Ones To Watch – Post Haru Round Up (Sandanme to Jonikuchi)

He’s Back! (Terunofuji)

I have to start by complimenting Herouth’s coverage of the jungyo, which is (if anything) even better than its already typical awesome. The gaps between the basho seem less vacant, and we fans to get to see a different aspect to the sumo world. So a big THANK-YOU to Herouth for bringing us these features.

In our last post, we looked at 9 rikishi in Makushita for Haru, and discussed just how tough the competition can be in the Makushita joi-jin. Today we discuss the rikishi in the divisions below Makushita, each of whom is working hard to improve their rank each and every match. Our coverage at Haru featured some returning favorites, who found themselves in the middle of Jonidan,

Torakio – Naruto heya’s scion took a terrible pounding in Osaka, finishing a dismal 1-6, with the win coming on his final match of the tournament. This was Torakio’s highest ever rank (Sandanme 15), and he had been on a steady path of improvement. We can hope that he did not sustain some mechanical injury, and will return to Tokyo to regroup and refocus on the upcoming Natsu basho in May.

Shoji – A young rikishi from Musashigawa heya, he finished 2-5, ending the tournament with a 3 bout losing streak. He had previously been ranked as high as Makushita 52, but has only scored one kachi-koshi tournament in the past year. The Musashigawa rikishi almost all had terrible tournaments in Osaka. Bad luck? Poor training? Poor quarters? We will never get to know, but we hope that returning to Tokyo will help the crew score better for May.

Wakaichiro – Our favorite Sandanme rikishi ended the tournament with a disappointing 3-4 record, which came down to his final match on day 14. Wakaichiro has shown that he is susceptible to placing his balance forward, and at times is open to hatakikomi or other moves that exploit his center of gravity. As with many of the Musashigawa clan, they fight better in Tokyo, and we expect he will be back in better form for May.

Kenho – The massive Kenho ended Osaka with a deep make-koshi at 1-6, and frankly had little offensive sumo to offer in any of his matches. Once a rikishi get to be his size, there body struggles to manage all of that flesh, and multiple problems with joints, muscles and metabolism come to the front. We hope he can re-group and recover his sumo, as he is great to watch when he is healthy.

Roga – The Mongolian sensation blasted through the pack in Jonidan to finish 7-0, with a day 15 playoff for the Jonidan yusho against none other than returning favorite Terunofuji, which he won to claim the division title. At 20 years of age, he is clearly on a solid upward path, and we will eagerly watch to see where he starts to find the competition challenging. But I would expect him give the Sandanme title favorites in May a series of tough matches.

Terunofuji – Everyone was happy to see Terunofuji return. After holding the title of Ozeki for a long time, he withdrew from sumo to attempt to clear up multiple problems with his body. It was announced that he would be competing in Osaka, sumo fans around the world hoped to see him return fit, trim and powerful. Instead, Terunofuji looked like death warmed over. Clearly his problems with his knees and his metabolism are not much better than a year ago. But at his size and level of skill, the Jonidan rikishi are mere playthings to amuse the Kaiju. As mentioned above, he finished 7-0 with the Yusho-doten, losing to Roga. Please Terunofuji, find a way to get healthy.

Amakaze – Former Juryo mainstay also returned to action after an extended kyujo. Unlike Terunofuji he actually did look like he had some energy and drive. Amakaze has a big round fellow, but has solid sumo skills. He ended Osaka with a 6-1 record, and I expect he will continue to improve for a while.

Hattorizakura – In spite of putting on some weight, and what looked like a bit of muscle mass, Hattorizakura could not find a way to a single win in Osaka, ending the tournament with a solid zenpai (0-7), and in doing so keeping the universe in balance. In the process he seems to have possibly done something unique, losing the same match twice.

Haru Day 2 – Ones to Watch

Wakaichiro Returns To Action – Haru Day 2

I am back from my drive across the dusty wasteland of western Texas, and ready to join the team in covering the Haru basho. Thanks to Josh, Andy and Liam for filling in for me while I was out among the tumbleweeds and oil wells, it was much appreciated, and as always I love reading and watching what you folks put together.

Day 1 was really light for our “Ones to Watch” crew, but here are some results for you following along.

Wakatakamoto defeated Tochinobori – The last non-sekitori Onami brother finds himself in the thick of Makushita, but managed to pick up a win on day one. Given my personal experience with sibling rivalry, this has to be a strong motivator for Wakatakamoto, especially if his brothers are giving him a helping of grief and extra chores.

Naya defeats Fukamiyama – Naya is now wearing his mage (top knot) and looks like a proper rikishi. His opponent for day 1, Fukamiyama, is working to regain footing in Makushita after a trip to Sandanme. Sadly he received a black star for his first match.

Chiyoraizan defeats Shoji – Shoji had made it as high as Makushita 52 before a string of make-koshi tournaments left him in lower Sandanme. With a 5-2 finish at Hatsu, he is in a difference class of rikishi in Osaka. His day 1 loss is nothing more than poor fortune, and in fact he has lost his opening match in each of his past 4 basho.

Terunofuji defeats Wakanoguchi – The most followed Jonidan match for a while, former Ozeki Terunofuji began his long climb back to the top ranks on day one with a win. Terunofuji looked pale, flabby and sort of lost. He was clearly deconditioned and his two heavily bandaged knees were evident. But he managed a win with a very powerful thrust down that gave Wakanoguchi a face full of Osaka clay. Its true that this far down Jonidan, it might be enough to be huge, and a former Ozeki. But his fans all hope that he can get his sumo back together, and get his body in fighting form.

But with so many of our ones to watch sitting out day 1, we know day 2 is going to be a non-stop battle of the strong and the eager, fighting their way up the ranks. Let’s break down who we expect to see in action early on Monday in Osaka.

Hoshoryu vs Tokushinho – Hoshoryu is only in his 7th tournament as a professional rikishi, and he finds himself in the upper ranks of the brutal Makushita division. A strong performance here and a lot of luck might bring him to the salaried ranks for May. His first match of Haru is against the long-time Juryo vet, Tokushinho. After a terrible 4-11 tournament for Kyushu 2015, Tokushinho has been relegated to Makushita, and has always fallen short when he reached a promotable rank. This should be a solid match of experience vs youth.

Akua vs Shiba – With Akua’s day-glow mawashi appropriated by Chiyomaru, it’s up to the one time Juryo man to battle his way back to the salaried ranks and reclaim his colors. Shiba has been occupying a upper Makushita rank for the past several years, and it’s high time this former university sumo star overcome whatever is holding him back and achieve a kachi-koshi from a promotable rank.

Ichiyamamoto vs Sakigake – The intense action keeps rolling with this battle between Ichiyamamoto and Mongolian veteran Sakigake. Ichiyamamoto has been ranked in Juryo for 5 tournaments across his career, but has been in Makushita since Hatsu 2015. Another “rising star vs veteran” match for day 2!

Midorifuji vs Tanabe – These two young, fast rising rikishi are outside of promotable range, but both of them are entering Haru with kachi-koshi scores in January, and looking to chase higher into the Makushita ranks. Both of them are former college rikishi, and already had a good amount of experience before starting their professional sumo careers.

Musashikuni vs Okinofuji – Musashikuni has had make-koshi scores in 3 of the last 4 tournaments, most likely due to persistent problems with his ankles and feet. With the long period of practice and training in Tokyo since January, his fans are hopeful that he is in better fighting for in Osaka, and can start strong. His opponent, Okinofuji, has 37 basho in Makushita.

Torakio vs Amanoshima – Bulgarian Torakio, the nephew of Naruto Oyakata, is fighting at his highest ever rank of Sandanme 30. Amanoshima has spent most of his career in Sandanme, but has suffered two straight make-koshi since his last Makushita visit at Kyushu in 2018. Good luck tiger-cub!

Wakaichiro vs Kotoito – Wakaichiro’s strong performance at Hatsu boosted him to the bottom of Sandanme, where his fans hope he can build on his success. The primary concerns are his injuries, which seem to be accumulating. His sumo form continues to improve, and if his body is accommodating, he should be able to hold Sandanme rank this tournament. His opponent is a young up and comer, Kotoito, from the storied Sadogatake heya. At only 16 years of age, he is quite young.

Kenho vs Toshonishiki – Kenho’s only strategy at Hatsu was to be enormous and as immobile as possible. Sadly with his knee and hip problems, he was unable to cover the immobile portion with any great effect. As a result he was reduced back to Jonidan, and needs to regroup. His first match of Haru is against youngster Toshonishiki, who is fighting at his highest rank. It’s possible this is the larges human Toshonishiki has ever tried to battle.

Hattorizakura vs Shachinofuji – Fighting at a career high rank of Jonikuchi 15, Hattorizakura’s fans hope that he might defy the odds and actually win 2 matches in the same basho. Oddly enough this is a rematch against Shachinofuji, who (of course) beat him last time.

Ura To Compete, Terunofuji Kyujo

Ura-Cartoon

Tachiai can now confirm the competition status of two fan favorites. First, Ura is definitely a go for competition. He is ranked Sandanme 91 West. After hideous damage to his right knee Last year at Aki, he went the route of undergoing surgery, and has been working to rebuild his body since. This will be his first time in competition in a year, and I am very curious to see how long it takes him to re-connect with his sumo. Should he step up primed and genki, there is a strong chance that lower Sandanme rikishi may find themselves quickly going down to defeat.

The matter of Terunofuji is also hopeful, but with a different course of action. The big Kaiju is sitting out Aki, having also chosen to undergo reconstructive surgery. Terunofuji has mountains of talent, and a strong work ethic. It seems that he has accepted that he is rebooting his sumo career, and at this point it won’t matter what rank he falls to, as long as he comes back strong and healthy. He is currently ranked Makushita 47, but we expect him to be out several basho.

Aki starts in about 36 hours, and frankly Team Tachiai can’t wait.

Hat tip to Herouth for digging this up via Sanspo.

Nagoya Basho News

Hattorizakura

With just a handful of hours to go, here is the latest from Nagoya

The dohyo was consecrated this morning in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. Offerings to the deities were sealed in the center of the platform, in a ceremony that completes preparation for the Nagoya basho.

As hoped, some injured rikishi that we follow have decided to play it safe, and not compete in Nagoya. This includes Ura and Terunofuji.  Ura is being rightfully cautious in returning to action, as the surgery to repair his knee takes about 9 months to heal. He had also gained a large amount of weight that would put additional strain on his knee. With him sitting out Nagoya, he will drop to mid or lower Sandanme for Aki. The chances of a Wakaichiro – Ura match are still remote, but growing.

Terunofuji underwent surgery a few weeks ago for his knee problems, and is likely still a physical wreck.  We think it will be many months before we see him return. He may even have to re-start sumo from the bottom division, which would be both a complete shame for Terunofuji, and a terrifying ordeal for the young men he would be tasked to defeat to regain any sort of rank.

Wakaichro is in action early in day 1, with a rematch against Sadogatake heya’s Kotosato.  Their prior match, on day 10 of Natsu, went to Kotosato. This offers the rikishi from Humble, Texas a chance to even the score. The two of them are roughly the same height and weight, and it should be a great match.

Finally, thanks to Herouth for pointing it out, the opening match of the entire basho is none other than Hattorizakura vs. Wakaoyama. For sumo fans who don’t know, Hattorizakura is a scrawny kid who just can’t seem to win, but keeps training. The sumo word is on pins and needles at the thought that Hattorizakura might actually win the first bout tonight. If so, all of the hard core sumo nerds will celebrate.

Haru Day 10 – Kinjite, Henka, and a Lone Yokozuna

What a marvellous day we had today at the EDION arena in Osaka.

ikioi-yutakayama
Ikioi grabbing Yutakayama’s oicho-mage

The first bout in Makuuchi featured a visitor from Juryo, Takekaze, who seems to be quite on the genki side and ready to come back to the top level. He was faced with Aoiyama, still part of the Yusho arasoi.

This time, no Henka, and Aoiyama pulled away from the tachiai to give himself space for his usual tsuppari attack, then pushed Takekaze forward – but one advantage the little bullfrog has over Aoiyama is that he is much lighter on his feet. Lateral movement, and the Bulgarian’s inertia did the rest. Aoiyama now out of the yusho race, but he will get his kachi-koshi, and probably double digits.

Asanoyama faced shocking pink Hidenoumi, but was not blinded by his mawashi. He got a safe hold on Hidenoumi’s mawashi, tried a yori in one direction, then a yori in the other direction, then just pulled the man down. Uwatedashinage, and Hidenoumi is make-koshi and heading back to Juryo.

Ishiura didn’t do the most flagrant henka on the dohyo today. It was only a half-henka. Myogiryu managed to turn around at the edge, but not quickly enough to avoid the push.

Kotoyuki must be spending a large fraction of his keiko time perfecting his rolling technique. Even when he doesn’t roll off the dohyo, he still manages to roll. And today the bowler was Sokokurai, with a very typical uwatenage. Kotoyuki still winless.

Daiamami, who has had a strong basho this far, surprises by doing a henka. Still not the most flagrant one of the day. And also rather ineffectual. Tochiozan easily recovers and returns the favor, and it’s Daiamami who is on the receiving end of the hatakikomi, and off the yusho race.

Ikioi seems as good as he has been this basho. Pushes here and there, and then slams Yutakayama to the ground. Yutakayama’s hand goes straight to his topknot before he even rises, and for a good reason. His hair got pulled. Was it a forbidden hair pull or a hand accidentally getting caught in the elaborate hairdo? A monoii is called. The shimpan confer and decide: he pulled.

It’s worth noting that the point here is not so much if the hand in the hair is what caused Yutakayama to fall, and it’s also not whether it was intentional or not. Japanese culture regards people’s intentions and feelings as something that can’t be judged easily from the outside, so it tends to concentrate on observable behavior. The point is, therefore, whether Ikioi was grabbing the hair or not. And the replays show him bending his fingers as they get caught in the hair. This makes it a grab. Hatakikomi experts like Aminishiki know to keep their fingers straight when this happens. If your fingers are straight, you’re pretty much safe.

Ikioi, therefore, loses by hansoku – a disqualification – for using a kinjite – a forbidden technique. This is very rare in the top divisions. Ikioi says he thought his hand was already free of the mage when he pulled down.

Chiyonokuni gives Nishikigi his standard treatment. Forward attack with fierce tsuppari, and then a sharp pull. Nishikigi, as he has been for quite a few basho, is struggling to string wins together.

Kagayaki beats Daishomaru by a straightforward yori-kiri. Kagayaki has really improved his sumo style, and I would have expected him to be more than 5-5 at this point. Daishomaru missed his kachi-koshi opportunity this time.

Daieisho tries to develop an oshi battle against Chiyoshoma, but Chiyoshoma catches his mawashi and it turns into a yotsu battle. Chiyoshoma goes back and forth trying to create one of his favorite throws. He is having a hard time of it this basho, though. Eventually he gives up and completes this by a simple, straightforward yori-kiri.

The two rikishi who won the kanto-sho together last basho, Ryuden and Abi, are now being sorted into two different levels. Ryuden, though he is a very nice rikishi, will stay at the low to middle ranks, while Abi is definitely going places. Abi did his standard routine. Long hands landing a barrage of tsuppari, long legs moving forward fast. Ryuden could not withstand that attack or try anything. Abi, if he improves his footwork, may get to sanyaku in a couple of basho.

Something very strange is happening to Yoshikaze. Are we seeing the initial signs of concussion-related issues? He looks pretty much alright in his match with Okinoumi, when suddenly his left foot develops a mind of its own and he crumbles to the ground. The kimarite is kainahineri, but it doesn’t really look like one, and the only reason he escaped being sent off with a tsukihiza (which is a hiwaza – a non-technique, a default) is that Okinoumi was, in fact, applying some force to his body.

Takakeisho continues his weak, supposedly injury-related, sumo vs. the struggling Hokutofuji. For a couple of basho, the tadpoles have been the great hope for the future, and now they are all crumbling together.

Takarafuji showed today what he is really worth, in a patient and strong match with Kotoshogiku. He even attempts to gaburi the gaburi-master at some point there, but eventually finishes with a cleanly executed throw. The Isegahama man is a clear demonstration of the hardship of the joi. In the first week he got pummeled by much superior rikishi, and then, with low confidence and accumulated bangs, lost a couple of matches he should have won if they were in the beginning of his schedule. Thus, a make-koshi for an otherwise excellent wrestler. All he can do is try to pad his slide down the banzuke with a few wins.

Arawashi, whose left knee bandage seems to grow larger every day, is no real match for Endo, who gets him quickly out of the circle. Off-dohyo issues may also be affecting the injured Eagle, as apparently his tsukebito, Hikarugenji, is involved in yet another violence scandal and is kyujo as of today.

And now we come to the highlight match of the day. 420kg on the dohyo, not counting the gyoji. On one side, the new kaiju, Ichinojo, flexing his muscles and looking for young horses to toss around. On the other side, Kaisei, with a perfect 9-0 record, eyeing the yusho. Tachiai. Boom! The meeting of bodies nearly causes the seismographs in the Kansai area to send the signal for all shinkansen to stop in their tracks. It’s lucky that the honbasho dohyo is not made of beer crates like the jungyo dohyo are.

Kaisei takes the initiative and manages to get Ichinojo to the bales, but the Kyomusubi rallies and step by step pushes back to the middle of the ring. Then he sets his alarm clock for the next day, finds a soft spot on Kaisei’s shoulder to rest his head and goes to sleep. Remember, there are no wolves in Japan. Ichinojo can allow himself to sleep deeply, while Kaisei’s eyes start to bulge. The next day, Ichinojo wakes up, pushes a bit, sees that Kaisei still has some stamina left, hits the snooze button, and sleeps some more. Then he wakes up, picks the spent Brazilian up, and heaves him across the tawara.

Kaisei is too heavy to stop dead, and drops down, but Ichinojo still has enough stamina to pull at the Tomozuna man, enough to make him land lightly on his feet with little impact. Well done, Kyomusubi. Ichinojo is kachi-koshi, and Kaisei receives his first loss.

(OK, OK, I’m sure my Japanese jokes are lost on the crowd here. I’m calling him Kyomusubi because Komusubi – 小結 – means “little knot”, but 巨結 – Kyomusubi – giant knot – seems somehow more appropriate).

ichinojo-kaisei
Ichinojo, feeling refreshed after a long nap

But would you believe that this battle of titans, with immediate implications for the yusho run, was honored with not a single envelope of kensho? None. Zero. Ichinojo got to take home only his pride and the fans’ adoration.

Tamawashi has settled into a “one day sunshine, the next day rain” pattern. Where is the strong Tamawashi of yesterday? Chiyotairyu pushes him off the dohyo before the gyoji completes his first “hakkioi”.

The bout between Mitakeumi and Shohozan turns out to be a very nice piece of sumo. Shohozan goes for a harizashi but doesn’t quite gets the “zashi” part (slap-and-grab, but where’s the grab?). Then a slapfest ensues. Another harite! And another! And a body clash! Then Shohozan attempts to pull and sidestep. Mitakeumi keeps his balance and manages to re-engage. But Shohozan has now achieved the “grab” he was looking for, with a right-hand-outside. Mitakeumi’s left hand goes outside Shohozan’s grip, and he attempts to grab at Shohozan with his right, but this only ends with Shohozan having a tight morozashi with both hands firmly on Mitakeumi’s left back mawashi. Mitakeumi tries to do something with the arm he has on Shohozan’s neck, but Shohozan’s mighty pythons are doing their job, and Mitakeumi finds himself rolling below the dohyo.

Takayasu makes short work of Shodai. Kachiage. A couple of Nodowa, and good-bye. Takayasu is kachi-koshi, safe from kadoban, and looks pretty much like he did in the previous basho.

And now we come to the most flagrant henka of the day. By, you guessed it, Ozeki Go-Away-Do. And I don’t want to hear any complaints about me using that nickname when he does this. Are you under 170cm, Ozeki? Perhaps you weigh less than 100kg? Are you injured? Coming back from a long, rust inducing kyujo? In kadoban? Facing a man ranked 10 levels above you? Bah. Chicken. His home crowd at Osaka didn’t like it, either. There was a babble of disapproval where there should have been applause for their hero. The Osaka crowd are sumo aficionados. They know what’s right and what’s not. Tochinoshin managed to circle around in time, but couldn’t rally fast enough. He is now out of the yusho race. But I certainly hope he can continue the Ozeki run. Goeido, on the other hand, gets about 20 envelopes of kensho for this display.

Kakuryu, after his display of tawara-waltz yesterday, probably decided it’s time to show some Yokozuna-worthy sumo. He starts with a harizashi (which some argue is not yokozuna sumo. Well, at least not when the Yokozuna is Hakuho). Then gets his typical migi-yotsu, firmly holding to Chiyomaru‘s mawashi with his right hand.

This was, in fact, only the second time he used that grip in this basho. That’s the injured hand, and most of his bouts have been about working around it. He attempts to use it for the yori, but it’s actually Chiyomaru who advances. The yokozuna changes his overarm grip – the left hand – placing it closer to the front of Chiyomaru’s mawashi, and then uses it cleanly and efficiently and Chiyomaru finds himself outside in no time. This has been the first time for Chiyomaru to appear on the musubi-no-ichiban, or engage with a Yokozuna at all. He said “It was an atmosphere which I have never experienced before”.

chiyomaru-kakuryu
Sniff, sniff. Love your aftershave, Maru.

Kakuryu achieves his “Yokozuna kachi-koshi”. It now remains to see if his faith is going to be different than in the previous basho, as he goes into the last third where he faces the strongest opponents. And the first challenge is Kyomusubi Ichinojo!

Yusho Arasoi

  • 10-0 – Y1E Kakuryu
  • 9-1 – M6E Kaisei
  • 8-2 – OE Takayasu, KE Ichinojo

Juryo

As I said, I’m combining my coverages today, and here is the Juryo summary.

homarefuji-takanoiwa
Takanoiwa can’t find his sea legs as yet

At the very bottom, Enho is edging closer to a make-koshi, and his chance of winning all of his next five bouts are vanishingly small, much like himself. He will need to spend some more time at Makushita and get those kilograms rolling.

 

 

Tobizaru pretty much sweeps the floor with him.

Terutsuyoshi is not fairing much better, and I believe he is heading back to Makushita yet again, despite being stronger than Enho. He complains of various injuries on the Isegahama website.

 

The rest of the Isegahama sekitori surprisingly all won today, while all of Takanohana’s lost. In fact, Takanoiwa lost to Homarefuji.

Homarefuji got him into an oshi battle, which is clearly not his specialty.

Terunofuji got to meet the much higher-ranked Kyokutaisei. And once again, showed a glimpse of the old Terunofuji:

Harizashi, yotsu, yori-kiri. The former Ozeki and Kyokutaisei both hit the even 5-5 mark.

For some reason, One And Only seems not to like Aminishiki, and never posts a video of his bouts. So here is a time-stamped (46m 18s) full Juryo video from Miselet:

I have a hunch Aminishiki is going to announce his retirement soon – after this basho, or maybe the next. He is having a real hard time, and I suppose he is getting tired of suffering pain day after day and seeing not much in return.

But for the time being, he manages to scrape another win and break his fall down Juryo somewhat. Tokushoryu tries a tottari, but Aminishiki uses the same elbow to push him away and out.

Mitoryu and Sadanoumi are the only two Juryo wrestlers to achieve kachi-koshi by day 10. Tsurugisho and Amakaze are, alas, make-koshi.

Finally, at Jonokuchi, here is the Hoshoryu of the day. Congratulations, first kachi koshi!