Day 12 of the Hatsu Basho, and for the first time in several days we have no major changes to the leaderboard. Kisenosato remains the sole leader at 10–1, with Hakuho, Takanoiwa, Sokokurai, and Ichinojo one win off the pace.
Perhaps the luckiest rikishi yesterday was ozeki Kotoshogiku who is both kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and sitting with a 3–7 record. In other words, he MUST win all remaining matches or he’ll be make-koshi [majority of losses] and be demoted. I thought I’d take a little time today to remind everyone about why that’s such a big deal.
Ozeki is an exceptionally difficult rank to achieve. In order to get promoted, a rikishi must win 33 matches over the course of three consecutive honbasho [grand tournaments]. In other words, average 11 wins per tournament when fighting against the top-ranked competitors in the sport. A very difficult task, as evidenced last year by current komusubi Takayasu’s run at the achievement. He went 10–5 in May, 11–4 in July, 10–5 in September . . . all good enough scores an ozeki would be proud of, but not enough to get promoted. Then he stumbled to 7–8 in November and now he’s starting from scratch again.
Because it’s so difficult to achieve this status, anyone ranked as an ozeki is given a small reprieve from the standard rule in sumo that if you go make-koshi in a tournament, you get demoted. An ozeki who has a single majority-loss tournament is instead made kadoban—that is, he is threatened with demotion. If he has another make-koshi in the following tournament, the ozeki is demoted to sekiwake. But still, he is given one more chance. If in the following tournament he can get 10 or more wins, he will be reinstated as an ozeki. But if not, he’s back among the fighting for rank crowd, even if he manages a standard kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Of course, ten wins against the top competition is a lot to ask of someone who has done so poorly for two tournaments in a row . . . and, in fact, it is rarely achieved.
So if Kotoshogiku loses even one more bout this tournament, he’ll have a choice. He can retire as an ozeki before the March banzuke [ranking sheet] is announced, or he can come back in March and try to get ten wins and regain his rank. I think he’ll save face and opt for the former . . . to go out with his rank and the dignity of having been a strong ozeki for five years (a good long run) and the honor of having been the rikishi who broke the decade-long “curse” of no Japanese-born rikishi winning a yusho [tournament championship] (which he did one year ago in the 2016 Hatsu Basho). Given the condition his legs are in, I don’t think there’s much chance at all that he could pull off ten wins in March . . . and I think he knows it.
Or maybe he actually WILL rally over the remaining four days and beat all comers. I guess we’ll just have to watch and see. But while you do, take special care to enjoy his trademark deep back bend and salt throw at the start of each match. We may not be treated to those sites for much longer.
Speaking of today’s action, let’s get to it:
M10 Takanoiwa (9–2) vs. M11 Nishikigi (4–7)—Takanoiwa is facing off against another young up-and-comer. When he hit the top division last year, Nishikigi seemed to be made of the same stuff as Mitakeumi, but since then he hasn’t come along quite that quickly. Still, he’s a tough kid trying to make a name for himself, and beating one of the tournament leaders would be a feather in his chon-mage [top knot]. (2:10)
M8 Hokutofuji (8–3) vs. M13 Ichinojo (9–2)—Ichinojo is beginning to be put up against opponents ranked further up the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Today it’s Hokutofuji who, until his Day 10 loss to Takekaze, was one of the rikishi one win behind the leaders. You know that he’d love to exact a little revenge by peeling another rikishi from that group. (4:16)
M6 Chiyoshoma (5–6) vs. M10 Sokokurai (9–2)—Chiyoshoma hasn’t had a lot of luck this basho. Though he’s looked strong and moved well, he’s come out on the wrong side more often than not. But he keeps coming back the next day with just as much energy and determination, and a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] is still a real possibility. But he NEEDS a win today. And while Sokokurai is having a much better tournament and has the motivation of staying in contention for the yusho, he IS ranked a fair deal lower on the banzuke. Should be an exciting match. (6:12)
Ozeki Kisenosato (10–1) vs. M3 Ikioi (7–4)—Kisenosato had another little scare yesterday against Endo, but perhaps that win settled his nerves. Today, he’s up against another popular rikishi in Ikioi. However, Kisenosato has NEVER lost to Ikioi in thirteen past meetings, and today would be a TERRIBLE time for him to start. At the very least, this match will tell us a lot about how shaky the ozeki’s nerves are. (11:40)
Sekiwake Tamawashi (6–5) vs. ozeki Kotoshogiku (4–7)—After getting the gift of a fusensho [win by default] yesterday, today Kotoshogiku must do the work for himself. One more loss and he will lose his ozeki rank. His opponent today is a sekiwake, the rank Kotoshogiku will drop to if he doesn’t win. That’s a tall order, but also a visceral incentive. Can the ozeki pull himself together enough to keep hope alive? (13:45)
Yokozuna Hakuho (9–2) vs. 4E Tochiozan (3–8)—Hakuho’s head-to-head record against Tochiozan is 33–2 (!). This is the opponent against whom he pulled those very weird “cat clap” victories about a year ago. And Tochiozan is having a terrible tournament this time around, already having reached make-koshi [majority of losses]. I’m not saying that this match is a shoe-in for the yokozuna, but it’s one he is probably thankful to have after his recent close calls. (14:25)