Bruce’s Commentary – Kyushu Day 8 and Beyond

Bruce-Kokugikan

Thanks to Andy and Josh who managed the live blog while I succumbed to some nasty chest cold. Thought I am still far from genki, it’s worth the time to comment on the state of sumo in the middle of this highly transformative tournament in Kyushu. I say transformative because if we blur our eyes just a bit, we can see the future from here. The Yokozuna we love are not in the picture, and there is a crop of fiery young talent spanking the veteran headliners. The field is very flat, and there is a large scrum that can still possibly lay claim to the yusho by the middle of the tournament.

As fans, we have gotten conditioned by a handful of hyper-dominant rikishi winning the cup every single time. If it was not Hakuho, it was Harumafuji. Maybe once in a great while it would be Kakuryu, but everyone else scrapped for enough wins to piece together a kachi-koshi, and maybe a special prize here and there, and everyone got by. But, like all dynasties throughout history, as the central powers start to fade, things change rapidly as the strong and the prepared grab for leadership.

Prior to day 9, one lone rikishi holds a one-loss record. There are six (6!) rikishi who follow at two losses, and seven (7!) who follow them at three losses. As of today, any of them could lift the cup on day 15. I frequently joke about a no-holds barred barnyard brawl to finish a basho, but there is a chance we could get there this time.  While it seems to lower the level of broad interest in sumo (our site metrics bear this out), the No-kozuna tournaments are hell on wheels for flat out competition. For hard core fans, you come in to each day wondering which mighty hero is going to eat clay today.

Though Takakeisho holds the lead, it is very tough for young rikishi to stay dominant into week 2. Endurance and mental toughness are the key here. Takakeisho is untested in mental toughness, and the worries about “not blowing it” eat a bit more of your fighting spirit each day. This is where the Ozeki just one win behind him come into their own. They have had to endure the tough three-tournament process to get to their rank, and that required both endurance and mental focus that is not necessarily part of the make-up of the lower ranks. As predicted, the scheduling team saw that Takakeisho was on a hot streak, and held some of his Ozeki matches for week 2. The job of the schedulers is to have someone, anyone, put dirt on Takakeisho by day 12, setting up a battle royale on the final weekend for the hardware.

The picture is becoming more cloudy for the surviving Yokozuna. We know Hakuho intends to nurse himself along until late 2020, and we think he will get there unless the YDC and the NSK say otherwise. Kakuryu has been plagued with a miserable set of injuries since shortly after his elevation to Yokozuna. He has manfully been able to steel himself against the pain and limitations to continue to rack yushos, and his sumo is quite interesting and unique. We have documented the daylights out of Kisenosato, but with 9 kyujo out of the last 10 tournaments, I think his time to bow out is soon. Yes, in spite of the scandal that saw him leave sumo, I think from a competition standpoint we all miss Harumafuji. Like some epic World War 1 battleship, he would take damage again and again, and still be ready to fight and win.

But keep in mind, once these epic rikishi were young men, fighting their way up the ranks, looking to make a name for themselves. Looking through who is on the leaderboard going into day 9, there are a host of young faces, any of which could emerge on day 15 as the victor. Thought some top names are benched this tournament, the action is intense, the young stars are shining bright, and the future of sumo looks really fun.

Aki Day 3 Preview

Kisenosato - Takakiesho Aki 2018

For anyone who has been a sumo fan for the last couple of years, Aki 2018 is a welcome departure from the normal. It has been along time since this many of sumo’s top competitors were all present at the start of a tournament. Given that some of them are in less than perfect health, we may not see them at the end of act 3, but this is a great and exciting way to start a basho. The Yokozuna and Ozeki corps have not only shown up, they are competing with vigor, energy and skill. Sadly for the Komusubi and Sekiwake (as well as Maegashira 1-3), this means that they take the full brunt of being warm up cannon fodder for the Yokozuna and Ozeki. Excellent rikishi like Takakeisho and Tamawashi will find it hard to reach kachi-koshi, let alone some of the 10 win figures seen earlier this year. That spells trouble for Mitakeumi’s Ozeki bid, as we will likely see him face all 6 of the Yokozuna and Ozeki starting soon.

The other thing that has caught my eye is just how well the “Freshmen” are fighting this tournament. This is the cohort that includes Yutakayama, Asanoyama, Kagayaki and Abi. Sure, Yutakayama is winless so far because he is a Yokozuna chew-toy. But he is moving well, putting together excellent matches and generally showing some solid sumo. It’s going to be a while before we see these rikishi make their way to being headliners, but it’s great to see them showing a lot of promise early on.

What We Are Watching Day 6

Kotoyuki vs Yoshikaze – Kotoyuki has looked a half step behind both days, and we can’t help but wonder if he is going to snap out of it and present a credible challenge in any of his matches. Yoshikaze, however, seems to have recovered a great deal of his genki, and has been back to his old power levels thus far. Kotoyuki holds a 6-3 career advantage over Yoshikaze, so maybe today is the day “Mr 5×5” recovers.

Takanoiwa vs Nishikigi – If you did not see Nishikigi’s day 2 match, go watch it now. Nishikigi is the poster boy of calm and polite. But on day 2 he was positively aggressive – kind of a shock, but a welcome one. But speaking of aggressive, lets see what he does with Takanoiwa! Both men come into the match with 2-0, and tied career wise at 2-2.

Kyokutaisei vs Daieisho – Kyokutaisei seems to be stuck right now, and he has nothing but kuroboshi to show right now. Fans will recall he started Nagoya the same way, taking it to 5 straight losses. He holds a career 4-2 lead over Daieisho, so maybe today is the day he gets into the win column. It could also be the case that he has family in Hokkaido, and the disaster there may be occupying his thoughts.

Aoiyama vs Sadanoumi – Man-Mountain Aoiyama is also in the winless column, and I think he may be feeling the pain of injuries. We have yet to see him unleash his overwhelming upper body strength, and he has been even slower than normal moving around the dohyo. Sadanoumi comes in straight from giving Okinoumi a good fight.

Daishomaru vs Kotoshogiku – One of the strange results of Kotoshogiku being this far down the banzuke is that he is fighting some familiar rikishi for the first time. Today it’s Daishomaru. Thus far Kotoshogiku has been moving well, and seems to not be in pain. His motions are smooth and efficient, and he would seem to be locked in to his sumo.

Takarafuji vs Hokutofuji – Today’s fight of the fujis, what I am going to look for is Hokutofuji’s “handshake tachiai”, and Takarafuji to take it chest to chest. Takarafuji is a great technical wrestler, and seems to always have a careful plan of how to win. Hokutofuji seems to be more of a “hold my beer” kind of rikishi, who decides he is going to try something fast and violet and work with whatever emerges.

Tochiozan vs Onosho – Both of these guys are zero wins? Strangely enough, yes. Onosho especially has looked to be only about 80% thus far. I am going to assume that at some point his sumo will click and he will pick up a good number of wins, enough to remain in the top division anyhow. Tochiozan’s matches have boiled down to a few choices that did not break his way, so I am expecting him to leverage his 3-1 career advantage and possibly rack his first win.

Kagayaki vs Shohozan – Big Guns will take his daily brawl to Kagayaki’s school of sumo. Both of them come in 1-1, but out of their 8 prior matches, Kagayaki has won 6 of them. I am going to be watching to see if Kagayaki can set up his preferred thrusting position center mass, inside of Shohozan’s wood-chipper style tsuppari.

Asanoyama vs Abi – Both men with 2 wins, career series tied at 1-1. What’s going to be the edge here? Lord knows. First off Abi is tough to handicap. As Herouth pointed out, everyone knows about his “One Weird Trick”, but he is still getting away with it. Asanoyama has brought a lot more speed to his sumo this year, but it’s nothing compared to Abi’s stick-insect inspired sumo.

Chiyonokuni vs Myogiryu – Another fun match for day 3, two very high intensity rikishi are going to try to move up from their 1-1 records. I am going to look for Chiyonokuni to surge early, and try to close the match before Myogiryu can set up his offense. Chiyonokuni will want to stay mobile and use his superior reach. Should be a slap fest worthy of an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Shodai vs Endo – Another great enigma, at least we know that one of these two deserving rikishi will exit the match with a win. Both of them are fighting well, but have lost their first two. Shodai may have been robbed on day 2 when the fact that his tachiai has improved resulted in a matta. I want to see Shodai do it again, be fast and low. Don’t worry about your score today, get the mechanics right.

Mitakeumi vs Tamawashi – 4 out of 5 dentists agree that Tamawashi will try a kotenage. The big question being, will Mitakeumi fall for it? Career advantage is 12-2 in Mitakeumi’s favor, but to me his sumo has looked a bit tentative thus far. We are still in act 1, so there is plenty of time for him to dial it up.

Chiyotairyu vs Takayasu – This will likely be a very sloppy battle of the bellies, starting with an earth-shattering tachiai. In spite of the pain and injuries, Takayasu is managing to rack the shiroboshi so far. His sumo is still wild and chaotic, which is just begging for another mechanical injury. Chiyotairyu struggles this high up in the banzuke, where it’s tougher to win matches just by being enormous and smashing into people at the tachiai. Takayasu leads their career series 8-3.

Goeido vs Ichinojo – Well, Ichinojo tried the “Bad Pony” technique again on day 2, but it fell flat. Goeido managed to win one, but he still looked a half step behind. It will be easy to get the jump on Ichinojo, but I like how he is not giving up at the tawara right now. They are more or less tied over their career.

Takakeisho vs Tochinoshin – Takakeisho was fired up day 2, and nearly overwhelmed Kisenosato. He is a terrifying ball of energy in a compact spherical package, which may be trouble for Tochinoshin. Thus far the injured kadoban Ozeki has been fighting well, and has been very careful with his overwhelming strength; enough to win, but just enough. Interestingly enough, Takakeisho leads their career matches 3-1.

Kaisei vs Hakuho – Day 2 Kaisei took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, and Kakuryu showed him how well tended the east side hanamichi is. He has never defeated Hakuho, who is hiding whatever pain and stiffness he might have well. I am predicting a return voyage to the lap of someone in the front row.

Kakuryu vs Ikioi – Ikioi is strong, and seems to be willing to sacrifice his body to do what it takes to win. But Yokozuna Kakuryu is the master of reactive sumo, so he will play with Ikioi, stalemating him until he makes a mistake. Kakuryu may be the one to beat this tournament.

Kisenosato vs Yutakayama – Last match of the day features Kisenosato taking on the head of the Freshman class. Each basho Yutakayama shows up bigger, stronger, and with improvements in his sumo. He is winless right now, but I view him as a formidable opponent. This is their first match, and I am (as always) just hoping no one gets hurt.

Aki Day 2 Preview

Kisenosato Aki 2018

Day 1 gave us great sumo, but few surprises. With plenty of ring-rust left to shed, fans can expect some of the unexpected in the first 5 days. Will day 2 deliver?

What We Are Watching Day 2

Ishiura vs Yoshikaze – Tough to believe, but it seems this is the first time these two have fought. Ishiuran is still struggling to figure out what his kind of sumo will be, and Yoshikaze looks like he just wants to go sit in an onsen until that rash clears up.

Ryuden vs Takanosho – Takanosho looked fresh, eager and genki in his day 1 debut match, just as much as Ryuden looked vague and stale. Ryuden is at real risk of returning to Juryo, and needs to find the sumo that took him to mid-Maegashira levels earlier this year.

Chiyomaru vs Takanoiwa – I suspect we are going to see some fierce sumo from Takanoiwa. He has been very eager to return to the top division, and resume his push for higher rank. Everyone loves Chiyomaru, but I think he will need to do something new to overcome Takanoiwa today.

Nishikigi vs Kyokutaisei – Nishikigi’s day 1 match against Okinoumi showed that Nishikigi seems to have made a step-change improvement to his sumo. He holds a 7-3 career advantage over Kyokutaisei, but as a long time follower of Nishikigi, I have to wonder if he is starting to put together a successful campaign towards a steady Maegashira 6 level ranking. Kyokutaisei still seems to be struggling to find his Makuuchi footing.

Hokutofuji vs Daieisho – Daieisho won their only prior match, and I am eager to see if we get to see Hokutofuji’s “Handshake” tachiai again today. It establishes Hokutofuji with an inside position that he can use to control his opponent. Daieisho will be working to raise Hokutofuji as best he can out of the tachiai. I am expecting a real battle here.

Aoiyama vs Daishomaru – After his day 1 match against Daieisho, Aoiyama is looking to bounce back against his stablemate Daishomaru, who has not yet been able to overcome the “Man-Mountain” in the 3 prior attempts. Daieisho did a masterful job of boxing in Aoiyama on day 1, perhaps Daishomaru can do the same.

Kotoshogiku vs Tochiozan – Kotoshogiku looksd smooth and in total control of his day 1 match, but day 2 he faces another long serving veteran in Tochiozan. They two share a 17-20 career record: thats 37 matches over more than a decade of sumo.

Myogiryu vs Kagayaki – Great match here. Myogiryu brings intensity to his matches, Kagayaki brings structure and discipline. Which force will prevail on day 2? I give a slight edge to Kagayaki right now. He seems to be aware but not worried about rank, he is simply looking at every match as a chance to improve.

Onosho vs Asanoyama – Rusty, rusty Onosho will try to apply some steel wool before his match with Asanoyama. Asanoyama seems to have genuinely settled into his sumo now, and is a solid mid-Maegashira entrant for now. Time will tell us if he can make the step change to the joi-jin. Onosho has the skill and the drive, but I am going to guess his body is not quite back to being ready, yet.

Shodai vs Chiyonokuni – Both had disappointing day 1 losses, both put forth some solid sumo, but came up short. I would give the edge to Chiyonokuni, but I will be closely watching Shodai’s tachiai. His first step against Mitakeumi was something new, and if it was not a happy accident, it could mean that we are going to see much better sumo from Shodai soon.

Abi vs Endo – Endo got the rag-doll treatment from Ichinojo on day 1, while Abi-zumo prevailed. Abi’s stick-insect proportions seem to give many rikishi fits, so Endo may be in for a rough start for Aki. Abi – get some different sumo, or you are going to end up like Ishiura, with your magic trick expected and defeated.

Mitakeumi vs Chiyotairyu – I am expecting a thunderous tachiai from Chiyotairyu, followed by a lightning fast drive to the bales. If Mitakeumi runs the same plan as day 1, he will only have seconds to arrest his backward motion and counter-attack. Chiyotairyu is faster, stronger and much more massive than Shodai. They are evenly matched at 4-4 over their career record.

Goeido vs Tamawashi – Both men will launch hard off the shikiri-sen, and both men are brawlers. Goeido looked good on day 1, but simply could not carry the match against the enormous Kaisei. His record against Tamawashi shows them to be quite evenly matched (9-8).

Yutakayama vs Tochinoshin – I think Tochinoshin will once again go for a fast left, but we may see some good evasive sumo from Yutakayama, possibly a nodowa or other counter-attack move meant to keep Tochinoshin from getting his favored left hand grip.

Ichinojo vs Takayasu – Will we see the “bad pony!” kimarite again on day 2? Takayasu tried to use his brutalist tachiai on day 1 and it got him stalemated by Yutakayama. Ichinojo is larger and stronger, but Takayasu seems to be in the habit of doing that every single match. This could and should be a great strength sumo match.

Kakuryu vs Kaisei – Kakuryu won’t repeat Goeido’s mistake. 500 pounds of Kaisei is a lot to maneuver, but Kakuryu’s reactive sumo style means he will let Kaisei do most of the work for him, then the Yokozuna will finish him off. Kaisei has yet to be Kakuryu, but Kaisei does not seem to be the kind to let that discourage him.

Kisenosato vs Takakeisho – This will be their 4th match, and Takakeisho actually leads 2-1. So this will be a great test of how dialed in the Yokozuna really is. Both men looked like they had quite a bit of ring rust day 1, so both may stumble through this match. Kisenosato will try to keep Takakeisho from moving too far to his right, blunting the use of the left hand. Takakeisho will try to keep some daylight with the Yokozuna so he can apply his tsuppari. Please, nobody get hurt.

Ikioi vs Hakuho – Hakuho will again try for speed. If he is still nursing his need, long power matches are not in any of his plans right now. Ikioi will need to shut down the Yokozuna’s rapid advance, and ignore the face slap at the tachiai. There are some indications that Ikioi is having knee / foot problems, so this may be another quick win for Hakuho.

Aki Day 1 Comments & Highlights

Aki Day 1 Toys

My thanks to Herouth and Josh for their excellent discussion and commentary overnight for day 1. It was a great day of sumo, that included a lot of intense action, and brilliant moves. I continue to believe that we are in a sumo “golden age” for at least a little bit longer, and I will savor every match that features such long-serving talent and such bright new skill. You can find the full live-blog transcript here.

First and foremost, let’s clear the decks and say that Kisenosato won his first match of Aki. It was fairly straightforward sumo. He landed his left hand and drove forward. Ikioi put up a good fight, and frankly Kisenosato was quite a bit higher than we might expect to see him, but the Yokozuna had enough power to make it work. He did not look good, but he did look good-enough for now. I expect him to have quite a bit of ring rust to blast away before we see anything approaching his prior form.

The Yoshikaze / Chiyoshoma match was a stunner. Chiyoshoma had the upper hand and was driving Yoshikaze back and out, when the Berserker rallied and delivered an unbelievable utchari at the edge. Chiyoshoma was looking for a monoii, as was I, but none was called and the results stood. Look at that left foot as he swings Chiyoshoma up and over. The man has the strength, skill and ring sense to inch it back forward to keep his heel inside until Chiyoshoma becomes a “dead body”. One thing was clear from the HD feed coming from NHK-G, Yoshikaze has a hideous rash all over his body, leading me to wonder if cause of his impairment might be a painful case of adult chickenpox (shingles).

Takanoiwa looked like he completely out-matched Ryuden. Ryuden’s gambit utterly failed, and Takanoiwa took command and disposed of Ryuden like a spent takoyaki tray outside of Lawson’s.

I continue to like what I see from Hokutofuji, watch that tachiai! Notice how he leads with his right hand out from the tachiai. Even if he is a half-step behind for some reason, that right hand is already inside. He has been refining this move for a while, and he’s just getting better and better at it. It also acts as a counterbalance that allows him to get very low off the shikiri-sen.

Kagayaki seems to have tweaked him mawashi color, and it’s almost iridescent now. Kagayaki picked up right where he stopped in Nagoya. He continues to become more calm, refined and operating strongly on fundamentals. Onosho is, in my book, still recovering from surgery, and is looking a bit chaotic. I am chalking it up to ring rust.

Abi seems to have pulled Chiyonokuni down twice, which means that Chiyonokuni bounced off the clay. Abi did a minor variation of his two-hand tachiai. Ok, so he’s getting creative, but I think that’s not quite what is needed. But this was 100% Abi-zumo.

The EndoIchinojo bout is a study in Ichinojo. It gets underway with Endo being very busy, attacking Ichinojo more or less at will. Ichinojo ends up with his heels on the tawara. This is where he usually gives up, but instead something flips in his sumo and he turns into this monster. He had Endo in an off-balance grip and simply flexes his enormous muscles and flings all 150 kg around and then pushes Endo down by the neck. I could see an expression flash across Ichinojo’s face that translates to “Bad Pony!”.

I am delighted to report that Shodai’s tachiai was not a train-wreck on day 1, and had Mitakeumi struggling to recover. But recover he did and sent Shodai packing. Once again it looks like Mitakeumi phones in the practice matches and brings the actual sumo out for honbasho. Mitakeumi stayed glued to Shodai’s center-mass, and that is what won that match.

The ChiyotairyuTochinoshin tachiai registered as a Hokkaido aftershock, as it was loud and painful. Tochinoshin was able to back Chiyotairyu up, and apply a lift-and-shift finish, but it looked like it hurt him to do so. We know Tochinoshin is going to gamberize like mad, so we just hope he can hold it together until he can rack his 8th.

Freshman class leader Yutakayama effectively stalemated Ozeki Takayasu, who once again used that terrible shoulder-blast tachiai. But after going chest to chest, Yutakayama could not keep the Ozeki from advancing and simply plowing Yutakayama out.

Kaisei was not in the least bit intimidated by Goeido, and put his massive body to good use: driving forward with so much force Goeido was powerless to do anything other than lose.

Hakuho’s match? Pure speed. Blink and you miss it.

Takakeisho looked vague and rusty against Kakuryu, who stayed calm and kept the match on his terms.

We end day 1 with all of the Yokozuna and Ozeki winning, except for Goeido. Order and balance is established in the basho, and the young up-and-comers are going to have their hands full this time. With the senior ranks out in full, the score inflation of the Maegashira and lower san’yaku will be curtailed. This will be a great basho to watch as I still think the new forces are continuing to pick apart the old guard.

Aki Day 1 Preview

Mitakeumi - Kakuryu

Its sumo time once more, and everyone is ready to see their favorites battle it out in Tokyo. For the first time in a long time, everyone in Makuuchi will be present day 1. Many of them are in less than excellent health, but ever last one of them is going to gamberize as much as they can and push. This could be one of the better tournaments in the past 18 months, and I suspect fans are in for a treat.

All eyes will be on Yokozuna Kisenosato. I expect the Kokugikan to erupt in a joyful noise when the yobidashi calls out, “Yokozuna Kisenosato, dohyo-iri masu!”. In spite of a permanently degraded left pectoral muscle, he has somehow gotten himself genki enough to give it a try. Of course this may in fact be the execution of a planned exit strategy. Prior to his injury, Kisenosato was Mr. Sumo. Missing a day of practice, let alone a day of honbasho was simply unthinkable to him. Such a competitor would not sadly fade into the background, but would likely go out “guns blazing”, delivering as much fierce competition as he could muster for as long as he could stand it.

Any way it plays out, the fans are in store for some fine sumo.

Everyone keep in mind as we start Aki act one. The purpose of act 1 is to see who is hot, and who is not. Everyone works to shed any ring-rust and get up to full basho combat power. For day 1, everyone outside the joi-jin is paired up east-west.

What We Are Watching Day 1

Note – we are watching everything, as we are live blogging..

Chiyoshoma vs Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze fans have been worried about “the berserker” for the past few months. He hit some kind of medical / mechanical wall, and his sumo has been without power and stamina. Everyone dearly hopes that he is in better condition now, and this will be an early indication. He holds a career advantage of 4-2 over Chiyoshoma, who has been struggling as well.

Takanosho vs Chiyomaru – Everyone’s favorite party balloon squares off for the first time against newcomer Takanosho. Takanosho existed Juryo after a fantastic 13-2 record in Nagoya. Will he have the kind of “hot basho” that many top division debutants enjoy? Chiyomaru ponderous bulk seems to have robbed him of all stamina as of late, and his many fans want to see him get his sumo back. Good ‘Maru!

Ryuden vs Takanoiwa – Ryuden, what are you doing down here at Maegashira 13? Oh, that’s right. You had your ass handed to you at Natsu and then struggled at Maegashira 15 in Nagoya. Takanoiwa returns to his rightful place in the top division at long last after recovering from cranial injuries sustained in an after-hours beating by Harumafuji. Welcome back, and get cracking. Sumo needs you.

Aoiyama vs Daieisho – Aoiyama is my pick for “sleeper” this basho. He has never lost to Daiesho, and I am going to guess he won’t today. Aoiyama does tend to suffer from quite a bit of “ring rust”, and he may be slow and vague on day 1. Daieisho needs to bounce back from his disappointing 6-9 in Nagoya. But I don’t see him getting inside Aoiyama’s outrageous reach.

Hokutofuji vs Daishomaru – Its about time that Hokutofuji got back in gear, after an injury during Hatsu in January, he has struggled significantly, but his firestorm 11-4 in Nagoya seemed to announce his return to full combat power. He is 3-1 over Daishomaru, who has been losing ground since Osaka. I am going to look for a low and brutal tachiai out of Hokutofuji, and it should be straight yorikiri from there.

Kagayaki vs Onosho – Kagayaki is mister deliberate. He is going to go in with a plan to negate all of Onosho’s favorite moves (aka “his brand of sumo”) and dismantle him a piece at a time. Onosho is going to come in there and just blow Kagayaki into the zabuton. I am eager to see if Onosho returns to the red mawashi.

Myogiryu vs Asanoyama – Getting up to Maegashira 5, we have a match with a lot of potential. These two are quite evenly matched, and will likely got at it with vigor. A longer match favors Asanoyama, who will likely try to keep Myogiryu from getting low.

Chiyonokuni vs Abi – Yes yes! My guess is this is where NHK will pick up the live broadcast, and it’s a perfect spot. Chiyonokuni is high energy and high intensity from the shikirisen. I am hoping we see a new move or two from Abi, as everyone in Makuuchi have decoded his double arm shoulder brake move, and most are now countering it well. Abi will try to keep Chiyonokuni’s whirlwind attacks back and away, and Chiyonokuni is coming in low and going for center mass every time.

Endo vs Ichinojo – We saw some fire from Ichinojo in the practice sessions leading up to Aki, in stark contrast to his passive sumo at Nagoya. Endo still seems to be struggling to get his sumo into a stable san’yaku class category, and he heads into this match with a 3-5 disadvantage against the Mongolian behemoth. Great test match for Ichinojo’s resolve and Endo’s speed.

Mitakeumi vs Shodai – Shodai is a mawashi-clad enigma. He presents himself as a bumbling Gomer Pyle style rikishi, who somehow can defeat some very serious opponents. His tachiai is terrible, and many times he wins because his opponents make horrible, stupid mistakes. Amazingly, he tends to beat Mitakeumi more often than not. He tends to get Mitakeumi disrupted, off balance, and then he throws him around like a stress relief ball. If Mitakeumi wants to make the case for Ozeki, he needs to rack wins early.

Chiyotairyu vs Tochinoshin – Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshi is looking for a quick and decisive 8 wins, coming off of a foot injury in Nagoya. His typical attack mode is left hand driving a “lift and shift” offense. That will be tempered by the sheer size and diameter of Chiyotairyu. Chiyotairyu has been focusing more on bulk than stamina, and this will likely be the decider as even if his foot were missing, Tochinoshin’s endurance is second to none.

Yutakayama vs Takayasu – As the leading man in the cohort I refer to as the “Freshmen”, Yutakayama comes into his day one match with a surprising 1-0 advantage over Takayasu. Takayasu has been nursing multiple injuries and miseries, and may be hard-pressed to present much offense during the second act. This match will be an excellent gauge of just how hurt Takayasu is, and how hungry Yutakayama has become. I will be watching to see if Takayasu unleashes his ridiculous shoulder blast, which I maintain is the source of his injuries, and should be put in a “seldom used” status at once.

Goeido vs Kaisei – Some sumo fans love mysteries, and we all know who the mawashi man of mystery is – Goeido! Which one is going to show up? The unstoppable sumo machine that dominates practice and could not be defeated during Aki 2016? Or the hesitant, vague and un-genki Goeido that frustrates everyone? Kaisei comes into the match at the bottom of a 4-14 hole against the Ozeki, so I am expecting that Goeido is going to give us a bit of a show.

Kisenosato vs Ikioi – What great way to start this basho for Kisenosato. He holds a career 15-1 advantage over Ikioi, and “by the numbers” should dispatch Ikioi with flair. But Kisenosato is no more than 75% of his old self, and Ikioi of late has been an unstoppable, armor plated sumo machine. No injury, pain or distraction stops him from mounting the dohyo and delivering powerful sumo. This one, in my opinion, is going to be a real fight. I am looking for Ikioi to try to get the Yokozuna high and moving backward straight from the tachiai. Kisenosato needs his low, crab-walk attack that overcomes Ikioi’s power-based offices.

Tamawashi vs Hakuho – A fun match, Hakuho is undefeated against Tamawashi. But Hakuho has undercarriage damage this tournament, and many learned fans think he won’t last all 15 days. I look for Hakuho to go left and throw in the first few seconds.

Kakuryu vs Takakeisho – Probably the most genki man in the top ranks, Kakuryu brings his reactive sumo up against Takakeisho’s “wave action tsuppari”. My instinct is this one is all Kakuryu.