Natsu was a brutal time for the Ozeki corps, out of the 3 men at this rank, 2 of them failed to secure a winning record. Mitakeumi finished with a 6-9, while Shodai did worse at 5-10. As a result there will be 2 of the 3 Ozeki kadoban for the July tournament in Nagoya, with Mitakeumi being the home town favorite. It has been several years since Tachiai was able to use the once common “Kadoban Twins” tag, and it does not herald fine days of sumo are at hand.
For Mitakeumi, I am going to guess he was injured. His prior two performances were a 12-2 yusho (his third!) that secured his promotion to Ozeki. He followed that with a blistering 11-4 in Osaka that saw him in contention for the up up until a very mild week 2 fade. In May, he never put two wins in on consecutive days, and struggled to defeat opponents such as Hoshoryu, who picked up his first career win against Mitakeumi, and Tamawashi, whom Mitakeumi has a 27-4 career advantage. This is not an indicator of a strong and genki Ozeki. Sadly there are some indications that whatever was plaguing him continues. During the past week or so, the Sumo Kyokai has permitted degeiko for the first time in a couple of years. Absent from inter-stable training was Mitakeumi, who has no sekitori in his home stable to train against. I would say he continues to be hurt and is worried about compounding his problems in a joint training session.
On the subject of Shodai, his performance has been poor since his 11-4 jun-yusho in January of 2021. It is true that he had COVID, and seems to have struggled to overcome some lingering effects. What happened to him in May is anyone’s guess. 2020 saw some outstanding sumo from this guy, but then the “bad version” came back with his kyujo in November of 2020, and he has not been even close to genki since. I know I tend to complain about Shodai quite a bit. It’s largely because I would like the 2019/2020 Shodai back, and he is clearly not up to that level of sumo now, and I worry he may never be again. This will be the 3rd time in his career that he starts a tournament as a kadoban Ozeki, and I hope the he can pull it together.
Much as with Natsu, the lower named ranks are especially sharp right now, and will prove to be a tough obstacle for both men looking to get to the safety of 8 wins as quickly as possible. This is especially true for the trio of Wakatakakage, Hoshoryu and Kiribayama. All three of them are expected to face the kadoban Ozeki in the early stages of the basho, and could be indicators of just how banged up Mitakeumi and Shodai are.
We will be keeping out fingers crossed, and hope for the best. It would be grim to lose an Ozeki this year.
Mitakeumi has been tough on his fans since he rose to prominence in July of 2018, taking the Nagoya basho cup in front of a raging crowd of home-town supporters. After attending Toyo University, he entered professional sumo as Makushita 10, and promptly began stomping the daylights out of just about everyone. He has always been above average, quickly rising to the san’yaku in 2016, and more or less staying there.
For years, his supporters were sure he would be Ozeki “any basho now”, but he was dependable to undergo a week 2 fade, and could not really keep his week 1 intensity into week 2. His second yusho, in September of 2019, may have surprised a few, but it was a glimpse of what what Mitakeumi could do if he stayed strong into week 2.
Late in 2021, he seemed to finally have solved his problems with endurance and consistency, and racked up a 9-6, 11-4 and a blistering 13-2 yusho run to stamp his ticket to sumo’s second highest rank. I had questions if he really had made a step change in his sumo, or was just in a good spot for once, and could string together the storied 33 wins over 3 basho goal. His first basho as Ozeki answered that, perhaps, with an 11-4 record that saw him in the running for the cup into week 2.
His 4 losses in Osaka were to
Kiribayama – Day 5
Hokutofuji – Day 10
Takayasu – Day 12
Kotonowaka – Day 14
I vividly recall his day 4 loss to Kiribayama, where he (to my eye) underestimated his opponent, and assumed his bulky mass would be sufficient defense. Mitakeumi then found not only was he wrong, but had no working plan “B” as Kiribayama hussled him across the bales. This same miscalculation seemed to play out again on day 10 against Hokutofuji, who is always dangers, as he is able to rally and surprised just about any opponent if he can get his opening.
I am sure Mitakeumi was disappointed to not be in the battle on day 15 to take the cup, but an 11-4 result from an Ozeki is a very good score. Good enough that he bypassed 9-6 Shodai and 8-7 Takakeisho to assume the lead Ozeki 1 East spot. This means that should both he and Terunofuji make it to day 15, the fight between these two should close out the basho.
Naturally Mitakeumi fans are once again making Yokozuna noises about the “Original Tadpole”, and I honestly think it comes down to that question around his endurance. Has he in fact made that step change, and we will we see 4th consecutive basho with strong week 2 performance? Japanese fans of sumo (which is most of them) would love to see another Japanese Yokozuna.
What can we expect in terms of opponents for Mitakeumi? I think he will face Takayasu on day 1, a great re-match of that day 12 match that knocked him out of the yusho race. He may follow that up with a match against Hoshoryu, who was (to my eye) a bit rough in March. I think we will see a rematch against Kiribayama sometime in act 1 (the first 5 days), and that one I have on a “must watch” list for Natsu.
I am trying to not think about the creepy silence during this basho, but instead look forward to the new camera angles that give me new ways to appreciate the mechanics of sumo. I talked about getting a new view of how some of the better rikishi of the day conduct their matches in the day 1 highlights, and to me its a big deal. I am sure for sumo fans in Japan and specifically in Tokyo, watching practice at the heya would provide some of the same insights. But for a yank watching from afar, it’s really quite engaging.
It was almost a clean sweep for the named ranks on day 1, with Daieisho being the only one of the clan to hit the clay. But even he looked sharp, and nearly gave the lead Ozeki a loss on opening day. At least one of the named ranks will take a loss again today, as Takakeisho faces off against the original tadpole himself, Mitakeumi. Expectations are low on Mitakeumi this tournament, so I think the pressure is off and we may see some really solid sumo from him. At least during week 1.
What We Are Watching Day 2
Ishiura vs Chiyomaru – Ishiura can struggle with much larger opponents – with his day 1 loss to Kaisei being a great example. He does have a solid formula for winning against the bulbous Chiyomaru, with a near even 8-9 career record. A word of caution, he has not beaten the spheroid man in the last 5 attempts.
Akua vs Chiyotairyu – Oddly enough, these two veterans have never had a match before. Let’s fix that at once! Akua has a bit of a rusty start day 1, but he will break into fighting form within the first act. Chiyotairyu’s day 1 fight with Daiamami was near perfect form for him, and I doubt that we will see Akua give him the same opportunity.
Kaisei vs Daiamami – This really comes down to what kind of condition Kaisei’s body is in this May. If he’s reasonably healthy, I can see him using his enormity and power, this far down the banzuke, to dominate most of his matches. There are actually several high-skill vets clogging up the bottom ranks, and it will start to get brutal, I predict, some time in week 2.
Kotoeko vs Akiseyama – Akiseyama’s sheer bulk tends to be a foil for Kotoeko speed and compact strength. Kotoeko has taken both prior matches this year, for an overall 4-5 record. I Akiseyama, to my eye, did look a bit rusty day 1 in his loss to Okinoumi.
Kotonowaka vs Okinoumi – Speaking of high-skill veterans, Okinoumi might possibly be able to pretzel Kotonowaka within the first 5 seconds of a match, provided that the surprisingly low ranked Sadogatake heyagashira continues to look like he did day 1 against Terutsuyoshi. I don’t think Okinoumi will use the same level of maneuver and evasion, so maybe this match may be more to Kotonowaka’s liking.
Chiyoshoma vs Terutsuyoshi – Two fast, nimble rikishi who are willing to pull slippery moves out of the bag and deploy them from the tachiai? Why, yes please! They have a 3-3 career record, and this match offers a slim chance of the elusive double-henka.
Shimanoumi vs Tamawashi – Shimanoumi has not lost to Tamawashi, ever. He holds a 2-0 advantage, but looked really shabby day 1 against Endo. By contrast, Tamawashi seems to have shown up dialed in and ready to dominate. This could be the day their career record flips to 2-1.
Kagayaki vs Endo – Long time readers know I do enjoy Kagayaki’s sumo when he’s fighting well. Which as not been since January of 2020. How he has managed to end up as Maegashira 9 after going 5-10, 6-9 and 6-9 from M3e, I will never know. But today he’s going to get spanked by Endo, I think.
Tochinoshin vs Tsurugisho – First time match between to big, big guys. Both of them lost day 1, and both of them are certainly focused on turning that around. It’s kind of early to pair up the zero loss crowd, but hey – why not.
Takarafuji vs Ichinojo – This is always a fun match, because Takarafuji usually tries to wear Ichinojo out. Which only happens once in a while. So instead you get Ichinojo accepting the defend and extend match format, and going all boulder against the man with no neck. Suddenly forced to cope with nearly half a ton of Mongolian granite, even the mighty Takarafuji will begin to question is choices. Then, Ichinojo wakes up and the match ends. He holds a 12-3 advantage over Takarafuji.
Hoshoryu vs Hidenoumi – This one has some nice potential, though I think due to the banzuke train wreck coming out of March, both men are a bit over ranked. They have matched twice before, and split the two. Hidenoumi took the match last tournament, and may have a slight edge on day 2.
Onosho vs Myogiryu – For Myogiryu to come out of this match the winner, he needs to not let Onosho bracket him, or allow him to lean in. We all know that Onosho has basically one fight plan, and by golly he is going to run it no matter what. When it works, is hard to stop him, but the trick is to make sure he never gets that far. Onosho holds a 6-3 career lead.
Kiribayama vs Daieisho – I kind of think that Daieisho should have put the doom on Asanoyama day 1, so I am looking for him to make it up against Kiribayama on day 2. Kiribayama has taken their last 2 matches to hold a 3-1 career record against the Hatsu yusho winner. II expect that Daieisho will open strong as is his custom, so Kiribayama will need to steady his balance at the tachiai.
Takayasu vs Chiyonokuni – I would guess Takayasu is healthy enough he is back to his wild-man sumo. This is a perfect match for Chiyonokuni’s brand of sumo. The career record reads 5-1, but these two have not fought since 2018, and a lot has happened since then. I look forward to seeing what Chiyonokuni can do today.
Tobizaru vs Takanosho – It’s flying monkey vs onigiri-kun. Takanosho looked brutally focused day 1 against Chiyonokuni, and Tobizaru may get run down and tossed away without ceremony. Takanosho holds a 5-2 career advantage.
Asanoyama vs Meisei – Asanoyama did look a bit rusty as Daieisho nearly took him out on day 1. Hopefully he has dialed up his intensity quite a bit, and is ready for what Meisei is going to unleash on him day 2. True, Meisei has only taken 1 of their prior 6 matches, but if Asanoyama wants to remain the top Ozeki, he needs to dominate these week 1 fights.
Hokutofuji vs Terunofuji – It’s early to say it, but each tournament I look for signs that Hokutofuji is hot on the trail of achieving “The Most Powerful Make-Koshi In All Of Sumo”, which seems to be his forte. Today we get to see what he can do against a kaiju with no knees. All joking aside, Terunofuji did look a bit creaky on day 1, and I am just looking for him to get his 8.
Shodai vs Wakatakakage – Wakatakakage is good enough, and fast enough that he can help Shodai taste-test this tournament’s dohyo. He just needs to remove any chances that Shodai can reach into his Acme bag of cartoon sumo and deploy the unexpected or the unlikely counter-move to a well crafted attack. Shodai needs 7 more to remove kadoban and retain Ozeki.
Mitakeumi vs Takakeisho – This first big tadpole fight of the tournament, pits two rotund examples of the amphibian sumo in the final match of the day. They come in with a 9-10 career record, but I am going to give a slight edge to Takakeisho today. He has clearly lost a good amount of flab since last year, and I think it’s been at least that long since he has been able to show as much power as he did day 1 when he sent Wakatakakage down to visit the shimpan in a heap.
With a thunderous kyujo, act 2 comes to a close. I do mean Takakeisho, yes. While he has had poor performance from the start, he was was the center of attention in the days before the basho, as he had taken the cup in November and had an opportunity to make a bid to be promoted to Yokozuna. It seems at some point early in the tournament he injured his ankle, but frankly I think there may be more than that. He has looked unwell since the joint practice in the basement of the Kokugikan. I hope that he can get his body together a bit later this year and try again.
In the rikishi still active, there was no change at the top of the leader board as both Daieisho and Shodai won their matches today, and remain #1 and #2 respectively. This only gets interesting if someone can drop Daieisho at least once during act 3, which starts tomorrow. Personally I like the chances of another loss (at least 40%) due to the mental pressure of considering the yusho may cause some loss of focus during the daily bout. The chance is high we won’t know who will take the cup until day 15, and that is how it should be.
Azumaryu defeats Akiseyama – Akiseyama has now lost 4 in a row, and is on a genuine cold streak. He had been tied for the lead at one time, and is now struggling. Is it a cold streak, or did he pick up an injury? Either way, Azumaryu picks up a much needed win to improve to 3-7.
Hoshoryu defeats Kotonowaka – Ok, Hoshoryu seems to have found his sumo for real! He beats Kotonowaka for the first time in 4 attempts by slamming him to the clay after a leg trip attempt. He has won the last 5 in a row after losing the first 5 from opening day.
Ichinojo defeats Midorifuji – You have to admire Midorifuji’s courage, he has to have seen Kiribayama’s day 9 attempt to grapple Ichinojo, and he somehow said to himself, “I am going to try that too!”. Well, it was just as pointless as once you get a hold of Ichinojo, he gets a hold of you, and you realize you have no way to let go. So you try to bide your time, but Ichinojo is quite comfortable and possibly napping. You then realize that you are simply going to have to make it look good. Ichinojo advances to 7-3 to remain at the edge of the group chasing Daieisho.
Sadanoumi defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama had the early advantage, and fired up his thrusting attack. Sadanoumi took the punishment and got inside and them got Aoiyama moving back. I notice that Sadanoumi’s leg was not as heavily wrapped today as it had been in earlier matches. Maybe that gave him some of his speed and mobility back. Both end the day 5-5.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Myogiryu – Well, they traded push back mattas, and it was clear they were annoyed with each other. When they got underway on the 3rd attempt, Myogiryu attempted a double hand slap down, but could not make it stick. Myogiryu found himself without any defensive elements to the match, and Terutsuyoshi blasted him out to improve to 4-6.
Akua defeats Tokushoryu – Sharing is caring, they say, and today Akua gave Tokushoryu the gift of make-koshi, which he received on day 9 from Tobizaru. This was another extended chest to chest match, though nothing on the scale of Ichinojo’s long duration endurance challenge. I did not like the way Tokushoryu’s left knee / leg collapsed at the end. I hope he is not injured. Both end the day at 2-8.
Meisei defeats Kiribayama – It was a battle of the slap / pull down attempts, and while it was not pretty, it all worked out for Meisei. Meisei tried one first, giving the advantage to Kiribayama who responded moments later and that loss of forward pressure was all Meisei needed. Why do these guys try to respond to a dumb move with their own version of the dumb move? I see it far too much in sumo. Meisei improves to 7-3 and stays 2 behind Daieisho.
Kotoeko defeats Tobizaru – Another day with a flying hands of fury match involving Kotoeko. He has the right partner for that activity in Tobizaru, and they two went at it like a pair of tabbies jacked up on catnip. Sometimes I do love a good “kitchen sink” match, and this was pretty close to that, with Kotoeko ultimately giving Tobizaru a powerful shove over the bales for the win. Both end the day 4-6.
Ryuden defeats Yutakayama – Ryuden did a fantastic job of robbing Yutakayama of his offensive tools. He locked him up early and drove him back and out within 5 steps, leaving Yutakayama no room to maneuver, and no room to push back. Ryuden has won 3 of is last 4 and improves to 4-6.
Kagayaki defeats Shimanoumi – Possibly the best sumo from Kagayaki so far this tournament. He stayed low, kept his stance wide, kept his feet heavy and his shoulder square. Shimanoumi battled back well, but once Kagayaki gets into this mode, he’s quite powerful. Kagayaki improves to 5-5.
Takarafuji defeats Kotoshoho – Kotoshoho continues his relentless drive toward a 0-15 result, which is slightly easier to obtain than a zensho result. Its heart breaking, as the guy really has some excellent sumo. Kotoshoho came close today when Takarafuji fell out of the ring with Kotoshoho, but it was clear that Takarafuji’s hand touched down after Kotoshoho’s foot it the janome. Takarafuji improves to 6-4.
Daieisho defeats Hokutofuji – Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with (once again) The Most Powerful Make-Koshi in Sumo! Hokutofuji had a couple of good hits, but this was all Daieisho, and he improves to 9-1 and maintains sole possession of the lead.
Takayasu defeats Tochinoshin – Takayasu had some great hand placement, catching Tochinoshin under the armpits with a meaty shove that ruined his balance and left him wide open to be attacked and moved out. Takayasu improves to 6-4.
Mitakeumi defeats Onosho – Ok, maybe Mitakeumi has his act together now. He takes down fellow tadpole Onosho and knocks him out of the group 2 losses behind Daieisho. Mitakeumi guessed that Onosho would bring his center of balance as far forward as he could, and timed his release of pressure and pull down superbly. He improves to 5-5.
Takanosho defeats Terunofuji – I am gobsmacked by this one. On what planet was Takanosho the winner. Oh well, anyone surprised that Terunofuji got the short end of another monoii? I sure am not. Takanosho’s gymnastics to stay airborne as they both went out were spectacular. Both end the day 6-4.
Asanoyama defeats Tamawashi – Tamawashi opened with a powerful combo, which Asanoyama absorbed well, got his hands around Tamawashi and took control of the match. He improves to 7-3 to remain 2 behind Daiesho.
Shodai defeats Endo – Endo is a master tactician, and had a great formula for today’s match against Shodai. He had the Ozeki off balance and dancing around to maintain footing, and then the cartoon sumo kicked in. Shodai’s in the middle of being thrown, and suddenly he pivots and its Endo thats off balance. Shodai continues the rotation and they both crash over the bales. The gumbai goes to Shodai, and I am left wondering what I just saw. Of course there was a monoii, as they all say in unison “What the hell was that?” But no, the cartoon sumo worked once again, and Endo lands first, and it’s kachi-koshi for Shodai.