Natsu Banzuke – Bruce’s Comments

Mole Boss vs Dia Yokozuna

The Tachiai team will gather for their banzuke podcast next weekend, but with the Banzuke just published, it’s time for some comments and remarks. If you are looking for lksumo giving himself a hard time over his estimates, he will likely publish those soon.

Yokozuna / Ozeki – no surprises here, Kakuryu remains at 1 East. Although Kisenosato has been participating in Jungyo, and making competition noises, it’s far from certain that he will actually compete in Natsu. Takayasu is starting to dream of trying for the rope himself, but this basho will likely feature Hakuho in the roster. Not that the dai-yokozuna is unbeatable, but Takayasu needs to dominate across the board to make a play for the yusho.

In the lower San’yaku is where the excitement starts. We have Ozeki hopeful Tochinoshin taking the Sekiwake 1 East slot, with our favorite boulder Ichinojo taking West. Tochinoshin continues to look very strong, incredibly focused and driven to excel. With Hakuho back in action, the challenge to reach double digits again will be significantly increased. Mitakeumi drops down to Komusubi East, with Endo making his San’yaku debut at Komusubi West. It’s been a long, hard road for Endo, and I am sure that he is savoring this achievement.

Kaisei rocketed up the banzuke to grab Maegashira 1 West, from 6 East last tournament. There were some who speculated that his impressive 12-3 Jun-Yusho should put him in the San’yaku, but there was a pack of over-achievers in Osaka, and the Brazilian is forced to settle for M1. This is further evidenced by Tamawashi only moving from West to East, even though he produced a 9-6 record.

In the Freshmen, Abi continues to over-accomplish. He is now firmly in the Joi at Maegashira 2, with fellow Freshman Yutakayama taking Maegashira 3. Ryuden rises a respectable 4 slots to 7 East, while Asanoyama is settling for a mild promotion at 12 West, thanks to another cohort of solid performance in the lower end of the banzuke in March.

The Oitekaze brute squad is further represented by Daieisho at 3 East, thanks to his 9-6 in March from 8 West. Can someone please get the Oitekaze chanko recipe? I feel it could have wonderful benefits for the infirm and the aged (starting with me!). Daiamami picks up 11 East after 10-5 from 16 East in March.

The tadpoles are licking their wounds to be certain, now. With Mitakeumi out of Sekiwake, Takakeisho down to 10 West, and the fighting red mawashi of Onosho dropped down to Juryo without so much as a “すみません” (Sumimasen). Is Takakeisho a Maegashira 10 rikishi? Ha! No, no and hell no. Is Onosho a Juryo riksihi? Lower division folks, make sure you are taped up when you face the red terror. The tadpoles are down, but not out.

But speaking of large objects, everyone’s favorite spheroid, Chiyomaru, dropped to 7 East while his stable-mate Chiyotairyu took the Koumusubi express back down the banzuke to 4 East.

But let’s not end hungry! Down at the lower rungs of the banzuke, there are some happy faces. Kyokutaisei makes his debut in the top division. He joins returning faces Sadanoumi, Takekaze and… UNCLE SUMO! Yes, Aminishiki returns like that favorite pair of jeans you though were too beat up to wear. Nope, still plenty of life, but enjoy them while you can.

I would be remiss if I did not comment that much farther down the banzuke, our favorite Texan, Wakaichiro, finds himself back in Jonidan at 14 East. This is certainly a disappointment to him, but we encourage him to recall he always fights better in Tokyo. Give ’em hell!

Onosho Unlikely For Haru

onosho

A story today in the Japanese press reports that rising star and member of the tadpole army, Onosho, will most likely not compete in March’s tournament in Osaka. During January’s Hatsu basho in Tokyo, Onosho withdrew from the competition following day 9, reporting an injury to his right knee. Now reports cite that the injury is not healed and that Onosho is only about 50% of his normal strength.

With many years ahead of him in his sumo career, pressing for a full recovery is a wise option. Should he sit out Haru, he will likely be demoted to Juryo for the Natsu tournament in May. Given his strength, power and sheer will to win, he won’t be down there for very long.

 

Hatsu Day 9 Preview

day-of-tickets

As we exit the middle weekend of the basho, it’s all a headlong charge to the final weekend, and the crowning of the Yusho for Hatsu 2018. Along that road, there are some interesting stories unfolding.

Firstly is Mitakeumi, a strong start at 7-1 puts a double digit Sekiwake win within reach for the first time. For fans following along, this would mark the start of a campaign for him to lay claim to an Ozeki slot. I like Mitakeumi a lot, and I am eager to see him score 10+ wins this basho, but he’s not quite up to Ozeki level sumo yet.

Man-Bear-Giant Tochinoshin (Mitakeumi’s day 9 opponent) is likewise having a surprisingly good tournament. Tochinoshin has underperformed for years due to injuries. When he is healthy his skill and outrageous strength produces records that are solid San’yaku material. But it almost always seems that just when he is on the march, his body betrays him.

This has also been the case far too frequently for our current yusho leader, Yokozuna Kakuryu. At the moment he seems unstoppable. But fans should keep in mind that he spent most of 2017 out of sumo action due to chronic problems with his legs and back. Sadly we are one injury away from losing him once more to a lengthy rehabilitation process. But we are all hoping not to see that this tournament. Short of an injury, this is his tournament to lose.

Hatsu Leader Board

Leader – Kakuryu
Chasers – Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Daieisho
Hunt Grop – Tochiozan, Shohozan, Asanoyama

7 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 9

Abi vs Asanoyama – There is still a lot of outstanding action going on at the bottom of the torikumi, with several of the lower ranked Maegashira turning in some excellent sumo. Day 9 gives us a match I have been eager to see: Abi and Asanoyama. In their only prior match, Asanoyama prevailed, but Abi really has his oshi sumo running strong.

Ishiura vs Daieisho – Daieisho is one loss behind the Yokozuna headed into day 9, and he meets Ishiura who is struggling to get above .500. Daieisho has been explosive out of the tachiai this tournament, and I am curious to see how that matches with Ishiura’s “submarine” sumo.

Shohozan vs Kagayaki – In spite of his day 8 loss, Shohozan’s sumo is winning matches at Hatsu. Kagayaki has been horribly inconsistent, but is still in the running for kachi-koshi later this week. This will likely be all Shohozan, but Kagayaki leads their career matches 4-2.

Takarafuji vs Tochiozan – Tochiozan has been cool and confident, and is looking genki. Takarafuji has managed to string together a 5-3 record thus far, and is showing us calm, confident and careful sumo. Tochiozan leads the series 10-7.

Kaisei vs Endo – After a strong start, Endo has gotten into a bit of a slump. Now he faces Brazilian mammoth Kaisei, whom he leads in their career records 6-3. Endo’s main inhibitor to good performance seems to be mental at the moment, and we all hope that he will find Kaisei a nice place out in the zabutan section.

Yoshikaze vs Kotoshogiku – Both of these sumo stalwarts are struggling this basho. Yoshikaze’s 3 wins all come against Yokozuna and Ozeki, but he can’t seem to muster any strong sumo for the rank and file. Kotoshogiku leads the career series 22-6, so this is likely a pickup for the Kyushu Bulldozer.

Ichinojo vs Onosho – Ichinojo brings his size based sumo against Onosho’s run-and-push sumo. Both are 4-4, and both are eager to keep themselves in the hunt for kachi-koshi. If Ichinojo gets a grip like he did day 8, it’s going to be his match.

Mitakeumi vs Tochinoshin – Mitakeumi made several tactical mistakes in his day 8 match with the boulder known as Ichinojo. His day 9 match is really no easier, as he faces Tochinoshin’s massive strength. Tochinoshin showed on day 8 that he was happy to win an oshi match, so Mitakeumi really needs to think this one through.

Shodai vs Takayasu – I would say Takayasu in a walk, but Takayasu’s sumo has been chaotic, unfocused and a bit frantic. This is a significant departure from the sumo that got him into the Ozeki ranks, and marks a dangerous turn for him. Still, it’s Shodai, so I am guessing that Takayasu may flatten him straight out of the tachiai.

Goeido vs Tamawashi – Goeido needs to bounce back, he is up to three losses, and seems to be stuck in the debugging mode of GoeidOS 1.5.1. He is evenly matched with Tamawashi in terms of score coming into day 9, and career record. Goeido will need to take control from the tachiai, or he’s going to end up moving backwards under Tamawashi’s blistering assault.

Kakuryu vs Arawashi – I am betting on a fairly straightforward win for the Yokozuna, to remain undefeated and the man to beat for the Emperor’s cup. Arawashi won their only prior match in January of 2017, but this version of Kakuryu is healthy and strong.

Hatsu Day 7 Preview

Kakuryu Kensho

Heading into the middle weekend of the Hatsu basho, fans around the globe are enjoying a wide open yusho race. In spite of a wave of withdrawals, that includes two of three yokozuna, the competition has been fierce and the sumo fantastic. After a slow start, Yoshikaze has gone on a tear through the named ranks. As we have described, he is possible the one man in sumo that you can count on to beat anyone on any day. His day 6 victory over Goeido is one for slow-motion replay. You can see him detect in a fraction of a second that the Ozeki was off balance, and brought his hands up and pulled Goeido forward.

The lower end of the torikumi continues to delight. In many basho, the guys from Maegashira 12-16 are earnest and hard-working, but are not typically generating exciting matches. But this has not been the case this tournament. The current crop occupying these ranks are fighting well, and delivering great sumo.

Going into this middle weekend, the job of the schedulers is to narrow the yusho race, and deliver exciting sumo for the fans. We can expect to see some fantastic matches, and day 7 will delvier.

Hatsu Leader Board

Leaders – Kakuryu, Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Asanoyama
Chasers – Shohozan, Daieisho

9 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 7

Ryuden vs Yutakayama – Both rikishi come in 3-3, and both of them are looking to secure a road to remain in Makuuchi. Both of them prefer to fight via thrusting, and the career record favors Yutakayama 3-1. But don’t count Ryuden out, Ryuden has been steadily improving since his Juryo days, where Yutakayama seems to be struggling to elevate his sumo. This one has potential.

Abi vs Nishikigi – It’s fun when the lower Makuuchi ranks are so evenly balanced. Again another 3-3 record matchup. This time is Abi bringing his excellent shiko to combat Nishikigi, who is frankly one hell of a survivor. How even are they? Their career record is 2-2.

Asanoyama vs Daieisho – Asanoyama brings his 6-0 starting record into day 7, and he faces Daieisho who has a respectable 5-1. They have met twice before, and both took one match. Can Asanoyama maintain his position on the leader board and knock Daieisho out of the chaser group?

Ishiura vs Kagayaki – Ishiura, in spite of his 3-3 start, is fighting better than he has in many months. After a strong start, Kagayaki is in a bit of a slump that he is eager to reverse. Ishiura seems to be reverting to his earlier “submarine” tactics, which almost everyone has figured out. Ishiura leads the series 5-2.

Tochiozan vs Kotoyuki – Evenly matched, even records, career matches evenly split yet again. But Kotoyuki went for a roll of the corner of the doyho against Shohozan day 6, and that has (in the past) given him an injury. We will see Saturday if he bounces back against a Tochiozan.

Chiyoshoma vs Shohozan – “Big Guns” Shohozan has been dominating his matches thus far, and is looking strong, stable and confident. I give him a slight edge against Chiyoshoma in his day 7 match, which will feature each man blasting the other with a flurry of blows.

Chiyonokuni vs Endo – Endo got smoked on day 6, plain and simple. He was surprised by Shodai (as was I) when “Big Blue” actually launched out of the tachiai like a champion and caught Endo off balance. Endo is better than that, and I don’t expect him to repeat that mistake on day 7. Grumpy Badger Chiyonokuni continues to fight well, but has been struggling to find a route from “Fighting like a madman” to “Winning like a champion”.

Shodai vs Takarafuji – Can Shodai do it again? For the first time in a long time, he did not blow his tachiai. He came in fast, hard and aggressive. Takarafuji makes for a tough target, because he is stable and keeps himself low. Career matches, Shodai has a 5-2 advantage. But I really want to see if Shodai has resolved his tachiai issues.

Kotoshogiku vs Onosho – Kotoshogiku has done a masterful job of standing up to the upper San’yaku over the last few days. And I think that Onosho has a real fight on his hands. Their prior two matches were split 1-1, and if Onosho can stay mobile, he can and will control the match. I am going to look for the Kyushu Bulldozer to land at least his right hand at the tachiai.

Mitakeumi vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze comes in with a middling record, but an impressive array of Hatsu scalps. At risk is Mitakeumi’s slot on the leaderboard, and Yoshikaze is dangerous to that perfect record. Their career matches are evenly split 3-3. I will look for Mitakeumi to try and open with a slap down or pull down, as Yoshikaze tries to launch hard off the line.

Ichinojo vs Takayasu – Takayasu caught an ugly surprise on day 6, when his poor posture, his reliance on his forearm blast and general sloppy sumo was dismantled in the blink of an eye by a fast, powerful tadpole. Now he faces the Mongol boulder Ichinojo. Ichinojo delivered a brutal first (and last) pitch in his match with Tamawashi day 6. Takayasu has a lot more heft, but his recent preference for highly mobile matches leaves him open for Ichinojo to toss him on his head.

Goeido vs Takakeisho – I am absolutely certain that Takakeisho paid close attention to Yoshikaze’s rapid takedown of Goeido day 6, and will be looking to repeat that attack. Goeido has a bit of a challenge due to Takakeisho low, round form. If this devolves into an oshi match, I am giving a slight advantage to Takakeisho.

Kakuryu vs Tochinoshin – THE match, the match that could define this basho. Kakuryu will want to go chest to chest, the fans will want him to go chest to chest, Tochinoshin is daring him to go chest to chest. So I am going to call it now, Hatakikomi or Hikkake. If Big K lets him get a double arm grip on his mawashi, it’s probably going to result in our one remaining Yokozuna re-injuring his back.

Hatsu Day 6 Preview

Yoshikaze kensho-stack
Yoshikaze’s Mountain of Kensho

With Kisenosato now officially out of the tournament, we face another basho where only one Yokozuna shows up to compete. As predicted at the end of 2017, significant changes are going to sweep through sumo this year. I am happy that it looks like Kakuryu has returned genki and ready to compete, and seems to really be dominating this tournament with strength and poise.

If you did not see it, Aminishiki took a terrible fall from the dohyo at the end of his day 5 match. And by terrible I mean he could not re-mount the dohyo to bow. He needed help walking, and was in very rough shape. Uncle Sumo, as we lovingly call him, is a miracle of orthopedic braces, large bandages and sheer human determination. It’s that force of will that got him back to Makuuchi, but sadly this injury may be the one that ends it for him.

There is good news as well! Mitakeumi is half way to his goal of double digit wins, and the kick-off of an Ozeki run. To be clear, with only one Yokozuna active at any given tournament, the Ozeki promotion lane is wide open. In addition, Tochinoshin is looking surprisingly genki this basho. His day 5 performance against Goeido was one for the highlight reels.

Hatsu Leader board

Leaders – Kakuryu, Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Asanoyama
Chasers – Goeido, Takayasu, Endo, Chiyoshoma, Tochiozan, Shohozan, Kotoyuki, Daieisho

10 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 6

Ishiura vs Asanoyama – This one has a lot of potential, including the fact that this is the first time these two young men have met on the dohyo. Asanoyama comes in with zero defeats, but Ishiura brings speed and amazing strength.

Takekaze vs Ryuden – Ryuden is struggling a bit starting the second act of Hatsu, needing a few more wins to ensure a winning record. Takekaze has a terrible start to the basho, and needs to really step on the gas to avoid a possible demotion to Juryo for Osaka. This is also their first ever match.

Yutakayama vs Kagayaki – Struggling Yutakayama takes on “Buxom Rikishi” Kagayaki. Once again, these two meet for the first time. Both of them have similar approaches to their sumo, so I am going to suggest this will be evenly matched.

Shohozan vs Kotoyuki – Shohozan has been fighting well so far. His strength, speed and stability have carried him fairly far. Kotoyuki has been all over the map in prior tournaments, but seems to have his sumo running well for Hatsu. Kotoyuki brings a 4-2 career advantage to this match.

Okinoumi vs Chiyoshoma – For the last several days, Chiyoshoma has been attempting to deploy many of the tactics that were once the domain of Harumafuji. It’s been working for him, too. He comes in against a struggling Okinoumi who does not seem to be able to put together a winning recipe.

Shodai vs Endo – I am going to just say that Endo is likely to completely dominate Shodai, even though the career record (2-1) favors Shodai. Much as I love me some genki Shodai, that version is not showing up these days, whereas Endo is fighting as well as I have seen in at least a year.

Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin – Red hot Tochinoshin has a date with a tadpole, and it’s an epic clash of opposing sumo styles. Takakeisho will work to set up and run his “wave action tsuppari” from the tachiai. Tochinoshin needs to get inside, grab a hold of this guy and toss him like an angry pufferfish in Shimonoseki’s fish market. Interestingly enough, Tochinoshin has never beat Takakeisho. This one is a must-watch bout.

Mitakeumi vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji is on the receiving end of the traditional Maegashira 1 beating. This is necessary and important to bring him to the point when he will be a fixture of the upper ranks. But on day 6, its Mitakeumi’s turn to slap him around. Their career record of 2-2 shows an even match, so there is a chance that Hokutofuji can rally.

Goeido vs Yoshikaze – There are two Yoshikazes. The normal one is a fast, capable and a great all around athlete. He’s a force of sumo, and always gives it his all. The second one I call “The Berserker”. The Berserker can beat anyone, when he shows up. Not even Hakuho is safe from Yoshikaze in berserker mode. This is why nobody takes their match with him lightly. Goeido is fighting very well, but the career record of 12-11 favors Yoshikaze slightly, but underscores how big of match this could be.

Onosho vs Takayasu – Takayasu looks to be in his groove now, and it will be fun to see him chase Onosho around the dohyo for a few seconds. Hopefully he keeps his balance, and if he does I predict that Onosho is little more than a speed bump to another double digit tournament.

Kakuryu vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku is a shadow of his former self, but their career 22-24 record indicates these two are usually evenly matched. Kakuryu has been smooth and strong since the start of Hatsu, but Kotoshogiku’s recent wins have likely given him a needed confidence boost.