With the activities on day 8, the yusho hunt has narrowed, due to several rikishi losing their matches. But exiting the middle weekend, we are still considering 7 sekitori in serious yusho contention. As mentioned in an earlier posting, this seems a bit more like some recent Juryo basho than how we typically see Makuuchi play out. If the lead and chase groups can keep mostly intact, the final weekend is going to be a wild, boiling ride to the end. Two of the leaders headed into day 9 have already faced each other (Onosho, Goeido) so there is no chance to schedule a single elimination bout to resolve their deadlock. We can expect to see some torikumi elevation starting soon to help some of three 2 loss and 1 loss rikishi test their mettle against higher ranked opponents.
I also think that Aki may have one more crazed / chaotic day before next Sunday. Keep in mind that the third act, which starts Wednesday, is all about finishing out the yusho race, and most scheduling is ad-hoc to help drive the final day. My compliments to Yokozuna Harumafuji, who is clearly in pain every day, but gets on the dohyo and delivers. My sincere hope is that he can keep winning, and possibly help pick off some of the yusho contenders this week.
Monday’s matches feature many pairings that are up to 5 ranks different across the banzuke. This may seem a bit lop-sided, but I am sure the schedulers are up against the wall now with the thin ranks, and the out-sized bulge of contenders from the lower end of the banzuke.
Aki Leader board
Leaders – Goeido, Onosho, Daishomaru
Chasers – Chiyotairyu, Takanoiwa, Arawashi, Daieisho
Hunt Group – Harumafuji, Takakeisho, Ichinojo, Chiyonokuni, Takarafuji, Endo, Asanoyama
7 Matches Remain
What We Are Watching Day 9
Nishikigi vs. Okinoumi – Okinoumi seemed to show a bit of sumo on day 8. He is pretty much day-by-day given his chronic injury. Nishikigi is pushing hard to keep in kachi-koshi territory, as he does not want a return ticket to Juryo. But Nishikigi has not really be lighting up the dohyo with his sumo, either.
Asanoyama vs. Chiyomaru – Mr Happy goes up Chiyomaru, and he will likely have his hands full. Chiyomaru is a very large, round fellow who operates via osha-sumo, so if Chiyomaru gets cranked up, it will be tough to over come his attack. This may be a great time to employ a henka.
Daieisho vs. Yutakayama – Though he is now 1 off the leader’s pace, Daieisho is still turning in a fantastic basho. His match against Yutakayama today will be their second meeting. Yutakayama won their first, but I get the impression that will be resolved at the end of Monday.
Takanoiwa vs. Endo – This has the potential to be a highlight match for day 9. Takanoiwa is back to operating in “Demon Hunter” mode, and he has been quite effective at Aki. Endo is actually improving his sumo with each day at the basho, though he is still not operating consistently at mid-Maegashira levels yet. Career totals favor Endo 4-3.
Daishomaru vs. Takarafuji – Daishomaru is part of the leader group, but now faces a solid rikishi 4 levels up the banzuke. Takarafuji lost day 8 against Ichinojo, but he has shown solid sumo, and has dismantled his opponents with patience and skill. If Daishomaru wants to maintain his bid on the lead, he will need to gamberize.
Arawashi vs. Ikioi – Arawashi has been delightful surprise this basho. He has had rather weak performances of late, and it’s fantastic to see him really succeed. Ikioi, however, is doing poorly, and is getting dangerously close to make-koshi territory. Give that both of them love the pushing game, there may be some brutal action.
Chiyonokuni vs. Takekaze – Also in the make-koshi warning lane is veteran Takekaze. Usually he is able to find ways to win, but this basho many of his great strategies are not paying off. Day 9 he is against a somewhat possessed Chiyonokuni who has been fighting well past the end of the match the last two days. Prior record is 3-2 favoring Takekaze.
Shohozan vs. Ichinojo – Coming off the street fight with Yoshikaze, Shohozan has a radically different foe day 9. He’s big, he’s deliberate and he’s not going to care if you hit him a few times. In fact, I would imagine one solid blow from Ichinojo might launch Shohozan a good distance. I will expect the very maneuverable and excessively strong Shohozan to stay mobile and keep Ichinojo reactive. Ichinojo leads their prior matches 3-2.
Onosho vs. Chiyotairyu – I may actually stay up tonight, just to watch this bout. I will rather be over in a moment via a slap down or henka, or it’s going to be a raging war between spheroids. Chiyotairyu has bulked up this basho, and he is using that extra mass to plow his way through everyone, including fans, shimpan, a gyoji and most of his opponents. Onosho on the other hand seems to be studying footage of the rikishi he is facing, and I am eager to see what his strategy will be. I expect Chiyotairyu to try to blast him straight from the tachiai. Their record is tied at 2-2.
Tamawashi vs. Yoshikaze – Long term fans of the berserker know he tends to get his face beat up in any given basho, and it seems that day 8 was his day to bleed. Now he is facing Tamawashi, who wants his sekiwake slot back. Tamawashi comes off the line hard and strong, and Yoshikaze tends to catch that with his head. So more blood on the dohyo I would guess. Yoshikaze is favored 10-8 in career totals.
Mitakeumi vs. Takakeisho – Mitakeumi, it’s time to consider if you are going to stay sekiwake. You want to evolve to Ozeki form? This is the time to gamberize. Takakeisho showed day 8 that he does not give up and fights through no matter what. It carried the day for him Sunday, can he overwhelm Lord Tadpole Mitakeumi? Takakeisho won their only prior match, which was this past Nagoya basho.
Aoiyama vs. Goeido – This unlikely match has Goeido written all over it. But perhaps the big Bulgarian may find a way to overcome Goeido. The Ozeki may revert back to his defensive “anything but attack” mode from last week, which would be a shame. I look for Aoiyama to try and plant his feet firmly and use his superior reach and massive strength to take control of the match. Goeido will likely try to blast him from dohyo at the tachiai. Advice to the man-mountain Aoiyama, just keep your feet solid, stand up and bring that massive right hand across Goeido’s face. Statistics favor Goeido 18-3, so if Aoiyama can produce anything against the lone surviving Ozeki, will be a significant accomplishment.
Shodai vs. Harumafuji – It’s like Godzilla vs Bambi. Somewhere inside Shodai there is a really great sumotori that peeks out once in a while. What does it take to trigger him? Is it like The Incredible Hulk? Does it take the right kind of Chanko? Unless “Beast Mode” Shodai makes an appearance, Harumafuji will move closer to his kachi-koshi.