Hatsu, Black Francis & The Reckoning

kokugikan

Andy and Bruce’s comments earlier in the week caused me to reflect on my own wishes for sumo in 2019. We’ve touched a bit on this in the Tachiai podcast (smash that subscribe button!), but in advance of marking the start of another spin around the sun and amidst an ever growing awareness of the passing of time, let me dive into what I’m looking for in sumo in 2019:

The Reckoning

While in Fukuoka, I accused Bruce of being the tin-hatted toilet-paper-hoarding apocalypse-touting fallout bunker dweller of Tachiai, so steadfast has been his insistence that we are on the verge of the great changing of the guard in sumo with never before seen masses of intai and tadpole-shaped superstars (plus Kagayaki) claiming scalps and kinboshi from the mass graves of fallen heroes.

I’ll stop putting words in Bruce’s mouth here, but let me just say, while maintaining the utmost reverence for those mainstays who have provided us joy, that I’m joining ranks with the big man and giving a full-throated welcome to sumo’s next dimension.

Does this mean I’m no longer Mr. Hakuho-2020-Ganbare? Hardly. But, I’m fine with the Boss serving up 2-3 glorious basho a year until the 2020 Olympics. As discussed in that latest Tachiai podcast (like and subscribe) however, we’ve been talking about this for the past year and the only major retirements we’ve actually seen have been tied to the Harumafuji Scandal. Woof.

I want to see a Yusho in 2019 from Takayasu. It’s been there for him to take and it’s time for him to step up and take it and show us he can at least make a case to be Yokozuna. I have a hard time buying into the idea that being a “good” Ozeki would be enough for Takayasu. As things stand he’s the only one of the top 7 ranked rikishi not to have claimed the Emperor’s Cup, and when you consider that sumo is usually dominated by a small group of men (a fact that has been especially true since the rise of Asashoryu and then Hakuho and to a lesser extent Harumafuji), he may never have a better moment.

By the way, The Reckoning doesn’t mean we don’t have time for romantic storylines. Do I want to see a sumo world without Kotoshogiku? Of course not (especially if he brings back the bend). But his two-way career-suicide pact with Toyonoshima adds intrigue as the latter continues his re-emergence as sekitori and continues his climb back towards Maegashira status so that the two men can resume their ages old rivalry. What price a torinaoshi, a final hug, chug and goodnight?

Hot Names for 2019

Takakeisho. Yutakayama. Onosho. Tomokaze. Meisei. Yago. Hokutofuji. Abi. These are the guys I think we will see regularly taking their lumps in the joi by the end of the year. Yes, even shin-Juryo man and yusho-grabber Tomokaze – who should make quick work of the second tier and establish his upper-top division credentials before the leaves turn.

The Pixies

I don’t know about you, but perhaps more than most, I like little-guy sumo. When you talk about the old times, I love Mainoumi. I couldn’t wait for Ura to make it up to the top division and I rooted for Ishiura and still do even when we could all see a henka coming through the thick gritty sludge of a protein shake.

While Ura packed on the pounds (leading some to question whether the bam-thwok of all the pressure on his knees led to his injury) and Ishiura slid out of the top division, there are still a number of smaller rikishi, rough diamonds who are making a considered assault on the slots held by the current crop of rank-and-filers. I predict that all of them will bossanova their way into the top division in 2019. Here come our men:

Terutsuyoshi is the closest, having maintained a lengthy stay in Juryo. The copious salt thrower is, for my money, the man to restore glory to Isegahama-beya and, given the way he shows no fear against gigantic opponents, I think he can ring the bell in the top division for a long time.

Wakatakakage is one of three brothers from Arashio-beya who have troubled the upper ranks of the amateur ranks over the past couple of years. However, he is the first to make it to Juryo and looks to be making quick work of the division. Like Terutsuyoshi, he is a tenacious rikishi, taking his opponents head on. He has a good grasp of fundamentals.

Enho is perhaps the newest darling of the sumo world, and you can tell from the wall of sound that echoes around the arena when he enters the dohyo. If I’m Endo I’m looking over my shoulder with some of these endorsement deals, because this new pretty boy packs a punch and delivers the enthusiasm and frankly excitement that’s been missing from the current pin-up boy’s sumo over the past year. Having quickly debased the credentials of the opposition in the bottom four divisions, his elastic antics call to mind Ura, and I for one can’t wait to see the erstwhile Hakuho-bagboy and the cherry blossom mawashi man have at it with kensho on the line.

The Tachiai Community

It’s been a pleasure to spend another year contributing along with the others on the site. It’s been incredible to see this community continue to grow, and even to meet folks in person at basho in Japan. Please continue to stay in touch with us, and tell your friends in the sumo community. And if the Natsu Tachiai meet-up comes to fruition, then we’ll look forward to seeing you there!

Haru Day 14 Preview

Chiyomaru
If I win, yes, that big meaty leg is mine!

It is with great celebration that we welcome the final weekend of the Haru basho. It’s been fun and exciting for fans around the world, and it’s been our pleasure to have been along for the ride. Yokozuna Kakuryu has one job to do – if he wins just one of his two remaining matches, he claims his fourth yusho. But to accomplish that, he needs to beat either Ozeki Goeido or Ozeki Takayasu. Can he do it? I think he will. Kakuryu has looked better this basho than in any I can remember in recent years, and it’s possible that if he has his medical problems solved, he may be the one the Kyokai depends on for a time. I expect that Hakuho is going to pace himself, and Kisenosato may be a lost cause.

What has really surprised me about this tournament is that no rikishi were able to take advantage of the open promotion lane. The expected candidates (Mitakeumi, Ichinojo, and Tochinoshin) could not muster the endurance and strength to maintain the performance needed over the first 13 days. Should Hakuho return genki and well, it could be months before we see another basho with a single, somewhat damaged Yokozuna holding court.

Even more puzzling is that Ozeki Takayasu did not exploit this opportunity to push for his first Yusho. His sumo has become somewhat chaotic and uncontrolled, and I think it’s really kept him from the next step forward in performance that it would take for him to make a bid to be Yokozuna.

Haru Leaderboard

Leader: Kakuryu
Hunt Group: Takayasu, Kaisei, Ikioi

2 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 14

Ishiura vs Ikioi – I am hoping that the slippery Ishiura receives some brawny sumo training from hometown favorite Ikioi on day 14. Ishiura is still pushing for kachi-koshi, but I think a good rough defeat would be instructive. Double points to Ikioi if he catches Ishiura doing a henka and makes him regret it.

Daiamami vs Kotoyuki – As a sumo fan, I wonder what is going on with Kotokuki. The guy has 12 losses going into day 14. I get that he is hurt, but why not go kyujo at that point? You could at least take a chance to heal. But Daiamami has a chance to get 9 or 10 wins, and I don’t think Kotoyuki is going to be taking this one.

Asanoyama vs Yutakayama – Another yama battle, this one between two of the bright and hopeful Freshmen, who are both already kachi-koshi, so this is to see who gets closer to the joi, and chance to be beaten to a pulp during May’s Natsu basho.

Chiyoshoma vs Aoiyama – As much as Chiyoshoma dearly wants to pick up his kachi-koshi today, Aoiyama still seems to have a lot of aggression to work out of that massive body. Where he seems to get into trouble is chasing after his opponents and getting maneuvered into tight spots. Word to the man-mountain, let the little Mongolian fellow come to you!

Chiyonokuni vs Daieisho – Chiyonokuni seems frustrated, as frustrated as only a grumpy badger can ever be. He’s all the way down at Maegashira 10, but he’s still getting used as a washcloth daily. He’s one loss away from make-koshi, but I think with his back against the wall like this, he may find the fortitude to win. Daieisho needs one more win to move to mid-Maegashira for Natsu, so he’s eager to go. Chiyonokuni holds a 4-1 career advantage.

Kotoshogiku vs Abi – Sure, why not? Abi is like some sumo doll with slinkies for joints going against the aging and poorly maintained Kyushu bulldozer. If Kotoshogiku can keep Abi in front of him (no easy task), it’s all bumppity-bumppity bump. But Ojisan Kotoshogiku can be out-maneuvered many times.

Arawashi vs Ryuden – Ryuden needs to win both his remaining bouts to get a kachi-koshi. He is not quite the powerhouse he was at Hatsu, but he has turned in a fairly solid basho. Arawashi has a ton of battle damage and either needs to be dry docked or turned into an artificial reef.

Kagayaki vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji: The hardest working double-digit-loss rikishi in all of sumo-dom. His case is truly one for the epic bards of Iceland. Kagayaki’s about right at Maegashira 8 for his sumo right now, so he’s not a lock to get his 7th win today.

Endo vs Hokutofuji – Future and long anticipated san’yaku rikishi Endo is going to be seeing if he can run up the score. Hokutofuji gave fading Mitakeumi an energetic scrum today, and seems to have recovered some of his sumo. I like the chances for this bout being full of well executed technique, with swooning grandmothers and cheering salarymen.

Shohozan vs Tamawashi – Winner kachi-koshi. Both of them like to beat victory out of their opponents, with Shohozan being more of a “low-rider” model. Tamawashi looked lost in his day 13 match against a degraded Yoshikaze. Hopefully Tamawashi is not injured.

Ichinojo vs Shodai – I would love to tell you that our Boulder is going to pick up the soft and squishy Shodai like a plush toy, stick his enormous thumb in his mouth and waddle back to the shitaku-beya for a long cuddle and some ice cream with his favorite pony. But someone turned Shodai from stink bug to holy hell. God only knows how this one is going to turn out, as Shodai wants one more shiroboshi.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyotairyu – Did I see a flash of the Berserker day 13? Was that the spirit of some blazing warrior of old that overwhelmed Tamawashi “the Jackhammer”? Dare I hope that he is getting over whatever problems plagued his first week? Or will the kami-infused sideburns of might power Chiyotairyu to victory in the name of a dozen empty, stacked soba bowls left on the counter of Ryogoku Bandai at midnight?

Chiyomaru vs Tochinoshin – Ever since he was accused of cooking and eating Ura in a quest for more calories, Chiyomaru has had his eye on Tochinoshin’s uninjured leg. At long last the hungry man will face the Hatsu Yusho winner in single combat, winner eat all. Sadly for Chiyomaru, he’s never beaten Tochinoshin, so his only hope is to show up hungry.

Takayasu vs Mitakeumi – Hey, Takayasu Pooh-Bear. Your senpai was a fan of jun-yushos, and it was kind of sad. I know you think the sun shines out of his mawashi’s rear flap, but it’s no way to go through life, son. This was your chance to hoist the hardware and rack a portrait. Mitakeumi, time for you to regroup and think about why you want to be Sekiwake. Sure, the chicks dig a san’yaku man, but either get to some double digits like your opponent did, or go practice you Chanko recipe for later.

Kakuryu vs Goeido – Easily today’s most calamitous bout, no one at Tachiai central is certain who is going pull whom down how many times. There is a non-zero chance that we may see a startup fault in GoeiDOS and he ends up in “Bouncy Castle” mode again. Meanwhile Kakuryu needs to avoid both the henka and the cannonball charge from Goeido. Big K is convinced he is Mr. Genki now, but Goeido can not only win this one, but the risk of injury to the lone surviving Yokozuna is very real. Loss + Kyujo would cause a ruckus in the sumo world unlike any seen in many years.

Aki Day 8 Preview

shohozan-Harumafuji

Act two of the Aki basho has really stepped up the pace, with Saturday bringing us a flurry of really intense matches. While we wait for day 8’s action, recognize that we are half way through the Aki basho now, and the fiercest action may be ahead of us.

The old guard has made their stand, and now it is time for the next generation to answer in kind. With the exception of Ozeki Goeido, everyone in the leader group is part of the young, up and coming generation of sumotori. We have a long road to go to the final day, but it’s clear that the tadpole generation is on the cusp of challenging the status quo.

My greatest hopes for the second half

  • Goeido goes on offense – Goeido 2.0 is a mighty Ozeki, a machine of refined attack power, who leaves no room for his own defense. He is blazing fast and merciless. I would like very much to see him close out Aki in this manner.
  • Kotoshogiku rallies – He is likely out of the yusho race, but it would be oh so satisfying to see Ojisan Kotoshogiku rack up enough wins to return to San’yaku. If his knees hold out, it could be a real possibility.
  • Harumafuji holds the line – He can still make double-digit wins, and it would be great to see him recover to this level. He seems to have his sumo back under control, and I would think that he can beat any man left in this basho.
  • Hokutofuji catches fire – I am not sure if he is injured or what, but he has faded just about half a step since the start of the basho. This guy is a future mainstay, and I want to see him reach down to his soul and bounce back strong and motivated.
  • Asanoyama kachi-koshi – At Maegashira 16, he is first to fall off the bubble if he’s got a losing record, but I think that he is going to be a solid Maegashira in his day, and I would love to see him get more exposure to the upper division.

Aki Leader board

Leaders – Goeido, Onosho, Daieisho, Daishomaru
Chasers – Chiyotairyu, Takarafuji, Takanoiwa, Arawashi
Hunt Group – Harumafuji, Mitakeumi, Kotoshogiku, Shohozan, Shodai, Takakeisho, Ichinojo, Chiyonokuni, Chiyomaru, Kaisei, Endo, Asanoyama

8 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 8

Yutakayama vs. Kaisei – Kaisei seems to be getting himself together, and frankly it’s about time. He faces a fading Yutakayama on day 8, and we have to assume that unless he starts a resurgence, Yutakayama is going to bounce back to Juryo for a bit. Interestingly enough, Kaisei has not beaten Yutakayama in their prior 2 matches, so this may be a good test to see if Yutakayama will try to rally.

Asanoyama vs. Sadanoumi – Mr Happy takes on the Sadanoumi, who may be wishing he had stayed kyujo. They have only met once before, and Sadanoumi won. I would like to see Sadanoumi pick up a few wins, so here’s to hoping he is up to speed for Sunday.

Daieisho vs. Okinoumi – Co-leader Daieisho goes against hit-or-miss Okinoumi, and the two are tied 2-2 over their career. It will likely be Daieisho’s match to lose.

Endo vs. Chiyomaru – While both rikishi come into the match 4-3, Endo is looking quite a bit more tentative than Chiyomaru, who is on a 3 match winning streak. Keep in mind, for Endo the rest of this basho is about survival, and that means a kachi-koshi, even by the thinnest amount.

Daishomaru vs. Takekaze – Co-Leader Daishomaru steps up against Takekaze, who is in the process of turning around his win/loss record for Aki. Takekaze has a wide variety of tricks, and is known to deploy henkas with flair. Daishomaru must take caution. Takekaze leads the series 4-2.

Takanoiwa vs. Ikioi – Takanoiwa seems to be back into “Demon Hunter” mode, and I am expecting both of these oshi practitioners to bring forth a mighty battle of flailing limbs. This could be a real street fight! Ikioi leads the series 5-0! So Takanoiwa has a chance to snap the losing record.

Ichinojo vs. Takarafuji – Ichinojo is a tough one to predict. He can be big, slow and huge. In fact it’s one his most apparent assets. But the past few days he is worked to add offense into that mix. Takarafuji however has been doing what he seems to do best, quietly execute some really great technical sumo. As Takarafuji has delivered a good number of throws this past week, let’s see what he deploys against Ichinojo. Ichinojo leads the series 5-2.

Arawashi vs. Kagayaki – You say – “Kagayaki is 1-6, he sucks!”, but if you watch his matches, you will note this guy battles with all his heart. Arawashi just finished up the battle of the badgers on day 7, and I am going to say that we may see another raging street fight from these two. Kagayaki leads the series 4-2.

Shodai vs. Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu has been charging forward like an angry bison this basho, and most of the time it works. Shodai has fallen into some rut of defensive sumo, so maybe this will work out for interesting sumo. Shodai won their only previous match.

Tochinoshin vs. Onosho – The big Georgian is clearly not at 100%, and he faces a very genki Onosho, who is looking to stay in the leader group. This is their first match up. If Tochinoshin can land a grip on Onosho, he can probably score his second win today.

Mitakeumi vs. Hokutofuji – Battle for the king of the tadpole crew. I wish they both could win. From the looks of things, Hokutofuji took some damage in the first week, and is struggling. Mitakeumi seems to have finally caught his stride, and is fighting well. Mitakeumi leads their career bouts 2-0.

Shohozan vs. Yoshikaze – This one has the potential to be absolutely nuts. Both of them are amped up and need the wins. Both of them are strong, fast and don’t back down when they take damage. So hopefully no one gets hurt this time. Yoshikaze leads the series 7-4.

Tamawashi vs. Goeido – I am going to wager that Tamawashi charges in hard and Goeido fights in reverse. I would much rather see him battle Tamawashi chest to chest, but what is the chance of that?

Aoiyama vs. Harumafuji – The giant Aoiyama was out with injuries sustained in training before the Aki basho, and now he joins for his first day on the dohyo. How do you welcome the jun-yusho winner from Nagoya? Why you give him Harumafuji to play with. Last time these two met, Harumafuji grabbed a double hand-full of breast meat and pushed Aoiyama backwards and out like it was urgent.

Further Comments On Aki Day 7

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The old order is battling back, tamping down the rising wave of young rikishi and re-asserting it’s dominance. That dominance is thread-bare now, but it is backed by year after painful year on the dohyo. The veterans of Makuuchi are survivors, and they persist in the top division not because of favoritisms or some quota to meet. They persist because they are skilled combatants, and in some cases some of the best that there has ever been.

Day 7 continued the trend we saw on day 6, and it seems that perhaps the loose and clanky bits of this basho may have been shaken off, and we are down to solid sumo. If you did not read it overnight, Aoiyama is making his return on day 8. Lord only knows what is going through that man’s head, but I do hope he is healthy. Most rikishi take a couple of days to come up to competition level from the start of the basho, but Aoiyama is being thrown into the fire against Harumafuji straight away.

In astounding news, Goeido decided to do some Ozeki sumo today, and did it well. Thanks you big plate of Okonomiyaki, now keep that going. In less surprising but no less welcome news, Harumafuji did an outstanding Harumafuji imitation, and gave hope to his fans that he can still deliver the goods.

Match Comments

Asanoyama defeats Daiamami – Marathon bout against visiting Juryo riskishi Daiamami, Asanoyama / Mr Happy has a reason to be happy today. After moving Daiamami to the tawara, Asanoyama executed a rather clean sukinage for the win.

Daishomaru defeats Tokushoryu – Today Tokushoryu really applied himself, but he is so very very front heavy that it’s not difficult to topple him once he gets forward momentum. Daishomaru still only has one loss!

Chiyomaru defeats Kaisei – Bloody outstanding battle today between these two. I am quite sure Kaisei decided he had become too massive and his mobility was suffering, he appears to be at least 6kg lighter, and his sumo is much better now. Chiyomaru really brought his sumo today, and these two put on quite a fight.

Daieisho defeats Sadanoumi – I have to wonder if Sadanoumi yet regrets his return. So far no wins, but perhaps that will improve. Daieisho shows once again the power of the tadpoles and why he is on the leaderboard. There is much rejoicing in Oitekaze beya these days.

Takekaze defeats Endo – Well past time for Takekaze to win one. Endo looked very vague, and it’s safe to wonder if Endo has the juice to compete higher up the banzuke with what is probably a tender ankle.

Ikioi defeats Ishiura – Some controversy on this one over who touched out first. The bout ended with a flying mess at the tawara, and gyoji Konosuke gave it to Ikioi. But replays show them touching down at almost the exact same time.

Arawashi defeats Chiyonokuni – These two were really going at it! The match reminded me of pre-war sumo footage, where the fighting style was very different, and featured a lot of leg trips and upper body throws. Both of these rikishi were out to win no matter what, and their even match up resulted in a fantastic bout. Double bonus points for the two way Shimpan lap-dance.

Takanoiwa defeats Kagayaki – Brutal street fight. I am sure some of those tsuppari were heard in Ibaraki. If you want to see two rikishi pound each other to exhaustion, this is your match.

Chiyotairyu defeats Takakeisho – Sumo-Elvis takes one from the bowling ball. Takakeisho has a lot of drive and a lot of talent, but it’s time for him to broaden his sumo if he wants to advance.

Onosho defeats Hokutofuji – Onosho overwhelmed Hokutofuji, who seems to be off his sumo the last couple of days. Onosho stays at one loss and tied for the lead.

Tamawashi defeats Kotoshogiku – Eternal blessings to Tamawashi for helping to put the ugly threat of “Kotoshogiku Day’ to rest at long last. Kotoshogiku made him work for it, but Tamawashi carried the day.

Yoshikaze defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin is always hit or miss. With his bad leg he can be amazing one day, and weak the next. Today he tried a henka on Yoshikaze, but the Berserker was having none of it. He pivoted and to Tochinoshin’s surprise, opened up a blistering thrusting attack. For whatever reason, Tochinoshin decided to reply in kind. That was, of course, a risky move, and Yoshikaze made him pay. Congratulations to Yoshikaze for his 1000th Makuuchi bout.

Mitakeumi defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan is a shadow of his Nagoya self, and Mitakeumi dismantled him easily today. I am refreshed that Mitakeumi seems to have settled down and gotten his sumo back.

Goeido defeats Shodai – At long last, today Goeido was a worthy combatant. He took the fight to Shodai (as indeed he would need to) and administered a severe jostling to the boy in blue before vigorously thrusting him over the edge of the dohyo. Thank you Goeido, more like that, please.

Harumafuji defeats Shohozan – Shohozan jumped early, but Harumafuji was not going to wait around for the matta. Shohozan is a weight lifting fool, and is impressively strong. But Harumafuji stood up to the blows and began a series of right and tsuppari to Shohozan’s face. Again and again to slapped his face like Shohozan was some petulant child. This did seems to disrupt Shohozan, and Harumafuji latched a double inside grip on Shohozan’s mawashi. A brief atomic wedgie later, and it was Shohozan out and finished. The crowd loved it, and so did I.