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SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 3)

It’s Day 3 of the Aki Basho, and it’s looking like it’s going to be a real classic of a tournament. All the yokozuna and ozeki won yesterday, meaning that Goeido is the only one whose record isn’t perfect (after his Day 1 loss to M1 Kaisei). Also as yet unblemished is the winner of the previous tournament, sekiwake Mitakeumi. 

We had an unusual pairing yesterday, when ozeki Takayasu was matched against sekiwake Ichinojo. Usually, the sekiwake don’t have to “fight up” until Week 2 in order to help ensure that there are marquee matches for all the top-rankers in the tournament’s final days. But with a combined six yokozuna and ozeki fighting this basho, that’s not looking to be a problem. So we may have some big-name bouts cropping up even in this early stage of the tournament. 

Yokozuna Kisenosato really gave us a good taste of how he’s feeling in his win over komusubi Takakeisho yesterday. He was pushed to the edge of the ring by his young opponent, and then reversed all the way to the opposite ring, holding Takakeisho off with one arm and one foot on the tawara [straw bales that make up the ring’s edge]. But he was able to dig deep, gather his strength, and muscle his opponent over and to the clay for an impressive win. He really did look like the Kisenosato of old. 

The yokozuna’s stablemate, ozeki Takayasu, also gave a good accounting of himself and put aside rumors that his bad back was going to hamper him. As I mentioned above, he faced sekiwake Ichinojo (who now weighs in at 227 kg/500 lb) and was able to not only hold him off, but run him off the dohyo. So far, Takayasu’s back seems to be in good shape.

Looking further down the banzuke, someone to keep an eye on this basho is former-ozeki Kotoshogiku, who after having a disappointing showing in July is currently ranked at M8. It’s been clear for a while that Kotoshogiku has lost a step or two (or three) since his ozeki days, but the fact is that he still has what it takes to be competitive at the top of the banzuke. So it only goes to reason that he should be able to dominate against mid-level competitors, and that’s just how things have gone on Days 1 and 2. I’d say there’s a very good chance that Kotoshogiku will have a VERY good tournament, and may even be in the yusho hunt all the way until the final weekend. 

On the other hand, M6 Onosho, who should also be dominating at his relatively low ranking, has so far been struggling. He’s 0–2 going into today, and just looks listless, despite having been one of the shining stars during the summer jungyo [exhibition tour]. Did he injure himself? Has he come down with a cold? No one is saying anything about it yet . . . but it really is very strange.

Enough of my rambling, though . . . let’s look at today’s matches.

M10 Aoiyama (0–2) vs. M11 Sadanoumi (1–1)—A tough bout between two rikishi who are off to a slow start. Aoiyama still hasn’t been able to recapture the magic that let him be runner-up in this year’s January tournament. (3:45)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–0) vs. komusubi Tamawashi (0–2)—Mitakeumi really needs to run the table here in Week 1 if he has any real hope of getting a promotion to ozeki. That task gets harder when he has to face opponents like Tamawashi, but no on ever said sumo was easy. (10:20)
Komusubi Takakeisho (0–2) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (2–0)—Tochinoshin has been looking pretty solid so far. He’s kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] so his first goal is to get eight quick wins and secure his kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Takakeisho has had a rough first two days having to face a pair of yokozuna, but that’s usually how things go when you’re a komusubi. He’s still a very genki and dangerous opponent. (13:05)
M1 Kaisei (1–1) vs. Yokozuna Hakuho—Kaisei A showed up on Monday when he beat Goeido, but yesterday it was clearly Kaisei B who got spun around by Kakuryu yesterday . . . which one will show up to face Hakuho? And does it really matter? (14:05)
Yokuzuna Kisenosato (2–0) vs. M2 Yutakayama (0–2)—Kisenosato has been winning and looking reasonably healthy all around. But he hasn’t been dominant. In fact, if he wasn’t healthy, he’d probably have lost one or both of his first matches. This is his first time ever facing Yutakayama. Let’s see if he can put the upstart in his place. (15:35)

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 2)

The Aki Basho is underway, and we started off with a really solid Day 1. There were lots of exciting matches, and all of the top rikishi won . . . well  . . . all except ozeki Goeido, who further cemented his reputation of being better in practice than he is in the tournaments. 

Goeido was on fire this summer, dominating on the jungyo [exhibition tour] and in the warm-up training over the past few weeks. No one could touch him, it seemed. But yesterday, M1 Kaisei seemed to have no trouble touching Goeido and then pushing him rather unspectacularly to the edge and out of the ring. This certainly doesn’t count Goeido out, by any means, but it does seem to indicate that his head isn’t right, and that he’s more likely to play the role of spoiler than challenger for the title. The fact is, he’s got real game and can beat ANY rikishi on a given day. The problem is that he is unfocused and can lose to just about any rikishi on a given day.

Speaking of ozeki, Tochinoshin is now in his second tournament at sumo’s second-highest rank, and thanks to the foot injury he suffered in the middle of July’s Nagoya Basho, he’s already kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion]. He missed most training and competition over the summer, letting his wounds heal, but that means he’s coming into the Aki Basho without having had much chance to shake off the rust. Word is that he’s healthy, but not as strong as usual. You couldn’t prove that by his Day 1 performance, though, where he jumped off quickly at the tachi-ai [opening charge] and easily lifted M2 Chiyotairyu off his feet and out of the ring. Tochinoshin must get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] to keep his rank, but I think he’s looking strong enough that he’ll do much more than that and be one of the names in the yusho [tournament championship] hunt.

The third ozeki, Takayasu, has been struggling with back pain the last couple of weeks. Some days he gets up and is able to do sumo at about 75% or better, and some days he gets up and can barely move. Let’s hope that he stays healthy and gets through the whole basho without further straining his back . . . but it’s probably not likely for him to be atop the leaderboard past the middle weekend.

Last tournament’s winner, sekiwake Mitakeumi, is back and looking as strong as usual. The Kyokai [sumo association] has said that if he puts in a strong enough performance at the Aki Basho (probably 10 or 11 wins with at least one or two wins over yokozuna or ozeki opponents) he will be promoted to ozeki. In July he took advantage of the fact that most of the top rankers were out of action, but that’s not the case now. If he wants to rise to sumo’s second-highest rank, he’ll have to do even BETTER than he did in Nagoya.

But enough of my pontificating. Let’s look at some of today’s highlight matches.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi (1–0) vs. M2 Chiyotairyu (0–1)—Mitakeumi got off to a good start yesterday. If he wants a chance at his ozeki promotion, he pretty much has to run the table during Week 1, because his Week 2 is going to be filled with ozeki and yokozuna opponents. (10:45)
M2 Yutakayama (0–1) vs. ozeki Tochinoshin (1–0)—Tochinoshin came out strong on Day 1. He needs seven more wins to clear his kadoban status. (12:55)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (1–0) vs. ozeki Takayasu (1–0)—It’s a little weird to pair an ozeki and a sekiwake this early in the tournament, but with a total of six ozeki and yokozuna fighting, I guess we’ll probably see some unusual pairings here and there. Ichinojo looked terrific against M1 Endo yesterday—he showed that glimmer of real skill he had back in May, but that evaporated almost entirely in July. Is he back for real? But both he and Takayasu are suffering from bad backs, so they each are on a day-to-day watch for disabling pain. (13:35)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (1–0) vs. komusubi Takakeisho (0–1)—Kisenosato won his first match since January pretty easily, but his opponent (M1 Ikioi) was a pretty straight ahead fighter. Today he faces a young sparkplug of a rikishi in Takakeisho, so we’ll get a better idea of what the yokozuna has in his tank. (15:00).

SUMO: 2018 Aki Basho (Day 1)

The long, hot, summer dry spell is over . . . it’s time for the Aki Basho [Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament]! For the next fifteen days, the big men will be competing in the big dohyo [ring] in the home of sumo—Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan! And even before a single match has been fought, it’s already a momentous tournament. 

As you know if you’ve been following my posts during recent tournaments, many of the top rikishi have been suffering through long and recurring injuries. It’s been a long time since we started a basho with all the top names in competition, but that’s what we’ve got here. For the first time since the Nagoya Basho in July 2017, ALL of the Makuuchi Division rikishi will be active today, and hopefully for the whole two weeks of the tournament. 

The man everyone is wondering about most is yokozuna Kisenosato, who has not fought a complete tournament since March 2017, and hasn’t competed at all since January of this year (when he dropped out after Day 4). He’s been healing up from the massive shoulder/chest muscle injury he suffered earning and securing his yokozuna promotion, and all of Japan has been holding its collective breath hoping that he can get healthy enough to be competitive again. Kisenosato is the first Japanese-born yokozuna since 2003, and although he was clearly the second-best rikishi over the previous five years, competing as an ozeki the whole time, the fans want to see him excel at sumo’s highest rank, too. 

I had predicted that Kisenosato would NOT join the Aki Basho, if only because he still seems only about 75% healthy, and the pressure on his performance is so high. He has publicly announced that if he does not perform satisfactorily in his return basho, he will retire. And, even if he didn’t do that of his own volition, the Kyokai [sumo association] will soon begin apply pressure on him to resign if he can’t properly perform the duties of a yokozuna. (They have been extremely forgiving of his absences because of his history and popularity, but their patience is beginning to wear thin.) So, the question remains—Does Kisenosato have what it takes to perform like a yokozuna for fifteen days in a row?

Second on the watch list is yokozuna Hakuho who is recovering from what are now chronic toe and ankle problems. In the past year, he has only stayed in for the full course of two, he sat out two in their entirety, and only lasted five days apiece in the remaining two. For the first time since 2005, he has failed to win at least one of the first three basho of the year. But perhaps most telling of all, it is clear that he’s slowing down . . . just a little, but it’s enough, particularly given that the Kyokai has reprimanded him for his tactics to make up for that loss of speed. Namely, Hakuho had begin to use more “trick moves” and “bullying sumo” rather than the pure, blazing fast, super clean sumo that made him the greatest of all time. 

Again, I thought that Hakuho was going to take another tournament off. His feet were clearly still bothering him during the summer jungyo [exhibition tour], and he has nothing to prove. But he wants to still be competing and still be on top when the Summer Olympics come to Tokyo in 2020, so he wants to grab at least one yusho [tournament championship] this year, and notch his 800th win as a yokozuna (currently 792), and 1,000th win in the Makuuchi Division (currently 986). He already holds the record for most career wins and most championships, so he’s left to pick off records with various caveats and restrictions. I HOPE that he’s strong enough to be in the thick of the yusho hunt this time. Hakuho as an also-ran is a very sad thing to me.

There’s still LOTS of other rikishi to talk about, but I’ll get to them over the next few days. Meanwhile, on to Day 1 action!

M15 Chiyoshoma vs. M15 Yoshikaze—An amazing finish with a really weird call. If this is a sample of what the lower-ranked matches are going to be like, this is going to be an incredible basho! (1:00)
M13 Ryudan vs. M13 Takanoiwa—Another closely fought match, but most notable because it is Takanoiwa’s return to the top division after having been the victim in the scandal that caused former yokozuna Harumafuji to retire in disgrace.(2:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi vs. M3 Shodai—It’s worth checking in with the last basho’s winner, Mitakeumi. If he can manage to get ten or more wins this basho, he’ll probably be promoted to ozeki. (10:05)
M2 Chiyotairyu vs. ozeki Tochinoshin—Tochinoshin is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] in this, only his second tournament at sumo’s highest rank. He hurt his foot in the Nagoya Basho and must get at least 8 wins to secure his position. (11:20)
Ozeki Goeido vs. M1 Kaisei—Goeido looked completely dominant during the pre-tournament training sessions. Two years ago, he came out on fire and won the Aki Basho with a perfect 15–0 record. Can he do it again, or has he left his best game on the practice dohyo? (12:25)
Yokozuna Kisenosato vs. M1 Ikioi—This is Kisenosato’s first match since January. No one is expecting him to contend for the yusho, but he needs to perform like a yokozuna. (13:05)
Komusubi Tamawashi vs yokozuna Hakuho—Hakuho is trying to make a strong return and get back to being a contender for the yusho. (13:55)
Yokozuna Kakuryu vs. komusubi Takakeisho—Kakuryu has been the most steady of the three yokozuna recently, if only because he’s stayed healthy. He’s shown that he’s better that the rest of the field, but now he’ll have to show that he’s better than his fellow yokozuna, too. (14:40)

MEDICAL: I’ve Fallen, But I Totally Got Up

Yesterday I was walking to coffee shop when I noticed that I could save myself half a block of walking by hopping down from a foot-and-a-half retaining wall into the parking lot. No problem, I thought, that doesn’t even count as a jump. Well, I wish I’d ever stopped and re-thought that at my age, weight, and history of knee problems … sometimes an eighteen-inch hop is too physically demanding. 

Down I went.

Hard.

I roughed up my palms catching myself, and jarred my shoulder slightly … but more significantly, I cracked my shin across a decorative rock. No blood as near as I could tell, but my leg was already starting to bruise and swell. 

Ouch! … But I really felt like the embarrassment was the worst of it. My leg ached a bit, but that was it. The bruise was starting to turn purple in a couple of spots, but again, that was to be expected.

Later that afternoon, when I got home and looked again, I saw that a good part of the ache was coming from the swelling. So I took put my leg up, placed an ice pack on it, and felt even more sheepish.

The leg continued to ache, which really is to be expected, so I stayed off it and continued to ice it several more times during the day.

Overnight, it ached enough to mess with my sleep. I knew from past experience that sometimes the swelling itself can hide a good deal of the discoloration, so at 3AM I found myself thinking that if the bruise looked worse in the morning, I’d go to the Urgent Care. 

It looked MUCH worse in the morning … so off I went.

You know you’ve got a whopper of a bruise when an urgent care doctor looks at it, winces, and says, “Yow! That’s nasty!” She examined it and sent me off for an x-ray, just to be sure. The x-ray tech ALSO blanched and made comment about how bad it looked.

Looking at the x-rays, the doctor said that she didn’t see anything that looked even a little like a break, but she’d send the pix to the radiologist for confirmation. Then she told me that I needed to spend a lot of time this weekend with my foot elevate to prevent the swelling from cutting off good blood flow to muscles in my ankle and causing REAL damage (and could actually be life threatening if not treated, should it happen). “Thankfully” the main symptom is sharp, shooting, extreme pain in the affected area, so I’ll KNOW if that’s starting, and I promised the doctor that I’d go right to the E.R. if that happened. 

So I’ve spent more time today with my foot elevated, and I’ll be spending many hours over the coming long weekend that way. 

A few minutes ago, my medical history app pinged to say that a new test result was in. The radiologist had looked at my x-ray and determined, “No fracture. Masslike soft tissue density may represent a hematoma. Correlate clinically” 

Good call, radiologist. “MAY” indicate a hematoma? It sure does … a massive, ugly, weeping hematoma. Just be thankful all you saw was the soft tissue density!

I’m A Stretch Goal!

The fine folks at Monte Cook Games are running a Kickstarter for their newest project, “Your Best Game Ever“—a book to help you get the most out of your RPG whatever setting or game system you’re using. The Kickstarter got off to a rousing start here in a week that is filled with terrific gaming Kickstarters (like Green Ronin Publishing‘s “Expanse RPG” and Steve Jackson Games‘s “The Fantasy Trip”).

“Your Best Game Ever” has already funded, passed its first stretch goal, and is well on its way to the second—and that one will trigger the inclusion of gaming-related comics by a talented group of cartoonists … and me, too! The book would have entries from:

John Kovalic (Dork Tower)
Vickie Lee (Dungeons and Doggos)
Aviv Or (Up to Four Players)
Brian Patterson (d20 Monkey)
Len Peralta (Geek-a-Week)
Alina Pete (Weregeek)
…and me, too!

So go give the project a look, if you haven’t already. It sure seems like a book that most gamers will be happy to have on their shelves. And remember that on top of everything else, if you pledge you’ll be helping to make sure it includes a Stan! comic, too!

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

Welcome to senshuraku [the final day] for the 2018 Nagoya Basho! With his win over M13 Tochinoshin yesterday, sekiwake Mitakeumi improved his record to 13–1 and secured his haru-yusho [first tournament championship]. The closest competitors remain M9 Yutakayama and M13 Asanoyama with 11–3 records, which is also pretty dang good! That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to watch today, though. A handful of rikishi are still on the bubble with 7–7 records, and hoping to get one final win to get their kachi-koshi [majority of wins], and many others are looking bolster their upcoming promotions, or mitigate their certain demotions.

There are some pundits and fans that will put a metaphorical asterisk next to Mitakeumi’s yusho win given the unusual number of high-ranking kyujo [absence due to injury] this basho, meaning he didn’t have to fight ANY of the yokozuna OR the previous yusho champion. I disagree with such nitpicking. The competition was the same for everyone, and Mitakeumi gave by far his best performance as a sekiwake—getting double-digit wins for the first time as a sanyaku rikishi, breaking his personal best consecutive-win streak, and setting himself up for a run at an ozeki promotion in September. On top of all that, Mitakeumi was awarded botha gino-sho [technique special prize] an a shukun-sho [outstanding performance special prize] for his break-out performance over the past two weeks. 

If he wins today in his bout against Yutakayama and finishes 14–1, Mitakeumi will have 23 wins over the course of his last two tournaments, and only need 10 more in the Aki Basho to hit the magic “33 in 3” mark that would get him promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank. (And even if he loses today, he’ll still be within reasonable striking distance of that goal.)

This was a very strange Nagoya Basho. Not only were there the previously mentioned absences, the two remaining ozeki—Goeido and Takayasu—BOTH started the tournament kadoban [in danger of ozeki demotion] and struggled in their attempts to reach kachi-koshi. In the end both succeeded, and saved their ranks, but neither covered himself in glory. 

There were some stand-out performances in the lower half of the banzuke [ranking sheet] by young up-and-coming rikishi. Indeed, the fact that both of the runners-up for the basho were ranked below M8 is a signal for how unusually this tournament progressed. As recognition, both Yutakayama and Asanoyama were awarded kanto-sho [fighting spirit special prize] for their spectacular efforts. 

As I usually do, I will highlight ALL of the matches featuring “bubble” rikishi . . . since that’s where the greatest drama will be. Here, then, are the top matches for senshuraku. 

M8 Chiyoshoma (4–10) vs. M14 Okinoumi (7–7)—While Okinoumi may be on the bubble, this ISN’T a match to watch, mainly because there was NO match. Chiyoshoma broke a toe yesterday and reported kyujo for the first time in his 498-bout career. So Okinoumi gets his kachi-koshi without having to earn it, which is even more shameful considering how low he was ranked this tournament. (4:00)
M7 Takarafuji (6–8) vs. M15 Ryuden (8–6)—Takarafuji started off terribly this tournament, and is for sure make-koshi [majority of losses]. But he struggled back gamely and if he can win today and finish 7–8 it will certainly keep him from dropping too far on September’s banzuke. (5:50)
M5 Daishomaru (5–9) vs. M12 Sadanoumi (7–7)—The next of our bubble rikishi is Sadanoumi. He’s got a tough draw in that he’s fighting someone ranked seven rungs above him, but then Daishomaru is having a pretty lackluster tournament and will likely be ranked down around M12 in September. (7:35)
M9 Yutakayama (11–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (13–1)—There’s nothing in particular riding on the outcome, but it’s always fun to see the leader square off against his closest challenger. In fact, this is probably the best match of the day. (12:30)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (7–7) vs. M6 Endo (8–6)—Ichinojo is on the bubble, and given how he’s performed this basho, he’s lucky to be there. He’s got to beat fan-favorite Endo in order to retain his rank. (15:00)
Ozeki Goeido (9–5) vs. ozeki Takayasu (9–5)—And in our final match of the day, “the two ozeki who couldn’t.” Both of these guys have had lukewarm tournaments, and although both successfully survived being kadoban, I think it’s safe to say that both are disappointed with their overall performance. In the end, only one of them will wind up with double-digit wins (which basically is the minimum for a “successful” basho when you’re an ozeki). (15:50)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 14)

It’s Day 14 of the Nagoya Basho and sekiwake Mitakeumi is still in the lead! In fact, with a 12–1 record he only needs one more win to secure his very first top division yusho [tournament championship]. To make matters even more interesting, the only rikishi who are even mathematically still in the running are M9 Yutakayama and M13 Asanoyama. They must win both of their remaining matches AND hope that Mitakeumi loses both of his, and even then it would only get them into a playoff on Sunday afternoon when the regular matches are done. 

Many pundits were worried that after his controversial loss to ozeki Takayasu on Day 12, Mitakeumi might suffer from a bit of depression or anxiety that would put him at a disadvantage against ozeki Goeido yesterday. However, the sekiwake seems to have just let Thursday’s bad luck flow away like water under a bridge, because he came back strong on Day 13 and beat Goeido quite handily. Today he is scheduled to face M13 Tochiozan, who fell out of the yusho race with his loss yesterday to Asanoyama. (The interesting thing about this pairing is that is seems plain that the Kyokai [Sumo Association] WANTED to set up a high stakes match between the leader and one of his challengers, but since they announce the next day’s pairings BEFORE the current day’s competition, they had to GUESS at who would win the Tochiozan/Asanoyama bout. Clearly, they expected Tochiozan to have come out on top. Oops!)

As much Mitakeumi looked strong in yesterday’s match, Goeido went back to looking a bit lost. He made a strong tachi-ai [initial charge], but when Mitakeumi met him with an equally strong opening move, Goeido seemed to have no back-up plan, and the sekiwake rather easily maneuvered him out of the ring. All in all, I think that Goeido should count himself lucky that so many of the top rikishi were kyujo [absent due to injury] this basho or he very likely would have been make-koshi [majority of losses]—and since he was kadoban [threatened with ozek demotion] this tournament, he’d have lost his rank. Now he’s secure again for at least the rest of this year.

Much to my surprise, ozeki Takayasu—who was also kadoban this tourney—did not take his suspect eighth victory and report kyujo because of his twisted left arm. He came back today to try to get a ninth win against M6 Endo. Takayasu’s performance on Thursday made it seem like he was favoring his left arm (which he injured in May, and re-injured when komusubi Tamawashi pinned it in a pretty vicious kotonage [arm bar] earlier this week), and he performed the same way against Endo. At the tachi-ai he reached his left arm underneath in order to get a safe-if-not-terribly-secure grip on his opponent’s belt, and then trusted on his superior size to give him a chance to use his right arm to make a winning maneuver. Luckily enough, that’s just what happened.

Sekiwake Ichinojo lost for the seventh time yesterday in a match against M6 Chiyotaryu. The big Mongolian now has to win BOTH of his remaining matches in order to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and retain his spot at sumo’s third highest rank. He faces Goeido today, and the question really is which of these two faltering rikishi will pull themselves together enough to earn a victory?

Today’s top matches include:

M12 Sadanoumi (7–6) vs. M15 Ryuden (7–6)—The first match of the day turns out to be one of the best matches of the day. Two rikishi, both needing one more win to secure kachi-koshi. The loser will get another chance tomorrow, but neither one wants to wait that long. (0:15)
M6 Endo (8–5) vs. M13 Asanoyama (10–3)
—Asanoyama is one of the two remaining rikishi still with a chance to vie for the yusho. He MUST win BOTH of his remaining matches, starting with today’s bout against Endo. (4:10)
M13 Tochiozan (9–4) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (12–1)—If Mitakeumi wins this match, he takes the yusho. Tochiozan is going for pride, hoping to prove that he deserves to have been one of the front-runners so deep into the basho. (10:00)
Ozeki Goeido (9–4) vs. sekiwake Ichinojo (6–7)—For me, this is a “top match” for completely perverse reasons—I just want to see which one tanks the hardest. (11:40)
M9 Yutakayama (10–3) vs. ozeki Takayasu (9–4)—By the time this match happens, we’ll know the result of Mitakeumi’s bout, and that will decide whether this is a chance for Yutakayama to stay in the yusho race, or just a pairing of two also-rans. However, maybe it will shed some light on how Takayasu’s left arm is doing. (13:00)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 13)

It’s Day 13 of the Nagoya Basho, and sekiwake Mitakeumi no longer has a perfect record! He lost to ozeki Takayasu (something I’ll have more to say about below), but at the same time, his two closest followers—M13 Asanoyama and M13 Tochiozan—ALSO lost. That means Mitakeumi maintains a two-win lead over the challengers . . . but it also doubles their number to the FOUR rikishi with 9–3 records by adding ozeki Goeido and M9 Yutakayama to the mix.

It’s hard to believe with the lackluster sumo that he put in during Week 1 that Goeido would still be in the yusho [tournament championship] race going into the final weekend, but here we are. After starting off 4–3, Goeido has won the last five matches in a row. And although he still hasn’t looked his best, he certainly no longer seems lost or unfocused, so he’s a very real factor in the competition—not least of all because he faces off against the leader, Mitakeumi, in the final match today!

Mitakeumi got a bit of a bad turn yesterday. He had a great match against Takayasu that ended with both rikishi going out of the ring at very nearly the same time. In point of fact, based on the video replay I don’t think there’s really any call that should be made other than that they went out simultaneously. But the shimpan [ring judges] saw it differently. In point of fact, I think that what they saw was that if they called for a replay, Mitakeumi would probably have beaten Takayasu, who I think was definitely favoring his injured left arm . . . and if they called the win for Mitakeumi then the basho would for all intents and purposes be over (he’d be 3 wins up on his closest competition, so the only way he wouldn’t win was if he lost ALL of his remaining matches AND either Asanoyama or Tochiozan won all of theirs). I think this call was made with the idea of keeping the yusho race exciting going into the final weekend.

I briefly, and half-jokingly, mentioned yaocho [match fixing] in my post yesterday. Although there is a centuries-long tradition of related groups of heya [sumo stables] having their rikishi take dives in order to support the immediate needs of a related “friendly” rikishi, after two match-fixing/gambling scandals in the past couple of decades, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] has done a remarkably good job of clamping down on that sort of thing. However, the Kyokai itself still does a lot of extracurricular meddling when given the chance. They arrange favorable schedules when a popular rikishi needs a boost. And although the shimpan only get involved in a few matches a tournament, I think that they quite often make decisions that favor the “good of the tournament” over the facts on the ground. 

Anyway, Mitakeumi is now 11–1 . . . and Takayasu has gotten his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] eighth win, thus erasing his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion], preserving his rank, and giving him time to fully heal his ailing arm. Surprisingly (to me) Takayasu has NOT reported kyujo [absent due to injury] now that he’s kachi-koshi, and will fight M6 Endo today.

That having been said, M2 Chiyonokuni HAS reported as kyujo after losing to komusubi Tamawashi yesterday. That makes Chiyonokuni the THIRD rikishi that Tamawashi has injured this basho (together with Takayasu and M1 Kotoshogiku), all with his use of the kotonage [arm bar] maneuver. I don’t know if it’s just bad luck, or if Tamawashi has developed a technique that is more dangerous than other arm bars, but if this goes on SOMETHING will have to be done about it. I mean, the Kyokai might want to get some fresh blood into the upper echelons of the sport, but they certainly DON’T want to do it by literally twisting arms. And if Tamawashi is going to keep injuring the popular rikishi at the top of the banzuke, that can only be bad for competition and public interest.

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Tochiozan (9–3) vs. M9 Yutakayama (9–3)—Two of the second-place rikishi going head-to-head. Only one of them will remain in second place, and the other won’t give up the spot easily. (2:45)
M9 Myogiryu (8–4) vs. M13 Asanoyama (9–3)—Another of our second-place rikishi going up against Myogiryu, who has spent pretty much the whole tournament one loss behind second place. He’s been scratching and clawing trying to get into the yusho race, but it seems to be his karma this basho to play the spoiler instead. Will he spoil things for Asanoyama, too? (4:00)
M6 Endo (8–4) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–4)—The jury is still out on how much work Takayasu can do with his left arm. He kept it tucked reaching for an anchoring inside grip yesterday and never tried to use it to exert any pressure. Endo is a clever rikishi, so I expect he’ll try to force Takayasu into showing us what he’s got left in the tank. (11:45)
Ozeki Goeido (9–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (11–1)—This is the big match of the day. If Goeido wins, he and any other three-loss rikishi will be just one win behind the leader. If Mitakeumi wins, he’ll maintain his two-win lead, his magic number will be 1, and Goeido will be mathematically eliminated from the yusho race. (12:20)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 12)

Day 12 of the Nagoya Basho is here, and sekiwake Mitakeumi remains undefeated and alone atop the leaderboard. Not only that, he’s got a two-win lead over his nearest competition. I was mistaken yesterday when I said that only one rikishi was in that second place slot. In point of fact, there were two . . . and today there remain two—M13 Tochiozan and M13 Asanoyama.

Mitakeumi showed his resolve by beating M4 Kaisei, who himself is having a very good basho and is 2 inches taller and 80 lbs. heavier than Mitakeumi. Still the sekiwake took control right from the tachi-ai [initial charge] and won the bout without any fuss.

Ozeki Goeido seems to have settled himself down and managed to notch his eighth win yesterday against M5 Daishomaru. Admittedly, this wasn’t a great feat, and it also wasn’t a particularly dominant victory . . . but it WAS enough for Goeido to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins] for the tournament and erase his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status.

The other kadoban ozeki, Takayasu, lost to sekiwake Ichinojo, despite the fact that the giant Mongolian is having a terrible tournament. It seems clear to me that the several kotonag [arm bar] losses that Takayasu has suffered have exacerbated his previous injury, and left him with very little ability to attack from the left side. Unfortunately for him, though, Takayasu still needs one more win to reach kachi-koshi and secure his rank, so he must and will fight on. Personally, I hope he gets that eighth win today and then declares himself kyujo [absent due to injury] for the remainder of the basho. Unfortunately, today Takayasu faces the yusho leader, Mitakeumi. He’s scheduled to fight M6 Endo tomorrow (who is still in the hunt for the yusho), and we know that he’ll fight fellow-ozeki Goeido on Sunday, so that leaves only one day to hope that he gets scheduled against a soft opponent (or one that’s willing to engage in a little yaocho [match fixing]).

Fortunately for Takayasu, he’s ALREADY fought everyone else ranked M4 and higher. So the two highest-ranked opponents he could be asked to face are M5 Daishomaru and M5 Yoshikaze (who have a total of 3 wins between them so far this basho). The Kyokai [Sumo Association] can throw Takayasu a bone on Saturday and still claim that they gave him the “toughest opponent available.” The question remains, though, WILL they?

NOTE: There was one point just after shin-ozeki Tochinoshin declared himself kyujo (due to a big toe injury) where he and his coach declared that he might return to action later in the basho if the toe healed well enough. They have now announced that he is definitely NOT coming back this tournament, and will be kadoban in September during just his second tournament at the rank of ozeki. If he’s healthy though, there should be no difficulty in his getting 8 wins and clearing that hurdle. Of course, we started this basho saying the same things about Goeido and Takayasu—so you never can tell what will happen.

Some of today’s top bouts include:

M9 Myogiryu (7–4) vs. M13 Tochiozan (9–2)—Tochiozan is one of the rikishi immediately behind the leader, though in this case “immediately” is a two-win cushion. If he wants to stay in the race, he has to keep winning. But as it usually goes, the Kyokai are beginning to “reward” his earlier performance with matches against higher ranked rikishi, in this case Myogiryu. (1:55)
M4 Kaisei (7–4) vs. M13 Asanoyama (9–2)—The other second-place rikishi, Asanoyama, REALLY has an “up match” against M4 Kaisei, who is looking for his kachi-koshi AND a little payback for his loss to Mitakeumi yesterday. (4:55)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (11–0) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–4)—This is the match everyone has been waiting for. Is Takayasu’s arm healthy enough to let him challenge Mitakeumi? Can the sekiwake keep up this incredible winning streak? The fate of the yusho race hangs in the balance. (12:10)

SUMO: 2018 Nagoya Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Nagoya Basho, and I’m back from my personal kyujo [absence due to medical condition]. There’s been an interesting change in the standings, but not at the very top. Sekiwake Mitakeumi remains undefeated (now at 10–0) and is alone atop the leaderboard. However, his closest remaining rival, M13 Asanoyama, lost on Tuesday, dropping to 8–2 and giving Mitakeumi a two-win lead over his closest competition. 

For his part, Mitakeumi continues to perform like someone who has been in a tight yusho [tournament championship] race before—calmly going about his business and doing his own brand of sumo. And now that he’s got a buffer between himself and the rest of the field, I can only imagine that the pressure he’s feeling has backed off just a little. He’s also beaten his own personal demon and finally managed to get double-digit wins while ranked in sanyaku. I’m definitely rooting for Mitakeumi to take the yusho, but I continue to be skeptical that he’ll just waltz up and do so without facing some mighty internal challenges.

Asanoyama, the last of the rikishi who was hot on Mitakeumi’s heels, lost a wild match yesterday against M16 Hokutofuji, another young rikishi who belongs much further up the banzuke [ranking sheet]. Hokutofuji was the yusho runner-up last November, but struggled with some knee issues in the early months of this year. It’s good to see him looking strong again, but sad that it comes at the expense of a fellow up-and-comer who was doing so well this basho.

Ozeki Takayasu lost for the third time yesterday, when M4 Kaisei used a kotonage [arm bar] to roll him off the dohyo. Unfortunately, the arm in question was Takayasu’s left, which is the one he injured in May’s tournament, and seemed to strain again in his Day 5 win over M2 Ikioi. Takayasu was clearly in pain after his loss to Kaisei, but since the ozeki is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and his record sitting at 7–3, he MUST persevere until he gets that 8th win for kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Once he does that, though, I’m pretty sure we’ll see Takayasu to kyujo for the remainder of the Nagoya Basho.

Speaking of painful kotonage and going kyujo, M1 Kotoshogiku has withdrawn from the tournament after komusubi Tamawashi used an arm bar to throw him off the dohyo. He landed in a heap on an obasan [old lady] and just lay there grasping his right arm and grimacing in pain. (There’s no word on what expressions the obasan was making.) Not surprisingly, he’s been diagnosed with bicep and tricep strains that will take at least three weeks to heal, and so will finish the basho with a 3-8-4 record, which is a real shame because Kotoshogiku fought very hard in Nagoya. His win/loss record suffers from the fact that he’s one of the few rikishi who actually DID have to fight against ALL of the sanyaku rikishi this tournament—both yokozuna, all three ozeki, and both pairs of sekiwake and komusubi. In fact, it’s a testimony to how well he performed that he managed to GET three wins out of that schedule. 

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Asanoyama (8–2) vs. M10 Nishikigi (5–5)—With his loss yesterday, Asanoyama drops two-wins behind the leader. HOWEVER, if he can take advantage of the relatively low level of his competition he’s facing, he can stay in the yusho race. (1:10)
M6 Endo (7–3) vs. M3 Takakeisho (7–3)—After losing his third match yesterday, fan favorite Endo is still trying to get his kachi-koshi eighth win. Of course, so is Takakeisho, who has been using a very interesting style of sumo lately. Should make for a fun match. (7:20)
Komusubi Tamawashi (6–4) vs. M2 Ikioi (5–5)—Both Tamawashi and Ikioi are at VERY difficult rungs of the banzuke, where they must start their tournaments with matches against the top-rankers. Usually, coming into Week 2 with just two or three wins is considered a success, but both of them are doing much better this basho. Indeed, they both seem poised to get kachi-koshi and promotions even higher up the rankings. Of course, only one of them can notch another win today. (11:25)
M4 Kaisei (7–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (10–0)—Mitakeumi has a two-win lead over his nearest competition, and a three-win lead over most of the field. Of course, his opponents are only going to get tougher each day ahead for the remainder of the basho. Kaisei “version A” has been showing up most days, here in Nagoya (maybe because the summer heat is very Brazilian), and if that continues, he’ll for sure give Mitakeumi a run for his money. Also, Mitakeumi has NEVER beaten Kaisei before (though they’ve only met four times previously). (13:15)
Sekiwake Ichinojo (4–6) vs. ozeki Takayasu (7–3)—Takayasu needs one more win to erase his kadoban status. The big question here is about his left arm and how much pressure can he exert with it? Ichinojo seems to have utterly fallen back on his lazy ways, but he’s still a monster of a human being, and Takayasu probably can’t beat him with one arm almost literally tied behind his back. Probably won’t be the best sumo of the day, but it may be the most interesting match. (14:15)
Ozeki Goiedo (7–3) vs. M5 Daishomaru (3–7)—Goeido also needs one more win to get kachi-koshi and erase his kadoban status. He, however, has a much easier path to walk against Daishomaru, who is having a pretty dismal tournament. (15:15)