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SUMO: Natsu Basho 2017 (Day 1)

Hey, hey, sumo fans! The long spring wait is over . . . the rikishi are back in Tokyo for the Natsu Basho [Summer Grand Tournament] and we’re about to be treated to fifteen days of world-class sumo! 

The March tournament ended with about as much drama as one can imagine . . . and the May tournament is kicking off with some of that tension still in the air. Newly promoted yokozuna Kisenosato managed to overcome a dislocated shoulder and beat ozeki Terunofuji TWICE on senshuraku [the final day], once in the second-to-last match of the regular schedule, and again in a championship playoff. Six weeks later, Kisenosato’s arm is still heavily bandaged, and his pre-tournament training was highly curtailed. Terunofuji seems to be suffering from shaken confidence, as if he’s still trying to figure out HOW he managed to lose twice in a row to a wounded opponent. 

And they’re not the only rikishi who seem to be carrying the events of the Osaka tournament on their shoulders. Yokozuna Hakuho left that competition with an injured foot, and there remains a question whether he’ll be able to regain his dominance and win his 38th yusho [tournament championship]. This Natsu Basho marks his 59th tournament as a yokozuna, tying him for second on the all-time list with the great Chiyonofuji (who passed away last summer). It’s been a year since Hakuho has won a tournament, and it’s clear that the end of his career is at least on the horizon. But he clearly still has what it takes to stay competitive and in the hunt for the yusho . . . IF he can stay healthy.

The other two yokozuna—Harumafuji and Kakuryu—are similarly nearing the end of their runs, and both of them looked similarly shaky in March. And ozeki Goeido is once again kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] because of his make-koshi [majority of losses] in Osaka. 

Meanwhile, it seems like there’s a fresh crop of rikishi—the next generation, anxious to push forward and show what they can do. Terunofuji was on the cusp of that two years ago, but has been struggling with injuries since winning his first yusho in the 2015 Natsu Basho. He nearly won in Osaka, and for sure would be happy to grab another summer win here and get his dreams of yokozuna promotion back on track. Meanwhile, sekiwake Takayasu will achieve a promotion to ozeki IF he can get 10 or more wins in this tournament. 

Yes, there’s a lot going on the May tournament . . . and it all starts NOW!

M3 Daieisho vs. sekiwake Takayasu—Takayasu is looking to get double-digit wins this tournament. If he can manage that, he’ll have achieved 33 wins over the past three basho, which is the threshold needed to secure a promotion to the rank of ozeki. Of course, sekiwake is a very challenging rank because he will likely face all four yokozuna and both ozeki during Week 1, so he must be sure to get his “easy” wins over lower-ranked rikishi whenever they appear. To make matters harder, Takayasu has publicly announced that his aim is to go zensho [no loss] this tournament, which means EVERYONE he faces has an extra reason to try to put him down. (7:50)

M2 Okinoumi vs ozeki Goeido—Once again Goeido is kadoban (the fifth time in less than three years as an ozeki). He must go kachi-koshi [majority of wins] or he’ll be demoted from his ozeki rank. Last tournament he withdrew after only six days because of an injury, and word is that his training was curtailed in the lead up to this basho. His opponent today, Okinoumi, has a habit of doing well in the mid-maegashira ranks, but not having the mental toughness to find ways to win whenever he is promoted up near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. (8:58)

M1 Chiyonokuni vs. yokozuna Hakuho—Let’s see what Hakuho is bringing to the basho this time. Is he going to be dominant? Tentative? Tricky? Will he be able to stay in the competition for the whole 15 days? (11:00)

Yokozuna Harumafuji vs. sekiwake Kotoshogiku—Last tournament, Kotoshogiku came one win shy of getting the ten necessary to regain his ozeki rank. Now he’s firmly back in the sanyaku and must survive basho-to-basho like all the other non-champion-level rikishi. There’s no more “kadoban” for him . . . if he goes make-koshi [majority of losses], he’ll get demoted. But he’s still got the spirit and the skills that kept him at the rank of ozeki for so long. He starts the tournament against yokozuna Harumafuji (whom he’s fought 62 times before). We’ll see if this shift in his schedule, where he faces the toughest opponents in Week 1 and gets weaker competition in Week 2 plays to his strength. (12:10)

Yokozuna Kisenosato vs. komusubi Yoshikaze—There’s a real question as to whether Kisenosato is healthy enough to be competing in this tournament. Two months isn’t a lot of time to recover from the type of shoulder dislocation he suffered on Day 13 of the Haru Basho, let alone recover AND get back into fighting shape. I wish him nothing but the best, but if it turns out that he ISN’T in full form, I hope he bows out during Week 1 and goes back to get the rest his body needs. (14:00)

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