It’s Nakabi! The middle day of the basho. It’s a magical time when everyone still has a chance, and anything can happen. We are one week away from the final day, and the awarding of the Emperor’s Cup. This middle day fight card has plenty of interest, as it seems the upper Maegashira ware taking it to the San’yaku in glorious style. In most tournaments, it’s the named ranks that extract wins from the rest of the joi-jin. But this time, it seems that a handful of rikishi in the top Maegashira ranks are out for the cup, and are taking the fight to anyone who stands in their way.
Part of this is what is making this tournament a cut above some of the other recent basho in terms of excitement, for me.
Because everyone has at least one loss, and at least one win, nobody will get their make-koshi or kachi-koshi today, though we might see that tomorrow. Today is a day where all options are still open. It’s also the day we get our first look at the yusho race, with the leader board.
The leader group is 5 men wide, with 4 in the chasers. I have my hopes that this boils down to a final weekend brawl to end it all, with multiple options for the yusho on the final day of the tournament. With this many strong contenders, I think it just might happen.
Leaders: Takakeisho, Daieisho, Onosho, Aoiyama, Kotoshoho
Chasers: Hoshoryu, Abi, Azumaryu, Takarafuji
8 Matches Remain
What We Are Watching Day 8
Hokuseiho vs Mitoryu – Today’s Juryo visitor is Hokuseiho (5-2), a protoge of the former dai-Yokozuna, Hakuho. He’s been in professional sumo for just under 3 years, and a kachi-koshi this month should give me a fair chance of making his top division debut in March. Wow. He started his career with three consecutive yusho, clearing Jonokuchi, Jonidan and Sandanme in a single tournament each. Interestingly enough, Mitoryu (3-4) has fought him once before, and won! Could be a real kick to see these two fight to start the day.
Kotoshoho vs Chiyomaru – Chiyomaru won’t get his make-koshi today, but it can’t be too far down the road. At 1-6, he’s injured and not really able to fight at top division power. He’s up against 6-1 Kotoshoho, who has beaten him in both of their prior matches. I think this one could be ugly.
Takarafuji vs Kotoeko – Takarafuji (5-2) has already beaten his terrible record from Kyushu, where he had only 3 wins at the end of the tournament. But to remain in the top division, he’s going to need to find 3 more over the last 8 days. I think he has a strong chance over 4-3 Kotoeko, who is perennially part of the Darwin group on day 15.
Chiyoshoma vs Ichiyamamoto – I would love to see 2-5 Chiyoshoma deliver a few more strong, straight forward sumo matches this tournament. He’s high enough at M11 that he would not likely worry about demotion if he should fall short of his 8, but I know this guy has a lot of unused potential right now. He’s 2-2 against Ichiyamamoto (4-3), who is likewise starting to look a bit frayed around the edges as we cross the middle of the 15 day basho.
Aoiyama vs Azumaryu – Folks probably recognize that I am pulling for grizzled veteran Azumaryu (5-2) to finally get his first top division kachi-koshi after multiple attempts over the last few years. Something about it just speaks to me. But he’s got 6-1 Aoiyama today, and Aoiyama has tuned up the V-Twin and is going to ride that sumo as far as he can. Do not be surprised if he is in the running for the up in the middle of week 2.
Tsurugisho vs Hiradoumi – Tsurugisho (2-5) still as a long shot change of making it to 8, but it is a long shot. The good news is that with people retiring, people going kyujo and getting booted back to Juryo and a host of other one-off conditions, even a mild make-koshi at M15 this time may keep him around. He should still try to get his first ever career win over 4-3 Hiradoumi today.
Takanosho vs Kagayaki – I think both of these guys are headed straight for the Darwin pool at the end of day 14. We have 4-3 Takanosho, and 3-4 Kagayaki. Neither one of them have been able to distinguish themselves from the crowd this January, and I would encourage them to crank up the intensity.
Endo vs Ura – High interest match here. Both come into today 4-3. Endo will be looking for a bounce back win after losing day 7 to Kotoshoho. Ura may be ready to re-embrace his grab-and-tug sumo, as it’s been what has been working for him this tournament. Endo, tighten and lubricate your fittings!
Hokutofuji vs Oho – Like Chiyomaru, Oho (1-6) is a make-koshi walking right now. I don’t know what is plaguing him, but he needs to get it sorted out. He can still move quite well, but his sumo lacks power and focus. Because of that, I think that 4-3 Hokutofuji is going to have his way with Oho today.
Ryuden vs Myogiryu – What I am enjoying about Ryuden (4-3) this tournament is that he seems to be able to put up a good fight against anyone he faces right now. Even if he does not win, he’s always giving them a tough match. I think today he has the upper hand against 2-5 Myogiryu, who gave Oho his only win, yesterday.
Onosho vs Nishikigi – Oh, here is a lovely bit of sumo! We have two guys who have shown significant forward power this tournament, going head to head. Onosho (6-1) showed us some yotsu-sumo on day 7, and won. Nishikigi (4-3) will usually only fight chest to chest. Which way will this one go? Who will dictate the form of this match?
Mitakeumi vs Tamawashi – Thirty two (32) prior matches favor Mitakeumi 27-5. But that does not tell the entire story. At 3-4, Mitakeumi is in real danger for a fifth consecutive losing record, which is just brutal given that prior to 2022, he was quite consistently producing winning scores. Tamawashi (4-3) has lost 3 of the last 4, but may be able to rally for this match against his old nemesis.
Meisei vs Daieisho – Let’s see, who is training ballast for 6-1 Daieisho today… It’s 2-5 Meisei, who may be small enough that Daieisho can get him farther down range than he did Sadanoumi on day 7. With an 11-2 career lead against Meisei, this could be an ugly match.
Tobizaru vs Kotonowaka – As the top man in the rank-and-file, Tobizaru has been having a rough tournament. He’s only won twice (2-5), and many of his acrobatic tricks of the past are not paying off this time. Is it the sumo? Is it the man? We may ever know. He’s going to try and find his 3rd win today against 3-4 Kotonowaka.
Kiribayama vs Abi – Abi (5-2) lost his second match on day 7, dropping out of the leader group. The chances that the yusho winner will only have a single loss are rather thin at this point, so if he can return to winning day to day, he will likely have a chance to take a second turn in the leader group. He has 4-3 Kiribayama today, who seems to be struggling a bit to deliver consistent, good sumo right now.
Wakamotoharu vs Shodai – Sure, let’s see who else can beat Shodai (2-5) right now. Did we ever hear any rumors about what is broken or busted on Shodai? It’s just not right that he would hit the skids like this, his training buddy Yutakayama would call it quits, and the whole top end of that stable fall to ruin. I would give an edge today to 3-4 Wakamotoharu, just because his life is not a dumpster fire, and he can probably deliver quality sumo today.
Sadanoumi vs Hoshoryu – Sadanoumi (2-5) going out of the frying pan and into the fire. After his ejection at the hands of Daieisho on day 7, he’s going to take a turn with 5-2 Hoshoryu. He has a 3-3 career record against him, but in spite of two losses, I think Hoshoryu is fighting some of his best sumo ever right now.
Wakatakakage vs Midorifuji – After the fight 4-3 Midorifuji delivered on day 7, Wakatakakage (3-4) should be careful. Already on the path to Darwin, he’s got to consolidate and get back to good balance, good stance, and forward sumo in control. It’s a pain that he’s not been able to produce much the last two basho, but then again he may be hurt. Tear him up Midorifuji.
Nishikifuji vs Takakeisho – Having shocked the world by winning with a throw, I think Takakeisho should go the route, and win today with a flying henka. Not just a regular one, a full “in the air” style one that Chiyoshoma or Harumafuji might use. Oh, that’s right, you are 6-1 and trying to make the case you might want to be Yokozuna one day, and that would not help. Ok, so be it. Just toss 3-4 Nishikifuji out of the ring instead, please.