Mitakeumi overpowered Abi on Friday, January 21 to remain tied for the lead with grand champion Terunofuji with two days left in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
A day after losing to Onosho, Sekiwake Mitakeumi fought off a barrage of arm thrusts by No. 6 maegashira Abi before coming in low and shoving his opponent out to improve to 11-2. Abi dropped to 10-3 and is all but eliminated from contention.
It was a clutch win for Mitakeumi who is bidding for his third Emperor’s Cup and potential promotion to ozeki. He will face Takarafuji on Saturday before a likely showdown with Terunofuji on the final day of the 15-day basho.
In the day’s final bout at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Terunofuji, who lost to Meisei the previous day, got a hold of Takanosho’s arm shortly after the face-off before getting a left-hand grip on the belt and shoving the sekiwake out.
Terunofuji, who is bidding to become the first wrestler in 103 years to win the first three tournaments in a row after becoming a yokozuna, improved to 11-2. Takanasho fell to 6-7.
Terunofuji appeared to hurt his knee in Thursday’s loss to Meisei but there was no sign of any problem on Day 13 and he was back to his dominant self.
History is on Terunofuji’s side as he heads into the final two days.
Mitakeumi is 3-12 in head-to-head bouts with Terunofuji, who will face Abi on Day 14.
Further down the ranks, promising young wrestler Kotonowaka, a No. 14 maegashira, shoved out veteran Tamawashi to improve to 10-3. No. 3 Tamawashi fell to 7-6.
Hoshoryu, the nephew of former yokozuna Asashoryu, used a textbook arm throw to send Kotoeko toppling to the dirt surface.
No. 6 maegashira Hoshoryu picked up his ninth win against four losses while No. 17 Kotoeko dropped to 8-5.
No. 7 maegashira Takarafuji used a rare thigh grabbing pushdown to defeat komusubi Meisei while improving to 9-4. Meisei stands at 5-8.
In other major bouts, No. 5 maegashira Onosho (9-4) continued to heap misery on Shodai when he used a neck throw to send the struggling ozeki to his eighth loss against five wins.
The result means that Shodai will be “kadoban” for the March tournament, meaning he will need to post a winning record to maintain his ozeki status.
It’s been a disappointing tournament for the two ozeki wrestlers. Ozeki Takakeisho was forced to pull out on Day 4 after going 1-3 and injuring his foot.
No. 2 maegashira Ichinojo took a giant step toward securing a winning record when he overpowered No. 11 Sadanoumi to give both wrestlers a record of 7-6.
Ura, the other No. 2 maegashira, also moved closer to a winning record when he used a frontal force-out to dispatch Chiyoshoma while picking up his seventh win against six losses. Fifth-ranked maegashira Chiyoshoma dropped to 4-9.
Top maegashira Wakatakakage shoved out Endo to improve to 7-6. No. 3 maegashira Endo dropped to 5-8 and appears destined to move down the ranks for the next tournament.
First Star: Mitakeumi. The sekiwake wrestler needed a big win over upset-minded Abi on Day 13 and got it. Mitakeumi has had a reputation for faltering in the second half of the tournament, but that hasn’t been the case this time around.
Second Star: Terunofuji. With a bounce back win over Takanosho, Terunofuji put himself back in the driver’s seat heading into the final two days.
Third Star: Kotonowaka. The young rank-and-filer has shown incredible poise in the New Year Basho that would make his grandfather Kotozakura, the 53rd yokozuna, proud.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here, on JAPAN Forward.