Skip to content

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 5)

Day 5 of the Hatsu Basho brings us our first big twist—yokozuna Hakuho has joined the kyujo [absent due to injury] list. He jammed his left big toe in yesterday’s loss to M2 Yoshikaze and photos from the locker room afterward showed that it was already swelling and deeply bruised. This goes along with the nagging problem he’s had with his right big toe over the past year results in him pulling out of the tournament. Doctors say this will take at least two weeks to heal, so we for sure won’t see him back this basho.

That leaves only two yokozuna, but that seems unlikely to continue for long. Kisenosato is looking terrible with his 1–3 loss, including falling to his longtime rival M2 Kotoshogiku yesterday. I know that the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has threatened to force Kisenosato to retire if he doesn’t start competing for complete tournaments, but they FOR CERTAIN will do so if stays and turns in a final record that’s barely kachi-koshi [majority of wins].

Another upset yesterday was ozeki Takayasu suffering his first loss of the basho at the hands of M3 Tochinoshin. This, however, is at least understandable. Tochinoshin is fighting with healthy legs for the first time in a very great while, and when he’s in that condition he generally can be counted on to be competitive with ozeki-level opponents. This is, in fact, the first time ever that Tochinoshin has started a tournament 4–0, so he could be a dark horse competitor for the yusho [tournament championship].

Tochinoshin’s opponent today is the other ozeki, who also remains undefeated, Goeido. Goeido has looked very sharp this basho, similar to how he did in the 2016 Kyushu tournament when he shocked us all by going zensho [perfect record] and winning the yusho. If Tochinoshin can pull out another upset, though, he’ll at the very least make me look like I know what I’m talking about.

Yokozuna Kakuryu also remains undefeated, but it’s a testament to how skeptical I am that he can keep his focus for the whole basho that I only begin to mention him here. That’s actually pretty unfair of me. Kakuryu definitely has what it takes to win the yusho, and he tends to thrive when the other yokozuna all go kyujo and it’s up to him alone to uphold the rank’s honor.

M5 Okinoumi (1–3) vs. M5 Endo (3–1)—Two of the most popular rikishi facing off. It’s early in the tournament, but so far Endo seems to be on a roll while Okinoumi is struggling. But anything could happen today. (8:10)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (4–0) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (2–2)—Carrying over from yesterday, here’s another match-up between two of the up-and comers. Oh, and it’s also a head-to-head match of this tournament’s two sekiwake. Should be a very good bout. (11:15)
M1 Hokutofuji (1–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (3–1)—Takayasu lost to a strong opponent in M3 Tochinoshin yesterday, but he’s got to shake it off and get back in a winning way. He’s got another strong opponent in Hokutofuji today. (11:55)
Ozeki Goeido (4–0) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (4–0)—Tochinoshin is having his best start to a basho ever, and beat an ozeki yesterday. He’s got the other ozeki today, and Goeido is looking as stong as he has since his yusho-winning tournament a year ago. This could be the match of the day. (13:10)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (4–0) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (0–4)—Kakuryu is still undefeated and setting the pace for the yokozuna. He shouldn’t have any trouble with Chiyotairyu. (15:40)
M2 Yoshikaze (1–3) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (1–3)—Yoshikaze got a kinboshi [gold star award] for his win over Hakuho yesterday, and he’d surely love to get another from Kisenosato today. Given how wobbly the yokozuna has been so far this tournament, I’m not sure I wouldn’t actually give the edge to Yoshikaze. But Kisenosato KNOWS that he MUST get a win or his entire career is in jeopardy. (16:15)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 4)

Day 4 of the Hatsu Basho dawns with some interesting complications. First of all, TWO yokozuna lost yesterday. In the upset of the day, Hakuho gave up a kinboshi by losing [gold star award] to M1 Hokutofuji. Since Hakuho was (as he usually is) the presumptive favorite to win the yusho [tournament championship], this knocks the competition wide open. Seven rikishi remain undefeated at this early stage, including yokozuna Kakuryu and both ozeki, so this really is anyone’s tournament to win. And, of course, unless there’s some underlying problem, Hakuho is still extremely likely to stay right in the hunt all the way to the final weekend.

However, the more impactful yokozuna loss was suffered by Kisenosato, his second loss which increases the challenge he faces in trying to prove to the Kyokai [Sumo Association] that he’s worth keeping around. As I discussed yesterday, based on his mostly absent performance in 2017, the Kyokai has said that Kisenosato has to start performing like a yokozuna or they will “request” that he retire.

Both ozeki looked strong on Day 3, with Goeido making short work of former-ozeki M2 Kotoshogiku, and Takayasu rolling M3 Chiyotairyu nearly as quickly. Sekiwake Mitakeumi beat fellow young upstart komusubi Onosho, taking a 3–1 lead in their head-to-head rivalry. And in a battle of two titans, rikishi M3 Tochinoshin overpowered M5 Okinoumi, showing that the Georgian may actually be healthy again after more than a year of nagging knee pain.

M14 Abi (1–2) vs. M16 Ryuden (1–2)—Two rikishi who this basho are both ranked in the Makuuchi Division for the very first time, and both currently sit with 1–2 records. They’s also both rikishi that pundits have been saying good things about. Watch this match, and remember these names. (1:20)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (3–0) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (2–1)—After beating one komusubi (Onosho) yesterday, Mitakeumi takes on the other one today. Takakeisho is another of the “next gen” rikishi, so this is another match that could be part of a rivalry that will grow over the coming decade. (9:10)
Komusubi Onosho (0–3) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (2–1)—And two more up-and-comers going head-to-head. Onosho is considered by many to be the cream of the crop, despite his current winless status. He’s had the misfortune to face a yokozuna, an ozeki, and a sekiwake to start off the basho (that’s why komusubi is the toughest spot on the banzuke). (10:30)
M3 Tochinoshin (3–0) vs. ozeki Takayasu (3–0)—Tochinoshin has looked strong and healthy the first couple of days. Today that REALLY gets tested against ozeki Takayasu. Both have perfect records so far, we’ll see which one “blinks” today. (12:45)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (3–0) vs. M1 Ichinojo (1–2)—Kakuryu is the only yokozuna left with a perfect record, and he’s also the one who has historically been most unreliable. We’ll see if he can stay focused and beat the waddling wonder, Ichinojo. (13:55)
M2 Kotoshogiku (0–3) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (1–2)—This is the 67th time that these two have faced each other. For years they were both ozeki, but fate has cast them in different lights over the past eighteen months. Still, in this basho Kotoshogiku has looked strong-but-flawed, while Kisenosato has looked like he’s covering for an ongoing injury. (14:35)
Yokozuna Hakuho (2–1) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (0–3)—Hakuho got flat out beaten at the tachi-ai [initial charge] yesterday, which almost never happens. Today he can’t just make up for that with an extra burst of speed because he’s fighting the tricky Yoshikaze, who may decide to dodge rather than fight. Really, Hakuho just has to settle down and go back to doing his usual brand of sumo. (16:00)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 3)

It’s Day 3 of the Hatsu Basho, and things are looking good. Just about everyone in the top half of the banzuke has done strong sumo on the first couple of days . . . with the exception of yokozuna Kisenosato. He DID manage to win his Day 2 match against M1 Hokutofuji, but he still didn’t look dominant. He really needs to get himself focused if he doesn’t want to face some uncomfortable questions from the YDC [Yokozuna Deliberation Committee] (a group of influential fans that provides recommendations to the Kyokai [Sumo Association] about yokozuna promotions and retirements.

We already have our first withdrawl—M10 Terunofuji is kyujo [absent due to injury] as of Day 3 due to pain in his knee (at least one source reported it as complications of diabetes). He already began the tournament in trouble, having been dropped eleven spots from sekiwake to M10 due to his terrible performance in November. The hope was that even with his injured knees he could compete against opponents at this level, but that was soundly dashed by his performances on the first two days. If he doesn’t manage to return later in the tournament and at least make a solid run at kachi-koshi [majority of wins], he seems surely destined to be demoted down into the Juryo Division. If that happens, I think it will be at least a year until we see him back in the top division again.

Someone who is looking good after two days is M3 Tochinoshin, the big Georgian rikishi who has been struggling with chronic knee injuries for the past couple of years. When he’s healthy, he has been among the best in the sport, having been very seriously considered for an ozeki promotion. But his legs haven’t been strong enough to overcome top-level opponents for a while, and so he has bounced up and down the Makuuchi division, and even spent time down in Juryo. This basho, though, he looks stronger than he has since 2016. If that condition lasts, he could be a dark horse contender for the yusho. At the very least, he’ll provide some exciting matches against the top dogs.

Maezumo—When a rikishi is brand new to sumo, he only fights one match in his first honbasho [grand tournament]. This is called “maezumo” which loosely translates as “before sumo.” It’s your chance to have a debut before the you head into the meat grinder. At this Hatsu Basho, there are three rikishi of interest having their maezumo: Naya, the grandson of dai-yokozuna Taiho; Hoshoryu, the nephew of the first Mongolian yokozuna Asashoryu; and collegiate yokozuna Nakanishi. (6:35)
M5 Okinoumi (1–1) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (2–0)—Tochinoshin’s knees will get a good test today against another big man. Okinoumi’s problems have always been mental, not physical, and the has the power to go toe-to-toe with Tochinoshin. (9:05)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–0) vs. komusubi Onosho (0–2)—Two of the top up-and-comers going head-to-head. This is a good chance for Onosho to calm down after rushing through his first two matches against a yokozuna and ozeki (Hakuho and Goeido respectively). Meanwhile, this is Mitakeumi’s fourth straight basho as a sekiwake, but he has to start getting double-digit wins if he ever wants to be considered for a promotion to ozeki. (10:40)
M1 Ichinojo (0–2) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (1–1)—If Kisenosato is basically healthy and strong, he should have no problem with Ichinojo. He might have to be a little patient, as Hakuho was yesterday against the M1, but Ichinojo has no weapons other than his size and weight . . . and Kisenosato is his equal in both departments. However, if there is some basic weakness in Kisenosato—a lingering pain, or a weak limb—Ichinojo may be able to quite literally lean on it. (12:40)
Yokozuna Hakuho (2–0) vs. M1 Hokutofuji (0–2)—Hokutofuji has been very sharp the last few tournaments, and he looks that way so far this one, too. Unfortunately for him, his first two opponents were yokozuna (Kakuryu and Kisenosato) and he’s got to face the best of the grand champions today. He has what it takes to beat a yokozuna (having gotten at least one kinboshi [gold star award for a Makuuchi rikishi beating a yokozuna] in each of the past three tournaments, but the smart money is on Hakuho. (14:05)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 2)

It’s Day 2 of the Hatsu Basho, and the 2018 sumo “season” is off to a good start. The only real upset to speak of was yokozuna Kisenosato’s loss to komusubi Takakeisho, and that’s a good lead-in to discussing the current status of things in the sanyaku ranks (most notably, among the yokozuna).

As you may remember from November’s Kyushu Basho, yokozuna Harumafuji was caught up in a scandal. Word was that during the fall jungyo [exhibition tour] he’d gotten drunk one evening and hit another rikishi over the head with a beer bottle for not showing enough respect him or some other yokozuna. The truth turns out to be much more complex than that, but basically boils down to the fact that he DID, in fact, assault a lower-ranked rikishi, and that rikishi’s oyakata [stable master] reported it to the police. Many of the details are still in dispute, but the amount described in the previous sentence no one denies, including Harumafuji . . . and given that much, he had no honorable choice left other than retirement, effective immediately.

So rather than four yokozuna, we are now back down to three—but perhaps not for long. During the interim between tournaments, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] made public statements about the recent performances of both yokozuna Kakuryu and yokozuna Kisenosato, declaring them not to be acceptable. Kakuryu only competed in all fifteen days of ONE tournament in 2017, for the other five he either pulled out early or missed the tournament entirely due to injury. He only participated in 32 matches during the whole of the year. Kisenosato started 2017 strong with back-to-back yusho [tournament championships] and a promotion to yokozuna, but he injured himself badly in the final days of his second championship, and only competed in 24 matches for the rest of the year.

The Kyokai has said that they expect both Kakuryu and Kisenosato to get back into regular competition as soon as possible. And if, when they do, their performances are not up to yokozuna standards (a minimum of ten wins per tournament), the Kyokai will “ask” them to retire. Both yokozuna have decided to participate in the Hatsu Basho. And while Kakuryu won in convincing fashion on Day 1, Kisenosato lost his first match and looked unsteady on his feet.

If Kisenosato can’t find it in himself to reach double-digit wins, the fans may have to say sayonara to the first Japanese-born yokozuna they’ve seen in nearly fifteen years. And if Kisenosato can’t do the same, we may enter the March tournament with only ONE yokozuna atop the banzuke. So, what I’m saying is, we better enjoy them while we can!

M10 Terunofuji (0–1) vs. M11 Kotoyuki (1–0)—Based on his performance yesterday, we ought to enjoy Terunofuji while we can, too. Because he looks like he’s headed for a demotion into Juryo real soon. Of course, that was just one day. Today he faces Kotoyuki, who he should be able to handle . . . hopefully. (4:00)
M6 Ikioi (0–1) vs. M5 Endo (1–0)—Two popular rikishi, this match-up is always a fan favorite. On Day 1 Ikioi seemed to be in his rushing-rather-than-thinking mode, and Endo seemed to be in his if-I-wait-long-enough-my-opponent-will-make-a-mistake mode. If those trends continue today, that favors Endo. (7:15)
Ozeki Goeido (1–0) vs. komusubi Onosho (0–1)—Goeido is looking to put together a whole two weeks of solid, ozeki-level performance. Onosho looked a little nervous and rushed yesterday against Hakuho. Let’s see if they both can stay calm and show their best sumo. (10:50)
M2 Kotoshogiku (0–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (1–0)—A match I look forward to every basho—former ozeki vs. new ozeki. More and more, though, this is becoming Takayasu’s match to lose. (11:35)
Yokozuna Hakuho (1–0) vs. M1 Ichinojo (0–1)—Ichinojo is up at M1 again, which is usually when he proves that he belongs down around M5 or M6. But he’s certainly got the BODY to compete at this level if he can just get his mind right and his spirit high. Hakuho will test anyone’s spirit, and usually come out the winner. (13:00)
M1 Hokutofuji (0–1) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (0–1)—Kisenosato NEEDS to start winning and looking like a yokozuna again SOON, or he might not be around for many more tournaments.  (15:40)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 1)

Wow, two months have FLOWN by . . . and now it’s time for another honbasho [sumo grand tournament], the first one of the new year! As with every New Year’s Tournament, this one is being held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan (the national sumo arena in the Ryogoku Ward of Tokyo.

A lot has happened since the end of the Kyushu Basho. As you may recall, there were several brewing scandals back in November, and they bubbled and spread throughout the end of the year. I’ll get to those in a soon enough. First, though, I want to apologize ahead of time for the fact that my coverage is going to be spottier than usual this basho. I’ll certainly be able to get daily video links (provided the sources are available) . . . but I’m not going to be able to provide the same in-depth commentary that I have for recent tournaments. My schedule is just too busy. Still, I’ll be sure to provide notes and insights that will explain anything especially impactful. I just won’t be giving as many of my usual thoughts on the ebb and flow of the tournament. 

As if to prove my point, I’m just going to dive into today’s match coverage. Come back tomorrow if you want to know more about the scandals and the overall line-up of the banzuke [ranking sheet] for this tournament.

M10 Terunofuji vs. M9 Chiyomaru—After another TERRIBLE tournament in November, Terunofuji has been dropped all the way down from the rank of sekiwake to Maegashira 10. If his knees aren’t strong enough to handle the challenges at this level, he’s going to be down in Juryo for March. (6:00)
M6 Takarafuji vs. M5 Endo—Endo looked strong and healthy in November, now he’s up in the ranks where he as always struggled in the past. Will the new, beefier Endo fair better than his smaller self did? (8:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi vs. M2 Kotoshogiku—These two always seem to have interesting matches. They’re in kind of polar opposite points in their careers. Mitakeumi is a next generation rikishi trying to prove that he deserves to be our next ozeki, while Kotoshogiku is still trying to cling to his ozeki pride, despite having been demoted from that rank a year ago. (11:00)
M2 Yoshikaze vs. ozeki Takayasu—It’s to Takayasu’s advantage to face Yoshikaze early in the tournament. The “giant killer” hasn’t gotten a chance to warm up OR start to play mind games with his opponents, and the ozeki is still hale and healthy (too often, in recent tournaments, Takayasu has been clearly nursing some minor injury by the time these two have squared off). Should be straight-ahead good sumo. (11:55)
Komusubi Takakeisho vs. yokozuna Kisenosato—Kisenosato MUST have a good (and complete) tournament this basho or he may be forced to retire. That having been said, he didn’t look 100% in his pre-basho warm-up matches. We’ll have to wait and see what he brings to the actual dohyo . . . and for how many days he can keep on bringing it. (13:50)
Yokozuna Hakuho vs. komusubi Onosho—A terrific match to end the day with. Hakuho, the current and undisputed king of the ring against Onosho, who many consider to be the top of the current class of next-generation rikishi. (15:15)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho, Senshuraku [The Final Day] (Day 15)

Well, those fifteen days went really quickly! It’s senshuraku [the final day] of the 2017 Kyushu Basho! With his explosive win over M9 Endo and the losses of both M4 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi, yokozuna Hakuho has secured the yusho [tournament championship]—the 4oth of his illustrious career. He still has to fight ozeki Goeido today, but it’s really just to decide whether he’ll win with a 14–1 or a 13–2 record . . . and whether Goeido can reach double-digit victories.

Hakuho began the tournament having publicly predicted a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship], and he very nearly pulled it off. If not to for that mental error of thinking there was a matta [re-do] in his match against sekiwake Yoshikaze, he’d be fighting for that perfect record today, and probably getting it. The thing is, he seems so fit and strong, there seems to be no reason he won’t get a good chance at another zensho-yusho in 2018 (he already has thirteen of them, far and away the most by any rikishi ever).

Another accolade that Hakuho’s win yesterday secured for him was title of Most Wins in 2017. Despite the fact that he was kyujo [absent due to injury] for 25 matches during the year, he managed to rack up 55 wins out of the remaining 65 matches (with there still being the likelihood that he’ll increase that number to 56 today). His closest competitors this year were sekiwake Mitakeumi and M1 Takakeisho (two of the young phenoms who have risen through the ranks this year) who each currently have 53 wins, with one match remaining to fight. 

Speaking of Mitakeumi, he secured his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] yesterday. This means that he’ll remain a sekiwake to begin 2018. It also means that he was kachi-koshi in EVERY basho of 2017, something you don’t normally see from such a young rikishi, particularly given that he spent the whole year near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. (In fact, thanks to all the injury withdrawals, this year Mitakeumi is the ONLY rikishi in the Makuuchi Division to be kachi-koshi in all six of the hon-basho in 2017.) He was M1 in January, and in sanyaku for the rest of the year, which means that he fought pretty much exactly the same mix of opponents that the yokozuna and ozeki did, and he managed to win at least eight matches in EVERY tournament. I think it’s pretty clear that if he can remain injury-free, he’ll be the next rikishi to make a serious run at promotion to ozeki (particularly if the current scandals cause one or more of the yokozuna to retire).

Another eventual ozeki, komusubi Onosho, has struggled hard to overcome his difficult Week 1 schedule (typical for a komusubi) and get his fourth kachi-koshi in a row. He was 1–6 at the end of Week 1, and has 6–1 since nakabi [the middle day]. If he can win today against M5 Takarafuji, he’ll get his eighth win and really prove something about his character.

I’ll try to put together a basho and year-end wrap-up post sometime in the coming week. But until then, let’s have a look at today’s top matches. As I usually do on senshuraku, I’ll list all of the matches that involve rikishi whose records are 7–7 and will have their fates decided today. There are fewer of these than usual, and the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has decided in two cases to pit a pair of 7–7 rikishi against each other, just to ratchet up the tension.

So you know, the term “densha michi” literally means “going by train,” and it is used in sumo to describe a bout where one rikishi charges in hard at the tachi-ai and blows his opponent backwards (and usually off the dohyo). “Hit like a train” would be a good translation.

M6 Chiyoshoma (7–7) vs. M13 Aminishiki (7–7)—Two rikishi who are on the verge between kachi- and make-koshi. Aminishiki is who I’m rooting for. The 39-year-old rikishi has only just returned to the Makuuchi Division and it’s clear what a struggle he’ll have to stay here. Still, he spent the first half of the week showing us that sometimes it pays to bet on experience over youth and power. If Aminishiki wins, he’ll not only get his kachi-koshi, he’ll also be awarded a kanto-sho (fighting spirit special prize). (4:10)
M4 Chiyonokuni (5–9) vs. M13 Takekaze (7–7)—Takekaze is the second-oldest rikishi in the upper division at 38 years old. Like Aminishiki, he’s having a harder time in recent tournaments simply keeping up with the younger rikishi, and it’s good to see him here with a fighting chance to secure a majority of wins. I’m definitely rooting for him. (5:45)
M12 Okinoumi (11–3) vs. M1 Takakeisho (9–5)—After facing M1 Tamawashi yesterday, Okinoumi must face the other M1 today. He’s had a great tournament and regardless of what happens today will be awarded a kanto-sho (fighting spirit special prize) for his effort. Takakeisho continues to show that he’s one of the top young rikishi, and would dearly like to move his record into double-digit wins. Regardless of the outcome, though, he will be awarded a shukun-sho (outstanding performance special prize). (8:35)
M1 Tamawashi (10–4) vs. M4 Hokutofuji (11–3)—Tamawashi finishes off his tournament by facing both of the second-place rikishi—Okinoumi yesterday and Hokutofuji today. Particularly today, he wants to prove his superiority because he and Hokutofuji will be competing for the same promotions as the first banzuke of 2o18 is drawn up. For his part, Hokutofuji will be awarded a gino-sho (technique special prize) due to his incredible performance over the past fortnight. (9:05)
M5 Takarafuji (7–7) vs. komusubi Onosho (7–7)—Another match where two 7–7 rikishi are forced to go head-to-head. Onosho still has never had a make-koshi in the Makuuchi Division (this being only his fourth tournament in the upper division), and he’d for sure like to be promoted to sekiwake in January if possible. (9:40)
Ozeki Goeido (9–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (13–1)—The final match of the day has nothing in particular riding on it. Hakuho has secured his 40th yusho, and Goeido has managed to squeak into a kachi-koshi. But, pride being what it is among the top rankers, I expect that this will be a hard-fought match. I also expect that Hakuho will come out the winner without very much trouble. (13:35)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 14)

Well, we’ve made it to the final weekend of the 2017 Kyushu Basho. Day 14 dawns with yokozuna Hakuho still alone atop the leaderboard with a 12–1 record, and just two rikishi trailing him at 11–2 (M3 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi). Also we have our ninth (!) kyujo [absence due to injury] of the basho as M15 Myogiryu has withdrawn after getting his eighth loss and guaranteeing make-koshi [majority of losses] and a demotion to Juryo to start of 2018.

Hakuho had one major slip-up, but otherwise has seemed practically unbeatable. If he wins today, he’s guaranteed at least a tie for the championship and a shot at a Day 15 playoff. Presuming for the moment that this happens, each of the trailers must win today or be eliminated from contention. And if Hakuho wins and BOTH trailers lose, then the yokozuna will secure his 40th (!) yusho [tournament championship].

But beyond the yusho race, there are other interesting dramas going on up and down the banzuke. 

Komusubi Onosho is in just his fourth basho at the Makuuchi level. He went 10–5 in all three previous tournaments, but is currently 6–7. He needs to win both of his remaining matches to keep from suffering his first make-koshi in the division . . . which is not to say that he’s had a bad tournament. Komusubi is probably the most difficult ranking, schedule-wise. You spend Week 1 facing all of the yokozuna, ozeki, and sekiwake, hoping to pull out just one or two wins, and then must be near-perfect in Week 2 in order to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. It’s a tough slog, which is one reason why you don’t historically see many rikishi stake out a claim as a “great komususbi.” Onosho seems destined to be a great rikishi of the coming era. So long as he can avoid injury, he’ll surely be a mainstay of the top of the banzuke and is very likely to make it to ozeki eventually. (Hell, he very nearly qualified in his first three tournaments.)

Also at 6–7 and needing to win out to save his rank is sekiwake Yoshikaze. As is his wont, he has looked great when facing the ozeki and yokozuna, but has been slightly less impressive against the rest of the field. In the big picture, all rikishi in a given tournament who are ranked M2 and above face more or less the exact same mix of opponents, the only real difference is the order that they come (see my earlier comment about what makes komusubi such a tough rank). It’s interesting to me that some rikishi seem to be so much better at some ranks than others. Yoshikaze seems to thrive at M1, but to struggle at sekiwake. It’d be interesting to dive into the records and figure out what patterns are really at work there.

I haven’t said much about M3 Hokutofuji this basho, expect to keep mentioning his name as one of the yusho contenders. The fact is, though, that he’s been putting on quite a show. He’s only been in the Makuuchi Division for a little more than a year, but he’s racking up impressive wins and showing himself to be a future star (and may yet walk away with the Emperor’s Cup this basho). 

Other young rikishi who are doing well and showing that the “next generation” is here now include M1 Takakeisho and, of course, sekiwake Mitakeumi. In other words, no matter what the shake-out is of the various scandals being deliberated by the Kyokai [Sumo Association], the sport itself seems poised to be healthy and entertaining for years to come.

Now let’s look at some of the top matches from Saturday.

M10 Kaisei (8–5) vs. M10 Ikioi (7–6)—Two familiar names that haven’t really drawn that much attention this tournament. Both these rikishi have been doing well, but not spectacular. As you can see, Kaisei has his kachi-koshi and Ikioi needs only one more win to secure his. Putting them head-to-head results in a fun bout. (2:00)
M13 Aminishiki (7–6) vs. M8 Chiyomaru (5–8)—Aminishiki started off the basho hot, but has cooled off in Week 2. It seems to me that people remembered what the key was to beating him and have started employing it again, and he may have a very hard time notching that eighth win. Still, he’s got two more chances, beginning with today’s match against Chiyomaru. (3:20)
M1 Tamawashi (9–4) vs. M12 Okinoumi (11–2)—Is this more of a compliment to Okinoumi to bring the M1 down to fight him early on today’s match list, or an insult to Tamawashi for not making his opponent leap up to the later spot on the card that a M1 usually earns? It doesn’t really matter, the facts remain the same—Okinoumi must win to guarantee that he stays in the yusho hunt, and Tamawashi wants to hit double-digit wins to improve his likelihood of promotion to sanyaku in January. (5:55)
Komusubi Kotoshogiku (4–9) vs. M3 Shohozan (3–10)—Another one of those matches where nothing but pride is on the line, and that seems to have spurred the rikishi to new heights. A very fun bout! (8:25)
M3 Hokutofuji (11–2) vs. komusubi Onosho (6–7)—This is probably the marquee match of the day. Hokutofuji must win to guarantee he’s still involved in the yusho race, and Onosho must win if he hopes to pull out a kachi-koshi. They’re two of the brightest young stars in the sport, and their head-to-head rivalry is likely to be going on for the next decade or more. (9:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–6) vs. M5 Arawashi (8–5)—One can forgive Mitakeumi for looking a little overwhelmed when he faced Hakuho on Day 12, but he also seemed mentally elsewhere yesterday in his match against Ichinojo. He still needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi, and I’m sure he’d rather not leave that to the final day. Meanwhile, Arawashi has had himself a very good tournament and still has a shot at double-digit wins. (12:30)
M9 Endo (9–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (12–1)—It says something about how many of the top rikishi are absent that on Day 14 Hakuho is fighting someone ranked at M9. Sure, Endo is a very popular rikishi with a very good record, but in the final weekend a yokozuna is supposed to be fighting against other yokozuna, or at least ozeki. But there’s only one of those still in the competition, so the Scheduling Committee had to find SOMEONE for Hakuho to fight. That’s not to say this is necessarily a walk-over. Endo HAS beaten Hakuho once in the five times they’ve met. But Hakuho has to be the odds-on favorite by a longshot. (14:35)

SUMO: 2017 Kyusho Basho (Day 13)

It’s Day 13 of the Kyushu Basho, and it seems like there’s more news about what’s going on OFF the dohyo than about the matches themselves. That said, let’s make ourselves keep the tournament itself front and center, at least for the moment. 

Yokozuna Hakuho’s win over sekiwake Mitakeumi keeps him alone atop the leaderboard with an 11–1 record. The two rikishi immediately trailing him with matching 10–2 records are M3 Hokutofuji and M13 Okinoumi. Hakuho looked unaffected by his Day 11 loss, getting right back to business and dominating Mitakeumi in a match that lasted less than five seconds.

And just to add to the complication in scheduling the final weekend, ozeki Takayasu is going kyujo [absent due to injury] after reinjuring his right thigh in his loss to M3 Hokutofuji yesterday. Takayasu was kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] at the start of the tournament, but managed to get his eighth win on Day 10, so he’ll squeak by with a final record of 8–5–2 kachi-koshi [majority of wins].

Even worse (from my Grinchy position) is that Takayasu was scheduled to fight ozeki Goeido today . . . which means that Goeido will get his all-important eighth win via a walk-over freeby and secure his kachi-koshi despite having been fighting like a limp ragdoll for the past three days. Given his current performance, and the way he completely imploded at the end of September’s tournament, I really WANTED him to have to EARN his majority of wins. Such is not to be, though.

Outside the dohyo, there has been no further blowback other than the reprimand Hakuho received from the Sumo Association’s Judging Department. And given that Hakuho has publicly said that he was in the wrong and that his behavior was “inexcusable,” that’s probably the last we’ll hear of it. 

Two other yokozuna seem to be in less favorable light with the Kyokai [Sumo Association]. Rumors are swirling that after the completion of the Kyushu Basho, the sumo elders will announce that both Kisenosato and Kakuryu are on notice that if they do not return to the ring in January AND compete in all fifteen days of the tournament, they will be asked to retire. Of course, if they DO compete and rack up more than five losses apiece, they’ll likely ALSO be asked to retire. So basically, if the rumors are correct, they’re being told to “get healthy, or get out.”

In 2017 Kakuryu has participated in only thirty-five of the total ninety matches in this year’s basho, including missing the final two tournaments completely. Kisenosato won the first two tournaments of the year, but has participated in only twenty-seven of the total sixty matches after that and missed one entire tournament.

Meanwhile, in the Harumafuji scandal, things have gotten really strange. Bear in mind that the Sumo Association will not speak publicly about this investigation until after the end of the Kyushu Basho, so all of these details come from leaks and outside investigation. 

Apparently, the yokozuna did NOT hit Takanoiwa with a beer bottle—it was just his fists and a glass ashtray. This really doesn’t make things any better for him, but it makes things more complicated for Takanoiwa’s oyakata, Takanohana, who it is said has been caught hiding facts or telling outright  lies to the investigators on multiple occasions. After this was discovered, the head of Sumo Association asked Takanohana to cooperate fully with the Crisis Management Committee, to which the oyakata replied, “I respectfully decline,” and then walked out of the meeting. 

According to one source, after the fight Takanoiwa “was scared of his oyakata,” and tried to keep the incident secret but, “the tokoyama [sumo hair dresser] was having a hard time doing his hair, and his head and ear hurt badly.” Takanoiwa eventually went to the hospital, and Takanohana Oyakata made his first (now know to be inaccurate) report to the Kyokai.

Making things even stranger, ex-yokozuna Asashoryu seems to have stepped into the picture, who himself was forced to retire in 2010 after a scandal caused by him brawling at a Tokyo nightclub. Asashoryu is now a Special Envoy to the President of Mongolia, and based on his advice it is said that the president wants to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the situation (since all the rikishi involved are Mongolian). With sumo only in recent years regaining widespread popularity nationally, the last thing the Kyokai wants is to be caught in the middle of an international incident. 

But that’s all based on rumors. 

Meanwhile, here are the facts (or at least my opinions) about the best of today’s matches.

M14 Kotoyuki (7–5) vs. M7 Shodai (6–6)—Kotoyuki is still trying to get his kachi-koshi, but he’s run into the problem that people know HOW to beat him. The question each day is whether or not that opponent can pull it off. (3:40)
M13 Okinoumi (10–2) vs. M6 Tochnoshin (7–5)—I love matches like this. Two big rikishi who like to do power sumo, each with something on the line. Tochinoshin is still looking for his kachi-koshi, and Okinoumi is trying to stay in the yusho race. (5:30)
M3 Shohozan (3–9) vs. komusubi Onosho (5–7)—Onosho continues to stave off make-koshi. Today, he’s going against street-fighting Shohozan whom he has never before beaten. (9:30)
Komusubi Kotoshogiku (3–9) vs. M4 Chiyomokuni (4–8)—This is another one of those matches where neither rikishi has anything on the line other than pride, and they prove how much that means in the sumo world. They’re both having pretty rotten tournaments, but they’ve still got some really good sumo in them. (10:35)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–5) vs. M4 Ichinojo (8–4)—Mitakeumi looked a little stupefied in his match against Hakuho yesterday. He still needs one more win to get kachi-koshi. On the other hand, Ichinojo put more effort into yesterday’s win over Goeido than he has all his previous matches combined, and he secured his kachi-koshi. I don’t know what that means exactly, but it should lead to a fun bout. (12:00)
M3 Hokutofuji (10–2) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (6–6)—Hokutofuji is one win behind the leader and must keep winning to stay that way (and hope that Hakuho slips up a second time). Meanwhile, giant-killer Yoshikaze still needs two more wins to get his kachi-koshi. (13:00)
M5 Takarafuji (7–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (11–1)—Hakuho needs to keep winning to stay in the lead for the yusho, Takarafuji needs one more win for his kachi-koshi . . . but none of that prepares you for what happens in this bout. It’s flat out one of the coolest matches I’ve ever seen. (14:10)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 12)

It’s Day 12 of the Kyushu Basho, and Thanksgiving here in the U.S. One of the things I’m thankful for today is that Hakuho made such a bizarre error yesterday and as a result the yusho [tournament championship] race is back to being at least nominally competitive!

If you haven’t watched yesterday’s final match, you probably want to do so before reading further. Start at 13:25 on yesterday’s video.

Now, the thing you DIDN’T see on that video was how long Hakuho stood arguing with the shimpan [ring judges], and that even after the decision was made and Yoshikaze left the ring, Hakuho continued to stand there for another half-minute or so in protest. Also, because he was protesting, Hakuho never actually bowed to Yoshikaze, which is extremely unsportsmanlike.

All I can say is . . . What the heck was Hakuho thinking?!? He knows damn well that only the gyoji [referee] or a shimpan can call a matta [re-do]. The only excuse I can think of is that Hakuho thought he heard someone call matta, otherwise there’s no reason to stop once the fight begins—you finish the fight and THEN argue for the re-do. As it was, he stood up in a completely vulnerable position and had absolutely NO chance to defend himself (which I suppose is part of his argument, but not a winning part). Slow motion replays showed that it clearly was NOT a matta, Yoshikaze simply employed a slight delay in his tachi-ai [initial charge] in hopes to get a better inside grip. Hakuho, I think, was a victim of his own expertise. He KNEW that Yoshikaze was faster than that and presumed the reason the tachi-ai was slow was that Hakuho himself had jumped the gun. But it’s clear on the video that they were in sync and it was a clean tachi-ai.

I guess you still CAN fool Hakuho some of the time!

[UPDATE: This morning, Hakuho and his oyakata [stable master] were called in before the Judging Department and reprimanded. Afterward, Hakuho talked to the press saying, “I did what I did because I don’t think the fans want to see that kind of sumo. I just wanted the shimpan [ring judges] to view the replay.” He later added that after seeing the replay himself he realized, “it was my mistake, so my behavior really is inexcusable.”]

Anyway, there’s no going back in sumo once a decision has been made. Hakuho has his first loss of the tournament, and now M3 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi are only one win behind him in the yusho race! 

In other matches, I’m beginning to worry that Goeido might be about to implode the way he did in September . . . only this time he isn’t leading the tournament. In fact, he still hasn’t even gotten his kachi-koshi [majority of win]. He needs to pull himself together and get that eighth win. Luckily, he faces M4 Ichinojo today, and if anyone’s head is further out of the game than the ozeki’s, it’s Ichinojo.

The other ozeki, Takayasu, got his kachi-koshi yesterday by beating the self-same Ichinojo, and doing so quite handily. He’s now erased his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status and is secure that he’ll begin 2018 as an ozeki in good standing. His big test now is to try to reach double-digit wins (like an ozeki should). If he does, then all of his Week 1 stumbling will be forgotten and the pundits will again start talking about how he can improve well enough to win a yusho and then make a bid for a yokozuna promotion. 

Today’s Top Thanksgiving Matches include:

M12 Okinoumi (9–2) vs. M13 Aminishiki (7–4)—Okinoumi remains one win behind the leader, while Aminishiki remains one win shy of his kachi-koshi. I think that Aminishiki benefitted in Week 1 from everyone having forgotten how clever he is, and suffered in Week 2 from everyone remembering that he’s 39 years old and can be muscled around. (0:10)
M9 Endo (8–3) vs. M15 Miyogiryu (6–5)—Two popular rikishi who are about the same size, use similar tactics, and both are trying to re-establish their reputations. A high-speed, high-powered match worth waiting for. (2:15)
M2 Chiyotairyu (4–7) vs. komusubi Onosho (4–7)—Two rikishi, both on the verge of make-koshi [majority of losses] makes for a fight tinged with desperation. That one of them is Onosho, who until now has never failed to get not only kachi-koshi but double-digit wins, only adds to the mix. (9:35)
M4 Chiyonokuni (3–8) vs sekiwake Yoshikaze (6–5)—Yoshikaze got a surprise (even to him) win over Hakuho yesterday, but he still needs two more wins to get his kachi-koshi. Chiyonokuni is fighting for pride, and for a chance to beat the guy who just beat Hakuho. (10:05)
Ozeki Goeido (7–4) vs. M4 Ichinojo (7–4)—Two rikishi on the edge of kachi-koshi. Ichinojo is on a three-match losing streak, Goeido is on a two-match losing streak, but one of them will change that today. Really, it should be Goeido all the way. Ichinojo hasn’t done anything but push and lean all tournament. But I’m afraid that Goeido is too deep in his own head and may find a way to lose no matter what. I pick on these two a lot because they both have great potential that they habitually squander. I’d be happier if they both just fought well all the time. (11:40)
M3 Hokutofuji (9–2) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–3)—This should be one of the best matches of the day—the still new ozeki against the young challenger with his eye on sanyaku. They are another pair whose size and sumo styles sync up surprisingly well.  (13:55)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–1)—So, Hakuho had an uncharacteristic lapse yesterday and blew his chance at a zensho-yusho [perfect record tournament championship]. When he does that, he almost always comes back with redoubled focus the next day, which would be bad for Mitakeumi (who is still harboring a sprained big toe). On the other hand, Mitakeumi is amazing for his ability to learn from losses and apply those lessons to his next matches. And he still needs one more win for his kachi-koshi. Still, my bet is a very quick win for the yokozuna. (14:55)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Kyushu Basho and yokozuna Hakuho maintains a two-win lead over his nearest competition. Hakuho is 10–0, while the number of 8–2 rikishi has dropped to two—M3 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi.

The tournament isn’t quite at the point where Hakuho’s victory is assured, but we have arrived at the juncture where it will take some surprising turns of fate to make this a competitive race for the yusho [tournament championship]. The biggest active question is whether or not Hakuho is going to be able to pull off another zensho-yusho [perfect record championship]. If he does, that will mean that in 2017 he will have won three of the six honbasho [grand tournaments], and that his record in those winning efforts would be a collective 44 wins out of 45 matches.

Interestingly, despite being mostly absent for one of the 2017 tournaments, and completely absent from another one, Hakuho STILL is in the running to most wins for the year. He started the Kyushu Basho with 42 wins, trailing only four rikishi—Harumafuji (47), Mitakeumi (45), Takayasu (44), and Takakeisho (43)—and he has already passed them all to take the lead. The current totals (as of the end of Day 10) are: Hakuho (52), Takayasu & Mitakeumi (51), Takakeisho (50) . . . just another form of competition for you to keep track of as we wind toward the end of the 2017 sumo campaign.

But in the main competition, here are the best bouts from Day 11.

M12 Okinoumi (8–2) vs. M12 Kagayaki (6–4)—This should be a good match. Two big rikishi who struggled near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] but have regained their confidence here in the lower half of the Division. Okinoumi has gotten his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and so will get promoted next basho, and is one of the second-place competitors hoping that Hakuho will somehow slip up . . . twice. Kagayaki, hasn’t gotten his kachi-koshi yet, but he seems well positioned to do so if he keeps performing well. Only one of them, though, will notch their next win today. (0:35)
M9 Endo (7–3) vs. M15 Nishikigi (5–5)—Endo seems to have found the remedy for whatever has been ailing him through most of 2017. He’s looked strong and quick, and made some clever moves in the ring. One more win and he’ll get his kachi-koshi and jump back into the upper section of the Maegashira ranks to begin 2018. On the other hand, Nishikigi is still struggling, even at the bottom of the banzuke. He must win three of his final five matches in order to avoid demotion into Juryo to start the new year. (2:45)
M4 Ichinojo (7–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–3)—Two rikishi on the verge of kachi-koshi. However, Ichinojo will have to put in more of an effort than he did yesterday against Hakuho. Just being big isn’t near enough to win against the top-rankers. I haven’t mentioned it much, but the fact of the matter is that Takayasu is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this basho. The reason I haven’t been talking about it is that he’s been putting in a pretty solid ozeki performance and his kachi-koshi has never really seemed in doubt. Of course, he hasn’t been nearly as impressive as he was in the tournaments leading up to his promotion. If he wants to look like a REAL champion, then he’ll have to handle Ichinojo as matter-of-factly as Hakuho did yesterday. If he does, he’ll erase his kadoban status AND take the first real step on his quest for his final promotion. (11:00)
Ozeki Goeido (7–3) vs. M3 Hokutofuji (8–2)—Goeido’s loss to Mitakeumi yesterday showed once again is feet of clay. He’d better snap up his kachi-koshi quickly or he’ll be heading into his weekend showdowns with Takayasu and Hakuho still needing an eighth win. On the other hand, Hokutofuji has had a great tournament, already securing his majority of wins AND being the other rikishi most-directly trailing Hakuho. (11:40)
Sekiwake Yoshikaze (5–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–0)—Yoshikaze always brings his A-Game when he faces Hakuho, not that it generally does him much good. He’s only ever beaten the yokozuna once in sixteen tries, but he never looks intimidated, he comes out swinging and driving forward for all he’s worth. Still, the only time Hakuho wasn’t able to handle that handily was a day before he went kyujo due to leg injury. (13:25)