The end of a fantastic basho draws near. As the day starts, the yusho is not yet decided for certain, although Hakuho is the clear front-runner. Tochinoshin still lacks the kachi-koshi he needs to escape from kadoban, Mitakeumi’s Ozeki bid is shot down in flames and he simply struggles to stay Sekiwake, most of the juryo promotions and demotions are as yet undecided, the bulk of Makuuchi still has neither eight wins nor eight losses, and there’s everything to fight for. Most amazingly of all, and an immensely refreshing change from the last year of sumo: the three Yokozuna and three Ozeki are still fighting every day and they’re all looking pretty genki!
Since Bruce – the lucky git – is watching this in person, I’ll be giving you my Youtube-eye view of today’s bouts with the benefit of slow-motion replay but the detriment of not being able to feel the roar of the crowd or eat delicious bento boxes.
Yago – Chiyomaru. As much as I like Chiyomaru, I’m really rooting for the Juryo newcomer! At 8-4 and J2w, he stands a decent chance of securing a promotion to Makuuchi for the first time. Sadly, he can’t manage it, but this is a fun, spirited bout. Although Chiyomaru is usually considered an oshi-zumo specialist, Yago is able to drive him back with pushes and thrusts, twice resisting being slapped down, and then goes chest-to-chest, gets the belt grip, drives forward… and is thrown down. Chiyomaru avoids make-koshi for another day, and it looks like he’ll be able to stay in Makuuchi.
Sadanoumi – Ishiura. With nine losses already, Ishiura was going back to Juryo regardless of the outcome of this match. Ishiura’s low sumo is spirited, but a slap-down attempt sees him stagger almost all the way across the dohyo, and while recovering he’s levered upright and driven out.
Yoshikaze – Daishomaru. A head-cracker tachiai followed by a brief struggle, with Daishomaru staggering out from remarkably little contact. The secret is in the slow-motion replay: when Daishomaru tries to pull away, his foot slips and his head collides firmly with Yoshikaze’s next hand thrust, which seems to knock him silly for a moment. Daishomaru is now make-koshi.
Hokutofuji – Nishikigi. Wow. Match of the day material right here! This is the first meeting between these two (the 0-1 record is actually the result of a fusen), and they seem remarkably well-matched! Nishikigi’s tachiai is shodai-like in its slothfulness, and he spends the first half of the match in frantic retreat – but then he establishes a good, strong right-overarm left-underarm grip and Hokutofuji just cannot manage the grip change. Lifted onto tiptoes and driven back to the bales, Hokutofuji attempts a risky utchari throw, and appears to prevail! However, the slow-motion replay footage shows Hokutofuji’s heel touching down outside the tawara during his throw, the gyoji’s verdict is overturned by the shimpan, and Nishikigi gets a very hard-fought kachi-koshi.
Ryuden – Kotoshogiku. This one should be interesting, given Ryuden’s skill at getting a moro-zashi and Kotoshogiku’s skill at keeping his opponent’s arms bound high while his belly does the work. My prediction? This will be decided on the tachi-ai. If Ryuden gets a good belt grip, he’s won; if he gets his arms locked up he’s lost.
My prediction turns out to be entirely accurate – Ryuden gets a solid grip with both hands, left-inside right-outside, and while Kotoshogiku does manage to dislodge that left hand he can’t keep it off. Ryuden all the way.
Takarafuji – Chiyoshoma. Showing shades of Hokutofuji’s style, Chiyoshoma launches directly into a nodowa right from the tachiai. Takarafuji seems to be completely unable to deal with it right up to the point where Chiyoshoma lets it drop, sidesteps, and slaps him into a stagger that ends with him doing the splits.
Kotoyuki – Tochiozan. Nine-rank difference. The schedulers are not feeling kind to Kotoyuki. He launches into a strong offense with thrusts and nodowa, and just as I think he might be winning, Tochiozan isn’t there any more and Kotoyuki goes bowling into the crowd. Kotoyuki is make-koshi and unless he wins out, he’ll be going to Juryo for sure. A 7-8 record might just see him demoted to M16w.
Kagayaki – Takanoiwa. A tricky match to follow, since the critical thing is the way they control each others arms. You’ll want to watch the slow-motion replay a few times, I think. Takanoiwa takes entirely too long to realize he’s losing, and by the time he starts a throw attempt he’s already going out.
Daiesho – Asanoyama. Another fun match! Daiesho has a clear power advantage, but the number of times Asanoyama makes a miraculous recovery is truly impressive. Sadly, he can’t keep it up forever and is forced out.
Chiyonokuni – Kaisei. Chiyonokuni’s offence is good but he just can’t move that much weight. In the end, his tsuppari is deflected, giving Kaisei a perfect opportunity to seize a left overarm mawashi grip, and it’s all over.
Tamawashi – Takakeisho. Takakeisho’s wave-action tsuppari just blows his opponent away. Next!
Chiyotairyu – Ichinojo. Can Chiyotairyu’s power-tachiai and tsuppari barrage move 500 lbs of wrestler? Ahahaha. No. Not even close. Ichinojo avoids make-koshi for another day, and Chiyotairyu looks so lacklustre I worry he’s injured rather than just demoralized.
Mitakeumi – Myogiryu. After a blistering start, Mitakeumi is at a woeful 6-6 and people are saying his Ozeki bid might have to start over from scratch rather than being just delayed by another tournament. Myogiryu, being just outside the joi-jin, has his kachi-koshi already, although it looks like the schedulers are eager to have him fight lower san’yaku opponents now. Mitakeumi wins it – as he really should do – but his sumo looks slothful and underpowered compared to the first few days of the basho. Injury? Unlikely. Morale problems? Maybe. Plain lack of stamina? That would be my guess.
Shodai – Tochinoshin. Amazing bout. It’s definitely Nodowa Day – even Tochinoshin is getting in on the throat-pushing action before the battle goes chest-to-chest. The Ozeki has the strength and he has the reach, but he just can’t seem to get the grip he wants. He manages to force Shodai back to the bales anyway, and then he lunges, gets the grip for the barest moment, loses it, lunges again with the other hand and gets the right inside grip… and is thrown down beautifully. Had the bout gone the other way, Shodai would be MK and Tochinoshin would be KK. Tochinoshin will get Abi tomorrow, and Takayasu the day after. There are worse situations than “your last chance to clear your kadoban status is against a very genki-looking Takayasu”, but not many.
Speaking of Tochinoshin’s future opponents…
Abi – Takayasu. We’ve seen lots of answers and attempted answers to Abi’s long-limbed tsuppari barrage. This might be a new one. Takayasu spends the entire bout leaning to the right. I don’t really understand the mechanics of this – I assume he’s trying to deflect the tsuppari so he can reach in and get a belt grip on one side or the other, but he never manages it. Eventually, after maneuvering around the ring, he launches into a tsuppari barrage of his own and sends Abi out – pausing to catch him and avoid an injurious fall.
Kisenosato – Hakuho. Kisenosato already has a good enough record to stop worrying about intai for now, and while he undoubtedly wants more, Hakuho is undefeated and two bouts away from a certain yusho. It’s pretty clear who’s going to be the most motivated to succeed. And while Kisenosato does put up a very strong defense, he doesn’t manage to outlast Hakuho’s stamina or find a weakness, and is ultimately forced out. With a win over Goeido tomorrow, Hakuho will clinch yet another yusho.
Kakuryu – Goeido. I’m not sure what quirk of scheduling caused the two-Yokozuna match-up to be before the musubi-no-ichiban, but here we are. Until his two defeats against the other Ozeki, Kakuryu was looking unbeatable. After an unexpected matta from Kakuryu, the bout is over in the blink of an eye – Goeido is clearly on the ball and eager to do his own style of forward-moving sumo, the Yokozuna retreats, and Goeido is so fast that there’s simply no time for the attempted pull-down. Kakuryu is now out of the yusho race regardless of what happens to Hakuho.