And the best basho of the 2010 decade is…

Admittedly, this article could have taken place at the end of last year. But slowly putting myself in the mood for the final basho of the year, I was thinking of past great sumo moments, and wanted to switch from an internal monologue to a broader discussion with you guys, sumo fans.

So my question is: in your opinion, which basho of the past decade would you consider as “the best” ?

Before we start, I’d like to point out the fact that this article will be purely subjective, and does not aim to be scientific or exact. I myself haven’t seen several basho from the beginning of the 2010 decade, so it’s likely I missed some great moments along the way!

I’d like to thank once again Jason Harris for his awesome coverage during the past decades, and his videos I took the liberty to upload here.

The favorites

1. Natsu basho 2012

Had this basho taken place somewhere between 2018 and 2020, the final outcome would not have appeared that weird. But back in 2012, that basho was truly an anomaly.

Seeing an under-par Hakuho losing to Aminishiki on shonishi quickly made it clear the yusho would be up for grabs.

The eventual winner, Kyokutenho, started indifferently, with a 2-3 record after five days, whereas the ozeki were largely disappointing. All, except one: Kisenosato, who had a comfortable two win lead after ten days. But Kisenosato being Kisenosato (and Tochiozan being Tochiozan)…

To sum up this basho, I could of course have selected the playoff, but Kisenosato’s final bout, against Baruto, impressed me quite a lot. The Estonian’s stubborn resistance at the edge, even though nothing was at stake for him at this point, is stunning. Kisenosato’s inability to finish the big guy off is all the more painful.

May 2012, day 15: Kisenosato v Baruto

2. Osaka 2017

Definitely one of the blockbusters of the 2010 decade. The Osaka basho 2017 is the tale of three men, one yokozuna, one ozeki and one sekiwake. Two months ago, all three were ozeki. Kisenosato got promoted to yokozuna, Kotoshogiku could not save his ozeki rank, whereas Terunofuji entered the basho being sadly kadoban yet again. And all three entered the dohyo in fine form.

The shin-yokozuna pleased a delighted crowd, day after day, winning the first twelwe bouts. Terunofuji’s knees seemed to finally let him produce his A-game, having lost just once in the process. Meanwhile, Kotoshogiku grabbed eight wins, and has to win the last two in order to complete what an ozekiwake wants to do: getting his ten, and reaching sumo’s highest rank again.

The rest is already part of the legend: an injury ending career, an infamous henka, a forgettable showing up on day 14, and a playoff of the crippled.

This time, I definitely chose to show the playoff, and not to bring further images of that Kotoshogiku – Terunofuji bout.

Osaka 2017, playoff: Kisenosato v Terunofuji

3. Hatsu basho 2019

My personal favorite, and the perfect definition of sumo chaos.

I can’t help but introducing that event with the usual pre-basho “bold prediction” thread from Grand Sumo Breakdown. Feeling that the upper ranks were far from their best, I predicted a total of no more than 30 wins, for all ozeki and yokozuna combined – that included Goeido, Takayasu, Tochinoshin, Kakuryu, Hakuho and Kisenosato, so an average of five wins per rikishi! Jason thought I was losing it; I held on my prediction. How many wins did those six eventually get? 30.

Back to chaos. First of all, this was Kisenosato’s last basho. After an encouraging 10-5 in September of last year, the injured yokozuna could not grab one single win in November or in January, and had to call it a day.

Kakuryu and Tochinoshin also did not end the tournament – with two wins for the yokozuna, zero for the ozeki. Goeido and Takayasu got their kachi koshi, but varely more (9-6 for both).

What about Hakuho? During the first days, he miraculously saved himself from seemingly hopeless situations – not without a bit of help of Tochiozan, who self destructed once again. Hakuho’s desperate fight against Hokutofuji was a particular highlight. He snatched the win, but injured his knee in the process, as we were to know several days after.

After the first days scares, the dai yokozuna seemed as good as ever – Herouth advised his stable to book a fish in advance, as Hakuho entered the last third of the basho with a two win cushion. From there, the yokozuna’s knee could not stand the effort anymore, and the basho ended up – of course – with a surprise winner.

I enjoyed Takakeisho’s win over Hakuho :

January 2019, day 13: Hakuho v Takakeisho

The outsiders

There were, of course, many more delightful sumo moments to enjoy during that decade. I remember Kisenosato’s fine effort on his quest for his first yusho, in May 2013, where he won the first thirteen bouts before succumbing to Hakuho and ending the basho 13-2.

Kotoshogiku’s unstoppable gaburi was fun, back in January 2016. After getting his kashi koshi as soon as on day eight, things became serious when he defeated Kakuryu, then showing Hakuho and Harumafuji who the boss is. His 14-1 yusho was stunning; perhaps even more than Goeido’s zensho yusho in September 2016, where  Hakuho was kyujo.

January 2016, day 11: Hakuho v Kotoshogiku

The Aki basho 2017 was symbolic in more than one way. The basho almost became a no-kozuna, as the only remaining yokozuna, Harumafuji, was seriously struggling with his elbow (how many no-kozuna have we witnessed since ?). It was also the Mongolian’s final yusho, before his sudden retirement a few weeks after. That basho was yet another anomaly – the last rikishi to win a yusho having sustained four losses was Musashimaru, in 1996.

Goeido’s meltdown was truly shocking – he had a three lead cushion to Harumafuji at some point. All in all, this basho’s scenario was really entertaining, much to Jason’s delight. 

Aki basho 2017, playoff: Goeido v Harumafuji

Jason would surely single out the Aki basho 2012, too. It saw Harumafuji’s second zensho yusho in a row, which prompted a fully deserved yokozuna promotion. On the other hand, Herouth might stress out Kakuryu’s yokozuna promotion, which took place in March 2014.

Aki basho 2012, playoff: Hakuho v Harumafuji

I would finally recall 2019’s Aki basho¸ which was really fun too, with many yusho contenders, and an enjoyable sekiwake duel between Takakeisho and Mitakeumi.

The Aki basho has definitely been entertaining during the past years. Would you pick one of the previous editions as your last decade’s favorite basho?

Heya Power Rankings: Haru-Natsu 18

 

Kakuryu-Happy
Winning feels good, and feeling good is cool.

It’s not an April Fools joke: the Heya Power rankings are in (earlier than usual)! We love charts over here at Tachiai, and during the Haru basho, it was cool to note some of other contributors prognosticating in the comments what bearing the various results might have on the newest ranking sheet. I’d reiterate that this post is mostly for our own interest and fun, to see which stables are impacting the top end of the banzuke, rather than anything being paid attention by people within the sport itself. Our own Bruce put his bets on a nice jump in the standings for Oitekaze-beya. Was he right? Well let’s get into the bar chart and the “Billboard” style Top 20 ranking format:

HeyaPowerRankings_2018_04.png

Bruce was indeed right, because Bruce is a good sumo pundit. Let’s look at the Top 20 chart in slightly more verbose terms:

  1. (+6) Izutsu. 95 points (+50)
  2. (-1) Tagonoura. 90 points (-5)
  3. (+2) Oitekaze. 65 points (+19)
  4. (-1) Sakaigawa. 60 points (even)
  5. (+6) Tomozuna. 55 points (+32)
  6. (-4) Kasugano. 50 points (-44)
  7. (-3) Kokonoe. 48 points (-1)
  8. (-2) Miyagino. 36 points (-9)
  9. (-1) Takadagawa. 21 points (-9)
  10. (-1) Dewanoumi. 20 points (-5)
  11. (+4) Tokitsukaze. 20 points (even)
  12. (+8) Kise. 20 points (+4)
  13. (**) Minato. 20 points (+5)
  14. (-2) Isegahama. 19 points (-2)
  15. (-5) Shikoroyama. 17 points (-7)
  16. (-3) Hakkaku. 16 points (-4)
  17. (+-) Oguruma. 16 points (-3)
  18. (-4) Kataonami. 15 points (-5)
  19. (+-) Isenoumi. 15 points (-3)
  20. (**) Nishonoseki. 15 points (+2)

(legend: ** = new entry, +- = no movement, higher position in the previous chart breaks the tie)

Movers

Izutsu-beya hits the summit for the first time, after Kakuryu’s ultimately comfortable yusho win. He is a Yokozuna and he won the yusho, and you get a lot of points for all of that action the way we calculate it. While the stable is almost empty behind Kakuryu, that has been the case for many years and Izutsu-oyakata is still about 8 years from mandatory retirement. They did add a tiny 16 year old named Bando Jinki in the last year, but he may be one to wash rather than ‘one to watch.’

That all said, what makes me feel good about this model is the way that it rewards stables that have a number of strong performers. Oitekaze-beya is that kind of heya (and Kokonoe would be that kind of heya if they could find this kind of consistency). Yes, Endo won a special prize and had a great tournament and will finally be in san’yaku and there is going to be a lot of cheering. But the stable had seven men in the top 2 divisions accumulating points here, and five of them grabbed kachi-koshi. The other two (Tsurugisho and Tobizaru) were towards the wrong end of Juryo where the stakes are lower anyway, so the stable top-loaded its best records.

The fan-and-rikishi-favorite, former-Kyokutenho-and-now-Tomozuna-oyakata’s heya also scales new heights owing to a thrilling yusho-and-ultimately-jun-yusho-challenge from the Kaisei mammoth. I probably should have tacked on a couple more points here, because in a sport where you don’t always get a lot of face, the Brazilian has been giving some wonderful reaction shots of late (Abi and Ikioi are also members of that club). Kaisei will be finally joined by movie-star Kyokutaisei in Makuuchi at Natsu. The schedulers did the Hokkaido man few favors at Haru by way of repeated call-ups to test his readiness, so he may well have a good chance to stick in the top division. Kyokushuho has been stuck back in Juryo for a year now, and there’s nobody coming up behind him imminently, so it’s going to be on the top two men’s shoulders to keep the good times rolling.

Let’s also talk about Sakaigawa-beya for a minute. Despite the fact that Goeido hasn’t won on Day 15 since September of 2016 (his yusho tournament), he’s actually managed to put together a fairly consistent if unspectacular run of results to keep himself out of kadoban recently. Admittedly, this is probably somewhat helped by the absence of many of the top men of the banzuke, but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Usually, the stable which wins the Juryo yusho gets a bit of a drop off in the following tournament as we award 15 points for that achievement. However, there’s no drop here as both the Hatsu winner (Myogiryu) and Haru winner (Sadanoumi) come from the stable. Our man lksumo believes that Myogiryu is going to dodge the demotion bullet, so the three sekitori will need strong performances to maintain the heya’s position on our chart after Natsu.

Despite their fall, I’m charitably going to include Kasugano-beya in this section. Asking for a repeat yusho was a lot and they were always bound for a big drop, but they are hanging in there at the top end in light of another very strong performance from Sekiwake Tochinoshin and his latest special prize. They could even be due another bounce in the next couple months if his Ozeki run is in fact successful.

Losers

We’ve talked a lot about the sea change that is (slowly) taking place atop the banzuke, and the three stables I’m going to mention here include two that didn’t even make the chart this time.

First of all, the fall of Isegahama continues. This is probably the bottoming out of their ranking as they just have too many sekitori competing at the moment. With 3 men in Juryo and another 2 in Makuuchi next time out, I just can’t see the performance getting lower, especially if Terunofuji can right the ship and challenge for the Juryo honours. Also, Takarafuji was better than his 5 win record at Haru, and even if he’s in for a stiff demotion, he hasn’t had a make-koshi at Maegashira 6 or lower in over 4 years. Additionally, we may see the next wave of Isegahama rikishi challenge for Juryo later this year: while, yes, there are plenty of rikishi in the stable stuck in Jonidan quicksand, Nishikifuji and Midorifuji are on a fast track for fun times.

The question will be whether their strength in numbers restores the stable to the force it was just a half year ago, or a stable like Kise or Kokonoe that’s big on numbers but low on prizes. The road to the former case would seem to run through Terunofuji redeploying his inner Kaiju, Terutsuyoshi making the next step in his development to move up a division and Nishikifuji and Midorifuji establishing themselves as sekitori (Midorifuji will also need to add some heft). And the other case? Well, that’s what you get if all of the above doesn’t happen, and Aminishiki retires.

The other two aforementioned stables are the former powerhouse Sadogatake and the beleaguered Takanohana. Sadogatake, which has an incredible number of rikishi in the lower divisions, hasn’t seen the reinforcements arrive for the struggling Kotoshogiku and Kotoyuki yet, and Kotoeko just hasn’t managed to put together a run for Maegashira promotion. He will have his best shot in some time at Natsu, but it may only serve to offset the continuing declines of the other sekitori in the heya.

As for Takanohana-beya, we gave nil points for the debut of Takayoshitoshi after his assault-inspired half-kyujo tournament, and the limping out of the tournament from Takakeisho was perhaps a metaphor for performances there and elsewhere. The stable combined to go 22-28-10 in the upper tiers, and unless Takakeisho can put together a storming return to sansho-grabbing form or someone can win a yusho in Juryo, it’s unlikely the stable will trouble these charts again soon.

A Weekend of Hana-Zumo

There is no Jungyo in February. Hence no Jungyo coverage. But luckily, the world of sumo takes pity on sumo-starved fans, and spices this cold month with exhibition events, called “hana-zumo”.

These events generally take place in the Kokugikan in Tokyo, meaning they are much easier on the wrestlers than Jungyo events – no traveling, practicing in their own heya, eating the chanko they are accustomed to, and so on.

This weekend included two back-to-back hana-zumo events. On Saturady, as Bruce already mentioned, there was the NHK charity event, which has been held for 51 years now. The most startling news item from this event has been this:

chiyotairyu
Elvis has left the building

This, my friends, is Chiyotairyu. Sans sideburns. Rumor has it that Ichinojo heard that Chiyotairyu had mutton chops, and just ate them.

I don’t know how I’ll recognize him from now on.

There was sumo jinku:

And kiddie sumo:

kiddie-sumo
Sumo in Neverland

And of course, there were bouts. Here is the Makushita “yusho” bout (Makushita was in elimination form). Enho…

…may eat a lot of similar crow up in Juryo. I hope he (or Hakuho, his master) finds a solution for this soon.

And between the bouts, it’s not hana-zumo  (or Jungyo) if you don’t get this scene:

hakuho-and-yobidashi.jpg

What you see here is Hakuho waiting his turn in the kore-yori-san-yaku. That’s when the participants in the last three bouts go on the dohyo and perform synchronized shiko.

In honbasho, this happens only on senshuraku. And in any case, there’s no fooling around in honbasho. But in Hana-zumo and Jungyo, there’s a kore-yori-san-yaku every day. And Hakuho always finds himself a comfortable yobidashi to lean on. Sometimes the bored Yokozuna goes a bit too far:

The sumo events of the day ended with the superb Satonofuji. Can’t get enough of him:

Sunday, and switching channels to Fuji TV. And here, some familiar faces stripped down and wore their old mawashi:

old-boys

Thought you’ll never get to see this again?

Damn, Kotooshu!

Kyokutenho – Tomozuna oyakata – also has nothing to be ashamed of. Asasekiryu (Nishikijima oyakata) fresh out of his chon-mage:

Kitataiki (Onogawa oyakata) is still wearing his chon-mage. Wakakoyu (Shiranui oyakata) nearly got him there:

There was also kiddie sumo. Correct me if I’m wrong, but these kiddies do not look Japanese.

You may notice two differences from kiddie sumo in Jungyo:

  • The Ozeki participate. This is very rare in Jungyo. And both of them together is even rarer.
  • In Jungyo the kiddie sumo is part of keiko. Hana zumo doesn’t include keiko, and the wrestlers do their kiddie sumo in their shime-komi (silk mawashi) and oicho-mage.

In this event, both Juryo and Makuuchi were in elimination format. The championship bout:

Tochinoshin didn’t get that yusho by a bracket fluke. He had to get there through Hakuho:

He got the cup from his stablemaster (Kasugano oyakata):

And from Fuji TV… a cardboard cow?

More bouts:

Hakuho vs. Endo:

Takayasu vs. Tamawashi:

The complete set of Tochinoshin bouts plus interview and cup ceremony:

Juryo tournament: