At the close of the Osaka basho in March, Yokozuna Hakuho injured his right arm in the final match. He was seen gripping the bicep, and wincing in pain. During the yusho ceremony, he was unable to use his right arm to lift the cup, or even the fairly lightweight banner. A subsequent examination by doctors revealed that he had partially torn his right bicep, and the guidance from them was to rest it and “let it heal naturally”.
While this will sound depressingly familiar to sumo fans who saw Kisenosato’s career decay following a similar treatment plan for his pectoral tear, there is every indication that all parties involved were well aware of that failure, and were eager to not repeat it. But in the weeks that followed, Hakuho continues to struggle to train, and finds his right arm to be weak and unsteady. While he did join the jungyo following Osaka, he limited his activities to dohyo-iri. He did not participate in practice matches or keiko.
Hakuho is still not doing any sumo. Says “something is amiss”. Gave 7 minute kawaigari to Enho, but no sumo. He is looking for a way to show up for Haru, but chances of a yusho are slim.
At this week’s YDC soken, “The Boss” stayed out of the training area, and sumo fans around the world are right to be worried. Word now comes to us from Herouth that he is undergoing a second examination, and the outcome of that will be a diagnosis for treatment.
He has been saying that his right arm is still not working properly, and is still a source of pain. In all likelihood, we will see Hakuho face a much more invasive repair strategy, that may include surgery to rebuild that muscle, if possible.
This puts Hakuho in a tough spot. Firstly, Tachiai expects that the greatest Yokozuna in anyone’s memory will sit out the Natsu basho, possibly to be hospitalized and treated during the tournament’s 15 day run. This is not the first time that Hakuho has watched a basho from the hospital, and he has proven he can and will train like a maniac to return to competition. But a muscle tear like this will require months of post-surgical recovery, and its unknown how much time the NSK will give him to return to Yokozuna sumo. But the question is – how badly de-conditioned will become with a long recovery? As we saw with Kisenosato, once lost, the balance and strength required to compete at the Yokozuna may not be recoverable.
Hakuho has only recently started working on the steps needed to become an Oyakata, and the end of that process is still many months, if not a year or more away. Being forced to retire before it is complete would cause the greatest sumotori of modern times to be lost to the sport.
Worse yet, Hakuho is a relentless goal-seeker. He has his mind fixed on being front and center for the Olympic opening ceremony next summer, preferably with his two uchi-deshi flanking him. A lengthy recovery from surgery places all of that in doubt. The temptation will be for him to short-cut the recovery, and return to action hoping to meet his goals, or stave off forced retirement. Sounds a lot like Kisenosato’s dilemma will be repeated.
As with any great athlete, situations like this are never very happy, especially coming near the end of their athletic career. We hope that whatever outcome presents itself, Hakuho can stay whole, connected with sumo, and happy.
It’s been a big crazy ride! Haru has been 14 days of the legends of sumo stomping with force through the rank and file, taking white starts wherever they go. Not a single kinboshi this tournament, let that sink in. Now that we are down to 2 Yokozuna, and they are both in fairly good health, the chances of a gold star are down. Looking at Kakuryu, there is a chance that his ankle is not quite right again, but with just one day left to go, I don’t think we will see him go kyujo.
The battle of day is, with no doubt, Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin. The landscape of the final day of the basho has been set up expertly by lksumo, as is his custom, but I wanted to examine this match. Tochinoshin is a mawashi rikishi, and he likes to use “lift and shift” sumo to remove his opponents bodily from the dohyo. When he is in good health, he can and does do it to anyone, including Ichinojo. Frequently this is accompanied by his opponent pedaling their legs furiously as the are lifted to height and carried to the janome like a crate of green bottles on Wednesday in Sumida. If Tochinoshin can get a hold of you, there is simply no way to stop it. It has even worked on Hakuho.
Takakeisho is a finely honed oshi-fighter, with the focus being primarily on thrusting / pushing attack and less on slapping his opponents around. He has perfected what we sometimes call a “wave action” attack, which features both arms working in tandem or near tandem to apply overwhelming force to his opponents body. This works best when he can get inside, and he can focus on center-mass. The day 14 match broke down when, for reasons we can’t explain, Takakeisho targeted Ichinojo’s neck, with absolutely zero effect. This double arm push is repeated in rapid succession, like a series of waves breaking against his opponent’s body. The result is that his opponents must constantly react and fight for stance and balance, all the while Takakeisho is moving them rapidly to the tawara.
The fight will hinge on if Takakeisho can move fast enough at the tachiai to land his first push before Tochinoshin can get a hand on Takakeisho’s mawashi. If Tochinoshin can grab a hold of this tadpole, it’s likely to Takakeisho’s doom. Tochinoshin’s sumo typically relies on him being able to set his feet and brace his shoulders and hips for his “sky crane” lift; this means if Takakeisho is landing wave after wave of heavy force thrusts against him, he won’t have a chance to use his lethal move.
A real clash of sumo styles and approaches, and on the line is who gets that 3rd Ozeki slot. The stakes could not be higher, and the rikishi nearly opposites.
What We Are Watching Day 15
Shohozan vs Chiyoshoma – The bottom man on the banzuke needs one more win to hold on to Makuuchi. Shohozan has lost 4 of the last 5, and seems out of gas. Should Chiyoshoma lose, he will join the platoon of rikishi that are eligible for return to Juryo.
Ryuden vs Kotoshogiku – Kotoshogiku has had a great tournament, and this is his highest score since his January 2016 yusho (14-1), but it seems to me he has run out of stamina, and he may be picked off by Ryuden on day 15. Many fans, myself included, are a bit let down that the schedulers did not put Kotoshogiku against Toyonoshima for their final match. Some of these guys need to take nostalgia into account.
Asanoyama vs Kotoeko – Asanoyama has been fighting for that 8th win for the last 4 days, and his chances are good on day 15, as he holds a 4-0 career advantage over Kotoeko.
Ishiura vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji is also in the 7-7 category, and will need to keep Ishiura in front of him to pick up #8. Ishiura may as well henka this one, in my opinion. But do make it acrobatic!
Kagayaki vs Abi – Abi, old bean, I worry you won’t diversify unless you lose more matches. Won’t you give something else a try? Your double arm attack is solid, but is that all you can do? You have so much talent. Ok, go ahead and win day 15, and while you are at it, give Kagayaki some reason to look a bit more excited. The poor fellow looks a bit like the walking dead some days. Thanks, signed: your fans.
Okinoumi vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze at 10 wins, Okinoumi at 7 wins… Yeah, I think Okinoumi gets this one.
Chiyotairyu vs Myogiryu – Although Chiyotairyu needs a win to get to 8, I am going say that Myogiryu has an advantage here due to his shorter stature, and his strength. Chiyotairyu can and does hit like a wrecking ball, but he loses stamina in a hurry.
Daieisho vs Ichinojo – “Hulk Smash!”
Tochinoshin vs Takakeisho – The big match, in my book. It may only last seconds, but it’s going to leave someone out in the cold.
Takayasu vs Goeido – Both Ozeki have 10 wins or better, so I see this as a “test match” of Takayasu’s tuned up sumo style. Goeido is going to blast in fast with everything he has. In the past that is sometimes enough to actually bowl the burly Takayasu over. But Takayasu has changed his “contact” stance a bit at the tachiai, and I think we may see this shift into a battle for grip in the first 4 seconds. If Takayasu can stalemate Goeido to the point his frustration leads Goeido into an attempt to pull, he will have his opening to strike.
Hakuho vs Kakuryu – The Boss goes up against Big K for the final match. Should Hakuho go down for some reason and Ichinojo prevail, we will get one more tasty sumo morsel before the long break leading up to Natsu. Wise money is on Hakuho to contain, constrain and then maintain his perfect record. But it will be fun to watch.
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.
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.
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.