Let’s check in with the rikishi and the storylines we’ve been following, shall we?
Hakuho (13-0) has clinched at least a share of the yusho playoff, and will claim his unprecedented 41st championship with either one more victory or one more loss by both Goeido and Takayasu (both 11-2). Let’s pause to note how unlikely this leaderboard would have seemed in the week leading up to the basho, when we thought that Hakuho and Takayasu might not enter due to injuries, or pull out early if they did enter. Hakuho can clinch the yusho tomorrow against one of his pursuers, Goeido, and leads their career series 36-6, including 10 victories in a row. As if he needed any extra motivation, today was his 999th Makuuchi victory, and it has been the Yokozuna’s long-standing goal to reach 1000 (again, unprecedented) top-division wins.
Goeido looks to be in nearly the same form that earned him his sole (zensho) yusho exactly two years ago (notably, Hakuho sat out Aki 2016), and if he pulls off the upset, would need to beat Kisenosato on Sunday and hope for help from Kakuryu to get into a playoff.
Takayasu (11-2) is still in the hunt for his first yusho, and he faces Mitakeumi tomorrow and Tochinoshin on Sunday. If he can defeat these two desperate and dangerous opponents, he needs help from Goeido and Kakuryu to get into a playoff.
Kakuryu (10-3) is out of the yusho race after three consecutive losses. He is now fighting for pride, and possibly the jun-yusho. Tomorrow, he faces Kisenosato (9-4) who leads their career series 31-18. Kisenosato’s return has already been an unqualified success, but I’m sure he’d love to punctuate it with a victory over a fellow Yokozuna.
Tochinoshin (7-6) failed to pick up the crucial 8th victory today against Shodai, who showed up in his “next Ozeki” mode. Like Ichinojo, Shodai can look helpless one day and dominant the next. Tomorrow, Tochinoshin has his turn to try to solve Abi, whom he was able to defeat in their two prior meetings, with the final-day bout with Takayasu looming large over this match.
Mitakeumi (7-6) arrested his five-match losing streak by beating Myogiryu. His remaining opponents are Takayasu and (likely) Abi. Two victories might just preserve his Ozeki run going into Kyushu, where he could try again for 11+ wins, although it sounds like the shimpan department is not impressed with his sumo this basho. One win saves his Sekiwake rank. Two losses would see him demoted to Komusubi.
Ichinojo (6-7) has now won three in a row. He faces Shodai, against whom he is 5-2, tomorrow, and (I’m guessing) Myogiryu on senshuraku. Two victories, and he remains Sekiwake. One, and he drops to Komusubi. Zero, and it’s back to the maegashira ranks for the boulder.
Takakeisho (7-6) is on a four-match winning streak that has moved his record into positive territory. He seeks one more victory to cement his Komusubi rank and possibly earn a promotion to Sekiwake should one of the two men above falter. Takakeisho fights Myogiryu tomorrow, and probably either Chiyotairyu or Asanoyama on senshuraku.
The San’yaku promotion picture continues to look cloudy. Kaisei’s victory today moved him ahead of Myogiryu, who lost. If Kaisei can win against Chiyotairyu tomorrow and (likely against Shodai) on Sunday, he will earn a return to the named ranks after a two-year absence. Myogiryu has a tough two days ahead of him, facing Takakeisho and (probably) Ichinojo. Shodai is also still in the running, and if he can get past Ichinojo tomorrow, we could see a final day promotion “playoff” bout between him and Kaisei. Asanoyama, Abi, and Kagayaki remain in the hunt.
The Juryo demotion picture was clarified significantly today. A loss by Kotoyuki likely sealed his fate, while wins by Aoiyama, Chiyoshoma, and Endo removed them from any danger. The only man remaining on the bubble is Chiyomaru, whose victory against Juryo visitor Yago left him one short of safety. In all likelihood, there will be three openings in the top division. One of them was claimed by Meisei today. Next in line are Yago, Daiamami, Arawashi, and Aminishiki, in that order, with everyone else now eliminated from consideration. With four men vying for what is likely to be two slots, every victory down the stretch will be crucial. Arawashi visits Makuuchi tomorrow in a bid to both strengthen his case for a return and cement Kotoyuki’s demotion.
The Juryo yusho race regained a modicum of sanity, with victories by Meisei, Daiamami, and Tokushoryu putting the trio in the lead at 9-4. Four men are one off the pace at 8-5: Yago, Hakuozan, Enho, and Jokoryu. Tomorrow’s only bout within the top seven pits Yago against Tokushoryu. A further 8 rikishi are mathematically still in it with 7-6 records.