Aki Story 5 – A Challenge For The Tadpoles

sumo-frogs

We already covered the specific challenge for Mitakeumi, and his bid to become the first tadpole to reach Ozeki. There remains the question of the two younger tadpoles: Takakeisho and Onosho. Takakeisho returns to the san’yaku as Komusubi West, while Onosho is just outside of the joi-jin at Maegashira 6.

At only 22 years old, Takakeisho is still on the upward march of his sumo career. His first visit to Komusubi resulted in a 5-10 drubbing that included some important matches. His day one match against Kisenosato was a clear signal of the Yokozuna’s level of damage. It is quite likely we may see a rematch between these two for day 1 of Aki. In the following tournament (March, Osaka 2018) he withdrew from competition with an injury, after started 3-8. Since then he has delivered back to back 10-5 records, and is clearly set to challenge sumo’s top men once more.

While the same age, Onosho started professional sumo 18 months earlier. He spent a good deal of time in Juryo, and at one point dropped back down to Makushita. From there he was driven to higher performance, and landed at Komusubi for Kyushu in 2017, and managed a kachi-koshi after a disastrous 1-6 start. The following tournament in January featured his withdraw from completion on day 10, and remaining out of competition for March as well to heal. His re-entry in May saw him take the Juryo yusho as a pit-stop back to the top division. His 10-5 record in the sweltering heat of Nagoya was only enough to boost him from Maegashira 11 to 6, but frankly for Aki this is a very good rank for him. In the middle of the Maegashira crew, he can and will do a lot of damage to the likes of Asanoyama, Kagayaki, Chiyonokuni and Abi.

Clearly both men are rising stars of the sumo world, and are solid contenders for residency in the san’yaku starting some time in 2019 or 2020. Both of them are very round, very strong and seem to be overwhelmingly driven to train and win. In comparison to some long-serving Makuuchi vets, their youth and energy will likely prove overwhelming. Against their peers (Abi, Kagayaki) their compact body shape and brutal oshi-zumo may seem tough to beat.

The challenge for Takakeisho will be to see him fare better against the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps. The challenge for Onosho will be to see him overwhelm the other rising stars of the Makuuchi. I consider the anticipated Onosho – Yutakayama bout sometime in week 2 as a touchstone of the battles of 2019. Likewise I think the Takakeisho – Hakuho rematch, and the Takakeisho – Kisenosato rematch will be a litmus test of the old guard against the young stars.

We wish both men good health and overall an injury-free Aki basho. We are especially hopeful that we will see Takakeisho make broader use of his “Wave Action Tsuppari” technique, and that Onosho will return his blazing red mawashi to active use.

Aki Story 4 – Ozeki Hopeful Mitakeumi

Mitakeumi Yusho Banner

The Nagoya basho has, over the years, been a place where the unexpected can and does happen. This year witnessed a yusho by Sekiwake Mitakeumi, finishing with a respectable 13-2 record. With his prior tournament performance of 9-6 at Natsu, it was proclaimed that he was pushing for the credentials to be elevated to Ozeki. A successful bid would return us to 3 Yokozuna and 4 Ozeki, last seen in 2016 prior to Kisenosato’s Yokozuna promotion. Many fans have put an asterisk next to Mitakeumi’s July championship, citing just how many of sumo’s top men were injured and either did not compete or were not fighting at full power.

To further complicate matters, Mitakeumi has long been known to perform horribly in test and practice matches in between tournaments. Some commentators have gone as far as to imply that he does not put in the effort required to reach higher rank. His poor showing on practice matches has been especially bad leading up to the Aki basho, some examples:

  • August 30th vs an injured Tochinoshin: 3 – 10
  • August 31st (YDC Soken) against Hakuho, Kakuryu and many others: 1-13
  • September 3rd vs Tochinoshin. Tochiozan and Aoiyama: 6-13
  • September 4th vs Tochinoshin. Tochiozan and Aoiyama: 5-11

To even be considered for Ozeki promotion, Mitakeumi needs at least 11 wins at Aki. Its clear that his practice matches all stink, but this is not necessarily indicative of how he will do during the basho. Much of his fate will be decided by who is healthy enough to compete, it is typical for the Sekiwake to face the Ozeki and Yokozuna (if any) in the second week of the basho. Given the damaged nature of the upper San’yaku, time could be on Mitakeumi’s side. But the psychological advantage of having his portrait hoisted to the rafters of the Kokugikan on Saturday will be undeniable, as will his presence at the start of Sunday’s matches to return the yusho banner and the Emperor’s cup. This may rattle a few of his opponents, or boost his confidence when he needs it most.

One thing is certain, Mitakeumi is going to be pushing for every win he can muster, and we will be watching him with keen interest.

Nagoya 2018 – Tadpoles Rising?

sumo-frogs

Natsu 2018 was a fun ride of a basho, featuring the minting of a new Ozeki, and a long suffering Yokozuna beginning to come into his own.  For our fans, we all noted that one of our favorite groups – the tadpoles – were in rough shape. Both Takakeisho and Onosho had gone kyujo during Osaka and had been tossed unceremoniously down the banzuke. In the case of Onosho, it was all the way to Juryo, landing with a wet, flabby thump.

But as sure as the sun rises, our brave tadpoles came croaking back with gusto.  Onosho blasted his way to a 12-3 Juryo yusho, doing so even without the radiant power of his red mawashi. Takakeisho suffered some early ring-rust, starting the basho 2-5, then he went on to beat all challengers with sumo that improved daily, finishing the tournament with a respectable 10-5 record. Keep in mind, both of these rikishi were coming off of injuries, and may have not been at full tournament power.

Coming into Nagoya, fans should expect the tadpole army, led by Mitakeumi, Takakeisho and Onosho, to be a dominant force for the duration of the basho. Mitakeumi was bypassed by Tochinoshin on his rise to Ozeki, a slot that Mitakeumi has coveted, but the lead tadpole just can’t seem to take the next step up in his sumo. He trains hard, and is dedicated to his craft, but he is somehow just an inch short each time.

Takakeisho finished strong in Tokyo, but his sights are set on the San’yaku again, and he is ready to hunt. Our own forecast banzuke has Takakeisho at Maegashira 4 alongside Kagayaki, just inside the joi. I like this rank for Takakeisho, and I think he is going to play spoiler here. Note to fans, we have not seen him unleash “Wave Action Tsuppari” since January, perhaps due to injury.

We have Onosho at Maegashira 9, where I expect him to be a wrecking ball on the lower end of the banzuke. In fact, it’s possible that he could be counted in contention for the yusho at the end of act 2.  This would be an interesting situation, as many folks lower down the banzuke who seem to be winning a lot have little chance of actually beating a Yokozuna or Ozeki – whereas Onosho has demonstrated his ability to surprise any rikishi on any day.

Nagoya 2018 should be an excellent season for the amphibians, and we will be watching closely as they battle their way through the tournament.

Natsu Senshuraku Comments

Natsu-Macaron

With the final day in the books, we have already covered some of the big news of the day. But before we can consider Natsu complete, there are a few other topics to bring up.

Special Prizes

There was a flurry of special prizes awarded today, in fact more of them than I can remember in recent tournaments.

Shukun-Sho (Outstanding Performance) went to Shohozan, for being the only rikishi to beat the yusho winner, Kakuryu. The prize was dependant on Kakuryu winning the final match. In his sansho interview, you actually get to see Shohozan smile! Nah, it’s still moderately scary.

Kanto-Sho (Fighting Spirit) went off in cluster-bomb fashion to: Tochinoshin, Chiyonokuni and Kyokutaisei. Tochinoshin because he was some kind of European winning machine, Chiyonokuni because he seems to have finally found his sumo at his higher weight, and Kyokutaisei because he went double digits in his first top division basho, and he was a movie star.

Gino-Sho (Technique) went to Tochinoshin, as it seems the NSK want to load him up with sansho before his Ozeki promotion, as a way of saying “Nice work you big bear!”.

Notable Matches

There were also a handful of matches that were worth note

Ishiura executed some actually solid sumo against Juryo visitor Kyokushuho for a win. That win may have saved him from relegation back to the farm division, and we may get to see him occupy the Nishikigi memorial “last slot on the banzuke” position for Nagoya.

Speaking of Nishikigi, he went double digits and handed Asanoyama his make-koshi. For a man who has struggled much the last couple of years, I was impressed to see Nishikigi that genki. I just worry he may get over-promoted.

Takakeisho sounded the call heralding Nagoya’s tadpole march, by racking his 10th win of the basho against Sadanoumi. Takakeisho closed out the basho with 8 continuous wins, after having a very rough start that made his fans worry that he was not going to get his sumo back after going kyujo in Osaka. Never fear, he’s back and he’s ready now it seems. Nagoya will see ur-Tadpole Onosho rejoin the crew, and it’s tadpole sumo once again. Frankly, I can’t wait.

Chiyonokuni put Kagayaki away by controlling the form and pace of the match. With Chiyonokuni hitting 12 wins, he’s going to get a huge promotion for Nagoya, and I am going to guess he is going to suffer much like Natsu of 2017 where he was promoted to the joi, and it took him months to recover. Kagayaki will escape a disastrous promotion velocity and have time to patiently continue to incrementally improve. This guy is going to be a big deal if he can stay healthy.

Yoshikaze got a first hand look at Abi-zumo, and shrugged. Abi was all over the place, doing all kinds of things that don’t normally work in sumo. He’s up on his toes, he’s leaning far forward, and his balance is shifting moment to moment. But hey, it got him 7 wins in the joi, and a kinboshi. But honestly the veterans are starting to deconstruct his attacks, and he’s going to be bottled up soon enough. Hopefully he learns some new tricks, because I think he has a lot of potential.

Tamawashi really needed the win he grabbed over Shodai, he scoped by into kachi-koshi territory, and will likely be back in san’yaku for Nagoya. If he can keep his injuries under control, he will have a chance to dislodge the likes of Ichinojo from his transitional Sekiwake rank.

With Natsu done, all of the rikishi have about 60 days to train, seek treatment for injuries, fly off to Europe to see family or just generally carry on with sumo functions. Big events will come next week, as we are expecting to see at least a handful of retirement announcements, announcements of shin-Sekitori coming from Makushita into Juryo, and the announcement of a new Ozeki in the world of sumo. I will write more later about Tochinoshin, as there is much to examine.

But for now, thanks for reading Tachiai, we have had a great time covering the Natsu basho, and we hope you have enjoyed our site.

Natsu Day 1 Preview

Sumo-Evolution

Yes, dear readers, it is time! We have waited long enough. In the next few hours, set aside your worries about your favorites being hurt: It’s honbasho time! It’s a full day of raging action for day 1 at the Kokugikan, and frankly I can’t wait for all the amazing stories that are about to unfold. Many folks will be focused on the top of the banzuke as the drama there plays out, but I find myself increasingly draw to Josh’s “Ones to watch”. This series has proven remarkably insightful while educating and entertaining. Most folks in the US (and other parts of the world) don’t even get to see all of Makuuchi, let alone all of the great action in Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme and Jonidan.

Just as it was in Osaka, my favorite stories are likely to be at the lower end of the Makuuchi banzuke. Nishikigi continues to refuse to ever give up, and somehow holds onto the last Maegashira slot at the edge of the earth. Aminishiki may have nothing more than courage and gristle left in his knees, but he will mount the dohyo today and give challenge. Kyokutaisei somehow adapted to life in the sumo heya, and excelled. Now he’s in Makuuchi and Hokkaido can finally represent once more. Go Hams!

Fans, keep in mind it will take a few days for everyone to settle into the tournament, so you may see some favorites looking like they are not quite their normal genki selves, and some great surprises. So expect anything!

What We Are Watching Day 1

Hell, I am going to watch all of it. But I am sure you don’t have the time to read everything I might write up about the outstanding fight card we have to start the basho. I will do my best.

Nishikigi vs Aminishiki – Nishikigi will never make San’yaku. He’s kind of blind as a bat without his specs, but even blind he’s good enough to find a way to stay in Makuuchi. Now he’s up against Uncle Sumo on day 1. I am sad for folks who are going to view the highlights, as you are not going to believe the roar that will rip through he Kokugikan as the yobidashi sings out his name. People LOVE Aminishiki. To many folks who might struggle with some challenge in their life, he is a reminder that “Nana korobi ya oki” can always apply! (Fall down seven times, get up eight)

Myogiryu vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei’s first match in the top division is against Myogiryu, a solid veteran who has been drifting between the top of Juryo and the bottom of Makuuchi during the past year.  These two are no strangers to each others’ fighting style. I will be curious to see if Kyokutaisei has any top division jitters.

Tochiozan vs Takekaze – I am very glad to see Takekaze back in the top division after a brief tour of Juryo. For reasons that I can’t imagine, all of the Oguruma upper echelon has been on the skids as of late. I have to wonder if maybe they are having problems with their Chanko supply… Tochiozan, on the other hand, has been reported to be ripping through folks during joint training in the past week. We know Tochiozan is capable of some explosive and powerful sumo, it would be acres of fun to see him have a great basho this May.

Sadanoumi vs Aoiyama – The Bulgarian man-mountain is back for more, like a giant angry dollop of sour cream with the reach to slap you from across the dohyo. Sadanoumi is a seasoned veteran who is probably happy to be pulling down Makuuchi pay again. My bet is on Aoiyama, who always seems to start tournaments strong. With Sadanoumi preferring the belt, he will have to survive the withering rain of blows from Aoiyama to get there.

Ishiura vs Asanoyama – The happy rikishi goes up against Ishiura, whose sumo seems a bit lost these days. He opened big a bit over a year ago, but his limited arsenal of moves has left him in something of a corner. I think he has amazing potential if he can find his sumo again. We can count on Asanoyama being happy just to get to do sumo today, even though he really likes to win.

Arawashi vs Chiyonokuni – As discussed in the podcast, both of these rikishi are tremendous fighters. They bring huge energy and go flat out with nothing in reserve. Both of them deserve a good, turn-around basho this May, but first they need to beat the daylights out of each other.

Takakeisho vs Hokutofuji – One of my highlight matches. Hopefully both men are healed up from the injuries that have left them underperforming. With significant changes at the top of the banzuke anticipated this year, now is the right time for both of them to press hard for the top ranks. We have not seen Takakeisho’s wave action tsuppari in several basho, and we need him to bring it back with gusto. Likewise I want to see Hokutofuji channel Kaiō again. There is a big role that may open up for a huge, powerful rikishi who moves low and balances offense and defense.

Yoshikaze vs Chiyomaru – Another match where the fans are going to erupt when the yobidashi call the rikishi. People adore Yoshikaze, in part because he never ever gives up, and is always bright, witty and a gentleman. And people love Chiyomaru because who the hell can hold a grudge against a guy like that? Word on the street is that with Yoshikaze getting free meals anywhere in Sumida, they are going out for supper afterwards. The same rumor cites Chiyomaru for a spate of early restaurant closures in the area (they run out of food), as well as a rash of missing house plants, vending machines and even a pair of manhole covers. Listen for him to clank suspiciously as he mounts the dohyo.

Ryuden vs Takarafuji – One of my freshmen takes on the highest ranking man remaining at the once-mighty Isegahama beya. Both men are going to go for a mawashi grip early, but I would give Takarafuji a slight edge.

Chiyoshoma vs Ikioi – Only question to ask here – is Ikioi healed up? It was painful to watch him walk the hanamichi in Osaka. We can only hope that he was able to heal fully. This is two seasoned vets going head to head, so I am sure it’s going to be a solid match.

Kotoshogiku vs Shodai – Well, Shodai is probably going to get owned. Mostly because he tends to let Kotoshogiku do whatever he wants, and he wants to give you a sweet, passionate battle hug.

Chiyotairyu vs Yutakayama – Another of my freshmen, Yutakayama, is going up against Chiyotairyu, who had BETTER HAVE HIS SIDEBURNS! Seriously, the kami that inhabits his sideburns is the source of his sumo power. Granted the kami is some kind of sprit of a smelly mountain aesthetic from the feudal period who never ever washed, and ate nothing but fermented sardines, but we take what we can get in life, right?

Mitakeumi vs Daieisho – The King of the Tadpoles needs to make a comeback. The big jump ball at the top of the banzuke is coming, and if Mitakeumi wants a ticket to that dance, he needs to be producing double-digit wins every basho from here on out. He has the body, the skill, the heart to do it. But I suspect he doubts himself just a tiny bit. That’s all it takes at the top of this sport to keep yourself from greatness. Daieisho, however, is point man on team Oitekaze. I can’t wait to see if he starts Natsu as genki as he ended Haru.

Abi vs Ichinojo – Could be the match of the day. We get the lead Freshman against The Boulder. Large, tough as granite, and when roused, quite dangerous. He has added an astonishing 20 kg to his already ponderous bulk, and rumor has it, two new cuddle-ponies at Minato beya. Much to the chagrin of his tsukebito. Abi has to stay mobile, and use Ichinojo’s mass against him.

Tochinoshin vs Shohozan – If you wanted cake and ice cream for Mothers Day, here we go. Big guns goes up against unstoppable strength. Win or lose, nobody leaves a match with Shohozan without being sore. But Tochinoshin’s fantastic strength will likely carry the day, provided his upper body is healed.

Kaisei vs Goeido – I think this one is all Goeido. Goeido is lightning fast, and Kaisei seems to be huge, powerful and kind of slow. Andy thinks that he’s been upgraded to GoeiDOS 2.1, so we will see what shows up tomorrow.

Tamawashi vs Hakuho – It’s Hakuho time! It will be good to see The Boss back in action. But Tamawashi is a tough first customer. As long as Tamawashi is not psyched out by facing the dai-Yokozuna, I think he will give him a good, if brief, fight. Boss all the way on this one. [Past history is 10-0 in Hakuho’s favour. –PinkMawashi]

Kakuryu vs Endo – Woo! Saving the best for last, and what a match-up. Endo is a very technical rikishi, I have heard that he studies video of his opponent before each match. He looks for habits, things they like to do. He comes up with ways to counter strong moves and attack weak ones. He starts against Kakuryu who is the master of “reactive sumo”. He loves to stalemate an opponent and wait for them to make a mistake, which he turns against them in a blink of an eye.