With the middle weekend done, it’s time to get to the all important second week. We start this final run to senshuraku with a single man atop the yusho leaderboard, perpetual Sekiwake Mitakeumi. Already kachi-koshi with a perfect 8-0 score, he could go kyujo today and retain his Sekiwake 1 East rank, no questions asked. But on his sumo “to do” list is a promotion to Ozeki. He has come close at least twice, just to have the attempt fall apart in the second week. So many sumo fans, both boosters and detractors of Mitakeumi, are eagerly watching to see what he is able to do in the final 7 days. I think the most recent failure caused him to utter the word “FORK” loudly while walking back to the shitaku-beya following a crucial loss. Then again I may have translated that wrong, my Japanese is very poor.
In numerical terms, he needs 5 more wins to hit the 33 wins over 3 basho criteria, by hitting at least a 13-2 result. This would be equal to his best ever basho score, where he won his first yusho. I know he can do this, but the next 7 days are more about him keeping his head together, keeping his focus sharp and his sumo sharper. His toughest matches will include bouts with Terunofuji, Shodai and Takanosho, and the one I think may be the spoiler – Hokutofuji. They have a 22 match career history that favors Mitakeumi 12-10, but you know that Hokutofuji wants to be the man that takes out the yusho leader. I think we will get our look at that match sooner rather than later.
Hunt Group: Terunofuji
Chasers: Tamawashi, Onosho, Abi , Takarafuji, Kotonowaka, Kotoeko
7 matches remain
What We Are Watching Day 9
Aoiyama vs Daiamami – Daiamami up from Juryo to fill that stubborn banzuke gap, and he faces a diminished Aoiyama, who is near the bottom of the top division, and squarely in the middle of the funnel at 4-4. Aoiyama has a 6-2 career advantage, so he clearly has a recipe for defeating Daiamami, but can he execute today…
Kotonowaka vs Tochinoshin – Kotonowaka is not small or light enough to be a good “sky-crane” candidate in Tochinoshin’s current injury plagued condition. Like Aoiyama we may see Tochinoshin fighting to keep his spot in the top division this week. Kotonowakak is fighting well at 6-2, and needs just 2 more wins for his kachi-koshi.
Oho vs Yutakayama – Oho has a 2-0 career advantage over Yutakayama, but let’s face it, this the same guy 6 years in the past. Oho has none of the injuries and problems that hamper Yutakayama today, and I think the fact that he is young, fresh and healthy will be the deciding factor in this match.
Chiyomaru vs Kaisei – If there is a theme here, I don’t like it. We have a whole raft of long serving top division men at the bottom of the banzuke with 4-4 records starting day 9, squarely in the middle of the funnel, and quite possibly fighting their final week in the top division for a while or for their careers. All of them are arch competitors that are aging out of the sport, so I expect them to go down fighting – hard. Sadly, I would give Chiyomaru and edge in this match.
Kotoeko vs Chiyotairyu – I find myself not really believing that Kotoeko needs just 2 more wins for his kachi-koshi. After a disastrous 3-12 score in Kyusho, it was easy to imagine him too injured to maintain his status as a Sekitori. But he seems to be back into his sumo and fighting well. The best his opponent Chiyotairyu can hope for is a win today, and a chance to break back into the funnel group. Brutal.
Ishiura vs Tsurugisho – Like Chiyotairyu, Tsurugisho’s 3-5 score have placed severe limits on his chances of getting to a winning record this January. He would need to win 5 of the remaining 7 matches, and that would be a rough rode if he was not fighting hurt. If he is feeling ok on day 9, he can use his superior size to dominate Ishiura, but we will see if he can summon the energy to do that.
Wakamotoharu vs Terutsuyoshi – If you wonder why so many rikishi with 4-4 and 3-5 scores are facing each other, its part of the funnel process. The team that make the fight roster each day are working hard to bring as many men to a 7-7 score at the end of day 14. I call this “Darwin’s Funnel”, and you can see it’s gruesome imprint on this pairing. Terutsuyoshi at 3-5 needs 2 wins just to be in the middle on the funnel, Wakamotoharu needs 2 wins to exit the funnel on the “Winning” side. But because the competition in the top division is so even in skill and power right now, the fight list pairs these evenly matched rikishi together, day after day, to try and keep them all wining one day, and losing the next.
Chiyonokuni vs Sadanoumi – One fellow who is not going to participate in any of that is Chiyonokuni, who is already make-koshi with a perfect zenpai so far. I know he’s going to win at least 1 match this time, so it’s just a question who is going to be the first to take a loss. It would be interesting if it’s Sadanoumi.
Ichiyamamoto vs Tobizaru – Two guys with excellent agility and mobility. Both of whom love to bash and move for as long as they can each tournament day. I am not sure I can give an advantage, both are squarely in the middle of the funnel with 4-4 scores, both need 2 wins to exit the funnel right now on the winning side, and both are likely to be 7-7 at the start of day 15.
Akua vs Takarafuji – The funnel works both for the 4-4 crowd and the people who are on the clear road to kachi-koshi. Here we have 6-2 Takarafuji going up against Akua with just a single win. This is their first ever career match, and I am curious to see what Akua does with Takarafuji’s “defend and extend” sumo. Akua like to dive in with gusto, grab a hold and toss things about. I am not sure he will get too many chances for that today.
Myogiryu vs Abi – Folks may feel let down that Abi has 2 consecutive losses. His 1 dimensional sumo is prone to hot and cold streaks, and he simply hit a soft spot. It’s my guess he will end up with at least 8 wins, and find himself in the joi-jin in March, which will be wonderful to see. I can’t wait to see what Yokozuna Terunofuji does with him.
Shimanoumi vs Chiyoshoma – Chiyoshoma has a 6-2 career advantage, he also needs at least 2 wins to make it back to the middle of the funnel, where Shimanoumi is today. Yep, another brutal funnel match and I think the goal is to have Chiyoshoma win this one and knock Shimanoumi back one.
Hoshoryu vs Endo – Endo is a gloopy mess of uncoordinated sumo right now. It’s a shame because he has a finite number of basho left in him, and it’s a shame he’s not doing well this time out. He’s up against 5-3 Hoshoryu who has never won against him. Should Hoshoryu pull out the white star, he would exit the funnel on the winning side for now.
Ura vs Ichinojo – Much as I love both of these guys, they have matching 4-4 scores and are both marching toward a day 15 Darwin match right now unless they can string together consecutive wins. This is harder in week 2 than it is in week 1, because the rikishi already have 8 days worth of drain on their bodies from fighting at their highest intensity each and every day. I think Ura has an advantage here, as Ichinojo is unlikely to muster the patience to grind Ura down over a long haul match.
Wakatakakage vs Tamawashi – Tamawashi is headed for kachi-koshi land is my assumption right now, unless he hits a soft spot and picks up a few consecutive losses. That may happen today, as he has a 0-3 career deficit against Wakatakakage. Wakatakakage’ superior maneuverability allows him to get to the side or behind Tamawashi, and nullify his considerable defenses. Can he make it 4 in a row?
Kiribayama vs Daieisho – Two from the losing bracket, they are going to fight to see who goes make-koshi first. Both of them are competent fighters, and will be back with renewed vigor (I hope) in March, albeit lower down the banzuke. The split their 4 matches last year 2-2, so there is no way to guess which one holds any kind of edge today.
Onosho vs Takanosho – Onosho is having one of his “good” basho. He’s quite streaky, and he’s on a winning streak right now. He comes up against the much higher ranked Takanosho, who finds himself in the middle of the funnel at 4-4, and like the others of this score, needs consecutive wins to escape. Takanosho has a 6-3 career advantage over Onosho, so I am looking to see if he can shut down Onosho’s mega-thrust attack.
Mitakeumi vs Okinoumi – A battle of the Umi, this is not a one sided battle, though the more recent matches slightly favor Mitakeumi. At this point the pressure of needing to win every day is going to start eating at Mitakeumi’s focus if he is not strictly limiting his thoughts while on the dohyo. Okinoumi is headed for make-koshi anyhow, so maybe he will crank up something stunning from his catalog of sumo techniques and put that round Sekiwake on the clay.
Meisei vs Shodai – Of course Shodai is in the funnel group. Hell, he owns the funnel group. If anyone deserves a Darwin match, it’s shodai. But I am suspecting they may try to protect him this time around. He has a 8-1 career advantage against Meisei, and should be able to dispatch him without too much trouble.
Terunofuji vs Hokutofuji – Ol’ Stompy Hokutofuji always puts on his best sumo, but at 3-5 its clear that he is once again headed to “The Most Powerful Make-Koshi In All Of Sumo“. I wonder if Terunofuji’s 1 loss is helping him at this point. He does not have to worry about his first loss, it’s already happened, and he can focus on just blowing everyone off the dohyo and preparing for the day he goes head to head against Mitakeumi.