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SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 3)

It’s Day 3 of the Aki Basho, and things just keep getting wilder. It started with all but one of the yokozuna (plus several other big-name rikishi) announcing they were kyujo [absent due to injury] for the whole tournament. Then six of the eight sanyaku rikishi who WERE competing all LOST on Day 1 of the basho. Followed on Day 2 by one of the remaining unbeaten sanyaku losing, too. Plus three of the top rikishi suffering injuries that could put them on the kyujo list, too. And we still haven’t even begun the matches for Day 3.

Wow! There’s a lot of craziness going on, but let’s take a minute and look at some aspects of the first couple of days that have gone well.

To begin with, yokozuna Harumafuju—the ONLY yokozuna competing in the tournament—has been looking strong and healthy. He’s faced two tough opponents in komusubi Tochiozan and M1 Tochinoshin, and beat them both without working up a sweat. Considering how shaky Harumafuji has looked earlier this year, this is a terrific sign that he is feeling healthy and is ready to put in a strong run for his first yusho [tournament championship] since July of last year.

M1 Kotoshogiku, the former ozeki who in recent tournaments has looked like he might be heading toward a quick retirement has started the Aki Basho with two wins, both of them over current ozeki—Goeido and Terunofuji. Kotoshogiku is getting off the tachi-ai [initial charge] quickly and is showing the spirited bumping/thrusting sumo that made him a mainstay at sumo’s highest rank for five years. It’s unlikely he’ll ever recover his old rank, but if he continues to fight like this, he could get promoted back into sanyaku and stay there for an indefinite period.

M3 Onosho was one of the big surprises in July’s Nagoya Basho, finishing his second tournament in a row with double-digit wins. Having been promoted this high for the first time in his career, there was very real uncertainty as to whether he would be able to continue to be a strong competitor against sumo’s best practitioners . . . but he’s won both of his first two matches, and looked dominant against both sekiwake—Mitakeumi and Yoshikaze. He seems to be the real deal, and if he can keep this up he may well be the next rikishi to make a run at promotion to ozeki. (In fact, if he manages to get thirteen or more wins this tournament, he could technically qualify for the promotion before November’s Kyushu Basho . . . which would be the fastest ascent to that rank in sumo history.)

On the other hand, some rikishi have started off poorly. There are a slew of big name rikishi who have started the tournament 0–2, including ozeki Terunofuji, sekiwake Mitakeumi, sekiwake Yoshikaze, komusubi Tochiozan, M1 Tochinoshin, M6 Ichinojo, and M6 Kagayaki. In a tournament where Hakuho, Kisenosato, and Kakuryu are absent, these winless rikishi seem to be squandering a golden opportunity to legitimately compete for the yusho.

UPDATE: Two of the three rikishi who were injured yesterday have decided that kyujo [withdrawal due to injury] is best for them. Ozeki Takayasu has a right thigh muscle injury that will take three weeks to heal, meaning that he will be kadoban (threatened with ozeki demotion] in November. Meanwhile, M4 Ura aggravated the knee injury he suffered last basho and will be out for an indeterminate period of time.

Now let’s look at today’s top matches.

M15 Tokushoryu (0–2) vs. J2 Aminishiki (2–0)—With all the injuries in the top division, rikishi from the Juryo Division are being brought up to fill out the each day’s matches. Today, the lucky fellow is Aminishiki, who until last year was the oldest competitor in the Makuuchi division . . . but injury sent him sliding down the banzuke [ranking sheet], and he’s been fighting his way back up ever since. Now he’s ranked at J2, and if he gets his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] this basho, he’s likely to be promoted back up to the top division in November. Promoted to the top division at the age of 39, making him the oldest rikishi ever to achieve that promotion. But he’s got to get eight or more wins first . . . and today he’s getting a taste of what it’s like back in the big league again. (0:50)
M9 Takanoiwa (2–0) vs. M10 Ishiura (1–1)—Ishiura continues to do his kind of scrappy sumo and try to prove that a small, muscular rikishi can still make it in the top division among the behemoths and giants. Win or lose, he’s always fun to watch. Today he’s facing Takanoiwa, who has had three disappointing tournaments in a row and is trying to get things turned around (and a 2–0 start is a good way to do it). (4:30)
Komusubi Tamawashi (1–1) vs. M3 Onosho (2–0)—On Days 1 and 2, Onosho beat both sekiwake. Today he goes up against a komusubi. So far he’s looking every bit as fierce, fearless, and talented as can be. If he can keep this up, he will put himself in a very good position to contend for the yusho [tournament championship] in just his third tournament in the top division. Tamawashi, on the other hand, twisted his ankle yesterday in his win over ozeki Takayasu, and we weren’t even sure he’d be able to climb up onto the dohyo today, let alone compete . . . but here he is. That’s two tough customers, which generally means exciting sumo. (9:05)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (0–2) vs. M4 Shohozan (2–0)—Before the tournament started, I picked Mitakeumi as my choice to win the yusho. Now here we are on Day 3 and he hasn’t even won a single match. Hopefully he can turn that around against Shohozan, whose left eye is still very swollen from the head-bump he took at the Day 1 tachi-ai [initial charge] against Tamawashi. Mitakeumi isn’t out of the competition yet by any means . . . but he MUST start winning, or he will be. (10:25)
Ozeki Terunofuji (0–2) vs. M1 Tochinoshin (0–2)—Two big, powerful, bullish rikishi who haven’t managed a win yet between them. There’s going to be a lot of grunting and flexing, and one of them is guaranteed to get a win before it’s all over.  (11:55)
M1 Kotoshogiku (2–0) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (2–0)—Harumafuji is looking healthy, strong, and most of all fast. He’s set himself up as the man to beat this tournament not just because he’s the only remaining yokozuna, but because he’s fighting so well. On the other hand, Kotoshogiku has started the tournament by beating two ozeki opponents, and hasn’t looked this strong and focused since the Hatsu Basho [New Year’s Tournament] in 2016 when he won the yusho. And in that tournament, Kotoshogiku completely manhandled Harumafuji.  (13:40)

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