- Fantasy Basho
Hatsu 2020 Day Ten Recap
With a full two-thirds of the basho complete, it's time to take stock of the performances as we head into the closing stretch for Hatsu 2020.
These two very surprising yusho leaders are still suprisingly leading the race for the Emperor's Cup. Shodai has been a very capable rikishi prone to mistakes and lapses in concentration. He was most notable for having an awful tachiai, yet being able to recover often enough and being skillful enough to compete. Beginning in November, he seemed to improve his tachiai, either by having the proactive plan of essentially catching a charging opponent or by using a kachi-age, hitting the opponent with his forearm at the start. This has allowed him to take the initiative more frequently and allowing his ability to come through. More importantly for the yusho race, he's already faced both Ozeki and both Sekiwake.
If Shodai is a shock sitting here, that is nothing compared to what Tokushoryu has done. Tokushoryu is a 33 year old just promoted from Juryo, and he only went 8-7 there. Since four other promotees had indentical 11-4 records in Juryo for Kyushu and another had 10 wins, he occupies the last spot on the Banzuke for Makuuchi. Despite that, he's been winning again and again, largely by using his massive belly to keep other rikishi at a distance. Last time he was in Makuuchi last May, he went 4-11. That was the same record in his previous visit to the top division, in September 2017. There was absolutely no reason to expect Tokushoryu to do this, and it seems unlikely he's really got five more great performances in him for this basho. But he's done it so far.
This trio comprises the hunt group, ready to step up if the leaders fall. Takakeisho, being the highest rank rikishi remaining and the only previous champion, is most likely to keep up his performance. Notably, he hasn't been in full devastating tsuppari mode for most of Hatsu, but has won. This has meant he is readjusting his attack and even occasionally going for a mawashi. Even if he doesn't win a yusho, Takakeisho is proving some Ozeki bonafides by winning a large number of matches this way.
Yutakayama and Kagayaki might have a better shot than Takakeisho at winning a yusho, though. Neither man has faced Shodai or Tokushoryu, matches we could easily see, but have faced each other. This means they are the rikishi likely to have matches that most impact the yusho race. They are also both rikishi entering their peak years and maturing into their best sumo. Yutakayama is more of a pusher-thruster, while Kagayaki prefers a mawashi battle. That being said, neither man is too extreme and where they've really shown is by keeping their feet steady and moving forward with attacks. They're announcing themselves as serious players over the next few years.
This is odd grouping two off the yusho race in a lot of ways. Hokutofuji has been very good over the last year and change but never really in a yusho race-ozeki run kind of way. This is getting closer to it, and as a Maegashira 2, he actually has the easier stretch of schedule (by rank) over the last five days. While he's still focused on landing a nodowa early to his opponent's throat, Hokutofuji has showed an ability to stick in when his plan goes awry.
Terutsuyoshi and Tochiozan will be facing a more difficult slate, because their winning records are likely to get them matched up against other wrestlers with strong records. The two have gotten here slightly differently. Terutsuyoshi just turned 25 and is perfecting his approach of launching himself into the other guy's chest. Tochiozan has basically embodied the solid veteran who never beats himself.
This pack has some very different wrestlers who presumably feel a little different about their place. Asanoyama and Endo came out guns blazing for this basho, with Endo even downing both Yokozuna. The middle third of the basho was not as strong. Asanoyama was told he is not on an Ozeki run after November, which was seen as a warning he needed to show he could consistently put in 12 win performances with signature wins. Endo has wanted to prove he can be a consistent Sanyaku wrestler. Neither man is in position to do that.
Otherwise, this group has to be thrilled at being 2 wins above average. Mitakeumi is finding his sea legs in a possible return to Sanyaku, while Okinoumi, Ryuden, and Sadanoumi are proving they are always tough outs. Kaisei and Kiribayama are holding onto their Makuuchi slots. Kiribayama in particular should be looking to keep his space in the top division and build towards better success in the future.
Is 5-5 after 10 days a good thing? It might not be what anyone here was hoping for coming into Hatsu, but keeping a rank is nice for any of them. Abi probably will remain Komusubi once again. Enho is establishing himself in mid-Maegashira. Tochinoshin should be happy he can hang on the dohyo at all with his injury history. Takanosho is continuing a steady rise up the Banzuke. For Takarafuji, Shohozan, and Azumaryu, a shot at an 8-7 record means they can keep on where they are for another basho.
Just underneath the .500 mark keeps these wrestlers in kachi-koshi contention, but it's touch and go. All of these wrestlers have been strikingly uneven. For Takayasu, that means he has lost his Ozeki rank for good and is now fighting not to slide way done the Banzuke. Onosho, Aoiyama, Ishiura, and Chiyomaru have all had absolutely embarassing moments mixed with times where they seem to elevate their sumo to respectable. Kotoshogiku and Ikioi are veterans with kabu waiting when they want to retire, but hoping to keep a Maegashira rank a little longer before they need to use those elder names.
Goeido is the worrying part of this group. He could still win out and remain an Ozeki for March, but his performance suggests that's nearly impossible. His demotion would mean sumo will have just one Ozeki in March. For everyone else, the need to win out and get a kachi-koshi is less dire, but approaching 7-8 would mean less of a demotion. Shimanoumi really needs to get a few more wins to make sure he won't tumble into Juryo.
Just a bad tournament in so many ways for Kotoeko. He really hasn't been in most matches, although no injury has actually been announced. Mostly he's just been bad.
As frustrating as it is, Yokozuna have earned the right to withdraw from a tournament when they are less than 100%. Hakuho and Kakuryu are both likely to be back in March and could perform well. (Or it's the beginning of the end and we're about to see a crisis in sumo. Either way.)
For Meisei, this was a basho where he was trying to gut out a bad arm injury. He just couldn't. He would like to think that mounting the dohyo enough and garnering at least one win will prevent a slide to juryo. That's up to the Sumo Association, who have an uneven precedent here.
Weirdly, Kotoyuki will be best served by having a large number of lower ranked rikishi fail to get records that would prevent Juryo demotion. That might make his demotion for missing a whole basho through injury less drastic.