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SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the Nagoya Basho and the leaderboard has simplified significantly. At the top, still undefeated, we have yokozuna Hakuho and M8 Aoiyama. However, all but one of the one-loss rikishi stumbled for a second time on Saturday, leaving just shin-ozeki Takayasu in second place with a 6–1 record. 

What a strange affair Week 1 was, starting with five of seven “champion” level rikishi losing on Day 1, and four rikishi going kyujo [absent for injury] (including two yokozuna and an ozeki). A pack of young rikishi have been holding tight one or two losses from the top and grabbing upset victories over top-ranked veterans. 

On the other hand, Takayasu is putting in a strong performance in his first tournament at the rank of ozeki. (Many shin-ozeki [newly promoted ozeki] struggle with that and put in flat performances in their initial outings.) And Hakuho has been inching closer to the all-time record for career wins. As of today, he needs only 5 more to add that honor to the many other records he’s already set in his illustrious career . . . oh, and he may be on his way to having back-to-back zensho yusho [perfect record tournament championships].

Perhaps most surprising of all, Bulgarian rikishi Aoiyama is having the tournament of his career, tied for the lead on Nakabi and still seeming calm and focused in his sumo (something he often seems to struggle with).

What have we got coming in Week 2? I hardly dare guess . . . except to say that it will surely be exciting sumo!

M11 Chiyonokuni (2–5) vs. M16 Gagamaru (2–5)—Two rikishi near the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet] (in Gagamaru’s case, VERY close) who are having pretty bad tournaments. Each can only spare two more losses or they’ll be make-koshi [majority of losses] and face the likelihood of demotion to Juryo. (1:45)

M10 Chiyotairyu (5–2) vs. M12 Arawashi (5–2)—I have no idea what happened in this match. Usually I’m skeptical of calls of yaocho [match fixing], but sometimes you see a loss so inexplicable it seems impossible not to at least CONSIDER the possibility. Watch this match (particularly the slo-mo replay) and see what you think. (2:55)

M6 Ichinojo (3–4) vs. M8 Ishiura (3–4)—The smallest rikishi in the top division against one of the largest. We love these matches because they highlight the raw meritocracy of sumo. It doesn’t matter how big or small or old or heavy you are . . . all that matters is whether you win or lose. (5:05)

M8 Aoiyama (7–0) vs. M6 Onosho (5–2)—Co-leader Aoiyama today faces one of the brightest young stars in the sport today, Onosho.  Based on their strong performances in Week 1, both of these rikishi can expect to be bumped up to face higher ranked opponents in Week 2. But first one of them has to prove himself the better man today. (5:40)

Ozeki Takayasu (6–1) vs. M5 Chiyoshoma (3–4)—Takayasu is looking strong in his debut tournament as an ozeki, and he’s the only rikishi still one win behind the leaders. He has to finish this basho strong, crushing lower-ranked opponents like Chiyoshoma and hope that the leaders stumble along the way. (9:46)

Yokozuna Hakuho (7–0) vs. M4 Ura (5–2)—Hakuho is only 2 wins away from passing the great Chiyonofuji for the #2 spot on the Most Career Wins list. Today that means beating probably the hottest of the up-and-coming sumo class of 2017, Ura. This is the first time these two have ever fought, I can’t remember ever having seen Hakuho have to face a “mighty might” of an opponent. It’ll be interesting to see what tactics he chooses. For certain we can expect Ura to bring his fearless direct assault and try to dive below the yokozuna’s defenses. I’m really looking forward to this one.  (10:35)

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