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SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 7)

It’s Day 7 of the Haru Basho and only two rikishi remain undefeated—yokozuna Kakuryu and M6 Kaisei. Both of them looked strong in notching their sixth wins yesterday, though after the match, Kaisei was rubbing the back of his leg like his hamstring was sore. Directly behind them are a group of five rikishi with only one loss, and a half-dozen rikishi with two losses (a group that includes all the sanyaku rikishi other than Kakuryu himself).

Sekiwake Tochinoshin may have fallen out of the immediate hunt for the yusho [tournament championship] by notching two losses, but I have to give him strong credit for sticking to his winning game plan. This was in fine evidence yesterday when he faced M1 Endo, a much smaller but much quicker rikishi. Rather than doggedly holding tight to an off-balance grip, Tochinoshin kept his focus on moving with Endo as he danced around the ring and then found himself in position to make a beautiful kotenage [arm lock throw] for the win.

Less praiseworthy, though, is the way that ozeki Takayasu has been going about his business. Although he has the same record as Tochinoshin, Takayasu has looked kind of witless the past few days, winning by virtue of his size rather than by good sumo. I hate to say it, but he seems to have picked up the bad habits that komusubi Ichinojo has set aside so far this tournament. (Ichinojo, by the way, is looking like a real contender . . . I have no real faith that he’ll continue this way, but so far he has earned some compliments and I don’t want to deny him those.)

Goeido is a bit of a mystery. He’s flip-flopped back and forth between the strong and focused sumo that led him to a yuhso victory in 2016 and the heedless nonsense that has led him to be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] six times in the past three years. As we approach the halfway mark in the tournament, there’s really no sense of whether the ozeki will be fighting to earn double-digit wins or rather to avoid make-koshi [majority of losses].

Kaisei, on the other hand, has brought nothing but his best sumo to the ring through the entire first week. This is unusual for him, but I think all the fans are glad to see him “in the zone,” as he does some pretty impressive sumo when he’s there. Tied for the lead going into today, one wonders how long he can keep his concentration up, because he’s poised in the same spot on the banzuke that Tochinoshin had in November, the tournament before he pulled off his surprise yusho victory.

M14 Ikioi (4–2) vs. M17 Aoiyama (5–1)—Two former sanyaku rikishi both near the bottom of the division, both doing very well this tournament. But for a terrible call on Day 4, Aoiyama would be one of the co-leaders. Ikioi’s injured thigh hasn’t seemed to bother him as much for the past couple of days.  (0:40)
M13 Daishomaru (5–1) vs. M15 Sokokurai (2–4)—Daishomaru has been having a terrific basho so far, and is only one win behind the leaders. Meanwhile Sokokurai has been struggling and seems destined for a return trip to Juryo in May. (0:50)
M16 Daiamami (5–1) vs. M10 Chiyonokuni (5–1)—Two 5-1 rikishi going head-to-head. The number of men involved in the yusho race is sure to drop by one when this is over, but which one? (1:55)
M6 Kaisei (6–0) vs. M8 Kagayaki (3–3)—Co-leader Kaisei is up against Kagayaki, the big guy who can’t seem to catch a break. If Kaisei-A shows up, this should be no contest. But if Kaisei-B makes an appearance, the result is pretty much a toss-up. (5:25)
Komusubi Ichinojo (5–1) vs. M1 Tamawashi (3–3)—Ichinojo has put in some really terrific sumo throughout Week 1, and he’ll need that kind of performance beginning today as he starts facing top-level opponents. Tamawashi has seemed a little off his game so far this basho, but we know he has the skills to come out on top against opponents from the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. (8:20)
Ozeki Takayasu (4–2) vs. M4 Shohozan (5–1)—Takayasu has to win if he wants to stay relevant to the yusho race, Shohozan must win if he wants to remain one behind the leaders. Can the ozeki get back into a more impressive groove than the one he’s been showing lately? Can Shohozan out-muscle an opponent nearly twice his size? (12:20)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (6–0) vs. M3 Takakeisho (3–3)—Kakuryu is still looking strong and confident, but his opponent today has spent Week 1 pushing the top-level competitors as far as they can go. Two of his wins came at the expense of the two sekiwake—Tochinoshin and Mitakeumi. (13:55)

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