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

Senshuraku Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Reassertion, ascension, retention, extension, rejection, frustration--that about sums up the final three bouts of Day 15 in Happyakku Bashi no Machi, the City of 800 Bridges, Osaka. Let's start with the man who reasserted his dominance over the field. Cue up Tom Jones' She's A Lady in your noggin, sit back, and enjoy. For those of you who do not KNOW Tom Jones (possibly the only man in Britain who can truthfully claim, among his many accomplishments, to have scored more tail than Simon), go have that Korn tattoo scraped off your ass and git ej'cated, will ya'?

"He's the kibishii rikishi
Other wrestlers?
Eats their breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Top of the banzuke's his place
He's got style, he's got grace
Yea, he's a winner

Asashoryu, whoa whoa whoa, Asashoryu
I'm talking about the Yokozuna
The Yokozuna is fine

Hakuho was in the way
Up until the final day
Yea, he was messin'

But Asa said, 'Just hold the phone'
The Sekiwake he was thrown
And taught a lesson

Asashoryu, whoa whoa whoa, Asashoryu
I'm talking about the Yokozuna
The Yokozuna is fine

Not taking anything away from what Tochiazuma and Hakuho were trying to accomplish this tourney, but just how a man who has won 14 out of 19 basho since becoming Grand Champion slips under the radar is a testament to the flighty, shifting, ephemeral attentions of the average human animal, with its need for novelty and surprise. And have that man make one misstep and the bells start tolling, funeral dirges are composed and the coronation of some new standard bearer becomes all but a foregone conclusion.

In his playoff with Hakuho today, Asashoryu showed why he will be winning yusho with regularity for some time to come. After both men suffered semi-shock defeats (more on that below) to fall to 13-2, the Khans retook to the raised ring with grandson Kubilai looking to usher in a new era by disposing of his father's father Genghis, but instead it was the elder Mongolian who demonstrated the fine art of empire building, one rank at a time, laddie. At the tachi-ai, Hakuho got a strong inside left, leaving Asa to flail away at the front of his belt trying for a right handed hold. It was no go so Asa pulled off one of the swiftest makikai you will ever see, slipping his right hand under Hakuho's arm faster than Mike can air guitar Girls, Girls, Girls. As he did this, Hakuho took the opportunity to grab a right hand inside and Asa a left hand outside, so that they had identical holds.

Now things started to heat up. Hakuho tried to lift up the Yokozuna and drive him back, but being only several kilos lighter Asa was able to hold his ground. He then made a push toward his foe, only to be lifted off the dirt for a perilous moment by his beefy compatriot. He quickly recovered and picked Hakuho up so that the Sekiwake had his feet pressed against the tawara. Hakuho then started sliding to his left, and Asa again tried for the lift out but Hakuho steeled himself and slid back to his right. He then launched a huge drive against the Yokozuna, lifting on the belt while charging forward and at the same time and placing his legs on either side of Asa's right leg. This straddle was a mistake as it brought him in too close to the Yokozuna, who used that right leg as a pivot, spun with both hands firmly on Hakuho's belt, and won by that most judo of sumo kimarite, shita (under) te (arm) nage (throw).

Still, nothing to be ashamed of for the Sekiwake. He will be ascending to Ozeki in a few days, a rank he will occupy with...can you believe it...Kaio! That's because the kadoban Ozeki pulled off the greatest about-face since George voluntarily surrendered his leadership of a biker gang called The Toll Booth Busters by winning his last three bouts to retain his rank. Hakuho made an enormous tactical error by letting Kaio get an outside right, which, when on form, translates to death for the Ozeki's opponents. Hakuho was looking to twist the big man down to his left, but Kaio was having none of it, showing a steadiness and lower body strength that has been missing from his sumo most of this basho. When he finally forced out the pup by yorikiri, he leapt off the dohyo in exhaustion, and the crowd went wild. I tend to loathe so-called feel good stories, but I'll be damned if I didn't, like the Fonz, get a little misty.

The reason there was a playoff at all was that 12-3 Tochiazuma beat Asashoryu in the final bout to extend his Yokozuna promotion hopes one basho. Now, yaocho is a strong word, requiring a fix on the part of both parties, and I don't think this was a case of yaocho. But let's look at the facts: With so many records under his mawashi and such domination of the division, the Yokozuna occasionally needs to go looking for challenges; Asa wanted revenge against Hakuho, and the only way to get it was to lose; at tachi-ai, Asa inexplicably turned to the left, presenting his "bootox" to Tochi like a San Francisco florist on vacation on Fire Island, NY!; he then started pawing at Tochi's back trying (ostensibly) to get a grip on his belt like some sick and twisted version of Takamisakari! 

Again, I'm sure this was his own idea, but you won't see a clearer case of thrown bout as this for some time to come. And I'm not down on him for doing it, either. With the Yokozuna promotion bid intact for Tochi, and a playoff against Hakuho for Asa, everyone was happy. He's Yokozuna so he can do what he pleases.

You know how when a friend tells you something that he thinks he is telling you for the first time, but is actually telling you for the third of fourth time, and you listen politely and refrain from saying, "Heard this all before, Dude"? Yea, well, that's how I felt when considering Tochiazuma's chances to make Yokozuna this basho. Between Kaio, Chiyo, and Tochi, they have challenged for yokozuna promotion more often than Kenji has sent "letters of affection" to Margaret Thatcher. Like the great locutor George Bush so smoothly put it, "There's an old saying in Tennessee... well, it's an old saying in Texas, I believe also in Tennessee. 'Fool me once... shame on you. Fool me... I won't get fooled again.'" Guess Dumbya is a Roger Daltrey fan.

Kotooshu rejected the ludicrous notion that he go kyujo by toughing it out for the entire 15 days, like Tamanoshima did in January, making this the first basho with no withdrawn rikishi since Bernie stopped ropin' polar bears! He lost today against a blood-sniffing Chiyotaikai, but finished 9-6 despite limping out of his last three fights. This guy is all man, and if the other men in Bulgaria are anything like him, I'm never taking my wife there on vacation!

The frustration on Day 15 was caused by Chiyotaikai, who, infuriatingly to those who like him, can no longer bring it for two weeks and a day. Simon said it well enough in his Day 13 and has beaten the drum for some time now, the rank of Ozeki is too easily kept. The Ozeki sheds kadoban and brings his one man touring ballet company to Natsu at 9-6.

Kenji was rightly amazed that the Mongolians are tearing it up this basho. Ama, Tokitenku, Kyokutenho, and Kyokushuzan, and Asasekiryu all got their kachikoshi either today or before, meaning that ALL seven top flight Mongolians (naturalized Japanese Kyokutenho will always be a Mongolian in my book) got their winning record. Fact checkers, run with that and report back. Seriously, I'm interested.

Ama (8-7) niftily took care of Kotomitsuki, who suffered from his usual implosion and finished 8-7 after standing 7-2, by denying him any kind of grip and then grabbing the back of his belt as Hit and Mitsuki charged forward was spun out by okuridashi. At M2, and with the other M2 (forget his name right now) and the M1s and Komusubi Roho all blowing chunks, it looks like Ama will be a Komusubi in May, joined by, I suspect, Kyokutenho. Yikes, all this success in Japan must be making old Kubilai roll over in his grave.

M3 Aminishiki (7-8) blew an excellent chance for a special prize and promotion to Komusubi by losing 5 of his last 6 bouts. All his opponents were worthy, but having beaten two Ozeki and a Komusubi, he has got to be chewing his cheeks thinking about what should have been. He is a rikishi I admit to having trouble understanding. He sandwiches two impressive wins against Tochi and Kaio with a stinking henka against the Yokozuna, and on Day 13 henka'd Kotoshogiku, but then, balls as big as church bells, refused to capitulate at the edge and took it full on his fully extended back as The Geeku crushed him out. More guts than most, but why the henka? Perplexing.

Miyabiyama moved himself up into Hakuho's old spot, Sekiwake, for May with a 10-5 that included a sweet 7 wins in a row run. Today he took care of Tokitenku, who had gotten his 8th yesterday against Kitazakura. Speaking of the man, the rumors that he will be asked, a la Socrates, to consume hemlock for corrupting the youth of the city is baseless and without merit.

M11 Circus again shat himself down the homestretch, losing 5 out of 6 to finish 7-8. This is getting scary, the regularity with which he does this.

What an incredible finish to a noteworthy basho. Mike and Simon will be analyzing the basho in detail in their post reports, something they do with precision and clarity, so find a moment to visit us next week one last time before May.

I'm dead.

Day 14 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
The plethora of stories continue this Haru basho, and it all comes to a head tomorrow. Today only served to extend the anxiety, or perhaps even build it, toward what could be quite a watershed moment in sumo history come senshuraku. 

Let's start with the anti-climatic final bout that was Asashoryu and Kotooshu. Will someone give Oshu a good leg? As if dealing with his right knee sprain wasn't enough, Oshu came out today with his right ankle taped up as well. It was sprained in yesterday's loss. This didn't bode well for the Bulgarian, and the bout was even more lopsided than anticipated. After a brief meeting with Sho at the tachiai, Oshu was promptly ushered out by the Yokozuna for his 5th loss against 9 wins. Oshu has been respectable in this basho of tough breaks for him, but no one wants to see senshuraku over more than this guy. Sho, on the other hand, improves to 13-1, stays tied atop the leaderboard and probably can't wait to tango with Tochiazuma tomorrow.

Tochiazuma, hanging on by the skin of his teeth to extend his Yokozuna campaign into May, met the predictable Chiyotaikai. By predictable, of course I mean Chiyo came out with the tsuppari which was neutralized with relative ease by Azuma. No longer able to stay patient after the halted offensive- yeah, you guessed it- Chiyo instinctively went for the pull down, which in turn gave away the rest of the very little forward momentum this guy generates these days. Now back-pedaling, Chiyo loses his balance trying to round the rope and falls to the clay. I guess I should give Azuma some props here, it was sound tsuppari-killing technique after all. He improves to 11-3 but faces a critical must-win situation against Sho tomorrow in order to keep himself in the spotlight for potential Yokozuna promotion with a good May showing.

Oh, the emotions were flying high for sentimental fave Kaio once again. When the 6-7 Ozeki went for a matta against Kotomitsuki to pause the tachiai, you could almost cut the tension in the air it was so thick. Fortunately went the smoke cleared after the successful second attempt to clash, Kaio had his beefy right hand smack on Mitsuki's left hip. This time, you could almost feel a nation perk up with encouragement. Kaio proceeded to do what he does when he gets the right outside grip, which is win. He threw Mitsuki (8-6) around a bit and forced him out. Big sigh. For the second straight day he avoids being pushed off the cliff into a demotion and a probable retirement. Is there anyone not rooting for this guy? In the span of 10 days he has gone from "I'll keep going until the demotion is reality" to "I'll keep going through 15 days" to now "I may be able to keep going after all". Tomorrow will be very telling as to whether we see Kaio in May or not. He is now 7-7 and will have to beat Hakuho on senshuraku to make his career decision much easier.

Sekiwake Hakuho, co-leader with Asashoryu for the yusho, was matched up against 10-3 M11 Wakanosato. Haku was only briefly thrown off by the tachiai-henka offered by Waka, and quickly rectified it with a stiff slap to Waka's cheek before garnering moro-zashi position. From there it only took two seconds to a force-out win. With consecutive 13-win bashos now, Hakuho is no longer worried about promotion. He's got his first emperor's cup on his mind. It will be a complex mix of emotions for the Osaka Gymnasium onlookers tomorrow who will no doubt want Hakuho to win the cup over Asashoryu, but will also no doubt want Kaio to extend his career. If you're the emotional type, have a tissue ready.

Down in the ranks, Mike's favorite rikishi Kyokushuzan is up to his antics again and won his 11th bout, countryman Kyokutenho went double digits with his 10th win, and Tokitenku endured a 4-minute marathon to get his 8th (wow, the Mongolians are tearing it up this basho). Also garnering majority wins on day 14 were Buyuzan and Yoshikaze, who accomplished kachi-koshi for the first time in Makuuchi. 

And then there is the Estonian named Baruto down there in Juryo who has now compiled a 14-0 record. Tomorrow he goes for the perfect 15-0, a feat not accomplished in that division since the great Kitanofuji did it 42 years ago in 1964. 

But tomorrow all eyes will be on the Sho-Azuma bout and Kaio-Hakuho bout. There is so much at stake for all four of these individuals. In the span of thirty minutes, the whole face of the Ozeki rank could change from "Who's on the block for demotion this time?" to "Which one of these guys will be promoted to Yokozuna first?" Enjoy.

Day 13 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
As the two-horse race yon folks call the Haru Basho reaches its final shaping, I trust I am not alone in having one or two regrets; I couldn't agree more with Mike's comments yesterday about Tochiazuma's miraculously reappearing fighting spirit. His diffident sumo has on most days not even been worthy of the rank of Ozeki, let alone that of the rank he covets. Another regret for me, as I mentioned in my last report, is the injury to Kotooshu. Surely he would have been more of an overall factor had he been in top condition. And my final regret, of course, is the survival of Chiyotaikai as an Ozeki. How much longer must we put up with him at that rank? Don't get me wrong ? I actually like Chiyotaikai - and remember vividly (and fondly) how strong he used to be, but we really ought to see him plying his trade in the Maegashira jo'i where, frankly, he belongs. But enough of this! Let's get straight to the juicy bit in the centre.

Day 13 was not the most exciting in terms of match-ups. In probably the most attractive of the three highlight bouts today, Sekiwake Hakuho took on Sekiwake Kotomitsuki. Hakuho straight away got hidari mae-mawashi and showed maturity and patience to wrap up his rank counterpart until he was utterly helpless. It was then just a matter of time before Kotomitsuki (8-5) capitulated, and so he did, as Hakuho (12-1) executed the throw the fans were on the edges of their seats for. With this win Hakuho has guaranteed his promotion to Ozeki, and let's face it, for a rikishi of his burgeoning talent, it was inevitable. As Kokonoe-oyakata (former Yokozuna Chiyonofuji) said the other day, Hakuho has been showing not only Ozeki sumo, but Yokozuna sumo. Barring injury, two Mongolian Yokozuna at the top of sumo is an inevitable prospect.

For all I've said about Ozeki Chiyotaikai, it was great to see him have a real bash at Yokozuna Asashoryu today, even managing to push the great man back for a short time. This begs the question: why the hell isn't he showing this kind of sumo every day? I think he has realized that he can stay at Ozeki for quite a while longer employing his ballet tactics because, as I have averred before, it is too damned easy to stay at Ozeki as long as you're in decent condition. Why did he bring old-school Chiyotaikai to the dohyo just for the Yokozuna? This attitude takes the piss out of his fans, who now know he is still capable of putting on a show but is obviously too lazy/unwilling to. Asashoryu took all this in his stride as usual, allowing the Ozeki to give him his best shot, absorbing it all, and then finally unleashing an uwatenage to keep up with Hakuho at 12-1. Chiyotaikai knows he's safe at least until Nagoya at 8-5.

In an almost carbon-copy replay of their bout in January, Ozeki Tochiazuma got lucky as Ozeki Kotooshu messed up his tachi-ai and deflected off him to the left, allowing Tochi to pounce for the simple oshi-dashi win. Tochiazuma won't be complaining about the manner of the victory, but Kotooshu will be gutted to lose in this fashion again. Tochiazuma is still mathematically in the yusho race at 10-3 and needs to get twelve to be considered for promotion again in May. Ask him now how much he's regretting that day 2 loss to Aminishiki. Kotooshu stands at a creditable 9-4, but reportedly sprained his right ankle falling into the crowd after today's bout. He could well go kyujo tomorrow, handing Asashoryu a fusensho win. Ironically, this would eliminate Tochiazuma from the yusho race. The Haru Basho has been noticeable for its total lack of kyujo sekitori so I suppose it had to happen at some point.

In a must-win bout, Ozeki Kaio faced a former Ozeki in the shape of M4 Dejima. Knowing full well that a loss would mean demotion, Kaio took his opponent's charge but then showed that worrying loss of lower-body power as Dejima managed to get his own forward sumo going. In desperation, Kaio made his last stand at the edge and deflected Dejima nicely, slamming him down with a sukuinage. It wasn't Ozeki sumo certainly and, as with Chiyotaikai, it is time for Kaio to consider giving those old bones a well-deserved rest. Still, it has been a real pleasure to watch Kaio refuse to give in to erosion and try to do his own sumo to the bitter end. Live long and prosper. Kaio is still alive at 6-7. Dejima has a losing record (anything by Celine Dion or the Eagles) at 5-8.

Komusubi Roho (4-9) took the charge of M3 Iwakiyama (4-9) well and got the left-hand inside belt grip he wanted, then manhandled his big opponent around as he should be doing every day. This was the kind of sumo we want to see from Roho. No, he wasn't fighting the most fearsome of opponents, but Iwaki is no pushover and he's one of the biggest gorillas in the top division. Still, as has been proved time and time again, size is no substitute for technique (that's correct, Bishop) and the outcome of this was never in doubt. Will Roho EVER work it out? If he does this, he wins; if he fights like an idiot wuss, he loses. Go forth and figure it out.

Komusubi Miyabiyama raised a few giggles with a ludicrous fall to the dohyo as M5 Kyokutenho showed good timing just after the tachi-ai to slam his bulbous foe down. Miyabiyama almost managed to do the splits and looked uncomfortably like a mini-Konishiki as he crumpled. Miyabiyama has had an excellent basho, but I suspect he will be employing cutting edge memory erasing techniques (alcohol?) this evening. Kyokutenho is a set of golden crutches at 9-4. Miyabiyama is a urine sample at 8-5.

M13 Kyokushuzan avoided a quick defeat well against M6 Tokitenku, forcing a stalemate in the centre of the dohyo. You just knew something tricky was going to happen with these two technical wizards on display, and indeed, they raised a few laughs as they twisted their hands around. Just when it looked as if it was going nowhere for another ten earth hours, Kyokushuzan pushed forward. Tokitenku seemed surprisingly unaware of the position of the tawara right behind him and allowed his foot to stray out. They called it yorikiri but it looked like poor ring awareness to me, something we don't usually associate with the young Mongolian. Kyokushuzan continues his triumphant basho and improves to 10-3 (and a possible Ginosho). Tokitenku has also shown some good sumo in Osaka and goes to 7-6.

M7 Kisenosato and M12 Hakurozan had both already picked up winning records coming into today's bout. Both men have given patchy performances throughout, but Hakurozan's beard was mute evidence of a good recent run at least. In yet another infuriating performance totally lacking in offensive intent, Hakurozan came in (wisely) with moro-te, knowing full well that Kisenosato's tachi-ai is vital to him. However, the youngster showed improved balance to stay on his feet and on the case as he followed the wily Russian dancing his dance straight out of the dohyo. While it was good to see Kisenosato (9-4) win this kind of scrappy battle (he usually loses), it was disappointing to see Hakurozan (8-5) showing nothing yet again. I had hoped for a little more confidence from a man on a four-day winning streak and a kachi-koshi. Expect a clean-shaven Hakurozan tomorrow.

M9 Takekaze kept his impressive basho going with an overpowering performance against M14 Kitazakura, never allowing the man with currently the most groupies in sumo into the contest and pushing him out handily straight from the tachi-ai. Takekaze looks an outside bet for a special prize as he improves to 9-4. Kitazakura must wait another day before he can celebrate his kachi-koshi with some high fives and other BS. All that aside, however, Kitazakura (7-6) deserves credit for an exceptional performance filled with passion and, yes, pretty damn fine sumo. Not bad at all for a 34-year-old, but some might say he's left it a little late to show the best sumo of his career.

M11 Wakanosato has sailed through the order as expected and was surprisingly paired against M15 Tamakasuga today, meaning the authorities don't fancy him to cause any damage to the yusho race. To save any possible blushes for the Kyokai, Tamakasuga (8-5) got into his own sumo well and never allowed Wakanosato (10-3) to get any kind of grip, inevitably pulling and stepping to the side, leaving Waka to blunder over the tawara like a senile elephant. Tamakasuga gets a deserved kachi-koshi with this win while Waka's slim chances of picking up a special prize look to have disappeared, although they might pick up again if he beats Hakuho (yes HAKUHO) tomorrow. Despite the former Sekiwake mainstay being at a low rank, they might consider him for a sansho if he affects the yusho race by beating one of the main contenders.

And so we have Asashoryu and Hakuho at 12-1, and Tochiazuma, Wakanosato and Kyokushuzan at 10-3. The latter three will surely be eliminated tomorrow as it is highly unlikely that Hakuho and Asashoryu will both lose. Hakuho has the easiest run-in with Wakanosato tomorrow and Kaio on senshuraku. Asashoryu has it tougher with Kotooshu tomorrow and Tochiazuma on Sunday. It is safe to assume that Hakuho will get 14 wins so we are looking at a first yusho for the young Mongolian prodigy or possibly a play-off with Asashoryu, a reasonably likely prospect. However, Tochiazuma is more than capable of defeating Asashoryu, particularly as he NEEDS that win to keep his promotion hopes alive. For all you Tochiazuma fans out there, he can still win it, but the odds are about the same as Clancy becoming Sharapova's dentist.

As this is my last daily report, I'll have a go at predicting the sansho. I reckon this is what we will have:

Hakuho: All three prizes with the yusho.

Kyokushuzan: Ginosho if he can win eleven or twelve.

Takekaze: Kantosho if he wins eleven

Kenji puts all of you to shame tomorrow. Tune it to FM.

Day 12 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
So how was everyone's trip on and off of Hakuho's bandwagon the last 24 hours? The sumo gods giveth, and just as quickly the sumo gods taketh away. Thanks to a little fire shown by Yokozuna-hopeful (that's past tense) Tochiazuma, the Haru Basho has become a three man tournament with three days to go. It's just too bad that Tochiazuma isn't one of the three. In my opinion, he's only got himself to blame, but more on that shortly. We gotta start with our leader heading into the day, Sekiwake Hakuho, who came in looking to avenge his tie last basho against Tochiazuma.

I found it curious that Hakuho lined up for his bout today a good step behind his starting line. Whenever a rikishi resorts to a different tachi-ai stance than he's shown all basho, a red flag immediately goes up in my shriveled mind, especially when said rikishi is 11-0 coming in and just pounded the best the day before. It tells you that the dude is dangerously out-thinking himself. Adding to his confusion--or nerves if you will--Hakuho committed two false starts, and in doing so, seemed to reposition himself farther back from the starting line each time he regrouped. When the rikishi finally clashed, Hakuho delivered the same tachi-ai that he showed in his false starts where he attacks with the left arm forward and upturned in hopes of gaining the frontal belt grip. Tochiazuma would have none of that, however, and just rocketed into Hakuho knocking him away from his belt. Tochiazuma then pressed in that stubborn crouch of his that invites the pull down, and Hakuho bit yet again. The Ozeki seized the move to barrel Hakuho back towards the tawara where Hakuho dug in a bit, but Tochiazuma was just too relentless, and the best Hakuho could muster were quick ineffective slaps to the side of Tochiazuma's head, kind of the way someone would try and slap away a pit bull that was charging at their throat. Tochiazuma never backed down and as Hakuho went for that last gasp pull down, Tochiazuma drove him off the dohyo and into the first row for the overwhelming victory.

Let me start with Tochiazuma here, since he is the rikishi with more at stake this basho (I'd take Yokozuna promotion over a yusho any day). You could just see the fire in Tochiazuma's face during the bout. My pit bull reference in the previous paragraph was intentional. Tochiazuma was a man on a mission today and could not be stopped. It was fiery, kick ass sumo through and through, and it was good enough to completely neuter the yusho leader coming in. It was Tochiazuma's best sumo since Asashoryu bloodied him in that epic bout between the two back in Hatsu 2002 where Tochiazuma eventually came out on top on his way to his first yusho. The problem I have, though, is why is this the first time we've seen that fire the entire basho? I don't understand it. If Tochiazuma gave a damn the first eleven days as he did today, he would not have three losses on his docket. But we've said for years now that Tochiazuma only performs his best sumo when his back is truly against the wall. It's this inability to turn it on when the going ain't tough that has kept Tochiazuma away from Yokozuna promotion three times now. The Ozeki moves to 9-3 with the fantastic win, but with Kotooshu and an Asashoryu now tied for the yusho lead still to go, I think Tochiazuma finishes 11-4 at best.

As for Hakuho, it will be interesting to see how the Sekiwake responds. Hakuho really made no mistakes today in his sumo. He just got whipped. The area where he did falter, however, was in the noggin...that and the NHK jinx where the broadcast company proudly displayed the graphics of Hakuho's potential to stand in fourth place all time (behind Takanohana, Taiho, and Kitanofuji) in youngest to yusho and youngest to obtain Ozeki promotion. Still, of the yusho contenders left, Hakuho's got the easiest schedule the rest of the way, so he needs to realize that Ozeki promotion is in the bag and that winning out and putting the pressure back on Asashoryu, who has yet to face Tochiazuma and Kotooshu, should be his main priority. Hakuho gets Kotomitsuki tomorrow for sure; he'll likely face Wakanosato; and then he'll probably get Kaio. You gotta love his chances to force at worst a yusho playoff. The last time Hakuho lost to Tochiazuma, he reeled of 18 straight. I expect his roll to continue.

Watching that bout unfold before his eyes was Yokozuna Asashoryu, who was put in a very difficult position against Ozeki Kaio today. Difficult in that he knew full well that he had to deliver a costly seventh loss to the rikishi I think Asashoryu respects more than anybody, Ozeki Kaio. Asashoryu secured the solid right outer grip from the tachi-ai careful to secure all folds of Kaio's belt in his paw while the Ozeki countered with a left inner grip. In the past when Kaio had his chest against his opponent's chest with a belt grip, he would constantly wrench upwards in an attempt to stand his opponent up and drive him back. He just doesn't have the power any more, however, and was a sitting duck as Asashoryu timed a one-step force out causing the Yokozuna's leg to dangerously slip as Kaio stepped out across the tawara. With no replay from NHK due to time constraints, a quick rewind on this slick new electronic device I have called a VCR confirmed that Kaio did indeed step out before Asa's knee hit the dirt...barely. The Yokozuna moves to 11-1 and once again controls his own destiny although after a laugher tomorrow against Chiyotaikai, he must finish against two dangerous rikishi in Kotooshu and Tochiazuma. Kaio falls to 5-7, and his only hope is that the Association doesn't pair him with Hakuho the final three days.

Aforementioned time constraints were the result of the best match today that featured Ozeki Kotooshu and the pesky M3 Aminishiki. After briefly trading tsuppari-ai at the initial charge, Aminishiki used a nifty left ottsuke to shove Kotooshu to the side and off balance a bit. Kotooshu recovered and regrouped with some tsuppari and then a pull down that didn't work completely but allowed for a quick left shitate grip deep on the back of Ami's belt and a right belt grip as he quickly drove his opponent back. It's over, right? Not even close. At the tawara Aminishiki bailed to his right with a desperate and beautifully timed pull of Oshu that sent him somersaulting to the dirt while Aminishiki tried to keep a foot on the tawara. The gunbai went to Kotooshu, which I though was the correct decision, but a mono-ii was called and replays showed that Aminishiki's feet had yet to touch down anywhere while Kotooshu hadn't touched but was across the tawara with his back parallel with the dohyo and feet in the air; hence, no controlled position. A re-match was correctly declared.

In the rematch Kotooshu looked visibly tired at the tachi-ai as he whiffed on a hari-te attempt, but he used his long arm to recover well and grab that signature left uwate. Lacking the mustard to go for the quick uwate throw, he seemed vulnerable again as he went for the force out, but as Aminishiki tried to evade and turn the tables again at the tawara, Kotooshu wisely grabbed Ami's right leg taking him off balance and setting up the eventual yori-taoshi win. This was splendid sumo all around as Kotooshu moves to 9-3 while Aminishiki falls to a very respectable 6-6.

Rounding...or should I say floundering...out the Ozeki ranks, Chiyotaikai charged way too high at the tachi-ai walking right into a Kotomitsuki morozashi grip. The Sekiwake accepted the gift and drove the Ozeki back and out straightway faster than a Japanese taxicab switching lanes to pick up a customer. There's nothing more to say other than Kotomitsuki secures kachi-koshi yet again from this rank while Chiyotaikai will continue his uselessness with 8 wins already in the bag.

In the Komusubi ranks, Miyabiyama timed his early jump at the tachi-ai perfectly striking M1 Tamanoshima with a morote tachi-ai that he used to set up an immediate pull down of his opponent. Yeah, I would have liked to see him move forward a bit, but I see him working here wanting to secure that eighth win at all costs. Miyabiyama has seven wins in a row if you need him and should fill the vacancy left by Hakuho in the Sekiwake ranks next basho. Tamanoshima makes his demotion official at 4-8.

Time for some grapplin' with Komusubi Roho taking on M1 Kokkai. The two Eastern Europeans wasted no time in ignoring a sound tachi-ai and settling for that good ole grapplin' position with foreheads touching and arms locked. There's not much to say here as both rikishi jockeyed this way and that going for what else...the pull down. Roho proved the better grappler today as his better footwork and all around skill led him to the eventual victory, but the fewer bouts like this we see the better. It's a shame that these two oxen can't give us a better display on the dohyo. Their records evened up at an under-achieving 3-9.

M4 Futenoh (4-8) brushed off M2 Jokutoriki's tsuppari with ease and needed only a lukewarm left forearm to Hokutoriki's side to force him out. Why am I even commenting on this bout? Hokutoriki falls to 1-11. M2 Ama hit M4 Dejima straight on at the tachi-ai then timed a perfect pull job on the former Ozeki who all but ran himself out from the center of the ring. Ama is scrapping big time here for that kachi-koshi. Both rikishi are a dangerous 5-7.

Iwakiyama executed perfect sumo today as he went for the tsuppari to the neck tachi-ai that stood M5 Tokitsuumi straight up. Iwakiyama drove his man back with ease, and even when Tokitsuumi evaded to his right, Iwakiyama's lower body answered beautifully as he stayed right on top of his retreating foe easily pushing him out. Fantastic sumo from Iwakiyama (4-8), but I guess it helps that his opponent is only 1-11. Can't wait for that Hokutoriki - Tokitsuumi showdown! 

M7 Kisenosato took advantage of M5 Kyokutenho's slow tachi-ai securing the early and effective left inside position that he used to drive Tenho dangerously back to the tawara, but Kyokutenho grabbed that right uwate at the edge and timed a perfect counter throw spilling Kisenosato to the clay for the disappointing loss. It's almost a guarantee that the veteran rikishi will work the Kid like this until Kisenosato hones up his finishing skills. Both rikishi are 8-4.

M11 Takamisakari seemed to whiff at the tachi-ai with his right arm going straight up in the air, but that was the result of M6 Tokitenku catching him square in the neck and viciously halting his momentum. The Mongolian never relented and took advantage of the wide open Takamisakari shoving him out with relative ease. Takamisakari (6-6) never had a chance to counter in this one, but that's what a good clothesline will do to you. Tokitenku moves to 7-5 inching closer to dates with the big boys in May.

M14 Kitazakura drove a right shoulder into M6 Kakizoe's face that completely took Kakizoe off of his game and denied him the belt or decent position. Zak used a right arm deep under Kakizoe's left pit to easily force him out for the solid win. Both rikishi stand at 7-5. Here's a bad joke for you: what waddles like a duck and has a mouth like an aardvark after he wins? It was nice to see some older people in the throng of supporters waiting to slap hands with Kitazakura as he exited the hanamichi. I guess he should stick to winning on the school days and losing on the weekends.

I realize I'm picking and choosing at this point, but let me focus a bit on M8 Asasekiryu and M16 Yoshikaze. This was a pretty lackluster bout with a stalemate from the tachi-ai, but Asasekiryu took the initiative first going for a rather ugly pull down attempt. The move caused Yoshikaze to fly off the dohyo from the middle of the ring, so what I wanted to point out with Yoshikaze's sumo is that when a below average pull down sends you flying into the first row, it tells you all you need to know about your balance and stability in the ring. The 6-6 Yoshikaze has three more days to work on it. Seki inches towards kachi-koshi at 7-5.

Isn't it strange having to be in your seat (or in front of the tube) shortly after 4:30 so you can watch a guy in the yusho hunt? M11 Wakanosato neutralized a genki approach from M9 Takekaze with a right shoulder to his grill at the tachi-ai. Wakanosato sensed that Takekaze was neutralized and going nowhere, so he immediately backed up going for the grand poobah pull down where a rikishi commits fully to the move and must tightrope the tawara before his opponent hits the dirt. This was dangerous sumo by Wakanosato who moves to 10-2, but he will get his comeuppance soon if he's really serious about this yusho business. Be in your seats early again tomorrow as Waka fights in the third Makuuchi bout of the day. Takekaze is stuck on eight wins.

M12 Hakurozan picked up his kachi-koshi today after a harite at the tachi-ai that left him vulnerable. Hakurozan darted around the ring as M9 Jumonji tried to grab a frontal belt grip, but he seemed only able to secure a finger or two on the belt. Hakurozan stayed on the move and slapped down incessantly on Jumonji's noggin as if he were bangin' on the bongos like a chimpanzee until Jumonji finally hit the dirt. Pretty unimpressive stuff all around as Jumonji falls to 1-11. Talk about getting money for nothing. No word on whether or not Hakurozan gets his chicks for free.

And finally, M12 Tochinonada managed a left arm on the inside of M15 Otsukasa (4-8) to set up the easy yorikiri win and his kachi-koshi while M13 Kyokushuzan executed a nice double neck grab wrangling M15 Tamakasuga (7-5) down to the clay on his way to a 9-3 mark.

It was too good to last wasn't it? Asashoryu failing to yusho for two straight basho since becoming Yokozuna...stat geeks looking up the last time a Sekiwake scored a zensho yusho...NHK going back to the drawing board for new graphics. This thing is far from over. I see Hakuho winning out, and if Asashoryu manages to do the same, I'm going to say Hakuho has to be the favorite again.

Simon preaches tomorrow.

Day 11 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
Lest the Battle of the Khans overshadow the night's entire events, Day 11 had its share of Mongolian Love-ins, upsets and Kachi-Koshi milestones that may prove to be the crux of the 2006 season. There's no way I'm starting with the appetizers today, folks, so lets cut straight to the main course.

Asashoryu has maintained a solid three years as Yokozuna without a whiff of the word 'underdog' falling upon his dainty ears. Challenges by Mitsuki, Kotooshu and even Tochiazuma had failed to reign in the mid-sized meatball and indeed made us respect the Mongolian's competitive instincts all the more. Unfortunately for Asashoryu the good times might be at an end because at some point this tournament - although we could barely admit it to ourselves - the indomitable Asashoryu somehow fell from a Lock to a Bad Bet.

Hakuho. The White Phoenix, the Gobi Bear, the Zen Panda, Mongolian wunderkind and now Alpha-Zumo. Comin' off a taped ankle a little while back to completely and utterly carve through the Makunouchi in a way that you pretty much only see from a Yokozuna master. Good enough to go 10-0 on a bee-line for the champ and probably - hopefully - PLEASE! - his first Yusho. But first he's got that pesky Yoko-something to take care of so let's head to ringside for the Bout of the Year.

If you want a good an example of an electrified Shikiri, and I'm not talking about the trick LED Mawashi, sit down for the five minutes of slow-motion posturing between our two Mongolian heartthrobs on this fateful Day 11. Smooth, powerful, menacing, howling and maybe even a bit telling, there was an atmosphere before this bout that I rarely get to enjoy. I was dying for tells - Hakuho showed up ringside a bit out of breath, seemed very excided and worked up and not his usual sleepy lump of clay. Dorj arrived more calmly but seemed more distracted by what was going on around the stadium. Hakuho settled down quickly and when they held the two wrestlers on a cut-screen for a couple minutes they barely seemed to be breathing. If I read anything into their pre-bout demeanour, Hakuho had the mental leg-up already and seemed entirely focused on maintaining his perfect streak, whoever his opponent. 

Fast forward to tachi-ai. Asa sinks his left inside quickly while Hakuho does the same but they both abandon their grips quickly as both wrestlers focus on defense. The smaller Mongolian wrapped his arm over the Bear's left shoulder but couldn't get his left hand past Hakuho's right for any kind of belt grip. The quality of Sumo was amazing here as both wrestlers denied each other the mawashi and fought to bury their heads into the other's chest. If you happened to be excited about the bout beforehand, having these two lock up and really have a go at it was the icing on the cake. No clear advantage yet, although Asa does look a bit small... where do they go from here?

The turning point came when Hakuho abandoned his defense of Asa's left arm and slipped around for a right outside Uwate grip that we're coming to learn is one of six-foot Dragon's big weaknesses. Soon Hakuho slipped his shoulder over Asa's back, opened his stance and twisted ol' Genghis to the clay for the second time in two basho. Boom, Hakuho ascendant. Sumotalkers surprised but pleased. Ozeki-what?

So begins the talk of turning points. Since Asashoryu has been Yokozuna he has not dropped successive Yusho nor has he lost twice in a row against any single opponent. After showing such authority in 2005, and despite the Hack's arm tweak in Hatsu, it was difficult to imagine him becoming the underdog so quickly. Hakuho is now the man, for the time being, and barring some Futenoh-like post-Yokozuna collapse he should be the one to beat through Day 15 and arguably the next few years as well. The 11th victory was his hypothetical Ozeki breakpoint as well so from here on in there's only one more title that matters. I don't want to write off the beloved Yokozuna quite yet, but it is starting to look like the gap between him and ANYONE ELSE is finally narrowing. 

Asashoryu will be beating several of Kitazakura's young boys over his (10-1) record tonight while Hakuho banks his (11-0) Zensho bid and goes shopping for a new sword. Word is that Taz has one for cheap.

But wait - WAIT! Don't leave! The rest of the day was great too! Seriously, don't just... aw, we lost 'em. Ok, the rest of us will keep going. You do want to read about Ama, right? 

Talk about a night for setting records, even the slippery Chiyotaikai had a go. Up against the usually straightforward ex-Ozeki Dejima, Chiyotaikai was looking to score his 8th win and burst the Kadoban bubble once again. Today Dejima went for a disastrous sidestep off the tachi-ai that Taikai chased down for an Oshidashi win. I'll admit that I'm changing my tune with this 29 year old and am somewhat pleased to have him around to test the top rankers with the evasive but experienced technique. I'd still like to see him get called for the eye-poking, but he'll probably ease off a bit now that he's safe at (8-3). Dejima has not been quite as lucky and faces an uphill battle with a (5-6) so far.

I've been respectfully supporting Kaio this basho as he refuses to go down without a fight in what is almost certainly his final basho. After losing three straight and then coming back for a signature Uwatenage win against Iwakiyama, I can't imagine anyone NOT being in this guy's corner, unless you're some kind of twisted Tochiazuma fanboy who still believed that the Japanese still had a chance to crown their own Grand Champion. Tonight's matchup between the two Ozeki should have been another turning point in sumo, a final passing of the torch from one would-be Yokozuna to another. Instead we have yet ANOTHER native wrestler punk the promotion hopeful, leaving me wondering if anyone bothered to read the script. Kaio seemed oddly spirited at the tachi-ai as both Rikishi bonked and grabbed left inside grips. No offense seemed offered by Taz and so Kaio simply scraped the hand off his belt, stood up the younger Ozeki and marched him out for a succulent 5th win by Yorikiri. Tochiazuma is already at (8-3) which means essentially nothing, he'll be back as an Ozeki and will be 2nd or 3rd in line for Yokozuna promotion this year. Kaio's valiant (5-6) record and moral victories should keep him around a few more days as he beats a noble retreat.

Cobra-Oshu dined on Hokutoriki tonight in a fairly unmentionable contest except for the (8-3) record being posted by this tournament's honorary 'Bum Ozeki'. If the knee was worrying him, now would be the time for a prudent pull-out. If he continues then I expect him to finish off with 11 wins and a decent paycheque for two weeks of one-legged wrestling. The Joke is strapping on his parachute at (1-10).

Kotomitsuki took a run at Kyokutenho that was absorbed before the two wrestlers locked up with left-in-right-out and took turns lifting each other off the dohyo. You'd like to root for Streaky in these bouts except that it is week two and he seems to have once again very predictably run out of steam. Kyokutenho held his right hand outside grip through the entire match and was eventually able to force him out by Yorikiri. Mitsuki sits just shy of his kachi-koshi for one more day at (7-4) while Kyokutenho helps his rebound bid by rising to the same record.

Roho was on my watch list at the beginning of the basho as he seemed poised to make good on his bid for Ozeki in '06. Quite a bit too much to hope for, apparently, as the Russian fumbles on offense time and time again. Today he would carry his two wins against the hulking Miyabiyama who is only a few shaking lamb tails away from promotion himself. This Komusubi smashup was a disaster as Miyabiyama stuck to his killer tsuppari the entire time and managed to keep Roho on the run until the eventual Okuridashi. From one angle Roho seems to be going for a pull down the entire time while from another he's going for an Uwate grip, neither doing him any good as Big Yama pulled his best E-Honda and never let him close the gap. Roho is Sanyaku-No-More at (2-9) while Miyabiyama bags his sixth straight to post (7-4).

I have a feeling that Kokkai skipped his afternoon shave today as he was sporting a (lucky?) Georgian beard against the burly Tamanoshima. This was a strange bout for Kokkai as he abandoned his usual tachi-ai to instead try an arm-lock on his Japanese foe. The Fridge was not in any way impressed by this and simply waited for Kokkai to try a different tact ( a kotenage ) before twisting him down to the clay. Kokkai at least showed a tiny bit of fight by balancing awkwardly for a moment before falling to a (3-8) Make-Koshi from the M1 rank. Tamanoshima picks up his fourth win and pushes off demotion for another day at (4-7)

I promised more Mongolian love, didn't I? The Ama vs. Tokitenku battles are always fun as the two technical wizards can pull out every trick in the book, Mongolian or Japanese. These two were 5-4 going into tonight with the past three victories going to Ama by Yorikiri. Ama started off with his morote tachi-ai but was nearly slapped down as 'Tenku retreated quickly to the left. Ama's fingers nearly touched clay as he regained his balance and then tried his own pull-down as Tenku closed the gap. Tenku may or may not have touched down here but the match continued regardless as the two returned to the middle for another go. Tenku tried his pulldown again, only this time Ama was willing to chase his belt and walked right into it, hitting the clay and seriously bruising his ego. Can't wait for next time. Ama nears his Make-Koshi at (4-7) while Tokitenku nears the opposite at (7-4).

Kakizoe enjoyed some perfect timing tonight, pulling down Aminishiki with neither fuss nor muss in the center of the dohyo. Both wrestlers have been doing well this basho and can nearly spit on their Kachi-koshi. Kakizoe sits at (7-4) while the Beauty sits at (6-5).

The Moon Faced bruiser Iwakiyama was physically dominant against an unsure Kasugao tonight, chasing the Korean around the ring and fending off any throws that might come his way. Kasugao's tumble from the dohyo COULD have seen him in a wheelchair for several months but luckily he got up after a few moments and everything seemed fine. Iwakiyama has already hit the 8-loss mark but Kasugao still has a dim chance at promotion at (4-7).

Bigfoot Futenoh had very little fight in him against the Geeku tonight, getting tossed down for a rather embarrassing Makiotoshi and earning a demotion-ensuring (3-8) record. Sure, Kotoshogiku got inside at the tachi-ai, and there wasn't much hope from Futenoh at all but we're just not seeing the same man as we did in '05, and I can't put my finger on why. Kotoshogiku is (6-5) from the M8 rank and should find his way 8 wins in the coming days.

Recent Special Prize winners Tochinohana and Tokitsuumi faced off in a quick match which saw 'Tsuumi pirouette out for his 10th loss of the tournament while Flower Power posts a steady (6-5).

The savage Kisenosato took a chunk out of Robocop and posted his Kachi-Koshi from his insulting M7 rank today. Takamisakari does get on my nerves from time to time, but seeing him gabbing away with his retainers on the Hanamichi after his bouts, you can tell he's a genuine guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. With his (6-5) record he has probably avoided Juryo demotion already and will hopefully get to add some insurance before senshuraku.

The third awesome Mongolian matchup of the night was between Kyokushuzan and Asasekiryu who are both eyeing promotion this basho from fairly low ranks. Sekiryu shifted left at the tachi-ai without gaining much advantage and then nearly managed a Kotenage as the Wily Coyote scored a deep inside left to fight it off. They then got into some pushing and shoving before Sekiryu seized the advantage with a left Uwate grip and his head buried low. After a brief stand-off Sekiryu moved to capitalize but was reversed at the edge for a quiet Yorikiri loss. Kyokushuzan shows he still has the Waza, earning his first Kachi-koshi since May of last year. The Red Dragon sits at (6-5).

I'll avoid most of the lower matches today except the Wakanosato vs. Yoshikaze meeting. The bout itself was very brief and one-sided, but it's still news because at (9-2) 'The Rice Farmer' as I affectionately call him on my site is still in the Yusho race and will no doubt be pitted against more experienced foes in his last four days. 

My annoyance with the poor sumo of the white-breads over the past few basho is now being wonderfully balanced by the Baltic Bombshell Baruto's (11-0) record from low Juryo that could POSSIBLY land him in the Elite next tournament. Let's go Estonia!

Mike will be here tomorrow to make sure that all the boys are home in time for bed.

Day 10 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
If you live in Japan, you'd have to be a ballroom dance geek not to know by now that Japan was crowned as the first ever World Baseball Champions. Props to Japan on the victory; I'm a huge baseball fan and follow that sport in Japan nearly as closely as I follow sumo. Why am I bringing this up on Sumotalk? On the road to the championship, Japan was defeated twice by arch-rivals Korea. That didn't look good at all, especially after Japan's star player Ichiro stated before the tournament that it would take the Koreans 30 years to catch up to Japan's level of play. By the grace of God (actually, a loss by the USA to Mexico), Japan slipped through the back door into the semi-finals of the tournament where they faced hated rival Korea yet again. The third time was a charm as Japan rocked their neighbors to the west to advance to the finals. The semi-final victory was so celebrated in Japan that the newspapers even printed extra editions to pass out on the streets proclaiming the news. And this was after a semi-final game over an inferior team! Japan hadn't even won the tournament yet, but the nation was going crazy. Why? Because the home country was victorious over the foreigners who had temporarily punked them at their most popular sport. Sounds familiar, right? While the likelihood of Tochiazuma gaining Yokozuna promotion this basho is the same as ballroom dance guy ever touching a girl off the dance floor, you can bet that the nation is desperate to see one of their own reclaim the top no matter how disinterested Japan's attitude towards sumo seems to be at the time.

Day 10 of the Haru basho is in the books, and we've seen few surprises really the entire basho. I'd say the biggest--and best--surprise has been Ozeki Kotooshu, but regardless how well he is fighting, his bum knee is keeping him out of the yusho race. That belongs to Genghis and Kublai Khan, who are just sweeping through the upper Makuuchi ranks this basho. Let's start with our leaders.

Yokozuna Asashoryu faced previous "rival" Sekiwake Kotomitsuki, who actually managed a nice smashmouth tachi-ai that sent the Yokozuna back a step, but Asashoryu countered with a vicious shove into Kotomitsuki's grill that sent the Sekiwake back and had him turned around. Asa immediately assumed the man-love position while Kotomitsuki shoved his arse outwards keeping the Yokozuna from gaining the footing necessary to execute the tsuri-otoshi. After a brief struggle like this, Asashoryu just shoved Kotomitsuki forward and into a heap in the center of the ring followed by a slight pumping of the fist letting us all know how fired up he is. And rightly so. His 10-0 start has only been equaled by his day 11 opponent.

That would be Sekiwake Hakuho, who has ridiculously brushed Ozeki promotion aside already and is setting his sights on the yusho. Hakuho looked to receive a bit of a break on paper against M3 Aminishiki today, but Aminishiki and stable-mate M2 Ama have been the two biggest pests this basho. Do you remember when you were kids playing some sort of pick-up game in the neighborhood, and there always seemed to be these two loud-mouthed brothers who would show up and even though they were undersized, they had sufficient game to where you had to bring your best to beat them? That'd be the boys from Ajigawa-beya. No matter for Hakuho, who delivered a sharp harite at the tachi-ai hoping to gain the left frontal belt grip. Aminishiki denied him the belt at first, but he just couldn't get inside of Hakuho's beef. Hakuho kept his huge shoulder in his opponent's face as he searched for the M3's mawashi. He finally did grab the left uwate and just smothered Aminishiki (6-4) safely and smoothly out looking eerily just like Takanohana did in his prime. We made comparisons to the two a year or so ago when a leaner Hakuho resembled a young Takanohana who was a complete scrapper in the ring and usually found a way to win. Now that Hakuho has beefed up a bit, he looks a helluva lot like the Yokozuna Takanohana with that stable lower body charging slowly but surely leading with the head up (if it's lowered, you risk the pull-down) like a giant amoeba that corners its opponent leaving only one direction to go--back. Precision stuff yet again for Hakuho (10-0) who has done everything right beginning two weeks before the start of the basho to prepare for his big matchup tomorrow against Asashoryu. It's already the bout of the year, and I say Asashoryu is the underdog.

Ozeki Tochiazuma leads the rest of the pack heading into the day desperately clinging on with two losses. Today's bout with M4 Dejima was so predictable I could have written these comments up before the action even started. Dejima (5-5) charged low at the tachi-ai but couldn't budge Tochiazuma and his rock-solid lower body. Tochiazuma just stood his ground a moment before yanking Dejima's arms forward throwing his opponent off balance and slapping him down to the dirt. Tochiazuma moves to 8-2 with the hataki-komi win, and this is the kind of sumo Tochiazuma used in his run in January. No, it's not flashy, but it gives him his best chance of piling up the wins. Tochiazuma's stroll through the pansies ended today. He has his fellow Ozeki and the two Khans to contend with the rest of the way. Promotion at this point is a very tall order because not only does he have to go 5-0 to guarantee it, but you cannot consider someone for promotion who finishes third place or worse in a yusho race with two or more losses.

Joining Tochiazuma at 8-2 was M11 Wakanosato whose still gotta be kicking himself for losing to Otsukasa on day 5. Otsukasa! Today against M5 Kyokutenho, Wakanosato delivered the better tachi-ai that completely disallowed Tenho a sniff of his belt. Realizing he needed to resort to defensive tactics, Kyokutenho backed up to his right and slapped Wakanosato down as he retreated, but Waka went for that last gasp push out that garnered him the gunbai. A mono-ii was correctly called for, and it was incorrectly judged that Kyokutenho stepped out the same time that Wakanosato's arm hit the dirt (Kyokutenho didn't step out). Still, I was in favor of the judges decision because I never like to see a call overturned and handed to the retreating rikishi. In the re-match, Wakanosato wasted no time in grabbing moro-zashi from the tachi-ai and making quick work of his opponent for the force out win. Wakanosato was the better rikishi in both bouts as he keeps his name among the leaders. Kyokutenho falls to a respectable 6-4.

M9 Takekaze also joined the 8-2 ranks with another impressive win against M13 Wily Coyote. Kyokushuzan delivered his usual moro-te tachi-ai (both hands to the throat) but didn't drive with his legs at all opting to stand straight up. Takekaze waited for an opening and then drove with his lower body forcing Shu back grabbing the back of Kyokushuzan's mawashi and yanking him down to the clay by the belt aided with a nice shove to the jaw. This was impressive stuff for Takekaze, a rikishi who I've heavily criticized in the past for evasive sumo and multiple tachi-ai henka per tourney. We've seen none of that so far, however, this basho, so it's no surprise to me that he's doing well. Shu falls to 7-3.

Let's head back up the ranks because there's no way that the yusho line falls below 2 losses this basho. Two of our Ozeki went at it with veteran Kaio desperately trying to hold on against Kotooshu. I say "desperately" because Kaio used a tachi-ai henka after stall tactics from both rikishi at the tachi-ai. Kaio didn't have the mustard to slap the taller Kotooshu down, but the move did give him a deep right arm on the inside of his opponent that he used to drive Kotooshu back to the straw. The Bulgarian held on, however, and managed his favorite hold, the left outer belt grip, that he used to force the momentum back into the middle of the ring. Kaio played this momentum nicely by attempting a counter scoop throw, but the power just wasn't there as Kotooshu took his turn in executing a belt throw of his own with that left hand. Kaio was in trouble and attempted a last ditch kote-nage throw but as both rikishi headed toward the clay, Kaio stuck his arm down first to break his fall. He would have lost anyway, but that was important to me because that early arm down was a mental reaction form the Ozeki who needed to protect his battered body. It was a sad bout to watch because this one sealed the deal. Where do I start? Delay tactics at the tachi-ai; a tachi-ai henka; failure to finish off his opponent after having him standing upright against the tawara; failed scoop throw; and the arm quickly down to break the fall. All signs of a rikishi who needs to hang it up. I still think that Kaio (4-6) can possibly surprise someone down the stretch, but he ain't goin' 4-1. Savor his final bouts now because come May, he's going to be dressed in a drab navy jacket, dull gray slacks, and sitting on a painfully small folding chair as he performs security duty in one of the Kokugikan tunnels. Kotooshu moves to 7-3 and is no longer that push-over win for the likes of Tochiazuma and Asashoryu.

It was nice to see Ozeki Chiyotaikai's pride kick in today against M2 Ama. You can just see the aging Ozeki fume as he lines up against the younger opponents who are generating more run than he does. After an exchange of tsuppari from both rikishi at the tachi-ai, one of them made a sudden charge at the belt, and it wasn't Ama. Chiyotaikai timed his advance perfectly and was rewarded with a solid right outer grip. I think the move caught Ama off guard a bit because Ama could not counter the ensuing force out attempt from the Ozeki. A determined Chiyotaikai picks up the solid win to move to 7-3. I just wish we'd see this determination over the full fifteen days. Ama falls to 4-6 but has been fulfilling his role among the joi'.

Rounding out the sanyaku, Komusubi Miyabiyama pasted M1 Kokkai with the lumbering tsuppari from the tachi-ai. Kokkai attempted his signature thrusts as well from the get-go, but they had no effect on the man with a badge, and the sanyaku hopeful, Kokkai, was quickly on his heels retreating backwards. Miyabiyama, knowing he had his opponent on the run, reversed the momentum of the bout by going for the pull-down near the tawara instead of emptying his six-shooter of thrusts on the Georgina. No matter. Miyabiyama dominated his opponent today slapping him to the clay and moving to a very impressive 6-4. Kokkai falls to 3-7.

I thought Simon's rant against Komusubi Roho yesterday was so appropriate. In fact, I have my own theory as to why Roho, Kokkai, and Hakurozan seem to struggle high on the banzuke while Kotooshu is shining. Read it on my ugly blog if I can figure out how the damn thing works. Today, Roho engaged M1 Tamanoshima in what I thought was the ugliest bout of the day. Tamanoshima came low at the tachi-ai, but Roho opted to strike and then quickly separate himself moving to his right and attempting the quick pull down. The move failed and both rikishi ended up in that lame position where rikishi touch foreheads together and lock their arms in preparation for some grapplin'. Unfortunately, the grapplin' never came as they stood around for over a minute doing nothing until Tamanoshima (3-7) finally made a charge that left Roho (2-8) off balance enough for the slap down win. There was quite the applause at the end of the bout, but it wasn't in appreciation of the sumo. The fans were just so happy to be over with the bout so they could get on with their lives. Both rikishi have floundered so far this basho.

Dropping down to the Maegashira ranks, we all knew this was coming. It was just a matter of when. M2 Hokutoriki seemed content to put a fist solidly to the clay prior to the tachi-ai of his bout against M3 Iwakiyama. That's when you know there's trouble. Usually, Jokutoriki will execute that Konishiki tachi-ai where he sort of throws his fists towards the dirt before he charges. Today, however, he needed that extra leverage to push off and flee to the right exhibiting a cowardly tachi-ai henka against a 2-7 guy coming in who may be the slowest rikishi in the division. It doesn't get much lower than that. How weak is Hokutoriki's act? It's something you resort to, however, when you've got no game. It's like the guy desperate for attention and chicks who boasts "yeah, my favorite rikishi is so and so" and he names someone who fought like fifty years ago even before said loser was even conceived. How can your favorite rikishi of all time be someone you never saw fight? For all you know, the guy was an a-hole who beat his wife and kids, and stole from the poor to pay for his geisha habit. People like that and Hokutoriki just piss me off to no end sometimes. Whew, that felt good. I need a good rant every two months or so. Jokutoriki is still 0-10 in my book while Iwakiyama falls to 2-8. If it's any consolation to Mount Iwaki, that Phantom of the Opera scab he had covering half his face earlier in the basho can now be down-graded to ugly blood clot over the left eye. Let's move on.

M7 Kisenosato quietly moved to 7-3 today after landing in the gappuri hidari yotsu position with M8 Asasekiryu. Normally, the larger Kisenosato would have the advantage here, but Asasekiryu countered with the lower position that kept Kisenosato from the force out. After 40 seconds or so, Asasekiryu broke off the uwate on his belt driving Kisenosato to the edge, but the Kids' left arm was so deep that it allowed him to counter with a scoop throw that turned the tables. From there he pulled down on Seki's belt and pushed downward on his chin dumping him down and out for the nice win. Asasekiryu falls to 6-4.

A host of other Maegashira rikishi checked in at 6-4 after today's festivities starting with M12 Hakurozan who used some quick relentless tsuppari that slowly drove M5 Tokitsuumi back disallowing any sort of belt grip. Hakurozan timed a perfect pull down reversing the momentum on the retreating Tokitsuumi who falls to 1-9. Ouch. Tamakasuga moved two wins over .500 by out-dueling M6 Tokitenku in a tsuppari fest. Tokitenku falls to 5-5. M7 Kasugao also moved to 6-4 after an enormous head butt with M10 Tochinohana at the tachi-ai that led to the Korean's firm left outer grip. It was curtains from there as Tochinohana was thrown to the dirt with a 4-6 record. M6 Kakizoe's quickness kept M10 Toyonoshima (3-7) chasing him around the entire bout before Kakizoe joined the 6-4 club with the pushout win. M14 Kitazakura gave up the quick left uwate to M11 Takamisakari, but the Robocop couldn't finish Zak off at the tawara. Kitazakura broke Sakari's outer grip securing one of his own, which he used to drive Takamisakari across the dohyo before reversing the momentum and dumping him in the middle of the ring via uwate-nage. Sakari falls to 6-4 and past failures to finish the deal (8 wins) after achieving seven wins early on has to be going through that mind of his...among other things I couldn't even speculate on.

And finally, M16 Yoshikaze has brushed off a very slow start this basho as he too moves to 6-4 by using great patience and quickness to get the lower, inside position on M13 Kasuganishiki (2-8) before pushing him back and out while veteran M17 Buyuzan stands at 6-4 after an easy push out win over M15 Otsukasa (3-7).

It all comes to a head tomorrow as one of the Khans will breakout as the front runner of this basho at a perfect 11-0. You would have to pick the Yokozuna wouldn't you? I just can't see, however, where Asashoryu's sumo has been any better than Hakuho's, so I'm going to say size DOES matter and tout Hakuho as the favorite. Bernie hits on your hot sister tomorrow.

Day 9 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
In all fields it is natural to desire change from time to time. Any politician will tell you that people tire of having the same old faces in power for too long (particularly if it's the face of an insane, murderous chimpanzee). Further, we are inclined to be less critical of the replacement, at least until the honeymoon is over. Sumo is no different. Asashoryu has been the sole Yokozuna for so long now that new fans of the sport would not be blamed for believing that by law there can only be one Yokozuna on the banzuke at any time. The desire for a companion to Asashoryu at the top is growing all the time. Many fans are therefore overjoyed to see the emergence of Hakuho as a real force, at least in terms of sumo content. But are we seeing him through rose-tinted binoculars? Yes, he's having a great basho and looks almost invincible. And yes, he appears to be growing overnight and looks more and more like Takanohana with those ginormous shoulder muscles, which are capable of taking over the world in tandem with Doctor Evil. Just a word of caution: rikishi are creatures of mood as well as talent. When they are genki, they just can't seem to lose, as with Hakuho this tournament. When they are not genki, they can look horrific, just as Hokutoriki is this time. Don't forget that Hokutoriki got twelve wins in January. And yet, of course, over the span of a career, talent is the prevailing factor, and that is something Hakuho has in abundance (and Hokutoriki clearly does not). I just want to make it clear that while it is human nature to be less critical of new faces and that they might not turn out as great as we expect, I reckon Hakuho is an exception to that rule. It is important to remember that he has not won anything yet, but I guarantee that it is only a matter of time, and that Hakuho will be a Yokozuna at some point in the next eighteen months, probably sooner. Two Mongolian Yokozuna! Oo-er!

On to this basho, for some reason it hasn't really rung my bell. We have had stellar performances from Asashoryu and Hakuho, but that's about it. Kotooshu has done well, picking up six wins despite the injury, but there has been very little else to get excited about, unless you count Ama's horrific visage, which I don't. Tochiazuma has looked positively average in his Yokozuna run, failing utterly to grab the imagination of the nation with hesitant, lifeless sumo. It is not too late for him to turn things round but he will need to do something spectacular now. But surely that is what we wanted to see from him all along: something spectacular. Not in terms of style, but in terms of who he beats. If he can beat Asashoryu and Hakuho in their current form, along with all the other Ozeki-jin, then he deserves to be considered for promotion. The sad thing for a long-term fan like me is that he might well not be promoted even if he wins every day from now on, thanks to those costly losses to Aminishiki and Miyabiyama. Well, I'm praying nightly for him, and that's pretty impressive for a nasty evil-doing atheist like me. One thing I would say is that it boots nothing to compare Tochiazuma with Asashoryu. Clancy mentioned on his blog that Asashoryu always beats Kotomitsuki quickly. So what? That's Asashoryu's style, which depends on viciousness and speed as much as anything else. Tochiazuma has a different style and he wins in his own way. It might not be as spectacular as Asashoryu's or to the liking of many but that doesn't matter in the slightest. If Tochiazuma doesn't get the second yusho on the trot (or possibly 13-2 jun-yusho), he doesn't deserve to be promoted and that's the end of it. Those are the rules. To get that win-loss score, he will have to beat both of the Mongolians, and will deserve promotion if he does. All other arguments about how fast Asashoryu beats someone are a total waste of time. Just remember that Tochiazuma does not want to become Asashoryu, he wants to become a Yokozuna.

Sekiwake Hakuho had a point to prove against the man who (unjustly in his eyes) reached the second rank of sumo before him. Ozeki Kotooshu was permitted his favoured left-hand uwate grip, which generally equals curtains. We are talking about Hakuho, however, the chosen one, he who shall rival Asashoryu, and indeed he pulled off the move he needed, a maki-kae to give him morozashi. It was a daring, risky, and yet necessary move, and another indication that Hakuho is currently the second-best rikishi around. Not many could have pulled off that move without being murdered by Kotooshu. After getting morozashi, Hakuho then cheekily offered to hold hands with Kotooshu, Kotooshu's left hand, that is, the one on Hakuho's belt in the favoured grip. Kotooshu tried to tell Hakuho that he just wasn't that kind of girl but Hakuho is old enough to understand that no means yes and he grabbed it anyway, deciding to go for the throw rather than the straight force out. The shitatenage itself was a thing of beauty from both sides; technique from Hakuho (9-0) and determination not to lose from Kotooshu (6-3), who somehow contrived with incredible athleticism to keep his arms off the clay as he twisted in the air. It almost paid off for him as Hakuho's head came crashing down but Kotooshu touched down a split second before. This was brilliant sumo, easily the best bout of the basho so far, and the prospect of Hakuho and Asashoryu meeting head on is simply mouth-watering. The way Hakuho is fighting, expect an upset. Superb.

Ozeki Tochiazuma allowed M2 Ama to come at him with moro-te and tsuppari and ate it up as he always does, waiting for the scarred Mongolian to provide an opening, which he duly did. Tochiazuma pounced authoritatively and powered Ama out. This was a bread-and-butter win for any Yokozuna wannabe and Tochiazuma came up handily with the goods. The Ooooo-zumo we need from him will have to wait for another two days because he has another easy bout tomorrow against Dejima. Ama is still in with a shout of kachi-koshi at 4-5. Tochiazuma is hanging on with his toenails at 7-2.

With memories of THAT henka in mind, no doubt, Ozeki Kaio took on fellow Ozeki Chiyotaikai in a veteran battle. We didn't have a henka this time, thank Christ, but Chiyotaikai, while not particularly impressive, never allowed Kaio a chance to do his own sumo, keeping him constantly off balance with that quick-fire tsuppari until he was able to get Kaio on the defensive. The big veteran doesn't have the lower body power to resist at the edge any more so it was all over at that point. It seems that Chiyotaikai (6-3) caught Kaio (4-5) in the eye, temporarily blinding him, so that clearly didn't help matters. Kaio is now three losses from retirement, and has to fight Kotooshu, Tochiazuma, Hakuho and Asashoryu this week. You could say it is not looking too good for him. However, if he gets nine or ten wins against that line-up, he will deserve to keep his rank. Don't hold your breath, however; sadly, it is likely we are looking at Kaio's last basho. He gets Kotooshu tomorrow and MUST win.

Yokozuna Asashoryu (9-0) simply overpowered M5 Kyokutenho (6-3) in a one-sided battle. Kyokutenho had an outside right-hand grip on the mawashi of the Yokozuna but that was quickly ripped off by brute force. It was then a simple case of Asashoryu forcing him out, and he did, just as he probably does with his pet cat every night.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki took un-genki M4 Futenoh apart after clashing heads at tachi-ai and then getting his hands under his young opponent's armpits and forcing him upright, making him easy meat. We even had a little flourish as he catapulted Futenoh into the second row. This was a thoroughly demoralizing defeat for Futenoh (2-7), who has just looked totally out of it. With his confidence on the floor, he needs a bit of luck in the final stretch. Kotomitsuki (7-2) keeps his impressive sumo going. Expect him to utterly screw it up in the next few days as only he can. Asashoryu will help in that regard tomorrow.

Komusubi Roho (2-7) had a rough first week at Komusubi but that's nothing new. It happens every basho. So I was nearly spitting blood at him today as against M3 Aminishiki he fell back on his old habit of pulling the opponent straight into his body after failing miserably with that now utterly predictable hari-te at tachi-ai. Total rubbish. A load of crap. Does that sufficiently convey my feelings towards Roho's sumo at the moment? I don't dislike Roho, but I do think he wastes his talent terribly. If he really does harbour any hopes of reaching Ozeki, he will have to get a grip with using brain-dead tactics like these. Ozeki my arse. Aminishiki continues his excellent basho and goes to 6-3.

Komusubi Miyabiyama has been having one of those tournaments again; tenacious as a drunk and just as attractive. The former Ozeki picked up an easy win as M2 Hokutoriki thoroughly screwed up his moro-te, allowing El Sheriff to catch him off balance and get the easy push-out win. When looking at the globular mass of gristle and blubber that goes by the name Miyabiyama, it's easy to forget just how impressive he was as he shot up the ranks all those years ago. But, sumo fans, he really was very good, with uncanny ring sense to boot. I suppose you never really lose the ability even if you allow yourself to become too fat. When you add the fact that Hokutoriki clearly wants to be somewhere else, you end up with a nice easy stroll around the dohyo. Miyabiyama is 5-4 after facing the Yokouzuna, all the Ozeki and both Sekiwake. Pretty damn good numbers. The less said about Hokutoriki (0-9) the better.

M7 Kisenosato (6-3) got his arse kicked good and proper at the tachi-ai by M9 Takekaze (7-2), who cleverly waited for the foundling to push back and then pounced, pulling and jumping out of the way to watch the show: Kisenosato sprawling all over the place on an international broadcast. It wasn't exactly my idea of pretty but he deserved the win just for that crunching tachi-ai. Kisenosato should still go on to get a winning record but I'm getting a bit sick of waiting for this lad to get his act together. You wouldn't want to get left on the shelf, would you, Kise-chan, you pert little strumpet, you?

M11 Takamisakari looked far more up-for-it than poor M9 Jumonji, who really is having a nightmare. Jumonji's wild harite went well wide of the mark and this allowed Takamisakari a right-hand outside grip that enabled him to hang on as Jumonji attempted a last-ditch throw. Circus returned the favour with a throw of his own and looks odds on to get nine or ten wins, hardly a surprise this far down the banzuke. The best part of the bout for me was immediately after it, when Takamisakari appeared to be pecking like a bird at an imaginary tree (or foe?). He is an A1 nutjob, therefore I like him.

M13 Kyokushuzan (7-2) has been turning on the technique and style this basho and he really impressed me today with a marvelous fightback from a disadvantageous position against M13 Kasuganishiki (2-7), showing real power as he resisted what looked like a lost cause at the tawara, and then turning it round to pull off a vivacious uwatenage. At this rank, we expect Kyokushuzan to do well but it was still very pretty on the eye. Keep it coming.

And so the craggy face of this basho is now clear. We have two Mongolians out in front, imperious and untouchable. The mediocre chasing pack is two wins off the pace. And yet, as we all know, anything can happen in sumo. Hakuho has a day off tomorrow fighting Aminishiki and the same could be said for Asashoryu, who faces Kotomitsuki, but it might not be as straightforward as usual this time. In fact, both Aminishiki and Kotomitsuki are capable of pulling off shocks, but the way the two leaders are fighting, I wouldn't put any money on it. I'd say Hakuho is certain of promotion now, and if he beats Asashoryu and takes the yusho, he could win all three special prizes. Ummm.

I'd like to finish with a plug for our Sumotalk International feature. We have some top lads (and I hope lasses in the future) writing non-English reports on our magnificent site. We currently have reports in Italian, Greek, Romanian and German and we are always looking for more contributors. If you are interested in being a volunteer writer for the finest sumo site in the world, write to me at the address on the main page.  Go here for more details.  Back to our existing reporters, you can enjoy the reports even if you don't speak the languages in question thanks to Yahoo's translation service. Go here and scroll down to the language tools link, paste the reports in, choose the appropriate translation and then enjoy them as much as I do. Those fools at Yahoo don't have Greek or Romanian (or many others) yet but at least you can read the German and Italian reports. Actually, I really liked this tool when I found it and I put in some Japanese words to test it. The first word I tried was henka, and lo and behold, it was translated as Also, if you are unfortunate to meet any rikishi in the flesh (no, I am not joking), be careful what you ask for: tegata (in hiragana) was translated as abnormal play, so obviously the tool is not perfect. Then again, abnormal play is far more interesting than the real meaning of tegata if you ask me, so it must be working fine.  And the final acid test: the tool correctly translated kamonohashi as duck-billed platypus.

Mike unpacks his banjo and twangs it for you tomorrow. Don't miss that, whatever you do.

Day 8 Comments (George Guida reporting)
The real March Madness is going down in Osaka, and Curious George is here to report. Let's get to the Good, the Mad and the Ugly (but not necessarily in that order) on Day 8 of the Haru Basho. Madness comes in the form of NHK's new graphics, which add neither entertainment nor insight to the matches. It looks more like Combat for the Atari 2600 more than 25 years ago. Let's drop the yellow triangle, the brown circle and the other junk geometry and focus on more important matters at hand, like zooming in on the hotties in attendance. NHK should be using its cutting edge technology to give the loyal viewers at home close-ups of the cuties. Any good cameraman worth his salt knows this. 

Asashoryu (8-0) continues his roll and inevitable showdown with Hakuho. Sho ate a few stiff, M1 Kokkai (2-6) tsuppari at the tachi-ai and was snuffed on his first attempt at moro-zashi grip. Sho even gave up a moro-zashi grip to Kokkai. No matter. Bygones. Chest to chest, Sho grabbed a shitate grip, pulling Kokkai's belt up to about his armpit and marched him out for the yorikiri win, adding a couple of "bad intentions" shoves, which he has done to just about of all his vanquished foes this tournament. Mainoumi opined that today's sumo exhibited by the Yokozuna wasn't the real Asashoryu, for it's rare to see him get into a pure pulling contest at the belt but I never he felt he was in danger at any point during this contest.

Ozeki Kaio (4-4) stayed alive today, and that's all we can ask for. His aggression and de-ashi were up a notch today as he quickly got M1 Tamanoshima's (2-6) side and plowed him out with oshi-dashi. 

Now for the Good. Today's match of the day pitted Ozeki Tochiazuma (6-2) against his perennial thorn in his side, Sekiwake Kotomitsuki (6-2). Make no mistake; this was a HUGE win for the Ozeki. Talk about your confidence builders. Koto Gives Me Fits Ki (bad, I know) went for an early pull down, which usually leads to disaster, but stayed in close range and aggressively tied up Tochi's arms, never letting Tochi work his game. Both rikishi wound up in the center of the dohyo with Koto's hidari-uwate in deep and Tochi's left arm locking up Koto's right arm. Tochiazuma looks nervous. His breathing is labored. Both rikishi remain like this for over a minute. At about the 1:45 mark Koto scores moro-zashi grip but at the same time Tochi has hidari-uwate. The Ozeki makes his move. Tochi attempts a sotogake with his left leg and for a fraction of section transitions into kiri-gaeshi (Could these be the mysterious new techniques he was talking about during keiko?). Throwing Koto off balance, Tochi instantly switches gear and coverts the momentum into a fantastic uwatenage. Not your bread-and-butter sumo from Tochiazuma but his best sumo of the tournament thus far.

Kotooshu wasted little time in securing hidari-uwate grip to launch his patented uwatenage, with full leg extension, on Iwakiyama, who can't seem to go a match this basho without bleeding. As for Kotooshu (6-2), kachi-koshi seemed like a distant reality at the start of Haru but now heading into Week 2's yusho arasoi isn't that much of an exaggeration.

Sekiwake Hakuho absorbed Ozeki Chiyotaikai's tachi-ai right out of the gates, fired some tsuppari of his own and secured the moro-zashi grip for all of about one second. Using Chiyo's momentum against him, with a slight pull forward Hakuho pushed down on Chiyo's head while simultaneously wedging and pushing his hand under the Ozeki's left armpit for the hataki-komi victory, not to mention kachi-koshi, and ever closer to that Ozeki bid. This was not pretty sumo by Hakuho but not all of your wins can look like a million dollars. 

I'll say this about Hakuho - the Mongolian is THICK. Pre-basho reports had noted that Hakuho had put on weight and it shows. I don't recall ever seeing him so hulking. He's clearly Top 5 in the power category and Top 5 in terms of overall ability. He could probably even make Top 5 in technique but his power and physical skills are such that he doesn't need technical wizardry to win. The only questions that remain are his maturity, focus and mental toughness. No doubt he's focused like we've never seen him. Expect him to turn it up even a notch more in Week 2. 

Match-ups don't get much more intriguing than Ama/Miyabiyama. M2 Ama (4-4), whose forehead hematoma bears a striking resemblance to the island of Honshu, worked his way inside of the Sheriff's (4-4) tsuppari. One obviously connected because the crimson was flowing again. With deep grips on Miyabiyama's belt, Ama held on for dear life, smearing Miyabi's ample chest with blood. That's your Ugly for the day. It's an image that will sear your psyche and torment your soul for at least a day or two. Miyabiyama's face was one of utter confusion, standing motionless in the center of the dohyo pondering how to shake this pesky, bleeding Mongolian off his waist. Ama released his right grip to go for Miyabi's leg but Miyabi read it and using a right shitate drove Ama and himself crashing over the dohyo. This deserved a mono ii and even a torinaoshi but no such luck. Even the NHK crew expressed surprise that no mono ii was called. 

One aspect of sumo that is rarely talked about is grip strength. Watching Ama leads me to believe that he possesses one of the strongest grips in the game because there's no letting go once he sinks his in.

I wonder if sumo should institute a slaughter rule like the World Baseball Classic? A mercy killing is truly in store for M2 Hokutoriki (0-8) who once again offered nothing as Komusubi Roho (2-6) easily got under Hokuto's arms and effortlessly forced him out via yorikiri. Even Mainoumi couldn't resist jumping on the Hokutoriki bashing bandwagon stating, "Honto ni fushigi na rikishi." (He's truly a strange rikishi.) And obviously Mainoumi was holding back. Seriously, getting slotted against Hokutoriki at Haru is almost like being given a fusensho.

M4 Futenoh (2-6) vs. M5 Tokitsuumi (1-7) has to be seen, not for the sumo displayed between these two struggling rikishi (Futenoh won with a sloppy shitate-nage), but for the absolutely sickening thud that sounded when both men's heads crashed into each other at the tachi-ai. Butting heads, of course, happens all the time at the tachi-ai. It's part of the game and most rikishi have built up a sort of immunity to it. But how someone walks away from that collision without a concussion or without his head split open is amazing.

M11 Wakanosato (7-1), sporting a hideous eggplant purple bruise on his inner thigh, has quietly worked his way up the leader board, being the sole rikishi at 7-1 and only one off the pace from the mighty Mongols. Waka wasted little effort in getting underneath M14 Kitazakura's (5-3) arms, hooking an hidari-uwate and disposing of him with an uwatenage that sent Kitazakura rolling across the dohyo, no easy feat considering Kitazakura's considerable heft.

M12 Tochinonada (6-2) blew a chance to share the No. 2 spot with Wakanosato after opponent M16 Ushiomaru (1-7) came in low, denied Tochi his favored shitate grip and forced him out for the yorikiri win. This should've been a "gimme" for Tochi, as Ushiomaru came into the Big Dance today at a woeful 0-7.

In Juryo, Estonian sensation Baruto is making waves again; the phenom already scored kachi-koshi today and is on his way to a Juryo yusho at this pace. If he can finish between 13-2 and 15-0, expect the Council to vault him from J11 all the way into Maegashira ranks come May.

Simon is back tomorrow, and back with a vengeance! Stay tuned!

Day 7 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
Overall, there are few surprises as we approach the midway point of Haru basho 2006. Asashoryu is predictably making his case to take back the yusho, and Hakuho is is looking rock solid in his march toward Ozeki. Sentimental faves Tochiazuma and Kaio, facing polar opposite fates, continue to pull at the nation's heartstrings. And of course you have the Pretender, Hokutoriki, looking as bad as ever to follow up another fluke run for the yusho.

Let's start at the top, where Asashoryu (7-0) remained unbeaten after unleashing a nice uwatenage to bring down Komusubi Roho (1-6). It was a nice uwatenage, but what would be even nicer is if Roho showed some guts to not put his hand down so fast when being thrown down. You wouldn't want to get dirty there, big guy. He did this a few days ago on a receiving end of a similar throw. A far cry from the Ama-Futenoh bout, also earlier this basho, where both went down face first hoping to avoid a loss. Roho would be well served to see a few clips of Wakanohana when he was on the unfavorable side of a nage-no-uchiai (throwing duel). Tawara or not, it was either Waka's opponent that was going to touch first or Waka's face. Back to Sho, he didn't look too chipper today in terms of being aggressive, but he got the job done. 

You can just sense the end is near for Kaio (3-4). The cameras are on him from the time he emerges from his zabuton to step onto the dohyo, the commentary centers around his mental state preparing for battle, and you can feel the crowd pulling for him not unlike fall of 2002 (I believe it was) when Takanohana was coming back from an unprecedented year-plus layoff from injury. Thankfully, the grizzled vet was able to show his famed right uwatenage in all its glory today against M3 Iwakiyama (1-6), who has yet to defeat Kaio in 9 attempts. Kaio secured the right outside grip from the tachiai and then you could see it coming. And there is was. The big throw, just like the good 'ole days. Or was it? It delighted the crowd as always no doubt, but the throw itself was no longer the fluid and almost effortless work of art it once was. It took every bit of Kaio to make it happen. Kaio may or may not make it through this basho, but I have now changed my viewing perspective to appreciate his presence because we will not have this luxury much longer. At least his three bout skid ended today to make his dire situation a little easier to endure. 

Speaking of skids, Kaio's pal Chiyotaikai is embarking on a 2 bout slide of his own following up yesterday's loss with another today against M1 Tamanoshima (2-5). Tama was in control of this one from the start, having no problem neutralizing Taikai's tsuppari which had neither leg drive nor arm extension. The result was an easy hiki-otoshi (pull-down) win, a move Chiyo relies on these days to generate wins that used to come via brute force. Chiyo's still okay record-wise at 5-2, but there's not much wiggle room here either. Both kadoban Ozeki may have everyone on the edge of their zabuton battling for that elusive 8th win come next weekend.

Promotion seeking Tochiazuma, which a nation on his back, dropped a big one today against nemesis Komusubi Miyabiyama (3-4). Azuma allowed himself to get swallowed up in the rhythm of Miyabi's lumbering tsuppari and showed no offense whatsoever. All his energy went into neutralizing the plodding thrusts instead of the stick-and-move bread-and-butter that has brought him to the brink of sumo's highest rank. Tochiazuma, now 5-2, can't afford to lose again. There's no backing into the Yokozuna rank; you've got to dictate the pace of bouts yourself. Miyabiyama has now won 5 of the last 7 meetings with Azuma. 

Kotooshu (5-2) resorted to a tachi-ai henka against M4 Dejima, no doubt in hopes of pulling a quick one to save stress on his ailing knee, but it didn't work. What impresses me about Kotooshu this basho is his prowess to come out on top despite his obvious handicap. After Dejima (4-3) wasn't fooled by the henka, he proceeded to push Oshu to the rope but in true Dejima fashion he could not close the deal. Oshu held ground with one leg and used his long reach for leverage in turning the tables with a uwate-nage win. 

During a two week stint in Japan in November 2004, I was convinced Hakuho would not only be the next Ozeki, but he would get there by mid-2005. Well, I was wrong on both accounts but it's looking like there'll be no denying Sekiwake Hakuho (7-0) in March 2006. Haku couldn't get the mawashi from the get-go today against M1 Kokkai (2-5), but that wasn't a problem. His lower body stability simply won't allow him to be pushed back by anybody. It just took him a few seconds to get the belt today, but when he did it was game over for Kokkai. Yorikiri. Hakuho-Asashoryu is going to be a barnburner this basho. 

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki, certainly overshadowed by his counterpart's mastery thus far, is quietly putting up the W's. Of course, it doesn't hurt to be matched up against Hokutoriki (0-7). Mitsuki didn't let The Pretender's weak nodowa get in the way of quickly garnering moro-zashi and an easy yori-kiri win. Largely under the radar, Mitsuki may be in the makings of mounting an eventual Ozeki run himself.

Battle tested M2 Ama (4-3), gashed forehead and taped ribs and all, overcame fellow basher M6 Kakizoe (3-4) in a classic belt vs push match. Gotta love that Ama. 

Down in the dregs, Wakanosato and Tochinonada continue their dominance with 6-1 marks while Kitazakura, Kyokushuzan, Takekaze and Kisenosato all look favorable thus far at 5-2.

Day 6 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The areru (wild and crazy) haru basho has been anything but; however, it doesn't mean that we haven't been treated to some good sumo. Day 6 provided few surprises or bouts that potentially changed the face of the basho, but we did see a somewhat disturbing trend continue that Bernie mentioned yesterday with Kitazakura. But more on that later. Let's work our way down from the top in reviewing the day's action.

For those of you Hokutoriki fans out there (the number can probably be counted on one of Bart Simpson's hands), our analysis of your man may seem a little cruel. We have nothing against the guy, but we do expect a little effort from him. We don't care that Roho, Tamanoshima, and Tokitsuumi are 1-5 at this point. They're getting pounded by the jo'i, but at least they're showing some effort. I've seen zero effort from Hokutoriki the first six days of this basho, so he receives zero sympathy from me. As for his bout with Asashoryu today, I don't see how the flapping-like-a-bird tachi-ai is going to get anything accomplished against the Yokozuna. The M2 approached the Yokozuna with his arms at his sides allowing a criminal moro-zashi grip by the Yokozuna. Asashoryu drove Hokutoriki back to the straw with the stranglehold, and then paused as he retooled his grip with one hand on the front of Hokutoriki's belt as he adjusted the grip with his other hand on the back. Asashoryu was obviously thinking about setting his prey up for a humiliating defeat, but I think he realized at the ring's edge, you've just got to play it safe. After a few seconds of decision, Asashoryu opted for the easy yori-kiri win to move to 6-0. Hokutoriki falls to 0-6 and probably pissed his mawashi a bit today when he realized the Yokozuna didn't just drive him straight back and out. More on Asashoryu's sumo at the end of my Hakuho comments.

I'm going to have to eat a little crow today regarding Ozeki Kotooshu. I felt he was in no condition to enter this tournament, and while he's obviously not 100%, he is showing me serious sack, and I can't but help to root for the guy. Today against Komusubi Roho, Kotooshu secured the quick left uwate from the tachi-ai, and as he went with his left hand, he blocked Roho's charge with the right hand that denied the Russian from gaining any sort of grip and stood him upright. Roho was completely neutralized at this point, and the Ozeki wasted no time in driving his opponent over to the straw and out for the dominating yori-kiri win. Kotooshu (4-2) could not have asked for more easy victory against a tough opponent where he didn't need to apply any pressure on his right knee. Take another 24 hours to rest the joint my man in preparation for Dejima tomorrow. Roho falls to 1-5 and looks lost this basho.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai's 5-0 start can be put in better perspective when you look at the five kimarite or winning techniques of his bouts coming in: hataki-komi, tsuki-otoshi, hikiotoshi, tsuki-dashi (against Hokutoriki), and hataki-komi. Like Hokutoriki, you may think that the contributors on this site have something against Chiyotaikai. We don't, but we DO point out lame, inflated sumo when we see it. As expected, the law of averages kicked into gear today as Miyabiyama delivered those lumbering tsuppari to the neck of the Ozeki from the tachi-ai. Chiyotaikai countered with a faux tsuppari attack of his own, but the attempt was a meek charge that allowed the Sheriff to step calmly to his right and slap the hapless Taikai down to the clay restoring order to the dohyo...and the leaderboard. The 2-4 Miyabiyama just toyed with the 5-1 Ozeki. Go figure.

The Kaio retirement watch gains momentum today as the once great Ozeki couldn't not handle some change-up sumo from M1 Kokkai. Instead of those flapping double tsuppari, Kokkai attacked at the tachi-ai with a head to Kaio's right shoulder keeping his hips back and body low depriving Kaio of a belt grip. As soon as Kaio attempted a push to gain some sort of control, Kokkai stepped back and went for the slap down. Kaio's legs simply couldn't keep up with Kokkai's move resulting to the Ozeki crumpling to the clay yet again. Both rikishi stand at 2-4, but Kokkai still has his youth. Afterwards, Kaio stated that he didn't want to go out this way, so he was coming back for more tomorrow. I admire Kaio's fighting spirit, and while I think we all know that 8 wins is out of the question, I think Kaio may yet have a few surprises up his sleeve come week 2.

Besides the piling on of Hokutoriki and Chiyotaikai by the Sumotalk contributors, it may also appear that we have already written Tochiazuma's Yokozuna run off. I don't speak for the others, but I wouldn't say we've written Tochiazuma off; it's just that a coupla Mongolians are the ones displaying Yokozuna sumo, not Tochiazuma. Granted, there's not a lot yet that the Ozeki can showcase at this point as his five wins are over opponents who are a combined 5-20, but I just find myself amazed each day by Asashoryu and Hakuho, not Tochiazuma. The Ozeki went for the frontal belt grip today against M3 Iwakiyama, but Tochiazuma was driven back by some fierce tsuppari to his throat. Iwakiyama was having his way with Tochiazuma until the Ozeki reached the tawara where he slipped to his left and slapped the charging Iwakiyama down to the clay for the hiki-otoshi win. Once again, Tochiazuma displayed great agility and ring sense today, but it just didn't look to me like Yokozuna sumo. If Iwakiyama had a bit more speed in his legs, he would have dominated the Ozeki today. Tochiazuma's Yokozuna run is shaping up a lot like Kotooshu's Ozeki run in Kyushu: very light first week where he suffered a costly loss and a tough second week where he will have to prove he deserves the promotion.

In the Sekiwake ranks, Kotomitsuki executed that slight side step to his left at the tachi-ai giving him the smothering uwate against M1 Tamanoshima. Tamanoshima attempted to counter with a left inner grip, but Kotomitsuki had his opponent all but neutralized. Easy yori-kiri win right? No. Kotomitsuki just stood there like a bump on a log. Tamanoshima was in no position to do anything...and didn't even try, but Kotomitsuki just stood there and stood there and stood there. I finally went to my freezer and grabbed an ice cube to watch it melt. Next, I popped in my Lynyrd Skynyrd CD and listened to Freebird, and luckily just as that song ended, I looked up at my TV set to see Kotomitsuki easily drive out his opponent for the yori-kiri win. I don't get Kotomitsuki's motive today. That same force-out was available two seconds into the bout, so why wait for nearly two minutes? Nonetheless, the win moves him to 5-1 while Tamanoshima falls to a paltry 1-5.

The best bout today on paper coming in featured M2 Ama vs. Sekiwake Hakuho. Ama is quickly becoming that pest where none of the rikishi want to face him and all of us viewers love to watch him. While I didn't necessarily agree with his tachi-ai henka yesterday against Kotooshu, I loved the fact that he went straight for Kotooshu's good leg and forced the Ozeki to "balance" himself on the bad leg. I expected Ama to give Hakuho his toughest test so far, but it just didn't happen. After a brief exchange of tsuppari from the tachi-ai, Hakuho managed a deep left inner grip that he immediately used (are you following me here Kotomitsuki?) to lift Ama off of his feet and dump to the clay in a heap. The key to the bout was Hakuho's tsuppari. In the past I've labeled them as bear paw slaps because it reminds me of a grizzly beat mauling its prey. His tsuppari are a combination forward thrust and push down that no one else uses. Hakuho's height favors this, and the bear paw slaps were especially effective in keeping the shorter Ama disoriented throughout. Ama falls to a respectable 3-3 while Hakuho moves to a cool 6-0, standing alongside of Asashoryu as the sole leaders. While we're on the subject, these two rikishi have clearly been on a different plane from their peers this basho, but I submit that Hakuho has outshined even Asashoryu. Asa's had a few moments where he wasn't in complete control, but Hakuho has carved up his opponents with such efficiency that I would tout him as the favorite this basho to yusho IF I was assured he was as mentally tough as Asashoryu. Week 2 will be a treat with these two, Tochiazuma, a getting-healthier-by-the-day Kotooshu, Kotomitsuki if he's more hit and less miss, and even the other two Ozeki.

In the Maegashira ranks, M3 Aminishiki displayed his arsenal of waza by securing a quick left uwate from tachi-ai, forcing opponent M5 Tokitsuumi (1-5) fairly upright, and then unleashing a sweeping leg kick that knocked Tokitsuumi's right leg out from under him for the always enjoyable suso-harai win. Aminishiki joins stable mate Ama at very good 3-3 records considering who they've fought.

How about M4 Dejima so far? Today he came in low from the tachi-ai against M7 Kasugao inviting an ill-advised kubi-nage throw from the Korean. Kasugao's footing was not set up at all for the throw, so when it failed it was an easy force-out for Dejima who moves to 4-2.

What the hell is M7 Kisenosato doing messing with the tachi-ai henka? He didn't need the desperate win coming in at 3-2, and he has fought so well this basho. I feel like a betrayed father watching him punk the struggling M4 Futenoh like that (let's see, I was in Japan first in 1989...Kisenosato was born in...1986. Whew). The Kid moves to 4-2 but needs a time out while Futenoh falls to 1-5.

M5 Kyokutenho keeps going for the harite from the tachi-ai, but I think in inhibits his ability to grab the quick uwate. M8 Kotoshogiku took advantage today getting his left arm inside so deep that it was easy pickings in pushing Tenho back and out in a flash. The Geeku's attack was so effective, I thought he had moro-zashi (he didn't). Nevertheless, he moves to 3-3 while Kyokutenho cools off a bit at 4-2.

M6 Tokitenku exhibited a sharp tachi-ai but went for an unnecessary pull down that didn't work. M10 Tochinohana said thank you very much as he secured the moro-zashi position and corned Tokitenku against the tawara. The easy force out from there propels Tochinohana to 4-2 while Tokitenku falls to 3-3.

M9 Takekaze showed another quick tachi-ai today that pushed M11 Takamisakari back to the tawara, but Sakari countered as he does so well to halt his opponent's momentum and parlay that into the moro-zashi grip. His force out of Takekaze back across the ring and out lifts the Robocop to 4-2. Takekaze is the same.

M9 Jumonji enjoyed a quick hand-cuffing right uwate at the tachi-ai against M12 Tochinonada, but Nada dug in his heels wrenching Jumonji upwards from time to time in an effort to get a deeper grip on his opponent. After four or so wrenches, Tochinonada secured a decent inner grip and used it to force Jumonji up against tawara, but Jumonji has such good position from the get-go that he was not easily pushed it. Tochinonada (5-1) sensed this and immediately reversed momentum with a shite-nage throw back into the center of the ring. Jumonji's failure to win this bout after that position is the exact reason why he can't rise past the mid-Maegashira on the banzuke; it's probably also contributing to his 0-6 start. Ouch.

M12 Hakurozan moved to 4-2 after a brief tsuppari exchange at the tachi-ai with M10 Toyonoshima. Just as Toyonoshima thought he was mounting a charge, Hakurozan just stepped back a step and pulled the struggling Toyonoshima (1-5) down. Good win for Hakurozan, but I don't like this habit of going for the quick pull-down. It will work most days against Toyonoshima, but not next basho when he's higher up in the ranks.

M14 Toyozakura never let M11 Wakanosato get close to his belt with some feisty tsuppari, but Wakanosato showed decent tsuppari of his own holding Toyo at bay until he timed a perfect slap down vaulting himself to the 5-1 plateau. Toyozakura was simply outclassed by the veteran as he falls to 2-4.

Okay, okay, let's get to the gimmick sumo. M13 Kyokushuzan literally leap frogged M15 Otsukasa at the tachi-ai to do something I guess. Shu did grab the quick left uwate on the back of Otsukasa's belt, but Kyokushuzan's momentum and balance were in disarray after his jump. The fact that he couldn't finish off Otsukasa right there is testimony to how stupid that move was. I just didn't see the point of that tachi-ai other than to make the crowd go "ooh". After a brief struggle, Kyokushuzan eventually used his uwate to fell Otsukasa, but that was reckless sumo that will get no praise from me. Shu does move to 4-2 while Otsukasa falls to 3-3.

And last but not least, M14 Kitazakura was involved in such a marathon affair with M16 Yoshikaze that I can't describe it here. Basically, Yoshikaze was trying desperately to grab the belt while Kitazakura kept fighting him off. Around and around they went flailing this way and that, but Kitazakura's size, experience, and recent momentum were the deciding factor in my opinion as he finally connected on some sharp thrusts that pushed Yoshikaze (3-3) back and across the tawara. Zak moves to 4-2, but I found the scene afterwards a bit disturbing. If you don't have access to the live broadcast, let me explain. As the rikishi exit the hana-michi and head to their dressing rooms in Osaka, they have to pass through the regular corridors of the venue. Well, dozens of young boys were lined up waiting for their hero's exit, and Kitazakura did not disappoint as he ran down the line of boys slapping their hands in succession. I know, I know, it seems harmless, but when I read Bernie's comments yesterday that Kitazakura actually exchanged cell phone numbers with the kids, a red flag went up. Like Bernie, I probably don't know the whole story here, but a grown man should not be with young boys. Go ask the producer of that boy cult "Johnnies Juniors" about the whole shonen-ai thing. It's harmless, innocent stuff right? Oh, and if you don't know what shonen-ai is and you want to Google the term, make sure you don't fall under both of these categories:

1. You don't know how to clear the cache in your computer
2. You expect a visit from the police within the next 20 days where they will probably confiscate your hard drive 

Other than that, have it. And yes, Bernie, I find it creepy. Rumors that Kitazakura is going to start driving an ice-cream truck after retirement are unconfirmed. Hey, he can at least paint the name "Neverland" on the side. I hear that name is available again.

Kenji cleans up this mess tomorrow.

Day 5 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
Day Five in Osaka and the Mongolians seem to be taking control. Hakuho and Asashoryu are both looking great as Ama continues to put on a show for the masses. Let's see if there are enough glory scraps left over for Tochiazuma's already faltering bid for Yokozuna. Of the two Kadoban Crusaders, it looks like Kaio might be falling off the radar in the coming days so read on to see how our fifth day of fighting shaped up.

But first, up here in Canada we take our Sumo pretty seriously. We fight in the snow, we go topless at -10 and when one of our favourite Rikishi loses half his face for a rematch, we run ourselves head first into a concrete wall without a second thought. For those of you wondering why I'm shirtless in my photos, it's because I run my own Sumo league out of my backyard, taking videos and writing about it on my website all the while. Can't really explain why I'm here without the plug, but if you want proof that at least one of the Sumotalk crew can throw down, look up a few 'Tetsuzukiyama' videos over at and tell me that mug doesn't strike fear into your cold dark hearts.

On to real sumo, let's start at the bottom. Kyokushuzan made quick work of Kitazakura tonight, but it shouldn't take away from the Elder Cherry's (3-2) record so far nor his inroads into promoting sumo among young Japanese boys. With personal cellphone calls. I assume that anyone who knows the whole story doesn't find it as creepy as I do but the kids were sure swarming him in front of the cameras last night. Taking kids cell numbers, I sure couldn't get away with that up here in the Great Conservative White North. For those of you who don't know, Canada swung to the Right last election and so instead of enjoying my bashos with spliffs a blazing, I'm now scheming up ways to fleece the sumo crowd and bankrupt us all. Let's just say the Sumotalk sellout has only begun!

Wakanosato was enjoying a share of the lead tonight going up against Otsukasa. This bout started like most of Waka's others this week as he was pushed back at first then managing to fight back to the centre. Otsukasa then pulled an apparently well-timed tsukiotoshi that broke the two wrestlers apart but should not have been enough for the win. Wakanosato tried to recover but it looks like his front foot lost traction and he went down too low into the splits before pulling something. He limped off very slowly after the match. Nothing yet on how he's doing, so I assume that he's still showing up for Toyozakura tomorrow.

Speaking of which, the Hairy Cherry Toyozakura came out all tsuppari against Toyonoshima, driving him out with a ferocious growl and helping his record to a decent start of (2-3). The (1-4) Toyonoshima has a meeting with Hakurozan tomorrow in his bid to turn things around.

Tochinohana managed to work his way inside on Asasekiryu for his third win. I hate the purple Mawashi but I'm really getting to like this guy, and I hope he stays in the top ranks for a while. Both men are at (3-2) after five days.

Jumonji stays true to form by being manhandled by the sneering Tokitenku into a quick hatakikomi. Tokitenku has had some spirited contests this basho and has fought right to the end every time. This bout turned out to be a big mismatch, but we'll see how he does against the powerful Tochinohana tomorrow. Jumonji is a disgusted (0-5) while Tokitenku nurses his (3-2).

Takekaze didn't impress me much last basho but after recent wins over the impressive Tochinohana and Tokitenku, I'm starting to think that this guy will probably settle a bit higher in the banzuke then his current M9 rank. He would face Kakizoe today, hoping to crack the little fireplug for the first time. Takekaze was a bit quicker at the tachi-ai and stood up Kakizoe, setting up a pulldown attempt for the second Hatakikomi in a row. That leaves Takekaze at an impressive (4-1) mark early in the basho. Kakizoe has a (2-3) record so far and should be going strong into next week.

Kotoshogiku scored a right hand inside from the tachi-ai and was able to lift Tokitsuumi up and out without too much effort. The Geeku needed this one to go to (2-3) while Tokistuumi's victory over Ama is the only feather in his (1-4) cap.

Kisenosato was up for more yotsu-zumo with Dejima, only this time Dejima decided to get tricky with a well-timed Kotenage throw to pull Kissy off his feet and onto the clay. Kissy was doing really well so far and certainly wants to improve on his M7 rank this basho. Dejima has been having trouble with the super-heavies but has scored a (3-2) record against decent opposition. Good to see his pale flesh out from under all that bandaging.

Fuuuu-Tennn-ooooh! The poor guy had to face some top-flight Sumo already and has only one win to show for it. The Ama debacle of last night probably didn't help him prepare for another rising star, the throwy Korean Kasugao. Kasugao seemed to have the jump at the tachi-ai and kept Futenoh well away from his belt. He then hooked his hand over Futenoh's right upper arm, pulling him off balance and and eventually ending up with a messy Okuridashi. Futenoh seems to be suffering from an extreme lack of confidence right now.  Good thing that at (1-4) he's almost through the worst of the jo-i. Kasugao is no slouch either, and at (3-2) will be eyeing promotion shortly.

Kyokutenho is a Mongolian on the mend this basho, packing The Joke away without any embarrassing difficulty. I have this funny feeling that Hokutoriki's wife has convinced him to become the new elevator king. After being passably effective last basho he is a limp fish to the Nth degree this time out, albeit against three Ozeki and a Hakuho so far. (0-5) for him while Kyokutenho turns things around with his (4-1) start.

Streaky Mitsuki. Ah, Streaky, nothing like a huge win over the biggest paperweight in Sumo to set everyone scratching their heads. He sometimes makes me wonder if he is really a team of two twins where sometimes the good twin shows up to rock the house, sometimes the bad twin shows up to lose and confuse. The Good Twin showed up tonight anyway, keeping Miyabiyama locked upright from the tachi-ai until Mitsuki was able to get side control and pull down The Sheriff with a SWEET Kirikaeshi. At (4-1) against some toughies he seems to be holding up his first week reputation. For (1-4) Miyabiyama, the second week can't come fast enough.

Although I didn't watch his rise to the top, I've always felt that Hakuho was a complete natural, one of those 'poetry in motion' fighters who elevate their bouts to something more akin to art than to sport. Ali is one, I'm a big Forrest Griffin fan, and Asashoryu just demolished me the first time I saw him live at the Kokugikan. Sumo has TWO bona-fide naturals now, only one of them is still growing. Growing into a big old Mongolian Gobi Bear. Some kind of bear anyway. What has this guy been doing the past year to get so damn big? Miyabiyama mentioned being struck by Hakuho's new girth during the Shikiri, I can't imagine that anyone is pleased with a wrestler as good as Hakuho still exploring that weight/speed trade-off with such success. At least Iwakiyama gave him a test today and drove him back a bit before being maki-kae'd for morozashi and then lifted off the ground before, mercifully, oblivion. Yorikiri. More Yokozuna sumo as Hakuho stays perfect at (5-0) while Iwakiyama is being ground at (1-4).

Roho got his shot at Kaio today with the long time Ozeki being chased over the tawara for a somewhat embarrassing third loss through five days. What is this guy still doing out there? The question in my mind is: Who's going to be the one to henka him into retirement? I nominate Kokkai, but you know I'd want Shunketsu to do it if he were available. Roho got his first win and is (1-4) to Kaio's scary (2-3). After the match they asked Roho the only question they ever seem to pose: "You just won, how you you feel?" for which he seemed completely and utterly unprepared. Like 'whoa, what a deep question!'. I couldn't believe it. They only ask one question! You only have one answer! This shouldn't be a surprise! Finally Roho got his brain out of the loop and parroted the usual schpeil. No thinking, bud, just wrestle. Just wrestle.

Chiyotaikai seems to have Aminishiki's number, tonight being no exception as the Chiyo set up another pull down win to improve to an improbably but sorely needed (5-0). Actually, it looks like his strategy is to poke-blind his opponents before running away. How bad does it have to get before the judges call him on that crap? Aminishiki is faring nearly as well as his stablemate and fellow meatgrinder resident Ama at (2-3). 

Ama has been having quite a ride this basho and will soon be sporting some pretty awesome facial scarring on top of his usual acne load. Nothing says 'Bad Ass' like a huge scrape across the face that you got in a fight. That kind of badge has a message: 'You should see the other guy'. Indeed, I bet there was something about that scar that got Yogurt wondering if he himself might be in for a scuff or two. The stress was evident as Yogurt gave a totally uncharacteristic shake of the wrist before the bout, which lead to the totally characteristic high-tachi-ai-then-get-twisted-down loss we're coming to expect from the the man I can't help thinking of as 'The White Snake'.

Why the White Snake? I'm not really sure, or at least I can't pretend there's a good reason, he just seems to snap at his opponents, sink his teeth in and then lash around until his prey is dead. He's white and skinny and doesn't really seem to fight like anyone else, like a Sumo wrestler. Nor should he, really. Our pal Yogurt will never win doing good and balanced sumo, he just doesn't have the body and it would play totally against his strengths. He doesn't want to out-Sumo his opponents, he wants to out-Wrestle them. The White Snake is not Sumo, he eats Sumo. Can't shake the image for some reason, but I'm sure I like the name for the cheesy 80's hair metal band it brings to mind.

Back to the man of the hour, the 'Hero' among sumo, getting the high fives all around, the Lil' Bronco Ama. Now I know we all saw that nasty push on Futenoh the other day that seemed so uncharacteristic and spiteful. Some have tried to argue it away with 'Oh, he tripped on his foot' or whatnot but the fact is that Ama is learning that it takes 'Fighting Spirit' to get to the top, and by 'Fighting Spirit' I mean 'make the other guy think you're going to hurt them'. I'm not pointing the finger at Ama as much as all the foreigners who seem to consider intensity the same as malicious intent.

Nice for Asashoryu to laugh off his launching of Iwakiyama the night before but he's setting the tone for a much meaner, attack the head-and-neck age of the sport. I love the implied intimidation of the shikiri, but I am becoming increasingly distressed with the punchy childlike intimidation being shown by the top guys, usually the foreigners so often described as 'hungrier' than the Japanese. Anyway, Ama's loss of balance could have been corrected much more gracefully but why not send a message - hell, he knew he'd get away with it. Hakuho and Asashoryu have been throwing tantrums after the buzzer for a while now, look where it's got them!

Four whole paragraphs down and I haven't even mentioned Ama's supposed henka. Some call it a henka, I see it as the most painless execution a lame horse can enjoy. While I think that the right-sidestep-throw was excruciatingly expected, the inside leg grab was a stroke of genius. If you didn't see the match. Ama came out quick at the tachi-ai and nearly got the uwate as he sidestepped and let Kotooshu pass him by. In a blink Ama wrapped his left arm around Koto's right leg and tossed him down hard for the Ashitori win. This bout is also an earned reward from all those months of Ama's straight-up tachi-ais, now paying dividends through nervous and overzealous opponents. 

Through five days we've seen Kotooshu beaten by first the heaviest then the lightest man in Sumo to post his (3-2) record before facing Roho tomorrow. Ama has got to be feeling good tonight with his own (3-2) record, and I'm sure everyone is interested to see what happens between him and Hakuho tomorrow. Anyone catch the low-five when these two passed on the Hanamichi? I thought it was pretty cool. "Nice one, Hack" - "Go get 'em, Tiger"

Tochiazuma had another bout barely worth mentioning against someone... Kokkai I think. He won, probably in the usual way, is now at (4-1) and doubtful to make Yokozuna. Although I'm probably jinxing every single one of my predictions, Chestnut isn't a Yokozuna in my mind and won't even make 12-3. I might even have believed the hype for a little while there, but I just don't see that he's improved in any significant way, nor that the field is any easier. Kokkai is going (1-4) and still has a few notable challenges to come.

Asashoryu dragged Tamanoshima across the ring before hoisting him up, throwing him down and landing on top of him with a mile-high Kakenage. Not much for Tama to do here, just another round of 'Name the Kimarite'. Asashoryu looks pretty fit right now and besides a bit of arm-shaking before the bout he doesn't seem to be affected by the Hack Attack two months ago. When he's plowing through the ranks like this I can't help but think he's (5-0) on course for a Zensho.

The non-sumo highlight of the tape was the beautiful pouty Japanese woman in black with a string of pearls around her neck - must be her favourite - who would only be shown after a West sider won his match and was waiting with the dipper. No sooner did I start rooting for the West that the East side hit a streak and took the last six matches of the day, banishing my beauty for the rest of the broadcast. Damn you, east side, I'll remember this!

Here tomorrow with pearl necklaces for everyone will be your loveable pal Grover... or Mike? Maybe Mike.

Day 4 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
I have resided in Nippon for eight years now (I agree with the Nipponese authorities that "lived" is such a strong word, best avoided) and I thought I had seen it all. I mean, I've been arrested and detained for days, I've fallen onto train tracks (yes, from off a platform,) I've been accosted by wild monkeys, a wild boar, a wild deer, and a nice little tanuki. I've even been gang raped by Japanese gangsters (though I'm unsure as to whether three Pilipina hostesses in thrall to organized crime count as gangsters, and of course since I was technically but consensually the aggressor, shinitai and all that...)

But I never imagined that day would come when Grand Champion Asashoryu would intentionally unleash an extra blast of whoopass on one of his woeful foes as he flew off the dohyo. Shocked, was I, to see him nearly punch Iwakiyama into the cheap seats at the end of his lightning quick victory over the scrappy little (little?) M3. And all because Iwaki had the effrontery to arm blast the Yokozuna in the mug, and then slap him for good measure. The big lug knew he wasn't going to beat Asa, who has something like a 328-1 record against the rikishi I like to call "Cliff", so he might as well pop him in the chops some. And if that gets him a seat on top of some old crusty gobshite and his cell phone (eLook, guys, it's me, next to my "companion" [paid]!) in the third row ringside, well, a small price to pay I say. A different kind of kachi, na?

But Asa is not the only Mongolian dishing out some heaping helpings of hurt these days. 4-0 Sekiwake Hakuho looked positively yokozunaesque in utterly dismissing Miyabiyama, quick left hand outside to the mawashi of the leviathanic 1-3 Komusubi, with legs wide and body low proceed to spin him around, shove him back and out and have enough left in the tank to put on the brakes and graciously keep his foe from crashing out (okay, only hurt feelings for Miyabi here). Still, if The Khan and his yusho quaffing appetite hadn't come along just before Hakuho, they'd be twirling this guy's rope right now. His bout with Kotooshu will be the bout of the tourney for me, as...

...the giant Bulgarian leprechaun is showing progressively more sack as the tourney gets percolatin'. Today he literally turned Kokkai's world upside down with a gigantic belt throw that sent both of the Euro giants head first out of the ring. Kokkai, fretting about his widdle head, put his hand down, the wuss, and once he saw that, McKotooshu calmly placed his left hand on the clay and easy as you please pinwheeled off the dohyo to a well earned pot o' gold 3rd win. How it was determined to be a yoritaoshi and not an uwate or shitate nage I'll never know.

I know there are a bunch of 3-1 Tochiazuma fans out there (along with the Just Want To See Another Grand Champion crowd) that will be getting all syrupy in the drawers after the Yokozuna hopeful's win today, but DO Not Be Deceived, it was a gift, plain and simple, wrapped in the finest yaochogami by the boys at Kataonami beya and delivered by Tamanoshima. Or maybe it's that the M1 is badly injured, and so grabbing at the head of an Ozeki known the world over for being able to make his neck disappear during bouts was his only option. 1-3 Tama's quit this bout was, dare I say it, Hokutorikiesque. (Yes, "-esque" is my "thing" today, you gotta problem with that?)

The battle of the day was clearly down in the Maegashira, so let's put the two kadoban Ozeki aside for a moment and examine the gem of a tussle betwixt M2 Ama and M4 Futenoh. Ama came in low and hard at the tachi-ai and immediately disregarded the forearm smash that Futenoh led with (as an aside, I don't much care for that forearm maneuver at tachi-ai, which Wakanosato among others does a lot lately, more often than not gives the opponent openings under your arms and to your belt, I say better to keep the arms down and blast with the head and chest, like Kaio always does), grabbed the belt and lifted Futenoh up and back. Futenoh stiffened at the edge and reached around and grabbed the back of Ama's belt. Ama responded by wrapping his right leg around Futeno's left like a lunchbreak lover, real pythonesque stuff (see Simon for details). 

From this point we were all excited about what was to come, and we were not disappointed (I was watching by myself but "we" sounds better, you know, the royal we, the editorial...). Futenoh seemed to be considering the most obvious move, which was to fall straight into Ama and land on him, but he knows that Ama is a mighty twister and would likely throw Futenoh down if he tried it. While Futenoh was puzzling out the odds, Ama said, Saki ni shitsurei-shimasu, which means, I'm outta here, and flung them both onto the clay, keeping his two-fisted grip on Futenoh's belt all the while. What this meant was that Ama took the dirt full on his pretty face. The "goombah" indicated Ama the winner, but the judges conferenced and even though the replays showed clearly that Ama's casaba slammed to the ground before Futenoh's, they ordered a rematch. Yes, I exclaimed. Excellent call. Ama's throw was far too valiant a maneuver to ignore.

Disregarding his bloody wound (for there was indeed, my little droogs, much of the lovely red red kroovy dripping down our humble hero's façade), Ama squared up again. Futenoh looked a bit wan, perhaps seeing this mad, wounded creature from the Asian steppes unnerved him, and when Ama hit him like a musketball at the re-do, 1-3 Futenoh had no answer and was summarily backed out and dismissed, with a puddle of 2-2 Ama's crimson corpuscles all over his chest and neck. Worth the price of admission, ladies and gents.

2-2 Ozeki Kaio got molested by 2-2 Aminsihiki's right hand on the front of his mawashi, pulled here and there and shoved out. Why the M3, after beating Tochiazuma on Day 2, henka'd Asa on Day 3 is a mystery left to those better than us. And even after he had beaten Asa last basho! Sumo can be

4-0 Chiyotaikai took his sister to the prom, turning back the clock to power drive out everybody's cummerbund, winless M2 Hokutoriki. Looked good, even charming, but in the end, he ain't gettin' any, knowhatimean?

Kotomitsuki was picked up and shaken like a ragdoll by new Komusubi Roho, who unleashed his powerful uwatenage throw, only to have the Sekiwake stay up long enough on his kneelocked left leg for winless Roho to bumble his foot out and lose. The winning technique was "isamiashi", which translates loosely as "I really need to take ballet lessons". Had Roho any ring awareness he would have beaten Tochiazuma last basho, Hakuho would have yusho'd and be gunning for Yokozuna right now, and Tochi would be right where he belongs, safely ensconced at the Ozeki rank. Roho, you mad impetuous fool! Tread lightly, man.

M4 Dejima broke out his Greatest Hits CD and gave M5 Tokitsuumi the bum's rush in classic D-Train yorikiri fashion. Dejima is I'm Your Boogie Man at 2-2, Tokitsuumi We've Only Just Begun at 1-3.

M5 Kyokutenho slapped down a low charging and overeager Kakizoe for his 3rd win, while my main man falls to .500.

M7 Kasugao got into all the wrong kinds of fighting with M6 Tokitenku, arms extended and flailing away. The Mongolian simply timed one of his parries perfectly and the big Korean, who should ALWAYS go for the belt, fell to the mat. He was looking quite nice against the Geeku and Mr. Handsome the first two days, but has run afoul of the Mongolians and their wily ways the last two days. Go home, pound down some hot spicy food, and come back tomorrow smoking against Futenoh in what should be a rollicking match.

M7 Kisenosato (3-1) was looking pretty Takanohanaesque today, wrapping up M8 Kotoshogiku (1-3) at the get go and walking him slowly but inexorably back and out in about as yori a taoshi as there is. I imagine bouts like this are similar to bouts between, say, Musashimaru and Takanohana when they were both young up and comers. These two guys will battle each other in this manner for another 40 basho at least. Licking chops, am I.

M8 Asasekiryu needed two tries at his favorite inside left belt grip, and the second time was the charm as he dropped M9 Takekaze. Both men are now 3-1.

M10 Toyonoshima (1-3) did what every middle aged woman in Nippon would love to do, namely get Takamisakari (2-2) in a bearhug and not let go until he capitulates, which the M11 did in a flash. PT's boy had better pick up the pace.

M10 Tochinohana went to 2-2 with a routine but powerful push out of winless M9 Jumonji, who got out muscled, plain and simple.

M11 Wakanosato (how strange that is to type) stayed perfect with an easy push out win over M12 Hakurozan, who doesn't seem to be rebounding all that well from the beating he received at M4 in January with only 2 wins so far over recent Juryo mainstay Otsukasa and flighty Kyokushuzan.

M12 Tochinonada stayed undefeated with a win over spirited Kitazakura (3-1). Tochi pushed Kita back at tachi-ai, and got a left hand outside on his belt. He looked about to throw the M14, but Kita danced away and mounted a small charge forward. Tochi stalled that with an armbar and after a brief stalemate, Tochi got Kita up high and pulled off a deft throw by pulling with his left hand and pushing under Kita's armpit with his right, a tsukiotoshi. Tochinonada continues to impress with a 4-0.

M13 Kyokushuzan (2-2), the Maegashira Master of Mediocrity, who had actually been showing some gutsy sumo early on, did a Jiminy Cricket imitation against a Juryo regular, in Makuuchi for Osaka, M16 Ushiomaru (4-0). Addressing this issue again would be like engaging intelligent design proponents. What's the point?

Day 5 brings, I believe, that wild and crazy Canadian, Bernie McManus. Ya' ken full well he'll be writin' in goot faith! So stop back and say hi. We'll leave the light on.

Day 3 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
A lively three days of sumo in Osaka have left me lamenting the injured knee of Kotooshu and Tochiazuma's day-two loss to Aminishiki. What this basho really needed was the Japanese Yokozuna hopeful getting a run of five or six wins together at the very least. On top of that, a healthy Kotooshu is a vital component of a successful basho in terms of fan interest. Both elements came to a grinding halt yesterday and it remains to be seen how the basho will recover. I am in complete agreement with my dear cousin (forty-two times removed) Mike when he says that Kotooshu should be at home right now, sipping beer, eating yoghurt and stealing all Kotomitsuki's women at the go-kon. What's the point of risking serious injury at this early stage of his career? It is yet another of those baffling aspects of sumo that might be a source of fascination to the passive observer, but is in reality damaging to the sport. Let's not forget that this is exactly what finished Takanohana's career: fighting on with a bad injury. Yes, that famous musubi-no-ichiban with Musashimaru is indelibly etched in our memories, but the risks of such behaviour are too high, in my far-from-humble opinion. Regarding Tochiazuma, his bid for the top has suffered a huge setback but it is by no means over yet. No more slip-ups, though, Dai-chan. Wakaru?

For a plethora of reasons, the Tokyo-born Ozeki desperately needed to beat M2 Hokutoriki today. Absolutely vital it was to get that winning mentality back after his disastrous loss yesterday. Further, Hokutoriki is the ultimate whipping boy at the top end of the banzuke and all of the sanyaku will be viewing their bout against him as a shiroboshi in the bag. If ever there was a must-win situation, it was today. Hokutoriki felt the need as usual to play his irritating matta game but they got going at the second attempt and we were treated to the usual sight of Hokutoriki being bundled out with ease. It was good, at least, to see Tochiazuma reverting to his ultra-defensive tachiai, not because it is particularly pretty to watch, but because it is tried and tested. He needs stability now and for the rest of the week. If he can get to Sunday without losing any more bouts, his bid for Yokozuna will be well and truly alive. Tochiazuma is a cherry trifle at 2-1. Hokutoriki is the last sausage in the fridge at 0-3, going on 0-15.

Sekiwake Hakuho gave a hugely impressive performance at the expense of unhappy Komusubi Roho as he got that titanic left-hand outside grip and used it to propel the big Russian to the edge, where Roho mustered a little resistance, knowing however that this bout was over at the tachiai, and was inevitably pulled back and down.  Hakuho looks flawless after three days and will surely challenge for the yusho well into the second week, if not take it. It's 3-0 for the future Yokozuna. Roho is learning first-hand that Komusubi don't generally enjoy being at this rank and remains infertile at 0-3.

Yokozuna Asashoryu survived a henka attempt from M3 Aminishiki, who clearly has large balls, but is strongly recommended to keep away from Asashoryu in the Natsu pre-basho keiko. It was a tribute to the unrivalled agility of the Yokozuna that he kept himself in this one. Almost anyone else would have been easy meat for Aminishiki (or indeed anyone who tried that). To be fair to Aminishiki, it wasn't a full-blown henka – he did actually meet Asashoryu at the tachiai - but he slipped so quickly to the side that the Yokozuna's initial momentum carried him past and almost out. Asashoryu recovered instantly and grabbed the left arm, enabling him to twist the pesky conqueror of Tochiazuma round and out. We had the usual glare from Asashoryu after the bout – it's good to see he is up for this one. He is clearly still smarting from Tochiazuma's yusho in January and wants to see things set back the way they should be. Asashoryu said yesterday that he dreams of meeting a Japanese Yokozuna one day so he clearly wants Tochiazuma to do well this basho but I'd say his charity extends only to allowing Tochiazuma promotion via a jun-yusho.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai continued his pathetic advance as M3 Iwakiyama defeated himself, despite a spirited charge. I just wish Iwaki had bothered to use his brain – surely he knows the Ozeki is thoroughly adept these days at slipping to the side at the edge. Iwakiyama should not have committed himself so thoroughly but I suppose that's just the kind of rikishi he is. Chiyotaikai might be 3-0 but his sumo is a disgrace to the rank of Ozeki. In three bouts he has taken only ONE step forward in total. ONE – against Kokkai! That is not Ozeki sumo, it is Kyokushuzan sumo. Retire now! I hate to say that if he keeps on racking up these cheap wins against the lower-ranked lads in the first week, he might scrape the eight wins he needs to survive. What a nightmare! Iwakiyama is having a tough time of things at 1-2.

Ozeki Kaio met a tough opponent in the ever-dangerous Komusubi Miyabiyama. The veteran Ozeki wasted no time in twisting the left arm of his opponent over to one side and then driving in on the other for the easy yorikiri win. Kaio looks a lot more settled after his unfortunate loss to Ama (yes, unfortunate, nothing else) on day one and is surely favourite to keep his rank as long as he can avoid injury. Go Kaio!

For me, one of the most impressive aspects of Ozeki Kotooshu's sumo is his ability to defeat morozashi, a rare and precious skill. M4 Futenoh will be having a little cry in the corner this evening as he reflects on his failure to finish the Bulgarian off. Kotooshu simply used his vastly superior height and reach to make a mockery of what is usually a death hold. Kotooshu keeps his pecker up at 2-1 and staves off the injury woes for another day at least. Futenoh continues to show an inability to close the deal at 1-2.

In a battle of the two most unpredictable lads in the top division, Sekiwake Kotomitsuki and M1 Kokkai belly slapped at the tachiai, forcing both men's arms to windmill up high. Koto was the first to react and used the break to get inside the Georgian's reach and onto the belt. As so often with Kokkai (1-2), that meant the bout was over. Kotomitsuki (2-1) wrenched to one side and got the uchimuso ('thigh propping twist down', according to the Kyokai site!) win.

M7 Kasugao surprised me by sacrificing his mawashi to belt specialist M5 Kyokutenho right at the tachiai, putting the bout in the lap of the gods. Against rikishi like the veteran Mongolian, that is most certainly an inadvisable course of action. Kasugao (2-1) clearly fancied that he was the better of the two men on the belt, an erroneous assumption as it turned out. After a brief stalemate, Kyokutenho (2-1) pushed forward and forced the Korean to the clay at the edge.

M6 Kakizoe made his intentions clear with two matta against M9 Jumonji and once he finally got going he never let his opponent into the bout in an overpowering performance. He got his right hand right into the steaming jungle of Jumonji's armpit to keep him up and off balance. Very nice indeed. It was just the tonic after his murder yesterday at the hands of upstart Kisenosato. Kakizoe improves to 2-1. Jumonji is not getting his oats at 0-3.

M7 Kisenosato has been looking very sexy indeed this basho, especially with that cute little wiggle he does just before the tachiai. I predict this will get big laughs in the future when his talent elevates him to fame and fortune. He was nothing less than brilliant against a hapless Kakizoe yesterday. Sadly for him, he allowed M10 Tochinohana to get morozashi after failing to achieve any sort of belt grip (despite pushing Tochi to the edge). This was good savvy sumo from Tochinohana, who let the youngster give him his best shot, absorbed it, and then picked up the pieces. Kisenosato is now 2-1. Tochinohana picks up his first win.

M11 Wakanosato came back well after a spirited charge from M13 Kasuganishiki, who took advantage of the sanyaku veteran's poor (way too high) tachiai. Waka was in a little bit of trouble at the edge but once he got that migi-shitate grip, it was an easy throw and game over. He is perfect at 3-0 and still my dun pony for the yusho. Kasuganishiki is crap at 0-3.

M12 Hakurozan should be marauding with bloodstained fangs through his opponents at this rank, and he did indeed kick Kyokushuzan's arse yesterday, but he showed that infuriating nonchalance only he is capable of on day one against Takamisakari. M15 Otsukasa is hardly the most stellar opponent in the cosmos so I expected a disinterested tachiai once more from the Russian. Imagine my surprise when he put up a spirited display, using moro-te at the tachiai to lift his opponent up straight and then using the advantage to get an overpowering grip of the mawashi for the easy yorikiri win. More of the same is required but it is safe to say that Hakurozan is going to waltz to ten wins and zip back up the banzuke for Natsu. No competition for him down here. 2-1 for him. Otsukasa is 1-2.

M14 Kitazakura is fighting like a man reborn. He was a revelation last basho and has been pretty damn good this time as well. M16 Ushiomaru wants to get on the phone to his mawashi maker because it nearly came off as Kitazakura manhandled him this way and that in a scrappy bout that Ushiomaru really should have won. Props go to Kitazakura, however, for hanging in there and turning things round. He is showing real fighting spirit and is brimming with confidence. Let's not forget he is 34 years old. A special prize must surely be his goal this late in his career. If he keeps this up, he is a lock for the Kantosho, and I for one fervently hope he gets it. He strides on to 3-0. Ushiomaru remains winless.

Three days down the line I've been particularly impressed with the following rikishi: Kitazakura, Takekaze and Hakuho. Asashoryu also has settled well after an uncertain day one performance and is showing no real sign of that arm injury, a highly ominous development for the other pretenders. With the exception of the lads named above, the quality of sumo overall has been pretty average, but I guarantee it will improve as the basho heats up.

Clancy unsheathes his broadsword for you tomorrow. You know you have to tune in for that.

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I thought the sumo content on day 1 was quite sloppy and didn't provide too many talking points, so in case of the same today, I was prepared to comment on the little nosegay graphics "enhancements" that NHK seems to newly introduce each basho. However, with some extremely solid performances on day 2 by the up and coming rikishi, and a savvy ol' veteran cutting our Yokozuna candidate to the quick, there are plenty of talking points today, so those cigarette-smoking monkeys hired from the zoo who sit in front of typewriters in the NHK marketing department trying to think up new ideas to fix something that "ain't broke" will have to wait for another day. Let's get right to the action!

Anyone who said that Ama would have beaten Asashoryu last basho even if the Yokozuna wasn't injured thanks to Ama's superior position from the tachi-ai was wrong because Ama parlayed a quick tachi-ai today into the exact same right uwate position but didn't come close to bullying the Yokozuna this time. I'll admit, Asashoryu was in a bit of a pinch, but Ama could do nothing with that left grip, and as he decided on a course of attack, Asa wrenched his left side and shoulder upwards cutting of Ama's uwate and grabbing a sufficient left inner grip of his own. Now with Ama in the pinch, he ducked low trying to keep the Yokozuna away from an even deeper inside position or an uwate, but Asa used his quickness to pull Ama down and over to the tawara where he pushed him out with authority. Then, just to remind everyone who is boss, the Yokozuna took an extra curricular swipe towards the face of Ama after the M2 had already clearly stepped across the straw. Asashoryu missed on purpose, but we see these extra shoves from time to time when the Yokozuna is pissed. I think the frustration surrounding his lack of pre-basho keiko and the relentless hyping of Tochiazuma by the Japanese press came to a head today. With Tochiazuma's lackluster loss and Asashoryu's come-from-behind win, the adrenaline flowing through the Yokozuna's veins was too much for him to contain. He had to show everyone who is still the king. It's a nice 2-0 start for the Yokozuna, something he's only managed once in the previous three basho. Ama falls to 1-1, but I love how this kid is already giving the jo'i headaches.

Slipping down to the Ozeki ranks, Ozeki Kotooshu received his first real dose of reality at the hands of Komusubi Miyabiyama. You'll remember a year ago when these two were trading cheap tachi-ai henka back and forth. Miyabiyama hadn't beaten Kotooshu since then, so you could just see the pride and determination on his face as he crouched at the starting lines staring at his wounded opponent. I think Kotooshu saw it too and realized what was coming, thus a slight gimmick tachi-ai where he delayed his charge longer than was necessary. No matter. Miyabiyama came out strong causing Kotooshu's left leg to slip as he tried to fend off the oncoming girth headed his way. Kotooshu regained his footing but was rewarded with some sharp tsuppari to the throat. Realizing he was in danger, the Ozeki tried to evade to his left a bit and go for the pull down, but Miyabiyama smelled blood and knocked Kotooshu clear off the dohyo. If there is any consolation for the Ozeki, he was able to mount the head judge as he fell on top of him giving us the first brokeback moment of the basho. Just trying to be politically correct here. In all seriousness, I just ask Kotooshu to be careful this basho. Winning 8 bouts in May while completely healthy is a cinch for him, so why risk further injury? The two words I would use to describe Kotooshu's act (not sumo because I haven't seen any yet) this basho are "painfully awkward." Both rikishi stand at 1-1.

Komusubi Roho came out with a vengeance today leading with a right shoulder to the face of Chiyotaikai at the tachi-ai followed by some mammoth tsuppari into his neck area. The Ozeki was knocked back and looked for a brief second to be in trouble, but Chiyotaikai hasn't kept his rank this long due to luck. The wily Ozeki timed a Roho thrust attempt perfectly dodging to his left leaving Roho pushing into nothing but air at the tawara. It was an easy push out from there, and just to add insult to injury, Chiyotaikai managed a nice poke in Roho's eye to boot. I was impressed by Roho's tenacity and effort today. That was a solid tachi-ai and fierce game plan. What can he say? He just got burned by an Ozeki who has apparently purchased Kyokushuzn's playbook off of eBay and is employing the tactics. I don't think Roho (0-2) gets fooled like this next time. As for Chiyotaikai, I can't fault the Ozeki a bit. How else was he going to beat Roho today? Chiyotaikai is no dummy, but he is just scraping out the wins the only way he can at this point of his career. His 2-0 start will be balanced out in week two as usual.

The Kaio - Hokutoriki bout looked a lot like Kaio - Ama yesterday with the Ozeki fighting off his opponent's tsuppari and using his brute strength to force his opponent back to the tawara. This time, however, there would be no whiffing at the straw. A nice left grip of Hokutoriki's Adam's apple (is there a sumo term for that waza?) and ensuing shove was all it took to finish off the clearly overmatched Hokutoriki. I'm glad Clancy called out Hokutoriki's lack of effort yesterday, and I'd question it again today. You have an injured Ozeki who is fighting to keep his career alive, and you come up with that effort? Jokutoriki falls to 0-2 while Kaio picks up a desperately needed win to move to 1-1.

Rounding out the Ozeki, it took all of two days for the negatives I listed in my pre-basho report to manifest themselves in Tochiazuma's sumo. Today against M3 Aminishiki, Tochiazuma grabbed the quick left uwate from the tachi-ai and then proceeded in convincing just stand there. The problem with that is Aminishiki is a brilliant tactician who seized the opportunity to position himself with a deep right inner grip of his own to counter the Ozeki. Tochiazuma seemed content to stand around, and just as I was thinking to myself "is this Yokozuna sumo?" Aminishiki pressed the action first with a wicked shitate dashi nage attempt. The pull 'n throw move didn't work completely, but it forced Tochiazuma to reshuffle his feet giving Aminishiki the better position and allowing him to brush off Tochiazuma's uwate grip. From there Aminishiki never let up as he worked this way and that constantly tugging and pulling on Tochiazuma's belt to the point where he finally had the stubborn Ozeki off balance and pulled him down to the dirt. Aminishiki's win was greeted of course with complete silence from the Osaka crowd. It sucks, I know, but let's break down Tochiazuma's breakdowns.

First, I ask the question why monkey around with yotsu-zumo? There was a time when Tochiazuma was a great belt fighter, but that's not what has gotten him to this point of his career. His execution yesterday against Roho was perfect. Boring, but perfect. Dig in at the tachi-ai, lean forward inviting the pull down, and pounce on your opponent when he goes for it. If you ARE going to toy with yotsu-zumo, then you damned well better practice with someone that can do it prior to the basho. Sorry pal, but Iwakiyama and Makushita rikishi from your stable aren't going to do the trick. Second, press the action, especially when you have the uwate. Remember last basho against Asashoryu when Tochiazuma got the same grip from the tachi-ai? He had Asashoryu dumped to the clay before I had the chance to think "some ice cream with those crumbled up cookie things sure sounds good." Mmmm, crumbled up cookie things. Tochiazuma's failure to press the action today may have just cost him the coveted rank. I didn't like Tochiazuma's relaxed, all-is-well practice attitude prior to the basho because it didn't prepare him for the situation at hand today. What do you do against a great tactical rikishi (I suggested keiko with Kotomitsuki) who has you on the run if you haven't prepared for that scenario prior to the tournament? You lose. Now, not all is lost, but Tochiazuma has to be perfect the rest of the way because I don't see him beating Hakuho or Asashoryu. The problem is when you lose so early to an M3 rikishi, you start thinking and re-thinking until you are a mental mess. This is the perfect test now to see if Tochiazuma is Yokozuna material. How does he react to this loss mentally? It will be interesting to watch the rest of the tournament. I'm not writing Tochiazuma off just yet. If he can overcome this and skate his way to 12 or 13 wins, he deserves the promotion. Both rikishi stand at 1-1.

In the Sekiwake ranks, M3 Iwakiyama dissected Kotomitsuki today with a perfect display of sumo. Iwakiyama came out firing some mean tsuppari at the tachi-ai that forced Kotomitsuki back on his heels and disallowed him any sniff of a belt grip. Kotomitsuki grappled for any sort of position at the tawara and did show some good resistance, but Iwakiyama eventually secured a right shitate grip that he used for the force out win. Kotomitsuki was completely neutralized this bout by Iwakiyama's tsuppari-first, belt second approach. I love to see this from Mount Iwaki, who could be a sanyaku rikishi again if he implemented these tactics everyday. Both rikishi are 1-1.

Is that a scalpel I see tucked into Hakuho's belt because he is carving up his opponents so far with Yokozuna precision (screw the Ozeki rank). I thought the Sekiwake would receive a huge test today from M4 Futenoh, but Hakuho made it look so easy. As he showed multiple times last basho, Hakuho went for the left frontal belt grip at the tachi-ai. The difference today, however, was that he didn't just stand there waiting for his opponent to walk into it as he did last basho, but he used a nice shoulder into his opponent's torso to set it up. Futenoh disallowed the grip, but Hakuho wasted no time in answering with vicious tsuppari to the face and neck that backed the M4 up near the straw. Futenoh dug in his heels with his body low, but Hakuho shifted the momentum again this time pushing down at the back of Futenoh's head setting up what he wanted in the first place, the hidari mae grip which he used for the easy force out win. Futenoh could do nothing but get whipped, and that's hard for me to say because he's one of my favorite rikishi right now (Hakuho is the other). The absolute silence and stillness of the Osaka crowd after the bout could be translated as a collective "damn!" I thought the same thing. But before we get ahead of ourselves, Hakuho is 2-0 against Maegashira rikishi. He's still got a long way to go, and he showed last basho against Tochinohana and Tochiazuma that he's prone to mental lapses, but today was a perfect example of why so many of us have touted this kid as a future Yokozuna, not just an Ozeki.

Dropping down to the Maegashira ranks, M1 Kokkai was perfect today unleashing those double tsuppari from the tachi-ai that left his opponent, M4 Dejima, no option but to go for the weak pull down. That attempt was countered by a right paw to the neck that thankfully sent Dejima off of the dohyo and out of harm's way of further abuse. I really thought Dejima looked tough yesterday, so to see Kokkai do him like this today was nice to see...not that I have anything against Dejima, but it's nice to see Kokkai get that first win after all he's been through the last few weeks. Both rikishi are 1-1.

M1 Tamanoshima comes into the basho with a little less bandages on his shoulder, and M5 Kyokutenho comes in with a little less indifference. Tenho delivered a quick harite at the tachi-ai but failed to parlay that into a belt grip. Tamanoshima knows that you don't want to give Kyokutenho the belt, so he bent into a low position in an effort to keep his hips as far back as possible, but the M5 switched gears nicely and pulled down Tamanoshima for the win. Kyokutenho was just taking what was given him as he picks up the good win at 1-1. Tamanoshima has looked lost so far going 0-2.

M7 Kasugao impressed for the second day in a row as he grabbed a quick left uwate from the tachi-ai, which he used to unleash a couple of throw attempts on M5 Tokitsuumi. Tokitsuumi held firm and managed a left uwate of his own putting both rikishi in the gappuri yotsu (identical outer and inner grips) position, but Kasugao's beef and strength advantage prevailed here as he was able to force Tokitsuumi (0-2) back and out. Great 2-0 start from our lone Korean in the sekitori ranks.

M6 Tokitenku looked a lot like his old self last Kyushu where he used relentless tsuppari from the tachi-ai to keep his opponents on the run and away from his belt. The tactic worked to perfection today against countryman, M8 Asasekiryu, who never got a (figurative) sniff of Tokitenku's belt. Tokitenku frustrated and eventually slapped Seki down to the clay for the nice win. Both rikishi are 1-1.

M7 Kisenosato's de-ashi today were the best he's ever shown. Against M6 Kakizoe, the teenager unleashed a perfect oshi attack that not only kept Kakizoe away from his coveted moro-zashi position, but it drove him back to the tawara where Kakizoe had no chance to regain his footing before Kisenosato sent him off of the dohyo. The key here was Kisenosato's lower body. He dragged his feet across the dohyo just as the rikishi are taught in the suri-ashi exercise. It was gratifying to see this sumo today, especially after Kisenosato's nice yotsu display yesterday, but my favorite part was at the end when the kid flashed a nice scowl at his opponent after he flew off the dohyo as if to say you have no business in the ring with me. Kakizoe does, of course, belong on the same dohyo as least for now, but I love to see the emotion from this youngster. Excellent, well-balanced 2-0 start. Zoe falls to 1-1.

M8 Kotoshogiku grabbed the quick left uwate from the tachi-ai, but M9 Jumonji (0-2) countered well by forcing his hips as far back as possible leaving Kotoshogiku stretched out. Still, the Geeku (1-1) used his strength to muscle his way in closer closing the gap and eventually setting himself up for a beautiful throw.

M10 Toyonoshima was either scared or that heavily right-bandaged knee was the cause of his weak tachi-ai, but whatever the reason, M9 Takekaze just kicked his ass with an all-out oshi attack to move to 2-0. Toyonoshima does not look well, and he seems to be in that funk where the rikishi go "ah, hell, just let me go back down to Juryo and regroup."

It was vintage sumo for M11 Wakanosato today as a great tachi-ai gave him the inside position with the left arm against M10 Tochinohana. Waka attempted a few scoop throws that didn't succeed, but he stuck with his brand of sumo even when Tochinohana managed a right uwate grip. Wakanosato showed great patience as he wrenched his way into a moro-zashi grip that set up the eventual sukuinage win. As expected, Wakanosato is off to a good 2-0 start. Tochinohana is winless.

You could see the perfect contrast in M11 Takamisakari's first two opponents in terms of experience on the dohyo. Today against M12 Tochinonada, the Robocop was able to grab a firm left uwate from the tachi-ai, but he just couldn't whip Nada around and muscle him over the straw. The difference came as Takamisakari gave a huge tug of his opponent towards the tawara that allowed Tochinonada a firm belt grip and not just the right hand on the inside. Strength...and experience wins here as Tochinonada muscles his way to 2-0. Sakari falls to 1-1.

Also joining the 2-0 club was Kitazakura who grappled his way from a stalemate tachi-ai into a firm left uwate, which he used to keep M13 Kasuganishiki (0-2) on the defensive for probably longer than he had to. After about 30 seconds, Zakura's bulk proved to be the difference in the yoriki-kiri win. M17 Buyuzan rounds out the 2-0 Maegashira, but I didn't see the bout as it occurred before the start of NHK's general broadcast.

Simon runs with the baton tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
It's early Sunday morning, March 12, and a Skype Webphone call comes in to Clancy's home.
Clancy (hastily putting on headphones): Hello?
Mike Wesemann: Clancy?
C: Mom?
M: No, it's Mike.
C: Oh. 
M: I just gotta say, I love your style, playing both sides, one against the other.
C: Listen, just leave me and my lady friend alone!
M: I'm not messin' with your special lady.
C: She's not my special lady, man, she's my lady friend. I'm just helping her conceive.
M: Anyway, Clancy, Kenji has gone missing! Could you possibly cover Day One for him?
C: Missing? Like in that film? With that guy? And they get that thing and it goes around and there's a landlady and...
M: No, not really missing, but the powers that be...
C: Sounds ominous.
M (long pause, sound of Mike's mic hitting Mike's forehead): Fortuna has spun her wheel, my little friend, and Kenji is unable to fulfill his role as Sumotalk's leadoff man this basho, that's all.

That's all? That's ALL?!! Mike is asking me to fill in, to replace, to become as it were, the venerable Kenji? The man of whom former Dai Yokozuna Akebono once enigmatically uttered, "Somebody get this effin kid outta here NOW!"? The man known to his cohorts as "Hort"? The man who started Sumotalk all those millennia ago with nothing more than a vision, thirteen feet of "slinky like" material, possibly tungsten, and a friend from Salt Lake who knows, like, everything about computers? Who am I, I wondered, to eat with that man's chopsticks, to sip from that man's chawan, to urinate in that man's urinal?

So I said, Yea sure.

Now some of you may have noticed that we here at Sumotalk now have corporate sponsorship, specifically Bluehost. And you may be thinking, they've sold out, been co-opted, ridden hard and put away wet, squarely in the pocket of The Man. Well, I'm here to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth. Sure, Bluehost did squeeze out of us a few odd capitulations, such as Bernie waxes the CEO's car every Sunday while George mows the lawn and Simon steams the handtowels, but rest assured, we are still that unhinged, fly in the face, maverick outfit of rough and tough sumo commentators you've come to know and disagree with every two months. We still tell it like it is, we still pull no punches, we still use naughty words like "shoe," "megaphone," and "grunties," but now we can order the UNchopped crab at the Sumotalk annual December bounenkai and not give it a second thought.

Speaking of minced seafare, Miflobbyama floundered into today's bout with the Yokozuna decked out in his shiny new Komusubi scales and was treated like so much chum as Asasharkyu did what he always does to the former Ozeki: slapped him a few times, grabbed his belt, spun him around, and dumped him on his posterior in less than three seconds. Asa looked as tough as ever, but to be fair, Asa has beaten him so many times in such humiliating ways that he has the Komusubi's balls hanging from his rear view mirror, so we'll have to wait until tomorrow to see for sure if Asa will be The Khan once again this tourney (or slack off just enough to give birth to another Yokozuna) when he takes on his feisty, slippery countryman Ama. 

In fact, it was a day wherein every one of the top bouts went exactly as one would suppose, and I'm referring not only to the outcome, but also to the way they transpired. Asa kills Miyabi, Tochi bulls out Roho, Chiyo sissy-pulls down Kokkai, the least stable man in sumo, Kaio loses to a smaller, wiry foe after strongly driving him to the brink, Kotooshu somehow hangs on and finds a way to win, Hakuho has a Don't Blink bout against the Great Pretender, and Kotomitsuki gives the crafty Aminishiki the bum's rush with a huge tachi-ai and nearly loses on a touchdown technicality. Not one surprise, not even in the winning (or losing) techniques.

That Man Who Would Be Yokozuna, Tochiazuma, gave all the typically boring answers leading up to this first day: He is totally focused on becoming a grand champion, he is not thinking at all about each day's bout, he doesn't want to do his best sumo, just wants to be promoted because it would be cool to wear rope, etc. He was given a gift in the form of shin-Komusubi Roho, who despite being a lot bigger and having a much longer reach, was entirely unable to touch the Ozeki's belt, and instead got into a Tochiazuma patent pending bent low at the waist pushfest. Roho was so low that 95% of all rikishi would have attempted a pulldown or slapdown, but Tochi showed that he may be sticking to his game plan this basho. He waited patiently for Roho to back away and attempt a feeble slap, which he then deflected, stepped in on, and drove out the big Russian.

I will quote myself from January here: "I am telling you here and now, unless The Elders rig the living shit out of his "shedjewel", Tochi has about as much chance of becoming a Yokozuna in Osaka as I have of becoming Maria Sharapova's dentist ("Open wide, there, that's it. Now spit!")"

Well, if Tochi fights the way he did today, and Chiyo and Kaio are as lame as they looked today, and Kotooshu stays injured or withdraws, I may to have to do something I almost never do: Admit I was wrong. Let's see where we stand on Day 4 when I report again.

Kaio took on Ama, who is coming off one of the most impressive Little Man Basho in recent memory in January. True to form, Ama did not back down from his huge foe, and also true to form Kaio drove the pipsqueak back and out...but...Ama danced on the edge of the volcano and big ol', golly gee, aw shucks Kaio stepped out first. As he walked back to his corner wiping blood from his nose, one couldn't help feel sorry for such a strong rikishi who knows his days are numbered. He should have been a Yokozuna, no question, and has been one of the greatest Ozeki ever. He may make it through this year, but he'll never get more than 11 wins again.

Now a man I don't see making it through this year is Chiyotaikai. There are only so many Kokkai's out there, and with his diminished abilities limited to slapdown and pulldown (for today's win he nearly yanked Kokkai down by the topknot), there is not a hope in Hades that he remains Ozeki throughout 2006, especially with Hakuho at Ozeki in May, Kotomitsuki fighting hard to maintain his rank, Wakanosato and Tochinonada coming back, and Kisenosato, Ama, Futenoh, Kotoshogiku and Tokitenku coming on strong. I know I predicted his demise by the end of last year, but this time it's a lock.

Tamanoshima took on Ozeki McKotooshu and his emerald green mawashi, and the luck of the Irish certainly was with him as he weathered a series of long arm thrusts from Tama and somehow was able to back up and stay off his badly taped right leg and get the M1 to step back and out while planting his foot to make a drive forward. Another hard luck loss for Tamanoshima and another great escape by Kotooshu, who will obviously be a day to day guy this basho. Will he have the sack that Tamanoshima had last basho and tough it out all the way through?

Sekiwake Hakuho, who will likely from May be making a brief one year stop at Ozeki on his way to Yokozuna, took on last basho's dreamdoll, Hokutoriki. You recall the 12-3, near yusho, not afraid of anyone? Well, wake up, sports fans, because reality is back and bigger than ever. Jokutoriki looked like he would rather have been having his nose hair chewed out by a badger than face Hakuho. There is nothing to describe in this "bout" because Hakuho hit him, the M2 tried to pick a piece of lint off the Sekiwake's shoulder, and he was out before you could say, Who'surpised? Now Mike is not one to gloat (unless of course it's about how he "did" two of my sisters at once while I was out shopping for a girdle), but he had Hokutoriki's number all through last basho (as did most of my fellow 'puter pounders here at Sumotalk) and today's bout showed just what he was on about. At least lose with dignity. I know, Hakuho is a future Yokozuna, but still, can't he show some spirit? On Day One?

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki just ploughed into M3 Aminishiki, blasting him back and out in a flash, but the outcome was in doubt as the judges met in the ring and determined that Aminishiki's right heel grazed the dirt outside the ring before Hit and Mitsuki slammed down. So, we'll see the Sekiwake go perhaps 8-1, and then he will wilt and finish 9-6 or 10-5. Or maybe it's not a case of wilting as it is a case of not being as good a wrestler as those above him. I never thought I'd be saying it, but I now feel he will never be an Ozeki. Averaging 11 wins for three basho just doesn't seem to be in this man, who in September of 2001 made me think it was, as they say, only a matter of time. 

Down to the Maegashira ranks, M4 Futenoh met M4 Iwakiyama in a bruiser of a match. It was all belt holds as they grappled belly to belly for quite some time, but in the end it was Futenoh who, with a decent beltless throw, sukuinage, brought down the mountainous Iwaki. Look out sanyaku, a healthy Futenoh is a 'comin!

M4 Dejima broke a long string of frustration against M5 Kyokutenho with a classic no-sweat push out win. Judging from today, we MAY be looking at two familiar sites this time out: The Dejyptian making a bid to return to sanyaku, and Kyokutenho seemingly just not into it anymore. 

M6 Kakizoe (that's MISTER Oshidashi to you) hit another 12-3 January surprise M5 Tokitsuumi hard and high in the chest after a no nonsense tachi-ai and never let him catch his breath as he backed him out in a hurry. Let's hope my boy Kakizoe can maintain any fast start he has this time (he was 6-1 in Jan. and finished 8-7).

M7 Kisenosato absorbed a slap from M6 Tokitenku and avoided being thrown by the crafty Mongolian by keeping his body close and when they both started going down Kise kept his wits about him and used his hands to shove Tokitenku down first.

Korean M7 Kasugao took a monstrous, Dejima-like charge from M8 Kotoshogiku but then locked him up in a nice armbar and twisted the Geeku to the clay while keeping his own left hand hovering above the clay while his opponent fell first. Very nice work by the Seoul Man, another rising start returning from injury.

The craziest thing about M11 Takamisakari today was his new blue mawashi, ditching the old burgundy belt that had been letting him down evidently. It must have done some good because he made quick work of M 12 Hakurozan with an over arm belt throw. Maybe Circus will be able to put the brakes on his three basho slide toward Juryo demotion.

The M14 Zakuras won in convincing fashion over the Kasugas, Toyo over M13 Kasuganishiki and Kita over M15 Tamakasuga.

Makuuchi returnee M12 Tochinonada got lucky against a startlingly genki M13 Kyokushuzan. Tochi drove Shu back the edge with a deadly two-handed belt grip, but the feisty Mongolian found some hidden reserves and stiffened, driving Tochinonada back and across the ring where Shu threw his foe. The judges went to the videotape, and even though Shu was clearly the aggressor, his hand touched down a butthair of a moment before Tochi's entire flying form hit dirt, and so they gave it to January's Juryo division winner. I was very much in disagreement. It was clearly a do-over situation after such a valiant comeback from the edge for Kyokushuzan. 

So after one day not much if anything has changed. I'm looking forward to Day 2. If Kaio loses to Hokutoriki look for him to retire (I would). Look for Aminishiki to henka Tochiazuma. Look for Kakizoe and Kisenosato to burn down the house. Look for Hakuho and Futenoh to last for over 20 seconds. And look for Mike's Day Two report to make my Day One report look like a pile of termite droppings

See you on Day 4.


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