Who said that winning anything would be easy in this tournament? Well, it sure looked like it for about two weeks in the bottom division. A win for Takahashi here would have clinched the Jonokuchi division yusho. Kazuto would not go quietly into that good night. After the tachiai, Kazuto buried the crown of his head into Takahashi’s chin. This disrupts Takahashi’s game plan, lifting his upper body.
Kazuto tried to get some forward momentum going but when Plan A failed, he moved to Plan B and tried a quick slap-down… but missed. Plan C? RUN! Kazuto backed away, cycling around the dohyo with Takahashi in hot pursuit. Seeing no options, Kazuto planted at the tawara and made a last ditch effort, collecting it all to launch forward into Takahashi. What do you know, it worked! He corralled Takahashi squarely and drove through the dohyo, sending Takahashi to his first loss. This win sealed a ticket for a rematch in a prime time yusho playoff on senshuraku.
The Jonidan yusho was claimed by Hitoshi. That’s his second yusho in Jonidan. He won last year but after several tournaments kyujo, re-entered Jonokuchi last tournament. He featured in the opening days of the yusho race in May before losing to Yamato and Kazekeno, both of whom eventually fought in that play-off, Kazekeno claiming the title.
Speaking of Kazekeno, he finished with a strong sixth win. His only loss was to Miyagino prospect Ishii. This is another strong group of competitors who will find themselves in Sandanme in September. Unfortunately, Yamato won’t be able to join them yet because he got caught up in Musashigawa’s covid kyujo earlier in the tournament, and will finish with a 2-2-3 make-koshi including a loss to veteran Tochihayate. It will be very interesting to see where he ends up on that banzuke.
Before the Emperor’s Cup would end up falling to whomever was too slow to get out of the way, four young lads mounted the dohyo in an exciting playoff for the Jonokuchi title. It must be quite the change in atmosphere for the youngsters who fought in relative silence over the past fortnight. Now they get to come on after the conclusion of the Juryo action to a packed, relatively raucous, arena.
You may ask, why do they do these playoffs after the conclusion of Juryo and before the Makuuchi dohyo-iri? Well, sometimes there’s also a Juryo Playoff, like today. To allow for that, they conduct all of the lower division playoffs, and the yusho presentation ceremony, before the top division action starts. This way if there’s a makuuchi playoff, they can just get right to it. And if there’s not a Makuuchi playoff, well, the party’s over and everyone goes outside to line up for the parade. (It’s nice to have those back.)
Back to the Jonokuchi contest. Today we’ve got Kazekeno (the favorite), Yamato (the leg puller), Tanji (the pup), and Arise (the other guy). When the four walked out, they drew lots to determine who faced whom. Kazekeno drew Tanji for the first bout and Yamato paired off with Arise.
In Bout #1, Kazekeno took on Tanji. I didn’t realize until now that Tanji is only 15. When I was 15 I was giggling to Beavis and Butthead, playing Sonic the Hedgehog, and occasionally braving the Carolina sunshine to play roller hockey. Instead, Tanji has set out on a very interesting career path. Today, that path intersected with Oshiogawa-beya’s recruit from Chuo University. Kazekeno came out and hit the youngster so hard, the whole crowd gasped. “Finish Him.” While Tanji staggered and tried to regain his balance, Kazekeno hit him again, putting Tanji on his ass.
I’m confident that we will see the youngster make considerable progress. At 17, while I would have been working up the courage to ask a girl to prom, this kid will be battling to reach sekitori. When he’s 22, I’m calling sanyaku for this kid. Mark my words.
In Bout #2, Yamato wrapped up Arise’s leg and forced the poor kid to bunny hop around the ring before dumping him in the corner. I guess Arise doesn’t read Tachiai because the leg grab is kind of Yamato’s thing. While it works, keep doing it. Am I right? Yamato’s victory set up a rematch final between Yamato and Kazekeno.
One way to defeat someone who’s going to grab your leg or trip you is to never give them the chance. Come out hot and hit ’em hard, just like with Tanji. Yamato looked a bit “over-genki” and came off the line early. Matta. Regular readers of Tachiai would know this is when my Spider-sense kicks in, looks like a henka is incoming.
And what do you know, Yamato shifts to the left at the tachiai! But Kazekeno must have known what was up because he didn’t plow forward. Instead, he waited and played it conservative and patient. He fended off a few of Yamato’s attempts at a leg grab and with the last one, struck down with just enough speed and force to send Yamato tumbling.
Party at Oshiogawa-beya tonight!
Jonidan Playoff Extra
But first, we’ve got a little more sumo. I bring you, the Jonidan yusho playoff.
It’s nice to see when a wrestler prepares for a bout. Hanafusa had a plan and put it into action immediately. He locked in quickly on Kototebakari’s right arm and rotated while seeking a belt grip with his own right arm to execute a throw. Kototebakari struggled to fight him off while maintaining his balance in this death spin. As Kototebakari approached the tawara, Hanafusa abandoned the attempted belt grab and brought his hand down on his opponent’s shoulder, attempting a katasukashi pulldown. But Kototebakari resisted, maintained his balance, wrapped up Hanafusa’s shoulder and threw him out of the ring while he jumped out to the side. Kototebakari maintained one foot alive in the ring just long enough to claim the win. What a thrilling bout!
Well, that’s the end of my Jonokuchi coverage, and the bonus Jonidan footage. Above is a picture of all of the lower division yusho winners. Left to right we’ve got Nishikifuji (Juryo), Oshoma (Makushita), Kamitani (Sandanme), Kototebakari (Jonidan), and Kazekeno (Jonokuchi). We look forward to bringing you more action from the lower divisions in July, as well as news on new recruits in the interim.
I think it’s fair to say all of us like playoffs. It brings a fun, dramatic, sudden death situation, where involved rikishi go all in. We even prefer multiple playoffs, which can contain original rules.
Former ozeki Terunofuji, on the other hand, probably does not want to hear the word “playoff” any more. Last Sunday, the Mongolian succumbed to Takakeisho’s thrusts, meaning that he has now lost all three playoffs where he participated – prior to that, he faced two yokozuna, Kakuryu in Aki 2015, and Kisenosato in Osaka 2017. The object of this article will be to see if somebody else holds such a miserable record.
Prior to that, a few words about playoffs themselves:
Playoffs aim to decide between rikishi tied for first place. The outcome of the bout between them during the regular phase – should it exist – is NOT taken into account. Taking Terunofuji’s example, the Mongolian defeated Kakuryu in 2015, lost to Kisenosato in 2017, and defeated Takakeisho one week ago – each time on day 15. But he wasn’t declared winner in any of these basho – he had to face his opponents once again, and lost thrice.
The rules are:
a) For a two-way playoff: one bout is scheduled, and the winner takes it all. Straightforward.
b) For a three-way playoff: the wrestler A faces the wrestler B. Let’s say A wins. A faces the wrestler C. If A wins, he’s the champion. If C wins, he faces B. If C wins, he’s the champion. If B wins, he faces A, and so on, until someone wins twice in a row.
Three- way playoffs rarely occur, but it actually took place in March 1990, between Konishiki, Kirishima and Hokutoumi (the eventual winner, who actually lost the first bout!)
c) For a four-way playoff: two semi-finals (A vs B, C vs D) and a final are scheduled.
d) For a five-way playoff: lots are drawn. A faces B, C faces D, and E – banzuke’s highest ranked rikishi – goes directly to the final stages. A/B, C/D and E then meet in a three-way playoff.
Incredibly, such a playoff occured in Kyushu 1996, where Akebono, Wakanohana, Takanonami, Kaio and Musashimaru (the eventual winner) were all tied with a noticeable 11-4 record. Takanonami defeated Kaio; Musashimaru defeated Wakanohana; Akebono directly qualified for the three-way playoff. Musashimaru defeated Akebono, then Takanonami.
e) For a six-way playoff: the aim is to reduce the number of rikishi to three, in order to set up a three-way playoff. Therefore, A faces B in a single bout, whereas C faces D, and E confronts F. Losers are eliminated.
Such a configuration seems impossible to get, but juryo is more prone to bring such a tied lead, when there’s no clear favorite at the beginning of the basho. It actually took place this year in July: Kyokutaisei, Hoshoryu, Akua, Chiyonoo, Mitoryu and Meisei (the eventual winner) were all tied with a 10-5 record. Remarkably, all three finalists (Akua, Hoshoryu and Meisei) came from the same stable (Tatsunami beya).
So, does anybody else holds a “minus three” record in playoffs?
It comes to no surprise that Hakuho holds the record of playoff participations – alongside Takanohana. The dai yokozuna has been top of the chart for an uncountable number of times – and he sometimes had to face stern opposition.
His first participation came as early as in May 2006, where he defeated Miyabiyama; his last one occured in January 2014, where he defeated Kakuryu (who actually got promoted to yokozuna after a yusho the following tournament). Overall, Hakuho has a “plus two” score: six wins to four losses.
In a way, Hakuho did worse than Terunofuji, as the yokozuna lost no less than three playoffs in 2009! Asashoryu (twice) and Harumafuji were the winners. Apart from Asashoryu, Harumafuji (including one playoff where he was still named “Ama”) and Kakuryu, Hakuho also faced… Toyonoshima (in November 2010)!
As mentioned, Takanohana also participated in ten playoffs – and his record is even, five wins to five losses.
Interestingly, Futahaguro has participated in two playoffs. But as we know, he’s the only yokozuna ever who never won a single yusho during his entire career – it goes therefore without saying that he lost both… but there’s better – or, rather, worse.
Kitanoumi has a noteworthy record, that might inspire Terunofuji. Indeed, the yokozuna participated in eight playoffs, won three of them, and actually got a “minus four” record, after his first four playoffs!
Actually, another great man from the past, Musashimaru, holds the most terrible record: one win (during the afore-mentionned Kyusho basho 1996) in six tries!
Meanwhile, Chiyonofuji has been the true playoff-killer: six wins, and no loss…
Here we are, at the end of what turned out to be a very interesting basho – and not just in the top division. Princes were dethroned (Hoshoryu and Naya make-koshi), new ones are in the making (one fresh nephew, and one Hakuho replica in maezumo). Let’s see what the last day brought us.
The big story in Jonokuchi was, of course, the three-way playoff between members of the same heya, Naruto beya. Marusho, Sakurai and Motobayashi did not allow themselves to be eliminated till the very end.
A three-way playoff (“tomoe ketteisen”) works like this – no matter at what division: two rikishi mount the dohyo, say A and B, and the third, rikishi C, awaits. Suppose A wins. B then descends the dohyo and waits, and C mounts it and takes on A. Should A win again, they yusho is his. if not, C stays on the dohyo, B joins him, and this continues until one of them wins two in a row.
So theoretically, this can go on until the cows come home. In practice, there is seldom symmetry of power, and the strongest one emerges pretty quickly.
Here is today’s three-way playoff. The yobidashi here also happens to be from Naruto beya – yobidashi kenta, who is nicknamed “Maeken” by his heya-mates. We start with Marusho on the right, Sakurai on the left, and Motobayashi waiting.
Well, Sakurai’s and Motobayashi’s university sumo experience tells. Marusho is merely a graduate of a good high-school sumo program. Sakurai wins the first bout, Motobayashi replaces Marusho and beats Sakurai, and then beats Marusho for the yusho. Motobayashi is a graduate of Kinki University, which produced many top-division wrestlers. In his school days he was considered Takakeisho’s rival, but he opted to continue his education when the future Ozeki left school for Takanohana beya.
Though the yusho has already been decided in Jonidan (Tokisakae), there were still rikishi who did not complete the seven matches. First, let’s take a look at long-legged Kitanowaka, the Hakkaku beya charmer, facing Tenei from Takadagawa beya. Both are 4-2, Kitanowaka is on the left.
Ah, we have ourselves a crane operator here. Kitanowaka finishes 5-2, and will get a decent bump up the ranks come Aki.
Next, we keep our watch out for Roman, the crew-cut man from Tatsunami beya. He is coming up against Isamufuji from Isegahama beya, and they are both 5-1. Roman is on the right:
This develops into a kind of dance in which both wrestlers try to keep their opponents from reaching the mawashi or any other hand hold. Eventually Roman catches an arm and pulls. He is now 6-1, and will get an even nicer bump up the ranks.
Finally, one we haven’t covered in these posts, but we all know and love. Well, at least, those of us who have been around before Isegahama beya lost its Yokozuna, and with him, its hold on the yumitori position.
I’m speaking of Satonofuji, of course. He is deeply make-koshi as he comes into this day, with 1-5, facing Shiraseyama from Kise beya with the same miserable result. One wonders why the 42 years old doesn’t call it quits yet. I’m guessing he has a couple of goals, yet. One is probably doing the yumi-tori shiki in Aminishiki’s retirement ceremony. The other may be that he is waiting to braid the last rope for his oyakata – the red one for his 60th birthday, to be used in the “kanreki dohyo-iri” performed by former yokozuna on that occasion.
Be that as it may, he has to go up the dohyo until then and do sumo, and here he is, facing us, while Shiraseyama is with his back to us.
It’s a bit of a slippiotoshi, one has to admit, but at least Satonofuji finishes senshuraku with a sweet taste.
In Sandanme we have yet another playoff, and it, too, is a playoff within the same heya – Asatenmai, the 38 years old from Takasago beya, faces Terasawa, the 24 years old who is just making his first steps in the sumo world. This is just a plain, single-bout playoff. Asatenmai on the right.
Hmm. I get a different atmosphere here than the amicable competition that ruled the Naruto three-way-playoff. Terasawa sends his ani-deshi (big-brother-heya-mate, similar to a sempai) off the dohyo and doesn’t even look back as he makes his way to his own starting point. Bad blood? Low-ranked rikishi operate in a seniority system, where the older ani-deshi boss them around.
In any case, Terasawa wins the Sandanme yusho.
We start Makushita with the former Ozeki, Terunofuji, having his last bout. His opponent is one we have also been following – Natsu basho’s Sandanme yusho winner, Shiraishi. I have not been happy about Shiraishi’s bouts, mostly because of his henka or half-henka in the first ones. And I’m even less happy about this one, although he makes it pretty clear he is not going for a henka today.
Seriously, what is this? I get that he has some injury in the shoulder and the arm. But what is this? He starts the bout two thirds of the way from the shikiri-sen to the tawara. He tries to keep himself so far away from Terunofuji that his own tsuppari almost doesn’t hit him. This looks more like that Laurel and Hardy Battle of the Century. Shiraishi should be thankful he belongs to Tamanoi beya rather than Futagoyama, or he would have his ass kicked all over Twitter.
Next we have ourselves an Onami – the eldest one, in fact, Wakatakamoto. He faces Tochimaru from Kasugano beya, and they are both comfortably kachi-koshi, 4-2, hoping to increase their fortunes and banzuke chances. Wakatakamoto is on the left:
Alas, the eldest Onami drops this one, and once again fails to catch up with his little brothers.
Going up the Makushita banzuke, we have Seiro facing Kototebakari. Both are kachi-koshi, 4-2, and Seiro get a salary next basho. Kototebakari, again, is trying to win an extra match to improve his own position next basho. Seiro is on the left, Kototebakari on the right.
Seiro makes short work of the Sadogatake man, who usually shows a bit more fighting spirit than that. I guess kachi-koshi will do that to you. Seiro is 5-2, Kototebakari 4-3.
At the very bottom of Juryo, we have another Onami brother, Wakamotoharu, making a visit that may open the door for him to return to the salaried ranks. He is 5-1, and at Ms5w, 6-1 can certainly propel him into Juryo. However, he is facing Kotonowaka, who is 7-7, and needs this win to avoid dropping back into Makushita, disappointing his father, and bringing shame to the shikona he inherited from him.
Wakamotoharu on the right, Kotonowaka on the left:
We see glimpses here of the old Kotokamatani, in what looks like a typical top-Makushita brawl more than a Juryo match. Kotonowaka saves himself from demotion. He may not advance much, but he stays in the silk zone, and gets to keep his huuuuge oicho.
I shall finish this report, showing you that Ishiura can still do sumo that’s more easy on the eyes than his frequent henka. The foe is Mitoryu from Nishikido beya, and I think I don’t need to tell you which is which.
Round and round and round you go, Mitoryu. Ishiura will probably get back into Makuuchi, qualifying for Hakuho’s dohyo-iri again. The big question, of course, is whethe Hakuho himself will qualify for it come Aki.