It’s Day 5 of the Haru Basho and, holy cats, the action in Osaka is really heating up. Yesterday we saw some very high-spirited sumo AND a smattering of controversy! And bizarrely, we start the day with only SIX undefeated rikishi atop the leaderboard—yokozuna Kisenosato, ozeki Terunofuji, sekiwake Takayasu, M3 Takarafuji, M7 Chiyoshoma, and M10 Tochiozan. That’s right, there are four yokozuna in the tournament and only ONE of them is undefeated on Day 5 . . . and it’s the shin-yokozuna. What’s more, two of the other yokozuna already have two losses . . . and Hakuho is one of them!
This, of course, brings us to the big controversy from yesterday—Hakuho’s loss to M1 Ikioi. Anytime Hakuho gives up a kinboshi [gold star award] (for being beaten by a maegashira-ranked opponent) it’s news of some sort, but the way it happened is the big news. First of all, it’s clear that Hakuho is not at full health, and his injured heel is almost certainly the culprit behind the very defensive way he’s fought so far this tournament. Still, if you go back and watch the match you’ll see that the video is pretty clear that Ikioi’s arm touched first, but the judges decided that Hakuho was “dead body” falling, and so they gave the win to Ikioi. There are a number of reasons why this is controversial.
1. Ikioi didn’t happen to fall and Hakuho “hover” for a few extra seconds, that was because of a deliberate move by the Yokozuna. And in many cases, this rationale would have been used to flip the decision and give Hakuho the outright win.
2. The fact of the matter is that they seemed to be falling in sync, and in most cases the judges would have called for a do-over and have the match be fought again. This is what most of the pundits thought was going to happen, ESPECIALLY because Hakuho is a yokozuna (and that often is worth a little extra consideration in such situations).
3. Earlier in the day there was an almost identical situation in the M6 Chiyonokuni vs M8 Okinoumi bout, and the judges made the complete opposite call . . . and in that bout, Chiyonokuni was falling because of Okinoumi’s attack, so definitely WAS “dead body.”
Basically, there are about six very good reasons why the match either should have been re-fought or awarded to Hakuho . . . but after significant deliberation and viewing of the video replay, it still wasn’t
Other items of note from yesterday include Kotoshogiku’s win over Kakuryu, keeping the sekiwake’s hope for double-digit wins (and reinstatement to the rank of ozeki) alive, and handing the yokozuna his first loss of the tournament; Kisenosato continuing to fight his way out of trouble smoothly, confidently, and with yokozuna style; Harumafuji nearly losing for a third day in a row, but managing to pull out a win . . . while also managing to get poked in the eye and give himself an excuse to go kyujo [absent for injury] if he wants (or needs) to; ozeki Terunofuji continuing to look strong, while ozeki Goeido continues to look like a hot mess (losing his third match in a row); sekiwake Takayasu continuing to look like a man with a date with an ozeki promotion, handling komusubi Mitakeumi like a seasoned veteran; and M10 Tochinoshin putting up a valiant fight, but still unable to overcome the leg injury that’s nagging him.
The question is, what do the Gods of Sumo have in store for us today?
INJURY UPDATE: So far this basho has been relatively injury free, with only M8 Kaisei being kyujo [absent because of injury], though word is that he may return to action in the next few days. Unfortunately, today yokozuna Hakuho has withdrawn from the tournament citing a combination of a scrape on the sole of his foot and a pulled thigh muscle as the reason. I have a feeling that this is just the start, and we’ll be seeing a few more injury withdrawals before Week 1 is done.
M11 Daieisho (1–3) vs. M13 Takakeisho (3–1)—This is a classic example of what happens when two “pusher/thruster” type rikishi fight. At the tachi-ai [initial charge] they go all out swinging and slapping with great vigor, but they tend to run out of steam pretty quickly. At that point they lean on each other until one recovers enough energy to start a second assault. (1:36)
M10 Tochiozan (4–0) vs. M7 Chiyoshoma (4–0)—Two of our unbeaten rikishi go head-to-head, meaning that the leaderboard will be at least one name shorter tomorrow. Tochiozan may be ranked lower this tournament, but he spent most of 2016 in sanyaku, while Chiyoshoma spent most of it in Juryo. (4:10)
M6 Chiyonokuni (3–1) vs. M3 Takarafuji (4–0)—Another match featuring one of our co-leaders. Takarafuji has been looking strong in the same, unflashy way he did in January. He’s got more than enough sumo to beat opponents ranked below him, but not quite enough to regularly challenge the top-rankers. (6:00)
Sekiwake Tamawashi (2–2) vs. sekiwake Kotoshogiku (3–1)—Kotoshogiku’s win against Kakuryu yesterday put him back on track to possibly hit double-digit wins and regain his ozeki rank. However, he MUST win ALL his matches against opponents who are equal- or lower-ranked than him . . . and today that’s fellow sekiwake Tamawashi. (6:30)
Komusubi Shodai (2–2) vs. sekiwake Takayasu (4–0)—Another co-leader, and the third sekiwake (something that doesn’t happen very often), Takayasu, has been showing strong, consistent sumo. He’s hoping to get double-digit wins and put himself in a position to make a run at an ozeki promotion in May. Shodai, however, is also a strong, up and coming rikishi who wants to prove he’s got what it takes to compete at the sanyaku ranks. (6:45)
M2 Takanoiwa (1–3) vs. ozeki Terunofuji (4–0)—I’ve been talking a lot about how strong Terunofuji has looked this basho. In fact, he’s looked so good I’ve forgotten to mention that he is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this tournament and MUST get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] or next basho he’ll be in the same mess that Kotoshogiku is in this time. Still, he’s unbeaten, one of our co-leaders, and halfway to his needed eight wins, so things are looking good for him. (7:15)
M1 Ikioi (1–3) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (4–0)—Our final co-leader is yokozuna Kisenosato, who is looking very much like the man to beat this tournament. Today he’s facing Ikioi, who got his first win yesterday by besting yokozuna Hakuho and collecting a kinboshi [gold star award for a maegashira-ranked rikishi beating a yokozuna]. He’d certainly like to collect another one today. (8:36)