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SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 1)

The long wait is over. The temperature is high in central Japan, and the big men are heading back onto the dohyo. Grand Sumo is back—it’s time for the Nagoya Basho!

Things are looking good this tournament. We have all four yokozuna—Hakuho, Kisenosato, Harumafuji, and Kakuryu—in the mix and relatively healthy. Kisenosato is still rehabbing his left shoulder and it seems to be an on again/off again thing. Over the past week or so he’s had some really dominant days of practice and a handful of “can’t lift my arm” days, so we’ll just have to cross our fingers that he stays healthy for the whole fortnight. On the other hand, Kakuryu has publicly stated that he’s still not 100% (something that yokozuna very rarely admit), but he seems to be giving strong sumo in his practice sessions. No word has come my way about how Harumafuji has looked in pre-tourney training, so he’ll be a complete mystery.

Hakuho has looked VERY strong in his practice bouts. What’s more, he’s coming off a zensho-yusho [undefeated tournament championship] in May and is pressing to break some records in the all-time wins category. If he can get nine wins this basho, he’ll pass the legendary Chiyonofuji for second place on the all-time wins list . . . but if he gets twelve wins or more he’ll ALSO pass the great ozeki Kaio and become the winningest rikishi EVER. 

Our current batch of ozeki are looking better this time, bolstered by the promotion of Takayasu (Kisenosato’s stable-mate) to sumo’s second highest rank. He joins Terunofuji (Harumafuji’s stable-mate)—who is still dealing with persistent knee problems—and Goeido. For the first time in many tournaments NONE of the ozeki are kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion], so let’s just hope they all perform up to expectation. If they do, this is bound to be a hotly contested basho. 

The two sekiwake are Tamawashi, who has looked strong at this rank all year and may have started a press for ozeki promotion with his double-digit wins in May, and Mitakeumi, who now has been around long enough NOT to be dismissed as a “youngster” and is expected to show us his real mettle this time around.

The komusubi are Yoshikaze and Kotoshogiku, two older rikishi who are keen to keep anyone from talking about “retirement” by staking an ongoing spot in sanyaku.

That pretty much sets the table at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Now let’s have a look at the best of the Day 1 action.

M4 Ura vs. M4 Endo—Two of the most popular rikishi, both ranked at Maegashira 4, both dressed in colorful mawashi. And a hard-fought match to boot! (7:05)

Ozeki Takayasu vs. M2 Hokutofuji—Takayasu has been training hard to be able to shine at his new rank of ozeki. Hokutofuji, on the other hand, is also at his highest rank ever and wants to prove he deserves to be even higher (and beating an ozeki is a good way to make that statement).  (9:00)

M2 Tochinoshin vs. ozeki Goeido—Tochinoshin is one of my favorite rikishi, and having struggled through some chronic knee problems the last few years, he’s finally clawed his way back near the top of the banzuke. His reward? Having to fight an ozeki on Day 1. (9:40)

Yokozuna Kisenosato vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi—Practice matches are one thing, honbasho matches are another. Here’s where we get to see what kind of shape Kiseonsato’s left shoulder is REALLY in. (12:40)

Komusubi Yoshikaze vs. yokozuna Harumafuji—Yoshikaze is one of the few rikishi who regularly gives Harumafuji trouble. he’s 9–10 lifetime against the yokozuna, and would love to start off the basho evening the record. (Of course, since he’s a komusubi, he won’t get a kinboshi [gold star award] even if he does win.)  (13:10)

Yokozuna Hakuho vs. komusubi Kotoshogiku—Hakuho was undefeated in May, and he needs twelve wins here in Nagoya to break the all-time career record. Starting off against former-ozeki Kisenosato is a good way to judge how focused he is on that prize and what shape he’s truly in. (14:45)

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