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

Here we are, nakabi [the middle day] of the Aki Basho and four rikishi are tied atop the leaderboard—yokozuna Kakuryu, yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Takayasu, and M9 Hokutofuji. Immediately behind them are four rikishi with 6–1 records— yokozuna Kisenosato, ozeki Goeido, sekiwake Mitakeumi, and M13 Ryuden.

Interestingly, in my commentary during Week 1, I had very little to say about the rikishi who are our leaders. Kakuryu has very quietly been performing his winning style of sumo, which is to say that he’s been moving forward in all of his matches. So far, no one has pushed him hard enough to make him even think about slipping into his “step backward and pull” maneuver, which almost invariably leads to his losing the match at hand. As long as Kakuryu keeps the forward momentum, he’s going to remain hard to beat.

Hakuho, on the other hand, has had a mix of quick, dominant wins and weird, acrobatic matches where his skill and speed saved him from tricky situations. He’s so confident, and so experienced that there doesn’t seem to be any mess that he can’t get out of. Of course, we know from past tournaments that this isn’t 100% true . . . but it SEEMS that way. Given how unpredictably he’s been performing this basho, I naturally find it difficult to predict how he’ll do once he has to face his fellow yokozuna and the ozeki in Week 2, but one thing’s for sure—on any given day, it’s never a good idea to bet against Hakuho. What’s more, Hakuho now sits at 799 wins as a yokozuna, on the verge of setting another milestone (he already holds the record) in his incredible career.

Takayasu came into this tournament having suffered a week of lower back pain, so all the pundits were uncertain about how he’d hold up to the daily grind. So far, he’s been fine. Not particularly dominant, but there has been no sign of weakness or injury. I doubt he’s going to be able to keep his undefeated streak up long into Week 2—he’s just not been showing the kind of confidence and bull-headedness he needs to outmatch his fellow top-rankers. But I don’t think he’ll have any trouble getting his kachi-koshi and will almost certainly get double-digit wins. 

On the kyujo [absence due to injury] front, M2 Yutakayama is re-entering the basho today after having been absent the past three days due to an elbow strain. His reward for coming back? Having to face off against Hakuho.

Today’s top matches include:

M9 Hokutofuji (7–0) vs. M13 Ryuden (6–1)—Hokutofuji is still one of our co-leaders. Ryuden may be ranked near the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet], but he’s definitely better than that number would indicate, and he had a very strong Week 1. (4:25)
M4 Chiyonokuni (2–5) vs. M6 Kagayaki (2–5)—A match that’s going to have a lot of sumo commentators arguing. Controversial to say the least. (7:55)
Ozeki Goeido (6–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–2)—Our first ozeki clash! Goeido has looked strong since a slip up on Day 1. Meanwhile, Tochinoshin has seemed out of sorts all basho, but he’s kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and MUST win at least 8 to save his ranking. Should be a vicious match! (11:55)
M3 Shodai (2–5) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–0)—The next of our leaders, Takayasu, takes on Shodai, who has been fighting strong, but finding no luck. (12:50)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–0) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (2–5)—Another one of our leaders, Kakuryu, who has been calmly dispatching all comers so far. Today he’s goes up against the 500 lb. behemoth, Ichinojo, who has been typically slow and lumbering all tournament, but his mere size always makes him a dangerous opponent. (13:50)
M2 Yutakayama (0–5–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–0)—The final match of the day features the final co-leader, Hakuho. He’s facing Yutakayama, who is coming back from three days of kyujo because of an elbow strain. Hakuho needs only one more victory to notch 800 wins as a yokozuna. (16:05)

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