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SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Haru Basho and we’ve has a very sudden and very extensive shift on the leaderboard. If you’ll remember, yesterday at this time we had two undefeated rikishi, no one-loss rikishi, and seven two-loss rikishi. Now we have one sole undefeated leader—yokozuna Kakuryu—followed by a single one-loss rikishi—M6 Kaisei—followed by just a pair of two-loss rikishi—ozeki Takayasu and komusubi Ichinojo. All the other two loss rikishi lost yesterday.

To make matters even more interesting, Kakuryu and Ichinojo go head-to-head in the last match of the day today, so there will be SOME change to the leaderboard no matter WHAT happens!

So, what the heck happened yesterday? Why did all of those 7–2 rikishi fail to secure their eighth win? In the end, it really was just a confluence of interesting (and sometimes unlikely) occurrences. M17 Aoiyama lost to a longtime rival. M16 Daiamami and M13 Daishomaru both showed their inexperience. M14 Ikioi was just plain unlucky as his fingers got tangled up in his opponent’s topknot, which is an illegal maneuver, so despite executing a winning technique, he was declared the loser of the match. But the most frustrating was sekiwake Tochinoshin, who was facing ozeki Goeido.

Goeido has been running hot and cold all basho and seemed like he might be on the verge of another collapse that might lead him down the path to another embarrassing make-koshi [majority of losses] for the tournament. So rather than taking Tochinoshin on directly, he pulled a henka [jumped to the side at the initial charge]. Those who have been following my sumo coverage for a while will be familiar with the controversy surrounding the henka. It’s a completely legal move, though one that is considered to be “low class” particularly for high-ranking rikishi like ozeki and yokozuna. It’s especially frowned upon when it happens during a marquee match, that the audience both in the stadium and at home watching on TV is excited about. And THAT’S the kind of match this was.

Tochinoshin actually managed to right himself after flying by the side-stepping Goeido, but he was too off balance to survive the ozeki’s follow-up attack and got knocked sideways off the dohyo. Goeido got his his win, but he probably lost some fans in doing so. Me, I was already a Goeido skeptic at best (and an outright hater at worst) so he just made certain that my disposition toward him will not change anytime in the near future.

Ichinojo, another rikishi I’m highly skeptical of, has been proving me wrong all tournament, and no moreso than yesterday when he beat Kaisei, one of the co-leaders. Ichinojo played it smart and handed the big Brazilian his first loss of the basho. And today he faces Kakuryu. How strange is it that Ichinojo not only remains in contention this late in the tournament, but that all by himself he’s acting as a one-man spoiler, helping to decide who will remain in the yusho hunt, and who will join the ranks of the also-rans.

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