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

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the Kyushu Basho, and we’ve had a big change on the leaderboard. komusubi Takakeisho suffered his first loss yesterday, dropping him back into the mix with a half-dozen one-loss rikishi. However, four of the rikishi who began the day at 5–1 lost, so there are only three competitors tied for the lead—Takakeisho, M9 Daieisho, and M13 Onosho. 

That’s right, halfway through the tournament and our leaders are a first-time komusubi and a pair from the lower half of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Five rikishi are tied for second place at 5–2—ozeki Takayasu, M2 Tochiozan, M5 Chiyotairyu, M7 Abi, and M12 Aoiyama. 

As I said yesterday, Takakeisho is very soon going to be through with the toughest part of his schedule. He’s got two ozeki left to face—Goeido and Tochinoshin—neither of whom are having particularly good tournaments. After that, his Week 2 schedule will be filled with matches against lower-ranked opponents, meaning that it will theoretically be getting easier as the race for the yusho [tournament championship] reaches its climax. On paper, I’d say that Takakeisho is now the odds on favorite to win the basho. But sumo very rarely happens the way it “ought to” on paper (as Week 1 provides a clear case in point). 

Daieisho is a rikishi I’ve had no real cause to talk about in past tournaments. He’s been up and down the banzuke over the last few years, mostly in the Makuuchi Division, but having twice slipped back down to Juryo for a basho or two. His highest rank was M3, which he held twice (in the Haru Basho for both 2017 and 2018), but each time with pretty miserable results. M9 seems to be about the right ranking for him, which means that it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to hold on atop the leaderboard once they start scheduling him against more challenging opponents. 

Onosho, on the other hand, is a strong up-and-coming rikishi who dropped down to his current M13 ranking because of injuries. Now that those have healed, he’s dominating the other competitors ranked around him, and should be able to handle most of the mid-level rikishi, too. Truthfully, he’s in a very strong position, perhaps even stronger than Takakeisho because his immediate opponents are going to be ranked M8 and lower. It will only be in the final three or four days of the basho that he is pushed up to face tougher competition. 

Takayasu lost for the second time yesterday, but more significantly, in doing so he seemed to tweak his lower back (which could renew an injury that plagued him earlier this year). If his back is going to be a problem, then I don’t think there’s much chance that the ozeki will be a factor in the yusho race, and I think it creates a relatively high chance that he’ll go kyujo [absent due to injury] before the fortnight is through. 

Of the second-place rikishi, the one I think is in the strongest position is Aoiyama, for pretty much the same reasons I like Onosho’s chances. He’s ranked very far down the banzuke and seems to be in good physical and mental shape. After starting the basho slowly, he’s now won five matches in a row and seems to have gotten into a good rhythm. And his opponents for at least the next four or five days are going to come from the M7-and-lower pool.

Of course, so far the action this basho has been anything but predictable, so I don’t know that it really makes much sense to think too far down the course of Week 2. If things keep to form, the state of the yusho race will have changed completely by Tuesday. I guess we’ll all just have to keep watching, and that’s fine with me!

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Onosho (6–1) vs. M16 Meisei (4–3)—The first of our co-leaders, Onosho, hoping to stay in rhythm and stay in the mix. (1:25)
M12 Aoiyama (5–2) vs. M15 Daiamami (4–3)—Two big guys going full-tilt against each other. Quite a match! (2:20)
M11 Okinoumi (4–3) vs. M9 Daieisho (6–1)—Our second co-leader, Daieisho, facing off against Okinoumi, who as usual has been inconsistent this basho. Some days he looks like he belongs in sanyaku, other days he looks like he belongs in Juryo. (5:50)
Komusubi Takakeisho (6–1) vs. M1 Myogiryu (4–3)—Our final co-leader, Takakeisho, trying to bounce back from his first loss yesterday. (10:30).
M3 Ryuden (2–5) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (3–4)—Tochinoshin has seemed out of sorts all tournament. His tachi-ai [initial charge] hasn’t been sharp, and he hasn’t once gotten a good grip on an opponent’s belt. Ryuden is at his highest ranking ever, and predictably is struggling against the higher-level competition. (13:45)
M4 Shodai (4–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (5–2)—The big question is how Takayasu’s back is after his loss yesterday. Is he healthy enough to stay in the race for the yusho? (15:00)

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