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SUMO: 2017 Haru Basho (Day 7)

It’s Day 7 of the Haru Basho, and only three rikishi remain undefeated atop the leaderboard with 6–0 records—yokozuna Kisenosato, sekiwake Takayasu, and M10 Tochiozan. And only three rikishi are one win off the pace at 5–1—and ozeki Terunofuji, M3 Takarafuji, and M7 Chiyoshoma. Only two men within those groups has ever won a yusho [tournament championship] . . . Kisenosato who just did it for the first time in January, and Terunofuji who hasn’t won since May of 2015. That means ALL of the leaders will really be feeling the pressure, and there’s not really any telling how they’ll respond

Of course, there’s still more than a week to go in the tournament, and someone who is currently 4–2 COULD  work back into the hunt. But for now, that’s seeming like a longshot. 

The middle weekend is always filled with as many “marquee” pairings at the Sumo Association can manage, so as to drive up TV ratings. (They don’t have to worry about selling tickets to the the actual event these days. The seats for every day of the Haru Basho sold out in less than a week.)

M10 Tochiozan (6–0) vs. M8 Okinoumi (4–2)—While all the fireworks are going on up near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet], Tochiozan is quietly dominating down near the middle. He’s a former sekiwake, so he knows what it takes to win, but even with his unbeaten record, he hasn’t looked particularly sharp or dominant this week. Facing Okinoumi, another former sekiwake, will give Tochiozan a chance to show how sharp his sumo really is. A decisive victory today might point to a strong Week 2 and staying in the hunt for the yusho. A loss or a weak performance today, and I think we can figure he’ll drop off the leaderboard before too long (4:50)

M5 Endo (3–3) vs. M7 Chiyoshoma (5–1)—Chiyoshoma is doing well, and that has the crowd on his side. But today he faces fan favorite Endo, so he’s going to have to get the job done while the crowd is against him today if he wants to remain one win behind the leaders. (6:15)

M6 Aoiyama (3–3) vs. M3 Takarafuji (5–1)—It was predictable that Takarafuji would lose his match yesterday to Kisenosato. But it’s only left him one win off the pace, so he’s got to turn his fortunes around NOW before they dissipate. His opponent today nearly physically identical to Kisenosato, but doesn’t have anywhere near the skills. This is Takarafuji’s chance to show how he’d HOPED yesterday’s match would have gone . . . or his chance to show that he really doesn’t know how to handle the big men. (8:40)

Sekiwake Kotoshogiku (4–2) vs. M3 Shohozan (1–5)—Say what you will about Kotoshogiku’s performances over the last six months, this basho he is looking like an ozeki should. Unfortunately, he’s a sekiwake . . . and must win 10 matches to regain his former rank. His opponent today showed how dangerous he can be yesterday by fairly manhandling yokozuna Kakuryu. Kotoshogiku is going to have to take control against Shohozan straight from the tachi-ai [initial charge] if he doesn’t want to share the yokozuna’s fate. (9:10)

M2 Sokokurai (2–4) vs. sekiwake Takayasu (6–0)—Takayasu looked nearly invincible yesterday in his win over ozeki Terunofuji. He blew the bigger man off the blocks at the tachi-ai and bullied his way to a fast and decisive win. The trick for him today is to maintain that kind of focus even though his opponent isn’t nearly as challenging. (This is a problem the Takayasu’s stable-mate Kisenosato struggled with for years and only recently seems to have overcome.) Sokokurai has more than enough skill to take advantage of any lapse in concentration that Takayasu suffers. (9:35)

M1 Takekaze (1–5) vs. ozeki Terunofuji (5–1)—Terunofuji has spent the entire basho physically dominating his opponents, so no one was more surprised than him when sekiwake Takayasu completely dominated him in yesterday’s match. I think the idea that anyone would try that simply hadn’t even occurred to Terunofuji, so he prepared no defense for it. Pride, as they say, goeth before a fall. But Terunofuji is still in good shape. He’s one behind the leaders, and still only needs three more wins to erase his kadoban [threathened with ozeki demotion] status. Today he faces one of the oldest rikishi still active, but also one who is known for moving fast and hitting hard. Still, if Terunofuji gets his focus back, he should be able to come out on top. (10:30)

Komusubi Mitakeumi 3–3) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (6–0)—In the past, this is the kind of match that would trip Kisenosato up and knock him out of contention. It’s the middle of a tournament where everything seems to be going his way. He’s fighting strong, other top rankers have already fallen or are kyujo [absent due to injury], and his opponent is a relatively young rikishi who has never beaten him in the past. These are the kind of matches where Kisenosato would fail to focus properly and find himself on the wrong end of a stunning upset. So far in 2017, Kisenosato has avoided this trap. Indeed, he’s come out extra prepared for these matches. If he does that again today, he’ll be setting himself up for a smooth run at the yusho during Week 2. If he falls back into his old ways, though, he’ll find himself toppled from the leaderboard and hoping for other rikishi to similarly slip up and let him back into contention. (11:40)

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