Hatsu Day 1 Preview

Kisenosato Aki 2018

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

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

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

What We Are Watching Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce’s Banzuke Commentary

Bruce-Kokugikan

Hello Tachiai readers, and I hope all of you are enjoying the festive holiday season. The Japan Sumo Association delivered the Hatsu banzuke for Christmas, and it was full of potential for a fantastic tournament in just over 2 weeks. While most of the world takes a year-ending breather, what could be a tumultuous January tournament lurks just around the corner.

Yokozuna Kisenosato’s posting to the 1 East slot is the first surprise. While he entered the Kyushu basho in November, he failed to win a single bout before he pulled out of the tournament citing an injury. We have written extensively about the tragedy that is Kisenosato’s tenure as Yokozuna, and in the past we have forecasted that it would become increasingly farcical if he chose to try and gamberize his way through things. But a “zero win” promotion has to be one of the more farcical things I have seen in sumo for a while.

None of the three current Yokozuna are presenting as blazing examples of genki power at the moment. Each sat out part or all of Kyuhshu, each have some lingering injury that is hampering their performance. None of them participated much in the Fuyu jungyo, either because of their injuries, or wisely conserving whatever health they had mustered for the January tournament. Could we end up with a second straight “nokazuna” tournament?

The Ozeki ranks also have their worries, with Goeido being the most banged up of the bunch. Only Takayasu seems to be in fighting form as we close out 2018, with Tochinoshin a potent but fragile rival.

But just past the Ozeki ranks, we find the upstart challenger. After blasting his way through Kyushu and scoring his first yusho, it’s Takakeisho who is at the Sekiwake 1 East slot. It’s tough to tell how much impact the promotional appearances and awards ceremonies will have on his sumo, but I expect him to show up strong and dominant from the start. His youthful vigor and stamina may give him an edge over the experience and boundless skill of some of his higher-ranked opponents for January. He comes into Hatsu with a string of kachi-koshi tournaments: 13-2, 9-6, 10-5, 10-5. For those keeping count, with 11 wins at Hatsu, he could be considered for promotion to Ozeki.

Mitakeumi finds himself still in the San’yaku, but in dire need to regroup, reorganize and reconnect with his sumo. He has been a “Future Ozeki” for a while, and should Takakeisho bypass him and reach sumo’s second highest rank, it would either be a source of frustration, or a stiff motivation to elevate his sumo to the next level. That’s an evolution his fans (myself included) have been looking forward to for a couple of years.

Further down the banzuke, it’s kind of interesting to see how many long-serving veterans are in the joi-jin for this tournament. The problem with that is that many of these rikishi are towards the end of their careers, and the cumulative injuries and problems mean that they struggle to perform consistently. I would include in this group: Tochiozan, Shohozan, Kotoshogiku, Okinoumi and Yoshikaze. This would mean that it is possible that the joi may give up a lot of white stars to the named ranks, giving someone an easy path.

Then there are a handful of rikishi that I think are worth some excitement. This would include Nishikigi, who against all expectations was able to earn his kachi-koshi at Maegashira 3, and finds himself at Maegashira 2. This guy really is a bit of a Cinderella story, and every time he wins, I cheer. Hokutofuji has struggled with injuries and stamina issues during tournaments, but he has sound fundamentals in his sumo, and few specializations that give him an exciting fighting edge in any match. Aoiyama has all of the pieces needed to be an upper ranked rikishi, but between injuries and what I can only guess might be “jitters” in some matches, he falls a bit short. He’s making another run towards the top now, and we wish him a solid tournament. Then there is Onosho, who seemed in November to still be recovering from his summer injury and reconstructive surgery. While his friend Takakeisho has become a driving force in sumo, I personally think Onosho is the stronger rikishi, and has greater upside potential. I am looking to see him continue to improve over November, and I think Maegashira 6 is a great rank for him this time. He is outside of the joi, and he will fight a lot of hit-or-miss vets who may struggle with his speed and energy.

With the table set, fans around the world are counting down the days to the start of Haru. The rikishi will begin to train in earnest starting in the next few days, and we will be following the workup to Sunday January 13th with eager anticipation!

Kyushu Day 1 Highlights

Kyushu Day 1
Let’s Get Started! – Photo From The Japan Sumo Association Twitter Feed

Welcome to our Kyushu highlights, dear readers! Team Tachiai look at any basho as a series of three acts, each with its own character and goals. Act 1 – get started, remove the ring rust and see who is hot and who is not. Act 2 – Narrow the field and find out who has what it takes to compete for the yusho, and start sorting the survivors from the damned. Act 3 – Hopes get smashed, dreams get crushed and we hand someone the Emperor’s Cup.

Day 1 featured heaps of ring-rust, and it seems a lot of rikishi arrived at Kyushu in somewhat worn condition after the fall jungyo tour. In addition, many are still nursing injuries large and small from the fight-club that was Aki 2018. While day 1 is frequently rusty and a bit off the typical basho pace, there was some excellent sumo on display in the small and rather loud Kyushu arena.

Highlight Matches

Yago defeats Chiyomaru – As predicted, a lot of huffing and puffing, and it was clear that Chiyomaru lost stamina early. Getting that much mass in motion takes an enormous amount of energy, and it was clearly draining him. But a lot of credit goes to Yago who stood up to that much oshi and carried the match. Solid technique from an up and coming young man we are likely to see more of in 2019.

Onosho defeats Endo – They made a good fight out of it, and Endo put a lot of pressure into his attacks, but Onosho’s low center of gravity and impressive balance were the deciding factors. I would guess that at least for now, Onosho’s knees are good enough for some first class sumo. I will be interested to see how long into the basho his health carries him.

Okinoumi defeats Aoiyama – When the match evolved into a mawashi fight, it was clear that Aoiyama was in trouble. Okinoumi took charge and waltzed him over the tawara without too much drama. Aoiyama is still working to recover from injuries earlier in the year, and did not look ready to win.

Chiyonokuni defeats Yutakayama – A brutal tachiai that stood both men up, and Yutakayama quickly moved to get an inside position. Chiyonokuni’s lighting reflexes saved the match for him, as he took advantage of Yutakayama’s hold of his right arm and used Yutakayama’s grip to move him back. Yutakayama’s giant head was too tempting a target, and Chiyonokuni grabbed hold, hooked his right hand into his opponents mawashi, turning and pushing Yutakayama out. Excellent work from Chiyonokuni.

Sadanoumi defeats Daieisho – Notable in that the kimarite listed is the seldom seen okurihikiotoshi, but to my eyes it was more of a slippiotoshi.

Shohozan defeats Ikioi – After a Shohozan matta, the real fight was over in a moment, as Ikioi has his balance too far forward and Shohozan lets Ikioi’s inertia finish the job.

Kagayaki defeats Abi – The double-arm thrust at the tachiai was defeated through the master of low drama fundamentals. Kagayaki focuses on getting his hands on Abi’s elbows, and breaks the thrusting attack. Of course when this happens, Abi is quite far forward and not too difficult to route towards the nearest shimpan.

Asanoyama defeats Takanoiwa – A fine yotzu / mawashi battle from these two, and Asanoyama seems to be in the drivers seat. Asanoyama’s performance in this match is an example of why I think he has the potential for higher rank. He’s fast, decisive and controls the much more experienced Takanoiwa.

Yoshikaze defeats Chiyotairyu – Yoshikaze absorbed the cannon-ball tachiai and got inside of Chiyotairyu, who soon found himself on the receiving end of Yoshikaze’s blistering attacks. Chiyotairyu spent the rest of the match trying to get on an offensive footing, but always a half step behind local man Yoshikaze. A solid win against a heavier and more powerful opponent.

Shodai defeats Ryuden – Ryuden succeeds in exploiting Shodai’s weak tachiai, but gives up the morozashi (double inside grip) in the process. Shodai then calls the tune and forces Ryuden to dance. Shodai keeps his hips low, and his shoulders below Ryuden’s – really showing excellent form. Ryuden managed to rally, but it only served to put him off balance and set up Shodai’s win. Points to Ryuden for his tenacious grip on Shodai’s belt as he was receiving the shitatenage. Another local favorite racks up a win.

Ichinojo defeats Nishikigi – You have to admire Nishikigi, promoted higher and faster than he should be, he brings as much sumo power as he can muster against one of the largest men in sumo. Ichinojo lets Nishikigi push him around until his heels touch the bales, and rather than give up and go limp, Ichinojo defies his normal style and rallies. Impressively Nishikigi is able to halt Ichinojo’s advance for a time, but Ichinojo takes his time and overpowers his opponent for the win.

Tochiozan defeats Mitakeumi – The man who hopes to be Ozeki had his sumo thoroughly dismantled by the 31 year old veteran Tochiozan. Followers of Tochiozan have seen him absorb a nodowa neck attack well before, and he simply shrugs off Mitakeumi’s attempt to raise him up. Mitakeumi’s fans had hoped he would have re-grouped following Aki, but today’s match did not give them hope.

Tamawashi defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin knew he had made a mistake in the first second, as Tamawashi’s speed was too much for the Ozeki to overcome. Always looking to land his left hand on the mawashi, Tochinoshin’s plan was an invitation for Tamawashi to launch hard inside and apply his considerable pushing force center-mass against the Ozeki. The look of frustration on Tochinoshin’s face told the story as he absorbs a day 1 loss. Note to rikishi who want to follow the oshi-style: this match in slow motion is a fabulous example of the rewards of driving inside at all costs, and focusing on center-mass (rather than head or neck). There was no way to stop Tamawashi.

Takayasu defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu had no means to stop Takayasu’s powerful, straight ahead sumo today. Myogiryu did manage to get inside at the tachiai, but by then they were chest to chest, and Takayasu’s considerable mass was pressing forward without resistance.

Goeido defeats Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji clearly knew that Goeido was going to be fast, too fast off the line, and his tightly wound anticipation made him jump early for a matta, and likely blew his mental prep for this match. Credit to Hokutofuji, he gave the Ozeki a solid fight. If I had to guess, Goeido was not quite sure what to do with the guy after the matta, and he may have suspected that Hokutofuji was likely to try a henka. The oshi match was always going to favor Goeido, but Hokutofuji showed some solid technique, and won approval from the fans for his fighting spirit. This is an opponent Hokutofuji must learn to overcome if he aims for higher ranks.

Takakeisho defeats Kisenosato – One thing I love about Takakeisho, he is not intimidated by any opponent. He exudes an almost Hakuho level of confidence, and seems ready to take the fight to everyone. Kisenosato’s big mistake in this match was letting Takakeisho dictate the style of the match, and letting him set up the “Wave Action” attack. At that point, the Yokozuna was in trouble and he knew it. Stumped for what to do, Kisenosato tried to overcome Takakeisho’s attack on Takakeisho’s terms. A few waves later, the Yokozuna is too far forward and is slapped to the clay. Not a good match for Kisenosato, but textbook Takakeisho sumo.

Kyushu Day 1 Preview

Kisenosato - Takakeisho

Hello dear readers, and welcome to the final basho of 2018 (also the final Kyushu basho of the Heisei era)! Where the Aki basho was a brutal pounding applied by the Yokozuna and Ozeki, this basho features two Yokozuna sidelined prior to day 1. Where the upper Maegashira bore the brunt of that pounding during Aki, Kyushu may be a bit more survivable for rikishi who have been ranked in the upper slots.

I must also apologize for the absence of news and commentary in the run up to the opening day. My personal and professional life kept me from writing, and as a result there were many interesting topics left undiscussed. With luck they will get raised on their own during the basho, and will make fine fodder for our excellent readership.

At the head of that list is the re-assignment of several top division rikishi from the now closed Takonohana-beya to Chiganoura. The chaos and distraction of this move may impact Takakeisho, Takanoiwa and other former Takanohana rikishi down the banzuke. Takakeisho turned in a solid 9-6 performance at Aki, and is back at his highest ever Komusubi 1e rank. Takanoiwa was kyujo for the fall jungyo tour, and may be in difficult shape.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Yago vs Chiyomaru – Due to Kaisei’s kyujo, the banzuke is unbalanced from day 1. As a result, Yago gets his chance to visit Makuuchi. With any luck NHK will show this match, as Yago is an impressive young man with a likely debut in Makuuchi in 2019. Chiyomaru managed to stay in Makuuchi through some excellent banzuke luck and ranking chaos as a result of the bloodbath that was Aki. This is only Yago’s tenth basho, seven of which he has been ranked in Juryo. He’s no small fellow, but with the enormous Chiyomaru, I am looking for a great deal of huffing and puffing before it’s all done.

Meisei vs Daishomaru – The first ever match between these two. With Meisei freshly back from his one basho return to Juryo, he’s probably the favourite, as he was looking quite genki during Aki while Daishomaru is looking to recover from an ugly 5-10 Aki basho record.

Chiyoshoma vs Takanosho – Both rikishi came away from Aki with 8-7 kachi-koshi, but it was clear that Chiyoshoma was still nursing injuries on the final day. He has beaten Takanosho twice in their three-match history, but I would give Takanosho the edge on day 1.

Onosho vs Endo – What are these two doing down here? Never mind, both are solid rikishi who have had problems this year. Onosho with a knee injury followed by surgery, and Endo undergoing more extensive repair on his undercarriage. Onosho has yet to beat Endo, and I would guess most of that is mental. Both are looking to bounce back from make-koshi in September.

Chiyonokuni vs Yutakayama – In today’s demolition derby, two powerful rikishi who could not buy a win at Aki. Yutakayama was kyujo for a few days, and Chiyonokuni seemed unable to finish most of his opponents. They are more or less equal (1-2) in their career matches, but I would give the edge to Yutakayama. I am assuming he has healed up, and needs to get back on his sumo. For Chiyonokuni, the inability to finish his opponents is all about how is mind is working.

Kotoshogiku vs Takarafuji – Veteran battle ahoy! As part of the Aki Takarafuji cheer squad over on the West side, I say the guy needs to turn his sumo around. Ex-Ozeki Kotoshogiku continues his slow fade into the sunset, but it’s still nice to see him come out on the dohyo and play bulldozer for a few seconds of high-intensity hug-n-chug. Kotoshogiku leads the career series 13-8.

Ikioi vs Shohozan – Another pair of fierce competitors who took a beating in September. Ikioi rocketed up the banzuke for Aki based on a well-executed over-performance in Nagoya, and is returning to the middle reaches with equal velocity. Shohozan found his street-brawler technique underperforming against the San’yaku, and is back to battling with the rest of the scrappers. Both men are fast, strong and at times brutal. This is likely a match that will feature some fierce pushing and slapping.

Abi vs Kagayaki – Probably the highlight match of the first half, sadly it will likely happen before the NHK live stream picks up. Rumor has it that Abi-zumo has picked up a few new moves, and we are eager to see them on display. Kagayaki never fights with flair, but rather uses fundamentals to win in fairly unsurprising matches. Can you say stylistic clash?

Takanoiwa vs Asanoyama – Time to see if Takanoiwa actually is hurt, as he faces off against perpetual optimist and steadily improving Maegashira Asanoyama. A healthy Takanoiwa should prevail, but there is that injury question again. This is their first ever match.

Chiyotairyu vs Yoshikaze – Chiyotairyu’s cannon-ball tachiai against Yoshikaze’s face and subsequent frantic sumo attacks. Chiyotairyu has about two seconds to get Yoshikaze contained or off balance before The Berserker unleashes doom.

Shodai vs Ryuden – I want to see Shodai employ that improved tachiai he showed us a couple of times in September. Ryuden has continued to improve, but many fans will be looking for some manner of “ugly matta” from this guy who seems prone to them. Shodai has an uncanny knack to survive these kinds of matches, at times looking out of control but always losing last.

Nishikigi vs Ichinojo – Welcome to the joi-jin, Nishikigi! Here, we have a nice boulder for you to play with. For Nishikigi’s sake, I hope Ichinojo is in some kind of Mongolian hibernation mode. [Seems likely. –PinkMawashi]

Mitakeumi vs Tochiozan – Tochiozan has gotten some hype this year that the 31 year old veteran might make one last push for higher rank. He clearly has solid technique, but has a difficult time consistantly putting together a string of winning tournaments. Mitakeumi needs to rebuild his Ozeki bid, and will be looking to expand his 6-1 career lead over Tochiozan day 1.

Tamawashi vs Tochinoshin – I am hoping Tochinoshin is healthy and ready to go. If he is back on top of his sumo, we should see him make short work of Tamawashi. Tamawashi, meanwhile, will try to stay mobile and keep the Ozeki away from a mawashi grip.

Myogiryu vs Takayasu – Some fans are in favor of a Takayasu yusho bid for Kyushu. He starts against veteran Myogiryu, who has an 11-4 career advantage over the Ozeki. It’s been some time since the two have squared off, and it’s going to be interesting to see if Myogiryu can pick up an early win against the Ozeki. They last fought in September of 2016 when Takayasu was Sekiwake 1e.

Goeido vs Hokutofuji – With two of the Yokozuna in dry-dock, Goeido has an excellent shot at his second yusho. Upstart Hokutofuji seems to have gotten his body healed, his sumo together and is pushing for higher rank. Hokutofuji is quite a bit slower than Goeido, who tends to have you defeated before you even know the match has started. This will likely be a good test for Hokutofuji, but I predict Goeido will expand his 3-1 career lead.

Kisenosato vs Takakeisho – The final match of the day is a replay of Aki day 2, when Takakeisho threw the kitchen sink at Kisenosato, and kept the Yokozuna quite busy. In the end Kisenosato was able to restrain, contain and eliminate the bowling ball with legs, after Takakeisho make the mistake of focusing his attacks primarily against Kisenosato’s injured left chest. Hopefully today he will focus his powerful thrusts center-mass, and unleash his “wave action tsuppari” with maximum effect.

Banzuke Luck & Replacing The Joi-Jin

Hokutofuji Tachiai

With a week to go until the start of the 2018 Kyushu basho, I would just like to thank Herouth for her tireless coverage of Jungo events. Without her work, the six weeks in between tournaments would be very quiet times for sumo fans.

At the close of Aki, our own resident forecast wizard, lksumo, proposed that the Kyushu banzuke would deliver many wild swings in ranking, with some rikishi moving 19 or more slots, and an almost total replacement of the top Maegashira ranks. This group of top rank-and-file rikishi is sometimes referred to as the Joi*, and will likely face at least one Yokozuna during a tournament. As readers know, always trust lksumo’s predictions, and the Kyushu banzuke did incorporate large swings in rank. Let’s take a closer look:

Maegashira 1: East/Myogiryu – West/Hokutofuji

With a bare minimum 8-7 at Maegashira 5, Myogiryu may have been a bit surprised to see himself launched to the top Maegashira post, but he is no stranger to the upper ranks. Formerly a Sekiwake, he knows what to do in this position. Hokutofuji has been at Maegashira 1 before, during 2018’s Hatsu basho, but it didn’t go well for him. His 4-11 record started a string of poor tournaments which saw him as low as Maegashira 16, and he is just now battling his way back. Hokutofuji’s 9-6 at Aki took him from Maegashira 9 all the way to Maegashira 1.

Maegashira 2: East/Tochiozan – West/Tamawashi

Two long serving veterans take up Maegashira 2. On the East, Tochiozan’s 8-7 from Maegashira 7 was enough to lift him to M2e. Tochiozan is nearing the end of his career, but is once again looking fairly sharp. Sadly, at his age, he is likely plagued by a series of chronic injuries, and may find the competition at this level a tough challenge. Tamawashi was ranked Komusubi for Aki, and produced an embarrassing 4-11 record. However, even this deep make-koshi only sent him down to Maegashira 2. It’s clear that for Aki he was hurt, and was struggling with some aspects of his sumo. I for one miss him as the steady Sekiwake.

Maegashira 3: East/Nishikigi – West/Ryuden

Oh boy, two rikishi who have really been working hard get their first shot at the big matches. On the East, Nishikigi’s 10-5 at Maegashira 12 at Aki seems to have punched his ticket into the joi. Now we just have to hope this perennial nice-guy survives the journey without a career altering injury. For the past 18 months Nishikigi has either been in Juryo, or clinging to the bottom edge of the Makuuchi bank. For Ryuden on the West, this must seem like an important milestone. After taking most of 2013 and 2014 to treat an injury, he literally had to start over, and has valiantly battled his way this far. His 10-5 from Maegashira 13 was enough to give him his shot. Make it count Ryuden!

Maegashira 4: East/Shodai – West/Yoshikaze

In one of the greatest pieces of banzuke luck since the last big Endo blow-out, Shodai’s 6-9 at Maegashira 3 drops him only to Maegashira 4. We saw some hints at Aki that he may have fixed his tachiai, and if so this could be the start of good things for Shodai, who seems to have most the elements of at least a San’yaku career if he can just put them together in the right order. On the other side of the banzuke, no-one should ever take a match with Yoshikaze for granted, and at M4, he is possibly the most dangerous man in the Maegashira joi. He has struggled since Kyushu last year, but then unloaded an 11-4 at Aki. Clearly his advancing age and all of the problems that come with it are slowing him down, but he remains capable of beating anyone else on any given day. Frankly, I can’t wait to see what he can produce.

Readers will note that most of the Yokozuna / Ozeki to Maegashira matches will happen in the first week, as the top rankers tune up and prepare to compete for the yusho. With this spread of storied veterans and fresh faces, Kyushu week 1 is likely to over-perform.

* A note from PinkMawashi: “Joi-Jin” approximately means “high ranked person”. While it is not an exact term and does not to my knowledge have an official definition, the Joi-Jin typically means the San’yaku and those Maegashira who can expect to face San’yaku opponents during the basho. That is, at least the top 16 wrestlers, although this will expand due to injuries and due to high-rankers from the same heya not being matched up. However, usually when people on English-speaking sumo sites say “joi”, they just mean the Maegashira joi-jin.