Very much unlike a Yokozuna, I’m in action at the Kyushu basho over the course of the next two days of festivities, to wrap up the first week of what has been a truly perplexing basho.
The rest of the Tachiai squad will weigh in regarding a more comprehensive list of matches to watch, but based on the San’yaku-destroying carnage that has thus far unfolded, I’d like to update my wishes for the tournament with some new things I would like to see… starting with tomorrow.
Mitakeumi Fan Club to Drive Rally vs Hot Hokutofuji
In sumo, when the going gets tough, much of the time someone ranked lower than you eats your lunch and you get going. First-week flat track bully Mitakeumi is about to find that out the hard way, as in the space of about ten matches he has gone from promotion hopeful to losing his grip on sumo’s third-highest rank. On current form, I wouldn’t bet against him falling out of the san’yaku ranks altogether.
While there are no shortage of rikishi at the top of the banzuke who could draw sighs of disappointment thus far this tournament, I’m focused on Mitakeumi for a specific reason: he draws monstrous support from the crowd in a way that doesn’t normally transfer on TV and I’m eager to see whether the jitters start to set in amongst the faithful who show up to support him every day, and what the reaction will be if he drops another set on Day 6 to fiery Hokutofuji.
Right now, Hokutofuji just looks like he wants it more. Both men wear their emotions more than the average rikishi, but where Hokutofuji has shown strong performance even in defeat, the manner of Mitakeumi’s Day 5 exit to Kaisei was totally shocking. He had the better of the tachiai, and then he had Kaisei high. Having raised his centre of gravity, he drove the Brazilian to the edge but then suddenly Kaisei found an extra gear, pushed Mitakeumi across the dohyo on one good leg, and ushered him out. A strong start is all very well but you have to finish the job.
Clash of Styles for Returning Veterans
I said I wanted to see what kind of reception would be granted to the local heroes, and the schedulers couldn’t have drawn it up any more kindly for my first day at the Kokusai Center as we get Kotoshogiku vs Shohozan. Both men are natives to the area. Kotoshogiku enters in slightly better form, but as in any local derby, the form table is going to go out the window for this one and I expect the decibels to smash the ceiling.
The two men have very different styles, with Kotoshogiku’s hug and chug up against Shohozan’s run and gun. Shohozan has got to keep Kotoshogiku’s hands off his mawashi, and if he can upset the Bulldozer’s traction he’ll be in business, as Kotoshogiku often suffers when he’s forced to pivot and can’t keep his feet on the ground. The former Ozeki leads the overall series 14-6 but it’s been fairly even lately, with Shohozan taking 3 of the last 7.
Lower Rankers to Pile Pressure on Takayasu
With all of the final five matches on Day 5 ending in upsets, the highest-ranked remaining rikishi are in for real fights to avoid demotions or kadoban status, never mind challenge for the yusho. Takayasu had just about got away with it before day 5, having been (literally) turned around a couple times and almost dropped to defeat by wrestlers he should be beating before Tochiozan sprung yet another of the shocks of the day and tournament.
Having lost his share of the lead, the problems are going to become more difficult on Day 6. Fellow leaders/challengers Takakeisho, Tochiozan, Onosho, Chiyotairyu and Abi all face more winnable matches than does Takayasu. That’s not to say all of the aforementioned challengers will win, but Takayasu is going to come up against a Tamawashi who’s not only well rested after a fusen-sho gift from Kisenosato, but who also finds himself in good position to regain san’yaku status himself, having already knocked off one Ozeki in week 1.
Can Tamawashi take another scalp, or will Takayasu get his sumo back together in time to mount the yusho challenge that both he and the sport realistically need him to piece together?
Atmosphere to Match Impressive Contenders
While burgeoning superstar Abi is already a much cheered-for name, I’d like to hear the crowd really get behind guys like Hokutofuji, Chiyotairyu, Onosho, and especially Tochiozan. While I don’t think all of these guys will be contenders until the final days, they all have a glorious opportunity to raise their profile and it would be great to hear this recognised by the fans in attendance.
Onosho in particular, due to injury, has missed some of the moments in the limelight that have been afforded to his rival Takakeisho. As he looks to be finding his form, hopefully he can be drawn against competitors higher up the banzuke and re-establish himself as the big name he looked to be with those 30 famous wins he notched to start his makuuchi career.
And as for Takakeisho himself, he has a golden opportunity to punch his ticket to star status. If his fan-pleasing “wave action tsuppari” can flummox the one-legged Kaisei on Day 6, he’s going to have a lot to say about the run to the Emperor’s Cup. If the crowd brings as much energy as we know Takakeisho will, it’s going to be an electric day.