Hatsu Day 7 Highlights

Some of our readers, and many sumo fans in general, have complained that recent basho have ended up being “Sumo light”, due to the lack of Yokozuna and Ozeki participation. As we near the half way point of this basho, we are down to 1 Yokozuna and 1.5 Ozeki, and the focus really has shifted to the lower ranks. With so many titans of sumo off the dohyo, the focus has shifted to the lower ranks.

I am impressed that Goeido is soldiering on, and finding ways to win in spite of the problems with his right arm. I expect him to go kyujo after he can manage an 8th win. Thankfully Hakuho looks genki enough, and Takayasu seems to be over his flu.

Highlight Matches

Chiyonokuni defeats Yutakayama – Any match with Chiyonokuni has the potential to be a mad-cap barn burner, and today Yutakayama put everything he could towards a win. The result was a wild tsuki-oshi fest that see-sawed back and forth. A great way to start the top division today.

Kotoyuki defeats Daiamami – A second spirited bout to start the day, Daiamami held advanage several times, but The Penguin battled back each time. At attempted slap down reversed the opponents, and Kotoyuki put Daiamami’s back to the tawara, and pushed with purpose.

Yago defeats Daishomaru – Hapless, winless Daishomaru has nothing serious to offer the surging youngster Yago, and goes down to defeat. We did, however, get to see Yago engage in a oshi-zumo match, and win.

Ikioi defeats Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma’s attempt at a face slap embedded in his tachiai (ala Hakuho) results in Ikioi getting poked in the eye. In spite of (or fueled by) this, Ikioi surges into battle with yet another injury and finds a way to overpower his opponent. Word is he was complaining of vision problems following the match.

Abi defeats Takarafuji – There seems to be some magic in Abi-zumo, as he effectively landed a nodowa against a many with no neck. Takarafuji found hims sumo disrupted, and battled to clear Abi’s attacks, but ran out of dohyo to maneuver.

Endo defeats Kagayaki – Both men threw the kitchen sink at each other, with Endo calling the tune. At one point their early oshi fest went chest to chest and the competitors actually did look like they were dancing. Post match, Endo was holding his forehead – another oversized bandage for a Kagayaki competitor? Maybe he needs to modify that tachiai.

Asanoyama defeats Sadanoumi – Member of the Kagayaki head wound club Sadanoumi cannot endure Asanoyama’s spin attack, and eats clay. Asanoyama picks up a much needed win.

Kaisei defeats Onosho – The only rank and file undefeated rikishi takes a loss at the hands of a surprisingly genki Kaisei. With this loss, Hakuho has sole possession of the lead.

Daieisho defeats Yoshikaze – Yoshikaze seems to have completely run out of energy to compete at the Makuuchi level. It’s painful to watch.

Chiyotairyu defeats Aoiyama – The hatakikomi came quickly, and made me gasp. Few rikishi are big enough and fast enough to roll someone the size of Aoiyama, but Chiyotairyu certainly can.

Okinoumi defeats Ryuden – Ryuden seems to have lost his fighting spirit, and each day seems to be going through the motions. Kind of tough to watch, but when injuries happen, this is the result.

Hokutofuji fusensho Mitakeumi – Mitakeumi damaged his knee day 6, and is missing an excellent chance to run up the score against a reduced Ozeki and Yokozuna force. Hokutofuji picks up back to back default wins, something that has not happened in decades.

Myogiryu defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi’s magical adventure in the joi-jin looks like it has run out of gas. Can he refuel and return to surprising his opponents? I do hope so. Myogiryu gets a much needed win.

Tamawashi defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan was on defense the entire match, and Tamawashi batted him about before deciding to finish him.

Takakeisho defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo has reverted to the docile form of whatever species he is, and failed to deactivate Takakeisho’s wave action attack by grabbing his opponent’s mawashi until it was too late and he was already struggling for balance.

Takayasu defeats Kotoshogiku – Takayasu’s recovery from the flu continues, and he delivers the hug-n-chug to counter Kotoshogiku’s favorite attack strategy. With advantage in size, youth and joint health, Takayasu carried the match.

Goeido defeats Shodai – Impressive that Goeido is finding ways to win, now up to 3 wins out of a needed 8. He was helped by Shodai’s trademark crappy tachiai. Shodai was able to back to Ozeki to the bales, but did not lower his hips to thrust out Goeido, and instead Shodai launched his own body higher. Goeido capitalized on this blunder and won.

Hakuho defeats Shohozan – Hakuho is the lone undefeated rikishi, and is the man to beat for the Emperor’s cup. Shohozan could not generate much offense, and Hakuho waited for his moment and pulled “Big Guns” Shohozan down.

Hatsu Story 1 – Takakeisho

Takakeisho 4

While I am certainly grumpy about the state of the upper ranks, it’s clear that a lot of well deserved attention will be focused on Takakeisho during the Hatsu basho. A young, dynamic rikishi, he has been on a nearly unbroken upward tear since his Makuuchi debut 2 years ago. He is now poised on the cusp of an Ozeki promotion, amid talk that he may represent a look at the future of sumo.

Takakeisho has a distinctive bulbous body shape that makes him look a bit like a tadpole, and was part of the invention of the “Tadpole” moniker. But that name glosses over some specifics about Takakeisho and his sumo that I think are important to understanding his future. Clearly Takakeisho is a man driven to compete, and to hone himself to ever higher levels of performance. He has become a master at a unique brand of oshi-zumo that he continues to refine with great effect (seen here against Kisenosato 1 year ago).

At Tachiai we have referred to this as his trademark “Wave Action” that features him delivering potent double-arm thrusts squarely towards his opponent’s center of mass, while rapidly shifting his position. His attack style delivers a steady rain of power that disrupts, unbalances and frequently defeats any rikishi he faces.

I take delight in understanding that this approach was developed in part because Takakeisho has fairly short arms. This might normally hamper a rikishi’s career, but he has found a way to use this feature of his body type as a potent weapon instead.

With his Kyushu basho win in the history books, Takakeisho participated in many celebrations and festivities in the two months since the last tournament. Sometimes this hampers the performance of a rikishi in the following basho, and Team Tachiai will be watching with great interest to see if the extra burden, pressure and distraction of being the Kyushu yusho winner will weight down the young rising star. Fans keeping score understand that his magic number is 11 to be considered for a promotion to Ozeki, which given his most recent post-injury record (42 over 4 basho), should be within reach. Much of his chances will come down to the somewhat questionable state of the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps, as only Takayasu and Mitakeumi were able to defeat him in November. Tachiai will be following him closely, and hoping for a good, strong showing in Tokyo from Takakeisho.

Kyushu Day 14 Commentary and Leaderboard

three-yokozuna-backs

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.

Kyushu Leaderboard

Leader: Takakeisho
Chaser: Takayasu
Hunter: Okinoumi

2 Matches Remain

Kyushu Day 1 Highlights

Kyushu Day 1
Let’s Get Started! – Photo From The Japan Sumo Association Twitter Feed

Welcome to our Kyushu highlights, dear readers! Team Tachiai look at any basho as a series of three acts, each with its own character and goals. Act 1 – get started, remove the ring rust and see who is hot and who is not. Act 2 – Narrow the field and find out who has what it takes to compete for the yusho, and start sorting the survivors from the damned. Act 3 – Hopes get smashed, dreams get crushed and we hand someone the Emperor’s Cup.

Day 1 featured heaps of ring-rust, and it seems a lot of rikishi arrived at Kyushu in somewhat worn condition after the fall jungyo tour. In addition, many are still nursing injuries large and small from the fight-club that was Aki 2018. While day 1 is frequently rusty and a bit off the typical basho pace, there was some excellent sumo on display in the small and rather loud Kyushu arena.

Highlight Matches

Yago defeats Chiyomaru – As predicted, a lot of huffing and puffing, and it was clear that Chiyomaru lost stamina early. Getting that much mass in motion takes an enormous amount of energy, and it was clearly draining him. But a lot of credit goes to Yago who stood up to that much oshi and carried the match. Solid technique from an up and coming young man we are likely to see more of in 2019.

Onosho defeats Endo – They made a good fight out of it, and Endo put a lot of pressure into his attacks, but Onosho’s low center of gravity and impressive balance were the deciding factors. I would guess that at least for now, Onosho’s knees are good enough for some first class sumo. I will be interested to see how long into the basho his health carries him.

Okinoumi defeats Aoiyama – When the match evolved into a mawashi fight, it was clear that Aoiyama was in trouble. Okinoumi took charge and waltzed him over the tawara without too much drama. Aoiyama is still working to recover from injuries earlier in the year, and did not look ready to win.

Chiyonokuni defeats Yutakayama – A brutal tachiai that stood both men up, and Yutakayama quickly moved to get an inside position. Chiyonokuni’s lighting reflexes saved the match for him, as he took advantage of Yutakayama’s hold of his right arm and used Yutakayama’s grip to move him back. Yutakayama’s giant head was too tempting a target, and Chiyonokuni grabbed hold, hooked his right hand into his opponents mawashi, turning and pushing Yutakayama out. Excellent work from Chiyonokuni.

Sadanoumi defeats Daieisho – Notable in that the kimarite listed is the seldom seen okurihikiotoshi, but to my eyes it was more of a slippiotoshi.

Shohozan defeats Ikioi – After a Shohozan matta, the real fight was over in a moment, as Ikioi has his balance too far forward and Shohozan lets Ikioi’s inertia finish the job.

Kagayaki defeats Abi – The double-arm thrust at the tachiai was defeated through the master of low drama fundamentals. Kagayaki focuses on getting his hands on Abi’s elbows, and breaks the thrusting attack. Of course when this happens, Abi is quite far forward and not too difficult to route towards the nearest shimpan.

Asanoyama defeats Takanoiwa – A fine yotzu / mawashi battle from these two, and Asanoyama seems to be in the drivers seat. Asanoyama’s performance in this match is an example of why I think he has the potential for higher rank. He’s fast, decisive and controls the much more experienced Takanoiwa.

Yoshikaze defeats Chiyotairyu – Yoshikaze absorbed the cannon-ball tachiai and got inside of Chiyotairyu, who soon found himself on the receiving end of Yoshikaze’s blistering attacks. Chiyotairyu spent the rest of the match trying to get on an offensive footing, but always a half step behind local man Yoshikaze. A solid win against a heavier and more powerful opponent.

Shodai defeats Ryuden – Ryuden succeeds in exploiting Shodai’s weak tachiai, but gives up the morozashi (double inside grip) in the process. Shodai then calls the tune and forces Ryuden to dance. Shodai keeps his hips low, and his shoulders below Ryuden’s – really showing excellent form. Ryuden managed to rally, but it only served to put him off balance and set up Shodai’s win. Points to Ryuden for his tenacious grip on Shodai’s belt as he was receiving the shitatenage. Another local favorite racks up a win.

Ichinojo defeats Nishikigi – You have to admire Nishikigi, promoted higher and faster than he should be, he brings as much sumo power as he can muster against one of the largest men in sumo. Ichinojo lets Nishikigi push him around until his heels touch the bales, and rather than give up and go limp, Ichinojo defies his normal style and rallies. Impressively Nishikigi is able to halt Ichinojo’s advance for a time, but Ichinojo takes his time and overpowers his opponent for the win.

Tochiozan defeats Mitakeumi – The man who hopes to be Ozeki had his sumo thoroughly dismantled by the 31 year old veteran Tochiozan. Followers of Tochiozan have seen him absorb a nodowa neck attack well before, and he simply shrugs off Mitakeumi’s attempt to raise him up. Mitakeumi’s fans had hoped he would have re-grouped following Aki, but today’s match did not give them hope.

Tamawashi defeats Tochinoshin – Tochinoshin knew he had made a mistake in the first second, as Tamawashi’s speed was too much for the Ozeki to overcome. Always looking to land his left hand on the mawashi, Tochinoshin’s plan was an invitation for Tamawashi to launch hard inside and apply his considerable pushing force center-mass against the Ozeki. The look of frustration on Tochinoshin’s face told the story as he absorbs a day 1 loss. Note to rikishi who want to follow the oshi-style: this match in slow motion is a fabulous example of the rewards of driving inside at all costs, and focusing on center-mass (rather than head or neck). There was no way to stop Tamawashi.

Takayasu defeats Myogiryu – Myogiryu had no means to stop Takayasu’s powerful, straight ahead sumo today. Myogiryu did manage to get inside at the tachiai, but by then they were chest to chest, and Takayasu’s considerable mass was pressing forward without resistance.

Goeido defeats Hokutofuji – Hokutofuji clearly knew that Goeido was going to be fast, too fast off the line, and his tightly wound anticipation made him jump early for a matta, and likely blew his mental prep for this match. Credit to Hokutofuji, he gave the Ozeki a solid fight. If I had to guess, Goeido was not quite sure what to do with the guy after the matta, and he may have suspected that Hokutofuji was likely to try a henka. The oshi match was always going to favor Goeido, but Hokutofuji showed some solid technique, and won approval from the fans for his fighting spirit. This is an opponent Hokutofuji must learn to overcome if he aims for higher ranks.

Takakeisho defeats Kisenosato – One thing I love about Takakeisho, he is not intimidated by any opponent. He exudes an almost Hakuho level of confidence, and seems ready to take the fight to everyone. Kisenosato’s big mistake in this match was letting Takakeisho dictate the style of the match, and letting him set up the “Wave Action” attack. At that point, the Yokozuna was in trouble and he knew it. Stumped for what to do, Kisenosato tried to overcome Takakeisho’s attack on Takakeisho’s terms. A few waves later, the Yokozuna is too far forward and is slapped to the clay. Not a good match for Kisenosato, but textbook Takakeisho sumo.

Aki Story 5 – A Challenge For The Tadpoles

sumo-frogs

We already covered the specific challenge for Mitakeumi, and his bid to become the first tadpole to reach Ozeki. There remains the question of the two younger tadpoles: Takakeisho and Onosho. Takakeisho returns to the san’yaku as Komusubi West, while Onosho is just outside of the joi-jin at Maegashira 6.

At only 22 years old, Takakeisho is still on the upward march of his sumo career. His first visit to Komusubi resulted in a 5-10 drubbing that included some important matches. His day one match against Kisenosato was a clear signal of the Yokozuna’s level of damage. It is quite likely we may see a rematch between these two for day 1 of Aki. In the following tournament (March, Osaka 2018) he withdrew from competition with an injury, after started 3-8. Since then he has delivered back to back 10-5 records, and is clearly set to challenge sumo’s top men once more.

While the same age, Onosho started professional sumo 18 months earlier. He spent a good deal of time in Juryo, and at one point dropped back down to Makushita. From there he was driven to higher performance, and landed at Komusubi for Kyushu in 2017, and managed a kachi-koshi after a disastrous 1-6 start. The following tournament in January featured his withdraw from completion on day 10, and remaining out of competition for March as well to heal. His re-entry in May saw him take the Juryo yusho as a pit-stop back to the top division. His 10-5 record in the sweltering heat of Nagoya was only enough to boost him from Maegashira 11 to 6, but frankly for Aki this is a very good rank for him. In the middle of the Maegashira crew, he can and will do a lot of damage to the likes of Asanoyama, Kagayaki, Chiyonokuni and Abi.

Clearly both men are rising stars of the sumo world, and are solid contenders for residency in the san’yaku starting some time in 2019 or 2020. Both of them are very round, very strong and seem to be overwhelmingly driven to train and win. In comparison to some long-serving Makuuchi vets, their youth and energy will likely prove overwhelming. Against their peers (Abi, Kagayaki) their compact body shape and brutal oshi-zumo may seem tough to beat.

The challenge for Takakeisho will be to see him fare better against the Yokozuna and Ozeki corps. The challenge for Onosho will be to see him overwhelm the other rising stars of the Makuuchi. I consider the anticipated Onosho – Yutakayama bout sometime in week 2 as a touchstone of the battles of 2019. Likewise I think the Takakeisho – Hakuho rematch, and the Takakeisho – Kisenosato rematch will be a litmus test of the old guard against the young stars.

We wish both men good health and overall an injury-free Aki basho. We are especially hopeful that we will see Takakeisho make broader use of his “Wave Action Tsuppari” technique, and that Onosho will return his blazing red mawashi to active use.