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SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 3)

It’s Day 3 of the Nagoya Basho, and the most notable thing about yesterday’s bouts is that ALL of the top-ranked rikishi won. Granted, this is how it is SUPPOSED to be, particularly this early in the tournament, but based on recent experience, we know that it rarely seems to go that way. Still, there were some interesting performances that are worth mentioning.

To begin with, yokozuna Hakuho had a couple of noteworthy points. First of all, the head shimpan [ringside judge] called a matta [false start] on Hakuho for not putting both hands fully to the ground at the start of the tachi-ai [initial charge]. While that is the rule on paper, it is one that is broken in a good many matches every day, and in most cases a yokozuna is given the leeway to stretch that rule quite a long way. Hakuho’s tachi-ai was no different than many that were seen in earlier matches, and certainly no different than he’s been performing regularly during recent tournaments. The point in calling a foul on him is that that the Kyokai [Sumo Association] wants him to make an effort to be an exemplar of well-done sumo. It is a new step in the same process that led them earlier this year to give him a mild reprimand for being too bruising in his tachi-ai. Basically, as Hakuho is getting older, he’s taking advantage of his speed to give himself an edge at the match’s start that makes up for his nagging injuries and slight loss of raw strength. But as the all-time winningest yokozuna, and arguably the greatest sumotori ever, the Kyokai wants him to stand for more, or more accurately, they want to keep him from perpetuating a type of sumo that they don’t want OTHER rikishi to emulate. Because he is such a role model and ambassador for the sport, the Kyokai is insisting that he keep his style of sumo as straightlaced and by the numbers as possible. And if age weighs on him to the point where it keeps him from continuing to dominate, then they’d rather he retire than that he skirt the edges of what is permissible looking to keep an edge over his opponents.

Having said all that, the other noteworthy thing about Hakuho’s match against M1 Shodai was that he DID show his full speed and strength, keeping the same game plan in his match and STILL beating his opponent with ease. The jury is still out on whether or not Hakuho can keep up the same power and speed through the whole tournament, but there is now no doubt that he has both here at the start of the basho.

Ozeki Goeido also showed that his speed and power are still intact, and that he has the will and wits to perform as well in the tournament as he did in his pre-basho warm-up fights. He looked pretty hapless on Day 1 against Shodai, but was back in fine form yesterday against komusubi Tamawashi. He is kadoban, and still needs to secure 8 wins in order to save his ozeki rank, but at least now it seems like something he’s got a real chance to do.

The other kadoban ozeki, Takayasu, may have taken his record to 2–0 yesterday by beating komusubi Shohozan, but he didn’t look at all confident in doing so. In fact, despite being undefeated, Takayasu looks like he might have a struggle to reach kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. He just seems uncertain as he moves around the ring, and unable to apply the strong sumo that got him promoted to ozeki earlier this year. Still, if he keeps winning here in Week 1, his task will still be manageable. 

The two strongest performances over the first two days of the tournament have been turned in by the two rikishi who fought for the yusho in May—yokozuna Kakuryu and shin-ozeki [newly promoted ozeki] Tochinoshin. They both have been rock solid, doing the kind of sumo we expect from them. It’s early in the basho, but so far they seem to be the favorites.

There is also one dark horse contender that several commentators are keeping a close eye on—M11 Onosho. He had a great year in 2017, breaking into the Makuuchi Division and storming up the banzuke [ranking sheet] to land a komusubi ranking in his fourth tournament. Unfortunately, he injured himself in January and sat out entirely in March. for the May tournament, he’d dropped all the way out of Makuuchi and back into Juryo, but he made his comeback by winning the Juryo yusho [tournament championship] and earning a promotion back to M11. Now he’s fully healthy, and will be facing low-ranked opponents for most of the tournament. If he can get back to doing the sanyaku-level sumo he was before the injury, he should dominate his competition and may well be able to stay at or near the top of the leaderboard deep into Week 2. 

Here are today’s top matches:

M11 Onosho (2–0) vs. M10 Nishikigi (1–1)—Since I mentioned him in today’s write-up, I thought we should pay some special attention to Onosho, who has looked rock solid so far this tournament. (3:50)
M6 Endo (2–0) vs. M8 Chiyoshoma (0–2)—A quick but terrific match. Don’t blink or you might miss some really skillful sumo. (7:20)
M2 Chiyonokuni (1–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (2–0)—In a day with lots of really great sumo, this is clearly the match of the day!  (11:15)
Komusubi Shohozan (0–2) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (2–0)—Shohozan is a fast, scrappy rikishi (very much in the mold of former yokozuna Harumafuji), and his speed and aggressiveness often causes trouble for Tochinoshin. (13:10)
M1 Kotoshogiku (0–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (2–0)—This is the sixty-first time these two have met, which is A LOT. But Kotoshogiku trails in the series 6–54. That’s what he gets for fighting Hakuho so often. (14:30)


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