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SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 7

We’ve reached the middle weekend of the Hatsu Basho and just like that the leaderboard has just a pair of names sitting alone at the top. Yokozuna Hakuho and M6 Onosho are the only remaining undefeated rikishi. Trailing them with 5–1 records are komusubi Mitakeumi, M5 Aoiyama, M8 Kaisei, M13 Yago, and M15 Chiyonokuni. NOW things start to get interesting.

Before the tournament began, Hakuho told the press that he “wouldn’t settle down until the second half of the basho,” and based on his performance yesterday that may just be the case. And if it is, he’s well poised to make a run at his 42nd yusho [tournament championship] (perhaps even his fifteenth zensho-yusho [perfect record championship]). After struggling to win on the three previous days, Hakuho came out fast and strong on Friday to notch a quick victory over M3 Shodai.

The two remaining ozeki also won yesterday, but not as convincingly. Takayasu upped his record to 3–3 by beating M2 Nishikigi in closely fought bout. Takayasu showed patience and strength, and that bodes well for his perhaps getting back on track in Week 2. Meanwhile, Goeido was very nearly pushed out of the ring by M3 Shohozan before he rallied and turned the tables for his second win of the tournament. He still didn’t look good, but he did manage to win, which has more or less been his trademark in recent months.

The reigning champion, sekiwake Takakeisho, however, lost for the second time this basho. His opponent was Mi Tochiozan who found a way past Takakeisho’s big thrusting arms and was able to get a good grip on his belt. The secret to beating the sekiwake is clearly out—the trick has been finding a way to execute on it. But if Tochiozan can do it, there’s no doubt that many mid-level rikishi can, too. I fear that Takakeisho may be in for a difficult time in the second half of 2019.

Komusubi Mitakeumi lost his first match of the basho yesterday, but more importantly, he suffered some kind of disabling damage to his left knee. It was so bad that he was unable to climb back onto the dohyo after the bout for his ceremonial bow and had to be wheeled out of the stadium straight to the hospital. No surprise, he had been announced as kyujo [absent due to injury] as of today. There was no indication of how the injury happened—no sever twist or clumsy fall—it was just like something popped in his knee and suddenly he was in severe pain. Let’s hope that it isn’t anything serious, or that if it is he’s wise enough to get any needed surgery straight away rather than letting the problem linger. Mitakeumi is, in my estimation, the best of the next-gen rikishi (at least so far) and the Makuuchi Division will be a less interesting place with him on the sideline.

<<UPDATE: According to Mitakeumi’s oyakata [stable master], there was no structural damage, just muscle and ligament strains, and it is possible that Mitakeumi will return to competition after a few days. Personally, I hope not. Rest up and get better, I say. But Mitakeumi may want to get three more wins and lock down a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and possible promotion back to sekiwake.>>

Two other rikishi who had been doing quite well also notched losses yesterday. M8 Kaisei and M1 Ichinojo both had been showing us their A-level sumo through the first five days, but both of them seemed to bring their B-level game on Friday. Here’s hoping the toggle back to show us their better sides again over the weekend.

Finally, a word about M5 Aoiyama, whose only loss so far was because of an unfortunate call over an incidental hair-pull. The big Bulgarian continues to fight well and cleverly, and could turn out to be the big surprise challenger as we move into Week 2.

Today’s best bouts include:

M12 Kagayaki (1–5) vs. M9 Endo (3–3)—A very spirited match between two rikishi whose skills are better than their records so far would indicate. (5:10)
M8 Kaisesi (5–1) vs. M6 Onosho (6–0)—Two rikishi who are both tearing up the competition this basho, and both are currently on the leaderboard. (6:25)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (4–2) vs. M1 Ichinojo (4–2)—Both of these rikishi seemed in the first few days to be unbeatable, and both have lost twice in the last few days. Which one will come out on top and remain in the hunt for the yusho? (10:30)
M3 Shohozan (2–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (6–0)—If Hakuho really is coming on strong it should show today—he’s never lost to Shohozan in the past. (14:00)

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