With the day 1 torikumi published, it’s confirmed that for the first time in 37 years, none of the active Yokozuna will start this tournament. Make sure the catch the dohyo matsuri streaming live on YouTube,
and NHK World’s Grand Sumo Preview!
We have known since banzuke day that Yokozuna Hakuho was recovering from double-knee surgery undertaken in August, and was unlikely to even start Aki. Now word from Japan that Yokozuna Kakuryu is declaring himself “not ready” for the Aki basho, and should be considered doubtful to compete.
With the prospect of no grand-champions in the September tournament, the Emperor’s Cup will be a wide-open contest. The Ozeki will be motivated to possibly claim a start of a promotion run, but in this era, even strong members of the rank-and-file have to be considered contenders if they can remain strong into week 2. Some fans will remark (and rightly so) that a basho without a Yokozuna is a weak basho, but these broad, multi-way brawls to advance have their own glorious appeal. We will miss the Yokozuna dohyo-iri, but the possibility that we will have an all-out slug fest between the Ozeki, the San’yaku and most of the joi-jin is compelling to me.
Final Weekend of the second “No-kozuna” tournament of this year. Some fans are quite upset as they must endure “sumo light” yet again, and perhaps they feel that without the Yokozuna active and battling lower ranks that it’s just not quite sumo. Sadly for them, this format is likely to be more frequent over the next 2 years. As the current Yokozuna continue to fade out, and with the Ozeki corps nursing an increasing inventory of injuries, the future belongs to the young, healthy and eager. Thankfully for sumo there are waves of these guys eagerly advancing into the top division and the top ranks. One has to look no further than how dominant the “tadpole” cohort has become, and they show no sign of slowing down. If you think about the “freshmen” cohort (Abi, Yutakayama, Asanoyama, Ryuden), they are just starting to come into their own – maybe 18 to 24 months behind the tadpoles. Looking across Juryo and Makushita, we can see potential for at least 2 more waves over the next couple of years.
Action today features the kanban match of the basho, the “Taka Bowl” featuring Takayasu and Takakeisho to possibly determine the yusho. If Takakeisho wins, we will see him hoist the magnificent red fish of victory. If he loses, we may see a playoff on day 15 between these two to decide it all. If their history is any indicator, the Ozeki will repeatedly go for a slap down or some other pulling maneuver. When you are as big, fast and strong as Takayasu, this can be quite effective. But in recent matches the Ozeki has been unbalanced and “light” when he unloaded these pulls, and perhaps Takakiesho will be able to exploit that tendency. Takayasu is also a very competent yotzu-zumo practitioner, and can wear just about anyone down to a gasping, exhausted puddle by the time he is done with them. While that approach has fewer “all or nothing” moves, it requires that the Ozeki survive and overcome the “Wave Action” attacks to lock Takakeisho up chest to chest. Should he do this, I predict that there will be little that Takakeisho can do to win.
Sumo fandom waits as the next eight hours or so count down to this pivotal match. In the mean time there are quite a few “koshis” to be decided, including the fate of Nishikigi, who at the start of this basho looked like he was the chump in the November poker tournament. Like the survivor he is, he might actually pick up his 8th win today against Takarafuji. I can’t compliment the guy enough on entering the stadium each day ready to do what it takes to win. Then there is the case of Shodai, who is one loss away from his 8th. On day 14 he faces Kaisei, whom he has never beaten (0-7). But Kaisei’s apparent injury on day 13 might change that math, and possibly give Shodai enough of an advantage that he could take his first white star from the Brazilian powerhouse.
2 Matches Remain
Announced this morning – Yokozuna Kakuryu has withdrawn from the Nagoya basho. As we had surmised, his poor sumo form over the past two days has been the result of a (as of present) unspecified injury. This is the first time in 19 years that all Yokozuna have been absent from a honboasho. As mentioned earlier, the “Nokazuna” status is nothing to worry too much about, but it does signal the next phase in the slow decline of the long serving members of sumo’s top echelon.
Update: the doctor’s certificate is for arthritis of the right elbow, requires immediate two-week rest. The Yokozuna was checked at a local hospital, and now plans to leave Nagoya and get re-examined at a hospital in Tokyo. (Source: Nikkan Sports – Herouth)
As with Hakuho’s withdrawal, the biggest beneficiary is kadoban Ozeki Goeido.