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.

Hatsu Day 5 Preview

Kisenosato Worried

Day 4 was a fantastic day of sumo, the kind of day that makes a sumo fan wish they could see the entire 2 hour makuuchi broadcast. Perhaps one day? We can always dream.

Hakuho seems to have injured himself once more, and I would guess will push to go kyujo. Terunofuji’s medical slip for his kyujo recommends 1 week rest, implying that we could see him again in week 2 making a desperate bid to save himself from a demotion to juryo. With his health more or less out of control at this point, Terunofuji is a long way from his earlier Ozeki self.

Day 5 brings a close to the first act of Hatsu. Readers may recall that I divide the 15 day basho into three distinct 5 day arcs, as they always seem to form a pattern. The first act being where everyone shakes off the dust and settles into their “full power” sumo, and we get to see who is hot and who is not. Act two are where hopes get smashed and dreams get crushed. It’s also where we start to track the leaders, and look into the race for the Emperor’s cup. The second act contains the all important middle weekend, where the scheduling team usually tries to narrow the field through exciting matches between rikishi with strong winning records.

What We Are Watching Day 5

Kyokutaisei vs Asanoyama – Kyokutaisei comes up from Juryo to fill the empty slot left by Terunofuji. He faces an undefeated Asanoyama, who is looking very solid so far. Is it just me, or is Maegashira 12-17 really turning in some great sumo this basho? I know we talk about the tadpoles a lot (with good reason) but this class of rikishi really seem to be doing well, and dare I say it, having a lot of fun? Is sumo allowed to be fun?

Ishiura vs Ryuden – Ishiura hit the clay on day 4 in a surprising loss to Nishikigi, but day 5 he gets Ryuden, who in spite of his 1-3 record seems to be eager to battle each time on the dohyo. I am sure that Ryuden wants to stay in Makuuchi, so I expect him to dial up the intensity starting now.

Abi vs Kagayaki – Oh yes please! Abi seems capable of surprising any opponent thus far, where Kagayaki is sort of Kisenosato 2.0, steady, focused, straight ahead sumo with a lot of power behind it. Sure, Kagayaki is young and is not at Kisenosato skill or strength levels yet. Abi however, seems to be surprisingly adaptive, and fast on his feet. Could be a great match.

Kotoyuki vs Sokokurai – Kotoyuki has quietly put together a 3-1 record to start the basho. During his tour of Juryo in 2017, he was a mess. He seemed to constantly be injured and on a knife edge of further demotion. Now he is back in Makuuchi, and actually doing well enough. He faces the Kyushu Juryo Yusho winner, Sokokurai, who seems to be more than a little overwhelmed. Their career 7-1 record favors Kotoyuki.

Shohozan vs Chiyomaru – Big Guns Shohozan takes on the incredibly large Chiyomaru. I am sure that Shohozan can and possibly will squat press Chiyomaru, but with both of these men at 3-1, the workout is more likely to be blistering tsuppari with a side of uwatenage.

Okinoumi vs Endo – Okinoumi Seems to be in good enough physical condition, but thus far he has not quite been able to get his sumo to click. Fans may remember Nagoya 2016, where Okinoumi ripped up the San’yaku battle fleet before his injuries turned him into a cuddly petting zoo refugee. Endo on the other hand is cranked up and pushing higher for Osaka. They are evenly matched, with a career record of 5-4 slightly favoring Endo.

Shodai vs Ichinojo – Two giant, somewhat puffy and bloated men in blue mawashi. One is a bit slow and clumsy, and the other is frequently struggling to execute a decent tachiai. I have no clue what will happen here, but whatever it is, it will happen slowly.

Takakeisho vs Onosho – Yeah, let’s put the two angriest tadpoles in a bucket and let them battle! An idea so magical, it could result in a fantastic match. These two are actually real life friends, and have been working through sumo together for quite some time. But both are fierce competitors. I would give a slight advantage to Takakeisho, as he seems to be more “dialed in” right now.

Mitakeumi vs Tamawashi – Sekiwake fight! Tamawashi, who used to hold the East slot, takes his Oshi offense to the face and bulbous thorax of Mitakeumi, who has no intention of letting Tamawashi smudge his flawless 4-0 record. Mitakeumi holds an 8-2 career advantage.

Hokutofuji vs Takayasu – Forgive me, Takayasu fans, but I might make you mad. I think Takayasu has lost touch with the core of his sumo. His Tochinoshin match of day 4 was full of mistakes, and I think he really needs to focus on his fundamentals, which when he works in them, are outstanding. Hokutofuji comes in with a 1-3 record, but he’s been on a steady diet of Yokozuna sumo, and surviving fairly well. In fact, Takayasu has NEVER beaten Hokutofuji. Good grief.

Goeido vs Tochinoshin – Gut check time for Goeido! He knows he can’t go chest to chest with this beast of a man, so he’s got to stay mobile. When he does that, he tends to try and pull, and when he does that, he tends to lose. I will be interested to see if Tochinoshin has Goeido so psyched out that Goeido reverts to his buggy 1.0 software.

Hakuho vs Kotoshogiku – Hakuho has foot problems, and can’t transmit power to ground. I wonder if Kotoshogiku is feeling genki enough for his back bend, now that he dropped his arch-foe Kisenosato. For a healthy Hakuho, this is a straighforward win. But as-is, Kotoshogiku has a fair chance of another Kinboshi.

Kakuryu vs Chiyotairyu – Only really interesting because I am curious to see what Kakuryu does to put the big Sumo Elvis down. Kakuryu is fighting really well this basho, and if he can remain uninjured he will have a fantastic and convincing return to active status.

Yoshikaze vs Kisenosato – Even though Yoshikaze defeated Hakuho on Day 4, he still looks about a fraction of his normal self. Kisenosato has been high and unable to generate any arm strength on his go-to weapon, his left hand. Fair chance of another Yoshikaze kinboshi today.

Hatsu Day 3 Highlights

Yoshikae-Down

With three days worth of data, its becoming clear that the mandated changes to Hakuho’s tachiai have really put him off tempo. In addition, I have to wonder if there may be an additional physical problem that is robbing him of his normal excellent performance. Not to detract from Hokutofuji’s excellent sumo on day 3, but he has been quite a bit less than himself for each of the first three days.

However, the real danger is Kisenosato. There was quite a bit of talk pre-basho on how he was nearly back to his old self. His fans and people who generally think he’s a good guy hoped that was the case. But then the science of medicine strongly suggested that was just not possible. Sadly it seems that medicine may hold the final say.

On top of that, poor old Terunofuji withdraws due to complications from diabetes. The original report in the Japanese press was that his knee was once again preventing him from good sumo, but later reports changed it to “ill health”, which the sumo grapevine clarified to diabetes. We all hope that Terunofuji can get his body well, and come back strong.

Highlight Matches

Asanoyama defeats Ryuden – Asanoyama seems to be back in his groove again after struggling in Kyushu. He has a respectable 3-0 start to Hatsu, and his win over Ryuden was convincing.

Ishiura defeats Daiamami – Fast and strong again today from Ishiura. At the tachiai he deployed a henka, but immediately latched a deep left hand grip on Daiamami, and from there he controlled the match. Being short in stature, he was close to Daiamami’s knees already, so he picked one up and danced Daiamami out for a shitatenage.

Abi defeats Takekaze – Abi picks up his first win of the basho with a straight ahead shoving match with Takekaze, who seems to be sharing whatever malady has plagued Yoshikaze.

Daieisho defeats Kagayaki – Daieisho unleashes a very strong and well coordinated oshi attack, which Kagayaki seems unable to counter. While I think Kagayaki has potential, he is far to easy to bring high and off balance.

Chiyoshoma defeats Endo – Chiyoshoma is lightning fast this bout, employing something similar to Harumafuji’s mini-henka. Following the hit-and-shift, Chiyoshoma gets behind Endo and pulls the uwatenage. Endo never had a moment to recover.

Tochinoshin defeats Okinoumi – Clearly Tochinoshin is feeling well and can apply his enormous strength. Okinoumi puts up a valiant effort to try to block Tochinoshin’s grip, but he eventually goes chest to chest, at which point Tochinoshin overpowers him for the win.

Takakeisho defeats Tamawashi – This was always going to be a mighty Oshi-battle, but like some of Takakeisho’s earlier fights, it took an odd turn, with Takakeisho engaging in a flurry of tsuppari, then breaking off and diving back in time and again. This seemed to throw Tamawashi completely off his sumo, and the end was fairly sedate.

Mitakeumi defeats Onosho – Onosho came out strong and had Mitakeumi moving backwards. But Mitakeumi used Onosho’s forward momentum at the edge of the dohyo to slap him down for the win. Onosho really having a crummy start to Hatsu.

Takayasu defeats Chiyotairyu – Takayasu continues to employ his shoulder-blast off the tachiai, and it successfully disrupts Chiyotairyu’s battle plans. From there it’s an Oshi-battle with Takayasu controlling the short match.

Goeido defeats Kotoshogiku – It’s very painful to watch Kotoshogiku fade away, but he is fading quickly. Goeido on the other had seems to have his sumo together this basho, and is fighting well. He may not face a real challenge until week two.

Ichinojo defeats Kisenosato – Much as I want Kisenosato to be healthy, it’s nice to see Ichinojo grab a kinboshi. But really, Kisenosato is not even fighting at Ozeki level right now. Again. Ichinojo completely overpowered him, and Kisenosato could do nothing to stop it. I am going to assume we will be losing another Yokozuna soon.

Hokutofuji defeats Hakuho – The second kinboshi of the day, Hokutofuji has now taken a gold star from four different Yokozuna, quite an achievement so early in his career. After a false start, Hokutofuji took the fight squarely to The Boss. Hakuho seemed to be searching for an offense, while Hokutofuji kept moving forward. One of the great things about Hokutofuji is that you can beat his upper body to a pulp, but his lower body keeps moving forward. Great sumo from a rising star today.

Kakuryu defeats Yoshikaze – Something is seriously amiss with Yoshikaze. Is it the flu? It’s almost as if he’s not got any strength at all. Kakuryu simply rolls him in the first few seconds. I hope whatever the Berserker has going on, he can overcome and return strong.

Hatsu Day 3 Preview

Kotoshogiku-Flying Lesson
Kotoshogiku Gets A Flying Lesson

The first two days of Hatsu have exceeded my expectations, producing some exciting and enjoyable sumo. One of the Tachiai team, Josh, is in Tokyo this time, and I am incredibly envious.

Meanwhile, we seem to have all three surviving Yokozuna in workable condition, and turning in solid performances. Add to that that both Ozeki also seem to be on top of their sumo, and we are anticipating final day scores to see a dramatic departure from recent history. Over the past year we saw multiple upper Maegashira and San’yaku rikishi turning in double digit scores. Over the history of sumo, this is an unusual occurrence. Normally the named ranks completely wreck everyone from Sekiwake down into the joi. So don’t be shocked or disappointed if your favorite tadpole gets sent packing down the banzuke this time.

What We Are Watching Day 3

Ryuden vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama comes into day 3 with 2 wins, and I am quite sure Ryuden will give him a good test. These two have only had one prior match, in Juryo, and Asanoyama was the winner. Both rikishi are looking sharp and aggressive early in this tournament.

Ishiura vs Daiamami – I am starting to hope that Ishiura has gotten back on top of his sumo. His tachiai looks greatly improved, and he’s not submarining into an inevitable hatakikomi so far. Can he make it 3-0 to start the new year? This is their first career match.

Daieisho vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki is also looking to establish his credibility as a solid Maegashira rikishi, and his next stop is long term opponent Daieisho. Kagayaki will work to try and land a grip and use his superior strength, and Daieisho will try to stay mobile and work towards a throw / thrust out. Their career record of 5-6 indicates they are evenly matched.

Tochiozan vs Kaisei – Greatly inflated Panda-kun Kaisei faces Tochiozan day 3, and Tochiozan may have his hands full trying to maneuver that much churrasqueiro. As I have stated many times, being enormous is not a long term sumo strategy. But in some cases, it can be decisive. Tochiozan is a skilled technician, and may show us how its done.

Chiyoshoma vs Endo – Excellent pairing from the schedulers, we take two experienced, skilled rikishi with no losses thus far facing off. Endo holds a 4-2 career advantage, and tends to win by throwing Chiyoshoma.

Okinoumi vs Tochinoshin – I am going to make a guess that Okinoumi is in reasonably good health for now. He faces off against Tochinoshin, and his incredible strength. These two will go chest to chest from the start, and it will come down to who gets the best grip. If this goes long, it favors Tochinoshin, so look for Okinoumi to end it in the first 30 seconds. Their 5-6 career record shows how evenly these two are matched.

Takakeisho vs Tamawashi – Another great match from scheduling. Two tsuppari / oshi masters going head to head is a formula for an explosive bout. Even thought Takakeisho holds a slight 2-1 career advantage, Tamawashi is pressing hard for double digits.

Mitakeumi vs Onosho – Mitakeumi is looking genki, and Onosho has yet to settle down and get his sumo running well. So this may be all Mitakeumi. But this could also be the day that Onosho clears the cobwebs and brings his blistering offense to the dohyo.

Chiyotairyu vs Takayasu – Match of the burly-men, I am quite sure this is all Takayasu, and it’s going to be over in short order, I expect.

Goeido vs Kotoshogiku – A long term rivalry that goes back years, this match strongly favors Goeido. The first two days have seen Kotoshogiku hit the clay twice. He seems to be cold and disorganized, which is a huge shame.

Ichinojo vs Kisenosato – Ichinojo presents a significant challenge to Kisenosato. Given his performance in the past two days, it seems that he is still not nearly as strong as he was prior to his injury last March. At 215 kg, Ichinojo represents a huge mass to overcome, and Ichinojo has been fighting well.

Hakuho vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has never been able to present a reasonable challenge to Hakuho, and much as I love Hokutofuji, I don’t expect his day 3 match to be appreciably different.

Kakuryu vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze really seems to be lacking any kind of spark in his first two matches, and frankly fans have to wonder if he is injured. On the other hand, Kakuryu seems quite genki, and he has been calling the shots in his first two matches.

Hatsu Day 2 Highlights

Kisenosato Sigh of Relief

Top line result – Kisenosato won today. He won in a tough battle against a strong, healthy youngster in Hokutofuji. Meanwhile, Hakuho looks uncharacteristically tentative, Kakuryu dismantles Takakeisho’s wave action attack, Takayasu goes the distance with a persistent Kotoshogiku, and I worry there is something amiss in Yoshikaze-land.

Highlight Matches

Daiamami defeats Ryuden – A pair of loose mawashi leads to a rather challenging battle, where Daiamami was able to muscle Ryuden out at the edge.

Asanoyama defeats Nishikigi – I am starting to hope that Asanoyama has gotten his sumo back under control. Asanoyama was double-inside at the tachiai, and Nishikigi offered very little resistance.

Ishiura defeats Abi – Ishiura seems to have gotten his sumo together. He is looking focused, tight and he is using his size and strength to his advantage. Abi, in spite of his sunny disposition and outstanding shiko, is still looking for the recipe to get a Makuuchi win.

Kagayaki defeats Daishomaru – This version of Kagayaki is quite different from the disorganized mess of the last three basho. It’s probably the case that Kagayaki is not yet ready to succeed at upper Maegashira level, but here at the bottom, he is doing great.

Aminishiki defeats Chiyomaru – Uncle Sumo locked up Chiyomaru and went chest to chest with the big man, and won! Not a great or glorious battle, but good to see Aminishiki going straight out into battle.

Kaisei defeats Chiyonokuni – Two false starts put both contestants in a hesitant mode, and Kaisei took control of the smaller but more aggressive Chiyonokuni. I am really concerned about Kaisei’s bulk. At that size, one bad fall and it’s all downhill.

Endo defeats Ikioi – In the battle of the Japanese virtues, it was Endo all the way. There was some question on who touched down first, but Endo prevailed. I am starting to be cautiously optimistic that Endo has put his health problems behind him.

Tochinoshin defeats Arawashi – It was not even close, and frankly it was startling to see how small Arawashi (who is not small in person) looked as Tochinoshin lifted him over the tawara. I am eager to see how Tochinoshin does when he starts facing the San’yaku in a few days.

Tamawashi defeats Yoshikaze – Alright, that’s two weak days from Yoshikaze in a row. As a fan I am starting to worry that something is wrong with the berserker.

Goeido defeats Onosho – Goeido has started Hatsu strong, and he’s completely dialed in on the 2.0 software. The ankle repair appears to have been a complete success, and I think he’s fighting as well right now as I have seen in the past two years.

Takayasu defeats Kotoshogiku – For recent joiners of the sumo fan world, this was a classic Takayasu match. Enormous strength and almost inhuman endurance. It’s also a huge measure of respect for Kotoshogiku as he was able to match the Ozeki during that lengthy battle, and never gave up one inch without a fight. Classic match.

Hakuho defeats Ichinojo – That’s two days in a row where the boss has struggled. Yes, Ichinojo is the Obelix of sumo, but in prior engagements, Hakuho has been able to eliminate Ichinojo’s size as a factor. One can assume that the change up in his tachiai has significantly disrupted his sumo.

Kakuryu defeats Takakeisho – Amazing bout from Big K! I refer to Takakeisho’s big weapon as a “Wave Action Tsuppari”: he tends to do a double arm thrust 3 times then move. Kakuryu knows this, stops the first wave at the tachiai and moves inside with a shallow grip. Takakeisho moves to escape and Kakuryu does not let him re-set. Takakeisho’s out in the blink of an eye.

Kisenosato defeats Hokutofuji – And all of Japan breathes a sigh of relief. This was actually a very good match, and my compliments to Hokutofuji, who put up one hell of a fight. From the tachiai, Hokutofuji works hard to block Kisenosato’s left hand grip. He then makes the mistake of grabbing Kisenosato’s left forearm and pulling. This seems to really fire Kisenosato up, and he unleashes a hell of a storm on his opponent. After a few very strong blows, Kisenosato lands his deep left hand grip, at which point it’s all over. Great match, if a bit sloppy.

Hatsu Day 2 Preview

kisenosato-down

Day 1 got off to a very solid start, better than either of the last two basho, and I am cautiously enthusiastic about what we are in store for. With so many excellent matches on day 1, I encourage everyone to at least try out Kintamayama’s review on YouTube. While I love the NHK highlights show, and days when there are a large amount of quality bouts in a rather lengthy torikumi, it’s worth it to pick up the matches you missed.

I finally got to see the NHK highlight show at 2:30 Pacific today. Yes, I am in San Diego for a bit instead of the mighty bastion of Texas. Counter programming to it was a show on PBS about black holes, and super-massive black holes. I thought nothing of it…

But then here’s Murray Johnson remarking that Kaisei has packed on over 20 kg since November. Dear readers, that’s the size of a small Panda Bear, whose form Kaisei seems determined to emulate. It appears something similar has taken place within orbit of the gas giant Chiyomaru, who may have swallowed a nearby moon. Both of these two balloons will find their added mass a terrible strain on their bodies, and I fear for their longevity.

Say, you know what has me really delighted so far? Great matches at the bottom of Makuuchi! These guys are on fire. The Tadpoles had best consolidate their position in a hurry, as it seems there is yet another cohort advancing on their positions.

What We Are Watching Day 2

Ryuden vs Daiamami – Ryuden looked very poised on day 1, I am going to be watching to see if he can repeat that with his match against Daiamami, who holds a 5-2 career advantage of him.

Asanoyama vs Nishikigi – I am calling for Asanoyama to try to set up a throw early on. If Nishikigi can block the outside grip, he will probably have a chance to get inside and dismantle Asanoyama.

Abi vs Ishiura – An early match with a lot of interest. Both guys are on the lighter side of the scales, and both of them like to move around and mix it up. If Ishiura gets stuck, will he resort to his submarine attack that gets him in such trouble?

Yutakayama vs Daieisho – See, this time I spelled it correctly. Yutakayama has won both their prior matches. I expect a flurry of thrusting and a lot of mobility. Yutakayama seems to choke when he gets into Makuuchi, and I think everyone is hoping that this time he can settle down and show us some great sumo.

Kagayaki vs Daishomaru – When I said keep an eye on Kagayaki, people laughed. I get it, he has ridiculous man-boobs. He seems to have come to terms with it, and possibly uses it to distract his opponents. They say life in the heya can be lonely, and perhaps these poor guys find the display captivating. But hell no! Kagayaki takes his sumo with all of the earnest concentration you might expect from a rikishi who wants to be somebody. Like Kiesnosato, this guy is willing to train himself to death to get there. Never count that out.

Terunofuji vs Kotoyuki – Did you read Herouth’s discussion of Terunofuji? It’s toward the bottom of her typically awesome post. If you have not read it, go read it. It seems that in addition to Kaisei and Chiyomaru, Terunofuji may have spent time at the Gagamaru body sculpting clinic. If he can’t toss Kotoyuki around like a rotten bag of miso on day 2, it’s very dim indeed for our once mighty Kaiju. (shout out to Joshua who is in Tokyo… Lucky bastard)

Aminishiki vs Chiyomaru – Uncle Sumo vs the Gas Giant. Not good as Chiyomaru’s intense gravity well may crush Aminishiki’s space age metal support structure. Seriously, Aminishiki is in lower mid-Maegashira territory now. I hope he’s able to keep himself from getting injured.

Kaisei vs Chiyonokuni – Panda-kun vs Grumpy Badger. Chiyonokuni came out blazing day 1, but in typical fashion could not close the deal. He’s got strength, speed and energy, but for whatever reason he can’t seem to put together a consistent approach to get a win.

Ikioi vs Endo – Looking forward to this fight, as I am keeping my eye on Endo, who I would not be surprised to see hit 10 wins this tournament. A genki Endo may come as a bit of a shock to the tadpoles, as he brings a surgical precision and some depth of experience to the dohyo. I am looking for him to contain Ikioi’s superior strength and reach, and work inside and backwards.

Shodai vs Okinoumi – Shodai looked better on day 1 than he has in a while, and I am going to guess that for now Okinoumi is in good health. So this is probably a fairly good match, if Shodai does not blow the tachiai. Both of them will go for a mawashi grip from the start, and it will come down to strength and tactics.

Mitakeumi vs Chiyotairyu – Mitakeumi needs a 10 win basho to be taken seriously as an Ozeki contender. So it’s time for him to produce before he faces the upper San’yaku next week. Chiyotairyu is bigger, strong and looks a lot more like Elvis. So Mitakeumi is going to have to gamberize.

Yoshikaze vs Tamawashi – I am sure Yoshikaze is disappointed in day 1’s outcome. His shot at recovery is with the tough as nails Tamawashi on day 2. Tamawashi is back at Sekiwake after a stumble at Aki and Nagoya, and he wants his back in line for an Ozeki run.

Goeido vs Onosho – Battle of the manic over-committing rikishi, where both of them tend to charge forward with everything they have. Although I tend to be against the use of henka, this is the correct case where it’s of most use. Free tacos if they do simultaneous henka and orbit each other for the first few seconds.

Kotoshogiku vs Takayasu – All the fans want Kotoshogiku to do the big back bend. We know its the source of his magic powers, and he needs every ounce of power against an especially genki looking Takayasu.

Hakuho vs Ichinojo – Hakuho looked a bit lost without his slap-n-grab power combo. Against Ichinojo he needs some clarity, as once that much Mongolian gets moving, he’s headed somewhere. I am expecting the Boss to try another tachiai variation, hopefully with improved effect.

Kakuryu vs Takakeisho – Takakeisho’s post match interview had me rolling. When asked about the sumo he used against Kisenosato, he more or less said, “I can’t really remember, I was just trying to win”. Damn straight! He was all over the map throwing everything including the kitchen sink at The Great Pumpkin, and he prevailed. Now of course comes Kakuryu, whose whole sumo approach is to let his opponent get rolling, then use their motion and attacks against them. I can’t wait to see how this one goes. This is the first time these two have fought.

Hokutofuji vs Kisenosato – The final match of the day, it it carries a lot of weight. Kisenosato needs wins on the board. But in their only prior match, Hokutofuji won convincingly. On day 1, Kisenosato let Takakeisho dictate the match. I am hoping to see him control the bout like his 2016 self would do with such calm and effortless power.

Hatsu Day 1 Highlights

battle formation

Top headline of the day: Kisenosato drops his match against Takakeisho. There are two things to learn from this: First and foremost, Takakeisho is gunning hard for Sekiwake and above. I slight him for his oshi-only approach, but he is making it work for him. He looked strong, fast and relentless today against the struggling Kisenosato.  The second thing of note is that Kisenosato looked much better than I had feared. He moved well, he attacked with strength, and kept moving forward. Fans who fear the Great Pumpkin being on the ropes should keep in mind he has not really had matches in a while, and will be rusty for a few days. If he walks out with 10 wins, he’s good.

Highlight Matches

Asanoyama defeats Daiamami – Decent throw that took some time to set up. Moving much better than he was in Kyushu. The happy rikishi has a long path ahead of him, and to reach his potential, he must stay healthy.

Ryuden defeats Nishikigi – Ryuden looked strong in his first Makuuchi bout, easily dominating Nishikigi. Ryuden kept his eblows tight, and prevented Nishikigi from establishing a grip, while Ryuden set up for a well executed throw to end the match.

Ishiura defeats Yutakayama – A flurry of activity in which Ishiura was everywhere at once and overwhelmed Yutakayama. He was able to get his head against Yutakayama’s chest a couple of times, which helped him keep the larger rikishi’s center of gravity high.

Daieisho defeats Abi – Massive oshi fest as Abi took the initiative and was landing tsuppari with purpose. But he over committed, got too far forward and Daieisho brought him forward and down.

Kagayaki defeats Takekaze – Kagayaki was very high at the tachiai, but managed to get Takekaze off balance and moving backwards. His excellent sumo instincts took over and he kept moving strongly forward. Good, solid win.

Kotoyuki defeats Aminishiki – Not quite the battle I was looking for, it was over in a blink of an eye as Aminishiki slipped trying to find his footing. Kotoyuki recognized this quickly, and finished what gravity had started.

Chiyomaru defeats Terunofuji – In spite of Chiyomaru’s enormous belly, Terunofuji was able to land a mawashi grip. But without abilty to transmit power through his legs, he was unable to halt Chiyomaru’s counter attack.

Chiyoshoma defeats Ikioi – Massive tachiai, with Ikioi taking the early initiative, but Chiyoshoma pulled out a win at the edge thanks to excellent ring sense and a great deal of balance.

Endo defeats Takarafuji – Keep your eyes on Endo! He wants back in the upper ranks, and he seems to finally have his body in order. This fight saw both rikishi try to establish an offense only to be countered quite effectively, but Endo kept working forward. Fantastic effort from both.

Arawashi defeats Okinoumi – In spite of Okinoumi showing some solid sumo moves, he let Arawashi land a deep left hand grip right away, and from there Arawashi kept working Okinoumi towards being thrown. 800th bout for Arawashi.

Tochinoshin defeats Shodai – Shodai, for once, had a solid tachiai, but he immediately went chest to chest with Tochinoshin, which had to delight the big Georgian. In spite of Shodai’s right hand mawashi grip, Tochinoshin out-matched him in strength and power.

Mitakeumi defeats Kotoshogiku – Mitakeumi has a very sloppy start, he was high and immediately off balance. Kotoshogiku was able to set up a solid defense, and as Mitakeumi was struggling (more than he should) to finish him, Kotoshogiku apparently stepped out. The match was stopped by the shimpan.

Takayasu defeats Yoshikaze – Takayasu still working that forearm blast into the tachiai, but it seems to leave him high and forward. Yoshikaze could not exploit it, and was moving backwards in a hurry. Both men re-engaged, and kept the battle running, with Yoshikaze pushing to land a mawashi grip. Takayasu prevailed and Yoshikaze took a slow motion roll to the clay. Hopefully he was ok.

Goeido defeats Ichinojo – As predicted, Goeido came in fast and low, but Inchinojo’s mass and forward momentum was too much for Goeido to simply power out. Goeido 2.0 is all about keeping up the pressure, and he did eventually get Ichinojo to step out, but Goeido was on the verge of falling down as it happened.

Kakuryu defeats Hokutofuji – This was classic Kakuryu, letting his opponent open the offense, then making him pay. I am thankful that Kakuryu was able to open strong today.

Takakeisho defeats Kisenosato – Wow, what a battle! Twice, Kisenosato let Takakeisho set up his “wave action tsuppari”, with devastating effect. But twice the Yokozuna was able to escape. The match ended when Takakeisho grabbed a hold of Kisenosato’s right arm and twisted, bringing the Yokozuna down. Kisenosato looks worried, but it may take a few bouts for him to hit his stride.

Hakuho defeats Onosho – The boss made short work of Onosho, who once again over-committed and was too far forward.

Hatsu Day 1 Preview

Sumo-Manga

It’s finally here, sumo fans! Day one is upon us, and the Tachiai crew are eager for action. Everyone keep in mind, the first 3 days of any basho include quite a bit of rikishi in the top division trying to get themselves into tournament mode so we may see some rusty moves, some strange outcomes, and some favorites looking a little off-tempo. Interestingly enough, even though there is a good crop of new faces in Makuuchi, day one does not include any first-time match-ups. Maybe that will mean some careful strategy straight off the line.

With Makuuchi going down to Maegashira 17e, we are going to see a lot more action at the lower end of the torikumi, and as such it’s going to be tough for the NHK crew to decide how to fit it all into 20 minutes. Several of the shin-Makuuchi rikishi have a decent fan base already, and there may be a lot of good content to pare down to each day’s 20-minute​ show. For the hardcore​, find Kintamayama’s channel on Youtube and enjoy the whole thing!

What We Are Watching Day 1

Daiamami vs Asanoyama – Let’s start it off right! After having a disappointing basho in Kyushu, Asanoyama the happy rikishi faces off against Daiamami in the first Makuuchi match of 2018. These two tend to grab a hold of each other’s mawashi, so maybe we will get a yotsu-zumo contest right off the bat. Career record 3-2 in Daiamami’s favor.

Ryuden vs Nishikigi – Hopefully the NHK guys will include some of the crowd reaction to Ryuden stepping onto the Dohyo. The fans really like this guy, and they are not afraid to show it. Even better is that these two have a tendency to try to throw each other, and that is seldom dull. Career record 2-1 in Nishikigi’s favor.

Ishiura vs Yutakayama – From sumo’s scratch and dent bin comes this battle of rikishi we wish were doing better. Ishiura started Makuuchi strong last year, and then everyone figured out his “one weird trick”, and he faded. Yukatayama seems to have confidence or focus problems as soon as he’s listed on the Makuuchi side of the banzuke. Both of them have the potential for explosive sumo, so there is hope. These two have split their prior 2 matches.

Abi vs Daieisho – Can Abi give Asanoyama a run for his money as the “Happy Rikishi”? Sumo fans finally get to see. With any luck, we will get to see Abi bring some magic shiko to the hatsu dohyo. Their only prior meeting was back in 2015 when Abi was fighting under Horikiri, and was in Makushita.

Kotoyuki vs Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo vs The Penguin! Aminishiki (Uncle Sumo) started strong in Kyushu, but I think his knees suffered terribly over the course of 15 days of top division matches. Now ranked Maegashira 10, he has a difficult path to climb. Kotoyuki seems to be an all-or-nothing proposition, and typically ends the match in the second row of zabuton. Career record 4-2 in Aminishiki’s favor.

Terunofuji vs Chiyomaru – Former Ozeki Terunofuji will face down surprisingly-super-sized Chiyomaru, who is still operating in sumo-Elvis mode. Due to a lack of knees, the yobidashi will likely pre-position the over-sized wheelchair on the east side hanamichi.

Takarafuji vs Endo – Heads up sumo fans, Endo is possibly the big sleeper this basho. He has been nothing special for more than a year and then sought surgery to repair some of his most serious problems. After dropping down to the bottom of Makuuchi, he has turned in two excellent tournaments. Takarafuji is a steady rikishi, who can be expected to calmly employ a fairly defensive bout strategy. This could be an excellent match. Career record of 6-2 favors Takarafuji.

Okinoumi vs Arawashi – Okinoumi’s sumo is very much a function of his chronic injury. When he has it under control, he is a solid upper Maegashira. When it’s bothering him, he is in trouble. With Okinoumi, it’s always hit or miss, and day one against Arawashi should show us how Okinoumi is doing. Watch for Arawashi to leave a small amount of salt on top of his mawashi.

Shodai vs Tochinoshin – The Tachiai team give Shodai a hard time because he tends to lose matches on the first step. His tachiai is usually a half step slow, and fairly high. Everyone knows this now, and they use it to dismantle him. Today he may compound his mistake by giving Tochinoshin a mawashi hold. Simply put, Tochinoshin has the strength of a bear that has the strength of two bears. Career record of 4-2 favors Tochinoshin, unless he has just woken from his hibernation, in which case Tochinoshin eats Shodai and Shikimori Inosuke while the NHK cameras pan away.

Mitakeumi vs Kotoshogiku – The San’yaku battle fleet is especially charged up and ready for action this tournament. Though he managed to land a kachi-koshi for every 2017 tournament, Mitakeumi can rightfully be cited for loitering. Hey, double digits Mitakeumi! Kotoshogiku is no pushover, so I guess Mitakeumi stays mobile to avoid the hug-n-chug from the Kyushu Bulldozer.

Yoshikaze vs Takayasu – Yoshikaze wants back in San’yaku. And everyone should note this guy can really dish it out. Takayasu is finally back to practicing with Kisenosato, so I am expecting him to revert to his former excellent sumo that focuses on strength and endurance. I am hoping NOT to see a forearm blast at the tachiai (hat tip to Murray Johnson of NHK).

Goeido vs Ichinojo – Wow! What a match. Goeido 2.0 is a speed demon who will have you backward and out before you can blink. Ichinojo is a large object suspected to be laid down over centuries during the Carboniferous era. Look for Goeido to launch low and inside hoping to catch Ichinojo not quite out of his tachiai crouch, and slap the big boulder down. The 6-5 career record slightly favors the mighty Ichinojo.

Kakuryu vs Hokutofuji – Can we take this to 11? Yes, yes we can! Hokutofuji’s careful offense vs Kakuryu’s reactive sumo. Can Big K keep Hokutofuji off his belt long enough for Kaio Jr to make his first and only mistake? My money is on the Yokozuna to keep Hokutofuji from going chest to chest and throw in a lateral move or two. Probably one for slow-motion replays.

Takakeisho vs Kisenosato – Please Japan, remember to breathe during this showdown. The schedulers give Kisenosato no easy start. Takakeisho is going to go hard left and attack without quarter. I am looking for Kisenosato to try to land a right-hand grip, not his favorite, and use that to try and remove Takakeisho’s “wave action” tsuppari from the match. These two have split their only 2 matches.

Hakuho vs Onosho – By thunder, Onosho, wear that red mawashi or stay home. This one will be all Hakuho, but I really think Onosho will make him work for it if he does not over-commit out of the tachiai. Of course “the Boss” knows this and will possibly give ground on the first step to draw Onosho forward.

 

Hatsu Story 4 – The Tadpole Army

sumo-frogs

Harumafuji’s departure was likely the starting gun for the wave of change that will sweep through sumo’s upper division. Entering Hatsu 2018, we have two additional Yokozuna that could possibly face retirement if they are not able to perform at Grand Champion level. Likewise, we sadly lost an Ozeki when Terunofuji was unable to defend his rank as an Ozekiwake in Kyushu. This means that the promotion lanes, still impossibly narrow, are starting to open and could be active later this year.

As is always the case in these times, there is a vigorous crop of young rikishi who are battling their way to the top, eager to make their bid to attain sumo’s highest ranks. Most of them are in their mid to early 20’s and have a distinctive, bulbous body shape. I have nicknamed this cohort the “tadpoles”.

Days before Hatsu, we have a determined group of young men who we expect to keep the Ozeki and Yokozuna on their toes.

Mitakeumi – I would call him the king of the tadpoles, as he was the first to reach the upper ranks. He showed a great deal of promise early and then broadened his sumo from the traditional Tadpole Oshi sumo by becoming increasingly competent fighting on the mawashi. He has proven surprisingly resilient at Sekiwake, including at Kyushu where he seemed to struggle at times, but prevailed with a workable 9-6 record.

Takakeisho – At times he seems almost unstoppable, but his mostly tsuppari offense leaves him a bit one-dimensional. He has the body, the health, and the drive to go far, but right now he does not seem to be able to go chest to chest with the upper ranks, and that will keep him out of Ozeki contention.

Onosho – As long as he keeps the red mawashi on, I think he can keep winning. Although he ranks one slot below Takakeisho, my opinion is that he is a more versatile rikishi, and has a real shot at staging a bid for Ozeki this year. It may be a few more years before he can succeed, however.

Hokutofuji – Where Takakeisho and Onosho grab the attention, Hokutofuji continues to move ahead with commanding force. For Hatsu, he is ranked one step behind Onosho, but his sumo has a greater degree of variation than the two rikishi immediately ahead of him. At this point, all of Hokutofuji’s problems are in his head, and the moment he accepts his skill and fixes his mind, he is Ozeki material.

There is another group behind them, who are not quite ready to shine.

Yutakayama – He has moments of brilliance interspaced with matches he should have won. To a large degree, he has the skill and ring sense to at least be upper Maegashira if he can improve his focus and his reaction times. Many fans think there is no hope for this guy, but I am quite sure he’s got a lot of room to grow.

Kagayaki – He needs to replicate Kisenosato’s approach. He does not have the overwhelming talent of Onosho, but he has the workmanlike persistence to grind his way higher. Sadly at Takadagawa beya, he may not have a consistent partner (as Kisenosato has Takayasu) to help forge his strength. [See here and here for lists of Takadagawa’s members. –PinkMawashi]

Asanoyama – I think this guy has huge potential. He had a bad basho in November, and Hatsu will be the one that reveals if he is going to persist and advance or be washed back down to Juryo to re-focus.

Kyushu Day 15 Highlights

Kensho-Pile

It’s going to be light for the commentary today, as I am traveling to faraway lands on business. There was some fantastic action today, including a great yusho speech from Hakuho. Scandal hounds are, however, locked to the pounce position waiting for the post-basho fireworks.

As I am sure lksumo will describe in due time, there is another San’yaku log-jam, with a crowd of high-performing rikishi all clamoring for a pair of vacated slots. While it’s great to see so many press for higher rank, this is a function of the devastated Ozeki and Yokozuna corps. Had the full roster been present and healthy, many of these men would be lucky to eke out an 8-7 kachi-koshi. Instead, we have, once again, significant score inflation due to a lack of top predators culling the herd. When there is Hakuho with his overwhelming sumo, and a crowd of everyone else, you have a rotating list of who gets to lose to Hakuho, and then everyone else slugging it out on more or less even footing. This makes the yusho race predictable, but it makes for exciting times lower down the banzuke.

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Chiyoshoma – Uncle Sumo defeats the increasingly annoying Chiyoshoma to secure a storied kachi-koshi on the final day. Aminishiki was visibly emotional, and the Fukuoka Kokusai Center erupted in joy to see the veteran succeed in his quest. With his victory, he picks up the kanto-sho special prize.

Chiyonokuni defeats Takekaze – Takekaze delivered a brutal tachiai, but Chiyonokuni seems to fear no pain and blasts Takekaze over the edge. Sadly Chiyonokuni appeared genuinely injured after the match. The loss leaves Takekaze make-koshi.

Aoiyama defeats Shohozan – Shohozan has fought well this basho, but he achieved an absolutely miserable 3-12 record. The win by Aoiyama in the final match may slightly cushion the man-mountain’s fall down the banzuke.

Takakeisho defeats Okinoumi – The match itself was quite straightforward, as there was really nothing left for Okinoumi to push for. Takakeisho’s oshi-zumo is quite impressive, and the team at Tachiai are waiting to see if he broadens his sumo to include more mawashi attacks as he strives for higher rank.

Tamawashi defeats Hokutofuji – Tamawashi made short work of Hokutofuji, and both men finish the basho with impressive 11-4 records. As with the prior bout, neither rikishi was going to push too hard and risk an injury, as both had achieved much and secured healthy promotions for Hatsu.

Onosho defeats Takarafuji – The red mawashi once again activated in a moment of need, powering Onosho over Takarafuji to place the mighty tadpole in competition for Yoshikaze’s vacated Sekiwake slot. Onosho had this match at the tachiai and easily picked up his kachi-koshi win. Takarafuji battled well this tournament but leaves with a 7-8 make-koshi. Scoff at the red mawashi superstition, but after starting the basho 1-6, Onosho reverted to his red mawashi and racked up 7 wins over the final 8 matches. It may have been as simple as a physical change to allow Onosho to emotionally re-focus his sumo.

Kotoshogiku defeats Ichinojo – In spite of a matta and re-start, the tachiai was mistimed and sloppy. Fans of local rikishi Kotoshogiku were thrilled to see the “Kyushu-bulldozer” lower the blade and push the Mongolian giant around the dohyo and into the abyss. Ichinojo finishes 10-5 and is at long last looking to be a serious competitor once more.

Mitakeumi defeats Yoshikaze – The all-Sekiwake bout was all Mitakeumi. With Yoshikaze injured, he picked up his 9th loss, and will likely be out of San’yaku for Hatsu. Mitakeumi improved to 9-6 after struggling with injuries to his foot at the start, but is still under-performing to launch an Ozeki campaign.

Hakuho defeats Goeido – Goeido put a strong effort into his sumo today, but Hakuho has been unstoppable this tournament, and after going chest to chest, the Yokozuna dispatched Goeido with his preferred uwatenage.

Kyushu Day 14 Highlights

onosho

Day 14 saw a conclusion to the battle for the Emperor’s Cup, with Yokozuna Hakuho winning his 40th career yusho among a decimated field of upper ranked rikishi.

Some fans are already complaining that the Kyushu basho was somehow boring or anti-climatic. True, there were few legitimate challengers to Hakuho, but then again that would likely be true no matter what. Out of the 8 rikishi in sumo’s two highest ranks, only two men are able to mount the dohyo on the final day of this tournament. Some readers took exception to Tachiai’s early forecast that the relentless Jungyo-Honbasho schedule currently in force was crushing sumo as a marketable televised sport, but now with a string of basho piling up where the top men are not present, that prediction may be worthy of examination.

The good news is that a large, vigorous crop of young men are ready to fill the gap, but first, the Kyokai will need to nudge several long-suffering athletes into retirement. Thus far it has not happened, but we may see that change in the next few months.

Sumo has enjoyed a rather welcome revival in its home country of Japan. First and foremost, Grand Sumo is a business, and we can trust the Sumo Kyokai to do what it thinks is best to keep sumo’s revival healthy and growing.

Highlight Matches

Kotoyuki defeats Asanoyama – Kotoyuki went straight for a nodowa and marched the struggling Asanoyama backward off the dohyo. After a terrible start in Kyushu, Kotoyuki rallied and is now kachi-koshi.

Ikioi defeats Kaisei – A power sumo battle dominated by Kaisei who landed a left-hand outside grip early. Ikioi was able to pivot at the tawara and land the Brazilian out and down to pick up his 8th win.

Chiyomaru defeats Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo’s bum legs have a tough time generating too much force, especially when he is facing a hefty rikishi like Chiyomaru. For the 4th straight day, Aminishiki failed to pick up his 8th win.

Tochinoshin defeats Kagayaki – After a somewhat shaky tachiai, both men battled to get an inside grip. Tochinoshin landed his right hand inside and took control of the match. His win gives him a kachi-koshi, while at the same time Kagayaki’s defeat secures his make-koshi.

Chiyonokuni defeats Tochiozan – With Tochiozan seeming to suffer problems with his lower body, this mobile battle of tsuppari favored Chiyonokuni from the start. Both men are suffering painfully disappointing records this basho, and desperately need to regroup.

Tamawashi defeats Okinoumi – Tamawashi has employed the push-then-pull tactic before in this basho, and Okinoumi was on the defensive straight out of the tachiai. Where Okinoumi prefers to get some kind of grip established, Tamawashi was not going to let that happen. Tamawashi is looking like a strong contender to return to San’yaku for January.

Takakeisho defeats Chiyoshoma – From the tachiai, Chiyoshoma started aiming to land blows on Takakeisho’s damaged face and lip. Sadly for Chiyoshoma, this really seems to have gotten Takakeisho very motivated. While Chiyoshoma was focusing on Takakeisho’s face, Takakeisho landed his left-hand grip and quickly proceeded to give Chiyoshoma a vigorous exit from the dohyo.

Kotoshogiku defeats Shohozan – Both men have deep make-koshi records, both are local favorites, and both decided to turn it up to 11. The highlight of the match, and possibly the day: Shohozan uses Kotoshogiku’s solid grip on his body, to lift and swing the former Ozeki around, with his feet flying off the ground. But Kotoshogiku landed both feet back on solid earth and began his hug-and-chug attack. When he can set it up, there are few ways to counter the Kyushu Bulldozer, and it was seconds later that Shohozan was out.

Onosho defeats Hokutofuji – “The power of the red mawashi could not be undone” –  After a matta appetizer, the main event saw Hokutofuji quickly drive Onosho to the edge. But that was all that was needed for the red mawashi to activate, and Onosho basted back, driving Hokutofuji backward and out. After losing 6 of his first 7 matches, Onosho reverted to the red mawashi and has now won 6 of the last 7. A win tomorrow would lock in a great come from behind kachi-koshi. With Hokutofuji’s loss, the door was now open of Hakuho to clinch the yusho.

Ichinojo defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze clearly is having a lot of problem with the foot he injured earlier this week and has very little defensive or offensive push available. Thus Ichinojo only needed to use his massive size and strength to push Yoshikaze out. Yoshikaze is now make-koshi, and will possibly be out of San’yaku for January.

Mitakeumi defeats Arawashi – Mitakeumi locks in his kachi-koshi, overcoming a set of lower body injuries as well. While not yet performing at a level that could indicate a chance at campaigning for an Ozeki rank, his ability to hang onto San’yaku has been worthy of note. Mitakeumi’s 6th winning tournament this year.

Goeido defeats Takarafuji – Takarafuji put up great resistance to Goeido’s offense, but the Ozeki carried that day. Goeido was in control of the match from the tachiai, and for a moment both men struggled for grip. Goeido landed a right hand inside early, and proceeded to use that leverage to progressively contain Takarafuji, and force him out.

Hakuho defeats Endo – This was always an odd match, with Endo not in a rank range that would typically face a Yokozuna, especially this late in the tournament schedule. But with so many Ozeki and Yokozuna out with injuries, it was pretty much “anything goes”. The match was over in a flash, with Hakuho’s tachiai blasting Endo completely off balance, and on his way off the dohyo. Hakuho then finished the job but sadly applied one of his dame-oshi at the close.