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SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s Day 8, nakabi [the middle day] of the Nagoya Basho, and for the first time in several days, no rikishi have dropped out. However, word is that the already insufficient air-conditioning system in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium has failed completely . . . so it could be considered to be kyujo [absent due to injury] and uncertain as to whether or not it will return. The temperature OUTSIDE in Nagoya has been over 100F the past couple of days, so we can only imagine how hot it is in a building with that many spectators PLUS the lights. 

The conditions IN the basho may be just as brutal, but they are still pretty much the same as they were yesterday. Sekiwake Mitakeumi remains unbeaten and alone atop the leaderboard. He’s trailed by a trio of rank-and-file rikishi with 6–1 records—M6 Endo, M6 Chiyotairyu, and M13 Asanoyama—and then a group of five rikishi with 5–2 records (interestingly, even in THAT group there is only a single sanyaku rikishi—ozeki Takayasu). There’s still a lot of tournament left to fight, and the way things are going it seems Quixotic to make predictions, but it sure SEEMS like we’re going to have a first-time yusho [tournament championship] winner when we come to the end of Week 2.

With his seventh win yesterday, Mitakeumi tied his personal best for most victories in a row (within a single basho). He’s now stepping into uncharted territory. As I said in my Saturday commentary, the big question is how he’ll handle the pressure of being the leader as the basho moves closer to senshuraku [the final day]. I’m impressed by how calm and in control he looked in his win over M1 Kotoshogiku. Honestly, he’s doing a great imitation of someone who’s been here before. He was already a popular rikishi, but these days you can see more and more fans in the crowd waving towels with Mitakeumi’s name on them whenever he steps up onto the dohyo. 

As much as the fans are rooting for Mitakeumi, though, they adore Endo. And given that in every basho that he gets promoted to a sanyaku rank, he stumbles into make-koshi [majority of losses], this might be the best and only chance in his career to actually win a title. One thing’s for sure, IF the two of them get to go face-to-face this basho (which with seven rungs on that banzuke [ranking sheet] separating them, is by no means a certain or even likely thing), the crowd will go absolutely bonkers.

In the match descriptions yesterday, I noted that being ranked down at the bottom of the banzuke may give M13 Asanoyama the best chance to sneak into a hiramaku yusho [a tournament won by a Maegashira rikishi]. At the very least, he’ll have the easiest schedule of all the current contenders, fighting mostly against other rikishi ranked in the bottom third of the banzuke. But he’s still a very inexperienced rikishi, only 24 years old and fighting in just his sixth basho in the Makuuchi Division. Still it could be that his inexperience gives him an edge in that he doesn’t know how out of his depth he truly is—he just has to keep showing up each day, taking it all one match at a time.

Ozeki Takayasu looked okay yesterday in his win over M3 Abi. Well, he didn’t look like dominant ozeki, but at the very least he didn’t look like his arm was bothering him. He’s still kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this basho and must get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] to retain his rank. If he can lock down those three final wins, he can begin worrying about how things are going in the yusho race.

Ozeki Goeido, on the other hand, lost again yesterday, taking his record to 4–3. He also is kadoban, and is clearly struggling. Interestingly, he’s the only rikishi active in the basho who has won a yusho in the past (having gone a perfect 15–0 for a zensho-yusho [no-loss tournament championship] back in September of 2016). But he’s not fighting at anywhere near that level in Nagoya, and needs to get himself focused. He doesn’t have to face the yokozuna or Tochinoshin, which is good for him, but he DOES have a more challenging Week 2 ahead of him, and he must do as well or better in order to secure 8 victories.

Sekiwake Ichinojo at least temporarily turned his luck around yesterday against M2 Ikioi, finally getting his third win of the tournament. However, that probably was more about the fact that Ikioi just played straight into the big Mongolian’s only winning strategy than anything clever that Ichinojo did himself. In fact, when reporting on the match, the commentators focused mainly on the fact that Ichinojo seemed to be muttering “It’s so hot!” to himself over and over while waiting for his match to begin. 

One source reports that there’s still an outside chance that shin-ozeki Tochinoshin may return to action on Monday or Tuesday. He apparently went back to a Tokyo hospital to have his injured toe tended to, and an optimistic assessment is that the swelling and pain may go down quickly. If so, word is that he’ll consider rejoining the competition. Personally, I think that’s a pretty terrible idea. He should accept that he will be kadoban in his second tournament as an ozeki, let his toe rest and heal up as much as possible, and come back with a strong performance in September. Otherwise, he risks being just another cautionary tale about a rikishi that reached a great height and then immediately fell down to earth (like Terunofuji is, and Takayasu is teetering on the edge of).

There was A LOT of really great sumo today! I had to leave quite a few terrific bouts off my “Top Matches” list, including BOTH ozeki matches!

M13 Tochiozan (5–2) vs. M16 Hokutofuji (5–2)—A strong match between two solid rikishi who have fallen to the lower rungs of the banzuke. Both deserve to be ranked a good bit higher, but they’ve got to PROVE it with their performance. Only one can notch a sixth win today. (1:35)
M11 Aoiyama (3–4) vs. M13 Asanoyama (6–1)—Asanoyama is one win behind the tournament leader and wants to make a point about his strength by beating the big Bulgarian. Aoiyama unfortunately is suffering from a knee injury that really cuts down on his mobility. (3:35)
M6 Endo (6–1) vs. M9 Myogiryu (5–2)—Endo is one win off the lead, and is a huge favorite with the crowd. Myogiryu is looking very strong this basho, and wants to stay within striking distance of the leaders. Probably the most exciting match of the day. (5:30)
M9 Yutakayama (4–3) vs. M6 Chiyotairyu (6–1)—The last of the second-place rikishi to fight today. Chiyotairyu has been rock-solid all tournament, marching forward, through, and over his opponents with unspectacular but irresistible sumo. (7:45)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (3–4) vs. M3 Takakeisho (4–3)—Ichinojo is trying to turn his basho around so that he can get kachi-koshi and hold on to his sekiwake rank. Takakeisho is a young up-and-comer who is trying to prove he deserves to be promoted to sanyaku. (11:45)
M2 Chiyonokuni (4–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–0)—Beyond the yusho race, Mitakeumi is attempting to do something he never has before—start a tournament with eight straight wins. And if he really wants a shot at the yusho, he MUST beat all his Maegashira-ranked challengers. (13:10)

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