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SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the 2018 Hatsu Basho, and we’re down to just two undefeated rikishi atop the leaderboard. Yokozuna Kakuryu is looking like he always WISHES he would, strong and confident with a determined sense of purpose. Meanwhile, sekiwake Mitakeumi looks like he’s trying to take his already formidable sumo to the next level—he’s been in the upper division for two years now, and he’s shown great promise, now as a new crop of young phenoms is climbing the banzuke [ranking sheet], he’s looking to show that he’s one rung up the ladder from them.

Trailing behind the leaders is a group of four rikishi with 6–1 records—M3 Tochinoshin, M9 Shohozan, M13 Daieisho, and M16 Asanoyama. I’ll admit that Tochinoshin is one of my favorite rikishi, so I have rooting interest in him, but still he really does seem like the only one of the bunch who has a real chance at staying in the yusho [tournament championship] hunt for the long haul. His only loss has been to Kakuryu, and he’s already beaten both ozeki and a komusubi. After watching him struggle through chronic knee injuries for the past year-and-a-half, it’s great to see him looking healthy again.

Our two ozeki seem to be going in opposite directions. After both Goeido and Takayasu lost two matches midweek to fall out of the yusho race (at least for now), Goeido came back strong yesterday with a convincing win over komusubi Takakeisho. Meanwhile, Takayasu lost to M2 Ichinojo by playing right into the only winning strategy that the big lug has. The thing that keeps Ichinojo from succeeding at the highest level of sumo is that he is a one dimensional rikishi, and all the upper tier competitors can fairly easily block that assault and take the match into dimensions that Ichinojo can’t handle. But Takayasu didn’t do that yesterday, which says to me that his head wasn’t in the game. 

M12 Sokokurai (2–5) vs. M15 Ishura (4–3)—Ishiura is back up in the Makuuchi division after spending a few tournaments down in Juryo. He seems to have regained some of his inspiration, but still struggles against opponents who are generally bigger, heavier, and stronger than he is. I post this match mostly because I think the gyoji got the call wrong. Watch the replay and see if it doesn’t look like the “winner’s” knee doesn’t touch the clay before the loser’s does. (1:10)
M16 Asanoyama (6–1) vs. M12 Kagayaki (4–3)—Asanoyama held a piece of the lead until his loss to Daieisho yesterday. He’ll have to bounce back immediately if he wants to keep his name in the headlines. Luckily for him, Kagayaki is having another one of his hot-and-cold tournaments. Some days he comes out like a champion, other days it seems like his mind is somewhere else. If it’s the latter, Asanoyama should have no trouble staying in the yusho hunt. If it’s the former, though, this should be a closely fought match. (2:15)
M13 Daieisho (6–1) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (5–2)—Daieisho has looked terrific this tournament, most recently with his win over co-leader Asanoyama yesterday. He’s a long shot to actually stay in the yusho race all the way, but there’s no reason he can’t hang in for another few days and make a surge for double-digit wins and maybe a special prize. Unfortunately for him, though Chiyomaru is also looking very strong this tournament. Should be a good bout. (4:05)
M6 Takarafuji (4–3) vs. M9 Shohozan (6–1)—Shohozan is one of the few rikishi I generally root against. I just don’t like his rough-and-tumble, street sumo style of fighting. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong or dirty about it, I just don’t enjoy it. But there’s no denying that it works well for him, and is doing so especially this basho. Takarafuji has historically had a difficult time against Shohozan, having lost nine of their ten matches. But he broke his losing streak in their last encounter, and I hope that was the start of a long winning streak for him. (4:55)
M2 Yoshikaze (3–4) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (6–1)—Tochinoshin notched his first loss yesterday, but he was facing a yokozuna so there’s no shame in that. He needs to bounce back right away with a win and he can stay in yusho hunt for a while. But he’s facing Yoshikaze, who has notched wins over two yokozuna and an ozeki so far this basho, so it won’t be easy. (8:30)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–0) vs. M1 Ichinojo (3–4)—This match is something of a measure of just how far Mitakeumi has matured. Ichinojo is the biggest and heaviest rikishi in the division, and that allows him to dominate less experienced rikishi. However, opponents with more experience generally know the big Mongolian’s weak points and how to manipulate them fairly easily. If Mitakeumi is ready to step up and be a top tier rikishi, he has to be able to handle Ichinojo regularly and easily.  (11:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–0) vs. M4 Shodai (4–3)—Kakuryu continues to look like the yokozuna he’s always wanted to be. Yesterday he handled Tochinoshin without any difficulty, and he should do the same today against Shodai. In the past, this is the kind of match where one might have expected Kakuryu to have a slip concentration and take a bad loss . . . but if he seems as if he’s beyond that this tournament. We’ll see. (14:30)

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