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SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 1

It’s a new year, sumo fans, and time for the first honbasho [Grand Tournament] of 2019—the Hatsu Basho, taking place in Tokyo for the next fifteen days.

Interestingly enough, we begin the tournament with ALL the rikishi active and vying for the Emperor’s Cup. That’s right, even with all the bruises, aches, and lingering conditions that we know are out there among the competitors, NONE of them have chosen to be kyujo [absent due to injury] here on Day 1.

Of course, given the way 2018 went in the sumo world, we’re still DOWN a rikishi. Because in the final months of the year Takanoiwa—the guy who was knocked out of competition for half-a-year because former yokozuna Harumafuji hit him about the head with a TV remote—has himself resigned from sumo in the midst of scandal. It turns out that he was just as abusive to his underlings as Harumafuji was to him, sending one of his attendants to the hospital with bruises and wounds to the head.

When paired with former oyakata Takanohana’s departure from the sport, and the closure of the former Takanohana Beya, that well and truly closes the book on that unfortunate series of incidents. But it DOES mean that the Hatsu Basho will begin by having visitors from the Juryo Division brought up each day to round out the top division matches.

Despite the fact that he had zero wins in November’s Kyushu Basho, yokozuna Kisenosato is at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] because the two other yokozuna didn’t compete at all. All three are raring to go, and express great confidence in themselves going into the competition. Likewise, all three ozeki seem to be in pretty good shape, and hoping to begin the new year stronger than they finished the old one.

We have a significant change at the Sekiwake level. After being locked up for most of 2018 by Mitakeumi and Ichinojo, this time we have two newcomers at sumo’s third-highest rank—Takakeisho (who took the yusho [tournament championship] in Kyushu, and Tamawashi. Mitakeumi has slipped back down to komusubi (with Myogiryu as his counterpart) while Ichinojo’s abysmal performance caused him to drop another rank further to M1 (paired with Tochiozan).

It should be an exciting tournament, so let’s dive right into it. Here are some of the most exciting matches from Day 1.

M14 Yutakayama vs. M13 Kotoyuki—After several tournaments down in Juryo, popular rikishi Kotoyuki returns to the top division. Let’s hope he’s learned some new tricks while he was away. (1:50)
M3 Shohozan vs. sekiwake Tamawashi—Newly promoted sekiwake Tamawashi begins his basho facing scrappy streetfighter Shohozan. (7:50)
Sekiwake Takakeisho vs. M3 Shodai—Last tournament’s winner and newly minted sekiwake Takakeisho faces another tough young rikishi in Shodai. Takakeisho has an outside chance at an ozeki promotion if he does particularly well this tournament. (8:35)
All Three Ozeki Matches—I don’t want to make this just a list of all the final matches of the day, but for the life of me I don’t know WHICH of the ozeki matches is the one to feature, so I’m just going to recommend them all. (9:20)
Yokozuna Kisenosato vs. komusubi Mitakeumi—Kisenosato is trying to bounce back after giving the worst yokozuna performance in nearly a century. If he doesn’t look strong this tournament, it may mark the end of his career. On the other hand, Mitakeumi is trying to bounce back from squandering two solid chances for ozeki promotion and losing his sekiwake rank for the first time since 2017. A win over a yokozuna would be a good way to announce his return. (14:05)

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