The blinding hot forge that is the Aki basho is burning bright now. Three rikishi are cast into the fire, and it’s not certain that any of them will emerge with the outcome they seek. Many more are lined up to take their turn in the forge, and the basho is getting serious.
First and foremost, it’s gut check time for Yokozuna Kisenosato. With an Ozeki opponent, we think he is tired, and low on stamina. He faces a mandate to reach 8 wins before the end of the basho, and is entering the toughest part of his schedule. The past 3 days have been rough for Kisenosato, and there may be worse to come.
Tochinoshin needs to find 3 wins. Its clear he is quite a bit less than his normal amazing self, but he’s got to gamberize to his utmost. While we are sure that a fully healthy Tochinoshin could bust out 10 wins as an “Ozekiwake” in Kyushu, it would be a huge gamble that he could get his body ready.
Mitakeumi’s Ozeki bid hangs by a thread. Dropping the match to Ikioi left him little room for what could be considered normal losses – to Hakuho and Kakuryu. But now he needs to reach deep and win no matter what. Perhaps this will motivate him as nothing else has. We suspect he is kind of a strange rikishi, as he does not train as hard as he competes.
In the midst of these story arcs unfolding, the scheduling team has begun to match opponents from further across the banzuke than the first week had seen. Today seems to be “first time” day, with many rikishi facing each other for their first match.
The leaderboard underwent a dramatic shift on day 8, with only the two Yokozuna remaining in the undefeated group. The road to the yusho will get steeper, and more difficult with each day.
Leaders: Kakuryu, Hakuho
Chasers: Goeido, Takayasu, Hokutofuji, Ryuden
Hunt Group: Kisenosato, Mitakeumi, Asanoyama, Takanoiwa ,Yoshikaze
7 Matches Remain
What We Are Watching Day 9
Yoshikaze vs Okinoumi – Yoshikaze needs two more wins to lock in his kachi-koshi, but his day 9 opponent has a distinct advantage (11-8) over their career. Fans continue to wonder what that ugly looking rash covering his body could indicate, but none of the options are good. Okinoumi’s superior mass and reach will be his primary tools for shutting down Yoshikaze’s speed and maneuverability based attacks.
Takanoiwa vs Kyokutaisei – Kyokutaisei returns from kyujo, and shows up just in time for a first ever match with Takanoiwa. These returns mid-basho from kyujo seldom go well, and frequently compound an otherwise addressable injury. Kyokutaisei is probably not doing himself any favors.
Ishiura vs Daieisho – Watching Ishiura now is painful. We can almost know for certain he is returning to Juryo again, and it’s just a question of how bad his final score will be. Daieisho is not doing much better, but has a career 5-2 advantage over Ishiura.
Takanosho vs Daishomaru – A first time match, and it could be a good one. Daishomaru is in dire need of wins, and will take his oshi-sumo up the middle against Takanosho. Takanosho is keeping an even pace in his first ever top division tournament, and should be considered to have an edge in this match.
Shohozan vs Ryuden – Another first-ever match, it brings Maegashira 7 Shohozan against Maegashira 13 Ryuden. Let me guess, matta matta matta followed by somewhat questionable tachiai. Sorry, I think Ryuden has a lot of potential, but he needs to clean up his sumo. There is a good chance that Big Guns Shohozan just uses him as a speed bag for 20 seconds and then pitches him to the yobidashi.
Takarafuji vs Onosho – Normally I would say that Onosho would be the clear favorite, but not only is he missing his red mawashi, most of his sumo has gone walk-about as well. So lets see if Takarafuji can finally score his first win against Onosho.
Kagayaki vs Hokutofuji – I am sure Hokutofuji feels quite disappointed in his first loss, but his match today against Kagayaki could be a bit of a “gimme”, as he has a 5-0 advantage over him. I think getting his kachi-koshi might cheer him up quite a bit, yes! Kagayaki’s sumo, which is normally very organized, seems to be pieced together with all of the left over parts best recycled on clear glass day.
Kotoshogiku vs Asanoyama – A very interesting contest, with Asanoyama’s youthful vigor bringing a foil for Kotoshogiku’s guile and experience. Asanoyama is not afraid to go chest to chest, but we all know that Kotoshogiku will have the advantage in that case.
Tochiozan vs Abi – Abi’s sumo is, by its nature, an all or nothing affair most days. But during Aki it has been working for him thus far. Tochiozan will need to figure out how to get inside Abi’s long reach. Every rikishi that has done that so far in Aki has been able to beat him.
Shodai vs Myogiryu – Shodai’s win on day 8 over Takayasu was the kind of event that could turn his performance in this basho around. On day 9 he faces a very intense and focused Myogiryu, over whom he holds a 4-1 advantage. We are starting to see that Shodai’s improved tachiai is becoming a habit, and it’s a matter of time now before it pays off in higher performance.
Yutakayama vs Chiyotairyu – Yutakayama’s elbow is still damaged, so let’s bring him back, let the Yokozuna throw him around, then let an enormous fellow who uses his tachiai to help compact salarymen into morning commuter trains have a go. I just want Yutakayama’s left forearm to remain attached, please.
Tamawashi vs Kaisei – It’s the 8-8 record between these two that caught my attention. Kaisei is at his best when he can land a grip, and Tamawashi prefers to remain mobile, and keep his opponent trying to react to his sumo. Tamawashi has strength and speed, Kaisei has Newton, Einstein and Hawking. If Tamawashi disappears in a blue flash and suddenly Kaisei looks somewhat more compact, the singularity in the giant belly button is to blame.
Ikioi vs Ichinojo – I give up. Ikioi, what happened on day 8? Was it because you wanted to give Kisenosato a clay sandwich in the worst way? Summon that Ikioi today as well please. We know that Ichinojo will likely put forth some effort and then decide to let you win.
Chiyonokuni vs Takayasu – Takayasu looked quite disappointed after Shodai took him apart on day 8. I am sure it gave Chiyonokuni a lot of hope about his day 9 challenge to the Ozeki. Chiyonokuni only needs a small gap in Takayasu’s offense to launch a blistering attack that could find the Ozeki disappointed again.
Goeido vs Takakeisho – I want to see Goeido the Executioner again on day 9. That guy is both awe inspiriting and terrifying. But Takakeisho can give as good as he will receive from Goeido. If Takakeisho can survive two wave cycles, I am sure that Goeido will get frustrated and impatient and try to pull him down. That will be his ticket to handing the Ozeki his second loss.
Mitakeumi vs Hakuho – The bright fire of Hakuho’s sumo threatens to consume Mitakeumi’s bid to be Ozeki. He has beaten Hakuho twice in their 8 prior matches, and its unknown just how solid the dai-Yokozuna is right now. This will be his toughest challenger to date. The stakes are huge, the drama high, and there is just the thinnest change that Mitakeumi might pull it off.
Kakuryu vs Endo – Endo is just going through the motions right now, and it’s ugly to witness.
Kisenosato vs Tochinoshin – The Aki crucible reaches it’s day 9 hottest, as it blasts two men who both must win. Their 10-9 history is meaningless here. Both are less than 100%, with Tochinoshin likely in better condition. The one saving grace for Kisenosato is that you can count on Tochinoshin to prefer a mawashi battle, and thus it will allow Kisenosato his best chance at defense. The match of day 9, possibly THE match of act 2.