Welcome to Nakabi! It’s the middle day of the Aki basho, and it’s been a welcome throwback to the sumo of two years ago, with the great and the strong stomping through the torikumi, leveling devastation on the records of the upper Maegashira, and everyone wondering where this level of excitement has been for the last year. While we all hope that this is a harbinger of a return to full tournaments full of healthy and combative Ozeki and Yokozuna, it may be more of a brief respite from the slow fade into the next generation of leading athletes.
Much to our surprise, Yutakayama has returned to the basho, and as a welcome-back gift, the scheduling crew has assigned him to face Hakuho for day 8. Depending on how severe his elbow injury was, it may get much worse in any fight against The Boss.
As is customary, on day 8 we begin to watch the yusho race. There are an impressive four rikishi who remain undefeated, and another four with only one loss. For the next several days, we will see the team that creates the torikumi (the match schedule) work to pare down this list to just a handful of competitors during the final act of the basho. At the moment, all three Yokozuna, two of the Ozeki and three lower ranked rikishi are all in the running. This can only mean one thing – some powerful sumo in the days ahead.
Leaders: Kakuryu, Hakuho, Takayasu, Hokutofuji
Chasers: Kisenosato, Goeido, Mitakeumi, Ryuden
Hunt Group: Tochinoshin, Abi, Asanoyama, Takanoiwa, Yoshikaze
8 Matches Remain
What We Are Watching Day 8
Kotoyuki vs Aminishiki – Uncle Sumo returns to Makuuchi to fill the imbalance in the banzuke, and he faces the struggling Kotoyuki. I note with some disappointment that Kotoyuki seems to have returned to his habit of taking a dive into the crowd and staying there for prolonged periods of time. They are evenly matched at 4-4. If Aminishiki keeps up his pace, he is a good bet for a record setting return to Makuuchi.
Sadanoumi vs Yoshikaze – After a blistering 5-0 start to Aki, Yoshikaze has dropped two bouts in a row, neither of which were against overwhelming opponents. His fans (myself included) hope this is not a reversion to whatever injury or malady caused him to lose day after day in Nagoya.
Aoiyama vs Nishikigi – I would expect Aoiyama to club the smaller Nishikigi into oblivion with his massive arms. But each match during Aki has been an exercise in seeing what way Aoiyama would stumble, fall or tumble for a loss. It’s a good bet he has trouble with one or both legs, and is trying to make it through the tournament any way he can.
Hokutofuji vs Ryuden – An interesting match as it pairs a 1-loss rikishi in Ryuden with an undefeated rikishi in Hokutofuji. Given that Hokutofuji is 4 ranks higher in the banzuke, this is Ryuden’s invitation to drop off the leaderboard, but Ryuden holds a 2-1 career advantage. If Hokutofuji wins, he gets an early kachi-koshi.
Kotoshogiku vs Onosho – Also in the “likely hurt” category is Onosho. His oshi style of sumo will be a bit of extra work for Kotoshogiku, but I suspect that Onosho may be too banged up to keep the Kyushu Bulldozer from belly bumping him out of the ring.
Takarafuji vs Asanoyama – First ever match between the two, Asanoyama has been executing some top-rate sumo for Aki, while Takarafuji has been struggling. I will guess that Asanoyama holds a slight edge, and will likely take a lot of punishment during the first moments of the match, then surge with an attempt to disrupt and defeat Takarafuji. Hopefully we will see some good strategic sumo.
Shohozan vs Abi – As strategic as the prior match might be, this will be pure, raw, high-energy chaos. Both rikishi love a wild fight with arms, legs and anything else flailing about in a vortex of sumo combat. Abi holds a 3-1 advantage over “Big Guns”, and for reasons I can’t explain, Abi-zumo still seems to be working.
Endo vs Chiyotairyu – Also in the “too hurt to fight credibly” bin, we find dear old Endo. You’re not fooling anyone, especially Chiyotairyu who has the kinetic energy to launch you back into the shitaku-beya from the tachiai.
Kaisei vs Takakeisho – Another fine puzzle for Takakeisho, the man who seems to approach each challenge with an undaunted mental state where he is convinced today is the day he can do anything. He has never beaten Kaisei. It remains to be seen if he can beat Kaisei. Kaisei usually comes to the match having had some food that day, because otherwise he might be tempted to squash and eat Takakeisho. But we know Takakeisho is going to step on the dohyo and blaze away. Maybe today IS his day.
Mitakeumi vs Ikioi – A gimme for Mitakeumi? Ikioi has never beaten him, and has ZERO wins at Aki. A loss today for Ikioi, and he is make-koshi. Who else thinks Ikioi and Endo should go home now and see the doctor Monday morning? Ah well, that’s not the sumo way. Thus far Mitakeumi continues to chart a steady course towards his Ozeki goal, but he has to make it through the remaining Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks first.
Goeido vs Tochinoshin – It’s a bit early for the Ozeki wars to start, but we are excited for this match. Tochinoshin is in dire need of 3 wins, but right now the upgraded Goeido 2.2 seems to be fighting about as well as you could ever want. Tochinoshin will want to slow the match down and use his amazing strength. Goeido will want to create a blaze of chaos at the tachiai to keep Tochinoshin guessing what to do next while Goeido disrupts his sumo and blows him out of the ring. Match history of 15-10 favoring Goeido means only one thing – each of them as a battle plan.
Shodai vs Takayasu – Is today the day that Shodai rallies and takes down a much higher ranked opponent? No, sadly I am pretty sure it won’t be. Whatever Takayasu’s injuries were at the start of Aki, he has put them aside and is dominating every match. A day 8 kachi-koshi would be a wonderful mark, and this match is a good opportunity to do just that.
Kakuryu vs Ichinojo – I am fairly sure Ichinojo will be vacating his Sekiwake slot for Kyushu unless he rallies and uses that enormous body of his for something. Right now I am sure he is trying to get his old job as a piling in the Yokohama sea wall back, just in case. What will Kakuryu do to him day 8? I am pretty sure the Yokozuna will win, but won’t risk injury to Ichinojo.
Kisenosato vs Tamawashi – I think we are going to see Kisenosato struggle and possibly lose this match. I say this because he seems to be running short of the overwhelming strength in the early match that is a hallmark of his wins. Tamawashi is no easy challenger, and if he can get Kisenosato moving in response to his oshi-attacks, the Yokozuna will be in deep trouble. A genki Kisenosato has a very heavy stance, and moves like a mountain on parade. He showed some of that earlier in the basho, but he has gotten lighter each day. We are all pulling for him to hit at least 8.
Yutakayama vs Hakuho – Welcome back from kyujo, Yutakayama! We would like you to be shot from a cannon into the Sumida river, but the cannon is out for maintenance. So you get to fight Hakuho instead. A win today would be his 800th as a Yokozuna. I have heard a rumor that they are going to invent new records just so he can put his name on them, such as most harite during a tachiai.