Kyushu Day 10 Highlights

Fukuoka

Many fans were eager to see the Hakuho-Ichinojo match from day 10. I can tell you now that it was, in fact, a fantastic bout that saw each man give everything they could to win. The look on Hakuho’s face at the end speaks volumes. For people at the top of their profession, be it sports, technology, art or medicine, there is a sad fact that many tasks that some might marvel at can become rote and boring. Many top performers yearn for a proper challenge, a way for them to grow and excel. When a situation brings you an enormous challenge, skillfully overcome, it is quite rewarding. I think we saw a glimpse of that on Hakuho’s face today.

Highlight Matches

Aminishiki defeats Aoiyama – Uncle Sumo wins one by not pulling and against the massive (but injured) Aoiyama. Clearly, the big Bulgarian is having traction problems due to the injury to his right ankle in his bout against Okinoumi.

Nishikigi defeats Kaisei – Nishikigi teeters on the edge of demotion with a make-koshi, and rallies to force out Kaisei. Kaisei is no light fellow, but Nishikigi is clearly motivated in this match.

Okinoumi defeats Daishomaru – The chronically injured Okinoumi picks up his kachi-koshi on day 10, with a convincing win against Daishomaru. Should his performance in Kyushu signal that Okinoumi has overcome his chronic injuries, he makes a very convincing upper Maegashira.

Shodai defeats Ikioi – This match is tough to watch, because everyone wants Shodai to do better, and knows that Ikioi has a bad back. The match is very sloppy, as you might expect with these two, with Ikioi mounting a haphazard and uncoordinated pushing attack, which is countered at the tawara by Shodai.

Chiyoshoma defeats Daieisho – After yesterday’s slap to Hokutofuji, Chiyoshoma has seen his popularity plummet with the crowd in Kokusai Center. Today’s match against Daieisho started with thrusting, but both men went chest to chest early and struggled for grip. Daieisho touted a solid defense and had a strong left hand inside grip. Several times Chiyoshoma rallied, but Daieisho strongly countered. The win came when Chiyoshoma was able to lift Daieisho over the tawara, and the crowd reaction told the story of what they think of this fellow. Hey, Chiyoshoma – don’t feed the “Mongolians are jerks” meme in Japan, please. It’s bad for sumo.

Tochinoshin defeats Takekaze – Takekaze tried a hit and shift at the tachiai, but veteran Tochinoshin was expecting the move, and countered strongly, using his massive strength to slap away Takekaze’s “emergency thrusters”. Tochinoshin continued to swat Takekaze to the edge and then picked him up and shoved Takakaze over the tawara. Takakaze one loss from make-koshi and a likely demotion to Juryo.

Takarafuji defeats Chiyomaru – Takarafuji seems to have been emboldened by his win over Kisenosato. His bout with Chiyomaru was a solid oshi match, and while Chiyomaru was landing the majority of blows, including a lot of nodowa, Takarafuji kept moving forward. Excellent effort from one of the surviving Isegahama rikishi.

Endo defeats Arawashi – Notable in that Endo gave Arawashi no opening at all. Endo charged strongly at the tachiai, put Arawashi on defense and then drove strongly forward. Endo looking very good this basho, and Endo fans hope that he has his body together and working now.

Hokutofuji defeats Chiyotairyu – Kaio’s doppelgänger faced off against sumo-Elvis, and took a pounding. Chiyotairyu at one point had a grip on Hokutofuji’s face and jerked it back and forth. Hokutofuji stayed focused, stayed on his feet and kept moving forward. Chiyotairyu realizes he is not going to be able to pull him down and the real tsuppari attack begins. Hokutofuji’s upper body is clearly on defense, and taking some punishment, but his lower body is on offense and after falling back for a moment, resumes marching forward. For a moment both men rest against each other’s shoulders, clearly, this match is close to a stalemate. In the end, Chiyotairyu may have run out of gas, and Hokutofuji pushed him out. Great oshi bout. Hokutofuji kachi-koshi.

Takakeisho defeats Shohozan – another solid battle between two rikishi swatting each other into submission. When they were fully engaged, it was a blur of fury as Shohozan’s well-muscled arms were punishing Takakeisho’s upper body. But Takakeisho did not give ground and launched a powerful shoving attack against Shohozan’s torso. This seems to be Takakeisho’s go to offense, and once again employed it for victory.

Onosho defeats Tamawashi – The return of the red mawashi seems to have marked a return of Onosho’s sumo prowess. Tamawashi has been a tough contestant this basho, but Onosho gets him face-down on the clay shortly after the tachiai. Onosho needs to win 4 of the next 5 to get his kachi-koshi, but maybe the magic red mawashi has enough power to get him there.

Yoshikaze defeats Tochiozan – So many Yoshikaze fights are freewheeling, running battles, and today was a great example of what happens when rikishi face the Berserker. Tochiozan gave as good as he got for a time, but Yoshikaze seems to think and move faster than nearly anyone else. He can and does spot an opening and then makes his opponent pay. Tochiozan is really not strong this basho, and we hope that his left knee can get healed by Hatsu.

Mitakeumi defeats Goeido – I am not going to fault Goeido in this bout, he was strongly committed to his offense. As described, Goeido 2.0 mode leaves no room for his own defense, and I applaud Mitakeumi for taking advantage of that to Goeido’s detriment. To be clear, Mitakeumi’s win shows his excellent ring sense and exquisite timing. Had Mitakeumi missed that one even by a moment, it would have gone the other way.

Takayasu defeats Kotoshogiku – Sadly this marks Kotoshogiku as make-koshi. Kotoshogiku went strongly on offense, and Takayasu gave ground, but Kotoshogiku overcommitted, and Takayasu was able to slap him down at the edge of the ring. By staying airborne for a few moments, Takayasu ensured that Kotoshogiku landed first. Not a strong showing from Takayasu, but a win is a win. He is now one victory from clearing kadoban.

Hakuho defeats Ichinojo – This one lived up to its billing. Ichinojo came ready for some sumo, and everyone loved it. Although being enormous is not a strategy in upper division sumo, Ichinojo used his incredible size for all he could today, and it gave Hakuho a lot of trouble. Do yourself a favor, watch the replay and only look at Ichinojo’s feet. It was clear that he thought that his first task was not to overpower Hakuho, but to maintain a steady defense to prevent the Yokozuna from winning. Time and again Hakuho could not set up leverage enough to drop Ichinojo, and it was clear that Hakuho was really enjoying the challenge. But Hakuho kept moving a bit at a time, working to improve his position and his grip. At one point Ichinojo almost lands a left hand outside grip, and we see Hakuho make an emergency move. Outstanding effort form both rikishi, and I am really impressed with Ichinojo. Great sumo.

Aki Day 9 Preview

Goeido

With the activities on day 8, the yusho hunt has narrowed, due to several rikishi losing their matches. But exiting the middle weekend, we are still considering 7 sekitori in serious yusho contention. As mentioned in an earlier posting, this seems a bit more like some recent Juryo basho than how we typically see Makuuchi play out. If the lead and chase groups can keep mostly intact, the final weekend is going to be a wild, boiling ride to the end. Two of the leaders headed into day 9 have already faced each other (Onosho, Goeido) so there is no chance to schedule a single elimination bout to resolve their deadlock. We can expect to see some torikumi elevation starting soon to help some of three 2 loss and 1 loss rikishi test their mettle against higher ranked opponents.

I also think that Aki may have one more crazed / chaotic day before next Sunday. Keep in mind that the third act, which starts Wednesday, is all about finishing out the yusho race, and most scheduling is ad-hoc to help drive the final day. My compliments to Yokozuna Harumafuji, who is clearly in pain every day, but gets on the dohyo and delivers. My sincere hope is that he can keep winning, and possibly help pick off some of the yusho contenders this week.

Monday’s matches feature many pairings that are up to 5 ranks different across the banzuke. This may seem a bit lop-sided, but I am sure the schedulers are up against the wall now with the thin ranks, and the out-sized bulge of contenders from the lower end of the banzuke.

Aki Leader board

Leaders – Goeido, Onosho, Daishomaru
Chasers – Chiyotairyu, Takanoiwa, Arawashi, Daieisho
Hunt Group – Harumafuji, Takakeisho, Ichinojo, Chiyonokuni, Takarafuji, Endo, Asanoyama

7 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 9

Nishikigi vs. Okinoumi – Okinoumi seemed to show a bit of sumo on day 8. He is pretty much day-by-day given his chronic injury. Nishikigi is pushing hard to keep in kachi-koshi territory, as he does not want a return ticket to Juryo. But Nishikigi has not really be lighting up the dohyo with his sumo, either.

Asanoyama vs. Chiyomaru – Mr Happy goes up Chiyomaru, and he will likely have his hands full. Chiyomaru is a very large, round fellow who operates via osha-sumo, so if Chiyomaru gets cranked up, it will be tough to over come his attack. This may be a great time to employ a henka.

Daieisho vs. Yutakayama – Though he is now 1 off the leader’s pace, Daieisho is still turning in a fantastic basho. His match against Yutakayama today will be their second meeting. Yutakayama won their first, but I get the impression that will be resolved at the end of Monday.

Takanoiwa vs. Endo – This has the potential to be a highlight match for day 9. Takanoiwa is back to operating in “Demon Hunter” mode, and he has been quite effective at Aki. Endo is actually improving his sumo with each day at the basho, though he is still not operating consistently at mid-Maegashira levels yet. Career totals favor Endo 4-3.

Daishomaru vs. Takarafuji – Daishomaru is part of the leader group, but now faces a solid rikishi 4 levels up the banzuke. Takarafuji lost day 8 against Ichinojo, but he has shown solid sumo, and has dismantled his opponents with patience and skill. If Daishomaru wants to maintain his bid on the lead, he will need to gamberize.

Arawashi vs. Ikioi – Arawashi has been delightful surprise this basho. He has had rather weak performances of late, and it’s fantastic to see him really succeed. Ikioi, however, is doing poorly, and is getting dangerously close to make-koshi territory. Give that both of them love the pushing game, there may be some brutal action.

Chiyonokuni vs. Takekaze – Also in the make-koshi warning lane is veteran Takekaze. Usually he is able to find ways to win, but this basho many of his great strategies are not paying off. Day 9 he is against a somewhat possessed Chiyonokuni who has been fighting well past the end of the match the last two days. Prior record is 3-2 favoring Takekaze.

Shohozan vs. Ichinojo – Coming off the street fight with Yoshikaze, Shohozan has a radically different foe day 9. He’s big, he’s deliberate and he’s not going to care if you hit him a few times. In fact, I would imagine one solid blow from Ichinojo might launch Shohozan a good distance. I will expect the very maneuverable and excessively strong Shohozan to stay mobile and keep Ichinojo reactive. Ichinojo leads their prior matches 3-2.

Onosho vs. Chiyotairyu – I may actually stay up tonight, just to watch this bout. I will rather be over in a moment via a slap down or henka, or it’s going to be a raging war between spheroids. Chiyotairyu has bulked up this basho, and he is using that extra mass to plow his way through everyone, including fans, shimpan, a gyoji and most of his opponents. Onosho on the other hand seems to be studying footage of the rikishi he is facing, and I am eager to see what his strategy will be. I expect Chiyotairyu to try to blast him straight from the tachiai. Their record is tied at 2-2.

Tamawashi vs. Yoshikaze – Long term fans of the berserker know he tends to get his face beat up in any given basho, and it seems that day 8 was his day to bleed. Now he is facing Tamawashi, who wants his sekiwake slot back. Tamawashi comes off the line hard and strong, and Yoshikaze tends to catch that with his head. So more blood on the dohyo I would guess. Yoshikaze is favored 10-8 in career totals.

Mitakeumi vs. Takakeisho – Mitakeumi, it’s time to consider if you are going to stay sekiwake. You want to evolve to Ozeki form? This is the time to gamberize. Takakeisho showed day 8 that he does not give up and fights through no matter what. It carried the day for him Sunday, can he overwhelm Lord Tadpole Mitakeumi? Takakeisho won their only prior match, which was this past Nagoya basho.

Aoiyama vs. Goeido – This unlikely match has Goeido written all over it. But perhaps the big Bulgarian may find a way to overcome Goeido. The Ozeki may revert back to his defensive “anything but attack” mode from last week, which would be a shame. I look for Aoiyama to try and plant his feet firmly and use his superior reach and massive strength to take control of the match. Goeido will likely try to blast him from dohyo at the tachiai. Advice to the man-mountain Aoiyama, just keep your feet solid, stand up and bring that massive right hand across Goeido’s face. Statistics favor Goeido 18-3, so if Aoiyama can produce anything against the lone surviving Ozeki, will be a significant accomplishment.

Shodai vs. Harumafuji – It’s like Godzilla vs Bambi. Somewhere inside Shodai there is a really great sumotori that peeks out once in a while. What does it take to trigger him? Is it like The Incredible Hulk? Does it take the right kind of Chanko? Unless “Beast Mode” Shodai makes an appearance, Harumafuji will move closer to his kachi-koshi.

Aki Day 8 Preview

shohozan-Harumafuji

Act two of the Aki basho has really stepped up the pace, with Saturday bringing us a flurry of really intense matches. While we wait for day 8’s action, recognize that we are half way through the Aki basho now, and the fiercest action may be ahead of us.

The old guard has made their stand, and now it is time for the next generation to answer in kind. With the exception of Ozeki Goeido, everyone in the leader group is part of the young, up and coming generation of sumotori. We have a long road to go to the final day, but it’s clear that the tadpole generation is on the cusp of challenging the status quo.

My greatest hopes for the second half

  • Goeido goes on offense – Goeido 2.0 is a mighty Ozeki, a machine of refined attack power, who leaves no room for his own defense. He is blazing fast and merciless. I would like very much to see him close out Aki in this manner.
  • Kotoshogiku rallies – He is likely out of the yusho race, but it would be oh so satisfying to see Ojisan Kotoshogiku rack up enough wins to return to San’yaku. If his knees hold out, it could be a real possibility.
  • Harumafuji holds the line – He can still make double-digit wins, and it would be great to see him recover to this level. He seems to have his sumo back under control, and I would think that he can beat any man left in this basho.
  • Hokutofuji catches fire – I am not sure if he is injured or what, but he has faded just about half a step since the start of the basho. This guy is a future mainstay, and I want to see him reach down to his soul and bounce back strong and motivated.
  • Asanoyama kachi-koshi – At Maegashira 16, he is first to fall off the bubble if he’s got a losing record, but I think that he is going to be a solid Maegashira in his day, and I would love to see him get more exposure to the upper division.

Aki Leader board

Leaders – Goeido, Onosho, Daieisho, Daishomaru
Chasers – Chiyotairyu, Takarafuji, Takanoiwa, Arawashi
Hunt Group – Harumafuji, Mitakeumi, Kotoshogiku, Shohozan, Shodai, Takakeisho, Ichinojo, Chiyonokuni, Chiyomaru, Kaisei, Endo, Asanoyama

8 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 8

Yutakayama vs. Kaisei – Kaisei seems to be getting himself together, and frankly it’s about time. He faces a fading Yutakayama on day 8, and we have to assume that unless he starts a resurgence, Yutakayama is going to bounce back to Juryo for a bit. Interestingly enough, Kaisei has not beaten Yutakayama in their prior 2 matches, so this may be a good test to see if Yutakayama will try to rally.

Asanoyama vs. Sadanoumi – Mr Happy takes on the Sadanoumi, who may be wishing he had stayed kyujo. They have only met once before, and Sadanoumi won. I would like to see Sadanoumi pick up a few wins, so here’s to hoping he is up to speed for Sunday.

Daieisho vs. Okinoumi – Co-leader Daieisho goes against hit-or-miss Okinoumi, and the two are tied 2-2 over their career. It will likely be Daieisho’s match to lose.

Endo vs. Chiyomaru – While both rikishi come into the match 4-3, Endo is looking quite a bit more tentative than Chiyomaru, who is on a 3 match winning streak. Keep in mind, for Endo the rest of this basho is about survival, and that means a kachi-koshi, even by the thinnest amount.

Daishomaru vs. Takekaze – Co-Leader Daishomaru steps up against Takekaze, who is in the process of turning around his win/loss record for Aki. Takekaze has a wide variety of tricks, and is known to deploy henkas with flair. Daishomaru must take caution. Takekaze leads the series 4-2.

Takanoiwa vs. Ikioi – Takanoiwa seems to be back into “Demon Hunter” mode, and I am expecting both of these oshi practitioners to bring forth a mighty battle of flailing limbs. This could be a real street fight! Ikioi leads the series 5-0! So Takanoiwa has a chance to snap the losing record.

Ichinojo vs. Takarafuji – Ichinojo is a tough one to predict. He can be big, slow and huge. In fact it’s one his most apparent assets. But the past few days he is worked to add offense into that mix. Takarafuji however has been doing what he seems to do best, quietly execute some really great technical sumo. As Takarafuji has delivered a good number of throws this past week, let’s see what he deploys against Ichinojo. Ichinojo leads the series 5-2.

Arawashi vs. Kagayaki – You say – “Kagayaki is 1-6, he sucks!”, but if you watch his matches, you will note this guy battles with all his heart. Arawashi just finished up the battle of the badgers on day 7, and I am going to say that we may see another raging street fight from these two. Kagayaki leads the series 4-2.

Shodai vs. Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu has been charging forward like an angry bison this basho, and most of the time it works. Shodai has fallen into some rut of defensive sumo, so maybe this will work out for interesting sumo. Shodai won their only previous match.

Tochinoshin vs. Onosho – The big Georgian is clearly not at 100%, and he faces a very genki Onosho, who is looking to stay in the leader group. This is their first match up. If Tochinoshin can land a grip on Onosho, he can probably score his second win today.

Mitakeumi vs. Hokutofuji – Battle for the king of the tadpole crew. I wish they both could win. From the looks of things, Hokutofuji took some damage in the first week, and is struggling. Mitakeumi seems to have finally caught his stride, and is fighting well. Mitakeumi leads their career bouts 2-0.

Shohozan vs. Yoshikaze – This one has the potential to be absolutely nuts. Both of them are amped up and need the wins. Both of them are strong, fast and don’t back down when they take damage. So hopefully no one gets hurt this time. Yoshikaze leads the series 7-4.

Tamawashi vs. Goeido – I am going to wager that Tamawashi charges in hard and Goeido fights in reverse. I would much rather see him battle Tamawashi chest to chest, but what is the chance of that?

Aoiyama vs. Harumafuji – The giant Aoiyama was out with injuries sustained in training before the Aki basho, and now he joins for his first day on the dohyo. How do you welcome the jun-yusho winner from Nagoya? Why you give him Harumafuji to play with. Last time these two met, Harumafuji grabbed a double hand-full of breast meat and pushed Aoiyama backwards and out like it was urgent.

Nagoya Day 10 Preview

Giant-Sumo-Macaroon
Behold! The Giant Macaroon of Victory!

Closing The Second Act

My template for any basho is a series of 3 acts, with the second one being focused on trimming the field to a handful of rikishi who will compete for the cup. For Nagoya, we have slim chance of anyone other than Hakuho winning this one. The only credible rikishi is Aoiyama at 8-1, and there is little hope that he could best Hakuho in any kind of head-to-head match should it come to that. Right now it’s Hakuho’s basho to lose.

The strong story of this basho, as we outlined in the weeks leading up to Nagoya, is the strength of the new blood that had entered Makuuchi since the Kyushu basho in November. Up to that point, the upper ranks were largely populated by men who had been Sekitori for more than 4 years, many of whom were getting a bit long in the tooth. It was clear that we would have a cull as soon as a strong class of men were able to fight their way past Juryo, and into position to dethrone the old guard.

Today we see that outcome beginning to manifest itself, with the startling surprise that in spite of injury, surgery, hospitalization and a brutal road to recovery, Hakuho one again sits atop the sumo world. For fans who are new to sumo, or those who cannot recall, with Hakuho Genki, the chances of anyone being able to reach Yokozuna are very close to zero. It’s one thing to win two yusho in a row when you have fierce men holding down the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks (such as a healthy Terunofuji or Kisenosato), and another matter entirely when you have to overcome Hakuho.

What’s in store for act 3? I suspect the Nagoya basho has a few more tricks up its sleeves, and we are likely to see at least one more crazy day before the winner can claim the coveted giant macaroon of victory.

Nagoya Leader board

Leader – Hakuho
Chaser – Aoiyama
Hunt Group – Takayasu, Onosho, Chiyotairyu, Takarafuji

6 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 10

Takarafuji vs Gagamaru – Takarafuji going for kachi-koshi, while Gagamaru is praying he can stay out of Juryo for another basho. Sad news for Planet G, Takarafuji has won all 6 of the prior bouts.

Nishikigi vs Takekaze – After a strong start, Nishikigi is on a 3 bout losing streak. He has never won against Takekaze, so this could be an inch closer to the edge of make-koshi and an unfortunate return to Juryo. Time to gamberize!

Aoiyama vs Chiyotairyu – Chiyotairyu pushing for kachi-koshi against the man mountain today. I will be curious to see if Aoiyama will back off the throttle now that he has secured a winning record. He has to know that a trip to the upper Maegashira is now likely, and it brings plenty of pain. Aoiyama leads the series 6-2.

Tokushoryu vs Onosho – Onosho has a shot at kachi-koshi today too, but he needs to overcome the man with biggest overhang in sumo, none other than Tokushoryu. only 3 prior matches, and Tokushoryu has taken 2 of them.

Tochinoshin vs Ichinojo – Big and strong takes on strong and huge. Tochinoshin is back in fighting form, and could be headed for San’yaku if he can get his last 3 wins. Tochinoshin leads their series 8-4.

Kagayaki vs Hokutofuji – Nice match between the fresh rikishi. Both of them have losing records at the moment, but a lot of that is due to their tours through the upper ranks. Kagayaki has never won against Hokutofuji, but today could be his day.

Yoshikaze vs Takakeisho – Yoshikaze completely dismantled Takayasu on day 9, and being a fan of both, it was glorious to watch. As some of our readers have mentioned, Takayasu has gotten a bit one dimensional in the past 3 bouts. Compare his sumo for Aki 2016 to today, and you can see the change. Now, he did what he needed to do in order to reach Ozeki, but he is clearly getting easier to read and counter.

Shodai vs Mitakeumi – I am guessing no henka today. Shodai’s tachiai may be high and sloppy, but he keeps his eyes center-mass of his opponent. I expect he is going to try to get inside on Mitakeumi fast before Mitakeumi can get the tsuppari torrent running. Shodai leads their series 5-3

Kotoshogiku vs Goeido – Kotoshogiku wants to set up for his hip-pump attack, it’s his one thing. Goeido needs to keep this a run-and-gun match, which the Goeido 2.0 software is actually tuned for. These two have met 43 times in the past, but Goeido is the clear winner of their matches.

Takayasu vs Ura – Over to you Takayasu, can you handle this guy? He seems to command the fabric of the universe at times, if you let him. I am hoping that rather than his ordinary shoulder blast, he goes for a strong left hand inside at the tachiai and brings Ura in close. Ura will not last long trying to support the burly bulk that is Takayasu. This is their first bout.

Hakuho vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma is actually fighting pretty well this basho, and if he did not have to fill in for some kyuju talent at the top end, would likely be in for a nice kachi-koshi. But instead he gets to be cannon fodder for the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps in the final days. Only their second meeting, with Hakuho taking the last match.

Tamawashi vs Harumafuji – Let’s watch them trade choke holds! Bring it on, who can hold their breath longest while man-handling 300+ pounds of rikishi on a slippery clay surface? Yeah, Harumafuji for sure because he has been known to hold his breath for a hour while engaging in Butsukari with Terunofuji.