Aki 2020 Day 1 Preview

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It has been a strange start to the basho – and it hasn’t even started! As Bruce reported earlier in the day, both Yokozuna have officially withdrawn, along with injured Ishiura and suspended Abi. And then there’s the matter of an entire heya being kyujo owing to a coronavirus infection.

However, as friend and reader Tigerboy1966 said in the comments of this site, maybe we shouldn’t let that overshadow what has the ability to be, at least on Day 1, a great day of sumo. Good ‘ol Tigerboy.

What We’re Watching on Day 1

Ichinojo (M17E) vs Hoshoryu (M16W) – An intriguing matchup. Many oohs and aahs followed the surprise return of Ichinojo to the top division in a slot that has yielded two surprise champions already this year. His opponent makes his much awaited makuuchi debut, having shown steady progress and consistency since his entry into the sumo world less than 3 years ago. Ichinojo also made his top division debut as a hyped 21 year old in this tournament six years ago, and nearly made the biggest splash of all. This matchup will give us one of the first indications of whether Hoshoryu can fulfil his own promise.

Kyokutaisei (M16E) vs Shohozan (M15W) – Moviestar Kyokutaisei returns to the top division after a lengthy period in Juryo facilitated by an injury on his last visit to makuuchi two years ago. He’s done well in the past couple of tournaments, and I’d make him a narrow favourite against a Shohozan whose feistiness and slaps have looked a little weaker in the past few tournaments. It sort of reminds me of the end of Yoshikaze’s career, when you see a wily ol’ dog who’s still capable of grinding out wins but with less gas in the tank.

Tobizaru (M14E) vs Shimanoumi (M15E) – Sumo’s latest poster boy Tobizaru makes his top division bow against a rikishi who has had a deeply disappointing twelve months, with just one kachikoshi and some pretty bad results. Both rikishi come from stables deep with sekitori talent and should be fairly tuned up for the basho. The lifetime series is fairly even at 4-5 and I’d give Tobizaru the tip to even it, given he’s been in better form recently.

Kotoshoho (M12E) vs Meisei (M13E) – Kotoshoho continues his upward ascent, having still only suffered one makekoshi in his career, a 3-4 reverse down at the lower end of makushita. His reward for continued success is a first time meeting against a rejuvenated Meisei, back in the top division following a triumphant Juryo campaign last time out. While Kotoshoho isn’t against mixing in the odd throw, yotsu-zumo is an element of his game that he is still developing and an area that the energetic Meisei will look to exploit. Having ended the last tournament with a bit of a whimper, I’ll make Kotoshoho the slight underdog here.

Kaisei (M12W) vs Kotoshogiku (M11W) – Alleged newlywed Kaisei gets the hump n’ bump master Kotoshogiku in the battle of grizzled vets. With both men preferring the mawashi, this will likely be won or lost at the tachiai. Kotoshogiku has an overwhelming advantage in their rivalry: excluding fusen-sho it’s 12-1 to the Sadogatake man. The Brazilian hasn’t displayed much of an answer for Kotoshogiku’s main move.

Chiyotairyu (M11E) vs Kotoeko (M10W) – It’s a battle of unlikely and perhaps temporary heyagashira of two massive stables, as Kokonoe’s Chiyotairyu gets Sadogatake’s Kotoeko. Kotoeko has been much improved lately in terms of his endurance and stamina on the dohyo, and if he can survive the tachiai he’d have to be favoured here. That said, Chiyotairyu’s two wins out of five against Kotoeko have been the two most recent encounters, and a big cannonball tachiai could well blow him away. I’d make this a coin flip, we’ll see whose style wins the day.

Sadanoumi (M10E) vs Onosho (M9W) – Onosho dominates this rivalry against the achingly consistent Sadanoumi. Again, I think this gets won at the tachiai. If Onosho fails to establish his pushing attack or gets too much forward lean, the veteran Sadanoumi should be able to easily slap or toss him down. Onosho had been having a little bit of a renaissance before his disastrous 2-13 last time out: he’ll be trying to prove this isn’t his true ceiling after all his injury problems. Sadanoumi, meanwhile, you look at, and go: “yeah, Maegashira 10 sounds about right.” It’s really up to Onosho to take the initiative here.

Enho (M9E) vs Wakatakakage (M8W) – These guys have met three times, all down in Juryo. Enho triumphed last time, but these are the matches where I worry about him: against a technical opponent with good mobility, which can limit his strengths. Wakatakakage has been extremely consistent in recent basho – which must be of great joy to his new shisho – and I would expect him to continue his progress this time. I make Wakatakakage the favourite here.

Ryuden (M7E) vs Tokushoryu (M8E) – For a time it looked like Ryuden was going to regularly trouble the joi-jin but he’s settled in as a mid table guy. Tokushoryu did well to stabilise himself last basho after bounding up and then down the banzuke after his championship. These two guys have two very different objectives: Ryuden wants to prove he can move and stay up the banzuke whereas Tokushoryu, near the end of his career and having spent much of the recent years in Juryo, wants to hang around these parts as long as possible. I actually think if he’s in good shape, Tokushoryu can win this. Ryuden seems to have problems putting away tricky customers and Tokushoryu’s twist down technique at the edge could work for him here.

Aoiyama (M7W) vs Kagayaki (M6W) – Aoiyama had won the first six encounters, but Kagayaki has won the last three and I make him the favourite here against an opponent that continues to just not show a whole lot. Kagayaki has looked determined to add a bit of the steel to his sumo that makes him hard to beat, and while he suffered a 5-10 last time out, I think he has a good chance against some treading-water opponents to reverse course in this basho. No details as yet as to whether any part of this match will be pixelated.

Takayasu (M6E) vs Takarafuji (M5W) – Both of these veterans seem determined to make it back to san’yaku. Takarafuji has the better of the training situation with two other high rankers in his stable, and perhaps that will help him this basho (it certainly didn’t last time). Takayasu needs to deploy a strong tachiai and use an oshi-attack against a rikishi who will be intent on stalemating him and wearing him down. Takayasu is the rare opponent for Takarafuji who can probably match him for stamina and isn’t afraid of a long match, but coming back from the injuries he’s had, I’m not sure if that’s good for Takayasu. It’s a slight edge for me to the former Ozeki here, on account of having more in his locker to put away the Isegahama man.

Kiribayama (M5W) vs Tochinoshin (M4W) – This is a really intriguing matchup. Kiribayama has tried to adopt some of Tochinoshin’s lifting technique, although it’s possibly ultimately not where his sumo lies long term. Kiribayama’s issue for me is he’s not approached matches at this end of the banzuke with a real game plan, often playing to his opponent’s strengths. If he can stay mobile and use his throwing techniques to his advantage in getting uncomfortable grips for a strong but predictable opponent like Tochinoshin, he can consistently win these types of matches. I don’t know if he’s there yet.

Yutakayama (M4E) vs Terutsuyoshi (M3W) – Terutsuyoshi seems to have really benefitted from the resurgence of his heya as a whole, with several strong rikishi and prospects now in the top two divisions. However, having motored up to a new career high placing, this is where things are going to get really difficult. Yutakayama, on song, has a pushing attack that will blow the little man away, so he’s going to have to try something special to manoeuvre his larger opponent into a position from his he cannot defend. Yutakayama looked to have turned it around recently, but simply has not been able to deal with top rankers, so in a No-kozuna tournament that pulls him firmly into the joi again this time, Terutsuyoshi should be a welcome first opponent.

Okinoumi (K1E) vs Myogiryu (M3E) – Okinoumi’s late career resurgence continues, and his reward is a date on shonichi with fellow veteran Myogiryu. Given recent performance, it’s hard to believe a couple years ago we might have felt both of these guys were lost to chronic and serious injuries. Okinoumi barely leads the lifetime series 13-12, but if he can blunt the speedy Myogiryu’s tachiai with a strong grip, I’d make him the favourite on paper again here.

Daieisho (S2E) vs Tamawashi (M2W) – This is almost a master and apprentice match, with two practitioners of very similar styles of sumo. The eight basho Sekiwake Tamawashi and debutant Daieisho both share the trait of upward thrusting to keep their opponents out of focus and off balance. Daieisho has been a revelation in the last twelve months, and at times looks almost to win matches through sheer will. The naysayers will point to his two fusen-sho last time out detracting from his 11 win performance, but his presence at the rank of Sekiwake should put some fire under the two other holders of the rank. Recent history favours Daieisho here, and he’s going to want to prove he can hold this rank.

Hokutofuji (M2E) vs Mitakeumi (S1W) – It’s not that long ago we were talking about Hokutofuji as an Ozeki candidate. It’s been for a long time that we’ve been talking about Mitakeumi as an ever-present Ozeki candidate. Both have suffered injury problems, but it’s the decorated Mitakeumi that has spurned more good opportunities, and he will be desperate to take advantage in this tournament. While Hokutofuji has done well to consistently keep himself among the division’s elite, Mitakeumi simply has more up his sleeve than Hokutofuji’s push/thrust/slap attack and will be the presumable favourite to win a match he really can’t afford to be losing.

Shodai (S1E) vs Takanosho (M1W) – I like this matchup, because again, there are a lot of shared characteristics both on and off dohyo. Both men have almost quietly risen to the business end of the banzuke while more vaunted competitors (or in Takanosho’s case, stablemates) have received the majority of the headlines. Shodai, having almost been written off as a serious talent, has added an enormous amount of power and stamina to his game which in some ways has compensated for his continually weak tachiai. Both men aren’t afraid to go chest to chest to grapple and both men can win with a pushing/thrusting attack, and it’s in the latter area that Takanosho particularly excels. Shodai is the favourite but this may be a potential upset encounter.

Terunofuji (M1E) vs Takakeisho (O1W) – He came from the bottom to the top: Terunofuji’s stunning yusho might have been the icing on the cake of his remarkable comeback from knee problems, health problems, and being-in-Jonidan problems, but the cherry would be reclaiming his place in san’yaku. Or even, say it quietly, his old Ozeki position. The hard work continues here against a newly-engaged Takakeisho who has struggled with his own injuries and only had two good basho in the seven since he’s assumed the Ozeki rank. Indeed, his percentage of quality tournaments is starting to look rather like that of his opponent during his own Ozeki tenure. Given that he’s the current holder, I’m going to make Terunofuji the favourite here: while the two have only met once, with Takakeisho being triumphant in that match, it was years ago at the start of Terunofuji’s slide down the ranks. Terunofuji has more dimensions to his sumo, and if he’s been able to keep himself fit, he may do well here.

Asanoyama (O1E) vs Endo (K1W) – All eyes are on Asanoyama as the man at the top of the tree this tournament. His 4-6 record against Endo shows that these matches against his near rivals are the ones he needs to start to win with more consistency if he is going to take the next step in his career development. I’d go as far as to say that with the number of hungry rikishi behind him, these are the matches this basho that he simply cannot afford to lose. While Asanoyama favours a right hand in, left hand outside grip, Endo is a famously tricky customer who, despite frustrating with both his inconsistency and interviews, is probably still one of the more multi-dimensional and gifted tacticians in the sport. His 7 kinboshi are proof that Endo revels in underdog bouts. There are no kinboshi on offer this tournament, but with a huge pile of kensho on offer at the end of this one and a big scalp on the line, he will turn up. Asanoyama needs to land his preferred grip early and dispatch Endo with authority, as a good start in this basho may prove crucial.

Kyushu Day 6 Preview

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Greetings from a surprisingly windy Tokyo!

Now, look: the upside of all of this kyujo and injury business is that if you’re someone who writes match day previews, there’s less writing that you have to do. But honestly, I’d rather be writing another paragraph and get to see the likes of Tochinoshin and Goeido battle it out. What will 2020 look like for them… or any of us? These existential questions and more will not be answered on Day 6 of the Kyushu basho.

Leaders: Hakuho, Asanoyama, Meisei, Enho, Sadanoumi, Yutakayama, Shodai, Wakatakakage

What We’re Watching on Day 6

Daishoho vs Kagayaki – Daishoho looks disinterested at this point, so the last thing he probably needs is to face someone who’s fresh from a rest day. I wouldn’t be surprised if Daishoho runs into a couple “exchange” bouts with someone from Juryo in Week 2. Tough to pick against Kagayaki here.

Nishikigi vs Takanosho – Takanosho didn’t have to work too hard to dispatch Daishoho on Day 5, but Nishikigi found himself on the wrong end of a very genki opponent. Both of these guys (2-3) need to start putting up the white stars, otherwise they’re going to be looking over their shoulder. Both of these guys like a good grapple, so if they go strength against strength then it should be fairly entertaining.

Daishomaru vs Chiyotairyu – The Kokonoe man has been in good form the last few days, and he’s a jovial fellow so here’s hoping sumo’s good natured sideburn enthusiast can keep it up. His tachiai should be able to overpower Daishomaru, and I can’t shake the feeling that he’s also a bit more powerful all around than the Oitekaze man. Their career series is 5-4 and usually ends up with someone face down on the clay.

Shimanoumi vs Terutsuyoshi – Both of these rikishi are 2-3 and you can pretty much copy what I said about Nishikigi and Takanosho here, except I think this may be a bit more of a straightforward shoving match. We’re approaching the end of the first week and these guys have yet to blast off the ring rust, so here’s hoping they play themselves into form sooner than later.

Chiyomaru vs Shodai – I had really rather fancied Shodai to win against Kotoshogiku, but he didn’t seem to have any kind of answer for the most predictable move in sumo. Chiyomaru had an easy go of it yesterday, but Shodai may put up a bit more resistance than Ishiura. A clash of styles here, and whoever establishes their preferred method at the tachiai – oshi for Chiyomaru and yotsu for Shodai – should win the day. Surprisingly this is only the third meeting of these two, with honours even.

Ishiura vs Yutakayama – Mirror records for these two: 1-4 Ishiura meets 4-1 Yutakayama. Ishiura has looked really light on his feet this tournament and seems to be simply getting blown out of the ring, so he’s meeting the wrong opponent in Yutakayama, who relies on powerful pushing and thrusting. Don’t @ me, sumo internet…. but with Ishiura looking at a rough scoreline I just have a sneaky feeling we might see a henka.

Tsurugisho vs Kotoshogiku – The crowd has really been behind Kotoshogiku all tournament, so it was a relief to see him finally pick up a win. Tsurugisho has fared fairly well in this tournament up until Day 5. This is the first meeting of the two, and I do wonder whether the gaburi-yori from Kotoshogiku will be effective against an opponent who’s never seen it. If Tsurugisho’s never had to defend against it, he may be in for a tough day out.

Onosho vs Sadanoumi – Onosho showed more of his old self on Day 5 with a real powerful victory. Sadanoumi just keeps motoring along. This should be a pretty good clash, although I could see Sadanoumi trying to hit an early slap down to avoid a drawn out oshi battle. Sadanoumi’s best method here is probably to get Onosho’s arms wrapped up and use a grappling approach to usher him out or down via beltless throw. Onosho has won 3 of 4, but Sadanoumi won the most recent match and is in the better form making it a little more of a coin toss.

Shohozan vs Enho – Right on the halfway mark, we get the first real highlight bout of the day. Between honbasho and jungyo events, these two have loads of epic matches in the tank already. There’s so much narrative in these matches: the young upstart vs the wily veteran, the thrower vs the slapper, precise manoeuvers vs street brawling. All of that to say: Enho has won by oshidashi a time or two, and Shohozan isn’t afraid to go to the belt. Shohozan has won all three previous matches on honbasho clay, but I have a sneaky feeling Enho might just squeak this out and add a bit of needle to the growing rivalry. Anything could happen, and hopefully it will.

Kotoeko vs Ryuden – The schedulers give us another pair here who are below their usual level. These two have similar yotsu-accented styles, and I happen to believe that Ryuden is simply the stronger practitioner of that style. This is borne out in his 4-2 lifetime advantage over the Sadogatake man. It would behoove Ryuden to put a little run together, and I think this is a good place to start.

Aoiyama vs Okinoumi – It’s the 27th matchup of these two veterans, with Shimane-ken’s Okinoumi leading with 16 victories over the Bulgarian pummeller. Okinoumi’s in much better form than his 2-3 record would indicate, while Aoiyama (3-2) seemed a bit confused by Enho on Day 5. Despite his head-to-head advantage, Okinoumi rarely gets to execute his style of sumo over Aoiyama, and we’re probably primed for an oshidashi or tsukidashi affair. Okinoumi has looked more genki, so I’m tipping him here.

Abi vs Daieisho – It’s a Saitama derby! Abi really showed up on Day 5, but again his footwork was sloppy and almost lost him the match. I don’t think that’s going to cut it against Daieisho who has been in great form, and will be rested after getting the day off after picking up a fusen-sho. What is almost guaranteed is that this will be an all out tsuppari battle. Daieisho won 4 of their first 5 matches, but Abi has since won four in a row from his smaller opponent this year. I’d make this a bit of a coin flip, Abi’s ability cancelled out by Daieisho’s stronger form.

Hokutofuji vs Kotoyuki – Hokutofuji has nothing to worry about after his Day 5 loss in my opinion, but he might if he drops this. Kotoyuki has more or less been in good nick. Both men are oshi-zumo practitioners, and Hokutofuji has been fighting at by far the higher level. It’s a good test for Kotoyuki and a win for him would certainly make it easier to envision him making it back to san’yaku someday soon. I just think Hokutofuji is going to have too much for him though. This could be the match where we see Kotoyuki head a few rows into the crowd, although he may well get slapped down to the clay first.

Asanoyama vs Endo – Asanoyama has looked strong and has to be a serious yusho contender. He came out to execute his style of sumo against Hokutofuji and was dominant in so doing. Endo has started to resemble the hit-and-miss Endo that we grew accustomed to in recent years before he really turned the corner the last couple tournaments to make his san’yaku case. This could and in fact should be a really good belt bout. Endo’s best chance might be to come out with a pushing attack and put Asanoyama on the back foot a bit, but it might be a risky move. Endo has won 4 from 6 overall in this rivalry, giving Asanoyama a little history to overcome… but I think Asanoyama will do it and keep himself firmly in the title race.

Mitakeumi vs Takarafuji – Mitakeumi looks awful to me, and he simply has to win this match. He’s reaching a point where he’s not only jeopardising his chances of Ozeki promotion this tournament (he probably needs to win out), but if he keeps coughing up matches to lower rankers then he might not have a chance to seal the deal in January. You know what you’re going to get from Takarafuji: a strong defence against any kind of mawashi or grappling strategy, so Mitakeumi is best served reverting to a powerful oshi attack to try and blow the veteran away.

Takakeisho vs Tamawashi – It’s surprising to me that Takakeisho has owned Tamawashi to the degree that he has (7 wins out of 10). This should be a cagey pushing-thrusting battle with either rikishi capable of throwing a few wild tricks into the bargain. Takakeisho will be the narrow favourite, with oshidashi the nailed on favourite no matter who takes the kensho.

Myogiryu vs Takayasu – Myogiryu has coughed up a couple easy ones this basho, which may be what Takayasu needs. I thought Takayasu was strategically sound in his Day 5 loss to Meisei. He picked the correct style of sumo to deploy, but simply wasn’t able to execute at the same level of his opponent. He did worryingly start to feel his injured arm again after that match. If he doesn’t go kyujo (and I don’t think he will), Myogiryu might be the type of opponent he needs to face: speedy, but with no one skill that’s better than any of Takayasu’s.

Meisei vs Hakuho – The highlight bout of the second half of the day, and one featuring a first meeting of two men who are in no mood to lose. Meisei’s defensive work was fantastic against Takayasu, but he’ll need to take that to another level to cope with The Boss. Hakuho looks in good shape as he can smell opportunities to win. He should keep his focus though, because this could be a real banana peel for someone who’s been serving up more kinboshi lately than anyone would like. He’ll need more than he did against Myogiryu, and he’ll probably noticed that a weakened Takayasu had Meisei on the ropes with a strong pushing attack. Add to that a stronger tachiai and better finishing moves, and Hakuho should still be a strong favourite to get the job done here.

Kyushu Day 5 Preview

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Incredibly, the Kyushu injury curse continues! Wakatakakage will be kyujo from Day 5, which means that we’ve lost one sekitori per day in addition to Ichinojo, who started the tournament on the sidelines. He has not been officially added to the NSK’s list at the time of writing, but if reports are true, injury has taken one of the co-leaders off the board (and handed a useful win to Kagayaki). It’s a good job these tournaments are only 15 days…

[Edited to add: Tochinoshin has now been pronounced kyujo as well with an abdominal injury. Apart from the extremely unlikely scenario in which he miraculously returns from Day 8 and wins out, this will end his attempt to reclaim his Ozeki status.]

What We’re Watching on Day 5

Terutsuyoshi vs Daishomaru – Daishomaru came with a game plan on Day 4 and he’ll need to show more of the same energy in his pushing attack against an undersized opponent in Terutsuyoshi. Both men are struggling a bit to find their best sumo, and the head to head is split one apiece.

Daishoho vs Takanosho – Woof.

Nishikigi vs Chiyotairyu – For me, Chiyotairyu was at his absolute best on Day 4. It was an unrelenting forward moving machine. He needs to avoid getting his arms locked up by Nishikigi in this match, which feels all about direction. If Chiyotairyu can go forward in a straight line from the tachiai, he’s got a great chance, but if Nishikigi can redirect him into lateral movement, the match will favour the Isenoumi man.

Ishiura vs Chiyomaru – Ishiura proved that it’s more about the size of the fight in the dog on Day 4. Interestingly he seems to do better against smaller opponents while miniature stablemate Enho claims to do better against the larger opponents. Ishiura is definitely not getting his arms around Chiyomaru’s belly so again it’s going to have to be mobility that gets used as a primary weapon here. And it seems to work: Ishiura has taken 8 of 12 from the Kokonoe man.

Kotoshogiku vs Shodai – It’s another Kyushu derby, as Fukuoka’s Kotoshogiku gets Kumamoto’s Shodai. There are contrasting fortunes here as the former Ozeki is winless, while a win for unbeaten Shodai would move him into sole possession of the lead. Shodai took more initiative than we’ve seen at the tachiai in the previous day’s fixture and it worked out well for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he reverts to type in this match as it will allow him a better grip on Kotoshogiku’s mawashi. The Sadogatake man hasn’t drawn a lot of luck in the fixture list so far, and I don’t think that will change here.

Sadanoumi vs Shimanoumi – Sadanoumi has won both the past matchups and appears to be yet again quietly putting together a nice tournament. Shimanoumi might be a tough character to move but after his impressive performance against Yutakayama, Sadanoumi will be coming into this match full of confidence. He’s won both prior matches against Shimanoumi.

Shohozan vs Yutakayama – Local fan favourite Shohozan has been at the peak of his powers in this tournament, running roughshod over the middle of the rank and file. I predict a riot in this encounter: after the frantic grapple and throw action on Day 4, I think he has recharged his harite and tsuppari machine. Yutakayama was really motoring along but the manner of his defeat on Day 4 means he will be open for examination here: was it just a blip or is he still coming to grips with routine opposition?

Tsurugisho vs Kotoeko – Tsurugisho seems to be adjusting well to top division life. Kotoeko seems a little bereft of confidence at the moment. This will be the 11th bout between the two, who have registered five shiroboshi apiece in their previous encounters. The form guide would indicate Tsurugisho to hold the best chance.

Aoiyama vs Enho – It’s a first time meeting of two rikishi with vastly different styles, builds and fanbases. I tend to be in the camp that thinks actually, Enho’s on a great career trajectory. That he hasn’t hit a huge 12 or 13 win tournament yet means that he’s slowly adapted to the higher quality of opponent, and he’s been tested gradually rather than getting thrown in at the top end and getting his confidence wrecked. He will still take his lumps from time to time, and there are few better to dole those out than Big Dan. I have a hard time thinking that Aoiyama is going to be able to keep up with Enho’s mobility and simply blast him out of the dohyo, so I think he reverts to the form that has served him well recently and tries a slap or pull down. Spare a thought for Enho, who is likely to try and bury his head in Aoiyama’s… well, let’s not mention it.

Onosho vs Kotoyuki – Here’s a matchup of two pusher-thrusters in rather different form. Kotoyuki has continued his impressive, forward moving, sumo. While there’s not much difference in their records this early on, it’s the manner of Onosho’s defeats that I would consider to be concerning. These guys have split their past matches one apiece, but Onosho’s win came in 2017 and both these guys are different animals now in terms of their genki level. This should be a very quick match, and one that presents Kotoyuki with a great chance to keep up his momentum.

Tamawashi vs Ryuden – I think Tamawashi has the beating of Ryuden in this match, as Ryuden has become a bit of a Tochinoshin-lite for me. While he has great heart, he doesn’t possess the dominating mawashi ability of the Georgian former-ish Ozeki, and he’s also susceptible to pusher-thrusters.

Hokutofuji vs Asanoyama – This has to be the highlight bout of the second half of activity. Both of these 3-1 men have a real legitimate shout at yusho contention and/or further san’yaku promotion in their current form. I loved that Asanoyama just shrugged off his bodyslam by Hakuho to come back and reel off another victory. Hokutofuji has been absolutely fearless, and similarly overcame an early defeat to the GOAT to put massive dents in Ozeki promotion and retention challenges from Mitakeumi and Takayasu. Surprisingly it’s only the 5th meeting (past matches have been split two apiece) of these two rikishi, and it could be a rivalry that takes centre stage over the coming years. Hokutofuji must keep up his speed off the tachiai: if he can establish his pushing attack early he has a real chance. But if Asanoyama is allowed any opportunity to pull him off balance with a slap or a mawashi grip, then the former yusho-winner will have a great shot himself.

Abi vs Endo – Both of these guys enter the match in disappointing form. Abi has been far short of his usual energetic self, and has displayed sloppy footwork over his opening matches. That would appear to hand the opportunity to Endo, an inconsistent technician with extremely sound ring sense. But Abi still has it in his locker to blow Endo away, which is going to rely on a storm of tsuppari straight from the tachiai. The longer this match goes the more likely the momentum shifts to Endo. Abi has a 5-2 edge in the rivalry.

Daieisho vs TochinoshinTochinoshin has done well to bounce back from an 0-2 start, and may feel he’s finding enough form to make his 10 win challenge to regain Ozeki status a reality. Daieisho is probably the worst opponent to run into at that moment, as the smaller pusher-thruster has won the past two from the Georgian (who leads 6-3 overall), has a style of sumo Tochinoshin typically finds it difficult to cope with these days, and is also fighting at the peak of his game to date. Even if he is the presumptive favourite on paper, a win here for Tochinoshin would go a long way to restoring the confidence that he can win at the top level. [Edited to add: there are unconfirmed reports at this stage that Tochinoshin may also be going kyujo, which would be incredibly significant as it would end his efforts to automatically regain Ozeki status. More to follow.][Edited again to add: Tochinoshin is now confirmed kyujo and will be set for significant demotion if as expected he does not return. Daieisho will get the fusen-sho victory and improve to 3-2.]

Mitakeumi vs Okinoumi – Okinoumi has had a really horrible fixture list so far, picking up only a fusen-sho in four days of action. But he can take a lot of heart from pushing Hakuho all the way in his previous match, and should be a tough customer for Mitakeumi. The Sekiwake has very little margin for error going forward in his Ozeki promotion push, having dropped another match he would have been expected to win to Daieisho. Okinoumi has won 2 from 3 against Mitakeumi, whose challenge here is to establish a strong pushing-thrusting attack from the off. While Mitakeumi’s all around game has improved immensely, he is not a match for the veteran on the mawashi and needs to tailor his attack appropriately here.

Meisei vs Takayasu – While the form guide would suggest we should be fearful for the Ozeki here, I think Takayasu has a good chance to win this. Meisei has really turned his game up several levels since the start of the Aki basho, but if you look at where Takayasu has been blown away in Fukuoka, they have been in matches against extreme pusher-thrusters: which Meisei is not. Meisei is a tenacious young rikishi who may be a san’yaku fixture for years to come… but I think unless he has lost all confidence, a one-armed Takayasu desperate for wins should be able to get the job done here.

Takakeisho vs Takarafuji – By this point, against a depleted field, Takakeisho probably expects to be in a yusho race no matter what. But the immediate aim is a healthy 8+ wins to retain his Ozeki status for the first time without falling back into kadoban. Takarafuji is probably a good opponent for him, as the defensive specialist needs to be able to actually get a hold of his opponent to stalemate them, and this is not an opportunity that Takekeisho typically affords to his opposition. I’ll tip another win for the Ozeki in this match, with the 3-1 Takakeisho leading their head-to-head rivalry 3-1.

Myogiryu vs Hakuho – Hakuho’s won 19 of 20 from Myogiryu, and the last 8 have all come via different kimarite. The Hakuho of old would be searching to try and win with another different move just to keep himself interested, but at this point in his career, any win that keeps him in the yusho race and on the dohyo will do. Hakuho was given a real mawashi battle by Okinoumi in the previous match, and he’d do well to start to stay away from his opponents’ strengths from now on. Myogiryu is a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type, but his calling card is often – like his stablemate Goeido – his speedy attack from the tachiai. Don’t be surprised to see Hakuho deploy another harite off the mark here to blunt and divert that attack.

Kyushu Basho Day 1 Preview

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Welcome, sumo fans! The final basho of 2019 is upon us. Cooler temperatures may have already come to Japan, but the action on the dohyo is set to be intense, with many intriguing storylines set to be resolved over the next couple of weeks. I will be joining the action at the Kokusai Center later in the basho, and hopefully will find some more intriguing details to share.

Set the controls for the heart of Hakata, because the Day 1 torikumi has been posted!

What We Are Watching on Day 1

Daishomaru vs Wakatakakage – Arashio’s relatively new heyagashira makes his makuuchi bow against the returning Kansai meatball Daishomaru. These fellas have met in the four preceding basho with honours even. Wakatakakage tends to be a slow starter, so it would be nice to see him set the jitters aside and get an early trip to the interview room. Certainly his soon to be incoming oyakata Sokokurai will want to see that as well.

Terutsuyoshi vs Nishikigi – Nishikigi returns to his spiritual home of Maegashira 14 where he meets a Terutsuyoshi who had a rough basho last time out, and will be looking to replicate the success he found four months ago. Terutsuyoshi wants to establish a pushing attack from down low here, as any devolution into a grappling battle will favour the larger man.

Takanosho vs Chiyotairyu – It’s a little bonkers to see these two drawn against each other, what with Takanosho having spent most of his recent days in Juryo and Chiyotairyu having been a regular fixture in the joi. Chiyotairyu needs to rediscover his cannonball tachiai if he is to have a chance of rebounding up the ranks, so this match should tell us a bit about his genki level.

Shimanoumi vs Yutakayama – This will be an interesting basho for Shimanoumi, as we get to see how he rebounds from his first real setback to his top division career. Yutakayama looks to continue his renaissance, and probably possesses the more powerful thrusting attack here when he is on song. Shimanoumi won their only ever meeting, earlier this year in Osaka.

Kotoshōgiku vs Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi has done a decent job of stabilising himself as a mid-table rank and filer, and faces an opponent who should draw loud cheers on his homecoming. Kotoshogiku hasn’t been ranked as low as M9 for a year, when he reeled off double digit wins in front of his adoring home fans. We all know the score here: if he sets the hug-and-chug then it’s game over. But can he? Narrative fans rejoice: The former Ozeki leads the career series 5-2 and a win here would take him closer notching his 800th career win in his shusshin later in the week.

Shohozan vs Kotoeko – Another homecoming, and another veteran who performed very well in front of his hometown supporters a year ago. Shohozan also sits within touching distance of a 500th career win that we can expect him to achieve this basho. He’s developed in to a much more able grappler which adds intrigue to a match against an opponent who is very able on the mawashi but perhaps possesses less street smarts than Shohozan. The 35 year old is 2-0 against Kotoeko and I’m tipping him to win again here.

Tsurugisho vs Enho – Much has been made of Enho fighting now at by far his highest rank and the new, higher level opponents he will encounter. First things first, however, as he meets a known rival. Tsurugisho is also now fighting as his highest rank and has taken all four previous encounters from the Ishikawa fire pixie. As ever, Enho’s mobility will be the key to a victory, and Tsurugisho will be attempting to lock his movement out of the gate in order to usher the tricky customer towards another shiroboshi.

Onosho vs Ryuden – A lot of what we can expect to see here depends on the health of Onosho, whose career has been blunted by injury but who slowly seems to be getting himself back on track. Ryuden has faced some brutal trips into the joi. At Maegashira 5 he will no doubt be called upon to face high level opponents later in the tournament when the kyujo announcements begin to roll in, but he has a good opportunity to pick up key early wins in the meantime. Onosho’s pushing attack has proven too much for him in the past however, and the popular tadpole owns a 3-0 record over Ryuden.

Aoiyama vs Kotoyuki – This is a bit of an undercard play, but it’s probably the best shot we have at a good old fashioned bloodbath on Day 1. Ever the pugilist, Big Dan takes on an entertaining opponent in Kotoyuki who has been in inspired form for the past several months. Both men somewhat improbably are past sekiwake. While conventional wisdom would dictate that the gunbai will fall in favour of the man who can establish a pushing attack, look for Aoiyama to hit the slap down against an opponent who is notoriously wild on his feet: several of the Bulgarian’s seven wins against Kotoyuki have come via this strategy.

Tamawashi vs Tomokaze – Tamawashi has spent half the year as a sekiwake, but apart from his stunning yusho ten months ago, looks to be settling into a spoiler role in the joi late in his career. Tomokaze has a good early chance to respond to his first ever make-koshi, and we could learn much about his genki level from this match. He was clearly haunted by the loss of senpai Yoshikaze and struggling for form at the Aki tournament, but up against a high octane pusher-thruster, we should get an opportunity to see which tools the ivory tinkler has been able to sharpen over the intervening months.

Abi vs Takarafuji – Fresh from a much ballyhooed apology over the his recent bondage scandal, Abi looks to play the dominator as the Shikoroyama man has established consistency at the Komusubi rank and targets a yusho. Takarafuji, unfortunately, will likely play the role of the submissive in this encounter: Abi’s whole attack is the full throated thrusting that has become his signature, whereas there are few rikishi in the top division that have been able to make as much of a career of stalemating, defensive sumo as Takarafuji. Abi leads the career series 4-3, and would probably be the favourite if not affected by recent events.

Meisei vs Tochinoshin – The Georgian will attempt for the second time this year to regain his Ozeki status, and also for the second time in history to do it twice. The Ozekiwake starts his 10 win campaign against Meisei, who returns to the joi following a successful September meet which saw him spending much of the basho in the yusho race. This should be a mawashi battle and we should learn much about the state of Tochinoshin’s health in what should be a tenacious fight. Meisei has won their only prior meeting, but the smart money is probably on the veteran.

Mitakeumi vs Myogiryu – Not enough words have probably been said about how impressive Myogiryu’s return from kyujo was last tournament to snatch an unlikely kachikoshi. OK, now we’ve said that, we can focus on one of the huge stories of this tournament, current yusho holder Mitakeumi’s latest Ozeki challenge. With all of the high rankers starting the basho, Mitakeumi has to win probably half of the matches against those ranked above him and be flawless against those ranked below him. Both of these men are known for quick powerful manoeuvres from the tachiai, and while their lifetime rivalry is locked at 3 apiece, I have a hard time believing that the Mitakeumi’s Ozeki challenge will come undone on Day 1, so I’m going to tip him here.

Takakeisho vs Okinoumi – Day 1 throws up a number of rematches of critical bouts from Aki, and in this match, veteran Okinoumi gets a chance at revenge for his elimination in last tournament’s final day of action. Again, we will learn much about Takakeisho’s health and chances of success in this tournament here. Okinoumi typically should not be a match for his overwhelming oshi attack, but should the Shimane man get a chance to land a grip, then it is likely the Ozeki may not have the power owing to his recent injury to keep the veteran away. That said, I’m tipping Takakeisho to continue his good form, as he should be able to win this on ability.

Daieisho vs Takayasu – I almost ran out of superlatives for Daieisho in the last basho, as he notched a kinboshi and came from well down to win four in a row and score a kachi-koshi which leads to his highest ever placement on the banzuke here, at Maegashira 1. No matter the opponent or the odds, he simply did not stop doing his style of explosive oshi-zumo. And in this match, I am going to tip him to upset kadoban Ozeki Takayasu. It is clear that Takayasu is not in full health, with his brutally damaged elbow having not fully healed, and I don’t know that even someone as good as him, short of form and fitness, can blunt the thrusting attack of an awkward customer like Daieisho.

Goeido vs Endo – Another critical match from Aki replayed, as Endo scored a big time upset of the Ozeki which helped dismantle early hopes that Goeido could be a yusho challenger last time out. Endo went on to score his first ever sanyaku kachikoshi. Goeido will likely be looking for a manner of revenge here. Endo has won the last 3 and 7 out of the last 9 of their matchups, and with both men being very able technicians, Goeido is going to have call on his hallmark speed from the tachiai in order to overcome the popular pin-up.

Hokutofuji vs Hakuho – The last time Hakuho was seen on the dohyo, he was walking off clutching a broken finger having been upset by a thoroughly fired up Hokutofuji on Day 1 of the Aki basho. If there’s one thing you can say about Hakuho, the legend has a knack for a narrative. And while he’s more GOAT than Elephant, he certainly never forgets. With that in mind, a chance to settle a score and put things right straight from the off against the man ranked Komusubi 2 is probably exactly what Hakuho is looking for. And it will be most exciting to see what kind of technique the Yokozuna chooses from his library to blunt Hokotofuji’s amped up pushing and thrusting attack. I’m tipping the Yokozuna here to win a gripping match.

Kakuryu vs Asanoyama – Growing superstar Asanoyama gets his sanyaku debut in this tournament, having scored his first yusho earlier in the year and his first kinboshi in the previous tournament against Day 1’s opponent. It’s yet another rematch of a key Aki battle, Asanoyama having dealt the Yokozuna his first of the consecutive losses which knocked him out of the tournament. This match in the musubi-no-ichiban is their third meeting. Asanoyama is one of few yotsu-specialists among the current crop of new stars, and the Yokozuna may be best served avoiding strength against strength if he can manage a pushing attack. Kakuryu is always susceptible to move backwards, however, and with questions over his health, this may be one of the more likely upsets we could see on Day 1.