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SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Aki Basho and ozeki Goeido stands alone atop the leaderboard. He still has only one loss, but his lead has been strengthened by the fact that three of his four closest competitors lost yesterday, leaving only M3 Chiyotairyu in second place with an 8–2 record.

Even in his win, Goeido again failed to look particularly dominant . . . and that was against komusubi Tochiozan, who has been struggling all tournament. It’s clear to me that Goeido is now the prohibitive favorite to win the tournaments, but it’s not nearly so clear that he’ll LOOK anything like a “champion” in doing so.

Yokozuna Harumafuji, on the other hand, looked strong but was unable to put away M5 Takekeisho and so suffered his fourth loss of the basho. My biggest fear at this point is that in order to save face he will withdraw from the tournament, claiming some phantom injury, and leave absolutely NO ONE who can offer a severe challenge to Goeido.

Before we get to today’s matches, I want to take a moment to talk about yesterday’s Ishiura vs. Takarafuji match. If I had to pick one bout to represent how strange this Aki Basho has been, it would be this one. Ishiura’s sumo is somewhat unorthodox in the best of situations, but getting behind an opponent and then only managing to get hold of his mawashi knot is practically unheard of. Then the match seemed to turn into a veritable Benny Hill skit as Takarafuji chased Ishiura from side to side until the knot came loose and the smaller rikishi wound up in front of him again. The first time I watched the match, I was so shocked that I couldn’t even laugh. 

Despite the fact that we find ourselves with an ozeki in sole possession of the lead as we move into the final third of the basho, this whole tournament has been just as bizarre as that Ishiura match. Nothing has gone to plan, situations that only occur once a century have been playing out before our eyes. This has been a WEIRD tournament . . . and there are still FIVE days left. So no matter how smooth things may be looking right now, I’m expecting that we’ll have at least two or three BIG surprises ahead.

M9 Takanoiwa (7–3) vs, M12 Daishomaru (7–3)—Two rikishi who were in the middle of the mix last week, and now are teetering on the edge of elimination from even an outside chance at the yusho. They’re both 7–3, and the winner will only have a mathematical chance . . . but at least it will be a chance. (13:15)
M8 Chiyoshoma (4–6) vs. M10 Takekaze (3–7)
—These two are both well and truly out of any contention in the yusho race, but they’re deep in a more personal fight—the fight to avoid going make-koshi [majority of losses] for the tournament. Takekaze must win ALL of his remaining bouts to avoid that fate, beginning with this one. Chiyoshoma has one more loss to give, but that’s a razor thin margin here on Day 11. (3:40)
Komusubi Tamawashi (4–6) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (8–2)—Chiyotairyu is the only rikishi one win behind the leader. He needs to win this match in order to keep the pressure on Goeido. Tamawashi, on the other hand, can only afford two more losses in total if he’s going to pull out kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and save his ranking (or even have a shot at promotion). (10:05)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–5) vs. ozeki Goeido (9–1)—This is a big chance for Mitakeumi. If he wants to be taken seriously as a top-ranked rikishi, he has to step up and deliver a top-level performance when it counts. If he can beat Goeido today, it will change the whole tenor of the tournament, and keep the race for the yusho an open question. If Goeido wins today, his lead will feel much more stable . . . and if Chiyotairyu loses in the previous match, Goeido may well have the yusho locked up. (11:30)
M6 Ichinojo (6–4) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (6–4)—It’s really hard to tell what’s up with Harumafuji. Something is bothering him, but he keeps soldiering on like a yokozuna is supposed to. What is it that’s wrong? How serious is it? Well, if he loses to Ichinojo, who has shown almost no signs of life this entire tournament, simply coasting along as far as his 203 kg (448 lb) frame will carry him . . . if Harumafuji loses to him, we’ll know something serious is wrong. (12:40)

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