Holy cats! What a difference a day makes! Day 9, the start of Week 2 of the Hatsu Basho kicks off with a lone rikishi undefeated atop the leaderboard . . . and it’s ozeki Kisenosato! To say that Hakuho’s loss yesterday was a surprise is a vast understatement. He was facing M2 Arawashi for the first time ever, and Hakuho is noted for beating newcomers the first time out . . . he’d done it the previous twenty-eight times in a row. Iven more surprising was how quickly and smoothly the young Mongolian accomplished the feat—using Hakuho’s own hit-and-roll tachi-ai and maneuvering the yokozuna in a full circle and out of the ring before he knew what had happened. If you go back and rewatch the video, note the look of shock on the yokozuna’s face.
The tournament really is in Kisenosato’s own hands at this point. If he can win all seven remaining bouts, he’s won the yusho. That’s, of course, much easier to say than do . . . but the fact of the matter is that he’s had precious few opportunities like this in the past few years, and there’s no telling when (or even if) he’ll get another. Kisenosato needs to take advantage of this opportunity, if only for his own sanity.
Yesterday I said I was going to spare a few words for rikishi who are underperforming this tournament, so let’s start with the winner of the November basho, yokozuna Kakuryu. He came into the Hatsu Basho hoping to win back-to-back yusho [tournament championship], but that hope took a big hit on Day 4 when he lost to M1 Mitakeumi . . . and then pretty much crumbled as he lost again on Days 5 and 6. Three losses in Week 1 is pretty much a guarantee of being out of the running. Even when he bounced back with a Day 7 win over M3 Okinoumi, he did so while literally falling on his butt. Any hope that Kakuryu had shaken off the rust that has make him a second-class yokozuna for the past few years is pretty much gone.
In even bigger trouble is ozeki Kotoshogiku. One year ago he shocked the sumo world by taking the 2016 Hatsu Basho yusho. But then he went on to have a pretty humdrum rest of the year, marked by injuries and a pair of make-koshi [majority of losses] records. The second of those was in November, and leave him kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in this tournament. Unlike the six previous times he’s been in this situation, though, Kotoshogiku has been performing terribly this tournament. He goes into the final week with a 2–6 record. He now must win six of his remaining seven bouts, five of which will be against fellow ozeki and the two yokozuna. It seems all but a foregone conclusion that Kotoshogiku is going to lose his ozeki rank when this tournament is done. The question is—what will he do next? (I’ll give my opinions on that question in a future post.)
Enough of my prattle . . . let’s have a look at today’s action:
M13 Ichinojo (6–2) vs. M10 Sokokurai (7–1)—Sokokurai is one of only three rikishi with 7–1 records, one win behind leader Kisenosato. Of course, he’s way down the banzuke [ranking sheet] and will soon have to start fighting up. One could even say that begins today, because while Ichinojo is ranked down at M13 for this basho, he really has the skills to be at M5 or higher. (2:40)
M10 Takanoiwa (7–1) vs. M7 Aoiyama (4–4)—Takanoiwa is the other rank-and-file rikishi currently in contention for the yusho [tournament championship], and he too is starting to fight up to prove his worthiness. Today he’s got the big, blue Bulgarian, Aoiyama (whose shikona [fighting name] actually DOES translate as “blue mountain”). (3:41)
Sekiwake Tamawashi (5–3) vs. M1 Mitakeumi (5–3)—This match may not have any implications on this yusho, but it does pit two rikishi who are likely to regularly be contenders in the months and years to come. Two rikishi who both have decent chances of earning ozeki promotions within the next year. (8:55)
Ozeki Kisenosato (8–0) vs. ozeki Kotoshogiku (2–6)—Kisenosato is the sole leader of the tournament. His destiny is in his own hands. Sadly, when this has been the situation in the past, he has gotten an unfortunate case of butter-fingers. Can he stay focused and press on to his first yusho. He’s gotten a little bit of luck here in that today’s match is against a rikishi who seems destined for make-koshi [majority of losses], and whose spirit seems broken. Kotoshogiku absolutely MUST win this match . . . he must win EVERY match he has left if he wants to retain his ozeki rank. The question is, will this pressure be enough to rouse his sleeping skills? (11:20)
Komusubi Takayasu (5–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–1)—Hakuho didn’t just lose yesterday, he got played. He lost so badly that when it was done he had a confused look on his face as if to say, “What actually just happened?” One can only guess that he’ll be coming back looking to avenge himself today, and poor Takayasu is standing in his way. Of course, Takayasu has been having a pretty terrific tournament on his own, and he certainly wants to continue that with an upset over Hakuho. I just wouldn’t bet that way. (13:20)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (5–3) vs. M3 Ikioi (6–2)—Kakuryu is out of contention for the yusho, unless things for crazily south for about six other rikishi. But he’s still a yokozuna with a lot of pride, and that means he’s going to be gunning to put away the last few lower ranked opponents he’ll have for the basho. Ikio is having a terrific basho ranked at M3, and would like to add a kinboshi [gold star award] for beating a yokozuna to make it even better . . . and Kakuryu is looking like a reasonable target. Should be a good match. (14:30)