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SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 7)

It’s Day 7 of the Hatsu Basho, and I apologize for having missed saying anything at all about Day 6 (then again, I did start off this tournament’s coverage with a warning that my commentary would be spotty). Anyway, I’m back today and the leaderboard is beginning to take shape. Only four undefeated rikishi remain—yokozuna Kakuryu, sekiwake Mitakeumi, M3 Tochinoshin, and M16 Asanoyama—with a small pack of 5–1 rikishi trailing them.

Another big change over the last few days is that two more rikishi have gone kyujo [absent due to injury]—yokozuna Kisenosato and M10 Aminishiki. Kisenosato was having a terrible tournament and probably should never have entered to begin with, but the Kyokai [Sumo Association] put him in a tough position. After missing so many matches last year, they publicly said that he needed to do better this year or it might be time for him to retire (they have the power to force him to do so), so he got himself into as good shape as he could manage and came out to fight. But he wasn’t ready, and while being kyujo MIGHT trigger a call for his retirement, fighting through a basho only to end up with a distinctly non-yokozuna record would have made it a CERTAINTY. Perhaps this was his best strategy—to show his game spirit by trying, then sitting down when it became clear that he was still too wounded to perform at a yokozuna level. It doesn’t guarantee that the Kyokai will be lenient and patient with him, but it does give him the best odds.

Meanwhile, Aminishiki bruised his shin bone in his match on Thursday and is taking a few days off to see how it begins to heal. If the swelling and pain go down, we’re likely to see him back in action during Week 2.

M3 Tochinoshin is looking GREAT. In fact, 6–0 is his best start to a basho EVER. Word is that he’s partially motivated by the recent birth of his first child, who is back in Georgia, and whom he hasn’t even seen yet. It certainly must ALSO have something to do with his knees feeling better than they have in a couple of years. In any case, he has beaten both ozeki and a komusubi so far, and faces yokozuna Kakuryu (who is also undefeated) today. This will be the final match of the day, but it’s ALSO likely to be the best one. Given that both rikishi are performing at the top of their game, I have to give the edge to Kakuryu . . . but I’ll be rooting for Tochinoshin!

Goeido has looked terrific at the start of this basho. I often give him guff for not performing up to his potential, and even more for not performing up to his ranking. He COULD be a strong ozeki, but most tournaments he loses his focus for a handful of matches, takes losses he shouldn’t, and too often flirts with or gets make-koshi [majority of losses] instead of double-digit wins like an ozeki should. He even looked strong and dominant in his first loss (to Tochinoshin). But then yesterday he looked confused and hapless in a quick slapdown loss to M2 Yoshikaze, and now I have to wonder WHICH Goeido we’re going to see for the rest of the tournament.

Likewise, the other ozeki—Takayasu—started off very strong, then lost to Tochinoshin and followed up yesterday with an upset loss to komusubi Onosho. Takayasu simply was out-thought and out-fought by the young rikishi, and he looked flustered and confused when the bout was over. I’m hoping that BOTH ozeki get back on track and become forces that influence the coming yusho [tournament championship] race. Right now, with two losses apiece, they’re on the outside looking in, but chances are good that if they can get back on winning streaks, they’ll find the pack falling back to meet them.

M16 Asanoyama (6–0) vs. M13 Daieisho (5–1)—Asanoyama is the dark horse leader, running racking up wins over opponents at the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. If he can continue through the weekend and get up to 8–0, we might have to start taking him seriously.  (1:45)
M2 Kotoshogiku (2–4) vs. komusubi Onosho (3–3)—So far this basho, Kotoshogiku has been fighting like a man with something to prove. He wants to be back in sanyaku, and he’s taking it out on anyone who’s currently up there. Meanwhile, Onosho has just been a little too energetic, and not practicing the patient sumo that allowed him to rocket his way up to komusubi. He’s got to slow down and be deliberate, ESPECIALLY against opponents ranked lower than he is. (8:40)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–0) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (3–3)—Mitakeumi is one of our remaining undefeated co-leaders, and Yoshikaze is only batting .500. However, Yoshikaze’s three wins have come against two yokozuna and an ozeki, so he’s earning his reputation as a giant-killer. Mitakeumi better be careful not to fall to Yoshikaze’s tricky ways. (10:40)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (6–0) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (6–0)—Two undefeated rikishi going head-to-head. The advantage clearly is Kakuryu’s—over the course of their careers the yokozuna is 20–1 against Tochinoshin. But all that really matters is who brings the right stuff today. (14:20)

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