Yokozuna Hakuho (10-0) leads by 2 over Sekiwake Tamawashi and M15 Chiyonokuni. The latter was injured today and seems likely to withdraw, ending his dark-horse campaign. Hakuho will face returning Komusubi Mitakeumi tomorrow, most likely followed by a pivotal bout against Tamawashi on Day 12. The Yokozuna has prevailed in all 13 of their prior meetings.
Takayasu (5-5) needs to pick up three victories in five days, starting with his bout against Okinoumi tomorrow. His remaining opponents include Mitakeumi, Hakuho, and Goeido, plus one rank-and-filer (Aoiyama?). Goeido (4-6) needs four more victories against a lineup of Aoiyama, Takakeisho, Hakuho, Takayasu, and a maegashira opponent (Chiyotairyu?). Who makes it and who doesn’t could come down to the Ozeki clash on Day 13.
Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run
The Sekiwake’s promotion hopes took a hit today with his third loss (to Takayasu). He can probably only afford one more. The good news is that he’s fought most of his upper-rank opponents already, with only Goeido and Hakuho still to face. But his bout against Hokutofuji tomorrow is must-win, as are his remaining maegashira matchups (Kotoshogiku and Okinoumi?).
Tamawashi has successfully defended his Sekiwake rank with today’s victory, and Takakeisho needs one more win to do so. Struggling Myogiryu needs four victories to stay Komusubi, but has only Tamawashi plus maegashira opponents still to face. Mitakeumi needs three, but has much the tougher fight card as a result of his absence: probably Hakuho, Takayasu, Tochiozan, Ichinojo, and Nishikigi. Ichinojo is currently first in line for any open slots, followed closely by Hokutofuji.
If the tournament ended today, Daishomaru and Daiamami would be going down (and both are near-certain to do so in the end), while Terutsuyoshi, Ishiura, Chiyomaru, and Toyonoshima would be coming up. More slots could be opened by Kotoyuki, Kagayaki, and Chiyoshoma, who need strong finishes to avoid putting their top-division fates in the hands of the banzuke committee.
The just-released Day 11 torikumi shows Mitakeumi (5-2-3) returning from a 4-day absence. His opponent to ease him back in? None other than currently undefeated Dai-Yokozuna Hakuho. Thanks, schedulers!
Mitakeumi will be looking to pick up 3 victories in 5 days to hold on to his rank. Barring that, he’ll be aiming to at least minimize the magnitude of his demotion. Team Tachiai hopes that he is not risking further injury in the attempt.
This also resolves the last remaining uncertainty in Hakuho’s slate of opponents—barring further withdrawals, they will be Okinoumi, Mitakeumi, Tamawashi, Takakeisho, Goeido, and Takayasu. Hakuho’s combined record (not counting forfeits) against this group is, if I counted correctly, 96-10!
Day 10 marks the end of Act 2 and presages the start of Act 3—where we crown a champion, while the survivors fight for kachi-koshi. The red-letter match for today is Takayasu and Takakeisho, with the Ozeki below .500 with a miserable 4-5 record, and Takakeisho pressing hard for 11 wins and a chance to make the case that he should join the Ozeki ranks.
With veteran Takekaze announcing his retirement from competition, we seem to have the start of the long awaited period of cnange. There are a number of rikishi over 30 who are headed into the final stages of their Sekitori careers. For many who have been long term members of sumo’s elite, the thought of soldiering on through the un-salaried ranks makes the choice clear. It’s likely that more veterans will hang up their silk mawashi before this year comes to a close.
As a result, we will see a healthy upward draw of fresh talent from the top of the Makushita “wall”. Many of these rikishi have been Sekitori in the past, or are just on the cusp of being ready for Juryo. In addition to the normal up / down motion that comes at the end of every basho, there are 3 additional slots that might be open in the Sekitori ranks due to the retirement of Kisenosato, Takanoiwa and now Takekaze. This means exciting times for the year ahead, and a healthy crop of fresh talent to enjoy.
What We Are Watching Day 10
Kagayaki vs Daishomaru – Normally I would say Kagayaki has make-koshi on the line, but he is fighting winless Daishomaru.
Chiyonokuni vs Ikioi – Possibly time to trim back Chiyonokuni’s commanding 8-1 record, as he faces battle damaged but formidable Ikioi. Chiyonokuni matches are frequently flailing madhouses of body parts moving with violent speed, so we are hoping that Ikioi can avoid further injury.
Takarafuji vs Kotoyuki – These two have a 13 match history, with Takarafuji having a respectable advantage. With Kotoyuki always taping his hands into “flippers”, we know he is not looking for any kind of mawashi battle. Although Kotoyuki is below .500, a kachi-koshi and a safe spot in March’s Makuuchi line up is still possbile.
Yutakayama vs Abi – Two of the “Freshmen” battle it out with an even 2-2 career record. Yutakayama has bulk and strength, Abi speed and reach. Yutakayama needs the win more, but Abi is fighting somewhat better this basho.
Ryuden vs Endo – Surprising to me this is their first ever match. Endo is on his sumo now, and Ryuden has been very rough. I would expect Endo will come out ahead.
Yago vs Daieisho – Another first time match, but as this is Yago’s first upper division basho, it’s not much of a surprise. With the the shin-Maegashira fighting this far up the banzuke, it’s a good test for where he might rank for Osaka.
Asanoyama vs Onosho – Onosho is looking to bounce back from his three-bout losing streak, and another hapless member of the Freshmen group (Asanoyama) is not fighting well this tournament. If he should pick up at least 2 more wins, we can expect Onosho to join the joi-jin for Osaka, and begin his battle for rank in the upper levels of sumo.
Aoiyama vs Kaisei – This battle of the super-heavies favors Aoiyama historically, but Kaisei has been fighting better this basho, his day 9 loss to Ryuden not withstanding. Will their battle break pieces from the dohyo?
Shodai vs Yoshikaze – Both of them are doing terribly. But maybe Yoshikaze, staring at a possible make-koshi, can muster some of his flagging fighting spirit.
Chiyotairyu vs Shohozan – Chiyotairyu holds a clear advantage, and I would guess he will launch his “cannonball” tachiai at Shohozan, who if he considers all things, might be well served to move out of the way at the right moment.
Tochiozan vs Ichinojo – Ichinojo has gone back to being soft and timid, which is a shame. Tochiozan tends to dominate their matches, and unless “angry” Ichinojo shows up, this will be played to the tune of Tochiozan’s sumo.
Myogiryu vs Hokutofuji – Much as I would love to see Hokutofuji win, I think that Myogiryu has a better handle on this sumo this basho. Hokutofuji seems to have stamina problems, and frankly has never been back to his best form since that Ryuden delivered concussion.
Nishikigi vs Tamawashi – I expect Tamawashi to swat Nishikigi around and leave him for Tuesday pickup with the rest of the landfill material in Ryogoku. But Nishikigi must never be counted out. Coming in with a 4-5 record, one has to wonder if he will be able to squeeze out yet another kachi-koshi.
Kotoshogiku vs Goeido – Pretty clear that Goeido is banged up enough that his sumo is quite limited, and he struggles to generate forward pressure. Most folks assume its his arm, but his reconstructed ankle has never been quite right. Against Kotoshogiku, there is a decent chance that the Kyushu Bulldozer will trap Goeido and belly bump him out for a win.
Takayasu vs Takakeisho – The match of the day. This one, in all likelyhood, will decide of Takakeisho can make his 11 and vie for a promotion to Ozeki. He faces a battle damaged and flu ravaged Takayasu. Takayasu has him on strength, reach, stamina, mass and sheer aggression. Takakeisho has maneuverability and a total confidence he can win on any given day, no matter who his opponent is.
Okinoumi vs Hakuho – Barring some unfortunate injury, it will be win 10 for Hakuho (1105 career), and ratchet him one win closer to the yusho. His magic number is currently 14.
The “Ones to Watch” have a light roster for day 10, but what we lack in bulk we make up in intensity. That’s right, the much hoped for Ura vs Hoshoryu is on the torikumi for day 10.
Shoji vs Kototaiki – Both rikishi have 3-1 records, so this match is for kachi-koshi. Kototaiki had to re-set his sumo career in 2015 when he took an extended leave to treat an injury, and re-entered via maezumo. Now a Sandanme mainstay, he’s fighting at close to his highest career rank.
Naya vs Mitotsukasa – A 2-2 bracket match, Naya (Makushita) is taking on a Sandanme rikishi for his day 10 match. Irumagawa heya’s Mitotsukasa is a former university rikishi, who is working to return to Makushita. Should be a solid match.
Wakatakamoto vs Okinofuji – Another 2-2 bracket match, the lowest rank of the Waka* brothers takes on Makushita mainstay Okinofuji. Okinofuji has spent most of the last 2 years in mid Makushita, and will be a tough competitor.
Ura vs Hoshoryu – Maybe the biggest hype around a Makushita match this basho. We have Ura, who has hit the point of his recovery where he actually is having to work for a win, and we have young dynamo Hoshoryu who has reached a rank where his overwhelming natural ability is no longer enough. I am going to guess this match will only last a blink of an eye, but everyone will be watching.
Ichiyamamoto vs Mugendai – A 3-1 bracket match, with kachi-koshi on the line. Mugendai is a solid fighter who was formerly in Musashigawa heya, whose highest ever rank was Makushita 5.
Akua vs Kaisho – The top Makushita match of day 10, Akua’s bid to return to Juryo for Osaka needs him to win out, and to get there he needs to take down Tomozuna heya’s Kaisho, who is fighting well at his highest ever rank.