2019 Kyushu Basho: Day 14
We’re in the final weekend, and yokozuna Hakuho maintains a two-win advantage over his nearest competitors. With a 12–1 record, one more win for the yokozuna will guarantee him his 43rd yusho [tournament championship], increasing his already all-time record total. Meanwhile, komusubi Asanoyama and M10 Shodai must win their matches earlier in the day to even remain theoretically in the mix (they must win both today and tomorrow, while Hakuho must lose both days, for them to force a playoff).
• Hakuho is in a super strong position. As long as he wins one of his remaining two bouts, he’ll win the yusho . . . and it’s a pretty good bet he’ll win them both. Today he faces sekiwake Mitakeumi and tomorrow ozeki Takakeisho. It’s strange to both ponder how much Hakuho’s abilities have slipped over the past year and at the same time realize that as long as he’s healthy he remains clearly the best rikishi in sumo today and there is no one at ANY rank that can be said to have even a 50/50 chance of beating him on any given day. The yokozuna is going to continue to fade, that seems certain, but how long will it take until he fades so much that he’s no longer the prohibitive favorite?
• Mitakeumi is losing steam again. Whether it’s a follow-on from his head thump on Day 3 or just a slip of the spirit, he enters today with a 6–7 record needing to win BOTH of his remaining matches to secure kachi-koshi. That’s quite a far way off from where he began the basho—hoping for double-digit wins and a possible promotion to ozeki. His position is even tougher when you consider that his opponent today is the seemingly unstoppable Hakuho.
• In similar news, M6 Enho is also 6–7 and needs to win both of his remaining matches for kachi-koshi. He made a good run of it at the highest rank of his career, but he’s stumbled in Week 2 as he got paired against higher quality opponents. I LOVE watching him fight, and hope he’ll be a fixture in the Makuuchi division over the next 3–5 years. But at this point it was asking a little much for him to have more wins than losses against top-ranked opponents. This time next year? That might be a different story!
• We go into Day 14 with fifteen bubble rikishi, eight of them must win both remaining matches to avoid demotion of some degree. I can’t say that I’m very optimistic that even half of those will do so, and I’m afraid that one or two of the other rikishi (who only need one win) will in fact lose on both days. This tells me that I’m feeling pessimistic about the quality of sumo overall. Hopefully they’ll prove me wrong and we can all go into the New Year with expectations that 2020 will be a great sumo year!