Unless something very odd happens, the yusho will be taken by Shodai, Tokushoryu or Takakeisho. Let that sink in. One of them is a fairly green Ozeki, who has already won more championships than Takayasu ever did (hey, I am a Takayasu fan!). One is the last man on the banzuke, and the final one (Shodai) is almost unlikely as Tokushoryu. We live in strange and fantastic times as sumo fans, and I think the unpredictability and excitement that this brings is a refreshing change from the past 10 years. Oh I do miss Harumafuji and a healthy Kisenosato, but this will mark the 4th time in the past year that the cup will go home with someone other than a Mongolian Yokozuna.
If somehow Takakeisho takes his second cup, it could very well mark a potential for a new Yokozuna in 2020. Not that I think Takakeisho is ready, but the lack of active Yokozuna coupled with a rikishi who can predictably take the yusho amidst depleted senior ranks would be grounds to give him the rope. I would even go so far as to guess that should he manage to get the Yusho for Hatsu, it would be in the best interest of sumo to encourage the last two relic Yokozuna to rest until May. A free pass to come back healthy and test the new rope-holder would be a solid outcome for the sport, and allow Hakuho and Kakuryu to gracefully exit, having passed the torch on to the Reiwa generation.
But that requires someone – anyone – to stop the two leaders, and both of them seem to be up to any challengers thus far. I note that Shodai beat Takakeisho on day 9, and even a playoff would be a severe test for Takakeisho, who I am convinced is not back to 100% with that pectoral muscle. That may account for the fact that he has gone chest to chest a few times, and we have not yet seen the wave action tsuppari this basho.
Leaders: Shodai, Tokushoryu
Hunt Group: Hokutofuji, Yutakayama, Kagayaki
3 matches remain
What We Are Watching Day 13
Tsurugisho vs Azumaryu – Tsurugisho actually stands a chance of winning today, in spite of his injuries. He holds an 11-3 career advantage over Azumaryu, so it seems he has a recipe for grabbing Azumaryu and escorting him out. A loss today would give Azumaryu a make-koshi, and nominate him to the ever looming Juryo demotion queue.
Chiyotairyu vs Tochiozan – A genki Tochiozan can keep the thunder spirit that sometimes visits Chiyotairyu in the box. In spite of a 6-3 career lead over Tochiozan, Chiyotairyu is not in good condition right now, and is probably just looking to make sure he’s not demoted. A loss today for Chiyotairyu would be make-koshi.
Kiribayama vs Ishiura – A first time match, the already kachi-koshi Kiribayama will face off against a resurgent Ishiura, who lost 6 of his first 8. Since then he has won 4 in a row by switching up his sumo, and reverting back to straight ahead grab and tug techniques that he sometimes executes better than Enho.
Sadanoumi vs Kaisei – Both men come in 6-6, needing to win 2 of their last 3 to reach kachi-koshi. Kaisei will bring size and power against Sadanoumi’s speed and agility.
Tokushoryu vs Yutakayama – This is meant to be a tough match for Tokushoryu, and I firmly believe that it will live up to that expectation. Both men are already kachi-koshi, and they are evenly matched, 2-3 over their career. A loss today can knock Tokushoryu out of the leader group. A win today will give Yutakayama double digits, and a kick into the joi-jin for March.
Takanosho vs Chiyomaru – Takanosho needs 2 wins by the end of Sunday to mark his 4th consecutive kachi-koshi. He is evenly split (2-2) with Chiyomaru, who will try to slap him down immediately at the tachiai. If Takanosho can take the match longer than about 10 seconds, he gains the upper hand, as Chiyomaru tends to run out of stamina quickly.
Terutsuyoshi vs Ryuden – Matching 8-4 records, evenly matched 2-2 over their careers. This is a match of roughly equal potential on both sides, and it will be a question of who gets inside early and can push. Terutsuyoshi has only won 2 of his last 5, so he may be ready for a rally.
Aoiyama vs Ikioi – With a loss today, Ikioi will be make-koshi, and have to possibly find his seat on the Juryo barge. He holds a slight (14-10) edge over Aoiyama over the 24 match career history. After opening with a dark streak of black stars, Ikioi has won 3 out of the last 4, and is on a bit of a recovery streak going into today’s match. Can he “win out” and make his 8?
Kotoeko vs Onosho – Kotoeko is doing quite poorly now, and I am assuming lksumo may spell out just how many losses he would need before he joins the Juryo queue [he is already ticketed for the second division. -lksumo]. Against all expectations, Onosho has won 6 of the last 8 after an 0-4 start to Hatsu. He still needs 2 more to reach 8, but maybe he can do it.
Kagayaki vs Shodai – As much as I am a Kagayaki booster, I doubt he’s got enough sumo right now to really challenge Shodai. His 1-4 career record against the yusho race co-leader backs that up, but Kagayaki’s sumo is solid enough that he might just get lucky.
Tamawashi vs Shimanoumi – Another first-time matchup sees already make-koshi Tamawashi up against 7 loss Shimanoumi, who needs to win out to reach 8. Given that Shimanoumi tends to win by grabbing a hold of his opponents, he will first have to get past Tamawashi’s offense, which is based on hitting people and moving rapidly.
Hokutofuji vs Mitakeumi – Although neither of them has any shot at the yusho, this is a high interest match. These two tend to bash each other mercilessly when they fight, and Mitakeumi really needs another win to begin to slowly work his way back to the upper ranks. Hokutofuji has been on fire this basho, and I am expecting him to reach double digits before they toss the gyoji Sunday evening.
Kotoshogiku vs Myogiryu – Battle of sadness; both are make-koshi, both are grizzled veterans who are feeling father time grinding down their bodies. They are tied 12-12 over their long careers, so it will come down to which one can muster enough strength to win. Brutal, ugly match.
Endo vs Okinoumi – Sure, let’s have a mini-Darwin match between the fading Endo and the seemingly timeless Okinoumi. Both come in looking for 1 more win to reach kachi-koshi, and both of them can be counted on to go for the mawashi at the tachiai.
Shohozan vs Daieisho – Speaking of grizzled veterans, Shohozan needs 2 more wins for kachi-koshi, and he’s against Daieisho, who is already at 8 losses. Shohozan dominates Daieisho, leading their career matches 4-1.
Abi vs Enho – Yet another first time match, and a huge clash of sumo styles. Abi always wants to go double arm against his opponent’s neck and chest, but I am personally unsure if he can reach that low. Enho will evade, and try to grab and pull one of Abi’s long arms. Abi’s balance challenges will be front and center in this match, but if the Komusubi can catch Enho with those thrusts even once, the power pixie might get airborne.
Asanoyama vs Takarafuji – Another somewhat ugly match, Asanoyama holds a 5-1 advantage over Takarafuji, who needs 3 wins to finish with 8. His next loss and he is make-koshi. Asanoyama needs 1 more win to hold onto Sekiwake 1 East, which is a good rank for him right now.
Tochinoshin vs Goeido – Sure, let’s take these two fading Heisei legends and have them fight each other. 28-match history favors Goeido 18-10. The next loss will be make-koshi for Tochinoshin, and down the banzuke he goes for March.
Takakeisho vs Takayasu – Takakeisho really needs this win, and I expect that Takayasu is in no condition to put up too much of a fight. His left arm was questionable at the start of the basho, and after 12 days of opponents going hard after his injured elbow, it’s a wonder that thing is still attached.