Aki Reflections – Ringers & Over-Achievers

Yoshikaze Fansa

Prior to Aki 2018, it was clear there was a handful of high-potential rikishi ranked in the bottom half of the banzuke, and we wrote that there was a strong chance that these “ringers” might over-perform the rest of the lower Maegashira. As sumo tournaments are a zero-sum competition (everyone who wins delivers a loss to their opponent), a handful of strong performers at the bottom of the banzuke will result in a large number of make-koshi rikishi, and an absolute headache for ranking in November. Let’s take a look at who was wrecking the torikumi for September.

Yoshikaze – Full disclaimer, I am a huge Yoshikaze fan. He was worryingly weak during the Nagoya basho, so much so that I wrote that he might be on the cusp of retiring. At 36 years, he is one of the older sekitori. Yoshikaze also has secure “elder stock” in the sumo association, assuring he will continue to be part of the sumo world well after he chooses to retire. The Aki banzuke ranked him at Maegashira 15w, and a make-koshi in September would have seen him drop from the top division. But the “Berserker” had put whatever ailed him aside, and roared to an 11-4 record. Fans noted that his body seemed to be covered with some sort of rash for at least part of the basho, but it did not seem to affect his performance.

Nishikigi – He has never been very genki, and mostly scooted along the bottom edge of the Makuuchi banzuke, bouncing between lower Maegashira and Juryo. But lately his sumo has improved enough that he has been not only able to hold Maegashira rank, but has brought in two double-digit win tournaments this year. It has been fascinating to watch Nishikigi – who seems to never give up no matter how badly he is doing in a tournament – keep slowly improving no matter what. Toward the end of Aki he was paired against two mid-ranked opponents, M7 Shohozan and M9 Hokutofuji, and beat them both for the first time. He even managed to win against fading former Ozeki Kotoshogiku. Whatever transformation has taken place, it’s great to watch and we hope he can continue to strive for higher performance.

Ryuden – After bad health problems in 2013 and 2014, Ryuden dropped all the way down from a (then-career-high) Juryo 12 West to Jonokuchi, and fought his way back up through the ranks. Since returning to Sekitori status, he has floated between good and terrible, with his 3-12 disaster at May’s Natsu basho a standout. He had a series of good matches at Aki, but that included puzzling losses to hapless Ishiura and Kotoyuki. Despite this, his 10-5 result will likely catapult him back to mid-Maegashira ranks. Fans rightly wonder if he will be able to hold on this time.

Takanoiwa – In October of 2017, Takanoiwa was involved in an after-hours party that led to him being in the hospital with a head wound, and Harumafuji out of sumo. Recent court activity shows that those two are not done fighting, though now they let their lawyers grapple. After sitting out two tournaments and dropping to lower Juryo, Takanoiwa has been kachi-koshi for the past 4 tournaments, including the Juryo yusho in the sweltering heat of Nagoya. Returning to the top division for September, he managed a respectable 10-5 record. Prior to his injury, he was a dependable mid-Maegashira rikishi, and given the blood bath at the top of the banzuke in September, he seems likely to return to that posting for Kyushu in November. Sadly the distractions for Takanoiwa are likely not over. In a puzzling complex of events, his stable master, the former Yokozuna Takanohana, left sumo and closed his stable. As a result, Takanoiwa and the rest of the Takanohana rikishi have been re-homed to Chiganoura heya, which will surely disrupt Takanoiwa’s training and mindset.

All four of these rikishi are likely to see steep promotions for Kyushu, and Tachiai will be eagerly awaiting the publication of the November banzuke in just a couple of weeks.

Aki 2018, Day 15. That’s all, folks!

It is my sad duty to break these news to you, but it must be done: the basho is over. All yusho have been decided. All kachi-koshi and make-koshi have been achieved. And now we are in for a month and a half of… well, mostly Jungyo.

So what did we have today?

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Hakuho and his flag-bearer and uchi-deshi, Enho
Well, the first Makuuchi bout is between Chiyomaru and Aminishiki, but it turns out that Chiyomaru has a bone fracture in his foot, and is kyujo on senshuraku. He will probably end up in Juryo for this. Aminishiki must be frustrated – you go to Makuuchi, you win – but you don’t get any kensho for fusensho! Aminishiki with a minimal make-koshi, though, 7-8, and although he won’t advance, he will also not drop much.

Takanoiwa achieves a left hand outside on the tachiai vs Okinoumi. He is not happy with that and manages a makikae. Another fumble, a pull, and he wins by uwatedashinage, achieving double digits on his return to Makuuchi. Will he get a sansho?

Er, no. And neither will any of the hard working rikishi who strive for 10 wins today. Earlier the NSK announces that no rikishi have been found worthy of any special prizes today – not the technique prize, not the outstanding performance prize, and – weirdest of all – no fighting spirit prize. So, the basho we thought was wonderful, the NSK considered so lackluster that for the first time since the institution of special prizes, none have been awarded.

Aoiyama meets Kotoyuki. Both are make-koshi, but both are seeking to keep themselves 7-8 rather than 6-9. Kotoyuki starts with a bit of not-too-enthusiastic tsuppari, but Aoiyama soon catches him, gives him a nice pat on the nape of his nake, and sends him to his favorite place – waddling between the spectators in the front rows.

Ryuden manages a proper tachiai, and gets his left arm inside, despite Daishomaru‘s ottsuke. Although still fumbling on the right side, he manages an easy yori-kiri, and gets his 10th win. Again, no sansho, and all the rikishi with 10 wins will have to settle for the additional ¥10,000 in their bi-monthly bonus.

Hokutofuji starts with his usual right-arm forward and rhythmic thrusts, but Yoshikaze achieves a left hand inside almost instantly and yori-kiris him to oblivion. Yoshikaze, as expected for a man of his experience finding himself so low down the banzuke, has been cutting swaths through his opponents and will be back in a saner and more challenging position next basho.

Nishikigi gets a left hand inside and a grip on Kotoshogiku‘s mawashi right off the tachiai. He ottsuke’s the former Ozeki’s left arm with his own right, and then decides to go for the grip, which he achieves. The two lock powerfully, and though Nishikigi loses his initial left hand grip, he never lets go of that right. It gets into a leaning war. Nishikigi gets the left hand mawashi grip again. Eventually he pulls up a little, and pushes Kotoshogiku all the way out. Did we just watch Nishikigi beat Kotoshogiku by a powerful yori-ikiri? Yes we did! Nishikigi also in double digits this basho, to the sound of millions of jaws dropping in amazement. Kotoshogiku, despite a good showing this basho, is make-koshi.

Takarafuji yet again fails to achieve his favorite position, but somehow prevails over Sadanoumi with some ottsuke, a pull and a thrust. He is not happy, but he finishes the basho with a win, and minimizes his make-koshi to 7-8. My sources tell me that the Tachiai delegation at the Kokugikan has been cheering for the Isegahama man.

(The towels say “keppare Takarafuji”)

Tochiozan achieves a quick morozashi on Chiyoshoma on the tachiai, and after a few hugs manages to aim and shoot at the head shimpan. Shitatehineri, and Tochiozan is kachi-koshi.

Shohozan attempts a harizashi on Takanosho, but fails the “sashi” part. Takanosho gets the advantage with some tsuppari that gets Shohozan to the edge, but then Shohozan decides to arm those guns, and Takanosho soon finds himself at the opposite edge, and over it. Shohozan keeps his make-koshi at a minimal 7-8. Takanosho luckily clinched his kachi-koshi already.

Not much to say about the Onosho vs. Ishiura bout, which started with yet another matta 🙄. Ishiura tries to go low, Onosho catches his neck, and Ishiura, rather than persevering like his ototo-deshi (rikish from the same heya who joined later), frees his head, finds himself without any position or grip, and is soon driven out. Bot wrestlers are now 4-11, and if Ishiura doesn’t start watching Enho and learning, today’s Yokozuna dohyo-iri was his last.

The bout between Kagayaki and Daieisho is a bout of desparation, as both parties are 7-7 entering it. Daieisho is shorter, and makes use of that to attack the tall Kagayaki at just the right angle, from below. Kagayaki has no answer to Daieisho’s fierce rain of tsuppari and is soon out. On his way down the hana michi he looks like he is on the verge of tears. Daieisho is 8-7, Kagayaki 7-8.

Another matta precedes the Yutakayama match vs. Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni starts with his enthusiastic thrust attack, from below, from above, and Yutakayama can barely defend. One of Yutakayama’s defensive left hand moves catches the back of Chiyonokuni’s head as Yutakayama spins around, and the Kokonoe man is surprised to find himself flat on his face on the edge. Yutakayama manages to keep his toes inside in this spin, and gets a win to sweeten a rather bitter basho.

Kaisei latches on to the left side of Shodai‘s mawashi a half-second after the tachiai, and soon follows with his right hand. Although it’s a bit of an odd soto-yotsu (both hands outside, but rather on the front Shodai’s mawashi rather than the back), it’s enough for him to easily walk Shodai out. Kaisei is kachi-koshi, 8-7, and Tamawashi’s komusubi position is virtually in his pocket.

Chiyotairyu slams into Ikioi and immediately steps to the left. Ikioi not fulled, stays with him and catches one of his arms in what seems to be a preparation for a kotenage. However, after some wriggling, Chiyotairyu manages to shake that arm lock off, and shake Ikioi off the dohyo. Ikioi lands on his injured foot, further aggravating his injured ankle. I hope Ikioi will absent himself from the Jungyo, which starts October 3rd – he and the rest of the maimed rikishi that have been heaping up this basho.

Today was Asanoyama‘s last chance of a kachi-koshi, after four consecutive losses following his seventh win. He did his best to neutralize Takakeisho‘s barrage of tsuppari, keeping him at an arm’s length. The bout developed into a long stalemate, when Asanoyama decided to try to slip a hand in for a grip. Takakeisho didn’t let that pass – Asanoyama’s “sashi” lasted for two milliseconds before the Takakeisho windmill had him over the bales. Five straight losses and make-koshi for Asanoyama.

For some reason, Tamawashi decided that the basho starts today, and finally made an appearance at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. Too bad it’s the last day, old Eagle. His thrust attack against Endo was powerful and effective, but only got him his 4th win. As for Endo, let’s hope he rallies the same way that Yoshikaze has this basho. Otherwise, what who will the ladies of the Kokugikan swoon over?

Ichinojo is 7-7 coming into this bout with Myogiryu. Myogiryu is going to find himself in the joi next basho, having already secured his kachi-koshi. And he has a 6-2 record against the boulder. But Ichinojo has had six consecutive kachi-koshi. And he seems to like being sekiwake. Tachiai, boom. Ichinojo has both hands folded in his lap on the tachiai, then releases them and catches Myogiryu’s arm. Myogiryu starts pushing. Ichinojo pulls, and lets Myogiryu drop just before stepping over the bales himself. Not exactly powerful sumo, but much to the disbelief of anybody reading this blog only 5 days ago, Ichinojo gets yet another kachi-koshi, seventh in a row, and keeps his rank.

At this point you don’t need Leonid’s massive banzuke-fu to figure out the sanyaku for next basho: It’s much the same as this one, with Hakuho and Takakeisho moving East and Kaisei replacing Tamawashi.

Abi starts with his usual morotezuki and tsuppari, nothing to write home about. Mitakeumi matches him thrust for thrust. Round and round and round they go, until Abi loses patience and foolishly tries to reach Mitakeumi’s mawashi. Mitakeumi finds a handy Abi cranium to push down. The End. Mitakeumi improves to 9-6, and the argument about his Ozeki chances in 2018 will continue to rage until he goes and messes Kyushu the same way he messed Aki. Abi is 6-9 and can rest assured that he won’t need to face any sanyaku next time around.

The top three bouts, for the first time in two years, feature only Yokozuna and Ozeki. Watch the sanyaku soroi-bumi in Kintamayama’s reel – it’s a good one.

Tochinoshin, after having relieved himself of the awful pressure of the Kadoban, makes short work of Takayasu. He starts with a kachiage, neutralizes Takayasu’s left arm and keeps himself away from the right, and then pushes with all his double-bear power. Takayasu drops, Tochinoshin 9-6.

Goeido slams into Kisenosato, attempts to start a gaburi attack. Kisenosato is a bit too heavy for this stuff. Goeido pulls slightly, and rolls the Yokozuna easily. Kisenosato must be glad he got his 10th yesterday. He finishes 10-5. Goeido has the jun-yusho with 12-3.

Musubi no ichiban. Hakuho has his zensho to defend. Kakuryu – his Yokozuna dignity. Clash, no harite, and Hakuho gets the left-hand mawashi grip. The two enter into a classical yotsu lock hold. Hakuho tries to lift Kakuryu several times, but he is no Tochinoshin. Besides, he only has “ichimai” on the right hand side. The third attack sees Kakuryu lose his mawashi grip, and then he suddenly goes limp and just leaves the dohyo. That’s a bit sad for a Yokozuna, but at least it’s a good way to escape an injury-risking dame-oshi. Hakuho maintains his zensho yusho. ¥200,000 are added to his bi-monthly bonus, which is already the largest in history. I’m guessing Kakuryu is going to be grilled by the YDC tomorrow, having lost all his Yokozuna and Ozeki bouts.

yokozunameter-2018-aki-day-15
The Yokozuna on the left came back from a lengthy injury. The one on the right won two yusho this year. Go figure.

It’s been a pleasurable basho, and now the long wait begins for the last Kyushu basho of the Heisei era.

 

Aki Day 11 Recap – Mayhem At The Top

Here we are, in the last leg of this wonderful basho. The yusho race is getting hot. Tochinoshin’s kadoban is not clear yet. Some rikishi are teetering on the edge of make-koshi. Let’s dive in!

tochinoshin-carrying-kakuryu
What morozashi?

Kotoyuki determined not to roll today. He and Ryuden clash heads at the tachiai, and Kotoyuki continues with some strong tsuppari. It could be that Ryuden is a little dizzy from that clash, but I have a feeling he has his foot slightly off the accelerator now that he is kachi-koshi.

In the match of the dew-gatherers, Kakuryu’s tsuyuharai, Nishikigi, faces Hakuho’s Ishiura, who has seven losses and can’t afford another one. Ishiura has the faster tachiai and slips in his arms. It takes him about a second to secure a grip – but Nishikigi already has him at the edge, and makes sure he is no longer a dew-gatherer as of next basho (only Makuuchi wrestler participate in a Yokozuna dohyo-iri).

Takanosho, the newcomer, faces Okinoumi, with the NHK broadcast team (Japanese) making much of the fact that Okinoumi has sanyaku experience. Takanosho cares about none of that – goes low and upwards at the tachiai, applies “hazu” to Okinoumi’s armpits, and quickly drives him out. Takanosho has a good chance of achieving kachi-koshi in the next few days.

The next bout features the man who would have been the natural replacement for Ishiura in Hakuho’s dohyo-iri. Alas, Kyokutaisei has gone kyujo again. Damage to the meniscus in the right knee. Chiyomaru gets the fusensho, and Kyokutaisei will join Ishiura in Juryo next basho.

Chiyoshoma starts his bout with Sadanoumi with a kachiage, but has no follow-up, and Sadanoumi uses his right elbow to push the Mongolian to the edge rather quickly. Then he slides his arms around Chiyoshoma and drives him out… or so he thinks. Chiyoshoma does some of his acrobatics, and turns the tables with a throw. Pay attention to how Chiyoshoma works to keep his tiptoe planted on the dohyo until the very moment Sadanoumi touches ground. Thus, no monoii, and it’s Chiyoshoma’s win.

Daieisho overwhelmes Yoshikaze with some windmill tsuppari. A few thrusts, then a hazu to direct Yoshikaze around towards the nearest bales, then some more thrusts. Yoshikaze tries to land a grip, but can’t get through the barrage, and ends up landing on Futagoyama oyakata.

Takanoiwa and Kotoshogiku are kenka-yotsu – meaning that they prefer opposite grips. This normally means that whoever manages to land his favorite grip has the advantage. In this bout, it’s Kotoshogiku who gets his hidari-yotsu. But Takanoiwa is unfazed, secures a strong grip on both sides, and pulls Kotoshogiku up, occasionally even lifting him off the ground a bit. This completely neutralizes Kotoshogiku’s ability to chug, because a gaburi-yori is less about the pelvis, and all about the traction your feet have transferring power into aforesaid pelvis. Not touching the ground, he can’t do that, and when he gets a start, Takanoiwa finishes him with a shitatenage. Takanoiwa well deserves the spot in the yusho arasoi where he finds himself at the moment.

Hokutofuji is getting tired of seeing his kachi-koshi slipping away time and time again. This time he sticks to his guns. And although Shohozan throws his own guns and the kitchen sink at him, he just patiently continues with that tsuppari, his right hand forming large circles, each pushing Shohozan further. Oshi-dashi and kachi-koshi.

Aoiyama and Onosho start their match with the expected exchange of thrusts. Aoiyama probably realizes that Onosho plans to pull at some point and let him drop, so he envelopes him in his big arms. Onosho, with his inferior reach, can’t do much against that, and the bout ends with a yori-kiri and a make-koshi for Onosho, who will have to spend some time in the nether regions of Makuuchi before regaining his Prince Tadpole status.

Asanoyama falls for Daishomaru‘s henka, hook, line and sinker. His hand touches the ground before the gyoji even completes his “hakki-yoi”. For some reason, Daishomaru looks disappointed.

Takarafuji can’t recreate his magic from yesterday. He tries to circle around the dohyo until he gets his grip, but Myogiryu makes sure he leaves orbit. Oshidashi. Takarafuji 5-6, Myagiryu nearing his kachi-koshi.

Tochiozan slams into Chiyonokuni. Kuni doesn’t really have much power in him this basho, and soon finds himself outside – and make-koshi.

Endo has a good tachiai vs. Kagayaki, but Kagayaki has the better reach and, really, Endo doesn’t have much power in him. At the edge he tries to sidestep and start his own attack. Kagayaki rallies, and Endo runs out of gas. It seems to me that whatever mystery disease was plaguing Yoshikaze in the previous basho has taken Endo in this one. He simply can’t produce any power. But while everybody was very gentle with Yoshikaze, nobody is giving Endo any breaks. Must be all those kensho envelopes.

Abi and Chiyotairyu start a tsuki-oshi match, which suddenly comes to a halt as Abi holds Chiyotairyu at arms length. Abi, however, shows the same lack of patience he has shown yesterday, miscalculates his footing, and tries to restart the attack, promptly falling on his face. Chiyotairyu doesn’t say no to free gifts.

Takakeisho slams into Ikioi, knocking the air out of him, then sidesteps, and lets the taller man find his way to the opposite side. By the time Ikioi turns back, the tadpole is there to give him that final farewell. Given the joi carnage this basho, Takakeisho is doing rather well with a 5-6. Ikiyoyo is 1-10.

Yutakayama still has nothing to offer having returned from kyujo. He lands a classic tsuppari on Tamawashi‘s chest. Tamawashi, unimpressed, gives him one big shove for his trouble, which seems to land him on Kaisei. See, Tamawashi is very considerate about Yutakayama’s health (less so about Kaisei’s).

I don’t know what posessed Mitakeumi to try that little henka, but Kaisei sees through it. He gets all over Mitakeumi and hands him what must be his most humiliating loss so far. Mitakeumi is 6-5, and kisses his Ozeki run goodbye. Although some media people still hope that he can do something if he wins out (giving him 10-5, thus 32 wins over three basho), Shibatayama oyakata says “not with this sumo”, rather emphatically.

Goeido continues his generally good performance this basho. Slams into Shodai, and starts pushing him. Shodai can only pride himself on surviving more than the one second it usually gets to reach one side, as he causes Goeido’s circle to be larger than usual. That’s all.

And then Kakuryu meets Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin.

Really, Kakuryu has been absolutely wonderful this basho. He went through those wins day after day. Straight forward and with power. But Tochinoshin is both desperate and, apparently, on the mend.

Kakuryu starts with his usual tachiai this basho, which looks like he is dropping head first into his rival’s chest. And he gets not just a grip – he gets a tight morozashi. Now, in that situation, most rikishi start saying their prayers and wondering which shimpan they are about to hit. But not Tochinoshin. His weapon against morozashi is a soto-yotsu grip, which means both arms outside. With the height difference between him and the yokozuna, he gets a very good one. And then it starts to look like a crane game in one of the ubiquitous Japanese arcades. Lift once… drop… lift again… and you got your prize toy. The kadoban is not clear yet – one more win needed – but the Incredible Hulk (red version) is back, and tomorrow’s bout between him and Hakuho is going to be a doozy.

Moving on to the next Yokozuna match, Kisenosato, and his much celebrated kachi-koshi, faces up the near make-koshi Ichinojo. Now, although he lost to Hakuho yesterday (and got that annoying extra push), Ichinojo already looked better in that match than he did most of this basho. So my guess is that his back stopped hurting. Ichinojo has a good-boy tachiai – both fists on the ground waiting for his rival’s initiative – so there is nothing the gyoji can do to help the ailing yokozuna this time. Ichinojo straightens, and hands Kisenosato three servings of kaiju nodowa. The Yokozuna doesn’t get to lift a finger, he is blown away that fast. And he is very very unhappy about that. He has to sit down for the last bout as make-nokori, and his face is more clouded than the Tokyo sky.

Musubi no ichiban. Hakuho faces Takayasu, who is just one behind at this point. Win, and given Kakuryu’s loss, Takayasu would be in the leader group for the yusho. Lose, and he drops behind the chasers.

Takayasu stands up too early. Matta. Bad, bad mistake. This pisses off Hakuho, who reacts by stepping over the shikiri-sen and giving Takayasu a penetrating death stare.

Now, the Yokozuna is trying to get Takayasu to lay both fists on the ground like a good boy. Takayasu lays just one fist down, as does the Yokozuna. Hakuho doesn’t like the fact that Takayasu is not committing himself, and straightens up. It’s a second matta.

Now, the third time that Takayasu tries a tachiai without committing himself, Hakuho  throws hinkaku to the wind. He doesn’t care what they say – he shoots at Takayasu who still doesn’t have his fists on the ground, hands him a slap from the right side, and a kachiage aimed at the nose from the other. Let tongues wag. That… wasn’t really sumo. And yes, there was another dame-oshi there.

hakuho-takayasu-blink-of-an-eye

Mere mortal, don’t try playing mind games with a kitsune. The Dai-yokozuna is now the sole leader of the yusho arasoi – although Tochinoshin may change things come tomorrow.

Yusho arasoi Day 11

11-0Y1WHakuho
10-1Y2EKakuryu
9-2O1EGoeido
O2ETakayasu
M13WTakanoiwa

yokozunameter-2018-aki-day-11

Aki Day 3 Preview

Kisenosato - Takakiesho Aki 2018

For anyone who has been a sumo fan for the last couple of years, Aki 2018 is a welcome departure from the normal. It has been along time since this many of sumo’s top competitors were all present at the start of a tournament. Given that some of them are in less than perfect health, we may not see them at the end of act 3, but this is a great and exciting way to start a basho. The Yokozuna and Ozeki corps have not only shown up, they are competing with vigor, energy and skill. Sadly for the Komusubi and Sekiwake (as well as Maegashira 1-3), this means that they take the full brunt of being warm up cannon fodder for the Yokozuna and Ozeki. Excellent rikishi like Takakeisho and Tamawashi will find it hard to reach kachi-koshi, let alone some of the 10 win figures seen earlier this year. That spells trouble for Mitakeumi’s Ozeki bid, as we will likely see him face all 6 of the Yokozuna and Ozeki starting soon.

The other thing that has caught my eye is just how well the “Freshmen” are fighting this tournament. This is the cohort that includes Yutakayama, Asanoyama, Kagayaki and Abi. Sure, Yutakayama is winless so far because he is a Yokozuna chew-toy. But he is moving well, putting together excellent matches and generally showing some solid sumo. It’s going to be a while before we see these rikishi make their way to being headliners, but it’s great to see them showing a lot of promise early on.

What We Are Watching Day 6

Kotoyuki vs Yoshikaze – Kotoyuki has looked a half step behind both days, and we can’t help but wonder if he is going to snap out of it and present a credible challenge in any of his matches. Yoshikaze, however, seems to have recovered a great deal of his genki, and has been back to his old power levels thus far. Kotoyuki holds a 6-3 career advantage over Yoshikaze, so maybe today is the day “Mr 5×5” recovers.

Takanoiwa vs Nishikigi – If you did not see Nishikigi’s day 2 match, go watch it now. Nishikigi is the poster boy of calm and polite. But on day 2 he was positively aggressive – kind of a shock, but a welcome one. But speaking of aggressive, lets see what he does with Takanoiwa! Both men come into the match with 2-0, and tied career wise at 2-2.

Kyokutaisei vs Daieisho – Kyokutaisei seems to be stuck right now, and he has nothing but kuroboshi to show right now. Fans will recall he started Nagoya the same way, taking it to 5 straight losses. He holds a career 4-2 lead over Daieisho, so maybe today is the day he gets into the win column. It could also be the case that he has family in Hokkaido, and the disaster there may be occupying his thoughts.

Aoiyama vs Sadanoumi – Man-Mountain Aoiyama is also in the winless column, and I think he may be feeling the pain of injuries. We have yet to see him unleash his overwhelming upper body strength, and he has been even slower than normal moving around the dohyo. Sadanoumi comes in straight from giving Okinoumi a good fight.

Daishomaru vs Kotoshogiku – One of the strange results of Kotoshogiku being this far down the banzuke is that he is fighting some familiar rikishi for the first time. Today it’s Daishomaru. Thus far Kotoshogiku has been moving well, and seems to not be in pain. His motions are smooth and efficient, and he would seem to be locked in to his sumo.

Takarafuji vs Hokutofuji – Today’s fight of the fujis, what I am going to look for is Hokutofuji’s “handshake tachiai”, and Takarafuji to take it chest to chest. Takarafuji is a great technical wrestler, and seems to always have a careful plan of how to win. Hokutofuji seems to be more of a “hold my beer” kind of rikishi, who decides he is going to try something fast and violet and work with whatever emerges.

Tochiozan vs Onosho – Both of these guys are zero wins? Strangely enough, yes. Onosho especially has looked to be only about 80% thus far. I am going to assume that at some point his sumo will click and he will pick up a good number of wins, enough to remain in the top division anyhow. Tochiozan’s matches have boiled down to a few choices that did not break his way, so I am expecting him to leverage his 3-1 career advantage and possibly rack his first win.

Kagayaki vs Shohozan – Big Guns will take his daily brawl to Kagayaki’s school of sumo. Both of them come in 1-1, but out of their 8 prior matches, Kagayaki has won 6 of them. I am going to be watching to see if Kagayaki can set up his preferred thrusting position center mass, inside of Shohozan’s wood-chipper style tsuppari.

Asanoyama vs Abi – Both men with 2 wins, career series tied at 1-1. What’s going to be the edge here? Lord knows. First off Abi is tough to handicap. As Herouth pointed out, everyone knows about his “One Weird Trick”, but he is still getting away with it. Asanoyama has brought a lot more speed to his sumo this year, but it’s nothing compared to Abi’s stick-insect inspired sumo.

Chiyonokuni vs Myogiryu – Another fun match for day 3, two very high intensity rikishi are going to try to move up from their 1-1 records. I am going to look for Chiyonokuni to surge early, and try to close the match before Myogiryu can set up his offense. Chiyonokuni will want to stay mobile and use his superior reach. Should be a slap fest worthy of an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Shodai vs Endo – Another great enigma, at least we know that one of these two deserving rikishi will exit the match with a win. Both of them are fighting well, but have lost their first two. Shodai may have been robbed on day 2 when the fact that his tachiai has improved resulted in a matta. I want to see Shodai do it again, be fast and low. Don’t worry about your score today, get the mechanics right.

Mitakeumi vs Tamawashi – 4 out of 5 dentists agree that Tamawashi will try a kotenage. The big question being, will Mitakeumi fall for it? Career advantage is 12-2 in Mitakeumi’s favor, but to me his sumo has looked a bit tentative thus far. We are still in act 1, so there is plenty of time for him to dial it up.

Chiyotairyu vs Takayasu – This will likely be a very sloppy battle of the bellies, starting with an earth-shattering tachiai. In spite of the pain and injuries, Takayasu is managing to rack the shiroboshi so far. His sumo is still wild and chaotic, which is just begging for another mechanical injury. Chiyotairyu struggles this high up in the banzuke, where it’s tougher to win matches just by being enormous and smashing into people at the tachiai. Takayasu leads their career series 8-3.

Goeido vs Ichinojo – Well, Ichinojo tried the “Bad Pony” technique again on day 2, but it fell flat. Goeido managed to win one, but he still looked a half step behind. It will be easy to get the jump on Ichinojo, but I like how he is not giving up at the tawara right now. They are more or less tied over their career.

Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin – Takakeisho was fired up day 2, and nearly overwhelmed Kisenosato. He is a terrifying ball of energy in a compact spherical package, which may be trouble for Tochinoshin. Thus far the injured kadoban Ozeki has been fighting well, and has been very careful with his overwhelming strength; enough to win, but just enough. Interestingly enough, Takakeisho leads their career matches 3-1.

Kaisei vs Hakuho – Day 2 Kaisei took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, and Kakuryu showed him how well tended the east side hanamichi is. He has never defeated Hakuho, who is hiding whatever pain and stiffness he might have well. I am predicting a return voyage to the lap of someone in the front row.

Kakuryu vs Ikioi – Ikioi is strong, and seems to be willing to sacrifice his body to do what it takes to win. But Yokozuna Kakuryu is the master of reactive sumo, so he will play with Ikioi, stalemating him until he makes a mistake. Kakuryu may be the one to beat this tournament.

Kisenosato vs Yutakayama – Last match of the day features Kisenosato taking on the head of the Freshman class. Each basho Yutakayama shows up bigger, stronger, and with improvements in his sumo. He is winless right now, but I view him as a formidable opponent. This is their first match, and I am (as always) just hoping no one gets hurt.

Aki Day 2 – Recap

Another excellent day has rolled out of the Ryogoku Kokugikan. I’ll refer to Ura’s revival bout and Enho’s survival bout in my separate lower division post (if I succeed in writing it – I have a family dinner this evening…). But for the time being, here is what the top division provided us with.

tochinoshin-yutakayama

Kotoyuki starts with a morotezuki (thrust with both hands off the tachiai), but Chiyoshoma is already to his left, and gets him going, gone, gone. Kotoyuki says Chiyoshoma employed a henka. Chiyoshoma says he didn’t, and he is happy with his own sumo. It was a hit and shift, I would say.

Ishiura plants his head, securing his left hand on Yoshikaze‘s mawashi. But while doing so, he  loses ground, and Yoshikaze quickly disposes of him. It looked like Ishiura was trying to imitate Enho’s earlier bout vs. Hakuyozan.

It’s Takanosho and Ryuden‘s first meeting. Takanosho blocks Ryuden from getting his famous morozashi (grip with both hands inside), but that doesn’t disturb Ryuden’s thrusts. Takanosho says he concentrated too much on his ottsuke and failed to move forward.

Chiyomaru can hardly move this basho. Takanoiwa is unmoved by his morotezuki, quickly secures his favorite grip, then starts a low gaburi (hip pump).

Okinoumi doesn’t give Sadanoumi any opening. A couple of tsuppari, then secures a morozashi, and yorikiri.

Nishikigi seems to be posessed. He begins with a not more than decent tachiai and a bit of tsuppari, then suddenly shoves Kyokutaisei all the way to the third row. Where is Nishikigi-mama? Who is that murderous bully in the green mawashi?

There’s not much to say about Hokutofuji vs. Daieisho. Daieisho’s foot slipped on the layer of salt. 

Daishomaru does a half-henka, and Aoiyama finds himself biting dust.

Takarafuji determined to win, even though he doesn’t get his favorite grip. He does manage to keep Shohozan from executing his killer tsuppari with a right ottsuke, and pushes him away.

Kotoshogiku slams into Tochiozan, and gets him out without leaving him any breathing space. It’s the best Kotoshogiku has looked in a long time.

Kagayaki and Myogiryu are stalemated in the first few seconds of the match, when Myogiryu manages to pierce Kagayaki’s left side, pushes forward, adding a hazu attack on the other side, and disposes of the golden boy.

Asanoyama‘s bout with Onosho was hot. They clash mightily at the tachiai, with Onosho slapping at Asanoyama’s face, floating way above his head. Onosho tries to pull and thrust Asanoyama down. Asanoyama keeps his balance and momentarily gets Onosho into a grip. Onosho releases himself, at least partially, but Asanoyama stays close and keeps the pressure all the way to the rim. Exciting sumo.

Konosuke calls a matta that didn’t look like a matta in the Chiyonokuni vs. Shodai bout. Perhaps one of Shodai’s hands didn’t quite touch but…

I think what threw Konosuke off was the fact that Shodai changed his tachiai. Shodai used to always have his fists on the ground like a good boy, waiting for his rival to quickly imprint his – which is why he would take ages to get into a fighting stance. And here we have Shodai waiting, hands in the air, his weight on his feet rather than on all four of his limbs. I think in the second time his hands touched even less than in the first. But anyway, Konosuke let it continue.

Chiyonokuni throws some of his signature tsuppari, goes in, goes out, Shodai’s forward inertia makes him fall forward, and Chiyonokuni wins. Huge bandaging on his left arm, remnant of his encounter with Tamawashi in the previous basho.

Shodai must be frustrated – here he goes and fixes the one thing that was really wrong in his sumo, but he still can’t manage to win. I hope he sticks to it, though, because once he adjusts he could finally level up to his real potential.

Who said that everybody has figured out Abi‘s single weird trick? Endo apparently hasn’t. Abi with a morotezuki. Abi with fierce though slow tsuppari making use of his immense reach. Abi wins.

Chiyotairyu nearly gets Mitakeumi with a fierce kachiage followed by heavy tsuppari. Mitakeumi manages to slip a hand in and slide sideways, buying time. Chiyotairyu attacks again, but this time Mitakeumi is stronger and sends him outside. Mitakeumi said that he kept his cool on the dohyo, but his matta prior to the bout kind of belies that.

Goeido tries a harizashi, but he doesn’t have Hakuho’s speed. Tamawashi starts a fierce tsuppari attack, and Goeido defends, finally finding an opening for his left hand, whereupon it’s his game.

Yutakayama manages to deny Tochinoshin his grip for a few seconds, but he keeps going backwards all the time. Eventually Tochinoshin secures his grip, and from then it’s just a question of time – though he does let go of one of his hands to give Yutakayama the final push, as the latter has very strong toes holding on to the tawara.

Ichinojo is not moved by Takayasu‘s kachiage. Neither can land a grip and instead go for a pushing attack, which goes wilder and wilder until the Ozeki has his entire body driving the Sekiwake out. I’m sure the yobidashi will have to do something about the depression left in the floor next to the shimpan.

Kakuryu splashes into Kaisei‘s big body at the tachiai, easily grabbing his mawashi with his left hand, then shifts to the left, using the Brazilian’s own inertia as well as that mawashi grip to get behind him, and then carefully leads him out. Kaisei simply wasn’t in this bout, and really seems to always forget to take his talent out of his akeni when he is matched with Kakuryu.

Takakeisho is totally fearless. Starts with a murderous tsuppari attack, then tries to get the Yokozuna off balance. He grabs the Yokozuna’s left arm and tries to hurl him across the dohyo. Then when that fails goes for another attack. But this basho, Kisenosato is a lot more calm and collected than he was in previous basho. First, he defends against that hurl by a well positioned foot against the tawara. Then when Takakeisho tries his next attack, he spots the overcommitment – ever the bowling ball’s problem – and lets him fly outside with an expression on his face of “Boy, I’ve dealt with worse”.

Hakuho gets a grip quickly, but Ikioi actually has him moving backwards, being able to transfer power through the ground better than the Yokozuna. He even lifts him somewhat and shifts him sideways, when the dai-yokozuna employs plan B, wriggles away and throws his mimic to the ground. 900 bouts as a Yokozuna, 794 wins.