Rising star Takakeisho pressed hard during the Hatsu basho to make the case that he should be promoted to Ozeki. Among sumo fandom, a general guideline is thought to be 33 wins for consideration by the NSK for promotion. To be clear, it’s not a standard of “win 33 over 3 basho and you get promoted”; reality shows that is the minimum for consideration. [It’s not even a minimum: Kisenosato and Goeido were both famously promoted with only 32 wins, and further back in time there were promotions with even lower totals. -lksumo] On the road to his 33rd win, Takakeisho has won a yusho, a jun-yusho, and shown that he can beat Yokozuna and Ozeki. For most fans, it was almost a foregone conclusion that his bid would be approved.
But following the Hatsu basho, the NSK committee of sumo elders concluded that in spite of winning a tournament, and nearly winning a second consecutive tournament, his performance was insufficient to qualify for promotion to Ozeki at this time. They encouraged him to try harder (?) at Osaka. Part of their citation was his loss to Ozeki Goeido on day 15, where the struggling Goeido overpowered Takakeisho and quickly ejected him from the dohyo. Later we learned that in the course of this match, Takakeisho suffered a foot injury.
Takakeisho, at 22 years of age, represents the next generation of rikishi who have been pressing hard to dislodge the old guard, and take their place in sumo’s top ranks. Young, strong, lacking chronic injuries that never quite healed, the rise of both the Tadpole and Freshman cohorts is part of the natural evolution of sumo that Tachiai has been forecasting for the past two years.
But it’s quite likely that western fans felt the young fellow was robbed by the curmudgeons in the NSK, who as of late have been working in increasingly mysterious ways. I was not, however, surprised that the NSK had decided to make young Takakeisho work a bit longer before he became Ozeki. It’s clear he is on an ascendant path, and with his youth, strength and quality of sumo, he will be Ozeki no matter what if he can keep from getting hurt. It is undeniable that the drama around both Sekiwake coming from recent yusho, and both working to make a valid Ozeki bid, will bring a lot of attention to the Osaka tournament, and with the Japanese Yokozuna now retired, the NSK needs compelling stories to keep the public engaged.
Day 10 marks the end of Act 2 and presages the start of Act 3—where we crown a champion, while the survivors fight for kachi-koshi. The red-letter match for today is Takayasu and Takakeisho, with the Ozeki below .500 with a miserable 4-5 record, and Takakeisho pressing hard for 11 wins and a chance to make the case that he should join the Ozeki ranks.
With veteran Takekaze announcing his retirement from competition, we seem to have the start of the long awaited period of cnange. There are a number of rikishi over 30 who are headed into the final stages of their Sekitori careers. For many who have been long term members of sumo’s elite, the thought of soldiering on through the un-salaried ranks makes the choice clear. It’s likely that more veterans will hang up their silk mawashi before this year comes to a close.
As a result, we will see a healthy upward draw of fresh talent from the top of the Makushita “wall”. Many of these rikishi have been Sekitori in the past, or are just on the cusp of being ready for Juryo. In addition to the normal up / down motion that comes at the end of every basho, there are 3 additional slots that might be open in the Sekitori ranks due to the retirement of Kisenosato, Takanoiwa and now Takekaze. This means exciting times for the year ahead, and a healthy crop of fresh talent to enjoy.
What We Are Watching Day 10
Kagayaki vs Daishomaru – Normally I would say Kagayaki has make-koshi on the line, but he is fighting winless Daishomaru.
Chiyonokuni vs Ikioi – Possibly time to trim back Chiyonokuni’s commanding 8-1 record, as he faces battle damaged but formidable Ikioi. Chiyonokuni matches are frequently flailing madhouses of body parts moving with violent speed, so we are hoping that Ikioi can avoid further injury.
Takarafuji vs Kotoyuki – These two have a 13 match history, with Takarafuji having a respectable advantage. With Kotoyuki always taping his hands into “flippers”, we know he is not looking for any kind of mawashi battle. Although Kotoyuki is below .500, a kachi-koshi and a safe spot in March’s Makuuchi line up is still possbile.
Yutakayama vs Abi – Two of the “Freshmen” battle it out with an even 2-2 career record. Yutakayama has bulk and strength, Abi speed and reach. Yutakayama needs the win more, but Abi is fighting somewhat better this basho.
Ryuden vs Endo – Surprising to me this is their first ever match. Endo is on his sumo now, and Ryuden has been very rough. I would expect Endo will come out ahead.
Yago vs Daieisho – Another first time match, but as this is Yago’s first upper division basho, it’s not much of a surprise. With the the shin-Maegashira fighting this far up the banzuke, it’s a good test for where he might rank for Osaka.
Asanoyama vs Onosho – Onosho is looking to bounce back from his three-bout losing streak, and another hapless member of the Freshmen group (Asanoyama) is not fighting well this tournament. If he should pick up at least 2 more wins, we can expect Onosho to join the joi-jin for Osaka, and begin his battle for rank in the upper levels of sumo.
Aoiyama vs Kaisei – This battle of the super-heavies favors Aoiyama historically, but Kaisei has been fighting better this basho, his day 9 loss to Ryuden not withstanding. Will their battle break pieces from the dohyo?
Shodai vs Yoshikaze – Both of them are doing terribly. But maybe Yoshikaze, staring at a possible make-koshi, can muster some of his flagging fighting spirit.
Chiyotairyu vs Shohozan – Chiyotairyu holds a clear advantage, and I would guess he will launch his “cannonball” tachiai at Shohozan, who if he considers all things, might be well served to move out of the way at the right moment.
Tochiozan vs Ichinojo – Ichinojo has gone back to being soft and timid, which is a shame. Tochiozan tends to dominate their matches, and unless “angry” Ichinojo shows up, this will be played to the tune of Tochiozan’s sumo.
Myogiryu vs Hokutofuji – Much as I would love to see Hokutofuji win, I think that Myogiryu has a better handle on this sumo this basho. Hokutofuji seems to have stamina problems, and frankly has never been back to his best form since that Ryuden delivered concussion.
Nishikigi vs Tamawashi – I expect Tamawashi to swat Nishikigi around and leave him for Tuesday pickup with the rest of the landfill material in Ryogoku. But Nishikigi must never be counted out. Coming in with a 4-5 record, one has to wonder if he will be able to squeeze out yet another kachi-koshi.
Kotoshogiku vs Goeido – Pretty clear that Goeido is banged up enough that his sumo is quite limited, and he struggles to generate forward pressure. Most folks assume its his arm, but his reconstructed ankle has never been quite right. Against Kotoshogiku, there is a decent chance that the Kyushu Bulldozer will trap Goeido and belly bump him out for a win.
Takayasu vs Takakeisho – The match of the day. This one, in all likelyhood, will decide of Takakeisho can make his 11 and vie for a promotion to Ozeki. He faces a battle damaged and flu ravaged Takayasu. Takayasu has him on strength, reach, stamina, mass and sheer aggression. Takakeisho has maneuverability and a total confidence he can win on any given day, no matter who his opponent is.
Okinoumi vs Hakuho – Barring some unfortunate injury, it will be win 10 for Hakuho (1105 career), and ratchet him one win closer to the yusho. His magic number is currently 14.
Final Weekend of the second “No-kozuna” tournament of this year. Some fans are quite upset as they must endure “sumo light” yet again, and perhaps they feel that without the Yokozuna active and battling lower ranks that it’s just not quite sumo. Sadly for them, this format is likely to be more frequent over the next 2 years. As the current Yokozuna continue to fade out, and with the Ozeki corps nursing an increasing inventory of injuries, the future belongs to the young, healthy and eager. Thankfully for sumo there are waves of these guys eagerly advancing into the top division and the top ranks. One has to look no further than how dominant the “tadpole” cohort has become, and they show no sign of slowing down. If you think about the “freshmen” cohort (Abi, Yutakayama, Asanoyama, Ryuden), they are just starting to come into their own – maybe 18 to 24 months behind the tadpoles. Looking across Juryo and Makushita, we can see potential for at least 2 more waves over the next couple of years.
Action today features the kanban match of the basho, the “Taka Bowl” featuring Takayasu and Takakeisho to possibly determine the yusho. If Takakeisho wins, we will see him hoist the magnificent red fish of victory. If he loses, we may see a playoff on day 15 between these two to decide it all. If their history is any indicator, the Ozeki will repeatedly go for a slap down or some other pulling maneuver. When you are as big, fast and strong as Takayasu, this can be quite effective. But in recent matches the Ozeki has been unbalanced and “light” when he unloaded these pulls, and perhaps Takakiesho will be able to exploit that tendency. Takayasu is also a very competent yotzu-zumo practitioner, and can wear just about anyone down to a gasping, exhausted puddle by the time he is done with them. While that approach has fewer “all or nothing” moves, it requires that the Ozeki survive and overcome the “Wave Action” attacks to lock Takakeisho up chest to chest. Should he do this, I predict that there will be little that Takakeisho can do to win.
Sumo fandom waits as the next eight hours or so count down to this pivotal match. In the mean time there are quite a few “koshis” to be decided, including the fate of Nishikigi, who at the start of this basho looked like he was the chump in the November poker tournament. Like the survivor he is, he might actually pick up his 8th win today against Takarafuji. I can’t compliment the guy enough on entering the stadium each day ready to do what it takes to win. Then there is the case of Shodai, who is one loss away from his 8th. On day 14 he faces Kaisei, whom he has never beaten (0-7). But Kaisei’s apparent injury on day 13 might change that math, and possibly give Shodai enough of an advantage that he could take his first white star from the Brazilian powerhouse.
Good morning all – rather than do full highlights, if you want the read on the matches and how action unfolded on day 14, let me direct you to the fantastic live blog Herouth conducted during the day 14 broadcast. Please note that there is another live stream from the good folks at NHK World overnight (Sunday afternoon in Japan). So if you are keen to see the final day’s action live, plus a lot of trophies, do tune in. The big question on everyone’s mind – what color will the macaron be this time?
Whatever demon had a hold of Yoshikaze’s sumo loosened his grip just enough for him to finally score his first win of the basho. It’s great that he did not finish Nagoya 0-15. On twitter there are nearly as many posts about Yoshikaze as there were for Mitakeumi, such is his support among sumo followers. His lone win (thus far) does not negate that there is something sadly wrong with Yoshikaze, and all of his fans dearly hope he can get well or at least get comfortable.
A group of rikishi that I call “The Freshmen” have really out-performed this tournament. This includes the last two men who had any credible chance of competing for the yusho: Yutakayama and Asanoyama. In addition, Ryuden, at the rallied to win 5 of his last 7 matches and secure his kachi-koshi. Hell, on day 14 Yutakayama convincingly beat Takayasu. Granted Takayasu is only at about 75% of his normal burly self, but Yutakayama was not intimidated, and executed some really solid sumo.
Then we have the “Tadpoles”. The Grand Tadpole / King Tadpole scored his first ever yusho. In the tags I have been carrying on for over a year, referring to Mitakeumi as “Future Ozeki Mitakeumi”. For the longest time, it was partially a bit of a taunt, as clearly he wanted it, but had not reached the threshold where his sumo could accomplish that goal. I think we now know that he’s made that step, and will campaign hard to score his 33 before the end of the year. Should Aki turn out to be a fully staffed roster in the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks, sumo fans will be in for a real treat, as the confidence he gained in Nagoya works to power him against sumo’s best. I would also note the rest of the tadpoles (Onosho, Takakeisho) are already kachi-koshi, and it’s been a big success for that cohort.
Day 14 was a solid day of sumo, and many of the Nagoya themes have played out as best they could within the brutal parameters of this basho. One last day to go, then it’s on to Aki!
Yes, dear readers, it is time! We have waited long enough. In the next few hours, set aside your worries about your favorites being hurt: It’s honbasho time! It’s a full day of raging action for day 1 at the Kokugikan, and frankly I can’t wait for all the amazing stories that are about to unfold. Many folks will be focused on the top of the banzuke as the drama there plays out, but I find myself increasingly draw to Josh’s “Ones to watch”. This series has proven remarkably insightful while educating and entertaining. Most folks in the US (and other parts of the world) don’t even get to see all of Makuuchi, let alone all of the great action in Juryo, Makushita, Sandanme and Jonidan.
Just as it was in Osaka, my favorite stories are likely to be at the lower end of the Makuuchi banzuke. Nishikigi continues to refuse to ever give up, and somehow holds onto the last Maegashira slot at the edge of the earth. Aminishiki may have nothing more than courage and gristle left in his knees, but he will mount the dohyo today and give challenge. Kyokutaisei somehow adapted to life in the sumo heya, and excelled. Now he’s in Makuuchi and Hokkaido can finally represent once more. Go Hams!
Fans, keep in mind it will take a few days for everyone to settle into the tournament, so you may see some favorites looking like they are not quite their normal genki selves, and some great surprises. So expect anything!
What We Are Watching Day 1
Hell, I am going to watch all of it. But I am sure you don’t have the time to read everything I might write up about the outstanding fight card we have to start the basho. I will do my best.
Nishikigi vs Aminishiki – Nishikigi will never make San’yaku. He’s kind of blind as a bat without his specs, but even blind he’s good enough to find a way to stay in Makuuchi. Now he’s up against Uncle Sumo on day 1. I am sad for folks who are going to view the highlights, as you are not going to believe the roar that will rip through he Kokugikan as the yobidashi sings out his name. People LOVE Aminishiki. To many folks who might struggle with some challenge in their life, he is a reminder that “Nana korobi ya oki” can always apply! (Fall down seven times, get up eight)
Myogiryu vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei’s first match in the top division is against Myogiryu, a solid veteran who has been drifting between the top of Juryo and the bottom of Makuuchi during the past year. These two are no strangers to each others’ fighting style. I will be curious to see if Kyokutaisei has any top division jitters.
Tochiozan vs Takekaze – I am very glad to see Takekaze back in the top division after a brief tour of Juryo. For reasons that I can’t imagine, all of the Oguruma upper echelon has been on the skids as of late. I have to wonder if maybe they are having problems with their Chanko supply… Tochiozan, on the other hand, has been reported to be ripping through folks during joint training in the past week. We know Tochiozan is capable of some explosive and powerful sumo, it would be acres of fun to see him have a great basho this May.
Sadanoumi vs Aoiyama – The Bulgarian man-mountain is back for more, like a giant angry dollop of sour cream with the reach to slap you from across the dohyo. Sadanoumi is a seasoned veteran who is probably happy to be pulling down Makuuchi pay again. My bet is on Aoiyama, who always seems to start tournaments strong. With Sadanoumi preferring the belt, he will have to survive the withering rain of blows from Aoiyama to get there.
Ishiura vs Asanoyama – The happy rikishi goes up against Ishiura, whose sumo seems a bit lost these days. He opened big a bit over a year ago, but his limited arsenal of moves has left him in something of a corner. I think he has amazing potential if he can find his sumo again. We can count on Asanoyama being happy just to get to do sumo today, even though he really likes to win.
Arawashi vs Chiyonokuni – As discussed in the podcast, both of these rikishi are tremendous fighters. They bring huge energy and go flat out with nothing in reserve. Both of them deserve a good, turn-around basho this May, but first they need to beat the daylights out of each other.
Takakeisho vs Hokutofuji – One of my highlight matches. Hopefully both men are healed up from the injuries that have left them underperforming. With significant changes at the top of the banzuke anticipated this year, now is the right time for both of them to press hard for the top ranks. We have not seen Takakeisho’s wave action tsuppari in several basho, and we need him to bring it back with gusto. Likewise I want to see Hokutofuji channel Kaiō again. There is a big role that may open up for a huge, powerful rikishi who moves low and balances offense and defense.
Yoshikaze vs Chiyomaru – Another match where the fans are going to erupt when the yobidashi call the rikishi. People adore Yoshikaze, in part because he never ever gives up, and is always bright, witty and a gentleman. And people love Chiyomaru because who the hell can hold a grudge against a guy like that? Word on the street is that with Yoshikaze getting free meals anywhere in Sumida, they are going out for supper afterwards. The same rumor cites Chiyomaru for a spate of early restaurant closures in the area (they run out of food), as well as a rash of missing house plants, vending machines and even a pair of manhole covers. Listen for him to clank suspiciously as he mounts the dohyo.
Ryuden vs Takarafuji – One of my freshmen takes on the highest ranking man remaining at the once-mighty Isegahama beya. Both men are going to go for a mawashi grip early, but I would give Takarafuji a slight edge.
Chiyoshoma vs Ikioi – Only question to ask here – is Ikioi healed up? It was painful to watch him walk the hanamichi in Osaka. We can only hope that he was able to heal fully. This is two seasoned vets going head to head, so I am sure it’s going to be a solid match.
Kotoshogiku vs Shodai – Well, Shodai is probably going to get owned. Mostly because he tends to let Kotoshogiku do whatever he wants, and he wants to give you a sweet, passionate battle hug.
Chiyotairyu vs Yutakayama – Another of my freshmen, Yutakayama, is going up against Chiyotairyu, who had BETTER HAVE HIS SIDEBURNS! Seriously, the kami that inhabits his sideburns is the source of his sumo power. Granted the kami is some kind of sprit of a smelly mountain aesthetic from the feudal period who never ever washed, and ate nothing but fermented sardines, but we take what we can get in life, right?
Mitakeumi vs Daieisho – The King of the Tadpoles needs to make a comeback. The big jump ball at the top of the banzuke is coming, and if Mitakeumi wants a ticket to that dance, he needs to be producing double-digit wins every basho from here on out. He has the body, the skill, the heart to do it. But I suspect he doubts himself just a tiny bit. That’s all it takes at the top of this sport to keep yourself from greatness. Daieisho, however, is point man on team Oitekaze. I can’t wait to see if he starts Natsu as genki as he ended Haru.
Abi vs Ichinojo – Could be the match of the day. We get the lead Freshman against The Boulder. Large, tough as granite, and when roused, quite dangerous. He has added an astonishing 20 kg to his already ponderous bulk, and rumor has it, two new cuddle-ponies at Minato beya. Much to the chagrin of his tsukebito. Abi has to stay mobile, and use Ichinojo’s mass against him.
Tochinoshin vs Shohozan – If you wanted cake and ice cream for Mothers Day, here we go. Big guns goes up against unstoppable strength. Win or lose, nobody leaves a match with Shohozan without being sore. But Tochinoshin’s fantastic strength will likely carry the day, provided his upper body is healed.
Kaisei vs Goeido – I think this one is all Goeido. Goeido is lightning fast, and Kaisei seems to be huge, powerful and kind of slow. Andy thinks that he’s been upgraded to GoeiDOS 2.1, so we will see what shows up tomorrow.
Tamawashi vs Hakuho – It’s Hakuho time! It will be good to see The Boss back in action. But Tamawashi is a tough first customer. As long as Tamawashi is not psyched out by facing the dai-Yokozuna, I think he will give him a good, if brief, fight. Boss all the way on this one. [Past history is 10-0 in Hakuho’s favour. –PinkMawashi]
Kakuryu vs Endo – Woo! Saving the best for last, and what a match-up. Endo is a very technical rikishi, I have heard that he studies video of his opponent before each match. He looks for habits, things they like to do. He comes up with ways to counter strong moves and attack weak ones. He starts against Kakuryu who is the master of “reactive sumo”. He loves to stalemate an opponent and wait for them to make a mistake, which he turns against them in a blink of an eye.