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.