Ishiura debuted in Makuuchi during the November basho in Kyushu, bringing a lot of power in a compact package. Entering the tournament at the bottom of the Maegashira ranks (M15), he faced a fairly easy list of competitors, and pounded them into the clay, finishing 10-5 and securing the fighting spirit special prize. With such a strong opening, we wondered how he would fare in his second tournament.
In his second basho, he was ranked Maegashira 9, and faced somewhat more fierce competition. While most of the “up and coming” were running wild while the Sanyaku crumbled, Ishiura continued to struggle. A protoge of Hakuho, Ishiura has been working on a model of intense sumo training coupled with impressive strength in a small, fast frame.
It is not uncommon for rikishi to have problems with their second tournament in a new division, and it was clear that Ishiura had a limited set of opening moves that he was comfortable using. But after Kyushu, most of the Makuuchi men had watched the video of his bouts, and knew what to do to blunt his attacks. He also got distracted a bit from his sumo when he became a spokesman for the Tokyo McLaren dealership. As a result he turned in a disappointing 6 win / 9 loss record in January.
Tachiai continues to watch Ishiura with great interest, as we think that he represents a bold experiment in building a better rikishi – one that does not rely on mass alone – to dominate. We expect he will be training hard with the rest of the crew at Miyagino Beya, and we hope that Hakuho is motivating him daily to higher levels of performance.
We certainly hope that Ishiura will return to Osaka ready to win.
Sumo fans are now clear on some of the questions and stories unfolding during the New Years tournament. Harumafuji is clearly having ankle and foot problems, and has a fraction of his normal power. His second straight loss, to Shohozan, was stunning. Harumafuji was easily pushed around and once again forced to the edge of the dohyo, where he could find no way to maneuver. In his healthy state, he would have taken the radical forward position of Shohozan and used it to launch him towards the spectators. I am hoping that he decides to bow out and seek immediate treatment for his chronic problems Day 4 he faces a winless Arawashi, which had better be an easy mark.
Hakuho is back, or at least back enough to be interesting and dominant. His match against Mitakeumi was classic Hakuho, where Hakuho improvised in the blink of an eye and left Mitakeumi baffled, off balance and lost. Day 4 he faces a winless Tochinoshin, which should prove no challenge.
Shodai is good, but green. If he can stay healthy he is probably going to be a solid Maegashira, or possibly Ozeki. His youth and inexperience are fairly easy to exploit by the veterans, and he leaves many avenues for attack wide open. It may be a few years of work before he matures into his better form. Day 4 he faces Kotoshogiku, who is a shadow of the Ozeki who won Hatsu last year.
Mitakeumi is where we all hope Shodai will be in 2 years. He has transformed from a pure push and slap rikishi into a healthy blend with mawashi technique, which is improving quickly. Day 4 he fights the highly reactive Yokozuna Kakuryu, which will be highly instructive. Mitakeumi has shown some impressive reactions himself mid bout.
Osunaarashi vs Sadanoumi – Both of these sumotori come into this with 3-0, and both of them are quite capable men who are slumming at the bottom end of the banzuke this tournament. Osunaarashi is clearly hurting a bit more each day, but the only way he is giving up is on a stretcher. Osunaarashi comes in with a strong career 3-1 advantage over Sadanoumi.
Kagayaki vs Ishiura – Ishiura is facing a rather embarrassing start to Hatsu. At this point I think he has probably been humbled, and I would like to see him re-assemble his sumo and win a few. But his sumo seems vague and frantic right now, and everyone knows you can slap him down. Ishiura has won all 4 of his prior matches with Kagayaki.
Takanoiwa vs Chiyonokuni – After having a string of mediocre to poor tournaments, Chiyonokuni seems to have finally adapted to his bulkier form. Takanoiwa has been doing very well, with a 3-0 record to date. Chiyonokuni will likely go for another thrust down (tsukiotoshi) in this pusher battle. Chiyonokuni has a career record of 6-3 over Takanoiwa.
Yoshikaze vs Endo – Battle of fan favorites today. Yoshikaze has added a nice blend of yotsu-zumō to his normal regimen of oshi-zumō. As a result it’s harder to guess what he is going to bring to any given bout. With Endo almost exclusively pushing, I would not be surprised to see Yoshikaze repeat his day 3 attack plan. It’s 4-4 between Yoshikaze and the younger rikishi, Endo
Tamawashi vs Takayasu – Takayasu skillfully dismantled a struggling Goeido on day 3. This is more of the form that had been present through much of 2016. Strong with the endurance to wait for his opponent to make a mistake, and the speed of mind and body to make them suffer. Tamawashi positively dismantled Shodai on day 3, and is looking strong. Their series is tied at 5-5.
Kisenosato vs Shohozan – Kisenosato has been bored. You can see his boredom clearly on day 2, where his match was clearly disappointing. The man looks like he is working out how to paint his house and for a moment remembered to Tamawashi aside. Shohozan has been bringing a lot of muscle and fierce energy to his bouts thus far. I am hoping that finally, Kisenosato has something to look forward to. Kisenosato has a career 9-2 advantage over Shohozan.
Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – With Harumafuji hurt, Kakuryu is a clear contender for the yusho this early on. Today he will instruct Mitakeumi on assumptions. Mitakeumi will assume Kakuryu’s battle plan, and likely be mistaken. Or we could see a mighty zabuton snowstorm once again. Clear advantage to Kakuryu. Note: Second match for Wakaichiro in the early hours of Wednesday in Tokyo. Again, if we can get video we will post it here.
Day two is in the record books and it’s clear that some of the rikishi are still struggling to clear the cobwebs and settling into their sumo.
Osunaarashi – He came in locked down and ready to win. After his brutal kyujo demotion in 2016, all the man has wanted was back in the top division. Clearly he is still hurt and in quite a bit of pain, but he is laying the doom on the Chiyo crowd.
Kaisei – After so many poor tournaments, it’s really good to see Kaisei actually winning again. Maybe he has dropped own the banzuke far enough that he is competitive. I think he may have gotten too much mass to effectively work.
Kisenosato – Kise is bored, let’s be honest. No one has put up much of a contest to the Great Pumpkin so far. It sometimes irks me that everyone wants to take a great Ozeki and cast him as a Yokozuna. Because his does Ozeki so very very well.
Mitakeumi – The kid is on fire right now. We may see a second week collapse, like we did for Okinoumi, but right now he is moving well. The fact that he shut down Harumafuji’s death spin impressed me quite a bit.
Hakuho – I would guess he is done with his recovery and back to what is the new Hakuho normal. Still amazing but not quite what he was. Everyone ages, and loses some physical strength in the process. He is still a joy to watch.
Osunaarashi vs Chiyotairyu – Just how many Chiyos can one man take? Let’s see if it’s at least three! This would be Osunaarashi’s first win against this Chiyo, should be prevail.
Nishikigi vs Sokokurai – Both of these guys has a strong first two days, and both are looking good this basho. Looks like the first match between these two.
Kaisei vs Takanoiwa – Can the Brazilian make it 3 in a row, or will the resurgent Takanoiwa keep his own record clean? Kaisei has a distinct 3-1 advantage in wins between them.
Ishiura vs Chiyonokuni – Two small and strong rikishi go head to head. Ishiura is suffering the NHK curse – he went on NHK World for a highlight piece, and now he is failing hard. Chiyonokuni has bulked up quite a bit in the last 6 months, and is still re-working his sumo to handle the extra mass. Ishiura has lot both of their previous bouts.
Tamawashi vs Shodai – in a Sekiwake head to head, we see them both come in 1-1, each trying to survive sumo’s toughest rank. In their only prior match, Shodai lost.
Shohozan vs Harumafuji – Shohozan brought a masterful attack against Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 2, losing because he mis-timed the throw. Given Harmuafuji’s ankle problems, it maybe time for another Kinboshi. It’s a long shot, as Harumafuji leads their series 12-2
Hakuho vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi has a good start, with one Yokozuna and one Ozeki scalp already. Now he faces the most difficult foe in sumo. Clearly Hokuho has the advantage here, but I am keen to see if Mitakeumi can gamberize. Hakuho has won both their prior meetings
またなし(Matanashi) – The Gyoji’s Order To Begin Combat
At long last sumo fans, we come to the start of the glorious 2017 new years basho, at Tokyo’s palace of sumo, the Kokugikan. While it may seem that the period between Kyushu and Hatsu is unusually quiet, plenty has happened in the sumo world. It’s true that many rikishi enter Hatsu at less than full capability, in part because of the New Year’s break, everyone is competing starting Sunday morning.
Please keep in mind that day 1 is more or less an exhibition of who is ready and who is not, but each of these matches count for the tournament champion. Some news from the grape vine before we handicap individual bouts
Harumafuji’s Undercarriage – He has had ankle problems for 6 months now, since some bad steps in Nagoya. During a period during the run up to Hatsu, he had a difficult time putting power to ground. I expect him to use his mini-henka and choke hold as much as he can.
Kakuryu’s Strength – He has continued to absolutely dominate everyone and everything he practices against. His fighting style has never been as agile as Hokuho’s or as frenzied as Harumafuji’s. But right now it seems Kakuryu is bringing his A game with a goal to repeat his Yusho
Hakuho, Is He Healthy Yet? – He has looked very good in training. But in Kyushu he was only about 80% of what we have come to expect from the Boss. Every sumo fan is hoping that was only recovery, and we get some fantastic sumo from him this year, as he pushes to exceed Kiao’s total win record.
Kisenosato Not Quite Ready? – In the days prior to the basho start, Kisenosato has looked unready, and frankly unwell. He has also skipped important inter-beya training days to stay back and work privately.
Chiyoo vs Osunaarashi – Time to see if the Egyptian is back in form. He has been wearing a massive leg brace that is almost a flexible cast, and some elaborate shoulder taping. Look for him to attack strong. He has met Chiyoo 3 times in the past, and won every meeting.
Takanoiwa vs Ishiura – The Maegashira have had time to study Ishiura’s play book since Kyushu. This will be the first meeting between these two, and I look for Ishiura to come in low and fast, and try to move Takanoiwa sideways.
Chiyoshoma vs Yoshikaze – This is the first time Yoshikazi will have faced the up and coming Mongolian. Both men like to thrust and throw, so it’s going to be a whirlwind battle if it survives the tachiai.
Takekaze vs Endo – Fan favorite Endo finds him self at a comfortable Maegashira 4, and he is facing hanka king Takekaze. These two are even at 4-4. If Endo can survive the tachiai, he will try to push out Takekaze before he can wrap Endo up.
Tochiozan vs Ikioi – Ikioi draws a tough match against Tochiozan, who has a good record of tossing Ikioi around and pulling him down. Their historical record is 8 for Tochiozan and 4 for Ikioi.
Mitakeumi vs Goeido – Mitakeumi has skill and hunger, and he wants to be a serious contender for an Ozeki slot. Goeido still has his mind fixed on a Yokozuna rope. We will get an early peek at which Goeido we are going to get. As always I want to see the Goeido that dominated Aki. The one that commits everything to his offense from the moment the match starts.
Hakuho vs Shodai – This is likely the highlight match of the day, even though we are going to see Hakuho dismantle Shodai rapidly. This will show us what kind of condition Hakuho is in, and what kind of strategy Shodai can bring to a high profile match. Many look to Shodai as a future top man of sumo, he may get there, but he has to learn to work the big fights.
Takayasu vs Harumafuji – If Harumafuji is healthy, this may be a great match. But as I think The Horse is injured, I look for him to either mini-henka or choke the daylights out of Takayasu. Takayasu has enormous fighting spirit, and if needed he can and will wear Harumafuji down and drop him like a sack of rice. I don’t expect Harumafuji to let it go that long. Harumafuji has a lifetime 12-4 advantage.
Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin brings massive lower body and back power into the ring against Kakuryu, who seems cranked up to 11 right now, and capable of defeating anyone. As long as Tochinoshin does not try to bear hug and lift the Yokozuna, this has a lot of potential. I look for Kakuryu to get him too far forward, off balance and pull him down. in their 20 prior bouts, Kakuryu has won 19