As Kintamayama has labeled it, “The Wacky Aki” continues to be outside the ordinary. Sumo has been a static or slowly evolving system for a good many years, and most fans have come to expect a specific and repeating dynamic to hold power during a basho. For at least this basho, those forces are gone, and we are seeing host of new rivalries and dynamics trying to form. As the Tachiai crew has maintained since Aki last year, the lack of a strong menacing Yokozuna corps is the biggest factor that is at play. With your typical Yokozuna taking in 10-13 victories per basho, that’s a whole lot of losses to the lower ranks to absorb. Sumo is, in fact, a zero sum game. For every win, there is a loss. For a rikishi that has 15 wins, there are 15 rikishi with 1 additional loss. Add to that an Ozeki corps that takes 8-11 wins per basho, and you define the strong headwinds any rikishi faces getting movement up the banzuke.
For the Wacky Aki, we have a Yokozuna who is now 2-2, and looking hurt (as was expected), 3 Yokozuna in dry-dock due to injuries, 1 Ozeki injured for at least a month, 1 Ozeki that is in no condition to fight, and 1 Ozeki who seems too worried about maintaining his rank to give battle to even the most middling opponent.
Can we turn our hope to the San’yaku battle fleet, who in the last few basho have stepped up where the Yokozuna and Ozeki crumbled? Between the Sekiwake and Komusubi, there are 3 wins, and 13 losses at the end of day 4. The west side has yet to win a single match, and if it were not for Tamawashi playing through the pain, east would not even have 3.
What is the result? The rank-and-file rikishi are calling the shots, taking the lime light (and rightfully so) and everyone is watching in eager anticipation of fierce competition. The result is a lot of oshi-zumo.
Which brings us to day 5 – This is the final day for what I call the “First Act” of Wacky Aki. After this, everyone needs to pay close attention to who can still scrape together a kachi-koshi, and who has an outright shot at the yusho. Much as it baffles me to say it, the chance of “Kotoshogiku Day” are brighter than I would like them. But starting Friday, all of the tadpoles are going to have to work out their emotions of possibly contending for the Emperor’s Cup. Frankly some of them won’t be able to keep their sumo under control, and may self destruct. Stay tuned, as the warm ups are about over. The middle weekend will, more than possibly any time in the last few years, really sort the wheat from the chaff.
What We Are Watching Day 5
Endo vs. Kotoyuki – Kotoyuki make a return from Juryo to face a resurgent Endo. Kotoyuki has been a long time Makuuchi guy, who simply could not continue to compete with the various injuries he was nursing, but is 3-1 in Juryo 3w, and may very well be able to win his place in the top division this basho. Endo is coming back from surgery, and has not practiced much, but is doing very well at the bottom of the Maegashira banzuke. This could be another solid match like the one Endo turned in day 4.
Daieisho vs. Chiyomaru – Daieisho is still in the unbeaten group that features several tadpoles. He holds a narrow 3-2 advantage over Chiyomaru in his career record, but Chiyomaru has been flagging the basho, and is not looking very energetic.
Takanoiwa vs. Arawashi – Both of these rikishi are fighting well, and have winning records coming to today’s bout. Takanoiwa enters unbeaten, and holds a 7-3 career advantage over Arawashi. But Arawashi’s day 4 win over Chiyoshoma looked particularly nice, and maybe we are going to see some additional outstanding sumo today.
Takarafuji vs. Kagayaki – Takarafuji has been quietly plugging away in the middle of the banzuke, doing very solid sumo (albeit, with no neck whatsoever). I expect him to completely roll Kagayaki, who has been pretty terrible at Aki expect for his drubbing of Takakeisho day 4. Kagayaki won their only prior match-up.
Ichinojo vs. Ikioi – A great and magical event happened on day 4. Chiyonokuni seems to have managed to toggle Ichinojo’s “mode switch” from bridge abutment back to sumo wrestler. With any luck it stayed in the sumo mode and we can see him try to fold Ikioi more than 7 times without using a hydraulic press.
Chiyonokuni vs. Takakeisho – Takakeisho seems to have reverted to some larval form day 4, with his charge-and-retreat sumo that got him taunted by Hakuho at Nagoya. Chiyonokuni will chase him down and give him an atomic wedgie if he tries that today, so I expect some very strong oshi-zumo from these two. Chiyonokuni leads career series 3-1.
Shodai vs. Kotoshogiku – It’s as if an earlier, more genki Kotoshogiku stepped out of a time portal from last year and is running crazy with no healthy Ozeki or Yokozuna to stop him. I anticipate that at the tachiai, Shodai will stand up woodenly and embrace Kotoshogiku, who will immediately apply the hug-n-chug. Thankfully NHK no longer shows us views of Kotoshogiku adjusting the butt-strap on his mawashi.
Tamawashi vs. Tochiozan – Tochiozan, if you were going to make a case for being San’yaku, this was the easy basho to do it. But instead this very capable rikishi is part of that ugly 0-4 crowd. Tamawashi is hurt, but I would give him the advantage in spite of Tochiozan leading the career series 10-2.
Hokutofuji vs. Yoshikaze – Also on the “wake me up before you go-go” list is my beloved Yoshikaze. I don’t know if he is hurt, distracted or just plain having a crummy basho. But I want him to get it going, please. Hokutofuji is fresh off of a rather spectacular victory over the lone surviving Yokozuna, and he is likely feeling very genki indeed. Hokutofuji has a 3-1 advantage over Yoshikaze, so I am not hopeful the Berserker will correct his side on day 5.
Mitakeumi vs. Tochinoshin – Contributor and commentator lksumo nailed it, this is the “battle of the disappointments”. Both of these rikishi came into Wacky Aki with the potential to really advance their careers. Instead both of them are struggling to find ways to stave off brutal levels of demotion. Prediction for the fight – both men skip the dohyo-iri, and get shit-faced starting at noon. They show up wasted and giddy around 3:00 PM, and only partially secure their mawashi. Bout ends with a rapid cut away on NHK as both men do their impressions of the final scene of “The Full Monty”.
Chiyotairyu vs. Goeido – Chiyotairyu! Expect the henka. Please give Goeido some dirt therapy for all of us fans, to encourage him to actual do some sumo. Goeido, boot up in 2.0 mode and show that bulked up Chiyotairyu that you’re his daddy. Make us think you have some sumo left, show us some fire sir, or it’s no Okonomiyaki for you!
Terunofuji vs. Shohozan – I am really concerned that Terunofuji does not have the strength to actually do Ozeki sumo. Furthermore, I fear that he is going to get hurt because he is competing without a whole lot of strength. Shohozan holds a slight 3-2 advantage over their career match ups.
Onosho vs. Harumafuji – This one fills me with excitement and trepidation at the same time. Onosho really showed a lot of level headed calculus in his pre-match confrontation with Terunofuji day 4, so we know he is not easily intimidated. Harumafuji is not at 100%, and I fear additional losses may put pressure on him to go kyujo, leaving us in the dreaded “No-kazuna” situation we hoped to avoid. With problems in both arms and both legs, Harumafuji is one bad fall away from intai.