Kyushu 2019 Day Fifteen Recap
Regarding its Yusho race, Kyushu 2019 ended up slightly underwhelming. Hakuho won with 14 wins, having clinched the title on Day Fourteen and eventually winning three more matches than any other rikishi. It was also a vintage Hakuho performance, with very few matches even looking like they'd be upsets over the last few days. He lost to Daieisho on Day Two and never looked back.
In every other respect, the Kyushu basho was absolutely wild. The story of the basho from the start was that injuries plagued rikishi all over the Banzuke. Ichinojo didn't even start the tournament. Kakuryu pulled out on Day One. In Sanyaku, Goeido, Takayasu, and Tochinoshin, who have all had injury troubles recently, didn't make it more than a week. Wakatakakage, all the way at the bottom of Makuuchi, had an ankle injury after starting with 4 straight wins. The worst injury was to Tomokaze on Day Two. He fell off the dohyo in visible knee pain, then he was taken out in a wheelchair.
Those injuries had plenty of ongoing impact over the tournament. The later days saw matchups with huge differences in rank, despite the fact the Banzuke unusually featured four Komusubi. Hakuho still faced both Maegashira 5, on Days 10 and 11. Lower-level rikishi didn't only face other lower-level rikishi, which usually is the way some wrestlers survive.
The injuries and their after-effects made the basho fairly even all around. 26 rikishi had records between 6-9 and 9-6, even though only 35 made it to the end of the basho. While Hakuho ran away with it, everyone else was beating each other up. Some of that is also because there were injuries that rikishi fought through. Mitakeumi had a bandage over his right eye for the majority of the basho. Takakeisho came up with a black eye midway through.
There was another sort of upward pressure among the lower-ranked rikishi. Nishikigi, Daishoho, and Daishomaru all had miserable tournaments from the very bottom of the banzuke. That allowed plenty of the wrestlers right above them to get a kachi-koshi by beating up on those three. Takanosho and Kagayaki both had 10 win performances in part by going 3-0 over that grouping.
The real standouts turned out to be Asanoyama and Shodai. Asanoyama was at his highest rank ever as a new Komusubi, while Shodai was at his lowest rank in 23 basho. Asanoyama looked like he was about to be an Ozeki for much of the Kyushu basho. Shodai looked like he was severely underranked. They too came back towards each other, as an 11-3 Asanoyama faced a 10-4 Shodai on Senshuraku. Weirdly, Shodai won with ease, giving them a tie for the jun-yusho.
Likely, the lessons from the Kyushu basho won't last. There won't be so many injuries next time out, plus the nature of promotion and relegation in sumo means wrestlers tend to find their level. Hakuho might still dominate, and Asanoyama could be on an Ozeki run (although it will now require 12 wins and a few signature victories during Hatsu.) The changing of the guard has not yet touched Hakuho, but it could be coming for the other top ranks.