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SUMO: 2017 Hatsu Basho (Day 11)

Day 11 of the Hatsu Basho brings the leaderboard back into something closer to what seems normal . . . but still I don’t think anyone is going to be “certain” of anything for the rest of the tournament. Ozeki Kisenosato seemed to have soothed his jangled nerves with his win over injury-plagued ozeki Terunofuji, and yesterday’s co-leader, M10 Takanoiwa, seemed to have picked up those rattled nerves (like “what the heck am I doing as a co-leader?!?”) and looked like a deer caught in a Mack truck’s headlights in his loss to Chiyotairyu. Hopefully, he can regain his wits and make a press for double-digit wins.

In other matches, it looked like Hakuho snapped out of whatever had him so befuddled the previous couple of days. But the pundits have pointed out that since the weekend he has only been using tsuppari [pushing and thrusting styles] rather than his usual yotsu-sumo [grabbing the belt]. What does it mean? No one knows. Hakuho never says much about himself, his health, or his tactics, so people are left to guess. 

Sokokurai had to work hard against Osunaarashi yesterday, despite the fact that the Egyptian rikishi’s right knee is so bad that he can’t use any of the big, power-sumo maneuvers he’s known for. But in the end, Sokokurai won and he remains one behind the leader. Also still in that spot is Ichinojo, who will certainly have the easiest schedule over the final five days of the tournament because he’s ranked all the way down at M13. 

So, now that Kisenosato has regained sole possession of the lead, will he settle down and do his kind of sumo again? I’d say the chances are good. Today he fights M4 Endo (who he lost to in November) and tomorrow his opponent will be M3 Ikioi (who didn’t beat the ozeki at all in 2016). That will leave him with one more ozeki (Goeido), one yokozuna (Hakuho), and one as-yet-undecided opponent to face over the final weekend. (He doesn’t have to fight komusubi Takayasu because they come from the same stable.) The other yokozuna (Kakuryu) has pulled out kyuju [out for injury] starting today, so Kisenosato is saved from that challenge.

I can hear some of you saying “Injury? What injury? Kakuryu has just been fighting badly!” And you’re right. But it’s considered a big shame for a yokozuna to go make-koshi, and if things look headed that way, they often invent an injury just to save face. I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going on with Kakuryu here. 

Kakuryu’s departure is terrific news for ozeki Kotoshogiku, who was scheduled to fight the yokozuna today. At 3–7 and having started the tournament kadoban [in danger of ozeki demotion], Kotoshogiku’s back is to the wall. If he loses one more match, he’ll hit make-koshi [majority of losses] and his demotion will be assured. The only question will be what he chooses to do about it. But I’ll save those details and that discussion for another day.

Let’s look at today’s matches:

M16 Osunaarashi (3–7) vs. M13 Ichinojo (8–2)—Ichinojo gets to face the injured Osunaarashi today, which means he’ll most likely stay one win off the lead. Sadly, unless the Egyptian rikishi finds a way to win all his remaining bouts, he’ll be back down in Juryo again for the March tournament. Really, I just hope he heals up and gets back into the form he had in 2015.  (0:55)

M12 Takakeisho (4–6) vs. M10 Sokokurai (8–2)—Takakeisho is in his first tournament in the upper division and fighting with a new shikona [fighting name] (if you ever watched him in Juryo, he went by the name Sato). He’s got a lot of gumption, and the word is that he almost never falls down . . . you have to push him out of the ring. We’ll see if Sokokurai has heard that news, and if he can keep himself in the hunt for the yusho [tournament championship]. (2:07)

M8 Hokutofuji (7–3) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (5–5)—Hokutofuji fell off the leaderboard with his loss yesterday, but he’s still searching for his eighth win . . . which would give him his eleventh straight kachi-koshi [majority of wins] since joining sumo professionally. (4:20)

M6 Chiyoshoma (5–5) vs. M10 Takanoiwa (8–2)—Can Takanoiwa bounce back from yesterday’s embarrassing loss (he really looked like his mind was somewhere else)? He may have lost his share of the lead, but he’s still only one win off the pace. (7:25)

Ozeki Kisenosato (9–1) vs. M4 Endo (5–5)—The universe is giving Kisenosato another chance. He’s once again got sole possession of the lead and only one really tough opponent left to face, but he has to make short work of the lesser opponents on his schedule. Endo is a popular rikishi, but he’s proven that he doesn’t have what it takes to play with the big dogs. If he gives Kisenosato a run for his money, that’s a bad sign for the ozeki. (11:50)

Ozeki Terunofuji (4–6) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–2)—Terunofuji is clearly still very injured, but he’s been giving it his all, especially against top-ranked opponents. He gave Kisenosato a surprisingly tough time yesterday, and actually beat Goeido on Day 8. The big question, though, is what Hakuho will bring to the ring. Is he ready to go back to the belt, where he dominates Terunofuji, or will he stick to pushing and thrusting, where the bigger ozeki has a distinct advantage? (13:50)

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