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SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 2)

Here’s something I’ve never been able to say at the start of Day 2 of a hon-basho [sumo grand tournament]: Only two undefeated contestants remain among the sanyaku ranked rikishi. “Sanyaku,” for those who don’t know, are the named ranks atop sumo’s top division. The Makuuchi division consists of 30–32 Maegashira rikishi split into paired ranks (two M1, two M2, and so on down to M16, whose numbers depend on how many are needed to fill out the tournament draw evenly). Above them are the regulated “sanyaku” ranks—a pair of komusubi, a pair of sekiwake—and then the unregulated ozeki and yokozuna. These last two are champion level rankings and must be earned by putting in uniformly excellent performances over the course of a year or more. 

So what I’m saying is that the sanyaku rikishi are the best in the sport . . . and all but two of them lost on Day 1 yesterday. The only two winners were yokozuna Harumafuji and ozeki Takayasu. Of course, the three other yokozuna—Hakuho, Kisenosato, and Kakuryu—didn’t lose . . . rather they are skipping the tournament entirely because of injuries. Still, with their absence, one expects the sanyaku rikishi to step up and show how dominant they can be, particularly in the first week of the tournament before they start having to fight against each other. But on Day 1 six of the eight sanyaku rikishi lost to lesser opponents (except for komusubi Tochiozan, who lost to Harumafuji).

The last few tournaments have been fairly unorthodox in how they unfolded . . . but I feel safe in saying that this Aki Basho is going to bring a new level of wild unpredictability to the sport. We’ll get to see the best of the up and coming rikishi trying to  show how they can shine when the big stars are off the marquee. 

Now let’s look at the top matches from Day 2.

M7 Ikioi (1–0) vs. M6 Kagayaki (0–1)—A couple of big, strong rikishi who have struggled of late, but are trying to turn their fortunes around this basho. Ikioi got off to a good start by beating M8 Chiyoshoma, while Kagayaki lost his opening match to M7 Chionokuni. They both looked a little stiff, but very game. We’ll see how they look facing each other today. (4:20)
M6 Shodai (0–1) vs. M6 Ichinojo (0–1)—Based on his Day 1 match, Ichinojo seems to be back to his old style of relying on size and weight rather than using any particular sumo skill. That’s bad for him, but allows an opening for Shodai to overcome his Day 1 loss to slippery Ura. Certainly, Ichinojo won’t try anything as clever or unexpected as the tottari [arm bar throw] that Ura used. He’ll just lumber his 206 kilos (454 lbs.) straight ahead. The question is whether Shodai has an answer for a problem that massive. (4:55)
M5 Takakeisho (1–0) vs. M4 Ura (1–0)—On Day 1 Ura looked a little unsteady on his feet (perhaps not fully healed from the injury he suffered near the end of July’s Nagoya Basho), but still was clever and nimble enough to outmaneuver a much bigger opponent in M6 Shodai. He’ll have to do something similar today if he wants to beat Takakeisho, who has a 4–1 lead in their previous meetings. (6:15)
M3 Onosho (1–0) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (0–1)—Onosho looked fit and full of energy as he beat sekiwake Mitakeumi on Day 1. Today he’s facing the other sekiwake—“giant killer” Yoshikaze. The two have only fought once before, that having been in the previous basho, and Onosho managed to win that bout. Can he make it two in a row? (8:10)
Ozeki Takayasu (1–0) vs. komusubi Tamawashi (0–1)—Takayasu looked pretty strong yesterday in his win over M1 Tochinoshin, making him one of just two sanyaku rikishi to notch a victory on Day 1. But historically he’s had trouble against today’s opponent, Tamawashi (who leads their lifetime series 4–1). If he wants to prove himself to be a strong ozeki, though, Takayasu has to find a way to gain dominance over old rivals. (9:55)
ozeki Terunofuji (0–1) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (1–0)—Kotoshogiku looked rejuvenated in his win yesterday over ozeki Goeido. Of course, he did make use of a slippery not-quite-a-henka sidestep to do so. We now have to wonder if he has what it takes to beat a different ozeki who is aware that a “trick maneuver” may be brought into play. Also, ozeki Terunofuji looked a little lumbering in his Day 1 loss to Hokutofuji. Terunofuji is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this basho and must get at least 8 wins in order to retain his rank, so he’s got an added incentive beyond showing up Goeido (who also is kadoban).  (12:10)
M1 Tochinoshin (0–1) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (1–0)—Harumafuji was the only one of the top rikishi who looked fully sharp and on his game on Day 1. He beat komusubi Tochiozan quickly and decisively. Today he faces the big Georgian, Tochinoshin. If there’s any weakness in the yokozuna’s sumo, Tochinoshin is sure to find it . . . but if HArumafuji really is healthy and strong, he should win with little trouble. (14:40)

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