Natsu Day 13 Highlights

My Thoughts Exactly, Ma’am

Dear Sumo – What the hell was that? It’s time to set Onomatsu oyakata in a corner as he is a menace to orderly sumo. This is not the first time he has completely bumbled a call, and left everyone upset and more than a little confused. Tradition and seniority my broad, hairy Scottish backside. This guy is a disaster.

For those of you who many not know, head shimpan Onomatsu oyakata made a howler of a call in the match between Asanoyama and Tochinoshin that very well may cost Tochinoshin his return to Ozeki. In the final moments, Tochinoshin’s foot is on the tawara as he swings Asanoyama to the clay, and in what may be the longest monoii in the modern era, they gave the win to Asanoyama. Was Tochinoshin’s sumo extra sloppy today? It was – his foot placement was poor, his ring sense was nowhere to be found. But that decision is going to offend plenty of sumo fans, and not just readers of this blog.

Highlight Matches

Wakatakakage defeats Ishiura – The highest ranking Onami brother visits the top division to give Ishiura his make-koshi, and possibly send him back to Juryo once again to sort out his hot and cold running sumo.

Sadanoumi defeats Tokushoryu – Tokushoryu worked his tail off to get back to the top division only to turn in a double-digit make-koshi. Tokushoryu is actually a skilled, talented and experienced rikishi. For long term fans it’s sad to see him fade this hard. Back to Juryo with him.

Shimanoumi defeats Kotoeko – After a cold start that saw Shimanoumi lose 3 of his first 4, he rallied to a kachi-koshi in fine fashion. This fellow won the Juryo yusho two times in a row, and has managed to get his 8 in his debut Makuuchi tournament.

Daishoho defeats Shohozan – Daishoho racks up his 8th win against a listless Shohozan, who is getting close to his 8th loss now.

Onosho defeats Chiyoshoma – Is Chiyoshoma finally going to Juryo again? Another loss and he goes to double digits, which is fine with me as he seems hurt and needs to throttle back his competition and recover.

Kagayaki defeats Yago – Yago lost this when he decided, “Hey, lets pull!”. This has happened a lot this basho. A strong, competent rikishi is executing a great attack plan, suddenly tries to pull his opponent down and loses the match by throwing away his forward pressure to the pulling move. Yago, get it together man!

Nishikigi defeats Terutsuyoshi – Terutsuyoshi launches a leg pick, but Nishikigi expertly shuts it down and gives Terutsuyoshi a face full of Natsu clay. Great attack move, excellent defense move. I loved this match.

Meisei defeats Enho – The big news here is that it looks like Enho may have injured his right thigh, as he was limping badly following the match. Meisei is one win away from double digits this basho, and he has been fighting much better than his normal.

Chiyomaru defeats Yoshikaze – The Yoshikaze the fans love is simply not in right now. Chiyotairyu did a great job of executing his usual sumo with great effect. I did like his move to arrest Yoshikaze’s impending fall at the end of the match.

Tamawashi defeats Kotoshogiku – Maybe this is why everyone is trying a pull right now. They see Tamawashi stick one on Kotoshogiku to hand him his 8th loss. Yes, I was wishcasting Kotoshogiku to kachi-koshi this tournament and maybe return to San’yaku for Nagoya.

Hokutofuji defeats Daieisho – Hokutofuji’s handshake tachiai pays off today, and completely disrupts Daieisho. Daieisho exits the dohyo with his 8th loss but has a win over an Ozeki and a Sekiwake to show for his posting to the joi-jin.

Ryuden defeats Mitakeumi – What tactic lost this match for Mitakeumi? Oh yes, he decided to try to pull Ryuden down. To be fair, I think Mitakeumi is still fighting hurt, and Ryuden is really fighting his best ever. Still 2 more chances for Mitakeumi to pick up his 8th win, but the traditional week 2 Mitakeumi fade is well in effect.

Aoiyama defeats Abi – This mess was a triple decker sloppy joe with extra sauce. Everyone was all over the place, and it was anyone’s guess who was going to lose first. Arms, legs, mawashi flying everywhere. I guess Abi exited first…

Asanoyama defeats Tochinoshin – The match that shall live in infamy. An embarrassment of a sumo contest, not that either competitor did anything wrong. I mean that 7 minute monoii. Points against Tochinoshin for having almost no forward pressure, trying to pull Asanoyama and that quarter-assed kotenage attempt at the bales. I am going to guess that we are not seeing the sky crane because our glass cannon Tochinoshin is once again hobbled with an injury.

Ichinojo defeats Endo – When Ichinojo is genki, this is what you get. I watch this match and it’s like Endo is some kind of doll that Ichinojo is playing with. The level of force that goes into even his casual movements must be enough to overpower any normal rikishi. Good lord, what a brute.

Goeido defeats Shodai – No cartoon sumo for Shodai today, no chance to move laterally and inject chaos vectors into his opponent’s battle plan. Goeido does a masterful job of containing Shodai to keep him centered and in front.

Takayasu defeats Kakuryu – Anyone else breathe a sigh of relief on this one? Takayasu gets his 8th with a well timed side step of Kakuryu’s charge.

Now just think – if that call in the Tochinoshin match had not been botched, we would have Ozeki Tochinoshin in a 3 way tie for the yusho heading into the final weekend. Everyone say thanks to Onomatsu oyakata for being a block-head today.

Haru Day 1 & 2 Comments

Mitakeumi Calls The Tune During His Day 1 Match With Yokozuna Kakuryu

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.

Bruce’s Banzuke Commentary

Bruce-Kokugikan

Hello Tachiai readers, and I hope all of you are enjoying the festive holiday season. The Japan Sumo Association delivered the Hatsu banzuke for Christmas, and it was full of potential for a fantastic tournament in just over 2 weeks. While most of the world takes a year-ending breather, what could be a tumultuous January tournament lurks just around the corner.

Yokozuna Kisenosato’s posting to the 1 East slot is the first surprise. While he entered the Kyushu basho in November, he failed to win a single bout before he pulled out of the tournament citing an injury. We have written extensively about the tragedy that is Kisenosato’s tenure as Yokozuna, and in the past we have forecasted that it would become increasingly farcical if he chose to try and gamberize his way through things. But a “zero win” promotion has to be one of the more farcical things I have seen in sumo for a while.

None of the three current Yokozuna are presenting as blazing examples of genki power at the moment. Each sat out part or all of Kyuhshu, each have some lingering injury that is hampering their performance. None of them participated much in the Fuyu jungyo, either because of their injuries, or wisely conserving whatever health they had mustered for the January tournament. Could we end up with a second straight “nokazuna” tournament?

The Ozeki ranks also have their worries, with Goeido being the most banged up of the bunch. Only Takayasu seems to be in fighting form as we close out 2018, with Tochinoshin a potent but fragile rival.

But just past the Ozeki ranks, we find the upstart challenger. After blasting his way through Kyushu and scoring his first yusho, it’s Takakeisho who is at the Sekiwake 1 East slot. It’s tough to tell how much impact the promotional appearances and awards ceremonies will have on his sumo, but I expect him to show up strong and dominant from the start. His youthful vigor and stamina may give him an edge over the experience and boundless skill of some of his higher-ranked opponents for January. He comes into Hatsu with a string of kachi-koshi tournaments: 13-2, 9-6, 10-5, 10-5. For those keeping count, with 11 wins at Hatsu, he could be considered for promotion to Ozeki.

Mitakeumi finds himself still in the San’yaku, but in dire need to regroup, reorganize and reconnect with his sumo. He has been a “Future Ozeki” for a while, and should Takakeisho bypass him and reach sumo’s second highest rank, it would either be a source of frustration, or a stiff motivation to elevate his sumo to the next level. That’s an evolution his fans (myself included) have been looking forward to for a couple of years.

Further down the banzuke, it’s kind of interesting to see how many long-serving veterans are in the joi-jin for this tournament. The problem with that is that many of these rikishi are towards the end of their careers, and the cumulative injuries and problems mean that they struggle to perform consistently. I would include in this group: Tochiozan, Shohozan, Kotoshogiku, Okinoumi and Yoshikaze. This would mean that it is possible that the joi may give up a lot of white stars to the named ranks, giving someone an easy path.

Then there are a handful of rikishi that I think are worth some excitement. This would include Nishikigi, who against all expectations was able to earn his kachi-koshi at Maegashira 3, and finds himself at Maegashira 2. This guy really is a bit of a Cinderella story, and every time he wins, I cheer. Hokutofuji has struggled with injuries and stamina issues during tournaments, but he has sound fundamentals in his sumo, and few specializations that give him an exciting fighting edge in any match. Aoiyama has all of the pieces needed to be an upper ranked rikishi, but between injuries and what I can only guess might be “jitters” in some matches, he falls a bit short. He’s making another run towards the top now, and we wish him a solid tournament. Then there is Onosho, who seemed in November to still be recovering from his summer injury and reconstructive surgery. While his friend Takakeisho has become a driving force in sumo, I personally think Onosho is the stronger rikishi, and has greater upside potential. I am looking to see him continue to improve over November, and I think Maegashira 6 is a great rank for him this time. He is outside of the joi, and he will fight a lot of hit-or-miss vets who may struggle with his speed and energy.

With the table set, fans around the world are counting down the days to the start of Haru. The rikishi will begin to train in earnest starting in the next few days, and we will be following the workup to Sunday January 13th with eager anticipation!