to avoid further injuries. No easy task in the current sumo world.
With the official promotion, and acceptance, expected later today (Wednesday morning Japan), the press is starting to cover Tochinoshin’s imminent promotion. The Mainichi article includes some great background on his friendship with Hiromitsu Munakata, which is something new to me. Feel free to read up while we wait for the big ceremony to welcome the new Ozeki.
Up until day 12, the “grumpy” elements of the sumo world maintained that Tochinoshin might be denied an Ozeki promotion due to some concerns about the strength of his opponents in this tournament. Through no fault of his own, this tournament went “Nozeki” fairly early. But Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin focused on his sumo, and winning his matches one day at a time.
Day 12 was an unexpected wrinkle in the anticipated order of things, when his match against Yokozuna Hakuho was brought forward by one day. This provided an opportunity should Hakuho win of having a 3 way tie for the yusho going into the final weekend. The odds seemed good, Hakuho held a 25-0 advantage over the Georgian, and while Hakuho was not quite his genki self, he seemed sufficiently potent to apply the brakes on the Tochinoshin yusho train.
But all of the chatter and expectations fall away when two men face each other on the dohyo. It comes down to strength, speed, training an no small amount of luck. The match was excellent, and I urge readers to watch it as soon as they can.
Tochinoshin’s win over Hakuho marks a fundamental shift in the sumo world. We all know that the long serving stalwarts are fading; its the natural order of things. But it’s a identifiable point in time where one rikishi who had been completely dominated by possibly the greatest Yokozuna ever to mount the dohyo was able to train, to work and to overcome his history and emerge victorious.
Nothing stands in the way of his promotion to Ozeki, and little stands in his way of his second yusho in three tournaments. Tochinoshin’s story is one of the great stories of sumo, and indeed one of the great stories of individual sports competition. The team at Tachiai wish him a long an prosperous reign as Ozeki, and we will continue to cheer him on.
The yusho race is down to Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin, and both Yokozuna. Faced with a lack of San’yaku rikishi, and possibly a desire to have a three way yusho race going into the final weekend of the basho, the planned match between Hakuho and Tochinoshin has been scheduled for day 12. Sure we can talk about other matches of note, but this one is going to be pivotal for several reasons.
Firstly, we can think of it as Tochinoshin’s final exam for his Ozeki bid. Many would successfully argue that he is the only rikishi in this tournament who is performing and Ozeki levels, and they would certainly not be wrong. But beating the dai-Yokozuna would dismiss even the most negative decision maker’s concern.
We can also consider that a loss by Hakuho here would possibly knock him out of the yusho race, and it would be the strongest signal yet that his days are waning. Given how fierce a competitor Hakuho is, and how ruthless he is when the chips are down, I think he will bring everything he has to this day 12 match.
At this point, the topic of a Tochinoshin yusho is front of mind as well. He is looking as least as good as he did in January when he took the Hatsu yusho, and many of the weakness in the upper San’yaku ranks persist today. Simply put, the promotion lanes are wide open. Some rikishi who have been wanting to get in position for some time, Mitakeumi and Tamawashi, appear to be missing their chance as a tougher, stronger, more dedicated man beats them to the prize.
In the rest of the matches, the schedulers are starting to give us huge leaps in the banzuke, with mid-Maegashira taking on men at the bottom of the roster. Many of these are simple “gimme” matches, others are fun examples of testing out the lower ranked men against their possible slots in Nagoya. Others represent the problems in the torikumi due to kyujo, dominant heya and other factors that impinge on rank-appropriate matches.
Leader – Tochinoshin Chasers – Kakuryu, Hakuho
4 Matches Remain.
What We Are Watching Day 12
Daishomaru vs Nishikigi – Daishomaru has a legitimate chance to pick up kachi-koshi, as it’s possible that Nishikigi will succumb to the 9-2 career advantage, and huge difference in the banzuke between M9 Daishomaru and M17 Nishikigi.
Takekaze vs Kagayaki – M14 vs M8 with Kagayaki needing 2 more wins for kachi-koshi. Takekaze in converse is 1 loss away from make-koshi. The career records favors Kagayaki 5-2.
Ryuden vs Sadanoumi – M7 vs M14, with Ryuden already make-koshi and Sadanoumi having a legitimate shot at kachi-koshi. They have fought 3 times before, with Ryuden taking 2 of them. Having watched Ryuden the last few days, he seems genuinely dispirited at this point, so the outcome is very much in play.
Aoiyama vs Chiyomaru – A battle of the big’uns, we get M13 Aoiyama vs M7 Chiyomaru, both of whom are within reach of a kachi-koshi. Chiyomaru has shown some glimpses of sharp sumo in the last few days, including his day 11 match with Asanoyama.
Chiyoshoma vs Takakeisho – M10 Takakeisho is a fierce competitor who has displayed overwhelming tenacity thus far. His sumo may appear to some as “run around crazy and get the other guy to fall down”, but his oshi-style sumo is quite distinct, and in some ways more effective than the rest of the army of pusher-thruster rikishi. He holds a 4-2 career advantage over M6 Chiyoshoma.
Shohozan vs Shodai – Even though Shodai lost his day 11 match with Yokozuna Hakuho, he once again produced a slapstick result, with Hakuho somehow bumbling his face into Shodai’s shoulder. This leads me to consider if Shodai is actually some kind of cartoon character, and will manage to drop an anvil on Shohozan. Surprisingly, out of their 9 prior matches, Shodai has won 6 of them.
Daieisho vs Abi – Abi’s day 11 match was a fine example of how to dismantle his offense, and if Daieisho was watching, I hope he spends the morning practicing with his tsukebito. Otherwise his short reach may be to Abi’s advantage.
Mitakeumi vs Chiyotairyu – A Mitakeumi win here would give him a kachi-koshi and Chiyotairyu a make-koshi at the same time. Chiyotairyu is looking dispirited in the past few days, as it seems everyone has his number right now. His biggest issue is lateral movement. He’s very strong forward. His balance is also hampered by his belly.
Kaisei vs Endo – Now that he is make-koshi, perhaps Endo will win a few to cushion his fall down the Banzuke. I am sure the NSK would like Endo healthy, genki and back in the San’yaku for September in Tokyo. So I am going to guess they want him as close to 7-8 as he can manage.
Kotoshogiku vs Ichinojo – Ichinojo pushing for kachi-koshi here. Kotoshogiku will try to go chest to chest right away, and I am sure that Ichinojo will give it to him for the asking. The Kyushu Bulldozer holds a slight 5-4 advantage over The Boulder, so this match is far from certain.
Kakuryu vs Ikioi – Ikioi limps around and is in pain, but he’s also kachi-koshi now. Kakuryu needs to dispatch him to keep 1 behind Tochinoshin. Ikioi has won 3 of their 11 career matches, but with his injuries and Kakuryu’s focus on staying in range for the yusho weekend barnyard brawl, I am guessing Ikioi is going down.
Tochinoshin vs Hakuho – Tochinoshin has never beaten Hakuho. If that changes today, it will (as described above) mark a fundamental shift in sumo. Welcome to the final exam, Tochinoshin. We are eagerly waiting your outcome.
Day 11 presented no surprises, but had some solid sumo for fans to enjoy. Thankfully Hokutofuji is kyujo, and hopefully any injury to his skull or brain will be addressed before he bouts the dohyo again. The Ozeki bid by Tochinoshin is about to enter its final stage. He has 11 wins now, which is numerically sufficient for promotion. But the elevation to sumo’s second highest rank is not simply a numbers game. It revolves around the NSK and to a lesser extent the Yokozuna Deliberation Committee deciding that the performance period in question meets a threshold for promotion.
Tochinoshin’s 11 wins have all be impressive, overpowering wins. He is clearly one of the most genki or possibly THE most genki man in sumo right now. But his 11 wins can be minimized by members of the NSK or YDC citing that they come in a tournament with no Ozeki, and should he fail to defeat either Yokozuna, the raw numbers may be deemed insufficient. Please keep in mind, I don’t get to make this decision, I am not a member of the NSK or the YDC. I am just some guy in Texas who loves sumo.
For myself I think he will beat at least one Yokozuna, and he may end up with the Yusho, which would eliminate all reservation by the NSK and YDC, in my opinion. At the larger scale, sumo needs a more stable Yokozuna / Ozeki corps, and this is how that rebuilding starts. If Tochinoshin can maintain this level of performance, he will make a fine Ozeki, and sumo will be the better for it.
Kyokutaisei defeats Gagamaru – Planet Gagamaru was his traditional, lethargic self. He put forth some effort, but he lived up to his current 2-9 tournament score. This match is notable not just because of the gravity waves that disrupted LIGO observations of colliding black holes as the shitatenage took him to the clay, but Shin-Maegashira Kyokutaisei scored his kachi-koshi, and will be in Makuuchi for Nagoya.
Arawashi defeats Takekaze – Both rikishi put a bunch of effort into this. Both are at the make-koshi line now, and for Takekaze, there is a real desire to not be considered for Juryo in July. The saving grace is that there is not a huge cadre of Juryo men who are beating down the door to Makuuchi.
Myogiryu defeats Chiyonokuni – Myogiryu gets his kachi-koshi, and it really looks like Chiyonokuni may have decided to coast to the finish this time. I can understand why. He is at a good rank, and he may not be genki enough for a full cruise through the joi. He’s done that a few times and he ends up getting pounded. His sumo is improving, but I am going to guess he wants to hit around Maegashira 6 or so for Nagoya. This will let him figure out if he has advanced enough to possibly accomplish anything in joi.
Nishikigi fusensho over Hokutofuji – With humble gratitude to the Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, Hokutofuji is kyujo for now, hopefully getting that head scanned and any sort of medical treatment needed. As a result, the man who never gives up, Niskikigi, gets his kachi-koshi at the very bottom of the banzuke, and will be Makuuchi for Nagoya. He really has put forth a lot of effort to hold on by his fingertips, and it’s great to see it pay off.
Takakeisho defeats Takarafuji – As expected, this was a fascinating match to watch. From the tachiai, Takarafuji is working to get control of Takakeisho, with Takakeisho constantly moving about and landing blows. If you have a chance to watch this on replay or YouTube, watch their feet! For whatever reason, I think a rikishi’s feet say more about what they are doing than their arms or heads. Takarafuji keeps being forced to give up his defensive footing and retreat. As soon as he is moving backwards, Takakeisho matches the timing of his steps to land thrusts when his feet are not planted. This just accelerates Takarafuji’s movement. When Takakeisho makes a mistake and pushes too high (as opposed to center mass of the chest), Takarafuji deftly moves inside and rushes forward. Takakeisho is not even slightly phased by this, and sets up a finishing move at the tawara. A ballerina pirouette later and Takakeisho’s won! Great great sumo from these two!
Ikioi defeats Daishomaru – Daishomaru launches into the tachiai with gusto, and it puts Ikioi into a defensive mode straight away. Ikioi circles away and breaks contact, then attacks. Again, watch Daishomaru’s feet at the moment Ikioi starts to press his offense. His feet are not set, his balance is not over his hips. Ikioi exploits this and rushes forward for the win. Ikioi with a well deserved kachi-koshi.
Yutakayama defeats Ryuden – Both are make-koshi, and possibly deeply so by the end of Natsu. But you would never know it looking at these two members of the Freshman team go at it with vigor. If you like yoritaoshi wins, do watch this one.
Shohozan defeats Abi – As pointed out in last night’s preview, Abi tends to get his arms up and stop his opponents tachiai. Today Shohozan countered that with pure speed. Robbed of his disruptive opening move, Abi did not have time to reset, and Shohozan attacked like a hangry bison in a fresh alfalfa field.
Tamawashi defeats Endo – Looks like Endo’s return may not have been a good tactical move. Tamawashi uses his face for a slapping target. As we learn in the Marines, you can have a great battle plan, but as soon as someone is punching you in the head, it’s tough to keep on plan. Endo make-koshi now.
Ichinojo defeats Chiyotairyu – Not one, but TWO loud belly blasts from these two men of girth. After the second one, it seems that Chiyotairyu’s sideburns were bereft of their power inducing kami, and Ichinojo more or less walked him out.
Tochinoshin defeats Kotoshogiku – I think the scheduling team moved Tochinoshin’s match with Hakuho up to day 12, because they wanted a chance to have a 3 way yusho battle set up for the final weekend of the basho. Points to Kotoshogiku for giving him a good fight, but Kotoshogiku got off balance, and Tochinoshin did not let that opportunity escape. I truly hope Kotoshogiku can get his kachi-koshi.
Hakuho defeats Shodai – About as minimal as a match could get, Shodai offered no resistance to speak of.
Kakuryu defeats Mitakeumi – There we go! That’s Kakuryu sumo to be certain. Mitakeumi gave him an excellent match, and it was touch and go for most of it. But as has been typical for Kakuryu, he likes to win in the last 3″ of the dohyo. Why rikishi don’t ease up as they get him close to the tawara is beyond me, as Kakuryu loves to use the tawara.
Ready or not, here comes act 3! This is where we sort the winners from losers, and hand some hard-working rikishi the Emperor’s cup. Right now the cup is Tochinoshin’s to lose, and the only way this is competitive is if someone gets dirt on the undefeated man on an Ozeki run. That Ozeki run is looking more likely from a numbers standpoint. The only question so far is the “quality” of the wins.
Some fans and readers have very passionate positions on this, so I will mention up front that I am an armchair sumo fan living in Texas. I am not a member of the YDC, I don’t look like Colonel Sanders, and I have never been a holder of elder stock in the NSK. So my opinions count for exactly ZERO in the sumo world.
As I mentioned in the podcast, there is a means by which Tochinoshin might reach double digits, but be declared “not quite there yet” in terms of Ozeki. It all comes down to who he beats. He has yet to face any Ozeki this tournament (sorry, fresh out) or any Yokozuna (they are on the plan). But a shiroboshi from either of them would likely remove that as a possible criticism. Of course a yusho win would assure promotion.
I would also point out that to this date, Tochinoshin has never beaten Yokozuna Hakuho. Were he to accomplish that (and Tochinoshin is looking mighty genki right now), it would mark a turning point in both men’s careers, in my humble opinion. Tochinoshin is also 2-21 vs Yokozuna Kakuryu. One of those wins came last tournament, and was Kakuryu’s only loss. Clearly Tochinoshin as a big wall to climb, but I think at this point, he is at peak performance and more than ready to challenge the top men in the sport.
Gagamaru vs Kyokutaisei – Planet Gagamaru orbits into Makuuchi for a day. He is already make-koshi so this match may just be some kind of battle-reunion for Kyokutaisei, who needs one more win for a kachi-koshi. Kyokutaisei holds a 4-2 career lead.
Nishikigi vs Hokutofuji – Honestly, what the hell sumo world. Hokutofuji is hopefully going to get completely checked out by a neuro-medicine specialist and cleared for combat before he returns to the dohyo. If the sumo world thought there was trouble with a medical incident on the dohyo during jungyo, let there be some poor fellow have a stroke, a seizure, and aneurism or even convulse and die right there on the dohyo. No amount of salt will purify it again. I want to see Nishikigi go kachi-koshi by fusensho, thanks.
Sadanoumi vs Kagayaki – Both men still within reach of a winning record for Natsu, both of them fairly evenly matched. Sadanoumi looked very good in his day 10 match against Arawashi, and Kagayaki looks like he might be losing focus / running out of steam. They are 4-3 career, with a slight edge to Sadanoumi.
Yoshikaze vs Tochiozan – Both of these storied veterans have seen better days, both come in in some state of disrepair. Both of them 5-5, both of them wanting to secure a winning record. For some fans, it’s kind of a tough match to watch. We hate to see our heroes fade.
Takakeisho vs Takarafuji – Takakeisho is starting to look a bit better as the tournament goes forward, and it’s a great time to pair him up against Takarafuji. Takarafuji is very careful, forceful and under control. Takakeisho, when he is on his sumo, is a rippling vortex of conflicting force vectors, most of which he is going to transmit through your body. I am eager to see what he does with the very stable Takarafuji. Takakeisho won both their prior matches, but Takakeisho is not quite up to full power.
Daishomaru vs Ikioi – Winner gets kachi-koshi. Ikioi has had a bit of a rough ride with Mitakeumi on day 10, but I think he is a good match for Daishomaru right now. Ikioi still seems to be very stiff, in pain and moving with difficulty every match.
Shohozan vs Abi – Shohozan has a pair of massive arms. But note they are actually a bit short. Abi on the other hand has shown just how useful his near cartoon like reach can be. This is underscored that Shohozan has yet to win a match from Abi. It’s just possible that Abi might go kachi-koshi at Maegashira 2, which would mean a second basho in the job for Abi, and frankly would further elevate his profile to his growing base of fans around the world.
Tamawashi vs Endo – Loser of this one make-koshi. Tamawashi and Endo are very evenly matched across the board, and this has the potential of being an outstanding bit of sumo. Tamawashi will try to stay mobile, and I would look for Endo to go for a shallow grip straight off the tachiai. He will take a couple of fierce blows to get his grip, but if he can hold, he will control the match.
Chiyotairyu vs Ichinojo – Day 10 saw Ichinojo once again summon overwhelming strength against Shodai. So much so that he seems to simply push Shodai away like an empty udon bowl that could no longer hold his interest. Chiyotairyu likes to win at the tachiai with speed, force and power. Frankly Ichinojo might actually feel that, or he may be focus solely on checking the crowd for wolves. History for the two of them is an even split of 2-2.
Tochinoshin vs Kotoshogiku – Former Ozeki Kotoshogiku, aka the Kyushu Bulldozer, has a lot of frustration to discharge. He faces off against the man who would be Ozeki, who is looking like the strongest, most energetic man in sumo today. Kotoshogiku holds a 24-7 advantage over Tochinoshin, but in the last few tournaments, it’s been Tochinoshin who prevails. Tochinoshin will try to go chest to chest early, and that is just fine with Kotoshogiku. Kotoshogiku is looking stronger and healthier this tournament than he has in a while, so the hug-n-chug might actually overpower Tochinoshin. We know that Tochinoshin is strong enough to lift Kotoshogiku over his head and twirl him like a button, but Kotoshogiku has a surprising portion of his body weight below his mawashi, making his center of mass difficult to manipulate. This will either be a roaring match of the day, or a complete snooze fest. Double points if Tochinoshin pulls a henka.
Shodai vs Hakuho – Shodai is having a good basho, but Hakuho is getting himself amped up to stop Tochinoshin, and claim his 41st yusho. So Shodai is a bit of a warm up. But just a bit. There is that nagging problem of the one time Shodai beat him, so Hakuho will be on his guard, and hopefully not do anything too exotic just for the fun of it.
Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – Not really sure what to say here. Kakuryu and his henka on day 10 was a ridiculous surprise, which he beclowned himself. I am sure he has and will catch a lot of grief over that. He is 3-3 against Mitakeumi, who copes well with Kakuryu’s reactive style.
Act 2 is over, and the yusho race is set for the final 5 days of the Natsu basho. The one goal for act 2 that remains un-obtained is handing Ozeki hopeful, and Hatsu yusho winner Tochinoshin his first loss. At this point he needs one more win to stake his claim to sumo’s second highest rank, and his day 11 opponent, Kotoshogiku, is unlikely to be up to the task of defeating him.
Kotoeko defeats Myogiryu – In his first ever Makuuchi bout, Kotoeko attempts a henka, fails and finds himself chest to chest with Myogiryu. As they struggle for dominance, Myogiryu is moving backwards. Kotoeko finishes him with a rousing yoritaoshi, gaining his kachi-koshi, his first Makuuchi win, and his first kensho all in one brief moment.
Aminishiki defeats Asanoyama – Uncle Sumo picks up his second win of the tournament. Asanoyama took hold and marched forward, carrying a rather powerless Aminishiki towards the edge. A last minute throw at the tawara did not appear to work, and the gyoji gave the match to Asanoyama, but the judges call ad monoii, and reversed the decision. Replay showed some amazing footwork from Aminishiki, and he picked up the win.
Nishikigi defeats Chiyonokuni – In a shocker, the lowest Maegashira on the banzuke surprised a rikishi with a bonafide position on the leaderboard. Chiyonokuni is always very energetic, and he overwhelmed Nishikigi, who at times was staggering and off balance, but always quickly reset. Although he was absorbing most of Chiyonokuni’s offense, Nishikigi kept moving forward. Though the gumbai went to Chiyonokuni, a monoii confirmed that Nishikigi did in fact prevail. As mentioned many times, Nishikigi really wants to stay in the top division. That was some top division fighting spirit on display! Well done.
Takakeisho defeats Tochiozan – It’s a hope of mine that Takakeisho gets back into proper fighting form by Nagoya, and today’s match looked less stiff, wooden and robotic. Takakeisho, in spite of his bulbous torso, has a very natural and fluid element to his sumo. When he is using that fluidity, we see him win, and he makes it look easy and natural. This is also true of Hakuho, and even more so Enho. As stated at the start of the basho, the tadpoles are down, nursing their wounds, but will be back with fierce determination this summer. If Nagoya finds Takakeisho mid-Maegashira and Onosho lower Maegashira, the lower end of the torikumi may once again be the place with the best action.
Aoiyama defeats Yoshikaze – Every opponent goes for Yoshikaze’s face, and it’s kind of redundant. Yoshikaze fought back with strength, but there is just too much Aoiyama to slap out of the ring. Yoshikaze is certainly a half step slower than a couple of years ago, and I won’t be surprised to see him take up his kabu later this year.
Ryuden defeats Hokutofuji – A trio of false starts, the second featured Hokutofuji falling backward and receiving a strong knock to the back of his skull, which seems to have stunned and disoriented him. After the pre-bout injury, it was not too tough to win. Post match, Hokutofuji has trouble walking the hanamichi and into the tunnel. Hopefully an actual medical doctor checked him out. Concussions are not something you try to “heal naturally”.
Daieisho defeats Takarafuji – Quite a scrappy match that results in Daieisho picking up his 3rd win, avoiding make-koshi. Takarafuji seems to have the skill and technique, I wonder if a bit of mass and 10% more power would carry him to greater rank.
Yutakayama defeats Chiyoshoma – Notable in that this is Yutakayama’s first win of the Natsu basho. Chiyoshoma picked up his 8th loss and is now make-koshi.
Abi defeats Tamawashi – Wow! Ok, I have seen Abi do this a couple of times. He lifts both arms during the tachiai, connecting to his opponents shoulder and stopping their forward motion. Due to his long reach, his opponent is far short of a workable combat range, and is somewhat interrupted from their plan. Today, Abi pivoted and grabbed Tamawashi’s belt and rolled him out in one fluid motion.
Mitakeumi defeats Ikioi – Both of them came off the line in full battle mode, and it was glorious to see them fight for position and grip. Mitakeumi held the advantage, but Ikioi was conceding nothing. When Ikioi was able to switch from defense to offense, Mitakeumi deftly used Ikioi’s forward motion to thrust him down. I want to see what Ikioi can do when he’s healthy!
Tochinoshin defeats Chiyotairyu – Tochinoshin picks up his 10th win, and looks unstoppable. Today he proved that even the super-sized Chiyotairyu is not too heavy for him to lift and carry to the curb for trash day in Sumida-ku.
Ichinojo defeats Shodai – Slow motion, Maezumo style tachiai today, which left me choking on my tea. After that it was all Ichinojo herding Shodai to the edge and giving him a strong shove.
Kakuryu defeats Kotoshogiku – Sadly my gastric problems continued as Kakuryu sold the henka and Kotoshogiku bought it. Once again I found myself sputtering on my morning tea. While Yokozuna wins via henka are not really the way things are supposed to go, this one was kind of over the top and almost comical. Of course Kotoshogiku found it un-amusing in the extreme, and the crowd in the Kokugikan were likewise disappointed.
Hakuho defeats Endo – That disappointment was short lived, as Endo gave the dai-Yokozuna a solid match. The tempo was fast, and Hokuho was on pure offense. Endo’s strategy was to stalemate the Yokozuna and wait for an opportunity to exploit for an upset win. It did not take Hakuho long to figure this out, and he switched his sumo to a more disruptive, staccato tempo, which lured Endo in for the attack. That was all Hakuho needed to get him turned around and shoved out from behind. Excellent sumo, and great to see not only Endo come in with a solid strategy, but fantastic to see Hakuho shift gears like that.
With Act 1 in the books now, we can start to look forward to Act 2, where we sort the strong from the struggling, and a lot of hopes and dreams get crushed. While it may seem brutal to put it that way, each basho is a clean slate, and each rikishi has a chance to be completely different than the time before, if they have the means to do so. I would say the biggest surprise for me thus far is Shodai. How or why Shodai is 5-0 at the end of act 1 is a complete mystery to me, but I congratulate him on the effort and the achievement. I have always maintained the man has seeds of greatness within him, if he could just fix some of the mechanics of his sumo.
A close second place would be Ikioi. He was a force of nature in Osaka, in spite of what looked like the kind of injuries that might require hospitalization. Nope! He’s at it again. He has one loss but he is in “badass” mode every day. Today he dismantled Kotoshogiku in a wild “kitchen sink” match that delighted and entertained. I swear he has decided that playing it safe is no way to close out a sumo career, and he’s just going to throw caution to the winds and fight like a angry swan. For those of you who have never had a swan attack you, let me tell you, don’t try it.
Aminishiki defeats Takekaze – Uncle sumo finally wins one. It has been awesome to see him battle his way back up to Makuuchi once again, but he’s a poor broken fellow with more courage than fortitude remaining.
Aoiyama defeats Nishikigi – The giant Bulgarian wins by getting an armpit grip on Nishikigi and forcing him out. It’s painful watching Aoiyama fight, as it’s clear he is in a bunch of pain, but pushing to keep himself in the top division. Nishikigi’s position is even more precarious, so any loss must be a worry for him.
Tochiozan defeats Asanoyama – Asanoyama, featuring a massive elbow bandage, had the initiative for the bulk of this match. Tochiozan, to his credit, waited for an opportunity. Asanoyama continued to thrust against Tochiozan’s chest but eventually went off balance, and Tochiozan converted that quickly into a win. Experience pays.
Chiyonokuni defeats Daiamami – Wow, what a match! The start out with some oshi, punctuated with Daiamami taking a round house slap to the face. Having had enough of that he latches onto Chiyonokuni’s mawashi. Chiyonokuni struggles for a bit, but responds in kind. At one point Daiamami gets the deep double inside grip, but Chiyonokuni blazes ahead, forcing his opponent backward and out. Great match.
Takakeisho defeats Arawashi – This was won at the tachiai. Take a good look at how Takakeisho lands his first thrust against Arawashi’s shoulders before Arawashi can finish lunging forward. There was no recovering from that.
Kagayaki defeats Okinoumi – Kagayaki’s battle plan was simple, powerful and effective. He got under both arms of Okinoumi and marched forward. This guy keeps reminding me at times of a young Kisenosato, and I think if he can keep working upward and stay free of injury, he may follow a similar trajectory. Never glamorous, just solid sumo fundamentals.
Ryuden defeats Chiyomaru – Ryuden picks up his first win, much to his relief. Chiyomaru really made him work for it.
Yoshikaze defeats Takarafuji – I am starting to get hopeful. Yoshikaze looked stronger and faster today, and maybe a touch genki. The match was all about battling for grip, until Takarafuji lunged forward, and Yoshikaze instantly converted to exploiting his off-balance stance.
Ikioi defeats Kotoshogiku – Ikioi comes in low and goes chest to chest with the Kyushu Bulldozer straight out of the tachiai. When Kotoshogiku flexes to lift him up, Ikioi declares he will have none of that, and moves forward strongly, causing them both to lose their grip. After a failed attempt to throw Kotoshogiku, the resulting mess was completely off balance, but under Ikioi’s control, which he kept in motion until Kotoshogiku found the edge of the ring. Great work by Ikioi today, but once again post match he can barely walk.
Shodai defeats Chiyoshoma – Another mediocre to lame tachiai from Shodai, but then he takes over and just fork-lifts Chiyoshoma at the edge of the dohyo. Undefeated Shodai? I am going to make a bet that the scheduling team has some fun with him in act 2.
Mitakeumi defeats Tamawashi – Mitakeumi took a head butt as the price to get inside, but he got his preferred offensive stance and went to work. Tamawashi immediately gave ground, but rallied. In his aggressive forward attack, he put his balance too far forward and Mitakeumi pulled him forward. His own momentum carried him out. Tamawashi is looking poorly right now, and I wonder if he is hurt. Mitakeumi ended the match dripping blood from his right eye, ouch!
Endo defeats Ichinojo – The big outcome of the day, and it was not an easy match for either man. Ichinojo gave Endo the inside grip immediately and went chest to chest, I am going to assume that his superior size and strength would carry the day. While Endo latched his right hand on Ichinojo’s mawashi, Ichinojo could not find a reciprocal grip. Finally getting deep with his right hand over Endo’s back, Ichinojo tried repeatedly to load an uwatenage, but Endo countered with some very impressive footwork. Stalemated, Ichonojo locks up Endo and works out a stage 2 plan, but Endo lands a left hand frontal grip for his third attack. Ichinojo realizes that his size is not going to stop this onslaught, and he is too high, with Endo buried in his chest, he has no room to lower his hips. Endo gives it all he has, and advances, winning a fantastic match. Complements to both rikishi on some outstanding sumo. The roar in the Kokugikan must have been deafening.
Tochinoshin defeats Kaisei – Kaisei was completely out-classed. No one can match the intensity of Tochinoshin right now, it’s a think of beauty.
Goeido defeats Yutakayama – Goeido almost attempted a pull against today. Someone fit that guy with a shock collar and give his oyakata the button to set it off.
Hakuho defeats Daieisho – I am going to assume that Hakuho is bored right now. No one has really given him even a decent warm up.
Kakuryu defeats Abi – Much as I assumed, Kakuryu found those long arms a bit of a problem, but they also are great leverage if you can grab one. Big K pulling again, but he got the win.
With day 5 we mark the end of the first act of the Natsu basho. The goal of the first act is to see who is hot, and who is not, and the schedulers have met that goal. Clearly at this point we are starting to get some good indications of who is going to at least start Natsu ahead of the pack. Let’s have a look.
Hakuho – Clearly whatever injuries other may have thought plagued “The Boss”, he is competing well enough to defeat all comers thus far. With any luck, he is getting warmed up and the week 2 matches will be (as Josh says) “Box Office”.
Tochinoshin – Well, Mr. Ozeki run is executing well. So far no one has given him a decent challenge, and the one hopeful for act 1, Mitakeumi, was no challenge at all.
Ichinojo – Not a surprise, but the Boulder is either hot or cold, and right now he remains hot. Where is all of this heading? I think if Ichinojo can keep motivated and fighting well, he is going to be a Sekiwake for a while.
Shodai – I am sure this is going to change, but Shodai? Ok, the guy has potential aplenty, but he gets the jitters and goes to pieces at times. But happy to see him get a solid start.
Kakuryu – In spite of one loss, I think he’s still in solid shape for this tournament, even if he may be really disappointed in himself now.
What We Are Watching Day 5
Sadanoumi vs Kyokutaisei – After a day 1 loss, new comer Kyokutaisei seems to be getting his confidence together, and focusing on his sumo. This will be a good test as these two have faced off 5 times in the past, and are just about evenly split. They also come into the bout with matching 3-1 records.
Tochiozan vs Asanoyama – Tochiozan was reported to be in fine form in the practice sessions leading up to the basho, but sputtered at the start. Has he gotten his sumo together? I am curious to see if Asanoyama can deliver his 4th win today. Asanoyama won their only prior match.
Daiamami vs Chiyonokuni – Again a pair with 3-1 records are going to face off in a match that could get high-intensity. Chiyonokuni always gets crazy if you let him get going, but Daiamami is once again showing solid, steady sumo.
Daishomaru vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji is still probably looking shaky, and Daishomaru has his sumo where he wants it. I would dearly love to see Hokutofuji get genki and go on a winning streak, but I am going to assume he is still hurt. Hokutofuji won all 3 of their prior engagements.
Yoshikaze vs Takarafuji – These two are fairly evenly matched, as their 7-6 career record would indicate. But Takarafuji has been looking sooth and confident, and I would give him an edge over the struggling Yoshikaze. But as a Yoshikaze fan, I am going to be hoping he can put on a solid showing for a second straight day.
Kotoshogiku vs Ikioi – Another great 3-1 match up. These two have had 13 prior matches, with Ikioi taking only 5. Kotoshogiku looks like he has strong command of his sumo right now, so this could be a great battle for day 5.
Chiyoshoma vs Shodai – Ok, I give up. Is Shodai going to stumble to a 5th straight win? Part of me wants to see him do that, just to get a broader understanding of how chaos works its magic. But to be honest, Chiyoshoma is not looking very good yet, and he has never beaten Shodai.
Mitakeumi vs Tamawashi – Ok, get this. During all those tournaments when they were both Sekiwake, these two racked up a 12 bout record that favors Mitakeumi 10-2. This one has potential.
Endo vs Ichinojo – The other really interesting match today, but it may be a complete dud. I know Endo wants to use his technical sumo on Ichinojo, but I think Ichinojo may be far too massive for Endo to have much effect unless he can get the Boulder to chase him around. That may be his strategy, but pulling against 225 kg is just a bit suicidal.
Tochinoshin vs Kaisei – Just hoping Tochinoshin does not injure himself trying to lift and shift that much Kaisei.
Yutakayama vs Goeido – If Goeido does not win this one clean and easy, I am going to start calling for a re-flash to factory settings.
Daieisho vs Hakuho – Should be another easy win for Hakuho.
Kakuryu vs Abi – All it takes is one crazy bad bout for Kakuryu, and fans like myself start to wonder if he can hold it together. While he is “on” he is really excellent, but he has bad modes (not unlike Goeido). So today he at taking on Abi, who should be fairly easy for him, but with that crazy body structure of his, it could give him an excuse to default to his “bad mode” sumo.
Internet… Satellite TV… Fiber Optic Cables… What happens when several of these malfunction at once? Sumo fans take to their mobiles to get their burly men fix. Sadly it’s balls for posting to tachiai.org. But through the magic of standing outside my front door waving money around, one of the multiple repair people who were supposed to come to my house and do work has actually arrived. Whats more, they actually did work.
Day 3 continued the evolution more or less along predictable paths, but with a small exception or two that shall be noted below. Thus far, the Natsu basho is being incredibly predictable. Sumo fans may have gotten spoiled by some of the topsy-turvy action of the past year, and coming across a tournament where the favorites win each day may seem quite pedestrian. But then many of the agents of disruption are either lower down the banzuke, banged up, or simply not genki. This would include Yoshikaze, Onosho, Takakeisho, Ura and Hokotofuji. The other option is that the banzuke is so perfectly tuned, that everyone is fighting more or less at their predicted ability.
Also of note, there are additional stories in the Japanese sumo press that Yokozuna Kisenosato is arranging affairs for his post-rikishi life. This includes getting his kabu in order, establishing a residence in Tokyo (outside of the stable), and other matters. For fans who were behind him all the way, or leanered to respect him because he never let up, it’s going to be a bitter time. As we covered extensively at the time, his injury was repairable with immediate surgery and a lengthy recovery period. But now it seems there is no way for him to regain his former left arm/chest strength.
Myogiryu defeats Aminishiki – We knew coming out of jungyo that Uncle Sumo would be shaky this time due to injuries. He had a strong tachiai, but tried to pull Myogiryu down, that was the signal; and Myogiryu then took over and dispatched him with ease.
Asanoyama defeats Aoiyama – It’s quite obvious that Aoiyama has enough damage to his knees and possibly hips that he is barely able to do sumo at all. A kyujo at this point is a certain ride back to Juryo, while staying in may get him a win or two, he runs the real risk of compounding his injuries. On the other side of this, Asanoyama with a 3-0 start. Good job!
Daiamami defeats Takakeisho – Notable in that Takakeisho is still not 100%, he was too far forward and easily slapped down. We need the angry tadpole back!
Chiyonokuni defeats Hokutofuji – Part 1 of the sad sack back to back story arc. Hokutofuji is really a mess right now, and I wonder if he would be better off just going to Hawaii (no the part that is on fire) and relaxing for a while.
Kagayaki defeats Yoshikaze – And part 2. Clearly Yoshikaze had a step change downward a couple of tournaments ago, and is in some sort of lower energy state. Short of a Fukushima Daiichi onsen trip, or a lightning strike, I am not sure what can re-energize my favorite rikishi. Kagayaki looked very good, though!
Takarafuji defeats Chiyoshoma – This was a fun bout, maybe some of the better sumo of the day. Watch towards the end where Chiyoshoma escapes Takarafuji’s uwatenage just to lose his balance and backslide into a waiting Ryuden.
Ikioi defeats Ryuden – Theory. In some mystical ritual that involved a visit to Yakushima and a ceremony in front of a protected grove of Yaku Sugi, Yoshikaze’s genki was transferred to Ikioi. Much like loaning out a kabu, Yoshikaze is loaning is boundless battle energy to Ikioi. Also Ikioi has decided to just put it all on the line every day.
Shodai defeats Chiyotairyu – I am delighted that Shodai is winning, but lets be honest. He is stumbling through the matches and winning by sheer luck. But that’s good enough for sumo! I do hope that it gives him back the confidence and courage that seems to have left him last year.
Kotoshogiku defeats Yutakayama – I love how terrifyingly fast Kotoshogiku can be off the line. Yes he has faded from his Ozeki days, but the guy still has some outstanding moves. I just wish we could get him back in San’yaku so he would do his back stretches again.
Mitakeumi defeats Abi – Abi looked like a spider on a hot plate. That, or each of his limbs were individually trying to escape from Mitakeumi in different directions, dragging his foreshortened torso along for the ride. Welcome to the joi, Abi. You are going to get past this hurdle one day, ad we will be cheering you on.
Ichinojo defeats Daieisho – Daieisho attempted a henka, and to my surprise Ichinojo was able to recover. Daieisho maintained the initiative for several more seconds, until Ichinojo rallied at the center of the dohyo and tried to pull Daieisho down. It almost didn’t work. Move forward, great Boulder.
Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – Tochinoshin looking very genki, but this match had at least one notable. At the end, Tochinoshin falls. Note the extreme motions he goes through to protect that knee. The fact that he lost his balance after the match ended should be an event of note. I sincerely hope we don’t see him succumb to injury on the eve of securing a valid Ozeki ticket.
Endo defeats Goeido – Field testing of Goedio 2.1 suffered a set back today, as the production system branched into the reverse protocol that engineers have been trying for years to correct. Endo, being a wily sort, saw this at once and put the naughty sumo-bot down before he could endanger the grannies in the 3rd row, once again forever endearing himself to his vast brigade of fans across Japan.
Hakuho defeats Shohozan – Blink and you miss it!
Kakuryu defeats Kaisei – If you wanted to head to the Ryogoku station a few minutes early, you could have skipped this match and no one would blame you. I think all of the Salarymen who were there for the day did exactly that.
A bit abbreviated tonight due to urgent circumstances. Sheltering here in the wilderness of Texas, it’s become apparent that my means of watching sumo have all given out on the same day, and I am eager to return to troubleshooting my wiring. So let’s crack on. But first… Something I noticed today……
The above screen grab is from Jason’s YouTube channel today. Yes, Tochinoshin tore Abi up and fed him to the cameramen in the corner of the dohyo. Abi is young, he’s been oshi-zumo forever, and is now finding out that you can’t usually push your way to a joi win. But that’s not the point of this.
I saw a potential for something amazing. Granted its probably at least a year from now, but I think it could be damn impressive. Tochinoshin is a big, big man. He’s about maximum of what Northern Europe can produce as far as a powerful, well muscled battle wagon. Sure there are variations on that theme, but he is close to an optimum. But look at Abi. He has Tochinoshin high, head back with a powerful nodowa. That reach.. that reach..
The situation is would be more extreme against Asian opponents. If that young man can train, practice and fight on the mawashi, there could be big things for him in the future. Able to achieve a grip in situations that many others could never negotiate, he could be one of the greatest yotsu-zumo men ever.
What We Are Watching Day 3
Aoiyama vs Asanoyama – This should be a chance for Aoiyama to pick up a much needed win, but I think instead it’s going to be further validation of the theory that he’s having a lot of problems with his knees, and it is genuinely impacting his sumo. As a large fellow, and damage to his undercarriage compounds quickly, as the stress his body is already under trying to support his incumbent enormity.
Daiamami vs Takakeisho – Takakeisho is still not looking 100%. This guy was the meanest tadpole in the puddle for about a year, and many were talking (justifiably) about him as a San’yaku feature by mid 2018. But like so many promising rikishi, and injury has left him adrift, and the sumo world has figured out his schtick, so now he’s not the threat he used to be. Interestingly enough, this is the first time these two have fought.
Yoshikaze vs Kagayaki – This should be a straightforward Yoshikaze win. However I fear that will not be the case. Kagayaki does not get a lot of attention because he is quiet, workman like, and very steady. He has been mid-Maegashira quite a bit, and he seems to be comfortable here. Yoshikaze won their only prior match.
Ryuden vs Ikioi – Ryuden needs to turn things around. It’s clear he is struggling, and finding his new rank a challenge. But I think given how Ikioi has been performing he is not going to find relief on day 3. Frankly, I am thrilled to see Ikioi looking genki for once, after many basho where he seemed to just be trying to survive.
Chiyotairyu vs Shodai – Can Shodai complete his Chiyo collection? The big problem here will be Shodai’s weak tachiai, and Chiyotairyu’s habit of launching like a 450 pound cannon ball at his opponent. If Shodai can survive the impact, and if the sideburns don’t grab a hold and pin him to the clay, he will have a narrow window to try to do something effective. I can’t wait to see what that is.
Mitakeumi vs Abi – Sucks to be Abi this week. Next up is King Tadpole. I know he’s going to deliver a lot of oshi to Mitakeumi, but I also do think Mitakeumi is going to let it bother him too much. Fans who are curious as I am, let’s see what kind of impact Abi’s superior reach has on the early moments of Mitakeumi’s battle plan.
Daieisho vs Ichinojo – Daieisho has been fighting well, not winning much, but putting a lot of effort into his matches. But the bad news for him is the appearance of Ichinojo on the west side of the fight card. Right now the Boulder looks to be in charge most matches, and as long as they keep the ice cream flowing, he might just keep winning.
Tochinoshin vs Tamawashi – The Ozeki hopeful will work to get a shallow belt grip against a Mongolian hitting machine. And he hits HARD when he can set up his offense. So Tochinoshin’s going to take a couple of angry blows on his way to his 3rd win.
Endo vs Goeido – Great test for Goeido 2.1. Endo is happy to find ways to stalemate his opponents, much as Kakuryu does. I heard there is a new feature that takes care of this logic loop in the prior Goeido version. If Endo wants to hold a San’yaku slot, he needs to surprise a couple of top men with a visit to the zabuton.
Shohozan vs Hakuho – Shohozan is no easy mark, but we may see him surprise a Hakuho that looks increasingly out of his comfort zone. Money on the toes or that right knee. Any way to goes, I have confidence he will pull out of the tournament if things get too serious. But like the other Yokozuna match, Shohozan has yet to find any way to defeat Hakuho.
Kakuryu vs Kaisei – Not sure what kind of offense Kaisei can produce here. Kakuryu has 12-0 against him. Possibly a snooze fest.
After re-watching day 1 matches several times, an idea comes to mind. On the day 1 recap, there is some discussion about Hakuho. Some of our readers think he was pure Hakuho, arrogant, brash and in command. Herouth, myself and a few others are worried that he’s not quite 100% at the moment. Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section. I also note that Aoiyama looked a fraction of his normal self. There are some reports that he has damage to his undercarriage, and that could explain a few things. With his rank (M13w), he would be at real risk of a return to Juryo if he were to be kyujo without at least a few wins first.
I have to note, the NHK world broadcast has replaced many of the rikishi head-shot photos with a set of images that range from hideous to laughable. Please folks, consider a bit of color correction on those things.
A number of sumo fans, including the great Kintamayama, found day 1 unsurprising and perhaps a bit plain. I was just happy to have sumo back for a couple of weeks, even if all of the matches turned out as predicted. But in Act 1, we find out who is hot, and who is not. The only two I would cite as bringing a lot of “fire” to the dohyo on day 1 were Ichinojo, Tochinoshin and (surprisingly), Shodai. Let’s see what kind of fun day 2 can bring. It appears the schedulers have a real “folks with 1 win face off, folks with one loss face off” theme at work today.
What We Are Watching Day 2
Myogiryu vs Nishikigi – Myogiryu looked fairly solid day 1, but he comes up against Nishikigi who has a career 3-1 record against Myogiryu. Myogiryu like the belt throws, so this will be all about footwork and grip. Could be a good match.
Aminishiki vs Kyokutaisei – Uncle Sumo has only taken 1 match from Kyokutaisei, and word is that Aminishiki’s already questionable knees are recovering from strain or injury during the April jungyo tour. Everyone hoping for a storybook kachi-koshi for sumo’s most beloved uncle will need to temper their outlook. I just hope he can make it to senshuraku without going kyujo.
Takekaze vs Aoiyama – This will be a good test for how banged up Aoiyama actually is. Takekaze will be using every move in his considerable, judo-inspired inventory to best the big Bulgarian who holds a career 13-7 advantage.
Asanoyama vs Chiyonokuni – Both men won their first day matches, but they have never faced each other. Chiyonokuni is an absolute explosive powerhouse of oshi-zumo, and I am curious to see if he completely overwhelms Asanayama.
Okinoumi vs Takakeisho – Okinoumi have never won against Takakeisho in their 2 prior matches. In addition I think Takakeisho, who is normally set to 11, has found a way to reach for 11.5, as he wants to regain his position near the top of the banzuke. Okinoumi is very hit-or-miss, and its unclear how healthy his is this basho.
Daiamami vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji continues to look energetic but vague. His day 1 match was a sloppy mess that he let Takakeisho control, missing at least 2 opportunities to make the bowling ball with legs eat clay. To his advantage today is the 3-0 career lead he has over Daiamami.
Yoshikaze vs Daishomaru – I saw a glimmer of Berserker mode on day 1. After two tournaments where Yoshikaze looked like he had been coming to the dohyo straight from his sick-bed, it was refreshing to see him fight with vigor. As a bonus for day 2, Daishomaru has not ever won against Yoshikaze.
Chiyoshoma vs Ryuden – Ryuden got disposed of like a bad sandwich at Lawson’s on day 1. On day two he faces the always unpredictable Chiyoshoma, and I would guess will hold the advantage of guile over the Freshman.
Takarafuji vs Ikioi – These two have a 17 match career history, that favor the neckless rikishi 11-6. But does Ikioi care? Of course not! I am beginning to think that Ikioi has reached the point in his career where he is saying “Oh, F’ it all!”, and just using his mass and willingness to damage himself to overwhelm his opponents. Takarafuji is a careful and skilled fighter, and is no easy opponent. Could be a solid match.
Daieisho vs Shodai – So the day 1 Shodai was fun to watch. This is the kind of stuff that we used to see from Shodai much more frequently, and frankly its why some fans thought he was going to be a staple of the top of the banzuke for some time to come. Can he keep that going? Let’s see him take down the even match up he has with Daieisho.
Yutakayama vs Endo – Endo gets a bit of a breather after falling face first to Kakuryu. Their only prior match went to Endo, but Yutakayama seems to be in his groove these days. I would expect Endo to win this one, but it is my hope that Yutakayama really makes him work for it.
Tochinoshin vs Abi – Well, Abi gets a traditional Tokyo welcome to the joi. Smacked around, tossed to the grannies and generally made to question his own sumo to the point of worry. Day 2 he is cannon fodder to a brute on a mission to higher rank. I am pretty sure Abi will try something insightful and clever, and I am equally sure it will come down to Tochinoshin picking him up and tossing him to the cheering little old ladies, who will smother him with adoration. Everybody wins…
Kaisei vs Ichinojo – This much Waygu in motion is always cause for a safety briefing and careful evacuation drills on the part of the Kokugikan staff. Both men prefer big, slow and forceful, but I would give a distinct edge to Ichinojo, who may have promised himself story time with his favorite pony if he wins. The career record shows a 7-2 advantage for the Boulder.
Shohozan vs Goeido – We may have seen the first use of Goeido 2.1 on day 1, and it looked really good. Sharp, fast, no thought of defense. But then again, Shohozan and Kaisei are worlds apart. No one leaves a match with Shohozan without getting sore, and Goeido tends to react badly to being pounded. Like many gadgets, percussive maintenance could void the warranty. Even so Goeido holds a 11-7 career lead.
Kakuryu vs Tamawashi – Hopefully this match is less bizarre than day 1’s Hakuho “gimme a hug” posture mid-fight. People knocked Kakuryu for pulling Endo down, but Big K’s style is to stalemate his opponent and wait for his opening. What kind of opening Tamawashi is going to give him will be interesting to watch, but as Tamawashi is a brutal tsuppari practitioner, we may see the Yokozuna moving backwards again.
Mitakeumi vs Hakuho – This match might settle questions about Hakuho’s condition. Mitakeumi will come straight at him, no doubt about it. I am going to say that we may see a Harumafuji style mini-henka here.
The Natsu basho got started on form, with no real surprises, but some good sumo. Fans, do keep in mind that for the first few days, many of your favorites will be working to find their groove, and we may see some “ring rust” as John Gunning puts it. Most basho follow a 3 act process. Act 1 is all about finding who is hot, and who is not. Act 2 is all about who can compete for the yusho, and Act 3 is where we separate the winners from the losers, and crown the champion. In the early stages of Act 1 (the first few days), you are likely to see some unexpected events. Today was not populated with the unexpected, but keep your eyes open.
Nishikigi defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo ups the record as the oldest man ever to start a Makuuchi bout, and we salute him. But Nishikigi dispatched him with little trouble.
Myogiryu defeats Kyokutaisei – This match had one of everything, a Monoii, a Matta, and a Torinaoshi. The first version of this bout was an excellent mawashi match, with both men working hard to set up a throw, and each move being countered expertly. Both men hit the clay at the same time, so the Shimpan signaled a rematch. The second try saw Kyokutaisei try a henka, but Myogiryu landed a belt grip and controlled the match for the win. Nice sumo.
Sadanoumi defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama started strong, pounding away at Sadanoumi, who endured the blows and pushed to get inside. He achieved that, and then proceeded to move Aoiyama backwards and out. Aoiyama (in my guess) suffered some severe ring rust today, and will likely bounce back by day 3.
Asanoyama defeats Ishiura – Ishiura attempts to step to the left, but Asanoyama’s wide-armed tachiai traps him, and they grapple. At this point Asanoyama’s superior mass and better body position allows him to dominate the match.
Takakeisho defeats Hokutofuji – New sea-foam green mawashi for Takakeisho, perhaps it will change his luck? Takakeisho took the match to Hokutofuji’s face and shoulders early, and nearly overwhelmed him. But Hokutofuji rallied at the tawara, and counter-attacked. A deft side step by Takakeisho left Hokutofuji, and gave Takakeisho the win.
Yoshikaze defeats Chiyomaru – Yoshikaze launched low and hard against Chiyomaru’s chest, standing the hungry-man upright. From there Yoshikaze drove him back. Chiyomaru was never able to regain balance or set up a proper defensive or offensive stance, and it was all Yoshikaze.
Takarafuji defeats Ryuden – Ryuden came straight at Takarafuji, perhaps hoping to overpower him, but found that Takarafuji was in a firm stance, and had the power to resist his attack. Ryuden never was able to recover, Takarafuji took him back and out.
Ikioi defeats Chiyoshoma – I am sure they heard that tachiai at the adjacent Edo museum! Both rikishi bounced back after that mighty collision, and went straight for competing throws. In Ikioi’s favor, Chiyoshoma landed first, but a monoii was called and the win went to Ikioi.
Shodai defeats Kotoshogiku – An impressive win by Shodai. Maybe he is genki this time? His tachiai looked decent, and he kept Kotoshogiku of being able to square his shoulders and begin the hug-n-chug. The Kyushu Bulldozer tried it anyhow, but Shodai deftly used the uneven thrust to maneuver Kotoshogiku, get him off balance and thrown. Nicely done!
Chiyotairyu defeats Yutakayama – Chiyotairyu has a favorite opening – blast off the line with the force of a freight train, lock up his opponent and just keep moving forward. Yutakayama give him the opening, and it was over fast. Please note the kati-infused sideburns are in full effect on Chiyotairyu, and there were plenty of sumo-grannies who received a Yutakayama visit, as it looks like Chiyotairyu put him in the 3rd row of zabuton.
Mitakeumi defeats Daieisho – A whiplash tachiai from both, but Mitakeumi pushed ahead with fierce vigor, and Daiesho never really had a chance to set up any offense or defense. Solid fundamentals from Mitakeumi this time.
Ichinojo defeats Abi – I will compliment Abi on coming up with a plausible battle plan. He went for a neck attack at the tachiai, and while Ichnojo pushed forward to attack, Abi shifted right and tried to grab the mawashi. Sadly he missed, and ended up chest to chest with the boulder. It only took 2 ½ shoves from the 225 kg Ichinojo to propel Abi down range.
Tochinoshin defeats Shohozan – I was impressed by Shohozan’s lightning fast tachiai, closing the distance to Tochinoshin before the big Georgian could finish standing from his starting crouch. In a move that showed a lot of moxie, he took a hold of Tochinoshin’s mawashi and started pivoting for a throw. He almost go away with it, but Tochinoshin rallied and started to work Shohozan’s rather lose mawashi, marching forward. Shohozan was able to stop him, so Tochinoshin simply lifted Shohozan (twice) and placed him out.
Goeido defeats Kaisei – Goeido lands a shallow left hand straight into the tachiai, and uses that to control Kaisei completely. The Brazilian could never find his footing and was sideways to Goeido’s continued attack. Clean, easy, fast.
Hakuho defeats Tamawashi – Another of Hakuho’s strange pseudo-butsugari matches. Hakuho kept going for the mawashi, and Tamawashi kept landing blows to the Yokozuna’s shoulders and face. The Boss wins, but it was weird. Note that Hakuho reverted to deploying his left-hand face slap at the tachiai.
Kakuryu defeats Endo – Classic Kakuryu sumo. He stalemated Endo in the early phase of the bout, which was all tsuppari, and waited for Endo to get too far forward, and pulled him down. Kakuryu’s reactive sumo is at times almost it’s own unique form, and I think a few decades from now, sumo scholars may study how he conducts his matches.
Yes, dear readers, it is time! We have waited long enough. In the next few hours, set aside your worries about your favorites being hurt: It’s honbasho time! It’s a full day of raging action for day 1 at the Kokugikan, and frankly I can’t wait for all the amazing stories that are about to unfold. Many folks will be focused on the top of the banzuke as the drama there plays out, but I find myself increasingly draw to Josh’s “Ones to watch”. This series has proven remarkably insightful while educating and entertaining. Most folks in the US (and other parts of the world) don’t even get to see all of Makuuchi, let alone all of the great action in Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme and Jonidan.
Just as it was in Osaka, my favorite stories are likely to be at the lower end of the Makuuchi banzuke. Nishikigi continues to refuse to ever give up, and somehow holds onto the last Maegashira slot at the edge of the earth. Aminishiki may have nothing more than courage and gristle left in his knees, but he will mount the dohyo today and give challenge. Kyokutaisei somehow adapted to life in the sumo heya, and excelled. Now he’s in Makuuchi and Hokkaido can finally represent once more. Go Hams!
Fans, keep in mind it will take a few days for everyone to settle into the tournament, so you may see some favorites looking like they are not quite their normal genki selves, and some great surprises. So expect anything!
What We Are Watching Day 1
Hell, I am going to watch all of it. But I am sure you don’t have the time to read everything I might write up about the outstanding fight card we have to start the basho. I will do my best.
Nishikigi vs Aminishiki – Nishikigi will never make San’yaku. He’s kind of blind as a bat without his specs, but even blind he’s good enough to find a way to stay in Makuuchi. Now he’s up against Uncle Sumo on day 1. I am sad for folks who are going to view the highlights, as you are not going to believe the roar that will rip through he Kokugikan as the yobidashi sings out his name. People LOVE Aminishiki. To many folks who might struggle with some challenge in their life, he is a reminder that “Nana korobi ya oki” can always apply! (Fall down seven times, get up eight)
Myogiryu vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei’s first match in the top division is against Myogiryu, a solid veteran who has been drifting between the top of Juryo and the bottom of Makuuchi during the past year. These two are no strangers to each others’ fighting style. I will be curious to see if Kyokutaisei has any top division jitters.
Tochiozan vs Takekaze – I am very glad to see Takekaze back in the top division after a brief tour of Juryo. For reasons that I can’t imagine, all of the Oguruma upper echelon has been on the skids as of late. I have to wonder if maybe they are having problems with their Chanko supply… Tochiozan, on the other hand, has been reported to be ripping through folks during joint training in the past week. We know Tochiozan is capable of some explosive and powerful sumo, it would be acres of fun to see him have a great basho this May.
Sadanoumi vs Aoiyama – The Bulgarian man-mountain is back for more, like a giant angry dollop of sour cream with the reach to slap you from across the dohyo. Sadanoumi is a seasoned veteran who is probably happy to be pulling down Makuuchi pay again. My bet is on Aoiyama, who always seems to start tournaments strong. With Sadanoumi preferring the belt, he will have to survive the withering rain of blows from Aoiyama to get there.
Ishiura vs Asanoyama – The happy rikishi goes up against Ishiura, whose sumo seems a bit lost these days. He opened big a bit over a year ago, but his limited arsenal of moves has left him in something of a corner. I think he has amazing potential if he can find his sumo again. We can count on Asanoyama being happy just to get to do sumo today, even though he really likes to win.
Arawashi vs Chiyonokuni – As discussed in the podcast, both of these rikishi are tremendous fighters. They bring huge energy and go flat out with nothing in reserve. Both of them deserve a good, turn-around basho this May, but first they need to beat the daylights out of each other.
Takakeisho vs Hokutofuji – One of my highlight matches. Hopefully both men are healed up from the injuries that have left them underperforming. With significant changes at the top of the banzuke anticipated this year, now is the right time for both of them to press hard for the top ranks. We have not seen Takakeisho’s wave action tsuppari in several basho, and we need him to bring it back with gusto. Likewise I want to see Hokutofuji channel Kaiō again. There is a big role that may open up for a huge, powerful rikishi who moves low and balances offense and defense.
Yoshikaze vs Chiyomaru – Another match where the fans are going to erupt when the yobidashi call the rikishi. People adore Yoshikaze, in part because he never ever gives up, and is always bright, witty and a gentleman. And people love Chiyomaru because who the hell can hold a grudge against a guy like that? Word on the street is that with Yoshikaze getting free meals anywhere in Sumida, they are going out for supper afterwards. The same rumor cites Chiyomaru for a spate of early restaurant closures in the area (they run out of food), as well as a rash of missing house plants, vending machines and even a pair of manhole covers. Listen for him to clank suspiciously as he mounts the dohyo.
Ryuden vs Takarafuji – One of my freshmen takes on the highest ranking man remaining at the once-mighty Isegahama beya. Both men are going to go for a mawashi grip early, but I would give Takarafuji a slight edge.
Chiyoshoma vs Ikioi – Only question to ask here – is Ikioi healed up? It was painful to watch him walk the hanamichi in Osaka. We can only hope that he was able to heal fully. This is two seasoned vets going head to head, so I am sure it’s going to be a solid match.
Kotoshogiku vs Shodai – Well, Shodai is probably going to get owned. Mostly because he tends to let Kotoshogiku do whatever he wants, and he wants to give you a sweet, passionate battle hug.
Chiyotairyu vs Yutakayama – Another of my freshmen, Yutakayama, is going up against Chiyotairyu, who had BETTER HAVE HIS SIDEBURNS! Seriously, the kami that inhabits his sideburns is the source of his sumo power. Granted the kami is some kind of sprit of a smelly mountain aesthetic from the feudal period who never ever washed, and ate nothing but fermented sardines, but we take what we can get in life, right?
Mitakeumi vs Daieisho – The King of the Tadpoles needs to make a comeback. The big jump ball at the top of the banzuke is coming, and if Mitakeumi wants a ticket to that dance, he needs to be producing double-digit wins every basho from here on out. He has the body, the skill, the heart to do it. But I suspect he doubts himself just a tiny bit. That’s all it takes at the top of this sport to keep yourself from greatness. Daieisho, however, is point man on team Oitekaze. I can’t wait to see if he starts Natsu as genki as he ended Haru.
Abi vs Ichinojo – Could be the match of the day. We get the lead Freshman against The Boulder. Large, tough as granite, and when roused, quite dangerous. He has added an astonishing 20 kg to his already ponderous bulk, and rumor has it, two new cuddle-ponies at Minato beya. Much to the chagrin of his tsukebito. Abi has to stay mobile, and use Ichinojo’s mass against him.
Tochinoshin vs Shohozan – If you wanted cake and ice cream for Mothers Day, here we go. Big guns goes up against unstoppable strength. Win or lose, nobody leaves a match with Shohozan without being sore. But Tochinoshin’s fantastic strength will likely carry the day, provided his upper body is healed.
Kaisei vs Goeido – I think this one is all Goeido. Goeido is lightning fast, and Kaisei seems to be huge, powerful and kind of slow. Andy thinks that he’s been upgraded to GoeiDOS 2.1, so we will see what shows up tomorrow.
Tamawashi vs Hakuho – It’s Hakuho time! It will be good to see The Boss back in action. But Tamawashi is a tough first customer. As long as Tamawashi is not psyched out by facing the dai-Yokozuna, I think he will give him a good, if brief, fight. Boss all the way on this one. [Past history is 10-0 in Hakuho’s favour. –PinkMawashi]
Kakuryu vs Endo – Woo! Saving the best for last, and what a match-up. Endo is a very technical rikishi, I have heard that he studies video of his opponent before each match. He looks for habits, things they like to do. He comes up with ways to counter strong moves and attack weak ones. He starts against Kakuryu who is the master of “reactive sumo”. He loves to stalemate an opponent and wait for them to make a mistake, which he turns against them in a blink of an eye.