Hatsu Day 7 Highlights

Some of our readers, and many sumo fans in general, have complained that recent basho have ended up being “Sumo light”, due to the lack of Yokozuna and Ozeki participation. As we near the half way point of this basho, we are down to 1 Yokozuna and 1.5 Ozeki, and the focus really has shifted to the lower ranks. With so many titans of sumo off the dohyo, the focus has shifted to the lower ranks.

I am impressed that Goeido is soldiering on, and finding ways to win in spite of the problems with his right arm. I expect him to go kyujo after he can manage an 8th win. Thankfully Hakuho looks genki enough, and Takayasu seems to be over his flu.

Highlight Matches

Chiyonokuni defeats Yutakayama – Any match with Chiyonokuni has the potential to be a mad-cap barn burner, and today Yutakayama put everything he could towards a win. The result was a wild tsuki-oshi fest that see-sawed back and forth. A great way to start the top division today.

Kotoyuki defeats Daiamami – A second spirited bout to start the day, Daiamami held advanage several times, but The Penguin battled back each time. At attempted slap down reversed the opponents, and Kotoyuki put Daiamami’s back to the tawara, and pushed with purpose.

Yago defeats Daishomaru – Hapless, winless Daishomaru has nothing serious to offer the surging youngster Yago, and goes down to defeat. We did, however, get to see Yago engage in a oshi-zumo match, and win.

Ikioi defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma’s attempt at a face slap embedded in his tachiai (ala Hakuho) results in Ikioi getting poked in the eye. In spite of (or fueled by) this, Ikioi surges into battle with yet another injury and finds a way to overpower his opponent. Word is he was complaining of vision problems following the match.

Abi defeats Takarafuji – There seems to be some magic in Abi-zumo, as he effectively landed a nodowa against a many with no neck. Takarafuji found hims sumo disrupted, and battled to clear Abi’s attacks, but ran out of dohyo to maneuver.

Endo defeats Kagayaki – Both men threw the kitchen sink at each other, with Endo calling the tune. At one point their early oshi fest went chest to chest and the competitors actually did look like they were dancing. Post match, Endo was holding his forehead – another oversized bandage for a Kagayaki competitor? Maybe he needs to modify that tachiai.

Asanoyama defeats Sadanoumi – Member of the Kagayaki head wound club Sadanoumi cannot endure Asanoyama’s spin attack, and eats clay. Asanoyama picks up a much needed win.

Kaisei defeats Onosho – The only rank and file undefeated rikishi takes a loss at the hands of a surprisingly genki Kaisei. With this loss, Hakuho has sole possession of the lead.

Daieisho defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze seems to have completely run out of energy to compete at the Makuuchi level. It’s painful to watch.

Chiyotairyu defeats Aoiyama – The hatakikomi came quickly, and made me gasp. Few rikishi are big enough and fast enough to roll someone the size of Aoiyama, but Chiyotairyu certainly can.

Okinoumi defeats Ryuden – Ryuden seems to have lost his fighting spirit, and each day seems to be going through the motions. Kind of tough to watch, but when injuries happen, this is the result.

Hokutofuji fusensho Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi damaged his knee day 6, and is missing an excellent chance to run up the score against a reduced Ozeki and Yokozuna force. Hokutofuji picks up back to back default wins, something that has not happened in decades.

Myogiryu defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi’s magical adventure in the joi-jin looks like it has run out of gas. Can he refuel and return to surprising his opponents? I do hope so. Myogiryu gets a much needed win.

Tamawashi defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan was on defense the entire match, and Tamawashi batted him about before deciding to finish him.

Takakeisho defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo has reverted to the docile form of whatever species he is, and failed to deactivate Takakeisho’s wave action attack by grabbing his opponent’s mawashi until it was too late and he was already struggling for balance.

Takayasu defeats Kotoshogiku – Takayasu’s recovery from the flu continues, and he delivers the hug-n-chug to counter Kotoshogiku’s favorite attack strategy. With advantage in size, youth and joint health, Takayasu carried the match.

Goeido defeats Shodai – Impressive that Goeido is finding ways to win, now up to 3 wins out of a needed 8. He was helped by Shodai’s trademark crappy tachiai. Shodai was able to back to Ozeki to the bales, but did not lower his hips to thrust out Goeido, and instead Shodai launched his own body higher. Goeido capitalized on this blunder and won.

Hakuho defeats Shohozan – Hakuho is the lone undefeated rikishi, and is the man to beat for the Emperor’s cup. Shohozan could not generate much offense, and Hakuho waited for his moment and pulled “Big Guns” Shohozan down.

Hatsu Day 6 Preview

On day 6 we start act 2. Act 2 is all about sorting the survivors from the damned, and starting the yusho race. It’s were we get an idea of who will have the stamina to contend in the final act for the hardware. As long as Hakuho is still competing, it’s his to lose.

A primary rival was Yokozuna Kakuryu, at least in theory, but as noted earlier on Tachiai, he withdrew from competition this morning Japan time. He has struggled quite a bit to keep his undercarriage in good repair, and this is simply another in a long string of mechanical problems he has to overcome. We wish him a quick and full recovery.

The next rikishi who is on the kyujo bubble would have to be Goeido. Mathematically, he is in tough shape right now. He needs to win 7 out of the next 10 to avoid a make-koshi. It’s clear he is hurt, and needs medical attention to repair his right arm. We can only hope he does not go “Kisenosato” with this one. There is also a question around Takayasu, who is 2-3 going into day 6, and has been suffering due to influenza. Perhaps he is on the mend now.

For each Ozeki and Yokozuna who drops out, the way opens up for the new generation rikishi. At this point, the Freshmen are in poor shape physically, but the Tadpoles are on the march. Their combined score at the end of act 1 is 14-1. The boss is still undefeated, but I am sure Takakeisho is eager to try his sumo upgrades against the sole remaining Yokozuna.

What We Are Watching Day 6

Ishiura vs Chiyoshoma – Ishiura visits Makuuchi with a solid 4-1 start in Juryo. He holds a 6-4 career advantage over Chiyoshoma, and some may wonder if this will be the battle of the flying Henkanoids. We shall see soon enough!

Yago vs Kotoeko – Its odd watching 4-1 Yago in some ways. He seems both unseasoned, yet skilled. I can’t quiet put my mind around it yet. But this might be a fairly good match, as Kotoeko knows how to beat him.

Ikioi vs Endo – Ikioi is a banged up walking casualty, and Endo seems to be just getting by for now. I give Endo a clear advantage, as he is not nursing a damaged ankle or a head wound like Ikioi is.

Kaisei vs Sadanoumi – At some point along the way, Kaisei’s sumo improved. Maybe he finally healed a long-suffering injury. As I like to say about him, “Being huge is not a valid sumo tactic”, as in you cant just be massive and immobile and expect to win (seek Kenho and others). But since Kyushu, Kaisei’s mobility is actually pretty good, and his sumo is stronger and shows some aggressive direction. Starting act 2 at 5-0, he’s a dark horse contender right now, and I expect him to make fast work of Sadanoumi.

Aoiyama vs Daieisho – Aoiyama’s record is 4-1, but his sumo is 5-0. Perhaps a distinction without a difference, but the Man-Mountain from Bulgeria is in top form unseen for some time. I am certain he will get tougher pairings in act 2, but I think today’s match won’t be too tough for him to win.

Ryuden vs Yoshikaze – I don’t want to discuss Ryuden or Yoshikaze.

Onosho vs Chiyotairyu – As discussed prior to the basho, I really like Onosho at this rank, and I think he has a good chance to end up with double digits for this basho. This would put him in the joi-jin for Osaka, and I think he would be healed up enough to compete at the top by then. This could mean that all of the tadpoles would be in the joi, and it would mark a significant stage in the changing of the guard.

Myogiryu vs Mitakeumi – Right now Mitakeumi seems to be on a mission. He shows up each day looking dialed up to 11 – intensely focused and superbly ready to win. I don’t think Myogiryu, in spite of his excellent skill, will overcome Mitakeumi’s fighting spirit today.

Takakeisho vs Tochiozan – If Tochiozan can keep Takakeisho close, and prevent the wave-action tsuppari attack, he has a chance. But after letting Mitakeumi beat him this way, I am going to guess Takakeisho won’t allow him a chance.

Ichinojo vs Tamawashi – Ichinojo is competing at an intensity not seen in many years, and we don’t want him to stop. Tamawashi will be no walk in the park. He is fast, mobile and at times brutal. This could be the highlight match of the day.

Shohozan vs Goeido – “Big Guns” Shohozan would normally have his hands full with Goeido, but Goeido is struggling with an arm injury, and is having a tough time generating offensive pressure. I expect loss #5, or a henka.

Takayasu vs Nishikigi – Each time Nishikigi steps on the dohyo, you have to wonder what is about to happen. Takayasu is definitely short of 100%, but Nishikigi’s sumo seems to be surprising everyone right now. I would rather not face Osaka with all 3 Ozeki kadoban, so I am hoping Takayasu can win any match that comes his way.

Shodai vs Hakuho – Hakuho continues to confound opponents with his “Escape” sumo, his opponents think they have him beat, but he uses his unparalleled skill to find a way to not lose. Against Shodai there is a new dimension. He has this odd, almost otherworldly ability, to cause things to go chaotic. I call it “Cartoon sumo”, and it happens too frequently to be an accident. I am eager to see if he can employ it against The Boss today.

Hatsu Day 1 Highlights

Kisenosato Hatsu 2019
Photo from the Japan Sumo Association’s twitter feed

What a way to start a basho! Day 1 action was fierce and at times surprising. As a reminder to our readers, I tend to see a basho as a set of 3 acts, each 5 days long. Each act has its own feel and its own goals. Act 1 is all about knocking the ring rust off of the competitors, and finding out who is hot and who is not. It’s also usually the period where we will see if any Yokozuna are going to take an “out” by going kyujo.

The big news coming out of day 1 has to be that all 3 Ozeki went down to defeat. For Takayasu, it’s not a huge surprise, as he came into Hatsu with a case of the flu and a substantial fever that he should probably keep to himself. For Tochinoshin, it was clear he had hurt a thigh muscle, but was going to gamberize. Goeido, however, simply got beaten. By Nishikigi. Let that sink in. The guy who was doing everything he could last year to cling to the bottom edge of the Makuuchi banzuke took an Ozeki scalp in what looked to be a fair and straight-up fight. I have been pulling for the guy for a while now, but it’s amazing to see how far his sumo has come.

Highlight Matches

Terutsuyoshi defeats Daishomaru – Welcome to the top division! Terutsuyoshi is only visiting, but it was his first win in the big leagues, and it came with a few envelopes of kensho as well. We will be seeing quite a bit more of Terutsuyoshi soon, I would think.

Chiyonokuni defeats Daiamami – Tsuki? Oshi? Yotsu? Hitaki? These two threw everything including the kitchen sink into this match. It was rough, it was chaotic, but Chiyonokuni prevailed. He needs to get a kachi-koshi secured and escape the banzuke danger zone he finds himself in for Hatsu.

Yutakayama defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki starts strong, but in his normal pattern, as soon as Yutakayama mounts his response, Kotoyuki starts moving backward in a fairly reckless fashion. Not amazing sumo, but Yutakayama held on through Kotoyuki’s opening gambit and took the match.

Yago defeats Meisei – In Yago’s first top division ranked bout, he shows us why he’s going to be a mainstay of the future. Unlike most of the newer rikishi, he grabs Meisei’s mawashi and proceeds to go chest to chest. Meisei looks ready for the fight, and starts with a stronger, inside position. But give Yago that right hand outside and he gets to work. With his greater mass and exceptionally stable stance, Yago overpowers Meisei for a straightforward yoritaoshi.

Ikioi defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki leaves Ikioi bloody in this loss, with the die-hard warrior bleeding from his nose and face following the match. Ikioi looks to have gotten the jump on Kagayaki at the tachiai, and wasted no time in raising up Kagayaki. Both of these rikishi are better than their lower Maegashira rank, so I see this tournament as a “recovery” period for them.

Sadanoumi defeats Abi – It would seem that Sadanoumi has Abi-zumo cracked, and Abi could not produce much in the way of offensive pressure against Sadanoumi, who propelled Abi around the dohyo like a squeaky shopping cart headed back to the store. Come on Abi, unleash some new sumo. We know you can win!

Endo defeats Takarafuji – Firstly, congratulations to Takarafuji, who welcomed a new baby to his family in the past few weeks. Takarafuji gave Endo a good fight (and the crowd was happy), but Endo had superior position rom the start, and never let Takarafuji do much more than react to his sumo.

Kaisei defeats Asanoyama – Kaisei came to the dohyo in a mood to be strong and heavy today. When he uses his heavy sumo, there are few men in the world who can move him. A quick battle-hug to Asanoyama, and a drive forward for a win. The tachiai had a nice satisfying “whack!” to it as well.

Onosho defeats Chiyotairyu – Even Chiyotairyu’s somewhat legendary cannonball tachiai did not seem to impact Onosho much. Onosho stayed focused, and drove forward. With his opening blast expended against a prepared opponent, Chiyotairyu seemed to have little resistance to offer.

Aoiyama defeats Yoshikaze – Aoiyama looked on form today, and was able to focus his amazing strength against a fading Yoshikaze. Much as I love the old berserker, he is fading each passing tournament. Aoiyama kept the pressure coming, landing alternating thrusts against Yoshikaze’s upper body, keeping him high and off balance.

Tamawashi defeats Shohozan – We anticipated that this would be a brawl, and it began to look like a running battle until Shohozan lost his balance and went skidding to the clay. Good action from two rikishi who love to duke it out.

Takakeisho defeats Shodai – No cartoon sumo today. Takakeisho in what I think is a new steel-gray mawashi gets the inside advantage at the tachiai, and Shodai never recovers. Shodai is high from the start, and Takakeisho sets up the wave-action attack with great effect. Shodai attempted to return in kind, but his footing was poor and it threw him off balance. Takakeisho advances, and wins.

Hokutofuji defeats Tochinoshin – Handshake tachiai? – Check! Nodowa to keep Tochinoshin from starting any moves against the mawashi? – Check! Tochinoshin was packed, boxed and shipped in a manner of seconds. The Ozeki could not switch to offense at any point and was left trying to react to Hokutofuji’s sumo.

Nishikigi defeats Goeido – I have watched this maybe a dozen times, and it simply does not get old. I have no idea where this version of Nishikigi came from, but this sumo is unquestionably simple, sound and potent. This is not Goeido making some kind of mistake while trying to be slippery, he delivers his expected “speed” tachiai, but Nishikigi absorbs it, and breaks the Ozkei’s grip. Goeido continues to have superior body position as they go chest to chest, but Nishikigi seems to be intent on stalemating Goeido, which he somehow manages to do. Locked up in the center of the dohyo, Nishikigi has a deep right hand grip, but is a bit too high. The match ends as Nishikigi overpowers, then throws, Goeido! What a match!

Ichinojo defeats Takayasu – Two items of note – Takayasu is clearly ill, and Ichinojo’s sumo machine was switched to “attack” mode today, and it’s great to see him fight with vigor. Takayasu managed to back Ichinojo to the bales, but then the counterattack started, and there was no stopping that. Ichinojo was in great form, and I hope we can see more of that. [Ichinojo turned the tide with surprisingly nimble later movement. -lksumo]

Kakuryu defeats Tochiozan – When Big K is on his sumo, it’s amazing to watch. I tend to call his style “reactive”, and today is a perfect example. Tochiozan tries a hit-and-shift at the tachiai, but Kakuryu maintains contact with his right hand, and lets that right hand guide him to a now high and unweighted Tochiozan. The trap sprung, the Yokozuna powers into his response and drives Tochiozan back and out.

Hakuho defeats Myogiryu – Hakuho wanted to beat him twice, as Myogiryu hit the clay and bounced up, with Hakuho looking to continue the match. The boss seems to be hungry for sumo action after 4 months in dry-dock. Watch out.

Mitakeumi defeats Kisenosato – Kisenosato was high, his sumo was sloppy, and he really could do very little against Mitakeumi who seemed poised and in control the entire match. Might be time to sharpen the scissors. Josh, my toilet paper stash is ready.

Hatsu Day 1 Preview

Kisenosato Aki 2018

The time has come, and we are happy for it! It has been a long break since the Kyushu basho, and fans have had scant news to enjoy since the jungy ended several weeks ago. But now the sumo world gets back in action as the first tournament of the new year, the final year of Emperor Akihito’s reign, gets underway.

There has been a lot of speculation around the 6 men who occupy sumo’s top ranks, but it seems all 6 will start Hatsu, and we hope all of them can participate for all 15 days, and achieve good results. But we will be watching to see if Tochinoshin’s muscle injury, Takayasu’s flu / fever, Goeido’s latest buggy software update or Kisenosato’s general lurgy take their toll.

But with all of the old dragons fighting it out at the top, all eyes will be watching Kyushu yusho winner Takakeisho, competing at his highest ever rank, and within striking distance of a promotion to Ozeki. Should he find the energy, determination and sumo to pull it off, he would be the first of the new cohort to reach the top ranks. Only the next 2 weeks will tell what may come to pass, and frankly Team Tachiai is eager to get the show underway.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Terutsuyoshi vs Daishomaru – Many hoped that Terutsuyoshi would make the cut to Makuuchi for this basho, but instead he is posted to the top Juryo slot. As a consolation, he gets to visit the top division on day 1, and we may see him vie for his first ever prize money.

Chiyonokuni vs Daiamami – Former top Kokenoe man Chiyonokuni finds himself perilously close to the bottom edge of the banzuke, and will need to open strong, and keep the pressure up for the next 2 weeks to regain his rightful spot in mid-Makuuchi. He has a 2-1 career record against Daiamami, but his disasterous 5-10 finish in Kyushu, Chiyonokuni is under pressure to win early and often.

Yutakayama vs Kotoyuki – Former Maegashira 2 Yutakayama scored a Jun-Yusho in Nagoya, then was beaten to within an inch of his life at the brutal Aki basho. Since his withdrawal on day 5, he has been on a steady downward trajectory, in spite of his excellent sumo fundamentals. He faces off day 1 against Mr 5×5 – Kotoyuki. Kotoyuki seems to do very well in Juryo, but performs almost comically in Makuuchi. He frequently is seen diving into he zabuton rows, and always seems just one hair away from explosive disassembly. We hope he can do better for Hatsu.

Yago vs Meisei – Yago (spoken 2 octaves lower than normal), did not get re-labled with his expected “kaze” moniker, even though the folks at Tachiai put considerable effort on Twitter into suggesting many worthy shikona. But here is this bulky, aggressive rising star from Oguruma heya, making his Makuuchi debut. Yago and Meisei have fought before, and Yago has yet to take a single match from Meisei, so we will be eager to see if Yago can change that trend on day 1.

Sadanoumi vs Abi – Will we see a return of Abi-zumo, or did the smiling stick-insect of the sumo world hone any new attacks during the New Year’s break? As much as some fans claim “why should Abi branch out, what he is doing works”, his demotion to Maegashira 10 might indicate otherwise. I expect that Sadanoumi will come to the match expecting his normal offensive style, and may be able to finally take his first match from Abi.

Kaisei vs Asanoyama – Two solid rikishi that are in recovery mode at Maegashira 8. Kaisei will bring unmatched enormity to the match, along with a healthy measure of body hair. Asanoyama will bring his beaming positive attitude and perhaps some good fundamental sumo. In the case of these two, Kaisei’s sheer bulk is nearly impossible for Asanoyama to overcome.

Ryuden vs Daieisho – Ryuden suffered a heavy 6-9 make-koshi at Kyushu, in spite of some well executed sumo and some notable winning matches. Daieisho is very comfortable at this rank, and tends to pick up enough wins to keep himself in a narrow M4-M9 range. I expect that this is exactly the kind of rikishi Ryuden will need to beat predictably to advance to the next level. I give a slight advantage to Ryuden’s reach, but it’s an even fight.

Chiyotairyu vs Onosho – Possibly the highlight match of the first half (prior to the NHK World live stream). Onosho is still working to regain his former power following kyujo and knee surgery last year at this time. Onosho’s compact, powerful body will be put to the test against Chiyotairyu’s potent tachiai. If Onosho can stay inside the ring and upright for the first 10 seconds, the match should be his to lose.

Aoiyama vs Yoshikaze – Aoiyama has been looking very genki in practice, and his day 1 match against Yoshikaze will be an excellent test on just how genki the big Bulgarian is this January. Aoiyama has all of the right tools to be a top flight Maegashira, but he has to put them together and field them consistently. Meanwhile, Yoshikaze seems to be fading a bit each tournament, and it’s clear the years of sumo’s spoiler has caught up with him. He is still capable of nearly unstoppable sumo, but we see it less frequently, and his fans (myself included) worry that he’s hurt and going through each bout to stay connected to the sport he loves.

Shohozan vs Tamawashi – My suggestion to NHK that the live video of this match be replaced with “Batman” style animation (Biff! Pow! Slam!) went unanswered. But if both men come to the Hatsu dohyo ready to battle, there could be some peerless pugilistic power presented for the fans.

Takakeisho vs Shodai – A fan could be forgiven for thinking: “Wave action from the Sekiwake, Shodai goes jelly jiggler and bounces around until beaten”. But Shodai seems to have this uncanny power to invoke cartoon physics against his opponents, and many of them seem to suffer odd missteps and accidents that hand Shodai a win. If Takakeisho can keep Shodai centered, this should go Takakeisho’s way. If Shodai can land a mawashi grip, he will have control.

Hokutofuji vs Tochinoshin – What impressed me quite a bit about Hokutofuji’s performance at Kyushu – he looked hungry. He looked like he was going flat out to take each win, and he was leaving nothing in reserve. He will step up against a possibly injured Tochinoshin, who has had trouble with a muscle pull in his thigh during the work up to the basho. If Tochinoshin can land his “skyhook” grip, I am sure we will see the Georgian strong-man lift and shift his first win for January.

Nishikigi vs Goeido – I am so impressed that Nishikigi made it this far. More amazing is that Nishikigi won their only prior bout. But I am going to guess that Goeido is at least starting the basho in fine form, and we will see him apply a fierce amount of speed and power against the surprise darling of the joi-jin. But I am too big of a Nishikigi fan to discount him entirely. Everyone loves an underdog and survivor, and Nishikigi is both.

Takayasu vs Ichinojo – I am sure Ichinojo wants to return to San’yaku, but his week 1 is going to be a brutal parade of the upper ranks tuning up against him. Which Ichinojo will we get? The frighteningly powerful Mongolian behemoth, or the plush and cuddly pony tosser who goes soft at the tawara? With Takayasu at reduced fighting power due to the flu, this cold be a chance for Ichinojo to start off with an Ozeki scalp.

Kakuryu vs Tochiozan – 43 matches between these two, and they are almost evenly split. It’s been 4 months since we have seen Kakuryu compete, and we hope he returns rested and powerful. His reactive sumo is not especially effective against Tochiozan, who excels at working his opponent’s center-mass and keeping the fight bracketed to his forward 90°.

Myogiryu vs Hakuho – Myogiryu is a great come-back story, and he’s going down quickly on day 1. I am going to guess that Hakuho is at least genki enough to plow through his week 1 appetizers, and we won’t see what condition he is actually in until nakabe.

Kisenosato vs Mitakeumi – All of Japan will be dreading the outcome of this final match of the day. I think everyone who follows sumo expects Kisenosato is actually a shambolic sumo wreck who is ready to be run up on the beach and swarmed by ship-breakers in some far off equatorial country. Should the Yokozuna prevail, there will be a collective sigh of relief that may push the earth slightly out of orbit for a time. I would expect that either way, the NHK cameras will catch fans in the Kokugikan wiping tears from their eyes. Oh, and expect a LOT of kensho.

Hatsu Dohyo Matsuri – Lets Get Started!

Hatsu 2019 dohyo matsuri

Saturday morning in Tokyo, the dohyo for the 2019 Hatsu basho was consecrated in a shinto ceremony. The event was open to the public, and attend by the top men of sumo along with community and government leaders. With the senior gyoji in full priest regalia, the symbolic offerings were placed in a small hole exquisitely cut in the center of the dohyo, and then sealed inside. With prayers for the safety of the competitors, the prosperity of Japan and the health of the nation, the ceremony was concluded. The dohyo is now ready for competition, which is just hours away.

Following the dohyo ceremony, the portraits of the last two yusho winners were presented, before being hoisted to the rafters of the Kokugikan to join the legion of images of past winners that encircle the upper deck. I have to say, this photo of the great Hakuho standing next to Takakeisho could serve as the iconic transition point for this era.

Hatsu Yusho Portraits [Hakuho and Takakeisho].jpg