Nagoya Day 7 Highlights

I stated up front that I expected Hakuho to take the yusho, and possibly do it with 15 straight wins. I continue to think this is a strong possibility, but if you take the body of his 7 matches thus far in Nagoya, you can see a trend. Firstly, each day he struggles a bit more to win. His sumo is less smooth and efficient, and he is definitely favoring that right arm.

While he may have “rested up” and gotten to the point where he felt like things were good, once he is in full power combat with real opponents, it’s possible that he either re-injured that bicep tear in his right arm, or the strain of daily matches has brought in the biggest long term threat, inflammation. I cite this as a threat because swelling will tear tissue, and create damage that cannot heal.

Right now, The Boss is playing for time. He has a personal goal to make it to next summer to still be an active Yokozuna during the Tokyo 2020 summer olympics, and to continue in sumo until he can secure his Japanese citizenship and transition to an Oyakata. The question now, can his arm hold out that long? If he takes the pattern of one tournament on, one tournament off, he needs to just survive 3 more tournaments to reach his olympics goal. That’s 25 more wins (1+8+8+8) for the winningest man in sumo.

But as an egotist, I could see Hakuho driving himself to the point of muscle failure in that injured arm, simply to maintain the facade of the invisible, unbeatable ultimate dai-Yokozuna. Let’s hope it does not come to that. But his sumo is very rough now, and I fear he will have some big problems with his second week opponents. He can reach the safety of kachi-koshi on Sunday by beating Shodai.

Highlight Matches

Terutsuyoshi defeats Tokushoryu – Terutsuyoshi’s poorly executed henka attempt nearly lost him the match, but he rallied and drove Juryo visitor Tokushoryu out of the ring. That was one fine recovery.

Toyonoshima defeats Sadanoumi – As always, act 2 brings some great reversals, and after having a miserable basho in act 1, perhaps Toyonoshima has found his sumo. Toyonoshima finally looked more like his normal self, as he used his belly to disrupt Sadanoumi’s offense, and closed the match with a painful looking tottari.

Kotoyuki defeats Chiyomaru – Kotoyuki’s superior mobility carried this match, coupled with Chiyomaru’s poorly executed attempt at a pull down.

Kagayaki defeats Enho – Once in a while, Enho’s up and under tachiai misses its mark. This happened today as Kagayaki blocked him out at the initial charge and powerfully tossed his much smaller opponent out of the ring. Enho never had a moment to plant his feet to defend, and Kagayaki’s mobility ensured he was glued to Enho’s retreat.

Yago defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan owned the tachiai, but for some reason broke contact, probably to try and improve his body / arm position. This left him off temp and Yago battled him for every attempt at a grip. With Tochiozan off balance, Yago was able to slap him down for the win. Fairly sloppy match, but I am sure Yago is happy for the win.

Kotoeko defeats Kaisei – Kaisei had a strong position, but that injured right arm robs him of any chance to generate meaningful offense. Kotoeko’s sukuinage was brilliantly executed, with his left foot as close to out as you could ever get and still win.

Shohozan defeats Takagenji – It seems Shohozan did indeed study that match against Okinoumi, as he applied a variation on the same theme. Although Shohozan’s usual style of sumo is a fairly brutal oshi style, he took Takagenji to his chest, and wore him down. For the second day in a row, this worked.

Okinoumi defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi works for his normal arm pin, but Okinoumi deftly entraps him instead, pulls him off balance to the right and rolls it into a uwatehineri. When you have veterans like Okinoumi on the dohyo, you can get some really impressive displays of sumo skill.

Onosho defeats Daishoho – Onosho really needed this win. He nearly bounced too far back at the tachiai, but was able to recover and advance with surprising strength and speed. His balance was still to far out in front of his big toe, but today it worked for him.

Chiyotairyu defeats Tomokaze – I am not sure if it was the plan, or Chiyotairyu improvised today, but this was lightning fast and perfectly executed. Tomokaze, to his credit, absorbed most of that cannon ball tachiai, but Chiyotairyu smoothly shifted to his right, and pushed hard. That put Tomokaze off balance and out of control.

Shimanoumi defeats Kotoshogiku – As I mentioned earlier in the week, I was happily enjoying the genki Kotoshogiku, but knew that with his catalog of injuries he was going to struggle later. We can see in this match against Shimanoumi, that the former Ozeki just can’t quite generate much in the way of forward pressure.

Myogiryu defeats Ichinojo – Myogiryu continues his dominance over the Boulder, and for at least today, he distracted Ichinojo by attacking his neck / face. For whatever reason, Ichinojo decided to respond in kind rather than pressing the attack to win, and while Myogiryu received something that looked like the Vulcan Death Grip, his right hand found a deep grip on Ichinojo’s mawashi. Now Ichinojo is high, and has no real grip on Myogiryu. Myogiryu drops his hips, and Ichinojo has no defense. I am sure it hurt, but Myogiryu’s gambit paid off.

Meisei defeats Takarafuji – I think everyone in the Dolphin Arena was relieved for Meisei, who finally scored his first win of the basho. Sadly, journeyman technician Takarafuji only has 2 wins thus far.

Hokutofuji defeats Abi – This is the first time that Hokutofuji was able to score a win against Abi, and I think it happened because Hokutofuji’s tachiai landed deeper than Abi expected, and he was able to shut down Abi’s right hand lead off to his normal thrusting attack. Abi-zumo requires a bit of distance to the opponent, and has Hokutofuji has show before, his lower body is nearly autonomous, able to advance while his upper body absorbs blow after blow.

Ryuden defeats Tamawashi – Tamawashi came out strong, and took the tachiai, forcing Ryuden back. But Tamawashi has a predictable left-right thrusting attack, and Ryuden was able to pivot at the end of Tamawashi’s right arm thrust, leaving no where for his left to go. Now off balance and leaning forward, Ryuden finishes him with a shove to the shoulder. Nice timing on Ryuden’s part.

Mitakeumi defeats Asanoyama – Don’t fret Asanoyama fans. His first trip to the upper reaches of Maegashira was always going to be a rough ride. His sumo is still solid, and it’s still improving. Mitakeumi gave him a close in demo of tadpole sumo, and it worked brilliantly. Robbed of any ability to land a grip, Asanoyama tries to pull, and that release of forward pressure is all any tadpole needs to put you away.

Takayasu defeats Aoiyama – In spite of his 3-4 record, I don’t think Aoiyama has looked this good since two years ago at Nagoya where he took the jun-yusho. If you look at Aoiyama’s foot placement during this match, its quite excellent, and his focus on keeping maximum pressure against Takayasu’s upper body is relentless. But when his attempt to throw Takayasu failed, he was defenseless, and Takayasu moved him out for the win. Good sumo from both. I think that Andy may have been on to something he thought it might be time for Takayasu to contend for the cup.

Endo defeats Goeido – I am calling it now, Goeido’s ankle is acting up again, and we are not going to see good Ozeki sumo out of him for the rest of the tournament. He is going to try to piece together his 8, which he might do, but don’t look for his awesome pure offense sumo on a daily basis. I think Endo was surprised by how easy it was to land a mawashi grip at the tachiai.

Hakuho defeats Daieisho – The Yokozuna looked rough, out of control and trying anything he could short of his favorite throws, all of which count on that right arm. Fans who are not comfortable with the sometimes brutal nature of sumo should be put on notice. Once Monday rolls around, Hakuho will be facing higher ranked opponents, and every one of them are going to work to attack that arm. I am sure The Boss knows it too, and why the day 8 match against Shodai is going to be pivotal.

Kakuryu defeats Shodai – I will say it, Kakuryu looks more genki right now than Hakuho. Shodai gave him a few tricksy moves, but really had no answer to the Yokozuna’s forward advance.

Ichinojo Withdraws From The Natsu Basho

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

Natsu Day 3 Preview

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)

Haru Day 15 Preview

Once More…

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.