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SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 1)

Greetings, sumo fans! It’s time for the final honbasho [grand tournament] of the year! As always, the November tournament is held in city of Fukuoka on the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, Kyushu—a long way from Tokyo, but certainly with more hospitable weather as the autumn turns into winter. 

September’s Aki Basho was a wild affair that ultimately ended up with a predictable result. Things in Kyushu are set to kick off in a more standard way, with three of the four yokozuna competing and looking healthy . . . but we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. There’s certainly lots of room for surprises and even high drama.

Yokozuna Harumafuji took the yusho [tournament championship] in September, and he’s looking just as healthy here at the start of the follow-up tournament. What that ultimately means is different because yokozuna Hakuho is back, having sat out in September, and in his practice sessions he has looked even healthier and more dominant than he was in the tournaments of May and June (both of which he won). He’s even talking about aiming for a zensho-yusho [undefeated tournament championship], which means he must be feeling strong.Also joining the action after being kyujo [absent due to injury] in September is yokozuna Kisenosato. There remains some question about whether he’s 100% healthy, but clearly he’s well enough to step up onto the dohyo and face all comers. 

The only yokozuna who is NOT competing is Kakuryu. For the past two years I’ve been predicting that Kakuryu is on the verge of retirement, and should probably be encouraged in that directions. It seems like the rest of the sumo world now feels the same way, and rumors about that if he doesn’t perform well (that is a bare minimum of 10 wins, preferably 11+) in his next outing, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] may pressure him to schedule a danpatsu-shiki [a ceremony where his top-knot is cut off and he officially retires]. Of course, if he fails to even ENTER for a few more tournaments, they may make that same “recommendation.”

We’ll have two ozeki again this basho, and again one of them begins kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion]. In this case, it’s not Goeido, who finished in second place in September—though the WAY he did it was thoroughly unimpressive as he lost four of his final five matches, including the yusho playoff. Despite dominating through the middle section of the tournament, in the end he wound up with only an 11–4 record, a pretty average performance for an ozeki, and downright disappointing considering three yokozuna and two ozeki were kyujo. Goeido has looked good in practice recently, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he’s going to underperform again during the tournament, and the he’ll be kadoban for the NINTH time in his career in January. 

Meanwhile, kadoban THIS time is Takayasu, who only participated two days in September before being sidelined with a twisted ankle. Now he MUST get a minimum of 8 wins in order to hold onto the ozeki ranking he’s only held for a few tournaments, after putting in more than year of solid performances to get the promotion. He’s looked pretty good in warm-up matches, so as long as he’s built up enough strength to handle the fifteen-day endurance test that each basho provides, getting kachi-koshi shouldn’t be too much to expect. In fact, if he’s healthy enough to make a go of it, I predict he’ll go all the way with a solid ozeki performance that includes double-digit wins.

We only have two ozeki because Terunofuji’s chronic knee problems finally caught up with him last basho, causing him to pull out on Day 6. Of course, he was already kachikoshi following a weak performance in July’s Nagoya Basho, so he has been demoted to sekiwake. This tournament is his one chance to automatically reclaim his prior ranking IF he can get double-digit wins (something he hasn’t done a lot of since the knee injuries began). It’s certainly not beyond possibility, as when he’s healthy Terunofuji is still a threat to challenge for the yusho. But when he’s not, he can be a complete pushover. His pre-basho matches have been a mixed bag, with him dominating some days and sitting out entirely on others. This doesn’t bode well. But one thing we know for sure, he will push himself as far and as hard as he can. Let’s hope he’s well enough to get the 10 wins, because tournaments are always more exciting when he is in the mix.

The other sekiwake this tournament are Mitakeumi and giant-killer Yoshikaze, both of whom are holding the rank for the second tournament in row. Yoshikaze is in something of an “autumn bloom” late in his career (he’s 35 years old) and has publicly talked about wanting to get promoted to ozeki before he retires. However, with 8–7 and 9–6 records in his last two outings, he still needs to put in three successive double-digit-win tournaments in order to get there, and that seems pretty unlikely. Mitakeumi, who had identical records in the previous two basho, is only 24 years old—there’s still plenty of time for him to take his game up a notch and register the thirty-three wins over three tournaments that are required in order to get promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank.

At komusubi this tournament are former-ozeki Kotoshogiku and young phenom Onosho. In September Kotoshogiku showed that he’s still got MOST of what he had in his ozeki days, taking advantage of all the yokozuna and ozeki absences to put up a 10–5 record. Onosho, on the other hand, is just 21 years old, and this is only his fourth tournament in sumo’s highest division. What’s more, he’s had 10–5 records in ALL of his previous Makuuchi Division basho. If he can somehow manage to go 13–2 this tournament, he will technically have earned a promotion to Ozeki. Of course, this will also be the first tournament where he will have to face a healthy batch of yokozuna and ozeki, so the jury is still out on whether or not he can handle that level of competition.

This is as strong a collection of sanyaku-level rikishi as we’ve seen all year . . . and possibly in two or more years. That should provide the makings of a very competitive tournament. But, as we saw in September, you never know for sure what you’re going to get until the big men square off on the dohyo. Hopefully we have an exciting fortnight ahead of us!

I’ll give my thoughts about the rest of the field in tomorrow’s post. For now, though, let’s look at today’s best matches.

M14 Kotoyuki vs. M13 Aminishiki—Two rikishi who have just been promoted back up the the Makuuchi Division after a few tournaments down in Juryo. Notably, at 39 years old, Aminishiki is the oldest rikishi ever to get promoted up from Juryo. Kotoyuki did very well for about a year in Makuuchi, and then seemed to completely lose steam. We’ll see if either of these rikishi have what it takes to STAY in the upper division again for any length of time. (1:25)

Sekiwake Terunofuji vs. M3 Hokutofuji—As I said above, this basho is Terunofuji’s one chance to win an instant reinstatement to his old ozeki rank . . . but he has to get at least ten wins. To do that, he’ll need to have a VERY strong Week 1, but rumor is that his left knee is still quite weak. (8:05)

M3 Shohozan vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze—Two tough rikishi who both favor the slap-and-thrust style of sumo. It’s always a bit of a street brawl when they face off, and the question is who can get the first opening to try something tricky. (9:15)

Sekiwake Mitakeumi vs. M2 Tochiozan—Word is that Mitakeumi injured his toe in pre-match warm-ups. Will this be enough to throw him off his game? (10:10)

Yokozuna Kisenosato vs. M1 Tamawashi—Kisenosato started 2017 in a strong fashion, winning both the January and March tournaments. But he’s been hampered by injuries the rest of the year (sitting out almost all of the September basho). There remains some question as to how healthy he is, and the proof will be in his performance on the dohyo. (12:20)

Yokozuna Harumafuji vs. komusubi Onosho—Harumafuji lost to Onosho on Day 5 of the September tournament, giving the youngster his first kinboshi [gold star award for a Makuuchi rikishi beating a yokozuna]. Of course, Harumafuji turned his performance around and went on to win the basho. Onosho also did well, earning a promotion to komusubi after just his third tournament in the top division. We’ll see who has the upper hand here on Day 1. (14:40)

 

 

JAPANESE TV ADS: Moist Diane

Sumo may be over for a couple of months, but that doesn’t mean we’re without bizarre Japanese entertainment. Here’s the latest batch of inexplicable commercials fresh off the Japanese airwaves! This time featuring:

• Gel insole school . . . why don’t you get it?!?
• Katie Perry revealing how much she loves laundry (and other things, too)
• The new hotness of the pizza sandwich . . . no, for realz!
• A Duel Master’s commercial . . . no, for REALZZZ!
• Moist Diane . . . she is perfect beauty!
• SoftBank celebrates TEN YEARS of commercials with the talking dog family! (Wait . . . they aren’t retiring are they?!?)

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho Senshuraku [Final Day] (Day 15)

Here we are at last, Day 15, senshuraku [the final day] of this incredibly strange Aki Basho. And in the end, despite all the strangeness, the yusho [tournament championship] will be decided on the final match of this final day when the top two remaining rikishi fight head-to-head. Despite the fact that over the past fortnight there have been more than a dozen legitimate contenders for the title, including the lowest ranked rikishi in the division, it still has managed to come down to the top man—yokozuna Harumafuji—fighting the second-best man—ozeki Goeido.

If Goeido wins the last match of the regular schedule, he will also win the tournament and hoist the Emperor’s Cup for the second time in his career. If Harumafuji wins the final match of the day, the two will finish the tournament with equal 11–4 records, and will go immediately into a playoff match to decide the champion. 

So basically, Goeido has to win one of a potential two matches against his rival today, while Harumafuji must win both of them.

All I can say is that I will be bitterly disappointed if either man uses a henka or other trick play. After everything that’s happened this basho, the fans deserve to have the championship decided by straightforward, honorable sumo. 

Of course, there are twenty OTHER matches taking place today, too. Of the other rikishi, eighteen have already secured their kachi-koshi [majority of wins] while sixteen have already reached make-koshi [majority of losses], leaving FIVE rikishi entering the day’s competition with 7–7 records and knowing that how they perform today will decide whether they will be promoted or demoted for November’s Kyushu Basho. 

I’ll make some kind of wrap-up post early next week to give my final thoughts on this oh so strange tournament. But first, let’s look at the top matches from Day 15.

Four-Man Juryo Playoff—There were four rikishi tied with 10–5 records in the Juryo Division, so they had a four-man playoff featuring several familiar names: J2 Aminishiki, J3 Kotoyuki, J6 Homarefuji, and J11 Abi. (0:50)
M14 Okinoumi (7–7) vs. M12 Sadonoumi (2–7–5)—Okinoumi has looked out of sorts all tournament, and if he doesn’t win today it’s pretty likely he’ll be demoted to Juryo in November. He’s lucky in that his opponent missed the first third of the basho because of injury, and probably should have stayed out entirely. (3:25)
M8 Chiyoshoma (7–7) vs. M15 Yutakayama (4–10)—Chiyoshoma is another of the rikishi still on the cusp of make- and kachi-koshi. He gets the advantage here because Yutakayama is in his first basho in the Makuuchi Division and seems to have fallen prey to rookie nerves. It’s down to Juryo for him in November, and all he can hope to do is grab one more win before the demotion. (4:35)
M6 Ichinojo (7–7) vs. M11 Daieisho (8–6)—Ichinojo is the only one of the 7–7 rikishi that I’m rooting against. He’s put in a particularly listless effort this tournament. Usually he can dominate at the M6 rank if he puts in the effort, but instead he’s relied on being a lumbering behemoth all tournament. Despite my feelings, though, I have to say he’s probably got an edge over Daieisho, who is still pretty green. (6:50)
M16 Asanoyama (9–5) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (8–6)—Both of these rikishi have had very good tournaments, particularly Asanoyama (who is in his first tournament in the Makuuchi Division). If Asanoyama wins this bout, he will get a kanto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize]. (8:10)
M3 Onosho (9–5) vs. M9 Takanoiwa (8–6)—Another pair of rikishi who have performed very well. Onosho will get a kanto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize] for his efforts, plus if he wins he will become the first person ever to get double-digit wins in each of his first three Makuuchi Division tournaments. (8:35)
M8 Takarafuji (9–5) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (9–5)—There isn’t a special prize or particular achievement riding on the outcome of this match. But whichever rikishi takes it will have double-digit wins, which is always a mark of distinction. And clearly they both want it very much. (10:05)
Komusubi Tamawashi (7–7) vs. M5 Takakeisho (8–6)—Tamawashi is the fourth of our “on the cusp” rikishi. He must win today if he wants to remain in sanyaku in November. Takakeisho has had a very good tournament and will get a shukun-sho [Outstanding Performance Prize]. (13:45)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–7) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (8–6)—Mitakeumi is the last “on the cusp” rikishi, and he needs a win in order to keep his sekiwake rank in November. Yoshikaze gets Gino-sho [Technique Prize]. It’s strange to see two sekiwake going head-to-head on senshuraku, but it’s just another way this has been the weirdest basho in recent memory. (14:25)
Ozeki Goeido (11–3) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (10–4)—This is it, the match that will determine the yusho [tournament championship]. If Goeido wins, he’s the champion. If Harumafuji wins, keep watching because they’ll have to come back after a 10-minute break to have a one-bout playoff to determine the winner. (15:35)

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 14)

It’s Day 14 of the Aki Basho, and much to nearly everyone’s surprise, the yusho [tournament championship] is still in question. Back on Wednesday it seemed as though ozeki Goeido had managed to stumble his way into a solid lock on the Emperor’s Cup . . . but then he kept stumbling. With two straight losses, he now finds himself with a 10–3 record and only one win ahead of the competition. In this case, the competition is the best and the worst that the Makuuchi Division has to offer—yokozuna Harumafuji and M16 Asanoyama—both with 9–4 records.

Of course the truly weird thing about yesterday’s matches was that the day started with TEN rikishi at 8–4 . . . but EIGHT of those rikishi LOST their Friday matches, leaving just the two contenders nipping at Goeido’s heels.

The way this tournament has been going, I’d be a fool to say that I have a handle on what’s likely to happen over the remaining two days. Goeido has been lackluster all tournament, and he’s looked practically ill the past two days . . . but he could easily snap out of it bring dominant sumo to the ring for a couple of days. On the other hand, Harumafuji looked terrible during Week 1 but has become dominant here in Week 2 . . . but there’s no saying that he couldn’t go back in the tank over the weekend. And Asanoyama is a Makuuchi Division rookie ranked as low on the banzuke [ranking sheet] as it’s possible to be . . . but if he wins his next two matches, he could be ushered into a playoff where anything could happen. 

Leaving Asanoyama aside, one thing is for certain: Barring injury, Goeido and Harumafuji will fight one another on Sunday, and that match will probably be the determining factor in how this tournament ends. At one point, it seemed plausible that we could have as much as an eleven-person playoff, but now that outcome is back to a mathematical outlier. It seems reasonably possible that two- or three-person playoff could happen, though.

It all depends on how things go today.

M7 Chiyokuni (7–6) vs. M13 Kaisei (8–5)—Kaisei has managed to get his kachi-koshi, meaning that he’ll remain in the Makuuchi Division in November. On the other hand, Chiyonokuni still needs one more win to get his majority, and even though he isn’t likely to drop out of the division if he fails, he certainly WANTS a promotion rather than a demotion. I think that gives him a slight edge in this match, but it should still be a close one. (2:05)
M3 Onosho (8–5) vs. M16 Asanoyama (9–4)—Onosho was a front-runner for the first half of the tournament, but he slipped during the middle section. Asanoyama remains one of two second-place, and he needs to keep on winning in order to stay that way. Onosho, on the other hand, has had 10 wins in both of his previous top division tournaments, and he’d certainly like to do that again . . . but that requires him to win BOTH of his remaining matches. This is a match that will probably be won by the rikishi who flat out wants it more. (6:45)
M1 Tochinoshin (3–10) vs. M10 Ishiura (4–9)—These are two rikishi who are having pretty awful tournaments . . . but they ALSO want to soften their upcoming demotions by finishing strongly. Tochinoshin’s knee is going to be a problem, as is Ishiura’s strained neck, but ONE of them is going to win this match. (8:30)
M9 Takanoiwa (8–5) vs. ozeki Goeido (10–3)—If Goeido wants the best chance possible to pull out his second yusho victory, he needs to win today. If not, then he’ll put Harumafuji in the driver’s seat, and that’s a dangerous place to be. His opponent may be low ranked, but he’s secured a kachi-koshi for this tournament, and he’s beaten Goeido full HALF the times they’ve fought in the past. (Note, however, that they’ve only met twice before.) (14:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–6) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (9–4)—If Harumafuji wins today, then he’ll control his destiny on senshuraku [the final day] no matter WHAT Goeido does. If the ozeki wins, then Harumafuji would be able to force a playoff by beating him tomorrow. If Goeido loses today, then the yokozuna could flat out win the yusho by beating him tomorrow. So despite the fact that Goeido is alone atop the leaderboard, Harumafuji is the one who feels in control of the final results. Of course, if Harumafuji loses and Goeido wins, then the yokozuna will be eliminated from contention. So the first order of business for Harumafuji is to beat Mitakeumi, who is still struggling to get his eighth win. (16:05)

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 13)

Welcome to Day 13 of the Aki Basho, where things continue to play out in a way that no script could have predicted. After managing to build up a two win lead over his nearest competitors, Goeido finally ran up against someone determined enough to give him a second loss. So as long as at least one of the three trailers managed a win, too, the basho would be back to a one-win balance. But the fact of the matter is that ALL THREE of the second place rikishi lost yesterday, as well, which means that Goeido retains a two win lead over his the competition. And only three days remain in the tournament.

Goeido continued to fight the way he has done the whole second half, aggressive but without any real plan or even a hint of subtlety. His opponent yesterday was M4 Shohozan, who is just as aggressive (maybe more so, if you take into account the fact that he jumped too early TWICE before the match actually got started) and just as lacking in subtlety . . . but he was hungrier than the ozeki and so managed to pull out a win. As a result, everyone with an 8–4 record is now back in possible contention for the yusho [tournament championship] . . . and there’s a total of TEN such rikishi—yokozuna Harumafuji, sekiwake Yoshikaze, M1 Kotoshogiku, M3 Onosho, M3 Chiyotairyu, M9 Takanoiwa, M9 Arawashi, M11 Daieisho, M14 Endo, and M16 Asanoyama—all of them desperately hoping that Goeido will lose two more times.

The big question from yesterday’s matches was what the heck happened in to M3 Chiyotairyu in his match against M1 Kotoshogiku? He went down like a big sack of potatoes, almost like he was knocked momentarily senseless. Sure, Kotoshogiku tried a hit-and-side-slip maneuver, but he didn’t execute it THAT well. For some reason, in the biggest match of his career, Chiyotairyu just went limp after the tachi-ai. The replays make it clear that he wasn’t hit on the chin (or throat or head), and Kotoshogiku never got a hand on his belt (or any other part of him) . . . Chiyotairyu just went off balance and fell down.

After a few days of reality weighing down on M3 Onosho’s shoulders, he bounced back yesterday. I think his poor performance this week can be blamed on the kind of jitters many athletes get the first time they come down to the homestretch with a chance to win a major championship. And if I’m right, he’d be in good company. But even better is the fact that he managed to shake that off yesterday, get back to his winning ways, and secure a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] for himself. That makes him three-for-three in Makuuchi Division tournaments, and still leaves him three days to try to amass double-digit wins (which he did in BOTH of his previous tournaments). If he can do that, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] may have to give some thought as to what sort of performance he must put in to be considered for promotion to ozeki (because he’ll have gotten frighteningly close to meeting the general guideline of 33 wins over the course of three tournaments).

But the match of the day yesterday had to have been the crazy slap-fest between sekiwake Yoshikaze and M5 Takakeisho, both of whom were aiming to lock down their kachi-koshi. In the end Yoshikaze won, but it was a great bout that could have gone either way. We can only hope that we get to see more matches of that caliber as the Aki Basho rolls into the final weekend.

Today’s top matches include:

M13 Kaisei (7–5) vs. M7 Ikioi (6–6)—Two well-known, well-loved rikishi who are both struggling this basho. Kaisei needs one more win for his kachi-koshi to avoid being demoted back down to Juryo again. Ikioi needs two more wins or he’ll drop down to the bottom of the banzuke. (4:10)
M3 Onosho (8–4) vs. M5 Shodai (5–7)—Onosho got his kachi-koshi yesterday, now he needs to keep up his winning ways to stay in at least mathematical contention for the yusho. Shodai, on the other hand must win ALL of his remaining matches in order to avoid make-koshi. (5:15)
M7 Chiyonokuni (6–6) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (8–4)—Another match where one rikishi is fighting to stay in the yusho hunt (Kotoshogiku) while the other is still struggling to get kachi-koshi (Chiyonokuni, who needs two more wins to reach that mark). (7:25)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (6–6) vs. M6 Ichinojo (6–6)—Two rikishi who each need to win two of their remaining three matches in order to get kachi-koshi. Mitakeumi has had an up and down basho, looking like a contender some days and looking out of sorts on others. Meanwhile, Ichinojo has just looked like the plodding man-mountain he is, winning when his opponents have no capacity to deal with his size. (11:15)
M5 Takakeisho (7–5) vs. ozeki Goeido (10–2)—If Goeido wins today, he’ll only need one more win to lock up the yusho. If he loses today, then he’ll NEED to win on both Saturday and Sunday to avoid a playoff. (Unless, of course, none of the ten tied-for-second-place rikishi can win out, which would allow Goeido to stumble backward into a championship). (11:50)
Sekiwake Yoshikaze (8–4) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (8–4)—Two of the ten second placers going head-to-head. That means only one of them will remain in the yusho race after today, which really is a shame. But that’s how sumo goes. (12:35)

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 12)

It’s Day 12 of the Aki Basho and the race for the yusho [tournament championship] is suddenly very nearly decided. With ozeki Goeido’s win over sekiwake Mitakeumi and M3 Chiyotairyu’s loss to komusubi Tamawashi, there’s now a two win difference between the tournament leader and his closest competition with only four days left in the basho.

I’ve got to start by giving Geoido his due, after Day 1 he’s found a way to win against every opponent he’s faced, and in sumo that’s ALL that matters. But as a fan, I’m still incredibly underwhelmed by his performance and severely disappointed that he seems to have sewn up the yusho. Goeido began the tournament relying on henka against opponents that he should have beaten handily in straight-up matches, and since then has performed boring and often sloppy sumo. But relieved from the responsibility of facing five of the toughest opponents on the banzuke (due to the fact that three yokozuna and two ozeki are kyujo [absent due to injury]), boring and sloppy sumo seems to be all he needs to outpace the remaining competition.

I had great hope the Mitakeumi was going to at least push Goeido into a challenging match, but the young sekiwake got unlucky in the match yesterday. Off the tachi-ai [initial charge] he tried to get a belt grip on Goeido and missed, then immediately tried to get a defensive position by forcing Goeido into an unbalanced stance. But the ozeki moved forward to quickly and suddenly Mitakeumi found himself in an unrecoverable situation. He didn’t do anything wrong per se, things just didn’t go his way. Or, rather, things did go Goeido’s way . . . which has been the story of the middle part of this basho.

So here we are, Goeido with a 10–1 record, followed most closely by M3 Chiyotairyu, M9 Takanoiwa, and M16 Asanoyama with 8–3 records. And Goeido only having one challenging opponent left on his schedule—yokozuna Harumafuji—who he won’t face until senshuraku [the final day].

The most excitement over the coming days will be as we watch rikishi trying to stave off make-koshi [majority of losses].

M9 Takanoiwa (8–3) vs. M14 Okinoumi (5–6)—Takanoumi is one of the three rikishi tied for second place. In order to keep any kind of pressure on Goeido, he and the others must win their matches today. His opponent, Okinoumi, has looked lackluster all tournament and has a good chance of dropping down to Juryo if he can’t somehow pull out a kachi-koshi, a feat that requires him to win three of his remaining four matches. As I always say, desperation makes for exciting sumo. (2:20)
M16 Asanoyama (8–3) vs. M9 Arawashi (7–4)—Asanoyama is another of the second-place trio. It’s his first basho in the Makuuchi division and he’s already secured his kachi-koshi, so he can count on a promotion in November. But it will be a much BIGGER promotion if he can manage to reach double-digit wins and keep the yusho race exciting in the process. Arawashi, on the other hand, needs just one more win to secure his kachi-koshi. (3:20)
M3 Onosho (7–4) vs. M7 Chiyonokuni (6–5)—The last few days, Onosho has looked like the 21-year-old up-and-comer that he is—highly skilled, but so inexperienced that the doesn’t even know how much he doesn’t know. He still needs one more win to get his kachi-koshi, though, so he needs to snap out of that head space and get back to the sumo that he was doing in Week 1. (8:15)
M1 Tochinoshin (2–9) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (4–7)—This match has nothing to do with the yusho race, but it does feature Tochinoshin and his wounded knee and already make-koshi record showing real sumo spirit against Hokutofuji, who must now win ALL of his remaining matches in order to get kachi-koshi.  (8:45)
M3 Chiyotairyu (8–3) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (7–4)—Chiyotairyu is the last of our second-place trio, and today he faces former-ozeki Kotoshogiku, who is looking for his eighth win that will give him kachi-koshi AND a probable promotion back into the sanyaku ranks. I’ll be honest, I’ve rewatched this match a dozen times already and I still am not quite sure what to make of the results. (9:55)
M5 Takakeisho (7–4) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (7–4)—Two tough as nails, high energy, pusher/thruster rikishi who both are one win away from kachi-koshi. Yoshikaze, in particular, has won seven straight matches after starting off the basho in very poor shape. This might be the most exciting match of the day. (11:45)
M4 Shohozan (5–6) vs. ozeki Goeido (10–1)—Goeido and Shohozan are cut from the same cloth. They’re both combine rough and tumble, street brawl style sumo with bulldog-level aggression and ferocity. In their head-to-head series, Goeido has won twice for every time Shohozan has, but the matches are always interesting. (12:50)

JAPANESE TV ADS: Green Tea Mojito

Time to take a little break from the sumo and sample some other Japanese delights. In this batch of nearly nonsensical commercials you’ll find:

• A Demon Kaka housing boom.
• Green tea mojito . . . DANG! I want to get me some of THAT!
• Maleficent/Nightmare Before Christmas/Disneyland/Sea World mash-up
• A farting sausage party game . . . yes, really!

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Aki Basho and ozeki Goeido stands alone atop the leaderboard. He still has only one loss, but his lead has been strengthened by the fact that three of his four closest competitors lost yesterday, leaving only M3 Chiyotairyu in second place with an 8–2 record.

Even in his win, Goeido again failed to look particularly dominant . . . and that was against komusubi Tochiozan, who has been struggling all tournament. It’s clear to me that Goeido is now the prohibitive favorite to win the tournaments, but it’s not nearly so clear that he’ll LOOK anything like a “champion” in doing so.

Yokozuna Harumafuji, on the other hand, looked strong but was unable to put away M5 Takekeisho and so suffered his fourth loss of the basho. My biggest fear at this point is that in order to save face he will withdraw from the tournament, claiming some phantom injury, and leave absolutely NO ONE who can offer a severe challenge to Goeido.

Before we get to today’s matches, I want to take a moment to talk about yesterday’s Ishiura vs. Takarafuji match. If I had to pick one bout to represent how strange this Aki Basho has been, it would be this one. Ishiura’s sumo is somewhat unorthodox in the best of situations, but getting behind an opponent and then only managing to get hold of his mawashi knot is practically unheard of. Then the match seemed to turn into a veritable Benny Hill skit as Takarafuji chased Ishiura from side to side until the knot came loose and the smaller rikishi wound up in front of him again. The first time I watched the match, I was so shocked that I couldn’t even laugh. 

Despite the fact that we find ourselves with an ozeki in sole possession of the lead as we move into the final third of the basho, this whole tournament has been just as bizarre as that Ishiura match. Nothing has gone to plan, situations that only occur once a century have been playing out before our eyes. This has been a WEIRD tournament . . . and there are still FIVE days left. So no matter how smooth things may be looking right now, I’m expecting that we’ll have at least two or three BIG surprises ahead.

M9 Takanoiwa (7–3) vs, M12 Daishomaru (7–3)—Two rikishi who were in the middle of the mix last week, and now are teetering on the edge of elimination from even an outside chance at the yusho. They’re both 7–3, and the winner will only have a mathematical chance . . . but at least it will be a chance. (13:15)
M8 Chiyoshoma (4–6) vs. M10 Takekaze (3–7)
—These two are both well and truly out of any contention in the yusho race, but they’re deep in a more personal fight—the fight to avoid going make-koshi [majority of losses] for the tournament. Takekaze must win ALL of his remaining bouts to avoid that fate, beginning with this one. Chiyoshoma has one more loss to give, but that’s a razor thin margin here on Day 11. (3:40)
Komusubi Tamawashi (4–6) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (8–2)—Chiyotairyu is the only rikishi one win behind the leader. He needs to win this match in order to keep the pressure on Goeido. Tamawashi, on the other hand, can only afford two more losses in total if he’s going to pull out kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and save his ranking (or even have a shot at promotion). (10:05)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–5) vs. ozeki Goeido (9–1)—This is a big chance for Mitakeumi. If he wants to be taken seriously as a top-ranked rikishi, he has to step up and deliver a top-level performance when it counts. If he can beat Goeido today, it will change the whole tenor of the tournament, and keep the race for the yusho an open question. If Goeido wins today, his lead will feel much more stable . . . and if Chiyotairyu loses in the previous match, Goeido may well have the yusho locked up. (11:30)
M6 Ichinojo (6–4) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (6–4)—It’s really hard to tell what’s up with Harumafuji. Something is bothering him, but he keeps soldiering on like a yokozuna is supposed to. What is it that’s wrong? How serious is it? Well, if he loses to Ichinojo, who has shown almost no signs of life this entire tournament, simply coasting along as far as his 203 kg (448 lb) frame will carry him . . . if Harumafuji loses to him, we’ll know something serious is wrong. (12:40)

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Aki Basho, and we have only one rikishi atop the leaderboard with an 8–1 record—ozeki Goeido. The other two co-leaders, M3 Onosho and M12 Daishomaru, both lost yesterday dropping them into a tie with M3 Chiyotairyu and M9 Takanoiwa for second place.

Truth be told, Goeido did not look great in his victory. He lost the tachi-ai [initial charge] to M2 Aoiyama, but the big Bulgarian is just back from having missed the first seven days of the basho with an injured left knee. After Goeido got shoved back, he made a jog to the left just as Aoiyama reached for the back of his head (presumably to try a slap down) and Aoiyama’s knee left him unable to catch his balance. Goeido still looked a little dazed as Aoiyama fell to the ground of his own accord. So while it’s a definite win for the ozeki, it’s hard to call it much of a victory . . . and it’s hard to think that it provided much boost to his confidence.

One thing it DID provide was Goeido’s eighth win, making him kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and eliminating his kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] status. No matter how the rest of this tournament goes, Goeido will still be an ozeki in November.

Onosho was a little too overconfident in his match against fellow M3 Chiyotairyu. Actually, for the first time, he looked the way I kind of expected him to be at the beginning of the basho—a 21-year-old rikishi who’s just a little out of his depth. Chiyotairyu didn’t do anything that the higher ranked rikishi didn’t do in earlier matches, it just seemed that Onosho had decided the match result was a foregone conclusion, and so he got sloppy. I actually chuckled out loud at the perplexed look on his face as he got up and wiped off the clay. 

At the end of today we’ll be two-thirds of the way through the basho . . . and at the moment Goeido is in the driver’s seat. He is alone in the lead, and he’s only has to face one more rikishi ranked equal to or above him (that’s yokozuna Harumafuji, who he’ll fight on Sunday). But he’s got some tough competitors headed his way over the next few days—komusubi Tochiozan today and sekiwake Mitakeumi tomorrow—so there’s still a lot of uncertainty left in this tournament.

Let’s look at today’s big matches.

M8 Chiyoshoma (3–6) vs. M12 Daishomaru (7–2)—Having dropped out of his tie for the lead with yesterday’s loss to Takarafuji, Daishomaru now must get back to his winning ways if he wants to stay in the hunt for the yusho [tournament championship]. However, the way he lost proved that he’s nowhere near as strong, patient, or skilled as his performance so far would make it seem . . . he just was on a tear. Can he get back on it again? (3:45)
M10 Ishiura (2–7) vs. M8 Takarafuji (6–3)
—In his win over Daishomaru yesterday, Takarafuji proved that he’s stronger than other rikishi his size (and even a little bigger). He’s a tough bulldog of a fighter with lots of experience fighting against top-level competition. Meanwhile, Ishiura has been having trouble this basho. It seems like folks have gotten wise to his favorite moves and he’s having trouble sneaking past their defenses. He’s going to have to go back to the heya [training stable] (or watch more videos of earlier diminutive rikishi, like Mainoumi) and figure out some new tactics. Still, he’s fast and clever, and never should be underestimated. (4:15)
M6 Ichinojo (5–4) vs. M9 Takanoiwa (7–2)—Takanoiwa never had a slice of the lead in this tournament, but he’s been quietly putting together an impressive performance and has been one win behind the leaders pretty much the whole way. On the other hand, Ichinojo seems to have reverted to the man who has no maneuvers or tactics other than being huge and nearly impossible to move. Don’t get me wrong, those tactics can win when your opponent is impatient or lacks the pure strength to carry off a victory. (6:50)
M1 Tochinoshin (1–8) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (7–2)—Chiyotairyu is another rikishi who has trailed the leaders the whole way and seems to be lurking in wait of his chance to strike. Luckily for him, Tochinoshin’s right knee is so bad that he can barely move himself around the ring. Much though I hate to admit it, Tochinoshin is unlikely to get ANY more wins this basho, let alone steal one from someone in the yusho hunt. (8:15)
M3 Onosho (7–2) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (5–4)—Onosho lost his second match yesterday, and he did so looking like an over-anxious, over-confident rookie . . . which pretty much is what he is. He may have looked like a veteran during Week 1, but the truth is that he’s still learning the ropes here in the Makuuchi Division. Still, he’s shown us he CAN perform against tough competition and in tough situations. Today he gets to show us if he can do that the pressure is on and he truly NEEDS to. Kotoshogiku started the tournament looking like the ozeki he until recently was. But after four straight wins, he suffered four straight losses and is still fighting only a little better than even. In point of fact, he’s still fighting to get his kachi-koshi while Onosho is fighting for a chance at the tournament title . . . which cause is more compelling? And which rikishi wants the victory more? (9:53)
Komusubi Tochiozan (3–6) vs. ozeki Goeido (8–1)—Goeido has sole possession of the tournament lead for the first time. His fate rests in his own hands. As long as he keeps winning, no one can catch him. But he hasn’t been looking very confident, and recently has taken advantage of opponents who were either inexperienced or injured. Today the man standing in his way is Tochiozan, who  has been struggling a bit this basho. He’s been moving pretty well, but hasn’t been able to generate enough power to notch wins at this level of competition. Can he summon the strength to topple the ozeki? (14:10)
M5 Takakeisho (5–4) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (6–3)—Harumafuji seems to be back in the groove after some major missteps in Week 1. It would take a lot of rikishi making several mistakes each to get him back into yusho contention, but he can still play the role of spoiler. All of the competitors must come through him on their way to senshuraku and a possible date with the Emperor’s Cup.  (15:10)

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 9)

Here we go, Week 2 of the 2017 Aki Basho, the strangest sumo tournament I’ve ever seen. We start the week with three co-leaders with 7–1 records—ozeki Goeido, M3 Onosho, and M12 Daishomaru–and it’s difficult to say for sure how the week ahead looks for them.

Usually, Week 2 for an ozeki means lots of matches against fellow ozeki and all of the yokozuna, and in most recent basho that meant six very tough matches. But Goeido is the only ozeki remaining in the tournament, and Harumafuji is the only yokozuna—all the others have gone kyujo [absent due to injury], and that means that this could be a relatively easy weak for Goeido, with a match against Harumafuji on senshuraku. But if Harumafuji drops out for any reason (most likely because he’s amassed too many losses and goes kyujo to save face) then Goeido might not have to face anymore strong competition for the rest of the tournament.

The same is true for Onosho, who fought all of the available top-level rikishi in Week 1, and beat all of them (with the exception of Goeido, who handed the M3 his only loss so far). Week 2 for someone ranked at his level is usually filled with matches against opponents ranked around his own level. Onosho, in this case, is performing well above his ranking, and so ought to have a fairly easy time of it.

Of course, Onosho is very inexperienced (this is only his third tournament in the Makuuchi Division) and Goeido has a well-earned reputation for losing matches he really shouldn’t. It’s easy to forget that Goeido is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this tournament because he couldn’t even manage to get kachi-koshi in July (something he seems to do two or three times every year). On top of that, the third co-leader Daishomaru, ranked as he is in the bottom third of the banzuke, is even MORE unpredictable. His results have been good so far, but he hasn’t really dominated his opponents . . . and he’s only going to face stiffer competition if he keeps his winning streak going. So as well placed as all the co-leaders are, I have no real confidence that they’re going to capitalize on these opportunities. 

That having been said, who are the rikishi that are lurking one win off the pace at 6–2? Well, unsurprisingly they’re also a bunch of journeymen rikishi who have only ever rarely had their names mentioned in conjunction with a yusho [tournament championship] race—M3 Chiyotairu, M9 Takanoiwa, M9 Arawashi, and M11 Daieisho. And since this has been such an unpredictable tournament, let’s see who’s in the next tier with 5–3. That group consists of yokozuna Harumafuji, M5 Takakeisho, M6 Ichinojo, M7 Chiyonokuni, M8 Takarafuji, M14 Endo, and M16 Asanoyama.

I can’t wait to see how Week 2 unfurls, so let’s get to the action. 

<<NOTE: Sorry, but I left my match of the day notes in the office, and I’m too tired to reproduce them. You’ll have to watch the whole video and make up your own minds about which matches are the best.>>