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

Here we are at nakabi [the middle day] of the 15-day Aki Basho [Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament], and what a Week 1 we had. There are four rikishi atop the leaderboard with 6–1 records—ozeki Goeido, M3 Onosho, M11 Daieisho, and M12 Daishomaru. Three of the four yokozuna are out of the tournament kyujo [absent due to injury], and the fourth—Harumafuji—is currently 4–3 and only one or two more losses away from joining them, if only to save face. What’s more, two of the three ozeki are also kyujo. (As an interesting note, it’s been 99 years since 3 yokozuna and 2 ozeki have been kyujo in the same basho, making this literally a once-in-a-century tournament.)

With the exception of Goeido, the names of our leaders might be fairly unfamiliar to you. In Onosho’s case, that’s particularly understandable as this is only his third tournament competing in sumo’s top division. He went 10–5 in both of his previous tournaments and seems poised to do that well or better here. In fact, it’s possible that he might technically qualify for promotion to ozeki if he does well enough in this basho. (“Well enough” being 13 or more wins.)

At this point you’d have to say that Onosho and Goeido are pretty much the two most likely candidates to take the yusho [tournament championship]. Both of them have comparatively easier schedules in Week 2 (in Goeido’s case because so many of the challenges he’d normally have to face are obviated because of the number of kyujo cases amongst the top rikishi). But I have a feeling that things are going to be more interesting than that. I think that both these two and their co-leaders will begin to feel the pressure of being in the lead and take on another couple of losses, which would bring a host of other rikishi into the yusho race. When we finally get around to the end of senshuraku [the final day], I think we’re going to wind up with three or more rikishi TIED for the lead, and then we’ll get to see a playoff of one type or another. (In sumo, playoffs can have very different rules based on how many competitors there are.)

But there are eight days worth of sumo between now and then (including today’s) . . . and almost anything could happen. Should make for some very interesting viewing!

Speaking of interesting, word is that M2 Aoiyama, who had a break-out basho in July but injured his leg and has been kyujo for the entirety of this basho so far, is actually going to rejoin the action today. I’m at something of a loss to explain this, as there is practically NO upside for the Bulgarian rikishi. He’s already missed seven days, so as soon as he loses one match he’ll be make-koshi [majority of losses] and guaranteed a demotion. What’s more, he didn’t do any serious warm-up training before the tournament (because of his injury) so he’s coming in cold and is likely to lose a lot more than just one match, plus that also makes him more likely to re-injure himself. The only thing I can think of is that he thinks he’s ready to take on the leaders and can somehow make himself look good by playing the role of the spoiler, hopefully diminishing the number of spots he gets demoted on November’s banzuke. Even before seeing him step onto the dohyo, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is a BAD idea for him, and he should go back to being kyujo before he hurts himself more seriously.

Here are the best of today’s matches:

M11 Daieisho (6–1) vs. M14 Okinoumi (4–3)—Co-leader Daieisho looks to maintain his share of the lead, facing off today against Okinoumi. What the heck is wrong with Okinoumi? He’s skilled enough to be completely dominating at this level of the banzuke . . .  and yet he’s still struggling to get more wins than losses. In a normal basho, I’d say that Okinoumi would make short work of Daieisho, but given how things are going here in the Aki Basho, I have to call this a coin toss. (0:46)
M12 Daishomaru (6–1) vs. M10 Takekaze (2–5)—Co-leader Daishomaru also faces a once-strong rikishi who is currently struggling in the bottom half of the division. Takekaze, though, at the age of 38 may well just be nearing the natural end of his very successful year. Also a coin toss. (1:33)
M1 Tochinoshin (1–6) vs. M3 Onosho (6–1)—Normally, I’d say that this would be a match to look forward to. But it’s clear that Tochinoshin’s right leg is barely holding him up, and as long as opponents press him from that angle, he’s got practically no hope. However, if an opponent slips up and lets Tochinoshin get inside using his left leg as a pillar, he’s got the power to manhandle just about anyone. With the kind of sumo that Onosho is showing as a co-leader, I don’t expect him to make such a foolish error. (4:55)
M4 Shohozan (4–3) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (3–4)—Two scrappy rikishi who always seem to have nasty, angry, street-fighter style matches. That’s always worth tuning in for, no matter who you’re rooting for. (8:35)
Komusubi Tamawashi (3–4) vs. ozeki Goeido (6–1)—Tamawashi is having a mediocre tournament so far, and he’s trying to get a big win to carry him forward into Week 2. Goeido, though he looked weak and lazy in the first few days of the tournament, now is fighting stronger and with confidence, and remains one of the co-leaders. It’s hard to say which version of each rikishi will show up today . . . but if it’s the “A” version on both sides, this should be the match of the day. (10:05)
M2 Aoiyama (0–0–7) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (4–3)—Aoiyama is back, though I’m really not sure why. If he loses today, he’ll already be make-koshi. We have no idea how his legs are, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Meanwhile, Harumafuji is looking better the past few days and is starting to perform like the tournament’s lone yokozuna should.  (11:15)

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