Nagoya Day 1 Preview

Hello, and welcome to Tachiai’s coverage of the July basho, coming once again from Nagoya, Japan. In spite of the concerns in Japan about the Olympics, COVID-19 and the creeping doom of mass infection by the “Delta” variant, the Japan Sumo Association took the show on the road this summer, back to the sweat box that is Nagoya Dolphin’s Arena. We have 15 days of sumo action ahead of us, and fans around the world are eager to see how the story lines unfold. We will get our first Yokozuna dohyo-iri since March, and all eye will be on “The Boss” to see if he can last all 15 days.

This has been named a “Make or break” basho for the dai-Yokozuna, and should he falter here, it will most likely be retirement. He has not competed since March of this year, and has missed most of the last year due to increasing trouble with his right knee, which underwent extensive surgery in March following his withdrawal from the Haru basho.

Be aware, Team Tachiai will post information about the matches as they happen in Japan, when we can. Global fans who prefer to know the outcomes of matches via the NHK video feed (many hour delayed from actual action) would be advised to read Tachiai after they enjoy the daily show.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Ichiyamamoto vs Ishiura – Welcome to the top division, Ichiyamamoto! He’s going to be using a thrusting technique, I would expect, aimed around the head and neck of Ishiura. Ichiyamamoto has a height and weight advantage, but it’s tough to beat the compact power of Ishiura, if he’s genki to start Nagoya.

Chiyonokuni vs Tokushoryu – Chiyonokuni sat out the May tournament, but managed to remain in the top division, due to the challenges of ranking so many rikishi with dismal records following Natsu. He has a brutal 9-1 career advantage over one-time yusho winner Tokushoryu. If Chiyonokuni is healthy, this should be a quick fight.

Tsurugisho vs Chiyonoo – Chiyonoo has not been ranked in the top division in 4 years, and I am curious to see how the 30-year-old from Kagoshima can do in the heat of Nagoya. Tsurugisho needs to bounce back vigorously from his terrible 4-11 performance in May at Maegashira 8. Chiyonoo has a 7-5 career advantage over the much heavier Tsurugisho.

Daiamami vs Ura – Welcome back Ura! I worry that every time the press talks to him, he sounds extremely cautious, and warns that his knee could just surrender to physics at any moment, day or night. Screw that! Let’s enjoy the man in the pink mawashi’s first matches ranked in the top division since September of 2017. Daiamami won their only prior match, but I am looking for the new, highly powerful and enormous Ura to quietly rack up a good run of wins in July.

Chiyomaru vs Kagayaki – I am not sure who put diesel in Kagayaki’s unleaded tank, but he has been idling rough and misfiring for several tournaments now. He has a nearly even record against the bulbous Chiyomaru, and I have to hope that Mr Fundamentals can shake off whatever is clogging up his sumo and get back to stable mid-Maegashira performance.

Tochinoshin vs Kotonowaka – At the start of every tournament for the past year, I look at the injured relic of Ozeki Tochinoshin, and wonder how much longer he’s going to be able to keep doing this. Having lost Ozeki at the end of 2019, he has been holding fast in the mid-Maegashira ranks, but turned in a depressing 5-10 finish to Natsu in May. But given how miserable many rikishi’s records were that basho, he is only down to Maegashira 12 for July. All his fans are looking for this month are 8 wins.

Kaisei vs Terutsuyoshi – Sumo fans love the classic giant vs little guy match, and this one is checking all the boxes. Kaisei at M11e tends to start a tournament playing to his brand of sumo, being huge and not moving very much. Terutsuyoshi has been struggling since July of last year, and I have to hope he can find some power on day 1 and use his superior mobility against Kaisei.

Tamawashi vs Shimanoumi – Shimanoumi is another of the cadre of rikishi who had a terrible May tournament, and caused a lot of trouble sorting out the banzuke (4-11). He will provide a moderate challenge for the fading relic of long-time San’yaku mainstay Tamawashi, who is aging out of the top division.

Hidenoumi vs Aoiyama – Big Dan Aoiyama spent most of the May tournament kyujo, but returned on day 8 to finish 4-3, and likely save himself from a big demotion. If he is healthy, he is in a great position to really cause some trouble in the middle ranks. He is 2-0 against Hidenoumi, who is too large to really dodge the V-Twin attack.

Takarafuji vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma has been a pleasant surprise, fighting well with a minimum number of henka and cheesy moves. In fact, all of this tournaments (save the COVID-kyujo in January) have been kachi-koshi, and maybe he’s ready to take on the middle ranks. I would be delighted to see him continue his good form, and maybe kachi-koshi yet again. His record with Takarafuji is an even 5-5, so let them fight it out!

Myogiryu vs Kiribayama – Kiribayama and Myogiryu have both been make-koshi the last two tournaments, and I hope that one of them can get some fighting spirit up this July. Kiribayama won their only prior match (Hatsu 2021), with a glorious katasukashi.

Onosho vs Hoshoryu – I continue to enjoy Hoshoryu’s steady, incremental progress. I recall that last year, the common idea from the sumo commentators in the Japanese media was that he was not quite ready to be a power in the top division. Too small, too much in his uncle’s shadow, …, the reasons were plentiful. After a 7-8 make-koshi in May, he has to be looking to resume his climb. Sad news is that he faces Onosho, who had an identical record last basho, but clearly has a formula for beating Hoshoryu.

Okinoumi vs Chiyotairyu – I am genuinely surprised and pleased to see Chiyotairyu this far up the banzuke. His last run through the joi-jin was in 2019, and lasted for roughly 3 tournaments. He has recently lost some weight, and changed up his fighting style. I hope he can continue to do well. He holds a 10-5 career advantage over today’s opponent, Okinoumi.

Kotoeko vs Tobizaru – Tobizaru went 5-10 in May, and only dropped one full rank. You know what that is? It’s a gift. Meanwhile how did Kotoeko become the heyagashira for Sadogatake? Congrats sir, your sumo has been solid for a while, and I hope you can send Tobizaru on one of his now common run-outs into what will pass for a crowd in Nagoya.

Wakatakakage vs Hokutofuji – Firstly, huge compliments to Wakatakakage for reaching the San’yaku. Your sumo has steadily improved, and I think you may have a great run ahead of you. Hokutofuji, who always fights with a lot of power, needs to find a way to string together consecutive kachi-koshi tournaments if he wants to hit and stay in the named ranks.

Ichinojo vs Mitakeumi – Which version of Ichinojo will show up? If it’s the big, powerful pony-tosser, Mitakeumi is going to need his best sumo today. But Ichinojo’s 4-11 career deficit indicates that the legend of Mongolia’s steppes is not frequently seen against home-town favorite Mitakeumi.

Shodai vs Takanosho – Shodai is not kadoban this time, so maybe the pressure will be off, and we can see him use his “good” sumo for the first time since January. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Hopefully Takanosho cleaned up whatever gave him a 5-10 sink-burger in May and knocked him well clear of the San’yaku for now. Shodai has a 6-2 career advantage, and hopefully he does not disappoint.

Daieisho vs Takakeisho – Ah, we get into juiciest parts of the torikumi. I am looking for Takakeisho to open strong, and that features giving Daieisho a real shove fest on day 1. Daieisho tends to try and set up an overwhelming “mega-thrust”, and we all know that Takakeisho prefers his “wave-action” attack. I think it will come down to who gets their hands inside at the tachiai.

Terunofuji vs Endo – Fans may look at Endo’s 5-4 career record against Terunofuji, and assume that he will dominate on day 1. In reality, since Terunofuji’s return to the top division, its 2-1 in Terunofuji’s favor. Of course that “1” was a loss to Endo on day 14 of the May tournament. I am delighted to see the Kaiju get a crack at a “return to sender” to start Nagoya.

Hakuho vs Meisei – I expect this to be a bit of a “ring rust” session for Hakuho. He’s not faced anyone outside of Miyagino heya in a bout in months. In normal conditions, he would be giving Meisei one of the dia-Yokozuna’s famous “Flying lessons” today. But I am guessing that we may see plan a/b/c sumo instead as Hakuho figures out what manner of sumo his damaged body can support.

Terunofuji Re-Promoted To Ozeki

Early Wednesday in Tokyo, it was announced that the Sumo Assocation had promoted Terunofuji back to the rank of Ozeki, the second highest in sumo. This achievement crowned one of the most unbelievable come-back stories ever in the world of sports. After becoming injured in July of 2017, Terunofuji struggled. He was battling knee injuries, diabetes, and seemed to have convinced himself that it was over. In September of 2017, he lost his Ozeki rank, and plummeted down the banzuke. With his damaged knees, he could not really compete, and appeared to be on the fast road to retirement.

But all during 2018, he was working, struggling, to rebuild his body and find some way to return. He re-entered competition in March of 2019. By this time his rank was Jonidan 48, a humbling mark for a man who was at one point an unstoppable force of sumo. But he took every competitor, and fought them with strength and skill. It was clear that the revised Terunofuji was more focused, his movements more efficient and careful. His sumo skills were excellent, and improving every tournament. It was plain to see, in spite of his damaged body, the Ozeki fire was still burning. He quickly moved through the lower divisions, capping his return to the salaried ranks with a perfect 7-0 Makushita yusho in November of 2019.

His debut tournament in Juryo, he took the yusho again with a 13-2 record from close to the bottom of the Juryo ranks. He followed that with a 10-5 from Juryo 3, earning his return to the top division. As if to announce he was not even close to done, he took the July 2020 Emperor’s cup with a 13-2 yusho from the bottom of the banzuke. Since that tournament, he has been on an absolute tear, and finished his Ozeki bid with a 3rd yusho this past March.
We all know his knees are not going to last. They are scarcely little more than lumps of scar tissue held together with a brace and bandages. But until the day he finally blows his knees up, he’s going to fight like the force of sumo he is. I note with some amusement that Terunofuji has not faced a Yokozuna since his return to the top division. Normally Hakuho makes a point of “breaking in” any upstart. But given their history, he may feel somewhat differently about Terunofuji (9-4 favoring Hakuho, but all matches are prior to his return).

The sumo world tends to take some notice of these promotion moments, and what the newly promoted rikishi say as they accept their new rank. Terunofuji kept it focused and brief, saying “I humbly accept. I sincerely thank you”.

Team Tachiai congratulates Ozeki Terunofuji. A powerful and inspiring comeback under the toughest of conditions.

Some quick hits from twitter to finish off!

Ones To Watch – Post Haru Round Up (Sandanme to Jonikuchi)

He’s Back! (Terunofuji)

I have to start by complimenting Herouth’s coverage of the jungyo, which is (if anything) even better than its already typical awesome. The gaps between the basho seem less vacant, and we fans to get to see a different aspect to the sumo world. So a big THANK-YOU to Herouth for bringing us these features.

In our last post, we looked at 9 rikishi in Makushita for Haru, and discussed just how tough the competition can be in the Makushita joi-jin. Today we discuss the rikishi in the divisions below Makushita, each of whom is working hard to improve their rank each and every match. Our coverage at Haru featured some returning favorites, who found themselves in the middle of Jonidan,

Torakio – Naruto heya’s scion took a terrible pounding in Osaka, finishing a dismal 1-6, with the win coming on his final match of the tournament. This was Torakio’s highest ever rank (Sandanme 15), and he had been on a steady path of improvement. We can hope that he did not sustain some mechanical injury, and will return to Tokyo to regroup and refocus on the upcoming Natsu basho in May.

Shoji – A young rikishi from Musashigawa heya, he finished 2-5, ending the tournament with a 3 bout losing streak. He had previously been ranked as high as Makushita 52, but has only scored one kachi-koshi tournament in the past year. The Musashigawa rikishi almost all had terrible tournaments in Osaka. Bad luck? Poor training? Poor quarters? We will never get to know, but we hope that returning to Tokyo will help the crew score better for May.

Wakaichiro – Our favorite Sandanme rikishi ended the tournament with a disappointing 3-4 record, which came down to his final match on day 14. Wakaichiro has shown that he is susceptible to placing his balance forward, and at times is open to hatakikomi or other moves that exploit his center of gravity. As with many of the Musashigawa clan, they fight better in Tokyo, and we expect he will be back in better form for May.

Kenho – The massive Kenho ended Osaka with a deep make-koshi at 1-6, and frankly had little offensive sumo to offer in any of his matches. Once a rikishi get to be his size, there body struggles to manage all of that flesh, and multiple problems with joints, muscles and metabolism come to the front. We hope he can re-group and recover his sumo, as he is great to watch when he is healthy.

Roga – The Mongolian sensation blasted through the pack in Jonidan to finish 7-0, with a day 15 playoff for the Jonidan yusho against none other than returning favorite Terunofuji, which he won to claim the division title. At 20 years of age, he is clearly on a solid upward path, and we will eagerly watch to see where he starts to find the competition challenging. But I would expect him give the Sandanme title favorites in May a series of tough matches.

Terunofuji – Everyone was happy to see Terunofuji return. After holding the title of Ozeki for a long time, he withdrew from sumo to attempt to clear up multiple problems with his body. It was announced that he would be competing in Osaka, sumo fans around the world hoped to see him return fit, trim and powerful. Instead, Terunofuji looked like death warmed over. Clearly his problems with his knees and his metabolism are not much better than a year ago. But at his size and level of skill, the Jonidan rikishi are mere playthings to amuse the Kaiju. As mentioned above, he finished 7-0 with the Yusho-doten, losing to Roga. Please Terunofuji, find a way to get healthy.

Amakaze – Former Juryo mainstay also returned to action after an extended kyujo. Unlike Terunofuji he actually did look like he had some energy and drive. Amakaze has a big round fellow, but has solid sumo skills. He ended Osaka with a 6-1 record, and I expect he will continue to improve for a while.

Hattorizakura – In spite of putting on some weight, and what looked like a bit of muscle mass, Hattorizakura could not find a way to a single win in Osaka, ending the tournament with a solid zenpai (0-7), and in doing so keeping the universe in balance. In the process he seems to have possibly done something unique, losing the same match twice.

Winds of Change – 1 Year Ago In Sumo

It’s Sunday, maybe you have some free time and you are a sumo fan. I have been missing some of my favorites, who have faded from the top division. So I am going to share this 22 minute long example of just how much sumo has changed since Osaka last year.

Sumo is always evolving, but this was in fact a monumental turning point for the sport it seems.  A year later we can see recognize the seeds of change in this video.  The triumph, the defeat, the raw emotion