Kyushu Day 14 Preview

As we enter the final weekend of the Kyushu Basho, there are some fans who will feel a genuine sense of relief. This tournament has seen a brutal number of rikishi exit competition due to injury, and long time favorites struggle. But looking past that, there are a number of interesting and promising developments. A few for thought

Small Rikishi Sumo – There was a time last year when the small guys were storming through Juryo, and looked to roll their way into the top division and disrupt everyone’s sumo. But as almost always the case, these rikishi had to work hard (and they did work hard) to pioneer adaptations to be competitive. Now we have 3 small rikishi that are fighting well, and winning matches, often with existing results.

Freshmen Rebound – The Freshmen, a cohort that I define as Asanoyama, Yutakayama, Hokutofuji and Kagayaki, are all doing quite well this basho, even if Hokutofuji is make-koshi. Two of them are recovering from tough injuries that pushed them back to Juryo, and two of them are in san’yaku. These guys are the stars of sumo, starting earlier this year, and we can expect their influence to grow as the old guard hang up their mawashi for the final time.

The Old Guard Rallies – This is mostly covered in Herouth’s reports, but if you wondered where beloved veterans like Ikioi, Kaisei, and Tochiozan went, they are in Juryo. They are all headed to double digit winning records, and it may put a lot of pressure on the make-koshi rikishi in the bottom half of Makuuchi. I think January could see a whole roster of beloved favorites make one more run into the top division.

I know some readers will find ways to take exception to this, but to me it’s a great time to be a sumo fan. The sumo world is changing, and we get to watch it happen.

Kyushu Leaderboard

A win today, and Hakuho takes the yusho. Team Tachiai expects this to be the outcome.

Leader: Hakuho
Chasers: None
Hunt Group: Asanoyama, Shodai

2 Matches Remain

What We Are Watching Day 13

Chiyoshoma vs Daishoho – Chiyoshoma visits from yusho, hunting for his 8th win and yet another make-koshi in the top Juryo ranks. Daishoho has little to offer in terms of sumo right now, and is almost painful to watch on the dohyo.

Shimanoumi vs Takanosho – Evenly matched 5-5 career record, but there is little on the line today as Shimanoumi is already make-koshi, and Takanosho already kachi-koshi. Lets hope they can bring some energy to the match anyhow.

Kotoshogiku vs Daishomaru – Can sumo fans get excited for a wounded, aging former Ozeki who is already make-koshi? You bet! Kotoshogiku is on a 3 match winning streak, and may have already saved himself from Juryo demotion. But heck, pour it on Kotoshogiku. I would love to see you finish 7-8 at this point.

Kagayaki vs Yutakayama – What a great match. Both are Freshmen cohort rikishi, both are 8-5, and they have a 3-3 career record. Both prefer to use oshi-zumo, but have shown a willingness to grapple chest to chest this November. I would like to see Yutakayama hit double digits this tournament, and end up at the lower edge of the joi-jin for January.

Ishiura vs Sadanoumi – Winner of this match is kachi-koshi, and my money is on Sadanoumi. Sadanoumi has been absolutely tough this basho, and has kept his energy and fighting spirit high for both full weeks. Given that the prize is the coveted 8th win, I do expect Ishiura to throw some high agility combo sumo into this match, but Sadanoumi’s superior defensive stance and foot work is likely to foil what could be a great display of Ishiura 3.0.

Tsurugisho vs Nishikigi – Another pair of make-koshi rikishi who look like they have nothing left to give. They have to fight someone, so why not fight each other? Sure.. why not.

Chiyotairyu vs Kotoeko – Raise your hand if you want to see Chiyotairyu go chest to chest and gaburi-yori someone again today? I know I do! Kotoeko has a lot of mobility, so this may be a wild ride.

Terutsuyoshi vs Enho – A loss today and Enho is make-koshi. Now we don’t want any of that, do we? With Terutsuyoshi already holding win #8, we may see him turn down the intensity a notch and keep his body healthy for January. But even if Enho wins today, you know it’s Darwin time for him tomorrow.

Takarafuji vs Chiyomaru – Takarafuji holds an 8-0 career record over the bulbous one, and I see no reason for that to change today.

Myogiryu vs Shodai – Shodai did make it to double digits, much as Team Tachiai had expected. How much harder will he push it? If he runs the score up too much, he’s going to get another beat-down in January. But if Myogiryu gets the win today, it’s Darwin time for him, too!

Shohozan vs Meisei – With Shohozan kachi-koshi in front of his home town crowd, maybe it’s time for a celebratory slug-fest against the make-koshi Meisei

Daieisho vs Onosho – Winner of this one is kachi-koshi, and the loser is relegated to Darwin on day 15. Career record favors Onosho, and he seems to have fixed some of his week 1 problems.

Kotoyuki vs Okinoumi – Loser is make-koshi, and the winner gets a Darwin match. Sumo can be so brutal some times. Okinoumi leads the career series 9-5

Ryuden vs Asanoyama – Well, I expect Asanoyama to take care of Ryuden today, sending him to make-koshi land. But will Ryyden deploy another henka? If so, would Asanoyama fall for it? I want to see Asanoyama run up the score – we are running out of Ozeki, and this guy is young, healthy and has fantastic sumo. Hurry up, Yutakayama, we need you to slow this man down!

Hokutofuji vs Aoiyama – At the bottom of san’yaku, Hokutofuji’s make-koshi will in all probability send him back to the rank and file to sort out his sumo. But he can deliver a make-koshi today if he can keep Aoiyama from powering up the V-Twin attack.

Tamawashi vs Endo – Oh Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, hear our pleas. Bless Endo that he might defeat Tamawashi on this day, and send both of these guys into brutal, soul crushing Darwin matches on day 15.

Takakeisho vs Abi – I am sure Takakeisho wants to hit double digits this time, with his first shot being day 14 against Abi. The big issue there is that Abi has 2x the reach of our stump-armed Grand Tadpole. I think it comes down to if Takakeisho can get inside and blast away before Abi-zumo can send him reeling.

Mitakeumi vs Hakuho – This is probably the match that delivers the make-koshi to Mitakeumi, and resets any hopes he may have had to reach Ozeki. There are some fans who think Hakuho is still nursing that arm injury from earlier in the year, and maybe, just maybe if Mitakeumi can attack from that side he might gain advantage. He has beaten him twice before, but right now it’s a long shot. A win today would clinch the yusho for Hakuho.

Aki Day 1 Highlights

Welcome all to the start of the fall tournament. The first few days of any tournament will typically feature a few shaky starts by some rikishi, as they work to get into tournament form. Some sumo fans refer to this as “ring rust”, and it can take a few days before some rikishi can shake off its effects.

The Freshmen (Asanoyama, Yutakayama, Abi, Hokutofuji) really had an excellent day today, and I am happy with the future of sumo featuring them in years to come. Sadly the same cannot be said about the Tadpoles, who struggled quite a bit today. But one should never count out the tadpoles…

Day 1 featured some solid sumo action, and those of you who were watching NHK World in the middle of the (USA) night time were treated to some solid matches. Let’s get started.

Highlight Matches

Chiyomaru defeats Takagenji – Takagenji comes out of the tachiai strong, but I was surprised that Chiyomaru did a much better job than normal keeping his weight centered over the arches of his feet, and used that stability to overpower Takagenji’s vigorous attack. The result was a sort of half throw / half tsukiotoshi that was uncharacteristically agile for Chiyomaru.

Yutakayama defeats Tochiozan – Yutakayama continues to battle his way back from injury, and a trip to Juryo, with some solid sumo today. Yutakayama took an inside route at the tachiai, but nearly all of this match was the two of them fighting for grip, while pushing as hard to the front as they could manage. Tochiozan had better footwork, but Yutakayama had more strength. Welcome back Yutakayama, the future has been waiting.

Azumaryu defeats Ishiura – Azumaryu deftly deploys a uwatehineri while the two grappled for position at the center of the dohyo.

Tsurugisho defeats Toyonoshima – Tsurugisho’s early try for a pull down nearly cost him the match, but he was able to rally well as Toyonoshima tried the same thing and blew his early advantage.

Nishikigi defeats Kagayaki – Neither man gets a solid tachiai. But Kagayaki inexplicably focuses on some kind of face-hold, leaving Nishikigi a solid path to center-mass. Kagayaki realizes that he’s thrown away an opening, but he found Nishikigi effectively able to turn his hips and deflect Kagayaki’s forward pressure.

Shohozan defeats Daishoho – Not the typical Shohozan mobility-based sumo, as Daishoho traps him in a double arm-bar. Shohozan gets stalemated for a while, but keeps raising Daishoho and backing him up until he can finish him with shitatenage (it was 2 for 1 shitatenage day).

Enho defeats Onosho – Big news for me, Onosho has the red mawashi back. Yes, he lost this one to Enho, who uncorked some really gob-smack amazing sumo today, but that red mawashi was (at least at one point) home to a potent kami that powered Onosho’s early rise. To my eye, Onosho had this one boxed up and ready to ship before Enho produced some hard to explain, Ura level space-time distortion and threw Onosho to the clay.

Meisei defeats Sadanoumi – With that injured right knee, Sadanoumi lacks a good amount of his expected maneuverability, and Meisei expertly stays in motion until he can get Sadanoumi off balance and rolls him to the clay with a katasukashi. Nice kimarite!

Terutsuyoshi defeats Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki has yet to take a single match from Terutsuyoshi, and we get a showcase of how that works today. Terutsuyoshi used some really fantastic ring sense to continue to give ground, forcing Kotoyuki to stay in motion and keep turning. When you are about as wide as you are tall (as Kotoyuki is), it’s a short amount of time before you find yourself off balance and in the wrong end of town. Terutsuyoshi chose his moment, and made it work. Great sumo from Terutsuyoshi today.

Takarafuji defeats Kotoeko – As always, journeyman sumo from Takarafuji, who absorbs everything Kotoeko can dish out. Takarafuji as Maegashira 8? Middle of the pack? This is the right spot for Takarafuji, and I am hoping he has a good basho this September.

Okinoumi defeats Kotoshogiku – The fun thing about Kotoshogiku these days is that he is frequently on fire the first week, before the strain on his injuries slows him down. Hugely energetic, high attack value sumo from him today, including an excellent throw at the end. Except that he stepped out quite some time before it got to that point, and the most exciting part of the match (Okinoumi was fighting well, too) was all for naught.

Myogiryu defeats Shimanoumi – When you watch this one, pay close attention to Myogiryu’s foot placement and stance. This is some class-A attention to detail in the middle of a match trying to constrain and contain a raging youngster who had the edge in speed and agility. Shimanoumi gets the advantage twice, but that fantastic defensive setup that Myogiryu had today carried the match.

Ryuden defeats Chiyotairyu – If Ryuden is genki, Maegashira 5 might be a bit low on the banzuke for him. He gets a left hand on Chiyotairyu’s mawashi, which puts him in the driver’s seat and takes away Chiyotairyu’s primary offensive technique. I was surprised that Chiyotairyu let him grab him and did not stay mobile.

Tamawashi defeats Shodai – Shodai looked a mess today, but if you want to see why Shodai can actually keep close to a winning record most basho, look at his multiple well-executed escapes from Tamawashi’s blistering attacks. If we could get that man a tachiai graft from ex-Kisenosato…

Tomokaze defeats Abi – Abi launches his traditional Abi-zumo opening, and Tomokaze is having none of it. Attempting a hatakikomi against Abi is a dangerous move, but Tomokaze makes it work. This guy needs to stay un-injured and fighting strong.

Takakeisho defeats Daieisho – I am not quite sure how Takakeisho recovered from that near-face-plant, but he threw everything including the kitchen sink at Daieisho, who was likewise dialed up to 11. The wave-action system does not seem to be quite up to battle-spec just yet, and I am going to assume that our tadpole has a lot of ring rust to overcome. But he’s on his march to 10, and sumo fans around the world are going to be riveted to his journey this September.

Asanoyama defeats Mitakeumi – This whole match came down to Asanoyama getting a shallow left hand grip at the tachiai, and never letting go. Mitakeumi then chose to rotate left and attempt a hatakikomi, and in the move to pull down Asanoyama, he more or less conceded the match. Asanoyama was too latched on to Mitakeumi to go down.

Ichinojo defeats Tochinoshin – I had a tough time watching both the match and the replays. It’s 100% clear now, from direct observation, that it’s never a good idea to make your crippled strong-man fight a giant. Tochinoshin does not look well enough to compete, and that knee is more or less done for. Grim.

Goeido defeats Aoiyama – Whatever injuries Goeido is nursing right now, he has contained. His blistering tachiai and all out center-mass attack against Aoiyama left the man-mountain nowhere to go. I recall with hopeful anticipation that for some reason Aki is always the time when we see Goeido shine.

Hokutofuji defeats Hakuho – Oh Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan, what have you done? This match had all of Hokutofuji’s best elements stitched together in a lightning fast, seat of the pants battle. Hakuho loves to deliver a face slap at the tachiai, and many times it effectively disrupts an opponents attack. Today if left him wide open for Hokutofuji’s brutal handshake tachiai. Oh, how long have I been waiting to see someone make Hakuho pay for that move. Today was payday on that desire. With the nodowa in place, it forced Hakuho to waste precious time clearing it out before he could start an attack, and just like that Hokutofuji is calling the terms of the match. Hokutofuji lands a mawashi grip, and I think the speed and strength of that move surprised the Yokozuna. Hakuho gives ground and attempts to load a throw, but with absolute perfect timing, Hokutofuji catches the Yokozuna shifting his weight and lunges ahead. That’s all that it took, and The Boss gives up a well earned kinboshi. I am going to be looping through this match all day. Just fantastic. Hokutofuji doesn’t need to win another match this basho to be proud of his efforts.

Kakuryu defeats Endo – Endo is a master technician, and I am sure he had a solid, well constructed attack plan against the Nagoya yusho winner. None of that mattered as Kakuryu did not give him a chance to unpack any of it. A little dodgy winning with a hatakikomi, but he needed to shut Endo down quickly before the man in gold could get started.

Natsu Day 15 Highlights

Enho Gives Everything In His Day 15 Match With Shohozan
Image courtesy of friend of Tachiai, NicolaAnn08 on Twitter

Described by one friend as “Anti-climatic”, day 15 in general was a study in how many rikishi were hurt and fighting poorly vs a small core who managed to stay healthy. The schedulers threw in a good number of “Darwin Matches” where both rikishi were 7-7, and one walked away with winning record, the other with a losing record and demotion. The atmosphere in the Kokugikan was off, as vending machines were taken off line, there were hour long lines to be screened to enter, and there were protective guards everywhere. But some solid sumo did take place, and the final day of the Natsu Basho went off without a hitch.

As expected, US President Trump did appear with Prime Minster Abe, and both handed trophies to Asanoyama who looked happy, overwhelmed and just a little bit uncertain. President Trump was courteous, and at times appeared very happy (handing over the Presidents Cup) and bored (during some of the matches). If the President or any of his staff find themselves taken with the notion of sumo, I strongly recommend reading Tachiai, watching Jason and Kintamayama, and listening to Grand Sumo Breakdown during the next 2 months to be primed for what should be an epic battle in Nagoya.

We are all eagerly awaiting lksumo’s crystal ball post due up later today, but I can say that this basho was a death march for far too many rikishi. A few big names were missing, and the ones who hung in there were fighting well below their normal capabilities. I think this basho greatly underscored just how tough it is to keep a group of 40 or so rikishi healthy, fighting and fit.

Highlight Matches

Chiyoshoma defeats Ikioi – Chiyoshoma delivers a slap and a pull to drop Ikioi to 4-11. Is this the end of Ikioi as we know him? Clearly he is still too hurt to fight effectively. Its tough to see long time favorites go out banged up and down.

Shohozan defeats Enho – The first of the Darwin matches, Shohozan threw in all of his unsavory behavior including multiple matta (one with a full charge and slap) before the match could get underway for real. When the match did finally start, it was a wild brawl with Enho dodging and weaving at his best, but Shohozan was clearly in charge. The two went chest to chest, and Enho struggled to get leverage over the larger Shohozan, but “Big Guns” remained upright and stable, while Enho became increasingly tired. Eventually Enho’s attacks left him too low, and Shohozan helped him to take a face full of Natsu clay. Huge effort by Enho, and typical crummy attitude from Shohozan, but he did pick up his 8th win.

Onosho defeats Chiyomaru – Second Darwin match, Onosho’s propensity to put too much pressure in front of his ankles was no worry with Chiyomaru’s mass to push against, and Chiyomaru found himself without any room to work, or any chance to move to the side.

Kagayaki defeats Ishiura – Both men end the basho 5-10, with Ishiura likely headed to Juryo. Ishiura lost the last 5 consecutive matches, and is in dire need to regroup. The entire Pixie contingent looks to have faded through week 2, as Enho also lost his last 6 consecutive matches, after a strong start.

Tomokaze defeats Sadanoumi – Another Darwin match, Tomokaze lets Sadanoumi come to him, then employs superior strength and stability to overpower, lift and eject Sadanoumi. Tomokaze has yet to endure his first make-koshi of his professional career.

Meisei defeats Daishoho – Meisei has over-performed this basho, finishing with a 10-5 record, and a solid win over Daishoho. Meisei took a mae-mitsu grip early, and never gave an inch.

Shodai defeats Kotoeko – Shodai finishes with double digit wins, after finishing Osaka with double digit losses. I think his sumo looked better, and his opponents were in worse condition this tournament. I insist if this guy could improve his tachiai, he would be a force of sumo.

Tokushoryu defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze puts forth an effort to win on the final day, but the amount of force he can put into any move seems to be just a fraction of his normal. This comes after double digit wins in Osaka. His performance is either on or off the past 18 months, and I have to wonder if he’s starting to eye that kabu now.

Shimanoumi defeats Takarafuji – Two time Juryo yusho winner Shimanoumi came roaring back from a middling start to win his last 6 in a row, and end with at 10-5 record. That was a lot of Makuuchi jitters and ring rust to scrape off, but once he settled in he produced some solid sumo. He may find himself in a tougher crowd in Nagoya.

Abi defeats Tamawashi – Two false starts by Abi left him a bit slow at the tachiai, but he still landed his double arm shoulder attack, and used Tamawashi’s lateral move to send him arcing into the clay. Both men end Natsu 10-5, and Abi receives the Kanto-sho.

Chiyotairyu defeats Tochiozan – This bout was a mess, it featured a solid forward start from Chiyotairyu, followed by a lateral collapse that saw the big Kokenoe man hit the clay, but win because Tochiozan had already stopped out.

Daieisho defeats Terutsuyoshi – Both rikishi end Natsu make-koshi, with Terutsuyoshi following a cold start to the basho with a week 2 fade. There are a good number of rikishi at the bottom of the banzuke with really terrible records, and it may be another log-jam in the demotion queue that sees some incredible banzuke luck bestowed on the least terrible of the lot. Will that include Terutsuyoshi?

Endo defeats Yago – Endo catches Yago’s tachiai, lets him begin to push and then drops him to the clay. Simple, easy, effective.

Kotoshogiku defeats Okinoumi – A fairly traditional Kotoshogiku hug-n-chug win, but his hip pumping was less focused than normal, and it took quite a bit of time and effort to finish Okinoumi. Both men end the basho with losing records.

Hokutofuji defeats Nishikigi – Hokutofuji’s “Handshake Tachiai” pays off as Nishikigi puts all of his hopes into grabbing a piece of Hokutofuji’s mawashi, and comes up with air. Left without anything to hold on to, Nishikigi is quickly propelled out for an oshidashi loss.

Mitakeumi defeats Asanoyama – Many fans will declare this a bellwether match, as it shows that Asanoyama did not have the mettle to be the Natsu champion. They may have a point, but that’s not how honbasho works. Mitakeumi is able to enact his preferred sumo strategy, and try as he might, Asanoyama cannot get into the grip and foot placement we have seen him use to rack up 12 wins prior to today. Does this foreshadow Asanoyama’s upcoming opponents in Nagoya? Probably, yes.

Ryuden defeats Aoiyama – Ryuden finishes with double digits, and I have to say his sumo was dead on this tournament. Aoiyama was only a fraction of his normal strength by this stage of the tournament, and Ryuden masterfully absorbed everything Aoiyama delivered in terms of tsuppari.

Ichinojo defeats Myogiryu – When Ichinojo is “on” he turns his opponents into rag-dolls and tosses them around at his leisure. This happened today with Myogiryu, who looked like an play-thing in a giant’s toy box.

Takayasu defeats Tochinoshin – Both of these rikishi are fighting hurt, and are only at a fraction of their expected power and speed. Takayasu takes a big chance going chest to chest against Tochinoshin, but rather than set up the sky crane, Tochinoshin oddly decides to try and pull Takayasu, which was all the Ozeki needed to rush forward and take Tochinoshin to the clay. Yeah, Tochinoshin is clearly hurt, and that was crap sumo compared to his first week performance.

Kakuryu defeats Goeido – They made a good match of it, no shady moves, no cheap sumo here, the top two surviving rikishi finished the day with a solid yotsu match that saw the Yokozuna take his 11th win.

That’s it for our daily highlight coverage. Thank you, dear readers, for sharing the Natsu Basho with us!

Takakeisho – Ozeki Denied (For Now)

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.