Aki Day 1 Preview

Mitakeumi - Kakuryu

Its sumo time once more, and everyone is ready to see their favorites battle it out in Tokyo. For the first time in a long time, everyone in Makuuchi will be present day 1. Many of them are in less than excellent health, but ever last one of them is going to gamberize as much as they can and push. This could be one of the better tournaments in the past 18 months, and I suspect fans are in for a treat.

All eyes will be on Yokozuna Kisenosato. I expect the Kokugikan to erupt in a joyful noise when the yobidashi calls out, “Yokozuna Kisenosato, dohyo-iri masu!”. In spite of a permanently degraded left pectoral muscle, he has somehow gotten himself genki enough to give it a try. Of course this may in fact be the execution of a planned exit strategy. Prior to his injury, Kisenosato was Mr. Sumo. Missing a day of practice, let alone a day of honbasho was simply unthinkable to him. Such a competitor would not sadly fade into the background, but would likely go out “guns blazing”, delivering as much fierce competition as he could muster for as long as he could stand it.

Any way it plays out, the fans are in store for some fine sumo.

Everyone keep in mind as we start Aki act one. The purpose of act 1 is to see who is hot, and who is not. Everyone works to shed any ring-rust and get up to full basho combat power. For day 1, everyone outside the joi-jin is paired up east-west.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Note – we are watching everything, as we are live blogging..

Chiyoshoma vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze fans have been worried about “the berserker” for the past few months. He hit some kind of medical / mechanical wall, and his sumo has been without power and stamina. Everyone dearly hopes that he is in better condition now, and this will be an early indication. He holds a career advantage of 4-2 over Chiyoshoma, who has been struggling as well.

Takanosho vs Chiyomaru – Everyone’s favorite party balloon squares off for the first time against newcomer Takanosho. Takanosho existed Juryo after a fantastic 13-2 record in Nagoya. Will he have the kind of “hot basho” that many top division debutants enjoy? Chiyomaru ponderous bulk seems to have robbed him of all stamina as of late, and his many fans want to see him get his sumo back. Good ‘Maru!

Ryuden vs Takanoiwa – Ryuden, what are you doing down here at Maegashira 13? Oh, that’s right. You had your ass handed to you at Natsu and then struggled at Maegashira 15 in Nagoya. Takanoiwa returns to his rightful place in the top division at long last after recovering from cranial injuries sustained in an after-hours beating by Harumafuji. Welcome back, and get cracking. Sumo needs you.

Aoiyama vs Daieisho – Aoiyama is my pick for “sleeper” this basho. He has never lost to Daiesho, and I am going to guess he won’t today. Aoiyama does tend to suffer from quite a bit of “ring rust”, and he may be slow and vague on day 1. Daieisho needs to bounce back from his disappointing 6-9 in Nagoya. But I don’t see him getting inside Aoiyama’s outrageous reach.

Hokutofuji vs Daishomaru – Its about time that Hokutofuji got back in gear, after an injury during Hatsu in January, he has struggled significantly, but his firestorm 11-4 in Nagoya seemed to announce his return to full combat power. He is 3-1 over Daishomaru, who has been losing ground since Osaka. I am going to look for a low and brutal tachiai out of Hokutofuji, and it should be straight yorikiri from there.

Kagayaki vs Onosho – Kagayaki is mister deliberate. He is going to go in with a plan to negate all of Onosho’s favorite moves (aka “his brand of sumo”) and dismantle him a piece at a time. Onosho is going to come in there and just blow Kagayaki into the zabuton. I am eager to see if Onosho returns to the red mawashi.

Myogiryu vs Asanoyama – Getting up to Maegashira 5, we have a match with a lot of potential. These two are quite evenly matched, and will likely got at it with vigor. A longer match favors Asanoyama, who will likely try to keep Myogiryu from getting low.

Chiyonokuni vs Abi – Yes yes! My guess is this is where NHK will pick up the live broadcast, and it’s a perfect spot. Chiyonokuni is high energy and high intensity from the shikirisen. I am hoping we see a new move or two from Abi, as everyone in Makuuchi have decoded his double arm shoulder brake move, and most are now countering it well. Abi will try to keep Chiyonokuni’s whirlwind attacks back and away, and Chiyonokuni is coming in low and going for center mass every time.

Endo vs Ichinojo – We saw some fire from Ichinojo in the practice sessions leading up to Aki, in stark contrast to his passive sumo at Nagoya. Endo still seems to be struggling to get his sumo into a stable san’yaku class category, and he heads into this match with a 3-5 disadvantage against the Mongolian behemoth. Great test match for Ichinojo’s resolve and Endo’s speed.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – Shodai is a mawashi-clad enigma. He presents himself as a bumbling Gomer Pyle style rikishi, who somehow can defeat some very serious opponents. His tachiai is terrible, and many times he wins because his opponents make horrible, stupid mistakes. Amazingly, he tends to beat Mitakeumi more often than not. He tends to get Mitakeumi disrupted, off balance, and then he throws him around like a stress relief ball. If Mitakeumi wants to make the case for Ozeki, he needs to rack wins early.

Chiyotairyu vs Tochinoshin – Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshi is looking for a quick and decisive 8 wins, coming off of a foot injury in Nagoya. His typical attack mode is left hand driving a “lift and shift” offense. That will be tempered by the sheer size and diameter of Chiyotairyu. Chiyotairyu has been focusing more on bulk than stamina, and this will likely be the decider as even if his foot were missing, Tochinoshin’s endurance is second to none.

Yutakayama vs Takayasu – As the leading man in the cohort I refer to as the “Freshmen”, Yutakayama comes into his day one match with a surprising 1-0 advantage over Takayasu. Takayasu has been nursing multiple injuries and miseries, and may be hard-pressed to present much offense during the second act. This match will be an excellent gauge of just how hurt Takayasu is, and how hungry Yutakayama has become. I will be watching to see if Takayasu unleashes his ridiculous shoulder blast, which I maintain is the source of his injuries, and should be put in a “seldom used” status at once.

Goeido vs Kaisei – Some sumo fans love mysteries, and we all know who the mawashi man of mystery is – Goeido! Which one is going to show up? The unstoppable sumo machine that dominates practice and could not be defeated during Aki 2016? Or the hesitant, vague and un-genki Goeido that frustrates everyone? Kaisei comes into the match at the bottom of a 4-14 hole against the Ozeki, so I am expecting that Goeido is going to give us a bit of a show.

Kisenosato vs Ikioi – What great way to start this basho for Kisenosato. He holds a career 15-1 advantage over Ikioi, and “by the numbers” should dispatch Ikioi with flair. But Kisenosato is no more than 75% of his old self, and Ikioi of late has been an unstoppable, armor plated sumo machine. No injury, pain or distraction stops him from mounting the dohyo and delivering powerful sumo. This one, in my opinion, is going to be a real fight. I am looking for Ikioi to try to get the Yokozuna high and moving backward straight from the tachiai. Kisenosato needs his low, crab-walk attack that overcomes Ikioi’s power-based offices.

Tamawashi vs Hakuho – A fun match, Hakuho is undefeated against Tamawashi. But Hakuho has undercarriage damage this tournament, and many learned fans think he won’t last all 15 days. I look for Hakuho to go left and throw in the first few seconds.

Kakuryu vs Takakeisho – Probably the most genki man in the top ranks, Kakuryu brings his reactive sumo up against Takakeisho’s “wave action tsuppari”. My instinct is this one is all Kakuryu.

Nagoya Day 3 Highlights

Nagoya Day 3 Highlight

With the ring rust now falling away, we are starting go see some good sumo from the men in the top division. Today’s big result is of course Chiyonokuni vs Takayasu. I don’t know if Takayasu is injured, distracted or simply not quite up to fighting form yet. Takayasu of 18 months ago would likely find his current sumo almost comical to watch, and fans of his (as I am) have to wonder if there is some way he will return to the sumo fundamentals that took him this far.

In the meantime, there were some fantastic matches today, and act 1 is doing it’s job of dividing the “Hot” from the “Not”.

Highlight Matches

Ryuden defeats Daiamami – Ryuden seems to have broken free of his off-season rust, and showed some great, strong, high-stamina sumo against Daiamami, who I hope will make it back to Makuuchi soon.

Ishiura defeats Hokutofuji – Ishiura starts with a mini-henka, but follows up with some great high mobility sumo. Hokutofuji is already a move or two behind as Ishiura gets to his side, and applies the pressure. It’s all over for Hokutofuji, who has no way to face Ishiura, or plant his feet. Nice work Ishiura!

Kotoeko defeats Tochiozan – Kotoeko gets his first win ranked in the top division. He tried a henka and multiple pull downs before finally using a nodowa to force Tochiozan out. Sloppy sumo, but a win is a win.

Asanoyama defeats Arawashi – Arawashi had the better tachiai, but Asanoyama dug in fast, lowered his hips and advanced with purpose. With a 0-3 start, I worry Arawashi is out of gas.

Sadanoumi defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama also seems to have shaken off his ring rust, and he was back in form, blasting away at Sadanoumi straight from the tachiai. Sadanoumi stood up to the blows, and fought to go chest to chest, which he eventually achieved. With a the man-mountain’s mawashi firmly in hand, Sadanoumi advanced and won. Great effort from Sadanoumi.

Nishikigi defeats Onosho – The first “what did I just watch?” moment of the day. Most sumo fans think of Nishikigi as this guy at the bottom of Makuuchi who is always just scraping by. Then he comes up against a real up and coming power like Onosho, and swiftly puts him away.

Myogiryu defeats Chiyomaru – The crowd certainly thought that Chiyomaru prevailed, but the gyoji’s gumbai pointed east, and the judges concurred. Myogiryu starts Nagoya 3-0.

Yutakayama defeats Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei can’t seem to buy a win so far. After a rather sloppy tachiai, Yutakayama advanced, but could not finish Kyokutaisei, who rallied. They battled back and forth, finding themselves at the tawara, and both went to throw, with Kyokutaisei stepping out first.

Takarafuji defeats Daieisho – Daieisho put a huge effort into trying to land a nodawa against Takarafuji’s nonexistent neck. That being said, Takarafuji gets his first win of the basho and needs to regroup.

Endo defeats Chiyoshoma – Fantastic sumo from Endo today. Chiyoshoma tries the flying henka, but Endo reads it like a boss. Endo hooks the left arm around Chiyoshoma, and latches his right hand at the front of Chiyoshoma’s mawashi. With his opponent laterally tethered, Endo backs Chiyoshoma over a waiting kneed for a really well executed kirikaeshi. The crowd goes wild. Endo with a 3-0 start.

Kagayaki defeats Yoshikaze – As a Yoshikaze fan, these matches are tough to watch. Clearly the Berserker is injured in some way, and just cannot maintain forward pressure. Kagayaki employs his excellent fundamentals and keeps moving forward. A clean and straightforward win.

Abi defeats Kaisei – Bizarre tachiai, it starts in slow motion, with Kaisei rising slowly, and Abi pulling a delayed action henka. From there it’s a fairly simple okuridashi / rear push out. Glad Abi got a win, but that is one strange match.

Mitakeumi defeats Takakeisho – My most anticipated match of the day, a battle of two tadpoles on the rise. Both of them stayed incredibly low, with the entire battle being fought well below the average person’s knee height. Mitakeumi succeeded in tying up Takakeisho and preventing him from getting any offense started. Takakeisho is fun, and potent, but if he gets his yotsu together he is headed much higher.

Tamawashi defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo once again goes soft after Tamawashi slaps him around a couple of times.

Chiyonokuni defeats Takayasu – Readers of the site know I take exception to the changes Takayasu has made to his sumo in the past year. Much of it is due to no longer training with Kisenosato, I suspect. But today he took an oshi battle against Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni is smaller, lighter and built for a run-and-gun sumo style. Takayasu, who has been looking iffy so far this basho, struggled with Chiyonokuni from the start. Surprisingly, Chiyonokuni goes for the mawashi first, and now Takayasu is completely unbalanced, and in trouble. After a failed throw at the edge, Chiyonokuni continues to attack, and Takayasu seems completely off tempo, and disoriented. After his second trip to the tawara, Takayasu reaches out and gets a left hand inside grip, and the two go chest to chest, but its clear that Chiyonokuni is still on offense, and in control of the match. Takayasu shrugs and turns, believing he has thrown Chiyonokuni, who maintains his right hand grip, and somehow stays on his feet. Meanwhile Takayasu has stopped trying to win, and is standing upright watching in disbelief. Chiyonokuni recovers and puts the big Ozeki down. Outstanding effort from Chiyonokuni, and Takayasu – get your sumo together man!

Goeido defeats Ikioi – Ikioi really taking a beating to start Nagoya, and today Goeido seemed to be more in form than prior matches: fast, tight, low inside and driving for the win. That was good to see. 6 more like that to clear kadoban, please!

Tochinoshin defeats Shohozan – Shohozan goes in with gusto, but Tochinoshin quickly goes chest to chest, and implements the sky-crane-tsuridashi / lift and shift sumo. With Shohozan supplying the obligatory desperate kicking in mid-air, it was all over.

Hakuho defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku tried to get inside and start the hug-n-chug, but Hakuho contained him, and had him rolling to the clay in the blink of an eye.

Kakuryu defeat Shodai – Shodai was little more than a plaything for Kakuryu, who kept Shodai rocking back and forth, and unable to establish either offense or defense. Once the imbalance was great enough, Kakuryu walked him to the north side an sent him diving for the cushions.

Nagoya Day 1 Highlights

Nagoya Day 1 Yusho Banner
Yusho Banner Being Returned – From the NSK Twitter Photo Stream

At long last the sumo drought has ended, and with some fantastic match we welcome the Nagoya basho. The stakes this time are fairly high for two of the Ozeki, and we expect that this basho will continue the theme where the 30+ crowd continue to fade. Keep in mind, it may take several days for everyone to be up to full power and skill. So days 1 and 2 are sometimes a bit rough.

Highlight Matches

Hokutofuji defeats Ryuden – Hokutofuji looked less banged up, and almost strong. He was low and heavy today without outstanding foot placement. He took the fight to Ryuden and just kept moving forward. A healthy Hokutofuji is an upper Maegashira class rikishi, so if he is over his injuries, he could really run up the score this time.

Okinoumi defeats Ishiura – Ishiura continues to struggle, and so dearly want him to find some sumo that makes him a credible threat on the dohyo.

Asanoyama defeats Kotoeko – What a match! Both men traded control of the bout back and forth, and frankly it was impossible to know who was going to prevail. Multiple throw attempts from both that were successfully blocked or reversed. This is a must see match. Welcome to Makuuchi Kotoeko, what a way to get started (even though you lost).

Tochiozan defeats Arawashi – Arawashi attempts a Harumafuji style mini-henka, but Tochiozan reads it well and makes him pay. Never able to mount a defense or plant his feet, Arawashi is quickly ejected from the dohyo.

Onosho defeats Sadanoumi – Onosho leaves the red mawashi at home, but he overpowered Sadanoumi at the tachiai and just kept up the attack. His ability to get inside and push continues to impress.

Nishikigi defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama comes out strong, using his massive reach and overwhelming strength to take Nishikigi to the edge of the ring. But then Nishikigi gets a grip on the massive Bulgarian and launches his attack. Chest to chest, Aoiyama looks somewhat out of his element, and quickly goes soft as Nishikigi presses forward. It’s quite possible that due to a lower body injury, Aoiyama wisely decides that past a certain point that he will protect his body as a first priority.

Myogiryu defeats Kyokutaisei – When Myogiryu is “on” he can deliver some very effective oshi-zumo. Today he and Kyokutaisei traded thrusts, but Myogiryu held the superior stance and carried the match. As humans we naturally watch people’s heads and maybe their upper bodies, but so much about a sumo match can be learned by watching the rikishi’s legs and feet. This match is a great example of that. Take careful note of how Myogiryu’s balance is so very well placed over the front part of his feet, and Kyokutaisei is constantly struggle to find a stable rhythm to his steps.

Chiyotairyu defeats Takarafuji – Notable because Chiyotairyu typically leads with a flurry of offense, but quickly runs out of gas. In this match, he comes in nice and low at the tachiai, but nearly loses his balance. But his endurance in this match is better than I have seen in a while, and he keeps the pressure on Takarafuji, who is no easy opponent. Nice win for Chiyotairyu, and his sideburns are clearly in peak form.

Endo defeats Yoshikaze – This was a bell-weather match as cited in the preview. Endo exited the Natsu basho for a few days with a reported tear to his bicep, and then returned to action to lose every subsequent match. Yoshikaze brought the fight to Endo, and moved him back with power and confidence. He placed Endo’s injured right arm in an arm-lock over the bicep (way to target, Yoshikaze!). This should have been the match there, but Endo stood Yoshikaze up and applied force with that same hand against Yoshikaze’s belly. Out goes Yoshikaze and sumo’s golden boy racks a win.

Kagayaki defeats Daishomaru – This match lacked the lighting speed of Yoshikaze’s blistering attack, as both opponents seem to move with deliberate strength. Daishomaru attempted an early pull down which left him off balance. Kagayaki exploited this mistake and put Daishomaru on defense. Again with this match, watch Kagayaki’s feet! With Daishomaru moving backwards and struggling to organize a defense, Kagayaki’s excellent fundamentals kick in and it’s oshitaoshi time!

Kaisei defeats Takakeisho – I do love Takakeisho, but sometimes it’s not the rikishi that carry the match, but Isaac Newton. When the world’s most combative tadpole runs into 500 pounds of Brazilian meat, the Brazilian wins if he’s able to transmit power to the clay. Kaisei wins by being enormous and knowing how to remain moving forward. Nice sumo from Kaisei. Never fear Takakeisho fans, give him a day or two to get back into his sumo.

Mitakeumi defeats Abi – I am going to assume Mitakeumi spent time working out how to negate Abi’s single attack mode, and Mitakeumi used it to great effect. The match is fairly quick, and Abi starts by exploiting his long reach. But if you look, Mitakeumi’s hips are lower, and he is planted firmly in the clay. As long as Mitakeumi is willing to absorb the force Abi is applying to his neck, there is no offense coming from Abi. Abi begins a rhythmic thrust series with alternating arms, and Mitakeumi gets the timing perfectly, and moves in each time Abi releases. Abi is landing thrusts, but Mitakeumi keeps his hips low and moves forward. That’s what it takes folks!

Chiyonokuni defeats Ichinojo – Chiyonokuni goes hard against Ichinojo’s chest and just blasts forward. Ichinojo loses his balance and rocks forward, almost scraping the clay with his left hand. From here Chiyonokuni is in control and he never lets Ichinojo recover. We can mark Ichinojo in the “ring rust” category.

Tochinoshin defeats Ikioi – The Shin-Ozeki wins his first match, and looked good doing it. Tochinoshin landed his left hand early, and Ikioi really did not have any recourse after that.

Takayasu defeats Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku really made him work for it. Again, for clues on this bout, watch Takayasu’s foot work. He continues to try to escape from Kotoshogiku’s repeated attack, and each time Kotoshogiku resets and attacks again. At the tachiai, Takayasu again goes for that useless and ridiculous shoulder blast, and ends up too high. Kotoshogiku attacks and Takayasu quickly plants his feet to shut down the Kyushu-bulldozer. But Kotoshogiku keeps advancing, and Takayasu is running out of room. The only thing that saved the match for Takayasu was a list moment tsukiotoshi, to which Kotoshogiku has always been susceptible. Some fans think there was a Takayasu hair pull in there. Regardless, Kadoban twin #1 not looking super genki right now.

Shodai defeats Goeido – But Kadoban twin #2 picked up a kuroboshi (loss) against what should have been an easy opponent. Goeido frequently suffers from crippling ring-rust, and perhaps that is what is going on now. His sumo looked very good, but against somehow Shodai gets his opponents to more or less defeat themselves. Goeido’s failed attempt to cock the throw at the edge of the ring is masterfully converted by Shodai into an okuridashi. Better luck tomorrow, Goeido.

Hakuho defeats Tamawashi – Fans who were wondering about The Boss have a very clear indication that Hakuho is quite genki this time. Fast, dominant and highly effective, the dai-Yokozuna dismantled one of the more powerful oshi-zumo rikishi in the sport today. Tamawashi’s mid-bout attempt to go chest to chest just gave Hakuho the grip needed to toss him into the second row.

Kakuryu defeats Shohozan – Wow, Big K looked outstanding in this bout. Shohozan is one tough rikishi, especially if you let it turn into a street fight, as Shohozan loves to do. But as Kakuryu always does, he waits for his opponent to over extend, or over commit and makes them pay.

June 30th News Round Up

News Update Banner

Another news round up, as we are now one week away from the start of the Nagoya basho. Everyone who is going to participate is practicing now, and we are in the midst of inter-stable / ichimon cross training sessions and practice matches. In many cases, this is where people can start sizing up who is genki and who is not.

Sumo Kyokai

There are zero new recruits joining the sumo kyokai in Nagoya. This is a somewhat unusual situation, but in and of itself it’s not a cause for any alarm or assumptions that the Japanese public have given up their love for sumo. Today marked the dedication dohyo-iri at the Atsuta shrine. The party attending included shin-Ozeki Tochinoshin, marking the first time he has been of rank to participate.

Tagonoura Heya

First and foremost is Kisenosato. He looks like he is not even close to being ready. He lacks power, he lacks poise, he struggles against mid-tier Makuuchi rikishi. As someone who loves sumo and deeply respects Kisenosato’s commitment to the sport, this is painful to watch. But we can more or less assume that he won’t be competing. Takayasu, however, seems to have put his upper body injuries behind him, and has been fighting with gusto. We can expect him to enter and to strongly compete for the yusho.

Isegahama Heya

Our beloved kaiju, Terunofuji, once again went into surgery in a desperate attempt to repair his knees. It’s obvious that he is going to drop as far as he drops in a last ditch attempt to regain some kind of fighting form, and barring that some kind of mobility to use for the remainder of his life. Don’t look for his at Nagoya or Aki, I would say. Meanwhile, Harumafuji’s retirement is set for the end of September at the Kokugikan. Some elements of Team Tachiai may be in attendance…

Miyagino Heya

Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho took 38 practice bouts against rikishi of all levels down to Jonidan. He won 22 of them. He also called on Asashoryu’s nephew, Hoshoryu for 3 bouts. Speaking afterwards, Hoshoryu said, “”Glad to face the Yokozuna”. Hakuho stated, “It’ll be nice to hand over the baton to him”.

Nagoya News Round Up

News Update Banner

Thanks to Herouth, a number of news tidbits that have been bumping around on Twitter are tee’d up for us to enjoy. At present, all of the stables are in the Nagoya area, with rikishi working hard to tune up for the basho that starts in 10 short days.

Kisenosato

As we all know, perpetually injured Yokozuna Kisenosato is struggling to find a way to exit the active portion of his career with some element of dignity intact. He had been making good efforts in practice matches at the Tagonoura against Takayasu, and appeared to have some spark. Word today that during training he injured his right arm, but insists he is fine. Sadly the truth is it’s been more than a year since Kisenosato has really had intensive upper body training, and his muscles are now de-conditioned to some extent. With joint ichimon training over the next two days, we may get a preview of just how tough his situation is.

Hakuho

The Boss is taking practice matches against the like of Ishiura, Enho, Yamaguchi and Onokura. He ended the day with 14 wins and 2 losses. This (at least to me) indicates that the dai-Yokozuna may be in good fighting form by shonichi.

Goeido

During Sakaigawa’s degeiko, kadoban Ozeki Goeido took on Mitakeumi for a series of matches, finishing 14 wins and 3 losses. He stated that the problems with his left ankle have been resolved, and he is feeling positive about the upcoming bash.