Late word that Sekiwake Ichinojo has withdrawn from competition in the May tournament. While there is no official word yet, it is being reported that he has injured his right knee. This is a huge disappointment to many, including several friends of Tachiai who are in the Kokugikan today with the goal of seeing Ichinojo fight. Kotoshogiku will pick up the fusen-sho win.
We hope that whatever problem he is facing is minor, and he can return to action soon.
Edit: Minato oyakata explains that Ichinojo had pains in his right knee since before the basho. “It has come to the point that he can’t plant his feet when he fights”. He adds that if the situation improves, the sekiwake may return. (Source: NHK) – Herouth
It’s fair to say we have had a solid start to the Natsu basho in the first two days. The lone surviving Yokozuna, Kakuryu, has won both of his opening matches convincingly in a manner that is an aggressive adjustment to his normally reactive style. He has shown power, guile and no shortage of excellent sumo in the first two wins, with his dispatching of Hokutofuji quite impressive. Hokutofuji blasted his way into another attempt at a handshake tachiai, but Kakuryu was faster still, and just denshamichi’d Hokutofuji half way back to the shitaku-beya.
Both Goeido and Takakeisho have opened strong as well, each day delivering a powerful reminder of why they hold the Ozeki rank. The upper ranks will get their “tough” matches in week 2, whereas this week they are culling the upper Maegashira.
What We Are Watching Day 3
Daishoho vs Takagenji – Takagenji brings his 2-0 Juryo record to the top division, looking to remain in the undefeated cohort. He and Daishoho are quite evenly matched, having battled each other in the lower divisions multiple times. Though Takagenji has added mass over the past 2 years, I think he would still qualify as a member of the “Pixies” group of smaller rikishi. (Hmm, not at 191 cm and 172 kg. -lksumo)
Enho vs Sadanoumi – First time match between these two, with Enho fresh to the top division, and Sadanoumi a long time dweller in upper Juryo and Makuuchi. Sadanoumi is happy to engage in a mawashi battle, but letting Enho get a grip has proven to be a surprisingly challenging event. The edge probably goes to Sadanoumi, as Enho seems a bit jittery still.
Shohozan vs Shimanoumi – When Shimanoumi posted to Maegashira 12 for his Makuuchi debut, I had my worries. Rather than easing him into the top division, he was landing in the middle of banzuke chaos, given the bizarre collection of bad to awful records that came out of Osaka. Now he is 0-2 going into his match against an 2-0 Shohozan, who does look to be in fairly good form.
Onosho vs Tomokaze – Dare I hope that Onosho has gotten his sumo back in tune? So far he has not gotten overly forward over his toes, and has kept his force center-mass against his opponent. Tomokaze is big, strong and will take your mawashi and make you suffer. It will be a race to see who can set the tone of the match out of the tachiai. This is my favorite bout for the first half of Makuuchi on day 3.
Asanoyama vs Meisei – Asanoyama has really been showing some speed and strength in the first 2 days of the basho. Readers know I have had my eye on him since he showed up in the top division, mostly because his attitude is one of the best I have seen. He works hard, he keeps himself positive and always takes each day as a chance to win. While his brother from another mother Yutakayama is regenerating himself in Juryo, we can enjoy all this great young rikishi has to offer.
Shodai vs Kaisei – It seems Shodai has gotten re-charged during some off-season visit to Toon Town, and his uncanny cartoon sumo is running well again. Today he has Kaisei who seems more frustrated and rusty than doing poorly. Fans around the world love Kaisei, as he is one of the most good-natured folks in sumo.
Yoshikaze vs Ryuden – Yoshikaze has been executing very minimalistic sumo for the first 2 days. The win on day 2 over Meisei was surprisingly un-energetic, but got the job done. This probably won’t work with Ryuden / Shin-Ikioi, who seems to be continuing his good performance from Osaka, where he was one of the few Maegashira who was able to post double-digit wins.
Chiyotairyu vs Abi – Chiyotairyu is off to an 0-2 start, and I think he will continue to struggle day 3. His tachiai is just as formidable as ever, but he seems to have challenges with his second step. When Chiyotairyu is in a winning grove, he flows smoothy out of his brutal tachiai into an all out assault. Both day 1 and 2 he seemed to lack that intensity.
Okinoumi vs Tochinoshin – Some fans were a bit unhappy that Tochinoshin unleashed the sky crane against Daieisho, but I am going to assume that he finally feels healthy, strong and it’s more of a jubilant celebration that he is back to his sumo more than anything else. I am going to watch him land that shallow left again day 3, and help Okinoumi keep reaching for the stars. (Their head-to-head matchup only favors the Sekiwake 7-5, with Okinoumi taking 3 of the last four, so this is another must-win bout in Tochinoshin’s quest for 10. -lksumo)
Ichinojo vs Tamawashi – Hey, Tamawashi – get it together man! You have an 0-2 start, and you are a better rikishi than that. Hell, you won a yusho a few months ago. The good news is that Ichinojo is not quite dialed in right now, so he might be able to get some attack in against the Boulder. (The head-to-head is even at 6-6, but has favored Tamawashi recently, so we could be in for a good bout. -lksumo)
Mitakeumi vs Takayasu – Both of these burly men are fighting hurt. Takayasu with a bad back and Mitakeumi with a gimpy knee. Both of them see to be a half step slow, so this will be match of attrition: whose pain will lose first? Takayasu holds a clear (12-5) career advantage.
Goeido vs Endo - ENDO EJECTION PROTOCOL ACTIVE. WEST SIDE I/O PORT AVAILABLE. APPLY 12 METER/SEC FORCE LATERAL TO ENDO-UNIT TO ACHIEVE WIN STATUS. ENGAGE.
Takakeisho vs Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji’s bag’o sumo has worked pretty well on the upper Maegashira, but for the named ranks it seems to be quite ineffective. I love that this is happening, as I see quite a bit of potential in Hokutofuji, but he needs to get a winning formula together against these rikishi, and that comes by continued beatings at the hands of the upper echelon.
Kotoshogiku vs Kakuryu – Are we going to see hypersonic doom Kakuryu again on day 3? Kotoshogiku’s sumo relies on him grappling his opponent and hopping like an aroused Mastiff to propel himself to victory. Should Kakuryu once again launch of the shikiri-sen, we might be left with only blurry, smeared images of a blue mawashi and bouncing thighs launched in a high, arcing track towards a throng of excited fans. Each of them hoping that the Kyushu Bulldozer lands nearby. (This is the 50th meeting between the pair! -lksumo)
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.
Today was slap down / pull down day it seems. Everyone was getting pounded into the dirt or found a hand grabbing for the back of their neck. This entire basho seems to have taken to pull down / slap down in a big way, and I am hoping this is not some kind of persistent trend. While its a perfectly valid move, it can make for less than exciting sumo.
But day 11 was not lacking in exciting sumo. Our intrepid “Man in Foreign Lands” Josh was on site, and has supplied our readers with his first hand impressions yet again. Go read it now, as it’s one of the better “day of sumo” write ups you can ever read. The man knows how to do it well. I do find it troubling how frequently he an Naruto Oyakata encounter each other near the Men’s room, but I will chalk it up to cosmic coincidence.
Daiamami defeats Kotoeko – After engaging at close range, these two execute a flailing grip-battle that ends with Kotoeko in better position. But he can’t convert that to actual offensive power, in spite of Daiamami being backed to the tawara. Instead Daiamami loads a throw and Kotoeko’s strength can’t stop it.
Terutsuyoshi vs Chiyoshoma – We finally see more of Terutsuyoshi’s sumo, which is what brought him to Makuuchi. Sadly its probably going back to Juryo for a rebuild unless he can “win” out or get a healthy dose of Shodai’s banzuke luck.
Kagayaki defeats Toyonoshima – Toyonoshima gets the inside position at the tachiai, but can’t convert that to any offense as Kagayaki side steps and slaps him down. Toyonoshima is now make-koshi, and joins the list of folks who might return to Juryo.
Yago defeats Yutakayama – Close range oshi-battle that ended with what some of the shimpan thought might be a hair pull, but was deemed acceptable after a monoii. Yutakayama now make-koshi, and he has joined the denotable group.
Kotoshogiku defeats Ishiura – Ishiura never really set up any kind of offensive position, and immediately backpedaled away from Kotoshogiku. Yes, getting chest to chest with the Kyushu Bulldozer is a bad idea, but I have to believe that a small, nimble rikishi with tons of strength could have some kind of offensive move closer to his opponent.
Ryuden defeats Asanoyama – Shin-Ikioi goes kachi-koshi, which is a welcome change given his two prior basho. A protracted yotsu battle revolved around Ryuden’s ability to maintain his left hand outside grip. Asanoyama took a chance to shift his grip, and gave up forward pressure for an instant, that was all Ryuden needed to seize the initiative and take the win.
Abi defeats Shohozan – Maybe Abi-zumo is not done for yet. Against a pugilist like Shohozan, there is room for someone who will double arm you off the dohyo.
Okinoumi defeats Ikioi – Ikioi serves no purpose now but to give white stars to people. One every day. While the sacrifice is noble, it’s becoming tedious.
Yoshikaze defeats Onosho – Yoshikaze picks up his 8th win, and will mark a dramatic transition from is very timid start to the basho. At 37 years, he is not as high-energy as he once was, but it seems he can still deliver winning sumo. Onosho continues to struggle with balance, and today had some very poor foot placement in this match. I am sure Onosho is going to continue to improve, if he can avoid further injury.
Ichinojo defeats Aoiyama – A big highlight of day 11, this match which saw the two rikishi who were one behind the undefeated Hakuho battle it out. Aoiyama’s blows could stun an bull elephant, but Ichinojo absorbed them with little outward sign of effect. As Aoiyama continued to flail, Ichinojo advanced, attacking center-mass and Aoiyama quickly found himself on the defensive, and off balance. Not only was Ichinojo quite boulder-like in shrugging off Aoiyama’s attack, his sumo was hideously efficient today. He held the center of the dohyo, and made Aoiyama move, until Aoiyama lost stamina and was easy to pick off.
Shodai defeats Myogiryu – Shodai found his sumo, and gets the better of the tachiai. Myogiryu has him locked up, but tries a pull down, and throws away his position. Shodai advances and Myogiryu takes another step towards a make-koshi.
Endo defeats Hokutofuji – I don’t know if Hokutofuji has run out of energy now 11 days into the tournament, but he was even more ragged than normal against Endo. At the risk of sounding like a broken MP3, watch this match again, but only look at their feet. Endo is calm, controlled and keeps his feet very low. By contrast Hokutofuji is all over the place. His force vector is not aligned to Endo’s center mass, and everything he applies gets deflected to the side. This is a recurring theme with Hokutofuji, who loses the plot when he is chest to chest.
Mitakeumi defeats Daieisho – Mitakeumi continues at about 80% power, but in most cases its sufficient to dispatch all but the best rikishi. His fans hope that the knee damage can be healed to the point where he can operate at full strength, but as we saw with Kisenosato, the “healing naturally” is not always effective. As we saw with Ura, the medical intervention is not a guaranteed fix either.
Takayasu defeats Tochinoshin – No shoulder blast today from Takayasu, but instead the “smooth” tachiai that takes him immediately into a mawahsi fight with Tochinoshin. Both rikishi are shifting their weight drastically, attempting to gain a balance advantage over the other. Neither of them can make it stick. Takayasu gets into trouble as he concedes the center of the dohyo to the Georgian, who sets his hips for a lift. But his hips are higher, and Takayasu advances strongly before Tochinoshin can lift. Tochinoshin makes a valiant stand at the tawara, but is forced to pivot for the second day on his injured knee, and drops, frustrated.
Goeido defeats Chiyotairyu – As expected, Chiyotairyu attempts his usual lift / slap down combo. But when Goeido’s ankle is working, his balance is excellent, and Chiyotairyu can’t bring Goeido forward enough to drop him. This failed gambit left Chiyotairyu wide open, and Goeido drives inside and applied maximum force at center-mass. Nearly perfect Goeido sumo.
Kakuryu defeats Tamawashi – There was so much force flying at both rikishi’s necks that neither of them could keep their footing, and both flopped to the clay moments after the tachiai. But it was clear that not only did Tamawashi touch first, but Kakuryu executed the last “in control” sumo move.
Hakuho defeats Takakeisho – A day will come, when we see a 70 year old Hakuho, still able to fold, spindle and mutilate strong healthy rikishi in their 20s. Takakeisho brought it all out today, and Hakuho was ready. The Yokozuna landed a couple of potent round-house slaps on Takakeisho’s face, but the youngster stayed focused, on plan and on attack. To be clear, there was no defense in this match, just two rikishi blasting each other into submission. Hakuho worked out Takakeisho’s timing, and drive inside for a mawashi grip. Of course this is Takakeisho’s kryptonite, and it was time for the always enjoyable Hakuho uwatenage.
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.