Day 1 and Day 2 Torikumi Release and Drafting
The matches for the first two days of the Aki basho have been released. While the first two days are merely just two days of the basho, the opening torikumi says alot. Especially when it comes to drafting for Fantasy Basho.
Four rikishi will be absent from the Makuuchi ranks from Day One. Not only is that a big number for Day One kyujo, but it includes the biggest names. Hakuho was known to be recovering from knee surgeries (yes, plural) a few weeks ago, after his departure from July's tournament. Kakuryu, meanwhile, had reports of being unable to fully train since pulling out of the July basho. The opening day Torikumi was the first hard confirmation the entire Aki basho would have no Yokozuna participating in matches.
The other two kyujo rikishi contain one already known absence and one surprise. Abi abruptly pulled out of the July basho, then was revealed to have violated sumo's COVID protocols. He actually offered his resignation to the Sumo Association, but they countered with a three tournament suspension. Abi will compete again in March 2021 from a much lower division. On the other hand, Ishiura being absent is a bit of a shocker, with no explanation yet as to why he's out.. He's at Meagashira 13, which means a full tournament out sends him deep into Juryo.
These will have an effect on anyone drafting for Fantasy Basho. Obviously, absent rikishi are unavailable for selection. With both Yokozuna gone, there are additional ripple effects. The Ozeki are now effectively the Yokozuna for this tournament. Asanoyama and Takakeisho are the highest ranked men competing, will fight in the last matches of each day, and carry the expectation of fighting each other on Day 15 with the title on the line. They just don't get the separate ring entrance and other perks of Yokozuna-dom.
This also, theoretically, makes the slate somewhat easier for the rest of the Sanyaku and the joi-jin. Yet you can also turn around and say that the Maegashira 5 (Kiribayama and Takarafuji) are almost certainly seeing at least one Ozeki during this basho. That wasn't as true before.
The other thing that can happen with the opening Torikumi is overanalyzing the first two day's matches. Takakeisho and Terunofuji will be squaring off on Day 1. If you think Takakeisho will struggle with the huge Mongolian after Terunofuji's yusho, you might hesitate picking the Ozeki. Or you might think Terunofuji will get an immediate wake up call by facing a younger Ozeki, causing some shyness about the Isegahama man. The best view is always to remember it's just one of fifteen days.
That's not to say there aren't fun matches that can tell us a lot from the start. Tochinoshin against Kiribayama sure seems to show who will be more up for this basho. Enho and Wakatakakage is guaranteed to be fun. And the Makuuchi bouts for all of Aki kick off with debutante Hoshoryu facing Ichinojo on his return to the top division. But that will all take place after drafts happen.
The schedule gets made every day for a reason. Things are constantly changing, and these four sekitori are likely not the only four wrestlers who will go kyujo. That can impact any basho, and any absence will make an individual rikishi's schedule different enough. Rikishi also adjust to the new strategies and approaches of any other rikishi. The 15 days are dynamic.
One more dynamic that sumo is still facing is the COVID-19 Pandemic. Specifically, every single member of Tamanoi stable will not be participating at Aki after 19 wrestlers have tested positive for the virus. The heya has 29 rikishi in total. Those who tested positive were all hospitalized, at least as a precaution. No other heya has had a positive test, which shows that maybe the policy of not having stables interact was a good one. Or maybe a further spread is just a matter of time. The two highest ranked Tamanoi wrestlers at the moment are in Juryo, former Makuuchi man Azumaryu and and Fujiazuma. This basho was going to be Fujiazuma's debut in Juryo.
The Aki basho is beginning with more news than usual. Still, sumo is almost here, and the news from matches will start coming over the weekend. It can't come soon enough.