We know why we’re here. Everything over the past fortnight has built up to today. The Yusho will be decided. Yokozuna Terunofuji leads with Maegashira Ichinojo; Takakeisho is one loss back. How we got here has been much more difficult. Late news coming in before the bouts, Hokutofuji has Covid and thus he and Hakkaku-beya stablemate, Okinoumi, will be kyujo today.
For the wrestlers, dozens have been sidelined across the divisions as covid spread, stable to stable. And then as the protocol kicked in, forcing all stablemates out of action, the torikumi became packed with fusen. At several points, we as fans questioned whether the tournament would make it this far or whether it would get called off, mid-basho.
Well, we’re here. I can’t say whether continuing was the “right” call or not. The full implications haven’t been felt yet. Wrestlers are still ill. Vaxxed and boosted, though, we hope all infected wrestlers recover quickly and only suffer mild symptoms. We also hope the spread is contained but as infection rates increase again, world wide, we know that won’t really happen. Sadly, the infection won’t be “stamped out” and the sumo world, like the rest of the world, will have to adjust to living with it. The opening will continue and eventually these strict Covid protocols will be loosened.
It’s got to be a bit of a gut shot for the sport and its leaders. After Shobushi’s death, the subsequent cancellation of the May 2020 tournament and Jungyo, coupled with the strict lockdowns, likely saved lives. But still the virus raged. Kobo, a retired wrestler and former stablemate of Hakuho, died of Covid last year as the industry and the nation tried to open back up. We watch from afar because the whole country of Japan is still relatively shut off to us tourists. How (and when) to bring all of that to an end is not an easy answer. Shobushi’s stablemate, Ryuden, for whom he served as tsukebito, broke covid regulations and was punished. Asanoyama. Abi. All three are back, humbled, but surely a bit bitter, as well. Has it been worth it?
I’m always going to have a bit of a biased view on this. I have to think it has been worth it. Just before Shobushi died, I recovered from Covid. My family isolated for two weeks while I went and lived in a bubble at NIH for a month in this crazy unit set up for infectious diseases. The air is pressurized to keep air from escaping. No one allowed to visit. The only people I’d see would be the nurses and doctors in their space suits. When they’d leave, they’d dump their PPE’s in these burn boxes. Anything I touched, if it couldn’t be thoroughly disinfected, would get incinerated. Isolation was really not fun. Thankfully, it was temporary.
TV kept me company for a little bit I couldn’t watch the news anymore because the virus was the only thing they’d talk about. I work in transportation safety and by that point I was just staggered by the fact that 44 NYC transit workers had already died in those early days. I had to shut the news off. It was wild. A year later, that number had jumped to more than 150 MTA workers who had died.
Bottom line, I get it. Having your life up-ended is terrible, freedoms and lifestyle ripped away sucks. But I wouldn’t wish illness on anyone and if there are new lessons in hygiene, and courtesy, I hope we learn them. I always go back to those early days when the people who were dying were bus drivers and grocery store cashiers and others who just went to work one day and came home sick. We’ve changed in the last two years. We’ve got new tools to attack the virus. This one, at least.
The really annoying thing is that now masks and vaccines and the whole thing has become political and that’s what kills me. I sure as hell don’t have any answer on how the Kyokai should continue to open and what they should do with their protocols. We’re not going to see masks on wrestlers and shimpan any more than we’re going to see the dohyo lowered. But it’s a slap in the face to see dufus fans with masks hanging around their chins. When you are a fan in that stadium, you are a guest of the Kyokai and subject to their rules. Follow them. If you’re not willing, don’t go. That’s not politics, that’s common sense.
The next banzuke will be a mess. Who knows how that’s going to work out? I will try to keep everyone informed on developments with regard to the banzuke and any changes/updates to the Covid protocols. But I’m not here to cast blame or second guess the Kyokai or Japan regarding how they deal with covid or the way they punished wrestlers for breaking rules. I know things come up in the comments occasionally and on social media. I just figured I’d let y’all know where I stand.
Well, let’s get to the action.
Onosho vs Chiyonokuni: Onosho, eager to get things started, jumps early. Matta. Onosho tried a quick slap down but Chiyonokuni evaded. Onosho drove him out to the side of the ring where Chiyonokuni tried a pulldown. Onosho was unfazed and drove Chiyonokuni straight back and out for the oshidashi win. Onosho ends the tournament 10-5, Chiyonokuni 8-7.
Myogiryu vs Hidenoumi: Hidenoumi took a clunk on the head but surprisingly drove through Myogiryu’s attack, no sign of the lower-body weakness from yesterday. Yorikiri.
Ryuden vs Takarafuji: In another one that went against my assumption, Takarafuji overpowered Ryuden for the yorikiri win. Ryuden still finished with a great 12 wins and the Juryo yusho.
Kazuto vs Takahashi: Ryuden’s day thus complete, they slipped the Jonokuchi yusho playoff here in prime time, and followed with the lower division yusho ceremony. In the Jonokuchi playoff, Kazuto squared up to Takahashi and took him head on. No sign of the clever plan from a few days ago. This was a mistake. Takahashi drove forward and quickly took Kazuto out.
Shimanoumi vs Mitoryu: Finally! I got one right! Shimanoumi’s dreadful tournament ends with another black star. Mitoryu’s slapdown attack nearly ended things just after the tachiai but Shimanoumi was able to resist…for a while. As Mitoryu chased him around the ring, Shimanoumi stepped out. Oshidashi. Shimanoumi 1-14. Mitoryu 9-6.
Tochinoshin vs Yutakayama: Yutakayama dominated Tochinoshin and drove the big Georgian back and out. Oshidashi. Yutakayama kachi-koshi, Tochinoshin make-koshi.
Next up, we’ve got a couple of kyujo bouts, as Jason explains:
Nishikifuji vs Hokutofuji: Hokutofuji kyujo.
Okinoumi vs Chiyomaru: Okinoumi kyujo.
Aoiyama vs Terutsyoshi: Aoiyama got busy trying to rearrange Terutsuyoshi’s face. He then drove forward, heads clashing. Terutsuyoshi was able to weather the storm and when Aoiyama pulled, Terutsuyoshi stuck with him and drove him out. Oshidashi.
Oho vs Sadanoumi: Sadanoumi must have mixed some diesel fuel in with his meat today. Full steam ahead! He got a solid hold on Oho’s belt and shrugged off his opponents attempts at a slap down, driving him on over the edge.
Wakamotoharu vs Chiyotairyu: What the hell is Chiyotairyu doing trying yotsu-zumo? Wakatakakage is quick to take advantage, locks on, and escorts Chiyotairyu back and out. Yorikiri. Both end the day 6-9.
Ura vs Ichinojo: You can cut the tension with a knife. I’ve never seen Ichinojo so patient and determined. He locked in on Ura’s belt with a left-hand outside grip. Not waiting for Ura to find an opening, starts gaburi-yori, driving into Ura and forcing him back, and out. The yusho winner will have 12-wins. None of this 11-win nonsense. Yorikiri. Ichinojo putting the ball in the yokozuna’s court. Ura make-koshi.
Kiribayama vs Chiyoshoma: No henka from Chiyoshoma. He unleashed some solid tsuppari but Kiribayama seemed unfazed as they locked in on each other’s belts. Kiribayama wasted no time and earned his kachi-koshi with a nice uwatenage. Chiyoshoma make-koshi.
Meisei vs Abi: No Abi-zumo, instead they lock in for a brief grapple (WTF?) before Abi tries a pull. From there, the two clash into each other repeatedly like a couple of goats, Meisei eventually powering Abi out. Tsukidashi. Meisei 9-6. Abi 8-7.
Hoshoryu vs Midorifuji: Of Midorifuji’s meagre pinch-of-salt throw, Wakanohana: “Shio tsukunai, na.” () Regardless, he may not bring the salt but he certainly brought the funk. All the way from Maegashira 11, Midorifuji gives Hoshoryu a dose of harite to start, and then powers through Hoshoryu’s pull attempt, grabbing his leg and driving him back and down. Watashikomi.
Wakatakakage vs Shodai: Shodai couldn’t get Wakatakakage to go over the bales despite two strong attempts, so he finished him with a hatakikomi slapdown instead. Shodai picks up his first double-digit win since January 2021. Wakatakakage 8-7.
Terunofuji vs Takakeisho: Takakeisho gave it his all, goat-like. Clash after clash, trying to stagger the Yokozuna but Terunofuji was able to dodge Takakeisho’s final charge, sending Takakeisho tumbling off the dohyo. What’s this? Terunofuji stepped out! Oshidashi win for Takakeisho! Ichinojo yusho!