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SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho (Day 12)

It’s Day 12 of the Natsu Basho, and the drama is getting intense. Sekiwake Tochinoshin remains undefeated and alone at the top of the leaderboard, with the two yokozuna still a single loss behind him. The thing is, today Tochinoshin squares off against Hakuho!

All basho long, I’ve been talking about how the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has told Tochinoshin that his promotion to ozeki requires more than just a certain number of wins—he must also show high quality performance. Most sumo pundits have interpreted that to mean that he must get at least one win against a yokozuna or an ozeki. However, one of the yokozuna and both ozeki are kyujo [absent due to injury], leaving him only two chances to achieve this feat. One of those chances is today in his match against Hakuho. The thing is, in his whole career, Tochinoshin has never beaten Hakuho in a honbasho [grand tournament]—not once in twenty-five previous matches. If he can do it here, he’ll have locked in his ozeki promotion.

One note on Hakuho, though. In his Wednesday match against Shodai, he took a sharp blow to the nose that seemed to very much bother him when the bout was done. It’s possible that he broke it. While such an injury would almost certainly not keep him from competing, but it might well affect the level of the sumo he performs—especially in a brawling match against one of the strongest rikishi around. This really shouldn’t be a problem or a story . . . but depending on what actually happened yesterday, it just might.

Kakuryu dodged a bullet yesterday in his match against komusubi Mitakeumi. It was only the seventh time the two had met, and they’d split the previous six 3–3. Mitakeumi was game, and kept up with the yokozuna step for step and slap for slap, but in the end Kakuryu’s experience won out with a nifty move at the dohyo’s edge.

It’s interesting that Tochinoshin, Hakuho, and Kakuryu are the three rikishi involved in this yusho [tournament championship] race, as these are the three who started the tournament with very specific reasons to want to claim victory. Tochinoshin, of course, is bucking for a promotion to ozeki and winning the yusho would certainly get it for him, regardless of how he performs against the yokozuna. Kakuryu, on the other hand, won the May tournament and has never won back-to-back yusho (a small blot on his record as a yokozuna), and he can feel retirement starting to creep up on him, so this may be his last chance. Meanwhile, Hakuho’s father passed away in April, and he would very much like to win the match to honor the man who was a silver-medalist in Olympic wrestling and a legendary figure back in Mongolia. You couldn’t have scripted a better head-to-head-to-head yusho race, and I’m really enjoying watching it play out. One big “plot point” in this storyline will be resolved in today’s final match.

M8 Yoshikaze (5–6) vs. M11 Daiamami (4–7)—Two solid rikishi trying to turn their performances around before it’s too late. Daiamami will be make-koshi [majority of losses] with one more loss, Yoshikaze can only afford two more. An energetic match that is most notable because it ends with a very rare kimarite [winning maneuver]. (4:35)
M5 Kotoshogiku (6–5) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (7–4)—Kotoshogiku has been having a very solid basho, but ran into the tournament leader and two yokozuna over the past few days. He wants to get back to his winning ways before things get too desperate. Meanwhile, Ichinojo is starting to come back from his own mid-basho slump, but he still needs one more win to secure his kachi-koshi and his sekiwake rank. (11:30)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–1) vs. M5 Ikioi (8–3)—Kakuryu got a little lucky in his win over komusubi Mitakeumi yesterday. Today he faces Ikioi who has been fighting very well despite a nagging leg injury that has him limping off the dohyo after almost every day’s match. (12:40)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (11–0) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–1)—This is it—not only the match of the day, but the match that everyone has been anticipating since the start of the basho. A win for Tochinoshin will pretty much secure his promotion to ozeki, a win for Hakuho will create at least a two-way tie for the lead in the race for the yusho. (13:55)


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