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SUMO: 2018 Kyushu Basho (Day 11)

As we hit Day 11 of the Kyushu Basho, the tournament is now two-thirds in the books and our leader is still komusubi Takakeisho. One loss behind him remain the same four rikishi—ozeki Takayasu, M9 Daieisho, M12 Aoiyama, and M13 Onosho. 

As I predicted a few days ago, Aoiyama and Onosho continue to have an easy time as they face opponents who are ranked in the lower part of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. That should begin to change sometime over the next few days as the Kyokai [Sumo Association] starts to “reward” them for their strong performance by “letting” them fight rikishi from higher on the banzuke. Of course, both Aoiyama and Onosho have thrived at the top of the Makeuchi Division, so they have a real chance of continuing their winning streaks and remaining in the hunt for the yusho [tournament championship].

Meanwhile Takayasu continues to perform like a true ozeki (maybe for the first time since he ascended to the rank last year. Since he and Takakeisho haven’t squared off yet, I have to give him the nod as my favorite to win the yusho . . . but even that is only a razor thin lead. Anyone who at this point tells you that they have a very strong sense of who will hoist the Emperor’s Cup on Sunday is thinking more with his sumo heart than his head.

Most amazing and unpredictable of all is our leader, Takakeisho. Don’t get me wrong, he’s been a strong up-and-coming rikishi all year, and anyone who’s been following the sport has expected great things for his future. But his march over the high-ranking opponents he faced in the first few days came completely out of nowhere, and his ability to remain calm and continue to do strong, measured sumo throughout the first ten days is a surprise to everyone. He just hasn’t been this consistent in a basho ever before. It will be fun to find out if he really can keep his cool as we go through the final five days till senshuraku [the final day], and if he can surprise the sumo world by being the third first-time yusho champion of the year (something that hasn’t happened since 2000).

Ozeki Tochinoshin put in a strong performance yesterday against sekiwake Ichinojo. He had a good tachi-ai [initial charge], got his hands on the Mongolian behemoth’s mawashi [belt] quickly, and was able to use his classic power sumo to force the heaviest man in the division out of the ring. Having said all that, his performance only reinforces my thoughts from yesterday that he has a nagging problem in his right knee. That is, when he faces an opponent who doesn’t do anything tricky (and Ichinojo is as straightforward as they come), Tochinoshin can get his favorite position and show his strength. It’s only when he’s pressed by someone nimble or clever, who can force the ozeki into a position where he must use his right leg to generate power or as the basis of his defense, that the big Georgian has problems. With a 5–5 record, he’d better grab another couple of wins before he has to start facing his fellow ozeki at the week’s end.

Meanwhile, ozeki Goeido used a non-henka jump-to-the-side maneuver for the second day in a row. The crowd, which buzzed disapprovingly on Monday, actually had some murmured boos on Tuesday. Goeido may have set himself up with a 7–3 record, meaning he needs only one more victory to secure his kachi-koshi [majority of wins], but the way he did it has made him look scared, unconfident in his abilities, and very much unlike an ozeki.

Today’s matches to watch include:

M12 Aoiyama (8–2) vs. M10 Yutakayama (4–6)—Aoiyama has another relatively low ranked opponent who isn’t having a good tournament. He must take advantage of these pairings before they start putting him against tougher rikishi. (1:50)
M13 Onosho (8–2) vs. M7 Shohozan (6–4)—Onosho is already getting boosted up the banzuke to fight someone in the mid-ranks. Shohozan is always a tough opponent, very feisty and quick. (4:10)
M9 Daieisho (8–2) vs. M6 Kagayaki (3–7)—Daieisho lucks out and gets a match against Kagayaki, who is big and strong, but generally doesn’t come in with any plan other than being big and strong. (5:20)
Komusubi Takakeisho (9–1) vs. M2 Tochiozan (6–4)—Takakeisho faces someone who was up among the leaders until a couple of days ago. Tochiozan is a dangerous opponent. (8:45)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (3–7) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–2)—Takayasu must beat the gigantic-but-lumbering Ichinojo if he wants to stay in the yusho race. (12:10)

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