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SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Hatsu Basho, and yokozuna Kakuryu remains undefeated and in sole possession of the lead in the yusho race. His place is pretty secure, too, because M3 Tochinoshin is the only rikishi on his heels with a 9–1 record, and M13 Daieisho is the only one who is 8–2. That’s a remarkably tight yusho [tournament championship] race for this early in Week 2.

Kakuryu is looking rock solid, going about his business with the calm confidence and laser focus that we usually associate with yokozuna Hakuho. He’s coming out each day and doing patient, deliberate sumo. I don’t want to jinx him, but it really does look like his tournament to lose. He’s already beaten his closest competitor. It would make a real statement to the Kyokai (Sumo Association) if after missing all but one tournament in 2017, he comes out and not only takes the yusho, but does so with a perfect record! That, though, is still putting the card distinctly before the horse. Kakuryu has five matches remaining against the best that the banzuke [ranking sheet] has to throw at him, including both ozeki, both sekiwake, and a komusubi.

Tochinoshin also continues to impress. I likewise don’t wish to jinx him, but his knees haven’t looked this solid in years. His only loss so far came against Kakuryu, and he seems to be getting stronger with each match (having won his last two by power-lifting his opponents out of the ring). I only hope that he finishes the basho with strong, healthy performances.

Today is, I think, an important day for the ozeki. Toward the end of Week 1 they both suffered long-shot defeats, and then let that drop them into a minor slump that took them out of the yusho race. But Takayasu seems to have shaken it off, looking his old solid self in his win yesterday over sekiwake Tamawashi and bringing his record up to 7–3. Goeido, on the other hand, seems to have slipped into the worst of his old habits and yesterday was completely overwhelmed by M4 Shodai, leaving Goeido’s record at 6–4. Takayasu seems well poised to make a run for double-digit wins, while Goeido could put himself in the position of having to win on the final weekend just to pull out kachi-koshi (it SHOULDN’T be that way, but he needs to get these “easy” wins before he has to face ozeki and yokozuna opponents).

Totally unexpected news today, M10 Terunofuji will return to action for the final five days of the basho. He already is beyond the possibility of achieving kachi-koshi, and his performance in the first few days of the basho did not give the appearance of being caused by a source that would have been healed or eliminated in this short  period of time. The only reason for doing this would be if he thought: a) that he was well enough to win out the remaining five matches, and b) that would be enough to keep him from being demoted down to Juryo in March. Personally, I don’t think either of those things are true. But I hope that I’m wrong. 

M16 Ryuden (6–4) vs. M13 Daieisho (8–2)—Daieisho is the only remaining 8–2 rikishi, meaning he’s the only one two behind the leader. He’s had a very good basho so far, but in the next day or so he’ll begin to reap the bounty of that performance—matches against opponents from further up the banzuke, this will likely drop him further out of contention, but they’ll be high profile matches that will be good for his career. First, though, he’s got to stay in the race. Today he faces Makuuchi Division rookie Ryuden, who himself is having a very good basho. You might say that this match is a test as to which of these two is hungrier for a new level of challenge. (0:35)
M10 Terunofuji (0–3–7) vs. M15 Ishiura (5–5)—Terunofuji is back, despite having been so badly injured at the start of the basho that he couldn’t even come close to winning a bout while ranked at M10. I don’t see where there’s really much chance his condition has improved any, but if there’s anyone he can simply physically bully for a win, it’s tiny Ishiura. That is, if Terunofuji can move fast enough to catch him. (2:55)
M9 Shohozan (6–4) vs. M6 Ikioi (2–8)—Neither one of these rikishi is doing particularly well. Ikio, indeed, is nursing a bad ankle and has already reached make-koshi. But somehow they managed to put on a great match here. It’s even more impressive when you watch the replay in slow motion. Almost balletic. (6:05)
M6 Takarafuji (7–3) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (9–1)—Tochinoshin continues to look strong, and is the only one-loss rikishi trailing the leader. This gives him a constant added pressure of knowing that should he lose, Kakuryu will have a two-win cushion and the advantage of knowing that he can be allowed a mistake. Today Tochinoshin faces another strong opponent who also likes to work the belt in Takarafuji.  (7:40)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–0) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (3–7)—This match is more difficult than it might at first seem. Tamawashi has beaten Kakuryu in BOTH of their previous fights. If he can make it three in a row, we have the possibility of moving back into a two-way lead for the yusho race. Of course, it’s rare for a yokozuna to lose to the same opponent three times in a row. (15:00)

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