If you do not control your opponent, your opponent will control you
Book of Five Rings
Sumo fans could not ask for a more exiting final Friday of 2016. Across the two upper divisions (Juryo and Makuuchi), there is a mad scramble for the championship. With just a few bouts remaining, there is a broad group of rikishi that could claim the yusho. Recall that by this time during the Aki basho, we were very sure it was going to be Goeido, we just did not know if it would be a perfect record or not.
Going into day 13, no one remains with a perfect record, and the mightiest men in Sumo now face each other, as the Yokozuna will compete against both the upper Ozeki, and their fellow Yokozuna during the last three days. As each of these men are leading contenders for the championship, which sekitori has the lead in the yusho race to change moment by moment during the final bouts of each day.
The idea scenario for maximum drama would require Hakuho to beat Kakuryu, Harumafuji to beat Goeido, Kisenosato to beat Tochinoshin, and Ishiura to beat Arawashi. That would create a 4 way tie for the lead, with 2 days left.
Ishiura vs Arawashi – Ishiura faced a very capable Ikioi on day 12, and Ikioi did not charge head-long into Ishiura’s mini-henke. Time to see if Arawashi learned this lesson as well. I expect Ishiura to face at least one more higher level rikishi before the end of the basho. Ishiura is very evenly matched against Arawashi, with a 2-3 record.
Sokokurai vs Takarafuji – Takarafuji is going for his kachi-koshi again today, this time against Sokokurai. Thus match will likely be a strength test between the two men, with a slight edge to Sokokurai.
Shohozan vs Ichinojo – Shohozan should pick up his kachi-koshi today, as Ichinojo is really struggling this tournament. To his credit, Ichinojo is at .500 with three days to go, and kachi-koshi is still possible for him. Slight advantage to Fukuoka home town favorite Shohozan.
Endo vs Okinoumi – It has been a surprising basho for both of these rikishi. Endo had a very strong start, and has faded as of late. He needs a win here against the injured Okinoumi to make a credible case for finishing the tournament with a winning record. Slight advantage to Endo on this one.
Tamawashi vs Terunofuji – Tamawashi will attempt to score a winning tournament record today against the man-mountain Terunofuji. Tamawashi has been doing well, and Terunofuji is injured – but Terunofuji also just beat Hakuho, so I would say Tamawashi won’t find his eighth win today.
Tochinoshin vs Kisenosato – In the strangest match up of day 13, Maegashira 6 Tochinoshin faces off against Yokozuna killer Kisenosato. Tochinoshin has been (in the past) sort of a one trick pony – he likes to lift people up and carry them around. That won’t work against Kisenosato in any reasonable scenario. One of two things (or both) are happening here. First, it could be that the schedules want to give Kisenosato an easy match to make sure he can play spoiler in any potential play-off. Second, it may be the case that they want to see if Tochinoshin can recuse himself well against a solid Ozeki. Worth watching, but my thought is that Kisenosato will take care of him without too much bother.
Hakuho vs Kakuryu – This is one of the two highly anticipated matches for day 13. Hakuho has to be smarting, having been handed a third loss by Terunofuji. I am going to expect that he is hungry for revenge. Kakuryu has been winning, but he has been reactive to my eye, rather than dominating his matches. Hakuho dominates matches, even in his injured state. I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. Historically, Hakuho has a huge advantage over Kakuryu.
Harumafuji vs Goeido – Harumafuji should be gunning for Goeido. The path to Goeido’s Aki yusho went through Harumafuji, and their match was won at the last moment when Goeido engaged a twisting throw at the edge. I have absolute confidence that the “Good” Goeido will be on the dohyo today. After the brutal “codpiece throw” that is part of the NHK intro, Goeido has a large supply of payback to throw at Harumafuji. This will be, in my mind, possibly the most exciting sumo of the day, even though the Hakuho match will go farther to determine the yusho race. Harumafuji has a huge lead in their career record, 29-10. Go boldly Goeido!
The Juryo-yusho race is every bit as wild as the one in Makuuchi. The sole leader, Seiro (10-2) faces off against Osunaarashi (9-3) early in the Juryo matches. Shortly afterwards, Satoyama (9-3) faces off against Sato (9-3). One of these rikishi is likely to be to Juryo tournament winner, and it’s great to see the schedule putting them head to head during the last few days.