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SUMO: Natsu Basho 2017 (Day 5)

It’s Day 5 of the 2017 Natsu Basho and things are plenty exciting in Tokyo. The tournament is completely sold out for all fifteen days, so if you’re in Tokyo and wanting to attend, your only hope is the hundred-or-so tickets that they sell the morning of the event . . . so you’d have to go to the Ryogoku ward and stand in line at 6AM and HOPE that you’re not too far back in the line.

Only three rikishi remain unbeaten—yokozuna Harumafuji, yokozuna Hakuho, and sekiwake Takayasu—but a dozen contenders remain one win off the pace at 3–1, so the race for the yusho [tournament championship] is still pretty much up for grabs. And that’s a good thing. Too many tournaments in recent years have been down to one or two clear leaders before nakabi [the middle day . . . the middle Sunday of the tournament].

It would be great if the new norm became that there wasn’t even a clear leaderboard before that point, and the yusho contenders only became clear in the final five days of the basho. And with the strength of the current yokozuna plus the surge of rikishi like Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Tamawashi, and Terunofuji, there’s no reason why we couldn’t see six different yusho winners each year for at least the next couple of years.

Yesterday, Takayasu continued to show his focus and resolve, dispatching komusubi Mitakeumi without even working up a sweat. Terunofuji also looked strong pulling even to a 2–2 record by handily beating M2 Chiyoshima.

On the down side, yokozuna Kisenosato lost an unfortunate match to M1 Endo. The yokozuna had the advantage, particularly when Endo’s foot started to slide out from under him. But it seemed like Kisenosato believed that was an unrecoverable position for his opponent, and Endo managed to scramble back up without touching the clay and charge straight into Kisenosato before the bigger man knew what was happening. That dropped the yokozuna to 2–2 and reinforced the lesson: Never stop until you’re CERTAIN your opponent is down.

We also have our first withdrawal of the basho. Yokozuna Kakuryu is going kyujo [absence for injury] siting problems with his left ankle. Now that COULD be true . . . but he came into the tournament as the only yokozuna who was said to be at full health, and he hasn’t taken any particularly bad spills over the first four days, only bad losses. Even his one win over Endo seemed pretty lucky, as the M1 appeared to overextend himself rather than being outmaneuvered by the yokozuna. I know I’ve been predicting this for the past two years, but I think we’re seeing the final days of Kakuryu’s career. He just doesn’t have what it takes to perform like a yokozuna anymore, and with the surge of young up-and-comers, that’s just becoming more and more evident. I don’t think he’ll hang it up after this basho, but if his fortunes don’t change significantly in Nagoya, I expect he’ll announce his retirement in July.

I’m really enjoying the uncertainty of this basho, and each day I come to the coverage wondering what surprises I’ll see today. (For instance, did you catch the crazy full-body flip that Tochinoshin laid on Ura yesterday? If not, go back and watch it—2:55 on yesterday’s video. It was a thing of beauty!

M1 Endo (2–2) vs. sekiwake Takayasu (4–0)—Yesterday, Endo became the first rikishi ever to get a kinboshi [gold star award] from yokozuna Kisenosato, and he very nearly had another one against Kakuryu on Day 3, plus he beat ozeki Terunofuji handily on Day 1. All of that is to say that he’s having a pretty good basho so far. Takayasu, on the other hand, is still undefeated and has been having a GREAT basho so far. That makes this one of the marquis bouts for today. (10:25)

Ozeki Terunofuji (2–2) vs. sekiwake Kotoshogiku (1–3)—Take a second to think back to Day 14 of the March tournament. Terunofuji was in the hunt for the yusho, and Kotoshogiku needed to win BOTH of his remaining matches in order to regain the rank of ozeki. Day 14 was when they went head-to-head, and everyone was expecting a big, brawling, hard-fought match worthy of the dramatic situation both rikishi were in. Instead, Terunofuji pulled a huge henka and Kotoshogiku went sprawling on his belly. It was a gutless play by the ozeki, preventing the sekiwake from being able to fight for his future. I bring that up because this match is the first time these two have faced each other since then. (12:10)

Komusubi Mitakeumi (3–1) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (4–0)—Mitakeumi continues to improve tournament to tournament, and even match to match. On the other hand, Hakuho hasn’t won a yusho in a year, and he seems not just focused but hungry. (13:15)

Yokozuna Kisenosato (2–2) vs. M2 Chiyoshoma (1–3)—Kisenosato may have given up his first ever kinboshi yesterday, but he also proved that despite his injury, he’s in this basho to win it . . . and his fighting spirit will take him a long way. But let’s be clear, he IS hurt, and pretty badly. He can’t do much of anything with his left arm and that lets his opponents know exactly where to attack. Today’s question is does Chiyoshoma have the strength and talent to successfully press that advantage? (15:25)

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