Day 7 – Redemption Will Wait


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I want a shot at redemption
Don’t want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard

Paul Simon

The basho is turning wackier, with only Hakuho anchoring it at the moment.

Let’s start from the end this time. Hokutofuji grabs his third kinboshi, from the kinboshi dispenser that Kisenosato is proving to be. He takes a different tactic than Takakeisho and Shohozan, and combines nodowa with a right ottsuke which doesn’t allow the Yokozuna to get a left-hand grip.

I would expect the Yokozuna to just rely on his right hand, but he seems to be baffled and lost, and after a few dances around the dohyo Hokutofuji sends him out. Third loss for Kisenosato, and the sigh of relief from his fans yesterday seems to have been premature.

He is in an interesting position if he wants to go kyujo, though. You don’t just decide that you don’t want to participate. You have to hand in a medical certificate. And with the storm brewing around Takanoiwa’s medical certificate, the Kyokai is going to be checking that the certificates it gets are genuine. If he hands in a certificate regarding the state of his left arm and chest, he’ll probably have to abide by whatever the doctors recommend for it, and I doubt that it will just be “two weeks rest”.

In the penultimate match, we have our only reliable yokozuna keeping his finger in the dike. Onosho said after the two trained together, that “the training was a valuable lesson for him to win their real bout”. I think he meant it, because he actually prevented Hakuho from getting any sort of grip on either his mawashi or his body. So Hakuho switched to plan B, sidestepped and handed Onosho his second tsukiotoshi of the basho. So in fact Onosho’s only win so far is against “Guilty Feet Have Got No Rhythm” Harumafuji on day 1.

Goeido‘s match with Shohozan seems to have been a replay of yesterday’s match with Chiyotairyu. Shohozan takes the initiative, and Goeido just reacts and retreats, and can’t find a way to attack. This is his second loss, he drops out of the chaser list. Also, he wanted to redeem himself for the last basho, and that redemption will be really hard to achieve now, because he really needs to do superb sumo from now on to make himself look like an Ozeki again, much less a candidate for a rope-run.

Takayasu, on the other hand, having made no vows, maintains a cool head after his losses. He takes Chiyonokuni‘s belt right from the tachiai. Chiyonokuni manages to escape the grip and plans to launch one of his cat-bat flurries, but he is too close to the edge and Takayasu gets him out before he can do anything. Takayasu needs to scrape three more wins to clear his kadoban, and with only one Yokozuna and one Ozeki to face in the second week, has a very good chance of doing so.

The Kotoshogiku vs. Yoshikaze bout starts well for old Giku, although Yoshikaze denies him the hips. But it seems that Kotoshogiku doesn’t have enough stamina and simply loses power after holding Yoshikaze against the tawara for a few seconds. Yoshikaze takes advantage and runs Kotoshogiku to the other side of the ring.

Tamawashi runs all over Mitakeumi. It seems Mitakeumi doesn’t even know what hit him.

I didn’t like the Takakeisho we saw today. It was too much like his old self, which may mean he is developing a Goeido-like tendency for version-flipping. Chiyotairyu attacks and attacks, only to have Takakeisho sidestep and hand him the tsukiotoshi. Well, Takakeisho can always say that he didn’t do anything that Hakuho didn’t do.

Ichinojo seems to have decided to go as Aminishiki today. Only, being about two times as thick as Aminishiki, he can’t move sideways fast enough, and Tochiozan‘s grabbed head simply meets his torso. Oops. But this basho Ichinojo thinks fast on his feet, and he manages to recover and push his opponent. Yet another win for the boulder. Tomorrow he faces the ailing Yokozuna, which is going to be a challenge for him, as he is not the kind of oshi man that Hokutofuji or Takakeisho are. Anyway, go go bridge abutment!

I don’t know exactly how, but Takarafuji actually managed a worse tachiai than Shodai. It seems he can’t win on days Aminishiki wins. Problem is, of course, that Aminishiki wins a lot. Shodai pushes him all the way out, and today Isegahama has only Aminishiki and Terutsuyoshi to look to… wait a minute, you really have to see this:

Terutsuyoshi faces the hitherto undefeated Sokokurai. The bout ends pretty quickly, only… they touch the ground at the same time. Then there are two whole minutes of monoii. And a torinaoshi.

But it is well worth the wait, because what follows is really, really exciting sumo. Kudos to both Terutsuyoshi and Sokokurai, to whom I apologized for the jinx of mentioning yesterday that he was undefeated.

OK, so this was more than a minute. More like 8 minutes (unless you were smart and skipped the monoii). We now go back to our scheduled programming.

Arawashi doesn’t waste much time in his match with Daishomaru. Unlike yesterday’s annoying henka, he gets right into a belt grip and pushes Daishomaru all the way to the other side. Quick and clean, and he keeps himself in the chaser group.

Chiyoshoma is disappointed again today. He manages to get a good grip on Endo and tries a suso-harai. Failing that he loses that shallow grip and his balance with it.

Daieisho tries a tsuppari attack against Tochinoshin. But the Georgian pays no attention, and gets him where he wants him – in a strong mawashi grip. From then there’s only one way for Daieisho, and that’s out.

It’s the seventh day. Seven is an odd number, and on odd days, Chiyomaru loses. Like clockwork. What is that slow, weak tachiai supposed to mean? Kaisei takes the gift and says thank you very much.

Ikioi seemed to have the upper hand in his bout with Okinoumi. But eventually, both fell down, nearly the same time, the shimpan had to consult amongst themselves before awarding Okinoumi the white star.

What’s up with Asanoyama? Where is the strong sumo we saw yesterday? Or is he only capable of executing that against feeble old men? Myogiryu sails forward easily and picks his fourth win.

I’d like to say that Kagayaki wins when he doesn’t do his Kermit Flail. But, well, this was basically a fluke. He did almost get Nishikigi in a kotonage, but then Nishikigi grabbed a hold of his hand – maybe with a tottari in mind, and dragged him to the other side, but then both fell, and unfortunately for Nishikigi, he fell first.

We’re down to the geriatric battle of the day. I’ve been waiting for this bout since the results of Aki became known, but it was a little too short for pleasure. Takekaze is on his way to Juryo, or to intai, and if Aminishiki wasn’t older than he, I’d berate him for harassing the elderly. The tachiai commences with a coconut clash, which seems to bother Uncle not at all. And then he did his push-me-pull-you trick and rolled the Oguruma man like a die.

That’s it, other than Kotoyuki quickly giving Daiamami another black star, though both will probably see each other in Juryo in Hatsu.

Leaders

Our Supreme Leader, Father Of Phoenixes, Ruler of Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, King Of Kings, Hakuho Sho.

Chasers

Hokutofuji (M3)
Ichinojo (M4)
Arawashi (M5)
Okinoumi (M12)
Aminishiki (M13)

Not a single member of the sanyaku in this list!


As you know, I follow Naruto beya. So here is Torakio trying to break a world record in matta. Be that as it may, the Bulgarian is kachi-koshi, 4-0, and who knows, may have his eyes on the jonidan yusho.

Day 6 – There Can Be Only One


hakuho-2017-11-day-06
Another day at the office

Day 6 leaves us with only one man having any mathematical possibility of a zensho-yusho. Of course, the basho is still in early days, and the king may lose his crown yet, but at the moment, Hakuho reigns supreme.

But he is not the only sekitori with a clean, white score sheet. Down in Juryo, there is another man who is 6-0. The name may sound familiar: he’s a former chicken farmer, the only Chinese national on the banzuke. I give you Sokokurai!

Today the Inner-Mongolian had a match with the other all-win Juryo man, young Abi. Abi was all over the veteran, with his signature quick moves, but Sokokurai secured first a left-hand belt grip, then a morozashi, and showed Abi the way out with an okuridashi.

While we are in Juryo, want to see a beautiful kakenage? Here is the bout between Yutakayama and Kyokutaisei:

And now, how about a wardrobe malfunction, featuring, unsurprisingly, Ishiura messing around with a mawashi knot?

The way it looks, one of the shimpan must have informed the gyoji that the knot was untied, as he wasn’t in an angle to see it. So Ryuden – whom I must have jinxed yesterday in my comments about his standing among obasan – was lucky to lose by shitatenage rather than by exposure of manhood.

BTW, is it only me, or did Ishiura take advantage of the situation to improve his hold on the knot?

My advice to sekitori who are assigned to Ishiura: get your tsukebito to sew your mawashi knot before the bout.

OK, moving on to the Makuuchi, what did we have today?

Nishikigi is showing surprising tenacity, and at this rate, will secure his stay in Makuuchi for yet another basho. His match with Myogiryu was a battle for grips, but as Myogiryu changed his grip that last time, Nishikigi drove him out of the ring. Those grip changes are always risky.

Kagayaki is back to his bad sumo, where he looks more like Kermit the Frog flailing wildly than like a sumo wrestler with effective tsuppari. Kotoyuki says thank you and goodbye.

Asanoyama decided he has to regain his sumo, which is a good thing, but the hapless rival is our favorite Aminishiki, who is now down with the rest of the chasers. I hope he hasn’t damaged good old Uncle Sumo. That throw was all like “You wanted to get back to Makuuchi? Well, let me remind you what Makuuchi is really like”. Very aggressive. But can’t blame him. Aminishiki knows he is playing with the big boys again. Anyway, Asanoyama was on the offensive from the start, and although Aminishiki was the first to securely grab some silk, Asanoyama grabbed some of his own on the same side and performed that decisive uwatenage. Let’s hope Aminishiki returns tomorrow with his sneaky sumo and funny interviews.

Okinoumi certainly looks genki, and Endo didn’t make his bout easy in any way, as he was on the offensive and secured a grip with his right hand. But it was Okinoumi who grabbed his arm for a kotenage at the end.

Day 6 is an even day! And on even days, Chiyomaru brings his sumo to the arena! His match with Ikioi starts with a tsuppari barrage, and then suddenly he goes for a hug. Of course, no way for him to get anywhere close to Ikioi’s mawashi, but he doesn’t need to. He simply pushes the man down for a tsukiotoshi.

Kaisei doesn’t give Daishomaru any room to do anything. This bout was over in a flash, with Kaisei driving the maru in a quick arch to the bales.

Shodai‘s bout with Daieisho is also a matter of seconds. Shodai was simply not there today.

Continuing with the flash bouts, Chiyoshoma and Arawashi was supposed to be a lovely bout, but here is one henka I could certainly do without. The Japanese announcer: “It was disappointing sumo today”.

Curiously, now that Aminishiki has lost, it seems like everybody else in Isegahama finally started to win. I checked, and Homarefuji and even poor Terutsuyoshi who was winless until today won. And they are joined by Takarafuji, who unbelievably wins a tsuppari battle with Chiyonokuni.

Ichinojo bounces back from yesterday’s loss. Well, not “bounces”. More like “rises ponderously”. It’s a battle between his weight and patience and Tochinoshin‘s strength. Tochinoshin is the first to secure two hands on Ichinojo’s mawashi, although one of them is at the front. Ichinojo manages to undo that grip, and eventually they settle into a standard migi-yotsu, and Tochinoshin tries to lift the boulder. Um, no. With all due respect, nobody can lift that thing. And after he wastes his energy on this attempt, Ichinojo starts pushing him all the way to a plain and simple yori-kiri. I’m glad Tochinoshin did not cause further harm to his knee in that attempt, but go, go Mongolian boulder!

Hokutofuji continues to impress. He keeps his pelvis miles from Kotoshogiku‘s, pushes forward, then retreats fast and pulls the Komusubi down. Kotoshogiku is going to drop back down to Maegashira at this rate.

Tamawashi goes on a slapping match with Yoshikaze. But the elderly sekiwake is not what he used to be. Tamawashi gets him overcommitted and pushes him down.

Even Mitakeumi got the memo: Onosho can be easily beaten if you get him to charge at you like a billy-goat. So they get forwards and backwards a few time, and then Mitakeumi make a fast retreat, and hands Onosho yet another hatakikomi. Sad. In the last basho Onosho said that he learned what his weak points were and he’ll work on them, but I guess he was thinking about different weak points. That man also seems to be heading back to maegashira, unless he learns the art of footwork fast. Mitakeumi, on the other hand, despite his injury, is sailing through quite nicely and is looking to maintain his sekiwake position easily.

Goeido booted up in the wrong mode today. He didn’t really engage Chiyotairyu. He was reactive. And eventually, he lost his balance. Chiyotairyu is probably surprised that he managed to scrape a white star off of the hitherto undefeated Ozeki, and without even breaking much sweat. The Ozeki also drops off the leader list, and joins the legion who will now have to wait for the Dai-Yokozuna to make a mistake.

Takayasu, however, drops even further, with his second loss of the bout. He was actually initiating a strong tsuppari, but he didn’t seem to realize that Takakeisho is a newer model from the same locomotive factory where he himself was manufactured. The Ozeki found himself further away from the center than he wanted, and got pushed out decisively.

And finally we get actual Yokozuna sumo from Kisenosato. This one was decisive and dominant, despite the fact that Tochiozan had him in a Morozashi for a couple of seconds. And did my eyes decieve me or did Kisenosato use his left side to twist Tochiozan back for the tsukiotoshi? More of this, please, Kisenosato. We are low on Yokozuna right now!

Finally, another wonderful textbook uwatenage from the Lord Of The Ring, Hakuho. Tachiai. Slap. Quick migi-yotsu. Drag to the tawara. Then perform the throw. And as both bodies were already on a trajectory, the Yokozuna deftly lifts his left leg and gives Shohozan a little more torque to ensure that he falls down first. Again, a work of art.

The leader list:

only one man. The almighty Hakuho.

The chaser list:

Goeido (O)
Mitakeumi (S)
Hokutofuji (M3)
Ichinojo (M4)
Arawashi (M5)
Okinoumi (M12)
Aminishiki (M13)


For your enjoyment, here are the Taka Twins – with a guest appearance by Enho!

Enho/Takayoshitoshi

Takagenji/Daiseido

Nagoya Day 9 Preview


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Juryo 5 Asanoyama (朝乃山)

Another Day Of Rising Stars.

Within the next couple of days, we are likely to start the part of the schedule that focuses on matches between the remaining Ozeki and Yokozuna. But before that, we get a nice opportunity for more of these crazy “what if” matches to take place. I don’t expect either Ura or Kagayaki to really change the score for the yusho race, but it’s amazing to see these two young rikishi go flat out in a bid to make their mark.

Thus far, the Nagoya basho has been extremely entertaining, and packed with some great sumo. Readers will recall that I had my worries about Juryo by this time last basho. Sadly most folks in the west don’t get much exposure to Juryo, as it is not shown as part of the NHK highlight shows. But there is an entire additional division below Makuuchi, which you can think of as a farm team for Makuuchi. Juryo is actually quite exciting right now, as rikishi Asanoyama (朝乃山) is undefeated and already has his kachi-koshi. He joined sumo from Kinki University, and has only been in sumo for 9 basho. He took the Makushita at new years, and is tearing up Juryo this tournament, after tying for the Juryo yusho in Osaka. He stands a decent chance to contend for the Juryo again this basho, and we may see him Makuuchi soon. Below is a video of his day 8 match against Kyokushuho

 

In the Makuuchi yusho race, it seems only the Ozeki and Harmuafuji face any chance of throwing a loss to Hakuho, and both a Hakuho yusho and zensho are quite possible now. So we wait to see when the Hakuho – Takayasu match turns up, representing the best chance to make the yusho completive.

Nagoya Leader board

Leader – Hakuho
Chasers – Takayasu, Aoiyama
Hunt Group – Harumafuji, Onosho, Chiyotairyu, Takarafuji

7 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 9

Takarafuji vs Nishikigi – Takarafuji has not made many of the highlight shows broadcast in the west, but the rikishi with no neck has been really turning in the wins, and deserves some closer coverage. Currently at 6-2, he goes up against a resurgent Nishikigi. I am expecting both of these rikishi to have solid kachi-koshi records and be mid level Maegashira for Aki. This will only be their second match up, with their first going to Takarafuji.

Arawashi vs Sokokurai – I am very happy to see Arawashi apparently over his injuries that kept him from top form during Natsu, and back with some excellent sumo. Sadly Sokokurai is struggling, and may continue to beg for wins.

Chiyotairyu vs Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki is headed back to Juryo, and was talking to himself today. Never a good sign. Chiyotairyu is quite solid this basho, and is looking for a strong finish. Much like Natsu, I expect a handful of lower Maegashira to approach or achieve 10 win records, and be nominated for a beat down in the joi in September.

Aoiyama vs Chiyonokuni – Speaking of the Aki bruise and ache club, Aoiyama is one shy of kachi-koshi now, and may be able to lock up his majority wins against Chiyonokuni. There are significant logistical and mechanical problems to fighting someone the size and geometry of Aoiyama. If you don’t get inside of him fast and apply torsion to his upper torso (aka a Tokyo Twister), he tends to pummel you senseless with those giant fleshy arms, all the while hypnotizing you with his pendulous man-boobs. Whatever you do, Chiyonokuni – don’t look.

Okinoumi vs Onosho – Okinoumi seems to have gotten in his grove and is at least putting up a good contest, but at the moment Onosho refuses to lose. So I am guessing this may go fast. This is their first meeting, and I am sure that Onosho is going to open hard and fast. Hopefully he keeps his eyes on Okinoumi, as the veteran might be wise to consider a full or mini-henka.

Shodai vs Tochinoshin – Shodai’s closing move on his day 8 match may have escaped fans, but it was very careful and quite precise. I tend to give Shodai a hard time because of his tachiai, but he is a solid sumotori in so many other areas. A chest-to-chest battle with Tochinoshin won’t be to Shodai’s advantage, so I will be curious to see what strategy he employs.

Kotoshogiku vs Mitakeumi – These two have split their 6 prior matches, and it’s bound to be a good fight this time. Ojisan Kotoshogiku seems to have found some energy, and is actually putting up some decent sumo now. Mitakeumi is likely smarting from his day 8 loss (he even landed hard). I expect Mitakeumi to be fired up and for the Kyushu Bulldozer to move fast to control the match and keep Mitakeumi from a run-and-gun strategy, which favors him.

Tamawashi vs Takakeisho – Tamawashi is teetering on the edge of getting into losing territory. He wants to make a strong case to begin Ozeki consideration, and he needs to win from here on out to do that. Takakeisho has been getting pounded daily, and everyone expected that. But Takakeisho mounts the dohyo and gives it all each time, which tells us he will be back, and more prepared next time. His romper room special with Hakuho seems to have not damaged his confidence, which I was fairly sure it would not. Seriously folks, these sumotori are physically and mentally tough people. Heya life is rough, and its a very Darwinistic culture.

Takayasu vs Yoshikaze – Evenly matched by their prior bouts. Sadly this is probably the match where Yoshikaze’s face starts bleeding daily as Takayasu has become very fond of forearm smashes at the tachiai. Yoshikaze seems to be a notch lower in intensity than the first 5 days, and I seriously worry he is hurt.

Ura vs Harumafuji – We all know that Harumafuji is going to win handily, but like his match with Hakuho, I think we are going to see Ura make “The Horse” work for it. Their first match, and it will likely be fast.

Hakuho vs Kagayaki – After standing up manfully to Harumafuji, Kagayaki draws an appointment with “The Boss”. I am certain of a Hakuho win (to tie Chiyonofuji’s all time win score of 1045), but how long can Kagayaki stay in the match? The man in gold is about to find out.

Nagoya Day 8 Highlights


Hakuho-Salt

Simply, Some Fantastic Sumo!

This is one of the days that I wish the NHK show was more than just highlights. There was a wide variety of great sumo, from the first Makuuchi matches all the way up to the Yokozuna finals.

The young crop of rikishi who are competing at the very top of sumo for the first time are really recusing themselves well. We are not seeing waves of upset wins, that was never in the cards. But we are seeing young men with skill and a lot of determination going into matches they will not win with a plan to compete hard, and delivering a challenge to some of the best sumo has ever seen.

It should be noted that Aoiyama lost his match today against upstart Onosho, breaking his really fantastic unbeaten streak. I don’t really cover Aoiyama much, because he is a very one dimensional rikishi. He will execute his bouts in a given manner, and will rarely stray from that plan. This used to be Mitakeumi’s problem too, but he managed to expand his sumo, and as a result he is consistently fighting at San’yaku level now. Is it possibly for Aoiyama to be viable at higher ranks? I hold dear the notion that any person can adapt, survive and overcome. So for Aoiyama, I think it’s going to be about setting a goal and working hard to attain it.

Hakuho is now one win away from tying Chiyonofuji’s all time win mark of 1045. Short of an asterioid strike or a tragic injury, we will see Hakuho take out Kiao’s (yeah, that guy in the picture) all time high of 1047. It’s difficult to review the entirety of Hakuho’s career without devolving into a rolling mess of superlatives, and this additional record heaps those superlatives ever higher.

Highlight Matches

Takekaze defeats Chiyomaru – Huge effort from Chiyomaru here, really stood up to a pounding delivered by Takekaze at first, then Chiyomaru locked up the veteran to wear him down. They stood chest to chest for an extended period and it was Takekaze who broke the stalemate with a last ditch hip pumping attack. Great great sumo here.

Chiyonokuni defeats Gagamaru – So happy that Chiyonokuni has overcome whatever had him lethargic and losing during the first week. The battle with Planet Gagamaru was excellent effort from both rikishi, and it could have gone either way. Watch this one if you can find it! It’s not common to see Gagamaru this active and committed to battle.

Tokushoryu defeats Sokokurai – Although Sokokurai put up a great fight, Tokushoryu just kept moving forward. This is a fundamental principle of sumo that every Takakeisho learns, but many don’t always put into practice. As my readers may have guessed, I am a big fan of the fundamentals, and when I see them executed well, I call it out.

Takanoiwa defeats Okinoumi – At the bleeding edge of make-koshi, Takanoiwa pulls out a win. It did look like Okinoumi lost his footing and fell, but it was still a win.

Ishiura defeats Ichinojo – Yes yes yes! Sumo has these great big man / little man bouts, and this was about as large a difference as you might ever muster. Ichinojo really had Ishiura on the defense from the start, and it’s fun to see Ishiura deploy his take on Hakuho in a bout like this. Ishiura has now pulled even to 4-4.

Onosho defeats Aoiyama – I am starting to think that Onosho will get to have the “Takakeisho experience” next basho, as this young rikishi keeps turning up the power. The bout was mostly Onosho driving forward after finding a way to get Aoiyama off balance. Very nicely done.

Tochinoshin defeats Ikioi – Crowd favorite Ikioi has been sucking wind this basho, I hope that whatever has him underperforming can be resolved. Tochinoshin took a side step at the tachiai and got behind Ikioi to take control, but Ikioi recovered well enough to put up a bit of a struggle.

Shodai defeats Tamawashi – Shodai was high again in the tachiai, but was able to take charge of Tamawashi and defeat his offensive strategy. Very good effort from Shodai, and I hope we see more from him like this.

Takakeisho defeats Mitakeumi – This match was a joy to watch. We already know that Mitakeumi will be a San’yaku fixture for the next several basho, but it’s great to see just how much effort Takakeisho can bring to a match like this. Turns out, quite a bit! Watching these two with the same build, the same height and the same mawashi color is a bit unsettling. Well done lads!

Goeido 2.0 defeats Hokutofuji – I love me some Hokutofuji (Kaio Edition), but this was Goeido 2.0 time. He exploded off the line and blasted Hokutofuji out. When I talk about Goeido 2.0, it’s this total commitment to his attack plan, with no chance or hope of a defensive move anywhere along the way. Just overwhelm your opponent and accelerate to victory.

Takayasu defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma decides to grab Takayasu’s mawashi, and sumo nerds crack a smile. Yeah, let the big man hug you to victory. Thank you Chiyoshoma for doing that.

Hakuho defeats Ura – As foretold by our readers and the Tachiai team, it was all Hakuho. But damn Ura, that was a strong game plan, and I think you actually made the boss work for his win. I am not sure about Hakuho, but I was impressed that Ura was able to operate effectively. Hakuho is, essentially, unstoppable at this point. Yes, the crowd went bannannas.

Harumafuji defeats Kagayaki – The young Kagayaki really did not have much of a chance, but he put up a fantastic fight. As with the Hakuho-Ura match, he made him work for it. Kagayaki is still too inconsistent to be much of a fight, but sumo fans can see that he’s got the spark of potential to be great.

Nagoya Day 2 Preview


Yoshikaze

Will The Ozeki Corps Recover?

Day One was the kind of open that sumo fans dream about. The unexpected was out in full force, and everyone had their expectations re-set (myself included). As Tachiai had been implying, the up-and-coming crop of young rikishi are working hard to de-throne much of the established brand name sumotori we have loved for years. This is the natural order of things, and I welcome it. Be aware, things will revert to normal soon, possibly on day 2. Ozeki and Yokozuna have lost face massively, and they will fight with redoubled strength and determination today.

But it was a beating unlike any that has been seen in at least a decade. Out of the 7 men in the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps, only 2 of them won. There were a couple of telling indications.

Kakuryu – Big K, who is frequently the one everyone worries will fall first, looked convincing and solid. Shodai is easy enough if you know his repeating weakness (crummy tachiai), but Kakuryu looked strong, planted, solid and (dare I say it?) healthy. If we have a genki Kakuryu, the fun factor goes up quite a lot.

Hakuho – Clearly the Boss is back in fighting form. Ojisan Kotoshogiku is a shadow of the Ozeki who won the 2016 Hatsu basho, so Hakuho’s win is no surprise. But the Boss is clearly running well and looking to be is normal dominant self.

Goeido – Did anyone else notice he reconstructed ankle was not taped? And that in his battle of strength with Tochinoshin he was pushing hard with both feet? I am happy to assume now that the repairs were effective, and we may get to see Goeido 2.0 again some day.

Kisenosato – Clearly he is still far short of his normal health. Mitakeumi picked a vulnerable route and worked it hard, with great success. That’s the real problem. As a Yokozuna, you are not supposed to have easily exploitable vulnerabilities.

Yoshikaze – Holy smokes! That was excellent sumo no matter how you slice it. I am greatly impressed that Harumafuji was able to mount such an effective defense at the drop of a hat. Yoshikaze is clearly still having a lot of fun being an active sekitori, and with bouts like day 1, I can see why. The NSK must be happy they made him San’yaku or they would be paying out still more kinboshi.

Once again, like day 1, the interest level in day 2 matches is broad and intense. There is the potential in Nagoya for one of the most pivotal, and exciting tournaments in several years.

Matches We Like

Nishikigi vs Gagamaru – Nishikigi was clearly unhappy with his visit to Juryo last basho, and it was a wake up call to tune up or give up. Today he faces Planet Gagamaru, who is a walking complexity of sumo malfunction. Popular in the broader Japanese media, Gagamaru seems to have lost any edge he may have had in the past.

Sokokurai vs Takekaze – Sokokurai looked very strong day one, and he needs some momentum going into week two. Tachiai expects any number of kyujo rikishi to throw chaos into scheduling, and any wrestler with a decent record will be pulled higher in the torikumi to fill in. Takekaze is no slouch, and he needs to get out of the lower Maegashira ranks to keep himself in business.

Chiyonokuni vs Arawashi – Chiyonokuni was lost and off balance day 1. He has in the past been strong and poised, and we worry the thumping he took during Natsu wrecked his confidnece and drive to win. He will get no quarter from Arawashi, who needs to renew his record, too.

Ishiura vs Daieisho – Ishiura pulled out a rather unsavory henka on day 1, and we can be certain that Daieisho is going to bring some caution to his tachiai. Watch for an early attempt at a slap down, or even a Daieisho henka.

Onosho vs Tochiozan – Onosho is picking up where he left off from Natsu. Today he is against Tochiozan, who seems to again be showing some rather good sumo. This is their first match up ever, so very interesting to fans.

Ura vs Chiyoshoma – Ura day 1 was impressive. He was a whirling mass of chaos with an overall theme that he used to his advantage. In their prior two matches, Ura has won them both, but I am looking for Chiyoshoma to deploy something new day 2.

Kagayaki vs Endo – It’s tough watching Endo with the new mawashi. My poor sleep starved mind just associated Endo with his old color. Kagayaki’s big problem is inconsistency. When he is “on” he has what it takes to be an upper Maegashira, but he struggles to maintain that form. Interestingly enough, Endo has yet to defeat Kagayaki!

Hokutofuji vs Mitakeumi – Could be the match of the day. Two lead riskishi in the class of “up and coming” square off for supremacy. Both are formidable, both are capable of winning. Both are going to bring a strong attack. Their only prior match was won by Mitakeumi, so pay attention to this bout!

Terunofuji vs Tamawashi – Terunofuji on day 1 looked quite disorganized. There were some reports that his knees were bothering him in the lead up to Nagoya, and this bout against the hard charging Tamawashi will tell us much about the Ozeki’s health. As a big Terunofuji fan, I do hope he is healthy.

Takayasu vs Ikioi – Ikioi looked like hell on day 1, and completely blew what could and should have been a competitive bout. Takayasu! Get it together! I will be highly agitated if the shin-Ozeki launches his career with a kadoban mark.

Yoshikaze vs Goeido – As with day 1, Goeido will need to decide if he wants to go strength or speed. If he lets Yoshikaze control the match, it will likely be speed and he will have to start on defense. Goeido 2.0 would go left hand inside at the tachiai and heave-ho the berserker off the clay before he can even blink.

Hakuho vs Tochinoshin – I know Tochinoshin is going to put up a strong and vigorous struggle, so I am eager to see how Hakuho wins this one.

Kotoshogiku vs Kakuryu – Bonus points to Big K if he lets Kotoshogiku set up the hip-pump attack and then defeats him. I am convinced a healthy Kakuryu has a way to counter almost any attack, so the more we can see him deploy, the better.

Kisenosato vs Takakeisho – This could be a really important match for several bad reasons. If we see Kisenosato once again defeated directly, it indicates that Japan’s favorite Yokozuna has little choice left except to put himself into the queue for surgery. I know the NSK and Kisenosato do not want that. But it may be that or retirement.

Shodai vs Harumafuji – I am looking for The Horse to get back to form, and to bend Shodai up onto a crane shape prior to sending him back to the dressing room. I think Shodai has a lot of potential, but he needs to work on some fundamentals to get to the next level.

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.