Aki Storylines, Day 10

The Yusho Race

As I predicted yesterday, M8 Okinoumi and M10 Meisei could not keep their lead in the yusho race, falling back into a 5-rikishi 8-2 pack that also includes the Sekiwake duo Mitakeumi and Takakeisho as well as M2 Asanoyama. At this point, it’s looking increasingly likely that the battle for the Emperor’s Cup will come down to the latter trio, each of whom will be looking to lift it for the second time as a stepping stone toward either earning or regaining the rank of Ozeki.

Tomorrow, Okinoumi faces M14 Tsurugisho (7-3), who, despite his low rank, tripped up Meisei today and is having a great debut tournament in the top division. Meisei gets an even easier opponent in M15 Ishiura (6-4), who still needs a win to avoid a trip to Juryo. The higher-ranked members of the lead group face much tougher opposition: it’s Ryuden vs. Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin vs. Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji vs. Asanoyama.

The Ozeki

After today’s loss dropped him to 6-4, Goeido’s quest to clear kadoban is looking a little shakier, and he is only 8-7 against tomorrow’s opponent, Chiyotairyu. Tochinoshin has evened his record to 5-5. The odds of a 7-7 “Darwin bout” between these two in the musubi-no-ichiban on senshuraku just went up!

Rounding out the picture, Takakeisho is kachi-koshi and needs to win two of his remaining five bouts to regain his Ozeki rank.

The Lower San’yaku

Mitakeumi has officially ensured that he will be ranked in lower san’yaku for the 17th consecutive tournament in Kyushu, trailing only Wakanosato, who holds this somewhat dubious record with 19. I’m sure the Sekiwake would love to make Ozeki before tying or breaking it. The other Sekiwake slot will come open only if Goeido, Tochinoshin and Takakeisho are all Ozeki in November. Endo and Abi each need two more victories to remain Komusubi or move up a rank. Asanoyama stands head-and-shoulders above the other promotion contenders.

Demotion Danger

Toyonoshima (1-9) has gone kyujo, and his absence tomorrow will cement his drop to the second division. Takagenji (3-7) needs to win out to avoid joining him. Of the rest, Tochiozan (5-5) and Daishoho (3-7) have the most work left to do, while Sadanoumi and Tsurugisho have joined the “definitely safe” category. Terutsuyoshi is the only rikishi ranked in the single digits who has not secured a stay in Makuuchi by Day 10. His roundness J1e Chiyomaru (6-4) has now jumped ahead of Takanosho (6-4) in the promotion queue, and will be back in the top division with two more wins, but in general the Juryo performances have been lackluster and may once again result in a lenient demotion environment for Makuuchi rikishi.

Aki Day 10 Highlights

I was hoping, oh I was hoping that we would get a massive multi-way brawl during the last 5 days for the yusho. The Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan smiled, thrashed its long stripy tail and made it thus, for which I am eternally grateful. Although they were fighting what should have been (mathematically anyhow) easy opponents, co-leaders Meisei and Okinoumi both hit the clay on day 10, resulting in a brutal 5 way tie for the lead in the yusho race, with an additional 9 rikishi in striking range. At this point, no matter who is fighting for the next couple of days, it has yusho implications.

We have not seen a basho like this in many years, and frankly I thinking of taking vacation days from work just to watch this one. Yes the Yokozuna are both out hurt, and the Ozeki corps is as weak as at any time in the last 2 years. But the level of motivation that is present now across 14 rikishi, with the yusho in reach, is unmatched. I am going to assume we will see Makushita joi levels of intensity in the coming days among the best fighters that sumo can muster today.

Woven into this insane tapestry of combat is the drama of Tochinoshin still pushing to hold on to Ozeki, injured, struggling, but still in the hunt for his 8. Takakeisho 2 wins away from returning to Ozeki from a Sekiwake demotion, and both Asanoyama and Mitakeumi in the hunt for their second Emperor’s cup. Given who is actually still competing, I don’t think you could build a bigger final 5 days than this.

In other news, Toyonoshima went kyujo with an injury to his Achilles tendon, cementing his return to Juryo and giving Nishikigi a default win.

Highlight Matches

Daiamami defeats Takagenji – Takagenji can’t make it work against a Juryo man with a losing record. Granted it’s former Makuuchi rikishi Daiamami, but its an indication of just how big a mess Takagenji is right now. I feel for this guy, and I am sure he is going to be back sooner rather than later.

Tochiozan defeats Azumaryu – Tochiozan got a whiff of the funk of that slow barge back to Juryo, and has said, “Nope!”. Azumaryu came in low, stretched go get lower, and Tochiozan helped him get lower still and touch the dohyo.

Yutakayama defeats Daishoho – Another messy match with Yutakayama, who seems to be struggling to find his sumo. He gives up the centerline position he took at the tachiai, and uses his mobility to foil Daishoho’s counter-thrust attack. As I tend to say, go watch the footwork in this match. Although Yutakayama is on the move and might appear a bit rough in the upper body, his feet tell the story.

Tsurugisho defeats Meisei – The first co-leader hits the clay. Meisei gets morozashi early in the match, but is completely out matched by Tsurugisho. This match puzzles me, Tsurugisho’s hips are high, his stance is tall and upright, and Meisei should have been able to eat him alive. Meisei tried to swing him into a throw, but Tsurugisho just collapsed on top of him to win the match.

Kagayaki defeats Terutsuyoshi – Terutsuyoshi picks up his 8th loss and is make-koshi. Terutsuyoshi could not get close enough to really execute any offense against Kagayaki, who kept his stance wide and his hips low. Another day of excellent fundamentals from Kagayaki.

Kotoyuki defeats Ishiura – Fierce Kotoyuki mounted the dohyo again, and frankly I am not sure what Ishiura had in mind with his tachiai. It looks like half submarine, half flying henka. The result is that Ishiura is airborne, and essentially weightless for a time. Kotoyuki did not pass up the opportunity, and hands Ishiura another loss.

Sadanoumi defeats Okinoumi – Down goes yusho leader #2. Once again it looks like Okinoumi lost traction, and I am thinking that white bandage boot on his left foot is at least partly to blame. Okinoumi gives up the inside position to Sadanoumi, and finds himself in the passenger seat for a rough ride.

Takarafuji defeats Shohozan – Shohozan seemed to lack any strength to counter Takarafuji’s advance, and quickly found himself with his heels on the tawara, and stepped out without resistance. Better to take the loss than risk the injury, I would imagine.

Onosho defeats Kotoshogiku – I thought this was an excellent match, although it underscored how little power Kotoshogiku can generate these days. Onosho applies a hybrid thrusting / armpit attack repeatedly to prevent Kotoshogiku from ever squaring his hips and initiating his gaburi-yori. That was solid sumo, Onosho.

Enho defeats Kotoeko – A odd little match, with the softest tachiai I have seen in a long time – reminiscent of a Hattorizakura match. Enho then proceeds to keep a seemingly calculated distance from Kotoeko, and attacks Kotoeko’s hands. Multiple times Enho moves in to grapple with Kotoeko briefly, then escapes. Enho does eventually take a hold of Kotoeko and win, but this was strange but effective sumo from Enho.

Ryuden defeats Tomokaze – Tomokaze starts this match in forward gear, thrusting strongly at Ryuden’s chest, but I guess the temptation was too strong, and he reaches with his left arm to try to pull. Of course the pull releases forward pressure, and Ryuden now owns this match. Ryuden’s left hand outside grip is firm, and Tomokaze is chest to chest an unable to try any more pulls. Ryuden establishes an unassailable defensive body position, and proceeds to wear Tomokaze down, wearing him out and finally throwing him to the dohyo.

Asanoyama defeats Shimanoumi – Shimanoumi works hard for a right hand inside grip, and briefly gets it. But the entire time he’s working that advantage, Asanoyama is moving him away from the center of the dohyo, and before Shimanoumi can establish any workable attack, the match is lost. Asanoyama picks up his kachi-koshi, and his share of the lead.

Daieisho defeats Aoiyama – Aoiyama’s initial thrust and pull gambit failed miserably, and Daieisho completely dominates the match. Aoiyama’s 8th loss, and a disappointing make-koshi.

Hokutofuji defeats Endo – Hokutofuji tried to use his “handshake tachiai” to establish a nodowa today, but Endo expertly blocked it and established an inside position at the state time. But the very next moment, Endo thrusts Hokutofuji away. At that instant, comparing their body positions, Endo is on his toes and reaching forward with his mass too far in front of his arches. Hokutofuji is flat on his feet, his weight centered, his stance wide. He catches Endo by the neck and that lower body of his takes over and drives forward. Endo is never able to recover his balance or set his feet for defense, and the win goes too Hokutofuji. Textbook example of Hokutofuji’s sumo. He seems to have unmatched control over his lower body.

Mitakeumi defeats Tamawashi – Oh, the match history between these two. This match looked a lot like many of the prior, with Mitakeumi absorbing volley after volley of thrusts, and just absorbing them while carefully giving ground. It’s a waiting game, looking for Tamawashi to over-extend. He does, Mitakeumi throws him to the clay and he’s kachi-koshi and tied for the lead.

Takakeisho defeats Shodai – Not really “wave action” today, more of a ripple ripple shove attack. Shodai is overwhelmed right from the tachiai, but tries a turn at the tawara to send Takakeisho off balance, but Takakeisho reads it perfectly, and helps Shodai continue the motion, and drops him on the tawara. Takakeisho scores his kachi-koshi while Shodai suffers his make-koshi in the same bout.

Abi defeats Goeido – Goeido’s opening gambit was to get that left hand on Abi’s mawashi, no matter what. He misses and finds himself without access to plan B. With Abi thrusting away, Goeido desperately tries anything, and grabs Abi’s right forearm. But the Ozeki is off balance, his body is turned and his feet are nowhere useful. A powerful open handed blow from Abi’s left to Goeido’s chest sends him flying for a loss. Great sumo from Abi today.

Tochinoshin defeats Chiyotairyu – A surprising match, as Tochinoshin successfully executes a yotsu win over Chiyotairyu, administering his make-koshi and moving a step closer to clearing kadoban. You can see the pain written on Tochinoshin’s body, but he endures and claims a precious victory. 3 more to go.

Aki Storylines, Day 9

The Yusho Race

Regression to the mean finally started to catch up to M8 Okinoumi, who is now tied for the lead with M10 Meisei at 8-1. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the tournament champion will come not from this duo, but rather from the higher-ranking 7-2 chaser trio of the two Sekiwake (Mitakeumi and Takakeisho) and M2 Asanoyama. I also wouldn’t discount the chances of the six-man 6-3 hunt group, especially Ozeki Goeido and Komusubi Endo. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the yusho claimed by someone with 11 wins, tying the modern-day record for fewest victories by the winner.

The Ozeki

Goeido needs only 2 more wins in 6 days to clear kadoban. He faces Abi tomorrow, and the remainder of his schedule should include bouts against fellow Ozeki Tochinoshin, the Sekiwake pair, and two opponents ranked M5 or lower.

After his cheap but crucial victory over Endo, Tochinoshin needs 4 more. He fights Chiyotairyu on Day 10, and his most likely path to 8 is to win that bout and his other remaining rank-and-file matchup, plus pick up a victory against Goeido, Mitakeumi, or Takakeisho, which won’t be easy.

Takakeisho needs to at least split his remaining six bouts to regain his Ozeki rank. He has 3 maegashira opponents left, and besting all of them would be sufficient. His remaining ranked opponents are the two Ozeki and Abi.

The Lower San’yaku

No major changes here—all four incumbents are still in positive territory, and Asanoyama continues to lead the promotion queue.

Demotion Danger

Toyonoshima (1-8) is now first in line for demotion, and may need to win out to stay in the top division. Takagenji (3-6) picked up a much-needed victories, but will require 5 more to reach safety. Of the rest, Tochiozan (4-5) has the most work left to do. Their victories today moved Shohozan and Kotoyuki into the “definitely safe” category. Takanosho (6-3) and Chiyomaru (5-4) lead the promotion race, with Chiyoshoma (5-4) just behind them.