Here we go . . . Day 14 of the Hatsu Basho . . . just today and tomorrow and we’ll have our yusho champion . . . and the immediate contenders are down to two. Ozeki Kisenosato continues to lead with a 12–1 record, and yokozuna Hakuho trails him by one with an 11–2 record. Both M10 Takanoiwa and M13 Ichinojo lost yesterday giving them both 10–3 records (along with komusubi Takayasu and M10 Sokokurai).
So, what are the chances of a playoff?
The 10–3 crowd has only one hope—that Hakuho loses his match today AND Kisenosato loses BOTH of his remaining matches. Then, anyone in this crowd who can win both remaining matches would be included in what would probably be a 4- or 5-man playoff. Very exciting, but very unlikely. No, these rikishi are pretty much out of luck . . . but they’ll keep hoping until the last.
More possible is that both Hakuho and Kisenosato win today, and then go head-to-head on senshuraku [the final day]. And if Hakuho wins that match, then they’ll be tied with 13–2 records. (Admittedly, this same result could happen if Kisenosato loses today, but then beats Hakuho on Sunday . . . but that seems the less likely route.) In this case, at the end of their match, both rikishi would head back to the dressing room to get their hair reset, drink some water, and rest for 10 minutes or so . . . then they’d come back out to the dohyo for a playoff match. One bout, head-to-head, the winner takes the yusho [tournament championship].
Of course, there’s also the possibility that Kisenosato wins today, but Hakuho loses . . . in which case, Kisenosato would be assured of the yusho and the Sunday matches would be just for pride! Or that Kisenosato loses both today and tomorrow, while Hakuho wins both matches . . . in which case, Hakuho would take the yusho with no playoff!
So, you see, there are still a lot of possibilities. AND a lot of other rikishi up and down the dohyo who are fighting for their kachi-koshi [majority of wins] or to minimize the size of their make-koshi [majority of losses]. In other words, a lot of genki sumo is still ahead over the course of the weekend.
Let’s look at today’s top matches:
J3 Ura (10–3) vs. M15 Sadanoumi (7–6)
M12 Takakeisho (6–7) vs. J2 Daieisho (10–3)—These first two matches are of no real importance to the Makuuchi division, both Sadanoumi and Takakeisho have struggled all tournament and are on the verge of make-koshi [majority of losses]. However, their opponents today are the two rikishi who are vying for the Juryo division yusho, which I think is why they brought BOTH of them up to face upper-division opponents. As it turns out, both of these are also terrific bouts! (0:10 and 1:06)
M14 Chiyoo (6–7) vs, M6 Kotoyuki (6–7)—Two fast, strong, pusher-thruster rikishi, both of whom MUST win today in order to stave off make-koshi. This should be an intense match. (4:25)
M8 Hokutofuji (8–4) vs. M1 Mitakeumi (9–3)—These two rikishi were bitter rivals back in their college sumo days, but this is the first time they’re meeting as pros. Given how good they both have been doing in Makuuchi, I think we can expect the rivalry to continue . . . and for their matches to be something for us to anticipate in tournaments for years to come. (8:45)
Ozeki Kisenosato (12–1) vs. M13 Ichinojo (10–3)—From where I sit, this match is all about Kisenosato’s state of mind. If he’s focused and confident, there is no way that Ichinojo will beat him (barring some kind of “trick play”). But if Kisenosato is out of sorts, or distracted, or just daydreaming about hoisting the Emperor’s Cup, Ichinojo has the size and strength to really embarrass him. (11:45)
Yokozuna Hakuho (11–2) vs. M10 Takanoiwa (10–3)—This is the first time these two rikishi have ever met. In the past, that would have just about guaranteed a Hakuho win. But after 28 straight first-bout wins, on Day 8 of this basho Hakuho lost his first time meeting against Arawashi. In part, that’s about Hakuho getting older and a bit slower. But in greater part, it’s about the young rikishi no longer believing that he is invincible—they think they’ve got a chance and know what a coup it would be to get a kinboshi [gold star award for a rank-and-file rikishi beating a yokozuna] from the greatest yokozuna of all time. In the end, I have to believe that Hakuho will take Takanoiwa to school . . . but I’m just not as CONFIDENT of that as I would have been a week ago. (14:35)