Tokyo July Basho – Day 1 preview

Sumo’s back! Finally! I believe many of us have never been as excited as today, looking forward for the great return of our favorite wrestlers.

The mock Natsu basho, conceived by our colleagues of Grand Sumo Breakdown, has provided us some nice moments while we were waiting, including an unlikely Ishiura run, and Mitakeumi’s eventual triumph.

I believe, however, we have grounds to expect quite different results. Indeed, the mock basho was supposed to fake the May tournament. Rikishi, on the contrary, have been able to have some welcomed rest, and there’s no doubt some of them have taken all benefit of it.

So, first day’s torikumi is up, and brings the promise of an exciting start :

Terunofuji v Kotoyuki. So, the very first makuuchi bout will be the one I’ll expect most! It’s Terunofuji’s long awaited makuuchi return, and it’s fair to say he comes back from hell. If his road back certainly deserves much praise, the final steps almost proved to be stumbling blocks. More worringly, he still practises under painkillers, and it’s doubtful whetever he’ll successfully defend his makuuchi status. He defeated Kotoyuki last time in March; if he manages to avoid Kotoyuki’s early tsuppari attacks, he should edge that one.

Nishikigi v Kotoeko. A bout between two recent demotees to juryo. Nishikigi’s makuuchi has been underwhelming in March, with a 6-9 record that barely allowed him to keep a makuuchi spot. It’ll be their third meeting, and Nishikigi is yet to defeat his smaller opponent. I expect that trend to go on.

Kotoshoho v Chiyomaru. It took just three basho for Kotoshoho to move from juryo debut to makuuchi debut, which will take place this Sunday! Interestingly, he has won his last five basho’s shonichi, but Chiyomaru has done better: that’s eight win in a row during shonichi! From a more practical point of view, Chiyomaru’s experience may well prevail over newbie Kotoshoho.

Kotoshogiku v Wakatakakage. The former ozeki is slowly running out of energy. Furthermore, he struggled against other pixies: 0-2 v Enho, 1-2 v Terutsuyoshi. Remarkably, Wakatakakage is still undefeated in makuuchi, as he went kyujo after a 4-0 record in November of last year. He’ll eventually suffer his first loss, but I do not think this will happen on Sunday.

Takayasu v Kotonowaka. Takayasu’s elbow is still a major concern, although the break might have given him a lift. Kotonowaka had a good 9-6 makuuchi debut, and usually starts decently. I think he’ll edge this one as well.

Sadanoumi v Shohozan. An interesting style opposition between two experienced rikishi. Neither of them has been performing extremely well recently, with just one kachi kochi combined, during the last three basho. I tend to favour Shohozan on that one, and so do the matchups: 10-5 for the veteran.

Shimanoumi v Tochinoshin. The Mie-ken born has been largely disappointing lately, after a bright makuuchi debut in 2019. If Tochinoshin is given time to heal his knees, he still can do wonders. I’m sure he relished the time he has been given to heal, and I expect him to start strongly this basho.

Kaisei v Myogiryu. Another battle between two experienced battlers – they’re both 33. Maegashira 10 is Kaisei’s highest rank for a while, and it’s Myogiryu lowest for a while. Advantage to Myogiryu, who also leads their matchups 11-7.

Tamawashi v Ikioi. Ikioi’s resurgence after his feet troubles is quite impressive. Tamawashi’s sekiwake days, on the opposite, seem to be a century ago. The dynamic is on the Osaka born’s side, despite the matchups favouring the one time yusho winner (11-6).

Ishiura v Chiyotairyu. That should be an interesting matchup. Ishiura has been repeatedly yo-yoing between makuuchi and juryo, but his results have appeared to settle up a bit lately. His larger opponent has left the joi by the end of last year, and will look to regain a place in the upper maegashira spots.

Terutsuyoshi v Tokushoryu. Right after Ishiura, the Isegahama pixie will take another big boy, the surprise yusho winner back in January. It unfortunately appears Terutsuyoshi is suffering from a knee problem, which is likely to hamper his results here. He’ll need to push on his knees if he wants to move heavy opponents like Tokushoryu.

Enho v Ryuden. Enho will to bounce back after the only third make kochi of his young career. So far, Ryuden has not found the key against the last pixie of the day (0-2), although Enho’s last tachi-ai against Ryuden was henka-ish. Will the latter find a way to defeat him, this time ?

Abi v Hokutofuji. An interesting battle between two members of the « komusubi quartet », back in November of last year. If staying in san’yaku has proved too difficult for Hokutofuji (three make kochi), Abi has left the higher ranks after your consecutive appearances due to injury issues. Let’s hope the break has enabled him to fix this, although he has the bad habit of losing on shonichi (just one win over the last nine occurrences !).

Kagayaki v Aoiyama. Kagayaki is definitely on the rise again, after two double digit wins, and a 8-7 tournament in March. After six straight losses to Aoiyama, he finally defeated Big Dan two times, including an oshidashi win in January. I expect Kagayaki to fare well this tournament, although the maegashira 4 spot has been a ceiling glass to him so far.

Daieisho v Kiribayama. I became a massive fan of Kiribayama, who undoubtly benefited of Kakuryu’s advice. But he lacks first division experience, to say the least, and he’ll enter the joi for the very first time of his fledging career. Therefore, I consider the reliable Daieisho to dominate their coming encounter.

Takarafuji v Mitakeumi. If the discreet Takarafuji has granted us a rare pre-basho interview, let’s be clear : his brand of sumo remains defensive, no-nonsense. If it could be useful during Mitakeumi’s regular mid-basho meltdown, he’ll have a hard time containing Mitakeumi’s power. The two time yusho winner should dominate the yotsu zumo debate.

Shodai v Onosho. Not an easy one to call. Their early career was full of promise, and both have largely failed to deliver so far. Shodai is currently trying to establish himself as a sekiwake, if not more. If their matchups is level (2-2), Shodai has started excellently his six last basho, being 2-0 five times, and 1-1 the sixth time. On the contrary, Onosho has lost four of the last five shonichi. The sekiwake has to be touted as the favourite.

Takanosho v Asanoyama. Takanosho has caught the eye with a formidable 12-3 basho in March. If Asanoyama has his ups and downs during a basho, I’m sure he’ll do his best to have a bright ozeki start. He has won their only meeting so far, and I expect him to double his lead.

Takakeisho v Yutakayama. That’s another match where both rikishi’s dynamic are going the opposite way. Yutakayama has rosen quite impressively through the maegashira ranks recently, but will it be enough to defeat the kadoban ozeki ? His lack of san’yaku experience might prove too big a disadvantge against Takakeisho, who desperately needs eight wins, and a good start.

Endo v Kakuryu. Endo seemed to be a big threat to the yokozuna in recent times. After a san’yaku breakthrough, Endo seemed to have lost his way again. Here too, I expect the break to have helped the Mongolian healing his injury troubles. Kakuryu has to win that one.

Hakuho v Okinoumi. The dai-yokozuna is of course the big favorite of that pairing. Let’s not underestimate Okinoumi’s, those solid yostu zumo has provided stern opposition to Hakuho. I expect the Mongolian to edge comfortably that one, nevertheless.

Sumo debates for 2020 – 3/3

10. Will a rikishi win a yusho for the first time in 2020 ?

Last years showed us we’re not immune to great upsets, during a troubled period where top ranks are ageing and youngsters are struggling to meet up expectations. Indeed, 2018 and 2019 saw a maegashira lifting the Emperor’s Cup (Tochinoshin in 2018 and Asanoyama in 2019).

Anyone up for another surprise in 2020 ? At the risk of being a party spoiler, I’m not !

11. Will Hoshoryu reach maku’uchi ?

Lower divisions have seen the emergence in 2019 of Hoshoryu. Often called “nephew of…”, I’m sure he’ll want to prove his own strengh, in order to me remembered, not just as Asashoryu’s nephew.

A future star ? Hoshoryu Tomokatsu

His rise from jonokuchi has been pretty fast, although it took several honbasho for Hoshoryu to break the glass and reach the salaried ranks : from March of last year at makushita 7, 4-3, 4-3, 3-4 and 4-3 records saw him finally reach juryo. His first stint there did not bring much joy either, as he barely managed to save his rank, thanks to a senshuraku victory – he ended the tournament with a 7-8 make kochi.

Can he raise up his lever in 2020 ?

My prediction: Asashoryu has had harsh words towards him last year. I’m sure he will be a major help towards maku’uchi promotion in 2020.

12. Will Kotoshogiku stay in maku’uchi ?

Lots of words have been written about the way Kotoshogiku failed to regain his ozeki status, as an ozekiwake in March 2017. Since then, much less has been said about Kotoshogiku’s rather anonymous, albeit decent later career in maku’uchi – he even defeated Hakuho in Nagoya.

Former ozeki Kotoshogiku Kazuhiro (left)

Lately, his form has plunged, however. The former ozeki is on an unfortunate four make kochi streak (6-9, 7-8, 6-9, 6-9). He’ll turn 36 this month.

Can he find the winning formula again ? I’m afraid not.

13. Will Ishiura stay in maku’uchi ?

What about Ishiura ? Interestingly, he already spent six basho in a row in maku’uchi (from Kyushu 2016 to Aki 2017), but never during a full calendar year (he got demoted in Kyushu 2017 and Kyushu 2018). He spent four tournaments in the top division in 2019.

From hatakikomi to mitokorozeme : Ishiura Masakatsu

He is known for using the henka technique quite often during his bouts. Lately, however, his form seemed to improve, with combative 8-7 and 9-6 records at the end of the year. Last basho saw him use more raffined techniques, including one of the rarest techniques of the sport, mitokorozeme. It had not been used since Mainoumi, back in 1993 !

Can Ishiura’s sudden feisty sumo grant him a spot in maku’uchi during the whole year 2020 ? Unfortunately, I tend to say no.

14. Will Ura produce the greatest comeback ever ?

We spoke about Terunofuji’s remarkable return to juryo, and, possibly, to maku’uchi. What if Ura does the same ?

The greatest comeback ever ? Ura Kazuki

To put that question into context, Ura had a breakthrough in 2017, starting his first two honbasho in maku’uchi with two winning records. He even defeated former yokozuna Harumafuji in Nagoya, before seeing knee injuries totally stopping his rise. After almost a year without participating in a competitive bout, Ura started his comeback with 6-1 and 7-0 records in sandanme, before reinjuring his knees at the beginning of 2019. At the bottom of jonidan, Ura started his career again, producing a 6-1 record.

Is it on once and for all ? Can Ura produce six kachi koshi in 2020 ? Once again, I tend to say no, but wish him, as well as all other wrestlers and our readers, a successful year 2020 !

Miyagino Practice Fist-Fight

Photo Credit Nicola

Ishiura was involved in a fist fight with Makushita-ranked Hokaho. No, not Hakuho, though the big man himself stepped in to separate the two. Practice then ended abruptly and the incident was reported to the Crisis Committee. So, the scandal meter is reset to 1/4/2020, one week from the start of Hatsubasho.

Herouth’s got a thorough run-down of the events but in a nutshell, Ishiura took exception to Hokaho beating him. When he would lose to Hokaho, he’d lash out, with a kick or a punch. Since the incident has been reported, there will be an investigation into exactly how “hot-headed” Ishiura was and whether there is any need for punishment. That punishment could range from apologies and reprimand to potential suspension, likely hinging on how hard the blows were. Calls for retirement would be…a bit bizarre unless more back-story unfolds.

Keep in mind, this was practice where blows are supposed to be thrown…but not between bouts and fists and kicks are obviously a no-no. The location and reason would distinguish it from punches thrown as rebuke for chores done poorly but it will be interesting to see what standard is applied. Some, like Mitakeumi, are disparaged for low-intensity practice. The opposite end of the spectrum here, we have a practice that got out-of-hand.

For some insight about the practice intensity I’m talking about, there’s an interview of Steve Kerr a former teammate of Michael Jordan, where he reflects on a fist fight he had with Mike. Jordan is famous for a lot of things but one is the intensity that he brought to practice. Similarly, keiko is supposed to ready you for the real thing. So if you slack off there, how will you be ready when the harite is for a yusho?

Aki 2019 Jungyo report – Day 3

Mini-nobori outside the venue. These are about 2m high.

We are out of Ishikawa prefecture, and off to Toyama prefecture. And when you say “Toyama”, you say “Asanoyama”, as he is the prefecture’s representative in the salaried ranks of Grand Sumo. You can see the mini-nobori above. Most of them say “Asanoyama-zeki” (except one, red with embarrassment at its own obsolescence, carrying the name “Yoshikaze”).

I have to update you on another kyujo. It turns out Daiamami has also been kyujo since day 1. He was supposed to participate, and his name was on the torikumi list for day 1, but Tobizaru did his bout, and he has been absent from the list ever since.

Also, as of day 3, Gagamaru is also off the torikumi. I’m not sure whether he is still on the jungyo, I’ll keep you posted if I find out.

So let’s move on to the happier part of the report.

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