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SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 6

It’s Day 6 of the Hatsu Basho and as we head into the middle weekend we finally have something of a leaderboard forming. Four rikishi remain undefeated—yokozuna Hakuho, komusubi Mitakeumi, M6 Onosho, and M8 Kaisei. A half-dozen rikishi are immediately trailing them with 4–1 records—sekiwake Takakeisho, M1 Ichinojo, M2 Nishikigi, M5 Aoiyama, M13 Yago, M15 Chiyonokuni.

Hakuho continues to pull wins out of super close matches, yesterday needing a second bout with Nishikigi after their first one was deemed too close to call. Certainly, finding a way to win is the trademark of a champion, but it is a marked change for Hakuho who has been so dominant over EVERYONE for the past decade. It’s clear that we’re in the final phase of his historic career, but the question is open as to whether he can make his final big goal of being active for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. For now, you still have to consider him most likely to win the yusho [tournament championship] simply because no one has proven that they can beat him reliably, and he keeps winning, no matter how shakily.

Yokozuna Kakuryu, on the other hand, could not find a way to beat Ichinojo (the Hakuho had the day before) and is now 2–3 for the tournament. Kakuryu had quite a strong year in 2018, but so far this year he’s looking like the wobbly, on the verge of retirement rikishi he’d seemed to be back in 2016. For a yokozuna, he’s always been awfully streaky.

<<UPDATE: Kakuryu has withdrawn from the basho due to an ankle injury. That leaves us with only one yokozuna.>>

Things aren’t looking any better among the ozeki. Tochinoshin has thankfully gone kyujo [absent due to injury], but Takayasu continues to lack the “finishing drive” that got him promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank. He keeps putting up strong fights, then crumbling just when a strong ozeki would throw his opponent to the clay. He’s got a 2–3 record, and seems to always be walking off the dohyo with a confused “how did THAT happen?” look on his face. Meanwhile, Goeido finally notched his first win of the tournament yesterday. If he’s getting back into a groove, it’s still possible he could pull out a kachi-koshi [majority of wins], but if not we might see something truly astounding in Osaka—a tournament where ALL of the ozeki are kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion].

Takakeisho bounced back from his Day 4 loss to Mitakeumi and powered through the other komusubi Myogiryu yesterday. His relentless thrusting attacks are still working in his favor most days, but as I noted yesterday, that will change soon enough if he doesn’t add some other maneuvers to his toolbox. Speaking of Mitakeumi, the komusubi continued his perfect performance by beating the other sekiwake Tamawashi without working up much of a sweat. He’s so far beaten two yokozuna, an ozeki, and both sekiwake, with only Hakuho and Takayasu yet to be faced, then he’ll be fighting only rikishi ranked below him. This could be an ideal opportunity for him to grab his second yusho.

The dark horse challengers in the yusho race are Onosho and Kaisei, both of whom have relatively easier schedules because of their low ranking, and both of whom are looking in prime form so far. Kaisei in particular is performing like an ozeki, and more than one commentator has compared his current style of sumo to that shown by former dai-yokozuna Akebono back in the 1990s. He seems so calm and centered, and he’s got the size, power, and reach to launch many opponents two or three rows into the crowd if he wants to. (Unlike Akebono, though, that’s not Kaisei’s style.)

Let’s have a look at some of today’s most interesting match-ups.

Komusubi Myogiryu (1–4) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (5–0)—A tale of two komusubi going in two different directions. But there’s always pride on the line when equal rikishi meet. (9:00)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (4–1) vs. M1 Tochiozan (1–4)—An interesting example of how important angle of attack is in sumo. (10:20)
M3 Shohozan (2–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (1–4)—Goeido got his first win yesterday. He needs to keep that focus and keep on winning or he’s in real trouble. (12:20)
Ozeki Takayasu (2–3) vs. M2 Nishikigi (4–1)—Takayasu is having a tough basho and needs to start winning. Nishikigi is having a great basho and wants to add another ozeki to his list of upset victories. (13:35)

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