It’s Day 7 of the Hatsu Basho [New Year’s Tournament], and we enter the middle weekend with a very familiar set of circumstances—yokozuna Hakuho and ozeki Kisenosato are tied atop the leaderboard as the only two remaining unbeaten rikishi. All three of the rank-and-file rikishi who were tied with them lost yesterday, leaving just the two best sumotori of the past few years in the lead for the first yusho [tournament championship] of the year.
I think I’m going to make an effort to focus on the rivalry between these two more during the coming year, and in particular to note that Kisenosato has been the strongest competition that Hakuho has faced (rather than either of his fellow yokozuna). It’s unfortunate, though, that Kisenosato has the dubious distinction of being the only one of the yokozuna or ozeki to NEVER have won a yusho. Indeed, he’s the only rikishi in history to have won the prize for most wins in a calendar year (something he did last year, after finishing second behind Hakuho for that honor the previous two or three years) but NOT have won a yusho during that time period. That Kisenosato could put together multiple years of great performances, but never put together a good enough fortnight to taste victory is one of the oddities of the sport. I have a feeling, though, that Kisenosato IS going to win his first yusho in 2017 . . . and he might even win his second, too. If he doesn’t though, I think he’s destined to go down in history to be the greatest rikishi never to win a tournament, and probably the greatest ozeki of all time.
Of course, the reason that Kisenosato is in this position is that he’s been fighting during the era of Hakuho, who is sure to go down as the greatest yokozuna of all time. As if to prove that point, when Hakuho takes to the dohyo today, it will be his 819th match as a yokozuna . . . breaking the all-time record previously held by Kitanoumi (a great yokozuna of the 1970s and ’80s).
Anyway, let’s have a look at today’s matches.
We start with more sad news, the number of kyujo [absent for illness or injury] rikishi rises to two as yokozuna Harumafuji has withdrawn because of the hamstring strain (that he suffered two days ago while flipping M3 Okinoumi) and exacerbated yesterday (while being flipped by sekiwake Tamawashi).
M15 Chiyoo (2–4) vs. M10 Sokokurai (5–1)—This is Chiyoo’s debut tournament in the Makuuchi Division, and he looks like a kid with a lot of potential. In fact, he really shows it today against Sokokurai who, until yesterday’s loss, had been tied atop the leaderboard. Very spirited sumo here! (3:20)
M8 Hokutofuji (5–1) vs. M8 Chiyonokuni (4–2)—Hokutofuji is another rikishi who only yesterday suffered his first loss, and now is trying to bounce back against Chiyonokuni, an opponent he’s never beaten in the past (though they’ve only fought once before). This match is a great example of how it IS possible to be TOO aggressive in sumo. (6:45)
Ozeki Kisenosato (6–0) vs. M4 Tochiozan (1–5)—Kisenosato is one of the leaders, so it makes sense to keep an eye on what he’s doing. Today, though, he’s facing Tochiozan who is looking very out of sorts this basho. Meanwhile, Kisenosato is looking strong and confident. (11:30)
Yokozuna Hakuho (6–0) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (4–2)—Hakuho is our other leader, and he’s been looking pretty good—putting in as little work as needed to beat his Week 1 opponents (although that’s led to some situations where was surprised off the tachi-ai and had to turn the tables on his opponents, he’s done so with ease). Today, though he’s up against shin-sekiwake [first-time at the third highest rank] Tamawashi, who has started with a very respectable four wins in Week 1. On a side note, this is Hakuho’s 819th match at the rank of yokozuna, a new all-time record and another feather in his already well-feathered cap. (13:40)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (3–3) vs. M3 Okinoumi (2–4)—Kakuryu entered the tournament hoping to win two yusho [tournament championships] in a row. Not that he needs to—he already achieved that feat once in order to become a yokozuna—but it’s a point of pride. However, he has look all kinds of out of sorts in Week 1. Of course, the same can be said for his opponent today, Okinoumi, who has had days where he looked like a contender, but others where he just seemed to be going through the motions. It’s anyone’s guess which version of EITHER rikishi will show up today. (15:12)