Haru Day 1 Preview

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Here we go, sumo fans! We’re less than 24 hours away from the start of the 2019 Haru basho. I’ll be joining the action live from Osaka later in the week, and in the meantime am here to help bring the coverage of Day 1’s action.

While this tournament marks the final basho of the Heisei Era, we enter Haru well into the current transitional period between the era of sumo that was and the era of sumo that will be. As friend of Tachiai John Gunning notes in a recent Japan Times feature, the current period of sumo may feature less notable rivalries than in the past, although that doesn’t necessarily mean any less intrigue.

Three of the last four and four of the last seven yusho champions have been first time winners. Will we see a return to the dominant Yokozuna performances of old, another step forward for one of the newly minted superstars, or yet another debut yusho?

What We’re Watching on Day 1

Chiyoshoma vs Shimanoumi – As lksumo noted in his preview post, here’s an opportunity for Juryo yusho champion Shimanoumi to eat the Kokonoe man’s lunch and prove he deserves to be in the top division. Shimanoumi is visiting from Juryo for the afternoon to make up the numbers, with Chiyonokuni predictably kyujo from Day 1. Sneaky trickster Chiyoshoma narrowly clings to the bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke for Haru, after a series of underwhelming tournaments. He has not been relegated since making his makuuchi debut, so it’s a big tournament for Chiyoshoma. This will be the first match between the two men.

Daishoho vs Yutakayama – The first of the three makuuchi debutants, Daishoho gets his first match against Yutakayama, who has struggled mightily from last September onward. Yutakayama won their only previous matchup, back in 2016. Yutakayama will want early wins to stop his backslide, but Daishoho may well see this as an early opportunity to get his first true top division win and an early visit to the interview room.

Ishiura vs Kotoeko – Ishiura makes his top division return against a rikishi from whom he leads the career series 3-1, having defeated Kotoeko thrice with a variety of tricks. Ishiura’s opening fixtures don’t seem to provide much in the way for henka opportunities (though he’s proven us wrong before), so hopefully we will see some good, low, body-to-body sumo from him early on in this basho. Kotoeko is searching for his first makuuchi kachi-koshi on his third attempt and while he has displayed flashes of good sumo, not much of anything to show us he’s going to be able to consolidate a place in the top division. This is another good early matchup for two guys to prove they belong.

Terutsuyoshi vs Toyonoshima – Terutsuyoshi gets his makuuchi stripes against a man making his 974th appearance in the top division. Toyonoshima, of course, has also just been promoted after a two and a half year absence from makuuchi, and he will be sure to receive an enormous reception from the crowd as usual. Both men – despite their wildly different body shapes – are very capable of mixing in a variety of styles so this should be an entertaining match. Toyonoshima has won both of their previous encounters, which took place in the previous two basho.

Tomokaze vs Kagayaki – We started following Tomokaze not long after his entrance to the sumo world, and his ascent to this point – his top division debut – has been startling. The Oguruma man has lost just 21 matches, suffering no make-koshi, on his journey all the way from jonokuchi to makuuchi. The pusher-thruster has been starting to develop other techniques in recent basho, and gets “Fundamentals” Kagayaki in his makuuchi debut. The 24 year old is on a 4 basho make-koshi streak that he will be looking to snap, but if Tomokaze can get the pushing attack working and keep Kagayaki’s somewhat awkward physique high, he’s got a good chance of winning this. Going out on a limb, I’d give Tomokaze the best chance of the three debutants to grab a special prize this basho.

Yoshikaze vs Meisei – A good chance to see what the berserker has left in the tank, against an up-and-coming Meisei who’s doing a good job of consolidating his top division position. Should be a mawashi match.

Ryuden vs Yago – According to Herouth, Yago’s motivated to speed ahead of stablemate Tomokaze en route to san’yaku. I have a feeling he might get passed. He’s going to be a makuuchi mainstay but has seemed to struggle for stamina at times. Ryuden seems to have less issues with longevity and more with technique. This match feels a little early in the schedule for me – if it were in week 2 you’d say it might have some say in determining who gets kachi-koshi. It’s their first ever meeting.

Shohozan vs Ikioi – It’s the 14th matchup between these veterans, with Ikioi leading 8-5. Ikioi may have taken the mantle from Yoshikaze of “most likely to bleed all over everything” in recent basho. Shohozan hasn’t displayed his all-action brutality in recent months but this is probably the one match on Day 1 most likely to resemble a street-fight (with Aoiyama-Abi perhaps second). This probably hinges on what condition Ikioi is in to start the basho but if he’s genki then I’d make him the slight favorite.

Sadanoumi vs Kotoshogiku – Not a whole lot remarkable here… Sadanoumi has done a good job maintaining his position since rejoining the top division, while in Kotoshogiku’s decline we’re just waiting for the long-teased Toyonoshima matchup. Kotoshogiku leads this one 4-1.

Asanoyama vs Takarafuji – Asanoyama leads the series 2-1 from the veteran Little Uncle Sumo. This should be another good mawashi battle, and could (hopefully) be a prolonged match as I feel both men have tended to show more defensive tendencies recently.

Aoiyama vs Abi – Body parts will fly. If Abi has added any yotsu to his game, we’re not likely to see it here, as Aoiyama’s piston powered oshi-action will be in force to keep the tall Shikoroyama man away from his mawashi or any other grabbable body parts. This seems likely to end with Abi dancing around the edge before Aoiyama either slips and falls or Abi goes flying into the shimpan.

Okinoumi vs Onosho – Onosho, who has been wildly inconsistent since returning from injury, somehow leads this matchup against the wily vet 4-1. This will be a contrast of styles. On form, Onosho would be the easy favorite again but he needs to start displaying the consistency that has eluded him in recent basho if he is to rekindle the rivalry with the likes of Takakeisho that will excite sumo fans. This is a good opportunity to put down a marker.

Chiyotairyu vs Ichinojo – A new element could be discovered from the force created at this tachiai, assuming Ichinojo doesn’t just stand up and take the hit. The Mongolian ice-cream enthusiast leads the series 5-3 from Tokyo native Chiyotairyu, and needs a good start if he’s going to reclaim his position in san’yaku any time soon.

Tochiozan vs Shodai – Another lopsided score, with Shodai having won five from six against Tochiozan previously. It’s probably a cliche but this comes down to the tachiai and whether Tochiozan gets a winning position straight away, or whether Shodai recovers from his standing position to defuse the veteran. It seems like this would be a more even matchup as Shodai has faded a bit from his early, more hyped days and I’d pick Tochiozan for the “upset” this time.

Nishikigi vs Tamawashi – If Nishikigi, whose very position on the banzuke has been a shock, is to spring yet another surprise, there’s no better chance to start than against the reigning yusho champion on Day 1. Tamawashi has won all 4 previous matches and will be the extreme favorite, but we’ll see early whether he can put the wins he needs to put on the board before having to defend his title against the likes of Hakuho and Takakeisho. Nishikigi tends to want the mawashi which is not Tamawashi’s game, so I’m looking for this to be a quick one in favor of the veteran Sekiwake, should the Isenoumi man miss a chance to land a grip.

Takakeisho vs Myogiryu – This is exactly the kind of early match against an overperforming veteran (albeit one much beloved and with a surprisingly large fanbase) that Takakeisho needs to win in order to assert his claim for a successful Ozeki push. Myogiryu is a seasoned rikishi who is comfortable fighting in a variety of styles, but has lost to Takakeisho on all 5 previous occasions. Myogiryu is a fairly high intensity rikishi so it should also give us a good sense of Takakeisho’s fitness after his foot injury at the end of the previous basho.

Tochinoshin vs Daieisho – On paper this is a mismatch, with Tochinoshin up against a smaller pusher-thruster fighting at his highest ever rank. Tochinoshin leads the lifetime matchup 4-1, and Daieisho seems to get thrashed every time he enters the joi, but Tochinoshin has been susceptible to pusher-thrusters in recent months as he has battled for fitness and often been unable to land or use his signature left hand grip. The kadoban Ozeki can’t afford to lose this though, and if he did it would be a major shock.

Endo vs Goeido – This is the tenth matchup between these two, and a match that should get the crowd into a frenzy as national icon, ladies’ favorite and brand partnerships darling Endo takes on Osaka native Goeido. The Ozeki leads this well-matched series 5-4. With questions over Yokozuna fitness, Tochinoshin being kadoban, the two Sekiwake overcoming different ring-rust issues and Mitakeumi also coming back from injury, Goeido may have a wide open shot here. Endo won’t be an easy customer but if Goeido wins here it could give him the confidence to go on.

Takayasu vs Kaisei – If you’re Kaisei, this match is probably a “free hit” in that at M1, these aren’t necessarily the matches you need to win to hold your position or even move up into san’yaku. Takayasu, like Goeido, is probably the other rikishi you could make a clear tournament “favorite,” although it’s yet to be seen what his renewed practise with the former Kisenosato will have done to tune him up. What is for certain is that the huge Kaisei isn’t likely to be moved by Takayasu’s signature shoulder blast, so this could be an early endurance test for the Ozeki. Look for a good facial expression from Kaisei in the wake of this one, win or lose.

Mitakeumi vs Kakuryu – Question marks abound in this battle between two historically evenly matched stars (the Yokozuna leads 5-4). Mitakeumi is in extremely questionable condition, while Kakuryu needs a strong basho to fend off questions about his ongoing position after recent withdrawals. Mitakeumi almost never fails to spring a surprise, but I’m backing the Yokozuna to get an important opening win here.

Hakuho vs Hokutofuji – Look, Hakuho in the musubi-no-ichiban is what just feels right. Hokutofuji makes his san’yaku debut in the most horrible way, against the record yusho winner, and will be determined to spring a shock (he’s beaten Hakuho once in four prior matchups). Realistically, we need to see 15 days of the best fitness possible from Hakuho, but 80% Hakuho is still better than almost everyone’s 100%, so it’s impossible to say he won’t be a challenger – he is still the heavy favorite here. His recent success has come when successfully deploying a game plan set to defuse the strengths of his opponent, so it will be curious to see what he has prepared to take on the Shin-komusubi.

Hatsu Day 3 Preview

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Hello! Bruce is off shopping for supplies for the upcoming Kisenopocalypse San’yakupocalypse, so I’m here with the Day 3 preview. I’m going to be at Kokugikan tomorrow, so the “What We’re Watching” section will be quite literal indeed. I was able to meet some Tachiai readers/listeners at the last basho, so come say “こんいちは” if you can find me.

Kisenosato-watch

There is no escaping the situation with the Yokozuna 1 East right now, so let’s just put the analysis front and centre. All of the NHK coverage here in Japan (both on the English and Japanese feeds) has constantly cut to segments, interviews, shots, highlights, and lowlights of the Yokozuna. It is said to be a somber atmosphere in the Kokugikan, so I am not so much looking forward but rather waiting with anticipation to experience the crowd’s reaction to the country’s (mostly) beloved Yokozuna tomorrow.

NHK rolled Naruto-oyakata (former Kotooshu) out yesterday for his thoughts on the Yokozuna, given that they started their careers at a certain time, and it’s possible tomorrow may see yet more luminaries from the sumo world to give their thoughts. It’s almost as if we’re witnessing the funeral of someone who’s not quite dead yet. Apparently, the atmosphere in the venue has been very tense and quiet for his bouts so far.

As I mentioned in the Juryo post, NHK’s visuals almost make it look like there could be an intai announcement any moment. Raja Pradhan did mention on the English feed today that a fan shouted to Kisenosato to try again tomorrow as if it were the start, and (late breaking news via Herouth), Tagonoura-oyakata has allegedly stated that he commits to continuing in the basho, as it’s “not over yet.” With 23 wins from 50 after his last yusho, including 5 from his last 16 and 0 from his last 7, it’s a tall task, but I will be glad to see him mount the dohyo as Yokozuna one last time.

What We’re Watching on Day 3

Daishoho vs Kotoeko – Having knocked off one yo-yo rikishi in Takanosho yesterday with an injury-inducing kotenage, the Daishoho will have a go at another in Kotoeko. The Sadogatake man will be looking to recover from being steamrolled on Day 2. The lifetime series is 5-3 to the Mongolian.

Chiyonokuni vs Daishomaru – Another series that’s 5-3, and also in favor of the Oitekaze-beya man. Chiyonokuni absolutely leathered Kotoeko on Day 2, so he’ll want to keep the momentum going against a rikishi who’s found similarly troubled results over the last 6 months.

Daiamami vs Chiyoshoma – Here’s a match-up of two guys with really uninspiring sumo. In the second consecutive Oitekaze-Kokonoe battle, Chiyoshoma will enter with the slight 1-0 lifetime edge. Will the pantomime villain deploy a successful henka for a second straight day?

Yago vs Kotoyuki – Yago got a bit of a learning curve thrown at him in top division sumo from Yutakayama, but here’s a gilt edged chance to bounce back and make steps towards a kachi-koshi in his first tournament. There are few rikishi more inconsistent than Kotoyuki, who is kind of like what you’d call a AAAA guy in baseball: too strong for the minor leagues but not quite consistent enough to hang around in the majors, so he bounces up and down. Yago has refreshingly taken to mawashi work of late and if he can land a grip, it could be fun to see how many spectators will get bowled by the Sadogatake man when he lands. The lifetime score is even at 1-1.

Yutakayama vs Meisei – I’m surprised to see Meisei at 0-2, but I don’t know if he’ll get off the board here. Yutakayama may be finding his sumo – and I think generally he’s going to be more bothered from here on out by the more established guys in the division. The lifetime series favors Meisei 2-1, but those wins weren’t recent so I’m still looking for Yutakayama to put it together here.

Sadanoumi vs Ikioi – Sadanoumi has kind of been making up the numbers, but he may be licking his lips and feeling that there’s never been a better time to fight Ikioi. The Isenoumi man’s heavy metal sumo has left him more battered and bloodied than ever before, as his facial explosion on Day 1 ruined a gyoji’s outfit and then his bandage was popped off by Abi on Day 2, exposing his stitches while he apparently in the meantime suffered an entirely different injury. It is painful to watch, but he’s not on the kyujo list for Day 3 and apparently will fight on. These two have split their matches 3-3 but this will probably be the first time I’ve made Sadanoumi the favorite for anything.

Kagayaki vs Abi – As Raja Pradhan noted on Day 2, it’s possible Abi won by virtue of the beaten Ikioi not being able to see him or where he went. But Abi’s raining in of blows was part of that equation as well. It’s tough for me to see Kagayaki, in his current condition, being quite as open of a recipient, and he leads Abi 4 wins to 2. However, interestingly for fans who want to see Abi develop his sumo – he has beaten the tall man before with a throw.

Takarafuji vs Asanoyama – After five straight make-koshi, we are probably witnessing the (very) slow decline of Takarafuji. He hasn’t started particularly well, but since Asanoyama hasn’t either, someone will get off the mark here, and it will be a mawashi battle. It’s the third straight tournament in which they’ve met, and Asanoyama won both of the last two.

Kaisei vs Endo – Here are two guys who have shown up, and are getting the results to show they are fighting a bit below their talent level. Recent results between the two have been a mixed bag, so it’s probably a coin flip, although if we’re looking back over the last year, Kaisei’s been the more consistent when he’s been able to stay away from injury.

Ryuden vs Onosho – Ryuden had a solid win on Day 2 while Onosho had to dance out of danger, but good ring sense is part of the package of an excellent rikishi. I still maintain that Ryuden’s hair is just always a mess at the end of any bout and his tokoyama really needs to have a look at at that situation because it’s unbecoming. The last time these guys met (for the only time in 2018), Onosho raised Ryuden up from the tachiai and then hit him with a fairly instant slap down and honestly I wouldn’t bet against a carbon copy match here.

Chiyotairyu vs Daieisho – Here’s yet another Oitekaze-Kokonoe matchup in the top division. Perhaps whoever wins the best out of three between the heya can buy the other oyakata a box of Ozeki One Cups. Chiyotairyu has yet to get off the mark but he’ll be loving this draw against an opponent he beat in all of their matches last year. Daieisho will feel he was unlucky not to win on Day 2 but you make your own luck and if he can survive Sumo Elvis’s cannonball tachiai then he may feel he can finally find some joy here.

Aoiyama vs Okinoumi – Longtime readers of the site will know I am more of a fan of Aoiyama the man than I am Aoiyama the rikishi. I just don’t like his sumo, but he’s 2-0 and in good shape and while Okinoumi beat him all three times they faced each other last year, Aoiyama is probably the favorite here.

Kotoshogiku vs Yoshikaze – Who’s going to win this Kyushu derby? Yoshikaze has continued to look totally unlike his old self, while Kotoshogiku has shown evidence of rolling back the years, albeit with less gas in the tank and less horsepower in the engine. He does at least appear genki, which I think gives him the slight edge to apply the hug that sees Yoshikaze get chugged.

Shodai vs Shohozan – Neither of these guys have been able to buy a win so far against the same opposition. Takakeisho blew them both away, but perhaps Shohozan was a little less fortunate against Tamawashi whereas I think the Mongolian baker simply bullied Shodai off the dohyo. That probably makes Shohozan the slight favorite on form, but technically I don’t know that his approach is best suited to take advantage of Shodai’s weak tachiai.

Takakeisho vs Tamawashi – I can see a lot of slapping in the future. NHK noted it’s quite early in a basho to see the Sekiwake derby, but my guess (banzuke geniuses please correct me in the comments) that they wanted to get this out of the way so as to save Takakeisho’s big matches for week 2, since we’ll probably be at least one Yokozuna and probably one Ozeki down at that point. I think this could be a tricky test, given that Tamawashi is showing the form that made him a very solid Sekiwake over a good period of time. Takakeisho, who needs 9 more wins to be considered for Ozeki, leads their career series 5-2 however and has to be given the edge on form, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go the other way.

Mitakeumi vs Goeido – This is the exact wrong match at the exact wrong time for Goeido. Mitakeumi has been dominant in two wins from two Yokozuna, and with all due respect to Goeido, there’s a reason he’s not on Kakuryu’s level. Goeido needs the better of the tachiai and to be able to execute a game plan here, because Mitakeumi has clearly had a fire lit under him from his demotion and is showing the form of yusho contender.

Takayasu vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji has knocked off two ozeki already and is looking to complete his set. The tachiai is going to be absolutely critical here. With Takayasu not being at 100%, if he can weather the shoulder blast and get the positioning he wants on Takayasu with his “handshake” tachiai, he may be able to take advantage of the ozeki’s currently diminished (but improving) condition, given that he’s still getting over the flu (which begs the question of whether Takayasu should really be deploying his signature cough before each of these bouts!).

Myogiryu vs Tochinoshin – The Georgian needs to win, and the order of the joi meat grinder needs to be restored. It’s as simple as that. Myogiryu will make it tough, but with at least one or two Ozeki and two useful Yokozuna yet to come, plus Takakeisho and Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin cannot afford to lose any more matches. We know he’s carrying a knock, but he needs to stem the bleeding by beating the Komusubi here.

Ichinojo vs Hakuho – Ichinojo has looked fantastic in the first two days, and Hakuho really got away with one on Day 2, as evidenced by his trademark cheeky grin after dispatching Tochiozan. This will be a sterner challenge for the Yokozuna, but as he tends to alter his game plan to the opposition, and because he is The Boss, he is in the driver’s seat here. Ichinojo has a better record against him than most, although that’s not saying much: he’s 2-11 against the Dai-Yokozuna.

Kisenosato vs Tochiozan – Each day we wonder who it will be that puts the final nail in the coffin. Putting to one side the question over whether this will be Kisenosato’s final match, there’s the question of the match itself: forget that he’s a Yokozuna, can Kisenosato do Maegashira 1 sumo? The results, the form, the technique and the eye test would all suggest no, and that makes him the underdog for this. Tochiozan nearly took his sixth kinboshi on day 2 in his match against Hakuho and on form, he will be heavily favored to get it here, after taking one from Kisenosato in November.

Kakuryu vs Nishikigi – We live in a world where anything is possible and it’s a new year and a new Nishikigi. When we’re talking about a guy who just went body to body with Tochinoshin and won, so can we really rule him out against Kakuryu? Like most matches this is going to come down to which direction Kakuryu decides to move. If he can move forward, Nishikigi’s not picking up his first kinboshi. While Kakuryu may have already dropped a match, it was to a Mitakeumi who is on another level to most rikishi so far in this tournament, and Big K has the technique and endurance to be able to dismantle Nishikigi. Still, he can dream…

Hatsu Day 1: The Joy of Six

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As Bruce announced earlier in the evening on Twitter, the opening day torikumi for the 2019 Hatsu basho has been posted!

Because I’ve just landed in Tokyo, am rocketing towards the heart of the city on the Narita Express, and JR East provides free WiFi, I’ve got a few moments to share with you the six matches I’m most looking forward to on the opening day. All of these have the potential to set up further key storylines throughout the basho:

Yago vs. Meisei

Yago has made a steady progression towards the top division in his ten basho since debuting as makushita tsukedashi, while Meisei has been Mr. Tenacious – after a first basho setback, he has settled into makuuchi nicely and deployed a nice mix of skill and heart on the dohyo. Eyes are going to be on the much hyped Yago to see what kind of debut performance he can put on versus a higher level of opposition this basho, and this is as good of a test as he could hope to expect in the lower reaches of the division. Meisei leads the lifetime series 2-0.

Kaisei vs. Asanoyama

The recent NHK Grand Sumo Review of 2018 was notable because it featured the NHK pundits bemoaning the current state of up-and-comers being predominantly oshi-zumo wrestlers. The notable exception to this was Asanoyama, notable for his emergence in the top division as a primarily yotsu-zumo rikishi. Here, he faces off against another fan of mawashi work in Kaisei, who’s had a pretty decent past 12 months, all things considered. The enormous Kaisei can be a force to be reckoned with when he’s in good health, so this matchup of strengths will prove an interesting opening bout test for both rikishi. Kaisei leads this rivalry 3-1.

Chiyotairyu vs. Onosho

The NHK review also highlighted the work that Onosho has put in to vary his techniques at the tachiai in order to better defuse his opposition. Here, he comes up against a rikishi who – it’s perhaps uncharitable, but nevertheless not totally untrue – to say is almost 100% tachiai. We’re looking for Onosho to return to mix it with the big boys and matches like this against Kokonoe-beya’s current star man should prove to be good challenges. They’ve split the victories evenly in their six contests to date.

Shohozan vs. Tamawashi

No analysis needed here: if everyone’s genki then this has all the hallmarks of a classic street fight. It could get tasty. Shohozan has a dominant 13-3 advantage in their lifetime series.

Takayasu vs. Ichinojo

There is some question over the health of Takayasu as he attempts again to shed his “bridesmaid” tag in search of an inaugural yusho, and there are always questions as to the genki level of Ichinojo. This is a tricky opening match to navigate for both rikishi: Takayasu will be desperate to open with a win and lay to rest the agonising manner of his Day 15 defeat in Kyushu, but here he features against an object who will doubtlessly be unmoved by his signature shoulder blast. Takayasu leads this rivalry 6-4.

Kisenosato vs. Mitakeumi

This is my unquestionable match of the day. Mitakeumi will have been knocked back by the manner of his make-koshi in Fukuoka, but his dismantling of Takayasu on the final day showed he didn’t magically lose his skill. He’ll be gunning to restart his ozeki run and is going to be licking his lips at a potential Yokozuna scalp to open what could be a pivotal basho for the Dewanoumi man. Kisenosato’s trials and tribulations were excellently covered in great detail by Herouth earlier in the week – be sure to check out her piece if you haven’t – and a day 1 loss would be ominous. Despite what the banzuke and history says (Kisenosato has won 6 of 7 from King Tadpole, and amazingly, 2 of 3 since his career-altering chest injury), Mitakeumi should be the favorite here and it’s the Mountain that will have to move him if it is to have any chance of staving off the inevitable retirement calls early in the basho.

November 2015, Day Two: Preview

The matchup of the day for tomorrow is Harumafuji v Osunaarashi. Heavier guys seem to be able to outlast Osunaarashi by powering through his blows and winning on the belt or with a grip on his body. Harumafuji is much lighter and won their last match with his speed. Osunaarashi will need to be aggressive from the start. This will be a very interesting match now that both seem to be healthy. This match has the potential to be the upset of the day but I’m really hoping Harumafuji will be in the title race so he needs to win.

On paper, it would seem the upset of the day would be Toyonoshima over Goeido but Goeido has won their last 4 bouts and 8 of their last 11. Toyonoshima had a sly win over Tochiozan today but Goeido is kadoban so he’ll be careful not to make mistakes. Instead, I’m calling Tochinoshin to get a win over Kotoshogiku for the first time since May 2011.

Terunofuji v Ichinojo, Preview

We start the November Tournament with some key match-ups on Day One, headed by Terunofuji vs Ichinojo. While Terunofuji has the decisive 5-1 winning record, he is coming off injury and Ichinojo is not exactly a creampuff. If Ichinojo were to win, it could take Terunofuji out of championship contention very early in the tournament. They know each other very well, having met in every tournament over the past year. Early on in their rivalry they seemed evenly matched but since their epic water-break bout in the Spring, Terunofuji has been dominant. But with Ichinojo’s size, he can certainly play spoiler.

Likewise, Kisenosato has the dominant historical winning record against Osunaarasahi but I would not count the aggressive Egyptian out. If healthy, this has upset written all over it. However, my upset call is going to be Kakuryu vs Yoshikaze. Yoshikaze can make a strong impression early by taking down the yokozuna. Kakuryu holds a slim 6-4 lead in their match history with an even more even 2-2 head-to-head over the last two years.The komusubi has won the latest two bouts and I think the crowd would go bananas if Kakuryu tried to henka his way to a quick win here. Even so, I’m still calling a sloppy henka win for the yokozuna.

I’m also going to be watching for Tochinoshin to finally beat Hakuho on the 20th attempt. If Tochiozan wants to keep his ozeki hopes alive, he’ll need to get winning early. Also, Myogiryu will be facing the gold-star ATM, Harunamfuji.