Is it okay to start off two posts in a row with a slack-jawed “Holy cats!” I HOPE so because . . . HOLY CATS!!! Of all the possible scenarios I imagined at the start of yesterday’s matches, this was not one of them: Kisenosato loses, Hakuho loses, and all but one of the lower-ranked contenders lose, too, leaving us with ozeki Kisenosato and M10 Takanoiwa tied for the lead with 8–1 records, and yokozuna Hakuho, M3 Ikioi, M8 Hokutofuji, M10 Sokokurai, and M13 Ichinojo all one win off the pace at 7–2. That also leaves five more rikishi still within striking distance at 6–3 . . . and who’d have ever thought that 6–3 could be considered “in the running”?!?
It seemed too good to be true to have Kisenosato in the lead and looking strong. Over the past two years he has ALWAYS found a way to let his guard down when good fortune stared him in the face, and that seems to be what happened yesterday. With an opponent doing as badly as Kotoshogiku has been, that ought to have been an easy win. But rather than showing strength by taking control of the match, Kisenosato instead tried to show strength by being overly calm about it. But out of nowhere, Kotoshogiku pulled together more energy than he’d shown in all of his Week 1 matches combined, looking more like the man who won this basho a year ago, and calm, cool, collected Kisenosato didn’t have an answer. He just let his opponent bumpity-bump him backwards and off the dohyo . . . and out of the sole lead in the tournament.
On the other hand, Hakuho, who had been taken completely by surprise in his Day 8 match, also fell into a calm, cool, unflappable rhythm, only to find Takayasu immediately in his face. Hakuho got flat out beaten at the tachi-ai [initial charge] and pushed back onto his heels . . . and that never happens. (And by “never” I mean that even at his most injured I have literally NEVER seen that happen before.)
Now suddenly we’re approaching the final third of the tournament and rikishi like Ichinojo, Goeido, and Ikioi are reasonable contenders for the yusho. On the one hand, it’s great to see a tournament with this much competition, and this much uncertainty about who the winner will be. On the other hand, if the choice is between a predictable yusho winner and the type of sloppy sumo we’ve seen the past few days, I’ll take predictability every time. I want to see all the rikishi performing to the best of their abilities. I LIKE it when a lower ranked rikishi pulls off a stunning upset through superior performance. But it flat out annoys me when it looks like the top-rankers simply aren’t all there, and are losing because of a lack of focus.
But enough of my kvetching. Let’s look at today’s matches:
M15 Sadanoumi (6–3) vs. M13 Ichinojo (7–2)—Ichinojo is trimmer than he was a few basho ago, he’s moving quickly, and ranked down at M13 the competition isn’t as stiff as he’s probably used to. So it’s no real surprise that he’s doing well. Chances are, he’ll have the easiest route to senshuraku [the final day], and that may give him an edge in the yusho race. (0:45)
M10 Takanoiwa (8–1) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (4–5)—I don’t know who’s more surprised to find Takanoiwa tied for the lead, the sumo pundits or Takanoiwa himself. Despite being one step ahead of everyone except Kisenosato, he’s probable the least likely among all those on the leaderboard to actually WIN the whole thing, well, he’s THERE . . . and anything could happen. (2:15)
M16 Osunaarashi (3–6) vs. M10 Sokokurai (7–2)—Sokokurai is a hard one to figure. He’s got a lot of experience, and he’s exactly the sort of rikishi who COULD win a yusho by being dominant in the middle of the pack. It’s only when you get to the very upper crust, the ozeki and yokozuna, that there are opponents who are likely to simply dominate him . . . and chances are that they won’t push him up that high. So he’s definitely one to keep an eye on. Today, he’s facing Egyptian Osunaarashi, who is the kind of rikishi who could dominate over Sokokurai, except that his right knee is badly injured and he’s having trouble beating anyone. But if Sokokurai isn’t careful in this match, he could find himself hoisted into the air and out of contention. (2:40)
M5 Takekaze (6–3) vs. M8 Hokutofuji (7–2)—This is only Hokutofuji’s second basho in the top division, and only his twelfth overall. So, really, I don’t know much about him. I DO know that he still hasn’t had a make-koshi [majority of losses] as a professional (similar to how shin-sekiwake Shodai was when he broke through last year, and look how well he’s doing)! You might say that makes him very unlikely to pull off a miracle yusho . . . or you might say that he doesn’t have enough experience yet to know that he shouldn’t be able to do this. Guess we’ll just have to watch his matches. (6:15)
Ozeki Kisenosato (8–1) vs. ozeki Terunofuji (4–5)—After his surprise loss to a struggling ozeki yesterday, one wonders how Kisenosato will do against the other struggling ozeki. One hopes he’ll bounce back and get back to being dominant, but sumo doesn’t always work like that. Once you let the magic slip, it’s sometimes hard to get back. Certainly, expect Terunofuji to be as energized as Kotoshogiku was yesterday. So Kisenosato had better find his A-game again quickly or this rare opportunity is going to slip through his fingers . . . again. (11:12)
Ozeki Kotoshogiki (3–6) vs. ozeki Goeido (6–3)—This match has nothing to do with the yusho hunt (though, in theory, Goeido is still a dark horse contender). With his win over Kisenosato yesterday, Kotoshogiku showed that he still has some small ray of hope of saving his ozeki ranking. But he can only afford one more loss, and he’s going to be facing the top rankers from here on . . . starting with Goeido today. (13:03)
M3 Ikioi (7–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–2)—Poor Ikioi. He’s a very likable rikishi with a lot of talent, but he’s also one of those rikishi who gets inside his own head too much. I feel like he could be a top contender, if he could get into the right headspace. As it is, he’s like Kisenosato—only more so. And today he has to fight Hakuho. Of course, Hakuho has just lost two days in a row, and looked confused at the end of both matches. Maybe Ikioi can keep that streak going . . . but I don’t think he will. (15:20)