Hatsu Story 3 – Harumafuji’s Long Shadow

Harumafuji

With the new year’s basho about to begin, many sumo fans may feel the controversy around former Yokozuna Harumafuji is in the distant past. (In case there is one fan out there who does not know, Harumafuji was at the center of a controversy stemming from a night out with other rikishi in which he repeatedly struck Takanoiwa with his fists and a karaoke machine remote. The reaction to this regrettable incident included Harumafuji’s resignation from the sumo world.)

As the first five days of the basho unfold, we will see a new dynamic at play, as Harumafuji previously played a large role in shaping each tournament’s pace and outcome. True, he was usually good for a handful of kinboshi, but Harumafuji was a relentless competitor who delivered massive offense each time he mounted the dohyo. Without his participation in this tournament, we may see several differences even in the early days.

  • Increased Tadpole Dominance: So far, the league of up-and-coming rikishi has been storming the gates of the old guard. While four healthy Yokozuna would make life very hard for the younger Rikishi, many fans think that we may only get Hakuho for the full 15 days of Hatsu, and possibly not even that. This means that we may once again see the youngsters turn in solid, double-digit records from high Maegashira or San’yaku ranks. In the past, Harumafuji would tough it out and cull the next generation as much as he was able.
  • Increased Pressure on Hakuho: As noted in the earlier commentary, Kakuryu and Kisenosato are “on the bubble”. While both of them have put forth a mighty effort to be ready for Hatsu, there is a real threat that either or both of them are simply too hurt to continue. This could possibly leave Hakuho as the only Yokozuna for this tournament, or the only Yokozuna period. This would have the effect of motivating “The Boss” to continue to compete in spite of injuries that in the past would have put him to kyujo, knowing that Harumafuji would carry on. If that should happen, it might hasten the end of Hakuho.
  • The Battle For The Next Ozeki: The fight for the next Ozeki slot is already underway, with Tamawashi and Mitakeumi clear front-runners. But with the Yokozuna ranks thinned and possibly thinning more, Takakeisho and Onosho are primed to step up their sumo. Both Goeido and Takayasu have stabilized their performance somewhat, but neither of them are clear favorites to begin a campaign for the tsuna.

Five Interesting Matches on Day 13

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With the Kyushu basho wrapping up, many of the matches on day 13 are in some ways more about the New Year tournament than the current one. Several rikishi, such as Okinoumi, Endo, and Kagayaki, will be facing opponents five or six ranks above them tomorrow, as the schedulers try to get an idea of what the Hatsu banzuke will look like. Here are just five interesting matches to keep an eye on for day 13.

Aoiyama vs. Daiamami

Although it wouldn’t do much to improve his current situation, I do think Aoiyama deserved a win on day 12. From the replays, it was pretty clear that Kotoyuki’s arm touched the clay a split second before the big Bulgarian’s heel stepped out, and I was very surprised there wasn’t at least a monoii. Aoiyama will have to leave the past behind and focus on tomorrow when he meets Daiamami, who despite losing the majority of his bouts has been giving it his all in the last half of this basho. Day 13 will be the first time these two rikishi meet.

Aminishiki vs. Ikioi

Everyone’s favorite uncle will once again try to secure his spot in the top division tomorrow. Aminishiki’s tournament started off strong, but he has faded a bit in the later half of this basho as his opponents began to figure out his tactics. Yet there is a man who may just fall for the wily veteran’s tricks, and his name is Ikioi. On any given day, Ikioi can show incredible skill and determination on the dohyo. But then there are days where he wrestles like a man with banana peels taped to his feet. It’s impossible to predict which Ikioi will show each day and if he decides to lace up the peels tomorrow, Aminishiki shouldn’t have much trouble making a fool of him.

Endo vs. Tamawashi

Apparently, Okinoumi isn’t the only one putting his health issues behind him, as crowd favorite Endo has been having another great tournament. Coming into day 13 with a 9-3 record, Endo is fighting much like he did when he first emerged on the Makuuchi scene and captured the hearts of sumo fans. His impressive showing has resulted in a massive jump up the torikumi, and he will face Maegashira 1 Tamawashi tomorrow. These two have had a very interesting series, with Endo dominating their first six bouts and Tamawashi taking the last five.

Onosho vs. Shohozan

It would be quite the comeback story if Onosho could somehow get his kachi koshi after an abysmal start to the tournament. Since donning the red mawashi once more, he has only lost once and will need to win his last three matches to get an 8-7 record. His first and perhaps greatest challenge comes in the form of Shohozan, who has also underperformed this basho. Onosho has faced off against the Fukuoka native three times before and has never beat him. Can Onosho keep his kachi koshi dream alive, or will Shohozan hand him his first Makuuchi losing record?

Ichinojo vs. Mitakeumi

Ichinojo has definitely been one of the MVPs of this basho. He dominated Kisenosato, gave Hakuho his first taste of real competition, and had a highlight bout with Goeido on day 12. While I don’t know if Ichinojo will have a good enough record by the end of the basho to contend for the opening(s) in the Komusubi rank, he does have a pretty good shot at Maegashira 1. Ichinojo may also be in the running for a sansho special prize if he can bring his record up to ten or eleven wins. His day 13 opponent is Sekiwake Mitakeumi, who will want to get back in the win column after a concise loss to Hakuho. Mitakiumi will be  looking for his eighth victory to secure his kachi koshi and keep his Sekiwake rank for January. He has met Ichinojo on the clay twice, and the two are tied at one win apiece.

Five Interesting Matches on Day 7

 

Things are beginning to get more and more exciting as the midway point of the 2017 Kyushu basho draws closer. With another day of action ahead of us, here are five matches of interest for day 7.

Nishikiki vs. Kagayaki

Sitting right on the line between Makuuchi and Juryo, Maegashira 15 Nishikigi is desperately trying to prolong his time in the top division. He is set to face Kagayaki on day 7, who is also at risk of a return trip to Juryo should he not get his sumo in gear. While Nishikigi may be battling one opponent this Saturday, Kagayaki is facing two, as the young rikishi from Kanazawa is constantly fighting his own poor balance. Kagayaki leads their series 4 to 3.

Asanoyama vs. Myogiryu

The Asanoyama we all remembered from Aki finally showed up today and delivered a commanding performance against Aminishiki. While it was disappointing to watch everyone’s favorite uncle take his first loss, I’m sure many were relieved to see the promising young rikishi halt his four-day losing skid. Asanoyama’s day 7 opponent will be Myogiryu, who has also been struggling to collect wins in Fukuoka this basho.

Kaisei vs. Chiyomaru

Those of you averse to ample fields of sweaty back hair may want to give this match a pass. The only thing Chiyomaru has been consistent with this basho is his inconsistency. The rotund rikishi has flip-flopped between winning and losing every day and can expect his fourth loss tomorrow if he continues to follow this pattern. His rival for Saturday, Kaisei, is having a somewhat better basho and comes into day 7 with four wins.

Takarafuji vs. Shodai

Early in the basho, it was looking like we would finally see a bit of the Shodai who took the sumo world by storm in 2016. He’s since fallen back into his old habits and suffered a third consecutive loss yesterday in a one-sided bout against Daieisho. Tomorrow he meets Takarafuji, who managed to bring his win-loss ratio back to 50% with a day 6 victory over Chiyonokuni. Shodai needs to figure out his sumo, and soon, or he risks another make-koshi, while Takarafuji is probably just glad Ishiura is down in Juryo untying other mens’ mawashi.

Tamawashi vs. Mitakeumi

Tamawashi really wants back in the San’yaku, and I mean really! The former Sekiwake brought his A-game to his day 6 match with Yoshikaze and must have peeled a few layers of skin off the veteran brawler’s face with his blistering tsuppari attacks. Tamawashi takes on Mitakeumi tomorrow, who may be the worse for wear despite winning his bout with Onosho on Friday. Mitakeumi appears to have hurt his leg after landing on the stadium floor and was limping as he made his way back on to the dohyo. Tomorrow’s match will be a good indicator of just how serious this leg injury is. Mitakeumi leads their series 8-1.

Everything You Need to Know After Act One

 

With the first act of the Kyushu basho coming to an end, here is a quick rundown of everything you need to know to get all caught up.

Yusho Race

Five days in and the leaderboard has already dwindled down to three men, all with perfect records. Maegashira 13 Aminishiki, Ozeki Goeido, and a very genki Yokozuna Hakuho have five wins each and are neck and neck in the yusho race. Behind them with four wins are Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, Arawashi, and surprisingly, Okinoumi. I expect this group to be much smaller by the end of act two.

Kinboshi

So far, there have been three kinboshi surrendered this basho. Tamawashi earned the first of these gold star victories on day 1 when he defeated Yokozuna Kisenosato. Up and comer Takakeisho claimed the other two when he beat Harumafuji on day 2 and Kisenosato on day 4.

Kyujo and Absences

There are currently six men on the banzuke who have pulled out of the competition. Ura, Takanoiwa and Yokozuna Kakuryu withdrew citing health issues before the start of the basho. Aoiyama joined them on day 3 after sustaining an ankle injury in his match with Okinoumi. Day 3 would also see Yokozuna Harumafuji pull out of the competition following accusations of an assault on Takanoiwa during the October jungyo tour. After four straight losses, former Ozeki Terunofuji withdrew on day 5 to address the multiple health issues that have been plaguing him as of late.

Tozai-Sei

On day 1, I mentioned that I would be keeping track of the unofficial Tozai-sei Championship going on between the East and West sides of the banzuke. The Tozai-sei was an award used in the early 20th century and was given to the side of the banzuke with the most wins, and I’ve decided to resurrect it for a bit of added fun this basho. The rules are simple: for every win a rikishi gets, his side receives a point. After five days, the West leads the East with a record of 53 to 46. This lead is no doubt thanks to Aminishiki, Ichinojo, Takayasu, and Hakuho, who have a combined 18 points thus far. The top point earners on the East side are Okinoumi, Mitakeumi, and Goeido, who have 14 points between them.

With day 6 set to start in just a few short hours, there are still so many great sumo highlights to look forward to as the Kyushu basho rolls on.

Day 2 – Slip Slidin’ Away

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The Battle of the Tsuyuharai

Before we turn to Aminishiki, who is still carrying Isegahama beya on his shoulders all alone (well, Homarefuji also won today), let’s drop and visit one of our favorites down in Makushita.

Yes. Unfortunately, Tokoryu was not letting the boy wonder outdo him. Hakuho’s pretty uchi-deshi tastes his first defeat.

In my personal watch list of Naruto beya – Torakio wins, Sumidagawa lost yesterday to Ezuka, who is a third of his size. Gap starts to open?


So, back up to Makuuchi. Nishikigi shows good fighting spirit and pushes Ishiura’s face with his lower arm several times. Ishiura, on the other hand, shows why he is in Juryo. Something is not working there.

Takekaze gets Kotoyuki down, stumbles over him, and both fall awkwardly below the dohyo. Takekaze seems to be OK, but Kotoyuki limping. Unfortunately, it’s not the worst injury of the day. Following the Aminishiki-Kagayaki bout, we have Aoiyama vs. Okinoumi. Aoiyama somehow damages his foot against the tawara, and ends up in the dreaded giant wheelchair. Following the doctor’s check, his stablemaster says that he hurt his heel, and that there was a “snapping sound”. This does not bode well for the Bulgarian.

This is not basho-related, but if we’re in the hospital already, the NSK finally released the reason for Takanoiwa’s kyujo, and it sounds very unpleasant: Concussion, ear canal inflammation, skull fracture, and a suspicion of cranial fluid leakage. For some unfathomable reason, the press says the expected recovery time is two weeks. From a skull fracture? Hmmm. Wishes of health go out to Kotoyuki, Aoiyama and Takanoiwa.

So, rewind a bit to the battle of the Tsuyuharai. That is, Kagayaki is Kisenosato’s tsuyuharai, whereas Aminishiki continues to serve as Harumafuji’s tsuyuharai, despite the fact that it strains his knees and ankles, and that it leaves him precious little time to get ready for his bouts. An honor is an honor. And anyway, he doesn’t seem to be affected by it too much, and might be running out of Yokozuna pretty soon the way things look up the banzuke. The torikumi itself was pretty short: Uncle chose to rise high at the tachiai to match Kagayaki’s height, and already had a grip in preparation whilst rising. Then it was left, down, and 2-0.

Endo and Kaisei take some time to fight over their mawashi grips, when Endo decides he has had enough, pulls on the one side of Kaisei’s mawashi he has a firm grip on, and twists him down. Shitatehineri. Nice!

Chiyomaru seems to have had a good night sleep, and came back with his usual genki today. Slap-slappity-slap, grab, push, and out with Daieisho.

Chiyoshoma on the other hand, makes the mistake of retreating after a good tachiai vs. Shodai, tries to grab something for one of his throws, but runs out of dohyo doing so.

Chiyonokuni loses by slippiotoshi – not the last one of the day – to Arawashi. Today was not a very good day for Kokonoe, either. But really, their fare is better than Isegahama…

What mode did Ichinojo boot up in for this basho? What a lovely bout against Takarafuji. Shoulder blast at the tachiai, a combination of oshi and yotsu zumo, some patience, and a couple of gaburi to put the Isegahama man out. As a general Isegahama fan this makes me a bit sad, but on the other hand, I really like Ichinojo. Especially when he’s wide awake.

OK, we’re up in the sanyaku. Hokutofuji looks convincing vs. Mitakeumi. Or is it that Mitakeumi is all… fishy…? Sorry, but that man’s face…

The ghost of Terunofuji tries to do all sorts of things with Shohozan, but, quite expectedly, fails. Shohozan is kind enough not to push the ailing Kaiju off the dohyo.

Chiyotairyu drops the lid on Yoshikaze‘s hopes to make an Ozeki run.

Goeido. Well, Goeido. That is, Goeido. He does to Kotoshogiku exactly what Harumafuji did to him in the playoff match in Aki. Simply prevents the henka and pushes the local man out so quickly he doesn’t know what hit him. Well, it was Goeido, Giku-zeki. He studied the monitor well and probably watched that match dozens of times since. The way Goeido looks right now, Hakhuo can start worrying.

Takayasu is back. Blast, push, and Tochiozan learns the pain of the joi. So, you’re saying the man from Tagonoura was injured? When was that?

And now we’re into the Yokozuna. And… when was the last time Harumafuji had two black stars from day one? The answer is Natsu 2010. Never as a Yokozuna, of course. He tried to tackle Takakeisho. Once. Didn’t work. Twice. Didn’t work. Third time… and he ran out of clay. Takakeisho was benevolent enough to pull him in so he will not roll off the dohyo (this is the real meaning of karma, by the way). The Yokozuna has as much chance of becoming a dai-yokozuna as I have of becoming a Japanese…

The bout between Kisenosato and Onosho was, in Onosho’s words, “Not what I thought it would be”. It looked a bit like a cartoon character starting to run, with feet shuffling but no forward motion. Big, big, slippiotoshi, and all Kisenosato had to do was let him fall in a way that could be called a kimarite.

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Slippiotoshi, reverse angle

The Japanese broadcaster said he did a “left ottsuke”. Anybody see an ottsuke there? Because I don’t. I see a man falling down.

Finally, Hakuho back in the musubi-no-ichiban. Slips in his usual face slap. Disengages for a second, and before Tamawashi can think of anything, shows him the way out.

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Get out, trespasser!

So, two days go by. Maybe we’ll see a yusho playoff between Hakuho, Goeido, and, er… Aminishiki? Nah, I’m just jinxing him talking like that. Seriously, though, Hakuho, Goeido and Takayasu are currently the only dominant-looking rikishi on the clay.

 

Hatsu Day 14 Preview

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Final Weekend Begins

Hatsu has been an interesting tournament for fans, but it has been brutal for Sumo’s talent. In the top division alone there have been 4 rikishi that have withdrawn with injuries, and many more (such as Kotoshogiku and Osunaarashi) who continue on although they should probably be nursing their wounds.

It would be easy to think of day 14 is filler while we all wait for the final, all important battle between Yokozuna Hakuho and Ozeki Kisenosato, but in fact there are a number of sumotori who are still fighting to secure their winning record (kachi-koshi). This includes

Sadanoumi who will fight Ura in the first bout of Makuuchi, Aoiyama who fights Kagayaki in a battle of slaps, Chiyoshoma who fights Daishomaru , and Ikioi who faces hapless doomed Ozeki Kotoshogiku.

There also seems to be a number of “test matches” that feature men from much lower down the banzuke trying their sumo against upper ranked rikishi. These will likely give us some good idea of how they might perform after their expected promotions. This includes

Takayasu vs Sokokurai – Komusubi (working to start an Ozeki run) vs Maegashira 10, but they have even records, and Sokokurai is a real contender. I am certain that Takayasu will take this match seriously, and it could be a real brawl.

Kisenosato vs Ichinojo – The dai-Ozeki vs Maegashira 13, but Ichinojo will be no walk in the park. He has lost a lot of weight, and is in good fighitng form now. Its expected that Kisenosato will dispatch him, but Ichinojo’s size, weight and strength means it’s going to take some work.

Mitakeumi vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji shows hints of being a very strong, dominant member for the new class of rikishi. He goes against Mitakeumi who has really impressed this tournament. On day 13, Mitakeumi looked a little bit spent, but we think he will gamberize for this match.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyotairyu – The mobile attack platform know as Yoshikaze will test Chiyotairyu, who is only Maegashira 14. The Berserker is a personal favorite, but he seems to be slowing down a bit these days. He still has skill and speed on his side.

Hakuho vs Takanoiwa – So the greatest Yokozuna of our age is going against a Maegashira 10. Takanoiwa comes in at 10-3, but it’s all against the bottom half of Makuuchi. I expect Hakuho to fold him like a paper airplane and send him up, up and away.

Hatsu Day 11 Preview

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The Final Act Begins

The front ⅔ of Hatsu basho is complete. Now we enter the final act where heros are crowned and dreams get crushed.

Everyone is thinking it, but no one wants to say it. Kisenosato stands a good chance of winning this one, but he is expected to find a way to choke out and fumble what may be his best chance ever to finally claim a tournament championship. The most spectacular form this could take would be to lose to Hakuho sometime in the next few days, creating a tie (possibly a multi-way tie) for the lead. Nearly every sumo fan world wide would love to see that happen almost as much as they would feel satisfied that Kisenosato finally won a yusho. Hey, if it can happen for the Chicago Cubs, it can happen for Kisenosato.

Meanwhile today is the day that Kotoshogiku can get his make-koshi and finally end all of the drama around his perpetual kadoban status. I really enjoy watching Kotoshogiku fight, but if Ozeki is not a standard, it’s just a meaningless fancy name. There is big talk about him mounting a campaign in March for a 10 win return to Ozeki, but I am going to assume that he takes retirement with honor and dignity. All of that hinges on Kakuryu actually being up to the task of beating him. Which is far from certain.

Notable Matches

Osunaarashi vs Ichinojo – broken and battered Osunaarashi likely to get his make-koshi today at the hands of the giant Mongolian. I dearly hope he immediately withdraws from the tournament and checks into a hospital or physical therapy center to get repaired. He has top-flight rikishi spirit in a broken down body.

Hokutofuji vs Chiyotairyu – I am expecting Hokutofuji to get his kachi-koshi today. Hokutofuji is looking very solid this basho, and I hope it’s the way he will be from here on out.

Takekaze vs Mitakeumi – Oh yes, this could be a fun fun bout. You have fired up youngster Mitakeumi against henka champ and all around unpredictable Takekaze. Definitely one to watch

Takayasu vs Shodai – Takayasu is on a mission to get 10 wins or more. Doing so will likely re-start his Ozeki campaign, which is his total focus. Shodai needs to learn to overcome Takayasu’s sumo, which I think is fairly tough to do given that he has the stamina of a bull elephant. One shame with Takayasu and Kiseonsato being from the same stable is that we never get to see them fight. I would bet that Takayasu takes a fair share of their in-house matches.

Ikioi vs Goeido – Winner gets his kachi-koshi. Ikioi seems to have a driving hunger this basho that he was previously not able to transmit to action. Goeido seems to be back in his grove, and will be tough to beat. This is also a really good match to watch.

Kisenosato vs Endo – This could be the match that brings the Kisenosato train to a sputtering close. Endo is just the guy to do it, too.

Kakuryu vs Kotoshogiku – Kakuryu is in trouble, a Yokozuna being 5-5 at this stage means he is probably hurt again, which is a terrible shame because I really like the fierce one from Kyushu.

Hatsu Basho Day 10 Summary

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Osunaarashi faced off against the Sadanoumi in the first Makuuchi bout of day 10. This was a long and difficult match, and clearly Osunaarashi is fighting with a lot of pain from his chronic injuries. Sadanoumi is looking good now, and I really hope he can keep this level of sumo and begin again to improve. Osunaarashi now one loss from make-koshi and certain return to Juryo.

Chiyoo showed some very nice work against the massive Aoiyama, who continues to struggle with anything other than a straight pushing attack. Arawashi’s bout against Shohozan was a thing of beauty, with Arawashi employing a great arm bar throw (tottari). Arawashi seems to have found his strength and his sumo, and is now fighting with vigor and purpose.

In a battle of the up and comings, Mitakeumi beat Shodai, though both rikishi put forth some solid effort. The battle was fast paced and highly mobile. Whatever Mitakeumi did to prepare for Hatsu, it was the right formula – more of that.

The Kisenosato bout showed that in spite of his injuries, Terunofuji is not giving one inch to anyone. He went into the match with a loose mawashi, and it was effective, making Kisenosato work to gain control of the big Mongolian Terunofuji. But Kisenosato got inside, got low – he was not going to make the same mistake he made against Kotoshogiku. Kisenosato lowered his hips and applied force, and won. He remains the sole leader

Goeido showed great skill and ring sense in defeating the struggling Kotoshogiku. He pressed Kotoshogiku back to the bales, and as Kotoshogiku began to ramp up a thrusting counter attack, Goeido used that force to propel Kotoshogiku into the throw as he stepped aside. Nice sumo from the Aki champion. Kimarite was katasukashi – under-shoulder swing down

Now I wonder if Hakuho has re-injured his legs or feet. In the past three days his sumo has been defensive rather than mostly offense, which is his style. He handled Ikioi with a bit of difficulty, which says that Ikioi is doing better, and Hakuho doing a bit worse. Sumo shines when Hakuho is healthy and winning. So I hope he is physically ok.

Hatsu Leader Board

LeaderKisenosato
Hunt Group – Hakuho, Takanoiwa, Sokokurai, Ichinojo
Chasers – Goeido, Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Ikioi, Takekaze, Hokutofuji

5 Matches Remain

Day 10 Preview

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Where we hope it won’t get any weirder.

Bizzaro-world day 9 is in the history books, with a tremendous impact for the yusho race at Hatsu. With day 10, we close out the middle act of the basho, and prepare to launch headlong into the final 5 days, where dreams get crushed and champions are made.

Clearly Hakuho is off his game now. I don’t think it’s injury or physical, I think it started with Arawashi. Clearly whatever happened at the tachiai took a direction that the Yokozuna did not expect, and moved to counter. But before he could do anything, Arawashi had him out. As stated prior, Hakuho is about 80% offense 20% defense, and he almost always starts with a strong battle plan. That is why when Takayasu stood him up with a big tachiai on day 10, he was in trouble. Honestly I don’t recall seeing Takayasu move with that kind of speed ever before. Takayasu gave quick shoulder blast at the tachiai, and then he had a hand inside pushing against Hakuho’s chest. This time The Boss was quick to implement his defensive plan, but his much vaunted ring sense failed him as he stepped out. I would look for him to get back in his sumo today, as he has Ikioi.

On the subject of Kotoshogiku, if he wins over Goeido I am going to suspect some coordinated effort to rescue the injured Ozeki. Frankly one of the great appeals of sumo is the appearance of meritocracy. I am sure Kotoshogiku is a lovely human being, but the time has come for someone to show his kadoban ass the door. He is perpetually injured, which is a crying shame as he has had brought some great sumo to the sport.

One the subject of Ozeki who should be moving forward, Kisenosato has a lot to make up for after his disappointing loss to Kotoshogiku. Kise – you had one job to do, and you had most of this handed to you on a plate by Harumafuji and Hakuho. Some corners of the sumo world jokingly call him “Choke-o-zuna”, which I thought was cruel. But today I think it might be accurate. Day 10 he faces Terunofuji, who is also a great sumotori who has chronic injuries and has little left until he is healed.

Kakuryu is back to stinking after a really excellent Kyushu. As of today he is in serious risk of going make-koshi, which would rain down doom from the Japan Sumo Association on the most recent Yokozuna. On day 10 he faces Tamawashi, who is seriously looking like he might survive as Sekiwake.

Notable Matches

Sadanoumi vs Ichinojo – Ichinojo can go kachi-koshi with a win here. He is tied for second place! SECOND PLACE! Ichinojo leads the series 4-2.

Takanoiwa vs Chiyotairyu – Co-Leader Takanoiwa takes on a struggling Chiyotairyu. Maybe day 11 the can put him against Hakuho? Chiyotairyu leads the series 3-1, so maybe Takanoiwa will be knocked back from his co-leader status.

Osunaarashi vs Sokokurai – Also tied for second place, Sokokurai draws an easy match against the Egyptian, who is really too hurt to be on the dohyo. Osunaarashi has won all 4 of their prior bouts.

Takekaze vs Hokutofuji – Henka master Takekaze takes on Hokutofuji, who is also tied for second place. I love me some Hokutofuji, but this is crazy. This will be the first time these two have faced off

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – A magical battle of the up-and-coming. With Shodai largely 1 step behind Mitakeumi on the learning curve, we shall see if Shodai is firming up and getting over his san’yaku jitters. Shodai has won 4 of their prior 5 matches.

Hatsu Day 9 Preview

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Arawashi’s Spoils of Battle

The second half of Hatsu opened with some great sumo, and some surprising outcomes. In the middle of all of this, I am keeping a watch on Kotoshogiku. Mathematically, I don’t see any way he cannot be demoted. The question comes: what does he do after that? Right now his legs are trashed, he has no pushing power. Kotoshogiku’s sumo is all about locking up a rikishi and applying those tree-trunk legs to move forward against any rikishi, no matter how big. With his knees out of operation, his sumo is no longer winning matches. Does Kotoshogiku remain in Makuuchi and try to make a come-back? It would require him to get very effective intervention on his knees. He would then have to fight his way back to Ozeki. More likely still, he might retire (intai) and transition to coaching or running the association or a heya.

There is also the question of Harumafuji. The reports from the press state that he is out for a month with a torn ligament in his right thigh. Prior to this, there were vocal threats to push him towards retirement coming form YDC head Moriya. Sumo fans can only wonder if privately, there is a renewed call for him to step down. Frankly, I think Harumafuji, at a workable physical condition, is necessary for the sport. Within 3 years there are likely to be viable Japanese Yokozuna hopefuls, and having the ever inventive Harumafuji to train and match against is crucial to producing the next generation of top quality Yokozuna.

Hatsu Leader Board

  • LeaderKisenosato
  • Hunt Group – Hakuho, Takanoiwa, Sokokurai
  • Chasers – Ikioi, Takekaze, Hokutofuji, Ichinojo, Sadanoumi

7 Matches Remain

Torikumi We Are Following

Ichinojo vs Sokokurai – As stated earlier, not sure who put the correct fuel into battle-bot Ichinojo, but he seems to be working again. The day 8 match with Chiyonokuni was an eye opener, as Chiyonokuni is no slouch, but to Ichinojo, it may as well have been an overly busy fly. I am beginning to worry that Inchinojo sneaks away to train with Shin-Godzilla (who is really robo-Hakuho in a suit, after all). Sokokurai is turning in a great performance, and is part of the hunt group. A win today would give Sokokurai his kachi-koshi, and a nice boost in rank for Osaka. Ichinojo has won both of their prior matches.

Takanoiwa vs Aoiyama – Another member of the hunt group faces Bulgarian Aoiyama, who seems to be more focused, more aggressive and more confident this basho than the prior several. He has massive size and unnatural strength. We just have to pray he does not follow Mitakeumi’s example and blend the pusher / thruster oshi-zumō approach with solid yotsu-zumō. A win here would give Takanoiwa his kachi-koshi. These two have split their prior two matches.

Hokutofuji vs Endo – Make no mistake, Endo is in this match today to test Hokutofuji. Endo has been struggling this basho, but he is still part of the “next generation” rikishi, and the NSK is grooming him carefully. At the same time, there seems to be a blossoming crop of youngsters this basho, all of whom need tested and measured against upper level Maegashira. This is the first time these rikishi have met.

Takarafuji vs Shodai – Competition for the lower 4 san’yaku spots in Osaka is fierce. This match will continue the training for Shodai, hopefully Takarafuji can tune him up a notch. They have had 4 prior matches, with an even 2-2 split.

Tamawashi vs Mitakeumi – Battle of the 5-3’s, both men are doing well and delivering some great sumo. Mitakeumi has won all 4 of their prior matches, but Tamawashi is going to be ready to break that record.

Kisenosato vs Kotoshogiku – A heartbreak match if there ever was one. Last year’s Hatsu basho champion Kotoshogiku, who is more or less doomed, faces undefeated Kisenosato. Kisenosato wants a yusho, so he does not dare give Kotoshogiku a “gift” – Hakuho will not give Kisenosato any second chances. Kotoshogiku actually leads the series 32-30.

Takayasu vs Hakuho – Well Takayasu, if you want to be an Ozeki, you need to win against Hakuho about half the time. Good luck with that, even though I am rooting for you to make it happen. Takayasu has only one once against Hakuho, with a hatakikomi at Kyushu in 2014.

Kakuryu vs Ikioi – Crowd favorite Ikioi faces a struggling Yokozuna Kakuryu. If I think back to Nagoya’s Hakuho vs Ikioi bout (where Hakuho became injured), Ikioi was terrified of facing Hakuho. Now I am pretty sure he has more confidence in his sumo. The real check for me to watch how he reacts when Kakuryu moves to his defensive entrapment mode against Ikioi’s over eager pushing and slapping attacks. Kakuryu holds the 7-2 advantage in this series.

Note: Wakaichirio will fight again on day 9, as opposed to his “even only” days thus far. On day 9 he is facing Michinoku heya’s Ryuki, who is a former Sandanme rikishi who missed 3 tournaments and is back in Jonokuchi.

 

Hatsu Day 5 Preview

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Can Mitakeumi Wake Up Kisenosato?

With day 5, we bring the first act of the Hatsu basho to a close. We know who is hot, and who is not. We can see that a number of fine sumotori are injured and in trouble, and that the cold equations of sumo are going to likely run their course unless some external force rescues them.

Day 4 was a weird one. Even HHK was so impressed with Ura’s distortion field that they snuck his match into the start of their highlight show. Having watched it several times, it reminds me quite a bit of Jackie Chan’s drunken master.

But at least one day 4, poor Ishiura took a break from the swirly he is getting this basho to win a match against Kagayaki, who is having a similarly disappointing tournament. Ishiura is debugging the problems that small, highly mobile rikishi have with the giants of Makuuchi – many of their sumo techniques simply won’t work. When Ura finally makes it out of Juryo, it will be the same thing once more. The rikishi who seems to be getting a handle on that is Chyonokuni.

At the start of day 5 there are still 5 rikishi who are undefeated:

  • Hakuho, Kisenosato, Takanoiwa, Sokokurai, Sadanoumi

Which is pretty impressive, and there is a fine chance that most of them will be 5-0 at the end of day 5, too. But in general, day 5 seems to be tailored to the hot fighting the not, so it’s going to get ugly.

Notable Matches

Gagamaru vs Ichinojo – In the category of planetary object colliding over Tokyo, we have this example. Who’s going to win? Ask an astrophysicist. Seriously though, Ichinojo is 3-1 right now. How? Consult the data from Hubble. Ichinojo has a 2-0 advantage historically.

Takanoiwa vs Chiyootori – Takanoiwa is ripping it up as part of the 4-0 group, and day 5 sees him against the struggling Chiyootori. I predict pushing, thrusting and a lot slapping.

Yoshikaze vs Ikioi – Both of these two are solidly 2-2 and having a lukewarm basho. Yoshikaze lost to Endo day 4 due to a brief mistake that Endo was able to exploit masterfully. Ikioi is the kind of over-commit / under-commit, so it could be a weird bout. Yoshikaze has a slight career advantage at 6-5

Terunofuji vs Tamawashi – Terunofuji was recently mistaken for the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by the US coast guard. He’s really in tough shape and had very little power due to damage to his legs, knees, ankles and McPherson strut assembly. Tamawashi is looking very strong and may make it another weird bout. Lifetime advantage to Terunofuji at 4-2, but I think he is in pitiable condition.

Kisenosato vs Mitakeumi – This bout is likely to be the highlight of day 5. Kisenosato really has seems kind of depressed and detached, as if he is waiting for something exciting. Given how many scalps Mitakeumi has taken, this may be the day that “Dump Truck” Kisenosato finally gets a chance to work. Kise has won both of their prior meetings. I really hope this goes yotsu-zumō from the start.

Kakuryu vs Takayasu – Takayasu seemed to be suffering from the same kind of funk on day 4 that has consumed his stable mate Kisenosato, with the exception being that Takayasu lost. Today he takes on the wily Yokozuna Kakuryu and his reactive sumo style. Takayasu’s sumo is about being strong and stable, Kakuryu mobile and using the opponents energy against them. Kakuryu has won 11 of their prior 15 matches.

Hakuho vs Shohozan – Hakuho is back in form close enough to the original that he is a joy to watch. Up on day 5 is burly and rowdy Shohozan who is fighting better than his 2-2 record might indicate. In their prior 11 matches, Hakuho has won them all. So the question is what kind of attack plan will he use against the man from Fukuoka?

Okinoumi vs Harumafuji – With both of these guys at full health, it would be a quick bout with Harumafuji the easy winner. Both of them are in pretty bad shape, and with Harumafuji staring Moriya’s vendetta in the face, it could get kind of sloppy. I just pray neither one of them exit the bout more injured, which is a real possibility at this point. Harumafuji leads the career record with 12-6 over Okinoumi.

Hatsu Day 4 Preview

harumafuji-shohozan

Shohozan Can End Kisenosato’s Boredom

Sumo fans are now clear on some of the questions and stories unfolding during the New Years tournament. Harumafuji is clearly having ankle and foot problems, and has a fraction of his normal power. His second straight loss, to Shohozan, was stunning. Harumafuji was easily pushed around and once again forced to the edge of the dohyo, where he could find no way to maneuver. In his healthy state, he would have taken the radical forward position of Shohozan and used it to launch him towards the spectators. I am hoping that he decides to bow out and seek immediate treatment for his chronic problems Day 4 he faces a winless Arawashi, which had better be an easy mark.

Hakuho is back, or at least back enough to be interesting and dominant. His match against Mitakeumi was classic Hakuho, where Hakuho improvised in the blink of an eye and left Mitakeumi baffled, off balance and lost. Day 4 he faces a winless Tochinoshin, which should prove no challenge.

Shodai is good, but green. If he can stay healthy he is probably going to be a solid Maegashira, or possibly Ozeki. His youth and inexperience are fairly easy to exploit by the veterans, and he leaves many avenues for attack wide open. It may be a few years of work before he matures into his better form. Day 4 he faces Kotoshogiku, who is a shadow of the Ozeki who won Hatsu last year.

Mitakeumi is where we all hope Shodai will be in 2 years. He has transformed from a pure push and slap rikishi into a healthy blend with mawashi technique, which is improving quickly. Day 4 he fights the highly reactive Yokozuna Kakuryu, which will be highly instructive. Mitakeumi has shown some impressive reactions himself mid bout.

Notable Matches

Osunaarashi vs Sadanoumi – Both of these sumotori come into this with 3-0, and both of them are quite capable men who are slumming at the bottom end of the banzuke this tournament. Osunaarashi is clearly hurting a bit more each day, but the only way he is giving up is on a stretcher. Osunaarashi comes in with a strong career 3-1 advantage over Sadanoumi.

Kagayaki vs Ishiura – Ishiura is facing a rather embarrassing start to Hatsu. At this point I think he has probably been humbled, and I would like to see him re-assemble his sumo and win a few. But his sumo seems vague and frantic right now, and everyone knows you can slap him down. Ishiura has won all 4 of his prior matches with Kagayaki.

Takanoiwa vs Chiyonokuni – After having a string of mediocre to poor tournaments, Chiyonokuni seems to have finally adapted to his bulkier form. Takanoiwa has been doing very well, with a 3-0 record to date. Chiyonokuni will likely go for another thrust down (tsukiotoshi) in this pusher battle. Chiyonokuni has a career record of 6-3 over Takanoiwa.

Yoshikaze vs Endo – Battle of fan favorites today. Yoshikaze has added a nice blend of yotsu-zumō to his normal regimen of oshi-zumō. As a result it’s harder to guess what he is going to bring to any given bout. With Endo almost exclusively pushing, I would not be surprised to see Yoshikaze repeat his day 3 attack plan. It’s 4-4 between Yoshikaze and the younger rikishi, Endo

Tamawashi vs Takayasu – Takayasu skillfully dismantled a struggling Goeido on day 3. This is more of the form that had been present through much of 2016. Strong with the endurance to wait for his opponent to make a mistake, and the speed of mind and body to make them suffer. Tamawashi positively dismantled Shodai on day 3, and is looking strong. Their series is tied at 5-5.

Kisenosato vs Shohozan – Kisenosato has been bored. You can see his boredom clearly on day 2, where his match was clearly disappointing. The man looks like he is working out how to paint his house and for a moment remembered to Tamawashi aside. Shohozan has been bringing a lot of muscle and fierce energy to his bouts thus far. I am hoping that finally, Kisenosato has something to look forward to. Kisenosato has a career 9-2 advantage over Shohozan.

Kakuryu vs Mitakeumi – With Harumafuji hurt, Kakuryu is a clear contender for the yusho this early on. Today he will instruct Mitakeumi on assumptions. Mitakeumi will assume Kakuryu’s battle plan, and likely be mistaken. Or we could see a mighty zabuton snowstorm once again. Clear advantage to Kakuryu.
Note: Second match for Wakaichiro in the early hours of Wednesday in Tokyo. Again, if we can get video we will post it here.

Hatsu Day 3 Preview

mitakeumi-kensho

Can Mitakeumi’s Kensho Loot Pile Grow?

Day two is in the record books and it’s clear that some of the rikishi are still struggling to clear the cobwebs and settling into their sumo.

  • Osunaarashi – He came in locked down and ready to win. After his brutal kyujo demotion in 2016, all the man has wanted was back in the top division. Clearly he is still hurt and in quite a bit of pain, but he is laying the doom on the Chiyo crowd.
  • Kaisei – After so many poor tournaments, it’s really good to see Kaisei actually winning again. Maybe he has dropped own the banzuke far enough that he is competitive. I think he may have gotten too much mass to effectively work.
  • Kisenosato – Kise is bored, let’s be honest. No one has put up much of a contest to the Great Pumpkin so far. It sometimes irks me that everyone wants to take a great Ozeki and cast him as a Yokozuna. Because his does Ozeki so very very well.
  • Mitakeumi – The kid is on fire right now. We may see a second week collapse, like we did for Okinoumi, but right now he is moving well. The fact that he shut down Harumafuji’s death spin impressed me quite a bit.
  • Hakuho – I would guess he is done with his recovery and back to what is the new Hakuho normal. Still amazing but not quite what he was. Everyone ages, and loses some physical strength in the process. He is still a joy to watch.

Notable Matches

Osunaarashi vs Chiyotairyu – Just how many Chiyos can one man take? Let’s see if it’s at least three! This would be Osunaarashi’s first win against this Chiyo, should be prevail.

Nishikigi vs Sokokurai – Both of these guys has a strong first two days, and both are looking good this basho. Looks like the first match between these two.

Kaisei vs Takanoiwa – Can the Brazilian make it 3 in a row, or will the resurgent Takanoiwa keep his own record clean? Kaisei has a distinct 3-1 advantage in wins between them.

Ishiura vs Chiyonokuni – Two small and strong rikishi go head to head. Ishiura is suffering the NHK curse – he went on NHK World for a highlight piece, and now he is failing hard. Chiyonokuni has bulked up quite a bit in the last 6 months, and is still re-working his sumo to handle the extra mass. Ishiura has lot both of their previous bouts.

Tamawashi vs Shodai – in a Sekiwake head to head, we see them both come in 1-1, each trying to survive sumo’s toughest rank. In their only prior match, Shodai lost.

Shohozan vs Harumafuji – Shohozan brought a masterful attack against Yokozuna Kakuryu on day 2, losing because he mis-timed the throw. Given Harmuafuji’s ankle problems, it maybe time for another Kinboshi. It’s a long shot, as Harumafuji leads their series 12-2

Hakuho vs Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi has a good start, with one Yokozuna and one Ozeki scalp already. Now he faces the most difficult foe in sumo. Clearly Hokuho has the advantage here, but I am keen to see if Mitakeumi can gamberize. Hakuho has won both their prior meetings

Hatsu Day 2 Preview

ishiura-hatsu-1

Kokugikan Sellout Continues

The popularity of sumo is on the upswing both in its home country of Japan and indeed world wide. For a good period of time I considered attending several days of Hatsu myself, but the entire venue quickly sold out. This happens at a great time for the sport, as there is a fantastic crop of young, eager rikishi who are present in the upper divisions to test and train with some of the greatest men ever to wear a mawashi.

Day one was a really solid opening day, but there were very few upsets, and as Andy quipped, things turned out pretty much as expected. I note that Ishiura is still working hard to get a consistent attack plan together for these mid and upper level Maegashira, but I have a lot of faith that under Hakuho’s tutelage he will get winning recipe.

Notable Matches

Chiyootori vs Osunaarashi – Osunaarashi pulled a fantastic utchari twisting throw at the edge of the ring on day 1 to win over Chiyoo. In his second bout against the Chiyoo twins, he faces to much larger Chiyootori, who is a far more even match at 3-5 in favor of Chiyootori. Strong chance of a Chiyootori henka or early pulling attack.

Sokokurai vs Ishiura – Ishiura’s day 1 bout was nothing special, and he was pretty easily contained. Early basho bouts, and Hatsu specifically see a lot of cob webs being cleared as the rikishi get back into their sumo. This will only be the second meeting between these two, with Sokokurai winning the last match by getting behind Ishiura and pushing him out. (okuridashi)

Kotoyuki vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze is prone to have streaks of amazing sumo performance. The last example was Nagoya 2016, and it was a joy to watch. With his strong opening day disposal of Chiyoshoma, Yoshikaze fans globally are hoping that his new mawashi has brought renewed vigor. Yoshikaze has a slight edge over Kotoyuki. These two really love to let the slaps fly, so I expect Yoshikaze to get the expected battle damage to his face in today.

Endo vs Ikioi – Two crowd favorites face off in a match where you wish they both could win. Endo looked to have a flat tire on day one, hopefully his cobwebs are gone now and he is ready to bring his sumo. Sadly Ikioi tends to dominate their matches, with a 6-1 advantage.

Arawashi vs Shodai – On day one, Shodai got the Tsukiji treatment from Hakuho. It’s time to see if that rattled his confidence as he faces Maegashira 2 Arawashi on day 2. The have only met once before, with Arawashi prevailing with am underarm throw on day 15 of Kyushu.

Terunofuji vs Takayasu – It kind of hurts to watch Terunofuji. He has, in the past, been one of the most feared men in sumo. Now he struggles just to get off the line. Takayasu, if he still wants a shot at Ozeki, needs to help Terunofuji vacate a slot for him. Takayasu has been struggling, and he needs to really step up before he has too many losses for a shot at Kachi-koshi and a return to contention for Ozeki. His record with Terunofuji is an even 6-6, and I am hoping we see some great yotsu-zumō.

Kakuryu vs Shohozan – It went largely unnoticed, but Shohozan looked very good day 1 against Terunofuji, doing just as much to win the match as Terunofuji did to lose it. Now he faces a very strong Yokozuna Kakuryu, who is clearly fired up and ready to defend the Emperor’s cup. Their prior 10 matches have all gone to Kakuryu. Shohozan’s chance comes if he can wrap up the Yokozuna and fight the match via the belt.

Mitakeumi vs Harumafuji – Mitakeumi handled Goeido very cleanly on day 1. Now it’s time to face the frenzied attack of Yokozuna Harumafuji. I would expect The Horse to deploy his famous nodowa today, as is his custom against Mitakeumi. Mitakeumi’s one chance before he lands the death grip is likely a henka.

NOTE – Monday is the day of Wakaichiro’s first bout. He will face Tatsunofuji in the second match of the day, at a fairly early hour of the morning. Eternal gratitude to any soul that can put video of this on YouTube.

Kyushu Day 6 Preview

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Starting the Second Chapter

The first third of Kyushu is in the books, and now the basho moves into climbing gear. The stars have had their warm ups, the lower ranks have sorted the promising from the rest, and the story lines are set. Now its the time that dreams are affirmed and hearts are broken.

Hakuho is still not quite right. Yes, he is winning like mad, but go watch his bouts. He’s not moving around as much as before his injury. Now this may be one of the greatest Yokozuna in history adapting his style to match what is body can do, and still winning, but his matches will start to become more challenging now.

Takayasu is all but done with any chance of Ozeki this tournament. He is a solid Sekiwake, but he needs a bit more time to improve. I doubt it will be more than 2 more basho before we see him promoted

Goeido was even more sloppy day 5 than he was in the prior 4. There is a lot of worry here for the possibilities of Japan’s first native Yokozuna in more than a decade.

Kakuryu is for real this time, don’t overlook him – he’s strong, ready and has a lot of revenge to deliver.

  • Undefeated: Kakuryu, Hakuho, Goeido, Sokokurai
  • Chasers: Harumafuji, Kisenosato, Shodai, Ikioi, Chiyoshoma, Ishiura

Notable Matches, Day 6

Ishiura vs Daishomaru – Time for Ishiura to face some tougher opponents. If he’s the real deal, he will rise to the challenge

Sokokurai vs Chiyootori – Undefeated Sokokurai will face increasingly steep challenges. Everyone wants to see how good he really is. I think he is better than his current rank suggests, lets see how high he can go.

Shohozan vs Ikioi – Could be a really big, good match today. Both men have been doing well, and showing some very good sumo.

Takayasu vs Aoiyama – I am sure Aoiyama is in a really bad mood. Scheduling made him a non-stop chew toy for the upper ranks all week, and he’s been fighting back strong. Now he faces Takayasu, who is looking a bit off his game. I would like to see these two really work out their frustrations… through feats of strength

Goeido vs Tamawashi – Tamawashi delivered a damaging blow to Takayasu’s Ozeki dreams on day 5, what will he do to Goeido’s Yokozuna dreams on day 6? Tamawashi has been putting forth maximum effort, so he should give Goeido a good match.

Kisenosato vs Mitakeumi – I think Mitakeumi has a real chance to surprise Kisenosato, who has been winning matches quietly.

Kakuryu vs Yoshikaze – I am a big fan of Yoshikaze. I have his tegata on my wall. But I am pretty sure Kakuryu is going to rough him up.

Harumafuji vs Shodai – Shodai! Watch your neck!

Hakuho vs Endo – Endo, don’t let him reel you in and pull you down. Move and strike, let’s see if the boss is mobile. Today is not Hakuho’s birthday, he doesn’t need to win.