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SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 14)

It’s Day 14 of the Aki Basho, and much to nearly everyone’s surprise, the yusho [tournament championship] is still in question. Back on Wednesday it seemed as though ozeki Goeido had managed to stumble his way into a solid lock on the Emperor’s Cup . . . but then he kept stumbling. With two straight losses, he now finds himself with a 10–3 record and only one win ahead of the competition. In this case, the competition is the best and the worst that the Makuuchi Division has to offer—yokozuna Harumafuji and M16 Asanoyama—both with 9–4 records.

Of course the truly weird thing about yesterday’s matches was that the day started with TEN rikishi at 8–4 . . . but EIGHT of those rikishi LOST their Friday matches, leaving just the two contenders nipping at Goeido’s heels.

The way this tournament has been going, I’d be a fool to say that I have a handle on what’s likely to happen over the remaining two days. Goeido has been lackluster all tournament, and he’s looked practically ill the past two days . . . but he could easily snap out of it bring dominant sumo to the ring for a couple of days. On the other hand, Harumafuji looked terrible during Week 1 but has become dominant here in Week 2 . . . but there’s no saying that he couldn’t go back in the tank over the weekend. And Asanoyama is a Makuuchi Division rookie ranked as low on the banzuke [ranking sheet] as it’s possible to be . . . but if he wins his next two matches, he could be ushered into a playoff where anything could happen. 

Leaving Asanoyama aside, one thing is for certain: Barring injury, Goeido and Harumafuji will fight one another on Sunday, and that match will probably be the determining factor in how this tournament ends. At one point, it seemed plausible that we could have as much as an eleven-person playoff, but now that outcome is back to a mathematical outlier. It seems reasonably possible that two- or three-person playoff could happen, though.

It all depends on how things go today.

M7 Chiyokuni (7–6) vs. M13 Kaisei (8–5)—Kaisei has managed to get his kachi-koshi, meaning that he’ll remain in the Makuuchi Division in November. On the other hand, Chiyonokuni still needs one more win to get his majority, and even though he isn’t likely to drop out of the division if he fails, he certainly WANTS a promotion rather than a demotion. I think that gives him a slight edge in this match, but it should still be a close one. (2:05)
M3 Onosho (8–5) vs. M16 Asanoyama (9–4)—Onosho was a front-runner for the first half of the tournament, but he slipped during the middle section. Asanoyama remains one of two second-place, and he needs to keep on winning in order to stay that way. Onosho, on the other hand, has had 10 wins in both of his previous top division tournaments, and he’d certainly like to do that again . . . but that requires him to win BOTH of his remaining matches. This is a match that will probably be won by the rikishi who flat out wants it more. (6:45)
M1 Tochinoshin (3–10) vs. M10 Ishiura (4–9)—These are two rikishi who are having pretty awful tournaments . . . but they ALSO want to soften their upcoming demotions by finishing strongly. Tochinoshin’s knee is going to be a problem, as is Ishiura’s strained neck, but ONE of them is going to win this match. (8:30)
M9 Takanoiwa (8–5) vs. ozeki Goeido (10–3)—If Goeido wants the best chance possible to pull out his second yusho victory, he needs to win today. If not, then he’ll put Harumafuji in the driver’s seat, and that’s a dangerous place to be. His opponent may be low ranked, but he’s secured a kachi-koshi for this tournament, and he’s beaten Goeido full HALF the times they’ve fought in the past. (Note, however, that they’ve only met twice before.) (14:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–6) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (9–4)—If Harumafuji wins today, then he’ll control his destiny on senshuraku [the final day] no matter WHAT Goeido does. If the ozeki wins, then Harumafuji would be able to force a playoff by beating him tomorrow. If Goeido loses today, then the yokozuna could flat out win the yusho by beating him tomorrow. So despite the fact that Goeido is alone atop the leaderboard, Harumafuji is the one who feels in control of the final results. Of course, if Harumafuji loses and Goeido wins, then the yokozuna will be eliminated from contention. So the first order of business for Harumafuji is to beat Mitakeumi, who is still struggling to get his eighth win. (16:05)

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