Tokyo July Basho Day 2 Highlights

Well, after the big news of today, Kakuryu kyujo, the landscape has changed. Senshuraku will not be a Yokozuna showdown. The tournament is already down to Hakuho, who will now host the musubi-no-ichiban for a solid fortnight. His fellow yokozuna have all abandoned him. Retirement for Hakuho? No way. The NSK can’t afford to lose him anytime soon.

Sadly, Josh’s pick made a quick exit and one wonders whether that’s his career. After that long layoff, to make one appearance on the dohyo — against a maegashira — before bowing out? Ouch. If word comes in that his citizenship has been granted, I think that may be the last time we saw Kakuryu as a wrestler.

Day Two Highlights

Nishikigi defeated Kotoyuki: Nishikigi let Kotoyuki slap all he wanted and lulled the Penguin into a false sense of security. His passiveness had me real worried. There was no counter-attack, our near-sighted friend just slid backwards until his leg found purchase on the tawara. I’m thinking, “Yet another kyujo coming?” Then he struck with a quick twist and the Penguin was vanquished. Tsukiotoshi

Terunofuji defeated Kotoeko: Terunofuji impressed me with this win. He was pitched far forward trying to get Kotoeko’s belt. As he was reaching, Kotoeko knew the situation was dire if Terunofuji could get a firm grip so he twisted and turned backwards like a bucking bronco. That mawashi may have been tied a bit loose because Terunofuji pulled it up over Kotoeko’s belly, regained control and drove through his opponent, right up toward the top of the ring. Yorikiri.

Kotoshogiku defeated Chiyomaru: Kotoshogiku retreated at the tachiai. His left foot was out a bit wide and Chiyomaru drove him backwards. However, the former Ozeki regained the advantage at the edge and swiftly pushed Chiyomaru out back over on the right side. Chiyomaru may be Juryo bound if he can’t turn things around. Yorikiri.

Kotoshoho defeated Wakatakakage: Kotoshoho wrapped up Wakatakakage pretty quickly, controlling the smaller rikishi with the left. However, Wakatakakage secured a belt grip, twisting to gain an advantage. Kotoshoho twisted at the edge forcing Wakatakakage into the dirt. Tsukiotoshi

Kotonowaka defeated Sadanoumi: Kotonowaka dominated Sadanoumi from the tachiai. He forced Sadanoumi backwards and pressed forward. Sadanoumi twisted left to try a change of direction but Kotonowaka just followed and ushered him out over the edge. “You’re not welcome at this club, Sir.” I’ve been there, too, Sadanoumi. It’s lonely sitting on the curb when your friends are inside. Yorikiri.

Takayasu defeated Shohozan: Takayasu’s lefthanded grip was even less effective today against Shohozan. For a minute he completely disengaged and it looked like we’d have a bar brawl, but the two came together for another clench in the center of the ring, Shohozan seemingly content to try to counter-attack. But no attack seemed forthcoming. Then, just ask Shohozan started to nod off, Takayasu struck, bringing the right hand down on Shohozan’s back and driving him down. Shitatedashinage

Kaisei defeated Tochinoshin: Kaisei brought the sky-crane to Tochinoshin. Both big men had firm two-handed belt grips and Kaisei was determined to beat Tochinoshin at his own game. I was more surprised to see Tochinoshin oblige and try the crane himself…and fail. Kaisei was the stronger man today and walked Tochinoshin over the edge. Yorikiri.

Myogiryu defeated Shimanoumi: Some straightforward sumo from Myogiryu today. Great tachiai. Get your man going backwards. Dominate. Win. Shimanoumi tried one turn to try to change things up but Myogiryu was in great form and stands 2-0. Oshidashi.

Ikioi defeated Ishiura. Let me rephrase. Ikioi owned Ishiura. The taller Ikioi drove his forearm into Ishiura, driving him backwards like the Refrigerator Perry using a pee-wee football blocking sled. It wasn’t until the edge that Ishiura tried to counter…by falling forward. Your gearshift is stuck in reverse. Time for a visit to the mechanic. Ikioi picks up his first win. Hikiotoshi

Tamawashi defeated Chiyotairyu: Tamawashi retreated and dancing a little jig on the tawara, sent Chiyotairyu belly-first into the clay. Our first makuuchi mono-ii of the tournament confirms the victory for Tamawashi. A quick one. Kotenage.

The momentum carried Tamawashi off into the crowd…except there is no ringside crowd. So rather than landing on soft pensioners, he landed hard on the platform below, checking his elbow. Slow to get up but seemingly okay during the mono-ii. Hopefully he’s fine. Off to a good start this tournament at 2-0. It would be a shame for another injury so soon after Kakuryu’s kyujo. Chiyotairyu picks up his first loss.

Enho defeated Tokushoryu: Enho effectively demonstrated for Ishiura how a smaller rikishi can defeat a bigger man with straightforward sumo. He quickly secured a lefthanded belt grip and drove forward at the right time to use Tokushoryu’s momentum against him. Tokyshoryu was just trying to keep from falling over backwards. Tokushoryu falls to 0-2 while Enho picks up his first win. Yorikiri.

Terutsuyoshi defeated Ryuden: Terutsuyoshi picks up the upset AND Ryuden. Strong, straight-forward win from the smaller rikishi. Yorikiri.

Kagayaki defeated Hokutofuji and the gyoji: Kagayaki drove forward into Hokutofuji. Hokutofuji slid backwards and tried to regain his footing. But Kagayaki continued his attack and drove his arm into the back of the off-balance Hokutofuji. Hatakikomi.

Aoiyama defeated Abi: To call Abi a pusher-thruster is a bit generous. He’s a hopper. Aoiyama, on the otherhand, is a textbook pusher-thruster. Today, he chased the hopper around the tawara until he caught him and thrust him out. Tsukidashi.

Okinoumi defeated Kiribayama: Strong sumo from Okinoumi today. Okinomi’s forearm drove Kiribayama back at the tachiai. Kiribayama decided to hang on for the ride as Okinoumi walked him around the dohyo and over the bales to the right. Yorikiri.

Sanyaku

Shodai defeated Takarafuji: Wow. A strong tachiai from Shodai!! A bewildered Takarafuji was far too high to offer resistance. The momentum of the pair brought Takarafuji over the edge. He tried a last gasp twist at the tawara to no avail. If there’s a time to wake up and start an Ozeki run, the time is now. Yorikiri.

Mitakeumi defeated Takanosho: Mitakeumi absorbed Takanofuji’s strong charge and slid back to the edge. With the aid of the tawara, he shifted to the side and drove Takanofuji down for the win. Mitakeumi’s strong 2-0 start. Takanosho falls to 0-2. Hatakikomi.

Takakeisho defeated Onosho: Takakeisho failed to really get the wave action going as Onosho was head down, bulling forward. Reading the situation, Takakeisho quickly changed tack and slipped to the side, slapping down Onosho.

Daieisho goes to 2-0 with Kakuryu’s sudden withdrawal.

Asanoyama defeated Endo.

Andy: “Don’t go for the belt. Endo’s dangerous, especially with that confidence-building win yesterday. But he’s vulnerable to thrusting attacks. So, keep him off your belt, keep him at arm’s length, and you’ve got him for sure.”

Asanoyama: “Shut up.”

Announcer: ただ今の決まりては “Yorikiri.”

Andy: <sheepishly> “Well, you kept him off your belt.”

The strong tachiai…a dominant performance from the shin-Ozeki. A shoulder-shrug to keep Endo from getting a grip, and then a strong, dominant yorikiri win. I can hear my grandma, “What a nice young man. Showing that boy back to his seat.” When you take on your opponent at his strength, and win, you have thoroughly destroyed him. Show’s over.

Oh, wait…

Hakuho dismissed Yutakayama: “Next.” Uwatenage

Now the show’s over. Herouth sums it up better with a Japanese language lesson:

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 – 1/3

Right after having enjoyed the countdown to the new decade, we’re already about to begin another countdown, till the first honbasho of the year.

Amongst New Year’s traditions, rikishi reveal on television their wishes and expectations for the coming year.

This article may be the occasion for us to discuss specific issues, which may become critical in 2020 or which are already razor sharp.

I’ll give my personal opinion on the matters but everyone should feel free to fuel some awesome debates !

1. Will Takayasu be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

Probably the hottest topic currently. Takayasu’s been around for a while – he entered maku’uchi in 2011, and hasn’t had a very long ozeki career – about two years and a half.

Takayasu’s rise was no fluke however, as he produced some great performances, earning kinboshi twice in 2013 and twice in 2014. The Ibaraki-born has a first ozeki run in 2016, but a disappointing 7-8 record in Kyushu wasted fine 11-4 and 10-5 performances.

He returned stronger next year, though, and reached the second highest rank after 11-4, 12-3 and 11-4 performances early in 2017.

Takayasu’s quest for glory undoubtly reached its peak in 2018. Aged 28, he ended up runner up thrice. He narrowly missed a spot in a playoff in the last honbasho of that year.

Last year was much more difficult for him. Before sustaining a serious injury in Nagoya, he produced indifferent 9-6, 10-5 and 9-6 performances. He failed to recover properly from his arm injury, and will start 2020 as an “ozekiwake”.

His repeated training sessions with retired yokozuna Kisenosato – now Araiso oyakata – and new tachi-ai strategy have been criticized among Twitter followers.

In trouble : former ozeki Takayasu

Takayasu has to think his tale isn’t over at the top, as he never lifted the Emperor’s Cup. Turning 30 in February, with an irreversible injury to his arm, will he produce the necessary ten wins to regain his ozeki rank ? If he does, can he maintain his performances during 2020 ?

My prediction : no

2. Will Goeido be an ozeki by the end of 2020 ?

A tricky question. It seems Goeido has been hanging around forever – he produced a noticed 11-4 performance for his maku’uchi debut, back in 2007. He had short stints in san’yaku but spent several years in the maegashira ranks.

The Osaka-native famously began an impressive run at sekiwake in May of 2012, which lasted fourteen tournaments until ozeki promotion after a fine 12-3 performance in Nagoya 2014. His inability to consistently produce strong performances raised doubts about his promotion quest. He got promoted a bit below the common 33 wins standards, with an indifferent 8-7 performance between two 12-3 results.

Goeido has been kadoban nine times (this year’s first tournament included), finished seven tournaments with just eight wins, and followers expected Goeido to produce an anonymous ozeki career.

Being kadoban, Goeido upset the odds during the Aki basho of 2016, winning his only yusho so far with a perfect 15-0 record. Suddenly a yokozuna candidate, he notched just nine wins the following tournament.

Exactly one year after, Goeido wasted a golden opportunity to lift the Emperor’s Cup during the Aki basho again, letting Harumafuji fill a three win deficit before defeating him in the ensuing playoff.

Holding his rank since 2014 : ozeki Goeido

Years 2018 and 2019 were solid albeit unspectacular from Goeido. However, he had to pull out of two of the last three tournaments through injury. Entering 2020 kadoban, aged 33, will Goeido suffer from the weight of the years ? Or will he regain full fitness and enjoy a Kaio-like ozeki career, until the age of 39 ?

My prediction : no

3. Will Asanoyama become an ozeki in 2020 ?

All eyes are watching Asanoyama since he unexpectedly won the May 2019 tournament. After a honourable 7-8 record as then highest ranked maegashira 1, he ended up the year strongly, with 10-5 and 11-4 records. He’ll make his sekiwake debut in 2020.

Officially, Asanoyama is not on an ozeki run – his two last ranks were maegashira 2 and komosubi ; he might also regret not having collected one or two more feasable wins in Kyusho.

Sumo’s next big hope ? Asanoyama Hideki

Nevertheless, Asanoyama’s quest is likely to be eased by the need for new blood at the ozeki ranks – Tochinoshin has been demoted, Takayasu is an uncertain ozekiwake for January, while Takakeisho and Goeido’s recent injury records are no cause for optimism.

Can Asanoyama be promoted as early as March after a tremendous yusho in January ? Or will he simply consolidate his performances, and reach the second highest rank this year ? Or will he fail to meet expactations, as Mitakeumi did so far ?

My prediction : yes

4. Will someone else reach the ozeki rank in 2020 ?

Note : that question does not include Takayasu or Asanoyama.

Abi seems more of a candidate than Mitakeumi, who disappointed again, after clinching his second yusho. Well he get another shot ?

Abi is on the rise, with 8-7, 9-6 and 9-6 records in san’yaku. Can he move up even higher ? His utter aversion for yotsu zumo might prove a stumblingblock, however.

Other candidates would be more original, but also wake up fans from all over the world ! Endo, Daieisho, Ichinojo, Hokutofuji fans and others are welcomed !

 My prediction : no

5. How many yokozuna will remain after 2020 ?

This is a delicate question. Hakuho’s immediate target has long been identified: lasting at least until the Olympics. With his wish about to be granted, the obvious question is: what next ? Hakuho is on the top of almost every record – but is not the oldest rikishi having won a yusho: Kyokutenho achieved that feat, aged 37 years and 8 months.

He also said during the post-basho interview in November that he targeted 50 yushos – he currently has 43.

Many questions remain open: was he serious ? Is that goal actually realistic, given the general state of the field ? Will the ageing yokozuna (he’ll turn 35 in March) manage to hold his form ? Will he stay motivated ?

On a positive note, 2019 has been better for Hakuho than 2018, where he fully competed in just two tournaments. The past year, he competed in “three and a half” tournaments (he pulled out right at the end of the January basho), and won two of them.

Both yokozuna : Hakuho (left) and Kakuryu (right)

About the opposite can be said about Kakuryu’s recent form. After a bright start in 2018, with 11-4, 13-2 and 14-1 records, he had to pull out of part or all of five tournaments. His win in Nagoya of 2019 gave him some respite. Turning 35 in August of this year, will he be able to compete during the whole year ?

My prediction: it’s difficult to answer. Hakuho might decide to retire and Kakuryu to thrive during 2020. But the opposite might also be true, with Hakuho clinching a few more yushos and Kakuryu being unable to challenge properly for the Cup. There’s a chance of seeing one yokozuna retiring and one yokozuna remaining.