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SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 13)

Welcome to Day 13 of the Aki Basho, where things continue to play out in a way that no script could have predicted. After managing to build up a two win lead over his nearest competitors, Goeido finally ran up against someone determined enough to give him a second loss. So as long as at least one of the three trailers managed a win, too, the basho would be back to a one-win balance. But the fact of the matter is that ALL THREE of the second place rikishi lost yesterday, as well, which means that Goeido retains a two win lead over his the competition. And only three days remain in the tournament.

Goeido continued to fight the way he has done the whole second half, aggressive but without any real plan or even a hint of subtlety. His opponent yesterday was M4 Shohozan, who is just as aggressive (maybe more so, if you take into account the fact that he jumped too early TWICE before the match actually got started) and just as lacking in subtlety . . . but he was hungrier than the ozeki and so managed to pull out a win. As a result, everyone with an 8–4 record is now back in possible contention for the yusho [tournament championship] . . . and there’s a total of TEN such rikishi—yokozuna Harumafuji, sekiwake Yoshikaze, M1 Kotoshogiku, M3 Onosho, M3 Chiyotairyu, M9 Takanoiwa, M9 Arawashi, M11 Daieisho, M14 Endo, and M16 Asanoyama—all of them desperately hoping that Goeido will lose two more times.

The big question from yesterday’s matches was what the heck happened in to M3 Chiyotairyu in his match against M1 Kotoshogiku? He went down like a big sack of potatoes, almost like he was knocked momentarily senseless. Sure, Kotoshogiku tried a hit-and-side-slip maneuver, but he didn’t execute it THAT well. For some reason, in the biggest match of his career, Chiyotairyu just went limp after the tachi-ai. The replays make it clear that he wasn’t hit on the chin (or throat or head), and Kotoshogiku never got a hand on his belt (or any other part of him) . . . Chiyotairyu just went off balance and fell down.

After a few days of reality weighing down on M3 Onosho’s shoulders, he bounced back yesterday. I think his poor performance this week can be blamed on the kind of jitters many athletes get the first time they come down to the homestretch with a chance to win a major championship. And if I’m right, he’d be in good company. But even better is the fact that he managed to shake that off yesterday, get back to his winning ways, and secure a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] for himself. That makes him three-for-three in Makuuchi Division tournaments, and still leaves him three days to try to amass double-digit wins (which he did in BOTH of his previous tournaments). If he can do that, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] may have to give some thought as to what sort of performance he must put in to be considered for promotion to ozeki (because he’ll have gotten frighteningly close to meeting the general guideline of 33 wins over the course of three tournaments).

But the match of the day yesterday had to have been the crazy slap-fest between sekiwake Yoshikaze and M5 Takakeisho, both of whom were aiming to lock down their kachi-koshi. In the end Yoshikaze won, but it was a great bout that could have gone either way. We can only hope that we get to see more matches of that caliber as the Aki Basho rolls into the final weekend.

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Kaisei (7–5) vs. M7 Ikioi (6–6)—Two well-known, well-loved rikishi who are both struggling this basho. Kaisei needs one more win for his kachi-koshi to avoid being demoted back down to Juryo again. Ikioi needs two more wins or he’ll drop down to the bottom of the banzuke. (4:10)
M3 Onosho (8–4) vs. M5 Shodai (5–7)—Onosho got his kachi-koshi yesterday, now he needs to keep up his winning ways to stay in at least mathematical contention for the yusho. Shodai, on the other hand must win ALL of his remaining matches in order to avoid make-koshi. (5:15)
M7 Chiyonokuni (6–6) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (8–4)—Another match where one rikishi is fighting to stay in the yusho hunt (Kotoshogiku) while the other is still struggling to get kachi-koshi (Chiyonokuni, who needs two more wins to reach that mark). (7:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–6) vs. M6 Ichinojo (6–6)—Two rikishi who each need to win two of their remaining three matches in order to get kachi-koshi. Mitakeumi has had an up and down basho, looking like a contender some days and looking out of sorts on others. Meanwhile, Ichinojo has just looked like the plodding man-mountain he is, winning when his opponents have no capacity to deal with his size. (11:15)
M5 Takakeisho (7–5) vs. ozeki Goeido (10–2)—If Goeido wins today, he’ll only need one more win to lock up the yusho. If he loses today, then he’ll NEED to win on both Saturday and Sunday to avoid a playoff. (Unless, of course, none of the ten tied-for-second-place rikishi can win out, which would allow Goeido to stumble backward into a championship). (11:50)
Sekiwake Yoshikaze (8–4) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (8–4)—Two of the ten second placers going head-to-head. That means only one of them will remain in the yusho race after today, which really is a shame. But that’s how sumo goes. (12:35)

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