Kyushu Day 1 Preview

Kisenosato - Takakeisho

Hello dear readers, and welcome to the final basho of 2018 (also the final Kyushu basho of the Heisei era)! Where the Aki basho was a brutal pounding applied by the Yokozuna and Ozeki, this basho features two Yokozuna sidelined prior to day 1. Where the upper Maegashira bore the brunt of that pounding during Aki, Kyushu may be a bit more survivable for rikishi who have been ranked in the upper slots.

I must also apologize for the absence of news and commentary in the run up to the opening day. My personal and professional life kept me from writing, and as a result there were many interesting topics left undiscussed. With luck they will get raised on their own during the basho, and will make fine fodder for our excellent readership.

At the head of that list is the re-assignment of several top division rikishi from the now closed Takonohana-beya to Chiganoura. The chaos and distraction of this move may impact Takakeisho, Takanoiwa and other former Takanohana rikishi down the banzuke. Takakeisho turned in a solid 9-6 performance at Aki, and is back at his highest ever Komusubi 1e rank. Takanoiwa was kyujo for the fall jungyo tour, and may be in difficult shape.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Yago vs Chiyomaru – Due to Kaisei’s kyujo, the banzuke is unbalanced from day 1. As a result, Yago gets his chance to visit Makuuchi. With any luck NHK will show this match, as Yago is an impressive young man with a likely debut in Makuuchi in 2019. Chiyomaru managed to stay in Makuuchi through some excellent banzuke luck and ranking chaos as a result of the bloodbath that was Aki. This is only Yago’s tenth basho, seven of which he has been ranked in Juryo. He’s no small fellow, but with the enormous Chiyomaru, I am looking for a great deal of huffing and puffing before it’s all done.

Meisei vs Daishomaru – The first ever match between these two. With Meisei freshly back from his one basho return to Juryo, he’s probably the favourite, as he was looking quite genki during Aki while Daishomaru is looking to recover from an ugly 5-10 Aki basho record.

Chiyoshoma vs Takanosho – Both rikishi came away from Aki with 8-7 kachi-koshi, but it was clear that Chiyoshoma was still nursing injuries on the final day. He has beaten Takanosho twice in their three-match history, but I would give Takanosho the edge on day 1.

Onosho vs Endo – What are these two doing down here? Never mind, both are solid rikishi who have had problems this year. Onosho with a knee injury followed by surgery, and Endo undergoing more extensive repair on his undercarriage. Onosho has yet to beat Endo, and I would guess most of that is mental. Both are looking to bounce back from make-koshi in September.

Chiyonokuni vs Yutakayama – In today’s demolition derby, two powerful rikishi who could not buy a win at Aki. Yutakayama was kyujo for a few days, and Chiyonokuni seemed unable to finish most of his opponents. They are more or less equal (1-2) in their career matches, but I would give the edge to Yutakayama. I am assuming he has healed up, and needs to get back on his sumo. For Chiyonokuni, the inability to finish his opponents is all about how is mind is working.

Kotoshogiku vs Takarafuji – Veteran battle ahoy! As part of the Aki Takarafuji cheer squad over on the West side, I say the guy needs to turn his sumo around. Ex-Ozeki Kotoshogiku continues his slow fade into the sunset, but it’s still nice to see him come out on the dohyo and play bulldozer for a few seconds of high-intensity hug-n-chug. Kotoshogiku leads the career series 13-8.

Ikioi vs Shohozan – Another pair of fierce competitors who took a beating in September. Ikioi rocketed up the banzuke for Aki based on a well-executed over-performance in Nagoya, and is returning to the middle reaches with equal velocity. Shohozan found his street-brawler technique underperforming against the San’yaku, and is back to battling with the rest of the scrappers. Both men are fast, strong and at times brutal. This is likely a match that will feature some fierce pushing and slapping.

Abi vs Kagayaki – Probably the highlight match of the first half, sadly it will likely happen before the NHK live stream picks up. Rumor has it that Abi-zumo has picked up a few new moves, and we are eager to see them on display. Kagayaki never fights with flair, but rather uses fundamentals to win in fairly unsurprising matches. Can you say stylistic clash?

Takanoiwa vs Asanoyama – Time to see if Takanoiwa actually is hurt, as he faces off against perpetual optimist and steadily improving Maegashira Asanoyama. A healthy Takanoiwa should prevail, but there is that injury question again. This is their first ever match.

Chiyotairyu vs Yoshikaze – Chiyotairyu’s cannon-ball tachiai against Yoshikaze’s face and subsequent frantic sumo attacks. Chiyotairyu has about two seconds to get Yoshikaze contained or off balance before The Berserker unleashes doom.

Shodai vs Ryuden – I want to see Shodai employ that improved tachiai he showed us a couple of times in September. Ryuden has continued to improve, but many fans will be looking for some manner of “ugly matta” from this guy who seems prone to them. Shodai has an uncanny knack to survive these kinds of matches, at times looking out of control but always losing last.

Nishikigi vs Ichinojo – Welcome to the joi-jin, Nishikigi! Here, we have a nice boulder for you to play with. For Nishikigi’s sake, I hope Ichinojo is in some kind of Mongolian hibernation mode. [Seems likely. –PinkMawashi]

Mitakeumi vs Tochiozan – Tochiozan has gotten some hype this year that the 31 year old veteran might make one last push for higher rank. He clearly has solid technique, but has a difficult time consistantly putting together a string of winning tournaments. Mitakeumi needs to rebuild his Ozeki bid, and will be looking to expand his 6-1 career lead over Tochiozan day 1.

Tamawashi vs Tochinoshin – I am hoping Tochinoshin is healthy and ready to go. If he is back on top of his sumo, we should see him make short work of Tamawashi. Tamawashi, meanwhile, will try to stay mobile and keep the Ozeki away from a mawashi grip.

Myogiryu vs Takayasu – Some fans are in favor of a Takayasu yusho bid for Kyushu. He starts against veteran Myogiryu, who has an 11-4 career advantage over the Ozeki. It’s been some time since the two have squared off, and it’s going to be interesting to see if Myogiryu can pick up an early win against the Ozeki. They last fought in September of 2016 when Takayasu was Sekiwake 1e.

Goeido vs Hokutofuji – With two of the Yokozuna in dry-dock, Goeido has an excellent shot at his second yusho. Upstart Hokutofuji seems to have gotten his body healed, his sumo together and is pushing for higher rank. Hokutofuji is quite a bit slower than Goeido, who tends to have you defeated before you even know the match has started. This will likely be a good test for Hokutofuji, but I predict Goeido will expand his 3-1 career lead.

Kisenosato vs Takakeisho – The final match of the day is a replay of Aki day 2, when Takakeisho threw the kitchen sink at Kisenosato, and kept the Yokozuna quite busy. In the end Kisenosato was able to restrain, contain and eliminate the bowling ball with legs, after Takakeisho make the mistake of focusing his attacks primarily against Kisenosato’s injured left chest. Hopefully today he will focus his powerful thrusts center-mass, and unleash his “wave action tsuppari” with maximum effect.

Banzuke Luck & Replacing The Joi-Jin

Hokutofuji Tachiai

With a week to go until the start of the 2018 Kyushu basho, I would just like to thank Herouth for her tireless coverage of Jungo events. Without her work, the six weeks in between tournaments would be very quiet times for sumo fans.

At the close of Aki, our own resident forecast wizard, lksumo, proposed that the Kyushu banzuke would deliver many wild swings in ranking, with some rikishi moving 19 or more slots, and an almost total replacement of the top Maegashira ranks. This group of top rank-and-file rikishi is sometimes referred to as the Joi*, and will likely face at least one Yokozuna during a tournament. As readers know, always trust lksumo’s predictions, and the Kyushu banzuke did incorporate large swings in rank. Let’s take a closer look:

Maegashira 1: East/Myogiryu – West/Hokutofuji

With a bare minimum 8-7 at Maegashira 5, Myogiryu may have been a bit surprised to see himself launched to the top Maegashira post, but he is no stranger to the upper ranks. Formerly a Sekiwake, he knows what to do in this position. Hokutofuji has been at Maegashira 1 before, during 2018’s Hatsu basho, but it didn’t go well for him. His 4-11 record started a string of poor tournaments which saw him as low as Maegashira 16, and he is just now battling his way back. Hokutofuji’s 9-6 at Aki took him from Maegashira 9 all the way to Maegashira 1.

Maegashira 2: East/Tochiozan – West/Tamawashi

Two long serving veterans take up Maegashira 2. On the East, Tochiozan’s 8-7 from Maegashira 7 was enough to lift him to M2e. Tochiozan is nearing the end of his career, but is once again looking fairly sharp. Sadly, at his age, he is likely plagued by a series of chronic injuries, and may find the competition at this level a tough challenge. Tamawashi was ranked Komusubi for Aki, and produced an embarrassing 4-11 record. However, even this deep make-koshi only sent him down to Maegashira 2. It’s clear that for Aki he was hurt, and was struggling with some aspects of his sumo. I for one miss him as the steady Sekiwake.

Maegashira 3: East/Nishikigi – West/Ryuden

Oh boy, two rikishi who have really been working hard get their first shot at the big matches. On the East, Nishikigi’s 10-5 at Maegashira 12 at Aki seems to have punched his ticket into the joi. Now we just have to hope this perennial nice-guy survives the journey without a career altering injury. For the past 18 months Nishikigi has either been in Juryo, or clinging to the bottom edge of the Makuuchi bank. For Ryuden on the West, this must seem like an important milestone. After taking most of 2013 and 2014 to treat an injury, he literally had to start over, and has valiantly battled his way this far. His 10-5 from Maegashira 13 was enough to give him his shot. Make it count Ryuden!

Maegashira 4: East/Shodai – West/Yoshikaze

In one of the greatest pieces of banzuke luck since the last big Endo blow-out, Shodai’s 6-9 at Maegashira 3 drops him only to Maegashira 4. We saw some hints at Aki that he may have fixed his tachiai, and if so this could be the start of good things for Shodai, who seems to have most the elements of at least a San’yaku career if he can just put them together in the right order. On the other side of the banzuke, no-one should ever take a match with Yoshikaze for granted, and at M4, he is possibly the most dangerous man in the Maegashira joi. He has struggled since Kyushu last year, but then unloaded an 11-4 at Aki. Clearly his advancing age and all of the problems that come with it are slowing him down, but he remains capable of beating anyone else on any given day. Frankly, I can’t wait to see what he can produce.

Readers will note that most of the Yokozuna / Ozeki to Maegashira matches will happen in the first week, as the top rankers tune up and prepare to compete for the yusho. With this spread of storied veterans and fresh faces, Kyushu week 1 is likely to over-perform.

* A note from PinkMawashi: “Joi-Jin” approximately means “high ranked person”. While it is not an exact term and does not to my knowledge have an official definition, the Joi-Jin typically means the San’yaku and those Maegashira who can expect to face San’yaku opponents during the basho. That is, at least the top 16 wrestlers, although this will expand due to injuries and due to high-rankers from the same heya not being matched up. However, usually when people on English-speaking sumo sites say “joi”, they just mean the Maegashira joi-jin.

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 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.