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SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 2)

It’s Day 2 in Osaka, and we’ve already got some interesting turns of event. With only one yokozuna participating in the Haru Basho, and that being Kakuryu (who has only managed to complete two tournaments in the past fourteen months), all eyes were on the ozeki to lead the charge. However, on Day 1 BOTH Goeido and Takayasu lost their opening matches . . . and Kakuryu easily won his. 

I’ll admit that when it comes to the ozeki, I’m biased. I rather like Takayasu and I rarely give Goeido the benefit of the doubt. But I think that they’ve both EARNED my disposition toward them. For example, Goeido, in his loss to Tamawashi, looked off balance and out of control from the start. Takayasu, on the other hand, seemed to be winning his match against Endo. Then they BOTH fell prey to a smooth, unexpected move by their opponents, and NEITHER could recover. There are no rewards in sumo for looking better in defeat . . . all that matters is your win/loss record, and right now they’re both winless. But based on their performances, I think that Takayasu is looking better overall.

There was a lot of talk among the pundits about how Kakuryu drove forward with his injured right hand and dismissed komusubi Chiyotairyu so quickly. Some called it unwise for putting so much pressure on his weakest point. Others called it brave for showing that he’s planning to dominate the way a yokozuna should, injuries be damned. For me what it really shows is that with a bit of luck his fingers are a handicap that he can manage . . . for now. Really, I think it will only take one or two tough, closely fought matches to put extra pressure on that hand and we’ll see him suddenly start to work around it. And once that happens, I think the losses will begin to pile up. But if Kakuryu can get through Week 1 without aggravating his hand injury, he’ll have a legitimate shot at taking the yusho [tournament championship].

And, of course, the January yusho winner, shin-sekiwake [newly promoted sekiwake] Tochinoshin looked just as dominant as he did in Tokyo. He very well MIGHT be the odds on favorite to with this tournament, too, since Hakuho and Kisenosato are out, and he won’t have to face Kakuryu or the ozeki until late in Week 2, giving plenty of time for them to stumble along the way. 

Today’s best matches include:

M6 Kaisei (1–0) vs. M7 Abi (1–0)—Kaisei is one of those rikishi who has terrific sumo in him, but sometimes he just forgets to tap into it. Abi is one of the new faces in the Makuuchi Division who is full of energy, ambition, and raw power. (6:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (1–0) vs. M2 Takarafuji (0–1)
—Mitakeumi is a super-talented rikishi who has been successful in the sanyaku ranks (he’s been there for seven straight tournaments now), but hasn’t managed to give a break-out performance of double-digit wins. He was dominant in his Day 1 victory over M2 Arawashi. Takarafuji, on the other hand was completely manhandled by the other sekiwake—Tochnoshin—yesterday and is trying to bounce back today. (9:20)
Ozeki Takayasu (0–1) vs. komusubi Ichinojo (1–0)—Takayasu had a bit of bad luck against M1 Endo. He had a winning position but let his opponent slip away. Ichinojo isn’t likely to be anywhere near that nimble, but he also isn’t going to be as easy to push around the ring. Word is that Ichinojo has been showing renewed vigor in his sumo, but I’m a skeptic. He’s going to have to PROVE it to me before I’ll give him any benefit of the doubt. (11:15)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (1–0) vs. M1 Endo (1–0)—Kakuryu looked strong in his Day 1 win. On the other hand, Endo looked clever and slippery in his Day 1 win. Both of them would like to repeat those performances here on Day 2.  (12:45)

SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 1)

Wow . . . two months went by pretty quickly. All of a sudden it’s mid-March and time for the next honbasho, one of the three Grand Sumo Tournaments held outside Tokyo. In this case, it’s the Haru Basho [Spring Tournament] which is held in the city of Osaka. 

Unlike most tournaments, there was A LOT of drama happening during the off months. Some of it was still fall-out from the events that caused Harumafuji to retire—with Takanohana Oyakata continuing to buck the system and getting himself demoted off sumo’s ruling council. Other bits were completely new, like Egyptian rikishi Osunaarashi being caught driving (something the Sumo Association forbids) without a license (something the police frown upon) and then lying to the Sumo Association about it. In the end, his punishment was a “suggestion to retire” . . . which really isn’t a “suggestion” at all. So as of a couple of days ago, Osunaarishi’s career is done. (As you may remember, I was a big fan of his . . . he’s been injured lately, but when healthy does the same kind of power sumo that Tochinoshin does, and he had a real chance of getting healthy and making a run at the top division again. But no longer.)

We’re also starting another tournament minus two of our three remaining yokozuna. Hakuho’s big toe still looks like someone smashed it with a cartoon hammer, so he is kyujo [absent due to injury] for the whole tournament. And Kisenosato is still not in good enough shape to come back for a whole tournament, so he decided to just stay home instead. That leaves only yokozuna Kakuryu in action, and he reportedly is still suffering from the finger injuries he got in the final days of January’s tourney. All of which means that we’re likely to see another unlikely yusho [tournament championship] winner this time.

In January, M3 Tochinoshin shocked everyone by going 14–1 and winning the Emperor’s Cup. As a result, he’s been promoted all the way up to sekiwake this time . . . and now is one of the few rikishi in the mix who has ever won a championship before. That has to make him one of the favorites, which is historically a very strange thing. Having a rank-and-file rikishi win the yusho is a very rare thing . . . it only happens about once a decade, much less frequently than, say, a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship]. And historically, a rikishi that achieves this milestone almost never wins another tournament in his career or even advances to the rank of ozeki. But Tochinoshin has a very real chance to achieve both of these feats. 

Two other likely contenders are the ozeki, Takayasu and Goeido. Takayasu seems the more likely of the two, as he has he finished second in January with a strong 12–3 record. Goeido, on the other hand, has previously won a yusho . . . but in recent tournaments he seems to have returned to his old unfocused ways, and only barely made kachi-koshi [majority of wins] in January. From my perspective, Goeido is as likely to go make-koshi [majority of losses] as he is to win the yusho, which is to say that he’s unpredictable and unreliable, but has great sumo in him IF he can manage to keep his focus.

All in all, this is set up to be a very exciting tournament. And I can’t wait to see what happens.

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho Senshuraku [Final Day] (Day 15)

It’s Day 15, senshuraku [the final day] of the Hatsu Basho, and M3 Tochinoshin, the big bear from Georgia, has secured the yusho [tournament championship], his first one in the top division, and the first time since the 2012 Haru Basho that a rank-and-file rikishi has won a major tournament. It’s also the first time since January 2012 (and only the third time in sumo history) that a European-born rikishi has won a tournament.

For those who don’t know, Tochinoshin has had a rocky career, first coming up through the ranks in 2006–2008, he won the Juryo yusho ten years ago in January 2008 and premiered in the Makuuchi Division in May that same year. He bounced up and down the banzuke [ranking sheet] in the division for several years, getting as high as komusubi four times and finishing as runner-up for the yusho twice. But in May of 2013 he suffered a severe knee injury that kept him out of sumo for half-a-year and send him spiraling all the way down to the middle of the Makushita Division (where he was no longer even drawing a salary). He then fought his way back up, winning two Makushita yusho and two Juryo yusho over the course of four consecutive basho (three of them with perfect zensho [no loss] records) and finally returned to the Makuuchi Division in November of 2014. Still, for most of the time since then he has fought with huge bandages around both knees and clearly still being hampered by the nagging, chronic pain from his original injuries. He managed to get promoted to komusubi for four more tournaments, and even had one at the rank of sekiwake, but every time he climbed that high, his knees seems incapable of carrying him to the next level. Until this tournament.

Tochinoshin has looked strong and pain-free from Day 1. Maybe his wounds are finally healed. Maybe the recent birth of his first child (who is in Georgia, and who he hasn’t yet seen or held) pushed him past the pain. Whatever the reason, this has been a miraculous, perhaps once-in-a-career tournament for Tochinoshin, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I DO hope that it’s just the start of his resurgence and that he’ll make a run at a promotion to ozeki in the coming tournament (technically, all he needs is 10 wins in March to crest the traditional 33 wins over three tournaments barrier).

I don’t know what happened to yokozuna Kakuryu who, after going 10–0 over the first ten matches of this basho, seems to have forgotten everything that got him here. It’s a collapse on an epic scale that will only fuel debate about whether it’s time for him to retire (whereas if he’d stayed competitive in the yusho race for the whole basho it would have squashed such talk for at least half a year). He finishes the tournament with a match against ozeki Goeido, who had his own epic collapse, but managed to secure his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] yesterday against sekiwake Mitakeumi. Kakuryu better shut down the faltering ozeki if he doesn’t want the YDC [Yokozuna Deliberation Council] to be debating the merits of forcing him to hang up his mawashi for good.

As usual on senshuraku, I’ll highlight ALL the matches that feature rikishi who are “on the bubble” with 7–7 records, and there are A LOT of them this basho. These are the highest drama matches of the whole tournament as this one win means promotion, while one loss means demotion . . . and there are some rikishi who are on the bubble and also on the verge of demotion to Juryo.

Luckily, Kintamayama was able to put together a senshuraku video despite being on the road, so we can see ALL the matches on Day 15. His dedication to sumo fans around the world is incredible, and I highly encourage anyone who enjoys my little posts to donate a few dollars to his tip jar. He really works hard so that we can enjoy the daily matches.

M17 Daiamami (7–7) vs. J2 Aoiyama (9–5)—Daiamami is our first rikishi on the bubble with a 7–7 record. He’s facing Aoiyama, who is coming up from Juryo for the day, and who also has something to fight for. If Aoiyama wins, he’ll move into a tie for the Juryo yusho and take part in a playoff to decide the winner. (2:35)
J1 Kyokutaisei (7–7) vs. M15 Nishikigi (7–7)—Two rikishi on the bubble going head-to-head. It doesn’t get more dramatic than this. Of course, one is at the top of Juryo and the other at the bottom of Makuuchi. If Kyokutaisei wins, expect them to basically switch spots on the banzuke in March, but if Nishikigi wins they’ll both remain pretty much where they are. (3:05)
M11 Kotoyuki (7–7) vs. M15 Ishiura (8–6)—Kotoyuki is on the bubble, still struggling to find a way to be as dominant as he was in his first year in the upper division. On the other hand, Ishiura has returned from Juryo and having regained the secret to beating opponents who are often twice his size. (4:05)
M16 Ryuden (10–4) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (8–6)—Ryudan has already achieved double-digit wins in this, his rookie tournament in the upper division. As a result, he will be awarded a kanto-sho [fighting spirit prize] when the basho concludes. He’d love, though, to add one more win to his tally just for good measure. (5:15)
M9 Shohozan (9–5) vs. M14 Abi (9–5)—Abi has been told that he will be awarded a kanto-sho [fighting spirit prize] IF he beats Shohozan today and achieves double-digit wins in his rookie Makuuchi tournament. This will be a challenge as Shohozan is still smarting from his loss to Tochinoshin yesterday and wants to get his own record up to double-digit wins. (5:45)
M4 Shodai (7–7) vs. M12 Kagayaki (8–6)—Shodai needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi, while Kagayaki has only just secured his. Two rikishi with a lot of potential who are having trouble showing it on a day in/day out basis over a fifteen day basho.  (7:00)
M5 Endo (9–5) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (13–1)—On top of having secured the the yusho for the Hatsu Basho, Tochinoshin will also gets two special prizes—the sukun-sho [outstanding performance prize] and the gino-sho [technique prize]. The first is in honor of him being a rank-and-file rikishi who performed like a yokozuna for an entire fifteen day tournament. The second one, I think, is because he won NOT by overpowering and crushing all his opponents (as one might expect him go given his size and preferred fighting style), instead he changed his style each match to suit the opponent he was facing.  Tochinoshin got his yusho through a series kimarite [winning techniques] that included throws, maneuvers, and even counter maneuvers. He has one last opponent to overcome in Endo, who will certainly challenge Tochinoshin to find some unique techniques to beat his speedy attacks. (7:25)
M3 Chiyotairyu (7–7) vs. M13 Daieisho (9–5)—Chiyotairyu is another rikishi on the bubble. If he can beat Daiesho, he’ll move closer to getting a sanyaku rank in March. Meanwhile, Daieisho was one of the leaders throughout Week 1 and he’d like to punctuate his performance y achieving double-digit wins. (8:20)
M6 Takarafuji (7–7) vs. M2 Kotoshogiku (7–7)—Two rikishi on the bubble. Kotoshogiku looked very good in Week 1 and is trying to prove that he still deserves to be a sanyaku rikishi. Takarafuji, on the other hand, is trying to shake off a slow start to the basho and earn his way back to the top tier of the Maegashira ranks. (8:50)
Komusubi Takakeisho (5–9) vs. M4 Arawashi (7–7)—Arawashi is the last of our bubble rikishi, and he’s got a tough draw against komusubi Takakeisho. If Arawashi wins, he’ll probably end up being ranked higher than Takakeisho in March. (11:50)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (8–6) vs. ozeki Takayasu (11–3)—This ought to be one of the strongest matches of the day. Both rikishi have snapped out of mid-tournament slumps and ar trying to finish strong. Both have something to prove in that they have their sights set on promotion to a rare rank sometime in the near future. We’ll see whether Mitakeumi looks more like an ozeki . . . or Takayasu looks more like a yokozuna. (13:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–4) vs. ozeki Goeido (8–6)—Two top-ranked rikishi who are limping to the end of this basho. Kakuryu has lost four in a row now, and wants to put an end to the slide so as to stave off calls for his resignation. Meanwhile, Goeido only just managed to get his kachi-koshi yesterday and looks like he’s fallen back into his weak-sauce ozeki ways. They both have great sum still within them somewhere . . . we saw it in Week 1. The question is whether either of them can summon that spirit here on senshuraku. (14:00)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 14)

We’ve reached the final weekend of the Hatsu Basho, and Day 14 finds M3 Tochinoshin still atop the leaderboard with a 12–1 record, which is two wins above his closest competitors—yokozuna Kakuryu and ozeki Takayasu at 10–3. That means Tochinoshin needs to win just one of his remaining two matches in order to secure his first ever Makuuchi Division yusho [tournament championship].

Today Tochinoshin will fight M9 Shohozan. That may sound like a mismatch, but Shohozan has beaten the big Georgian the last two times they fought. Of course, Tochinoshin was severely hampered by knee injuries in both those bouts, but it’s still a trend that needs to be broken. And so often in sumo it seems that the greatest threat comes in the match that you “should win.” Shohozan is a scrappy pusher-thruster, and if he can keep Tochinoshin from getting a solid grip on his belt, he may be able to outmaneuver the big Georgian. Still, I think that Tochinoshin is going to win this bout and secure the yusho.

In the meanwhile, Kakuryu and Takayasu will got head-to-head, so even if Tochinoshin loses his match, one of them will remain in contention after today’s bout. The loser will be mathematically eliminated.

Kakuryu looked terrible yesterday, suffering his third loss in a row, this time to sekiwake Mitakeumi. He hardly even seemed to be in the match at all, letting the younger rikishi beat him to the tachi-ai [initial charge] and then force him upright and back him out of the ring. I stick by my guess from yesterday, it looks like Kakuryu may be having some lower back pain. On the other hand, Takayasu looked terrific yesterday, blowing his opponent—M4 Arawashi—backwards at the tachi-ai and then straight off the dohyo with three quick, powerful tsupari thrust attacks. So I have to say that I rather think Takayasu has the edge in this match.

Unfortunately, my usual source for these videos (Kintamayama) is traveling for the next couple of days, so I’ll be going to a secondary source. The plus side of this is that this video is from the NHK World program Sumo Highlights, which is done in English and has replays on all of the matches they show, so you’ll get more details about what is going on. On the negative side, it is a 25-minute show AND they leave out a bunch of the low-ranking matches, so you DON’T actually get to see ALL of the action.

In case you’re following some of the lower-ranked rikishi, here are the results of the matches that are not covered in today’s video.

M17 Daiamami def. M12 Sokokurai by shitatenage [underarm throw]—Daiamami now 7–7 with a make-or-break match tomorrow, Sokokurai drops to 5–9. 
M13 Daieisho def. M11 Kotoyuki by hikiotoshi [slap down]—Daieisho, who was on the leaderboard in Week 1, goes to 9–5 while Kotoyuki drops to 7–7.
M15 Nishikigi def. M10 Aminishiki by oshidashi [frontal push out]—Nishikigi advances to 7–7 and a chance to pull out kachi-koshi tomorrow, while Aminishiki falls to 2–9–3 and may well be headed back down to Juryo.
M6 Ikioi def. M10 Terunofuji by yoritaoshi [frontal crush out]—Ikioi picks up just his third win (3–11), but Terunofuji is still winless (0–7–7) and almost certainly headed to Juryo next basho.
M5 Okinoumi def. M13 Takekaze by oshidashi—Both rikishi have had terrible tournaments and both now have 5–9 records. 

Now for the TOP matches of the day:

M3 Tochinoshin (12–1) vs. M9 Shohozan (9–4)—This is the match of the day. If Tochinoshin wins, he will secure the yusho [tournament championship]. Shohozan is well matched to fight him, and force Tochnoshin to fight in a pushing/thrusting showdown rather than his preferred on-the-belt power sumo. Should be exciting. (8:30)
M6 Takarafuji (7–6) vs. M1 Ichinojo (8–5)—Despite his loss to Tochinoshin yesterday, Ichinojo has looked TERRIFIC here in Week 2, showing real sumo moves rather than simply looming and leaning on his smaller opponents. It’s actually been fun to watch. If this is a real change for him, it could signal a big change in his fortunes. Takarafuji, on the other hand, has been steady-if-uninspired all tournament and still has a chance at his kachi-koshi. (14:40)
Ozeki Goeido (7–6) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (8–5)—Goeido finally snapped out of his slump yesterday against Okinoumi. He still needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi, and tomorrow he has to face yokozuna Kakuryu, so he’d BETTER get it today. Yesterday Mitakeumi also snapped out of his losing streak and GOT his kachi-koshi by defeating Kakuryu in a close match. If he wins today, he keeps alive his hope for possible double-digit wins. (18:50)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (10–3)—Both rikishi are 10–3, but Takayasu has gotten there by snapping out of a mid-basho slump and now looks even stronger than he did at the start of the tournament. Kakuryu, on the other hand, started with ten straight wins and is now in the midst of a three-match losing streak. He seems to have fallen back on all of his worst habits. (19:55)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 13)

Day 13 of the Hatsu Basho is here, and I get to report something I never dreamed I ever would be able to say—there is a single rikishi atop the leaderboard and it is M3 Tochinoshin with an 11–1 record! Yokozuna Kakuryu lost for the second day in a row, dropping him to sole possession of second place at 10–2, while ozeki Takayasu is alone in third place with a 9–3 record.

Tochinoshin continued his improbably strong basho by beating sekiwake Tamawashi (who the day before was the one to hand Kakuryu his first loss). Even more encouraging was the fact that Tochinoshin did more than simple, straightforward power sumo. Indeed, he showed speed and cleverness by getting himself out of a disadvantageous position along the tawara [straw bales at the ring’s edge] and turning the tables on his opponent.

Meanwhile, for the second straight day Kakuryu did the one thing that he KNOWS he shouldn’t do—he stopped aggressively moving his opponent forward and tried to back up and slap him down. His opponent in this case was M5 Endo who was clever enough to stay close to the yokozuna and then relatively easily force him to continue backing up until he was out of the ring. This is the way Kakuryu has most often suffered his “weak losses” in past tournaments. It’s also how he lost to Tamawashi on Day 11, after which he told reporters, “Well, I’ll never do that again!”

As much as I have been rooting for Tochinoshin, I would never have predicted this turn of events. And even having the sole lead for the first time ever could be a negative, as it adds a different kind of pressure knowing that he controls his own fate—that if he wins his three remaining matches, he will win the yusho [tournament championship] and hoist the Emperor’s Cup. That kind of pressure can be crippling. Plus, he has very strong opponents left to fight, beginning today with M1 Ichinojo.

Yes, I’ve been a huge Ichinojo detractor for a very long time. But like Tochinoshin, this tournament he’s doing things he’s never done before. In his past three matches he’s won using strategies and maneuvers I’ve NEVER seen him use in the three years I’ve been watching him. He’s been light on his feet and quick to react to tactics of his opponents. And most of all, he already has a winning head-to-head record against Tochinoshin.

If he gets past Ichinojo, he will have to face komusubi Takakeisho and probably M1 Hokutofuji over the weekend, so Tochinoshin’s path is hardly an easy one. On the other hand, Kakuryu will be facing sekiwake Mitakeumi today, followed by the two ozeki—Goeido and Takayasu—over the weekend. Of those three, only Takayasu is fighting with any real spirit here in Week 2.

So what I’m saying is that I expect the remaining three days worth of sumo to be full of drama and surprises. Just the way I LIKE the final weekend to be!

M5 Endo (7–5) vs. M2 Kotoshogiku (5–7)—A strong match between two rikishi who both have something to fight for. Endo is just one win away from his kachi-koshi (and after beating Kakuryu, that means a good shot at a special prize come the end of the basho). Kotoshogiku, on the other hand, is fighting to stave off his make-koshi. It’s a shame because at times during this tournament he’s looked like the old Kotoshogiku, but at other times he’s just looked old. (7:30)
M3 Tochinoshin (11–1) vs. M1 Ichinojo (8–4)—Two of the biggest rikishi going head-to-head with the lead in the yusho race on the line. Over the past few days Ichinojo has looked the best that I’ve EVER seen him. Today, though, it’s likely going to be straight ahead power sumo as Tochinoshin is one of the few rikishi who can match him in that department. I definitely give the edge to Tochinoshin (and I’m rooting that way), but Ichinojo has been surprising me a lot lately. Maybe he really does have an answer other than size and power. (8:30)
M4 Arawashi (6–6) vs. ozeki Takayasu (9–3)—Takayasu is trying to get his first double-digit win record at the rank of ozeki. He actually achieved that in MOST of the tournaments in 2016 in order to earn the promotion, but has struggled a bit since achieving it. He seems to have recovered from his mid-basho stumble. (11:45)
Ozeki Goeido (6–6) vs. M5 Okinoumi (4–8)—Goeido is still in the midst of his mid-basho stumble, and must win two of his remaining three matches in order to secure kachi-koshi and avoid going kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] for the seventh time. Luckily for him, Okinoumi has been stumbling through this whole tournament and should be a pretty easy mark. (12:20)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–2) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–5)—Two really good rikishi, who looked terrific in Week 1 and over the past few days have looked just terrible. Kakuryu went from being the sole leader to being one off the pace because he suddenly started trying to pull opponents down instead of forcing them backwards. This could be a sign of  back pain, or just overconfidence. Meanwhile, Mitakeumi seemed to lose all the thrusting power from his sumo. After winning seven straight, he suddenly had four matches in a row where he couldn’t even move his opponent. Again, back pain could explain this, but he hasn’t been moving like that was an issue. One of them will have to win this match. Let’s just hope that it’s done with strength and confidence, not by being the slightly less wounded warrior. (12:50)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 12)

Well, well, well . . . Day 12 of the Hatsu Basho brings us a whole new situation in the race for the yusho [tournament championship]. Yokozuna Kakuryu notched his first loss yesterday (to sekiwake Tamawashi, who is turning out to be something of a nemsis for the yokozuna, having now beaten him three times in a row). Meanwhile, M2 Tochinoshin won his match over M6 Takarafuji, so now he and Kakuryu are tied atop the leaderboard with matching 10–1 records. Not only that, but M13 Daieisho, the sole rikishi one behind Tochinoshin, lost yesterday, so there is a buffer between the leaders and their closest competitors—Daieisho and ozeki Takayasu at 8–3.

Takayasu seems to have bounced back from his mid-basho slump. Yesterday he looked as strong and determined as he did at the start of the tournament, and it’s quite possible he’ll end up with double-digit wins—which is what every ozeki should be aiming for. Our other ozeki, Goeido, currently at 6–5 following another loss yesterday, after starting the tournament looking like a yusho contender, has now lost five out of his last seven matches and may have trouble reaching kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. It’s unclear what happened. Goeido doesn’t seem to be injured in any way. He simply appears to be mentally absent on the dohyo.

On top of everything else, we have another rikishi withdrawing from action. As of Day 11, M8 Tochiozan is kyujo [absent due to injury]. He has been nursing sore knees for the past few days, but I think that is was the embarrassment of not even being able to put up a struggle against Makuuchi rookie Abi yesterday that convinced Tochiozan that it was time to sit down and take a rest.

M16 Ryuden (7–4) vs. M11 Daishomaru (6–5)—Makuuchi Division rookie Ryuden has been putting on a strong performance. Strong enough that he is on the verge of kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. If he can get nine or more wins in the basho, I predict that he’ll get a special prize. (2:15)

M14 Abi (7–4) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (7–4)—Another Makuuchi Division rookie, Abi, is in the same position as Ryuden, and I think the same things hold true. If he can get nine or more wins, I think he’ll get a special prize. However, his opponent today is also on the verge of kachi-koshi, and also would like a prize. (4:35)

M2 Yoshikaze (4–7) vs. M1 Ichinojo (7–4)—What the heck is up with Ichinojo the past few days? He’s actually looked like someone who has practiced sumo, using different styles and varying his attacks to suit his opponents . . . and WINNING. He’s on the verge of kachi-koshi while ranked at M1, which means he could well be back in the sanyaku ranks if he can bring home another couple of wins. His opponent today, though, is giant-killer Yoshikaze. Does the big man have something up his sleeve that can handle the giant killer? (8:30)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–4) vs. M5 Okinoumi (3–8)—Mitakeumi started this tournament with seven straight wins, but something happened after his Day 8 loss to Ichinojo, and he hasn’t been the same since. Some are speculating a lower back strain, but Mitakeumi doesn’t seem to be restricted in his movement at all, he just seems beaten before he starts. Maybe he can turn that around today against M5 Okinoumi, who has already secured a make-koshi [majority of losses]. For his part, Mitakeumi only needs one more win to reach kach-koshi. (10:10)
M3 Tochinoshi (10–1) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (4–7)—Tochinoshin’s drive and determination have been rewarded—he’s a co-leader of the yusho hunt here on Day 12 and he’s faced the toughest of the opponents he’s got on his schedule. But he’s still got plenty tough opponents to come, starting with today’s match against the sekiwake who yesterday handed Kakuryu his first defeat. (11:00)
Ozeki Goeido (6–5) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–3)—Our two ozeki go head-to-head, which makes sense because they seem to be going in opposite directions. After both having a scare of three losses during the middle weekend, Takayasu has managed to get himself back on track and now has won his last three in a row. Goeido, on the other hand has three losses in a row and is seeming completely lost on the dohyo (and he still needs two more wins to get his kachi-koshi). (11:55)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–1) vs. M5 Endo (6–5)—Kakuryu showed his feet of clay yesterday. He went back to his old tactic of charging in at the tachi-ai [initial charge] and then backing up and trying to slap down his opponent. It’s a trick that used to work for him, but for most of the last two years hasn’t. During Week 1, Kakuryu was always moving forward and forcing his opponents to respond to him. If he can get that mojo back, he should to fine. (12:30)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Hatsu Basho, and yokozuna Kakuryu remains undefeated and in sole possession of the lead in the yusho race. His place is pretty secure, too, because M3 Tochinoshin is the only rikishi on his heels with a 9–1 record, and M13 Daieisho is the only one who is 8–2. That’s a remarkably tight yusho [tournament championship] race for this early in Week 2.

Kakuryu is looking rock solid, going about his business with the calm confidence and laser focus that we usually associate with yokozuna Hakuho. He’s coming out each day and doing patient, deliberate sumo. I don’t want to jinx him, but it really does look like his tournament to lose. He’s already beaten his closest competitor. It would make a real statement to the Kyokai (Sumo Association) if after missing all but one tournament in 2017, he comes out and not only takes the yusho, but does so with a perfect record! That, though, is still putting the card distinctly before the horse. Kakuryu has five matches remaining against the best that the banzuke [ranking sheet] has to throw at him, including both ozeki, both sekiwake, and a komusubi.

Tochinoshin also continues to impress. I likewise don’t wish to jinx him, but his knees haven’t looked this solid in years. His only loss so far came against Kakuryu, and he seems to be getting stronger with each match (having won his last two by power-lifting his opponents out of the ring). I only hope that he finishes the basho with strong, healthy performances.

Today is, I think, an important day for the ozeki. Toward the end of Week 1 they both suffered long-shot defeats, and then let that drop them into a minor slump that took them out of the yusho race. But Takayasu seems to have shaken it off, looking his old solid self in his win yesterday over sekiwake Tamawashi and bringing his record up to 7–3. Goeido, on the other hand, seems to have slipped into the worst of his old habits and yesterday was completely overwhelmed by M4 Shodai, leaving Goeido’s record at 6–4. Takayasu seems well poised to make a run for double-digit wins, while Goeido could put himself in the position of having to win on the final weekend just to pull out kachi-koshi (it SHOULDN’T be that way, but he needs to get these “easy” wins before he has to face ozeki and yokozuna opponents).

Totally unexpected news today, M10 Terunofuji will return to action for the final five days of the basho. He already is beyond the possibility of achieving kachi-koshi, and his performance in the first few days of the basho did not give the appearance of being caused by a source that would have been healed or eliminated in this short  period of time. The only reason for doing this would be if he thought: a) that he was well enough to win out the remaining five matches, and b) that would be enough to keep him from being demoted down to Juryo in March. Personally, I don’t think either of those things are true. But I hope that I’m wrong. 

M16 Ryuden (6–4) vs. M13 Daieisho (8–2)—Daieisho is the only remaining 8–2 rikishi, meaning he’s the only one two behind the leader. He’s had a very good basho so far, but in the next day or so he’ll begin to reap the bounty of that performance—matches against opponents from further up the banzuke, this will likely drop him further out of contention, but they’ll be high profile matches that will be good for his career. First, though, he’s got to stay in the race. Today he faces Makuuchi Division rookie Ryuden, who himself is having a very good basho. You might say that this match is a test as to which of these two is hungrier for a new level of challenge. (0:35)
M10 Terunofuji (0–3–7) vs. M15 Ishiura (5–5)—Terunofuji is back, despite having been so badly injured at the start of the basho that he couldn’t even come close to winning a bout while ranked at M10. I don’t see where there’s really much chance his condition has improved any, but if there’s anyone he can simply physically bully for a win, it’s tiny Ishiura. That is, if Terunofuji can move fast enough to catch him. (2:55)
M9 Shohozan (6–4) vs. M6 Ikioi (2–8)—Neither one of these rikishi is doing particularly well. Ikio, indeed, is nursing a bad ankle and has already reached make-koshi. But somehow they managed to put on a great match here. It’s even more impressive when you watch the replay in slow motion. Almost balletic. (6:05)
M6 Takarafuji (7–3) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (9–1)—Tochinoshin continues to look strong, and is the only one-loss rikishi trailing the leader. This gives him a constant added pressure of knowing that should he lose, Kakuryu will have a two-win cushion and the advantage of knowing that he can be allowed a mistake. Today Tochinoshin faces another strong opponent who also likes to work the belt in Takarafuji.  (7:40)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (10–0) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (3–7)—This match is more difficult than it might at first seem. Tamawashi has beaten Kakuryu in BOTH of their previous fights. If he can make it three in a row, we have the possibility of moving back into a two-way lead for the yusho race. Of course, it’s rare for a yokozuna to lose to the same opponent three times in a row. (15:00)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 10)

Welcome to Day 9 of the Hatshu Basho. Yokozuna Kakuryu remains in sole possession of the lead in the yusho [tournament championship] race with his perfect 8–0 record, making him also the first to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. I’m honestly a little torn about how I feel regarding Kakuryu. It’s good to see him in full health again, but I’d also very much like to see the yusho won by someone who has never before hoisted the Emperor’s Cup.

Of course, after yesterday, there is only one competitor with a 7–1 record, so it’s not like there’s a bundle of competitors for the title. When M3 Tochinoshin showed off his raw strength by power-lifting sekiwake Mitakeumi out of the ring, he grabbed that spot, leaving just three rikishi with 6–2 records behind him—Mitakeumi, M9 Shohozan, and M13 Daieisho. The wheels would have to come off several different wagons for anyone below that level to get back into the competition.

Bad news: As of today, komusubi Onosho will be going kyujo [absent due to injury] apparently due to a leg injury suffered when M1 Ichinojo threw him around like a ragdoll yesterday. If he can’t come back and somehow get eight wins, this will be Onosho’s first ever make-koshi [majority of losses] in the Makuuchi Division.

In the good news department, M10 Aminishiki returns from four days kyujo thanks to the shin bruise he suffered on Day 5. His record is 1–5–3 at this point, so he doesn’t have even a hope of reaching kachi-koshi, but if he performs well enough he can mitigate how far he’ll drop on the March banzuke [ranking sheet] and hope to remain in the Makuuchi Division for one more basho.

M8 Tochiozan (6–3) vs. 13 Daieisho (7–2)—I haven’t shown much of Tochiozan this basho, which is a shame because he’s looked pretty strong. It’s just that he didn’t get off to a good enough start to be in the yusho mix, and his matches haven’t been especially exciting. Today, though, he faces one of the rikishi still within striking distance of the leader. Of course, if Tochiozan has his way, Daieisho won’t be able to say that again tomorrow. (4:05)
M3 Tochinoshin (8–1) vs. M2 Kotoshogiku (4–5)—Tochiozan really is on a tear. The fact that his only loss has come to the one rikishi who doesn’t have ANY losses says even more about how he’s doing. Today, he takes on former ozeki Kotoshogiku, who is also having a pretty good tournament. Should make for another entertaining match. (8:50)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–2) vs. M4 Arawashi (4–5)—Mitakeumi fought hard and lost on both the last two days. It’s taken him out of a share of the lead, and out of second place, but he still is well poised to have a great basho AND contend for the yusho if things get tight in the final weekend. But that requires him to shake off these losses and get his head back in the game. For all that I praise, Mitakeumi for his skills, his biggest drawback is that he’s still only been in the Makuuchi Division for a couple of years and he still makes newbie mistakes. THAT’S what he needs to avoid right now. He has to avoid the temptation to get up a head of steam over his back-to-back losses, and just go back to doing the smart, patient, methodical sumo he did in Week 1. (11:10)
Sekiwake Tamawashi (3–6) vs. ozeki Takayasu (6–3)—Everything I just said about Mitakeumi is true about Takayasu, EXCEPT that he’s an ozeki and he’s been around awhile. He SHOULD be smart and seasoned enough to shake off his recent losses and just get back to business. His win yesterday over Shodai made it seem like he’s on that path. I want to see him follow up with more of the same today against Tamawashi. (12:55))
Yokozuna Kakuryu (9–0) vs. M5 Okinoumi (3–6)—I’m beginning to think that this is Kakuryu’s tournament. Certainly, at this point, it’s his to lose. This middle-third of the basho is a dangerous place for him historically. He often gets himself in trouble by losing focus in bouts against the folks he ought to beat leading up to the final weekend. The minute he finds himself thinking “this is the easy bit,” or anticipating his next-day opponent, that’s when things can go off the rails.  (14:15)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho (Day 9)

Here we are, Day 9 of the Hatsu Basho and one rikishi stands alone atop the leaderboard—yokozuna Kakuryu—and he’s looking as strong as we’re used to seeing yokozuna Hakuho look up there. Of course, the excitement of the basho is based on the fact that he ISN’T Hakuho, and he has a long history of letting his feet of clay show. Kakuryu missed most of the 2017 tournaments because of chronic injury, and in 2016 he only averaged ten wins per tournament, so we’re USED TO thinking of him as an also-ran. Right now, though, he IS the man to beat, and let none deny it.

Trailing the leader are a trio of rikishi with only one loss—sekiwake Mitakeumi, M3 Tochinoshin, and M13 Daieisho—and then, surprisingly, only a trio of rikishi with 6–2 records—M8 Tochiozan, M9 Shohozan, M16 Asanoyama. The remaining sanyaku and upper Maegashira rikishi have all lost at least three matches, putting them pretty well outside the realm of competition for the yusho [tournament championship] . . . that is, for now. In a basho like this anything can happen, and we’re only halfway to senshuraku [the final day].

I was very disappointed yesterday by Mitakeumi’s performance against Ichinojo. It should come as no surprise that I don’t like Ichinojo, and I think he’s a one-note rikishi. Likewise, I’ve made it plain that I do like Mitakeumi and think that he’s got a good shot at being one of the dominant forces in sumo’s next generation. But if he’s going to get there, he has to learn not only how to beat opponents like Ichinojo, whose whole skill set is being tall and heavy, but to do so with relative ease. Ichinojo did nothing yesterday but lean on Mitakeumi, and the sekiwake just leaned back, trying to beak the M1 at his own game. Unsurprisingly, the monstrous Mongolian won the battle, and Mitakeumi lost his share of the lead.

On the other hand, I very much LIKED what I saw from Tochinoshin—another rikishi I’ve been very clear that I like and root for. Over the past year or more, Tochinoshin has struggled with knee problems, and it struck me yesterday what critical part those stole from his sumo performance. It wasn’t power or stability, though those had been somewhat affected by his injuries, he still was always quite strong and able to lift and move opponents when put in the right situation. No, the main thing that Tochinoshin has been lacking was quick footwork. Watching his match yesterday against Yoshikaze I realized that in the past he’d have been forced to reach out and chase his quicker opponent with his arms, thus putting himself off balance, unable to use his power, and vulnerable to twists and throws. Yesterday, he was able to shuffle his feet quickly enough to follow and stay close to Yoshikaze, maintaining his balance and allowing him to make use of his greater upper-body strength. And that’s been true throughout the whole of Week 1. For as long as I’ve been watching sumo, I’m still often surprised at how important the basic fundamentals are even for the most skilled and most physically gifted rikishi.

M15 Ishiura (4–4) vs. M13 Daieisho (7–1)—Ishiura matches two days in a row! This time I picked it for two reasons. First, because it’s a really entertaining bout, but second because you see something interesting just after the tachi-ai [initial charge]. The gyoji [referee] puts his hands on both rikishi’s backs and tells them to pause, and they freeze in place. This will be done on occasion if a match has gone on a very long time, or if a foreign object enters the dohyo, or (as in this case) one of the competitor’s mawashi starts to come loose. The gyoji then secures the mawashi, puts his hands on both rikishi’s backs again, and tells them to “Go!” . . . and the match resumes. (1:05)
M1 Ichinojo (4–4) vs. komusubi Onosho (4–4)—I’m a big detractor of Ichinojo, and even when he wins will spend more time talking about what his opponent did wrong than what he did right. But sometimes one must give credit is due. This match shows, if nothing else, that Ichinojo knows more than just one strategy. I think that surprises Onosho as much or more than it surprised me. (11:25)
Komusubi Takakeisho (2–6) vs. M1 Hokutofuji (3–5)—Another terrific match between two young, up-and-coming rikishi. Niether one is having a great tournament here, but they both have lots of skill, energy, and potential for future greatness. (12:55)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–1) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (7–1)—Two of my favorite rikishi, not to mention two of the competitors just one win behind the leader, go head to head. This is the match I’m looking forward to most today, but it’s ALSO the match of the day! (13:45)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (8–0) vs. M4 Arawashi (4–4)—Kakuryu marches on undefeated and undeterred. I keep expecting him, like ozeki Goeido, to suddenly fall apart for no particular reason. So far, Kakyryu remains rock solid. There’s no reason to think that Arawashi will be the opponent to shake him. (17:25)

SUMO: 2018 Hatsu Basho Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the 2018 Hatsu Basho, and we’re down to just two undefeated rikishi atop the leaderboard. Yokozuna Kakuryu is looking like he always WISHES he would, strong and confident with a determined sense of purpose. Meanwhile, sekiwake Mitakeumi looks like he’s trying to take his already formidable sumo to the next level—he’s been in the upper division for two years now, and he’s shown great promise, now as a new crop of young phenoms is climbing the banzuke [ranking sheet], he’s looking to show that he’s one rung up the ladder from them.

Trailing behind the leaders is a group of four rikishi with 6–1 records—M3 Tochinoshin, M9 Shohozan, M13 Daieisho, and M16 Asanoyama. I’ll admit that Tochinoshin is one of my favorite rikishi, so I have rooting interest in him, but still he really does seem like the only one of the bunch who has a real chance at staying in the yusho [tournament championship] hunt for the long haul. His only loss has been to Kakuryu, and he’s already beaten both ozeki and a komusubi. After watching him struggle through chronic knee injuries for the past year-and-a-half, it’s great to see him looking healthy again.

Our two ozeki seem to be going in opposite directions. After both Goeido and Takayasu lost two matches midweek to fall out of the yusho race (at least for now), Goeido came back strong yesterday with a convincing win over komusubi Takakeisho. Meanwhile, Takayasu lost to M2 Ichinojo by playing right into the only winning strategy that the big lug has. The thing that keeps Ichinojo from succeeding at the highest level of sumo is that he is a one dimensional rikishi, and all the upper tier competitors can fairly easily block that assault and take the match into dimensions that Ichinojo can’t handle. But Takayasu didn’t do that yesterday, which says to me that his head wasn’t in the game. 

M12 Sokokurai (2–5) vs. M15 Ishura (4–3)—Ishiura is back up in the Makuuchi division after spending a few tournaments down in Juryo. He seems to have regained some of his inspiration, but still struggles against opponents who are generally bigger, heavier, and stronger than he is. I post this match mostly because I think the gyoji got the call wrong. Watch the replay and see if it doesn’t look like the “winner’s” knee doesn’t touch the clay before the loser’s does. (1:10)
M16 Asanoyama (6–1) vs. M12 Kagayaki (4–3)—Asanoyama held a piece of the lead until his loss to Daieisho yesterday. He’ll have to bounce back immediately if he wants to keep his name in the headlines. Luckily for him, Kagayaki is having another one of his hot-and-cold tournaments. Some days he comes out like a champion, other days it seems like his mind is somewhere else. If it’s the latter, Asanoyama should have no trouble staying in the yusho hunt. If it’s the former, though, this should be a closely fought match. (2:15)
M13 Daieisho (6–1) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (5–2)—Daieisho has looked terrific this tournament, most recently with his win over co-leader Asanoyama yesterday. He’s a long shot to actually stay in the yusho race all the way, but there’s no reason he can’t hang in for another few days and make a surge for double-digit wins and maybe a special prize. Unfortunately for him, though Chiyomaru is also looking very strong this tournament. Should be a good bout. (4:05)
M6 Takarafuji (4–3) vs. M9 Shohozan (6–1)—Shohozan is one of the few rikishi I generally root against. I just don’t like his rough-and-tumble, street sumo style of fighting. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong or dirty about it, I just don’t enjoy it. But there’s no denying that it works well for him, and is doing so especially this basho. Takarafuji has historically had a difficult time against Shohozan, having lost nine of their ten matches. But he broke his losing streak in their last encounter, and I hope that was the start of a long winning streak for him. (4:55)
M2 Yoshikaze (3–4) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (6–1)—Tochinoshin notched his first loss yesterday, but he was facing a yokozuna so there’s no shame in that. He needs to bounce back right away with a win and he can stay in yusho hunt for a while. But he’s facing Yoshikaze, who has notched wins over two yokozuna and an ozeki so far this basho, so it won’t be easy. (8:30)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–0) vs. M1 Ichinojo (3–4)—This match is something of a measure of just how far Mitakeumi has matured. Ichinojo is the biggest and heaviest rikishi in the division, and that allows him to dominate less experienced rikishi. However, opponents with more experience generally know the big Mongolian’s weak points and how to manipulate them fairly easily. If Mitakeumi is ready to step up and be a top tier rikishi, he has to be able to handle Ichinojo regularly and easily.  (11:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–0) vs. M4 Shodai (4–3)—Kakuryu continues to look like the yokozuna he’s always wanted to be. Yesterday he handled Tochinoshin without any difficulty, and he should do the same today against Shodai. In the past, this is the kind of match where one might have expected Kakuryu to have a slip concentration and take a bad loss . . . but if he seems as if he’s beyond that this tournament. We’ll see. (14:30)