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SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 1)

Wow . . . two months went by pretty quickly. All of a sudden it’s mid-March and time for the next honbasho, one of the three Grand Sumo Tournaments held outside Tokyo. In this case, it’s the Haru Basho [Spring Tournament] which is held in the city of Osaka. 

Unlike most tournaments, there was A LOT of drama happening during the off months. Some of it was still fall-out from the events that caused Harumafuji to retire—with Takanohana Oyakata continuing to buck the system and getting himself demoted off sumo’s ruling council. Other bits were completely new, like Egyptian rikishi Osunaarashi being caught driving (something the Sumo Association forbids) without a license (something the police frown upon) and then lying to the Sumo Association about it. In the end, his punishment was a “suggestion to retire” . . . which really isn’t a “suggestion” at all. So as of a couple of days ago, Osunaarishi’s career is done. (As you may remember, I was a big fan of his . . . he’s been injured lately, but when healthy does the same kind of power sumo that Tochinoshin does, and he had a real chance of getting healthy and making a run at the top division again. But no longer.)

We’re also starting another tournament minus two of our three remaining yokozuna. Hakuho’s big toe still looks like someone smashed it with a cartoon hammer, so he is kyujo [absent due to injury] for the whole tournament. And Kisenosato is still not in good enough shape to come back for a whole tournament, so he decided to just stay home instead. That leaves only yokozuna Kakuryu in action, and he reportedly is still suffering from the finger injuries he got in the final days of January’s tourney. All of which means that we’re likely to see another unlikely yusho [tournament championship] winner this time.

In January, M3 Tochinoshin shocked everyone by going 14–1 and winning the Emperor’s Cup. As a result, he’s been promoted all the way up to sekiwake this time . . . and now is one of the few rikishi in the mix who has ever won a championship before. That has to make him one of the favorites, which is historically a very strange thing. Having a rank-and-file rikishi win the yusho is a very rare thing . . . it only happens about once a decade, much less frequently than, say, a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship]. And historically, a rikishi that achieves this milestone almost never wins another tournament in his career or even advances to the rank of ozeki. But Tochinoshin has a very real chance to achieve both of these feats. 

Two other likely contenders are the ozeki, Takayasu and Goeido. Takayasu seems the more likely of the two, as he has he finished second in January with a strong 12–3 record. Goeido, on the other hand, has previously won a yusho . . . but in recent tournaments he seems to have returned to his old unfocused ways, and only barely made kachi-koshi [majority of wins] in January. From my perspective, Goeido is as likely to go make-koshi [majority of losses] as he is to win the yusho, which is to say that he’s unpredictable and unreliable, but has great sumo in him IF he can manage to keep his focus.

All in all, this is set up to be a very exciting tournament. And I can’t wait to see what happens.

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