2005 Year in Review
The release of the 2006 Hatsu basho banzuke always comes out early, so the Sumo Association can garner sufficient hype for their sport before everyone in Japan forgets about anything that doesn't have to do with year-end parties, bad holiday TV programming, and the subsequent biggest holiday of the year, New Years. To either tide your sumo fix over through the holidays or to provide you with ten minutes of boredom when the sleeping pills won't do their job, I present my 2005 year in review of sumo.
Basho of the Year
There's no second guessing this one. Asashoryu so thoroughly dominated the sport this year that he won four out of the six tournaments by two or more bouts. The only tournament that was really even close was the Aki basho, a tournament that provided more drama than the other five combined. To recap, the basho got off to a fantastic start when Komusubi Futenoh pounded Asashoryu on the first day halting the Yokozuna's streak of day 1 wins at 20 tournaments. Coupled with Sekiwake Kotooshu's 12-0 start, that rare loss by Asashoryu on day 1 was compounded exponentially on day 11 by a shocking defeat to Aminishiki, a rikishi Asashoryu wouldn't have even faced if it weren't for the withdrawals of an Ozeki and a Sekiwake. So heading into day 13, Asashoryu was two losses behind the leader and his day 13 opponent, Kotooshu, with just three days to go. A Kotooshu win would have sealed the deal, and the Bulgarian almost got it when he had Asashoryu by the back of the belt with the Yokozuna turned around. An athletic 180 degree pirouette by the Yokozuna allowed him to escape Kotooshu's clutches and eventually slap the Sekiwake down for the ugly win. Despite Kotooshu's first loss, he still led the Yokozuna by one bout heading into the final two days, and with Ozeki give-up-against-the-heavyweights Chiyotaikai as his senshuraku opponent, all Kotooshu had to do was to beat M16 Kisenosato on day 14 to secure a record-breaking yusho. It wasn't meant to be, however, as Kisenosato manhandled a lackadaisical Kotooshu handing the Sekiwake a costly second loss--costly in that it meant that he and Asashoryu were tied going into the final day. Both Asashoryu and Kotooshu easily won their senshuraku bouts, which meant that the only playoff for the yusho of the year would be held between the two. After an unorthodox tachi-ai from both rikishi, Asashoryu latched onto Kotooshu's belt and easily pushed the deflated Sekiwake out for the yusho. To be classified as a great basho, several elements must be in place: the yusho race must be undecided heading into senshuraku, multiple rikishi must be in the yusho race, and a Maegashira rikishi must rise up and surprise everyone by playing a factor in the yusho hunt. With Yokozuna Asashoryu, Sekiwake Kotooshu, and M16 Kisenosato fulfilling the requirements posting 13-2, 13-2, 12-3 records respectively, the 2005 Aki basho had all the ingredients.
Bout of the Year
The bout of the year was the turning point. It determined the course that sumo will take the next year and beyond. Heading into the Nagoya basho, the last rikishi on anyone's mind was Komusubi Kotooshu. In his debut basho at Komusubi several tournaments earlier, Kotooshu flubbed his way to a 4-11 record, so no one was necessarily expecting great things from this youngster a that time. That all changed on day 8 of the Nagoya basho when Kotooshu survived a fierce charge by Asashoryu and dug in his heels at the tawara to counter by grabbing a secure right outer grip. Kotooshu used the uwate to force the action back to the center of the ring where he and the Yokozuna went for broke in a classic dual belt throw move by both rikishi called the nage-no-uchi-ai. Kotooshu's uwate looked to be the difference as Asashoryu used his head to cushion his fall, but the result was so close that a mono-ii, or judges conference, was called to review the action. Slow motion reply did indeed show that Asashoryu's mage, or top-knot, hit the dohyo before Kotooshu's arm leading the Japanese press to declare it "a win by a mage." There were probably a handful of more exciting bouts in 2005, but this win was the turning point in Kotooshu's career. It showed that he could beat the Yokozuna in a straight up fight, and it spurned him onto three straight solid basho that earned Kotooshu promotion to the Ozeki ranks.
Honorable mention goes to Komusubi Futenoh's thrashing of Asashoryu on day 1 of the Aki basho to set up the best basho of the year.
Rikishi of the Year
There's not much more we can say about Yokozuna Asashoryu, but I'll try. Let's start at the Hatsu basho where Asashoryu waltzed to the yusho with a flawless 15-0 mark. The victory gave him his tenth career yusho and was the perfect start to his 2005 quest to capture each yusho that year. Then in March, remember that gold mawashi? That was the first time a Yokozuna had worn the color since Wajima, a rikishi who posted 14 career yusho and stood at number five all time at the beginning of the year. I said then and I still maintain that Asashoryu was calling his shot by wearing that gold mawashi. I think he was signaling to everyone that he could surpass Wajima in Kyushu if he reached his goal by winning each tournament in 2005. He did just that by scoring number 15 to nudge Wajima down to sixth place on the all time yusho list. Getting back to Haru, you'll remember on day 14 that Asashoryu lost to Tochiazuma after a controversial mono-ii resulted in a rematch. That was the Yokozuna's first loss of the year--I guess--but how did Asa react after that? He threw away the gold mawashi (hence the fun and games) and donned the black mawashi to kick Chiyotaikai's ass around on senshuraku. It's pure focus. There was no way that Asashoryu wasn't going to yusho in Haru at that point, but the Yokozuna is so focused on the task at hand that he went back to his usual black just to make sure.
Another interesting stat for the Yokozuna this year. His three losses through the first four basho were all associated with mono-ii. So even when the Yokozuna does lose, it's usually by the skin of his teeth. While I agree that Kotooshu clearly beat Asashoryu in July, I think he was robbed against Tochiazuma in March and Kokkai in July. It wasn't until day 1 of September that the Yokozuna lost without any question. As long as we're dwelling on losses, let's go back to Nagoya and recap how the Yokozuna lost those two bouts. Against Kotooshu on day 8 as both rikishi threw each other to the dirt, damned if Asashoryu was going to use his arms to break his fall and give Kotooshu that much more of a chance. As the Yokozuna fell the clay he landed directly on his top-knot and somersaulted over to perfection. That's why the rikishi wear the top-knot today...for protection, but I doubt you'll ever see anyone again do what the Yokozuna did in that loss. Then against Kokkai as the Yokozuna was falling to the dirt as Kokkai was tight-roping the tawara, Asashoryu arched his back in mid air and raised all four limbs upwards in swan dive fashion so he would strike the tawara at the last possible moment. Sorry for going on and on Asashoryu haters, but even in most of his defeats, the Yokozuna is still brilliant.
So what does Asashoryu do to top his performance in 2005? According to the Yokozuna his next goal is to go 90-0 in 2006. Uh, good luck there. I doubt that Asashoryu can beat Kotooshu six times in a row simply because at some point in 2006, Kotooshu is gonna get an uwate, but don't put it past the Yokozuna to post a mark of 86-4. And for the record, the next legend in his sights is Takanohana who sits in fourth place all time with 22 yusho. On the final day of Kyushu, Mainoumi commented that he wouldn't be surprised to see Asashoryu's consecutive yusho streak reach 12. Mainoumi is the best color guy in the sport for good reason.
Rikishi of the Year besides Asashoryu
Because Asashoryu has been so dominant these past few years, it's only fair to spotlight the rikishi of the year besides Asashoryu. This was is a no-brainer. Has anyone noticed that for the last two months or so, the only news stories and the only sumo pictures posted online are of Asashoryu and Kotooshu? With Asashoryu's record breaking run, you have to keep tabs on the Yokozuna, but despite his incredible success, Kotooshu is the rikishi demanding the bulk of the attention. And for good reason besides the color of his skin. He's made larger strides the last half of 2005 than anyone, and of Asashoryu's six losses in 2005, Kotooshu was responsible for two of them. That stat is so important. Remember how much hype Hakuho was getting at the end of last year and the first basho this year? The problem was that Hakuho couldn't beat Asashoryu in a straight up fight. He did win in Kyushu 2004, but that was cat and mouse sumo. Kotooshu on the other hand has pounded Asashoryu twice in their last three meetings. That's the difference. Kotooshu has the confidence now...the confidence that kept him in the sanyaku the final three basho of the year, and the confidence that will propel him to the Ozeki ranks beginning in 2006. I can't stress enough how sumo is such a mental sport. I still think that Kotooshu is a few basho away from taking the yusho. He's a marked man now, and I think his promotion stirs up a little bit of pride in the other Ozeki. Still, Kotooshu is already penciled in as the next best again for 2006.
Newcomer of the Year
This is a tough one. Well, the choice is obvious, but it doesn't look so grand when you consider this rikishi only scored a kachi-koshi in two of his six basho this year. Still, you look at the Kyushu banzuke and how many newcomers are there that made any sort of impact on the sport this year? Hakurozan? Katayama? Tamaasuka? No, no, and no. Kisenosato's biggest contribution came during the Aki basho when he soared to a 12-3 record including a crucial win over Kotooshu on day 14. Paired against the best of the best in Kyushu, Kisenosato only managed five wins, but three of those were against Kotooshu, Tamanoshima, and Kotomitsuki. The kid is only 19, but he has the confidence of an Ozeki and the ability of a sanyaku mainstay. It's just a matter of time.
Though they escaped the limelight the last two basho of the year, the biggest disappointment this year for me goes to the Sumo Association's Judging Committee. Their first ballyhoo occurred in March when they called a mono-ii on day 13 after the Asashoryu - Tochiazuma matchup. The actual judges conference was the longest in memory, but what were the judges really discussing? I mean watch the video. It was either a tori-naoshi or the referee's initial ruling in favor of Asashoryu stands. How long does it take? Replay the clip three times if you have to. What really happened is the judges caved in to the crowd's incessant clapping and chanting for another bout, and the rematch was finally awarded. Tochiazuma bested Asashoryu in the rematch straight-up, but the problem lies in the judges failure to maintain precedent, especially when the ruling involves a Yokozuna. The Association was flooded with calls, faxes, and emails from angry fans, and I guarantee you those weren't foreign fans. They were Japanese fans who were pissed at the blown call (in mine and their opinions) and the disrespect shown to the Yokozuna. Even Kenji exploded and he's the most low key of us contributors. If that wasn't bad enough, the same situation arose again in Nagoya for the Asashoryu - Kokkai bout on day 11. I won't rehash all of that, but the judges made a handful of ridiculous calls or non-calls that basho that showed just how inconsistent their judging is.
I'll now skip forward to senshuraku in Nagoya and point out another blown call that received zero attention because it occurred in the Juryo ranks when Wakanoyama took on Daimanazuru. Wakanoyama was ranked J6 but was entering the day at 3-11. A win puts him at 4-11 and keeps him in the Juryo ranks somewhere around J13. A loss means he falls roughly 9 spots on the banzuke which would knock him out of Juryo. Wakanoyama charged straight ahead and pushed Daimanazuru back and out. As Daimanazuru retreated he went for a pull down and hoped to knock Wakanoyama to the dirt before he stepped out. When it was said and done, the referee incorrectly ruled for Daimanazuru even though the one replay (NHK won't show it twice if a blatant mistake was made) clearly showed that Daimanazuru had stepped out before Wakanoyama hit the dirt. It was not even close. Yet, the judges are too busy picking their noses and filing their nails to call for a mono-ii. That bad call stood. So in the end, Wakanoyama is saddled with a loss when he actually won, and the result is his demotion from the Juryo ranks and sekitori status altogether. Goodbye paycheck and goodbye Wakanoyama. Yes, Wakanoyama's retirement was near anyway, but that's just an example of how crucial it is for the judges to actually watch the bouts rather than scan for chicks in the crowd.
Honorable mention for biggest disappointment goes to Baruto's appendics
You could really argue for Kotooshu or Kisenosato for this category, but I'm going with Futenoh. Futenoh was highly touted coming into the sport two years ago from the collegiate ranks, and he quickly obtained sekitori status, but once there, he just seemed to hit the wall. Coming into the year, Futenoh was fighting in the Juryo ranks, and after a struggle in the Makuuchi division to win 8 in March, something ticked in the kid to the tune of an 11-4 mark in May and a 10-5 performance in July. The streak launched him into the sanyaku where he proved he was no fluke by beating Asashoryu in straight up chest to chest sumo in September. Futenoh struggled after that in September and injured his ankle in Kyushu, but I see Futenoh as one of the bright spots for the future of sumo.
I'm going to have to say this one ends in a tie between Kokkai and Roho. You could yoke both of these guys up and they'd outperform the strongest team of oxen you could put together, but for someone reason, they have underachieved for most of this year. Both rikishi have risen as high in the ranks as Maegashira 1, but the latter half of 2005 they have been floundering in the mid to lower Maegashira ranks. I see so much potential in these two rikishi, but neither of these guys lived up to it in 2005. Roho did tweak an ankle in July, and Kokkai was as high as M2 in September, but neither of these two has been able to kachi-koshi from the jo'i ranks. They'll both get their chance again in January where they should be ranked right around M3. I'd love nothing more than to see both of these guys in the sanyaku ranks at least once in 2006 and more importantly in the "Most Improved" category next December.
And finally, my non-sumo take of the year. Last year I created the category "Biggest non-sumo news of the year that interrupted NHK's live broadcast of the bouts." The winner hands down was US army deserter Charles Jenkins, who defected to North Korea in the 1960's where he married a Japanese woman who had been abducted from her homeland by spies and taken back to North Korea. Were I to keep the same category this year, the obvious winner would be the Japanese congressional debates on privatizing the country's postal system. A story that includes twists like "army deserter," "North Korean spies," "abductions," and "highschool dropout from the backwoods of North Carolina teaching English to said spies" is pretty cool I'll have to admit. However, terms like "Japanese politics" and "postal system privatization" bore me to the point of giving myself a dual nostril wax. So this year, I'm taking the liberty of changing the category to...
Biggest non-sumo headline that distracted me from checking the newswires for sumo news
We all have our various routines when logging on to the internet. The average routine could probably be summed up like this:
- login to email account and check emails
- delete emails from the supposed online pharmacies
- delete emails offering the can't miss penny stocks
- read emails offering to increase size AND girth
- send bank account information to that African prince who desperately needs help to launder 30 million dollars out of his country because his government is corrupt
- log out of email account
- open an internet browser and logon to Sumotalk (yeah, right)
- open another internet browser and logon to favorite porn site (more likely)
And on it goes...another day, same routine.
My routine during the four weeks from the time the banzuke is released to the end of the basho goes like this:
- login to email account
- read hate mail
- logout of email account
- open an internet browser and check the newswires for sumo news and pics
The routine is set in stone except for that one day when I opened my internet browser and saw the following headline that I just had to read before doing anything sumo: Madonna and Guy Ritchie booed. Congratulations Madonna, you're the winner. I immediately clicked on the link and brainstormed all of the reasons for booing Madonna as the page loaded, and believe me, I had a lengthy list. It turns out that the two were booed because they failed to stop and sign autographs for fans before entering the venue of some event. First off, the fans weren't there to see you, Madonna. They were lining up for the other celebrities when you just happened to show up. In sumo terms it's like this...you visit the Takasago-beya for early morning keiko in hopes of seeing Asashoryu. Asashoryu inevitably doesn't show up, but hey, there's Toki over there in the corner. So you go and ask for your picture to be taken with him or for an autograph and he refuses. My apologies to Toki for comparing him to Madonna by the way.
The point that galls me in all of this is that Madonna actually thinks she's too good for the common folk. Actually, she probably is better than anyone stupid enough to queue up for hours so they can watch a celebrity exit a car and enter a building, especially if the said celebrity is named Yon-sama. Also, if any of you reading this are over the age of 21 and are still infatuated with celebrities, you need to go to Sumotalk's online store and buy a healthy dose of self esteem. But I digress. I actually used to like Madonna. In the mid-eighties, she helped a lot of us guys get through puberty. Healthy images from her past included the Material Girl video and Madonna sporting plenty of baby fat rolling around on stage at the MTV music awards dressed in white lingerie. We all got the "like a virgin" joke, and all was good until the 90's when nobody started caring about Madonna anymore because her "music" started to suck. To compensate for the musical well that had run dry, Madonna tried to keep herself in the limelight by posing for Penthouse and even releasing a biography that was essentially a book of Madonna porn...er...uh...or so I've heard. The so-called virgin was now a self-proclaimed slut. Still no problem there. Do what you gotta do to make your money.
Now in the new millennium, Madonna is a wrinkled, middle-aged woman that nobody cares about. For all I know, it could be a man with a girly body under all that makeup. What has she done lately? Released a children's book? Fantastic. Slut your way through life for twenty years and then come out with a children's book. Oh, I guess she also did make another appearance at the MTV music awards a few years back, but it took MTV's putting her onstage flanked by two young skanks in Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera to keep everyone from fleeing to the concession stands and restrooms during her performance. A Madonna world tour in the future? Fat chance. Have fun playing those 100 seat venues. To wrap up, none of the intelligent readers of this website are fooled by your act. You used to be a star who has long worn out her welcome. Stop leeching off of younger stars and events that aren't meant for you and start showing some courtesy to people who actually still know your name. And believe me, you deserve to get booed a lot more than you do now. Aw, who am I trying to fool? I'm just bitter because Madonna has toungued Britney Spears and I haven't. Happy holidays everyone. Here's to a year of kick-ass sumo in 2006.
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