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

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the Kyushu Basho and yokozuna Hakuho remains undefeated and alone atop the leaderboard. Five rikishi are one loss behind him, but they are ALL rank-and-file Maegashira rikishi—M3 Hokutofuji, M4 Ichinojo, M5 Arawashi, M12 Okinoumi, and M13 Aminishiki. 

Hakuho notched an important win yesterday, not only for this tournament but for making a statement that he’s not ready to step aside for the next generation yet. He squared off against the 21-year-old Onosho, who currently is the face of the new wave of up-and-comers, this despite his poor showing this basho (such is to be expected the first time a rikishi is ranked in sanyaku . . . it’s a whole different world at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. It was the first time these two fought, and while Hakuho didn’t put on the same dominant performance he did during all of Week 1, he neither had any real trouble outmaneuvering the youngster and grabbing his seventh win.

Yokozuna Kisenosato, on the other hand, continued to look like his left leg was still bothering him in a hard-fought loss to M3 hokutofuji (the third kinboshi [gold star award for a Maegashira rikishi beating a yokozuna] he’s given up this basho. I think it will only be another day or two until Kisenosato admits that he’s hurt and goes kyujo [absent due to injury] just to save face.

Speaking of kyujo, we have M11 Aoiyama returning from a four-day injury absence. He’s trying to avoid having a record so bad that he gets demoted all the way out of the Makuuchi Division. Since he’ll be picking up with a 1–2–4 record, it seems unlikely that he’ll manage to salvage kachi-koshi. But if he can get five or more wins, he’ll probably be able to avoid having to sink into Juryo to start 2018.

Ozeki Goeido, who looked very strong in the early going, has now lost two matches in a row and fallen well off the pace of the yusho hunt. At the beginning of the tournament, I predicted that he’d have a weak tournament and likely would be make-koshi in Kyushu, and it seemed like he was going to make me eat those words. If he doesn’t pull out of this losing streak quickly, though, he may make me look like a stellar prognosticator.

Meanwhile, ozeki Takayasu is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this tournament. And though he still seems less than 100% healthy, a win today will put him just two away from securing his kachi-koshi and his rank.

Looking further down the banzuke, it’s been a lot of fun to see some fan favorite rikishi shaking off their doldrums and looking competitive again. Rikishi like M9 Endo, M10 Ikioi, and M12 Okinoumi have been putting in consistently strong performances. But the most fun has come from watching thirty-nine-year-old M13 Aminishiki return to the Makuuchi Division after a year in Juryo, and not only do well, but keep himself in the yusho hunt through the middle weekend. 

The top matches for Sunday include:

M12 Okinoumi (6–1) vs. M14 Daiamami (2–5)—Okinoumi seems like he’s finally shaken off whatever has been dragging him down all year long. He’l looking strong and confident, and he’s not rushing his sumo. This is his first time facing Daiamami, who is a Makuuchi Division rookie, so anything could happen. (0:50)
M9 Endo (4–3) vs. M13 Aminishiki (6–1)
—Two fan favorites, a very typical nakabi pairing. Endo is looking better than he has in a few tournaments, but Aminishiki is really on a hot streak (if you don’t count his first loss yesterday). They’re both skill-based rikishi, so it should be fun seeing whose sumo is sharper today. (3:25)
M8 Chiyomaru (3–4) vs. M5 Arawashi (6–1)—Arawashi has quietly been having a very good tournament, his one loss coming on Day 4 against Ichinojo (who also is 6–1 at this point). Chiyomaru, on the other hand has been hot and cold. I give the edge to Arawashi, even if Chiyo is hot. (5:35)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–2) vs. M1 Takakeisho (5–2)
—Two future stars early in what should be a rivalry to watch develop over the coming years. They’re 1–1 so far head-to-head. With Mitakeumi’s injured toe, I think that Takakeisho has an edge today . . . but over the course of years I think Mitakeumi is going to get the better of this rivalry. (9:40)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (4–3) vs. M4 Ichinojo (6–1)—Kisenosato must either start winning or go kyujo [absent due to injury]. It’s clear that something’s wrong with his left leg, and if it’s so bad that he can’t beat Ichinojo, he needs to sit down and rest. Ichinojo has amassed a 6–1 record by his usual tactic of looming over opponents until they make a mistake. When facing a yokozuna, he really should have no chance to win . . . but Kisenosato’s condition makes all the difference. (12:40)
M3 Hokutofuni (6–1) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–0)—Today Hakuho faces another star of the future. The yokozuna made quick work of Onosho yesterday, now it’s Hokutofuji’s turn to see what he can do against the “old man.” (13:55)

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