We go screaming into the final weekend of this tournament with the very real possibility of a double-digit Maegashira taking the cup on day 15. As has been said by sumo luminaries much more accomplished than myself, in this day—everyone is a contender. As lksumo has assured me many times, the schedule mostly goes by a well-understood formula, and that means that a lower-ranked rikishi can catch fire and run up a score high enough to take the cup, having never really been tested against the top-ranked men. This is also a function of the top-ranked men being too evenly matched to produce a score high enough to ensure that the cup remains in the named ranks.
As we set up for the last 3 days of this basho, it’s time to start trying to wonder who will suffer through the 7-7 matches on the final day. I call these “Darwin matches”, because only one survives with a winning record. Quite a few rikishi are on the perilous path that leads to a Darwin battle, so let’s see who can evade that outcome.
Aoiyama has sole possession of the lead in the race for the cup. He faces Takanosho on day 13.
Chasers: Hakuho, Kakuryu, Asanoyama
Hunt Group: Mitakeumi ,Takanosho
3 matches remain
What We Are Watching Day 13
Kotonowaka vs Ikioi – The winner here picks up kachi-koshi today. Both have fought well, and both deserve it. I think whoever loses today is possibly going to find themselves in a Darwin match on day 15. Please, don’t let it be you, Ikioi.
Ishiura vs Shimanoumi – I am sure that Ishiura is quite happy to be going into the final weekend with 8 wins locked up. The question is, at Maegashira 12, does he really want to push for a big boost up the banzuke? He seems to do well around this rank, and running up the score enough to get him at the bottom of the joi-jin might not be a wise idea. Luckily, Shimanoumi has never lost to Ishiura, so maybe he can end up in a Darwin match on day 15.
Chiyotairyu vs Meisei – Chiyotairyu needs just one more win to get his 8. He has faded into week 2, losing 4 of his last 5. He has only fought Meisei once before, and he took the match. Good luck, Chiyotairyu!
Chiyomaru vs Tochiozan – Chiyomaru is very much on the Darwin path, but he has a chance to add a white start to his tally when he faces the miserable wreckage of Tochiozan. Normally, Tochiozan gives Chiyomaru the business (6-1), but he’s too beat up and injured now to pose much of a threat.
Sadanoumi vs Daiamami – Sadanoumi can dispense some sumo doom today if he can hand Daiamami his 8th loss and a make-koshi for Haru. He won their only prior match, and still seems to have some fighting spirit left.
Kotoshogiku vs Tochinoshin – Battle of the battered and broken former Ozeki. It’s like if your two favorite stuffed animals as a child got mangled in a horrific laundry accident, but hung around your bedroom anyhow because you were too sentimental to toss them out. A Tochinoshin loss today is make-koshi for him.
Takanosho vs Aoiyama – It’s a lot of weight to put on Takanosho—shutting down the yusho juggernaut that is Aoiyama. But that’s exactly who has gotten the nod to try his mettle on day 13. He and Aoiyama have a 3 match history that favors Takanosho 2-1. But right now, Big Dan’s V-Twin seems to be set to take him far, and I am not sure who might stop him from lifting the cup on Sunday with those enormous, pale, meaty arms.
Kaisei vs Kiribayama – The last time that Kaisei beat Kiribayama was in the multi-way playoff for the Juryo yusho during November of 2019. Ah, the good old days, when there was no plague loose in the world, and people got to go to the venue to watch sumo. But it may come down to Kaisei having his 8, and not wanting to run up the score, or risk injury. A win today would keep Kiribayama on track for a Darwin match on Sunday.
Azumaryu vs Tamawashi – Can Tamawashi muster enough genki energy to hand fellow Mongolian Azumaryu his make-koshi? Maybe…but an Azumaryu win today sets him on the path for inclusion in the round of Darwin matches we eagerly await on Sunday.
Myogiryu vs Nishikigi – These two miserable sots just need to hug it out. Luckily, Nishikigi’s sumo seems tailor-made for such a format, even if Myogiryu may find it distasteful. Both are already make-koshi, both need to just get past this basho, and for Nishikigi, he’s likely once again captain or at least boatswain of the Juryo barge of the dammed.
Terutsuyoshi vs Onosho – After a long and withering stretch of depressing matches, we get this lovely gem. One of these fine rikishi will exit the dohyo with a freshly minted kachi-koshi, and both of them deserve it. The loser is probably headed for Darwin with the rest of the condemned souls that are slated for the day 15 bloodletting. I expect a lot of intense action that will favor Terutsuyoshi early, and Onosho the longer it goes.
Takarafuji vs Mitakeumi – Both are kachi-koshi, but frankly, I really want to see Mitakeumi run up the score. At least 1 san’yaku slot will be open, and I would love to see the original tadpole return to the named ranks, and perhaps restart a bid to ascend to Ozeki this year.
Shohozan vs Tokushoryu – Another dry husk of a match between two grizzled veterans sporting deep losing records before the final weekend. Sure, Shohozan has a 6-3 career lead, but this one is just more misery.
Okinoumi vs Yutakayama – Yutakayama has never beaten Okinoumi in 3 attempts, and a win today would be yet another marker that the early leader of the Freshman cohort is back in business. He shares Maegashira 3 with Mitakeumi, so if there ends up being only 1 San’yaku slot, he may have to settle for a modest bump up the Maegashira ranks.
Daieisho vs Enho – Daieisho need just 1 more win to get his 8th, and Enho is looking hurt and dispirited now. Clearly he is headed back down the banzuke to calmer waters, but how far will he drop? They have split their prior 2, and with the abundance of rikishi now shutting down Enho’s pixie magic, there is ample footage of Enho losses for Daieisho to review.
Kagayaki vs Endo – Both of these mainstays are dangerously close to the Darwin path, with Endo serving as vanguard of the Darwin sacrifices marching toward day 15. They share a 5-5 career record, so this one is going to come down to Endo getting his frontal grip at the tachiai, and Kagayaki’s sometimes impressive footwork.
Hokutofuji vs Ryuden – Another match of disappointment: both of them are solid fighters, both are make-koshi, and both just need to finish the tournament without additional injuries. I am sure Hokutofuji will show up with more fighting spirit (he always does), but it’s a mystery if it will do him any good.
Abi vs Shodai – In spite of beating Hakuho on day 12, Shodai has to pick up 2 more wins for a kachi-koshi at his highest-ever rank. More likely, he too is on the Darwin path, and we may see him face off on day 15 in a 7-7 battle to survive. A loss today would be make-koshi for Abi, and a further slide down the banzuke.
Takakeisho vs Kakuryu – Takakeisho starts his tour through hell. Needing 2 wins to escape kadoban, he comes up against Yokozuna Kakuryu, who honestly is fighting better than Hakuho right now. He has beaten the Yokozuna once in their 4 career matches, but Takakeisho’s injuries may mean that Kakuryu makes fast work of the Grand Tadpole today.
Hakuho vs Asanoyama – I can’t even tell you how eager I am for this match. To make the score for Ozeki promotion, Asanoyama needs to beat a Yokozuna. Given the baloney sumo from Hakuho on day 12, I expect him to be brash, hasty and probably careless on day 13. That gives Asanoyama a sliver of an opening. We know Hakuho loves to fight high skill yotsu-zumo rikishi, and Asanoyama is that in spades. But if he gives Asanoyama his chance, he may find himself surprised. Good luck, Asanoyama!