The yusho race
Hakuho’s unsatisfying and much-discussed win over Takayasu today nevertheless left him as the only undefeated rikishi (11-0) and gave him the sole lead in the race for the championship. His fellow Yokozuna and Day 10 co-leader Kakuryu was overwhelmed by Tochinoshin’s strength (no loose mawashi this time, Yokozuna?), and now trails by one victory at 10-1. The two Yokozuna are the only ones who still control their destinies. The 9-2 chase pack stands at three men: Ozeki Goeido, Ozeki Takayasu, and M13 Takanoiwa. Yokozuna Kisenosato was blown off the dohyo by kaiju-mode Ichinojo, and at 3 off the pace no longer has a realistic chance to challenge for the yusho, although he’ll certainly have opportunities to play spoiler. It feels like we’ve already seen more exciting sumo between high-rank opponents this basho than in several preceding ones combined, and the best is yet to come!
Key Day 12 matches to watch:
The leader Hakuho takes on Tochinoshin, who today looked back to the kind of form that allowed him to beat the Dai-Yokozuna for the first time after 25 losses the last time they met. Hakuho is taller than Kakuryu, so the lift-and-carry approach probably won’t work for the man with the strength of a bear who has the strength of two bears, but the bout is at the top of my must-watch list. Tochinoshin still needs one more victory to clear kadoban and maintain his Ozeki rank.
In the other match with huge yusho implications, Kakuryu takes on Takayasu. The series favors the Yokozuna 12-6, but most of Kakuryu’s victories date back to Takayasu’s maegashira days, and the Ozeki has actually won four of the last 6 meetings, including the last two, in January and March.
With 1-10 Endo finally excused from joi duty, 9-2 Goeido takes on Abi instead. In the other bout featuring a 9-2 rikishi, Takanoiwa takes on Shohozan for a chance to continue his dark-horse campaign.
The san’yaku picture
East Komusubi Tamawashi is make-koshi and will be back in the maegashira ranks in Fukuoka in November. West Komusubi Takakeisho, 5-6, will continue his campaign to avoid the same fate against 5-6 M3 Shodai.
East Sekiwake Mitakeumi suddenly looks very shaky, losing four in a row and 5 of 6 bouts after a perfect 5-0 start. His Ozeki run is almost certainly over for now, and seems increasingly unlikely to continue at Kyushu, and his focus must now shift to securing the two victories he still needs to maintain his rank. Tomorrow’s opponent is none other than Yokozuna Kisenosato, who did not look good today but should nevertheless present a formidable challenge. West Sekiwake Ichinojo will attempt to avoid his 8th loss and the accompanying drop in rank against Kaisei, whom he usually beats (8-3). It probably won’t surprise you to learn that all but one of those matches were decided by yorikiri, so get ready for a lengthy belt battle between the two heaviest men in Makuuchi (combined weight over 950 pounds).
With one san’yaku slot opening up and others hanging in the balance, who has a shot at claiming them? M1 Kaisei, 5-6, would be first in line—IF he can get his kachi-koshi. He is followed closely by the M5 pair of Myogiryu and Asanoyama, both 7-4. M4 Abi, 6-5, is currently in a solid position, but his tour through the upper ranks as Endo’s replacement may put an end to his chances. Like Kaisei, M3 Shodai is highly ranked but still on the wrong side of a winning record. Dark-horse candidates include M6 Kagayaki (6-5), M9 Hokutofuji (8-3) and possibly even Takanoiwa, but they’d need perfect finishes, as well as devastation among those ahead of them. Myogiryu vs. Hokutofuji is one of the juicier down-the-torikumi bouts tomorrow.
The Juryo express
With his 8th loss today, Ishiura is likely assured of demotion, as is injured Kyokutaisei (1-6-4), who has bigger things to worry about. Kotoyuki, who’s been looking better lately, needs a 3-1 finish to be safe, as does Chiyomaru. Aoiyama’s win today moved him out of imminent danger, though he still needs to pick up at least one win, and would be safer with two. Okinoumi and Takanosho could use a win apiece, and everyone else is most likely safe.
Who will be moving up from Juryo? It’s hard to say, since Juryo is a mess, as described yesterday by pinkmawashi. Today’s results only muddled the picture further, with the top 16 men in Juryo (in a division with only 28 slots) all sporting either 7-4 or 6-5 records. Many of them are too far down the banzuke to have a realistic shot at promotion, so the current leaders for a place in the top division are J1e Arawashi, J2e Meisei, J2w Yago, J1w Aminishiki, and J4e Daiamami. Of these, only Yago has yet to appear in Makuuchi. Of course, none of them have even clinched their kachi-koshi yet, nor are any guaranteed to do so tomorrow given the pairings, so who knows how this will play out. Oh, and the Juryo yusho race should be fun to watch down the stretch, with the possibility of the kind of multi-way playoff we all dream to see—like the 8-way melee that took place in Nagoya in 2001!