We’ve arrived at the end of Act II. Some storylines have reached a clear conclusion, while others remain muddled and will need to be resolved in Act III.
The yusho race
Yokozuna Hakuho remains the sole leader at 9-1. His only serious pursuer is Komusubi Asanoyama (8-2), who has been fighting at the level of an Ozeki and might get there as soon as January. On the outskirts of the race is Ozeki Takakeisho (7-3); I am not going to list the trio of double-digit maegashira with the same record as realistic contenders.
The Ozeki and aspiring Ozeki
An Ozeki run by Asanoyama would be most timely and welcome, as we are rapidly running out of Ozeki—we’ll be down to two in January, and could easily have only one in March. Tochinoshin (2-3-5) will be a mid-maegashira at Hatsu, while Takayasu (3-5-2) will take over his “Ozekiwake” slot. Mitakeumi (5-5) has failed to seize his promotion opportunity, just like he did after his first yusho in Nagoya last year, and needs to refocus on finishing with a winning record. Goeido will be kadoban in January, and must get 8 wins to remain Ozeki. Only Takakeisho is doing justice to the rank, even if he is less than 100% fit.
The San’yaku ranks
It’s hard to tell how this will play out, which makes for a fun final five days. All we know at the moment is that one Sekiwake slot will be occupied by Takayasu, and another san’yaku slot by Asanoyama. Of the other current occupants, Abi (6-4) is the best bet to join them, followed by Mitakeumi, Endo (4-6), and Hokutofuji (4-6). M1e Daieisho (5-5) has dropped two in a row but remains in pole position for promotion among the joi maegashira; others in striking distance include M2w Meisei (5-5), M1w Okinoumi (4-6), M2e Myogiryu (4-6), and M4e Tamawashi (5-5), although, as the records indicate, all of these contenders would need a strong finish.
The mediocre muddle in the middle
Much of the top division seems in no hurry to secure a winning (or losing) record this tournament: fully 25 of the remaining 35 rikishi have records of 4-6, 5-5, or 6-4. They might as well have been flipping coins for the outcomes of the first 10 bouts! If things continue like this, we’re going to witness a lot of “Darwin bouts” in the closing days.
M15w Daishoho (2-8) is the first Makuuchi man to fall to make-koshi, and he would need to win his last 5 bouts and have good banzuke luck to escape demotion. M15e Daishomary (3-7) is in slightly better shape—he controls his fate if he can pick up 5 wins, and he might survive with 4. Others eyeing tickets for the Juryo barge are M14w Nishikigi (3-7) and M9e Kotoshogiku (2-8). Terutshuyoshi and Shimanoumi each need one more win for safety, and Ishiura‘s recent surge has probably been enough but another victory wouldn’t hurt.
The promotion queue in Juryo seems to get reshuffled every day. The current leaders are J2 Tochiozan (7-3), J1e Azumaryu (6-4), J3e Ikioi (7-3), J5e Kaisei (7-3), and J7w Kotonowaka (8-2).
A quick update today, a few crazy things happening in the real world. Some solid performances today, with Ishiura, Terutsuyoshi, Abi and Asanoyama fighting well.
Nishikigi defeats Yago – Nishikigi gets the better of the tachiai, and although Yago is able to stalemate him for a moment, Nishikigi has the superior position. Advancing, Nishikigi works to lift Yago over the tawara in the Southwest corner, and Yago puts up a brilliant fight. After many long seconds of each trying to out-power the other, Nishikigi prevails for the win. Yago picks up his 9th loss, and I worry that Ogoruma will have a lack of Sekitori in January.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Kagayaki – Kagayaki can’t keep up, and drops to 2 behind Hakuho. Impressive power from Terutsuyoshi today, as he drills in hard at the tachiai. Kagayaki seems to have focused on head / neck attacks, and Terutsuyoshi focused center-mass. We all know which one tends to carry the day. Odd loss on fundamentals for Kagayaki.
Shimanoumi defeats Daishoho – Shimanoumi focuses on relentless armpit attacks, keeping Daishoho high and moving away. With the loss, Daishoho is now make-koshi and earns a spot on that barge headed to Juryo.
Yutakayama defeats Daishomaru – Very soft tachiai again today from Yutakayama. He managed to get inside position anyhow, and went to work. Daishomaru managed to break contact once, but could not convert that into any change in the match’s momentum. Daishomaru picks up his 7th loss.
Chiyotairyu defeats Shohozan – Wow, nice sumo today from Chiyotairyu! An opening flurry of blows rocked Shohozan back, and Chiyotairyu dove in and got a left hand mawashi grip. From there it was like Chiyotairyu was carrying his luggage to the Shinkansen station. One bag for Tokyo, please!
Takanosho defeats Sadanoumi – This match was decided in the second clash following the tachiai. Takanosho got his hands inside and took a hold of Sadanoumi’s mawashi, and gave him no time to react.
Ishiura defeats Tsurugisho – Another day of really great sumo from Ishiura. I am glad he has taken this turn into skill and power, as he does it pretty well. From the tachiai, Tsurugisho was struggling to react, and Ishiura never let up the pressure. A nice little spin reminded me of dear Harumafuji. Good show!
Shodai defeats Kotoeko – Kotoeko put all of his hopes on a face slap at the tachiai, and gave Shodai a clear road to take him to his chest. Kotoeko realizes he is doomed, and attempts an escape move at the bales, hoping to push Shodai out in the same twisting motion. Shodai is too stable for that trash, and gives Kotoeko a hearty shove to the clay.
Onosho defeats Kotoshogiku – I am starting to see elements of Onosho’s pre injury form showing up more frequently, and I think its a very good sign. It breaks my heart to see Kotoshogiku make-koshi, and 2-8 on day 10. This may be farewell to the Kyushu Bulldozer unless he can somehow find the means to rally.
Chiyomaru defeats Enho – Enho with another odd, soft tachiai that might have been better called a matta, but it was fight on. Enho unwisely tries to get some kind of frontal hold on Chiyomaru, but the belly to waist to arm ratio was not ever going to work, and Enho finds himself getting an unpleasant neck adjustment from a fat man. Enho decides to try an escape, but trips on the tawara for the loss.
Tamawashi defeats Daieisho – Traditional Tamawashi sumo, hard, low and brutal. The tachiai goes straight to his face, and both men open up with heavy tsuppari. Daieisho breaks contact, and dives for Tamawashi’s chest, but is deflected out of the loss.
Okinoumi defeats Takarafuji – I think Okinoumi is still riding the sumo buzz from day 9, and uncorks more fantastic form for his day 10 win over Takarafuji. Okinoumi got a solid hold on his opponent, and just kept pressing forward. Straight ahead, but well-earned win.
Asanoyama defeats Meisei – Asanoyama once again displays classic Edo-period form to out-brute Meisei for win #7. Asanoyama stays one behind Hakuho.
Abi defeats Hokutofuji – Abi gets the better of the tachiai, and that is all it takes against his long arm thrust attack. Hokutofuji immediately had to switch to defend or escape mode, and Abi gave him no quarter.
Myogiryu defeats Endo – Endo seems to try a different opening gambit today, going right hand high. Sadly this is straight into Myogiryu’s attack, and leaves Endo with no leverage or grip. Myogiryu advances with power and Endo is out.
Ryuden defeats Mitakeumi – Ryuden reaches for and lands a left hand inside grip, but Mitakeumi has forward pressure. Ryuden manages to stop his advance with a foot on the tawara, and sets up the counter attack. Mitakeumi is usually less than stellar in a yotsu-zumo battle, and a concussed Mitakeumi doubly so. Its a straightforward advance and lift to hand Mitakeumi his 5th loss. At this point, even keeping the Ozeki bid alive seems a bit far-fetched, and we have to hope he can heal up for January.
Takakeisho defeats Kotoyuki – Battle of the thrust-master, Kotoyuki cannot match the Ozeki’s power, intensity or blistering frequency for even a moment.
Hakuho defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama gets a couple of tsuppari in, but Hakuho lands a left hand outside grip, and there is little that Big Dan can do too slow down the Boss. The boss remains at 1 loss, on a clear path to the yusho.
Welcome to the end of act 2. For those of you not familiar with the term, we tend to divide the basho into three 5 day “acts”, each that seem to have their own purpose and goals. Act 2 is where we narrow the field to find out who has what it takes to compete for the yusho, and to start sorting the survivors from the damned. A few rikishi are starting to stand out from the crowd, with a surprising number of competitors continuing to turn in middling performances. Launching into day 10, we are one against presented with a delightful Ekiben for our journey onward to the Emperors cup. Let’s see what’s in store!
Yago vs Nishikigi – Yay, Yago is back! Boo! He’s already make-koshi in Juryo! What’s eating Yago? We want that big bullet head back up here soon, not wallowing in the petting zoo that is Juryo. If he wins today, he can welcome Nishikigi to the make-koshi club as well.
Terutsuyoshi vs Kagayaki – Kagayaki could pick up win number 8 today, if he can best compact powerhouse Terutsuyoshi. The good news: He holds a 4-0 advantage over sumo’s current Sodium Chloride King. The bad news: Terutsuyoshi seems to be back to his Juryo-yusho-winning form, and may finally rack his first win against “Mr Fundamentals”.
Shimanoumi vs Daishoho – Is this a life-line to Daishoho? He holds a 9-2 career advantage over Shimanoumi, but his next loss will be his 8th, and he may take his spot on that Juryo barge. Shimanoumi is not far behind him, which is a shame as he seems to be having an off tournament this November.
Daishomaru vs Yutakayama – I was surprised by Yutakayama’s day 9 loss to Takanosho. He seemed to lose the plot shortly after the tachiai. He needs to bounce back against the struggling Daishomaru, who seems to be eyeing a seat on that Juryo barge as well.
Shohozan vs Chiyotairyu – I am going to ignore the career record, Shohozan is fighting like a wild monster this basho, and frankly I am thankful I am not up there taking the pounding he is dishing out, even on days where he does not win. What kind of brawl is he going to start with Chiyotairyu?
Takanosho vs Sadanoumi – Sadanoumi’s sumo seems to be peaking going into day 10, and that may help him. Takanosho surprised Yutakayama, and I am going to guess comes into day 10 feeling especially genki. This could be a big fight during the first half.
Tsurugisho vs Ishiura – There seems to be a big guy / small guy theme today, and 2nd of that list is this one pitting a struggling Ishiura against the surprisingly wine Tsurugisho. I know I had stated that Ishiura had used up his henka good-will, but that triple attack win may have given him space for one more, especially if it’s fun.
Shodai vs Kotoeko – Shodai is still on track for a good record for Kyushu, but he is about 1 win behind where I had expected him to be, given his low ranking and the general malaise in the rest of the mid and lower Makuuchi ranks. Kotoeko is on a bit of a hot streak, having won his last 3, and finally napped out of his doldrums at the start of the basho. It’s going to be speed vs bulk in this match.
Onosho vs Kotoshogiku – Not quite sure what to make of this match. You have two rikishi that are at their best with strong forward motion. Both have a tendency to put their balance forward and hope for the best. I would normally expect Kotoshogiku to dictate the match, but he’s been much weaker than I recall ever seeing him before.
Chiyomaru vs Enho – 3rd in the big man / little man theme of day 10, we have Enho taking his ultra-busy sumo against the globular cluster known as Chiyomaru. Hopefully Enho remembers he can’t go under that enormous flesh overhang of Chiyomaru’s, and he attacks more to the side this time.
Daieisho vs Tamawashi – Tamawashi has lost his last 3, and is struggling even though he is ranked down at Maegashira 4. We seldom get to know if it’s injury, some illness like the flu that swept through Hatsu last year, or something else that is robbing these rikishi of their power. This should be a straight up slam-fest with Daieisho having a slight edge.
Takarafuji vs Okinoumi – I am looking for a protracted yotsu-battle, with Takarafuji aiming to wear Okinoumi down, and Okinoumi looking for strong combo moves to break Takarafuji’s blocking sumo. They are fairly even over their career at 11-8.
Meisei vs Asanoyama – Asanoyama seems to be focused on staying in the yusho hunt, and has already overcome at least one rikishi he had not beaten before. But as we get into day 10 and beyond, endurance will play a role. Yes, the man has a yusho to his name, so we have hopes he can “hang tough” and stay 1 behind Hakuho.
Abi vs Hokutofuji – It’s time for maximum thrust! Both of these guys will push for all they can in today’s match. All of the Komusubi are doing well this tournament, so I am starting to wonder if we will see two ranks again for January. These two are perfectly split at 2-2 in the past, with Hokutofuji taking the last 2 of them.
Myogiryu vs Endo – I think the past 2 tournaments have been the most consistent I have seen Endo’s sumo in years, maybe ever. I am very happy that he’s gotten comfortable with his sumo and with his body, and seems to be able to do more or less whatever he wants now. The two have traded wins over the past few basho, with neither of them clearly dominant.
Mitakeumi vs Ryuden – Another rikishi that Mitakeumi tends to struggle against, he has only won a single match in their prior 4. Mitakeumi is starting to look closer to his normal form, but he’s still not quite right. Will Ryuden employ his strategic matta today?
Takakeisho vs Kotoyuki – First time ever match. I am expected Takakeisho to trade shoves with Kotoyuki, and deliver about 1.5x the thrust per cycle over whatever Kotoyuki can produce. Takakeisho needs 2 more to hit his kachi-koshi. I compliment him on staying in the tournament, in spite of some challenges I assume he faces daily. As the last Ozeki standing this November, it’s a lot of pressure.
Aoiyama vs Hakuho – It shows you what kind of shape the banzuke is in, as we have Aoiyama facing off against Hakuho today. Although Hakuho has a 20-1 career advantage, I know Big Dan is going to mount the East side of the dohyo and give it everything he has. But I do recall that he was much more fun against dear old Harumafuji. I can see in my minds eye the bout where Harumafuji shows a wave of resignation cross his face, as he dives in and grabs a double handful of pasty white breast meat and delivered a Tokyo … well… twister of some manner. Aoiyama’s reaction was immediate and debilitating. With any luck, Hakuho will go for some manner of uwatenage instead.