Haru 2020 Day Fifteen Recap
As it turns out, the rikishi who fared best with no fans was simply the greatest to have ever done it. Hakuho defeated fellow Yokozuna Kakuryu in the musubi no ichiban on the final day to claim his record extending 44th championship. A truly unusual basho had a result that was fairly typical.
But the basho overall had plenty of oddness beyond the closed door atmosphere. The first basho in decades with one Ozeki, this Haru had a strange Banzuke that extended to Maegashira 18 East. The looming threat of COVID-19 cast a weird pall over proceedings, as everyone entering the Osaka Edion Arena was wearing a mask, then had to be checked for a fever. There was also the guarantee that if any wrestler tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the whole tournament would be stopped immediately.
That didn't happen and the basho kept going. Once sumo was taking place, the fighting became the focus. In the early days, the biggest story was the leg injury to former Ozeki Takayasu. Takayasu's hopes of recovering his old spot were immediately dashed as he crumpled to the ground in his match against Kakuryu. The scene was made worse by his anguished screams ringing around the empty arena. More ominous was Chiyomaru sitting out days eight through ten with a high temperature, which was a mandatory rule this time. It also meant he was testing for the coronavirus.
He turned out just to have a brief fever, and the basho went to all fifteen days. The action on the dohyo was dominated by three expected rikishi and three unexpected ones. The two Yokozuna and Sekiwake East Asanoyama were in the yusho race for pretty much the whole basho. They were joined by Mitakeumi, Aoiyama, and Takanosho to varying degrees. Mitakeumi is a two-time winner and former Sanyaku mainstay who was looking like he regained his form. Aoiyama is a veteran rikishi with a few double-digit win totals in his career who was looking better than he has in awhile. Takanosho is an up-and-comer who was looking like he has reached a new level.
It was the top ranked men who ended up with the only real chance on the last day. Mitakeumi and Aoiyama faded in the final week, while Takanosho was always just off the pace. Asanoyama was eliminated from contention by losing to both Yokozuna. The tournament would end like the Japan Sumo Association always wants it to, with a Yokozuna battle to determine the Emperor's Cup holder. Hakuho and Kakuryu didn't disappoint, as Kakuryu got the initial advantage on the mawashi and Hakuho had to maneuver to victory.
The second-to-last match was also massively consequential. By defeating the only Ozeki in Takakeisho, Asanoyama guaranteed he would be elevated to Ozeki. The official promotion will happen in the coming week, giving the Banzuke two Yokozuna and two Ozeki for May. That is a bit of a surprise, as Asanoyama now has 32 wins over three basho and no wins over Yokozuna. But it is his second Jun-Yusho in three tournaments, plus his fourth straight double-digit win total. That is Ozeki sumo, most of which was accomplished at essentially a typically Ozeki spot on the Banzuke.
That will open up a Sanyaku position for May, and likely the Sanyaku will be Shodai, Mitakeumi, Daieisho, and Okinoumi in some order. The other end of the Makuuchi division is a bit tougher to call. Tsurugisho, Azumaryu, Meisei, and Daiamami all had demotion worthy performances, while Takayasu could be in trouble based on recent injury affected zero win performances. Four Juryo rikishi, Wakatakakage, Terunofuji, Tobizaru, and Kotoshoho all got ten or more wins. Kotoshoho got 12 and the yusho, in fact. Plus, Kotoyuki notched 8 from the top rank in Juryo.
We don't know how the world will change in six weeks, especially considering what the last six weeks will look like. The typical Jungyo regional tour that takes place between the Haru and Natsu bashos is cancelled. Yet the Japan Sumo Association is moving forward. Even if it doesn't have fans, and even if the eventual result feels all too familiar, sumo keeps going.