Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14
Senshuraku Clancy

Senshuraku Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Hey folks, sorry I'm late. I was unavoidably detained (hangover). For me, the big story of the Aki Basho was Sumotalk. Yea, that's right, Sumotalk. I not only love writing about sumo, I love reading about it, too, and just because I am a member of this site doesn't mean I don't ooh and aah when the stuff gets good. Some of you might be saying, Clancy, where's the humility? I say screw humility, the act of feigning as if one doesn't notice good things about one's self. Just another pretension that has attained the status of unwritten law. Why is it okay for someone to say, Hey, that was great, myan! but not okay for me to say, Hey, I was great, myan! I know good when I see it, and the fact that I might be the agent of said good will never stop me from pointing it out.

Course, I seldom think that I have done something that is worth pointing out to the world at large. I'm much more inclined to point out the exceptional that my friends and colleagues have done, even my adversaries (I get strange looks from my partners here in Japan when I get vocally enthusiastic about a great doubles tennis shot by a guy on the other side of the net). Essentially, what matters to me is not WHO did it, but WHAT they did.

So, what did they do this basho? Well, let's take the forecasting for example. Mike had these lines on Day 2:

"Miyabiyama moves to 1-1, but I see a similar performance to what we witnessed in Nagoya. Ten wins...maybe." (Miyabi finishes 9-6)

"The Ozeki cannot afford a start like this, so don't be surprised if Kaio has already called Musoyama asking for advice on coming up with a fake injury." (Kaio pulls out after Day 6 with a lame aching back excuse)

"It's still early, but it already looks as if Asashoryu (2-0) is on his way to an uncontested yusho." (About as uncontested as they come.)

You bet your ass it was early, Mike, but I like the fact that, as the ineffable Johnny Cochran once said, 'You have the brains to seer it, and the cojones to declare it.'

On Day 3 Mike had this gem: "The only concern for Kotooshu this basho is his poor tachi-ai, and I'm sure it will come back to burn him eventually..." (Kotooshu loses his first bout on Day 4 with a lame tachi-ai)

On Day 4, I predicted a 2-2 Iwaki could lose strong to Baruto on Day 5 to go 2-3 and finish with ten wins. He did.

Mike on Day 6:
"Expect the Sumo Association to set up a date between Ama and Baruto soon to even things out a bit." (With Day 7 bouts already set, the two were paired on Day 9)

"Chiyotaikai falls to 4-2 and is already out of the yusho race that he was never in to begin with." (Okay, this one wasn't so impressive because we ALL know The Hairpulling Pup won't be there at the end)

Kenji, Day 8: "When this happens, the separation game doesn't bode well for Baruto's feet, which seem to fly around a bit without much stability." (Chewbaruto drops out after Day 10 with legs injured in a very unstable fall)

Me on Day 9: "It would be wildly improbable for Mitsuki to finish at 8-7 again, wouldn't it? He's getting nearly as predictable as The Wolf's Pup and Circus." (Mitsuki finishes at 8-7, going 2-4 the final six days to get there)

Then there is the frank and earnest commentary, like this:

Bernie on Day 5: Kaio. Hmmph. Well, what to say here? I'm glad there is some justice in the universe, and now that he's home free, nobody needs to pull their punches. (Exactly!)

George on Day 14: Look at Asa's neck and head move in perfect synch with Chiyo's skillful puppetry. This is Gepetto and Pinocchio, but it's sokubi-otoshi to the shinpan. (Can George get a witness!)

See what I mean? Yea, sure, if we do the "perspective" thing, okay, this is just some piddly little website with a readership of prolly 200 that don't mean squat in the Big Picture. There are other people commenting on sumo, most of you can figure it out for yourself, and we do make some bad predictions. But damn if we don't occasionally rock! And short our man, Simon, no less!

(Sumotalk would like to take this opportunity to make plain that the opinions presented on these pages are those of the commentator and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of a most humble management.)

Day 15 was unpredictable in many ways, starting with the odd fact that while eight men started the day at 7-7, all six Maegashira lost, and only the two Komusubi won to get kachi-koshi. 

M13 Tochinohana neutralized Kakizoe's strong tachi-ai with a well timed arm slap only to become over extended as he chased the little M8 back to the edge. My man sews up a 9-6 to head back to where he's from, Tough Guy Neighborhood. 

M12 Tosanoumi fell for M8 Krustyshuzan's (6-9) weird stiff armed tachi-ai (he looks like an NFL running back fending off tacklers). What a shame, I was really, really rootin' for Tosanoumi. 

M11 Homasho ran into a rejuvenated M7 Kotoshogiku who went from 3-5 to 10-5 (albeit vs weaker opposition). The Geeku used his strong pushing to set Homa up for the slapdown, which got him off balance and made him an easy pushout victim.

M9 Asasekiryu was in a true battle as M12 Yoshikaze (5-10) went mad, slapping away at the Mongolian like he was being accosted (which, I guess, in a way he was). Asasekiryu finally missed a push at the speedy Yoshikaze and fell forward where his hand touched down. It was a valiant effort this basho from Asasekiryu, who won five out of six mid-basho to reach 6-5 but then blew it by losing three of his last four.

M9 Takamisakari will be left scratching his head along with the butt he is always pawing after being, how shall I put it, murdered by Takekaze. The M10, who was, like Kotoshogiku, 3-5, got his tenth win by hitting Circus like he was a 6th grader at one of those "fer fun" exhibitions the rikishi do for good press and fresh recruits. If you don't have it on tape, go to and watch it. I'm not being facetious when I say this is what a man in the act of getting hit by a car must look like. Lamb. To. Slaughter. ('ello, Georgie Boy!)

Finally, the last of the Maegashira 7-7's, Tochinonada somehow lost after driving Dejima of all people back to the edge and up on to one leg! The Degyptian, who turned it all around on Day 10 with a great comeback oshidashi win over Kokkai, recovered and actually skirted!! to his left a bit, keeping Tochi at bay as he then went in and got a deep right grip that he strengthened during a short standoff, finishing it with a determined yorikiri. The former Ozeki won his last 6 bouts to keep the bleeding to a minimum at 7-8. Yep, the dude was 1-8 and didn't lose heart (btw, his losses came to a Yokozuna, four Ozeki, a Sekiwake, and a Komusubi). That's sumo pride, baby.

M6 Ama had a walkover win vs M13 Hokutoriki, not because the Jokester was absent, but because Ama walked right over him! (Ha! Get it? See, this is what I mean by Sumotalk's awesomeness, dyood.) The pedestrian pushout took the Mongolian to 11-4 and the Fighting Spirit award (I think he should also have gotten the Technique Award over Aminishiki for the Baruto win alone!), but it made me warm inside to see that after his chickenshit henka vs Kisenosato on Day 11, he lost his next three. Serves him right. (I have this recurring wet dream where John Goodman, as Walter in the Big Lebowski, takes a sledgehammer to the car of every rikishi who henkas an opponent, all the while screaming, You see what happens when you f*** a stranger in the ass?!) Still, he was golden on Day 9. I will never forget that Day 9 bout, Biomass vs Mongoose.

Mt. Iwaki was a force to be reckoned with this basho, and I am hopeful he continues it at M2 or M1 in Kyushu. On Day 15 he hit M15 Kasugao hard at tachi-ai and after a few slaps got in and on the belt, then executed a slow-motion uwatenage to make his 10th win. Kasugao lives to see another Makuuchi basho at 8-7.

M3 Aminishiki did not fall for the White Shadow's pulldown tactics, instead turning the tables and getting the hikiotoshi win himself. I like Aminishiki and am happy for him, but he sidesteps too much of the time for my taste. I will say here and now, look for him to get creamed in Kyushu, no more than 5 wins. Komusubi Kokkai was great in being the second consecutive new Komusubi to make kachikoshi (after Kisenosato, pronounced "Key say no sah toe", not "kiss, eh").

It was Standing Room Only as M1 Roho (actually, I'm starting to appreciate his rough hewn looks) completed his Redemption Tour 2006 with a what-goes-'round-comes-'round in-your-face-little-sidestepper win over Tochiazuma, the man I'd love to like but just can't. He hit the Ozeki at tachi-ai and then slid left and grabbed a lefthand outside belt and ran him to his 6th loss, much like Baruto did to the Ozeki on Day 6 (you think Roho and Baruto chat?) He missed out on a special prize with three losses in the last five days, but he may get the biggest prize in Kyushu with a Sekiwake ranking. If they want to reward Aminishiki with Komusubi, they will have to put Roho at Sekiwake, no? More likely they will put Roho at Komusubi and Ama and Aminishiki at M1, with Iwakiyama and The Geeku at M2, Baruto and Futenoh at M3. Who cares!

In the Sekiwake battle, Miyabiyama used the kind of tsuppari that would have carried him to Ozeki vs Koto Hit and Mitsuki that led to a slapdown and a 9th win. Will this keep him alive for Ozeki in Kyushu? Should it? You decide.

For some reason Chiyotaikai abandoned his favorite move, topknot yanking (Hey, you think the judges' decision to hand Chiyo Day 14 vs Asa had anything to do with the head judge being Chiyo's oyakata? Nah!, those other judges are strong enough to look the fiercest Yokozuna who ever lived straight in the eye and say, We think your guy cheated) in favor of the more traditional face pushing. It was a tame Ozeki this day, for he didn't even take Kotooshu's eye out or nothin'. But if there is anyone in sumo who can withstand The Pup's thrusts it is the big Bulgarian, who fought back from 6-5 (one fusensho) to win the Ozeki minimum ten. I was not impressed with his sumo this time out, but I was with his resilience in the last four days. Can he bring it in Kyushu finally, and take the yusho? Well, here is Clancy saying, Kotooshu will win the Kyushu basho!!

Take a brand new balloon right out of the bag, go on, and look at it. Take a good look. Nice and fresh, huh? Now blow it up real big, as big as you can, majestic and proud and bursting with possibility Now let the air out and look at it again. No longer taut, is it? Its loose and warped and wilted. The brand new balloon? That was Hakuho at the start of Nagoya. The blown up balloon? That was Hakuho after finishing Nagoya. The limp, formless, uninspired balloon? Guess.

Now of course, the real story of this basho is the story of a man who was denied promotion when he should have had it, a denial that took the starch out of his collar, the steam out of his engine, the ape out of his apricot. At a time when sumo needs a second Yokozuna worse than I need a porn block on my computer, the El-Duhs, or maybe just Kitanoumi Rijicho, inscrutably came up with that double amputee of an excuse to deny Hakuho his boost (that he "let" Asa win the yusho on Day 14, even though he beat him head-to-head on Day 15, Asashoryu, the record setting once in a generation Yokozuna who may very well one day be the top yusho winner of all time). Politics (and self-preservation) precluded the Ozeki from saying what he really thought about the decision, but it is obvious that it rocked his world, girlfriend (here do one of those trendy, hip hop girl head dips while waving your hand back and forth in front of your face with your fingers ready to snap, and then snap 'em).

Now, some of you are saying, Hold on there a minute, Mr. Bigwig. He was injured, he came out and said so his bad self. Let me tell you something about injuries. These are massive, solid men slamming into each other at high speeds for 15 days straight (unless they're running away, thereby causing Bernie to have to go change his BVD's). They're injured all the time. They not only live with pain like I do, they write notes to it in science class, take it to Inspiration Point, and introduce it to their parents! What they don't do is talk about it. Unless they're losing and need an excuse. 

Hakuho lost his chance at Yokozuna because to sustain a run like he had for five basho is extremely difficult and the law of averages, combined with his mental state after the denial of promotion, caught up with him. Yea, I'm sure he was hurting, and so is everyone else. He's only 21 and he just couldn't keep his mental house in order long enough to secure the promotion. Depending on how overwhelming Asa remains, Hakuho will be a Yokozuna by the end of 2007 at the earliest and the start of 2009 at the latest. Even then, don't expect an Asashoryu like career at the top, all yusho 13 wins or higher, six in a calendar year, 11 out of 12, et cetera. Asa is a predator, a freak of wrestling nature, and Hakuho isn't. 

But what about today's bout, Clancy, I hear you intone, a match Hakuho "lost"? Doesn't that bout show that he is better than Asashoryu? No, it doesn't. What it shows is that, like Mike when Jim Stafford plays the Delta Center, Hakuho gets hot for Asa. Asa, on the other hand, gets like that for everybody, which is why he is an all-timer. I think Hakuho will be a dai-Yokozuna, maybe 15 yusho or thereabouts, but he really needs to start seeing others as just as big a threat to his goals as he obviously sees Asashoryu.

Today both men got on the belt quickly, with Asa going for three separate throws that Hakuho balanced on one leg to fight off. Finally the Yokozuna got both hands in deep on the back of the belt and started lifting Hakuho up at the tawara, but the Ozeki did not lift easily, and as he fell back Asa let his grip go to push off from his falling compatriot, but Hakuho still had his own dual belt grip and twisted the Grand Champion to side as they fell.

Now I'm one of those guys who believes that sumo should be simple: First to touch loses. I do not like the, He was flying out and below the plane of the. . .yada yada yada. Who touched first? That's it. However, in this bout, it seemed to me that Asa did touch first, or at least simultaneously, and that a do-over should have been called for. Maybe they were trying to make up for the travesty of the Chiyo bout on Day 14, who knows? I DO know that it was good to finally see Asa get the benefit of a call (although naturally it came vs a foreign, not a Japanese, rikishi). Asa takes the yusho with 13 wins and Hakuho? Well, he takes a beatin' that he won't soon forget. Six losses to lesser lights, one to his arch-nemesis. 

Tune in next week or so when Simon may make some comments, and Mike will be doing a scorching post-basho report, no doubt. Be well.

Day 14 Comments (George Guida reporting)
All the purple zabuton in the world doesn't change the fact that Asashoryu clinched his 18th yusho today. And all the shinpan rulings in the world don't change the fact that the winning technique known as sokubi-otoshi doesn't include yanking a handful of your opponent's hair. The bizarre finish to Day 14 left a bad aftertaste to what was otherwise another stellar performance from the Yokozuna throughout the basho.

Today's musubi-ichiban was the hottest, wildest match of the tournament to date, and despite the controversy will go down as one of the few highlights in an otherwise lackluster tournament. Asa has won his last eight encounters with the Ozeki, and sooner or later the law of averages catches up, but no one would have expected it in this fashion. Asa's speed and tsuppari drove Chiyo back to the edge of the tawara, but Chiyo brought the fight back to the center where Asa attempted a sukui-nage that was blocked. Chiyo's momentum next had Asa backpedaling towards the tawara, but Asa leaped to his left causing Chiyo to scramble right and charge at Asa from a 45 degree angle, which left Chiyo vulnerable to a double tsuppari/shove that put some major distance between the two. And then, a rare strategical error by the Yokozuna. 

Instead of closing the gap and pushing out an off-balance Chiyotaikai, Asashoryu paused, wound up his left hand, and telegraphed a ridiculous left-handed tsuppari, no scratch that--haymaker--that was clearly intended to take Chiyo's head off his shoulders--all to no effect as Chiyo ducked and the blow wound up striking Chiyo's shoulder more than his head. With the yusho already in hand, and the match blazing at a feverish pace, Asa perhaps was thinking punishment first and victory second. I think ego and pride got the better of the Yokozuna here and it cost him. With the megaton tsuppari a dud, Asa and Chiyo started another round of tsuppari in the center of the dohyo when Chiyo suddenly appeared to get the upper hand and pulled down Asa. Asa, with straight-as-an-arrow body extension, dove into Chiyo's left thigh and forced Chiyo out, but not before Asa hit the dirt. Gunbai Chiyotaikai. Let's go to the replay. No doubt, despite Asa's amazing body control, Chiyo still has his left foot on the tawara, his right foot is in ballet mode and Asa's left hand and forearm hit the dirt before Chiyo is officially out. Not so fast, we have a mono-ii. 

From the initial replay angle, even the NHK announcing crew was stumbling for excuses as to why the mono-ii was called. Kokonoe Shinpan (Chiyonofuji) proclaimed the mono-ii was called because there was concern that Chiyo grabbed Asa's topknot. But after further review, no, he didn't. And somewhere in the locker room Kotooshu can be heard yelling "Baka!" 

I must have watched the replay from the definitive camera angle 10 times and even though the gyoji obstructs the final half-second before Asa hits the dirt, it's evident that Asa's hair is being pulled taut on the left side of his head. Chiyo's hand is clenched, he's grabbing hair and the strands of Asa's hair go from lax to tight, and all this on my simple, non-HDTV analog set. The replay was even more conclusive than Asa's loose tufts of hair sprouting from his topknot, because the Ozeki did go for an early pull down attempt that slightly mussed Asa's hair. Look at Asa's neck and head move in perfect synch with Chiyo's skillful puppetry. This is Gepetto and Pinocchio, but it's sokubi-otoshi to the shinpan. 

Was this a "let's send the fans home happy" ruling? If so, it's an insult to the Yokozuna. Just because Asa's clinched the yusho doesn't mean he's any less deserving of a win by disqualification. Asa needs to put this behind him and win convincingly against nemesis Hakuho tomorrow to keep any tarnish off of yusho No. 18--and counting. 

M6 Ama (10-4) let it all hang out by getting right in Tochiazuma's face with pestering tsuppari that for a moment kept the Ozeki off balance. Tochiazuma needed to plow forward only once to push Ama to the edge, but Ama, with his impeccable dohyo instincts, honed right in to Tochi's torso and begin to work from inside. Unfortunately for Ama, Tochiazuma spun the minute Ama which left Ama unable to get in deep or fast enough to grab the Ozeki's leg, settling for a less than convincing grasp of Tochi's left gluteus maximus. Unable to work any kind of throw or leg pick, Tochiazuma swatted Ama down while spinning via tsukiotoshi. Tochiazuma was hapless early in the basho, but now he's performing better sumo than any of his Ozeki counterparts. 

I love watching Hakuho and Kotooshu tangle, because inevitably their bouts wind up as at the belt clinics, climaxing in amazing nage-uchiai. After a very brief start in the gappuri position, Hakuho and Kotooshu neutralized each other with Hakuho securing a migi shitate, and Kotooshu with hidari uwate. As both Ozeki settled into throw mode, Koto scooped up Hakuho's right leg with his right hand, leaving Hakuho off-balance robbing him of any leverage. Kotooshu's (9-5) win goes recorded as uwate-nage, but an uwate-nage tinged with shades of ashi-tori. Even a win over Asashoryu tomorrow will not be enough to salvage a disappointing basho from Hakuho, who falls to 8-6.

M1 Roho (9-5) returned to bad habits by immediately resorting to a pull down when he couldn't grab Miyabiyama's mawashi. While Roho managed to shove Miyabi to the edge, he overcompensated with his tsuppari and Miyabi made a nice recovery by feeding him some true tsuppari, shoving Roho out for an easier than expected oshi-dashi win. With the kachi-koshi, Miyabiyama (8-6) can rest easy that his Sekiwake rank remains secure but another Ozeki run seems unlikely for now.

I expected Kokkai to flounder at Komusubi as most first-time Komusubi do, but the Georgian proved George wrong, securing kachi-koshi with a smash mouth tachi-ai and stiff tsuppari combination that left Kotomitsuki too upright and vulnerable to Kokkai's patented slap down. The hataki-komi is one of sumo's lamest techniques, but no one does it with such relish or violence as Kokkai does. Kokkai could be such a force if he had more tricks in his bag. I hate to see him resort to hataki so quickly but you can't deny this has been an impressive san'yaku debut for Mr. 5 o'clock shadow. Both men stand at 8-6.

M3 Aminishiki used his third sotogake this tournament to deny Kisenosato kachi-koshi by making Kise pay on a failed pull down attempt, driving the Komusubi forward and grapevining Kise's left leg with his right. Aminishiki should be a lock for Ginosho while it's gut check time for sumo's young lion.

M8 Kakizoe (8-6) picked up a much-needed kachi-koshi by using an ottsuke maneuver to the left at the tachi-ai to easily drive down M16 Shimotori via tsuki-otoshi. 

Mopping up exercises, and an intriguing Asa-Hakuho match up, are all that's left for Day 15. Clancy brings that mop tomorrow.

Day 13 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
The little engine that could, Ama, is single handedly making this basho worth viewing. Today of course was the clash between once-beaten Asashoryu and twice-beaten Ama, a bout that could significantly impact the outcome of this tournament. 

We do also have 3 others in the yusho mix with 9-3 records coming in. They are Roho, Aminishiki, and The 'Ole Pretender himself, Hokutoriki. Let's get these three lads out of the way first, shall we? As for The Pretender, he once again lived up to his name. He bit the dust against Kotoshogiku, who picked up his 8th win against 5 losses. Every time Hokutoriki (9-4) gets placed into a yusho picture, rest assured he will crack under pressure. 0-1 for the 3-lossers. 

Roho, who seems to have forgotten his bad pulling tendencies, finds himself able to focus on getting that formidable left outer grip and winning straight up these days. Go figure. Well, he met his match today (strategically anyway) as Kotomitsuki (8-5) met him at the tachiai and immediately moved to the left, surely a tactic to stay as far away from Roho's left paw as possible. It worked like a charm; Roho got off balance and Mitsuki was able to follow through with an easy yori-kiri force out. Like Kotoshogiku, Kotomitsuki picks up his 8th win against a yusho candidate. Looks like Mitsuki will be a Sekiwake again next basho. He is starting to remind me of Sakahoko, who in the early 90's (maybe late 80's) sat firmly at Sekiwake for what seemed like an eternity by posting continual 8-7 records basho after basho. Anyway, that makes 0-2 for the 3-lossers. 

Aminishiki, perhaps the most unlikely of the bunch still in the yusho hunt, was tasked to face Tochiazuma. The crafty Ozeki quickly secured a left outer grip and attacked Ami from the side. Ami, now stood up and facing sideways, was at a severe disadvantage in this position. Azuma wasted no time putting Ami out of his misery with a nicely executed uwate-dashi-nage (one arm outer grip throw). Guess what? Like Kotoshogiku and Kotomitsuki, Tochiazuma continued the trend of picking up his 8th win against a yusho candidate. And that makes a clean sweep of the 3-lossers coming in. They were a combined 0-3 and in the yusho hunt no longer. 

Which brings us to Asashoryu and Ama. The "penultimate" bout, as Mike likes to call it. 11-1 vs. 10-2. Sho wins and the yusho is practically his, Ama wins and it gets real interesting. Well, poor Ama. The only guy quicker than Ama in the Makuuchi is, you guessed it, Asashoryu. Sho controlled this bout from the get go with a stiff harite slap to the face that turned the mighty mite to the side and allowed the Yokozuna a straight ticket to a lot of real estate on Ama belt. It wasn't squelched, as Sho grabbed it firmly and put the pressure on immediately. He offered an uwate nage. He pressed forward quickly when Ama defended that. It was one offensive after another in a blinding few seconds, and Ama found himself flattened outside the ring under Asashoryu via yori-taoshi before he could say "now, what was MY strategy coming into this thing?". Ama drops to 10-3. Sho goes to 12-1 and all but takes his 17th yusho cup. All he has to do is beat Chiyotaikai tomorrow to make it official. 

In the other not-so-important matches, Chiyotaikai did beat Hakuho via his classic pull down tactic to improve to 9-4. Hakuho drops to 8-5 and must completely and utterly start over in November on the road to promotion. Kotooshu got win number 8 with a nice bout against Tochinonada (6-7) in which he hit low and never gave up on that big, round house outer grip throw. His uwate-nage prevailed over Nada's opposing sukui-nage (scoop throw) at ring's edge. 

Also picking up cherished win number 8 in the rank and file were Takekaze and Iwakiyama, who absolutely rail-roaded Kisenosato in an impressive showing of brute strength (pictured right). 

I think you can pretty much stick a fork in this basho, folks. But hey, might as well stick around for the weekend. Maybe Hokutoriki will win out now that he's out of the yusho picture.

Day 12 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
While my enthusiasm for this basho has wilted ever so slightly this past week, the Aki basho has had its share of exciting bouts and strong rikishi duking it out in the top flight. I've been following Sumo for a little over two years now and so I don't have much loyalty for the old guard and I'm excited for tournaments like this one where the youngsters who were in the lower Makuuchi a few years back have gravitated into the Yokozuna's schedule.

As for Asashoryu, he had just been promoted a few months before I witnessed my first live basho in Japan and so my experience with Yokozuna match up drama is, well, nil. Tournament after tournament I've gotten used to the Asa show and my conflicting feelings of wishing him a 36 Yusho career and wanting to see him get punked by Kokkai or the like so that we'd have a race on our hands.

There won't be much change in the status-quo anytime soon, but in the meantime there are tournaments like this one to enjoy, if only by virtue of lower expectations. Let's count the rays of sunshine (with a premature congrats to Papa Khan on his 18th Cup win ).

Ama has been giving us one hell of a tournament and going into tonight he was tied for the lead after smashing through the mid-elite in classic style. This guy had two tough basho in the upper sixteen after breaking into the Sanyaku ranks and has now paved the way for his return next month. Maybe not Sanyaku, but we'll see how he does. Ama's got some big bouts coming up with little pressure and will continue to post highlight matches for some time to come. Oh, and the return of his sweet, sweet henka last night was great. Considering that even some hardliners think that the little tyke has 'earned' the right to henka the big beasties, I'm mildly surprised to hear the bigwigs at Sumotalk boo this tactical turn. 

Kotooshu is back, my darlin' little tough-love baby, and while his Ozeki form hasn't quite worked out since he earned the rank, I've enjoyed watching him try to figure out his opponents or, conversely, watch how they beat him. His body type is so atypical for sumo that he's got a lot of weaknesses to patch up, and I don't know that he'll ever be dominant enough to win more than a small handful of basho in his career. Hopefully, he'll have an injury-free run up to Kyushu and break ten wins for the first time in a year.

Oh, the Roho-Chiyotaikai fiasco too. I was pretty happy to see their bout fall on my day to report, but I wasn't expecting much in the way of fireworks as they would surely be on their best behaviour. With Kotooshu being slapped on the wrist for a hanamichi spaz-out and a post-match fistfight between lower division rikishi backstage, there's been other men tarnishing Sumo's image for them. Roho's basho has been quite fun to follow and with nine wins and counting he'll be solid Sanyaku spoiler material well into next year.

Shall we get on with it, then? We'll start with Homasho and struggling Asasekiryu who looked so good at the start of last basho. With Homasho's low tachi-ai in the cards I was surprised to see Seki try to reach over his back without any kind of sidestep. Homasho took the offensive right away and was able to fight off an armlock throw to force the (6-6) Mongolian out by yorikiri. Homasho's (7-5) puts him in good position for a promotion before the day is out.

Then came the wily Kyokushuzan pulling his old tricks against the winless Tamakasuga, keeping the fellow veteran stood up at arms length from the tachi-ai and then pulling a well timed slap-down to send Tama hurtling out of the ring. While this may not have been as impressive as Baruto's expulsion of Tochiazuma, it was still quite the spill. Shuzan has already hit his make-koshi at (4-8) and needs some stank and mustard to avoid dropping too far next basho.

Aminishiki continued his leader board tournament with a win over the resurgent Futenoh by nullifying the Prince of Orange's left arm from the start and using it to gain a solid grip on the back of his belt. Futenohh was in trouble here and made it worse by trying to shake Ami loose but allowed him to sneak all the way around for an awkward okuridashi win. Futeno's already in the green at (8-4) while Aminishiki remains two behind the leader with an impressive (9-3)

Miyabiyama was all gun today against a Gumbi-like Tokitenku who he stood up at the tachi-ai before going for a quick pulldown. Tokitenku managed to keep his balance, barely, and ended up against the tawara but only close enough to brace one foot. This put him in the same position as Baruto's against the Sheriff on day 10, and he too went down in a painful contortion. Miyabiyama's now looking to earn his Kachi-koshi with his iffy (6-6) record while Tokitenku has impressed me with his (5-7) from the rank of M2.

Kotomitsuki halted his four day slide against Kyokutenho in an active bout which he controlled from the tachi-ai. Getting inside the tall Mongolian at first, Mitsuki managed a solid right outside grip and shook his hips to deny the 34 year old the same. Kyokutenho then tried another attempt at the belt, but Mitsuki was on his game and executed a messy uwatenage to pull his opponent off his feet. Kyokutenho earns his make-koshi at (4-8) while Mitsuki is (7-5) and in good shape to finish with his usual eight wins. I said (9-6) last week and I'm not yet giving up hope. It HAS been a good show this time out, I'll give him that.

Roho and Chiyotaikai faced off next and while I wasn't able to see the shikiri myself, I'll bet there wasn't an epic stare down to get things started. When they did come together, Roho pulled one of the cleanest side-step-for-uwate moves I've ever seen and had an instant deathgrip on the Ozeki. 

Roho closed the door quickly on this one and won by Yorikiri. There probably wasn't much that was going to make this an interesting follow-up to last basho considering all the pressure these guys were under to behave. Maybe next time will be fun if the grudge is back. Roho's on the leader board with his (9-3) while Chiyotaikai is clear with his (8-4)

Ama and Hakuho were my favourite match of the night as Ama looked to stay abreast of the Yokozuna with his one-loss record. The bout actually followed a pretty set pattern of dueling tsuppari, Ama shooting for the belt, Hakuho pushing him away, dueling tsuppari, Ama shooting. This went back and forth a few times except at each break Hakuho managed to jab a few more fingers into Ama's face until the M6 was blinded. Hakuho then strode inside, got on the belt and forced/lifted Ama out by tsuridashi. I don't like the finger-gouging thing when Chiyotaikai does it, and I didn't like it here but it was still a wildly explosive bout that really showed both of their strengths. Ama falls one off the pace at (10-2) while Hakuho picks up the pieces with his (8-4).

Kotooshu opened up with a harite strike against Iwakiyama but allowed the moon faced bruiser under his left arm that nearly proved fatal. Still, Kotooshu is a joy to watch when he's healthy as his bouts so rarely resemble sumo but more like a bouncer trying to eject a rowdy patron from a bar. 

Even a mass like Mt. Iwaki is in trouble if he can't raise Koto's centre of gravity, and here he gave the Ozeki ample time to set up another grip and go for the force-out. Iwakiyama almost managed to use his left uwate grip against Oshu at the edge but the Bulgarian's legs held and the move was quickly reversed. Kotooshu is now only one win from avoiding Kadoban status, with that one win probably coming on the last day if the usual trend continues. Iwakiyama has had an admirably tough fight this basho and sits at (7-5) for his troubles.

In the final bout of the evening Tochiazuma got crushed at the tachi-ai by the Yokozuna and was driven back to the edge before rallying back to the middle. By then Asashoryu had a solid inside-right outside-left grip and was in position to start tossing the beleaguered Ozeki around. Tochiazuma needed a right hand grip to survive but was caught grasping as the champ lifted him up and then threw him down by shitatenage. Ah, this move is pretty no matter who he uses it against. The Yokozuna marches on with an unchallenged (11-1) while Tochiazuma is one win from safety at (7-5)

It's going to take an Ama kinboshi tomorrow and then a Kotooshu/Hakuho win in the final days to wrest the cup from Asashoryu's greedy fingers. Speaking of greedy fingers, Kenji's back tomorrow to see if the tide breaks.

Day 11 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The only thing negative about reporting back to back is that I don't have any chance to sit back a few days and watch new trends form in the basho. So, like yesterday, this basho is losing its steam simply because the rikishi on the banzuke who have taken the yusho in the past and who will yet take a yusho are doing absolutely nothing this basho to challenge the Yokozuna. I was all set to rock with my comments to the tune of Iron Maiden's Fear of the Dark, but I guess we'll just have to tone it down a bit today. Huey Lewis and the News anyone?

You go back and look at the Yokozuna's loss to Kisenosato on day 6, and the difference from that bout to all of his other bouts is that Asashoryu lost the tachi-ai, and when he did lose the tachi-ai, his opponent didn't let up for an instant. Miyabiyama elected to come with the usual moro-te-tsuki (both hands to the throat then thrust) tachi-ai against Asashoryu today, but the Yokozuna was able to latch onto Miyabiyama's belt with the right hand, a grip that stopped any momentum from Miyabiyama and one the bulldog would not relinquish. With Miyabiyama pushing against the Yokozuna's upper torso in an attempt to neutralize his opponent's position, Asashoryu took his time securing inside grips with both hands, and just as the action in the ring looked to stall, the Yokozuna calmly unleashed a left inner belt throw that toppled Miyabiyama to the dirt. Asashoryu breezes to 10-1 with the win while Miyabiyama (5-6) has got a struggle on his hands just to kachi-koshi.

If Miyabiyama is the Sheriff, than Ozeki Chiyotaikai is the deputy when it comes to restoring order upon the dohyo and putting rikishi in their place, namely rikishi whose shikona jokingly appears on the leaderboard. And no offense to that bump on Miyabiyama's shoulder who thinks that he's really the, the accolade goes to Chiyotaikai. Against M3 Aminishiki it was vintage Chiyotaikai sumo where he used his lower body to set up the tsuppari attack that Aminishiki could not answer except for a desperate ducking escape at the tawara, but Chiyotaikai was a man on a mission, and as Ami ducked, the Ozeki slapped him by the shoulder across the entire length of the dohyo and out. Both rikishi now stand at 8-3, which means that both rikishi don't have a shot at the yusho.

In one of the marquee matchups of the basho, Ozeki Tochiazuma used that sly ottsuke move at the tachi-ai where he steps ever so craftily to his left and pushes at the side of his opponent. Fellow Ozeki Hakuho had no answer for the move that he should have known was coming and sat staring straightforward as Tochiazuma stood to the side facing the gyoji. Tochiazuma pushed at the back of Hakuho's belt with his left hand, and in a desperate effort to escape, Hakuho did a 360, but at this point he was standing straight up and Tochiazuma, who had premeditated the move, was right there with the tsuppari to drive Hakuho back to the tawara. Hakuho tried to dig in and hold his ground, but he just couldn't overcome the Ozeki's sly attack suffering his 4th loss and officially removing his name from Yokozuna consideration. Tochiazuma moves alongside Hakuho at 7-4, but I was displeased with his tachi-ai, which contained a little too much henka for my liking. Hakuho has no complaints, however. The Ozeki used that same tachi-ai early and often in the basho. What comes around goes around, but I just everyone would stop the shenanigans altogether and focus on good honest sumo the way it was designed to be fought. stand and meet, not to stand and sneak.

Rounding out the Ozeki ranks, Kotooshu breathed a sigh of relief today as he picks up the fusensho (win by disqualification) due to M1 Baruto's withdrawal from the basho. That right there is probably the difference between Oshu's kachi-koshi and make-koshi.

At the end of day 7, Sekiwake Kotomitsuki must have looked at his 6-1 record and thought "what the hell am I doing?" Today, he was too relaxed yet again at the tachi-ai against M2 Tokitenku, a rikishi who he is stronger than and should bully from the initial charge. The result was my least favorite pose in sumo where one rikishi bends even lower than Homasho with a frontal belt grip while the other guy leans on top of him and tries to lock his arms down around his opponent. The bout lasted about 30 seconds with both rikishi jockeying in the ugly format trading weak outer grips in desperation to set something up. Even with an advantageous position, Kotomitsuki likes to stand around, so when he doesn't maintain the upper-hand, you know he's going to be a bump on a log. Tokitenku finally forced an offensive move by quickly slapping down at the slumping Sekiwake's shoulder forcing him to the dirt ending our collective misery. Kotomitsuki suffers his fourth straight loss to stand at 6-5 while Tokitenku has surprised me this basho at 5-6 so far.

M6 Ama is a rikishi who relies on his speed to counter the size of his opponents, so the reason he has so much trouble with Komusubi Kisenosato is due to the fast pace that the Kid fights himself. Knowing he was trouble from the start, Ama opted for the gutless tachi-ai henka to his left where he grabbed the straight-charging Kisenosato's belt with the left hand and the back of the Komusubi's head with the right. You know it's a henka when the rikishi from the West is squarely facing the referee after the initial change. Having been greased from behind, Kisenosato was easily pushed out for the ugly win. C'mon Ama. No one wants to see you stay in the yusho race with cowardly one. As if you even have a shot anyway. The Mongolian moves to 10-1 and stands alongside Asashoryu in the yusho race, but that's akin to me renting a Jaguar to drive on the first date (with a hot chick of course) when my rusty Le Car stays hidden in the garage.

In one of the more anticipated bouts today, we saw Komusubi Kokkai bump heads with M1 Roho. The Komusubi displayed a perfect tachi-ai for him forcing Roho back and to the side with the tsuppari attack, but Roho knew exactly what was coming and looked to swipe away off the thrusts just enough until he could get on the inside. In doing so, however, he ducked too low in an effort to sneak in at the belt, and Kokkai used a deep left arm under Roho's right pit to unleash a wicked scoop throw that toppled his comrade to the clay. Roho was clearly surprised at the speed and pissed that he let himself lose, but he was just a bit too passive from the start. Roho (8-3) is the superior rikishi, but the best man doesn't always win. So much for those yusho hopes and hello Sumotalk front page jinx. Kokkai improves to 6-5 and you just gotta root for this guy to get his eight.

One of the better moves of the day occurred while everyone was going to the restroom and concession stands. M2 Tamanoshima got his left arm deep on the inside of M4 Kyokutenho's right side, but Tenho used his long limb to grab an uwate, and once secured he immediately began his force-out charge. At the ring's edge, however, Tamanoshima slipped to his right while pushing Kyokutenho to the side with a right inashi move that caused Kyokutenho to tumble to the dirt just centimeters before Tamanoshima hit himself. Kyokutenho (4-7) was still in disbelief at the referee's call and lack of mono-ii looking left and right for the men in black to stand up even as he exited the dohyo, but he was beat by a brilliant move from the aging Tamanoshima (3-8).

M4 Tamakasuga is still bringing it, and he knew as well as I knew, that M3 Dejima was a golden opportunity to pick up that first win. Tamakasuga came hard at the tachi-ai, but found Dejima's girth--and pride--just a little too much to budge backwards. A few seconds after the initial charge and with his opponent squarely in front of him, Dejima mounted his usual bulldozer charge that Tamakasuga had no answer for pushing the veteran out for his 11th loss in as many tries. Dejima crawls forward to 3-8 with the win.

In a classic chess match between two strong yotsu-zumo fighters, M5 Tochinonada gifted M7 Futenoh a right outer grip in order to obtain his favored left inside position, but the difference came at the tachi-ai where Futenoh slammed the gentle giant upright as he forced his way to the belt. The result was Tochinonada standing too upright and Futenoh handcuffing Tochinonada's left arm a bit with his uwate. After about 15 seconds of grapplin' in the ring, Futenoh finally made that fatal push that had Nada forced out rather easily. Normally, I say that Tochinonada has the advantage in the yotsu position we saw today, but Futenoh's tachi-ai was too damn good. A great, if not quiet, kachi-koshi for Futenoh at 8-3 while Tochinonada falls to 6-5.

M5 Iwakiyama gained a quick left arm on the inside of M9 Takamisakari at the initial charge that he used to immediately drive the Cop back. As he usually does so well, Takamisakari dug in his heels and looked to turn the tables, this time driving Iwakiyama back and across the ring, but Kong would have none of this get-thrown-around-by-an-inferior-rikishi business, so he firmly planted his foot and despite maintaining a solid right uwate, just vaulted Takamisakari over the straw with that original left inside, a move that looked like a scoop throw. Iwakiyama moves to a stellar 7-4 while Takamisakari drops to 5-6.

With most of the positive action from the Maegashira ranks occurring in the upper half for a change, I'll conclude with a few bouts of interest from the cellar. M14 Hochiyama (4-7) was burned by M10 Takekaze's stiff tachi-ai immediately followed by the quick pull down in yet another case of the rookie getting schooled by ridiculous moves that everyone knows are coming. If I were Hochiyama's oyakata, I would remind the youngster that he'll only get tricked by such shenanigans once. Takekaze moves to 6-5. The other rookie, M16 Ryuho, halted his 8 bout losing streak by smartly anticipating the pull-sumo offered by M10 Hakurozan this basho. At 3-8, Ryuho will have to re-examine himself in the Juryo ranks in November while Hakurozan falls to a dangerous 4-7. And finally, in the second Makuuchi bout of the day, M13 Hokutoriki worked his oshi-dashi magic against M11 Homasho (6-5) securing his kachi-koshi at 8-3. Still, doesn't Hokutoriki usually finish with something like 12 wins when fighting this low? Like Takamisakari, Hokutoriki is being forced down the ranks by the influx of better, stronger rikishi.

With 4 days remaining, the leaderboard is as follows:

10-1 Asashoryu, Ama
8-3 Aminishiki, Chiyotaikai, Roho, Futenoh, Hokutoriki

Damn, ratings should go through the roof the final 4 days! Bernie does the splits tomorrow.

Day 10 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I hate the fact that deep down I'm hoping for another Asashoryu loss down the stretch so we can have an actual yusho race. The way it should work is that the rikishi with legitimate yusho hopes fight and beat the Yokozuna in week two setting up a playoff with Asashoryu or even better, forcing the Yokozuna to come from behind. Currently, however, we have three rikishi with any hope of catching the Yokozuna, and they are: Ama, Roho, and Aminishiki. Not exactly a who's who list of guys when it comes to legitimate yusho contenders. We need to have Kisenosato beat the Yokozuna AND a couple of Ozeki. We need the Ozeki to stand up and realize that their title is translated as "champion." Hakuho has been the only Ozeki pulling his weight the last three basho, so when he's down this basho and none of the other Ozeki can step it up, we have a tournament that still hasn't sputtered out of second gear. Things may pick up the last five days, but if they do, it will probably be for the wrong reasons.

Let the scoring begin...if ya know what I mean. Kotomitsuki's 6-1 start was just too good to be true wasn't it? Today against the Yokozuna, Asashoryu moved ever so slightly to his right at the tachi-ai in order to grab that right uwate against the Sekiwake, whose charge was way too tentative. You gotta smack Asashoryu at the tachi-ai to have a chance, Kotomitsuki. With the Yokozuna in this advantageous position, he quickly forced the action going for a belt throw with the right while reaching for the back of Mitsuki's head with the left. Kotomitsuki survived the premature throw from the Yokozuna, but he was standing too upright at the edge allowing the Yokozuna to easily finish him off. Kotomitsuki didn't bring it from the tachi-ai and paid the price falling to 6-4. Asashoryu has begun that week two charge where he fights the Sekiwake on up in order to finish things out. At 9-1, his only remaining opponent with any legitimacy is Hakuho I'd think. Too little too late. Happy 18, Yokozuna.

The aforementioned Hakuho has returned to that stable tachi-ai of his the last few days where he slams his opponent with the right shoulder and tries to grab the left belt grip. As is usually the case, it didn't work against M5 Tochinonada today, but Hakuho was in the perfect position with solid footing to mount a tsuppari attack--not one of those standing-upright faux attacks that burned him earlier in the basho. The Ozeki drove Nada quickly back to the tawara, and in his haste, dangerously left himself open to that last gasp evasive maneuver-pull down that did come. Hakuho actually looked had at this point, but he used his right arm to push at Tochinonada's left thigh forcing the M5 over the plane of the tawara and down to the dohyo floor area before Hakuho's arm touched down. I know many of you will say that Tochinonada won this bout because Hakuho touched first, but not so. The judges didn't even flinch in their seats and the gyoji emphatically made the correct call. Slow motion replays showed that Tochinonada's right foot was virtually touching the floor below the dohyo and his body was "tonde-iru" well across the tawara when the Ozeki hit. I think that's the best we've ever seen from Hakuho when falling to the dirt and trying to avoid touching first. The Ozeki moves to 7-3, and what he really needs to do is get his form back now so that he can head into Kyushu with his confidence in tact. Tochinonada is no slouch at 6-4.

In our first battle of Ozeki this basho, Chiyotaikai's thrusts had little effect against Tochiazuma, who was able to grab the quick frontal belt grip with the left hand. Tochiazuma used the grip to force the action in close where he then forced Chiyotaikai back to the edge. In the process, Chiyo was able to break off the grip, but at this point he was standing upright and provided the easy oshi-dashi target to Tochiazuma, who finished him off with ease. Not much to break down here as Tochiazuma notches his fourth consecutive win, which is quite good after that abominable start. Chiyotaikai falls to 7-3 and is on course for his usual 8-7.

M1 Roho took that sly step to his left to grab the uwate against Ozeki Kotooshu standing him upright to the point where Kotooshu failed to gain the same grip on the other side. Before Kotooshu could even think of plan B, Roho had him driven back to the tawara where he dumped Kotooshu to the dohyo floor. You know, of all the stupid things the monkeys in NHK producer's van come up with to make the broadcast more "enjoyable", I really like their new nosegay which is a camera mounted above the dohyo. From that angle, you can see whether or not the rikishi commit a tachi-ai henka or not. When Kotooshu struck Roho, the Russian's feet were still well within the imaginary plane created by the shikirisen, so I say no henka. Roho moves to 8-2 with the win and should force his way into the sanyaku come Kyushu as all current Sekiwake and Komusubi could still kachi-koshi. Kotooshu falls to 5-5 and finds himself yet again in that danger zone, especially considering his final five opponents.

Sekiwake Miyabiyama looked a bit timid as he approached the shikiri-sen, but who wouldn't with M1 Baruto crouching there across form you rearing to go? But as tentative as Miyabi looked prior to the bout, Baruto's sumo the last few days has been even more shaky. Miyabiyama went for the quick tsuppari from the tachi-ai, but unlike previous basho, they didn't budge the Estonian. Baruto's mistake, however, was an immediate left paw to the back of Miyabiyama's head as he went for the quick pulldown. Miyabiyama was having none of the funny bidness and easily pushed Baruto back and down for the dominating win. As Baruto retreated, he had both feet braced against the tawara, and his left leg seemed to catch funny as he fell twisting the giant's knee in the process. We'll wait for word tomorrow on whether Baruto will withdraw or not, but his overall frustration of late may contribute to that decision. Miyabiyama creeps back up to .500 at 5-5 while Baruto's tailspin continues at 4-6. The more Baruto gets thrown around like this, the less afraid his peer are going to be in the future. The Estonian's got some serious keiko to do in the future, but more on that after the basho.

(Sighing) Kokkai, Kokkai, Kokkai. After a smashmouth tachi-ai where the Komusubi had Dejima pushed back to the tawara, he panicked after a few thrusts didn't finish the Degyptian off at the edge and went for the dreaded pulldown. Dejima is slow and old these days, but he ain't stupid as he showed by driving Kokkai clear across the dohyo and out to pick up his second win (against 8 losses). Kokkai falls to 5-5 and really blew this one. Hopefully he learns from it and determines in the future never to abandon those tsuppari, ugly as they may be.

M2 Tamanoshima looked to slip at the initial charge against Kisenosato, so the Komusubi just slapped him down for the gift win. Some may have thought that this was premeditated, but no, Tamanoshima slipped and the Kid quickly reacted. Uneventful stuff though no fault of the rikishi. Kisenosato moves to 6-4 and is primed to take over Miyabiyama's Sekiwake rank should the sheriff fail to maintain order atop the dohyo this basho. Tamanoshima falls to a hapless 2-8.

M1 Tokitenku secured the quick right outer grip from the tachi-ai against M4 Tamakasuga, and the veteran just didn't have what it takes to survive. This was an easy force-out win for Tokitenku. I liked Tenku's choice of attack today because if he had come with his usual tsuppari, Tamakasuga could have traded blows with him perhaps gaining the advantage, but Tokitenku forced the action to the belt, a place completely out of Tamakasuga's element; thus the easy win. Smart sumo as Tokitenku inches to 4-6. At 0-10, I refuse to pile on Tamakasuga because the dude is giving it his all. I really enjoyed his comments after day 9 where he said the speed and power this high up is completely different from down below.

M8 Kakizoe gained a half step advantage at the tachi-ai that pushed M3 Aminishiki back near the tawara, but Zoe's drop in the ranks and his 5-5 record so far is the direct result of his being unable to finish his opponents off at this point. Ami evaded around the perimeter of the ring committing on the pull down as Kakizoe gave chase, but with the cat and mouse game moving too fast, Aminishiki's headlock prevailed as he dragged/slapped Kakizoe to the clay. Aminishiki is just scrapping for his wins this basho, but hey, at 8-2 he's already secured kachi-koshi from the M3 rank. Who'da thunk?

M4 Kyokutenho (4-6) stepped slightly to his left at the tachi-ai to grab the easy uwate against M9 Takamisakari (5-5), and it was a simple force out from there. This sly step to either side to grab the uwate (called "uwate wo tori ni iku") is becoming the new trend in sumo. Even Asashoryu has used it a couple of times. It looks a lot like a henka, and it probably is to some degree, but it at least gives the opponent a fighting chance if he delivers a solid tachi-ai.

M5 Iwakiyama brought a smothering morote tachi-ai and a coupla thrusts to the face that had M9 Asasekiryu backpedaling and then a wicked pull attempt had the Mongolian sprawling like a Japanese public official after a night on the town (ready to drive home, of course), but as Iwakiyama went for the kill at the tawara, he attacked too high and allowed Seki to grab moro-zashi. The moro-zashi combined with his feet against the tawara allowed Asasekiryu to survive, and when Iwakiyama failed to force the M9 out, Asasekiryu turned the tables with his advantageous grip and forced Iwakiyama to the side and out. Iwakiyama falls to 6-4 and truly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory today. He's gotta finish Asasekiryu off after that start. Seki crawls to 5-5 with the win.

M6 Ama--our co-leader--dished out some sharp tsuppari against M11 Homasho, who stayed low trying to get on the inside, but it was Ama's aggression that dictated this bout as he forced Homasho back. Homasho actually managed a decent kote-nage attempt at the tawara, but when it failed, Ama was right on top of his opponent for the easy force out moving to 9-1. It's unlikely that Ama will face the Yokozuna the final five days, but he's guaranteed a date or two with some of the sanyaku fellas. Still, I'm not taking his current position on the leaderboard seriously. Homasho falls to 6-4.

In other Maegashira bouts of interest, M13 Hokutoriki completely failed to touch both fists to the clay has he thrust out M7 Futenoh. How about a false start call, men in black? Both rikishi stand at 7-3. Our two Makuuchi rookies aren't faring well this basho. M14 Hochiyama succumbed to M8 Kyokushuzan's (3-7) usual pull-down antics (always works on the rookies) to fall to 4-6 while M16 Ryuho all but sealed his ticket back to Juryo getting pounded by M12 Yoshikaze's oshi-attack marking his eight straight loss.

See ya'll tomorrow...same time, same place, same handsome face. We've got a host of compelling matchups not the least of which is Baruto - Kotooshu. With both rikishi struggling and unable to afford further losses, expect an all out brawl. Kisenosato gets his chance to quiet Ama's run, and if the Komusubi wins while Asashoryu schools Miyabiyama, that would put two losses between the Yokozuna and the rest of the field making this basho officially ovuh.

Day 9 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Just got back from walking my two dumb as paint dogs in the lingering swirls of Typhoon 13, which skirted the area where I live (although thankfully my father and I finished the rice harvest Sunday about four hours before heavy rains hit. Anyway--you should see what one of those things can do to a mature rice crop, like aliens from eight different solar planets--sorry, seven--land and make crop circles all on the same night in the same field). As I stood and micturated in the still forceful (down)winds, I ruminated on the Day 9 bouts in general, and in particular the Yokozuna's domination of the sport, and it occurred to me that this is how guys ranked too low and losing just enough to avoid fighting Asa this basho, like the M4s and M5s, must feel. Relief that a true force of nature didn't have the chance to square up on them, at least this time out.

No such luck today for MOne Hell of a long Ro-to-Ho, an apt shikona when it comes to fighting The Khan, who one way or another has dominated the bejesus out of the big Russian in six career meetings. With his grizzled countenance and a face only a mother on Quaaludes could love, there was a sense in the air that tonight would be the night, that this man veritably skipping down the Road to Redemption (all too familiar to foreigners, and affectionately known as Kiss Japanese Cultural Ass Or Go!) might finally be able to treat the Yokozuna like some pantywaist journalist and kick his arse ("Simon" may be gone, but he lives on in our usage of odd colloquialisms as we here at Sumotalk try to appear "worldly" and "international", and not just four Americans and an Eskimo). 

Dream on, underdoggies. Asa came in looking for the right-hand in but Roho was waiting and used his left arm to block that, but in the process left his right flank exposed, which the Yokozuna obligingly took a hold of with a left-hand outside belt grip. He immediately tried a throw, but Roho shifted his mass and countered nicely. This left Asa with two solid grips, an inside right belt as well as the original outside left and Roho with not much, his left arm desperately clamped down on Asa's right, and his right arm on the Champ's back with a meager, if any, belt hold (it was at this point that the English NHK announcer, watching the same match as I, puzzlingly proclaimed that Roho had "a strong right-hand inside" and seemed about to wet himself). 

But Roho is nothing if not strong, and he pushed forward and broke the Yokozuna's right belt grip, but Asa simply planted his left leg and pivoted his foe around it so that both men were back at the center in a mirror position of the start, Asa on the West and Roho on the East. 

Now here is where Asa showed why he is the best sumo wrestler of the last 15 years. Instead of waiting around like Kotomitsuki or Tochiazuma might, he took note of where he was standing in the in the ring, gathered up the strength in his left hand and tugged Roho toward him while circling to his own right, all the while pushing hard on Roho's left side with his right arm, making the M1 think that he was going to attempt a throw down and to his own left. As Roho straightened himself up and adjusted his balance to avoid this, Asa pulled away his right arm which had been nearly supporting his foe and yanked down with his left belt grip. Roho hopped on one leg once and then crashed down. Lesson over.

It was a great match and Roho gave it a real college try, but Asashoryu is simply in a league of his own. He can make adjustments faster than his opponents, he has unlimited energy, he has a plethora of moves, and he has the best ring sense of any wrestler since Chiyonofuji. For years there has been talk of how the level of the opposition had declined, how he was fighting in weakened times, and even if that was slightly true when he first became Yokozuna, it isn't now. He is fighting men much bigger then himself regularly, many of them big, strong, tall foreigners, young and hungry, Hakuho, Roho, Kokkai, Kotooshu, Baruto, and he still puts a whoopin' on them most of the time (and, more importantly, when it counts--I hate the statistic that is used to show Hakuho's alleged dominance of Asa this year, 3-0, but which doesn't count Asa's win over the Ozeki in the Osaka playoff and doesn't mention the gift in Nagoya after Asa had already taken the yusho--fact is, Asa this year has two yusho when Hakuho is wrestling, Hakuho has one when Asa is out injured).

Tochiazuma pulled a full blown henka on Kotooshu (the fawning NHK announcer, a guy I normally can stomach but who was capping horrible day of English commentary, said "Tochiazuma bounces off and to the side of Kotooshu" and then said it was vintage Tochiazuma, his best sumo this tourney) and then just kept circling the now out of whack Bulgarian, leading with his left shoulder. Kotooshu, unlike Asa not able to abandon his original plan of attack, kept flailing but ended up failing. He looked like a complete fool, but being Jiffy Lubed at tachi-ai by a fellow Ozeki can do that to a man. Both stand on the yusho sidelines at 5-4.

Hakuho was sitting ringside yesterday and must have seen Miyabiyama lose to Chiyotaikai because it seemed today that he was intent on showing the Sekiwake how to win by slapping the crap out of your opponent. Neither man grabbed the belt and after fifteen seconds of slapstick, 5-4 Miflobby had exhausted his store of energy and sort of tumbled out past 6-3 Hakuho. It was ironic that he would lose to the man who, by being ludicrously denied Yokozuna promotion last basho, probably blocked Miyabi from rightfully regaining his lost Ozeki rank (that and a gun shy promotion council recalling how they had promoted him too quickly five years ago). It was especially brutal as today's loss means he will never again be an Ozeki (because he will never again win 30+ bouts over three basho--carve that one in stone, people). 

I have to say that I agree with other Sumotalkers that Hakuho needs to get back to grabbing the front belt, and while he did try that vs Miyabi today, it seemed rather ornamental, not sincere. If he truly wants that belt he needs to break out the videotape of Asashoryu and examine how he digs in and gets that belt when he wants it. To me, Hakuho bails out of attempted grips too quickly. Yes, he's fast and has many moves, but as we have seen this basho, sometimes that lack of a grip leads to him losing. He seemed to let go of Aminishiki's belt on Day 6 and paid the price.

Speaking of the inscrutable M3, I am not of the opinion that garnering three wins over Ozeki gives you the right to henka a Sekiwake. Perhaps his feathers were ruffled by Kotomitsuki's stalling at tachi-ai, because when they finally got going, Aminishiki strapped on the latex and made whoopee, moving to 7-2 and dropping Hit or Mitsuki to 6-3 and out of the running. It would be wildly improbable for Mitsuki to finish at 8-7 again, wouldn't it? He's getting nearly as predictable as The Wolf's Pup and Circus.

Chiyotaikai pummeled winless Tamakasuga out in a big hurry, moving to 7-2 and into position to get his fans all chumbawumba about a possible yusho. 

About the only more fated than the once mighty Chiyotaikai's inevitable final weekend collapse is the once mighty Dejima's daily pratfalls. He looks like a drunken stumblebum, and all Komusubi Kisenosato had to do was meet him at the tach-ai, hold him up for a second, step slightly to the side and let gravity work it's ugly magic. Kisenosato is a startide rising at 5-4. Dejima is a pillbug at 1-8.

2-7 Tamanoshima tried to lock up shin-Komusubi Kokkai's arms as he was sent back by the White Knight from the tachi-ai, but it didn't work and he was easily run out. 5-4 Kokkai gave the reeling M2 a decidedly late and unsportsmanlike shove from behind as he left the ring. I hope it ignites a controversy. This basho needs controversy.

In the match of the day, hell, of the basho, Ama took on Baruto and didn't flinch. At tachi-ai he hit him hard, Asa-like, with a two-handed blast right in the throat and chin (the NHK guy said "Ama, going right to the chest of Baruto") and grabbed the better of the belt grips with a double inside (the announcer, a real butthead today, commented, "Baruto with a strong left-hand outside"--yes, he did have that grip, but you should be pointing out the grip that is going to win the fight, the better grip, Ama's grip).

Baruto kept reaching for the outside right and finally got it, so there we are with this tiny guy and his vice-like grip on the belt bent beneath this giant, who with these long arms has this crazy two-handed high school wedgie grip over the back of the Mongolian Mongoose. Ama looks about to be trashed, can to the curb, when he suddenly uses his head and shoulders buried under Baruto's armpit as leverage and lifts up and pushes back, at the same time brilliantly flicking his right leg out and under his foe's left, not even close to a leg trip but enough to force Baruto to lift his leg out of the way, and as he does he is spun and his foot comes clearly down out of bounds, and the gyoji points his paddle toward Ama's West (naturally the NHK guy says "but Ama steps back and out", getting it wrong yet again). A sterling move by co-leader 8-1 Ama, and if he doesn't win the technique AND fighting spirit awards there just ain't no justice in this world. Baruto is a spectator at 4-5.

I'll quote myself from Day 4 here: "If he (Iwakiyama) takes down Chewbaruto tomorrow, or looks great in losing, I'm going to be keeping an eye out for 10 or 11 wins and a return to Komusubi. Just a queer feeling I have, but he's due." Well, 6-3 Iwakiyama must have read my exhortation, because after losing gamely to Baruto on Day 5, he has reeled off four straight, incl. that sweet win over Ama on Day 7. Today he hammered 3-6 Tokitenku at tachi-ai, and drove him back before executing a nice two-handed belt crush out. I have a feeling that Tokitenku has not quite fully recovered from that crack he took from Chiyotaikai on Day 2, although to be fair at M2 he has been fighting some heavy hitters these first 9 days. Can Iwonkeykong get 4 four more wins? I'm thinking yes. Who knows, maybe Komusubi by January.

The quiet run by M7 Futenoh to move into the yusho picture continued in great fashion today as he escaped from his own morozashi grip, two hands inside and deep on the opponent's belt, for a yorikiri win. I say "escaped" because that grip is usually death for foes of M4 Kyokutenho, who has made a career out of luring flies into his web. But this new and improved 7-2 Futenoh has studied his man, and unlike Kotomitsuki vs Tamanoshima on Day 8, was able to seal the morozashi deal by miraculously staving off two patented throw attempts by the former Mongolian and force him out. Two or three more wins and he'll be dancing with the devil come the final weekend, Hakuho or Chiyotaikai, and perhaps even Asa on Thursday. Must be those mikans, right Bernie?

The first half was filled with lightning quick bouts (oh Kotonowaka, where art thou?) between rikishi who are hovering at .500 or so, but there were a few matches worth mentioning.

The Takamisakari-Tochinonada bout demonstrated the importance of a good tachi-ai, and a bit of luck (although the more I practice the luckier I get and all that). At tachi-ai Takami got in quickly and low on Tochi's right, taking it on full on the face but not letting himself be denied, and grabbed a lightning quick outside right-hand. If he had missed the mawashi here he would have lost in a second, but he didn't and was able to use it to fight off one push out attempt and then take 6-3 Tochi back to the center and drop him, much like Asa dropped Roho. He's an all or nothing kind of character and today he was spot on to go 5-4.

The Hakurozan-Kotoshogiku clash served to illustrate why I think The Geeku has himself a bright future in sumo. He got in low vs the Rogaine poster boy and immediately started the former Ozekis Musoyama/Dejima chugging thing, little sprightly jumps with his belly right into his opponent's gut (if it had been a Hollywood film it would have been rated NC-17). He was unrelenting and finally got the yorikiri for his fourth win. If he can perfect some sudden belt throwing after his foes stiffen from that belly thrusting, he can go a long way in his career. Dejima is too one dimensional, and of course Musoyama had injuries (that likely stemmed from the kind of sumo he did). All he needs is some more upper body strength. The Geeku starts working on those arms, a la Wakanosato, and who knows? 

The ever improving Homasho got a nice front left-hand belt grip on Kasugao, spun to his left and lifted him out in a flash. The NHK man got this wrong, too, as he stated that Homasho "stepped to the side" when he in fact did no such thing. He was in a classic tachi-ai stance as they hit, grabbed that strong front belt, held for a half-second which was all he needed to determine from Kasugao's forward pushing his next move, which was the left pivot. 6-3 Homasho is young and quick, so that's why it may look like a henka, but it was not even close.

You might be wondering, What does Clancy have against this English broadcaster? Why all the vitriol? Well, I don't expect perfection from anyone but myself (and I usually deliver in spectacular fashion, hoo ah!), but today it all got started with the Tochinohana-Jumonji bout. Jumonji committed a textbook henka, and by textbook I mean if you can freeze frame it and draw long ears on the guy so he looks like a rabbit jumping away from a hound. But the announcer offered this: "Jumonji kind of stepping to the side a bit." 

To say he was "kind of stepping to the side a bit" is like saying Hitler kind of disliked certain people. Tochinohana then blew the bout by letting Jumonji slip away at the edge and Jumonji executed a nice throw for the win, but what do we care by that point? Tochinohana is another henkaite, so I'm not squirtin' any out, but it kind of put me in a sullen mood, the double whammy of bad sumo along with bad comments.

So there it is, in reverse order for the good that's in it. Miguel Xavier Allejandro Del Passos Fuente Wesemann will be serving up the grub tomorrow, es muy picante! Vaya con dios, mi amigos!

Day 8 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
The show started today with four atop the leaderboard at 6-1, followed closely by eight others with 5-2 marks. Oddly enough, neither Hakuho nor Miyabiyama are included in this cluttered bunch. In fact, the only usual suspects in this early yusho picture are Asashoryu and Chiyotaikai, unless you want to count Hokutoriki as a usual suspect in yusho talk that is way too premature.

As story grabbers come and go basho by basho, Asashoryu continues to march to the beat of his unmatched intensity. It wasn't a tall order today overcoming the thirty-something Tamakasuga (0-8), who is fighting the joi for the first time in four years. The strong tachi-ai, relentless movement and easy force-out of Tama is what we've come to expect from Sho when going up against lesser foe. But then again he did that against Baruto, too. Anyway, I do want to give Tama props for making it back up this far one more time. This fan wouldn't have believed it a year ago if you would have told me he'd be facing Asashoryu (7-1)again. 

In a clash of foreign brawn, Kotooshu succumbed to Kokkai's amped up tsuppari attack. Man, did the Georgian come out with fire today. But I must say when Oshu did muster a belt grip on both sides while putting up a furious defense on the tawara, I would have bet on the Bulgarian coming back to win. It looked that way initially as Oshu turned the tides to push Kokkai back toward the middle of the dohyo. But sumo is a sport of timing. It was then when Kokkai unleashed a scoop throw that used Oshu's momentum to flip the Ozeki right onto his back. This was a quality win for Kokkai, who is holding his own at 4-4 as a new Komusubi. Kotooshu falls to mid-packer status at 5-3.

Hakuho, on the verge of losing his long sought promotion, took on the the young phenom Baruto. The Estonian behemoth came out firing tsuppari again today, which Hakuho took in stride and fired right back. In doing so, he solicited a pull from Baruto that would prove to be his undoing. The momentum loss just served to help Hakuho guide Baruto out to an easy oshi-dashi win. Hakuho moves to 5-3 and holds onto a paper thin chance of promotion if he can run the table. Baruto falls to 4-4 and, to me, should rethink his recent oshi-zumo kick. He can dole it out okay but he doesn't seem to take it well when the opponent is up for the tsuppari challenge. When this happens, the separation game doesn't bode well for Baruto's feet, which seem to fly around a bit without much stability. 

Enter grizzled vet Tochiazuma. The embattled Ozeki evened his record at 4-4 by emerging victorious over another injury-prone grappler, Dejima (1-7). Azuma hit low, surged ahead with upward force then slapped Dejima down with a well timed tsuki-otoshi. Baruto can learn a lesson from Tochiazuma's footwork, which is firmly grounded on the clay at all times when at his best like today.

Chiyotaikai and Miyabiyama engaged in a tsuppari match as well, an evenly matched one at that. To me it looked as if Taikai had the slight edge at the tachi-ai but it was Miyabiyama who took control with the thrusts. Taikai found himself countering Miyabi with defensive lifts to the elbow, but used his pulling habit to his advantage as he timed a side step well enough to send Miyabi to the clay along with, for all practical purposes, his chance at regaining Ozeki. Taikai goes to 6-2, Miyabi falls to 4-4. Remember, Miyabi went 5-0 after starting 5-5 last basho to give him more than enough wins over the 3-basho measuring stick, but one of the reasons given for his promotion denial was the early losses. He's doing the same thing here. 

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki finds himself in the yusho hunt for the first time in a while, and being matched up against the struggling Tamanoshima seemed fortunate. Unfortunately for Mitsuki, Tama put the squeeze on his shallow moro-zashi grip, the one defense for the moro-zashi that can become instant offense and very painful for the recipient. Such was the case for Mitsuki as Tama locked down on the elbows and drove the Sekiwake back, then swung him around and down onto the dohyo like a ragdoll. Tamanoshima picks up his first fighting win to go 2-6 while Kotomitsuki takes a step back on the leaderboard to 6-2. 

The two other one-lossers, Ama and Roho, continued their impressive runs. Ama came out with his left toe all taped up and fought through a patience match with countryman Kyokutenho before finally forcing him out via yori-kiri. 7-1 for the mighty mite. 

Roho, a new man after the embarrassing media debacle last basho, took care of Kotoshogiku (3-5) in a matter of seconds as he quickly garnered the uwate and quickly unleashed a powerful left outer grip throw. Tomorrow will be interesting as Roho clashes with none other than Asashoryu. Both are at 7-1 and looking good.  Clancy will be here to tell you all about it.

Day 7 Comments (George Guida reporting)
Forget about jungyo in Taiwan. Forget about Soken keiko. Today's first ever hon basho meeting between Asashoryu and M1 Baruto was the true, first real test between the Yokozuna and the man who would be king. So, did Asashoryu pass the symbolic torch to the sport's rising star? No. Not even remotely close. Before Baruto's meat hooks could close around Asa's torso for a modified bear hug grip, Asa was on Baruto like white on rice with a lightning fast tachi-ai, a wicked tsuppari to Baruto's jaw that robbed his equilibrium, turned him sideways, and then two fierce forearm shoves that toppled the huge Estonian. Baruto never saw it coming. Violent brilliance. This was pure, unadulterated dominance from the Yokozuna. This was a steamrolling. Did anyone believe Asa would drop two straight? Baruto drops to 4-3, but I still think he has potential to shake things up in Week Two. 

Barring a freak collapse of every rikishi still in the yusho hunt, Hakuho's (4-3) Yokozuna promotion dreams dissipated today like the first wafts of sweaty steam at morning keiko. (Worst. Simile. Ever.) Hakuho briefly secured his favored left frontal belt grip at the tachi-ai, but Koto wasn't having it. Koto corralled Hakuho's right arm while keeping Hakuho's left arm at bay from any kind of belt grip, displaying top-notch defense and positioning throughout the match. He clearly had Hakuho well scouted. Hakuho isn't moving, he isn't pressing the action, his mawashi is practically screaming, "Grab me, I'm wide open!" and he's left himself very vulnerable as Koto is nearly perpendicular to Hakuho's right side. Too tempting to pass up, Koto grabbed the left uwate and steers Hakuho out for an okuri-dashi win. It was almost too easy. Hakuho shouldn't be losing like this. A Yokozuna candidate shouldn't be losing like this. 

As Mike's pre-basho report stated, rikishi are getting wise to defending against Hakuho's left grip. I believe that the Sumo Council denying Hakuho the Yokozuna promotion at the end of Nagoya deflated his spirits, sapped his motivation and shattered his concentration heading into Aki. If, and how, Hakuho regroups from here will be one of the most interesting stories for the remainder of 2006.

With bum knees, Ozeki Tochiazuma (3-4) relied on a little footwork and finesse to neutralize Kokkai's powerful tachi-ai. Quickly rotating to Kokkai's side after the tachi-ai, Tochi grabbed hidari uwate and easily forced out Kokkai with what looked like okuri-dashi but was ruled yori-kiri. Smart sumo from the Ozeki as there's no way he can depend upon his knees in their current condition to withstand Kokkai's bull rush. 

Ozeki Chiyotaikai (5-2) immediately dodged left after initial contact with M3 Dejima (1-6), allowing him to attack Dejima from his side. While not quite a henka, it was a sign that Chiyotaikai lacked confidence in his tsuppari or leg drive to best Dejima in a pure face-to-face shove fest.

Ozeki Kotooshu (5-2) returned to fine form after a brief tsuppari exchange with M2 Tokitenku (3-4). He quickly secured a left outer grip while allowing Tokitenku to secure the same for gappuri yotsu-sumo. Kotooshu forced a yori-kiri attempt on brute power but Tokitenku denied him. Despite the gappuri-yotsu positioning, Koto rarely loses a pure leverage battle tossing Toki with an awesome uwatenage that looked closer to pure judo than sumo as Tokitenku had some serious hang time as his legs jackknifed into the air.

If all it takes is slapping around a few pesky reporters near the showers to bring about focused, confident sumo then M1 Roho (6-1) needs to make this bully fest an annual tradition. I praised M4 Tamakasuga's (0-7) workman-like sumo in my previous report, but it's clear he has no business being this high up in the rankings. Roho's power and size were more than enough to keep Tamakasuga off balance with a few big tsuppari thrusts for an effortless oshi-dashi victory. 

M2 Tamanoshima notched his first win of the basho via forfeit as Ozeki Kaio pulled out of the tournament, citing lower back pain. I think we at SumoTalk have been actively "predicting" Kaio's retirement for two years running, but Kyushu may be his very last stand regardless if he staves off demotion or not. 

If a rikishi is to be a prime time player, he must ride the momentum from upsetting a Yokozuna and channel that into a multiple win streak. Komusubi Kisenosato (3-4) can be forgiven for not doing that today. Miyabiyama (4-3) crushed the Kid with a devastating tachi-ai that knocked him right onto Queer Street. NHK commentators speculated that Kise suffered a flash knockout, or even a possible concussion from the megaton impact as their heads cracked. 

As Bernie mentioned on Day 5, M6 is the optimal rank for M6 Ama. While Ama's skill level is clearly san'yaku material there does come a point where size does matter. Ama (6-1) had all the size he could handle with M5 Iwakiyama (4-3), but started off strong winning a tsuppari showdown. Ama locked in a very wide morozashi grip, which given Iwaki's girth was a given, and planted his head into Iwaki's chest. After a near force out from Iwaki, the two jockeyed for position near the center of the dohyo. As clever as Ama is at the belt, resisting and supporting all that weight worked to his disadvantage real quickly. Sensing this, Iwaki used a kata-sukashi to swat Ama down, driving him painfully down to one knee. Ama hobbled back to the locker room, appearing to favor his left knee but as NHK reported it wasn't Ama's knee, but his big toe and index toe on his left foot that awkwardly bent. Ama should be able to compete tomorrow but a toe injury could severely hamper his motion and quickness. 

M3 Aminishiki (5-2) is schooling Mongolians at their own game, winning two consecutive days with sotogake, or outside leg-trip, techniques. Today's victim was M4 Kyokutenho (3-4) who was simply outclassed and out crafted by one of the game's finest technicians.

M7 Kotoshogiku (3-4) and M10 Takekaze (3-4) woke up a subdued crowd at Ryogoku with one of today's better matches. After some shoving and a test of strength from the tachi-ai, Takekaze pushed Kotoshogiku back with a nodowa. Koto went for a pull down, but Take quickly spun around and transitioned into a kubinage, which turned into a beautiful nageuchi-ai at the tawara's edge that went in Koto's favor as Takekaze's hand hit the dirt first.

M12 Yoshikaze (1-6), who is lacking any drive in his legs this basho, (1-6) fell to M15 Kasuganishiki (3-4) losing by the rarely seen tsukite, which is a self-inflicted wound where one rikishi loses balance and allows his hand to touch the dohyo. 

M11 Homasho's (5-2) calm, composed sumo is beginning to grow on me. The low-center-of gravity stance, the Tochiazma-esque bulldog tenacity and those powerful Sequoias that he calls legs were more than M16 Ryuho (2-5) could handle.

We have a logjam on the leader board which means Week Two could be a chaotic free-for-all. Despite a four-way tie between Asa, Kotomitsuki, Roho and Ama at one loss apiece, I don't see any of these rikishi posing a threat to the Yokozuna. There are currently eight rikishi at 5-2 so there should be plenty of plot twists unfolding for jun-yusho, but Asa's clearly in the driver's seat for number 18.

Kenji sets the record straight tomorrow and attempts to make sense out of the alternate reality match-up of Asashoryu and Tamakasuga.

Day 6 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
A few hours prior to the start of the day 6 Makuuchi bouts, Clancy and I were talking on the phone discussing all of the great songs that N Synch has released over the years. That conversation ended in half a second, so we turned our attention to sumo and were lamenting just how dull this basho was becoming. In fact, it got so bad that we were breaking down yesterday's Asashoryu - Tokitenku matchup, which was a complete laugher. Never fear. It usually happens in Osaka, but occasionally we will see a day where all hell breaks loose, and fortunately for this basho, we got it today breathing new life into Aki.

Let's start at the top of the Maegashira ranks with Roho and work our way up this time. M1 Roho would be spotless this basho had he not suffered a semi-fluke loss to Tochinonada yesterday. Today against M2 Tamanoshima, the Russian gave up a deep left on the inside at the tachi-ai that Tamanoshima exploited by immediately pushing the Russian back to the tawara and serious trouble. Roho showed great footwork, however, to slip away at the edge timing a perfect slapdown of his opponent. Roho never really gave himself a chance today to get anything going offensively, but he countered well and shows that you really have to have him in a pinch to finish him off quickly. He's sitting pretty--well, you know what I mean--at 5-1, and is not only in the yusho hunt, but well on his way to a special prize and sanyaku berth to boot. Tamanoshima seems to have no substance to his attacks as he falls to a disappointing 0-6.

Moving up to the Komusubi ranks, Kokkai managed a brilliant tachi-ai where he timed his start a half step ahead of M2 Tokitenku allowing him to drive Tenku all the way back to the tawara, but the Mongolian arched his back at the rope causing Kokkai to whiff ever so slightly paving the way for Tokitenku to step to his right and slap down on Kokkai as he tried to recover. Poor lateral movement by Kokkai contributed to his losing his balance and falling to the clay for the tough loss. He was this close to an incredible 4-2 start, but he must settle for 3-3 along with Tokitenku.

Moving up to the Ozeki ranks, Tochiazuma would get his first ever crack at M1 Baruto though these are hardly the circumstances he would hope for. Baruto used a right hari-te and oshi attack against Tochiazuma from the tachi-ai, and then immediately committed himself to the pull down stepping to his left and yanking at the back of the Ozeki's head. Tochiazuma only has two wins this basho because his lower body has not been able to keep up with the rest of him, and it made Baruto's job easier today as he just discarded Tochiazuma to the side and down without even looking back to observe the damage until he reached his side of the dohyo for the customary bow at the end. Baruto moves to 4-2 with the mauling even though something tells me it wouldn't have been quite this easy had Tochiazuma been 100%. The Ozeki falls to a disastrous 2-4.

Kotooshu would get things back on track for the Ozeki-gun against 0-5 Dejima wouldn't he? Not so fast pilgrim. Another shaky tachi-ai from the Bulgarian allowed Dejima to pop him at the tachi-ai and gain excellent position on the inside that resembled moro-zashi but without the belt grips. Oshu was able to grab a feeble left uwate over the top of his opponent, but he was standing too upright to mount a valid charge. With Dejima's right arm deep on inside and his left arm pushing up at Kotooshu's right armpit, he was able to execute a lightening quick (Dejima and lightening quick? I know) twist/slap down of Oshu who just looked lost this bout. That loss had to hurt because it not only gave Kotooshu his second defeat, but it had to take a slice out of his growing confidence. The tachi-ai, my fried...I'm telling you. Dejima limps to 1-5.

You know how there's always that bout where you're like "damn, somebody has to lose"? That was Kaio vs. Miyabiyama today as neither rikishi could afford another loss so early. The contest saw Kaio with a positive tachi-ai where he moved forward, but Miyabiyama caught him dead in his tracks with the tsuppari. Kaio is just unable to move laterally anymore and had nowhere to go but back as Miyabiyama executed his best tsuppari attack of the basho to finish the Ozeki off in mere seconds. It's too little too late for Miyabiyama, however, because at 3-3, he still hasn't fought the meat of the division. Same goes for Kaio who is floundering at 1-5. Regardless of what happens this basho, expect an announcement to come prior to Kyushu where the Ozeki will announce his intention to retire after the Kyushu basho.

In one of the most anticipated bouts today, Ozeki Chiyotaikai was paired against Sekiwake Kotomitsuki, a bout that saw two 4-1 rikishi square off. The hype would end there, however, as Kotomitsuki executed a quick tachi-ai that disallowed any tsuppari from Chiyotaikai. The result was a deep right arm on the inside for Hit and Miss that set up a solid left outer grip. Chiyotaikai could do nothing in this position and was forced back and out with some emphasis. Other than that fluke loss to Kisenosato where Kotomitsuki claimed there was a matta (false start), he's been brilliant at 5-1. Chiyotaikai falls to 4-2 and is already out of the yusho race that he was never in to begin with.

So that's 0-4 for the Ozeki coming to this point. No worries, though, as Hakuho would get the Ozeki-gun back on track facing unheralded M3 Aminishiki. Uh, worries. I've pointed out that Kotooshu's tachi-ai has been weak this basho, but Hakuho's as been worse. I wouldn't call it weak...more like lost. Up until last basho, Hakuho would always go for that left frontal belt grip from the tachi-ai. He'd only get it maybe 25% of the time, but it still left him in a solid position having delivered a crack with his right shoulder to set the move up. This basho, however, Hakuho has completely abandoned that solid tachi-ai for shenanigans and monkeyshines. Today's tachi-ai was much better where Hakuho came with the moro-te to Aminishiki's neck, but that's not the Ozeki's style at all, so even though Aminishiki had no offensive position whatsoever, Hakuho could only follow his tachi-ai up with tsuppari that contained no push from the lower body. Around and around the two twirled with Hakuho using faux tsuppari to try and grab a left outer grip, but every time his fingers would touch Ami's belt, the M3 would slither away. Finally, Hakuho committed himself on a left kote-nage arm throw, but Aminishiki exploited the move by locking his right leg around and back behind Hakuho's left leg causing the Ozeki to trip and fall backwards to the dirt for an unceremonious loss. Ugh. An 0-5 showing for our Ozeki capped off by another bad loss by Hakuho (4-2). If the Ozeki somehow happens to run the table at this point, MAYBE he gets Yokozuna consideration, but as far as I'm concerned, the slate is wiped clean starting next basho. Hakuho didn't approach de-geiko like a Yokozuna, his sumo hasn't looked worthy of a Yokozuna, and he's definitely not losing like a Yokozuna. Aminishiki is 4-2 at this point having toppled three Ozeki in a row? Would some of you Bible nuts email me to confirm that the Apocalypse is upon us?

With the Ozeki collectively giving us gas, surely the Yokozuna would right the ship today against Kisenosato. If Kotooshu and Hakuho's tachi-ai have been off this basho, you could probably say that so has the Yokozuna's to some point. For some reason, he has abandoned his patented hari-zashi tachi-ai since injuring his elbow in favor of the moro-te. Today, Kisenosato simply out-quicked the Yokozuna's weaker attack at the initial charge and stormed his way into the hidari-yotsu position (both rikishi with left arms on the inside) coming away with a solid right outer grip while denying the Yokozuna the same grip on the other side. With the upperhand, Kisenosato quickly drove Asa back to the tawara, but the Yokozuna slipped away trying in desperation to grab that right outer grip or set up a counter kote-nage throw. Kisenosato kept him standing too upright, however, and quickly forced the Yokozuna back and across to the other end of the ring where Asashoryu tried a desperation scoop throw, but his footing was awful and the adrenaline pumping through Kisenosato's veins would not allow it as the Kid (dare I say it) easily forced the Yokozuna across the straw and off the dohyo. Unbelievable. The Ozeki and Yokozuna go 0-6. The loss greatly changes the face of the yusho race because Asashoryu still has a huge mountain of opponents to climb not to mention the sliver of hope Hakuho's Yokozuna chances received. Kisenosato did nothing out of the ordinary for him today. He brought his usual brand of feisty sumo that finally paid off against the Yokozuna. He's 3-3 including wins over Asashoryu and Hakuho which is fantastic for a Komusubi.

What next? Are we going to finish these first six days with M6 Ama in sole possession of first place? Yup. Today against M4 Tamakasuga, Ama showed a great oshi attack standing him up and opening up the inside position for the easy yori-kiri win. This was flawless sumo by Ama, but I guess Tamakasuga has been inviting that from most of his opponents this basho. Regardless, Ama moves to 6-0 and is your leader. Tamakasuga remains winless. Expect the Sumo Association to set up a date between Ama and Baruto soon to even things out a bit.

In other Maegashira news, M8 Kakizoe was unable to get on the inside of Iwakiyama, who showed great patience in setting up the oshi-dashi win. Both rikishi are 3-3. M7 Kotoshogiku allowed M5 Tochinonada (4-2) that lethal left arm on the inside and was unable to budge the Makuuchi veteran from there. Tochinonada worked his way into a nice slap down win sending the Geeku to a 2-4 mark, somewhat of a surprise.

M10 Hakurozan's heavily taped knee deemed him fodder against M7 Futenoh and a stubborn right uwate. This wasn't exactly Futenoh's style who usually likes to fight from the inside, but I'm starting to believe that Hakurozan's knee is really a hurtin'. This was too easy for Futenoh who moves to 4-2 while Hakurozan drops to 3-3.

M8 Kyokushuzan's strategy of thrusting with knees locked is working beautifully this basho. Today, M10 Takekaze easily got on the inside and gave Shu another trip to the front row to even his record to 3-3. At 2-4, perhaps Shu has forgotten that he isn't ranked at M2 this basho. Leave it to M11 Jumonji to give M9 Asasekiryu a rare win this basho. After a long stalemate with Seki maintaining only on inner grip, the Mongolian was able to drive the hapless Jumonji back and out for the win. Worse than Seki's 2-4 mark is Jumonji's 1-5.

M9 Takamisakari took advantage of an ill-timed maki-kae attempt from M11 Homasho to stand him straight up and force him out with ease. I dare say that Takamisakari (3-3) matches up better with Homasho's style than any other rikishi on the banzuke. Homasho drops to 4-2 but has shown some nice sumo so far. M14 Hochiyama showed a good tachi-ai that halted M13 Tochinohana in his tracks, and when the rookie couldn't push the veteran back, he timed a perfect pull down. Good win, but I'm waiting to see a forward-moving win from Mr. Minh. Both riksih are 3-3.

And finally, our other Makuuchi newcomer, M16 Ryuho, was welcomed by that usual moro-te tachi-ai from M13 Hokutoriki and driven out swiftly to suffer his fourth loss. Hokutoriki improves to 4-2 with the win.

On one hand I'm inclined to say what a day! But on the other hand, it was exciting for a lot of wrong reasons. Just because we have a yusho race on our hands again, it doesn't mean the sumo has been great. Still, we remember how exciting Nagoya got in week 2 when the heavy-hitters began fighting amongst themselves. Day 7 shows some promise with the long awaited Asashoryu - Baruto matchup. George will try and make sense of things tomorrow.

Day 5 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
Aki '06 could be going down as one of my favourite bashos in the past year. Nothing to do with drama, although at this point the door isn't completely shut, but it seems that the right guys are ranked properly, looking strong, and set to shake thing up for the teary end of the year that is to come.

Baruto's gonna fight Asa. Ama has a clear record and convenient low rank. Roho and Kokkai are looking better than ever. Hakurozan is dancing up a storm. Hakuho has us biting our nails night after night. Asashoryu is on his game, and we've even got a few homeboys putting on a show that's worth watching. Chiyotaikai's got his mean back! Hell, even Kotomitsuki looks promising to post NINE wins! Talk about breaking my brain!

Even my schadenfreude is getting some love this time out with Takamisakari, Miyabiyama and Tochiazuma getting gooched so early on. Looking at the numbers, Azuma is damn lucky that Roho's outburst scored him that sweet eight win last basho or else he could be looking to crowd the Sekiwake ranks in Kyushu. An Ozeki losing ten in a row just after tsunatori disappointment? Gotta love it. Miyabiyama, well, I could be happy with him as Ozeki but as has been pointed out in previous days, he's being way too cautious and the pressure really seems to be getting him. Takami's just funny to watch losing and makes me think of Charlie Chaplin more and more each day. Hilarious physical comedy, he's got a gift.

And so, to the action. Maybe in no particular order.. so.. BARUTO! Boy it's fun to watch this guy test his opponents day in day out. The Roho fight was great, he made Taikai the stuff of legend, and there's lots of great matches to come. Thank god he's moved up so quickly because waiting for him to hit the top-15 felt like forever. Today he was up against that Nipponese Tank Iwakiyama who was positioned way back from the line and went for a full steam blitzkrieg against the Estonian shambler. Shambling to the left for an outside grip, that is, but 'Waki straightened up in time and denied the easy grip for a moment before they settled in the middle with that ever so fun right-inside left-outside 'gonna be a good one' stalemate. Iwaki went on the attack first but was rebuffed with some airborne sqirming before the big men settled back into the middle. From here it was all Baruto as he began tossing the Tanker left and right before finally forcing him out by Yorikiri. Looks like school's in for the big Bart-o. Can I hear a sssssSankayku?

Kotooshu and Miyabiyama now, more big lads! Miyabi had a bit of tsuppari going from the tachi-ai but couldn't knock the FINALLY spry Kotooshu off his balance and then failed to keep pace with the resident tallboy as Cobra-oshu sank a left outside and swallowed the Sheriff whole. Seeing those lean legs all bandage free is like a ray of sunshine into my cold dark heart, and I'm really hoping that he has a breakthrough basho after barely surviving his rank so long. Miyabiyama's going to need a miracle from here, but might start doing better now that the pressure is off.

Hakuho managed to salvage yet another scare as his left shift against Kokkai fell to nothing and the whitest of the white was allowed to break out a few nifty tsuppari before the Mongolian broke away and regrouped for another go. Closing once again, Hakuho unleashed a face slap quick as lightning, got inside the Georgian, and closed the book without too much trouble. Kokkai's looking good in his Sanyaku debut and has a pretty good shot at keeping his rank now that the worst is over. Hakuho is at least giving us some better excitement this time out and should hopefully earn the Belt 'o Swank before September is out.

Kaio. Hmmph. Well, what to say here? I'm glad there is some justice in the universe, and now that he's home free, nobody needs to pull their punches. Aminishiki drove the old horse back from the tachi-ai, followed his evasive maneuvers and then stood back to watch the discombobulated Kaio fall to the dirt in the centre of the ring. Aminishiki has dropped some pretty impressive meat this basho and isn't looking to let up anytime soon. 3-2 from the M3 so far ain't nothing to laugh at. Gimme one more Kaio uwatenage before he shrugs this shinto coil and I'll be happy.

While I thought that Tochiazuma's plane had crashed into the god-damned mountain, he seems to finally be pulling up and can perhaps make a play for an eventual eight wins. Beating Kisenosato ain't no picnic after all, although Kissy the Kid did pull a questionable shoulder slam after being pushed back to the tawara and making an initial escape. He didn't go down without a fight though as he dunked the Ozeki's head against the outside of the ring with a desperate and tragically late pull-down. Tochiazuma took a moment getting up from this one but will be glad to fight another day. Six wins to go, better get 'em quick!

Chiyotaikai was back to his glory days against a struggling Tamanoshima with a straight line oshi attack that didn't have a lot worth noting. Quick check for tomorrow's, no Roho. Still, it's coming...

Kotomitsuki is either gunning for a return to his own 10+ win glory days or else setting the rest of us up for a lot of head-scratching in week two. He's looking good, really good this basho and today completely out-classed Tamakasuga right from the tachi-ai by getting both arms inside and pressing the attack despite some arm-flapping along the way. Tough being a believer in this guy but when he's looking this sound, you can only hope.

Futeno managed a fairly easy win against the ever so predictable Dejima with yet another matador 'Ole! It seems you don't need much more than footwork to beat the past Ozeki who is winless so far in Aki. Futeno shouldn't have any excuses at this rank anyway, and, like many others this basho, may be turning a corner for better times to come.

Roho was looking like a contender, like he could really be someone, instead of a bum, which is what he was (today). Tochinonada caught him under the right elbow from the charge and with a perfectly timed throw managed to pull the Russian off balance for an easy dashi win. Roho was all wins coming into today and is still looking poised to make his return to the Sanyaku in Kyushu if that fire in his belly doesn't let up. 

Finally meandering back to the top of the roster we have Asashoryu and Tokitenku who put on an interesting show which was never especially in doubt. Tokitenku has been a bit sleepy at the line this basho and once again allowed his opponent to control the match from the outset. Asashoryu, always one to take advantage of a lull, deftly spun behind his fellow Mongolian and rode that bronco for a short time as 'Tenku tried to stay alive with the Yokozuna on his back. There was a small chance that Tokitenku could snag a leg-hook to save himself but Asa played it safe and eventually rocked him off his feet and onto the clay. Besides Ama (pictured at right), the champ is now clear of the top threats with is perfect 5-0 record and is... well, we're all thinking it so I won't waste my time. Tomorrow he gives Kisenosato a chance at his first win over the  Yokozuna, but it's the Baruto match up that has most, if not the entire sumo world salivating on itself.

I'll be back next week to see how my pretties are holding up. I don't know where Clancy got his intel on Simon's little disappearance, but from what I'm hearing, well, let's just say I wouldn't want to be a stingray for the next few months. That guy fires a mean harpoon. 

Looks like Mike's donning his chef's hat and firing up the barbee for a mystery seafood banquet tomorrow. How can you miss that?

Day 4 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Hi there! On Day 4 of the Aki tourney, we had some real...some, uh...some...Oh, lord, I can't stand it any longer! Going on like this, pretending nothing is wrong, knowing all the while that crafty folk like ya'll, folks who ken how to drag and highlight the top of the comments page to see the lineup of Sumotalk reviewers this basho, have figured out that Simon Siddall is kyujo this time out. Hey, you think, he's prolly got a slipped disk, got it doing "de-geiko" on the sly or sum'n like that, he'll be back. Don't you worry.

Ah, would that it were. In actuality, the tranquil world of Sumotalk has been shattered, perhaps forever, by the copious and outrageous skeletons that have so recently fallen from the Great One's closet.

Now, you know me, not the kind to leak secrets, betray confidences, or in any way gossip about my friends and colleagues. But what I heard was this. Turns out that this man we have been calling Simon was never a small time porn star in Manchester, in fact, isn't even an Englishman. The word is he's a Danish national and his real name is either Nub Dijk or Mike Rofallus (there remains uncertainty). What's more, closest he's ever come to being in a film was working as second key grip on the notorious 1992 gay/bestial Scottish underground porn flick, Borne on the Bi-Ewe (no word on how CCR viewed the choice of title).

Evidently he is wanted by Interpol for questioning in a series of dubious money transfers from a bank in the Lesser Antilles to an account in Tokyo. The "heat" has gotten screwed way the hell up, and Siddall or Rofallus or whatever name he's using today has skedaddled for the hinterlands (Sendai), holing up with three women, nine DVD's about engineering bridge construction and a pet capuchin named Boondiddyballbit.

The only reason I know ANY of this is that Mike "You Gotta Be Cruel To Be Kind" Wesemann, after securing Kenji in his portable light hydrogen tent so he could write his Day 1 report, was on the phone in the lobby and I happened to overhear him sniffle and croak, "I wish I knew how to quit you!" Armed with this odd tidbit I cornered the boss and made him spill his guts.

So there it is. You can stop fretting over our boy Simon, 'cause he ain't gonna be around much. Still, if he somehow finagles his way out of this mess he's in, AND performs deeply sincere ablutions in front of the entire gang here at Sumotalk for all the lies, well, I'd bet that we'd take him back, no hard feelings. Say what you will about that crazy Dane, but he's got some fist when it comes to Sumo.

Now, to the videotape! When I dine I like to save the nutmeats for last, so let's start with the olive oiled bean sprouts. The first 11 bouts, often referred to as the first half, were collectively a pushout lovefest. Seven were by kimarite ending in -dashi, and one yorikiri was more pushing than forcing but what's to pick? Since it's only Day 4 I'll focus on the positives. Notable were the Kasu Boys declining to participate in the Dashi Madness, Gao with a nice nage throw vs Ganishiki, Homasho staying unbeaten vs. rookie Hochi "Minh" Yama and looking good while doing it by sticking around for the whole fight as usual, 4-0 Ama taking advantage of his reputation as wolverine on angel dust to slap down a too hard charging Geeku, and Kakizoe making it abundantly clear (if it wasn't already) that Takamisakari can be dominated at tachi-ai like no other wrestler. What I want to know is with those long, strong arms, why doesn't he try more often some of the reach around monkeyshine that worked so well today for Hit and Mitsuki and Hakuho? If a perennial Sekiwake and a man gunning for grand champ can do it and not come away feeling like Camp Fire Girls, should be cake for a Maegashira scrub like Circus.

In the Top Ten, Iwakiyama gave a hint that he might, just might be thinking about a spot in sanyaku for Kaio's farewell party in November with a well thought out and deftly executed yorikiri win over Kyokutenho. Knowing his opponent well, he waited for the inevitable throwing attempt at the edge and when it came from Kyokutenho's right, he ground his massive bulk into the former Mongolian for his 2nd win. If he takes down Chewbaruto tomorrow, or looks great in losing, I'm going to be keeping an eye out for 10 or 11 wins and a return to Komusubi. Just a queer feeling I have, but he's due.

Roho-ho and a bottle of rum ('ello Georgie Boy) sent Baruto's yusho hopes down to Davy Jones' locker with an impressive annihilation of the Estonian Biomass. They clinched at center, both grabbing belts left out, right in. Roho, trying like the dickens to endear himself to the average sumo fan, immediately lifted up and drove the M1 back. Baruto propped his left foot up against the straw and held, but was badly overextended. Roho pulled him forward and spun him around, then cleverly placed his left knee behind Baruto's knee and with his right hand on his foe's chest shoved the youngster back and down onto his keister. Perfect record (and polished sumo) for Roho the Redeemed, but, not yet a believer, I'm salivating in anticipation of the day he flips out this basho. 

3-1 Komusubi Kokkai was Michael Schumacher for a day, driving his forearms into Miyabiyama's chest at tachi-ai, his hands into his throat, the Sekiwake to the dirt, and a big fat iron nail into the coffin of The Sheriff's Ozeki hopes. Miflobby needs to take four out of five from Asa, Hakuho, Chiyotaikai, Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki now if he is to make Ozeki, and if that happens, I'll personally wax Bernie's thighs before his next big ballroom dancing competition.

Kotomitsuki gave Kaio an extra shove today, not as he was going out of the ring, but into retirement, by not henka'ing the Ozeki at tachi-ai on his left shoulder and then not henka'ing him out in a second from behind from a not henka position. But hey, who can blame him, after being run over by Kisenosato yesterday, why should he stand and fight fair?

Speaking of the 20 year-old, he seemed to be in awe of Chiyotaikai today, staying right in front of the Ozeki the entire bout and thereby letting the thrusts rain all over his chest. Odd strategy, and one a cynical person might suspect has machinations behind it. I mean, Kaio is losing everyday, Tochi, too, so Chiyo is the only Japanese Ozeki with a decent record. Kise is the next great Japanese hope, with a long career ahead of him, so what's it to him if he allows his senpai, a man he probably has always admired (the Wolf's protégé!) to bomb away? Think about sumo, not about yourself. That's the cynical view. Another view is he is young and made a bad decision. Take your pick.

Like Kotomitsuki, Hakuho did not henka Tokitenku, stepping around him at tachi-ai and grabbing his belt and then executing a swell nage. Loved the finish, but the start left me wanting. One might protest, saying that Asa makes that move, and Takanohana made that move often, but there is a big difference between those men and Hakuho: They were Yokozuna. By dint of reaching the rank a Yokozuna has proven he is a supreme wrestler, and can use any move he likes to get the win. It is the honor that comes with the rank that keeps them from pulling hijinks more often than a blue moon, but they could if they wanted to.

Hakuho on the other hand is vying for Yokozuna, and thus must demonstrate NOTHING but the finest sumo. Sly tachi-ai sidesteps are not part of the roadmap to Yokozuna promotion. It goes without saying he has been a king this entire year, and that he has thus far been denied promotion because of bias, but...but...but. If he pulls anymore crap like this, and loses a second bout, he could get served up El Stiffy Grande once again come third Monday.

Tochiazuma finally answered the bell today, doing his little I'm Gonna Keep My Head In Your Chest Until You Let Me Grab The Front Of Your Belt, Dagnabit! routine vs. Tama "No Wins" noshima. Can't say I had to shake hands with the bishop after this one, but it was good to see ol' Hoss back in the saddle. Who knows, maybe he runs the table until he meets Asa? Stranger things have happened. More likely he loses twice more by Day 8 and withdraws.

I'll let Mike lead off this paragraph with his Day 3 comment: "The only concern for Kotooshu this basho is his poor tachi-ai, and I'm sure it will come back to burn him eventually..." A day doesn't pass and already little Nostradamus Wesemann is sitting back and smirking. Aminishiki didn't hit Kotooshu particularly hard at tachi-ai, but with the Bulgarian standing tall trying to reach his foe's belt, and then trying a pulldown! Failing that, he was easy pickings for Aminishiki, who kept his own legs under him and on either side of Kotooshu's left leg and shoved out the desperately off balance Ozeki. I truly hope this was an aberration, and that Koto is on form for 13 wins in order to give us all a whiff of a possible yusho race.

Because it ain't looking good. Not that the Degyptian is a good barometer, who with his sadly slowed blind rhino attack was nothing but candy from the Day 4 baby for The Khan, master of all he beholds. It is a testament to his greatness that Asa can take the suspense out of the yusho as early as Day 4. He is looking so much finer than his followers, I just can't see anything less than a 14 win yusho, probably 15. Still, there will be the Baruto, Roho, Hakuho and Kisenosato matchups to keep my interest piqued.

Bernie Birnbaum descends from the Great White North tomorrow to warn us about licking flagpoles and yellow snow.

Day 3 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
You know how an actor or a comedian will get assigned a lousy script and declare, "I have nothing to work with here." That was my exact sentiment yesterday, but today, however, provided plenty of talking points despite the lack of a major upset. So like Pamela Anderson running along the beach, let's get right to the bouncing. In order to beat Asashoryu, you've got to gain some sort of advantage like the quicker half step at the tachi-ai. When Asashoryu gains said advantage on you, then you have as much chance of survival as a Michael Jackson marriage. Thus was the case today with M3 Aminishiki. Asashoryu used that half step advantage throwing two quick hands right into Aminishiki's neck as he came out of his crouch and that was all she wrote. Aminishiki did try to duck and evade to his left, but the Yokozuna was right on his every move continuing the pushing attack until Ami (1-2) was sitting in the first row. Asashoryu has been flawless the first three days as his co-leaders one by one begin to drop back a step.

Geez, just when I all but wrote Kaio off yesterday he comes out with a helluva tachi-ai that halted Dejima outright standing him up and allowing the Ozeki to get his left arm deep on the inside of the Degyptian. This left on the inside is critical to Kaio's success as he uses it to wrench his opponent into his coveted right outer grip. Such was the case today, and once secure, Kaio knew exactly what to do although he executed the belt throw a little bit slower and a little bit rustier than we're used to seeing from him. But hey, this was a great win and has to help the Ozeki's confidence even though I don't think he overcomes this 1-2 start for a kachi-koshi. The whole key for Kaio is to move forward from the tachi-ai instead of trying to absorb his opponent's blow, but what's the sense in telling him that at this point in his career? Dejima continues to sag at 0-3.

Ozeki Kotooshu looked to have a pushover against M4 Tamakasuga, but that wasn't the case today thanks to a smashing head-butt tachi-ai that drew blood from just over Tama's right eye and a beautiful inashi maneuver from Tamakasuga at the initial charge sticking and moving to his right trying to sideswipe the taller Oshu in the process. Tamakasuga had Kotooshu completely off balance and out of position and nearly finished him off with a paw to the neck, but Kotooshu's ring sense is just too good as he was finally able to evade the charging Tamakasuga and wrap him up from behind in the--you guessed it--man love position. From here it was all academic as Oshu picks up his third win opting to push Tamakasuga to the dirt instead of hugging him to the clay. The only concern for Kotooshu this basho is his poor tachi-ai, and I'm sure it will come back to burn him eventually, but hey, I'll take that 3-0 sumo any day, especially from a rikishi who is recovering from injuries and a few shots to his ego. Tamakasuga falls to 0-3, but I can't complain about his effort.

Despite the supposed injuries to his knees, Ozeki Tochiazuma charged well with his head and a stiff crash to Sekiwake Miyabiyama's torso before stepping slightly to his left in an effort to execute the inashi move that he does so well. The tactic worked to a point, but the speed was lacking and Miyabiyama was able to turn his body and fend off the attack with his tsuppari. Tochiazuma never relented however forcing Miyabiyama to fend him off with a flurry of methodic tsuppari with some slick hissing noises to boot. For at least 10 seconds, Miyabiyama unleashed tsuppari after tsuppari to Tochiazuma's face while the Ozeki tried desperately to get another step on the inside. Finally, Miyabiyama moved to his left and slapped down at the charging Ozeki to seal the victory. It wasn't pretty, but it was a win. The biggest concern that I have so far with Miyabiyama's sumo is not the tsuppari...he's using those just fine. The difference is he's not using the tsuppari to drive his opponents back and out with force. That's two pull-downs in two days if you're counting, both completely acceptable as they were good offensive moves...unless you're an Ozeki. At 2-1, Miyabiyama is going to have another Sekiwake basho, not an Ozeki performance. Tochiazuma falls to 0-3 and has to withdraw doesn't he?

Ozeki Hakuho is attacking too high at the tachi-ai this basho denying him that initial thump of his opponent and any great position. Today against M2 Tamanoshima was no different as the Ozeki gave up the quick right uwate two seconds after the tachi-ai. Tamanoshima, a great belt fighter, did not hesitate with the grip and drove Hakuho sideways to the edge and looked as if he would finish the Ozeki off, but Hakuho managed to get his left arm in good position to execute a counter scoop throw that halted Tamanoshima's momentum just enough. The difference here was Hakuho's height, and as Tama planted himself to go for that second force-out charge, Hakuho used his sheer strength to push up at Tamanoshima's right elbow knocking the M2 flat on his arse in the center of the dohyo. Hakuho survived today, and this surely isn't the kind of sumo we would see from a Yokozuna, but before the press and NHK announcers and everyone else jump on the let's-criticize-Hakuho bandwagon, just try and remember all that the Ozeki has accomplished this year: nary a basho with less than 13 wins, one yusho, and three jun-yusho just one loss behind the champion. Those marks would have earned any Japanese rikishi the rank of Yokozuna this day and age, and dats a fact.

For the first year after his promotion, Asashoryu displayed Yokozuna sumo about every other basho. In Aki of 2004, he went just 9-6. It happens. Let these guys work through their issues. This rant is partly due to Takanonami's criticism of Hakuho today in his color commentary. Takanonami? Criticizing someone for their style of sumo? That burns me up almost as much as Tochiazuma's remark prior to the basho when he said, "He's not at Yokozuna strength right now." And how would you know that Mr. Fake Your Injuries When Your Sumo Sucks? I have no problem with Kitanoumi Rijicho, Kokonoe-oyakata, and other former Yokozuna offering their comments on Hakuho's current funk, but when current and former rikishi lash out because they're bitter, then I will come to Hakuho's defense. Personally, I predicted just 11 wins for the Ozeki this basho and a clean slate heading into Kyushu, but Hakuho is talented enough to surpass that mark even when his sumo is off as it has been so far. All of the great ones could pull the rabbit out of the hat when they didn't have "it" so to speak, so let's just let this basho play out before we pile on top of the Mongolian.

Moving right along, wow, what fantastic sumo from Kokkai! Today in what appeared to be a compelling matchup between two good pushers, Kokkai dominated scoring the advantage at the tachi-ai using a simultaneous shove with the left to the torso and right forearm to the throat that instantly drove Chiyotaikai back and into trouble. With a bit of separation between them, it seemed as if both rikishi flinched a bit as if they would next attempt a pull down, but thankfully they stuck to their strengths. Kokkai smartly continued to drive his legs forward after smashing the Ozeki back, so Chiyotaikai could offer no opposition at the tawara when that fatal wingspan shove came. Damn, I love sumo like this, and hopefully it gives Kokkai even more confidence the rest of the way. Kokkai at 2-1 after one Yokozuna and two Ozeki? You go girl. As for Chiyotaikai, who also falls to 2-1, let me say that I really appreciate his attitude when facing the foreign rikishi. We know he has that beef with Roho, and he also gets fired up against Baruto and Kokkai. I like to see that national pride kick in, and I wish more of the other Japanese rikishi possessed it. Follow Chiyotaikai's lead and protect your domain fellas.

Komusubi Kisenosato finally showed some life from the tachi-ai this basho in hitting Kotomitsuki low and hard standing the listless Sekiwake straight up and pushing him all the way back to the tawara where Mitsuki just gave up letting the Kid finish him off without incident. Since when is it okay to give up after a bad tachi-ai, Kotomitsuki? With really nothing more to say about this bout, let me switch gears a bit regarding Kisenosato. Why do I get the feeling that the Japanese don't appreciate their Komusubi and his potential? Is he too flamboyant for their tastes? I mean, isn't this the same country that treated B-list heavy metal acts from the 80's as if they were the Rolling Stones? You know, groups like Night Ranger, Dokken, and Mr. Big. If you're a music act and you wonder if you suck, just answer these questions:

1) Were we the opening act when playing at any venue that wasn't associated with a state fair?
2) Have we released a greatest hits album live in Japan?

If you answered "yes" to both of those questions, then it's safe to say you probably suck(ed). Oh, wait a minute...Jimmy Osmond was huge in Japan as well, so scratch this argument. The point is, I don't sense much buzz in Japan surrounding this budding star. They go crazy for bad music, Yon-sama, and a boring Takamisakari win, yet, there's just casual applause when Kisenosato puts on a performance as he did today.

Let's move on. I thought it funny last basho when M4 Kyokutenho compared M1 Baruto to this machine that just sucked him right up. So why did Tenho go for the left frontal belt grip at the tachi-ai...which he got...that would guarantee the Estonian the easy right outer, his favorite hold? Beats me just as Baruto beats Kyokutenho with little trouble. The fact that Baruto actually won this bout with an inner belt grip throw with the left hand shows me just how little resistance he faced from Kyokutenho (1-2). Baruto improves to 2-1 with the good win.

M5 Iwakiyama delivered double tsuppari to M1 Roho's face from the tachi-ai, but something tells me that the Russian has absorbed plenty of similar blows already in his life. After staving off that initial charge from Iwakiyama, Roho hit the accelerator and pushed Iwakiyama back across the ring and out with no further argument. Roho stated prior to the basho that he wanted to restore is image with good sumo. He's doing so this basho at 3-0. Perhaps that incident with Chiyotaikai last basho was a blessing in disguise. I think it let Roho know just how thin the ice he was skating on was. He's one more stupid act away from being kicked out of the sport and out of the country where he currently lives off the fat of the land, and he knows it. Nothing like a little fear to inspire good sumo. Keep it up. Iwakiyama falls to 1-2.

In other Maegashira clashes, M2 Tokitenku managed to get both arms on the inside of M5 Tochinonada, but since Tenku was standing straight up, Tochinonada was able to wrap both arms around Tokitenku's arms in the kime position (the one Takanonami would always employ). Tochinonada looked primed for the kime-dashi win forcing the Mongolian back to the straw, but Tenku turned the tables nicely twisting Tochinonada over and down at the edge to improve to 2-1 (that 1 loss by TKO). Tochinonada is uninspired at 1-2.

M6 Ama and M8 Kakizoe provided one of the better bouts of the day. The two displayed an excellent tsuppari-ai, but the key was that Kakizoe really needs the inside position or the belt to succeed. He secured neither, and the more nimble Ama proved the benefactor moving to 3-0. Kakizoe falls to 1-2. M8 Kyokushuzan is standing straight up with knees locked at the tachi-ai this basho, and it's allowing his opponents, including Toyonoshima today, to easily get on the inside and force him out. It's as simple as that as both rikishi stand at 1-2.

M7 Futenoh held is ground well at the tachi-ai, but M9 Asasekiryu's bad leg may have contributed to that. Futenoh got his right arm on the inside quickly standing Seki upright and turning him into an easy oshi-dashi target. Futenoh improves to 2-1 while Seki (0-3) can't get anything going after a long layoff. M7 Kotoshogiku secured a firm left uwate from the tachi-ai that M9 Takamisakari just couldn't break. That's the difference from the rikishi in the upper half of Maegashira and the rikishi in the lower half...Takamisakari can turn the tables on the lower half even if they have an outer grip. No such luck today as Kotoshogiku (a rikishi in the top half) persisted well in smothering his opponent. Both rikishi are 2-1.

What's M10 Hakurozan doing going for pull-down sumo against M12 Yoshikaze? And it wasn't just a one-time deal; his strategy throughout the bout was to focus on the pull-down. Hakurozan did win, yes, but there is also a reason he is down here while a triumvirate of his mates are up there and deservedly so. Judging from the emails I get from readers when I criticize a fellow countryman, I'm positive that our Russian readers don't like my criticism of Hakurozan, but you have to believe me when I say I have nothing against the guy personally nor his country; he's just executing poor sumo and doesn't give any effort when high up the ranks. And speaking of criticism, there's plenty that you can justifiably aim at me...I haven't changed my shirt for four vocabulary is the size of a man who has just exited an icy cold swimming pool...I hold different rikishi to different standards, and on and on.

Moving right along, M11 Homasho must be one slippery guy, and I'm beginning to wonder if the dude has scales on his body. You don't hear this crack at the tachi-ai, and he isn't necessarily deep on the inside of his opponents, but when he excels, his opponents can't grab his belt nor his limbs. Today he staved off Tochinohana's attack with his head lowered and arms outstretched frustrating the veteran around and around the ring until he was push-out fodder. This was a typical Homasho win as he moves to a swell 3-0.

Come on guys, lay off my man Hokutoriki! Today, M11 Jumonji delivered yet another tachi-ai henka against the M13. Jumonji is so slow that Hokutoriki actually recovered, but take away his forward momentum from the tachi-ai, and he has nothing but a sensible wife to go home to. Both rikishi are 1-2.

Concluding with the rookies, M14 Hochiyama used great footwork to defeat M16 Shimotori today. From the tachi-ai, Hochiyama forced the bout to a tsuppari-fest by making Shimotori chase him around the ring. The younger legs won this time as Hochiyama finally timed a dodge well slapping Shimotori (1-2) to the dirt. Hochiyama won't be proud of his sumo today, but he got that ever important first win. There wasn't anything cheap in today's bout; it's just that Hochiyama can and will do better. And finally, M16 Ryuho secured a solid left uwate at the tachi-ai...his best charge of the basho, but he was unable to budge Kasuganishiki and eventually lost by shitate-nage. Both rikishi are 2-1.

Clancy whistles Dixie tomorrow and has a few humdingers to comment on with Baruto vs. Roho, Miyabiyama vs. Kokkai, and Kisenosato vs. Chiyotaikai.

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Day 1 brought us some excellent upsets, and yes, just because a guy is ranked at Ozeki, it still doesn't mean that he can't upset a Maegashira rikishi, right Chiyotaikai? That point was further emphasized today by a couple of Ozeki who aren't really primed to beat anyone this basho. The sumo settled down a bit today, and we're already beginning to see just what kind of basho the various rikishi will have, so like a monkey taught to smoke cigarettes, let's get right to our nicotine fix.

As Kenji pointed out yesterday, it doesn't matter what kind of awful condition Yokozuna Asashoryu is in prior to the basho. Come day 1, the dude is going to rock. We're not seeing the same stability at the tachi-ai of late from the Yokozuna, but he has already re-established to the field that he is still the one to beat despite the distractions from Hakuho and Baruto the last few basho. Today, Asashoryu came with a tsuppari attack that wasn't overly effective against Tamanoshima and allowed the M2 to actually get a right forearm into his throat that drove the Yokozuna back a step or two. The problem is, though, that a forearm shove doesn't give the attacker any control of the direction his opponent will retreat, so Asa moved to his left, grabbed that right arm of Tamanoshima's, and pulled him down to the dohyo with little trouble. It's still early, but it already looks as if Asashoryu (2-0) is on his way to an uncontested yusho. Tamanoshima falls to 0-2.

After that ass-kicking of Baruto on day 1, Ozeki Chiyotaikai was sure to ride the momentum into his bout with M2 Tokitenku, and ride it he did using one of my favorite tactics, the right-fist-to-the-face-eye-gouge tachi-ai that left Tokitenku fully upright and wobbling on his feet back towards the tawara. Chiyotaikai actually hesitated slightly at this point because Tokitenku was like a prize fighter who has been knocked out yet still maintains his footing, but the Ozeki took the safe route and offered one more shove that pushed Tokitenku back and out. I don't know how Tokitenku kept his footing as he landed, but that first blow to the face clearly had Tenku seeing stars. Chiyotaikai moves to an impressive 2-0, but how long will this brand of fiery sumo last? I'd say about five more days. Tokitenku falls to 1-1.

It seems that retirement for Ozeki Kaio can't come soon enough after the first two days this basho. Today against Komusubi Kokkai, he made a stab with the right hand for Kokkai's belt at the tachi-ai, but the Georgian's massive tsuppari attack left Kaio with nothing to do but offer a weak pull-down attempt as Kokkai already had him flying backwards. Completely off balance near the tawara and with feet aligned, Kaio provided an easy target for one more two-handed Kokkai thrust to finish him off. Kaio was simply overwhelmed...again to fall to 0-2. The Ozeki cannot afford a start like this, so don't be surprised if Kaio has already called Musoyama asking for advice on coming up with a fake injury. Kokkai moves to 1-1 and notches his first Ozeki kill.

The most compelling matchup of the day featured Ozeki Kotooshu and Komusubi Kisenosato. Kotooshu paused a bit at the starting lines in putting that final fist to the dirt, and I thought he may be trying to outthink himself, but Kisenosato allayed any of those fears by charging too high with his hands raised and opened wide. Oshu's charge was cautious in itself, and it allowed Kisenosato to grab the quick right outer grip, but the Komusubi was standing way too upright gifting Oshu the same outer grip on the other side. From here, there was no question as to the outcome because Kisenosato was in no position to counter Oshu's height. The Ozeki methodically forced his opponent back and out for the easy yet powerful yorikiri win. That had to feel good considering the way that Kisenosato has bullied Oshu in the past. Kisenosato commented yesterday after beating Hakuho that his sumo was bad. I agree...and it was even worse today. Driving Hakuho's head into the tawara and across the clay with both hands was cool, but Kisenosato has showed no offensive-minded sumo yet. Kotooshu saunters out to a cool 2-0.

Even if the bout was a yawner, Sekiwake Kotomitsuki exhibited a solid display of sumo against Ozeki Tochiazuma forcing the quick migi-yotsu position from the tachi-ai with Mitsuki enjoying the firm left outer grip. Tochiazuma dug in with his head lowered tight against his opponent's body, and Kotomitsuki seemed all too happy to let the action come to a stand-still. The Sekiwake had to sense, however, that he had the superior position--and the superior knees, so he swung Tochiazuma around so his back was facing the tawara then used a nice gaburi shove with his belly to finish the ailing Ozeki off for his second win. Tochiazuma falls to 0-2 and is limping so badly that I can't even tell which knee is giving him trouble. Both are heavily taped.

Rounding out the Ozeki ranks, Hakuho offered a weak right hari-te at the tachi-ai that really just set up a step with the left foot out wide to facilitate grabbing the left uwate from the charging Dejima. With the grip in hand, the Ozeki took a step back and used his strength coupled with Dejima's forward momentum to easily dump his opponent near the tawara with an uwate-nage. The NHK announcers (Shirasaki Announcer and Hidenoyama-oyakata) seemed critical of Hakuho's performance afterwards, but I thought Hakuho played it perfectly to his strengths and Dejima's weaknesses. Speaking of NHK announcers, some Jiminto Party political debate pre-empted the day 1 sumo broadcast I had set to record on Sunday, so I went to to watch the day 1 bouts, which of course included the English announcers' commentary. Who would have thought that Santa Claus was in the booth offering color commentary. After every exciting bout, all I heard was this "ah, ho, ho, ho, ho" coming from the booth. I'm not making it up... you can check it out for yourselves. I don't know who the dude's name was, but tell him that the new Beavis and Butthead three DVD set is at the top of my Christmas list. Hakuho moves to 1-1 with the win, but it's still too early to tell what kind of shape he is really in. And for the record, that political debate was riveting. Thanks NHK.

The Sumo Association gave Miyabiyama two patsies to open the basho up in my opinion, so after wasting day 1, there was no way he was going to flounder his chance against Tamakasuga. The Sheriff came with his methodical tsuppari driving Tama back a step or two, raising him up, and setting up the two-handed pull-down. It was the opportune time to go for the offensive pulldown, but I wonder if it was a sign of caution from the Sekiwake. Caution earns no one a promotion. Miyabiyama moves to 1-1, but I see a similar performance to what we witnessed in Nagoya. Ten wins...maybe. Tamakasuga is a hapless 0-2.

The M1 Roho - M4 Kyokutenho clash was so telling of which direction these two rikishi are heading. After a migi-yotsu stalemate from the tachi-ai, Tenho grabbed the left uwate first but showed nothing but indifference. Roho showed his strength by staving off the outer grip until grabbing the same left outer of his own, which he used for the uneventful yori-kiri win. Today's bout was proof that Roho belongs among the jo'i and that Tenho could care less. Roho is a sweet 2-0.

There's nothing I like to see more than two rikishi who are able to exhibit their strengths during the same bout, so I wanted M5 Tochinonada to gain his favored hidari-yotsu position with that left inner grip so M1 Baruto could grab the right outer. My wish came true from the tachi-ai as Baruto used that fatal right uwate to push Nada back to the straw, but the tawara proved the equalizer as Nada's feet braced against the straw prevented Baruto from the yori-kiri win. After a brief stalemate in this position, the Estonian went for a smart move shifting his feet a bit and shoving his left paw into Nada's chest to force him back across the rope. It wasn't necessarily a great bout of sumo for the casual fan, but I appreciated the chikara-zumo. Both rikishi stand at 1-1.

M3 Aminishiki employed a quick inashi move to his left after the tachi-ai, but M5 Iwakiyama survived it with some fleet footwork.. He tsupparri'ed his way back from the tawara and caught Aminishiki on his next evasive maneuver with a pounding kata-sukashi that sent Aminishiki to the dirt. This was the same sumo that Ami brought against Miyabiyama yesterday, so it's interesting how Iwakiyama survived it with ease while Miyabi fell flat on his blubber. Both rikishi are 1-1.

Today's M6 Toyonoshima - M7 Kotoshogiku matchup was compelling only because these two entered sumo together and were rivals as they climbed up the banzuke. Kotoshogiku survived a mediocre pull-down attempt early on and forced the bout to hidari-yotsu. Kotoshogiku was denied the uwate, but he showed why he has enjoyed more success in the division than his rival forcing Toyonoshima (0-2) back to the tawara and grabbing the right uwate to set up the easy force-out win. The Geeku moves to 1-1 with the win.

M6 Ama won a tsuppari-ai from the tachi-ai and parlayed it into a firm left outer grip against M7 Futenoh. Futenoh went for the ill-advised 360 degree turn in an effort to shake the grip leaving Ama directly behind him. In true man-love fashion, Ama mounted Futenoh (1-1) from behind and rode him into the dirt for the easy okuri-taoshi win. Ama is 2-0 for the first time in a while.

M9 Asasekiryu's knee still looks as if it's giving him trouble. M8 Kakizoe used a quick inashi (slap from the side) to easily throw Seki off balance and shove him to the clay from behind. This was far too easy for Kakizoe who picks up his first win. Asasekiryu looks as if he'll be joining Wakanosato in the Juryo ranks for Kyushu.

M9 Takamisakari easily survived M8 Kyokushuzan's moro-te effort from the tachi-ai securing the quick moro-zashi grip and executing a solid yori-kiri win that probably didn't deserve the fan response it got. The Robocop is a nifty 2-0 while Shu falls to 1-1.

Big surprise here...M10 Hakurozan is fighting with some spirit this basho! No I'm not kidding. He is ranked low enough after all. Today against M11 Jumonji, he grabbed the early right inner belt grip and used the left hand at the back of Jumonji's head to slam him down to the clay with little opposition. Hakurozan (2-0) is obviously in his comfort zone, but who wouldn't be pulling a decent paycheck for a half-assed effort. Hey, sounds kinda like my job. Jumonji falls to 0-2.

M11 Homasho brought his usual low charge--I don't know how he survives like this--inviting the pulldown from M10 Takekaze (0-2) pushing him out with ease to streak to a healthy 2-0. M12 Yoshikaze executed a brutal tachi-ai henka to his left that even M13 Hokutoriki didn't deserve. Just when I was starting to like the kid too...

And finally, Makuuchi newcomer M14 Hochiyama stumbled against M15 Kasugao for an 0-2 start in the division. Hochiyama worked into a migi-yotsu gappuri stalemate, but he went for the kill too early and was burned by a kawazugake trip from Kasugao. Classic example of the newbies getting burned by moves like this. Meanwhile, fellow rookie M16 Ryuho earned a patient if not ugly oshi-dashi win by attacking low against J1 Kakuryu inviting several pull-downs before shoving out his compromised opponent.

In scanning the lineup for day 3, I don't see too much to get excited about. The Miyabiyama - Tochiazuma matchup would normally be the headliner, but with Azuma's knees running like a North Korean automobile, we'll probably have to settle for Kisenosato -Kotomitsuki. It also looks if the Association may be holding both M1's (Baruto and Roho) back for week two. If so, it's a smart move as Kaio and Tochiazuma will probably not be around. I'm back again tomorrow to call the action a, ho, ho, ho, ho.

Day 1 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
We have come to my favorite time of the year when it comes to sports. Autumn brings with it a fever pitch in numerous sports here, and sumo fits nicely into that mix for yours truly. The Aki basho brings leftover storylines from Nagoya, namely Hakuho and Miyabiyama seeking that elusive promotion once and for all. Add to that a healthy and pre-basho dominant Baruto this time and you've got enough fodder to carry us through nicely. But hold your horses. What happened on day one unexpectedly tapped the breaks on the momentum of all three of these newsmakers.

Let's cover our beloved Yokozuna first. It is becoming old news for me to read all the question marks regarding Asashoryu's condition, for one reason or another, coming into every basho, then watching him promptly silence any doubts by completely dominating his opponent on day one. Case in point today. Sho just manhandled shin-Komusubi Kokkai by quickly securing the front of the Georgian's belt and eliminating any space between them. All that followed was a suffocating, lightening fast attack that ended in an easy yorikiri in three seconds time. Folks, it comes down to this: Don't put stock in hype downplaying Asashoryu in pre-basho reports. When it comes time to wrastle for real, he brings an A-game matched by no one. 

The Ozeki rank did not fare well on shonichi, generating a paltry 2-3 record. Among the losers was Hakuho, who dropped a day one decision for the second straight basho in which he is seeking Yokozuna promotion. Today he fell against Komusubi Kisenosato. Actually, Hakuho displayed a solid attack with a sense of urgency to win, but in his haste got twisted down by The Kid (pictured at right).  It was one of those deals where he won the battle but lost the war. Chalk one up for The Kid for squeaking one out on sheer defensive instinct. 

The shocker for me was Chiyotaikai vs. M1 Baruto. This one brought back shades of Taikai from a decade ago. Brute strength and bullying domination. But against Baruto? I am shocked indeed, as I'm sure many of you were. The two clashed mano-a-mano, but it was Baruto who bounced backward and quickly succumbed to an oshi-taoshi. The Estonian literally wilted under Chiyo's attack. Maybe he was stiff and nervous, who knows. Props to Chiyo today, no doubt. 

Kaio and M1 Roho engaged in a yawner as the two clashed before Roho promptly went for a pull down. On Kaio's way down Roho grabbed the Ozeki's belt to get credited for an uwatenage. 

Kotooshu is finally on the road to recovery with his knee, from what I understand. Today's sumo seemed to back that up as he went head to head with Tamanoshima in a belt match and proceeded to win via yorikiri. He even lost his left outside grip in the process but pressed on with a right front grip that was enough to beat last basho's 11-4 Kantosho winner. 

The final Ozeki, Tochiazuma, The Enigma, dropped his day one bout to birthday boy M2 Tokitenku. This was a pretty good match, with the Ozeki displaying his normal attack mixed in with some counter offensives by the Mongolian that included an unsuccessful leg sweep. In the end, Azuma could not keep up with the lateral motion of Tokitenku, and hit the tawara with his good knee. He looked a little gimpy going back to the dressing room. What an injury magnet this guy is. You gotta feel for him. 

Miyabiyama, like Hakuho, lost on day one for the second straight basho when seeking promotion. M3 Aminishiki's plan worked like a charm as he clashed with Miyabi, then immediately moved to his left and sent the big man flying via an uwate-dashinage (one-arm outer grip throw). 

The other Sekiwake, Kotomitsuki, who has posted 8-7 records for 5 consecutive basho at this rank, pulled out an ugly win against M3 Dejima which was decided in a similar fashion to Aminishiki and Roho. Make like you're going to go full steam ahead, but pull down the opponent instead. Mitsuki opted to go to his right and grab the inside of the belt along the way, which credited him with a shitate-nage. 

Of the two division rookies, the unheralded Ryuho was the one who posted a day one win, not the promising Hochiyama. You gotta love it when a guy who took 13.5 years to make Makuuchi wins on his long awaited debut in the top division.

Mike is up tomorrow. Let's hope the promotion seekers get back on the right track so this thing stays interesting.


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