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SUMO: 2019 Hatsu Basho Senshuraku [Final Day]—Day 15

Here we are, senshuraku [the final day] of the 2019 Hatsu Basho. And what a long, strange tournament it’s been! Sekiwake Tamawashi retains the sole lead with a 12–2 record, with sekiwake Takakeisho one loss behind him, hoping for a little luck to get him into a playoff for the yusho [tournament championship].

Tamawashi’s name might not have been familiar to many of you before this week, but he by no means has come out of nowhere. Indeed, two years ago there was a lot of talk about him being a viable candidate for ozeki. He held a sanyaku rank for six straight tournaments in 2016–17, four times as sekiwake, and finished as the yusho runner-up in the November 2017 basho. He stumbled a little after that, spending much of 2018 in the upper Maegashira ranks, beating most opponents, but no longer seeming quite as competitive with the top dogs. With his performance here in the Hatsu Basho, Tamawashi has not only returned to sekiwake rank but also announced himself as a force to be reckoned with.

The yusho is squarely in his control today. If he wins his match against M9 Endo, who comes in with a 10–4 record, then Tamawashi will also win the tournament—period, end of story. If, on the other hand, he loses to Endo, then his fate depends on how sekiwake Takakeisho does in his match against ozeki Geoido. If Takakeisho loses, then Tamawashi wins the yusho in a less-than-glorious way. If Takakeisho wins then that would force a playoff between the two sekiwake immediately following the end of the day’s regularly scheduled bouts.

I know what result I’m hoping for!

I reported yesterday that yokozuna Hakuho’s kyujo [absence due to injury] would give ozeki Takayasu a fusen [default win] today, but the Kyokai [Sumo Association] didn’t want to end on such a dissatisfying note, so they have scheduled him a match today against M8 Kaisei. Thankfully, for Takayasu, he nabbed his eighth win yesterday against Endo, because the big Brazilian has been fighting much better than the ozeki for most of this tournament.

Speaking of lucky, ozeki, Goeido DID get his kachi-koshi through a fusen yesterday. Since his senshuraku match is against Takakeisho, he has to be counting his lucky stars that he didn’t have to fight for that eighth win. Neither one of these ozeki will be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in March, though both really kinda deserve to be.

Meanwhile, with his victory yesterday over M4 Okinoumi, Takakeisho got his 33rd win in the past three basho, which is enough to be considered for a promotion to ozeki. Word has gone out that there will be a special rijikai [meeting of the sumo elders] to discuss what to do about that. Feelings are split. The 33 win mark is a tough one to meet, but Takakeisho only had 9 wins in September’s Aki Basho. One camp believes that makes him even more worthy for doing so well in November and January, while another group feels that he hasn’t shown enough dominance over the whole period to warrant the promotion. Add to this the fact that the three current ozeki have all stumbled repeatedly during the period, and the Kyokai have a difficult decision to make.

Will they take a chance that Takakeisho is just on a hot streak? Or will they be leery of promoting another unpredictable rikishi to sumo’s second-highest rank? I know that I think that Takakeisho is bound for a big turn of fate in 2019—I think that the top-level rikishi are figuring out his weakness and that by mid-year he will be suffering through several make-koshi [majority of losses] tournaments in a row—a very un-ozeki-like performance.

My expectation is that the Kokai will not give him the promotion this time, but will announce a clear set of goals for the Osaka Basho in March. If Takakeisho meets those goals, they’ll promote him for May’s Natsu Basho. But then, I’ve been known to be wrong about such things in the past.

We DO know about the sansho [special prizes] for the Hatsu basho, though. Whatever the result of the yusho race, Tamawashi will get both a shukun-sho [outstanding performance prize] and a kanto-sho [fighting spirit prize] for his stellar performance. Komusubi Mitakeumi will also get a shukun-sho for being kyujo for four days at sumo’s most difficult rank and still managing to get his kachi-koshi. Finally, Takakeisho will receive a Gino-sho [technique prize], which I find kind of ironic because he really only showed the ability to win with ONE technique (I’d have given him a kanto-sho instead).

As always, I’ll list all of the “bubble” rikishi—those coming into senshuraku with 7–7 records—matches below. There’s nothing like standing on the dividing line between “heaven and hell” to bring out exciting sumo.

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M11 Ikioi (9–5) vs. M8 Asanoyama (7–7)—Our first bubble match. Asanoyama needs a win, but Ikioi is trying for double-digit wins and a big promotion. (3:15)
M7 Ryuden (5–9) vs. M15 Kotoeko (7–7)—Kotoeko needs a win to avoid being demoted to Juryo. (4:40)
M12 Meisei (7–7) vs. M6 Onosho (8–6)—Meisei won’t get demoted to Juryo if he loses, but he’ll be at the very bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke next time for sure. Onosho is trying to save some face after a pretty miserable middle section of this basho. (5:10)
M16 Daiamami (4–10) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (2–12)—Two rikishi who had terrible tournaments put in a very good showing on senshuraku. (6:40)
M5 Aoiyama (7–7) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (8–6)—Aoiyama seemed to have a better basho than he really did. He’s on the bubble, and facing a tough opponent in Hokutofuji. (8:25)
M9 Endo (10–4) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (12–2)—If Tamawashi wins this bout, he takes the yusho. If not, then it depends on how Takakeisho does in his match. (12:30)
Sekiwake Takakeisho (11–3) vs. ozeki Goeido (8–6)—By the start of this match, Takakeisho will know whether he’s got a shot at a playoff. But even if not, he’ll still be fighting to remain the sole runner-up for the basho. Expect his best sumo. As for Goeido, who can tell? (14:35)

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