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SUMO: 2018 Natsu Basho Senshuraku [Final Day] (Day 15)

Holy cats! It’s senshuraku [the final day] of the 2018 Natsu Basho and this may be the most exciting Day 15 in recent memory! Yokozuna Kakuryu is alone atop the leaderboard with a 13–1 record after beating sekiwake Tochinoshin yesterday. That knocks the big Georgian’s record to 12–2 and leaves him alone in second place thanks to yokozuna Hakuho’s loss to sekiwake Ichinojo. (Seriously, go back and watch yesterday’s action if you haven’t seen it all for yourself. It was an epic day of sumo!)

So, what does that mean for the yusho [tournament championship]? 

First of all, Hakuho is out of contention. At 11–3, he’s just too far off the pace to make it up on senshuraku. However, he does still have a pivotal role to play in deciding the winner. Y’see, he fights against Kakuryu in today’s final match. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first thing that needs to happen, is that Tochinoshin must win his match against M5 Ikioi. If the sekiwake loses, then Kakuryu wins the yusho regardless of the outcome of his match. But, if Tochinoshin wins, then it all hangs on the yokozuna match up. If Kakuryu beats Hakuho, he secures the yusho. If, however, Hakuho wins, then it would force a one-match playoff between Kakuryu and Tochinoshin. I know which result I’m rooting for!

Saturday’s bout between Kakuryu and Tochinoshin was epic. The yokozuna won, but it was a very close call. There were two specific reasons he prevailed: 1. He was quick at the tachi-ai and got a morozashi [double inside grip] on Tochinoshin’s mawashi [belt], this is a huge advantage, but it might not have been enough except, 2. Tochinoshin’s right hand grip was shallow and so Kakuryu’s mawashi pulled loose, leaving the big man only one side to apply pressure from. Miraculously, he still was able to lift Kakuryu off his feet momentarily and threatened to hoist him out of the ring. But with such a loose grip on the right side, that soon became impossible, meaning he had to manufacture some kind of throw without having an inside grip for either arm—a ridiculously tough thing to do. The quality of Tochinoshin’s sumo can be measured, I think, by how long the match took despite Kakuryu having grabbed such an advantageous position. If the two of them have to fight again in a playoff, I wouldn’t bet on those same circumstances arising. 

I feel kind of bad for Hakuho. As I was talking about in my Friday commentary, it’s clear that he’s lost a bit of strength, and that was surely his undoing against Ichinojo. He just didn’t have the gas to overpower the big man, and Ichinojo fought defensively, not giving the yokozuna any real openings to exploit. After half a minute or so, the outcome became more or less a foregone conclusion. If this is how things are going to stay for him, I don’t know if Hakuho is going to make it to his goal of still being active for the 2000 Summer Olympics. 

As always on senshuraku, I like to put a focus on rikishi that are “on the bubble”—entering the day with 7–7 records and pretty much holding their fate in their own hands. A win today and they’re kachi-koshi [majority of wins], a loss and they’re make-koshi. There are six rikishi in this position, and as usual the Kyokai has cruelly set four of them up to fight against each other. M8 Yoshikaze faces M2 Abi, and M2 Shohozan must fight M6 Takarafuji. In each of these bouts, only one man can walk away with a kachi-koshi, which for sure makes for high drama.

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M17 Nishikigi (9–5) vs. M12 Asanoyama (7–7)—The first of today’s bubble matches. Asanoyama holds his fate in his own slapping hands. (0:32)
M11 Chiyonokuni (11–3) vs. M8 Kagayaki (9–5)—Chiyonokuni has pretty quietly had a terrific tournament. He’s currently tied with Hakuho for third place. For his efforts, he will get a kanto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize]. (2:55)
M15 Kyokutaisei (9–5) vs. M7 Chiyomaru (5–9)—This has been Kyokutaisei’s debut tournament in the Makuuchi Division, and he’s shined. If he gets a tenth win, he’ll be awarded a kanto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize] for his efforts. (3:25)
M8 Yoshikaze (7–7) vs. M2 Abi (7–7)—Here is one of our cruel match-ups—two on-the-bubble rikishi going head to head. Only one can get kachi-koshi and a promotion next basho. Who wants it more? (5:45)
M2 Shohozan (7–7) vs. M6 Takarafuji (7–7)—The other cruel match-up, but Shohozan has a little EXTRA incentive. If he wins AND if Kakuryu gets yusho, Shohozan will be awarded a shukun-sho [Outstanding Performance Prize]. (7:00)
M1 Tamawashi (7–7) vs. M4 Shodai (9–5)—The last of the bubble matches. Tamawashi will give himself a chance to get promoted to komusubi if he can get his kachi-koshi, and Shodai increases the chance that HE’LL get that spot if he can saddle Tamawashi with make-koshi. (8:40)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (12–2) vs. M5 Ikioi (8–6)—Tochinoshin must win this match if he wants to stay eligible for a potential playoff. Also, he will get two special prizes—a kanto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize] and a gino-sho [Technique Prize]. (11:55)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (13–1) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (11–3)—Let’s set aside the yusho implications, there is ALWAYS a sense of electricity in the air when two yokozuna meet. And although he’s out of the championship race, Hakuho wants to prove that he’s still the man to beat. Kakuryu, on the other hand, can get back-to-back yusho for the first time in his career if only he can win this bout. (13:15)

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