Osaka Day 11 Highlights

It’s time to start worrying about Ozeki Takakeisho. Clearly whatever is happening on that left leg is getting worse, and he’s looking more likely to be kadoban for the next basho, which we hope will be in May. With only one Ozeki remaining, and likely to be kadoban, it will likely be an influence into the question of Asanoyama’s promotion to sumo’s second highest rank. Sadly for the sumo world, it is likely that Asanoyama is not quite ready for the rank, and there are really no other candidates who are showing any kind of consistency in their sumo.

I also expect there to be similar consideration for the Yokozuna, there are really no candidates for promotion to sumo’s highest rank, and both of the current Yokozuna are getting toward the end of their careers. But if Hakuho’s day 11 performance is any indication, at least one of them is showing no lack of vigor when the mood suits him.

Highlight Matches

Aoiyama defeats Kotonowaka – Big Dan retains his share of the tournament lead with a resounding defeat of Kotonowaka. Kotonowaka had a couple of solid face attacks, but that only got Aoiyama fired up, and the V-Twin went to work. I was impressed that Kotonowaka had the ring sense to circle and deflect quite effectively for a while.

Kotoshogiku defeats Chiyomaru – Welcome back Chiyomaru! But Kotoshogiku had your number today, the Kyushu Bulldozer blasted straight through Chiyomaru’s initial tsuppari attack, grabbed him around the chest and powered forward. Kotoshogiku improves to 6-5.

Ikioi defeats Daiamami – Daiamami had the better of the tachiai, and a brief ottsuke battle ensued. A failed advance from Daiamami, and it was a stalemate in the center of the dohyo, which ended with Ikioi swinging Daiamami out for the win. Ikioi improves to 6-5.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Azumaryu – Terutsuyoshi seems to have surprised Azumaryu, driving inside and getting a fight hand inside position. As Azumaryu was adjusting to defense, Terutsuyoshi advanced strongly and drove Azumaryu over the bales. Terutsuyoshi improves to 6-5.

Kaisei defeats Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu did a great job of getting inside, and applying force to Kaisei’s chest. But Kaisei shoved Chiyotairyu away, and dove in for the grip. Finding a left hand outside, it was time for another episode of Newtonian Sumo, this time against an extremely large opponent. Both men exit day 11 with 7-4 records, well on their way to well deserved kachi-koshi.

Meisei defeats Sadanoumi – Great side step and deflect move by Meisei in the opening moments of the match brought him behind Sadanoumi, and it was an easy push out for the win. Sadanoumi picks up his 8th loss and is make-koshi for March.

Takanosho defeats Ishiura – Takanosho continues to dominate, but I really thought Ishiura had a great tachiai. But his gambit of using straight ahead sumo met Takanosho’s power and strength, and was found lacking. Takanosho improves to 9-2.

Kiribayama defeats Nishikigi – Grim match for Nishikigi, he was high at the tachiai, stumbled past Kiribayama, and immediately found himself in his opponent’s bear-hug. With triumphant force, Kiribayama slammed him to the clay. Nishikigi picks up his 8the loss and is make-koshi.

Shimanoumi defeats Shohozan – Shohozan continues to have absolutely no power this March, and finds himself outclassed by Shimanoumi. This is quite uncharacteristic for Shohozan, whose upper body strength is epic, when he is healthy. Shimanoumi improves to 6-5.

Tochiozan defeats Tamawashi – It seems no matter how hurt or in pain Tochiozan might be, he’s always got a mug full of smack down for Tamawashi. It was a simple “stand him up and throw him down” affair, but it was enough for Tochiozan’s first win of the basho.

Tochinoshin defeats Kagayaki – Well, that was quite the henka from the former Ozeki. He executes a couple of them every tournament now that he is walking wounded. Really a big let down to me as I wanted to see Tochinoshin battle Mr Fundamentals, but I understand.

Yutakayama defeats Takarafuji – Takarafuji’s “Defend and Extend” sumo could not contain Yutakayama, who seems to be really back in his pre-injury form now. Take a look at Yutakayama’s ottsuke! His foot position is less than optimum, but I am going to assume he can get that worked out. Now if we could just graft Yutakayama’s upper body on Kagayaki from the hips down…

Enho defeats Tokushoryu – Hatsu yusho winner Tokushoryu continues to suffer, and Enho fans rejoice as he staves off make-koshi another day. Enho even let Tokushoryu do most of the work, with a perfectly timed side step at the tawara.

Okinoumi defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu opened strong with a series of attacks to Okinoumi’s face, but it left him high and a bit off balance. Okinoumi used the opening to get a left hand inside position, and got the yorikiri. Okinoumi improves to 6-5.

Mitakeumi defeats Daieisho – This match was all Daieisho until somehow Mitakeumi made his enormous tadpole body more or less vanish at the tawara as Daieisho lunged forward to finish him off. That was one hell of a move, and I am sure Daieisho was wonder “where did he go?”. I had to watch it on slow motion a few times myself, and marvel at Mitakeumi’s exquisite foot work and timing. Mitakeumi improves to 9-2.

Endo defeats Onosho – Master sumo technician Endo dismantles the Red Tadpole with uncanny awareness of Onosho’s attempt to pull. In fact, it seems Endo may have known he was going to do it even before Onosho did. Perfectly replaced to avoid Onosho’s attack, Endo used the mistake to drive Onosho from the ring for the win. Both men leave the dohyo with 6-5 records on day 11.

Asanoyama defeats Ryuden – Ryuden make Asanoyama work for that right hand inside position, shutting it down at the tachiai. But once Asanoyama set up shop, he caught Ryuden with his feet out of position, and with no defense. Asanoyama continues to move towards Ozeki consideration, but I worry that his sumo is still very narrow right now. It’s excellent sumo, but he may struggle as Ozeki until / unless he diversifies a bit.

Abi defeats Takakeisho – Takakeisho gets his arms out early, to grab Abi’s hands as they move to their first attack. A worthwhile gambit, and it works for a bit, giving Takakeisho the inside position and clear range to attack Abi’s body with his thrusting attack. But Takakeisho can’t make the timing work, and Abi masterfully resets, and lays down volley after volley against Takakeisho, driving him from the ring. Both end the match at 5-6.

Kakuryu defeats Shodai – As predicted, Shodai put up a strong effort, but it was all Kakuryu. The Yokozuna looked very strong and focused today, and given the worrisome state of the lone Ozeki, I think all talk of pressuring him to retire is off the table for the rest of the year.

Hakuho defeats Hokutofuji – I am sure Hakuho was really upset with himself after day 10. He decided to toy with Onosho, and found that the Red Tadpole has quite the bite. Today he showed what kind of power he has when he is focused, intense and absolutely looking to win with overwhelming power. Hokutofuji is well north of 150 kg, but he was ejected in moments by Hakuho’s opening attack.

Tunnel at the End of the Tunnel: A Glass Somewhat Full Opinion

Hands up if you’d like some wins – photo by @nicolaah

Look, let’s not bury the lede: I think Hatsu was one of the poorest honbasho in recent memory. And the recent worrying events around Coronavirus and the “will it/won’t it happen” predicament of future tournaments (imminent or otherwise) are somewhat detracting from the sport’s actual issues.

Most storylines entering the Hatsu basho were reduced either to non-events (Hakuho defending the Emperor’s Cup entering the final year of his career), or damp squibs (Takayasu’s ozekiwake challenge, Goeido in kadoban, Tochinoshin and Mitakeumi’s rebound attempts). Furthermore, the top division is worse for the injury-inspired losses of recent (Wakatakakage, Tomokaze) and less recent (Ichinojo) talents.

The best sumo of the last tournament may have been displayed early doors by Endo, a thoroughly enthralling victory over Hakuho that led to the dai-Yokozuna’s early exit from the tournament. While I joked with the other Tachiais on Sumo Twitter™ that an Endo yusho would be the worst thing for those of us who like to buy tickets to sumo (owing to the revelation in our recent interview with BuySumoTickets that it was Endo’s top division promotion that inspired the dearth of recent years’ ticket availability to begin with), the sumo world would have been better for a sustained title challenge from the Oitekaze pinup. Instead, the wily technician’s trademark inconsistency reared its head and a string of losses knocked him from the race.

Are there silver linings? Yes. But until Tokushoryu burst into tears on the dohyo on Senshuraku, it was a struggle to conjure them up. Takakeisho’s consistency at the thick end of the yusho arasoi bodes well for at least one san’yaku man’s longterm standing in the game. Those who thought Enho would struggle against top division opposition have been proven wrong – not only is he adding excitement but racking up scalps against san’yaku rikishi and consistently challenging for a kachi-koshi. And down in Juryo? I’ll hold my hand up and admit I never saw Terunofuji coming back, at least not like this. You can argue with the sumo, but it’s hard to find fault in the results.

As for Shodai, his delight at winning matches flies in the face of the stoicism that the game demands. He’s worked hard over the years at making himself difficult to love, so it is good to see him loosening up. Can it continue? I hope so.

The problem we now face is that, in an era of transition, the transition can’t actually take place if the new stars aren’t able or willing to take the place of those they are charged with deposing. The ozeki corps as we knew it have now been almost completely destroyed. At least one if not both Yokozuna are ready to mount up for their final sunset.

Andy recently covered some potential Ozeki runs, but at the moment, while I respect and am quite honestly jealous of his boundless optimism, it’s looking like a grim year. I’d love to be proved wrong, but while Asanoyama is technically on an Ozeki run now, I think it will require a another tremendous improvement from him in Osaka off the back of his OK performance in the Hatsu basho, and Natsu may be the earliest that he can realistically punch his ticket to sumo’s penultimate rank. As for the other candidates, I think we’re looking at 2021 as the moment when wheat will be separated from chaff.

In the meantime, the maturity of Takakeisho will be tested – because the spotlight will be firmly on him. Whatever we get from the two Yokozuna is great, but we know now not to expect anything. Takakeisho has to deliver. His fitness has proven to be a bit of a question mark since his Ozeki promotion, and he has at times had to grind out results. It’s been four years now since we had a truly great (or even good) Ozeki worthy of the rank, so the Chiganoura beya man’s cementing of his position with a steady succession of 10 or even 12+ win tournaments would be a much needed victory for the sport as a whole.

With sumo being a zero sum game, there has to be a light at the end of this transitionary tunnel. That light should signify a new emerging star. At times, it’s felt that that light is in fact a train coming to blast a Tomokaze or Murata into a devastating period of kyujo and that at the end of the tunnel there’s only another tunnel. Promising prospects like Naya and Hoshoryu haven’t been able to get it together yet, Yago lost it, and Mitoryu may not have had it. Somewhere in one of these waves there has to be hope: the smart money is on Kiribayama and Kotonowaka to make serious inroads in 2020.

People have different reasons to follow sports. I’m interested in the stories and the narrative. I’ll be in Osaka whether or not there’s a basho, and where Hatsu fell short, I’m hoping – if not expecting – to see a return to the story arc that makes sumo so compelling.

Ozeki Train Wreck Part 7 – This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things….

For some readers, you may not be happy with this post. Feel free to skip it – it’s Bruce’s opinion only.

Tachiai has been writing for at least 2 years about the trouble sumo has with kanban rikishi and injuries. When we first started, it looked bad, but we had no idea how ugly it would get at the end of 2019. We have 6 top division rikishi who are out of the the tournament, including 2 members of the OZeki corps, a Yokozuna and a handful of fan favorites. Some of these men are going to be out for medical treatment for months.

Worse still, the two remaining Ozeki are both hurt to the point where they are not doing sumo worthy of the rank right now, and are clearly degrading day after day of competition. I also suspect that Hakuho is banged up, but his ego will keep him in the tournament no matter what now. He knows the fans deserve to see the top men of sumo compete, and with Kakuryu out, it’s up to his leadership to show the lower ranks: no matter how much they hurt, that the top guy is willing to suck it up and compete.

The result? The sumo in Kyushu is thus far average at best. Even Hakuho hit the clay on day 2 against a delighted Daieisho. Where does this go now?

Kakuryu – I am sure the calls for him to consider resignation will start up again now. Last time he faced lower back problems, it lead to an extended series of kyujo absences that went on for 4 tournaments. That was when Kakuryu was 31, he is now 34. In broader context, I am expecting Kakuryu to try to stay engaged until such time as he can try to take up the Izutsu kabu, and succeed his Oyakata, which I suspect was Izutsu Oyakata’s wish when he passed away this year. This is a long shot for Kakuryu, but I would be delighted to see it.

Goeido – Once he went kyujo, he entered the traditional wall of silence that surrounds rikishi not competing during honbasho. But its known that he re-injured the ankle that underwent reconstruction in 2017. Now 33 years old, he is in a tough spot in orthopedic terms if the pins and screws that held that ankle together have come undone. Going into Kyushu, he was seen by everyone as the “stable one”, the foundation of the Ozeki corps for this tournament.

Takayasu – Its clear he’s still in bad shape with regards to his left arm / elbow. Everyone knows it, his opponents are exploiting it, and I would guess its getting a bit more injured every day he fights. Readers may note, that he was considered the next “hope” for a Japanese born Yokozuna, but the time for him to make that move was really this year. Now that his sumo is constrained by that elbow, those possibilities are now most likely lost. I find it a pity that Kisenosato’s promising understudy is now facing a similar outcome: an attenuated career due to an injury to his left upper body.

Takakeisho – Takakeisho was not ready to compete, we can now declare. While he has tried to bring his body back into fighting form, he’s not even fighting at Komusubi level now for most of his matches. Points for giving it a try, but now the question must be: what will it take for him to return to form? I worry that he’s not going to get that range of motion or power back from that damaged pectoral muscle, and this is more or less it for one of the most promising young rikishi in a while.

Tochinoshin – As we sadly noted on his ascendancy to Ozeki, Tochinoshin has been a glass cannon for years. When he is healthy he is unstoppable, but when he is not he’s a paper tiger, and it was really only a matter of time before that injured knee failed again, which sadly it has. He’s out now with a rib injury, which is quite debilitating, but the reason he was pushed down to Ozekiwake was that knee. With his withdrawal from Kyushu, he is now assured to plummet down the banzuke in 2020.

Yep, it’s a grim picture at the top. But what’s really going on here? We see injuries hitting the top division quite hard right now, and frankly for most of this year. Is it the jungyo schedule? Is it the training? Something is wrong in sumo, and some great competitors are paying the price. As a fan it’s heartbreaking, but we know that as our favorites succumb to injury, a new generation of heroes will rise. But will they face the same fate?