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SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 4)

Here we are, Day 4 of the Haru Basho, and already only a two of the sanyaku rikishi remains unbeaten—yokozuna Kakuryu and komusubi Ichinojo. What’s more, there are only five other unbeaten rikishi in the whole division—M4 Shohozan, M6 Kaisei, M10 Chiyonokuni, M14 Ikioi, and M17 Aoiyama. That really encourages the kind of “what if” thinking that can make a tournament really interesting.

Of course, the first “what if” has to be, what if Kakuryu really hurts his already injured fingers? So far, in two of his matches he’s been seen shaking them out painfully after notching his win . . . so it seems likely that they’re going to bother him for the whole fortnight. Does he have the stamina and focus to ignore them that whole time and get his first yusho since November of 2016?

The second “what if” as far as I’m concerned is, what if Ichinojo really HAS finally made that crucial step that will let him go from being a giant-sized joke to a real threat to win the tournament? In these first three days I’ve seen a calm confidence in him that he’s NEVER shown in the past, even when he’s been winning. Of course, I’m a big skeptic when it comes to Ichinojo . . . but IF he has finally managed to learn something, it will change the complexion of ALL the yusho races for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of perennial disappointments, what if Goeido is having another magical tournament like the one he had back in September of 2016, where despite being kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion], he managed to touch perfection with a 15–0 performance and winning a zensho yusho [no-loss tournament championship]? He has certainly proven that he CAN do that, though more often he finds ways to lose matches that he ought to win. I’d say the chances are still greater that he’ll flop out and end up make-koshi [majority of losses], but he COULD prove me wrong.

What if Aoiyama, way down there at the bottom of the banzuke, puts in another performance like the one he did last July, where out of nowhere he went 13–2 and finished second in the tournament overall, with only Hakuho managing to notch a better score (Hakuho, who is kyujo [absent due to injury] this tournament]?

And those are just the most obvious “what if” scenarios. With twelve days of sumo to go, just imagine how many more might present themselves along the way!

A quick note before moving on to today’s matches, M12 Kotoyuki injured his leg in yesterday’s loss to M13 Daishomaru. Doctors say that it will take at least a week to heal, so he is now kyujo [absent due to injury] until further notice (probably for the rest of the tournament). With Kotoyuki having started 0–3, and his rank being so low, this means there’s a very good chance he’ll be demoted all the way down into Juryo for the May tournament. 

Today’s top matches include:

M17 Aoiyama (3–0) vs. M16 Hidenoumi (1–2)—Aoiyama is looking strong so far, and Hidenoumi isn’t. I expect the big Bulgarian will remain undefeated when the day is done. (0:25)
M14 Ikioi (3–0) vs. M13 Asanoyama (2–1)
—In recent tournaments it’s been Ikioi’s spirit and focus that have let him down, rather than his body. So far in Osaka, though, it’s been clear that he is in significant pain, but he has been focused and performing smart sumo. Still, his physical ailments are going to catch up with him sooner or later. Until then, let’s just enjoy the kind of performance that we wish Ikioi would show us every basho. (2:26)
M9 Okinoumi (1–2) vs. M10 Chiyonokuni (3–0)—Chiyonokuni is undefeated so far without actually having done anything of particular note over the first three days. His opponent, Okinoumi, has been likewise humdrum. Maybe one of them will show a little enthusiasm today. (4:10)
M6 Kaisei (3–0) vs. M4 Shodai (1–2)—I often talk about Kaisei having an “A” and a “B” side, and that his biggest problem is that Kaisei-B shows up too often, just when things are going well. So far, it’s been all Kaisei-A this tournament, and he’ll NEED that against Shodai who, despite a weak start to the basho, is a very strong opponent. (7:25)
M3 Kotoshogiku (1–2) vs. M4 Shohozan (3–0)—I don’t like Shohozan much. He fights the kind of overly aggressive, slapping thrust sumo that I just don’t enjoy. But there’s no arguing that it suits him and allows him to notch some wins over impressive opponents. Kotoshogiku, on the other hand, is trying to prove that he’s still got what it takes to be a top-notch rikishi. Because of aggression and inertia, I think Shohozan will take this bout. (8:32)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–1) vs. komusubi Ichinojo (3–0)—Ichinojo has looked strong and smart so far this tournament, I have to give him that. Today, though, he fights an opponent who IS strong and smart. Ichinojo has the edge physically, the question is whether or not Mitakeumi has matured enough emotionally to overcome the new tactical Ichinojo. (10:15)
M3 Takakeisho (1–2) vs. sekiwake Tochinoshin (2–1)—Tochinoshin bounced back nicely from his first loss of the basho, now he needs to try to settle into the same kind of rhythm he got into back in January (which is certainly easier said than done). Takakeisho is one of the strong, young, up-and-coming rikishi who is looking to score some points by taking out the previous yusho winner. Should be a good match. My heart is rooting too hard for Tochinoshin for me to make an unbiased prediction. (11:25)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (3–0) vs. M2 Arawashi (0–3)—Kakuryu is putting on a very strong yokozuna performance so far. He’ll start getting stronger opponents soon enough, but for today at least, Arawashi should be another relatively easy victory. (15:12)

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