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SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 2)

The Aki Basho is underway, and we started off with a really solid Day 1. There were lots of exciting matches, and all of the top rikishi won . . . well  . . . all except ozeki Goeido, who further cemented his reputation of being better in practice than he is in the tournaments. 

Goeido was on fire this summer, dominating on the jungyo [exhibition tour] and in the warm-up training over the past few weeks. No one could touch him, it seemed. But yesterday, M1 Kaisei seemed to have no trouble touching Goeido and then pushing him rather unspectacularly to the edge and out of the ring. This certainly doesn’t count Goeido out, by any means, but it does seem to indicate that his head isn’t right, and that he’s more likely to play the role of spoiler than challenger for the title. The fact is, he’s got real game and can beat ANY rikishi on a given day. The problem is that he is unfocused and can lose to just about any rikishi on a given day.

Speaking of ozeki, Tochinoshin is now in his second tournament at sumo’s second-highest rank, and thanks to the foot injury he suffered in the middle of July’s Nagoya Basho, he’s already kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion]. He missed most training and competition over the summer, letting his wounds heal, but that means he’s coming into the Aki Basho without having had much chance to shake off the rust. Word is that he’s healthy, but not as strong as usual. You couldn’t prove that by his Day 1 performance, though, where he jumped off quickly at the tachi-ai [opening charge] and easily lifted M2 Chiyotairyu off his feet and out of the ring. Tochinoshin must get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] to keep his rank, but I think he’s looking strong enough that he’ll do much more than that and be one of the names in the yusho [tournament championship] hunt.

The third ozeki, Takayasu, has been struggling with back pain the last couple of weeks. Some days he gets up and is able to do sumo at about 75% or better, and some days he gets up and can barely move. Let’s hope that he stays healthy and gets through the whole basho without further straining his back . . . but it’s probably not likely for him to be atop the leaderboard past the middle weekend.

Last tournament’s winner, sekiwake Mitakeumi, is back and looking as strong as usual. The Kyokai [sumo association] has said that if he puts in a strong enough performance at the Aki Basho (probably 10 or 11 wins with at least one or two wins over yokozuna or ozeki opponents) he will be promoted to ozeki. In July he took advantage of the fact that most of the top rankers were out of action, but that’s not the case now. If he wants to rise to sumo’s second-highest rank, he’ll have to do even BETTER than he did in Nagoya.

But enough of my pontificating. Let’s look at some of today’s highlight matches.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi (1–0) vs. M2 Chiyotairyu (0–1)—Mitakeumi got off to a good start yesterday. If he wants a chance at his ozeki promotion, he pretty much has to run the table during Week 1, because his Week 2 is going to be filled with ozeki and yokozuna opponents. (10:45)
M2 Yutakayama (0–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (1–0)—Tochinoshin came out strong on Day 1. He needs seven more wins to clear his kadoban status. (12:55)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (1–0) vs. ozeki Takayasu (1–0)—It’s a little weird to pair an ozeki and a sekiwake this early in the tournament, but with a total of six ozeki and yokozuna fighting, I guess we’ll probably see some unusual pairings here and there. Ichinojo looked terrific against M1 Endo yesterday—he showed that glimmer of real skill he had back in May, but that evaporated almost entirely in July. Is he back for real? But both he and Takayasu are suffering from bad backs, so they each are on a day-to-day watch for disabling pain. (13:35)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (1–0) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (0–1)—Kisenosato won his first match since January pretty easily, but his opponent (M1 Ikioi) was a pretty straight ahead fighter. Today he faces a young sparkplug of a rikishi in Takakeisho, so we’ll get a better idea of what the yokozuna has in his tank. (15:00).

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