Natsu Day 6 Preview


Takayasu-Endo

Start Of The Middle Act.

The middle part of any basho is where we find out who is going to have a shot at the yusho, and who is going to struggle to stay above 500. Right now its clear that both Hakuho and Harumafuji are fit, strong and in their groove. We also have a very solid performance from Takayasu thus far, and he seems to be well on his way towards hitting the 10 wins needed for consideration for promotion to Ozeki.

Indeed, Takayasu has stated in recent interviews that he is pressing for the yusho, and believes he sumo is up to the task. His tests against Hakuho and Harumafuji are yet to happen, but they are likely to decide if Takayasu’s goal might be within reach. We could reasonably expect those matches this weekend, though the scheduling team may hold them for later next week, as they are certain to be a big draw for fans. Takayasu is a bona fide hit with fans in the Kokugikan, and you can safely assume that carries out to fans watching at home. Right now, most of Japan wants to see Takayasu succeed.

Day 6 is next, though, and while there will likely be some great sumo today, there are no huge earth shattering bouts on the torikumi.

Matches We Are Following

Tokushoryu vs Chiyotairyu – Both rikishi have be fighting well this tournament, and their prior 8 matches are evenly split. I expect Chiyotairyu to try an early hatakikomi, and Tokushoryu working hard to lock up the mawashi.

Onosho vs Kotoyuki – This is their first meeting. Kotoyuki has been looking lack-luster for the past year or so, and may have finally sunk down the banzuke far enough that he is competitive. He certainly has been brining very good sumo this tournament, and was surprisingly fast to react in the first 5 days. Both are pushers so, lots of flailing arms here.

Ichinojo vs Ura – The fans love a big man – little man match, and this is one of the ultimates. I hope that Ura keeps his eyes on Ichinojo, and can stay mobile.

Hokutofuji vs Sokokurai – Sokokurai won both their prior match ups, but don’t assume Hokutofuji is going to lose this one. Hokutofuji is still working to become comfortable in Makuuchi, but from watching the first 5 days, he is starting to get his sumo together at this level.

Takanoiwa vs Shodai – Shodai has been hit or miss, and is night fighting as well this tournament as his 4-1 record would indicate. But he does somehow seem “blessed’ inside and outside the ring. Statistically Takanoiwa has a slight edge.

Tamawashi vs Takayasu – Sekiwake battle today, with most of Japan rooting for Takayasu. Takayasu has found a way to win every match thus far, but he and Tamawashi are a career 6-6. Probably one of the better matches today.

Terunofuji vs Chiyonokuni – Another match with a lot of potential, Chiyonokuni is losing a lot this tournament, but fighting very well. Terunofuji may have rekindled the spark of his sumo again that was so compelling during Osaka, so I would anticipate a brawl. Interestingly, Terunofuji lost their only prior match up.

Mitakeumi vs Goeido – We have seen hints of Goeido 2.0 in the past couple of days, but Mitakeumi is at his career best right now. Mitakeumi did manage to beat Goeido once. It will be down to who shows up, Goeido 1.0 will lose this match, 2.0 will win it with a massive, rapid burst of offense that will overwhelm Mitakeumi.

Endo vs Hakuho – Only interesting because I am curious what kind of maneuver The Boss is going to use to crumple Endo.

Handicapping The Natsu Banzuke – Part 2


banzuke-3

The Meat Grinder & Cannon Fodder

*Updated after reader lksumo pointed out that my spreadsheet had somehow skipped special prize winner Takakeisho.

After the relative ease of the San’yaku ranks, we enter the mine field of the upper Maegashira. In Osaka, the upper 3 Maegashira ranks all had painfully bad losing records, and each of them will be handed a significant demotion for the upcoming tournament. When this happens, it’s a complete toss up who will be placed where in the upper rank and file. As was evidenced by Yoshikaze at Maegashira 4 having an 8-7 record, but probably begin placed at Komusubi.

The upper Maegashira ranks are some of the toughest in sumo. They will face the San’yaku, which should be 11 rikishi this tournament, and will likely face a lot of losses. All of the sumotori know this, but that is how it goes.

As with Osaka, we are using a series of formulas that I have been working to refine to help predict where each rikishi will be placed on the banzuke. It takes into account the wins, losses, the relative strength of the opponent for each, and a scoring factor that reflects the fact that the higher up the banzuke you are, the more difficult it is to advance.

Pouring all of that into the model, we end up with this computed ranking:

East Rank West
Chiyonokuni Maegashira 1 Endo
Chiyoshoma Maegashira 2 Okinoumi
Takarafuji Maegashira 3 Shodai
Tochiozan Maegashira 4 Takekaze
Ikioi Maegashira 5 Takanoiwa
Daieisho Maegashira 6 Aoiyama
Takakeisho Maegashira 7 Sokokurai

Top of the rank-and-file corps this time is Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni has been working himself silly to improve, and it really shows. He has also picked up considerable mass in the past year, and is better able to cope with massive beasts that inhabit Makuuchi. While his rank velocity was not massive, he had a stronger finish than most of the upper Maegashira. Joining him from the west is crowd favorite Endo who debuts at his highest rank ever. Many fans in Japan love Endo, and they are hoping that he can claim another kachi-koshi which would likely propel him into the San’yaku for July.

At Maegashira 2 we find Chiyoshoma, who launches up from Maegashira 5 on a comparatively strong record in March. This is his highest rank ever, and he has worked hard to reach this point. He is joined by veteran (and my wife’s favorite) Okinoumi, who has been battling injuries for some time. When he is well enough to compete, he is a significant factor in the tournament. We all hope he is in fighting shape this May.

At Maegashira 3 we surprisingly find Takarafuji. I can hear you asking: “Didn’t he finish with a make-koshi?”. The problem really is, who is worthy of Maegashira 3? The top 10 Maegashira ranked rikishi in March saw only two finish with winning records – Yoshikaze and Endo. Takarafuji finished with a 7-8, but surprisingly, that was better than most. Joining him is Shodai who has fallen three ranks from Komusubi

Tochiozan had a very strong finish in Osaka, and he will return to the upper Maegashira at 4e in May. The level of completion is quite different than his prior Maegashira 10 rank, and we hope he arrives at the basho ready to battle. Joining him is veteran Takekaze, who suffered a 10-5 record in March.

Ikioi take up a Maegashira 5 position for Natsu, after his terrible 10-5 record at Haru. Ikioi has a lot of potential, but has been terribly hit or miss for the past year. Joining him is Takanoiwa, who was also part of the group of upper Maegashira who had horrific records in Osaka.

Daieisho achieves his highest rank ever with a posting to Maegashira 6, moving up 5 places after a very strong tournament in March. Daieisho shows a lot of promise, and it will be interesting to see his performance against higher ranked rikishi. He will likely face some of the San’yaku during this tournament. Aoiyama joins him. Aoiyama has not really been overly impressive for several tournaments, and this may be the extent of his sumo, but we always leave the door open for improvement.

Rounding out the upper Maegashira is Takakeisho at Maegashira 7. Takakeisho turned in a fantastic 11-4 record in March, and earned a special prize. He vaults 5 places up the banzuke to a fairly challenging rank.  Joining him is Sokokurai. Sokokurai took home a brutal 4-11 record in March, and will be down in the much easier ranks for May.

Tune in Wednesday for the final installment, when I take a crack at the lower Maegashira.

Haru Day 8 Preview


Homemade White Chocolate Japanese Birthday Cake in Shape of Happy Bear Face

I Visited Tachiai, And All I Got Was This Preview…

Sunday is Yoshikaze’s birthday. I would love to bake him a cake and buy him a bottle of fine whisky for a gift, but alas there is no way to send it to him. The last person I tried to email a cake to said it never showed up, so I can’t help to think what would happen trying to email or fax a cake to Japan. You would think that with a long and glorious career they would have a party on the dohyo for him. Instead he gets to battle a giant Bulgarian guy with significant man-boobs.

Some rikishi won today, an equal number lost. But interestingly enough, everyone seemed to have a good time. But tomorrow, I am told, is the half way point. We have an interesting Yusho picture, but the final battle is still one week away

Haru Leader board

LeadersKisenosato, Takayasu
Hunt Group – Terunofuji, Tochiozan
Chasers – Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Tamawashi, Kotoshogiku, Takarafuji, Chiyonokuni, Chiyoshoma, Okinoumi, Tokushoryu

8 Matches Remain

Matches We Like

Tokushoryu vs Kyokushuho – even 5-5 history between these two. Tokushoryu looked solid day 7, and I am picking him to have an edge here. Dare we hope for another long running battle of pushing and thrusting? Remember it’s all fun and games until someone’s head falls off.

Myogiryu vs Ishiura – These two have only met once, and Ishiura won. I am going to the small bundle of muscles again, or as my wife calls him “Scary Guy”. Her assessment was not improved by his day 7 bout where he crumpled Nisikigi like an empty beer can.

Chiyoo vs Tochiozan – This is their first meeting, and I have concerns that Tochiozan’s winning streak was snapped on day 7. I do hope he does not fall into a losing streak funk, as Maegashira 10 should be an easy ride for him.

Ura vs Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki has been doing a lot of crowd surfing this basho, and I am sure that the shimpan corps are on the lookout for his next attempt. I doubt Ura will supply that much velocity off the dohyo, so RoboCop should be safe. Ura is desperate to get comfortable fighting the Makuuchi guys, and so this Kotoyuki match will be a good indicator of where his mind is.

Daieisho vs Okinoumi – Okinoumi is holding up quite well this basho, I am happy to report. He needs 3 more wins for Kachi-koshi, and he may get another one of those on Sunday. Okinoumi won their only prior match.

Endo vs Hokutofuji – A troublesome bout, as Endo will likely go for technique focusing on the mawashi. Hokutofuji showed on day 7 he can make that work. Endo is flaky enough that he might lose this one. One word – Gamberize!

Yoshikaze vs Aoiyama – Birthday match for Yoshikaze. I just hope that his face survives more or less intact given Aoiyama’s habit of trying to test how well people’s dental work is holding up.

Chiyoshoma vs Takarafuji – Lots of potential in this bout, I see Takarafuji as wanting to regain momentum after his day 7 loss. Likewise it’s time for Chiyoshoma to step on the gas and get his sumo into higher gear for the second half of the basho.

Kotoshogiku vs Sokokurai – 5 wins to go for the human bulldozer to reclaim his Ozeki rank. Will Sokokurai make the same mistake as the last two rikishi and go chest to chest with this guy?

Ikioi vs Takayasu – will Ikioi deploy the henka, or will Takayasu blast him into the cheap seats?

Mitakeumi vs Terunofuji – After what Terunofuji did to Takekaze, this should be an interesting match. Will Mitakeumi go for the belt and face the dishonor of the curb-side recycling can maneuver, or will he go run and gun and try to get Terunofuji off balance?

Harumafuji vs Takanoiwa – It’s not a proper basho without a Harumafuji death-spin. I am counting on the Horse to produce the wondrous move as soon as he is feeling up to it. Hopefully today.

Shodai vs Kakuryu – Shodai comes in too high at the tachiai, Kakuryu slaps him once and backs up, Shodai chases, Kakuryu pulls him to the clay. *SCENE*

Shohozan vs Kisenosato – Captain Bicep vs the Great Pumpkin. The question everyone is asking, will Kisenosato even really get excited about this match?

Haru Day 7 Recap


Testicle-blow-by

Better Late Than Never!

There were few surprises in today’s action, but there was a massive amount of great sumo. We continue to see the lower San’yaku out-perform their historical averages, and this is led by Takayasu really dominating every match. This is, without a doubt, the best I have seen Takayasu perform ever, and he has been a strong contender for over a year. Pleasant surprises continue with Kotoshogiku, who seems to have survived the Sekiwake “hell” week with a winning score, and the possibility or racking up 10 wins. While in general I would encourage him to retire and move on to his new career of being a coach, it would be outstanding if his last act as a sekitori were to regain his Ozeki title.

Also in Ozeki land, Terunofuji – the real Terunofuji – has been gracing the dohyo once more after a long and miserable absence. If you have recently started to follow sumo, his performance this basho is more in line with the kind of sumo that made him Ozeki, and once made him actually feared.

Highlight Matches

Takakeisho defeats Ura – Takakeisho was in charge the whole time, even though Ura twice attempted his space-time defying back bend. Ura fans, like myself, need to keep in mind that there will be an adjustment period where he figures out Makuuchi. My only desire for him this basho is Kachi-koshi. Ura’s apology to the shimpan for the spontaneous lap dance was nice – the guy is total class.

Sadanoumi defeats Kyokushuho – Huge effort from both rikishi, this battle was a strength contest that played out across the dohyo of an extended period. Great effort from Kyokushuho in spot of his hurt knee.

Ishiura defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi is totally hapless these days, and I kind of feel sorry for him. Today’s bout with Ishiura was no exception, where the two grappled to a stalemate, then Ishirua unleashed an improvised move that turned into a rare kimarite: shitatehineri. Or as I would call it an under arm tea-bagging.

Tochinoshin defeats Myogiryu – via a dirty henka

Okinoumi defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan is no longer undefeated, and Okinoumi made it look easy.

Endo defeats Chiyoshoma – Outstanding technicals on this bout. Every time I think Endo has lost his mojo, he has a day like today where he does some really nice “if you are watching closely” stuff and stumps his opponent.

Hokutofuji defeats Arawashi – Hokutofuji went yotsu-zumō today, and it worked really well. Arawashi had a good chance at a throw, bout could not close the deal. As a college Yokozuna, I hope that Hokutofuji will employ mawashi fighting more now that he is in the top division.

Chiyonokuni defeats Yoshikaze – This lasted only a second, and Chiyonokuni won via hikiotoshi, or if you watch it the kimarite was really the “testicle-blow-by technique” deftly employed by Chiyonokuni. I would not be surprised to find out later that Chiyonokuni broke wind as Yoshikaze went sailing past his nethers. Strange and wonderful sumo indeed.

Kotoshogiku defeats Shohozan – Shohozan repeated Mitakeumi’s mistke: Hey, lets go chest to chest with the human bulldozer! Once again, having done the hard work for him, Shohozan was out backwards over the tawara before he could react.

Takayasu defeats Sokokurai – Winning technique should have been “Tachiai so strong that it loosened three fillings”. Not sure what kind of magic Takayasu is using, but he is ripe for a Henka in the coming week. That Tachiai is brutal and strong.

Terunofuji defeats Takekaze – Or should read, Terunofuji picks up 330 pound Takekaze like a bale of hay and removes him from the dohyo. If Terunofuji gets tired of sumo he can seek gainful employment as a piece of heavy machinery.

Kisenosato defeats Mitakeumi – Of course he does. Can anyone stop the great pumpkin now? He is so in his grove and his sumo is exactly what he wants every time. Everyone who thought he was not Yokozuna worthy can now get to the back of the line.

Harumafuji defeats Shodai – This bout made me very happy. Not because I don’t love me some Shodai, but Harumafuji looked more like his own self for the first time this basho. Word to Shodai, you are always too high on the tachiai. I know you are trying to protect your face, but it’s how you lose in the first moment of battle. You have to decide if you want to stay pretty or be good. Keep in mind, Yoshikaze was once a very handsome man.

Handicapping The Haru Banzuke – Part 2


banzuke2a

The Meat Grinder & Cannon Fodder

In the first of our series speculating on the Haru banzuke, we took at look at the San’yaku ranks, which face fierce competition for the competitive ranks, and significant injury and problems in the “permanent” ranks.

Today we look at the rikishi who have hard work to earn their pay, the upper half of Maegashira ranks.  As with the first group, this is all purely speculative, and based on some formula concocted by myself in an attempt to guess where the Nippo Sumo Kyokai will rank the men for the March tournament in Osaka.

Plugging everyone’s win/loss record, the difficulty of their foes, a scoring factor for their rank (harder to move up the higher you were in the banzuke) and a few other magic elements, we get this prospective ranking:

East Rank West
Ikioi Maegashira 1 Takekaze
Takarafuji Maegashira 2 Sokokurai
Tochinoshin Maegashira 3 Shohozan
Arawashi Maegashira 4 Takanoiwa
Yoshikaze Maegashira 5 Endo
Ichinojo Maegashira 6 Chiyonokuni
Hokutofuji Maegashira 7 Aoiyama

Ikioi is an amazingly popular rikishi with the public, and his posting to Maegashira 1e for the Osaka basho will only ramp public interest higher, above and beyond the current Kisenosato mania sweeping Japan.  Ikioi’s sumo has been improving steadily, and the NSK probably assume it’s time to give him a test for a San’yaku slot in the near future. Interestingly enough, the sumotori with the highest “mathematical” rank is Sokokurai! Sokokurai had 11 wins, his “rank velocity” (win vs loss * rank factor * schedule difficulty) was an astounding 9.9, higher than anyone and well ahead of second highest Ichinojo. But I think the Maegashira 1 ranks are prized positions, and the Nippon Sumo Kyokai will likely put Ikioi’s impact on the popularity of sumo foremost. Takekaze moves up from Maegashira 5 to a Maegashira 1 spot at Haru, and we will see if the veteran can fend off the up-and-coming crowd.

Takarafuji benefits from the chaos and blood bath at the upper end of Makuuchi in January, landing solidly at Maegashira 2e, and a chance to rack up kinboshi against a wounded Yokozuna crew.  Joining him is Sokokurai at Maegashira 2w, the rikishi who computed out to the highest “rank velocity” of anyone coming out of Hatsu. If he continues his strong streak from Hatsu, he will present a really good opponent to many top rikishi.

Tochinoshin drops 3 slots from Komusubi to Maegashira 3, he had a terrible record before his injuries forced him to withdraw. To be honest, it will be interesting to see if he is even healed up enough to compete, but as always Tachiai wishes the big Georgain the best of fortune. Joining him at Maegashira 3w is Yokozuna Kisenosato‘s dew-sweeper, Shohozan.

Takanoiwa,  who has been really blowing the doors off of his competition, raises from Maegashira 10 to Maegashira 4. I put him on the west side, which draws a slightly easier schedule.  However, if there is a lack of fierce Ozeki class competition, we may once again see score inflation among the up-and-coming rikishi, and I would look for Takanoiwa to excel. Joining him is Arawashi falling from Maegashira 2 in January.

Yoshikaze (a favorite of mine) seems to have been ranked in a very comfortable spot, as the computation put him at the same rank, but moved him from West to East. Joining him at Maegashira 5 is fan favorite Endo, whose make-koshi in January pushed him down from M2.

Another of the levitating next-gen rikishi, Ichinojo, leaps to Maegashira 6 from his prior spot at Maegashira 13.  Frankly, I am not sure if he is ready for this intensity of competition, but we will see in March how he fares. His computed “rank velocity” was an impressive 7.7, which was more than Takanoiwa.  Joining him is Chiyonokuni, who turned in a solid performance in January at Maegashira 8.

Rounding out the upper portion of the Maegashira ranks, we the rather impressive Hokutofuji at Maegashira 7e, with man-mountain Aoiyama broadly occupying the Maegashira 7w position.  This is one of the cases where even though Aoiyama was able to turn in a winning record (8-7), there was a huge cohort with strong winning records, with victories over higher ranked rikishi, and they ended up passing him by.

Keep in mind – this exercise is for discussion purposes for the most part. So feel free to leave comments, and alternate opinions. I am hoping to tune my formulas over time, and this first attempt should not be taken too seriously.

Tune in Friday for part 3!

Hatsu Day 14 Summary – The New Talent Continues to Excel


day14b

Sumo’s Bright Future On Display

The second to last day of the January tournament turned in several thrilling matches, as low ranked Maegashira paired off against senior Sekitori to test their potential at future higher ranks. In general the new talent gave a very good showing, and in some cases surprised their senior opponents.

First there were visitors from Juryo today in the upper division, starting with Ura. Clearly Ura liked his first taste of Kensho, and was looking for more. Sadanoumi had a straight ahead approach, but a match with Ura requires improvisation. Juryo Daieisho also showed a great deal of poise and balance in his win over Takakeisho, having him his make-koshi (ouch!). The battle looked all Takakeisho until Daieisho executed a stunning thrust / throw at the tawara.

Ishiura’s dirty henka over Osunaarashi was demeaning, and Osunaarashi’s icy glare post match told the whole story. It was not like Osunaarashi had the strength in his lower body to offer much of a challenge. This was purely an insult. Chiyoo looked very good handing Kotoyuki his make-koshi, and survived a lot of really well place thrusts from Kotoyuki. Chiyoo eventually got a belt hold and gave Kotoyuki a nice hug-n-chug to exit him from the ring.

Takekaze displayed yet another fantastic, crowd pleasing Judo style throw in his win over Chiyootori, who sadly is now make-koshi and may be headed back to Juryo. Kaisei seems to have finally remembered his sumo, and will possibly save himself from further demotion. It does beg the question of why it seems to take him so many bouts in a tournament to get warmed up. His limited box of moves is “I am enormous and weight more than a side of beef”, so it limits him.

Mitakeumi gets to double digit wins in his blistering match against Hokutofuji, who is certainly fighting strong this basho. Keep an eye on Hokutofuji, as he has yet to turn in a losing record in his sumo career. Much as I worried, Takayasu was surprised by Sokokurai, who executed a fantastic move at the tawara that seems to have embarrassed Takayasu. This should be a lesson to the joi – don’t underestimate Sokokurai.

I felt a bit sorry for Ichinojo taking on Kisenosato. Here is a Maegashira 13 facing the dai-Ozeki, and clearly he is as nervous as can be. After a false start, you can clearly see his composure crumple and drift away. On the second attempt, Kisenosato easily escorts him out. If Ichinojo can stay healthy, and stay at this weight or lower, he has potential. But I fear he may end up like Terunofuji, where his body fails him after a few years. Ikioi picked up his kachi-koshi against poor Kotoshogiku who now carries a double-digit loss, and has nothing left.

Lastly, once again, Takanoiwa defeated Yokozuna Hakuho convincingly. The Yokozuna was driven back, raised up and Takanoiwa applied a series of hip-pumps to push Hakuho out. It was a shocking upset, and re-awakens concerns over Hakuho’s post-surgery strength and endurance.

Hatsu Day 14 Preview


day-14

Final Weekend Begins

Hatsu has been an interesting tournament for fans, but it has been brutal for Sumo’s talent. In the top division alone there have been 4 rikishi that have withdrawn with injuries, and many more (such as Kotoshogiku and Osunaarashi) who continue on although they should probably be nursing their wounds.

It would be easy to think of day 14 is filler while we all wait for the final, all important battle between Yokozuna Hakuho and Ozeki Kisenosato, but in fact there are a number of sumotori who are still fighting to secure their winning record (kachi-koshi). This includes

Sadanoumi who will fight Ura in the first bout of Makuuchi, Aoiyama who fights Kagayaki in a battle of slaps, Chiyoshoma who fights Daishomaru , and Ikioi who faces hapless doomed Ozeki Kotoshogiku.

There also seems to be a number of “test matches” that feature men from much lower down the banzuke trying their sumo against upper ranked rikishi. These will likely give us some good idea of how they might perform after their expected promotions. This includes

Takayasu vs Sokokurai – Komusubi (working to start an Ozeki run) vs Maegashira 10, but they have even records, and Sokokurai is a real contender. I am certain that Takayasu will take this match seriously, and it could be a real brawl.

Kisenosato vs Ichinojo – The dai-Ozeki vs Maegashira 13, but Ichinojo will be no walk in the park. He has lost a lot of weight, and is in good fighitng form now. Its expected that Kisenosato will dispatch him, but Ichinojo’s size, weight and strength means it’s going to take some work.

Mitakeumi vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji shows hints of being a very strong, dominant member for the new class of rikishi. He goes against Mitakeumi who has really impressed this tournament. On day 13, Mitakeumi looked a little bit spent, but we think he will gamberize for this match.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyotairyu – The mobile attack platform know as Yoshikaze will test Chiyotairyu, who is only Maegashira 14. The Berserker is a personal favorite, but he seems to be slowing down a bit these days. He still has skill and speed on his side.

Hakuho vs Takanoiwa – So the greatest Yokozuna of our age is going against a Maegashira 10. Takanoiwa comes in at 10-3, but it’s all against the bottom half of Makuuchi. I expect Hakuho to fold him like a paper airplane and send him up, up and away.