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SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 4)

It’s Day 4 of the Natsu Basho, and suddenly we have a relatively compact leaderboard. Only eight rikishi have managed to win all of their first three matches—yokozuna Hakuho, yokozuna Kakuryu, sekiwake Tochinoshin, sekiwake Ichinojo, M4 Shodai, M5 Ikioi, M10 Okinoumi, and M12 Asanoyama. Of course, it’s so early in the tournament that there are still thirteen rikishi just one win behind with 2–1 records.

After dancing out of trouble in his Monday match against komusubi Mitakeumi, on Tuesday Hakuho came out strong and literally blew M2 Shohozan out of the ring and off the dohyo. Meanwhile Kakuryu took only slightly more time to out-maneuver M1 Kaisei. So both yokozuna are so far looking unflappable.

The two sekiwake are also looking strong and confident. Tochinoshin had more trouble with his own feet after winning the match than he did with his actual opponent, M1 Tamawashi. And Ichinojo showed some real tenacity in his bout against M3 Daieisho, continuing to press the attack after being stymied in his first and second charges. In the past, he would have simply have gone into “leaning tower” mode, and probably would have ended up on the short end of the stick.

And, as I suggested in my commentary yesterday, when faced with strong competition in the form of komusbi Endo, ozeki Goeido showed us his feet of clay and suffered his first loss of the tournament. The big question now is whether he’ll dig deep and refocus himself today, or if he’ll go into one of his two-or-three-day funks and compound his problems with more upset losses. For his part, Endo has done himself a lot of good by stealing a win over a top-ranked opponent. If he can do that one more time, he’ll be in strong position to get a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] in his first tournament at sumo’s toughest rank.

M7 Ryuden (0–3) vs. M8 Yoshikaze (1–2)—Both of these rikishi have struggled in the first few days of the tournament, and it seems like they decided to take it out on each other. Worth watching twice. (5:30)
M5 Kotoshogiku (2–1) vs. M6 Chiyoshoma (1–2)—Kotoshogiku hasn’t really been worth talking about for a while. Although he was demoted from the rank of ozeki, as long as he held on near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet] he was still facing the same top-level competition that, quite frankly, he is no longer a match for. Now that he’s fallen to the mid-maegashira ranks, though, he has a much better chance to use his size and experience to dominate the competition. The only problem is, if he DOES he’ll just get promoted back up to a level where he’s everybody’s punching bag again. (7:55)
M5 Ikioi (3–0) vs. M4 Shodai (3–0)—Two undefeated rikishi facing off. This is the kind of thing that often happens in the middle of Week 2, but we’re getting it today. Ikioi has looked strong so far, but word is that he’s still nursing a knee injury. Shodai, on the other hand, seems to have regained the calm, focused demeanor that helped him shoot up the banzuke last year. (9:30)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (3–0) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (2–1)—This will be Tochinoshin’s first big challenge. If he wants to get promoted to ozeki, he’s going to have to be just as dominant over the komusubi as he is against all the other rikishi ranked lower than he is. The problem is, Mitakeumi is no ordinary komusubi, he just finished holding on to the sekiwake ranking for five straight tournaments, and only barely missed out on keeping it again because of a Day 15 loss to ozeki Goeido in the Osaka Basho. (12:36)
M1 Tamawashi (0–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (2–1)—Goeido suffered his first loss yesterday to komusubi Endo. The big question today is whether Goeido, whom pundits have been saying looks fit enough to win the tournament, can get his focus back and return to a winning way . . . or if he’s gone into his habitual post-loss mope and will now lose two or three days in a row. Maybe the best thing to happen to Tamawashi’s tournament was for Goeido to have lost yesterday. It really increases his chance to change his own fortunes and pick up his first win. (14:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (3–0) vs. M2 Shohozan (0–3)—When Kakuryu and Shohozan meet, you can be pretty sure it’s going to be a big, stand-up slap-fest in the center of the ring. And twelve times in their thirteen meetings, Kakuryu’s superior size and strength, and the weight of his yokozuna rank, have nabbed him the win. Shohozan is coming off back to back to back losses to a yokozuna, an ozeki, and a sekiwake so he’s sure to be feisty. But it’s unlikely that “feisty” will be enough to carry the day. (14:35)

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