Nagoya Ozeki Report

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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.

Ozeki Goeido In A Perilous State

Exploding Robot

Long-serving Ozeki Goeido lost in a shocking match against Daieisho in day 8 action, dropping to 3-5. It was notable because while Daieisho is a solid rikishi, he should be no trouble for a man who is clearly capable of dispatching Yokozuna. Instead, the troubled Ozeki found himself stood upright, pushed around and thrust out on the east side of the dohyo. The sumo world is always very tight lipped about injuries to rikishi, especially during a basho, but I am going to assume that Goeido has re-injured his ankle. That injury limits the amount of offensive force he can muster, and the amount of lateral / shifting pressure he can maintain. This makes him weak going forward, and slow to turn or move side to side.

Goeido had his right ankle completely reconstructed with pins and screws last year, and returned to action possibly before the surgery could completely heal. This is, in part, driven by kadoban rules for Ozeki and the 60 day period between honbasho.

With this loss, Goedio now needs to win 5 of the remaining 7 matches. This may be impossible as he must still face Tochinoshin, Hakuho and Kakuryu. A make-koshi for Natsu would mean the Nagoya basho would once again feature both Ozeki kadoban, and facing a risk of demotion.

Before any readers assume too much, we cheer Goeido when he’s fighting well, and scold him when he takes short cuts or seems to just phone it in. In this case, it’s clear he’s not able to generate full offensive power, and we have to assume injury. A healthy Goeido is a terrifying rikishi of nearly pure offense. We wish him well and hope he can find some way to return to health.

Aki Story 2 – Goeido & Terunofuji Kadoban

Kadoban

A recurring theme in the past year has been the problems with the current crop of Ozeki, and their tendency to turn in losing records. Ozeki do not get demoted when they end a tournament with a majority losing record. It is, perhaps, a nod to the great difficulty required to rack up 33 wins over the course of 3 tournaments. Instead they get a “warning” that a second consecutive losing record will demote them to Sekiwake. An Ozeki in this state is declared “Kadoban”. This in fact happened to Kotoshogiku within the last year, and he was sadly unable to resurrect his Ozeki rank in the following tournaments. He continues to fade.

Headed into Aki, both Terunofuji and Goeido are at risk of demotion. Goeido was in this status last year entering the Aki basho, and responded by racking up 15 straight victories and taking the yusho. Sadly Goeido could not parlay this into a consistent elevation in performance, and has mixed results for the following tournament. His breathtaking Aki performance led us to coin the term “Goeido 2.0”, which described what seemed to be an entirely different rikishi. He was bold, committed and attacked with a ferocity that left no room for retreat. But Goeido suffered a significant ankle injury during Hatsu, and was forced to seek treatment that included steel pins and plates.

Similarly, Terunofuji underwent surgery in June to attempt repair on his knee, an injury that frequently kept him from top performance. Sadly it was not healed enough for competition when Terunofuji began the Nagoya basho, and he soon withdrew. Since going kyujo, he retired to his native Mongolia for recovery and training, and his working hard to be in condition for the basho.

Both of these men are fierce competitors, and we hope that both of them can clear their kadoban status with style. If reports of injury among the Yokozuna hold true, it may provide some relief to both men, who would find their schedules a bit easier, and their chances of a solid winning record increased.

Haru Day 9 Preview

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Tagonoura’s Untouchables

Today both Kisenosato and Takayasu achieved the Kachi-koshi. This matters not for Kisenosato, but for Takayasu it guarantees that he will stay in San’yaku and likely Sekiwake for the May basho. Thus far no one has been able to defeat either of these two rikishi, though Ikioi and Shohozan came terribly close today.

Shohozan had Kisenosato locked up with the double inside grip (moro-zashi), which usually indicates an impending loss. But somehow Kisenosato was able to overcome this advantage and defeat Shohozan. I really applaud Shohozan’s fantastic effort, as it was significant and well executed. Ikioi really put the pressure on Takayasu in an earlier bout, but he could not close the deal. In fact Takayasu seems to almost enjoy locking up someone like Ikioi in the center of the dohyo. If you re-watch that match, you can see Takayasu’s arm go limp, he does this when in this kind of bout. He forced Ikioi to support as much of Takayasu’s amazing mass as possible, wearing Ikioi down. Once he sensed that Ikioi’s strength was waning, he went into action and won.

Some things to look forward to in the Yusho race

  • Terunofuji vs Kisenosato – Oh yes, these two have not met yet this basho. With Terunofuji one off the leader pace, a win against Kisenosato would change the landscape dramatically.
  • Takayasu vs Harumafuji – If the Horse has the strength and health, he can and could defeat Takayasu with any number of his typical winning moves. I repeat that Takayasu’s mighty tachiai is just begging someone to throw in a henka
  • Kakuryu vs Kisenosato – If Kakuryu sticks to his reactive sumo, he can goad Kisenosato into over-reacting and then exploit his mistakes.

Any way you look at it, the chances of the two rikishi from Tagonoura remaining undefeated are still quite long.

On the other hand, Kotoshogiku does indeed have a chance of reclaiming his Ozeki glory. He only needs to win 4 of the remaining 7 matches. He has already faced 2 of the 3 Yokozuna.

Haru Leader board

LeadersKisenosato, Takayasu
Hunt Group – Terunofuji, Tochiozan
Chasers – Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Kotoshogiku, Chiyonokuni, Chiyoshoma, Tokushoryu

7 Matches Remain

Matches We Like

Myogiryu vs Ura – Ura is really struggling for a formula that is consistent for his Makuuchi matches, and he has yet to figure it out. Fortunately he is 4-4, for Kachi-koshi is not out of the question. His opponent Myogiryu tends to win against Ura, having defeated him 5 times in their prior 8 matches.

Tokushoryu vs Tochiozan – Tochiozan is not attracting much press, but he has only one loss thus far, and is tied for second place with Terunofuji on the leader board. I am going to assume at some point if he keeps winning, the schedulers are going to have Tochiozan face Terunofuji. But today he gets Tokushoryum whom he should be able to defeat easily. Tochiozan has won all 3 of the prior matches.

Kagayaki vs Ishiura – In his third Makuuchi basho, Ishiura seems to be holding his own at last. He is fighting well, and he is finding a way to overcome and win. Kagayaki is struggling and needs to keep working on his sumo. Ishiura leads their prior meetings 5-0.

Endo vs Okinoumi – This is likely to be a highlight bout, as both of these men are performing well this basho. I expect a lot of mawashi action and maybe an attempt at a throw or two. Endo leads their career meetings 3-2.

Shohozan vs Kaisei – Shohozan is one loss away from Make-koshi, which is a shame given how well he has been competing. Today he faces hapless Kaisei, which should be an fairly easy victory.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – This was bound to happen at some point. I like watching Shodai, but he needs to fix his tachiai. If he can do that, he can be a contender. Mitakeumi has been fighting well, but is starting to suffer a string of losses. Both rikishi come into this bout at 3-5, Shodai leads their career match ups 4-2.

Takekaze vs Takayasu – Takayasu must be prepared for Takekaze’s henka. If he falls to it, he has no one but himself to blame. In a flat out fight, it’s Takayasu’s advantage, but Takekaze is well equipped with many really nice, unexpected moves.

Ikioi vs Terunofuji – Ikioi looked hurt after his bout with Takayasu. Now he is going to face a resurgent Terunofuji, and I am just hoping that Ikioi survives undamaged. If Terunofuji wins, which I expect, this will be his Kachi-koshi and his kadoban status will be erased. Ikioi has only defeated Terunofuji once in their prior 8 bouts, and it was during a basho where Terunofuji was clearly injured.

Kotoshogiku vs Kisenosato – This is actually a big challenge for Kisenosato. Kotoshogiku has a habit of beating him, especially when Kisenosato needs to win. Kotoshogiku actually leads their career series 33-30. If he lets Kotoshogiku land a solid grip, like he allowed Shohozan to do on day 7, this will get ugly. Kisenosato needs to keep things moving and not let the human bulldozer get to work.

Goeido Withdraws From Haru

Goeido

As reported on the NSK official web site, Ozeki Goeido has withdrawn from the March tournament in Osaka. This development should surprise no one, as Goeido was recovering form orthopedic surgery, and had only practiced for four days prior to the start of the basho. Frankly, he was putting his health and future at risk by trying to compete.

As reported in the Japanese sumo press: “about five weeks of treatment with right leg joint lateral ligament injury”

It has been obvious over the past few days that Goeido could not put power to ground through his damaged and re-constructed ankle. Tachiai is grateful that Goeido decided to withdraw before anything horrific took place on the dohyo, and we hope to see him back in action once he is fully recovered.