2019 Kyushu Basho: Day 8 Nakabi [The Middle Day]
We’ve reached nakabi [the middle day] of the Kyushu Basho and yokozuna Hakuho remains alone atop the leaderboard with a 6–1 record. The group behind him has been pared down to just five 5–2 rikishi, but only one is ranked in the top half of the banzuke—komusubi Asanoyama. The others are M8 Sadanoumi, M10 Shodai, M13 Kagayaki, and M13 Chiyomaru—not a very imposing bunch.
• Hakuho is in the lead for sure, but it’s also sure he’s not the yokozuna he was even a year ago. His experience and skill will still let him beat most of the rikishi he faces, but his strength is clearly diminished and he no longer can simply dispense with less-that-excellent opponents the way he used to. I know his plan is to stick around until at least the summer Olympics, and that he very much wants to win at least one yusho in this new Imperial Era, but once those are achieved I’m beginning to think that his retirement might be on near horizon. Still, for this basho at least, I’d say that he’s clearly the man to beat.
• Ozeki Takayasu and sekiwake Mitakeumi both won yesterday … but neither of them did it convincingly. They both enter nakabi with 3–4 records, and both are in danger of failing to meet their personal goals. Takayasu is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] and still needs 5 wins out of his remaining 8 matches in order to save his rank. And his matches are only going to get tougher as Week 2 rolls along. Meanwhile, Mitakeumi may already have botched his chance at getting promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank, at least this basho. It’s not for certain, and if he suddenly gets up a head of steam and finishes with 11 wins (and the impressive victories it will take to notch that number) he could still pull it off, but he’s no longer mathematically capable of reaching the vaunted milestone of 33 wins over three consecutive tournaments.
• One rikishi who is bucking the trend and doing exceedingly well this basho is M1 Daieisho. He raised his record to 4–3 by beating hard-charging komusubi Hokutofuji yesterday, having already bested Hakuho and Mitakeumi earlier in the week. He’s at the best ranking of his career and seems poised to make the leap into sanyaku if he keeps up this performance in Week 2. Indeed, given the way most other high-ranking rikishi are performing, with a couple more solid wins he could find himself in the hunt for the yusho.