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SUMO: 2017 Haru Basho (Day 14)

It’s Day 14 of the Haru Basho and can things get any more dramatic than they did yesterday?!? Okay here’s your spoiler warning . . . if you haven’t seen the Day 13 matches yet, go do so before you read beyond this paragraph. No . . . really.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Of all the things that could happen yesterday, could anyone have predicted that?! Injuries happen in sumo, but you never expect something so debilitating to happen . . . particularly to someone who has been doing so well. Kisenosato not only losing his first match, but hurting his shoulder so badly in the fall from the dohyo that he had to be taken to the hospital. So painful to watch!

Here’s the thing, though . . . word is that he’s going to fight today!

The Japanese are always super uncommunicative about medical issues, so it’s hard to tell for certain. But watching the video yesterday I was pretty sure he’d dislocated his left shoulder. It looks like Kisenosato was “lucky” in and suffered a “clean” dislocation—where the ball pops out of the socket but then can pop right back in without larger structural damage. After only a brief to the hospital for examination, he was released. This morning his oyakata said he had good range of motion back in the arm (though no word on pain or strength). So he’s going to do his dohyo-iri [ring entering ceremony], and then he plans to fight yokozuna Kakuryu in the final match of the day as scheduled. And if all goes well, he’ll square off against ozeki Terunofuji on senshuraku [the final day].

I’m stunned at the news that Kisenosato is going to fight at all. Even with a “clean” dislocation, his whole side is going to be massively painful and weakened for days . . . AND the arm is going to be more susceptible to a repeat or similar injury until it fully heals. But I really shouldn’t be surprised. In the macho world of sumo, and at the lofty rank of yokozuna, this kind of “fight through the pain” mentality is to be expected. 

So, putting aside the melodramatic way it happened, the fact of the matter is that Kisenosato has suffered his first loss of the tournament (indeed, his first loss as a yokozuna) and is now tied for the yusho [tournament championship] lead with ozeki Terunofuji with 12–1 records. The ozeki beat yokozuna Kakuryu in a classic power-sumo match yesterday, and faces sekiwake Kotoshogiku today. (Because Terunofuji and yokozuna Harumafuji are from the same stable, they don’t have to fight each other unless the tournament comes down to a playoff.)

Kotoshogiku won his match yesterday, keeping his hopes of regaining his ozeki ranking alive. However, he must win all his remaining matches to get the ten wins he needs to achieve that, and that starts with today’s match against Terunofuji. He’d be doing himself and Kisenosato a big favor if somehow he was able to summon his inner strength and beat his younger, taller, stronger opponent just one more time. 

At the start of Day 13, only two rikishi were two off the pace with 10–2 records—sekiwake Takayasu and M10 Tochiozan. However, both men lost yesterday, meaning that the closest competition to the leaders now are a small group of rikishi with 10–3 records. Since the leaders are at 12–1, and they are scheduled to go head-to-head on Sunday, at least one of them will finish with only two losses . . . meaning that all other rikishi are now mathematically eliminated from the yusho race. Either Terunofuji or Kisenosato is going to hoist the Emperor’s Cup on Sunday.

I don’t know what else to say. After yesterday’s gut-wrenching action, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from today . . . I just hope it’s good, clean, injury-free sumo.

M3 Takarafuji (6–7) vs. sekiwake Takayasu (10–3)—Takayasu has fallen out of the race for the yusho, which rules him out of an ozeki promotion after this tournament. But he’s now on his way to two consecutive basho with double-digit wins, which means that he could earn a promotion to sumo’s second-highest rank if he can do the same thing again in May at the Natsu Basho [Summer Tournament]. He’d make his goal—thirty-three wins over the course of three tournaments—easier  with each win he gets, but he’s now lost three bouts in a row and looks as though he may have a nagging problem in his right leg. Meanwhile, Takarafuji is one loss away from make-koshi [majority of losses] and so cannot afford anything but wins from here on out. (11:25)

Sekiwake Kotoshogiku (8–5) vs. ozeki Terunofuji (12–1)—This may be the match with the most riding on it. First of all and most obviously, Terunofuji must win if he wants to maintain at least a share of the lead (and perhaps sole lead, depending on how Kisenosato does). On the other hand, Kotoshogiku must win both this and his other remaining match in order to reach ten wins and regain his lost ozeki rank. This is the kind match we dream about—two of the best going head-to-head, each with something substantial on the line. I have to give the edge to Terunofuji, considering how well he’s been fighting, Kotoshogiku has no incentive to do anything other than throw every trick he’s got at Terunofuji and hope to come out on top. (13:45)

Yokozuna Kisenosato (12–1) vs. yokozuna Kakuryu (8–5)—Here it is, the match we didn’t think we’d get to see, after yesterday’s unjury to Kisenosato’s left shoulder. The question is, how badly does that shoulder still hurt . . . and how much is Kakuryu going to try to take advantage of it. (15:35)

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