Haru Day 3 Preview

In Front of His Home-Town Crowd, Ozeki Goeido May Be Tough to Beat…

We are still early in this basho, and there are a number of compelling story lines that we are following. Here are a few

  • Hakuho wanting to win back-to-back: He said he would love to win the last tournament of the current imperial era, and the first tournament of the next era (May). His health seems a bit shaky right now, but he’s started 2-0.
  • Will Takayasu someday take a yusho? He has picked up where Ozeki Kisenosato left off. Plenty of jun-yusho without every taking the cup.
  • What will it take for Takakeisho to get the Ozeki nod?: Sure, it’s not a straight 33 wins and you are in formula, but I do wonder now what they are going to put this guy through.
  • Can Tochinoshin get his 8?: It’s clear he is both hurt, and rusty right now. I think everyone is pulling for him to clear kadoban and hopefully heal up.

What We Are Watching Day 3

Chiyoshoma vs Kotoeko – I am expecting Kotoeko to be wise enough to expect a henka, fast enough to react to it, and strong enough to make Chiyoshoma pay if he tries it. The are evenly matched at 4-4 for their career record.

Ishiura vs Yutakayama – Yutakayama does tend to plow ahead in a reckless manner, and we are back on the subject of henka again with Ishiura’s day 2 flagrant whopper. Yutakayama really needs 8 wins this tournament to stave off a return to Juryo. If he is relegated back to the junior division, I fear he is there for a while.

Tomokaze vs Toyonoshima – Two big powerful guys on deck for this match, so it comes down to youth vs experience. Toyonoshima had a good start day 1, but looked off his sumo day 2. Fans love a grizzled old vet fighting his way back to the top, so everyone wants to see Toyonoshima do well.

Terutsuyoshi vs Yoshikaze – I worry the Yoshikaze slide will continue, as he seems to be unable to generate much in the way of forward pressure. But this will be the first time that Terutsuyoshi has faced him, and maybe there is something useful he can learn via this match.

Kagayaki vs Meisei – Kagayaki has had 4 straight make-koshi tournaments, and for fans of his its quiet frustrating to see him struggle to produce the same power, focus and forceful sumo that took him to the top division. I am predicting Meisei may have his number for day 3.

Shohozan vs Yago – Shohozan has yet to get his first white star of Haru, and I hope he stays mobile on day 3. Yago may have seen how poorly his opponent does chest-to-chest, and decide to take that road. “Big Guns” is at his best when its run-and-gun.

Ryuden vs Ikioi – These two have so many similarities, it can be uncanny at times. Ikioi is 4 years older, but in so many ways, they are the same guy. Except that Ikioi seems to have a string in injuries he can’t seem to put behind him, and every time he steps on the dohyo, his fans reach for the aspirin. Ryuden has yet to take a match from Ikioi, but today could be his day.

Asanoyama vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku has looked very good so far, and I am expecting this to be an offense heavy match. Kotoshogiku will, of course, try to get chest to chest with Asanoyama, who I think will be focusing on a thrust-and-shift strategy, keeping the former Ozeki out of range.

Sadanoumi vs Takarafuji – No wins for either rikishi yet, and Takarafuji holds a 10-5 career advantage. Both have fought well enough thus far, but seem to be a half-step slower than their opponents.

Okinoumi vs Abi – Another winless duo, has Abi-zumo finally reached its end? I think that most rikishi have figured out how to disrupt his attack, and his double-arm thrust technique seems to be an all or nothing affair. Okinoumi can win with both yotzu and oshi combat techniques, so it will come down to shutting off Abi’s attack.

Aoiyama vs Onosho – Onosho has to focus on getting inside, and close to Aoiyama within the first few moments of the match. Once the man-mountain begins flailing those long, powerful arms, its usually all over. Onosho has beat him before (career record 3-2), but each time it was because he could move close early and thrust against Aoiyama’s considerable body.

Tochiozan vs Ichinojo – Though Tochiozan holds a 9-5 career advantage, Ichinojo may be in his “good” mode for now, and its quite tough for anyone to battle that much motivated rikishi. We have yet to see Ichinojo with his heels on the bales, which is where he tends to give up, so Tochiozan will need to drive hard out of the tachiai and back him up before Ichinojo can rally.

Chiyotairyu vs Shodai – I will be watching to see any signs of an improved Shodai tachiai in this match. Chiyotairyu puts all of his power up front, and if Shodai can remain in the match past the 6 second mark, Chiyotairyu quickly runs out of stamina.

Myogiryu vs Tamawashi – Tamawashi got distracted day 2, and ended up with a loss. He stated prior to the basho that his training routine was off because of all the extra duties he had as the yusho winner. Day 3 he has a chance to bounce back against a rikishi he holds a 5-3 career advantage against. The last time Myogiryu beat him was about 3 years ago.

Takakeisho vs Mitakeumi – Tadpole fight! Mitakeumi has been a surprisingly strong competitor for this first two days, and we know he is fighting hurt. Takakeisho will need to power past the elder tadpole to keep himself in the hunt for another bid at Ozeki promotion. Mitakeumi holds a 6-3 career advantage. This is my match of the day.

Nishikigi vs Goeido – Goeido has never beaten Nishikigi. I had to think about that for a minute, but it’s true: 2-0. Goeido is looking genki this time, and Nishikigi seems to be struggling with his sumo. I am going to predict that the Ozeki starts to even out the balance on day 3, and Nishikigi’s magical tour through the joi-jin is hitting some turbulence.

Takayasu vs Daieisho – I think this match is an easy win for Takayasu, but I am looking at the Ozeki each day, hoping to see signs of improvement in his already considerably excellent sumo. Everyone wants to see the big hairy man claim a yusho, and we hope he can do it this year.

Tochinoshin vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji is a shambles right now, and that’s great news for Tochinoshin, who needs to rack any win he can get in the first week before his matches get tougher. His magic number is 7 going into day three. These two have split their 4 career matches.

Endo vs Kakuryu – Likewise Endo is fairly shambolic right now, and Kakuryu seems to have shaken off whatever ring rust led to his day 1 loss against Mitakeumi. Kakuryu leads their career series 8-2. I am looking for a solid “reactive sumo” match from Kakuryu on day 3: Give Endo some room, let him make a mistake, then make him pay.

Hakuho vs Kaisei – Kaisei is 0-12 against Hakuho, which is more or less all you need to know here. I predict the big Brazilian will be on the clay, and Hakuho will remain unbeaten.

Haru Day 1 & 2 Comments

Mitakeumi Calls The Tune During His Day 1 Match With Yokozuna Kakuryu

Although Andy was kind enough to put together a day 2 preview, I wanted to add a few comments as well. My thanks to Team Tachiai for covering during my day 1 kyujo!

It’s great that everyone in the top division was able to start the basho, with the exception of Chiyonokuni. For those of you who might have missed it, he destroyed his knee during Hatsu, and frankly I would be surprised to see him back before summer or fall.

It was evident that Hokutofuji was not mentally ready to bring any sort of serious challenge to Hakuho day 1. Though he lined up well and launched into the tachiai with vigor, you can see him close his eyes and almost wince as he comes up against the Yokozuna. Hakuho, who I am convinced sees at about 240hz, had a brief “what is this?” Look on his face before grabbing Hokutofuji’s forearm and guiding him to the clay. For day 2, Hokutofuji faces Goeido, who is in front of his home-town crowd. My biggest worry about Goeido? That day 1 match where Endo was propelled out of the dohyo – some fans noticed Goeido had stepped out. Rather his foot slipped off of the top of the tawara onto the janome. That’s the same foot he underwent reconstructive surgery for, that took titanium screws to rebuild.

Hakuho will get Endo for day 2. Frankly we don’t know what kind of condition Hakuho is actually in yet, and as happens in prior basho, his first match (or several) he finds way to win without using much in the way of mobility. As cited above, Hokutofuji did most of the work himself. Endo had little to offer Goeido on day 1, and I think he won’t have much luck with Hakuho either.

Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin did not reduce the worry level of his fans day 1. His reverse-gear sumo with a pull was not the kind of move you expect from Tochinoshin, who wins with his overwhelming strength applied vigorously in a forward direction. Can we assume that Tochinoshin’s still fairly injured? Too soon to tell. But his day 2 match against Myogiryu is no push-over. Myogiryu is a tough competitor who knows how to beat Tochinoshin, even when the Ozeki is healthy.

Call it a simple hunch, but Takayasu looked a lot less frantic on day 1 than I recall for many moths. Takayasu is at his best when he is calm, strong and forceful. This really gets put to the test day 2 when he draws Mitakeumi, who in spite of an injury that he might want to see surgery for, delivered a win against Yokozuna Kakuryu. Mitakeumi did little to practice before the basho due to the injury, and I am certain that every day is a struggle for him.

On the subject of Kakuryu – I don’t think that his chaotic day 1 loss to Mitakeumi is a sign he has problems. Kakuryu’s matches are frequently a “seat of the pants” affair, and it’s clear that the Yokozuna’s first gambit failed, and left him with little room for recovery. Against Kaisei, he won’t have to worry as much about mobility as he did against Mitakeumi, but there is the question of the Brazilian’s enormous mass.

Tamawashi struggled a bit more than might be expected against Nishikigi, who seems to be in the joi-jin for the long haul now. As Tamawashi himself noted prior to the basho, the number of collateral obligations he had as the yusho winner impacted his training program leading up to the basho. Daieisho may not provide too much of a challenge on day 2, and I expect the Hatsu yusho winner to continue to file down his ring rust for the first 5 days.

Takakeisho’s day 1 match was as close to his preferred blueprint as you might ask. He was low, he went for center-mass oshi straight away and he kept the pressure going for the win. His day 2 match against Nishikigi might have a surprise or two, as Nishikigi continues to show remarkable persistence, and an unexpected tendency to find ways not “not lose”, usually to the frustration of his opponents.

A few more quick hits

Ichinojo – Whoa! That was big, strong sumo day 1. I wonder about his posture post-match. He did not look right. But let’s hope the boulder is strong for the next 14 days.

Shodai – I do in fact think he is getting better on his tachiai. If this is real, watch out. His sumo mechanics are excellent otherwise.

Tochiozan – After a fairly dismal Hatsu, the “good” Tochiozan seems to have shown up day 1. Though aging out, he’s a sumo force of nature when he’s feeling healthy.

Aoiyama – Day 1 match featured some really excellent combat sumo from the Man-Mountain. Abi had no way to really keep Aoiyama from doing exactly whatever the big Bulgarian wanted.

Kotoshogiku – He sumo looked strong at Hatsu, even though he ended with disappointing 6-9 record. His day 1 tachiai was especially sharp. Day 2 he’s against Takarafuji, who always seems a half step behind now.

Ikioi – If you have not seen his day 1 match, it ended with a shove worthy of Superman himself. Shohozan nearly took flight from the force of it, and it was a welcome change from seeing Ikioi as the walking wounded.

Ishiura – Wow, this guy! I remember him! He burst into the top division at Kyushu 2016 – he was strong, fast and always had 2 attacks going at the same time. Then he devolved into a henka machine, and got boring. But look who is back! More of this, please!

Yutakayama – It hurts to watch this guy. Once the leader of the Freshman cohort, his visit to the joi at Aki 2018 saw him kyujo for 3 days, and never quite right since. I personally hope he can pull it together, as I think he has a lot to offer sumo in the years to come.

Update – Yokozuna Hakuho

After leading the yusho race for most of the Hatsu basho, Yokozuna hakuho withdrew on day 14 after suffering 3 straight losses. His kyujo application cited complications with his right knee, and many sumo fans and pundits chalked it up to him wanting to save his pride after losing 3 straight. As it turns out, reality was far more gruesome.

Hakuho skipped the Kyushu tournament to have surgery on this knee – the latests in a series of medical procedures that he has undergone to try and keep himself in fighting form for a few more tournaments. He looked fairly well during the pre-basho work up, and was enthusiastic to complete and probably win the finally Tokyo basho of the Heisei era. But on the 4th day of the tournament, he faced Hokutofuji, and won the match by some minor gymnastics on the tawara to stay in the ring while Hokutofuji dove for the gyoji. It turns out this re-injured his knee. The problem seemed minor at first, but grew worse day over day. As reported on Twitter (thanks to Herouth)

The decision to go kyujo came after he found he could no longer sleep at night, due to the pain and inflammation in his knee, and it was clear that he was going to require medical intervention, and possibly additional surgery.

This was bad enough, but following the basho, the YDC decided once again to put their foot in their collective mouths. In a post-meeting statement, (thanks to Kintamayama) outgoing chairman and Colonel Sanders Cosplayer Kitamura had this to say: They were doing proper sumo before they went kyujo and there was no sign of any serious injury. Some members noted that it was a bit strange. The Kyokai’s appointed doctor was the one who should be signing the certificates and not their individual doctors and some others said they would like to see a more objective certificate stating exactly how many days of rest they need..”

The overwhelming question remains – just how bad is it? Well, Hakuho had at least a hematoma in that right knee, and that is a good indication that something tore apart that was not completely healed. Most fans would be fine with him taking an extended break to get healthy, but it seems that the YDC is on the warpath now that Kisenosato has retired. Hakuho is truly the greatest rikishi most of us will ever see, and it would seem a shame to not give him the time and “cover” he needs to return to fighting form. After the 9 partial or complete kyujo granted to Kisenosato, this episode would seem tough to swallow. But as a westerner, I recognize my perspective is different, and I see these men as athletes, and not as cultural icons.

Tachiai hopes “The Boss” can get healthy and return to tossing everyone around like a hacky-sack soon.

Hatsu Day 12 Highlights

Heading into the final weekend, it's a brawl to the end. Stock the fridge and call in sick to work, you won't want to miss any of this.
Heading into the final weekend, it’s a brawl to the end. Stock the fridge and call in sick to work, you won’t want to miss any of this.

A brief reminder that Tachiai is not spoiler free.

Tamawashi succeeded in his task, and took Hakuho to the clay for a second day in a row, dropping him to 10-2, and blowing the yusho race wide open. There are 5 rikishi who have a shot at the Emperor’s cup, and that number grows to 7 should either of the co-leaders lose again. Though, in reality, the race is between Hakuho and Tamawashi, with an outside chance of Takakeisho – should he also prevail against Hakuho in their day 13 match.

It should be noted that Takakeisho defeated Tamawashi on day 3, and at 9 wins he needs 2 more over the next 3 days to stamp his bid to become Ozeki. Takakeisho’s final 2 wins are not a certanty, and many Ozeki candidates fail their first attempts. Should he finish Hatsu with 10 wins, his goal in Osaka is a mere 10 wins, thanks to his 13-2 yusho in November.

More than any prior basho in recent memory, the winds of change a blowing with purpose.

Highlight Matches

Sadanoumi defeats Meisei – Sadanoumi locks in his kachi-koshi, This lightning fast match saw the competitors switch from oshi to yotsu and then, in tandem, attempt a throw.

Ikioi defeats Yutakayama – Yutakayama is getting painfully close to a make-koshi, but Ikioi is some kind of battle-bot now, a mass of wounds and maladies that mounts the dohyo and defeats you. With his pain.

Takarafuji defeats Yago – Yago drops his 4th in a row, and is suddenly looking a lot less genki. A Takarafuji kachi-koshi would be his first since this time LAST YEAR!

Abi defeats Daiamami – Abi gets his first kachi-koshi since March of 2018, and proves that his style of sumo can still be effective, if you are far enough down the banzuke.

Asanoyama defeats Chiyoshoma – A rough and tumble match that looked like Chiyoshoma was still battling after he had stepped out. These two threw everything into this match, and it switched styles and forms multiple times, but Asanoyama kept fighting. Great sumo from both.

Ryuden defeats Daishomaru – Daishomaru will be relegated deep into Juryo for March. He seems to have no forward pressure at all, and we can assume some manner of injury is keeping him from his full potential.

Daieisho defeats Kotoeko – A quick, ugly match that suffered from a false start. Both men are struggling, and it will probably come down to final day matches for both of them.

Endo defeats Chiyotairyu – Massive, brilliant match from both. Endo gets high marks for absorbing Chiyotairyu’s tachiai and subsequent attacks, and a great effort from Chiyotairyu, who showed his trademark strength, and uncharacteristic stamina.

Kagayaki defeats Onosho – Hapless, make-koshi Kagayaki takes Onosho down. This underscores that Onosho is still not 100%, and is probably low on stamina at this point of the tournament. During the match you can see him favoring his right knee, and his ability to push against Kagayaki’s attack is certainly limited. The time he sat out to address his knee injury is impacting his sumo, at least for a little while longer. Onosho needs one more win for kachi-koshi.

Kaisei defeats Okinoumi – Like many Kaisei matches, it as a low speed – high force affair that played to the Brazilian’s massive body size and immense strength.

Nishikigi defeats Shodai – Shodai suffered the painful side of a kotenage in his make-koshi loss. Nishikigi has been fading since the middle weekend, and is on the knife edge of make-koshi himself. Can he battle back and win out for his kachi-koshi?

Hokutofuji defeats Ichinojo – High marks for Hokutofuji’s effort in this one. The much larger, much stronger Ichinojo fought him well up until he was backed to the bales, and then once again went soft.

Shohozan defeats Myogiryu – Shohozan engages in a surprising mawashi battle, and comes up the winner. Myogiryu resisted well, escaping at least twice from potential Shohozan wins, but “Big Guns” stayed with it, and took the white star.

Mitakeumi defeats Tochiozan – Now one win away from a kachi-koshi, walking wounded Mitakeumi applies a hit-and-shift tachiai, and follows it up with a strong grapple and forward attack against Tochiozan. I cringe watching him, but he’s getting results.

Takakeisho defeats Kotoshogiku – It was evident that Kotoshogiku was a bit lost on how to attack. Takakeisho’s thrusting attacks blocked him from setting up the gaburi-yori, and all attempts to return Takakeisho’s oshi attacks were blunted by the fact that Takakeisho is so damn short. Kotoshogiku found himself getting a lot of hair, and not much rikishi. Kotoshogiku make-koshi.

Goeido defeats Yoshikaze – To be fair, this is the depleted relic of Yoshikaze, but I applaud Goeido for battling back from doom to at least a 6-6 score. 2 more wins out of the last 3 and he can escape what seemed to be an almost certain kadoban.

Takayasu defeats Aoiyama – Impressive effort from Aoiyama, he managed to use his superior reach to keep the Ozeki’s offense more or less shut down, but even his mighty strength was not enough to close the deal. Takayasu took his time and waited for the moment he could get inside, and then powered Aoiyama out.

Tamawashi defeats Hakuho – The Boss has done a great job convincing everyone he was genki, but it seems that mask has dropped. Hakuho is an ace competitor, but he made a fatal mistake and broke contact with Tamawashi, resulting in him facing the wrong way. Tamawashi sprang to action and escorted the Yokozuna out in a rush. It’s not often we see Hakuho make a mistake that large, and my compliments to “The Crippler” for seizing the opportunity.

Hatsu Day 10 Preview

Day 10 marks the end of Act 2 and presages the start of Act 3—where we crown a champion, while the survivors fight for kachi-koshi. The red-letter match for today is Takayasu and Takakeisho, with the Ozeki below .500 with a miserable 4-5 record, and Takakeisho pressing hard for 11 wins and a chance to make the case that he should join the Ozeki ranks.

With veteran Takekaze announcing his retirement from competition, we seem to have the start of the long awaited period of cnange. There are a number of rikishi over 30 who are headed into the final stages of their Sekitori careers. For many who have been long term members of sumo’s elite, the thought of soldiering on through the un-salaried ranks makes the choice clear. It’s likely that more veterans will hang up their silk mawashi before this year comes to a close.

As a result, we will see a healthy upward draw of fresh talent from the top of the Makushita “wall”. Many of these rikishi have been Sekitori in the past, or are just on the cusp of being ready for Juryo. In addition to the normal up / down motion that comes at the end of every basho, there are 3 additional slots that might be open in the Sekitori ranks due to the retirement of Kisenosato, Takanoiwa and now Takekaze. This means exciting times for the year ahead, and a healthy crop of fresh talent to enjoy.

What We Are Watching Day 10

Kagayaki vs Daishomaru – Normally I would say Kagayaki has make-koshi on the line, but he is fighting winless Daishomaru.

Chiyonokuni vs Ikioi – Possibly time to trim back Chiyonokuni’s commanding 8-1 record, as he faces battle damaged but formidable Ikioi. Chiyonokuni matches are frequently flailing madhouses of body parts moving with violent speed, so we are hoping that Ikioi can avoid further injury.

Takarafuji vs Kotoyuki – These two have a 13 match history, with Takarafuji having a respectable advantage. With Kotoyuki always taping his hands into “flippers”, we know he is not looking for any kind of mawashi battle. Although Kotoyuki is below .500, a kachi-koshi and a safe spot in March’s Makuuchi line up is still possbile.

Yutakayama vs Abi – Two of the “Freshmen” battle it out with an even 2-2 career record. Yutakayama has bulk and strength, Abi speed and reach. Yutakayama needs the win more, but Abi is fighting somewhat better this basho.

Ryuden vs Endo – Surprising to me this is their first ever match. Endo is on his sumo now, and Ryuden has been very rough. I would expect Endo will come out ahead.

Yago vs Daieisho – Another first time match, but as this is Yago’s first upper division basho, it’s not much of a surprise. With the the shin-Maegashira fighting this far up the banzuke, it’s a good test for where he might rank for Osaka.

Asanoyama vs Onosho – Onosho is looking to bounce back from his three-bout losing streak, and another hapless member of the Freshmen group (Asanoyama) is not fighting well this tournament. If he should pick up at least 2 more wins, we can expect Onosho to join the joi-jin for Osaka, and begin his battle for rank in the upper levels of sumo.

Aoiyama vs Kaisei – This battle of the super-heavies favors Aoiyama historically, but Kaisei has been fighting better this basho, his day 9 loss to Ryuden not withstanding. Will their battle break pieces from the dohyo?

Shodai vs Yoshikaze – Both of them are doing terribly. But maybe Yoshikaze, staring at a possible make-koshi, can muster some of his flagging fighting spirit.

Chiyotairyu vs Shohozan – Chiyotairyu holds a clear advantage, and I would guess he will launch his “cannonball” tachiai at Shohozan, who if he considers all things, might be well served to move out of the way at the right moment.

Tochiozan vs Ichinojo – Ichinojo has gone back to being soft and timid, which is a shame. Tochiozan tends to dominate their matches, and unless “angry” Ichinojo shows up, this will be played to the tune of Tochiozan’s sumo.

Myogiryu vs Hokutofuji – Much as I would love to see Hokutofuji win, I think that Myogiryu has a better handle on this sumo this basho. Hokutofuji seems to have stamina problems, and frankly has never been back to his best form since that Ryuden delivered concussion.

Nishikigi vs Tamawashi – I expect Tamawashi to swat Nishikigi around and leave him for Tuesday pickup with the rest of the landfill material in Ryogoku. But Nishikigi must never be counted out. Coming in with a 4-5 record, one has to wonder if he will be able to squeeze out yet another kachi-koshi.

Kotoshogiku vs Goeido – Pretty clear that Goeido is banged up enough that his sumo is quite limited, and he struggles to generate forward pressure. Most folks assume its his arm, but his reconstructed ankle has never been quite right. Against Kotoshogiku, there is a decent chance that the Kyushu Bulldozer will trap Goeido and belly bump him out for a win.

Takayasu vs Takakeisho – The match of the day. This one, in all likelyhood, will decide of Takakeisho can make his 11 and vie for a promotion to Ozeki. He faces a battle damaged and flu ravaged Takayasu. Takayasu has him on strength, reach, stamina, mass and sheer aggression. Takakeisho has maneuverability and a total confidence he can win on any given day, no matter who his opponent is.

Okinoumi vs Hakuho – Barring some unfortunate injury, it will be win 10 for Hakuho (1105 career), and ratchet him one win closer to the yusho. His magic number is currently 14.