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Day 1
Harvye
Day 2
Mike
Day 3
Harvye
Day 4
Mike
Day 5
Mike
Day 6
Harvye
Day 7
Mike
Day 8
Harvye
Day 9
Mike
Day 10
Harvye
Day 11
Mike
Day 12
Mike
Day 13
Harvye
Day 14
Mike

Day 10 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
I habitually write my intro before watching the bouts, not after, so depending on how far ahead I'm getting a headstart, sometimes that means I haven't read Mike's report from the previous day yet. That was the case today. So I was interested to see when I opened Mike's Day 9 that we'd written intros on the same topic (the leaderboard) and said many of the same things. Part of me said hey, okay, I should rewrite this now because otherwise we're repeating ourselves. But the other part of me said no, leave it. So here's a second voice on the same topic.

It is brass tacks time. While the tournament has been fascinating with the lack of top contenders fighting well, at the same time it has not felt right to talk about the leaderboard when guys like Chiyotairyu and Daieisho are up there. We can't avoid it anymore, though. Here is everybody within two of the lead:

8-1: Goeido
7-2: Onosho, Chiyotairyu, Takanoiwa, Daishomaru
6-3: Harumafuji, Daieisho, Takarafuji, Arawashi, Asanoyama

On the one hand, this is a legitimate mess, and it is hard to see how it could play out. Not a single one of these guys played each other today, meaning the winnowing will continue to be slow. I would expect that on the final weekend we'll still have to be talking about at least one of the also-ran Maegashira guys hanging around in this group. However, we can also parse a bit. More than half of today's matches--10 out of 18--features a guy on the "leaderboard." In other words, the "leaderboard" is still largely a smokescreen. Let's clear it a bit.

Takarafuji, Daieisho, Arawashi, and Asanoyama you can forget about: they are too low on the banzuke to be seriously considered for the yusho, don't have the skills, and 6-3 is just a good record, not a great one. They're on the leaderboard because it is still early and that is it. Daishomaru is mostly the same, but with one less loss and ranked at a spot on the banzuke where he can excel, he is a good candidate to be a guy hanging around when the weekend comes. He cannot win, though. Takanoiwa could potentially pull a Kyokutenho and slip into the yusho by mistake if everything falls apart, but give that a 1% chance of happening (thought I did notice that Kyokutenho was on the broadcast as an announcer on Sunday, probably to help pad the idea of an Onosho victory, though, not a Takanoiwa surprise). Count Takanoiwa out too.

Chiyotairyu deserves a word here. He is not good enough to win--not by a long shot--but he is the surprise of the tournament. He's rarely showed well enough to even hang on in Makuuchi, let alone the jo'i, and predicting, say, a 2-13 finish for him was the sensible way to go. However, he's looking mean and nasty and dominant: it has been a ton of fun. The bottom line on a storyline like that, however, is that it is plenty by itself: there is no reason to tolerate a yusho from him, as even 9-6, for example, would count as a great tournament for him. 10-5 is a borderline miracle. He's already done enough; his story is fixed, and he just needs one more win to grab a special prize. That's the real focus for him.

So, that leaves us with the only three real contenders: Goeido, Onosho, and Harumafuji. As I've said before, this is setting up well for Goeido. If I were him and his stable, I'd be busy cashing in chips, because an opportunity like this won't come around very often and the narrative of a win for him will be publically acceptable and easily fits in with the Hakkaku Revolution. His chances to yusho are very, very strong.

Onosho has a yusho chance because he's pretty good, and that's a good thing. But could he win it on his own? No. Would it be a terrible travesty if he won? No. Just premature and overreaching. It could happen, but he's in a similar (but slightly better) boat to Chiyotairyu: this is a star making tournament for him already, whatever else happens. I think his yusho chances are pretty small.

So, then there's Harumafuji. He needs only two things to happen: 1) Win out. He can do this if he chooses. 2) Somebody else also decides to beat Goeido. That can happen, like how Toyonoshima spoiled Kotoshogiku's perfect tournament. That scenario then puts them in a 12-3 playoff, where Harumafuji would have yet another chance to decide whether to give Goeido the tournament. I'll be rooting for his comeback.

Let's see what happened today.

M14 Endo (5-4) vs. M15 Tokushoryu (2-7)
Endo is making progress: for once, I thought, "Endo is clearly the better wrestler and should win this." Unfortunately, the results were a little shaky. They went chest to chest and Endo had a right inside and left outside. However, he couldn't turn this into a force out or a throw. Tokushoryu, who only had an arm under the pit on Endo's body, twice used his superior size to leverage with that arm and almost throw Endo--he got so close you had to wonder why he couldn't finish it. Why indeed. Sigh. Since he didn't finish it, though, Endo was left to finish it with a little left step aside and jerk on the belt, collapsing Tokushoryu to the dirt in the vacated space, uwate-dashi-nage.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M13 Nishikigi (4-5) vs. M16 Asanoyama (6-3)
Asanoyama looked pretty good here. Wasted some time with some quick tsuppari to the face, but then gave a solid surge to the body on which he grabbed a fistful of belt on the left. He used that to promptly turn Nishikigi around and dump him at the tawara, uwate-nage.

M13 Kaisei (5-4) vs. M12 Sadanoumi (0-9)
As we've established, Sadanoumi has nothing in the legs due to the injury that kept him out most of the first week. Opponents know that too, and so now have no fear in closing and pushing. That's what Kaisei did; Sadanoumi was not fast enough to get away and was caught, and the yori-kiri win was quick and decisive.

M14 Okinoumi (4-5) vs. M11 Chiyomaru (4-5)
Okinoumi is performing absolutely terribly this tournament, whether through choice or some decline I don't know, but today it looked like choice. He tsuppari'ed around at Chiyomaru's face, which is not his game, then decided to close his arms and push--also not his game, as he's a belt guy. Against a weak opponent like this, he should have had no fear of setting the pace and making the match run his way. Instead, he was up there lamely goofing around with silly business, so Chiyomaru took pity on the match and pulled Okinoumi down, tsuki-otoshi.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M15 Yutakayama (4-5) vs. M9 Arawashi (6-3)
Arawashi showed a lot of his toolkit here. He cat slapped, he reached in for belt but didn't get it, he was swift-thinking enough to immediately compensate by trying something else, he tsuppari'ed, he moved back in quick and got the belt, and he used his lithe strength and competitive oomph to drive Yutakayama kinetically out, kabooming him bodily over the edge with the full force of his torso, yori-otoshi. Did I mention I like Arawashi rather much?

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M8 Chiyoshoma (3-6) vs. M12 Daishomaru (7-2)
Nice forearm to the face from the sometimes slightly wicked Chiyoshoma. It actually didn't do anything, but as Daishomaru didn't do anything either (he was too busy trying to set up a pull), Chiyoshoma squared to him, pushed him hard once, maybe twice, and drove his ineffectual opponent from the ring like ragstock, tsuki-otoshi. Whoa, is the wrong guy from these two on the leaderboard or what.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M10 Ishiura (2-7) vs. M8 Takarafuji (6-3)
Wow. We'd been fortunate over the last two matches to see some appropriate dominance, and I expected the same here. That's not exactly what happened, but we got to see something interesting anyway: the better guy survived an almost totally helpless position, because he's better. Takarafuji was dominating the early portion of this match by keeping Ishiura at a distance and driving the little dude slowly back. However, Ishiura is no dummy, and managed to slip out near the tawara and get behind Takarafuji. From there, the okuri-dashi rear-force-out is usually academic. However, serious credit to Takarafuji, who performed a smart and complicated dance, spinning first one way and then the other like a jazzy whirling dervish, each time putting one arm behind him to try to usher Ishiura back in front. Ishiura, of course, tried to anticipate the moves and stay behind him. Ishiura was also trying to push, but as Takarafuji's swirling defenses were working, Ishiura couldn't focus on that, and it didn't work. Takarafuji did four separate twists--I counted--and the last worked: Ishiura moved slower than he did, and Takarafuji was able to spin quick and far enough to face back up to him. Takarafuji knew it was on: he promptly mangled Ishiura's face and neck and bent him like chaff in the wind while hurling him from the claytop, oshi-dashi. Was this bout pretty? No. But it was great fun, and showed excellent survival instincts and technique from Takarafuji.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M7 Chiyonokuni (5-4) vs. M11 Daieisho (6-3)
Both of these guys fight pretty lively, so I expected… a sloppy mess. Lively and good are not the same. As Yoda would say, "control, control, you must learn control!" Sure enough, decent head butt, then some demonstrative mutual up-swipes at the face, before Chiyonokuni stepped to the side and downed Daieisho in your classic, common, mid-match henka, tsuki-otoshi. This is not your father's leaderboard.

M10 Takekaze (3-6) vs. M7 Ikioi (4-5)
Ikioi was patient and did just what he needed to do: kept his hands on piece-of-toast-Takekaze's shoulders and didn't risk too much forward motion. Toasted-Takekaze got one weak little pull attempt in, then tried to run away, and Ikioi knocked him down from the side as he went past, tsuki-otoshi. Mmmm, buttered toast.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M6 Ichinojo (5-4) vs. M9 Takanoiwa (7-2)
As I've said repeatedly, I think Ichinojo is a sloppy, lazy mess. But when he wins, boy does he ever win. Then I'm not sure. Takanoiwa is strong and has some good game. Takanoiwa also got in low here. Takanoiwa also had a belt grip. But Ichinojo didn't move an inch. Nor did he even need to use his size. Instead, he grabbed the arm by which Takanoiwa was holding his belt, lifted Takanoiwa up by it, and flipped him to the ground, kote-nage. My goodness. Normally you only see invulnerable-looking sumo like this from Yokozuna. Hmmm…

M4 Shohozan (5-4) vs. M6 Kagayaki (2-7)
Confidence vs. fear. That's what I see here. Shohozan is way better than his body should indicate because he is not afraid to be all he can be and believes he can win. Kagayaki is way worse than his body should indicate because he is full of fear and hesitation. The bout, however, was brief and a mess: basically, their arms got tangled up with each other while they prepared to do some fierce tsuppari, and Shohozan, getting the weird kimari-te of tsuki-hiza, fell down. Courtesy of the Japan Times: "Tsuki-hiza (knee touch down) - Tsuki-hiza is recorded outside sumo's official listing of winning techniques. A rikishi stumbles without any real contact with his opponent and loses by touching down with one or both knees." Yes. They need to give honest kimari-te like this more often.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M1 Tochinoshin (1-8) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (7-2)
I was waiting for the "boom" of two bodies colliding and one being driven backwards. Instead we got the "shlurp!" of two bodies glomming sweatily together at the chest as they reached for each other's belts. That should favor Tochinoshin, bigtime. However, puzzlingly, he didn't try any throws or lateral movement, and Chiyotairyu was able to size up a linear force-out charge. Chiyotairyu executed it impressively, first lifting the burly Tochinoshin off the ground tsuri-dashi style, then doing some gaburi belly-hump work Kotoshogiku style, and finally letting go and pushing Tochinoshin the last few inches out with a two-handed "get away from me you drunken letch!" shove to the chest, oshi-dashi.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M3 Onosho (7-2) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (5-4)
Fortunately the Kotoshogiku-magic-tournament thing is over, as he has sunk to 5-4. However, the Onosho-magic-tournament thing was about to be over too. Onosho let Kotoshogiku gaburi him way too much, but I was patiently waiting for him to say "enough of that" and turn the tables easy as peas in a bowl and toss Kotoshogiku to the ground. Nope. The opposite happened--Kotoshogiku abandoned the gaburi attack, reversed gears, and drag-threw Onosho to the grit, tsuki-otoshi. Why oh why must we do this?

K Tamawashi (3-6) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (4-5)
Hokutofuji needs to grab some belt, spread his feet, successfully mount a charge or throw, and get his confidence back in a clean match that follows his style. Instead, he had two false starts, got in a push-and-slap battle with a guy who is pretty good at that, resorted to a desperate, fearful pull that didn't get near to working, and retreated frantically around the tawara until he was forced embarrassingly way, way out, oshi-dashi, by Tamawashi in god-of-destruction-Shiva mode. My, my is Hokutofuji ever a mess right now.

S Mitakeumi (5-4) vs. M2 Aoiyama (0-9)
Aoiyama is just like Ichinojo. When he is being passive, slow, and foolish, he looks really, really bad. Like, "how can you possibly be this bad, you big giant you," bad. But when he is being good, you wonder how anybody ever beats him. Now, he didn't display palatable sumo here--he retreated and pulled Mitakeumi down by the head, hataki-komi--but he made it look so easy. So easy. His arms, for a moment, looked bigger than Mitakeumi's ample chest. His belly looked big enough to swallow the world. And Mitakeumi was a gnat on a summer day, being turned to splat by your palm. Yow.

M5 Shodai (4-5) vs. S Yoshikaze (5-4)
I think Shodai really needed to win this one. In this star-free tournament, like Mitakeumi he has to come out with a good record or his hype looks ever more dubious and pale. Consequently, he came hard, smashing up with his right fore-arm and trying to get in underneath with a grip. However, that's hard to do when you're standing fully upright, which he was. Yoshikaze, on the other hand, had his can slung back where it belonged, so he put his head on Shodai's chest and drove him out so hard Vanilla Softcream slushed meltily all over the first few rows of fans, oshi-dashi. My goodness, we are seeing some dominant performances today by some of the winners.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: K Tochiohzan (3-6) vs. O Goeido (8-1)
Tochiohzan was passive and mukiryoku and easily defeated. He was a bit slack, so Goeido drove him swiftly back. Tochiohzan then walked around a bit while Goeido tried to pull him. Finally, Tochiohzan offered some weak hand taps in place of tsuppari while Goeido put his hard little hands to him and blew him out, oshi-dashi. I'm not a betting man, which is good because otherwise I'd be betting a lot of money on Goeido winning this tournament. And that wouldn't be any fun at all.

LEADERBOARD MATCH: M5 Takakeisho (5-4) vs. Y Harumafuji (6-3)
Harumafuji played Takakeisho's game and lost, and it's as simple as that. Do I think he did that on purpose? The "played his opponent's game" part, yes. The "lost" part, not really. But he was willing to accept that possible consequence once he decided to see how it would turn out if he let Takakeisho fight his way (something Hakuho also does… all. the. time.). After a bit of honest-to-goodness grappling, Harumafuji and Takakeisho repeatedly stood apart from each other, crashed into each other briefly, and retreated back to their face off. This is how Takakeisho always fights--but not Harumafuji. Thus it stands to reason that Harumafuji was a sitting duck for the quick pull and slap-down, hataki-komi, that soon felled him. He was just standing there at that point, much like Hakuho last tournament, when Hakuho gave us the "I'm tired of this, so bring it, mutha" thing. The difference is, when Hakuho did this, he STILL won: he had his arms up, and wanted to win mano-a-mano. It was an invitation, not an insult. Harumafuji, on the other hand, had his hands down and was doing a stare-down. It was "I dare you." That's a lot different, and he paid.

Since I started with it, I suppose it is incumbent upon me to reiterate the leaderboard. However, if you've followed today's action, and the leaves-in-autumn results for some of the guys on the leaderboard, I think you'll agree it's really all just Goeido now. Yes, time to focus on and enjoy your personal cheeseball lower Makuuchi guys, because the yusho race is over.

Goeido 9-1
Chiyotairyu 8-2
Onosho, Takanoiwa, Takarafuji, Arawashi, Daishomaru, Asanoyama 7-3

Tomorrow Mike toggles the joystick at the zen arcade.

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Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Apologies on the day 7 henka, but reporting on sumo is not at the top of my priority list, so I will on occasion miss my weekend shift when other things keep me occupied. I was able to watch the sumo on both days over the weekend, however, and I always look forward to the mini-documentaries NHK produces for the weekend broadcasts. On Sunday morning, they had a sit-down with Isegahama-oyakata to relive the May 1992 basho, a basho which started with four Yokozuna on the banzuke but ended up with just Isegahama-oyakata crossing the finish line. There are obvious parallels to that basho with the current Aki basho, but I was happy to see NHK showcase it for more reasons than one.

The first full basho I ever watched as a new sumo fan was the May 1992 tournament. Knowing nothing about sumo, I was largely a deer in the headlights, and the key points I can remember when watching it was: Takahanada beat Chiyonofuji on day 1 and the crowd went wild: Chiyonofuji retired on day 3 after being beaten by Takatoriki; Konishiki was unbeatable; and the utter shock when Asahifuji came back to beat Konishiki twice on senshuraku to take the yusho.   As is the case with anyone watching sumo for the first time, the thought that any of it is orchestrated never enters one's mind, and so I moved on waiting for the next tournament without ever considering the possibility of politics in sumo.

They began the documentary on day 8 by panning in close to the denkouban and pointing out that two of the four Yokozuna were already kyujo (Hokutoumi and Onokuni), and then at the end of day 3, Chiyonofuji announced his retirement, and so that was one more Yokozuna off of the board. The attention then focused to Asahifuji, the remaining Yokozuna.

Asahifuji was crowned Yokozuna the year before, and he started out the first four basho as a Yokozuna by failing to yusho. The overall impression from the Japanese fans--then and now--is that Asahifuji was a weak Yokozuna. Perhaps weak is too harsh of a word, but let's just say he never stood out to anyone...sorta like Kakuryu.

Well, the 1992 Natsu basho began with Konishiki winning his first 14 bouts with Asahifuji's going 13-1 over that same stretch. Asahifuji was paired with Konishiki on senshuraku, and they showed us that senshuraku bout and then the playoff where Asahifuji defeated Konishiki in succession for the comeback yusho.  I remember at the time while watching it that I couldn't figure out how Konishiki was defeated twice so easily, but as they showed the replays today--the first time I have watched the bouts since 1992, it all looked eerily similar to what we're watching in sumo today.

In the senshuraku bout, Konishiki did nothing at the tachi-ai giving Asahifuji moro-zashi and allowing the Yokozuna to force him straight back step by step.  At the brink, Konishiki actually made an effort to lift Asahifuji off of his feet sorta how you'd set up an utchari, but he didn't go for an utchari nor did he even attempt to move laterally. He just pulled Asahifuji straight into his own body as he stepped beyond the straw.  In defeat Konishiki didn't look pained or emotionally spent or anything.  His demeanor was completely nonchalant.

In the playoff bout, Asahifuji henka'd to his left grabbing the quick outer grip to which Konishiki countered with the right inside. Then the two rikishi switched places in the center of the ring, and Konishiki brought his right arm from the inside out. I've brought this up before, but there is no name for such a move in sumo because it's so destructive. It's opposite is the maki-kae where you do anything you can to get to the inside, but they don't even have a term for bringing your arm from the inside out because it's a boneheaded move in sumo.

Well, Konishiki surrendered that inside position, which was just as well because he didn't use it to lift his opponent upright or off balance, and once he gave that up, he just stood around and waited for Asahifuji to dashi-nage him and then pull him down. Never once during the two bouts did Konishiki ever attempt an offensive move; never once did he attempt to counter; and the only describable move he made was bringing that right arm from the inside out during the playoff bout.

I actually recorded the two bouts and will show them here for reference, and just try and identify Konishiki's attempting to do anything constructive in either bout:



In short, Konishiki was mukiryoku throughout both bouts as Asahifuji would come back to win his first and only yusho as a Yokozuna. Incidentally, Asahifuji would retire less than a year later serving as Yokozuna for just nine basho, so that lone yusho as a Yokozuna was a gift from Konishiki.

While that ending didn't make sense to me at the time, like anyone who starts watching sumo wresting, I took it all at face value never once considering that sumo wasn't anything but straight up. Over time as I got more used to the sport, I would notice favors done here or there. There's the easing up against 7-7 rikishi on senshuraku; there's letting a veteran Ozeki win late in the tournament to ensure his eight; and then I began to notice that Akebono and Musashimaru would let up for each other to the benefit of the guy higher up on the leaderboard.

So through the early nineties, I learned to identify what I would justify as harmless yaocho, but then in 1996 a news story was published about an oyakata who died suddenly due to reported respiratory problems just before he was to release a book that detailed yaocho and other scandalous behavior in sumo. Onaruto-oyakata had allegedly been feeding information to tabloids in Japan when all of a sudden he along with a cohort (Seiichiro Hashimoto) died in the same hospital just hours apart. Once again, my mind tried to justify it all away. "Well, that stuff happened in the past.  What I'm seeing now is real."

Then you had Itai and his coming out party in early 2000 where he claimed that about 80% of bouts were fixed on a given day. You had a tape surface where Hakuho's stablemaster admitted to paying Asashoryu for a bout at the 2006 Nagoya basho.  And then you had the yaocho scandal itself in 2011.  Every few years there was hard evidence about yaocho in sumo...none of which has ever been refuted, and during this entire span, I was learning more and more how to correctly analyze sumo bouts.

It's been interesting to look back on the past 25 years and analyze the progression of my mind and how I've chosen to deal with the stark reality that sumo wrestling has always been corrupt and sumo wrestling always will be corrupt. I know the mindset of, "I don't want it to be true, and so it isn't" because I dealt with it for close to two decades, but by the time the last legitimate, elite Japanese rikishi left the banzuke (Kaio), I understood what sumo was, and I've been able to nail my analysis of it ever since. It is my opinion that until you come to your own reconciliation of what sumo wrestling is, you will always have that nagging feeling in the back of your mind; you will continue to find ridiculous reasoning that explains away obvious yaocho; and you will most definitely hate my expert analysis.

With that said, let's start today off with talk of the yusho. Despite what the bloated leaderboard says today, the leading candidates to yusho are as follows:

1. Harumafuji
2. Goeido
3. Onosho

I don't see how anyone not in that threesome hoists the cup in the end. Harumafuji still has to be the favorite because he's the best rikishi on the banzuke still fighting. Nobody can beat him straight up, and if he wants to win out, he'll win out.

Goeido is the likely favorite, but he's a guy where Itai's 80% formula is applicable meaning about four out of every five of his wins is due to a mukiryoku opponent. As a result, the faux-zeki will still have to rely on favors from the majority of his remaining opponents to yusho.

As for Onosho, there's a couple factors in place. First, his sumo has been fair at best this basho. Yes, he's winning for the most part, but the majority of his content has been pull sumo. Four of his wins were via yaocho with all four of those coming from foreign rikishi (he's undefeated against the furreners...imagine that), so like Goeido, he still needs help to yusho. What hurts Onosho is that Goeido is the senpai, so in the senpai-kohai system, Goeido trumps Onosho.

Okay, enough said there; there's yaocho waiting to be told, so let's start the day with M13 Nishikigi against M14 Okinoumi. Nishikigi's tachi-ai was horrible with both arms out wide, and so Okinoumi assumed moro-zashi getting the left arm in first and then maki-kae-ing with the right as he slowly moved left. Problem was, Okinoumi wasn't looking to do anything with the advantageous position, and so Nishikigi pressed him slowly to the edge and went for this strange over the top of the shoulder kote-nage type thing that of course caused Okinoumi to twist himself down and park his fanny beyond the straw. This was quite a fake fall to start things off, and to think that a veteran like Okinoumi couldn't kick Nishikigi's ass with moro-zashi was laughable. After the bout they caught up with Nishikigi and called up to the booth saying, "Nishikigi said that his form was bad..." and the word they used for form was "katachi."  As soon as they uttered the phrase "bad form" everyone in the booth laughed abruptly because they knew his form was awful.  And yet, he somehow miraculously won with ease.  I don't know what the politics were behind this bout, but it was fixed as both dudes end the day 4-5.

M15 Tokushoryu and M12 Sadanoumi hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai, and with Sadanoumi fighting that right lower leg injury, Tokushoryu had his gal pushed back and across before Sadanoumi could set up a counter pull. Sadanoumi is just asking for more trouble trying to fight here as he falls to 0-9 while Tokushoryu ekes forward to 2-7

M11 Chiyomaru struck M16 Asanoyama with some nice tsuppari from the tachi-ai, but he was shading backwards for no reason instead of moving forward. With Asanoyama spending the majority of the bout fending off the thrusts, there was no reason for Chiyomaru to retreat...unless he was doing the rookie a favor. Which was exactly the case here as Chiyomaru went limp handing the rookie a 6-3 record while Chiyomaru lands on 4-5. You don't think Maru's gut is that big because he pays for his own meals do you?  At the end of this one, Fujii Announcer declared with a bit of surprise, "Asanoyama won with oshi sumo today!"  Dude's listed as a yotsu guy.

M11 Daieisho took command early against M15 Yutakayama firing nice tsuppari into his younger opponent and forcing Yutakayama to play defense, but just like the last bout, Daieisho didn't capitalize on a number of openings.  Early on he had the clear path to the left inside but pulled the arm out. Next, Daieisho moved to his left and went for a nice pull, but with Yutakayama leaning forward and down, Daieisho chose not to finish his foe off. And then in the end, Daieisho put both hands to Yutakayama's throat with no de-ashi waiting for a light shove from the side, and at that point Daieisho allowed himself to be thrown off balance where he was pushed out in the end. Afterwards, they went to Terao in the mukou-joumen seat, and his analysis of Yutakayama's sumo was "yoku kangaeta," or he thought things out well.  He did??  He didn't employ a single offensive maneuver until Daieisho just stood there and let him get shoved out. Yutakayama moves to 4-5 with the gift while Daieisho still has room to yaocho..er..breathe at 6-3.

M9 Takanoiwa was looking pull from the start against M14 Endoh after securing a quick right kote grip, but credit Endoh for catching his foe with a nice right tsuki to the throat that sent the Mongolian dangerously to the edge, but there was too much separation between the two, and as Endoh looked to catch up, Takanoiwa slipped to the side and pulled his opponent down for good. Good adjustment from Endoh who just came up short at 5-4 while Takanoiwa cruises to 7-2.

They showed a list of M12 Daieisho's kimari-te so far this basho (he came into the day at 7-1), and I looked at all those badass tsuki-otoshi thinking to myself "what a crock."  I've been calling yaocho all basho in this guy's bouts, and sure enough the debtor came calling today in M8 Takarafuji.  Takarafuji led with a nice left kachi-age and patiently waited for an opening as Daishomaru could do nothing. His feet were aligned and he looked lost throughout as Takarafuji shaded left fighting off Daishomaru's light shoves while nudging him close to the edge. Finally, Daishomaru whiffed on a pull attempt leaving him completely exposed, so Takarafuji rushed forward for the kill easily sending the listless Daishomaru out. That was a 7-1 rikishi coming in??  Looked more like one of the worst performances I've seen this basho as Daishomaru falls to 7-2 while Takarafuji easily outclassed him moving to 6-3.

M13 Kaisei's fall yesterday against Yutakayama was so phony I nearly peed my pants, so I was looking forward to this all furry matchup today against M8 Chiyoshoma.  Kaisei got his left arm in early and threatened his right arm pushing into Chiyoshoma's left armpit causing the Mongolian to retreat and go for a pull. Kaisei had the de-ashi working, however, and easily stayed square with his foe pushing him out in about two seconds. Chiyoshoma came up lame favoring his left foot, which was bandaged heavily, so there was no chance today against the Brasilian who moved to 5-4 with the win. Chiyoshoma looks to be in a bit of trouble with that bad hoof already at 3-6.

In the best bout of the day, M9 Arawashi and M7 Ikioi hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai where Arawashi had the right outer grip. Ikioi was probably long enough on the other side to grab a right outer of his own, but his game is more of a kote-nage / scoop throw style, and so Ikioi settled for the kote grip with the right. As Arawashi looked to apply pressure, Ikioi's belt came loose sending Arawashi's grip on one fold up high, and so with reduced leverage, Ikioi countered first with the right kote-nage throw, and as Arawashi looked to dig in against that, Ikioi switched gears going for a nice left inside belt throw as the two danced across the ring. This was great sumo from both parties, and how nice is it to see Ikioi get a win like this? The dude has nothing thrown his way; yet, he's one of Japan's best as he moves to 4-5. Arawashi falls to 6-3 for his troubles.

The most hapless rikishi by far this basho was M10 Takekaze, but after that disastrous o'fer start, his camp has been buying his wins again.  And today was no exception, unfortunately, as he stepped into the ring against M7 Chiyonokuni. Chiyonokuni came out lively as he usually does easily fending Takekaze off as the latter looked for a pull here and there. Problem was that Takekaze is so hapless he couldn't do anything, and so with his feet perfectly aligned, Chiyonokuni fired light shoves Takekaze's way placing them higher and higher until Takekaze had no choice to assume moro-zashi. Still, Takekaze didn't know what to do with it, and so he threatened a left soto-gake that had no momentum, and so both rikishi were left standing there upright with nothing doing. Chiyonokuni must have sensed that Takekaze had nothing left in the tank, and so he went for a right maki-kae followed up by a left dashi-nage, and while he easily could have slung the hapless Takekaze out of the ring, he instead slung himself over to the edge, turned 180 degrees, and then just crumpled to the dirt. I mean, I've seen some bad acting in my day, but this fall was an instant classic. I can just see Chiyonokuni's mind working. "They're paying me to lose this, but this guy ain't doing shat. What am I supposed to do?" Fortunately for the broadcast, it was half time at this point, and they couldn't cut away quickly enough to the latest typhoon information. The result of the bout was Chiyonokuni's falling to 5-4 while Takekaze now finds himself at 3-6.  Looks like Oguruma-oyakata is following my earlier advice about putting a crowbar to his wallet to keep his guy in the division.

M6 Kagayaki has been overlooked of late in terms of getting bouts thrown his way, so I'm sure he was glad to see M10 Ishiura standing there across the shikiri-sen. Ishiura attempted this lame ducking maneuver at the tachi-ai, but Kagayaki caught him square with both hands to the neck lifting Ishiura upright before finishing him off once, twice, three times a lady. Easy win for Kagayaki as both guys end the day at 2-7.

M6 Ichinojo is such a team player. This guy is easy Ozeki material, but it's just not in the cards these days to give the foreign rikishi any run, and so he kicks his opponent's ass one day and then throws them a bone the next. Today against M4 Shohozan, it was time to throw the Japanese rikishi a bone, and so Ichinojo played the lethargic Mongolith standing there in migi-yotsu with his foe before graciously going Konishiki and bringing his right arm from the inside out. That not only gave Shohozan moro-zashi, but when Ichinojo went for a fake kote-nage with the right, he just backed himself up halfway easily allowing Shohozan to finish him off. Shohozan beating Ichinojo in three seconds...in linear fashion? Yeah, right. Both rikishi end the day at 5-4.

For those of you who scoffed at my intro when I said that M3 Onosho's sumo has been fair this basho, let's just take a look at his winning techniques:

Day 1 against Mitakeumi: hataki-komi (legit win)
Day 2 against Yoshikaze: oshi-taoshi (legit win)
Day 3 against Tamawashi: okuri-dashi
Day 4 against Terunofuji: hiki-otoshi
Day 5 against Harumafuji: hataki-komi
Day 7 against Hokutofuji: oshi-dashi (legit win)
Day 8 against Tochinoshin: hiki-otoshi

I mean, that's an okay resume, but there's just too much hiki and hataki in there for my liking. He's already shown that he's one of Japan's best, but the problem with that much yaocho is that he's not prepared for a real fight. And that's exactly what he got from m'gal M3 Chiyotairyu today. Tairyu just bruised the darling at the tachi-ai with some loud slaps as he pressed forward with sweet de-ashi. He was slapping Onosho so silly that the latter had no wherewithal to counter, and so as Onosho looked to somehow lean back into the bout, Chiyotairyu switched gears on a dime and pulled Onosho down in about three seconds if that. Too bad there's no "tsuki-hataki-komi" kimari-te because Chiyotairyu just kicked his ass. The crowd was in shock at the sound defeat, but those who read Sumotalk should not have been surprised. I like Onosho, and he's got game, but he is not the rikishi the Japanese media is making him up to be. Yet anyway. When he gets there, I'll let everyone know, but he's not there yet, and today is a good example of how he still has work to do. As the dust settled here, both rikishi ended the day at 7-2, and so we'll see how Onosho's opponents handle him the rest of the way.

I hope M1 Tochinoshin gets a helluva Christmas bonus because he's propping the Japanese dudes up like no other. Today against M1 Kotoshogiku, Shin was his usual limp self in their hidari-yotsu affair as Tochinoshin let the former Ozeki get the right outer grip and then just run Tochinoshin over to the edge and out. Normally, you'd say "force out" for a yori-kiri win, but this was just Tochinoshin stepping this way and that before walking out. In a normal bout, both guys would go chest to chest and dig in a bit, but this was as awkward of a yotsu-zumo but as you'd care to see. The result is favorable, though, for Kotoshogiku, who is gifted a 5-4 record while Tochinoshin takes the bullet falling to 1-8.  I mean seriously, these guys are both ranked at M1 fighting the same schedule.  Is Kotoshogiku really the five-win guy at this point?

Like Onosho, another guy we've been watching closely is M2 Hokutofuji, but like Onosho, he's had way too many bouts thrown his way, and so it's seriously messing with his sumo. Today against Komusubi Tochiohzan, you'd think that Hokutofuji would have a good chance with the moro-zashi-or-bust rikishi, but he was intimidated by Oh's strong charge as he got the left hand inside. At this point, Hokutofuji was looking pull all the way as he evaded right, but the Komusubi stayed in the youngster's craw finally securing moro-zashi that he used to force Hokutofuji upright before slapping him down by the shoulder. Hokutofuji (4-5) should not get dominated like that, but he did today against the savvy veteran, Tochiohzan, who moves to 3-6 with the win.

Sekiwake Yoshikaze and Komusubi Tamawashi butt heads at the tachi-ai that opened that wound back up over Yoshikaze's left eye, but Tamawashi's tsuppari were soft and high allowing Yoshikaze to assume moro-zashi whereupon Cafe promptly drove his foe back to the straw. He didn't quite have the oomph to sill the dill in one fell swoop, and Tamawashi could have moved either way and scored on a tsuki-otoshi, but that wasn't in the cards today as Tamawashi allowed himself to be forced back and across. Tamawashi falls to 3-6 after the loss as Yoshikaze improves to 5-4. Gotta have Yoshikaze at a sweet rank heading into Kyushu.

M5 Takakeisho won the tachi-ai against Sekiwake Mitakeumi and drove him back a step or two, but you could just see the hesitation in Takakeisho's sumo. Do I keep up this forward momentum? Or do I resort to my usual shtick, which is to push and retreat. In this state of indecision with Takakeisho's arms extended forward, Mitakeumi moved left going for a quick swipe, but he didn't really need it as the momentum shift caused Takakeisho to just fall forward and down. The look on Takakeisho's face said it all. He totally dominated the bout, but since his brand of sumo is not to go balls to the wall forward, it cost him today. On the whole, this was a terrible bout of sumo between two Japanese rikishi as they end the day at 5-4.

M2 Aoiyama coulda pounded Ozeki Goeido today with his tsuppari attack, and he blasted him back a full step and half from the tachi-ai, but as Goeido moved to his left, Aoiyama chose to still move forward allowing the faux-zeki to easily slap him down in maybe two seconds. If you have the chance to watch the replay of this, notice how Goeido's feet are aligned the ENTIRE time. Then of course you have the fall from Aoiyama where his knees don't even touch the dirt.  When a dude breaks his fall with one or both palms and no other part of his body hits the dohyo, his fall is planned.  What a joke here as Aoiyama gifts Goeido kachi-koshi.  At 8-1, Goeido should take the yusho, but once again, it wouldn't surprise me to see Harumafuji choose to win out. Goeido's opponent's probably won't all be obligated to throw their bouts against him, so let's see what happens moving forward. As for Aoiyama, his official record is 0-9.

In the day's final bout, Yokozuna Harumafuji was Harumafuji against M5 Shodai, which meant he struck hard at the tachi-ai getting the left arm inside and following that up with the right outer grip, and since the Yokozuna meant bidness today, he easily forced Shodai upright and off balance to where he rushed him back across the straw. In the process, the Yokozuna put his left hand at the back of Shodai's leg in watashi-komi fashion, but he didn't need it as Shodai is largely defenseless in his sumo. Harumafuji moves to 6-3 with the win, and I don't see the yusho line staying at two losses, so it's entirely up to the Yokozuna as to whether or not he'll yusho. As for Shodai, he falls to a quiet 4-5 with the loss, and if the dude had more marketable game, he'd be up there along with Onosho in terms of hype.

The NHK leaderboard is an eclectic group for sure as follows:

8-1: Goeido
7-2: Onosho, Chiyotairyu, Takanoiwa, Daishomaru

Harvye's back atcha tomorrow.

Day 8 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Rooting interest is often suppressed in sports writing and broadcasting. In some ways this is natural: if it's a nationally broadcast game of American football, for example, you don't want the play-by-play guy from Boston to be an open homer and infuriate everybody in San Francisco. But sometimes it seems silly: even guys who do 162 games a year with the same baseball team are sometimes looked down on if they use pet nicknames for the players or get overly excited when the team they cover does well. This isn't always true--the Chicago White Sox announcers are famous for their over-the-top bias, for example--but many announcers quietly follow this ethic and are surprisingly neutral. And when's the last time you saw your hometown paper go ahead and inject a bunch of partisan personal opinion into the write-up of last night's game?

In sumo the same is true--there is very little open rooting--but of course you can often feel an announcer or journalist's particular bent slip into his or her tone of voice, commentary, writing, etc. And as Mike has pointed out time and again, the between-bouts topics of the broadcast give thumpingly loud signals. But my writing on Sumotalk ain't professional journalism, so over the last three years I've more and more often just plain said who I hoped would win. Here we are on Day 8 of this fascinating tournament, nakabi or the middle day, the heart of the dog days in the parade, so it is a good time to throw in something a little different. (Don't worry, no Star Wars or made-up Gullah-esque dialect today.) I figure since my bias is often on clear display anyway, I might as well just go ahead and be explicit about it. So today, for fun, in each match I'm going to say who I am rooting for, and why.

You can't decide to root for someone. It just happens naturally. My parents attended a football game at my high school, us against the arch rivals from across town. My school won, but played in a boring, sloppy way. The other team was the underdog. Afterwards my parents told me they were secretly rooting for the other team to win: the enemy's style of play was just more fun, and their circumstances more appealing. It's like that. So, when I describe who I'm rooting for, the deciding factor is what I feel.

M13 Nishikigi (2-5) vs. M15 Tokushoryu (1-6)
Rooting for Tokushoryu: Nishikigi is like my high school football team: boring. I dunno. Mike said on the FightBox pod cast the other day that the kanji in the names of the wrestlers matters. I never thought about that before, but it's totally true. I just like Tokushoryu's name, which leads to his nickname, Special Sauce. I also like his ungainly round bad sumo: he feels like an underdog to me every time he's out there.
Match: Off the tachi-ai, Tokushoryu was too high and wide, then very slowly tried to maki-kae his left arm inside. It kind of worked--he got it in there--but it was too late, as Nishikigi was ignoring all that: Nishikigi had a belt grip and was driving Special Sauce out, yori-kiri.

M15 Yutakayama (2-5) vs. M13 Kaisei (4-3)
Rooting for Kaisei: Kaisei has this open, unflappable demeanor that makes him look like a nice guy plugging along in a hard man's world where he'd rather not have to be so macho. I may be totally wrong--he may be a jerk--but he's appealing. And his bulk is interesting. It does also help being from an odd place--if there were a wrestler from Liechtenstein, you can bet I'd root hard for him. On the other side, Yutakayama is just a guy.
Match: Kaisei drove forward low and bent over, but in a lackluster manner, and Yutakayama far too easily twisted Kaisei's arm up and dumped him to the nearby dirt, tsuki-otoshi.

M16 Asanoyama (4-3) vs. M12 Sadanoumi (0-7)
Rooting for Sadanoumi: How can you not root for a guy who is 0-7, coming back from an injury, and whose name starts with "sad"? It's underdog city here. Normally I don't root for him, but match-to-match circumstances do matter. Both of these guys are pretty much non-entities for me, but today Sadanoumi had my sympathies.
Match: Sadanoumi has just been flailing about with his arms since coming back from five days of injury, but really has nothing: no power or drive in his legs. Asanoyama grabbed hold of him chest to chest with a right inside on the body, held on, kept moving forward, added a left outside belt grip, and got a dominant yori-kiri win.

M11 Daieisho (6-1) vs. M14 Okinoumi (3-4)

Rooting for Okinoumi: Daieisho's style doesn't appeal to me; I lost interest in tsuppari years ago, and tend to find the taller guys more interesting than short guys. Okinoumi on the other hand always feels like a package of skills ready to burst out. I also admit that I often like older guys better: I get used to them as they grow on me over time. They're like friends: we've spent years together. Also, I'm older myself now, and I think wanting to see guys have long careers is natural: hang in there buddy, against the dying of the damn light. Finally, Okinoumi has a smooth, strong body that shouts "sumo." Wish he showed more grit.
Match: Daieisho gave Okinoumi some purposeful shoves in the face, and for a while Okinoumi played that game too, including a nice uppercut. But that's a losing technique--playing to your opponent's game--so he eventually let Daieisho come in close enough that he could get one inside body grip and one outside belt grip and toss Daieisho convincingly down at the straw, uwate-nage.

M14 Endo (4-3) vs. M11 Chiyomaru (4-3)
Rooting for Endo: I'm totally not into the Endo hype, but he's come to seem underdoggy because he so thoroughly does not live up to expectations. And he has never seemed to have an ego to match his public persona: pretty level headed. There's something gracious to him. As for Chiyomaru, despite my fondness for Tokushoryu and liking tall guys like Okinoumi and massive ones like Kaisei, I'm generally disdainful of guys who look to me like they're trying to overcome lack of sufficient skills by piling on the fat. Tall? Yes. Bulky? Yes. Flabby like a ball of gel? No.
Match: Endo fought well here, first ignoring suffocating body pressure and then weathering a lot of tear-your-head-off shoves. He went right down inside and reached in hard for a right-handed grip on the front underneath of the belt, then used that to power Chiyomaru over the straw, yori-kiri.

M12 Daishomaru (6-1) vs. M10 Takekaze (2-5)
Rooting for Daishomaru: This was a tough one, because I'm down on both of these guys right now. Daishomaru, a useless puller, may be my least favorite guy on the banzuke. But Takekaze is an inveterate puller too, is past his point of having a point, and I'm now rooting for him to retire, respect him though I have. In the end my emotions were with Daishomaru today, in a pale kind of way. Heck, he's 6-1 and on my Fantasy Sumo roster, so go for it, man. This is as thin as rooting interest gets.
Match: Blech. Daishomaru retreated quickly and pulled the advancing Takekaze down by the head, hataki-komi. Even from underneath and while advancing, Takekaze was pawing up at Daishomaru, trying to find a pull-chance in the sky. Not there. Youth was served in The Battle of the Shameless Pullers.

M7 Chiyonokuni (4-3) vs. M10 Ishiura (2-5)
Rooting for Ishiura: As I said two days ago, I'm not into nationalism much, and Chiyonokuni oozes that aesthetic. I just can't get into him. Ishiura I generally have no passion for either, but the scrappy underdog thing is his appeal, and it's enough to get him the nod here. And it's fun to call him Stone Ass.
Match: Chiyonokuni took advantage of Stone Ass's Ura-esque ultra-low tachi-ai by not moving backwards at all and driving down on whatever he saw in front of him: the head, shoulders, and then back of Stone Ass, who put his hands on the dirt right there at Chiyonokuni's feet as a result. A boring bout, no question, but also a well-executed plan by Chiyonokuni.

M9 Takanoiwa (5-2) vs. M7 Ikioi (3-4)
Rooting for Ikioi: Takanoiwa is boring as boring gets. He also looks kind of mean and unfriendly. He may be the nicest guy in the world. Dunno. But he looks ogrish. He's a guy who I've surprised myself by disliking from start to finish. Why? He just does nothing for me. So it goes. On the other side, I'm not one of those big Ikioi boosters, but like Okinoumi, he's a guy you're always waiting to see break-out. Frankly, he should be better than he's been. There's no doubt he's just plain likeable; too bad he doesn't have a consistent style.
Match: Takanoiwa went for the neck, then inside for the belt, but neither attempt scored. Unfortunately for Ikioi, instead of using the moment to counterattack, Ikioi tried a little head pull. Takanoiwa responded smartly by surging inside underneath in response, and soon sent Ikioi to the knackerman, yori-kiri.

M6 Ichinojo (4-3) vs. M8 Takarafuji (5-2)
Rooting for Takarafuji: A lot of people think Ichinojo is holding back. I don't. I think he is sloppy, slow, and passive out there, and Hakuho's slap of him a couple of years back pretty much summed up my feelings, too: wake up, dude. I'm comfortable being with Hakuho. Can't go wrong there. Takarafuji is in with Okinoumi and Ikioi for me: oh, wouldn't it be nice if one of these good-bodied Japanese Maegashira would rise up and give us even a Wakanosato-esque career. Takarafuji never does, but I'm always secretly hoping he will.
Match: Ichinojo kept Takarafuji at arm's length with his long meat-clobbers, moved his feet forward little by little, grabbed Takarafuji about the midriff, and forced him very, very easily out, yori-kiri. Um, maybe he's holding back.

M9 Arawashi (5-2) vs. M6 Kagayaki (1-6)
Rooting for Kagayaki: Both of these guys are favorites of mine. Years and years ago Mike spotted Kagayaki in the lower divisions and said he'd be something. It's been a slow rise and a lackluster Makuuchi career, but I'm still hoping. And he seems so hapless sometimes. He needs a friend. And there is the opportunity to say "Fried Mosquito." Arawashi I like for a similar selfish/foolish reason: a year or two ago I compared him to Kakuryu; now I'm cursed by that, as each time he fights I'm waiting for him to start his Yokozuna run. Life's funny that way: I trapped myself into liking this guy by being absurdly wrong about his skill level (I do like the kind of skill he has--lithe and dynamic). I'll take Kagayaki over him today because of the records; Kagayaki is in the doldrums as usual. I'm here with you, man!
Match: Kagayaki was all blappity-slappity, hard and fierce, at Arawashi's noggin. That wasn't going to work; Arawashi is too clever for that. Arawashi just waited until the right moment of over-extension, then stepped aside and knocked Kagayaki down with a little blow to the left shoulder, tsuki-otoshi.

M8 Chiyoshoma (3-4) vs. M5 Takakeisho (4-3)
Rooting for Chiyoshoma: Another match-up of guys I like. I've liked Takakeisho ever since I attended in person in Kyushu and saw him absolutely clock Ura in Juryo; the sound resounded throughout the arena. But Chiyoshoma is just like Arawashi for me: too much pulling, but lots of sneaky strength; if he puts it all together he could be great. He won't, but I'll be waiting anyway.
Match: Very good stuff. Takakeisho was not allowed to do his typical hit-and-retreat thing, as Chiyoshoma quickly wrapped him up in hidari-yotsu. This, then, was going to be a good test of Takakeisho's grip and versatility, fighting against type. Chiyoshoma launched a frontal assault while enjoying grips on the belt on both sides, but Takakeisho's size helped him: Chiyoshoma just couldn't get him out. Takakeisho may have the biggest ass, thighs, and calves of any wrestler I've ever seen; just massive: a lot of muscle, not flabby hanging fat. Takakeisho spun Chiyoshoma off his charge line, broke off his grip, and briefly had both arms inside and lifting at the armpits. A little side-wrench, then a counter-attack force-out charge of his own, and Takakeisho finished Chiyoshoma off with some disdainful shoves up high, oshi-dashi. I liked this.

M5 Shodai (4-3) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (5-2)
Rooting for Shodai: I've been calling Shodai Japan's next Yokozuna for a while, half in jest, half in tribute to the sport's politics. And I meant it, but there is no way he looks ready to earn it; he's been terrible for quite a few basho in a row, as well as soft and bland, so I'm calling him Vanilla Softcream. But I still ridiculously want him to explode, bloom, and fulfill my prediction. Chiyotairyu, meanwhile, is Mike's guy, not mine. His style is too simplistic for me, the results too often woeful: he's frustrating.
Match: Chiyotairyu destroyed Vanilla Softcream. Pushed him back at the tachi-ai, held him up with a Walter-Payton-stiff-arm, retreated minimally, and Shodai looked discombobulated sufficiently so Chiyotairyu stood there and watched Shodai fall down in front of him, hiki-otoshi. Yikes! Chiyotairyu is on fire this tournament.

M1 Tochinoshin (1-6) vs. M3 Onosho (6-1)
Rooting for Tochinoshin: Smooth-bodied and fat, Onosho reminds me of Chiyomaru too much. I'm not on his bandwagon. The gritty, respectful, dour Tochinoshin is an absolute favorite though: for years he's been one of the toughest, best belt fighters around, and I love to watch him throw and win. Strong.
Match: Onosho dominated this one with upward and backwards pressure from below, following the overwhelmed but game Tochinoshin around the ring as Tochinoshin resorted to evasion and pulls. Onosho then pulled him down hiki-otoshi when he sensed Tochinoshin had nothing effective going on except resistance to going backwards: "okay, come forward then…" and down.

M1 Kotoshogiku (4-3) vs. K Tochiohzan (1-6)
Rooting for Kotoshogiku: I shocked even myself with this one, but you have to be honest about your emotions. There's something about Kotoshogiku's post-Ozeki long journey into the darkness of night that has turned me around on him: I want to see how long he can stick it out. Meanwhile, Tochiohzan has been one of Japan's best for a long while, and I usually root for him, but at 1-6 and in his career twilight, there isn't much left to root for. It was close, though: I changed my mind twice while writing this up.
Match: Meanwhile, the thing I feared was that the only way Tochiohzan would actually lose was if he wanted to, and the match bore that out. Tochiohzan pulled a pretty big but pretty bad henka, as he didn't turn to capitalize fast enough and didn't use any slaps, and actually impeded Kotoshogiku's progress by leaving his arm behind in the path of Kotoshogiku to bump into. No matter. Tochiohzan bodied up, let Kotoshogiku drive him back a little bit, then, alley oop!, heaved himself through the hemispheres on a massive sukui-nage momentum-leveraging dumping-destruction of Kotoshogiku. My goodness.

S Mitakeumi (4-3) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (3-4)
Rooting for Hokutofuji: With a more traditional style and less hype, Hokutofuji is much more up my alley. I like Mitakeumi all right, but like I've said before his looks and demeanor ooze junior high school bully. I'm warming to him slowly at best.
Match: Great stuff, people. Hard mutual head butt, then putting their chests together and pushing on each other in a test of strength. And hallelujah! During that head-butt Hokutofuji had gotten lower down and grabbed the front of Mitakeumi's belt. He drove him out, looking very powerful, yori-kiri. Since today's report is focusing on rooting interest, I will go ahead and say this was the bout that made me happiest. Guys I was rooting for were 3-11 so far (!), and it is great when the guy you have a sneaky suspicion is better but is facing a more popular opponent goes ahead and stuffs that guy. Yay.

M4 Shohozan (4-3) vs. S Yoshikaze (3-4)
Rooting for Shohozan: Shohozan has a great nickname (Darth Hozan), perpetual underdog, little guy with attitude. I have a soft spot for the tenacious Yoshikaze, but he is kind of tired.
Match: Tsuppari then push, tsuppari then push: Shohozan was doing his thing. He threw in a pull and was driven clear across the dohyo as punishment, but he went back to his thing: tsuppari then push, tsuppari then push… But I think Yoshikaze was just too good for him. Yoshikaze may be a little used up, but he's got a lot of skills, and he just plain wasn't vulnerable to Shohozan's attack. Eventually in this kinetic match Shohozan got a little tired and paused--"like, why isn't this working, man?"--and Yoshikaze said, "okay then, here I come," and went in and got a belt. The yori-kiri win came quickly thereafter in a very good match for Yoshikaze…. the fourth-highest ranked wrestler in this tournament. Wow.

K Tamawashi (3-4) vs. O Goeido (6-1)
Rooting for Tamawashi: The epileptic mayfly, Goeido, is one of the most frustrating and annoying rikishi on the banzuke. I can't think of the last time I rooted for him. Whereas Tamawashi has been electric over the past year with his hard-hitting late-career surge. Loved it.
Match: Goeido gave Tamawashi a little slap, grabbed him by the body, and drove him out, yori-kiri. I have a hard time taking this seriously (Tamawashi kept his hands up high, attempted no grips, and helped by pulling), but Goeido remains the real favorite to win this tournament.

M2 Aoiyama (0-Injured) vs. Y Harumafuji (4-3)
Rooting for Harumafuji: I can't stand front-runnerism, but then again I root for greats to be great every time, so I'm pretty much always in Hakuho and Harumafuji's corner. It's just fun to see someone who is the best in the world at something be the best. He is not consistent about it, but Harumafuji regularly gives us awe-inspiring demonstrations of what Yokozuna sumo should look like. I'll root for that every day. I do like Aoiyama when he's being nasty, but he's very, very sloppy and too often disappointing.
Match: Harumafuji grabbed the outside left on the tachi-ai, then used it for a risky but effective yank of Aoiyama clear from the center of the ring to sling him out across the tawara, shitate-dashi-nage, while Harumafuji ended with both heels against the tawara and balancing. He often loses this kind of thing--hell, talk about sloppy, Harumafuji is King Sloppy--but when it works, even that sloppiness can't obscure impressive skill and power. He is, after all, a Yokozuna.

Now, for the round-up question: who am I rooting for to win the tournament? Consulting my tender feelings, I find it is Harumafuji, natch. Go dark horse, go. Now I can root for an underdog and a Yokozuna all at once.

Tomorrow Mike conducts a metal circus.

Day 6 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
A lot of things have already been said about this tournament. Blue-skiers have called it weird and bizarre. On the other side, it has been called awful and depressing. I'm going to tell you my honest feeling: I still feel the way I felt on Day 1. It's exciting. Yes, I like to see the best be the best. My best sumo memories over the years are Asashoryu's power and speed, Hakuho's icy dominance, Kaio's throws, Tochiazuma's technique. But I've also had favorites everybody else probably hated. Back in the day I doted on a really terrible tsuppari guy called Toyozakura. He was old and an underdog and heck, I just liked him. More recently, I developed an affinity for Tokitenku, who I saw as a bitter survivor sticking it to everybody in his path. And I still delight in stuff like Tokushoryu, whom on the one hand I find ridiculous, but on the other hand I'm always secretly rooting for to show us something unexpected with all that ungainly girth. To prove worthy of the nickname of Special Sauce.

So I like the way this tournament is going. Yes, really. Yeah, it wouldn't surprise me if two-thirds of sumo bout results are prearranged, and yeah, that is always spoiling everything. But set that aside--and after 17 years with this sport, that's what I've mostly settled on--and as a fan of underdogs and the improbably, how can you NOT like a tournament where the winner is going to be something undreamt of just two weeks ago? It's kind of like Detroit Tigers pitching these days: I enjoy looking at their box scores a lot more than those of the Cleveland Indians. I know who Corey Kluber is, but I'm still learning about Warwick Saupold and that guy Stumpf. Just like I know who Harumafuji is, but I'm still learning about Onosho and that guy Yutakayama.

My prediction is in tatters: on Day 1 I said the winner was going to be Harumafuji or Takayasu, period. Well, it ain't. And I'm half glad. I'm sad to say I'm quietly putting my money on Goeido right now, but I'll ride along on the Onosho bandwagon for a bit as a guest.

M13 Nishikigi (2-3) vs. M14 Endo (3-2)
Endo kept it low and tight at the tachi-ai, then reached way, way in on the left. Nishikigi kept that arm high in defense, but it was a feint for Endo: on the right, he got a sneaky, tight right-hand grip. He then used that to power Nishikigi out, yori-kiri. This was very good stuff for Endo, who is probably fighting at the right level here.

M14 Okinoumi (2-3) vs. M13 Kaisei (3-2)
Something seems wrong with Okinoumi, who was tentative on the tachi-ai and weak and compliant in the match. Like Endo before him, Kaisei was working with an outside right grip, but whereas with Endo the force-out looked manful, here it was boring, as there was nothing going on with Okinoumi.

M12 Daishomaru (4-1) vs. M16 Asanoyama (3-2)
Daishomaru started this one off nicely with some good dual paws to the neck that seemed to be holding his young opponent back. I thought ol' pully-pull Daishomaru would actually get a force out win. However, when it took too long (even though it wasn't long at all), Daishomaru evaded out of it with a side slap and commenced the pulls. Against a better wrestler this wasteful momentum change would probably have spelled doom, but against the inexperienced Asanoyama, Daishomaru was simply fighting successfully at his most effective style, pulling dude down in a few moments tsuki-otoshi.

M15 Yutakayama (1-4) vs. M12 Sadanoumi (0-Injured)
Oh ho ho, lookee here. Maybe Sadanoumi figured "I'm only oh and five. If I come back from my injury today, looking at the field, there is still time for me to go 10-0 the rest of the way and take the yusho!" Thank the behoozus, saved by Sadanoumi! As the rikishi drop like flies, our man is here to rescue the day, swooping in from the infirmary to buoy up our enthusiasm! Well, okay. But I'd rather have someone come back than yet another guy go out. Sadanoumi looked pretty genki here: he was the aggressor throughout, driving Yutakayama this way and that around the dohyo. However, Yutakayama knew Sadanoumi didn't have much behind it, and tried a series of wrenching side-throws when in danger. The last one worked. As they both tumbled to the dohyo, with Sadanoumi having launched a left inside throw, Yutakayama responded by pushing him down with a kote-nage winning body throw of his own. Not bad.

M15 Tokushoryu (1-4) vs. M11 Chiyomaru (2-3)
Blubberfest! They sure looked silly on fast forward on DVR in the bout run-up, twirling their stumpy little arms about, stomping about, and wiping the sweat out of their armpits. Monstrous lively chicken dance. Oh, I'm going to enjoy this one. Chiyomaru's belly sticks out so flat and straight you could use it for a writing desk. He put a paw in Tokushoryu's meaty jowls to start things off, but while he was doing that Special Sauce got inside and under on the right. But while HE was going THAT, Chiyomaru impressively reached down and got grips on both sides, one right, one left, and yori-kiri'ed the big hamburger out.

M10 Ishiura (2-3) vs. M10 Takekaze (0-5)
Stupidly--too stupidly?--Ishiura stuck both of his arms out and put his head down, like a guy praying to a vengeful sun god. Takekaze was like, "what, on a platter like that?" He grabbed that old head and pulled Stone Ass (Ishiura) down, hataki-komi. You don't offer bloody meat to a lion, nor rotten eggplant to a cricket.

M11 Daieisho (4-1) vs. M9 Arawashi (4-1)
Hi there, yusho contenders! One, two, three times a man Daieisho hit Arawashi upright: right! left! body! blam! and drove Arawashi duskily into the crowd, yori-kiri. Yipeserz!

M8 Chiyoshoma (2-3) vs. M8 Takarafuji (3-2)
Takarafuji has looked solid, patient, and strong this tournament. That's easier when you're at M8 than at M1 and such where he usually is. Chiyoshoma was reduced to pulls immediately while running into Takarafuji's brick wall, and looked fidgety and ineffectual. Takarafuji tipped him over, uwate-nage.

M7 Chiyonokuni (3-2) vs. M9 Takanoiwa (4-1)
My private nickname for Chiyonokuni is "The Nationalist." I tuned in on time today to see the ring entering ceremony, and there was Chiyonokuni in his big red Japanese flag do-up. His name could mean something like "a thousand ages of the country." As an undersized guy with spunk, he's perfect for right-wing sentiments of certain sorts. On the one hand, I respect people with opinions who know what they think and stand up for it. On the other hand, his isn't really my cup of sake, so it's always held me back from really rooting for this guy. But I can get behind him well enough. He did his thing here, hyperkinetic tsuppari slaps. Took him two rounds of it--this way, but survival by opponent, so then that way, and opponent gets off balance and pulled down, hataki-komi--but it worked just lovely. Kimi ga yo.

M6 Ichinojo (3-2) vs. M6 Kagayaki (1-4)
Kagayaki often has a problem by going for it in an ungainly and befuddled, oddly slow-motion way that leaves him no retreat when guys take advantage of his inability to shift strategies mid-bout, but I thought this was a good place for him to do that anyway: Ichinojo is so slow and passive, this was a ripe time for Kagayaki to pretend his opponent is a practice dummy and see what happens when you really beat the hell out of him. No one will ever give him a better chance to use that strategy than this. And he did try that, battering and pattering in a forceful and effective-looking way at Ichinojo's grill. But I say "effective looking" because it wasn't actually effective... just effective looking. Ichinojo did not fall down and was not driven back, and he grabbed Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) by the belt and put a stop to all that attempted-flummoxing. You knew Kagayaki was toast. The Mongolith leaned on him for a bit, then decided to demonstrate to us all he's not necessarily so slow after all: he took one quick step to the side and pulled powerfully with his right belt grip, leaving Kagayaki rolling on the ground like a cheese barrel tumbling out of a poorly loaded pick-up truck, uwate-nage. This was a great demonstration of contrasting strategies and skill levels.

M7 Ikioi (2-3) vs. M5 Takakeisho (3-2)
As you can often see, Mike and I do not always agree. Takakeisho is a good example. I think he hits pretty hard, which is a good thing, and is cautious enough not to fall prey to Chiyotairyu-style over commitment. That's also a good thing, but sometimes it makes him look bad and fraidy-cat in the ring. It's okay--he'll get there. He's learning. Don't worry, I don't see this guy becoming a future Yokozuna or anything. But he has the right combination of forward moving sumo, impactful power, and appropriate wariness and technique to make something of himself. M5 is right about where he belongs right now, and he'll go higher. He's still just 21, folks. I think he's lucky to be able to fly under the radar while guys like Mitakeumi and Onosho get the bigger hype, and this is no Kotoyuki who will melt in the summer sun. We should be seeing him for a long, long time. Which is all prelude to him hitting Ikioi once fairly hard, stepping to the side, letting Ikioi rush by, then driving him the last bit out when he turned to him, oshi-dashi. What would he tell us, outside of the glare of the everybody-says-the-same-thing interview room? "Hey, it's a win." And it was ugly. But this is 2017. He's playing for 2022. More to come.

M2 Hokutofuji (3-2) vs. M4 Shohozan (3-2)
I'd rather be singing the praises of Hokutofuji than Takakeisho. But his solid sumo may be out of step with the modern era a bit, and we're seeing his opponents take advantage of his overly-serious, inside sumo. I really hate to say this, but do you have to have a bit of Takakeisho in you to survive these days? Well, anyway. Here Hokutofuji left himself wide open at the tachi-ai for the third straight day--so much for solid sumo--going all Kisenosato on us, then put his hands on Shohozan's shoulders and closed his eyes while he got darthed smartly in the face. 'Hozan promptly drove him forcefully out, yori-kiri. I still like Hokutofuji a lot, but he's looking a bit lost of late.

K Tamawashi (2-3) vs. M1 Tochinoshin (0-5)
Tamawashi thought he would take advantage of Tochinoshin's broken knee and general downtroddenness, torpedoing into his chest and pushing hard. But Tochinoshin isn't that lame just yet. Pushery of this sort isn't really Tamawashi's game, and Tochinoshin knew it. Tochinoshin was going backwards, yes, but slowly, and he gathered his wits and knocked Tamawashi down at his feet, kata-sukashi. You go, soldier.

S Mitakeumi (2-3) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (4-1)
This was one to watch. If Mitakeumi wins, it means the youth revolution is really on and we're not going to see a bunch of really ridiculous silliness with Kotoshogiku and celebrations of the dinosaurs of yesteryear. If Kotoshogiku wins, welcome to dum dum town. Thankfully, Mitakeumi gave no quarter. It took him two tries, but he was in total control. He scooped up with both arms at the tachi-ai and had both inside right away. His first force-out stopped short, but he still had those prongs under the armpits, so he switched tactics and toppled Kotoshogiku over with a nice sukui-nage. Thank goodness. With all the dropouts, anything else than a winning record at Sekiwake will be unacceptable for him.

K Tochiohzan (1-4) vs. S Yoshikaze (1-4)
With a signature match between top contenders Onosho and Goeido (like, really!) coming up, no one was paying attention to this tired match-up of last-gasping old battle horses who somehow managed to find their way into the sanyaku one last time--and have managed one paltry win apiece there. I like both these guys, but their deck is being cleared. It was a pretty good match. They started off trading tsuppari, but Yoshikaze then got his left inside and it was on for real. Tochiohzan resisted this well by keeping his butt back and pushing down on Yoshikaze, but he needs inside position or he's crippled, so Yoshikaze had no real trouble gathering his oomph and forcing Tochiohzan out, yori-kiri

O Terunofuji (1-4) vs. M5 Shodai (3-2)
Serving some principle of unfair cosmic fate, Terunofuji was karmically forced to withdraw in order to allow the gods to give us Sadanoumi back. Hmmm, doesn't seem quite fair and balanced. Anyway, actually Terunofuji was apparently unable to walk this morning; they say he needs two weeks to recover from his injury. He'll be demoted for Kyushu. His career has been stagnating for a long while off of his wrecked knees, and now looks to be in actual decline. It's a shame, as he was the most excitement we've had in oh, five to ten years when he rose up. But mother nature can catch up with you quick when you weigh that much. Bad luck. I hoped for a Musashimaru-like career. Baruto may end up being a better analogue.

M3 Onosho (5-0) vs. O Goeido (4-1)
I don't care, man. It's great to have a bout like this, between such normally second tier guys that you wouldn't pay any attention to the match in a normal tournament, be a featured bout that may decide which way the tournament goes. I can't help it. I'm enjoying this. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the fighting itself here. Onosho got Goeido going backwards, but was too linear and simplistic. Goeido snuck out of there near the straw, and oops, Onosho found himself a sitting duck for the easy force-out in one finishing push, oshi-dashi. Let's say that the experienced guy taught the inexperienced guy a thing or two here. And who did I say was the favorite to win the tournament?

M3 Chiyotairyu (4-1) vs. Y Harumafuji (2-3)
Harumafuji cat slapped Chiyotairyu, which I continue to think is a dumb move, and of course was simultaneously doing something more important: beating Chiyotairyu to the tachi-ai punch. Normally, Chiyotairyu is blasting guys out of there, and then they have to decide how to survive after that (it isn't hard, but they do have to do it). Here, who was the guy with the white lines behind his ass after the tachi-ai? That would be Harumafuji. Chiyotairyu's tachi-ai, meanwhile, was awful, arms open wide and high, and he found a Yokozuna underneath and inside on both sides. He tried to evade and toss the accelerating Harumafuji down, but the champ meant to win and did, surviving the brief misdirection and recovering quickly to finish off a yori-kiri victory. Boy, I would have liked to see him fight his best this tournament. Note: with Onosho's loss, Harumafuji is just two off the pace with ten days to go. Could he still win? He could. It isn't likely, but this one is wide open, people. Enjoy it.

Tomorrow Mike flips your wig.

Day 5 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
This basho is quickly turning into a three-ring circus. I'm still watching sumo because I frankly enjoy blogging about it and analyzing Japanese culture, but if I didn't have this little hobby of mine, I'd be long gone. It's just really hard for me to have my intelligence insulted, and it happens nearly every other bout these days. Sometimes I get lucky and get a string of legitimacy as occurred on day 2, but that gets all wiped out the last 35 minutes of the broadcast when things just get ridiculous.

I'm almost afraid to relive day 5, but here we go.

The day began with M16 Asanoyama and M14 Okinoumi hooking up...sort of. Neither rikishi really bumped chests at the tachi-ai, and any time you see Okinoumi not attempt to go chest to chest and establish the inside position from the start, it's a major red flag. Instead, Okinoumi maintained a half-hearted left kote-nage that eventually morphed into migi-yotsu as both rikishi danced in the center of the ring not really committing to anything. Finally, Okinoumi seemed to load on a right kote-nage grip when out of nowhere, he just slipped backwards to the dohyo. Because Asanoyama had a left grip of Okinoumi's belt, they said it was shita-te-hineri, but if you've ever seen a real shita-te-hineri move, then you'll know that the position of Asanoyama and his movement was all wrong. Easy yaocho call here to lead things off as Okinoumi falls--literally--to 2-3 while Asanoyama is gifted a 3-2 record. What a joke to think that the rookie has a better record than Okinoumi in these parts!!

Well, well, well, Kotoyuki made an appearance today from Juryo, and he was paired against M14 Endoh. I actually liked Kotoyuki when he first emerged in the division, but then they gave him that fake 12-3 run the same basho that Kotoshogiku won, and he's been in decline ever since. I wasn't sure what to expect today, but he just came out and kicked Endoh's ass choking him at the tachi-ai and yanking him forward, chasing him down as he tried to escape, and then pummeling him back and out so hard he drew a legitimate tsuki-dashi technique. On one hand it was pretty impressive stuff from Kotoyuki, but on the other hand, he was fighting Endoh (3-2).

M15 Tokushoryu attempted to push at M13 Kaisei's neck from the tachi-ai, but Kaisei had other plans, namely a straight forward oshi charge for which Tokushoryu had no answer. This was done in two seconds as Kaisei dominated his opponent. I watch a bout like this and see the huge gap between the foreign rikishi and the domestic rikishi, and then you take into account that all of the right elements were there including a solid tachi-ai and proper de-ashi, and my only conclusion is that the gap between the foreigners in the division and the best Japanese rikishi is probably larger than most people think. Kaisei improves to 3-2 with the win but should be right back to throwing bouts for cash soon. As for Tokushoryu, he falls to 1-4 after the drubbing.

M15 Yutakayama took charge against M12 Daishomaru using a nice push attack that quickly led to a great left tsuki into Daishomaru's neck, but Yutakayama just stopped his momentum for no reason and put both hands up high around Daishomaru's melon as if to pull. The problem was he never pulled and just aligned his feet perfectly in the center of the ring so that when Daishomaru's pull attempt came, he was in the perfect position to just flop forward and down. Nothing was right about this bout's flow from Yutakayama's surrendering his momentum to Daishomaru's hard-on for a migi-yotsu position even though he's a pull and evade guy. A good indicator of yaocho that was present in this bout is the simple lack of contact and bruising sumo. I mean, I've witnessed harder hitting in the mosh pit at a Wang Chung concert. Wait, did I just admit that I've seen Wang Chung live?? Damn. At any rate, Daishomaru's camp continues to buy bouts as he moves to 4-1 while Yutakayama is still cutting his teeth on the way things really work in sumo as he falls to 1-4.

M11 Daieisho and M11 Chiyomaru engaged in a straight up oshi affair, and Daieisho simply couldn't work around Chiyo the Hutt's gut. Credit Chiyomaru for using good de-ashi, and he just went with the flow as Hakuho likes to say scoring the easy push-out win in linear fashion. They ruled this one tsuki-dashi, but I'll take the liberty to downgrade it to oshi-dashi as Chiyomaru moves to 2-3 while Daieisho is saddled with his first loss at 4-1.

M10 Takekaze jumped the gun a tad at the tachi-ai against M13 Nishikigi, but it didn't matter as Kaze barely put a scratch in Nishikigi's armor. Unable to budge his foe at the tachi-ai, Takekaze moved left around the edge of the ring, but Nishikigi easily spindled his way right keeping himself square with his foe, and it really took one volley of shoves to send Takekaze packing. At M10, Takekaze's 0-5 start puts him in danger of falling to Juryo for next basho, but I think he can survive down there for at least another year, so we'll see if they're desperate to buy him enough wins to keep him in Makuuchi. As for Nishikigi, that's about as easy of a win in this division that you could ask for. He finishes 2-3.

Arawashi and Takanoiwa hooked up in hidari-yotsu and circled the ring once where Arawashi went for a quick outside belt throw whose only effect was to give Takanoiwa the opening to moro-zashi, but before they could really settle in chest to chest, Arawashi was able to maki-kae with the right hand sending the bout now to gappuri-migi-yotsu. From this point, both rikishi dug in tight similarly to how you see Mitakeumi and Shodai always fight. Or not. Anyway, after about 10 seconds, Arawashi made his move leading with the right inside belt throw, and I think the attack surprised Takanoiwa a bit as he tried to counter with the left outer. Don't look now, but it was a legitimate nage-no-uchi-ai in the center of the ring, and Arawashi's proactive attack paid off as he was able to dump Takanoiwa with that inside position. It's bouts like this that keep me sane as both rikishi end the day 4-1.

M8 Chiyoshoma fired hesitant tsuppari M10 Ishiura's way from the tachi-ai. Hesitant because Ishiura is wont to move laterally, but he didn't today, and so Chiyoshoma kept him well at bay with those initial thrusts and then rushed in grabbing the left inside position and right outer grip. Ishiura doesn't have the game let alone the size to counter that, and so Chiyoshoma demonstrated a linear force-out charge easy as you please moving to 2-3 in the process. Ishiura finds himself at the same record after the defeat.

M8 Takarafuji fished for the right inside frontal grip against M6 Kagayaki who brought no pressure from the tachi-ai and decided to evade left, but Takarafuji stayed square and just kept pace firing a mediocre left tsuki into Kagayaki's side that sent him down far too easily. I think Takarafuji is the better rikishi anyway, but Kagayaki was mukiryoku here for whatever reason. Ho hum as Takarafuji moves to 3-2 while Kagayaki falls to 1-4.

Poor old M7 Ikioi. It seems as if rikishi seldom throw bouts in his favor, and so when nothing is paid for, guys like M6 Ichinojo are going to gobble up the wins where they can to compensate for everything they throw. And that's what happened in today's bout that went migi-yotsu at the belt with Ichinojo's maintaining a firm left outer grip. As he is wont to do, Ichinojo just dug in leaning into his opponent, and after a few seconds Ikioi looked to go for something with the inside right, but he couldn't budge the Mongolith, and with a lot of energy now expended, Ichinojo took his turn setting up an outer throw with the left that sent Ikioi down with ease. This was another good example of where you can see the stark difference in sumo between the foreign rikishi and the Japanese rikishi. Though bouts are rarely thrown for him, Ikioi is a top-three Japanese rikishi. As for Ichinojo, he hasn't had a sniff of the jo'i or sanyaku in awhile, which is testament to how many bouts he throws each tournament. I mean, look at some of the crap that flows through the Sekiwake thru M3 ranks these days, and then compare those dudes to Ichinojo. This guy could be scary good if they'd just let him fight. I guess he'll have to settle for his 3-2 record while Ikioi falls to 2-3.

A good example of the kind of crap that's allowed to fight from the jo'i unworthily is M5 Takakeisho who was M1 last tournament. Today against a less than mediocre M7 Chiyonokuni, both dudes came at the tachi-ai with decent shoves, but Takakeisho's shoves are without any de-ashi, so when he reloaded for round two, Chiyonokuni just side-stepped him to his right and sent Takakeisho down and out with a well-timed hataki-komi. To even consider the premise that Takakeisho could beat a guy like Ichinojo straight up is insulting, but sumo is what it is these days. Both guys here end the day 3-2.

M1 Kotoshogiku entered the day 4-0 and needed to solve M5 Shodai to keep his streak intact. Well let me rephrase that: would Shodai make it five thrown bouts in Kotoshogiku's favor in a row? Thankfully he would not as both rikishi clashed at the tachi-ai before Shodai skirted out left swiping at Kotoshogiku's dickey do as he went. Before Kotoshogiku could sufficiently adjust, Shodai raced in and seized moro-zashi, and from there he scored the easy force-out win. Kotoshogiku's sumo these days can be described as saying a prayer and charging straight forward in hopes that his opponent will show him some mercy. As soon as you see one of his foes make a move that will cause the Geeku to adjust, you know the bout is real...and you know that Kotoshogiku will lose. Shodai is about as weak as they come in Makuuchi, but he easily handled the former Ozeki today. With the win, Shodai moves to 3-2 while the Geeku suffers his first loss at 4-1.

Komusubi Tamawashi came at fellow Komusubi Tochiohzan with thrusts up high causing Oh to retreat a step, but it did allow him to flirt with moro-zashi. I saw flirt because while Tochiohzan did have two hands to the inside, the rikishi weren't chest to chest, and Tochiohzan was applying little pressure. This allowed Tamawashi to insert his right arm as if to maki-kae, but then all of a sudden The Mawashi's footing gave way and he fell backwards on his fanny. This was one of those poor acting jobs where everyone's like, "Nothing to see here...move along." They ruled it tsuki-otoshi, which is funny because there wasn't a single tsuki from Tochiohzan to be found. Oh does pick up his first win of the basho at 1-4 while Tamawashi falls to 2-3.

I am so glad that M2 Hokutofuji exhibited the same exact tachi-ai today that he showed Harumafuji yesterday, and I'm so glad that Sekiwake Yoshikaze showed us how easy it was to expose. With Hokutofuji shading left and arms setting up for a pull, Yoshikaze just freight-trained him straight back sending him into the judge's lap on the East side. Which is exactly what should have happened yesterday from Harumafuji. And that's one of the big problems with the current culture in sumo these days. Hokutofuji exhibits an awful tachi-ai against a Yokozuna; yet, he's rewarded with a kin-boshi for it. Rikishi are getting rewarded for flawed sumo, so how is anyone going to improve?

I hope everyone treasured Terunofuji's rise to the Ozeki ranks because it was purely organic. We're just not going to see such a rise ever again. Even if Onosho does end up being Ozeki material, his rise to this point has not been organic. He's having a ton of bouts thrown his way, and even though he's got game, it hasn't been organic. Sumo wrestling as we knew it for decades is simply ruined, and that's what's so disheartening about it all. I just hate what sumo has become. As Hokutofuji untangled himself from the judge's robe, he found himself sitting at 3-2 while Yoshikaze picked up his first win of the tourney at 1-4.

I'm glad at least the previous bout was straight up because every other bout involving sanyaku rikishi on up was fixed not the least of which was the next contest: Sekiwake Mitakeumi vs. M1 Tochinoshin. Tochinoshin came forward like a wet rag allowing Mitakeumi to yank at his left arm, and as he recovered his balance, the two kinda hooked up in migi-yotsu where Tochinoshin would actually grab a left outer grip, but his effort was as lame as his tachi-ai, and he just stood there limp and non-committal as the Suckiwake forced him back and across with zero resistance. Just ridiculous as Mitakeumi is gifted the win moving him to 2-3 while Tochinoshin continues to take one for team sumo at 0-5.

As M3 Chiyotairyu stared across the starting lines at Ozeki Goeido, I was thinking, "Despite his flaws, Chiyotairyu is such a better rikishi than the Ozeki." But sumo these days is all about politics, and Goeido is kadoban, so this was a classic case of the senpai-kohai system ruling where the Chiyotairyu camp felt obligated to give the Ozeki a win. Chiyotairyu eased up a bit at the tachi-ai, but was still coming forward while Goeido was fully upright with his feet aligned. Luckily for the faux-zeki, Chiyotairyu did not intend to win, so Tairyu faked an offensive by slapping down at Goeido's shoulders with open palms as if he was executing some sort of push attack. With no pressure applied to him, Goeido moved out to his left and slapped his left palm into the back of Chiyotairyu's shoulder, and Chiyotairyu's reaction was to just swan dive himself to the dirt. I watch the slow motion replays of this and can't help but to notice how bad Goeido's footwork is. From the tachi-ai his feet are aligned, and he is no position to force Chiyotairyu any direction let alone down, but the fix was definitely in here as both rikishi end the contest at 4-1.

Why ruin such a lousy streak of bouts by having Ozeki Terunofuji attempt to win against M4 Shohozan? Keeping his arms wide at the tachi-ai, the Ozeki just gifted Darth Hozan moro-zashi whereupon Terunofuji feigned briefly a motion to lift Shohozan off balance with his left arm over the top, but that nonsense lasted a second or two before the Ozeki just allowed Shohozan to methodically force him back and across the straw. At 1-4, Terunofuji is likely on his way to Sekiwake for Kyushu, but we'll see how he responds the final 10 days...if he makes it that far. He supposedly needed assistance getting off of the clay mound, and then he had a noticeable limp with the left leg as he walked back over to his cushion ringside. I have no idea how he could be injured. The dude actually exerts pressure in a bout maybe twice a basho. As for Shohozan, he definitely breathes easy with the gift as he moves to 3-2.

As is usually the case these days, they saved the worst for last as Yokozuna Harumafuji welcomed M3 Onosho. Onosho sent a right stiff arm the Yokozuna's way at the tachi-ai, but Harumafuji shook that off and pressed in close as both rikishi seemed to go to migi-yotsu. I say seemed because it's kinda hard to fight in yotsu style if both guys are standing straight up, but that was the case here. With the bout going no where, Onosho retreated back to the straw whiffing on a pull attempt as he moved left, but Harumafuji failed to react just standing there waiting for the next move. Said move was Onosho's continuing to move to his left as Harumafuji just stood there not even bothering to square back up, and when he finally looked Onosho's way, the M3 executed a series of love taps at the back of Harumafuji head that sent him hopping on his left foot and then down into a full frontal flip across the dohyo. I mean, I've seen some shullbit in my days, but this one probably ranks as top three, which is saying a lot in the current landscape of sumo.

Harumafuji tried to sell it the best he could as he picked himself up off the dohyo shaking his noggin' as if to say, "What just happened?" This was yet another pathetic ending to this pathetic basho. I mean, I'm used to Kyushu being a wasted basho where everyone wants to take off early for the holidays, but we're still in September. I press stop on my DVR each morning thinking that surely things will get better, but incredibly each subsequent day seems to outdo the previous in terms of silliness and absurdity. With the...um...win...Onosho moves to 5-0, and usually the final 10 days is a long way to go, but in this dude's case, there's no one there to really stop him. As for Harumafuji, he falls to 2-3 and continues to deflect attention away from Kisenosato and his sorry ass.

I'm going to turn the reins back over to Harvye for tomorrow while I try and find a place on my wrists that hasn't been slit yet this basho.

Day 4 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The news heading into day 4 continued to focus on the bizarre bout the previous day between Harumafuji and Kotoshogiku. Usually once every two basho or so there's a bout where a false start should have been called but it wasn't, and the rikishi who wasn't prepared to charge stands up on instinct because his opponent, who jumped out of the gate too soon, is just bearing down on him. The guy that wasn't ready is usually beaten in about one second, and he stays limp throughout the bout HOPING that at least one of the five judges or the referee will call a false start. When the call doesn't come, the loser will get a sour look on his face and stare at all the judges as if to say WTF?

Yesterday, though, was the first time that I've ever seen the aggressor of a false start just give up and let his opponent win, and the reason Harumafuji let that happen is because it was his intent to get beaten by Kotoshogiku from the beginning. That little burping motion as Harvye called it was a split-second decision on the Yokozuna's part to compensate for the fact that he had no intent to go all out in this one. Why try and appeal to the referee or the judges like that hoping they'll call it back when you were the aggressor? If Harumafuji really wanted to win the bout, he would have destroyed Kotoshogiku and not even cared about the false start. The fact that during a hand-to-hand combat bout that he even stopped to think about being gentlemanly shows just how pathetic the current culture of sumo has become. I mean, I come away from the daily broadcasts these days thinking to myself, "Goodness, am I getting enough estrogen?!"

The biggest headline of the basho so far is the number of prominent rikishi who are are kyujo, and I have to chortle to myself when I read the speculation in the funny papers as to what could be the cause. From those earliest days when I was trying to sponge up as much information on sumo as I could, I often heard the phrase, "If you let up in the ring, someone's going to get hurt." Damn straight. These days, though, the rikishi are taking it to embarrassing levels, and I just don't see how this kind of tripe can be sustained for too many more years. Are people really that dumb?

I thought the start to day 4 was a perfect example of the yaocho culture in sumo these days and the attempt to buoy up younger rikishi who have little game. In one corner you had rookie M16 Asanoyama, who was gifted a day 1 win from Sokokurai, and he was paired against M15 Tokushoryu, a crusty veteran who has never really done anything in the sport, but a guy who is light years ahead of some of these newbies. In their bout today, both rikishi hooked up in hidari-yotsu, and on one hand you had Asanoyama who seemed hellbent on getting the right outer grip and muscling his opponent back, and on the other side was Tokushoryu who was just standing there with that one arm to the inside left easily keeping his opponent at bay. After about five seconds and with Tokushoryu near the edge, he just easily pivoted to the side and felled the rookie with as light of a tsuki-otoshi as you'll see. I mean, Tokushoryu coulda had a smoke in his right hand the whole bout and no ashes would have hit the dohyo it was that easy. I don't know what's going to become of Asanoyama in the next little while, but he and Tokushoryu belong in different divisions if not galaxies. Asanoyama falls to 2-2 while Tokushoryu entered the day at 0-3 obviously thinking, "I gotta get something here."

Next up was M15 Endoh paired against M15 Yutakayama, yet another youngster who was hyped heavily but hasn't earned jack in the ring. I mean, the dude still doesn't have his hair tied into the full oi-chou, but man is he out of his element in the Makuuchi division. Case in point was his bout against Endoh where he seemed to take charge with a nice-looking tsuppari attack, but Endoh easily fought it off just moving around the ring to his left slow enough to where Yutakayama never could find the kill shot. After about 12 seconds of action with Endoh near the edge, he finally just slipped to his right and pulled Yutakayama down and out while employing some fancy footwork to keep himself in the dohyo. It was actually the first offensive move from Endoh the entire bout, but it worked like a charm as he changed direction and then showed his agility. When I watch an Endoh bout and come away thinking, "Hey, that kid's pretty good!" you know that his opponent is weak. Endoh moves to 3-1 with the win and must be thinking to himself, "Being a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind ain't so shabby." As for Yutakayama, he flounders his way to 1-3.

A fella we haven't seen in a good while was J2 Azumaryu, who graciously made an appearance from Juryo to face M14 Okinoumi, one of my favorite active rikishi. The two hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai where Okinoumi used his length to grab the right outer grip as Azumaryu tried to force his right arm to the inside as well. Okinoumi cuffed and stuffed that move well, but he had trouble forcing his tall opponent back and across, and after standing his ground well at the edge and giving up on his moro-zashi attempt, Azumaryu pivoted well grabbing Okinoumi around the right arm and using that grip to throw Okinoumi down with a nifty kote-nage. I just love to watch a rikishi employ a beautiful counter sumo move, and this was one of 'em as both rikishi ended the day at 2-2.

The real sumo came to a screeching halt with M12 Daishomaru and M13 Nishikigi as Daishomaru attempted some sort of push attack high into Nishikigi's body, but the smaller Maru couldn't budge his foe whatsoever. Luckily for Daishomaru, Nishikigi wasn't trying to set anything up, and so Daishomaru moved out right and fired a weak right tsuki that of course felled Nishikigi immediately in the center of the ring. When a guy takes a knee in the dohyo, or better yet, when a guy puts both palms down flat and catches himself before his knees even touch the dirt (think Terunofuji), you know it's a thrown bout. Easy call here as Nishikigi unnaturally takes the knee sending him to a 1-3 record while Daishomaru looks good on paper of course at 3-1.

The yaocho would continue with M13 Kaisei who refused to even try and grab a hold of his opponent, M11 Daieisho. Kaisei barreled forward from the tachi-ai causing Daieisho to retreat at the mere presence of a big guy supposedly coming for him, but Kaisei never made an effort to to go for the belt or even fire offensive shoves, and so Daieisho darted left and then right trying to set up something. He never could budge the Brasilian, however, and after about 10 seconds, Kaisei purposefully whiffed on a right tsuki attempt that conveniently turned his body just enough to where Daieisho could finally move in for the easy kill. Zzzzzzz as Daieisho buys his way to a 4-0 record while Kaisei is in cruise control at 2-2 and hoarding cash in the process.

Ugh, even more yaocho. Three legit bouts followed by three thrown bouts. M11 Chiyomaru kept himself open at the tachi-ai against M10 Ishiura allowing the smaller rikishi to shade left at the charge and then shove his way inside before bullying Chiyomaru back and across with no attempt to counter or do anything from the Hutt. When was the last time we saw Ishiura win like this? The answer is never. He knew he was going to win today, and that's why he was so confident in his sumo start to finish as he moves to 2-2. Chiyomaru falls to 1-3 after the gift and judging by the size of his gut, he does eat well, so I won't worry about him getting properly fed tonight.

I don't necessarily root against guys, but the whole Takekaze scoring kachi-koshi last basho was tired from the beginning, and so while I'm not rooting for him to lose, I am rooting for any bout I can get to be straight up. Today the M10 faced M9 Takanoiwa who was cautious at the tachi-ai as Takekaze actually moved forward flirting with the left arm to the inside, but he remembered who is was and promptly pulled that arm back out opting to go for old-man swipes instead. With Takekaze moving around the ring looking for a cheap pull or swipe, Takanoiwa just patiently stayed square before sensing an opening and scoring on his first push-out attempt. Pretty basic stuff here as Takanoiwa moves to 4-0 while Takekaze remains winless.

I was looking forward to a fun chess match between two Mongolian rikishi who had no reason to defer to the other guy, but M9 Arawashi ruined it all by henka'ing to his left from the tachi-ai. M8 Chiyoshoma came so hard that he couldn't recover and just slipped down as a result of the initial lube job. Too bad as Arawashi slimes his way to 3-1 while Chiyoshoma falls to 1-3.

I felt as if I was watching a road race in Cuba with two classics going head to head in M8 Takarafuji and M7 Ikioi. After a hard clash, Takarafuji stepped to his left grabbing Ikioi's right arm from the outside threatening a kote-nage throw, and so Ikioi attempted to escape out of the threat by back pedaling and going for a pull, but Takarafuji would have none of it easily pushing the compromised Ikioi back and out in three seconds or so. Both rikishi end the day at 2-2 in this slow motion bout.

After all of the goodwill M6 Ichinojo provides for the sport, it was nice to seem get that freebie yesterday due to the withdrawal of Ura, so could he pull even steven today with a win against M7 Chiyonokuni? Thankfully, the answer was yes, which means the bout was straight up. Knowing he wasn't going to win moving forward, Chiyonokuni shaded left at the tachi-ai throwing a few sporadic swipes for good measure, but Ichinojo wasn't fooled and stayed square as Chiyonokuni tried to stay on the move. The problem was that Ichinojo takes up so much real estate that Kuni had nowhere to go but back, and as he offered a few meager cat swipes, Ichinojo just stayed true and shoved his foe off of the dohyo altogether. Fish in a barrel for Ichinojo who moves to 2-2 while Chiyonokuni shares the same mark.

M5 Takakeisho came with his usual timid attack of one shove forward two pulls back. I actually thought he had a good tachi-ai today against M6 Kagayaki, but he just couldn't help himself, and so Kagayaki stayed square with his foe and answered each retreat with nice jabs of his own. If you take two steps back for each step forward, you're eventually going to run out of room, and that's what happened to Takakeisho who found himself straddling the tawara after one of his retreats, and that point, Kagayaki committed on the kill, and quite a kill it was as he sent Takakeisho off of the dohyo altogether with the youngster flying spread eagle backwards into the first row of sheep. It was nice to see Kagayaki pick up his first win, and I always love to see a fraud like Takakeisho get his ass kicked. He's 3-1, which is indicative of just phony his "success" in sumo has been.

Don't look now, but my gal M3 Chiyotairyu is in hot pursuit!! Today against M4 Shohozan, Chiyotairyu couldn't help himself by going for a pull, but that came after a nice tachi-ai where he led with a left kachi-age and then grabbed Shohozan by the neck with both hands before yanking him forward and down. Chiyotairyu moves to 4-0 with the win while Shohozan falls to 2-2.

Speaking of fraud, I wish M5 Shodai rhymed with something cool so I could make fun of him as he stepped into the ring against Komusubi Tochiohzan, and I was sorry to see Tochiohzan go for exactly zero moves as he danced here and there looking for who knows what?  With Shodai not making any advances offensively, Tochiohzan finally faked a pull where he really just hopped over to the edge allowing Shodai to finish him off from there. It bugs me to no end that Shodai is now 2-2 while Tochiohzan falls to 0-4.

Continuing through the sanyaku, Suckiwake Mitakeumi failed to take care of Komusubi Tamawashi even though the latter was mukiryoku (not to mention injured). You'd think that if your opponent came into the day hobbling that you'd go for the juggler, but Mitakeumi opted to shade to his left at the tachi-ai absorbing Tamawashi's continuous push motion from the start. With Tamawashi pushing straight forward no matter what, Mitakeumi moved left and attempted a weak, left scoop throw that Tamawashi took in stride as he continued to just plow his way outta the dohyo altogether, but in the process of executing that scoop throw, Mitakeumi carelessly stepped out before the Komusubi had hit the dirt. This one was close, and the biased ref even ruled in favor of Mitakeumi, but a mono-ii was called and replays showed that Mitakeumi did indeed step out prematurely. As for Tamawashi, it was as if he was fighting with his eyes closed. When Mitakeumi moved left, he just kept going straight forward dragging his feet along for the ride, so it was the Sekiwake's inability to to execute that scoop throw--against a mukiryoku opponent no less--that cost him. This was actually the first win for Tamawashi head to head against Mitakeumi in nine tries, which is a good example of just how much they're trying to prop Mi-fake-umi up. As the dust settled, Mitakeumi fell to 1-3 while Tamawashi evens things up at 2-2.

We'll see how long guys continue to roll over for M1 Kotoshogiku. Today it was Sekiwake Yoshikaze's turn as the two rikishi hooked up in hidari-yotsu where Yoshikaze kept his feet aligned and applied zero pressure to his opponent, and so the Geeku was able to pivot to his right, latch onto the outside of Yoshikaze's left arm, and then throw him down with no resistance. When a guy's feet mimic and NFL receiver who is dragging both feet as he makes a catch along the sideline, then you know it's yaocho. I bring up the nage-no-uchi-ai all the time because it's such a basic move in sumo. Well, it used to be. If one guy goes for a throw, then the other guy has to counter it, and he does that by planting the outside foot and preferably using the other leg to trip up his opponent's inside leg. These days we see a fall like we got from Yoshikaze today or we see the guy throwing the bout lining his body square up against his opponent's as he's being forced back all but guaranteeing a loss. I mean just look at where Kotoshogiku is standing in relation to his opponent...after the throw.  Sumo is so bizarre these days as Kotoshogiku moves to 4-0 while Yoshikaze is winless.

As Kane is my witness, I told him (and I think Harvye) after day 2 that M3 Onosho was a favorite to yusho. When you have one elite rikishi in a basho and he decides to drop two bouts in four days, then you look for a couple of other factors in deciding a yusho candidate: 1) whose got game to win bouts on his own, and 2) whose a guy who often has opponents let up for him? I know, it's kind of a strange combination but Mitakeumi is a great example of a rikishi who ain't got game but still has his opponents let up for him. Anyway, Onosho could very well be the best Japanese rikishi on the banzuke right now. It's hard for me to make that call because a ton of guys still let up for him, but he does have game.

He wouldn't need any game today against Ozeki Terunofuji, who did nothing at the tachi-ai and just waited for Onosho to put a hand on him. Said hand came in the form of a left palm against the Ozeki's right shoulder, and in a flash, Terunofuji found himself pulled down. Problem was, Onosho really didn't execute a pull. I mean he tried to catch up, but the Ozeki was comically just throwing himself to the dirt less than two seconds in. Any angle you look at the bout, that was just a love tap from Onosho, hardly the kind of blow that would topple a genuine Ozeki.  The crowd reaction to the bout was polite applause, but everyone knew that this one was thrown. One of my favorite all-time rikishi was Tosanoumi, and when he made his jo'i debut in Makuuchi, he beat Akebono and Takanohana on days 7 and 9 respectively of the '95 Kyushu basho (I didn't even need to look it up I remember it so well). Well, the crowd knew that Tosanoumi was an up-and-comer, and they were going crazy for him when he defeated those two Yokozuna. The wins were considered huge upsets, and there was definitely electricity in the air. After this bout, you coulda filled the entire arena with natural gas and you never would have had a spark to ignite the whole thing. Sometimes I look at the reaction of the crowd after what should be mammoth upsets, and I'm like, "Are they reciting poetry at the library here?"

With the win, Onosho moves to 4-0 while Terunofuji falls to 1-3, and before I move on, without even going back to watch those two Tosanoumi victories, I'm pretty sure the fix was in for both of 'em. I've come to know sumo too well these days.

With the tension lessening bout by bout, Ozeki Goeido welcomed M1 Tochinoshin into the ring in the day's penultimate contest. Normally, this is the time for an Ozeki to step up and establish himself with so many other guys out, but we are talking about Goeido here. At the tachi-ai, he executed a piss-poor henka to his left not even making contact, but Tochinoshin played along and just ran himself forward to the edge of the dohyo. About the time he squared back up, Goeido was there to offer the final push sending him a few steps up the West hana-michi. Once again, I've witnessed more excitement at a funeral that I detected after this one which saw Goeido move to 3-1 while Tochinoshin falls to 0-4.

The day's final bout featured Yokozuna Harumafuji's welcoming M2 Hokutofuji, and I guess you could say it was Hokutofuji who did the welcoming in the form of arms out wide and a slight retreat back and left at the tachi-ai. It definitely wasn't a henka, and it resembled more the type of tachi-ai we see from the Mongolians when they want to give someone the easy opening. Harumafuji seized the right inside grip (how could he not?), but he refused to move forward at all, and so I knew the outcome of the bout at that point. Hokutofuji really hadn't a pot to piss in with his left arm lamely high and trying to wrap around the Yokozuna's right from above, but when your opponent has no intention of winning, you can do whatever you want and still win. With Harumafuji not pressing, Hokutofuji was able to evade to his right and go for a feeble pull, and with Harumafuji still standing there like a wet rag, the M2 grabbed a right outer grip and forced the Yokozuna up against the straw. Of course there was the half-hearted obligatory struggle from Harumafuji ad depicted at right, but that just ended with the Yokozuna staying square and allowing Hokutofuji to force him out with ease. If you're curious what a horrible, ineffective tachi-ai looks like, take a look at Hokutofuji's initial charge today. There's no way that a Mongolian rikishi let alone a Yokozuna doesn't take advantage of that mess. Well, if he's trying to win. Harumafuji obviously wasn't as he falls to 2-2 now. As for Hokutofuji, he's gifted a 3-1 record, and I classify him in the same category as Onosho: young rikishi with game but who still have a helluva lotta bouts thrown their way.

And that's how the day ended...six consecutive fixed bouts in favor of Japanese favorites. The only highlight was Mitakeumi and his sloppy footwork as he actually managed to lose against a mukiryoku opponent. There is just very little to get excited about right now, and I pose the question again: how can sumo's popularity be sustained with this kind of sumo?

Looks like I'm back at ya for day 5.

Day 3 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Two days ago I confidently announced that the winner of this tournament would be either Harumafuji or Takayasu. Now, with Takayasu joining the long list of wounded, we have a further Armageddon of high ranked guys, and I suppose I'm left saying Harumafuji is going to win, period.

And yes, that's a safe bet.

The guy I mulled putting on the list of possible winners on day one but left off was Kotoshogiku. It didn't pass the sniff test, the skill test, the sense test, the shullbit test, any test you like. It was possible only because it was possible, if you see what I mean. But what a story it would make--which is why with Takayasu out of the running I find I do turn my lonely eye to Kotoshogiku. Partly in fear, mind--in fear. But today is a good day to touch on this magical possibility, as he faced Harumafuji. By the end of today we'd know if a fairy tale would be allowed to bloom for a few brief Indian Summer days, or whether it would turn into a pumpkin. A smashed and rotten one, slimy with goo.

So, before we get to that, let's dwell on Kotoshogiku for a moment. What he is doing by fighting on and on as an aged demoted Ozeki is without recent precedent. Yes, Dejima and Miyabiyama were demoted from Ozeki and fought for years thereafter--but they had been youthful over-promotions and a correction was in order. They fought only 12 and 8 tournaments, respectively at the Ozeki rank. Kotoshogiku? He's aged long-time Ozeki unquestionable on his past-prime decline. I have to admit right now I like him better than I've liked him in years. He's bucking "the normal way" by hanging in there and hanging in there and hanging in there... everybody, including me, has been howling that he should just quit.

But why? Why not fight on until you can't go anymore? Death on the battlefield, man. Sports careers are over soon enough as it is--might as well squeeze every dying-sun gasp.

Consider all the Ozeki removed from the rank in the last 20 years: Kaio, Tochiazuma, and Musoyama all retired at rank (and Kotomitsuki was dismissed while still an Ozeki). Chiyotaikai went one tournament at Sekiwake and hung it up, Kotooshu two. Baruto hung on, injured, for five tournaments and actually ended up ranked in Juryo--props to him for sticking it out. But he fought zero bouts in his last two ranked tournaments. The late, great Takanonami, who was an Ozeki for six years, went on to fight another 24 post-demotion basho--four years--before retiring as M13. But he was just 28 when demoted (as was Baruto), and retired at 32. Kotoshogiku was older than that when he fought his first demoted tournament, aged 33 and is now in his fourth post-demotion tournament. So these are unchartered waters in the modern era. More power to him. I now want to say: keep going.

Let's see how far his fairy fire flew last night.

M16 Asanoyama (1-1) vs. M15 Yutakayama (1-1)
Nice resounding slaps on the belt from Treasure Mountain (Yutakayama) in the lead up. Too bad he then got worked. This was a pretty good match, with lots of inside action on the body, but at a certain point Treasure Mountain lost the momentum, started going backwards, and was tipped over, oshi-taoshi. The key was that in there Yutakayama, who had Asanoyama's left arm all wrapped, tried to use it to pull Asanoyama more than to throw him. After that Yutakayama was going the wrong direction. These matches really can turn on the smallest dime, and this one did. First real match for Asanoyama, and he looked good.

M15 Tokushoryu (0-2) vs. J2 Aminishiki (2-0)
I was distracted by the cadaverous presence and strange, sepulchral-yet-obsequious voice of the uncomfortable and off-putting ex-Takanohana in the booth, but remembered in time to say, yay!, look, it is the much-bundled Aminishiki in the ring. Welcome back. The gyoji was beautiful in white with purple rings. Tokushoryu is a useless blubber ball, and I hoped tricksy Aminishiki would beat him. Lo!  He did. After a moment of backpedaling, Aminishiki lifted his hands away in classic "I didn't do it" manner, and Tokushoryu tumbled off the dohyo like a barrel of rotten halibut, tsuki-otoshi. Vintage Aminishiki.

M14 Endo (1-1) vs. M13 Kaisei (2-0)
I can't help thinking about Takanohana in the booth. Too much. What is it that bothers me about him?  My sense of him is this. Fresh off being an uber-popular Yokozuna, he tried, too early, to start a revolution in the oyakata ranks and become the dominant force in the sport behind the scenes. Now, what's wrong with this? Shouldn't I celebrate it? Doesn't the sport need fresh blood? Isn't he seen as a reformer in some ways? Yes. But my feeling is that Takanohana had no intent of injecting new blood, but in extracting it. He has a vampirish demeanor that suggests he wanted to take over the old boys network, not to upend it, but to put in his own old boys. To be the new Bela Lugosi, not a cleansing Van Helsing. I don't know. There is something unwholesome about his efforts, his presence, his manner. I trust him not at all. Consider this, from Wikipedia, as well as the unseemly family infighting and machinations that have dominated his press clippings post-retirement: "In July 2010, in the wake of a scandal involving several wrestlers admitting to illegal gambling, he denied he had connections with members of the yakuza underworld after media reports that he was seen with a mobster during a visit to Ehime Prefecture to recruit new apprentices... [later] he and his wife were awarded ¥8.47 million in damages by the Tokyo High Court over 13 articles published by the Shukan Gendai and Gekkan Gendai in 2004 and 2005 concerning match-fixing allegation.." Judge for yourself. But this paragraph is supposed to be about the match between Kaisei and Endo.

All right. Kaisei resisted Endo's attack. A blue-skier would say passivity led to his yori-taoshi loss, while Endo's concerted attack underneath and inside is to be commended (as it is). A cynic might focus on Kaisei's unwillingness to grab the belt and inability to commit to any sort of attack and say it signaled a willingness to lose. And my feeling is that, bat-like and watchful, Takanohana liked this just fine. This, people, is sumo.

M12 Daishomaru (1-1) vs. M14 Okinoumi (2-0)
Hmmm. Daishomaru, a fierce puller, took on the superior Okinoumi and beat him at his own game with a linear yori-kiri force out: attack, push, win. Daishomaru stayed nice and low, but this didn't make any sense.

M11 Daieisho (2-0) vs. M13 Nishikigi (1-1)
Daieisho was busy doing his rapid-fire tsuppari, interrupted by purposeful and repeated pushes by Nishikigi. So I was hoping Nishikigi would survive the silly buzz saw and survive. However, as it so often does, this match really revolved around a pull. At the edge, Daieisho gave up the slapping and did the slipping: to the side. From whence he was able to thrust down Daieisho at the edge, tsuki-otoshi.

M11 Chiyomaru (0-2) vs. M10 Takekaze (0-2)
Takekaze absorbed Chiyomaru's lightning-strike attack and spun--and that is all he has to offer. After that, according to his plan Chiyomaru was supposed to fall down or otherwise succumb. But he didn't. There he was, still standing there. Chiyomaru then gave Takekaze a concerted battering in the face, neck, and chest on his way to an oshi-dashi win. Nicely done.

M9 Takanoiwa (2-0) vs. M10 Ishiura (1-1)
Here was Takanohana's boy, Takanoiwa, against Stone Ass (Ishiura). Ishiura was ferocious in this one, quick and persistent in his assault from underneath and his tries for the front of the belt. But he's just too small. All this buzzing-bee flight didn't move Takanoiwa enough or knock him sufficiently off balance, and in the end one good shove from Takanoiwa was enough to get Ishiura off balance and make him fall down instead, tsuki-otoshi. Sometimes physics and the laws of mass are the winner.

M9 Arawashi (1-1) vs. M8 Takarafuji (1-1)
Hard hitting tachi-ai by Arawashi, but Takarafuji absorbed it and the counterattacked, driving Arawashi promptly to the straw. But lo! There Arawashi paid off his back-pedaling--the real reason he went to the straw, rather than Takarafuji's volition--with the wicked arm pull that it had bought, and drove Takarafuji to the dirt at the edge, tottari. Does this look weak to you, or at best risky? It was nothing but a well-executed win.

M7 Chiyonokuni (1-1) vs. M7 Ikioi (2-0)
Another excellent, whapping tachi-ai, and Chiyonokuni won it, coming out with a nice inside grip and lower position. From there it was a moment of straining before Chiyonokuni lurched out of it and capitalized with a skillful, quick pull, hiki-otoshi. I don't usually like the pull, but you have to like them when they're good. This was a beautiful one.

M8 Chiyoshoma (0-2) vs. M6 Kagayaki (0-2)
Chiyoshoma took some long-armed grabs at the hyperactive Kagayaki's belt, but his real purpose was to get out of there and let nature take its course. When Chiyoshoma stepped to the side, trying-too-hard Kagayaki was easy hiki-otoshi pull-and-fall fodder.

M5 Shodai (1-1) vs. M5 Takakeisho (2-0)
Mike has given us a good line on Takakeisho's method, as well as a way of evaluating his effectiveness and relative skill. Right now, nobody is easier to break down. Push and back up a bit, push and back up a bit: that is Takakeisho. Except when he is the weaker wrestler, he'll do this more. When he is the better wrestler, he'll do it less, and push forward more. Here, his back-ups were few and short, and his attacks sustained and confident, giving him a quick and convincing oshi-dashi win. He needs to do this more, gain confidence, and build on what he has. He can beat more guys like this, but he has to trust it.

M6 Ichinojo (0-2) vs. M4 Ura (1-1)
Ura joins the parade of injury withdrawals, and the fans, foreign and local, cry sad tears. Sideshow clown Ichinojo picks up a useless first win.

M3 Chiyotairyu (2-0) vs. K Tochiohzan (0-2)
Chiyotairyu has looked like a new Chiyotaikai or something with his utter-destruction, totally unexpected jo'i wins the first two days, making me think only, "it is only a matter of time before someone exploits his one-dimensional attack." I think his first two opponents suffered from over-confidence: he's looked so bad in the lower ranks, they thought they could even beat him at his own game. But he's a pro, and they can't. There's plenty of other ways to beat him, though. Yet, mystifyingly, Tochiohzan also didn't learn the lesson, standing his ground and going toe-to-toe. Kind of: he wasn't doing much out there (I guess I'm not so mystified). At the tawara Tochiohzan tried a little evasion-and-slap-down, but it was too late: Chiyotairyu pushed him out, barely, oshi-dashi. Have no fear: this too will end.

K Tamawashi (1-1) vs. M3 Onosho (2-0)
After their very odd mutual-limp-fest yesterday, it looked like Takayasu and Tamawashi might both drop out of the tournament, but only Takayasu did. Tamawashi lives to fight another day, refusing to join the astonishing seven wrestlers (out of 42) to withdraw from the top division bouts this tournament. Meanwhile, your new sneaky star for this tournament is not Mitakeumi: it is Onosho. Who just killed Tamawashi here, looking to some eyes like the better and more experienced guy even though he isn't. He carefully drove Tamawashi back, ignoring Tamawashi's famed power-slaps, then smartly stepped to the side, grabbed Tamawashi's belt, and slung the man way, way past him en route to an okuri-dashi win. Too bad Tamawashi wasn't very convincing in looking like he just couldn't avoid it all. Anyway. Onosho is definitely your shiny new Insider's Excitement Man.

S Mitakeumi (0-2) vs. M4 Shohozan (2-0)
Mitakeumi needed to show something here, and his hard hands to the face followed by an instant powerful pull down, hiki-otoshi, certainly did the trick. Shohozan ain't much, but still, guys whose confidence evaporates can get beat by anybody. Mitakeumi ain't that weak. He won't win this tournament, but could still well end up one of its stars. Give him a week or so to see where he can go.

S Yoshikaze (0-2) vs. O Goeido (1-1)
Goeido just henka'ed out of there and won, XXXXXXX. And that's all I have to say about that.

O Takayasu (1-1) vs. M2 Hokutofuji (1-1)
Hokutofuji gets the free win against the injured Takayasu. 7 out of 42 wrestlers absent is nearly 20%--that's one for every six. And consider this: four of the top five are out. If we assess their missed matches as losses, that means there is a 3-7 record in the top five ranks so far (Takayasu won one before going out). Or seven free wins to distribute. Whereas in an "ideal" tournament they'd all be 2-0 today, 10-0 as a group. Even Ura and Aoiyama are in the top 19 ranked guys, meaning even more free wins up top. If we take those six guys out--Hakuho, Kisenosato, Kakuryu, Takayasu, Ura, and Aoiyama--that means there are, across the tournament, 71 contested matches missing (you have to take out the ones where they face each other and the ones Ura and Takayasu already fought). If we were to put, say, the following conservative win totals on those six--Hakuho 13, Kisenosato 11, Kakuryu 10, Takayasu 9, Ura 8, Aoiyama 6--that's 57 extra wins to distribute around to others. Another way to look at it is to say that with those six in, the top sixteen wrestlers goes down to Onosho at M3. Without them, it goes all the way to down to Ichinojo at M6. That makes for a very different atmosphere. I still say it's kind of exciting. Guys who normally wouldn't have chances to win, for either political or skill reasons, will find the floor opened up for them a bit.

O Terunofuji (0-2) vs. M12 Tochinoshin (0-2)
Great back and forth belt stuff here, and I kind of felt Tochinoshin didn't have a chance. The Ozeki wasn't going to open up 0-3. Injuries, politics, and anything else aside, in a pure match up Terunofuji is just a shade better. Tochinoshin had the belt first and Terunofuji was in trouble, but Teru reached in to get off the body hold and evened it up. Eventually, working with a hard outside left grip, Terunofuji put his head on Tochinoshin's body and drove him to death, yori-kiri. More of this, please.

M1 Kotoshogiku (2-0) vs. Y Harumafuji (2-0)
And the match we'd all been waiting for. If Harumafuji wins here, he's probably cruising to the yusho. If he loses, all bets are off and hell, Onosho could be your champion. Or Revenant Princess Kotoshogiku himself. If Harumafuji wins, nails and ice. If he loses, grand theater's curtain rises. In fact, we got vaudeville. Harumafuji jumped forward, stood up, and slapped Kotoshogiku on the back. He then burped him like a baby. Literally. Harumafuji pattered away at Kotoshogiku's back gently with that hand while stepping back and out "yori-kiri." Like, really--no exaggeration. It wasn't a fight, it was a farce. Every time we see bad fakery we say "I've seen bad acting, but this is the worst." Then we say it again anew. Everybody was disgusted. Kotoshogiku even shook his head ruefully as he walked into the locker room. The head shimpan looked like he'd been served a moldy pear. It was insulting, really: I said it looked like Harumafuji was burping a baby, and it did. But it also looked like he was saying, "there, there, go ahead and have your win, congrats, you're a nice enough guy." The excuse made will be that Harumafuji thought it would be called back as a false start. Nonsense. Yes, he pathetically raised a hand to the judges in appeal after he was pushed out. But HE had his hands on the dirt, HE was the one who started the match, and he needed to be as ready for whatever and was. He wasn't saying, "call this back, Kotoshogiku cheated." He was saying, "call this back, I cheated." Insincerely. Nope. This was nothing but on purpose, and it was ugly, strange, and made a mockery of the sport afresh. Crap.

Tomorrow Mike discusses the new day rising.

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Harvye really nailed his day 1 report, and at the end of the day, I was in complete agreement with him that Takayasu was the  likely favorite to yusho this basho. Now, we all know that if Harumafuji wants to yusho in Aki, he will yusho, but as day 1 demonstrated--and as Harvye pointed out in his report yesterday--there is so much politics going on that it's getting ridiculous. I stopped reporting on pre-basho keiko stories several years ago when yaocho began to seep into practice sessions, but I never thought I'd see the day when we'd have political kyujo. That's exactly what we have this tournament, however, with three Yokozuna sitting out.

Kisenosato's sitting out is due to an effort to hide his utter ineptness in the ring. It's one thing to propel a dude to the Yokozuna rank with rampant yaocho, but how are you supposed to sustain him at that rank? There's only one answer: more rampant yaocho. But the problem with Kisenosato of late hasn't necessarily been the yaocho; rather, it's been the bouts where his opponents have decided to fight straight up because they just go out there and kick his ass. And we're not talking elite rikishi here. We're talking the usual early opponents for Yokozuna: scrub rank-and-file rikishi.

Kakuryu has been mirroring Kisenosato with his kyujo in order to give the impression that other Yokozuna struggle and need to take time off as well, and I think Hakuho's withdrawal has to do with giving the young up-and-comers a boost this tournament. I know that Takayasu isn't necessarily a young dude, but he's part of the new crop of rikishi that the Association is trying to hype. I mean, how much longer can they pretend that Kisenosato and Goeido can carry the sport? Kotoshogiku bit the dust a few tourneys ago thanks to the Isegahama Mongolian rikishi, and the other two Amigos surely don't have anything left in the tank, so they have to start building up the next generation.

I love to watch NHK's Sunday Sports News program on Sunday nights, and when they got to sumo on the night of day1, the three names featured prominently at the start of the piece were Mitakeumi, Onosho, and Hokutofuji. Mitakeumi and Onosho fought each other in a straight-up bout that Onosho dominated, and then Terunofuji fell nicely for Hokutofuji. They actually had the dude NHK broadcaster put on a fake mawashi and step into a fake dohyo with the former Tochinowaka. The NHK guy played the part of Terunofuji and Tochinowaka was Hokutofuji. Tochinowaka explained that after Terunofuji got the right arm inside, Hokutofuji released his left outer grip wisely and used that left hand to shove Terunofuji back and out of his inside position resulting in the ultimate fall by the Ozeki. If only it were really that easy.

The way you try and escape from an inside grip is to back up at your own peril, go for a maki-kae, or quickly move laterally and go for a shoulder slap...moves that are all extremely risky. Now, if your opponent graciously pulls that right arm back from its inside position and backs up of his own volition--which is exactly what Terunofuji did, THEN a youngster like Hokutofuji would be able to push out of it moving forward, but the point is...they're hyping the next generation, they're throwing bouts in their favor, and then they're coming up with shullbit analysis to explain it all away. And the Japanese public buys every word of it, and that's why sumo is still working in terms of ticket sales and popularity.

Let's move to the first bout of day 2, which curiously looked like the start of the Terunofuji - Hokutofuji bout yesterday. In this version, it was Juryo rikishi, Myogiryu, getting the right arm to the inside against M15 Yutakayama, and the youngster knew he was in trouble, and so he retreated creating some separation that allowed him to attempt to tsuppari his way back into the bout, but he didn't have any momentum, and so Myogiryu was able to squeeze his opponent's melon with both hands threatening a pull before getting that right arm to the inside again and plowing forward into moro-zashi as he scored the yori-kiri win. Yutakayama was gifted his day 1 win, so it was no surprise to see him get manhandled by Myogiryu as both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

M14 Endoh flirted with moro-zashi against rookie M16 Asanoyama getting both hands inside, but it wasn't exactly both arms inside, and so the rookie was able to squirm around like a fish and wiggle his right arm to the inside of Endoh's left, but Endoh adjusted well grabbing the left outer grip and using it to dump Asanoyama off balance to where he just pulled him down in the end. The way Sokokurai gave up against Asanoyama yesterday was ridiculous, and so today we were able to gauge the rookie better, and he was beaten pretty handily by Endoh. Endoh is definitely in his element this low on the banzuke as both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

M15 Tokushoryu came with a moro-te-zuki tachi-ai that stood M14 Okinoumi upright, but the taller Okinoumi was able to move left and swipe at Tokushoryu's arms as he went. Tokushoryu still had the momentum, so he was able to square back up with the left arm to the inside, but he was unable to defend Okinoumi from gaining the same position. From this point, it was beautiful watching this bout play out. You had the inferior rikishi in Tokushoryu win the tachi-ai and maintain the lower position, but he just wasn't able to fight off the superior rikishi as Okinoumi used the gaburi move brilliantly to knock his opponent back and upright, back and upright until he was ready to secure the right outer grip, and once obtained, it was a textbook yori-kiri from Okinoumi. What a beautiful bout of sumo that contained all of the right moves as Okinoumi breezes to 2-0 while Tokushoryu falls to 0-2.

M13 Kaisei fished for an inside belt grip from the tachi-ai as M12 Daishomaru skirted to his left attempting to mawari-komu around the ring faster than Kaisei could keep up with him, but Daishomaru ain't that fast, and Kaisei just covers too much real estate, so with Daishomaru moving left, Kaisei just stayed square always threatening an arm to the inside. After escaping along the entire perimeter of the ring, Daishomaru still didn't have an opening, so he tried to dart back right, but Kaisei was right there to bump him out with ease. Kaisei looks sharp in that orange mawashi as he skates to 2-0 while Daishomaru suffered his first loss.

Don't look now, but that's four straight-up matches in four bouts!!

M13 Nishikigi and M11 Chiyomaru squared up in a tsuppari bout that saw Nishikigi look to take control early, and as soon as Chiyomaru went for a dumb swipe of his opponent's arms, his momentum was lost, and so credit Nishikigi for taking advantage of the momentum shift and blasting Chiyomaru back and out. Nishikigi improves to 1-1 with the nice win wile Chiyomaru falls to 0-2.

M11 Daieisho caught M10 Ishiura at the tachi-ai with an arm to the head, and with Daieisho on the prowl, as soon as Ishiura tried to duck away, Daieisho slapped him silly and down in a bout that lasted a second flat. Daieisho is enjoying the comfort of these parts as he moves to 2-0 while Ishiura falls to 1-1.

M10 Takekaze henka'd to his left against M9 Arawashi, but he was too hapless to take advantage of it as Arawashi spun on a dime and squared back up pushing Takekaze back and across before he could escape further. Takekaze is a joke, and his kachi-koshi last basho was bought and paid for as he falls to 0-2, and Oguruma-oyakata better put a crowbar to his billfold if he wants to keep his guy in the division. As for Arawashi, he moves to 1-1 with the easy win.

M8 Chiyoshoma got the left inside and right outer grip from the tachi-ai against M9 Takanoiwa, but Takanoiwa countered well with a deep left inside that actually allowed him to burrow in lower than his opponent as he dug in. Chiyoshoma was in no position from this point to execute an offensive move, and so he tried a quick dashi-nage with the outer grip, but Takanoiwa reacted well shouldering his opponent upright before latching onto a right frontal grip, and with Chiyoshoma now trying to squirm away, Takanoiwa caught him with a right frontal belt grip as well lifting Chiyoshoma straight upright and preventing him from escaping, and so he was a sitting duck as Takanoiwa just forced him back and out moro-zashi style. This was a great bout of sumo as Takanoiwa outclasses his countryman moving to 2-0 while Chiyoshoma falls to 0-2.

Chiyonokuni came with his usual wild tsuppari attack against Takarafuji, but Takarafuji easily withstood the charge and moved left wrapping his left arm around the outside of Chiyonokuni's extended right, and while Takarafuji wasn't positioned to execute a kote-nage, Chiyonokuni was forced to back up, and as he did, Takarafuji followed suit and just pummeled his foe back and off of the dohyo altogether scoring the nice win in a few seconds. Takarafuji picks up his first win of the basho as both dudes end the day at 1-1.

M7 Ikioi and M6 Kagayaki engaged in a tsuppari contest from the start with both rikishi upright and not exactly committing to de-ashi, but with Ikioi committed to his forward push attack, Kagayaki was flirting with tsuki to the side, but in order to push at your opponent's side, you kinda need to move laterally a bit to set it up, and so with Kagayaki leaning to his left, Ikioi took advantage of that lateral momentum and pushed Kagayaki back and off the dohyo after about four uneventful seconds. I really wanted to see someone go all out here, but it was still a legitimate bout with the superior rikishi coming out on top. Ikioi moves to 2-0 with the win while Kagayaki falls to 0-2.

If you're scoring at home...and I hope you are, then you've noticed that I have yet to call a single yaocho on the day.

That would change as M6 Ichinojo stepped into the ring against M5 Shodai. From the tachi-ai, Ichinojo grabbed a left outer grip allowing Shodai to establish himself to the inside with the right, but Shodai was unable to apply any pressure, and so Ichinojo just backed up to the edge sorta going for a pull down, but the hapless Shodai couldn't push his compromised foe out. Ichinojo eventually walked himself out of the ring, but not before Shodai just collapsed off balance. The result was Ichinojo's left heel touching out as Shodai hit the deck, and they called a mono-ii ruling the thing a tie. Which meant that we had to watch another thrown bout in as many tries.

In round two, Ichinojo kept both arms outside allowing Shodai to get the left inside, and this time, Ichinojo just moved straight back allowing Shodai to push him out in the process. What a joke here as Shodai moves to 1-1 while Ichinojo continues to defer to his over-hyped if not over-useless opponents falling to 0-2.

Facing a lightweight in M4 Ura, M5 Takakeisho knew that he didn't need his usual fraidy cat attack where he offers a light charge and then backs up a step or two. Facing a lightweight in Takakeisho, Ura actually thought he could win this one straight up, and so he didn't bother ducking this way or that, and the result was Takakeisho just pushing Ura back and out once, twice, three times a lady. As Ura looked to dig in at the edge, his right foot got caught on the tawara causing him to fall backwards with his leg still stuck in the dohyo, and the kid was in obvious pain as he tried to climb back onto the dohyo. Well, maybe "tried" isn't the word because he was in so much pain that all he could do was lean against the dohyo thinking to himself, "Do I even try to get back up on the mound?"  It's probably good that he didn't because he couldn't limp down the hana-michi even with assistance from one of the yobi-dashi. They finally had to call the guys at Pawn Stars to send in the wheelchair, so let's hope the injury isn't too bad. I noticed in the morning headlines that Ura has withdrawn from the tournament, and we'll see if he can make it back in time for Kyushu. Takakeisho moves to 2-0 with the win.

M4 Shohozan barely shaded left against Komusubi Tochiohzan using his feisty tsuppari attack to keep Tochiohzan away from the inside. Oh either needs moro-zashi or an opening to pull, but Shohozan just maintained too much pressure to give Tochiohzan a chance, so with Tochiohzan trying to counter using shoves of his own as he moved a bit laterally, he couldn't resist and finally went for a meager pull. And at that instant, Shohozan pounced blasting the Komusubi back and out of the ring. Good win here for Darth Hozan as he moves to 2-0 while Tochiohzan falls to 0-2.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi is getting exposed a bit because his opponents simply aren't letting up for him. Well, not yet anyway. M3 Chiyotairyu showed that he is the superior rikishi today when things are straight up by blasting Mitakeumi back from the tachi-ai, and instead of continuing the freight-train charge (as I would have preferred), he switched gears and just pulled the hapless Sekiwake down to the dirt in about two seconds. While it was hataki-komi in the end, it was still an ass-kicking as Chiyotairyu moves to 2-0 while Mitakeumi falls to 0-2.

I loved the M3 Onosho - Sekiwake Yoshikaze matchup because it showed that Onosho is clearly the better rikishi and Yoshikaze is clearly not Sekiwake material. While acknowledging that Onosho has serious games, I've been soured a bit of late by all of the yaocho in his favor, and it's a shame because the kid has solid sumo skills. And they were on display here as he won the tachi-ai with a quick jab to Yoshikaze's neck with the right before surviving a nice counter attack from the Sekiwake and a few pull attempts to boot. Midway through the bout, Onosho caught Yoshikaze with a nice stiff arm to the neck with the left hand, and from that point, I think the message was sent because Yoshikaze only looked to set up a pull from there. It wouldn't work, however, as Onosho focused on applying pressure from the ground up, and in the end, Yoshikaze had nowhere to go except back and out as Onosho scored the win after a final failed pull attempt from the Sekiwake. Great stuff as Onosho moves to 2-0 while Yoshikaze falls to 0-2.

Ozeki Takayasu kept both arms wide at the tachi-ai allowing Komusubi Tamawashi to easily thrust his way square into his opponent's chest, and The Mawashi was able to push Takayasu back and across with little argument. As Takayasu was being pushed back, he let both of his feet just slide to the tawara where his intent was to dig in, but Tamawashi had too much forward momentum that disabled Takayasu from executing a counter attack. With Takayasu on the brink and both of his feet tangled in the tawara, the Komusubi had to exert a bit more pressure to finish him off, and finish him off he did, but not before his right foot slipped in the sand causing Tamawashi to roll his right ankle. No sooner did Tamawashi come up lame in the center of the ring, but there was Takayasu coming up injured as well at the side of the dohyo. In Takayasu's case, he suffered a right thigh injury, and they quickly had to wipe Ura's sweat off of the antique wheelchair and bring it back ringside for Takayasu. Goodnight this was a strange bout, and I think all the mukiryoku sumo these days is contributing to these freak injuries. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1 and we'll see if Tamawashi can live to fight another day.

I guess Ozeki Terunofuji still hasn't sufficiently repented from his henka of Kotoshogiku earlier in the year that led to Kotoshogiku's demotion from Ozeki because for the second day in a row, Terunofuji felt compelled to throw the match against his Japanese opponent. After getting the right arm to the inside, he pulled it back out and focused on a grip of Kotoshogiku's right arm with both hands, but the Ozeki didn't do anything with that double grip allowing Kotoshogiku to get the left arm inside and then use his tired gaburi move to force the Ozeki back and across. Kotoshogiku was extremely vulnerable to a right tsuki-otoshi from the Ozeki, but instead of firing on that move, Terunofuji just walked back and out giving Kotoshogiku the cheap win. Terunofuji falls to 0-2 with his second yaocho in as many days while Kotoshogiku is gifted a 2-0 start.

After being gifted the win yesterday against Terunofuji, it was time for M2 Hokutofuji to return the favor against Ozeki Goeido keeping his arms safely outside and fishing for pulls that never came as he eventually let Goeido work his left arm to the inside. Once established, instead of going for a logical counter move, Hokutofuji went for a stupid right pull where he put his right armpit over Goeido's head completely exposing his body to the easy force-out win by the Ozeki. Talk about another let-down the last 30 minutes of the broadcast as Goeido is gifted win one while Hokutofuji falls to that same 1-1 record.

In the day's final bout, Yokozuna Harumafuji and M1 Tochinoshin hooked up in migi-yotsu where Tochinoshin had the left outer grip, but the Yokozuna had Shin up so high that he was able to burrow is right shoulder in deep and set up the quick inside belt throw putting the stamp on a day that started out well but came up lame in the end. Harumafuji is a cool 2-0 while Tochinoshin falls to 0-2.

Harvye is right back at it tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Welcome back to Sumotalk for the fall tournament. Before we get to the action, let's talk turkey.

Want to write for Sumotalk? Then do it--now's the time. We're establishing an "open season" for writer tryouts. Pick a day or a partial day, and give us a sample write-up. Or, give us your history of watching sumo and tell us why you'd like to write. Differing viewpoints from what is normally posted here are of course welcome. If interested, contact us and/or send us a write-up at sumotalktryout@yahoo.com. In any write-up, you should in general cover key matches. In addition, there are these general guidelines when writing for Sumotalk:

1. Sumo expertise. You don't have to know as much as Mike, but you need to be able to credibly offer informed perspective on the sport. Been watching for five years? That may be enough--show us what you have.

2. Good writing. Writing needs to be concise, relatively mistake-free, and readable. You know who you are.

3. Responsible. If you say you're going to write on Tuesday, you have to write on Tuesday. And, if you have something to say but you're afraid to say it--either to the readers or to us--you need to think carefully about how to say it, then say it anyway.  If you can't stand the heat, don't come into our kitchen.

4. Mike also told me to add that you can't make any racial remarks or any statements that denigrate one's religions with one exception: you can make fun of Mormons, but it has to be original and funny or it will likely get cut.

Selecting new writers is 100% at the subjective discretion of Sumotalk, but trust us, our standards aren't that high.

All right, back to my regular work.

The big news coming into the tournament is that three of the four Yokozuna have withdrawn with injuries: Hakuho, Kisenosato, and Kakuryu. This leaves Harumafuji as the sole Yokozuna fighting, so of course the tournament is his to take.

But does he want it?  It is neither a foregone conclusion that Harumafuji will take advantage of the absences, nor that he can. There is no question he is the best rikishi in this tournament.  But is he the most focused?  If he is, he wins.  If, however, he goes sloppy on us, as he often does, the field is wide open.

Then who?  Okay, Harumph is #1.  But think quick: who is #2?  The amazing answer is Takayasu.  Because Goeido and Terunofuji are both kadoban, coming off losing records, Takayasu, with his limp 9-6 record from Nagoya, is the last man standing in the top ranks except for Harumafuji.  Does that make him a favorite to win?  Absolutely.  I don't think he could take this tournament through skill alone, but this go-round does represent a great opportunity for the Association to give Takayasu a quick yusho (if so perhaps the only he'll ever get).  Goeido already has his from last year, but he is a distinct possibility in the same realm if this tournament becomes another chance to flog the dead fake horse of parity.

Who else?  I say Mitakeumi is the only real contender.  He has emerged from the soup of exciting and/or hyped young rikishi--Shodai, Ura, Takakeisho, Hokutofuji, and Onosho are prominent others at the moment--as the best combination of aggressive oomph and an excessive popularity, partly won by his own charisma (I like this guy too) and partly a manufactured consensus.  He could very well ride that to an early career yusho ala Kotomitsuki in 2001.

Tamawashi and Terunofuji are Sumotalk faves, but Tamawashi doesn't have the juice and despite his excellence his run of excitement is winding down, and Terunofuji's body sadly probably leaves him out of future Yokozuna discussions--and this or any other tournament's winner's circle.  A couple of years ago they decided to "stop the Terunofuji."  It worked, and it appears that result has been inaugurated as a permanent condition.

What does this all amount to?  A very exciting tournament.  In any sport, when the top contenders go down, throngs below smell blood and drive themselves hard to fill the gap.  In sumo, the raw reality of that may be swamped by the swamp, but we still have the opportunity here for a real scrum.  We have been talking about the youth revolution being on its way--and with the wave of injuries, all of the sudden it may be here. Right now.

We'll see if Harumafuji lets that happen; I look for him to signal that in the first three days in one direction or another.

To the front!

M16 Asanoyama vs. J1 Sokokurai
It's been a decade and a half since Takasago stable debuted a guy in Makuuchi, and they celebrated by enjoying a little weak compliance from wily veteran Sokokurai so that the newbie from Toyama, Asanoyama, could get the win. And that's how our tournament starts in the sold-out Tokyo arena.  Yep. Asanoyama did fine here, setting up a right arm inside on the body with some manful upward shoves at the neck area and finishing with a yori-kiri force-out, but Sokokurai looked limp.

M15 Tokushoryu vs. M15 Yutakayama
A jot of jiggling up and down from Tokushoryu, a little attempt at a pull but nothing else. Yutakayama grabbed Tokushoryu from underneath and yori-kiri'ed him out.

M14 Endo vs. M14 Okinoumi
At least one of these two guys, probably both, are going to clean up ranked this low. Endo is the better bet to put up really spectacular numbers--the Association still wants him--but Okinoumi is by far the better wrestler. So, I thought this match might be a bellweather for their tournaments to come. Fortunately, it didn't happen like I expected: rather, Okinoumi dominated. He went for the belt in front on the left immediately but couldn't get it, but switched easily to a powerful overhand belt grip on the right and dumped the underpowered and vulnerable Endo summarily to the clay, uwate-nage. Nicely done.

M13 Nishikigi vs. M13 Kaisei
Kaisei, looking a lot like a pumpkin in a fresh orange belt, was working on Nishikigi's left side, first grabbing the arm over there, then going for the outside grip. However, it wasn't working out much, as when he tried a maki-kae to get an inside grip there he lost the momentum and Nishikigi drove him to the edge. No matter. Kaisei should be dominant in this match-up, and he kept his feet apart at the tawara, body slung low, and when Nishikigi tried a force-out charge, Kaisei used that surge against him by pivoting to the side and crashing Nishikigi to the clay, sukui-nage.

M12 Daishomaru vs. M11 Chiyomaru
I don't like either of these guys. Daishomaru pulls too much and Chiyomaru is too blubbery. The match lived up to that; after the tachi-ai Daishomaru stepped to the side with a wee push and Chiyomaru lumbered uselessly past him. Daishomaru got in behind, face in the back of the armpit, hand on the belt at the small of the back, and removed Chiyomaru, okuri-dashi. Goodbye, Jell-O.

M11 Daieisho vs. M10 Takekaze
This was the liveliest match so far, but that was because of evadin, pullin', and slappin'. Daieisho, who has some oomph most days, pushed Takekaze back pretty well at the tachi-ai, and Takekaze predictably spent the rest of the match trying to get away from him and finding little moments to try to knock him over and down. Didn't work, as Daieisho was in there with busy hands and concentration, and he pushed Takekaze out oshi-dashi in short order.

M10 Ishiura vs. M9 Arawashi
Full, effective henka here: Ishiura went all-out ole, whirled around, and pushed Arawashi out, okuri-dashi. The gyoji sure had an immaculate white kimono, though.

M9 Takanoiwa vs. M8 Takarafuji
I liked the tachi-ai here--good hard smack from Takanoiwa--but Takarafuji had him well squared and doesn't get done just like that, and by slinking Takanoiwa to the side with a wee counterattack, Takarafuji took over and had the momentum for most of the match. He's always been too passive, though, and doesn't have signature-level power, and he couldn't finish Takanoiwa off: eventually Takanoiwa squared up in his own right after a lame force out fizzle by Takarafuji and drove Takarafuji out, yori-kiri.

M8 Chiyoshoma vs. M7 Ikioi
Both of these guys are kinetic and strong, and have kept their bodies from getting stiff, unwieldy, and overly fat. They played to these strengths with an active, mobile match. However, the difference was that Ikioi consistently tried to scoop upwards, while Chiyoshoma tried to pull downwards and evade, giving Ikioi an advantage that he took to the bank with an efficient oshi-dashi win.

M7 Chiyonokuni vs. M6 Kagayaki
Kagayaki traditionally starts terribly the first week before rallying in the second. He seems like a big, promising guy hampered by a lot of jitters and not a lot of confidence. Chiyonokuni is the opposite: a smaller guy who has made the most out of his career by being stone cold focused on what he's got and what he can do. Kagayaki pattered flabbily away at Chiyonokuni with his hands, so Chiyonokuni stepped smartly to the side and whacked Kagayaki mercilessly down, tsuki-otoshi. Often evasion is distasteful. Sometimes it is well-deserved.

M6 Ichinojo vs. M5 Takakeisho
Ugh. Ichinojo stood up and looked at his opponent, leaning slightly forward, and waited for the match to develop. And that's it. Practice dummy. Dad playing with child. Person scared of jumping dog but carefully facing dog anyway. Not sumo wrestler. Takakeisho bashed away at Ichinojo from beneath, blappity bappity, and eventually Ichinojo found his feet on the other side of the tawara, still standing completely upright, an oshi-dashi loss. Ridiculous.

M5 Shodai vs. M4 Ura
Lots of shouting for this match. Hmmm. Fresh pink Ura has eclipsed the lame and weakly Shodai in popularity--the crowd wasn't shouting for Vanilla Softcream. Ura didn't do much here--back pedaled and stepped to the side--but that was enough. Give Shodai credit for having the guts to attack "the wily Ura" (is that trademarked yet?) all-out, but it was a pretty good demonstration of how effective Ura's package is, as he grabbed Shodai's arm and pulled him to the ground, tottari. As with many evaders before him, Ura's opponents have a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't choice: go all out and be a sitting duck for the evasion and pulls, or be cautious and thereby give up the tachi-ai and sell short your own strengths. I think I'd go with cautious and stay as low as possible.

K Tamawashi vs. M4 Shohozan
I sensed Tamawashi's decline last tournament: after a stellar run of a year, the edge just seemed off. Here are his win totals across the run, which crossed the last seven tournaments: 9-10-10-9-8-10-7. That 7 was a big deal, and signaled the end. He never turned the corner from scary to dominant, good to great, and was fading back. He's too old anyway. As for the match, this pair represents a couple of good pushers, but Tamawashi is better and should have destroyed Shohozan, as they went ahead and had their expected up-high thrust-battle. It went back and forth and Tamawashi never really rared back and hit hard enough to make the difference. Eventually during one of the momentum changes Tamawashi left his feet behind and got stretched out full length on the ground like a kid doing a belly-flop off the side of the pool on a dive attempt while holding the teacher's hands. Plap! Hiki-otoshi. The Tamawashi fun is mostly done.

M3 Chiyotairyu vs. S Yoshikaze
This rank should be absolute death for Chiyotairyu, and I expected Yoshikaze to evade and school this ol' cannonball-or-nothing attacker. However, Yoshikaze has his own pride, and has been on a late-career run of effectiveness much longer than Tamawashi's. So, I think he thought he'd see if he could out-power this visitor from the depths. Nothing doing. Yoshikaze has a lot of tools, but outright power is not one of them, and if everybody played to Chiyotairyu's strengths like this, Chiyotairyu would be perennial sanyaku. Which is a long way of saying Chiyotairyu blasted Yoshikaze out with the linear force-out, oshi-dashi.

S Mitakeumi vs. M3 Onosho
There's no doubt Mitakeumi was the sexy pick this tournament. You could just feel it. I even did it in my intro above. And Onosho, an even newer buzzy young option, presented a great first day match-up for that atmospheric. The match was all Onosho, and beautifully executed. Mitakeumi went with his typical aggressive attack, but Onosho stood him up off it, stopping him dead in his tracks with one, two hard hands to the neck. Then Onosho stepped back while pulling down, tumbling Mitakeumi emphatically to the dirt, hataki-komi. I have nothing against the pull when it is done like this: an absolute and appropriate working of an overcommitted opponent. Advantage: Harumafuji--this signals that we won't get the hoped for Mitakeumi premature emergence just yet.

O Terunofuji vs. M2 Hokutofuji
Another interesting match-up: stagnation on the left, slow rising fermentation on the right. Terunofuji looked helpless and hapless, getting pushed back by Hokutofuji's purposeful attack, off-balance and lurching, then falling unceremoniously down to the dirt at the edge, hiki-otoshi. However, this was not Terunofuji's best effort.

M1 Kotoshogiku vs. O Goeido
This match-up, on the other hand, was interesting only in how useless it felt. Like a time capsule or a relic. An anachronism. Kotoshogiku jumped diagonal at the tachi-ai, got hold of Goeido's belt with one hand way in deep behind and Goeido's head with the other hand, rotated around the place, got Goeido's back to the straw, and forced him out, oshi-dashi. That said, I think Goeido rode the same train to work this morning that Terunofuji did.

O Takayasu vs. M1 Tochinoshin
After the Mitakeumi and Goeido losses, a loss by Takayasu would have really taken the air significantly out of this tournament's balloon before day one was even done. So, no surprise that Tochinoshin held back with a cautious hand to the face, let Takayasu get inside and below and body him up, then forced Tochinoshin easily out, yori-kiri. And just like that, yes, on day one, we can see this tournament only has TWO contenders: Takayasu and Harumafuji. Mark it down: the winner will be one of those two.

K Tochiohzan vs. Y Harumafuji
Speed. Power. Focus. Harumafuji can be truly great, and for the past year plus it has been him, not Hakuho, who has most frequently demonstrated Yokozuna sumo in the ring. He got a stifling outside grip on the left and snaked his right arm inside on the body, simultaneously giving himself position and, more important, keeping Tochiohzan out of the dual-inside-grips he favors. Harumafuji then held Tochiohzan tight against him, tensed like a spring, for a few moments before spilling him with speed and purpose uwate-nage. Good start for him; give him a few days though to finish telling us what he's going to do.

Tomorrow Mike sets a land speed record.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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