Osaka Day 4 Highlights

The basho turned ugly today. And with the empty hall echoing the pained crys of a former champion, the brutal nature of sumo was on full display – video and audio. If you are a highly empathetic person, you may want to be careful watching today’s video on YouTube. I have no idea if NHK World will edit that down, or not. I am forced to remind myself that sumo is a Japanese sport made by Japanese people for Japanese people living in Japan. So my western perspective is not the mainstream. But I have to wonder if this kind of spectacle is ok in Japanese culture. I am aware from the time I lived in Japan that what constitutes cruel or gratuitous is profoundly different between Japan and the Anglosphere. But I have a hunch that today’s final match may have crossed a line.

Highlight Matches

Azumaryu defeats Meisei – Meisei had the better position at the tachiai, but looks to have rushed ahead at Azumaryu after the two broke contact. This set him up for an easy hatakikomi, and an Azumaryu win. Meisei really struggling now at 1-3 to start Haru.

Kotonowaka defeats Tsurugisho – Nice versatility from Kotonowaka today, but we should keep in mind that Tsurugisho’s left side is mostly held together with tape and courage. After a good tachiai, Tsurugisho let Kotonowaka change his grip, and really take over the match.

Shimanoumi defeats Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru was totally dedicated to pulling Shimanoumi down, to the point of throwing this match out the window. Shimanoumi’s no slouch, and this kind of sumo, coming from Chiyomaru, is easy to predict. Chiyomaru picks up his first loss.

Kaisei defeats Daiamami – Kaisei picks up his first win, and breaks out of the quarantine club. Most times in sumo, being enormous is not a valid sumo strategy. But Kaisei makes amble use of his enormity today to leave Daiamami no option beside a hasty retreat.

Aoiyama defeats Nishikigi – Not sure what happened to Aoiyama, but he will get a couple of basho per year where he looks like an unstoppable sumo machine. He completely dominated Nishikigi today, and my sole worry was that both of them had set up arm-breaker holds on the other. Nishikigi remains winless as Aoiyama has yet to lose a match.

Ishiura defeats Chiyotairyu – I have to say, there are days (like today) where Ishiura’s slightly bulkier frame and higher strength allows him to do small man sumo better than Enho. We are only 4 days into this basho, but I am really impressed with Ishiura’s sumo right now. He threw blisteringly fast combo attacks at Chiyotairyu, who had no chance to even respond. Sadly it looks like Chiyotairyu may have been injured in the match. The giant wheelchair makes its first appearance.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoshogiku – Ah, poor Kotoshogiku cannot generate much forward pressure at all any more against those knees. Terutsuyoshi kept Kotoshogiku from really pushing forward in any meaningful way, although Kotoshogiku’s defensive foot placement was excellent. Terutsuyoshi’s make-kai was the key to this win, and it left the former Ozeki struggling to respond.

Ikioi defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan remains in the winless self-isolation group, and I can only assume that some injury has completely robbed him of his sumo. Today’s effort was an attempt to pull Ikioi, who was quite prepare for it. Ikioi starts March with a solid 3-1 score.

Takanosho defeats Tochinoshin – Also solidly in the “injured veteran” cohort is dear former Ozeki Tochinoshin, who is visibly struggling with that right knee. Takanosho improves to 4-0 with solid, straight ahead sumo.

Kiribayama defeats Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi had the early advantage, but Kiribayama hit a very well timed shitatenage at the bales to rescue the win. Sadly, Sadanoumi, who is fighting well, drops to 1-3 now, and really needs to peel off a few more wins in the first week.

Takarafuji defeats Tamawashi – Once again Takarafuji’s defend and extend sumo pays off. Tamawashi had a solid armpit attack running, but rather than try to fight to break Tamawashi’s grip, Takarafuji decided to work with it, and put all of his focus on keeping Tamawashi turning to his right, and moving forward in reaction to Takarafuji’s retreat. It was a struggle, but Takarafuji got his opening when Tamawashi missed a step, and down to the clay he went. This match is a great example of the form, worth study.

Kagayaki defeats Shohozan – Shohozan went for a deep right hand mawashi grip at the tachiai, but missed. He was able to convert it to an inside position, and began to put the pressure on Kagayaki. But look at Kagayaki’s foot placement. His feet are wide and at a 45° angle, his hips are low and he’s ready to repulse the attack. Kagayaki engages forward engines and just pushes ahead for a win. Mr Fundamentals strikes again.

Onosho defeats Ryuden – I know Ryuden was working to stay mobile, and to encourage Onosho to over-extend, and fall on his face. But Ryuden let himself get bracketed by Onosho’s oshi attack, and provided an effective balance point / counter weight for Onosho’s forward rush. Onosho improves to 3-1.

Abi defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu just cant seem to make it out of the quarantine group, as he succumbs to an enormous load of Abi-zumo applied to his face. Remember to wash your hands, gents, at least 20 seconds, after any match with Abi.

Mitakeumi defeats Yutakayama – This match just showcased how well Mitakeumi is fighting week 1 this March. I point out week 1 because sometimes the “Original Tadpole” fades into week 2, so lets savor his excellent, heavy sumo while it lasts. Freeze frame on that tachiai if you can. Both rikishi are in excellent form. But Mitakeumi was just a half step ahead, and Yutatakayma ended up with poor foot placement. Unable to generate enough forward pressure against Mitakeumi, he was forced out.

Endo defeats Tokushoryu – We still love Tokushoryu, but he is completely outclassed at this rank. We did see another of his rescue moves at the tawara, but like the prior 3 days, it was fruitless.

Asanoyama defeats Hokutofuji – As much as I like Asanoyama, he operates in a fairly narrow range of sumo outcomes. The reason why we are talking about his as an ozeki is he is very good at that narrow range, and he is an expert at guiding a match into that narrow range where he excels. Today’s match against Hokutofuji is a first class example. Hokutofuji will look to pin his opponent with a nodowa and call the cadence for the match. His right hand failed to find its mark, and suddenly its in Asanoyama’s power range. To his credit Hokutofuji realizes this within the first 3 seconds, but his go-to move, a pull on the back of the neck, only gives further advantage to Asanoyama. Now off balance and far too high, Hokutofuji is an easy mark for Asanoyama’s sukuinage.

Shodai defeats Enho – Shodai has an excellent recipe for shutting down Enho’s sumo, and turning him into a light weight practice target. That slow, high tachiai that Shodai seems to execute instinctively is actually an excellent first line of defense against Enho, as it leaves Shodai with an easy reach to grab a deep grip on Enho’s mawashi. From there its Shodai who drops his hips, widens his stance and shuts down any chance Enho might have had to convert to a throw.

Daieisho defeats Takakeisho – Daieisho escapes the quarantine group by capitalizing on Takakeisho’s blunder of trying to pull Daieisho down moments into the fight. This move by Takakeisho was so monumentally bad, that its worth watching in slow motion on replay. With any luck we won’t see that one again this basho.

Hakuho defeats Okinoumi – Okinoumi is a high-skill yotsu-zumo practicioner. Hakuho took his time and worked his way to get that left hand outside grip. Once he had a handful of black silk, it was a fast route to a win. The Boss remains at 4-0, and looked more solid today than the prior two.

Kakuryu defeats Takayasu – It was clear that Takayasu was in trouble early in this match. He put himself in a bad position with Kakuryu controlling Takayasu’s body quite effectively. But the former Ozeki’s mass and strength left the match stalemated for a time. As sometimes happen when two high-strength rikishi grapple, they loaded simultaneous throws. When this happens, it is a battle over power and body control to see who throws whom. Today, sadly, it was resolved not when Takayasu’s mighty strength overwhelmed the Yokozuna, or when Kakuryu’s superior body mechanics overcame Takayasu’s power, but when Takayasu’s knee bent outward, and the 175kg Tagonoura lead rikishi hit the clay, moaning in pain.

Haru Day 14 Highlights

I think the big, double-wide story of this basho is going to be the enormous pile of rikishi who own demotion worthy scores at the end of this basho. If you take a look at the records vs banzuke position, I count at least 10 rikishi who might be worthy of a return to Juryo. That does not mean there will be 10 men dropping to the 2nd division, as Juryo has 3-5 rikishi who could be considered promotion worthy.

Before the basho, Team Tachiai remarked that all of the really great action might be in the bottom ⅓ of the banzuke, and for folks who enjoy the Darwinian nature of sumo, this basho has been a banquet of slaughter. There are 3 veterans below Maegashira 6 who have double digit wins, and a vast crater of make-koshi devastation around them that fed those double-digit win scores. Do we stop there? No indeed.

There are no fewer than 8 rikishi who will decide kachi/make koshi on the final day, including the man at the bottom edge of the banzuke, Chiyoshoma. The competition in the rank and file has been so brutal that even getting to 8 wins has been a struggle for most. While its tough to see so many great athletes come up short, this kind of tournament breeds excellence. Haru is somewhat unique, in that most of the rikishi have not had to do anything other than train and improve their bodies since Hatsu. The old veterans, who feel the pains and injuries of years of battle, have enough time to pull their sumo together for another hard climb to day 15, and that extended rest as let them once again use their experience and years of skill to edge out youthful vigor and health.

Highlight Matches

Takagenji defeats Ishiura – Ishiura suffered from not picking a strategy and enforcing it, as this match was very much a “try anything” affair. With the loss, Ishiura joins the growing pile of demotion worthy rikishi.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoeko – Sure, lets throw Kotoeko into the “return to Juryo” bin too! Terutsuyoshi gives us the “bounce” tachiai that works well when he uses it, and he gets a firm hold of Kotoeko, who can do little more than react. Both men are make-koshi and part of that pile of demotion capable rikishi.

Ryuden defeats Daishoho – Daishoho gets his 8th loss, and joins the incredibly crowded barge of rikishi who could find themselves in Juryo for May. Ryuden got a deep right hand inside grip and made it work, while Daishoho looked like he had nothing to give.

Tomokaze defeats Shohozan – While not in danger of heading to Juryo, Shohozan gets his make-koshi too. The fact that Tomokaze was able to out-slap him indicates that Shohozan is worn down from the lengthy competition.

Ikioi defeats Yutakayama – As the captain of the Juryo barge, Ikioi managed to take one from a horrifically demoralized Yutakayama, who seems to be capitulating for now.

Kagayaki defeats Asanoyama – Still no 8th win for Asanoyama. Kagayaki stays low and moving forward and just motors Asanoyama around the dohyo and finds him an exit.

Kotoshogiku defeats Yoshikaze – Kotoshogiku got the better of the tachiai, and never gave up the advantage.

Aoiyama defeats Meisei – Meisei somehow decided that taking on Aoiyama straight on was going to work for him, when in fact it threw away all of Meisei’s advantages. Aoiyama did not waste the gift, and slapped Meisei to the clay.

Shodai defeats Sadanoumi – Is that the second day in a row where Shodai came close to a proper tachiai? Sadly it looks like Sadanoumi may have hurt his good knee in this match.

Abi defeats Daieisho – Should Abi end with a kachi-koshi, it will simply delay the time when he diversifies his sumo. Sumo fans around the world are eager for that transition, and we hope it comes soon. Today’s win was a standard Abi-zumo attack that Daieisho did nothing to avoid.

Myogiryu defeats Okinoumi – Myogiryu used superior strength to out muscle Okinoumi into a throw position. Okinoumi’s final day match will decide his winning or losing record for March.

Kaisei defeats Onosho – Two things for Onosho to focus on. 1) Improve your balance, it seems to have taken a big hit from your injury / surgery / recovery, and everyone knows it now. 2) Bring back that red mawashi. Some powerful kami inhabited that one, and when you wore it onto the dohyo, it gave you some kind of edge.

Endo defeats Nishikigi – It seems that this match is a bit of a controversy. There is a point where Endo steps aside of a charging Nishikigi where toes on Endo’s left foot would seem to hit the janome. But the gumbai went to Endo, and there was no monoii. Endo did show some solid sumo today.

Mitakeumi defeats Chiyotairyu – Mitakeumi went flat out at the tachiai, attempting to overpower the mighty Chiyotairyu. Interestingly enough, today it worked. Mitakeumi got a double inside arm position, dropped his hips and marched forward.

Hokutofuji defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan joins Captain Ikioi in holding a dismal 2-12 record. Though not as visible beaten and broken as Ikioi, for Tochiozan to perform this poorly, he has to be having body problems.

Ichinojo defeats Takakeisho – Not sure what Takakeisho had in mind here. He seems to channel Abi, but lacks Abi’s height, his reach or his technique. Ichinojo looks puzzled for just a moment, and the all to familiar “hand of god” sweeps down and pulls Takakeisho to the clay. Ichinojo stays 1 behind Hakuho.

Tochinoshin defeats Tamawashi – Tochinoshin keeps his hopes alive, overcoming Tamawashi in what was an odd hybrid between oshi and yotzu. At times chest to chest, at times pushing and shoving. Tochinoshin as throwing everything he could into this win (as well he should), and looks rather sore at the end. He needs 1 more win to clear kadoban, and it will be decided by his day 15 match with Ozeki hopeful Takakeisho.

Hakuho defeats Takayasu – A lot of posturing, dominance display and tension in the run up to this match. Hakuho wins the tachiai, and was faster off the shikiri-sen. Takayasu is immediately balanced too far on his heels, and Hakuho digs in. Try as he might, Takayasu cannot connect with that left hand, and his struggle to land a grip continues to put him high and balanced unevenly. Hakuho capitalizes on this, and gets moro-zashi, and moves to put the Ozeki away. Takayasu’s last ditch attempt at a throw collapses into abisetaoshi, and Hakuho takes the match to remain undefeated.

Goeido defeats Kakuryu – As we expected, Goeido’s approach to this match was an all or nothing opening salvo so fast and so powerful that either Kakuryu would not have time to react, or Goeido would have no recovery. Goeido’s plan payed off, and Kakuryu had no time to react.

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.