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SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 11

We’ve finished two-thirds of the Hatsu Basho, and find ourselves in a very familiar position. Yokozuna Hakuho is the leader with a perfect 10–0 record. Less usual is the fact that even his closest competitors already have two losses, giving the yokozuna a cushion that he shows no sign of needing. Tied for second-place right now with 8–2 records are sekiwake Tamawashi and M15 Chiyonokuni. Hanging on in third place with 7–3 records are sekiwake Takakeisho, M8 Kaisei, M9 Endo, and M13 Yago.

Tuesday was a tough day as two rikishi went down hard with knee injuries that required them to be wheeled out of the stadium. One of them was Chiyonokuni, whose knee appeared to buckle in his loss to M11 Ikioi. He wasn’t able to stand and bow in the post-match ritual and seemed to be almost unaware of where he was. The other was M13 Kotoyuki, who went flying off the dohyo in his match against M10 Takarafuji and seemed at first to be unconscious (there were worries that he’d hit his head on the stadium floor and suffered a concussion). But eventually he scrabbled to his feet and made it clear that the problem was actually with his knee. As of this writing, neither rikishi has announced that they will be kyujo [absent due to injury], but I find it hard to imagine that either one will be ready for competition today.

<<UPDATE: It is confirmed, both Kotoyuki and Chiyonokuni are kyujo as of today. Chiyonokun has left knee ligament damage that requires two weeks of rest. Luckily, he secured his kachi-koshi and so will stay in the Makuuchi Division and even get a small promotion in March (which he sure earned with his performance here). Meanwhile, Kotoyuki has been diagnosed with a femur contusion and lateral ligament damage on his right leg. No word on how long he’ll be sidelined, but with only a 4–6 record so far, he may well be demoted down to Juryo in March, adding insult to his injuries.>>

Hakuho continued his winning ways, making short work of M4 Okinoumi yesterday. Hakuho really does seem to be picking up steam as the basho progresses. His win yesterday was classic for him—a strong, fast tachi-ai [initial charge] which let him grab his opponent’s belt and march him quickly out of the ring. With a two win lead over his nearest competition and both remaining ozeki looking wobbly at best, it’s hard to imagine Hakuho letting his 43rd yusho [tournament championship] slip away unless one of his recurring injuries crops up again.

Today Hakuho will face komusubi Mitakeumi, who is returning after four days kyujo. When last we saw Mitakeumi, he had twisted his knee, but according to doctors suffered no structural damage, just muscle and ligament twists. I’m not sure how it behooves him to come back to the tournament now. Certainly, with a 5–2–3 record, he has a chance to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and save his sanyaku rank (he’s been either komusubi or sekiwake for twelve basho in a row now). But given how the two sekiwake are performing, there doesn’t seem to be much chance for him to get a promotion back to his former rank, and there seems to be every chance that he could hurt himself even further and risk a more disabling condition. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that he is, indeed, ready to step back into the fray.

Both ozeki won on Tuesday, something we haven’t seen much during this tournament. Takayasu saved some face for himself and the ozeki rank as a whole by beating sekiwake Takakeisho using the young rikishi’s own preferred technique. The two blasted each other several time with violent thrusts, and then Takayasu nimbly stepped out of his opponent’s path and switched to a scooping slapdown blow. Goeido, on the other hand, looked like his old self in twisting down former ozeki M4 Kotoshogiku. If the two ozeki keep up these types of performances, they still can offer some resistance to Hakuho in the final weekend and hopefully keep some manner of uncertainty about the yusho race.

Sekiwake Tamawashi has very quietly been having a very good tournament. While pundits (including me) have spent a good deal of time talking about his fellow sekiwake Takakeisho, Tamawashi now has the better record of the pair and is currently tied for second place overall. He was ranked at sumo’s third-highest rank before, indeed, he had a very strong run as a sekiwake back in 2017 and there was talk of him looking like a strong candidate for ozeki. Although Tamawashi stumbled in 2018, his rank never dropped below M2. It could be that he’s overcome whatever troubles he was having and is ready to start making another run at a promotion to sumo’s second-highest level. He’s beaten all three ozeki already this basho and has only Hakuho left to face (probably on Friday).

Today’s most intriguing matches include:

M14 Yutakayama (6–4) vs. M6 Onosho (6–4)—Onosho started the basho strong, but has lost three matches in a row. He needs to get back on the ball to secure his kachi-koshi. (4:50)
M4 Kotoshogiku (4–6) vs. sekikwake Tamawashi (8–2)—With Chiyonokuni’s injury, Tamawashi really has sole possession of second place. Even though he’s two wins behind the leader, he has to keep winning if he wants to stay ahead of the third-place pack. (8:40)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (7–3) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (6–4)—Both of these rikishi have looked very strong, but both have also suffered a few self-inflicted losses. They’re both big pusher/thrusters so this will be about power sumo, and listen for the knock of their headbutt at the tachi-ai! (9:45)
Komusubi Mitakeumi (5–2–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–0)—At the start of the basho, this was a much anticipated match. With Mitakeumi just returning from four kyujo days, no one knows what shape he’ll really be in. (12:35)

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