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SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 2)

It’s Day 2 of the Kyushu basho and the drama has already begun. Two of the three competing yokozuna lost their opening matches, as did two of the three sekiwake.

Harumafuji lost for the second straight time in a row to 21-year-old komusubi Onosho, who is only participating in his fourth tournament at the Makuuchi Division level. Worse for Harumafuji, he walked off the dohyo flexing his left arm the way he does when it’s bothering him. I fear that he may not make it all the way to the end of the tournament, let alone get a second yusho [tournament championship] in a row.

Likewise, Kisenosato looked out of sorts in his loss to M1 Tamawashi. It may be that the yokozuna isn’t as completely healed as he’d hoped. Despite Kisenosato being in control for the first few moments of the match, Tamawashi was able to push him off balance and eventually force him out of the ring. 

As I said in my comments yesterday, this could be a very interesting and unpredictable tournament . . . and not just at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. There are a lot of interesting things going on among the rank-and-file Maegashira rikishi.

Maybe the most noticeable thing about the top of the Maegashira ranks (M1–M5) is the lack of big-time recognizable names. After September’s Aki Basho, the familiar faces either rolled up to sanyaku (like Onosho) or dropped precipitously. M1 Tamawashi and M2 Tochiozan were both komusubi in September, but both showed a decided lack of focus. With the sanyaku ranks stacked with highly determined rikishi, I don’t see any reason why this basho should go any better for either of them. M3 Shohozan and M4 Ichinojo put in pretty good performances in September, but this is the area of the banzuke where their skills are usually shown to be lacking. They are very strong mid-level Maegashira, but just don’t have what it takes to get the job done when they have half their schedules filled with sanyaku opponents. 

The mid-level Maegashira (M6–M10) are in the opposite situation—a bunch of recognizable names at rankings where they usually can thrive. At M6 Tochinoshin can make another run at the top of the banzuke IF his knee stays strong (a big if at this point in his career). Meanwhile M7 Daishomaru, M9 Endo, M10 Kaisei, and M10 Ikioi all seem poised to have good tournament, though chances are that they can’t all do so simultaneously. A couple of these guys are going to have to rise above the others or they’re all going to end up with mediocre final records. A note for those tracking the banzuke, M8 Takanoiwa has withdrawn from the tournament due to injury (though I have no details as to why)

As for the lower Maegashira (M11–M16), there are a lot of familiar names, including a few who are returning from time in Juryo. Chief among these are M13 Aminishiki (who at 39 is the oldest rikishi ever to be promoted up out of Juryo) and M14 Kotoyuki (who seems to have gotten back the fire that launched him up the banzuke in 2016). Bulgarian rikishi Aoiyama is at M11, hoping to repeat his dominant July performance (he missed most of September’s tournament due to injury). Meanwhile, rikishi like M12 Okinoumi and M15 Nishikigi are hoping to shake the cobwebs of their previous performance out of their heads and get back to winning ways before the fall out of the top division entirely. Speaking of falling into Juryo, that is certainly what will happen to fan-favorite Ura, as he has already withdrawn from the tournament due to lingering injury . . . and at M16 there is nowhere else for him to go but down a division.

Now that we’re fully caught up on the banzuke, let’s look at the best match-ups from today’s bouts.

M11 Aoiyama (1–0) vs. M12 Okinoumi (0–1)—Two big rikishi who have struggled some of late. Aoiyama was super-sharp in July (staying in the yusho race until the final days of the tournament), but had injury problems in September. Okinoumi has just seemed lackluster for most of this year, like he’s going through the motions but doesn’t really have the drive to go out and MAKE wins for himself. (Oddly, this was the knock I put on Kisenosato for several years—it was only in 2016 that he seemed to find the drive to push himself, and when he did he wound up getting his promotion to yokozuna.) (3:09)
M9 Endo (1–0) vs. M10 Kaisei (1–0)—Two very popular rikishi, both of whom are now wearing very colorful mawashi [belt/loin cloth]. They’ve both spent some time in Juryo lately this year, and so clearly are motivated to prove that they deserve their spots in the upper division. In particular, Kaisei has the physical attributes that could make him a solid mainstay in the sanyaku ranks, if only he can manage to keep himself focused for the whole of a tournament. (5:15)
Sekiwake Terunofuji (0–1) vs. M3 Shohozan (1–0)—Terunofuji looked pretty unstable yesterday. He’s needs at least ten wins in order to regain his ozeki rank, but in order to achieve that he MUST win most of his Week 1 matches. Starting off with a loss is a bad sign. Shohozan has beaten Terunofuji the only two times they’ve fought previously, so he’ll be confident.  (10:03)
Yokozuna Harumafuji (0–1) vs. M1 Takakeisho (0–1)—Harumafuji’s loss yesterday could be chalked up to any number of things, most benign being a mere bit of slippage (the dohyo seems to be very sandy and a lot of rikishi had trouble with their footing on Day 1). More worrisome might be that up-and-comer Onosho really has his number, and this is a rivalry that Harumafuji is destined to be on the wrong end of. Most problematic would be if Harumafuji’s condition just isn’t as good as he’d like us to believe. He was giving some signs of that last possiblity in his posture and gestures after yesterday’s loss. Hopefully, though, he’ll bounce back today against Takakeisho. (12:47)
M1 Tamawashi (1–0) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (1–0)—Hakuho looked strong in his Day 1 win, easily beating Kotoshogiku for the fifty-third time out of fifty-eight matches (which in itself may be some kind of record). Alone among the upper-ranked rikishi, Hakuho seems healthy, in rhythm, and ready for this tournament. (Ozeki Goeido seems healthy, but he very nearly gave away his Day 1 match by over-extending himself.) (15:55)

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