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SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 14)

Well, we’ve made it to the final weekend of the 2017 Kyushu Basho. Day 14 dawns with yokozuna Hakuho still alone atop the leaderboard with a 12–1 record, and just two rikishi trailing him at 11–2 (M3 Hokutofuji and M12 Okinoumi). Also we have our ninth (!) kyujo [absence due to injury] of the basho as M15 Myogiryu has withdrawn after getting his eighth loss and guaranteeing make-koshi [majority of losses] and a demotion to Juryo to start of 2018.

Hakuho had one major slip-up, but otherwise has seemed practically unbeatable. If he wins today, he’s guaranteed at least a tie for the championship and a shot at a Day 15 playoff. Presuming for the moment that this happens, each of the trailers must win today or be eliminated from contention. And if Hakuho wins and BOTH trailers lose, then the yokozuna will secure his 40th (!) yusho [tournament championship].

But beyond the yusho race, there are other interesting dramas going on up and down the banzuke. 

Komusubi Onosho is in just his fourth basho at the Makuuchi level. He went 10–5 in all three previous tournaments, but is currently 6–7. He needs to win both of his remaining matches to keep from suffering his first make-koshi in the division . . . which is not to say that he’s had a bad tournament. Komusubi is probably the most difficult ranking, schedule-wise. You spend Week 1 facing all of the yokozuna, ozeki, and sekiwake, hoping to pull out just one or two wins, and then must be near-perfect in Week 2 in order to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. It’s a tough slog, which is one reason why you don’t historically see many rikishi stake out a claim as a “great komususbi.” Onosho seems destined to be a great rikishi of the coming era. So long as he can avoid injury, he’ll surely be a mainstay of the top of the banzuke and is very likely to make it to ozeki eventually. (Hell, he very nearly qualified in his first three tournaments.)

Also at 6–7 and needing to win out to save his rank is sekiwake Yoshikaze. As is his wont, he has looked great when facing the ozeki and yokozuna, but has been slightly less impressive against the rest of the field. In the big picture, all rikishi in a given tournament who are ranked M2 and above face more or less the exact same mix of opponents, the only real difference is the order that they come (see my earlier comment about what makes komusubi such a tough rank). It’s interesting to me that some rikishi seem to be so much better at some ranks than others. Yoshikaze seems to thrive at M1, but to struggle at sekiwake. It’d be interesting to dive into the records and figure out what patterns are really at work there.

I haven’t said much about M3 Hokutofuji this basho, expect to keep mentioning his name as one of the yusho contenders. The fact is, though, that he’s been putting on quite a show. He’s only been in the Makuuchi Division for a little more than a year, but he’s racking up impressive wins and showing himself to be a future star (and may yet walk away with the Emperor’s Cup this basho). 

Other young rikishi who are doing well and showing that the “next generation” is here now include M1 Takakeisho and, of course, sekiwake Mitakeumi. In other words, no matter what the shake-out is of the various scandals being deliberated by the Kyokai [Sumo Association], the sport itself seems poised to be healthy and entertaining for years to come.

Now let’s look at some of the top matches from Saturday.

M10 Kaisei (8–5) vs. M10 Ikioi (7–6)—Two familiar names that haven’t really drawn that much attention this tournament. Both these rikishi have been doing well, but not spectacular. As you can see, Kaisei has his kachi-koshi and Ikioi needs only one more win to secure his. Putting them head-to-head results in a fun bout. (2:00)
M13 Aminishiki (7–6) vs. M8 Chiyomaru (5–8)—Aminishiki started off the basho hot, but has cooled off in Week 2. It seems to me that people remembered what the key was to beating him and have started employing it again, and he may have a very hard time notching that eighth win. Still, he’s got two more chances, beginning with today’s match against Chiyomaru. (3:20)
M1 Tamawashi (9–4) vs. M12 Okinoumi (11–2)—Is this more of a compliment to Okinoumi to bring the M1 down to fight him early on today’s match list, or an insult to Tamawashi for not making his opponent leap up to the later spot on the card that a M1 usually earns? It doesn’t really matter, the facts remain the same—Okinoumi must win to guarantee that he stays in the yusho hunt, and Tamawashi wants to hit double-digit wins to improve his likelihood of promotion to sanyaku in January. (5:55)
Komusubi Kotoshogiku (4–9) vs. M3 Shohozan (3–10)—Another one of those matches where nothing but pride is on the line, and that seems to have spurred the rikishi to new heights. A very fun bout! (8:25)
M3 Hokutofuji (11–2) vs. komusubi Onosho (6–7)—This is probably the marquee match of the day. Hokutofuji must win to guarantee he’s still involved in the yusho race, and Onosho must win if he hopes to pull out a kachi-koshi. They’re two of the brightest young stars in the sport, and their head-to-head rivalry is likely to be going on for the next decade or more. (9:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–6) vs. M5 Arawashi (8–5)—One can forgive Mitakeumi for looking a little overwhelmed when he faced Hakuho on Day 12, but he also seemed mentally elsewhere yesterday in his match against Ichinojo. He still needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi, and I’m sure he’d rather not leave that to the final day. Meanwhile, Arawashi has had himself a very good tournament and still has a shot at double-digit wins. (12:30)
M9 Endo (9–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (12–1)—It says something about how many of the top rikishi are absent that on Day 14 Hakuho is fighting someone ranked at M9. Sure, Endo is a very popular rikishi with a very good record, but in the final weekend a yokozuna is supposed to be fighting against other yokozuna, or at least ozeki. But there’s only one of those still in the competition, so the Scheduling Committee had to find SOMEONE for Hakuho to fight. That’s not to say this is necessarily a walk-over. Endo HAS beaten Hakuho once in the five times they’ve met. But Hakuho has to be the odds-on favorite by a longshot. (14:35)

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