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SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day]—Day 8

Here we are, halfway through the Hatsu Basho, and sitting alone atop the leaderboard once again is yokozuna Hakuho with a perfect 7–0 record. Immediately behind him with just one loss are M6 Onosho, M8 Kaisei, M13 Yago, and M15 Chiyonokuni.

Today is a big day at the Kokugikan [National Sports Arena] as the Emperor and Empress will be attending the matches. They are known to be fans of sumo and show up in person a few times per year during the Tokyo-based tournaments, though that has been less often in recent years due to their age. Indeed, today will likely be the final time the Heisei Emperor will attend sumo—he has announced his intention to abdicate the throne in April and pass the imperial title on to his son. The Emperor and Empress are much beloved by the Japanese people in general, and particularly among sumo fans, so there will be even more attention than usual paid to their presence this time as it is the sumo world’s chance to bid them farewell.

Meanwhile, on the dohyo, Hakuho seems to be as good as his word to “settle down” as the tournament moves into its second half. After struggling in the middle of Week 1, he was all business in his victory over M3 Shohozan, and is suddenly looking like the prohibitive favorite to take the first yusho [tournament championship] of 2019. Of course, a lot can happen in Week 2.

The two remaining ozeki—Takayasu and Goeido—also seem to be getting their rhythms, after rocky beginnings. If they continue to perform up to their usual standards, they could still give Hakuho some trouble in the tournament’s final days.

Onosho suffered his first defeat yesterday at the hands of Kaisei. The big Brazilian rebounded from his poor showing on Friday and slid right back into his A-level performance, easily winning yesterday’s bout. It would be great if he could continue on that path, because when he’s firing on all cylinders, Kaisei looks like an ozeki. His problem has always been that he can’t be counted on to give that kind of effort every day of a tournament. Onosho didn’t look bad in their match. He’s a young rikishi—the second-youngest in the division behind Takakeisho—and has to go through this kind of situation a few times before he’ll have the seasoning to pull through in the clutch.

Interestingly, those two young rikish—Takakeisho and Onosho—have a very long history together. They fought often when they were in college, and joined professional sumo at about the same time, both making their way up the ranks quickly and continuing to square off regularly. They will do so again today in what most people think is the marquee match of nakabi.

M5 Aoiyama lost his second match of the tournament yesterday, knocking him off the leaderboard. He got a little sloppy and let M6 Chiyotairyu use his own favorite hatakikomi [slap down] maneuver against him. If he wants to stay in the yusho race, he’s going to have to come back in a big way because his match today is against Hakuho.

There has been a lot of rough sumo this tournament, with several rikishi already having gone kyujo [absent due to injury] and several more sporting bandages. However the arguably the most beat up of all is M11 Ikioi, who had a gash opened on his forehead on Day 1 (requiring several stitches) and falling hard on his knee on Day 2 (leaving him hobbling out of the arena afterward). Yesterday, Ikioi got a thumb jabbed in his left eye, momentarily leaving him unable to see and sending him to the hospital afterward. Amazingly, though, he will be back in action again today. Ikioi is the sport’s current iron-man, having NEVER missed a day of competition since he joined professional sumo in March of 2005.

Today’s most interesting matches include:

M13 Yago (6–1) vs. M16 Daiamami (2–5)—Have a look at Yago, who remains one win off the pace in the yusho race. (1:25)
M12 Kagayaki (1–6) vs. M15 Chiyonokuni (6–1)—Likewise, have a look at Chiyonokuni, who is also in the group currently tied for second place. (1:55)
M15 Kotoeko (3–4) vs. M11 Ikioi (4–3)—Battered, bloodied, and half-blind, Ikioi is STILL fighting on! (3:30)
M4 Kotoshogiku (4–3) vs. M8 Kaisei (6–1)—Another of our second-place rikishi, Kaisei facing Kotoshogiku, who he’s only ever beaten once in all their past meetings. (5:55)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (5–2) vs. M6 Onosho (6–1)—This is the big match of the day. The two youngest rikishi in the division, who are also among the brightest next-gen stars, and both still in the hunt for the yusho. (9:45)
M5 Aoiyama (5–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (7–0)—And, of course, our leader, Hakuho, going for kachi-koshi on Day 8. Aoiyama has only ever beaten the yokozuna once in nineteen tries. (12:55)

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