Aki State of Play, Day 12

Let’s take things from the top.

Hakuho scored a quick (and to my eyes, uncontroversial) victory over Tochinoshin when the Yokozuna took advantage of a momentary lack of balance by the Georgian and threw him down. No epic belt battle this time. Hakuho is the only undefeated rikishi, and now leads the yusho race by two over an elite 10-2 chase group of Yokozuna Kakuryu and Ozeki Goeido and Takayasu. This group will be further reduced tomorrow when Kakuryu faces Goeido. Tochinoshin’s next chance to clinch his kachi-koshi and erase his kadoban status comes tomorrow against Shodai.

Kakuryu looked somewhat overmatched against a lower-ranked opponent for the second day in a row, losing to Takayasu by a hearty uwatenage. He will look to rebound against Goeido, against whom the Yokozuna is 27-12, including victories in their last three meetings.

Kisenosato scored an impressive, hard-fought win over Mitakeumi, putting the nail in the coffin of the Sekiwake’s Ozeki campaign. Nine wins looked like a very optimistic scenario for the Yokozuna at the start of the basho, and he can hold his head high heading into Kyushu. Tomorrow, he faces Hakuho, who can clinch at least a yusho playoff spot with a victory. Mitakeumi (6-6) now needs to focus on getting his kachi-koshi, and with Takayasu still on his fight card (probably on Day 14), his bout tomorrow against Myogiryu (who is taking over Yutakayama’s spot in the joi rotation) looks like a must-win.

Goeido stayed in the chase by patiently waiting for Abi to overcommit before dropping him to the clay. Abi has been rotated in for Endo, and tomorrow takes on Takayasu, who rebounded strongly from yesterday’s loss.

Ichinojo defeated Kaisei today in exactly the kind of prolonged mawashi battle Tachiai predicted, although the finishing move was an uwatenage throw rather than a yorikiri forceout. With his record now at 5-7, and only maegashira opponents left on his fight card, Ichinojo may have woken up just in time to save his Sekiwake rank, or at least a position in San’yaku.

Takakeisho is faring well in his late defense of his Komusubi rank, squaring his record at 6-6 with an easy victory against Shodai, who showed little interest in staying in the San’yaku promotion race. Tomorrow, the West Komusubi clashes with the East Komusubi, Tamawashi, who dropped to 3-9 against his nemesis Chiyotairyu today.

The number of available San’yaku slots could still be anywhere from 1 to 4, although I’m guessing it’ll be on the lower end of the range. If I’m wrong, the banzuke makers will have trouble scraping together replacement candidates, as everyone in contention lost today with the exception of Myogiryu (8-4), the only maegashira in the upper half of the rank-and-file to clinch his kachi-koshi. Among the other leading contenders, Kaisei and Shodai have losing 5-7 records, and need to win out to even be eligible for promotion, Asanoyama is both outranked by Myogiryu and trails him by a win, and Abi is 6-6 and probably looking at a final three-day slate of Takayasu-Tochinoshin-Mitakeumi.

At the other end of the banzuke, Ishiura and Kyokutaisei further cemented their trips to Juryo with a loss and an absence, respectively. Kotoyuki is now one loss away from joining them, and will try to avoid picking it up tomorrow against Tochiozan. Chiyomaru won the battle of the ‘marus today against Daishomaru, but remains on the bubble, needing at least one win and possibly two for safety. Tomorrow, he takes on Juryo visitor and top promotion candidate YagoAoiyama is the only other Makuuchi man still at risk of demotion, and he faces newcomer Takonosho, who locked down his stay in the top-division with his victory today.

Among the Juryo promotion candidates, Meisei and Yago won and only need one more win apiece to move up to the top division. Daiamami also won, but probably needs two more because of his lower rank. Arawashi lost, but remains in good shape because he is fighting from the top J1e slot, and should be back in the top division with another victory. The other contenders are Aminishiki, who needs two victories, and Takagenji, who needs three.

What of the Juryo yusho picture, you ask? There was some separation today, with 4 men now in the lead at 8-4, followed by 8 at 7-5, and 7 more at 6-6. If you’re counting, that’s 19 of 28 rikishi in the division still in contention (as Herouth notes, the five 5-7 rikishi are also mathematically still in it), so we can continue to hope for a senshuraku barnyard brawl. Oh, and Tachiai favorite Enho won today against ex-Makuuchi and current Makushita joi Toyohibiki, whose loss will probably keep him from rejoining the sekitori ranks. Enho’s win places him in the 7-5 octet and should ensure that he will stay in Juryo for the next basho. Video below:

Aki State of Play, Day 11

The yusho race

Hakuho’s unsatisfying and much-discussed win over Takayasu today nevertheless left him as the only undefeated rikishi (11-0) and gave him the sole lead in the race for the championship. His fellow Yokozuna and Day 10 co-leader Kakuryu was overwhelmed by Tochinoshin’s strength (no loose mawashi this time, Yokozuna?), and now trails by one victory at 10-1. The two Yokozuna are the only ones who still control their destinies. The 9-2 chase pack stands at three men: Ozeki Goeido, Ozeki Takayasu, and M13 Takanoiwa. Yokozuna Kisenosato was blown off the dohyo by kaiju-mode Ichinojo, and at 3 off the pace no longer has a realistic chance to challenge for the yusho, although he’ll certainly have opportunities to play spoiler. It feels like we’ve already seen more exciting sumo between high-rank opponents this basho than in several preceding ones combined, and the best is yet to come!

Key Day 12 matches to watch:

The leader Hakuho takes on Tochinoshin, who today looked back to the kind of form that allowed him to beat the Dai-Yokozuna for the first time after 25 losses the last time they met. Hakuho is taller than Kakuryu, so the lift-and-carry approach probably won’t work for the man with the strength of a bear who has the strength of two bears, but the bout is at the top of my must-watch list. Tochinoshin still needs one more victory to clear kadoban and maintain his Ozeki rank.

In the other match with huge yusho implications, Kakuryu takes on Takayasu. The series favors the Yokozuna 12-6, but most of Kakuryu’s victories date back to Takayasu’s maegashira days, and the Ozeki has actually won four of the last 6 meetings, including the last two, in January and March.

With 1-10 Endo finally excused from joi duty, 9-2 Goeido takes on Abi instead. In the other bout featuring a 9-2 rikishi, Takanoiwa takes on Shohozan for a chance to continue his dark-horse campaign.

The san’yaku picture

East Komusubi Tamawashi is make-koshi and will be back in the maegashira ranks in Fukuoka in November. West Komusubi Takakeisho, 5-6, will continue his campaign to avoid the same fate against 5-6 M3 Shodai.

East Sekiwake Mitakeumi suddenly looks very shaky, losing four in a row and 5 of 6 bouts after a perfect 5-0 start. His Ozeki run is almost certainly over for now, and seems increasingly unlikely to continue at Kyushu, and his focus must now shift to securing the two victories he still needs to maintain his rank. Tomorrow’s opponent is none other than Yokozuna Kisenosato, who did not look good today but should nevertheless present a formidable challenge. West Sekiwake Ichinojo will attempt to avoid his 8th loss and the accompanying drop in rank against Kaisei, whom he usually beats (8-3). It probably won’t surprise you to learn that all but one of those matches were decided by yorikiri, so get ready for a lengthy belt battle between the two heaviest men in Makuuchi (combined weight over 950 pounds).

With one san’yaku slot opening up and others hanging in the balance, who has a shot at claiming them? M1 Kaisei, 5-6, would be first in line—IF he can get his kachi-koshi. He is followed closely by the M5 pair of Myogiryu and Asanoyama, both 7-4. M4 Abi, 6-5, is currently in a solid position, but his tour through the upper ranks as Endo’s replacement may put an end to his chances. Like Kaisei, M3 Shodai is highly ranked but still on the wrong side of a winning record. Dark-horse candidates include M6 Kagayaki (6-5), M9 Hokutofuji (8-3) and possibly even Takanoiwa, but they’d need perfect finishes, as well as devastation among those ahead of them. Myogiryu vs. Hokutofuji is one of the juicier down-the-torikumi bouts tomorrow.

The Juryo express

With his 8th loss today, Ishiura is likely assured of demotion, as is injured Kyokutaisei (1-6-4), who has bigger things to worry about. Kotoyuki, who’s been looking better lately, needs a 3-1 finish to be safe, as does Chiyomaru. Aoiyama’s win today moved him out of imminent danger, though he still needs to pick up at least one win, and would be safer with two. Okinoumi and Takanosho could use a win apiece, and everyone else is most likely safe.

Who will be moving up from Juryo? It’s hard to say, since Juryo is a mess, as described yesterday by pinkmawashi. Today’s results only muddled the picture further, with the top 16 men in Juryo (in a division with only 28 slots) all sporting either 7-4 or 6-5 records. Many of them are too far down the banzuke to have a realistic shot at promotion, so the current leaders for a place in the top division are J1e Arawashi, J2e Meisei, J2w Yago, J1w Aminishiki, and J4e Daiamami. Of these, only Yago has yet to appear in Makuuchi. Of course, none of them have even clinched their kachi-koshi yet, nor are any guaranteed to do so tomorrow given the pairings, so who knows how this will play out. Oh, and the Juryo yusho race should be fun to watch down the stretch, with the possibility of the kind of multi-way playoff we all dream to see—like the 8-way melee that took place in Nagoya in 2001!

Update: Kyokutaisei kyujo; Day 12 Torikumi Posted

Following his brief ill-advised comeback, during which he appeared to further hurt his injured knee, maegashira 11 Kyokutaisei has once again withdrawn from competition. This seals his return to Juryo. Tachiai hopes he will take the time to seek appropriate treatment and heal before returning to the dohyo. Chiyomaru gets a much-needed freebie, and Meisei visits from Juryo on Day 12.

Speaking of Day 12, the torikumi was just posted, and the top-division matches are as predicted: Tochinoshin vs. Hakuho, Kakuryu vs. Takayasu, and Kisenosato vs. Mitakeumi. The schedulers have indeed given Endo a break, instead pulling up Abi to fight Goeido.

Aki State of Play, Day 10

Kakuryu and Hakuho both remained undefeated and on track for a final-day showdown for all the marbles. Their bouts against Mitakeumi and Ichinojo, respectively, went about how you’d expect Yokozuna vs. Sekiwake matchups to go—good entertaining sumo, but with the outcome never really in doubt. Tomorrow, they both face Ozeki challengers. Kakuryu takes on Tochinoshin, who needs every win he can get. The lifetime record favors the Yokozuna 22-2, although they’ve split their last two bouts. Hakuho will battle the lone 9-1 chaser, Takayasu, who is 2-16 against the Dai-Yokozuna.

Kisenosato got his all-important 8th victory against the shadow of Endo, and lives to fight another day. Tomorrow, he will attempt to get closer to the “Yokozuna kachi-koshi” of 10 wins against Ichinojo. Interestingly, their record only favors the Yokozuna by 8-5, with Ichinojo winning the last two, but those bouts both took place during recent tournaments that Kisenosato was not able to complete.

Goeido lost his Ozeki clash with Takayasu, and falls two off the pace in the yusho race. He will attempt to bounce back against 5-5 Shodai, who is very much in the hunt for san’yaku promotion. Their record is quite even at 6-4, and Shodai has claimed two of this year’s three prior meetings.

Mitakeumi could not pull off an upset against Kakuryu, and his Ozeki run hangs by a thread. His attempt to run the table starts tomorrow against Kaisei, who’d won all of their prior matches until the Sekiwake finally prevailed during his breakthrough yusho-winning July campaign. If he fails to get the 11 wins he likely needs for promotion this time, Mitakeumi will want to carry as many wins as possible into Kyushu for a chance to try again there.

Forecast for the remaining upper-rank bouts

Day 11: Mitakeumi vs. Kaisei, Goeido vs. Shodai, Kakuryu vs. Tochinoshin, Kisenosato vs. Ichinojo, Hakuho vs. Takayasu.

Day 12: Mitakeumi vs. Kisenosato, Tochinoshin vs. Hakuho, Takayasu vs. Kakuryu

Day 13: Goeido vs. Kakuryu, Kisenosato vs. Hakuho

Day 14: Mitakeumi vs. Takayasu, Goeido vs. Hakuho, Kisenosato vs. Kakuryu

Day 15: Tochinoshin vs. Takayasu, Goeido vs. Kisenosato, Hakuho vs. Kakuryu

In the final four days, Mitakeumi will also face 2 maegashira opponents (Yutakayama and Endo?), as will Tochinoshin (Shodai and Endo?), while Takayasu and Goeido will face one apiece (Endo for both?). Given Endo’s 1-9 record and obvious lack of fighting shape, perhaps the schedulers will take pity on him and bring up some better-performing rikishi from just outside the joi (Abi, Myogiryu, Asanoyama) to face the upper ranks instead.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll take a closer look at the san’yaku promotion race and the fight to stay out of Juryo.

Aki State of Play, Day 9

Today’s post will focus on the rikishi in the named ranks, setting up the storylines for the final six days of the basho. Both of the Day 9 highlight matches exceeded expectations. First, Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho used all of his skill and experience to best promotion-seeking Sekiwake Mitakeumi. Then, in what can justifiably be described as a career-saving victory, back-to-the-wall Yokozuna Kisenosato prevailed in a titanic struggle with kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin, himself badly in need of a victory. Judging by today, and with the matches among the upper ranks just starting, we should be in for a treat!

Kakuryu (9-0) has had an easy stroll through lower-ranked opponents so far. His degree of difficulty goes up tomorrow against Mitakeumi, and should be followed in order by bouts against Tochinoshin, Takayasu, Goeido, Kisenosato, and Hakuho.

Hakuho (9-0) has had to work harder for his undefeated record, but co-leads the yusho race nevertheless. He faces Ichinojo tomorrow, to be followed by the three Ozeki and the other two Yokozuna.

Kisenosato (7-2) has looked shaky at times, but beating obviously struggling Endo tomorrow would give him the all-important eighth win. If his record stands at 8-2 after Day 10, which would still put him in yusho contention, I don’t think we’ll hear renewed calls for his retirement even if he fades hard down the stretch against a lineup of Ichinojo, Mitakeumi, Goeido, and the other two Yokozuna, and after today I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pick up a couple of wins in those five bouts.

Goeido and Takayasu sport identical 8-1 records, and have both looked consistently strong this basho. Tomorrow’s highlight match pits them against each other for a chance to challenge the two undefeated Yokozuna for the yusho and a leg up in the jun-yusho race. Oh, and having clinched their kachi-koshi, they don’t have to worry about being kadoban in Kyushu.

Tochinoshin (5-4) needs to at least split his remaining 6 matches to clear kadoban and remain Ozeki. With Kakuryu, Hakuho, and Takayasu still on his fight card, tomorrow’s bout against Kaisei looks like a must-win, and their career 9-7 record only narrowly favors the Ozeki. Tochinoshin will also need to collect victories against his other two remaining maegashira opponents, most likely Shodai and Endo.

Mitakeumi (6-3) probably needs a 5-1 finish to earn promotion to the second-highest rank. After his extended battle against Hakuho today, he gets the other co-leader tomorrow. Perhaps surprisingly, Mitakeumi has defeated Kakuryu 3 times in their 7 prior bouts. After that, he still has to face Kisenosato and Takayasu, along with 3 maegashira opponents (probably Kaisei, Yutakayama, and Endo). A tough road, but not impossible.

Ichinojo (3-6) showed some life today, and will be done with the hard part of his schedule after facing Hakuho and Kisenosato. A kachi-koshi might be out of reach at this point, but he can aim for a 4-2 finish to cushion his demotion only down to Komusubi and remain in san’yaku.

Tamawashi (1-8) will face easier opponents from here on, but it comes too late for him to avoid a fall back into the rank-and file. Takakeisho (3-6) still has a chance to save his rank with a very strong finish. Neither man will feature further in the high-stakes games to be played by those above them on the banzuke.