End of an Era: Hakuho to Retire

This is commentary by Andy. The opinions expressed here are mine, and mine alone. Early this afternoon, while I was toying around with the kensho data Herouth shared, this tweet came across my timeline:

I had thought I would have a few more months to prepare for this. Even with the knee injury, he had just won a zensho-yusho. How can we have a transition era if the heir apparent, or any of the up-and-coming generation of wrestlers, cannot defeat him?

Surely he’d show up in Kyushu and, with the benefit of an extra month’s rest, come back and tear things up again, right? But maybe this had been put in motion before the tournament. It gives a little different context to Mainoumi’s suggestion of much the same thing. He may not have known, but others knew. There would be no coming back.

So, as the decade of the 2020s is prone to do, plans get scuppered. I mean, he was supposed to retire months ago, after a glorious Olympic Games. Then COVID threw those plans out the window. He even got COVID and his senpai died of it days before he returned to the ring in July. Then, this past month, his deshi got it, and after another positive test in the stable, the whole group was forced to go kyujo. Add to that the fact that his knees are working on their own timeline, and well, the Boss has decided to hang up his mawashi.

And who can blame him? He comes back and takes an historic 45th yusho, surely with the memory of Kobo on his mind, and when he shouted in celebration he was widely criticized. At this point, I figure he’s just grown weary of the controversies. I mean the “Banzai” controversy was inexplicable. But my favorite was the Harumafuji henka controversy.

Key Questions

Anyway, what’s next? We will surely find out in the coming days and report as the details come out. We know he will become an oyakata and run his own stable. Will it be Miyagino after his stable master retires? As @NaturalEG pointed out to me on Twitter, he owns a separate Magaki kabu. He’s also got the right to use the Hakuho name for five years. Regardless of the name above the door we know he already has a solid crop of recruits ready to tear things up in November, including the new recruit, Raiho.

And what of the Kyushu banzuke? The timing of his retirement — before the banzuke committee meeting to create it — likely means there’s an extra slot in Makuuchi, and therefore an extra slot in Juryo. As Leonid predicts, Kotoyusho might have reason to celebrate.

Squint and you can almost tell there are four former Yokozuna (counting Hakuho) and one current Yokozuna (not Hakuho) on that dohyo.

When will he have his danpatsushiki (haircut ceremony)? There’s quite the logjam of long-haired retirees and the greatest Yokozuna will want to retire in front of a full Kokugikan. Maybe the extra time will give him a chance to do a bit of PR and shift his reputation from the bad-boy of his active days to great coach and recruiter.

Time to Reminisce

Most importantly, however, now is the time to remember his remarkable career. Many fans only know of the Hakuho Era. Whether you define the start as 2007, when he became Yokozuna, or 2010 and the end of Asashoryu’s reign, his 14 years at the top rank of this sport is unchallenged. His 45 Top Division Titles? No one else comes close.

This era has seen its highs and lows, for Hakuho and for the sport itself. Early on, the sport was troubled by yaocho/match-fixing scandals, notably the cancelled March 2011 tournament. Bullying and power-harassment scandals cropped up throughout but Hakuho has been a constant figure throughout, and he helped during the recovery from the catastrophic earthquake, which occurred on his 26th birthday.

As it will be for many fans, I am thrilled to have enjoyed this time. While I first enjoyed watching sumo during the 1990’s with the rise of Akebono, my wife and I attended our first tournament during the turbulent yaocho scandal. The Kyokai put on an exhibition tournament and we decided to check it out. It was a great experience live and I encourage all readers to go watch when they get a chance. Hopefully we’ll see zabuton thrown again, one day.

The picture above was taken using my terrible phone camera when we saw the Nagoya basho. Harumafuji won that one with a thrilling victory over Hakuho on senshuraku. Terunofuji accompanied him on the back of the car for the yusho parade. Remember those? Well, Hakuho is up there, sandwiched between Hakkaku and Kisenosato. The electricity in the atmosphere was palpable, even more than the notorious Nagoya heat. It’s that thrill that I feel every time he got up on the dohyo. Even though I’ve half grown accustomed to his absence over the past year, I will miss that energy.

I will close with my favorite Hakuho memory and my least favorite memory. I enjoyed watching Hakuho for the strength and the immense skill he demonstrated as he dominated nearly every opponent he faced. His skill was only really challenged by Asashoryu and, like many others, I wish that rivalry could have continued for quite a bit longer.

Despite Jason’s stated disappointment with the result, I enjoyed Hakuho’s cheek with his decision to henka Harumafuji on senshuraku in March 2016. Kisenosato was waiting in the wings, hoping for a playoff and a chance to claim his first title. But Hakuho put his hands in Harumafuji’s face to force his eyes closed for a split second as he ducked out of the way. It was brilliant. Even Harumafuji saw the humor in it as he’s laughing while flying off the dohyo.

Henka are always controversial and no henka is quite the same. Nor is it always obvious when a henka actually happens. Harumafuji’s sidestep-and-spin tachiai is an example. But this henka from Hakuho, for me, anyway, demonstrated that for all of his skill, and all of his strength, he’s sure got a lot of head games to play, too. I abhor expectation, stereotypes, and entitlement and that move – the henka – breaks boundaries…until it becomes predictable, like it does sometimes with Aminishiki, Chiyoshoma, or Ishiura. When it’s reserved for those times that no one expects it, it is wonderful.

It’s for that reason one of the biggest self-inflicted wounds he suffered was after losing to Yoshikaze in 2017, thinking he deserved a mono-ii. Everyone in the sumo world was saying, “take your bow, and come back tomorrow.” One of the best things about sumo is the sportsmanship. Maybe this is where I feel entitled. The defeated rikishi rises to the dohyo accepts his loss, shows respect to the victor, and comes back to fight again. Of all the little controversies through the years, this was the one where I still cringe.

Looking to the Future

The next chapter of Hakuho’s career will not be all roses, I’m sure. But it will be great and I’m eager to see what happens. We’re in the midst of that transition period Bruce has long talked about, and this will be the line of demarcation for many. What will the era of Terunofuji look like?

Nagoya Day 2 Preview

I loved day 1. It was fantastic, and as Josh pointed out, it was everything sumo fans around the world could have hoped for. Nagoya and Tokyo are two very different places. I love that this first basho outside of the capital in the COVID era shows us that difference. Nagoya is ready to cheer on the rikishi with enthusiasm and overflowing happiness that this increment of normal life in Japan appears to be at least partially restored.

There are some fine matches on the torikumi today, but what could be one of the most potent matches of the first half of the basho happens in the final slot – Hakuho vs Endo. Much like Harumafuji vs Yoshikaze – both could be in the ICU on ventilators, and would find a way to bash each other into a bloody mess if they had a match. For an example of the sparks that fly between them, I present this highlight video

What We Are Watching Day 2

Chiyonokuni vs Ichiyamamoto – I am sure Chiyonokuni is disappointed with his day 1 loss to Tokushoryu, but hopefully he comes in today ready to out-thrust debutante Ichiyamamoto, who won his first match. This will be a pusher-thruster match deluxe, and I am expecting a lot of hit and move sumo for as long as these two can keep it going.

Tsurugisho vs Ishiura – Insane 80kg+ different between these two, but their career record is tied 4-4. We gave yet to see much sumo from Ishiura, so I am hoping he can use his superior thrust to weight ratio today to deliver some blistering on-dohyo action.

Daiamami vs Tokushoryu – Following he excellent day 1 form, I now have to keep a worried eye on Tokushoryu. I fear he may be “in the zone” again, and could string together enough wins to put my buttocks at risk. His approach is so simple yet effective. Just keep your weight centered, stay heavy and don’t fall down or go out. He tends to win against Daiamami (5-3), so lets see if Tokushoryu can open 2-0.

Chiyonoo vs Ura – With Ura back in the top division, it’s time for fans to experience the magic of Ura every day. Is he going to win? Is his body going to explode? Will his knee fail mid-bout, unleashing a ghastly horror across our TV screens? Such is the magic he brings to the dohyo. These two have only fought once since Ura returned from injury, and Ura pretzeled Chiyonoo for a win. Care to try for two?

Tochinoshin vs Chiyomaru – I have to hope that Tochinoshin’s day 1 match was just ring rust, and not an indicator that there really is nothing left of that bandaged knee. Both men are looking for their first win today, with Tochinoshin having a 5-1 career advantage.

Kagayaki vs Kotonowaka – I am a fan of both these rikishi, but I genuinely want to see if maybe Kagayaki had gotten his sumo back in working order, If so, I expect him to possibly rack up double digit wins this far down the banzuke. Kotonowaka’s best bet it to try for a throw early, and hope that he can stick it before Kagayaki can get his feet set.

Tamawashi vs Kaisei – 21 career matches between these two, with today being a great chance for Kaisei to break through some of that ring rust that was on display day 1 against Terutsuyoshi. Both of these veterans have seen better days, but hopefully a rivalry this deep can spark some powerful sumo action.

Terutsuyoshi vs Shimanoumi – I would really like to think that Terutsuyoshi is due for a good basho, given that he has suffered a string of sometimes brutal make-koshi tournaments for the last year or so. He will need to overcome Shimanoumi’s 50kg mass advantage, and 7-4 career record to pick up his second win today.

Takarafuji vs Hidenoumi – A rematch of Natsu day 5, lets hope that Takarafuji keeps his balance centered this time and shuts down the bulk of Hidenoumi’s preferred attack routes. I worry that Takarafuji’s “brand of sumo” relies on heroic amounts of strength and stamina that may be fading as he ages.

Aoiyama vs Chiyoshoma – I am currently 6,567 miles from Nagoya. That’s 10,586 km in the rest of the world. But even at this extreme range, I can see Chiyoshoma’s tachiai from here. Big Dan, don’t rush into this one, or you are going to get a face full of clay.

Onosho vs Myogiryu – Normally when talking about a Onosho loss, its all about him being too far out over his toes. But his day 1 loss to Hoshoryu saw him simply overpowered. I think that was due to a combo of ring rust and possibly surprise. Hopefully it motivated Onosho, and he shows up with a lot of focus today. He has a 7-3 career advantage over Myogiryu, which helps a bit. I am certain Myogiryu knows what to do here, and it will come down to knowing when to let Newton help finish Onosho off.

Kiribayama vs Hoshoryu – I think we are getting close to the point where both of these rikishi will start to show better form, and begin to press for higher rank. I like this as a test match to see if we can see that explosive power from Hoshoryu for a second consecutive day. That new red mawashi certainly seems to be working for him.

Kotoeko vs Okinoumi – Okinoumi is quite the sumo journeyman. He quietly works the ranks between M1 and M8, and calmly delivers quality sumo match after match. I think we may see another good match from him today against Kotoeko, and it may be a great contrast between Kotoeko’s power and mobility against Okinoumi’s efficiency and balance.

Chiyotairyu vs Tobizaru – Sumo’s thunder demon, Chiyotairyu, looked completely disrupted day 1, and I hope to see him in better form today against Tobizaru. Tobizaru took their only prior match, day 7 of Aki 2020, winning with an underarm throw.

Hokutofuji vs Meisei – Fans talk about Hokutofuji, and how he has potential to be a kanban rikishi. I see the potential in him too, but wish he could find a way to consistently deliver wins. He fights well, and has an impressive ability to keep himself in a match, but still somehow manage to lose. I keep hoping he will find a route to take that next step and find the way to convert all of this great sumo into wins.

Takanosho vs Mitakeumi – Home town favorite Mitakeumi needs to shake off whatever had a hold of him on day 1 against Ichinojo. That was some solid week 2 Mitakeumi sumo on display on opening day, and I did not like it one bit. Too early to lay the blame at the feet of Andy and Josh who tapped him to do well this July? Takanosho has a 5-2 career record against the Original Tadpole, so he’s got his hill to climb today.

Terunofuji vs Wakatakakage – I find myself more wound up for any match this July that features Terunofuji than I do for anyone else. There are so many things that can go wrong for him at this point on the narrow and treacherous path to sumo’s highest rank, that each day’s match has and oversized risk / reward ratio. He’s shown he can contain, restrain and eliminate Wakatakakage. This includes winning the last 4 in a row on the clay.

Shodai vs Daieisho – Shodai showed improved form on day 1, and I would like to see things tighten up even a bit more for the next 2 weeks. It would do everyone in sumo a lot of good if Shodai can be really dominant in July, and put to rest worries that his sumo is not quite ready for him to remain at Ozeki. Great test for that on day 2, as Daieisho holds an 8-2 career lead over the human daikon.

Ichinojo vs Takakeisho – Ichinojo struggles against Takakeisho, who tends to pick a spot on the vast expanse of Ichinojo’s torso and just push for all he can muster. I think today’s fight will come down to Ichinojo getting a hand somewhere on Takakeisho and getting some form of grip, before the Grand Tadpole can shove him into the zabuton zone.

Hakuho vs Endo – We previewed this one in or podcast. These two have a history of beating the snot out of each other. In fact Endo can be on a solid 0-8 record, face Hakuho, and suddenly he’s found his sumo and is able to put up a big fight. It’s been a year since the last time they have fought, which went to Hakuho. I think Endo will have some excellent tactics today, and will have a narrow window to hand the Yokozuna his first loss of the tournament. I am sure The Boss knows about the early shallow grip, but I expect Endo will try something high and deep first instead today.

Nagoya Day 1 Highlights

I had some fine words to put here, but Josh said it better. Go read his post – I concur 100% percent.

Highlight Matches

Ichiyamamoto defeats Ishiura – Ishiura was very low at the tachiai, and actually got under Ichiyamamoto’s opening attack. But his chance to convert it into some kind of mawashi grip failed. In response, Ichiyamamoto pulled Ishiura forward and past while pushing him down for his first win ranked as a Maegashira. Kimarite was listed as the seldom seen harimanage.

Tokushoryu defeats Chiyonokuni – Chiyonokuni put a lot of energy into getting Tokushoryu off balance, but the man was simply too stable today. Chiyonokuni continued to work center-mass, but Tokushoryu kept expertly giving ground and re-centering his weight on his feet. Tokushoryu let Chiyonokuni flail away, but worked to get his hands inside. Once Tokushoryu did, the match ended 3 steps later. Impressive defensive sumo today from Tokushoryu. If he gets another yusho from the bottom end of the banzuke, I am going to be required to eat both my own buttocks again.

Tsurugisho defeats Chiyonoo – This came down to the enormous mass difference between the two. Tsurugisho shut down Chiyonoo’s opening gambit, and just waited for his moment. He landed that waiting right hand and twisted in a throw to start Nagoya 1-0.

Ura defeats Daiamami – Ah, welcome back indeed to Ura, no rikishi will be able to dethrone you as the prince of “What the hell was that” sumo. Daiamami attacks with power and focus, in what should be winning form. But no, Ura is moving and deflecting and Daiamami just can’t convert. At the moment Daiamami thinks hes got it ready to finish, his forward rush gets a boost from Ura’s left hand, disrupting his charge and sending him to the clay. Ura struggles to regain his balance and leaps from the dohyo into some lucky fan.

Kagayaki defeats Chiyomaru – In yesterday’s preview, I fretted that Kagayaki had lost his solid form and excellent fundamentals. I am delighted to see them return in Nagoya. Chiyomaru opened well with a right hand inside grip at the tachiai. But Kagayaki broke that grip and had the moxy to belly bounce Chiyomaru back and out.

Kotonowaka defeats Tochinoshin – Not sure what Tochinoshin had in mind today, but it did not come together at all. Kotonowaka got the double inside grip straight away and completely dominated the former Ozeki to start Nagoya 1-0.

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kaisei – In the day 1 preview, we sized up this match as Kaisei being enormous and immobile, and Terutsuyoshi employing mobility and speed. Speed and maneuver won the day as Kaisei found himself unable to land a mawashi grip against Terutsuyoshi, and was incrementally turned and walked out by Terutsuyoshi.

Tamawashi defeats Shimanoumi – Tamawashi’s deep experience was on display in this match. Shimanoumi brought more power and energy into the match, but Tamawashi focused center mass and kept the pressure up against his opponent. If you are inclined to such things, watch how Tamawashi used a combo oshi-hazu attack to the same point where Shimanoumi’s arms join his body again and again. Each time it lands, it moves Shimanoumi back and shifts his balance higher. Brilliant work.

Aoiyama defeats Hidenoumi – Well, Aoiyama seems to be starting Nagoya up in good health. He fired up the big V-Twin attack straight away and gunned the throttle just a bit, and out goes Hidenoumi.

Chiyoshoma defeats Takarafuji – I loved this match, first we got a bit of the old, tricky, Chiyoshoma with a partial flying henka. But he seems to have not banked that his acrobatics would not win the match at the start, and it was used to set up a deep right hand grip on Takarafuji’s belt. Chiyoshoma put all of his strength and momentum into converting that into an immediate throw, but the master of “Defend and Extend” was ready. The match went chest to chest, and there it stayed for a while, as Takarafuji worked to wear Chiyoshoma down. Normally this is Takarafuji “brand of sumo”, but its Chiyoshoma who consolidates his grip, and finishes the match. Well done sir!

Kiribayama defeats Myogiryu – Kiribayama used his opening combo to keep Myogiryu from ever setting up any real offense. He took the fight to Myogiryu, and gave him no time to consolidate either offense or defense, and simply powered him over the edge. Real “meat and potatoes” sumo from Kiribayama, and he made it work.

Hoshoryu defeats Onosho – There are many who became irritated by comparisons between Hoshoryu and his uncle in the early days of his career. But there it was – a flash of that explosive sumo, where for a moment Hoshoryu seemed to multiply the force he was using in the match and suddenly Onosho found himself over whelmed. That’s really not easy to do, especially when Onosho has about 20kg more mass than Hoshoryu.

Okinoumi defeats Chiyotairyu – Yes, I talked up Chiyotairyu’s improved sumo in the preview, and it was nowhere to be found today. Straight ahead win for Okinoumi today. Chiyotairyu focused his attacks high, and left himself wide open to Okinoumi’s offense.

Tobizaru defeats Kotoeko – Was the 5-10 result from Natsu for Tobizaru just nerves? A bad basho? He reverted to the good form from March today, and was a ball of sumo lightning today against the capable Kotoeko. That kick imploded Kotoeko’s defensive foot placement, and gave Tobizaru an opening day win.

Hokutofuji defeats Wakatakakage – Long time readers may recall that I sometimes refer to Hokutofuji being comprised of two, separately controlled sumo modules: The upper offensive fighting unit, and the lower stompy defensive engine. Today, Wakatakakage beat the upper unit early and repeatedly, but Hokutofuji’s lower body was having none of it, and refused to go down or out. It’s just uncanny that the top half can be losing a match, but the lower body keeps him in it. I liken it to the late 80’s to early 90’s Chicago Bears. The offense can throw interception and just be miserable, but the defense comes on the field and wins the game. Great sumo from both, but amazing balance and defense from Hokutofuji.

Ichinojo defeats Mitakeumi – Hometown favorite Mitakeumi provides little more than practice ballast for Ichinojo, who clearly came to Dolphins Arena to win today. At once point he had Mitakeumi completely upright, and walked his 175kg tadpole body out in short order.

Shodai defeats Takanosho – Maybe Shodai can have a good basho this July. He looked to be in reasonable form today, and some of this sumo mechanics were less terrible in the opening moments of this match. He was strong on the left, and kept his feet wide and heavy. He opens with a win and I have a sliver of hope he may be competitive over the next 2 weeks.

Takakeisho defeats Daieisho – Daieisho did very well at the tachiai, but spent two precious attacks on Takakeisho’s face and head, while the Ozeki was focusing center mass, and disrupting Daieisho’s defense. The finish left from Takakeisho was expertly timed and sent Daieisho tumbling to the clay.

Terunofuji defeats Endo – I don’t get tired of saying this, Terunofuji’s sumo of the present day is so different that his prior form. I wonder if maybe Endo has a bit of ring rust, or was planning to fight generation 1 Terunofuji today. If you watch it in slow motion, you can see at least 3 solid attack gambits from Endo, and Terunofuji blocks or dismantles them all. That left hand pull on the first step after the tachiai almost worked, but that was the last real moment Endo had any effective offense.

Hakuho defeats Meisei – My compliments to Meisei for a solid fight, but at the moment Meisei looked to be having some offensive power, Hakuho’s sumo kicked to plan b. That pivot on the bandaged knee was a moment of sheer worry, but he seems to have come through it well enough. Down goes Meisei and Hakuho opens with a solid win in good form.

Nagoya Day 1 Preview

Hello, and welcome to Tachiai’s coverage of the July basho, coming once again from Nagoya, Japan. In spite of the concerns in Japan about the Olympics, COVID-19 and the creeping doom of mass infection by the “Delta” variant, the Japan Sumo Association took the show on the road this summer, back to the sweat box that is Nagoya Dolphin’s Arena. We have 15 days of sumo action ahead of us, and fans around the world are eager to see how the story lines unfold. We will get our first Yokozuna dohyo-iri since March, and all eye will be on “The Boss” to see if he can last all 15 days.

This has been named a “Make or break” basho for the dai-Yokozuna, and should he falter here, it will most likely be retirement. He has not competed since March of this year, and has missed most of the last year due to increasing trouble with his right knee, which underwent extensive surgery in March following his withdrawal from the Haru basho.

Be aware, Team Tachiai will post information about the matches as they happen in Japan, when we can. Global fans who prefer to know the outcomes of matches via the NHK video feed (many hour delayed from actual action) would be advised to read Tachiai after they enjoy the daily show.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Ichiyamamoto vs Ishiura – Welcome to the top division, Ichiyamamoto! He’s going to be using a thrusting technique, I would expect, aimed around the head and neck of Ishiura. Ichiyamamoto has a height and weight advantage, but it’s tough to beat the compact power of Ishiura, if he’s genki to start Nagoya.

Chiyonokuni vs Tokushoryu – Chiyonokuni sat out the May tournament, but managed to remain in the top division, due to the challenges of ranking so many rikishi with dismal records following Natsu. He has a brutal 9-1 career advantage over one-time yusho winner Tokushoryu. If Chiyonokuni is healthy, this should be a quick fight.

Tsurugisho vs Chiyonoo – Chiyonoo has not been ranked in the top division in 4 years, and I am curious to see how the 30-year-old from Kagoshima can do in the heat of Nagoya. Tsurugisho needs to bounce back vigorously from his terrible 4-11 performance in May at Maegashira 8. Chiyonoo has a 7-5 career advantage over the much heavier Tsurugisho.

Daiamami vs Ura – Welcome back Ura! I worry that every time the press talks to him, he sounds extremely cautious, and warns that his knee could just surrender to physics at any moment, day or night. Screw that! Let’s enjoy the man in the pink mawashi’s first matches ranked in the top division since September of 2017. Daiamami won their only prior match, but I am looking for the new, highly powerful and enormous Ura to quietly rack up a good run of wins in July.

Chiyomaru vs Kagayaki – I am not sure who put diesel in Kagayaki’s unleaded tank, but he has been idling rough and misfiring for several tournaments now. He has a nearly even record against the bulbous Chiyomaru, and I have to hope that Mr Fundamentals can shake off whatever is clogging up his sumo and get back to stable mid-Maegashira performance.

Tochinoshin vs Kotonowaka – At the start of every tournament for the past year, I look at the injured relic of Ozeki Tochinoshin, and wonder how much longer he’s going to be able to keep doing this. Having lost Ozeki at the end of 2019, he has been holding fast in the mid-Maegashira ranks, but turned in a depressing 5-10 finish to Natsu in May. But given how miserable many rikishi’s records were that basho, he is only down to Maegashira 12 for July. All his fans are looking for this month are 8 wins.

Kaisei vs Terutsuyoshi – Sumo fans love the classic giant vs little guy match, and this one is checking all the boxes. Kaisei at M11e tends to start a tournament playing to his brand of sumo, being huge and not moving very much. Terutsuyoshi has been struggling since July of last year, and I have to hope he can find some power on day 1 and use his superior mobility against Kaisei.

Tamawashi vs Shimanoumi – Shimanoumi is another of the cadre of rikishi who had a terrible May tournament, and caused a lot of trouble sorting out the banzuke (4-11). He will provide a moderate challenge for the fading relic of long-time San’yaku mainstay Tamawashi, who is aging out of the top division.

Hidenoumi vs Aoiyama – Big Dan Aoiyama spent most of the May tournament kyujo, but returned on day 8 to finish 4-3, and likely save himself from a big demotion. If he is healthy, he is in a great position to really cause some trouble in the middle ranks. He is 2-0 against Hidenoumi, who is too large to really dodge the V-Twin attack.

Takarafuji vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma has been a pleasant surprise, fighting well with a minimum number of henka and cheesy moves. In fact, all of this tournaments (save the COVID-kyujo in January) have been kachi-koshi, and maybe he’s ready to take on the middle ranks. I would be delighted to see him continue his good form, and maybe kachi-koshi yet again. His record with Takarafuji is an even 5-5, so let them fight it out!

Myogiryu vs Kiribayama – Kiribayama and Myogiryu have both been make-koshi the last two tournaments, and I hope that one of them can get some fighting spirit up this July. Kiribayama won their only prior match (Hatsu 2021), with a glorious katasukashi.

Onosho vs Hoshoryu – I continue to enjoy Hoshoryu’s steady, incremental progress. I recall that last year, the common idea from the sumo commentators in the Japanese media was that he was not quite ready to be a power in the top division. Too small, too much in his uncle’s shadow, …, the reasons were plentiful. After a 7-8 make-koshi in May, he has to be looking to resume his climb. Sad news is that he faces Onosho, who had an identical record last basho, but clearly has a formula for beating Hoshoryu.

Okinoumi vs Chiyotairyu – I am genuinely surprised and pleased to see Chiyotairyu this far up the banzuke. His last run through the joi-jin was in 2019, and lasted for roughly 3 tournaments. He has recently lost some weight, and changed up his fighting style. I hope he can continue to do well. He holds a 10-5 career advantage over today’s opponent, Okinoumi.

Kotoeko vs Tobizaru – Tobizaru went 5-10 in May, and only dropped one full rank. You know what that is? It’s a gift. Meanwhile how did Kotoeko become the heyagashira for Sadogatake? Congrats sir, your sumo has been solid for a while, and I hope you can send Tobizaru on one of his now common run-outs into what will pass for a crowd in Nagoya.

Wakatakakage vs Hokutofuji – Firstly, huge compliments to Wakatakakage for reaching the San’yaku. Your sumo has steadily improved, and I think you may have a great run ahead of you. Hokutofuji, who always fights with a lot of power, needs to find a way to string together consecutive kachi-koshi tournaments if he wants to hit and stay in the named ranks.

Ichinojo vs Mitakeumi – Which version of Ichinojo will show up? If it’s the big, powerful pony-tosser, Mitakeumi is going to need his best sumo today. But Ichinojo’s 4-11 career deficit indicates that the legend of Mongolia’s steppes is not frequently seen against home-town favorite Mitakeumi.

Shodai vs Takanosho – Shodai is not kadoban this time, so maybe the pressure will be off, and we can see him use his “good” sumo for the first time since January. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Hopefully Takanosho cleaned up whatever gave him a 5-10 sink-burger in May and knocked him well clear of the San’yaku for now. Shodai has a 6-2 career advantage, and hopefully he does not disappoint.

Daieisho vs Takakeisho – Ah, we get into juiciest parts of the torikumi. I am looking for Takakeisho to open strong, and that features giving Daieisho a real shove fest on day 1. Daieisho tends to try and set up an overwhelming “mega-thrust”, and we all know that Takakeisho prefers his “wave-action” attack. I think it will come down to who gets their hands inside at the tachiai.

Terunofuji vs Endo – Fans may look at Endo’s 5-4 career record against Terunofuji, and assume that he will dominate on day 1. In reality, since Terunofuji’s return to the top division, its 2-1 in Terunofuji’s favor. Of course that “1” was a loss to Endo on day 14 of the May tournament. I am delighted to see the Kaiju get a crack at a “return to sender” to start Nagoya.

Hakuho vs Meisei – I expect this to be a bit of a “ring rust” session for Hakuho. He’s not faced anyone outside of Miyagino heya in a bout in months. In normal conditions, he would be giving Meisei one of the dia-Yokozuna’s famous “Flying lessons” today. But I am guessing that we may see plan a/b/c sumo instead as Hakuho figures out what manner of sumo his damaged body can support.