September 2017, Day 15, Mitakeumi v Yoshikaze

Yoshikaze has his eight wins already, and Mitakeumi wants what he’s got. Some see the higher winning percentage of 7-7 wrestlers on the final day as evidence of match-fixing (or at least an unspoken code of generosity among wrestlers), but I think much of it can be explained simply by the extra motivation brought about by the desperation of a wrestler in that position. Either way, Mitakeumi barely squeaks by Yoshikaze today, relying on a last-ditch pull on the back of the head to drive Yoshikaze into the dirt at the edge of the ring. The match leading up to that is full of great sumo, with Yoshikaze looking sharper and stronger than Mitakeumi. But there can be only one winner, and Yoshikaze eats clay first.

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September 2017, Day 14, Mitakeumi v Harumafuji

Yokozuna Harumafuji stays one win behind tournament leader Goeido, now the only man who can prevent Goeido from winning his second championship. Harumafuji dispatches Mitakeumi with no-nonsense sumo, using his superior strength and two belt grips to walk out the younger wrestler with ease. Mitakeumi sits at 7-7, and will need to beat Yoshikaze tomorrow if he wants a winning record this tournament.

September 2017, Day 11, Mitakeumi v Goeido

Disappointing performance from Mitakeumi today. I had hopes that he would put up more resistance against Ozeki Goeido, but Goeido quickly locks up a double-overarm belt grip and takes a few short steps to the edge of the ring. Mitakeumi just goes along for the ride, helpless in the grasp of the Ozeki. Mitakeumi falls to 5-6, with tough bouts against Yoshikaze and Yokozuna Harumafuji remaining on his schedule. Making eight wins will be tough. Goeido cruises to a 10-1 record, two wins ahead of his closest rivals for the championship with four days remaining.

September 2017, Day 6, Mitakeumi v Kotoshogiku

These two guys are headed in opposite directions, both in the short arc of this tournament and over the longer perspective of their careers. Mitakeumi started with a few losses but looks better day by day, while Kotoshogiku started 4-0 but now has dropped two in a row. I won’t be surprised if Mitakeumi makes Ozeki someday, and he’ll need continued success against the veteran gatekeepers of the top of the division like ex-Ozeki Kotoshogiku to make that happen. Taking on Kotoshogiku’s strong tachiai and driving him to the edge of the ring, finishing with the sukuinage (beltless arm throw) – that’s just the kind of high-level performance we’d like to see from Mitakeumi.

September 2017, Day 4, Mitakeumi v Tamawashi

Tamawashi completely destroys Mitakeumi on the tachiai, putting his head under Mitakeumi’s chin and driving him the length of the dohyo. Mitakeumi’s right arm is stuck in a clamp under Tamawashi’s left, so his only option is to twist sideways at the edge of the ring and go for a last-gasp sukuinage (beltless arm throw) with his left arm. Tamawashi goes flying, and the ref calls the bout for Mitakeumi, but a conference of the ring judges determines correctly that Mitakeumi’s right foot stepped out moments before Tamawashi’s left arm hit the ground, and the ref’s decision is reversed. Tamawashi gets the win.

September 2017, Day 3, Mitakeumi v Shohozan

See, I told you Mitakeumi would figure it out. Today Mitakeumi keeps his weight centered over his feet to defend against Shohozan’s always-fierce pushing attack. Without overextending himself he uses one mighty shove against the chin to lift Shohozan’s head backwards before pulling down hard on the arms and dropping his opponent to the dirt. With a spate of injuries depleting the ranks of contenders in the top division, Mitakeumi could challenge for the title if he manages to stay focused.

September 2017, Day 2, Mitakeumi v Chiyotairyu

This makes two days in a row that Mitakeumi has been dropped with a pulling technique, letting his torso get way out in front of his legs. I’m sure he’s just overeager, trying to prove himself at his young age and high rank, but his expression after the loss makes me think he’s realized his mistake and he’ll have it fixed tomorrow. Here’s hoping.