Two-thirds of the Haru Basho are in the book, and the Day 11 leaderboard remains the same as it’s been for the past few days. Yokozuna Kisenosato and sekiwake Takayasu have perfect 10–0 records and the lead over ozeki Terunofuji and M10 Tochiozan, who both are 9–1. Weirdly, with yokozuna Kakuryu’s vert sloppy loss yesterday, there are NO rikishi with 8–2 records, meaning that it’s almost impossible for some dark horse to finish strong and sneak into the yusho [tournament championship] race.
One weird thing the past few days has been Tochiozan’s sudden use of henka [side-step “trick” plays at the initial charge]. When I first was able to start watching sumo again (when I discovered Jason’s and Kintamayama’s YouTube channels back in late 2014), Tochiozan and Takayasu were both sanyaku-ranked rikishi . . . and I had a very hard time telling them apart over the course of a tournament. I’d confuse their records or which of them had made a particular performance a few days earlier, and I even had trouble remembering which one was which when they both were on the screen.
For most of the past two years they have fallen and risen through the banzuke [ranking sheet] more or less in sync until last summer. Since then Takayasu has put on a great surge of confidence and consistency, made one run at an ozeki promotion, and now is in the middle of a second . . . with a real shot at the yusho this basho. Meanwhile, Tochiozan has continued to yo-yo up and down the banzuke, and really is only contending for the yusho this time because he’s ranked so low and doesn’t have to face the top competition. The fact that he’s reduced to using henka maneuvers against such relatively weak opponents, while Takayasu is going chest to chest with top-rankers makes the concept of finding the two interchangeable to be ridiculous.
Each rikishi has just five more bouts to go to decide their fate in this tournament . . . let’s see how they do with today’s.
BREAKING NEWS: One member of the Sumo Association publicly stated that if Takayasu wins the yusho it is possible that he could be promoted to ozeki, despite not having achieved the usual requirement of 33 wins over the course of three basho. (In point of fact, if Takayasu finished 15–0, he WILL have 33 wins over the past three basho, even including his 7–8 make-koshi in November.) Now, since it’s only one oyakata [sumo elder] that has said it, this means that winning the basho wouldn’t guarantee the promotion. The Sumo Association likes to tip its hand this way to give itself more options, but it’s very leery of promising rewards or promotions beyond the bounds of general practice, but almost always let it be known when they’re considering doing so. This is, in fact, why Kisenosato’s promotion was so controversial . . . they hadn’t let slip the rumor that a single yusho would be enough to get the job done.
M6 Chiyonokuni (7–3) vs. M10 Tochiozan (9–1)—Tochiozan lucks out again in that while Chiyonokuni is ranked above him, the schedulers haven’t yet pulled him up to face any of the rikishi at the top of the banzuke yet. He has to take advantage of these relatively easy pairings while they last, because during the final weekend they’re CERTAIN to give him tougher pairings if he’s still hanging in there on the leaderboard. (5:45)
Sekiwake Tamawashi (5–5) vs. M3 Shohozan (2–8)—This match has nothing to do with the yusho race, but it is a super energetic example of yotsu [slapping and thrusting] sumo. Plus it’s just a heck of a lot of fun to watch! (9:20)
Sekiwake Kotoshogiku (7–3) vs. M1 Ikioi (1–9)—Ikioi may be ranked M1, but he’s having a terrible basho, and that means that he may be the easiest pairing that Kotoshogiku will see for the remainder of the tournament. Kotoshogiku needs three more wins to regain his ozeki rank, and winning today would make that a 50/50 shot (with him needing to win only two of his remaining four matches). On the other hand, a loss today means that he has to win three-out-of-four against the top rikishi . . . and the fact that he failed against Ikioi will decrease the already long odds that he can pull off that feat. (10:55)
M4 Arawashi (3–7) vs. ozeki Terunofuji (9–1)—Arawashi has a very bad record this tournament, but he’s been fighting strong, pushing lots of the sanyaku rikishi to the edge of defeat . . . only to slip over that edge himself at the last minute. Terunofuji is doing GREAT, but he’s not invincible. As long as he stays focused, he should win this one handily. (11:30)
Sekiwake Takayasu (10–0) vs. yokozuna Kakuryu (7–3)—This is the first of Takayasu’s two biggest challenges—the remaining yokozuna. He’s certainly been performing like someone who has the ability to win even against a grand champion, but actually DOING it is another matter. Add to that Kakaryu’s embarrassment over yesterday’s loss, and his yokozuna pride to prove his dominance, and this seems like it ought to be a big-hitting match. (13:45)
M4 Yoshikaze (6–4) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (10–0)—Yoshikaze has what it takes to beat just about any of the top-rankers. He’s fast, tricky, highly skilled, and easy to underestimate. He spent a good part of 2016 ranked among the sanyaku, and he’s shown that he’s comfortable there. Kisenosato has to remain calm, focused, and confident and treat this as “just another day at the office.” He can certainly beat Yoshikaze, as long as he doesn’t get into his own head and sow too much worry or doubt. (15:25)