It’s nakabi [the middle day] . . . Day 8 of the Hatsu Basho and we have the very familiar situation of yokozuna Hakuho and ozeki Kisenosato being unbeaten and tied atop the leaderboard. Meanwhile, although they aren’t on top of the pile, allow me to take a few paragraphs to talk about other rikishi who are looking strong this basho.
The other day I already mentioned how impressed I am with two of the young rikishi—M1 Mitakeumi and shin-sekiwake Shodai—and both continue to look strong. But you should also be paying attention to komusubi Takayasu. He had a terrific 2016, making a strong run at an ozeki promotion. If he’d gotten 11 wins or more last November, he’d had gotten that bump . . . but unfortunately he slipped wound up with a make-koshi [majority of losses] 7–8. But he seems to have bounced back into his previous shape, going 5–2 during Week 1—including three wins over ozeki (Terunofuji, Goeido, and Kotoshogiku) and one over a yokozuna (Kakuryu). If Takayasu is going to perform as well as he did in 2016, there is no doubt that he will be promoted to ozeki, probably around mid-year.
I’ve talked about how impressed I am with shin-sekiwake [first time at the rank of sekiwake] Shodai, so it seems only fair that I do the same for the OTHER shin-sekiwake we have this basho, Tamawashi. After all, Tamawashi has an even better record so far (4–3) including beating Shodai in their head-to-head match! He hasn’t had as much ballyhoo around him as he climbed the banzuke [ranking sheet], but quietly getting your work done is great way to get ahead in sumo. Tamawashi hasn’t faced as many ozeki and yokozuna as Shodai has yet, but he’s put himself in a strong position to get a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and hold on to his sekiwake rank for another tournament.
Tomorrow, maybe I’ll talk a bit about rikishi who are underperforming this basho. Meanwhile, let’s look at today’s matches:
M13 Ichinojo (6–1) vs. M8 Chiyonokuni (5–2)—Ichinojo is once again doing dominant sumo in the lower half of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. From this point on, though, he can expect to get a steady diet of opponents ranked above him, starting with Chiyonokuni today. Chiyonokuni has looked focused and determined all tournament, and should provide a good match against the big guy. (3:00)
M5 Takekaze (4–2) vs. M9 Kaisei (3–3)—Takekaze is both one of the smallest and one of the oldest rikishi in the top division, but he’s showing a true warrior’s grit this basho. On the other side is Kaisei, who has two distinct styles of sumo—one lets him be dominant when ranked at sekiwake, the other has him struggling for a kachi-koshi when ranked at M9. The question is, which Kaisei will show up today? (5:15)
Komusubi Takayasu (5–2) vs. M1 Mitakeumi (4–3)—Two rikishi that I’ve been talking about in my daily commentary, either one has what it takes to be promoted to ozeki, if they can stay focused over the course of three consecutive basho. Let’s see what happens when they go head-to-head. (8:50)
Ozeki Kisenosato (7–0) vs. M3 Okinoumi (2–5)—One of our co-leaders going up against a rikishi who’s been struggle to notch wins this basho. It may not seem like an exciting match, but Okinoumi has suffered mostly from bad luck this tournament, and has pressed many of his opponents to the ring’s edge before having the tables turned on him. Also Kisenosato has a tendency to take his foot off the gas here in the middle days of the tournament. At the very least, this match will give us an idea what to expect from these two in Week 2. (11:50)
M2 Arawashi (1–6) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–0)—There are three reasons not to write this off as a walk-over win for the yokozuna—1. Everyone brings their best performance when they face Hakuho, 2. These two have never faced each other before, so Hakuho doesn’t have any real idea what Arawashi will do, and 3. Arawashi’s only win so far this basho was against another yokozuna (Kakuryu on Day 6). As they say, anything can happen on a given day. More of interest to me is the fact that Hakuho is fighting from the West side today. I can only assume that with Harumafuji going kyuju [absent for injury], Hakuho has been switched from being ranked as the second East yokozuna to being the West Yokozuna to repair the imbalance a the top of the banzuke, and this will be his spot for the rest of the tournament. (15:35)