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SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 5)

Day 5 of the Haru Basho and the situation continues to be fluid in Osaka. Yokozuna Kakuryu and a group of four others remain unbeaten, while komusubi Ichinojo suffered his first loss, and BOTH ozeki already have two losses apiece. Also, last basho’s winner, shin-sekiwake Tochinoshin, also suffered his second loss on Wednesday . . . which pretty much all means that the yusho [tournament championship] is still very much up for grabs.

Kakuryu continues to surprise me by completely dominating his opponents and looking like a real yokozuna. If he can manage to keep this up, he’ll be sitting pretty when Week 2 comes around. Meanwhile, as I noted above, both Takayasu and Goeido have already lost twice. Yesterday Goeido pulled the first of his “I really have no idea what I’m doing” style losses, while Takayasu rebounded from back-to-back losses on Days 2 & 3 with a convincing win. The problem for them both is that their sumo is unpredictable—one day it’s solid, the next it’s suspect—and if there’s one thing it takes to win a yusho, it’s a steady, reliable performance over all fifteen days of the basho.

Tochinoshin lost his second match yesterday in what might end up being the best bout of the whole tournament. His opponent, M3 Takakeisho, knew exactly what Tochinoshin’s keys to victory were, and worked very hard simply to deny them. Tochinoshin’s performance rests on his ability to move quickly and in balance, closing the gap between him and his opponent, and staying in close rather than reaching and chasing. And the sekiwake was doing that pretty well yesterday. However, Takakeisho kept finding ways to successfully avoid Tochinoshin’s grip and then dancing away to the edge or around the lip of the dohyo. Eventually, Tochinoshin overextended himself and lost his balance mere seconds before Takakeisho hopped out of the ring. It really was a great match, worth going back and watching on yesterday’s video, if you missed it.

Another great match featured the other sekiwake, Mitakeumi, handing Ichinojo his first loss. Mitakeumi was lightning quick off the tachi-ai [initial charge] and got himself immediately inside Ichinojo’s reach with hands pressing up under the big man’s shoulders, forcing him into posture where all he could do was lean and try to maintain his balance. It didn’t take long for Mitakeumi to apply a bit more pressure and force Ichinojo back and out of the ring. It’s these kinds of performances that make the think that Mitakeumi is going to be one of the next great rikishi . . . he just needs to learn to reliably get one or two wins per tournament against the ozeki and yokozuna.

Today’s top matches to watch include:

M17 Aoiyama (4–0) vs. M15 Myogiryu (1–3)—Aoiyama is looking strong on his return from Juryo and is currently one of the co-leaders, while Myogiryu is looking like he’s destined for trip down to the lower division. Still the two have fought eighteen times before and split those meetings evenly. (0:15)
M14 Ikioi (4–0) vs. M16 Daiamami (3–1)—Ikio continues to impress with his performance despite the obvious pain his right thigh is giving him. He’s halfway to his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and seems to be in a better frame of mind than he has been for many a basho. On the other hand, Daiamami is also looking quite good this tournament and he isn’t the least bit injured. They’ve only ever faced each other once before, so it’s tough to handicap this bout. (1:40)
M11 Tochiozan (2–2) vs. M9 Ryuden (1–3)—Two rikishi who are having fairly unspectacular outings so far this tournament, but the match is worth watching because it is decided by harimanage [backward belt throw], a fairly rare kimarite [winning maneuver]. (4:50)
M5 Chiyomaru (1–3) vs. M6 Kaisei (4–0)—Will Kaisei-A continue to show up for these matches? Chiyomaru isn’t doing great so far this tournament, but he does beat Kaise about fifty percent of the time historically. (7:45)
M2 Arawashi (0–4) vs. M4 Shohozan (4–0)—A real street-brawling match here. Arawashi may be winless so far, but it’s not because he’s doing lackluster sumo . . . it’s because when you’re a pusher/thruster timing and a bit of luck are as important as your tactics. (9:35)
Komusubi Ichinojo (3–1) vs. M1 Endo (3–1)—Ichinojo lost yesterday. It will be an interesting test of character to see how he bounces back today against crowd favorite Endo. The old Ichinojo would usually turn one loss into three by being distracted for his next couple of matches. If he really is a new man, he can begin to show it by ignoring yesterday’s loss and getting back into his previous groove. (10:50)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (4–0) vs. M2 Takarafuji (0–4)—So far this tournament, everything has been going Kakuryu’s way, and nothing seems to be going Takarafuji’s way. And the yokozuna has won twelve of their previous thirteen meetings. So everything points Kakuryu’s way . . . which historically when he inadvertently “phones in” a performance. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. (14:30)

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