It’s senshuraku [the final day] of the 2017 Hatsu Basho! Man, that fortnight went quickly! And here on Day 15 we already know the outcome of the yusho [tournament championship] race. With his win yesterday over M13 Ichinojo, and yokozuna Hakuho’s loss to M10 Takanoiwa, ozeki Kisenosato has guaranteed himself his first ever tournament victory!
It was a very long time coming. This is Kisenosato’s 73rd tournament in the Makuuchi division, and his 31st as an ozeki. For the past three years he has been the second winningest rikishi in the upper division, behind only yokozuna Hakuho (and beating out both yokozuna Harumafuji and yokozuna Kakuryu). In 2016 he finished in second place (one win behind the yusho winner) in four out of six basho, and won more overall matches than anyone else. He has been performing yokozuna-level sumo for at least the past two years, but his inability to win a tournament has kept him from being awarded that promotion.
In order to be promoted to sumo’s highest rank, a rikishi must win back-to-back yusho, or do something deemed by the Yokozuna Deliberation Council to be of equivalent merit. I think that just about everyone watching sumo for the past two years would say that Kisenosato has met that bar . . . but that never having won a yusho was a shortcoming that couldn’t be overlooked. It’s entirely possible that if he can finish a strong second in Osaka this coming March, that it will be good enough to get him the nod.
It’s even possible that the YDC will give him the promotion after THIS basho if he beats Hakuho convincingly enough today (though I bet they’ll announce it ahead of time, if this is their intention). [EDIT: In fact, no decision was made today (despite what it says on the video). According to the Japan Times, the YDC will meet on Monday, and the Nihon Sumo Kyokai [Japan Sumo Association] will have an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday to make an official ruling on the matter of Kisenosato’s possible promotion.]
M10 Takanoiwa (11–3) vs. M10 Sokokurai (11–3)—Two rikishi who stayed in the yusho hunt up until the end, and one of whom is guaranteed to be at least tied for second place. Both rikishi were awarded special prizes for their performances this basho. Sokokurai was given a Gino-sho [Technique Prize] for all of the novel kimarite [winning techniques] he used in his successful campaign. Meanwhile, Takanoiwa received a Shukun-sho [Outstanding Performance Prize] particularly on the merit of his win over yokozuna Hakuho on Day 14. (2:20)
M9 Kaisei (7–7) vs. M13 Gagamaru (5–9) (3:50)
M8 Hokutofuji (8–6) vs. M14 Chiyoo (7–7) (4:15)
M6 Chiyoshoma (7–7) vs. M15 Sadanoumi (7–7) (5:10)
M14 Chiyootori (6–8) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (7–7) (5:40)
These are the matches that include rikishi who currently sit at 7–7 and are fighting for their kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. These are always the most hard-fought bouts on senshuraku. The saddest pairing is Chiyoshoma vs. Sadanoumi where they BOTH are 7–7, so one of them will definitely end up make-koshi [majority of losses].
M8 Chiyonokuni (9–5) vs. M1 Mitakeumi (10–4) (8:10)
Komusubi Takayasu (10–4) vs. M4 Endo (7–7) (9:25)
These matches both feature rikishi who are expected to make a run at an ozeki promotion in 2017—Mitakeumi and Takayasu—not to mention the fact that Endo is the last of the 7–7 rikishi. Both of the 10–4 rikishi need one more win to take the first reliable step on that track. Also, these two both were awarded special prizes for their performance in the Hatsu Basho. Mitakeumi was given a Gino-sho [Technique Prize]—he’s a young rikishi who seems to learn new lessons and techniques each day, and immediately apply them to his sumo. Takayasu, on the other hand, was awarded a Kanto-Sho [Fighting Spirit Prize] which certainly came from the fact that in this basho he beat three ozeki (Terunofuji, Goeido, and Kotoshogiku) and two yokozuna (Harumafuji and Hakuho).
Ozeki Terunofuji (4–10) vs. ozeki Kotoshogiku (4–10)—There is nothing of great merit about this match, other than it may be the last time we see Kotoshogiku as an ozeki . . . and if he decides to retire, it may be the last time we see him at all. (11:35)
Yokozua Hakuho (11–3) vs. ozeki Kisenosato (13–1)—This is it. Kisenosato has sewn up the yusho, but so far he’s done it without having to face any of the toughest opponents (thanks to injuries and withdrawals). If he loses his only match against a yokozuna, there will be whisperings about this being a “weak” yusho. On the other hand, Hakuho is embarrassed by this being the fourth basho in a row that he hasn’t been able to win (something that has never happened since he became a yokozuna) and by the number of kinboshi [gold stars for a rank-and-file rikishi beating a yokozuna]. Showing dominance over the yusho winner would be a salve to his singed pride. (12:11)