I stated up front that I expected Hakuho to take the yusho, and possibly do it with 15 straight wins. I continue to think this is a strong possibility, but if you take the body of his 7 matches thus far in Nagoya, you can see a trend. Firstly, each day he struggles a bit more to win. His sumo is less smooth and efficient, and he is definitely favoring that right arm.
While he may have “rested up” and gotten to the point where he felt like things were good, once he is in full power combat with real opponents, it’s possible that he either re-injured that bicep tear in his right arm, or the strain of daily matches has brought in the biggest long term threat, inflammation. I cite this as a threat because swelling will tear tissue, and create damage that cannot heal.
Right now, The Boss is playing for time. He has a personal goal to make it to next summer to still be an active Yokozuna during the Tokyo 2020 summer olympics, and to continue in sumo until he can secure his Japanese citizenship and transition to an Oyakata. The question now, can his arm hold out that long? If he takes the pattern of one tournament on, one tournament off, he needs to just survive 3 more tournaments to reach his olympics goal. That’s 25 more wins (1+8+8+8) for the winningest man in sumo.
But as an egotist, I could see Hakuho driving himself to the point of muscle failure in that injured arm, simply to maintain the facade of the invisible, unbeatable ultimate dai-Yokozuna. Let’s hope it does not come to that. But his sumo is very rough now, and I fear he will have some big problems with his second week opponents. He can reach the safety of kachi-koshi on Sunday by beating Shodai.
Terutsuyoshi defeats Tokushoryu – Terutsuyoshi’s poorly executed henka attempt nearly lost him the match, but he rallied and drove Juryo visitor Tokushoryu out of the ring. That was one fine recovery.
Toyonoshima defeats Sadanoumi – As always, act 2 brings some great reversals, and after having a miserable basho in act 1, perhaps Toyonoshima has found his sumo. Toyonoshima finally looked more like his normal self, as he used his belly to disrupt Sadanoumi’s offense, and closed the match with a painful looking tottari.
Kotoyuki defeats Chiyomaru – Kotoyuki’s superior mobility carried this match, coupled with Chiyomaru’s poorly executed attempt at a pull down.
Kagayaki defeats Enho – Once in a while, Enho’s up and under tachiai misses its mark. This happened today as Kagayaki blocked him out at the initial charge and powerfully tossed his much smaller opponent out of the ring. Enho never had a moment to plant his feet to defend, and Kagayaki’s mobility ensured he was glued to Enho’s retreat.
Yago defeats Tochiozan – Tochiozan owned the tachiai, but for some reason broke contact, probably to try and improve his body / arm position. This left him off temp and Yago battled him for every attempt at a grip. With Tochiozan off balance, Yago was able to slap him down for the win. Fairly sloppy match, but I am sure Yago is happy for the win.
Kotoeko defeats Kaisei – Kaisei had a strong position, but that injured right arm robs him of any chance to generate meaningful offense. Kotoeko’s sukuinage was brilliantly executed, with his left foot as close to out as you could ever get and still win.
Shohozan defeats Takagenji – It seems Shohozan did indeed study that match against Okinoumi, as he applied a variation on the same theme. Although Shohozan’s usual style of sumo is a fairly brutal oshi style, he took Takagenji to his chest, and wore him down. For the second day in a row, this worked.
Okinoumi defeats Nishikigi – Nishikigi works for his normal arm pin, but Okinoumi deftly entraps him instead, pulls him off balance to the right and rolls it into a uwatehineri. When you have veterans like Okinoumi on the dohyo, you can get some really impressive displays of sumo skill.
Onosho defeats Daishoho – Onosho really needed this win. He nearly bounced too far back at the tachiai, but was able to recover and advance with surprising strength and speed. His balance was still to far out in front of his big toe, but today it worked for him.
Chiyotairyu defeats Tomokaze – I am not sure if it was the plan, or Chiyotairyu improvised today, but this was lightning fast and perfectly executed. Tomokaze, to his credit, absorbed most of that cannon ball tachiai, but Chiyotairyu smoothly shifted to his right, and pushed hard. That put Tomokaze off balance and out of control.
Shimanoumi defeats Kotoshogiku – As I mentioned earlier in the week, I was happily enjoying the genki Kotoshogiku, but knew that with his catalog of injuries he was going to struggle later. We can see in this match against Shimanoumi, that the former Ozeki just can’t quite generate much in the way of forward pressure.
Myogiryu defeats Ichinojo – Myogiryu continues his dominance over the Boulder, and for at least today, he distracted Ichinojo by attacking his neck / face. For whatever reason, Ichinojo decided to respond in kind rather than pressing the attack to win, and while Myogiryu received something that looked like the Vulcan Death Grip, his right hand found a deep grip on Ichinojo’s mawashi. Now Ichinojo is high, and has no real grip on Myogiryu. Myogiryu drops his hips, and Ichinojo has no defense. I am sure it hurt, but Myogiryu’s gambit paid off.
Meisei defeats Takarafuji – I think everyone in the Dolphin Arena was relieved for Meisei, who finally scored his first win of the basho. Sadly, journeyman technician Takarafuji only has 2 wins thus far.
Hokutofuji defeats Abi – This is the first time that Hokutofuji was able to score a win against Abi, and I think it happened because Hokutofuji’s tachiai landed deeper than Abi expected, and he was able to shut down Abi’s right hand lead off to his normal thrusting attack. Abi-zumo requires a bit of distance to the opponent, and has Hokutofuji has show before, his lower body is nearly autonomous, able to advance while his upper body absorbs blow after blow.
Ryuden defeats Tamawashi – Tamawashi came out strong, and took the tachiai, forcing Ryuden back. But Tamawashi has a predictable left-right thrusting attack, and Ryuden was able to pivot at the end of Tamawashi’s right arm thrust, leaving no where for his left to go. Now off balance and leaning forward, Ryuden finishes him with a shove to the shoulder. Nice timing on Ryuden’s part.
Mitakeumi defeats Asanoyama – Don’t fret Asanoyama fans. His first trip to the upper reaches of Maegashira was always going to be a rough ride. His sumo is still solid, and it’s still improving. Mitakeumi gave him a close in demo of tadpole sumo, and it worked brilliantly. Robbed of any ability to land a grip, Asanoyama tries to pull, and that release of forward pressure is all any tadpole needs to put you away.
Takayasu defeats Aoiyama – In spite of his 3-4 record, I don’t think Aoiyama has looked this good since two years ago at Nagoya where he took the jun-yusho. If you look at Aoiyama’s foot placement during this match, its quite excellent, and his focus on keeping maximum pressure against Takayasu’s upper body is relentless. But when his attempt to throw Takayasu failed, he was defenseless, and Takayasu moved him out for the win. Good sumo from both. I think that Andy may have been on to something he thought it might be time for Takayasu to contend for the cup.
Endo defeats Goeido – I am calling it now, Goeido’s ankle is acting up again, and we are not going to see good Ozeki sumo out of him for the rest of the tournament. He is going to try to piece together his 8, which he might do, but don’t look for his awesome pure offense sumo on a daily basis. I think Endo was surprised by how easy it was to land a mawashi grip at the tachiai.
Hakuho defeats Daieisho – The Yokozuna looked rough, out of control and trying anything he could short of his favorite throws, all of which count on that right arm. Fans who are not comfortable with the sometimes brutal nature of sumo should be put on notice. Once Monday rolls around, Hakuho will be facing higher ranked opponents, and every one of them are going to work to attack that arm. I am sure The Boss knows it too, and why the day 8 match against Shodai is going to be pivotal.
Kakuryu defeats Shodai – I will say it, Kakuryu looks more genki right now than Hakuho. Shodai gave him a few tricksy moves, but really had no answer to the Yokozuna’s forward advance.