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SUMO: 2017 Haru Basho (Day 1)

G’day, and welcome to Day 1 of the 2017 Haru Basho . . . the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament, sometimes called the Osaka Basho (because that’s the city where this tournament is held). As I said in yesterday’s post, there’s a lot of drama and expectations swirling around this tournament even before any of the rikishi go head to head. 

An added bit of information on the banzuke [ranking sheet], Brazilian rikishi M8 Kaisei injured himself during practice last week and begins the tournament kyujo [absent due to illness or injury]. His oyakata [stable master] says there’s some chance he may join the tournament mid-week if he’s feeling better . . . but if he’s hurt badly enough to miss Day 1, I think he should just take the whole basho off and get truly healthy.

Also, as you’ll see if you watch the whole video, M10 Tochinoshin is barely able to stand because of his right leg. Much as I was hoping to see him have a strong tournament at this low ranking, I’d rather he pull out before he does himself harm that could send him spiraling out of the division again. 

Other than that, there’s not much to say here on Day 1 other than “Let the games begin!”

M12 Sadanoumi vs. M12 Ura—Ura is making his top-division debut. He’s an undersized rikishi who uses speed and a variety of unusual kimarite [winning techniques] to keep everyone guessing. Chances are that the sheer size difference will be more of a problem than he anticipates, but his matches should be marked by interesting moves and lots of energy. (2:45)

M11 Ishiura vs. M10 Tochiozan—Ishiura is the other undersized rikishi who came up to the top division two tournaments ago. He took his opponents by surprise his first tournament, and then they repaid him by completely overpowering him in January. The question is whether he can put together enough clever tricks to stay in the top division for the long haul. Tochiozan, on the other hand had a terrific first half of 2016, spending most of it ranked in sanyaku (the top 4 named ranks), but has been in a slump for the past few basho. He’s hoping to get things turned around against the lesser opponents he’ll be facing at his current rank. (3:15)

M2 Shohozan vs. sekiwake Takayasu—Shohozan is a real bulldog of rikishi—small, muscular, tough, and always moving forward. I don’t particularly like his style, but I have to admire his tenacity. Takayasu has a ton of skill and style, but sometimes he forgets to focus on winning his matches. (He’s from the same stable as shin-yokozuna Kisenosato, whose career has also been dogged by that kind of lack of focus.) Still, Takayasu has looked very good the last few tournaments, and if he can keep himself in the yusho hunt, he may well earn a promotion to ozeki sometime later this year. (8:05)

Sekiwake Sokokurai vs. ozeki Terunofuji—Ternofuji is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this basho, so he MUST win at least eight matches. Of course, he’s got FIVE matches against ozeki and yokozuna, so its VERY important that he win as many of his Week 1 matches as possible. Today’s performance could tell us a lot about how healthy he is, and how likely he is to get his kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. (9:05)

1E Takekaze vs. yokozuna Kisenosato—It’s Kisenosato’s debut match as a yokozuna. You may note that he has a big bandage over his left eye. It seems that he suffered a head-butt during practice last week and it opened a pretty big gash (requiring some undisclosed number of stitches). Let’s hope that doesn’t present a problem over the course of this tournament. (10:15)

Yokozuna Harumafuji vs. sekiwake Kotoshogiku—Having suffered make-koshi [majority of losses] while kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] last tournament, Kotoshogiku now must win ten matches this time in order to regain his ozeki status. If he fails to do that, even if he’s kachi-koshi, he will become just another rank-and-file rikishi and would have to put together another impressive winning streak to get re-promoted back up to his old rank. Meanwhile, Harumafuji got subtly chastised by the Sumo Association in January for losing too many matches to low ranked rikishi, and then he had to drop out mid-tournament because of injury. He surely wants to come back and show that he’s still got what it takes to dominate as a yokozuna. (10:45)

Yokozuna Hakuho vs. komusubi Shodai—Hakuho has publicly said that he hopes that all the yokozuna will have perfect records over the course of the first eleven days, throwing down the gauntlet for the others. Of course, that means that he has to perform at the top of his game, too, after looking surprisingly “human” in recent tournaments. Can he dominate the way he used to? And will the other yokozuna follow suit? (12:00)

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