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SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 9)

Today begins Week 2 of the Aki Basho, and the leaderboard has quite suddenly become more manageable. Only two undefeated rikishi remain—yokozuna Kakuryu and yokozuna Hakuho—with four rikishi trailing at one loss apiece—ozeki Goeido, ozeki Takayasu, M9 Hokutofuji, and M13 Ryuden. Of course, there’s still A LOT of drama going on among those not on the leaderboard, too.

To begin with, yokozuna Kisenosato seems to have run into his “wall.” After starting 6–0, he’s lost his last two matches, and looked like he was a little short on both energy and power. After missing eight tournaments in a row, he promised to come back strong or, if he couldn’t, that he’d retire. Now, “strong” is a loosely defined term, but at bare minimum it’s got to include getting kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and in a strict sense, for a yokozuna it should include getting double-digit wins. Double-digits seem pretty unlikely at this point. And given that his Week 2 schedule will be filled with bouts against ozeki and yokozuna, even kachi-koshi doesn’t seem like a lock at this stage. Kisenosato has to dig deep and find the power and concentration to bring in two more wins against top-notch opponents, otherwise we might be watching the final tournament of his great career.

Today, Kisenosato will face ozeki Tochinoshin, who has problems of his own. It’s only his second basho at sumo’s second-highest rank, but because of the injury he suffered in the middle of the July tournament, he’s kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in this one, which means that he, too, MUST get kachi-koshi. He started off strong enough (though not at his best, by some stretch), but a headbutt on Day 4 seems to have really thrown him off his game. He’s currently 5–3, so he must find a way to get at least three wins in Week 2 when four of his bouts will be against his fellow ozeki and the yokozuna. 

Also in trouble, though of a less serious nature, is sekiwake Mitakeumi. He came into the Aki Basho hoping to do well enough to earn a promotion to ozeki when all was said and done. The pundits pretty much agree that means getting a minimum of double-digit wins INCLUDING at least one strong win over an ozeki or yokozuna (better if it was two). Mitakeumi started strong, but has stumbled at the end of Week 1. He’s now 6–2, which means that in Week 2 he needs four or five more victories in a schedule that will include bouts against three yokozuna and ozeki Takayasu. I don’t think he’ll have trouble getting his kachi-koshi, but he’s going to have to up his sumo significantly if he wants to get to double-digit wins and make a grab at that ozeki brass ring. 

In better news, by beating M2 Yutakayama yesterday, Hakuho notched his 800th win at the rank of yokozuna. He was already top of the list in that all-time category, but reaching such an auspicious number makes it worth celebrating again. The next significant number he’s aiming for is 1,000 career wins (another category he’s already at the top of), and he theoretically could get THAT this basho, too, if he finishes with a 14–1 or a perfect zensho-yusho [no loss tournament championship]. Otherwise, it seems almost assured that he’ll hit the 1,000 mark in November’s Kyushu Basho. Having said all that, there IS one milestone that Hakuho is surely chasing, and that is extending the number of consecutive years in which he’s won at least one yusho [tournament championship]. Already we’re in strange territory in that this is the first time since 2010 that Hakuho has failed to win one of the first four tournaments of the year, but if he doesn’t manage to win either the Aki or Kyushu basho, it will be the first time since 2005 that he failed to raise the Emperor’s Cup at all. In fact, he’s won multiple yusho in every year since 2007. 

Another day where the kyujo [absent due to injury] news is good—after missing five days due to knee injuries (yes, he hurt them BOTH), M11 Kyokutaisei is returning to action today. At 1–3–4, though, his next loss will make him make-koshi [majority of losses] and ensure a demotion of some sort. I expect he’s coming back in order to mitigate how far he’ll fall down the banzuke [ranking sheet], hoping to remain in the top division for November’s tournament.

Now let’s have a look at today’s top matches:

Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (8–0)—Mitakeumi has to get his performance back on track, but he’s facing Hakuho. Of course, Mitakeumi actually has a decent lifetime record against Hakuho, having won twice in their eight meetings. I predict an interesting match, if nothing else. (12:35)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (8–0) vs. M3 Endo (1–7)—As long as Kakuryu stays on task and keeps doing his kind of forward-moving sumo, he should have no difficulty, particularly given how off rhythm Endo has been this basho. When Endo is fighting well, he often can maneuver around until Kakuryu takes the bait and starts to step backward and pull, which is the yokozuna’s biggest weakness. (15:35)
Yokuzuna Kisenosato (6–2) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (5–3)—Two big, powerful, usually dominant rikishi who are not at the top of their game at the moment. Both really need a win to get back on track . . . only one of them can get it. (16:35)

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