Nagoya 2022 Day Five
Public League Leaderboard
Maegashira #2 West Ichinojo
Maegashira #6 West Tobizaru
Maegashira #8 West Nishikigi
Maegashira #11 West Midorifuji
Maegashira #13 East Ichiyamamoto
Sukuinage. It is not just that Tobizaru beat Aoiyama with a beltless arm throw, but that he did it when he seemed to have a yorikiri in hand. Pulling out a throw attempt seemed to surprise Aoiyama as much as anyone.
Match of the Day
Yokozuna East Terunofuji versus Maegashira #2 West Ichinojo
With an undefeated rikishi facing the lone Yokozuna, this matchup was the one to watch on paper coming into Day Five. Then it delivered. Befitting two large, powerful grapplers, Terunofuji and Ichinojo got a grip on each other immediately. Terunofuji began to work Ichinojo around, but the Maegashira used his immense size to lean on Terunofuji. Neither seemed like they could throw the other, both for their girth and the tightness of each grip. In the end, Ichinojo showed he could outlast Terunofuji and remain undefeated with a kinboshi.
Ichinojo's win was impressive in itself, but it had a huge impact. Since Ichiyamamoto and Nishikigi both lost earlier in the day, Ichinojo is the sole leader and one remaining undefeated rikishi. He also pushed another significant rival two losses behind him. And he is not only sitting at 5-0, but has arguably had the toughest schedule so far. Facing a typical upper Maegashira opening week, Ichinojo has seen only Sanyaku wrestlers and still needs to see Mitakeumi, Shodai, and Abi.
But Ichinojo's toughest matches are in his rear view mirror and he has at least one win on everybody. Ichinojo has had impressive basho before, but has never won a yusho. He is set up as well as ever to lift an Emperor's Cup. His second week will be dominated by fellow Maegashira, while the Sanyaku will beat each other up. He also is in rare form this basho, avoiding his unhappy recent habit of moving backwards with little resistance when in trouble. If the biggest man in sumo can stand his ground, that puts every opponent in danger.
Ichinojo should not be crowned just yet. First of all, there are ten more days of sumo. Second, there may be small red flags. Ichinojo looks as strong as he has in a year after sitting out a whole basho thanks to a stablemate's COVID diagnosis. That doesn't indicate he would hold up well over the second week. And his second week will look easier on paper, but may not be in theory. The Ozeki are clearly not at their best. Kiribayama, Kotonowaka, and Tamawashi are 3-2, but have fought well and are never fun matchups. There is no reason to think Ichinojo won't stumble at some point.
The other reason that we should be wary of a simple, dominating yusho from anyone is that this basho has been surprising day in and day out. Look at the four rikishi at 4-1 after five days--Tobizaru, Nishikigi, Midorifuji, and Ichiyamamoto. None of them were pre-tournament favorites. Interestingly, none of them are overwhelming powerhouses. The Nagoya basho has been full of slips, awkward sumo, and remarkable recoveries. The slightly undersized rikishi are surviving perhaps by being more used to switching plans in the middle of a match.
Five days have established a clear shape to the yusho race, but we are only a third of the way through the Nagoya basho. The next third could be just as unexpected, which could make the final third hugely impactful. Or Ichinojo keeps winning and everyone else can't keep up. Even if that boring second scenario does happen, at least we are getting a surprise win for a veteran rikishi. And that's maybe the least interesting outcome.