All Columns in Chronological Order
for the Aki Basho 2002
Sept. 26, 2002 -- What a basho!! It ended just as any basho technically should--the two Yokozuna vying for the yusho on senshuraku.
Takanohana made a sensational run, but I think he just ran out of
gas at the end. I was very disappointed with him in is bout with
Chiyotaikai; I hate to see any rikishi resort to the tachi-ai henka, and in my
opinion it's unforgivable for a Yokozuna to do it. However, after I
watched his bout on senshuraku, my take is this: Taka knew he didn't have any
gas in the tank before his bout with Chiyotaikai, so he resorted to the henka,
a tactic that would give him the best opportunity to win and keep him in the
yusho hunt. In his final bout with Maru, it seemed to me that Taka was
just plain worn out. Maru applied his patented move of migi-sashi where he gets
right arm under his opponents left armpit and just raises him up off balance.
Major props to Maru though because I would have bet anything that Taka
was going to win it all going into the bout.
Takanohana's run is exactly what sumo needed. Wait until Tochiazuma gets back into the mix, and the last week of every basho should be dynamite. Kyushu should be a good barometer to measure sumo's popularity. I remember for last year's Kyushu basho, half of the masu-seki seats were empty for the first 13 days of the basho. We'll see how the fans turn out.
Here's a breakdown of some notable performances:
Takanohana was the star of this basho despite his coming up short on senshuraku. He deserves major props for that run of shiro-boshi, especially after shocking losses to Kyokutenho and Kotoryu. His sumo was brilliant that last week until day 14; it was vintage Takanohana. He really has me excited for the future. Sumo NEEDS Takanohana because no one else can fill his void. He also adds that presence of a nearly unbeatable Yokozuna. I think Takanohana is the only current rikishi that has a chance of going 15-0 in any given basho.
Musashimaru will retain his seat as the higashi-yokozuna for now, but I think Taka gets it back next basho. Maru proved, though, that he's still the best for now. And 12 overall yusho--I'm not sure where that puts him on the list but I would think it's close to top 5 (I know who 1-3 are, but after that I couldn't tell you). Hopefully, Taka's resurgence will light a fire under Maru and spark a classic rivalry between the two Yokozuna.
Chiyotaikai was impressive this basho, but he was a few steps short of his quest for tsuna-tori. I still think he's the number 3 guy right now behind the two Yokozuna, but if he wants to make that next step, he's going to have to improve his yotsu-zumo. If he doesn't get that initial power thrust off the tachi-ai, he's susceptible to the stronger rikishi. I think there are only a handful of rikishi right now who can yusho when everyone is healthy, and Chiyotaikai is one of them.
Kaio looked good even though he suffered some costly losses early on. I love Kaio and think he has as good as chance as anyone at making Yokozuna IF he can only stay healthy. I would rank him a close 4 just behind Chiyotaikai right now. Let's see how he'll perform with the home crowd behind him in Kyushu.
Asashoryu was leading the basho for 8 days, and then was nowhere to be found the next week. I still think he had a good basho, and he proved he deserves the rank of Ozeki. He sure beats up on the rank and file, but has a tougher time with the fellow Ozeki and Yokozuna; I think that's due to his small size. But give him a little more experience at the top and he may yet pull out a yusho. I love his style and his heart; there's nothing negative about his sumo.
It was good to see Kotomitsuki back and looking good. The kyokai deservedly gave him one of the sansho, in fact, I think he was the only one to win a sansho this time around. He's a so-called giant-killer in my opinion--not quite good enough to yusho when everyone's healthy, but a pain in the neck if you face him in the final days and you need a win. He should be a constant in the sanyaku ranks.
The barometer looked solid this basho as always, and Musoyama is hardly worth mentioning as he barely pulled off a kachikoshi. Tamakasuga also had a good basho beating up on fellow rank-and-filers.
I think we've got a lot to look forward to next basho. Hopefully, everyone is back. Sanyaku will be tough as nails, and there should be some decent rank-and-file at the top of Maegashira in Miyabiyama, Takanonami, Tosanoumi, and maybe even Takamisakari.
28, 2002 -- "What a basho!" is right. Whod have thought it
would end like that. Takanohana surprised everyone and stole the
show. If he had beaten Maru, it would have been one of the most
miraculous moments in sumo history. Quite simply, Taka put a
definitive end to all the speculation about his knee, including all of
the doubt I had, and picked up his career right where he left off.
As far as his sumo content, I agree that he was probably tired at the end, but it didn't bother me that he used tachiai henka to beat Chiyotaikai. To me, a win is a win whether you're M13 or Yokozuna. Now, I don't like hikiwaza as a staple like Asanowaka or hiki as a bad habit like Chiyotaikai, but I have no problem with using it once in a blue moon to keep your opponents honest. I don't care if I'm Takanohana, I wouldn't want to withstand the tachiai of Chiyotaikai either. I don't think it disgraces the Yokozuna rank at all. Yokozunas are supposed to win, and that's what he did. On Senshuraku, I think he was neither conditioned nor sharp enough to beat Maru. He met his match. Next basho, he will have both his conditioning and sharpness back, and therefore I agree that he will take away the Higashi Yokozuna slot from him.
I think Maru is 5th overall in yushos behind Taiho, Chiyonofuji, Kitanoumi and Takanohana. He won't catch any of those guys and to a certain extent he has been an opportunistic Yokozuna, but he has steadily established an impressive record. It's hard to dispute that, even if it has been done with little pizzazz.
Chiyotaikai has been looking good, yes, but he can look so good on one day and so bad on another. Look at his loss against Asashoryu or Kaio. I can name a few weak Yokozunas over the years, but I can't think of one that got totally dominated when he loses like Chiyotaikai does sometimes.
Kaio did look good. I agree that health is the key for him, as it is with Musoyama. My take on Musoyama was this: How can a guy who looked so strong with his sumo barely win 8? He is an anomaly to me.
I think Asashoryu is the next Yokozuna. He has incredible technique and knack. He is smaller, but he's catching up. He's maturing quickly. I can just see him being the next dominating presence in sumo.
The Barometer (Wakanosato) needed just one more win to continue his quest for Ozeki, but he fell short. Short of a miracle this next basho, it's back to the drawing board. But I still think he's our next Ozeki.
You're absolutely right in that sumo needs Takanohana and that Kyushu should be dynamite if everyone is healthy. Before this basho, when's the last time Ozekis faced each other before day 10? Sumo is like the economy and everything else cyclical. It was down for a while, but with Taka's resurgence and a healthy and robust sanyaku, I think we're turning the
Oct. 8, 2002 --
Good roundtable. This basho sure gave us a lot to talk about. Can
you imagine how the kokugikan would have exploded if Takanohana had won on
senshuraku? I think the most significant result that came from this basho
was the re-establishment of the power and dominance of the Yokozuna rank.
While Maru did win a majority of the basho Takanohana sat out, at times he
didn't look very impressive doing it. You hit it right on the head with
the "no pizzazz" remark. It seemed that he backed into a lot of
the yusho simply because no one else stepped up. I think there was only
one basho, the Natsu basho of this year, where he flat out took the yusho from
the beginning. It was something like day 10, and he was already three wins
up on the next rikishi. But then in Nagoya, he lost his last four bouts
to completely fall out of the yusho race (he also lost on day one of the Aki
basho to give him five straight losses). In short, Maru deserves props
for piling up the yusho in Taka's absence, but he just didn't leave any
memorable moments doing it. Anyway, we have two Yokozuna now who still
look heads and shoulders above the rest.
Over the past year, we've been speculating on the next Yokozuna; but I think with Takanohana back in full force, it becomes a moot point. I just can't see anyone overcoming both Yokozuna two basho in a row not to mention a stacked sanyaku. I loved your point about sumo being cyclical; and I think it's time to purge a few of the Ozeki back down to Sekiwake as well. I think that Musoyama is the first to go. He has always been my favorite rikishi, and I can still remember the Aki basho of E4 where Takanohana pulled off his first zensho yusho, and Musoyama took the jun-yusho with a 13-2 record. Remember how he used to come out of the tachi-ai low but with his head up and executing those perfect tsupari? I think now he tries too hard to go for the mae-mawashi (frontal belt grip) off the tachi-ai, and he ends up giving away the uwate too often. He also has his lapses of concentration where he has his opponent at the edge of the ring only to whiff on his final push out of the ring. Next to Takanohana, I would say that Musoyama's sumo is the most complete; however, he's not strong enough mentally to back it up. It's like me playing golf--I can hit good shots on every hole, but I can't consistently put 3-4 good shots together in a row.
I'm also a little worried about Tochiazuma. He's going to come off a major injury only to be welcomed back by a top-heavy sanyaku. Before he can get his "sumo-no-kan" back, he may find himself kadoban. He'll have to face two Yokozuna, four ozeki, the Barometer (Wakanosato), a resurging Kotomitsuki, and some tough mainstays at the top of Maegashira. I don't want to see anyone fall from Ozeki, but I think the law of averages is going to catch up on one or two. I think the first ozeki to suffer an injury that does not guarantee his place on the banzuke is in deep you know what.
13, 2002 -- Enjoyed the follow-up, too. Yes, the eruption at the
kokugikan if Taka would have beat Maru would have been unprecedented. It
would have been something to see, and going in I thought we might, but in
retrospect it seems appropriate that we didn't for some reason. It would
have been too perfect. So much so that we would have gotten the yaocho
cries circa Itai again.
Did you see the sports rag accusing Asashoryu of corporal punishment? He was said to have used a bamboo whip on some younger deshi and shot them at point blank with an air gun. Asa had a press conference to deny the whole thing, but I don't know. You and I both know how the "old school" sumo world operates.
I think your take on Musoyama, particularly the breakdown of his sumo, is right on (he's damn good but can't seem to follow through), but I don't think he'll fall from Ozeki. Concentration lapses or not, he's just too good to makekoshi twice. Yes, Tochiazuma will have a tough party to come back and beat, but I think he should be able to win 8. I think all of the Ozeki are solid and deserving of the rank right now.
14, 2002 -- I didn't see that report accusing Asashoryu of corporal punishment,
but anyone in Japan's sports world has to be retarded not to know that it
exists. All you have to do is go to early morning keiko just before a
hon-basho. One interesting note, though, is that out of all the sumo-beya
I've ever visited, Takasago-beya was by far the strictest to their deshi (note:
Asashoryu belongs to Takasago-beya). What, that little bench Konishiki used
to sit on in the corner of Takasago-beya's practice tent didn't come with that
bamboo kendo sword?? Probably the worst abuse I've ever seen was when I
visited Takasago-beya and the boys from Azumaseki-beya were there for
degeiko. Akebono was there with his shisho moto-Takamiyama and another
fat-ass Hawaiian a la Sunahama named Daiki. Remember him? He had
worked his way up to Makuuchi only to suddenly fall off the face of the earth
along with fellow Hawaiians Yamato and Sunahama.
Takamiyama was dishing it out the most, which is confusing because I'm not sure where he could have gotten it. Being one of the first foreigners to succeed in the sport probably came with plenty of "perks" and special coddling while he was working his way up through the ranks. I think part of it was that the Hawaiians were all together and they wanted to show all the spectators there who was boss. The worst was when they made one of the Takasago sandanme guys do sanbangeiko with Akebono. If he couldn't beat the Yokozuna, he was cracked with that bamboo sword. They were just dragging this guy around by the hair and beating on him with the sword.
An air gun though--that's a nice touch. That's the first time I've ever heard of a weapon from the West used as corporal punishment. I think the punishment is necessary to the sport because it first of all, weeds out the weaklings, and second makes the rikishi mentally and physically tougher. I think it drives the lesser-ranked rikishi to win. Sumo without corporal punishment equals amateur sumo in the US. Have you ever seen these jokers wearing their mawashi over their underwear? A bout in US-amateur consists of both wrestlers standing straight up at the tachi-ai and then trying to tackle each other.
Forgive me getting off on a huge tangent, but a while ago I was watching ESPN2, and they were airing a friendly sumo competition between the US amateurs and a sumo club from some college in Japan. I guess the top US amateur is named Ryan Yarborough. He's bigger than Konishiki, and I even saw him on Jay Leno once. Well he and the other US guys just got their asses kicked by the Japanese college students. It was the only time I can remember where I wanted Japan to just beat the hell out of the US in the sports arena.
Anyway, back to sumo. Interesting angle about the yaocho cries if Takanohana had won. You're right though that critics of the sport would have made some noise. None of his wins looked Yaocho to me; in fact if you had to argue the yaocho point, I would say the only bout that really looked yaocho-poi to me was Takanohana's LOSS to Kotoryu. I have no suspicions that that bout was fixed, but it looked more like Takanohana's losing his balance (thanks to Kotoryu's tenacious tsupari) than Kotoryu just pounding him down.
As far as the Ozeki, you bring up a great point in that an Ozeki has to makekoshi twice in a row to lose his rank. That's pretty tough to do unless you're obviously falling from your prime as was the case with Konishiki. Here's a question: are there any ozeki now who have fallen from their primes? The only two rikishi I would question are Kaio and Musoyama, but in my opinion, those two can both still yusho if they have everything together, so yes, they are still at their primes. One aspect that I think will add an interesting thread to some upcoming basho is the emergence so to speak of Wakanosato and Kotomitsuki. I'd also like to see Dejima and Miyabiyama knock on the ozeki door again even though I'm not a big fan of theirs. I guess the point I'm trying to make is the Aki basho was so fun to watch because you had several interesting bouts everyday of the basho. You didn't have to wait until the final few days before things started to heat up. Can you tell I can't wait until Kyushu starts?
Oct 15, 2002 -- Okay, okay, simply
questioning whether Asashoryu used a kendo stick on a subordinate is naive, but
the article made it sound more severe than I described it. I've seen
Akebono use the stick a few times myself. I guess it's not a question of
"did he do it", as much as it is "how far did he go".
it's not going to change a thing. Your take on the necessity of corporal
punishment in sumo to maximize potential is interesting, especially when you
say that is the difference between sumo in the Japan and the US. You are
becoming more and more Japanese, my friend. By 45, you just may be a
full-blown sukebe jiji (haha). Your description of a US amateur bout
tachiai was comical. I couldn't have put it better myself. I too
root for Japan in those situations.
No, I don't think that anyone is past their prime in the Ozeki ranks.
That's why I don't think there will be any demotions unless someone wrestles through injuries. I'd like to see Dejima come back up, but he's too much like Musoyama. Takes three seconds to back the opponent to the tawara, blink, and he's flat on his stomach somehow. What the hell happened? Thing is, I think Dejima is even more powerful than Musoyama. Miyabiyama, on the other hand, I can't say I'm rooting for. I just flat do not like him for some reason. He seems arrogant to me. I can't see anyone making Ozeki before the Barometer.