The Kyushu banzuke drops in five days. I’m going to try and get all my report cards out before then so we can focus on what lies ahead at the next basho.
For this post I’m finishing off the maegashira ranks. There were a lot of losing records in the upper half of the maegashira in September, but there were some breakout performances among this group, too.
Let’s break it all down.
Sumo Report Card: Aki Basho
Rank: Maegeshira 8 west
This was a second disappointing basho for Hiradoumi in a row. Earlier this year he was able to blow through the majority of his competition with his aggression and speed. But lately that combo hasn’t done too much for him. The reason he has faltered is that, in my opinion, he doesn’t have much of a feel for where he is in the ring. He likes to lock on (usually after a big ol’ clash of heads off the tachiai) and then spread his feet and wide and try and frog hop opponents out of the ring.
He tries this technique even when he’s in the middle of the ring, when it’s very unlikely that he will have the power, and stamina, to bounce someone all the way out from there.
Check him out versus Onosho, below.
He hits his target and starts his frog hopping. He feels Onosho’s strength, and realizes that he can’t push him out, so he tries to side-step, but his positional awareness is way off. A move like this against the boundary may have scored a win, but in the middle of the dohyo Onosho has plenty of space to regroup and set up a hatakikomi.
Rank: Maegeshira 8 east
I really enjoy watching Kotoeko. I love how he can just gut it out and find ways to win, despite having such a size disadvantage in 95% of his bouts. He’s had a pretty good year with being able to find just enough wins to get by.
After a 7-8 in January, he had a three tournament 8-7 streak. It’s a shame to see that get snapped, but also a bit of a reality check for the 31-year-old who is one of the most tenured guys in the division. 31 isn’t very old, but given how much effort he has to put into each and every bout to just stand a chance, he’s got a lot of miles on him.
He’s still strong enough to go chest-to-chest with bigger men and force them out, but this tournament he struggled against a slightly better level of competition than he had gotten used to.
His best win was a hikiotoshi on Onosho on Day 7. That’s the only opponent with a winning record he managed to beat all basho. His other wins were against mighty strugglers Chiyoshoma, Daishoho, Kagayaki, Nishikifuji and Hiradoumi.
Anyone who was on their game in this tournament was able to get Kotoeko out fairly easily, including Kinbozan, Midorifuji and Takayasu. More concerning are the losses he took to other wrestlers who weren’t in top form, like his defeats at the hands of Oho, Ryuden and Aoiyama.
Rank: Maegeshira 7 west
A tournament to forget for Oho, who went 6-9 in July after being promoted to his career best M6. He was moved back down to M7 for the aki basho and again struggled against stronger opposition.
Oho is only 23 and I still think he has a lot of potential. He has a great physical profile, one that combines size, but not too much size. However, everything he does feels a little soft. I rarely come away from one of his bouts thinking, “I’d hate to go in there against him.”
Below is one of his best performances of the tournament, a win against Tamawashi. Here he does everything right in withstanding Tamawashi’s famous hirate attacks. But his own prods feel a little too reserved to be effective. He ends up with a nice katasukashi win, but I wonder if that was at the expense of being more aggressive with his shoving attacks.
Rank: Maegeshira 7 east
Takayasu got off to a hot start this basho (again). In March he won six straight before ending with a 10-5 record. In July he won his first five bouts, but then slumped to 7-8. This time around he went 8-1 to start the tournament before being pegged back to 10-5 in the later half of the basho.
In the past tournaments it felt like Takayasu hit a wall after around Day 6, due to his health. He’s struggled with injuries this year, taking nine absences in both the January and May tournaments. However, in September he seemed to stay healthy for the entire tournament, despite a nasty bump he took in his Day 10 loss to Atamifuji.
When he’s healthy, he’s a joy to watch. His shoving game feels more tactical than most. He isn’t just trying to hit hard with his pushes, he’s trying to lead his opponent into weak positions, either along the boundary or as a set-up for a slap down.
Check out how he is able to brush Tobizaru around the ring before finding the angle for the okuridashi. Note his quick feet in this clip, too.
Other than a surprising loss to Onosho on Day 3, all of his Ls came against very good opponents. Atamifuji, who finished runner-up, was full of confidence when he met Takayasu and pushed him down with a well-timed shove. The other losses came to Daieisho, Hokutofuji and Kirishima.
Takayasu had a sniff at winning this tournament and I’m sure he’s disappointed to have faded towards the end. But I think he can be proud of the progress here as he continues to rediscover his rhythm. Hopefully he’s feeling good heading into Kyushu.
Rank: M6 west
It’s been a very up and down year for Ryuden. In July he got his best result of the year, 10-5 (albeit from M15), but at the aki basho he looked very slow and predictable.
He also took a lot of damage in head on head collisions with Myorigryu and Hiradoumi. This happened because he stoops over so low to initiate contact. I don’t think he needs to do that. I’d rather see him let someone hit him in the chest and then wrap up their belt and/or arms.
That being said, Ryuden seemed to lack some upper body strength this tournament. This manifested in him, more often than not, losing out in the hand and arm fighting stage. See how he’s unable to move Ura’s arms here before being dropped. A similar thing happened in his bout with Midorifuji.
Rank: Maegeshira 6 east
I’m going to sound like a bit of a hypocrite here. I want rikishi to show aggression and take charge in their bouts. But with Onosho, I feel like his aggression bleeds over into bad sportsmanship sometimes. And I find that a little hard to root for.
His false starts feel a little manipulative, at times, and he will add an extra push when he doesn’t need to (like he did against Hokutofuji). I haven’t forgotten his flagrant hair pull on Hoshoryu back in January, either.
Remove all that stuff from his game and he’d be a fun wrestler to get behind, especially now that he seems less beholden to that hand waving move before the tachiai.
Rank: Maegeshira 5 west
Shonannoumi hit the classic sophomore slump at the aki basho. That’s a product of him being ranked higher than ever and matched against the best calibre of opponents he’s ever faced. Added to that is that those opponents had front row seats to his debut makuuchi tournament, where he went an impressive 10-5 and demonstrated that—in addition to having incredible size—he has a great deal of smarts and technical ability.
He wasn’t a surprise to anyone this tournament and veterans like Takayasu, Midorifuji, Asanoyama and Onosho were able to see him coming and either back him down with a powerful shove or nullify his throwing game with something tricky of their own.
7-8 isn’t a terrible result, though. And I think Shonannoumi still shows a lot of promise. It will be good for him to go back down the rankings a little and continue to hone his craft against more forgiving opposition.
His win of the tournament was his Day 12 victory over Shodai (below).
This bout feels like the exception to Shonannoumi’s tournament. In most his bouts he felt like he was thinking too much. In July he seemed to go wonderfully blank and just react to what his opponents were giving him, as was the case with his picture perfect throw on Nishikigi.
Against Shodai here, Shonannoumi gets a little hung up with the former ozeki, but then he lets his instincts take over when he senses Shodai attempting to mount a final push. This quick pivot and shift of weight was devastating in his first tournament and hopefully this bout is a sign that Shonannoumi will be able to show more of that in the future.
Rank: Maegeshira 5 east
Like Shonannoumi, Gonoyama was coming off a 10-5 record in his first ever top division tournament. However, unlike Shonannoumi Gonoyama was able to rally against better opposition (some of whom handed him some harsh lessons) and claw back a winning record.
This tournament saw Gonoyama meet Takakeisho and Daieisho for the first time in his career. And they gave him hell.
Daieisho and Takakeisho smashed him, as if both were welcoming him to the pusher-shover fraternity, while also warning him that the upper rungs of that organization were occupied.
Despite those bruising losses, Gonoyama’s ferocious assault was good enough to get past Tobizaru and Meisei (below).
Gonoyama is absolutely relentless and the speed in which he switches from blocking grab attempts and then pushing right towards the chest is very difficult to defend against. The similar sized Meisei had no answer for it here.
It will be interesting to see if Gonoyama will keep going to the well with this and hope he gets good enough, and strong enough, to start pushing Takakeisho around or whether he’ll start mixing things up (like with a rare henka or trying to set up more slap downs).
Rank: Maegeshira 4 west
Ura got the job done in September and managed to provide us with some bonkers highlights. In losses to Kirishima, Daieisho and Takakeisho we saw Ura go airborne, and flip over a couple of times. I feel like when he’s matched with an elite talent he might consider that he’s already lost and use that as an excuse to go wild in his offence and try some really bizarre things.
He did get a win over Hoshoryu, but we’ll talk about that in a future post (where we scratch our heads over what went wrong for the Golden Boy in his first appearance as an ozeki).
When he keeps it simple, though, he’s still a very effective wrestler. See how strong he is against Nishikigi below, where he finds great placement with his throat thrust and tremendous power in his banged up knees to drive forwards before ducking out and away.
9-6 snaps a two basho losing streak for Ura and ties his best win mark over the past two years. His performances this year have shown he is somewhat of a bridge between the best of the maegashira ranks and the san’yaku. He’s not going to challenge for a cup, but he could be the difference in who wins and loses one.
Rank: Maegeshira 4 east
Takanosho had a good first half to this tournament, going 5-4 and scoring this emphatic win over Kirishima (someone he has a shockingly good record against; 12-2!).
His tournament was ruined by a five bout losing skid. That streak included losses to Abi, Hoshoryu and Meisei, three wrestlers he is a combined 7-21 against. The inability to gut out a few wins in that five bout period is really the difference between a wrestler who is capable of holding down a top rank and a wrestler who will just yo-yo up and down the rankings until they eventually retire.
Rank: Maegeshira 3 west
Tamawashi was painful to watch at some points in September. He was extremely ineffective at the aki basho and was unable to hit anyone with force or resist any offence that came his way. The oldest man in the tournament was made to look his age on more than one occasion.
See how Tobizaru rather embarrassingly shows him the door off the ring on Day 2.
There was also this crumbling defeat to Kirishima on Day 7. His fellow countryman almost looked sorry for winning this one.
Tamawashi lost his first 11 contests of the tournament and looked increasingly desperate to get a win as that streak wore on. See against Shodai where his eyes light up and he thinks he has the win only to not sense Shodai’s side-step at the end.
Tamawashi’s only wins this tournament were over Chiyoshoma and Daishoho, two men who went 3-12. Both of those wrestlers will be demoted for their records, but thanks to good performances this year Tamawashi will still be in the top division next month.
In two out of the five tournaments he’s featured in Tamawashi appeared rather capable. But its hard to remember those performances given how bad he’s looked at other times this year.
Rank: Maegeshira 3 east
Shodai secured a kachi-koshi in a Darwin match against Takarafuji at the aki basho. See that bout below.
Shodai, who has been known to under perform when under pressure, showed a lot of steel in this bout. Takarafuji is able to force him onto the back foot, but Shodai calmly circled back to safety and then sat down on his strength to drastically shift the momentum of the bout. After he plants himself with a squat he’s able to generate enough lift to get Takarafuji off balance and provide an opening for a simple push down.
Shodai got his chance at 8-7 on the last day by beating Asanoyama and Nishikigi on the previous days.
Seeing Shodai win three must-win bouts in a row (including two against pretty formidable opposition) was a welcome sight. Shodai is very popular online for his personality and the highs he’s capable of. But since his ozeki promotion he seems to have ‘lost his smile’. Hopefully this performance is a sign that he might be getting over the jitters that come with high pressure situations (and rankings on the banzuke).
Rank: Maegeshira 2 west
I’m a big fan of Asanoyama and I think he has all the tools to be a staple of the san’yaku. However, to realize that potential, he needs to do better against the guys whose places he wants to take.
He lost to each ozeki he faced this tournament (though he did get wins over two sekiwake).
Let’s look at each of those high-profile losses…
If you’d like to read the rest of this report card, which includes marks for Abi, Meisei and Hokutofuji, head on over to Sumo Stomp! on Substack.
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