Day 14 was quite the gift to sumo fans. Just about everything that needed to happen to set up a chaotic and high-stakes final day came to pass. Terunofuji has sole possession of the lead, followed by 3 strong contenders. Should Terunofuji win his day 15 against Grand Tadpole Takakeisho, he takes home the cup. If he falls, there could be some kind of wild playoff. It is certain that the yusho winner will have no higher than a 12-3 record this March, and possibly a rare 11-4, should Terunofuji lose on the final day.
In addition to the yusho race drama to be settled in the latter half of the final day, there are 3 Darwin matches, where two 7-7 rikishi face off. The winner finishes kachi-koshi, and the loser make-koshi. There could have been 4, but the schedule just did not work out to set it up.
Yutakayama finally owned up to the severity of his arm injury and went kyujo. He will finish March 4-11, and be punted well down the banzuke deep into Juryo.
Kotoeko defeats Akiseyama – Kotoeko barrows Kotoshogiku’s gaburi-yori to belly-bump Akiseyama over the bails, and send him to a day 15 Darwin match. Kotoeko improves to 8-6 and is kachi-koshi.
Kaisei defeats Chiyotairyu – Kaisei avoids the Darwin match by taking Chiyotairyu into a belt battle, and wearing him down. Chiyotairyu had superior hand and body position through most of the match, but there was just too much Kaisei to move. There are in fact times when being enormous is a valid sumo strategy. Kaisei improves to 8-6 and is kachi-koshi for March.
Chiyoshoma defeats Kotoshoho – Chiyoshoma kept his focus center mass, and kept moving forward. Save the first win, Kotoshoho has had no success with his return from kyujo. Chiyoshoma ends 7-7 and will be part of the Darwin match series.
Tsurugisho defeats Midorifuji – Midorifuji was able to get a double inside grip, but is too hurt to do very much with it. Nothing Midorifuji tried, including a leg trip, had much of an effect. Tsurugisho’s win improves his score to 9-5
Daiamami defeats Hoshoryu – Daiamami avoids a Darwin match on Sunday. His left hand outside grip was the key to his win, as it shut down a number of Hoshoryu’s attack options. Both end the day 8-6.
Tochinoshin defeats Hidenoumi – Hidenoumi gave it his all, but was out powered by Tochinoshin. Tochinoshin had a solid right hand inside grip, but could not do too much with it, as his damaged right knee prevents him from pivoting with power to that side. He had to settle for a yorikiri, and improving to 7-7 to join the Darwin crew.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Kagayaki – Terutsuyoshi joins the crowd eligible for a Darwin match with his win over flagging Kagayaki. Kagayaki opened strong, and had Terutsuyoshi on the run. But Terutsuyoshi was able to apply just enough torque at the edge to send Kakgayaki to the clay first.
Meisei defeats Tamawashi – Their thrusting battle fell apart when Tamawashi’s volley went wide, and Meisei was able to quickly duck behind and run Tamawashi to the tawara, escorting him out. Meisei improves to 9-5.
Hokutofuji defeats Ryuden – Hokutofuji set up a strong right hand outside grip, and then used his body as a wall to incrementally reduce the ring for Ryuden, forcing him out step by step. Ryuden avoids Darwin by losing to Hokutofuji, and reaching make-koshi.
Aoiyama defeats Wakatakakage – Wakatakakage came in strong, but ran face-first into Aoiyama’s thrusting attack. Wakatakakage attempted to respond, but found his right arm entangled as Aoiyama pivoted and brought him to the clay. Aoiyama improves to 10-4, and remains in the yusho race.
Takarafuji defeats Okinoumi – Takarafuji set up a right hand frontal grip early, and rather than “defend and extend” he chose to close early, taking Okinoumi immediately out by yorikiri. Both end the day with 3-11 records.
Onosho defeats Shimanoumi – Onosho was again balanced too far forward on the second step out of the tachiai, but Shimanoumi was holding him up in an attempt to move forward. Onosho responded with a solid thrusting attack, and sent Shimanoumi back and out in 4 steps. Both end the day 4-10.
Tobizaru defeats Takayasu – Takayasu continues to crumble, winning just 1 of his last 4. Much as his day 13 match against Wakatakakage, there were multiple spots where he failed to exploit a route to finishing Tobizaru. Takayasu lost when Tobizaru was able to twist just enough during Takayasu’s oshidashi to bring Takayasu down first. Takayasu, man, you could have just kept him in the center of the dohyo and worn his ass down until he begged you to let him drop.
Kiribayama defeats Daieisho – Kiribayama was able to take this match chest to chest, shutting down Daieisho’s thrusting attack. The results were a well timed uwatenage that sends Daieisho to 7-7, and into the Darwin crew for day 15.
Mitakeumi defeats Myogiryu – Mitakeumi set up an armpit attack at the tachiai, and it instantly cut at least half of Myogiryu forward power. Feeling a lack of return pressure, Mitakeumi went forward, taking Myogiryu out, improving to 7-7. Mitakeumi gets to join the Darwin match group for day 15.
Takanosho defeats Ichinojo – Ichinojo, for reasons I am sure no one can explain, immediately tries to pull against Takanosho. Takanosho is Sekiwake for a reason, and reacts to the release of resistance, and rushes ahead, driving Ichinojo from the ring. Both end the day 7-7, and join the Darwin list.
Takakeisho defeats Shodai – Shodai, what the hell? He leaves his chest wide open, inviting Takakeisho to deliver maximum force. Of course, Takakeisho obliges, and the next thing you know, Shodai is tossed like a cork on a raging ocean and finds himself out and down. 7-7 record for Shodai, then. He does not get to join the Darwin group. As an Ozeki, he will determine his fate against Asanoyama on day 15. Good luck.
Terunofuji defeats Asanoyama – In the final match of the day, Terunofuji out-classes Ozeki Asanoyama to take sole possession of the yusho lead. This match beautifully demonstrates not only just how much Terunofuji’s sumo has evolved, but how Asanoyama is highly dependent on a narrow range of positions and grips. True, he is good at getting that set up most days. But Terunofuji overwhelms Asanoyama, and shows him out. With a win like that, there is zero chance they would not promote Terunofuji, he’s the strongest, most capable man in active competition right now.