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SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho—Day 12

Things are getting interesting as we enter the final four days of the Hatsu Basho. Yesterday, yokozuna Hakuho lost for the first time. However, since he had a two match lead over the nearest competition, he’s still alone atop the leaderboard with his 10–1 record. Immediately behind him at 9–2 is sekiwake Tamawashi, and a group of four rikishi with 8–3 records—sekiwake Takakeisho, M8 Kaisei, M9 Endo, and M15 Chiyonokuni. (Of course, Chiyonokuni is kyujo [absent due to injury], so he will fall off the leaderboard today.)

Interestingly, Hakuho and Tamawashi are scheduled to go head-to-head today, and suddenly the yokozuna is looking as vulnerable as he did in the first few days of the tournament. He didn’t just lose to komusubi Mitakeumi yesterday, he was fairly well blown out of the ring. Now, that might be because, after Mitakeumi having been kyujo for four days, Hakuho suspected that the young upstart wouldn’t have the strength to come out with a powerful tachi-ai [initial charge]. Or the yokozuna could just have had so much confidence in his own ability to make a counter-move that he let his opponent take the advantage. But it might just be that Hakuho really is less dominant that he’s seemed over the last half-week. In any case, if he isn’t completely up to snuff, we’re going to have a tie atop the leaderboard when today is through.

Takakeisho seems back on track with his win over M2 Hokutofuji. The two of them pushed each other around viciously, but Takakeisho never lost focus, and even resisted falling for the same maneuver that cost him his match on Day 10. If he can win his match today against M4 Kotoshogiku, and if Tamawashi beats Hakuho, Takakeisho will suddenly find himself one win off the pace heading into the final weekend, and within striking distance of his second yusho in a row.

Both ozeki won yesterday, which really shouldn’t be as big a surprise as it is this tournament. Not only did they win, they both looked strong again. Of course, every time I’ve said that about them this basho, they’ve followed up with lackluster sumo and usually another loss. They both still are far from guaranteed to reach kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Indeed, at 6–5 Takayasu still has to win half of his remaining matches in order to have a winning tournament, and Goeido is even worse off. He’s 5–6 and must win three of his remaining for bouts in order to keep from being kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in the March tournament.

Today’s most interesting matches include:

M14 Chiyoshoma (5–6) vs. M8 Asanoyama (5–6)—With matching 5–6 records, these two are in equally perilous positions. The winner will have to win two of his remaining three matches to get kachi-koshi, but the loser will be make-koshi if he loses once more over the weekend. Desperation sumo! (2:15)
Komusubi Myogiryu (5–6) vs. M3 Shohozan (4–7)—Two scrappers both needing a win pretty badly. (7:50)
M1 Tochiozan (5–6) vs. komusubi Mitakeumi (6–2–3)—After his win over Hakuho yesterday, it was clear that Mitakeumi was still in pain and limping badly. But he only needs two more to get kachi-koshi. If he can’t beat Tochiozan, that will seem much less likely. (9:00)
Ozeki Takayasu (6–5) vs. M5 Aoiyama (6–5)—Both rikishi need two more wins to lock in their kachi-koshi, and both have performed very inconsistently all tournament. If we get both of their A-games, this will be an exciting bout. (12:10)
Sekiwake Tamawashi (9–2) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (10–1)—This is the big match of the day. If Hakuho wins, he’s back to having a two-win lead with only three days to go. If Tamawashi wins, he and Hakuho will be tied for the lead with a group of hungry rikishi hot on their tails. (13:25)

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