It’s Day 12 of the Haru Basho and things just got REAL! . . . I don’t know why I said that. It just seemed like a sports blog kind of thing to say. Things have been REAL the whole tournament, it’s just that we hadn’t had any significant changes to the leaderboard in days. Not so. Now there is only ONE undefeated rikishi leading the pack at 11–0, and it is shin-yokozuna Kisenosato, with three rikishi one win behind at 10–1, ozeki Terunofuji, sekiwake Takayasu, and M10 Tochiozan. The thing is, they ALL had very exciting matches yesterday.
Let’s begin with the leader. Kisenosato continued to prove that he was completely deserving of his promotion as he was thoroughly challenged by M4 Yoshikaze. Despite the smaller, faster rikishi grabbing the advantage from the tachi-ai [initial charge], Kisenosato patiently countered every move Yoshikaze made until he got the opening he needed, and then he spun the smaller man around and guided him out of the dohyo . . . simple as can be. It’s the simplicity, the matter-of-factness of Kisenosato’s recent performances that are most impressive.
Also incredibly impressive has been Terunofuji, who seems to truly have rediscovered his mojo. Yesterday M4 Arawashi pushed him as hard and as far as anyone all basho. At several points, Terunofuji seemed to be in an unrecoverable position . . . and yet he not only recovered, he took control of the bout and ended up throwing Arawashi to the groud with stunning conviction. This might be remembered as the best single match of the tournament.
Takayasu also put up an incredible fight against his opponent, yokozuna Kakuryu. He truly looked like an ozeki, taking weak positions and turning them around to strong ones. Unfortunately, the yokozuna simply did the same thing only better.
On the other hand, Tochiozan only stayed on the leaderboard with a heaping helping of good luck. He tried an ill-advised henka against M6 Chiyokuni and barely managed to pull his opponent down with him, resulting in a monoii [judge’s conference] that required a torinaoshi [redo]. And in the second match, Chiyonokuni tried an even MORE ill-advised henka, which Tochiozan spotted and easily won the fight.
Today, Takayasu has to face another yokozuna, Harumafuji, and he needs a better outcome or he’ll find himself out of the yusho [tournament championship] race entirely. Meanwhile, Kisenosato fights Arawashi, who could pull off an upset if he fights the way he did yesterday. Terunofuji gets a relatively light assignment against M5 Endo, who is having a mediocre tournament overall. Finally, Tochiozan will square off against M14 Myogiryu who, on the one hand, is having a pretty bad tournament and is only two losses away from make-koshi [majority of losses], but on the other hand is a former sanyaku rikishi who sometimes still shows a flash of brilliance.
The other change of note is that sekiwake Kotoshogiku lost his match to M1 Ikioi yesterday. As you may recall, Kotoshogiku is trying to achieve at least 10 wins in order to regain the rank of ozeki (which he lost after having two make-koshi performances in a row). This is a pretty big disappointment for a number of reasons. First, Ikio has been having a terrible tournament, and is probably one of the softest targets that Kotoshogiku is likely to face in the remainder of the basho. Second, what the hell was Kotoshogiku thinking by pulling a half-henka against someone with a 1–9 record?! That he didn’t drive straight at Ikioi tells me that Kotoshogiku is hurting and he’s trying to get wins as easily and quickly as possible. That’s just not going to cut it at this juncture. If he wants his ozeki rank back, he’s going to have to go in and fight tooth and nail to get it. At this point he must win three of his remaining four matches . . . and those will be against ozeki Terunofuji, komusubi Shodai, M3 Takarafuji, and probably one of the M4s (Yoshikaze or Arawashi). There isn’t a soft target among that group! I hate to say it, but losing to Ikioi may have doomed Kotoshogiku’s chances of regaining his former rank.
M14 Myogiryu (5–6) vs. M10 Tochiozan (10–1)—Tochiozan looked a little shaky yesterday. One more loss and he’s pretty much out of contention, so he’d better sharpen up for today’s match against Myogiryu. (0:37)
Yokozuna Hakuho vs. yokozuna Asashoryu—A flashback match from the January 2008 basho. It’s amazing see Hakuho in the prime of his career, just his fourth basho as a yokozuna. Sit back and enjoy one of the all-time best sumo bouts you’re ever likely to see. (2:10)
Sekiwake Kotoshogiku (7–4) vs. M3 Takarafuji (5–6)—Kotoshogiku’s loss to yesterday to Ikioi really puts him in a tough spot. He’s got to win three out of his next four matches, starting today. It’s no easy task, but I’m certainly rooting for him . . . at the very least, I want him to make a good run at it. A win today secures his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and puts him on a 50/50 track to reaching his ultimate goal. (5:50)
M5 Endo (6–5) vs. ozeki Terunofuji (10–1)—Terunofuji showed just how “in the zone” he is this tournament with his win yesterday over M4 Arawashi, who seemed to have the ozeki at a severe disadvantage for most of the bout. But Terunofuji dug in his heels and practically willed himself to win. Endo is going to have to come up with some kind of spectacular performance to win this match. (6:22)
M4 Arawashi (3–8) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (11–0)—Arawashi gave a stellar performance in vane yesterday. He’s going to have to be at least that good and probably better if he wants to beat the shin-yokozuna. Kisenosato still seems like a man on a mission—this tournament is now his to lose, and he knows it. (7:05)
Yokozuna Harumafuji (8–3) vs. sekiwake Takayasu (10–1)—Takayasu has had a terrific basho up till now, and his loss to yokozuna Kakuryu yesterday is more or less how things were “supposed” to go . . . but the sekiwake doesn’t want it how it’s “supposed” to be. He’s still in the hunt for the yusho at this stage, but in order to remain there he’s going to have to beat his yokozuna opponent today, and that’s a feasible task. Earlier this week, Harumafuji was showing clear signs that his ankles were hurting and that the didn’t have the same speed or power that he usually brings to the dohyo. If Takayasu can bring the kind of power and command he used to beat Terunofuji on Day 6, he should have a similar result. That having been said, Harumafuji is one of the smartest, toughest rikishi I’ve ever seen . . . and he seems to dearly relish proving that he deserves his spot atop the banzuke. (7:40)