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SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 1)

Welcome to the 2018 Natsu Basho [Summer Grand Sumo Tournament]! There are a lot of “storylines” going on this tournament, and lots of drama . . . and, of course, lots of sumo! Things are busy here in the Stannex, though, so I may not be quite as thorough in my commentary—you’ll just have to keep track of things yourselves. (Today is an exception to that as I “set the stage” for the tournament ahead.) I WILL be sure to post daily updates here and on Facebook, though, as long as Kintamayama continues to post his round-ups. (Remember, if you enjoy this, you really should consider leaving him a gratuity in his tip jar . . . he works his video-editing-butt off making these available so quickly every day!)

We start the tournament with two active yokozuna—Kakuryu, who won the March basho in Osaka, and Hakuho, who missed the whole March tournament because of injury. Hakuho has been dominant in the pre-tournament warm-up bouts . . . but Kintamayama seems to think he might still have a lingering injury. No one else in the sumo world is saying that, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Hakuho’s father passed away about six weeks ago, so word is he’s quietly dedicating this tournament to his memory. Kakuryu, on the other hand, looks about as good as he did in March . . . which is to say that his performance hangs on his mental focus. If he can avoid any Week 1 losses, he should be in the mix right down to the wire.

Not appearing again this basho is yokozuna Kisenosato, who is still struggling with injuries. He went on the jungyo [exhibition tour] in and looked lackluster in his performance. And since both he and the Kyokai [Sumo Association] have said that his next basho performance will determine whether or not he must retire, it makes sense for him to sit this one out. 

Also kyujo [absent due to injury] this basho is ozeki Takayasu (who is from the same sumo stable as Kisenosato) who injured his left shoulder at the end of the Osaka Basho and injured his right shoulder in practice last week. Sitting out is the right call for him, but it does mean that when he returns in July he’ll be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion].

Sekiwake Tochinoshin, who won January’s Hatsu Basho, is on track to get a promotion to ozeki IF he turns in a good enough performance. What “good enough” is remains a little murky. Generally, a rikishi has to win 33 bouts over the course of three consecutive tournaments, and Tochinoshin has won 24 in the previous two. However, he was a rank-and-file rikishi in January, and so didn’t face top-notch competition . . . so the Kyokai has said that he needs to put in a “convincing performance” in order to get promoted. Most pundits think that means at least 11 wins, with at least one win over a yokozuna or ozeki. In interviews, Tochinoshin has said that reaching ozeki is one of his career dreams, and he knows this might be his last shot at it. Unfortunately, he suffered some kind of minor shoulder injury last week, so there’s no telling exactly how fit he really is.

The other sekiwake, Ichinojo, is looking better than he EVER has in his career. During pre-tournament matches he had a three-day run of 24–0 and is said to be moving faster and more convincingly, despite having bulked up to 225 kg (496 lbs). It’s certainly true that the determined Ichinojo we saw in Osaka was markedly improved over the lazy slug he’s been for the past three years. If he continues that type of performance, he is going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Crowd favorite Endo has finally managed to get promoted to the sanyaku ranks, and will be a komusubi this tournament. For the past few years he’s struggled to both bulk up to a size that will let him compete at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] and still maintain his quick, skill-based style of sumo. But based on his performance so far this year he seems to have solved that problem. It’s a tough time to be debuting at this rank, though. All the other sanyaku rikishi are strong and figure to contend for the yusho, and he’ll have to face just about all of them in Week 1 (that’s what makes komusubi such a tough rank). If he can manage to get one or two wins out of those six matches, then he’ll “only” have to win 66% of his matches against Maegashira-ranked opponents. If he can’t get those high-level wins, he’ll have to win 8 out of 9 Maegashira bouts in order to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and hold on to his sanyaku rank.

M16 Mygiryu vs. M17 Kyokutaisei—Myogiryu is back from having spent three of the last five basho down in Juryo (where he won the divisional yusho [tournament championship] in January). He’d much rather stay up here in Makuuchi, though, which means he’s going to have to do better than the 6–9 record he amassed in May. Meanwhile, this is Kyokutaisei’s debut tournament in Makuuchi, and he’s looking to impress. (0:45)
M2 Abi vs. sekiwake Ichinojo—Abi is fighting from the highest rank in his young career (this is only his third tournament in the top division . . . but he’s had double-digit wins in both the others). He’ll certainly be seeing a new level of competition this time, and will probably end up facing yokozuna and ozeki opponents for the first time before we get to senshuraku [the final day]. This match gives us a good chance to see whether Ichinojo looks likely to live up to the hype that’s been flying around him in the pre-basho warm-ups. (9:50)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin vs. M2 Shohozan—Tochinoshin needs eleven wins to secure a promotion to ozeki, and that means needing to run the table against all Maegashira-ranked opponents. He’s 10–3 lifetime against Shohozan, so this is a good way to start this campaign. (10:40)
M1 Tamawashi vs. yokozuna Hakuho—Hakuho is back for the first time since Day 4 of the January tournament. Word is that he’s looking strong and has a personal motivation to win this basho. Will we see the dominant Hakuho of the last few years, or is he still nursing one of the injuries that sidelined him for four months? (12:40)
Yokozuna Kakuryu vs. komusubi Endo—Kakuryu wants to get back-to-back yusho for the first time in his career. (He got promoted to yokozuna after a 14–1 second-place finish and a 14–1 yusho.) With Hakuho back in the mix, that will be a tall order, but before he worries about that he has to eliminate all the lesser opponents in his way. Historically, it’s in Week 1 that Kakuryu has mental lapses and suffers upset losses. If he can get through that, he can start worrying about Hakuho. Today he faces Endo, in his first ever match as a sanyaku-ranked rikishi (a real baptism of fire). (14:10)

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