Here we are, entering the final weekend of the 2017 Hatsu Basho, and we’ve got a real barn burner of a race for the yusho [tournament championship]. Ozeki Kisenosato continues to hold on to his one-win lead over yokozuna Hakuho, M10 Takanoiwa, and M13 Ichinojo. M10 Sokokurai stumbled yesterday and now is with the not insubstantial group of three-loss rikishi who hope the whole pack will have a spate of bad luck.
However, it appears that luck is on Kisenosato’s side today as his opponent and winner of last September’s Aki Basho, ozeki Goeido, hurt his knee pretty badly in yesterday’s loss to Endo and has gone kyujo [absent because of injury]. So the leader gets a fusensho [win by default] while everyone chasing him has to get out there and EARN their wins. It also means that while the first tournament of the year started with all the rikishi healthy and fighting, it is going to end with two yokozuna, an ozeki, a komusubi on the D.L. and big names like Kotoshogiku, Terunofuji, Okinoumi, Gagamaru, and Osunaarashi clearly so hurt that they can’t do anything like their usual brand of sumo. And while it’s always hard to tell exactly what’s going on with Hakuho, he certainly SEEMS to be bothered by some kind of arm problem (I’m guessing tendinitis in the elbow he likes to use for his uwatenage [over-arm throw] technique).
Luckily for Goeido, he secured his kachi-koshi on Day 11, so he won’t have the insult of being kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] on top of his injury. The same can’t be said for Terunofuji, who locked in make-koshi [majority of losses] yesterday, and WILL be kadoban for the Haru Basho in Osaka.
The upper ranks of sumo are really beginning to show their age. It’s very likely that Kotoshogiku will retire after this basho, rather than face the embarrassment of demotion, and we fans should start preparing ourselves for the fact that most of the other ozeki and the yokozuna are all at the stage in their careers that retirement is a very likely response to a chronic injury. Already the Yokozuna Deliberation Council gave Harumafuji a warning that if he continued to give away so many kinboshi [gold star awards for a rank-and-file rikishi beating a yokozuna] they might apply pressure for him to retire. It’s a little strange that they didn’t give a similar warning to Kakuryu, whose “neck and shoulder injury” really is more about saving face in a tournament where he’d already lost five times by Day 10 . . . but maybe they considered that the message would be clear to BOTH yokozuna—”A weak yokozuna will not be tolerated.”
That is all good for speculation about the rest of 2017, but we’ve still got a terrific yusho race that could very well end up in a playoff going on right here! Let’s look at today’s matches.
J3 Ura (9–3) vs. J9 Amekaze (8–4)—A quick stop in Juryo (basically the AAA division) to see Ura, an up-and-comer we’ve been seeing glimpses of for a while . . . and who is likely to be in Makuuchi in March. Today he demonstrates a kimarite [winning technique] that until this match was only theoretical . . . it had NEVER actually been USED in Juryo or above. (0:10)
M6 Chiyoshoma (6–6) vs. M13 Ichinojo (10–2)—Ichinojo remains in the one-off-the-pace group, and today is facing Chiyoshoma—a rikishi he outweighs by 80kg (176 lbs). And tomorrow he’s set to go head-to-head with the leader, Kisenosato, himself! It’s a good opportunity for him to show his detractors (of which I am notably one) that he can step up when the pressure is on. Me, I’ll believe it when I see it. (5:10)
M10 Sokokurai (9–3) vs. M1 Mitakeumi (9–3)—Sokokurai fell off the trailing-by-one group yesterday, but he’s still having a GREAT basho. Today he squares off with another rikishi who’s doing terrific, but isn’t in the running for the yusho either, Mitakeumi. They’re both shooting to impress and secure for themselves the biggest promotion possible for March’s Haru Basho. (8:35)
Komusubi Takayasu (9–3) vs. M10 Takanoiwa (10–2)—Takanoiwa is still in the yusho hunt, but he’s facing Takayasu—a komusubi on a mission! That mission is to get promoted to ozeki later this spring . . . and in order to be on track for that, he needs 11 or more wins this tournament. Two rikishi who are in the groove, and both have something to lose, should make for a great match! (9:55)
Yokozuna Hakuho (10–2) vs. ozeki Kotoshogiku (4–8)—It’s official, Kotoshogiku is going to be demoted from his ozeki ranking . . . and chances are good that means he’s going to retire at the end of this tournament. That means he has no reason not to leave EVERYTHING he’s got on the dohyo . . . it’s all about pride! This is his 55th career match against Hakuho (the yokozuna leads the series 49–5), and it would mean a lot for Kotoshogiku to go out with a win. I don’t think his chances are good, but I expect him to put up a hell of a fight. (13:20)