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SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 2)

The Nagoya Basho is off to a terrific start, and we’re ready for action here on Day 2. There was only one major upset on Day 1, and that was ozeki Goeido losing his opening match to M1 Shodai. Goeido is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this tournament, so he NEEDS to reach kachi-koshi [majority of wins], and with six of his matches being against the yokozuna, his fellow ozeki, and two strong sekiwake, he can only afford two losses in Week 1. To suffer one of them on Day 1 really puts Goeido immediately behind the eight-ball and places added pressure on him every time he climbs the dohyo.

Another upset yesterday, though less shocking than Goeido’s, came in sekiwake Ichinojo’s loss to M2 Chiyonokuni. The main reason I say this was a more minor upset is that no one is really sure what to make of Ichinojo. He has always had the size and strength to be a dominant rikishi, but for most of his career he’s produced plodding, unimaginative sumo and had trouble winning against top-ranked competition. In May he seemed to finally have turned a corner, showing energy, enthusiasm, and a spark of creativity in notching his first ever kachi-koshi while ranked as a sekiwake. However, the Ichinojo we saw today was back to the same lumbering behemoth we knew in the past. Sumo will be a more interesting sport if he can rekindle that fire in his belly, but anyone who has watched him over the past couple of years has to be skeptical about that possibility, particularly given his Day 1 performance.

While none of the other top rikishi lost yesterday, a few gave performances that opened doubt as to how successful they’re going to be in this tournament. To begin with, yokozuna Hakuho looked very similar to the way he did in May’s Natsu Basho—he was fast, nimble, and clever, but he didn’t seem to have the power we’re used to seeing him produce. He got the immediate advantage against his opponent, komusubi Tamawashi, but he wasn’t able to use that to grab a quick and easy win. Indeed, Tamawashi fought back and pressed the yokozuna to edge of the ring. but once there, Hakuho showed his mastery of the sport and easily turned the tables, throwing Tamawashi onto his fice and off the dohyo. For all the fact that the bout ended with a very convincing and definitive final maneuver, it posed some real questions about whether Hakuho has enough strength to go the long haul here in the most physically draining of the hon-basho.

Likewise, ozeki Takayasu notched his first win in his bout against M1 Kotoshogiku, but the former-ozeki seemed to have the advantage through MOST of the bout. Takayasu managed to make a smooth defensive move, dancing nimbly to the side as Kotoshogiku pushed him toward the tawara [the straw bales that mark the ring’s edge], and letting his opponent fall face first onto the clay. It was a very near thing, and didn’t leave the ozeki looking particularly strong. Like Goeido, Takayasu is kadoban this tournament, and must get 8 wins in order to keep his ozeki rank. And he’s in just the same tight spot as Goeido in that his Week 2 schedule will be filled with matches against very strong opponents. He’s gotten a leg up on his fellow ozeki, though, by pulling out a victory on Day 1, leaving him a bit more wiggle room in the coming fortnight.

Looking more to the positive side, yokozuna Kakuryu—who won the yusho [tournament championship] in May’s and March’s tournaments—looked to be in the same shape here in Nagoya. His Day 1 opponent was M1 Shohozan, who was the only rikishi to beat the yokozuna in May. Kakuryu came out calm and strong, and didn’t let Shohozan get inside his defenses and force him backward (the way he did two months ago in Tokyo). Even at his best, Kakuryu isn’t as flashy or dominating as Hakuho (or even Kisenosato, when he’s healthy), but he can be absolutely rock solid. And given the fact that so many of the other top rikishi have been streaky and unpredictable, that can be enough to win a tournament.

Shin-ozeki [newly promoted ozeki] Tochinoshin also looked solid in his opening bout. He faced M2 Ikioi, a fan favorite and a strong counter-striker, but was able to come off the tachi-ai [initial charge], grab his favorite grip, and march his opponent out of the ring. All this despite the fact that Tochinoshin had a minor arm injury during practice last week, and spent the month of June going through the media circus gauntlet that every shin-ozeki must face. He says he’s not as fit as he wants to be, but he looked fine in his Day 1 outing. 

Today’s top matches include:

Sekiwake Ichinojo (0–1) vs. M3 Abi (0–1)—Ichinojo disappointed on Day 1 by falling back to his old style of sumo. Will he revive the style that he showed us in May? Meanwhile, Abi continues to show that he has only one winning style of sumo, which relies on his long reach and his opponent’s inability to concoct a countering move (which means he’s been losing against top-ranked competition). Which one of these two will figure out a new way to win? (8:50)
Ozeki Goeido (0–1) vs. komusubi Tamawashi (0–1)—Goeido looked great in pre-tournament practice matches, but he looked lost on Day 1. If he gets his head back in the game, he can still save his ozeki rank (all he needs is 8 wins). Meanwhile, Tamawashi looked strong yesterday against Hakuho, but still got literally dumped on his face. He wants a better result today. (10:25)
Komusubi Shohozan (0–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (1–0)—Shohozan fought tough against Kakuryu yesterday, but came up short. On the other hand, Takayasu looked out of sorts, but managed to beat Kotoshogiku. It’s hard to say what to expect from this match, but they always fight one another tooth-and-nail. (13:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (1–0) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (0–1)—These two have faced each other a lot. In fact, this is their fiftieth meeting, with Kakuryu leading their series 27–22. The question is, who will get the upper hand today? (14:10)
M1 Shodai (1–0) vs. Yokozuna Hakuho (1–0)—On Day 1, Shodai showed a lot of strength in beating Goeido, while Hakuho showed a lot of dexterity in beating Tamawashi. The jury is still out on whether the yokozuna can still summon the power that he’s famous for to back up his skillful touch. (15:10)



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