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Day 14

Senshuraku Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
As elegy and introduction, and we wrap the second tournament of the Hokutoumi era, let me say hello to him, and goodbye to his predecessor, Kitanoumi. Today's final match was a bitter, spiteful renunciation of the whole sordid state of things, a seething "I take all, and give you nothing." So before we get to that, let's talk about that state.

This past November, in the middle of the Kyushu basho, Kitanoumi Rijicho passed away. Before he was head of the Association, Kitanoumi was one of Japan's greatest Yokozuna, winning 24 championships in his career, spaced across a record 63 tournaments. He was the youngest Yokozuna ever, at age 21, and when he retired had the most wins as a Yokozuna (670). He spent more than a decade in the ring at the pinnacle of the sport: from an age when most of us were still in college, he was at the peak of a venerable, ancient institution. He was steeped and stewed in its traditions and responsibilities from an early age.

Kitanoumi rose to Rijicho in 2002, just short of his 50th birthday. This made him one of the youngest to reach the summit. But it didn't mean he brought fresh ideas: by that point he'd been in the highest power structure of the sport, and an uber-famous public sumo figure, for three decades.

Looking and sounding like everybody's non-talkative, kind-of-scary uncle from whom you expect the worst but at least know he'd have your back in a fight, and exuding nil charisma, he seemed e a puzzling choice for Rijicho. He'd struck me as an ineffective stable master; his most successful protégé is the eminently respectable Kitataiki, but in sumo terms Kitataiki is a minor wrestler, and for a while Kitanoumi's most prominent pupil was the salt-flinging, self-obsessed, embarrassing sideshow Kitazakura. One wondered if Kitanoumi was much of a presence in his own stable.

Then again, as a candidate for Rijicho, if you want stability, he was your man: a good ol' boy of sumo, a reassuring figure in an era where foreign wrestlers were about to take over the in-ring aspect of the sport.

Unfortunately, things did not go well; sumo endured repeated scandals during his tenure. Asashoryu spelled scandal by his very existence--and was driven out of the sport during Kitanoumi's watch. One of the chief hidden uglinesses of sumo was exposed when a wrestler was beaten to death in an episode of the hazing gotten out of hand. Finally, some wrestlers were dismissed from sumo for smoking pot, including one from Kitanoumi's stable, the Russian Hakurozan, leading Kitanoumi to step down in 2008.

Four years passed, and I forgot all about the mothballed Kitanoumi. Hence it was a shock to me when he was re-promoted to Rijicho in 2012. During the gap between Kitanoumi's terms as head of the Association, Hakuho had peaked, winning seven tournaments in a row at one point and going on his unprecedented streak of consecutive wins. Sumo's popularity had tanked, and it went through gambling, organized crime related, and bout fixing scandals. Perhaps it was no surprise Kitanoumi was called in to restore order, as 2002-2008 was suddenly looking like something of a golden period. Interestingly, Kitanoumi had not been wildly popular as a Yokozuna: he was too dominant. Much like Hakuho, he won so many tournaments people got bored of him. After Kitanoumi came back, Hakuho won just two of the next six tournaments. Sumo began to rise back to its current streak of constant sell-outs (and Hakuho eventually essayed two more dominant years, 2013 and 2014). Kitanoumi didn't look so bad to some any more.

Still, I never warmed to this conservative, backwards-looking figure. While I'm delighted people are watching sumo more again, the Kitanoumi II era from 2012-2015 saw egregious propping up of bad rikishi: the sport seemed to be glutting on its own baser instincts. While it was tragic due to his being just 62, when Kitanoumi unexpectedly passed away in November of 2015, I looked forward to a breath of fresh air.

And we have in fact gotten something very different--but not in the way I hoped. Kitanoumi was replaced by Hokutoumi, another former Yokozuna, and another guy who got to the top young--he was Yokozuna at age 24, and retired with injury problems at age 28. He was a pretty effective Yokozuna, winning eight tournaments. He is a deep insider, having run a stable (the one that produced "Li'l Yokozuna" Hokutoriki and the placid, give-and-take specialist Okinoumi) and served on the executive board from 2012--the same time of Kitanoumi's re-emergence as Rijicho. He didn't look much like a reforming Pope John XXIII--he looked like Benedict following John Paul II: more of the same, and an enforcement of what had gone before. I figured they'd just appointed Kitanoumi's lieutenant. Though his eyes show intelligence, one look at his bald noggin and strict demeanor and you knew the publishing of Tough Guy Times would not be interrupted in Ryogoku.

How wrong I was. This guy is a reformer--in a 180 degree different direction than desired. The January 2016 tournament announced a new era with a blare so loud it shook the sport. In a stroke of genius so flash-brilliant no one had conceived it as possible, after ten years of futility, broken-down one-trick pony Ozeki Kotoshogiku rose up and grabbed the first native Japanese championship in a decade, on the exact 10th anniversary of the last one. An ignominious streak that had begun smack in the middle of Kitanoumi's first stint as Rijicho and continued throughout his second was suddenly, shockingly over. Goodbye to all that.

The cynical imagination cannot conceive of anything but Hokutoumi sitting down at his first board meeting and saying, "okay, this nonsense ends now." No, Hokutoumi is not an old guard same-as-same-as guy--he is a revolutionary. Under his leadership, without prelude the sport upended its previous, stodgy narrative in favor of something wildly bold: a full-monty exposure of the Association's biases in a cooked-up blood pudding of seething aspiration--the very daring Kotoshogiku yusho. Sumo fans of all persuasions collectively boggled.

So, for March, the story has continued to be "will they or won't they," and our attention was sharp, because we'd been shown that, sometimes, they will. The Goeido and Kisenosato runs felt very real: not in the ring sense, but in the sense that they really go. all. the. way. The same went for the Kotoshogiku yokozuna run the first week, and the hometown-boy undefeated Ikioi win streak. Rather than my usual disgust, boredom, and patience ("the second week will put paid to this stuff"), I was all perked up: are we really going to do this??

For me, the signature figure of this basho was not any of the four aforementioned magic boys, and not even raging Hakuho, who, if he would be be allowed to take the yusho, looked intent on taking it with blood and pound-of-flesh vengeance--but Hokutoumi, who, in one fell stroke in January, wrought a new era that revivified the tournament in March as well. He's already in my Rijicho Hall of Fame.

What will the rest of the year hold? Hokutoumi took one look at Hakuho, The Storyteller, and said, "okay, but I'm The Publisher." Tough Guy Times.

What is the end of the high stakes thriller they've penned for March? We're about to find out.

Contrary to past practice, I'll take these in chronological order. Hakuho finishes the story by going last today, and that's as it should be. For those so inclined, for the denouement of this month's episode of The Storyteller vs. The Publisher, skip to the last match.

M15 Satoyama (6-8) vs. J1 Seiro (8-6)
When he fights without his submarine technique, it is only a matter of time before Satoyama gets beaten. He tried to fight straight here, and after a few moments of sparring, Seiro simply grabbed his belt and threw him down, shitate-nage. It made sense for Satoyama to try--what better chance of winning without a gimmick would you have than when fighting a second division guy?--but the results showed the problem: he is just too small to beat even weak wrestlers mano-a-mano. Back down to Juryo he goes (and up Seiro comes). Goodbye to you, and thanks for the entertainment.

M14 Daishomaru (7-7) vs. J1 Osunaarashi (13-1)
If Daishomaru lost, he was on the verge of being sent down to Juryo. Osunaarashi was guaranteed to return, having handily wrapped up the Juryo championship, where he overmatched his competition. So what do you think happened? That's right, Daishomaru wrapped up his kachi-koshi. Big Sandy gave one big face push but didn't move forward any, then absorbed Daishomaru's reverse-momentum charge by going for a face pull, and was easily driven out, oshi-dashi. No matter. Let's see how they fare if they face each other next tournament.

M13 Chiyootori (8-6) vs. M11 Amuuru (6-8)
Good stuff here. Chiyootori focused on pushed and shoves about the shoulders, leaning over to keep his butt back. Amuuru concentrated on Chiyootori's right arm, which he had a few tottari pull chances at: as Mike pointed out yesterday, he is doomed chest-to-chest, so has to get in at the side. However, these two spent a lot of energy on this dynamic, and pretty soon it was a just a test of who would tire first. It was Amuuru at first, as he had to dramatically retreat for a chest-heaving breather, but when they went back at it he switched up arms, going for Chiyootori's left. This disoriented Bouncy Butt, and Amuuru was able to spin him around and get behind him for the okuri-dashi win. Well done--but these guys are pretty evenly matched, right where they belong on the banzuke, and received the records they deserved and will stay there.

M10 Gagamaru (5-9) vs. M10 Tamawashi (8-6)
Very good push here from Tamawashi, who stayed low and kept a compliant and inactive Lord Gaga in front of him, achieving an academic oshi-dashi.

M11 Ichinojo (10-4) vs. M9 Sadanoumi (7-7)
Mismatch. Sadanoumi had a right inside, but it was no match for the left outside Ichinojo eventually got: the size imbalance was far more important. Very dominant yori-kiri win here for The Mongolith. Meanwhile, people make a big deal out of 8-7 vs. 7-8, but they don't make much of a difference in terms of rank--Sadanoumi is still okay with being where he belongs. Ichinojo gets a chance in March to show whether he is a blob of slob or still a comer as he'll face better competition.

M8 Takanoiwa (7-7) vs. M15 Kitataiki (3-11)
Low, solid sumo positioning from Takanoiwa, who easily secured his kachi-koshi by getting a long left inside on the belt and a tight right on the body (Kitataiki's skin was so pulled by this it looked like plastic wrap folding upon itself in the breeze), then bellying Kitataiki out, yori-kiri. And Kitanoumi's best wrestler slides deeply out of the upper division, probably for the last time.

M16 Akiseyama (4-10) vs. M7 Kaisei (10-4)
Kaisei put the Waterbed on wheels here; the oshi-dashi was so fast and easy it looked like practice. All he had to do was stand up and push. I'm glad Akiseyama got his cup of coffee in the Major Leagues, but let's hope he won't be back. Nevin Ashley. Rocky Gale.

M7 Takekaze (5-9) vs. M14 Daieisho (9-5)
Takekaze is getting old, and even against an inconsequential guy like this he has to henka and pull. However, Daieisho did what he needed to do: not fall down. Then square back up and push the little man out, oshi-dashi. He's quietly had a good basho, but will be cannon-fodder at his size in the mid-ranks.

M13 Mitakeumi (9-5) vs. M6 Shodai (9-5)
Shodai has been getting all the press amongst these two, including from me: he has good poise for his age. However, Mitakeumi easily beat him with a sustained bullying to the body, yori-kiri. With his aggressive attitude, Mitakeumi should not be forgotten: just a few tournaments it was he, not Shodai, who came in as the young Japanese hope. I'm looking forward to seeing what both of them can do at higher levels.

Match of the Day: M6 Myogiryu (10-4) vs. M8 Chiyotairyu (2-12)
Awesome. Mike is right that Chiyotairyu needs a psychologist, because he unfailingly chooses to pull when he should push, and go all out when his opponent is ready to evade. That's how you get to 2-12. But this was match was straight up and straight forward, because their records were so out of balance there was nothing to be gained or lost--except pride. Myogiryu totally underestimated his opponent, and when he went straight at him was blown back into the barbed wire like a guy crossing no-man's land into artillery bombardment and catching a shell in Flanders in 1916. Tsuki-Kablamo!-dashi.

M5 Kyokushuho (6-8) vs. M12 Tokushoryu (7-7)
This is the right level for Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) to wrestle at, as shown by his 7-7 record, and I've actually kind of enjoyed this tubbo this tournament. However, I did not enjoy this. A cell phone text message from Kyokushuho might have read, "I'll stand up, you push me out," because that's pretty much what happened, yori-kiri.

M9 Toyohibiki (3-11) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (5-9)
Stupid. Tochinoshin henka'ed this guy and won, hataki-komi. Why? Ready for May, I guess. Well, if this is the end of the upper division career of Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki), it is a fitting one: if all you can do is move forward like an overloaded freight train, all you're going to get in bandit country is derailed. Goodbye, and thanks for all the pratfalls.

M2 Okinoumi (7-7) vs. M3 Aminishiki (7-7)
I had this marked for attention, as with all four Komusubi and Sekiwake slotted for demotion with losing records, the winner of this likely slides into a Komusubi slot (with Kotoyuki, Ikioi, and Myogiryu, a very interesting collection of relatively fresh Japanese challengers for bigger stuff). However, this wasn't much of a match, as like Takekaze, Aminishiki's best plan usual involves only henka and pulls. He tried both. The henka was timid, and helped him not at all. He did then get his right hand underneath and on the front of the belt as they both kept their cans back for quite a while waiting for something to break. With that grip, however, Aminishiki didn't have many options but to pull. When he of course finally did that, Okinoumi cheerfully took advantage of the expected, pursued him, and pushed him out, oshi-dashi. Aminishiki looked worked at the end, and exhausted as he walked off the dohyo. Another guy just happy to be out of this tournament; when you're 7-7 at M3 on the last day, you should be able to bring more passion, but Aminishiki has been at this for a long, long time. Komusubi, M4? It's all the same to him.

M12 Hidenoumi (6-8) vs. M1 Takayasu (5-9)
This was ruled uwate-nage, but the simple truth is shortly after the tachi-ai Takayasu's legs collapsed under him and he sat down on the dohyo and clutched at his bandaged foot. Third guy in row looking forward to May. The last day can be like that.

M1 Kotoyuki (11-3) vs. M4 Ikioi (10-4)
Their records suggested this should be a good last day match up, and they'll do it again next tournament as Sekiwake. However, the reign of Hokutoumi and precedent suggested an Ikioi win for hometown fun, or a Kotoyuki win for pet-project fun--neither of which is really much fun at all. I'm glad to say they made it look pretty legit; it was a wild and violent affair of Ikioi's more dynamic tsuppari and Kotoyuki's more brutal blows. However, Ikioi was tsuppari'ing Kotoyuki's elbows, which doesn't work too well, while Kotoyuki was battering Ikioi's face, which works rather better. Eventually the effect of this piled up and Ikioi just kind of fell down, hiki-otoshi. Kotoyuki picked up the sole special prize handed out this tournament: the Shukun-sho, or Outstanding Performance Award. Well, he's quite the Performer, yes!

M5 Shohozan (3-11) vs. K Takarafuji (6-8)
Takarafuji controlled the pace throughout by keeping diagonal to his man and moving cautiously forward. He didn't pay much attention to grips, trying to use his superior size, and at one point had to wiggle out of moro-zashi--which he easily did. However, he got sloppy at the end, thinking he had pushed Shohozan out, and so had I. We were both wrong: there was the little gnome, standing insolently inside the tawara--and Takarafuji found himself staring over the tawara himself, with Darth Gnome behind him. He turned to try to save face, but it was too late, and got pushed out in a nice gyaku-ten (comeback) win by t' ‘Hozan, oshi-dashi. Takarafuji would have done better to go harder from the beginning. He is too passive and is never going to get anywhere fighting this carefully against wrestlers like this: he tried to be careful and in the end wasn't careful enough. When that happens, it is time to stop being careful.

K Tochiohzan (3-11) vs. M4 Sokokurai (5-9)
It was just a few tournaments ago that I was part of a chorus praising Tochiohzan as the best Japanese wrestler in sumo. I no longer feel that way. He took a long time to put this one away. He had his left arm inside, but he was up on top and Sokokurai was lower and sticking to the dohyo like natto. Eventually, Tochiohzan put him away with a well-timed, respectable, hard pull that catapulted Sokokurai past him and exposed him to the okuri-dashi loss. On the one hand, nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, Tochiohzan has slid past his prime and past his window of opportunity: thank god he wasn't promoted to Ozeki, as he looks ready to head for the a-few-years-all-over-the-Maegashira ranks phase of his career (which is a perfectly acceptable late career development and what we should have been allowed to enjoy from Kotoshogiku and Goeido as well).

M3 Aoiyama (6-8) vs. S Toyonoshima (3-11)
A couple of talented guys whose make-koshi were already in the can, they had nothing to lose here, so I expected more fireworks. Instead, Aoiyama was conservative, at first leaving his feet in place while peppering Toyonoshima's face with hard blows. However, the size differential was just too much, and as Toyonoshima couldn't establish anything or, indeed, even get near Aoiyama, Blue Mountain moved forward on him at last and thrust him out, tsuki-dashi. This guy is really good, folks.

S Yoshikaze (3-11) vs. O Terunofuji (8-6)
Fuji the Terrible has looked pretty ho-hum lately, and that was the case here, as he started this with a little pull on the head. He then stayed upright and did not get near the belt. Yoshikaze, on the other hand, weathered a barrage of blows and sought the promised land: he got a stiff arm up around the pit inside on the right, and then leaned down for a very nice frontal belt grip on the left. The yori-kiri force out was easy from there in a match that proved that even when there is nothing to lose, apparently there is something to lose. Do we really care if Yoshikaze is 3-12 or 4-11? No. But I guess we care whether he can Stop The Terunofuji. Expect The Future (Terunofuji) to be unleashed later this year or perhaps next Spring; for now he's marking time. He's young and there is other business the Association needs to take care of for a while. Speaking of which…

O Goeido (12-2) vs. O Kisenosato (12-2)
If you're a blue-skier, you assume this is straight up and exciting: the winner stays alive in the yusho race and the loser is eliminated. If you're an optimistic realist, you hope they fight straight up because they both offer a similar upside (Japanese Ozeki who may still yusho), so why not? If you're a pessimistic realist, you figure this will be decided beforehand, as nothing seems to be left to chance at this hour of the day or day of the tournament of late. Someone will win, but they will not win it in the ring. I had no predication of who would win, but did not expect to see straight up sumo (I think that mostly happens earlier in the day and earlier in the tournaments, as narratives get set up; once the narratives are fixed, they're fixed).

But I don't want to be a pessimistic realist, so let me be something I'm just making up now, an "optimistic pessimist": whatever happens here, and for whatever reason, I'm invested in the narrative of this tournament and the thrill of the Hokutoumi Revolution, because, as I said on Day 13, I can't help myself.

The result of this one worked, whether you see it from a "may the better man win" or from the "we need the most plausible narrative" angle. Kisenosato ignored a slap in the face, got a left inside on the belt and a right outside on the body, and slid a largely inactive Goeido out, yori-kiri. It wasn't a good bout, but it leaves Kisenosato the last possible challenger to Hakuho for the yusho, and that feels in keeping with the story this basho has told, where Kisenosato was buzzy and Goeido felt like a home-town-favorite also-ran. Apple Cheeks gets to keep his hopes alive for two more bouts…

Y Kakuryu (9-5) vs. O Kotoshogiku (8-6)
If the week one narrative was The Magic Boys!--the three Japanese Ozeki and Ikioi all with perfect records and it looking like the Hokutoumi Revolution was going to give us Yokozuna Kotoshogiku AND Champion Kisenosato--the week two narrative has been Revenge of the Mongolians: Bloodsport, as Hakuho destroyed the Magic Boys one after another and not only put the Magic Boys narrative in question in the standings, but made a farce of it in the ring. The question for this match was which of those narratives we'd see: propping up the Magic Boys, or satisfied that Kisenosato and Goeido are so close the shining sun they can let the Mongolians continue to make their parallel statement. It appears the latter was still considered a good win-win compromise (though Hakuho was about to spit in the main dish in the view of all the guests in a few minutes…), because Kakuryu manhandled Kotoshogiku around here a bit, tossing him this way and that like a stuffed toy, before slinging him manfully to the clay, shitate-nage. The January phantasm has blown itself definitely out of Kotoshogiku's bones, but flapped down and perched on Goeido and Kisenosato's shoulders.

Y Harumafuji (9-5) vs. Y Hakuho (13-1)
In a flat sign of disrespect (but not of his opponent) that made the boos rain down, Hakuho stoop up, stepped to the side, and swiped at Harumafuji as he rocketed past and off the dohyo, sourly collecting his 36th yusho by tsuki-otoshi (a ridiculous kimari-te for this--can't we have "henka as a kimari-te?).

The Announcers were as pained as the crowd, and one said, "where can we go with this feeling?" Yes. Hakuho has been such a stand-up Yokozuna, it has been interesting to see him build this narrative as late-career villain. It's been distressingly easy to do: he was never close to being loved, just respected. So, he seems to be opting for loathing: "if you won't have me your way, fine, you'll have me my way."

One reading will be that by acting like a pouty brat and winning the tournament in this loudly lame way, Hakuho helped the Japanese Ozeki by making himself look a cad. I don't think so. Another popular reading will be that Hakuho's winning the championship itself was an "in your face" to the Association. I don't buy that either (they're in on that). Rather, this felt like a direct challenge to the question of who has the right to tell sumo's story, an unapproved rebellion. It was the WAY he won the tournament, this blatant robbing of any pleasure to be gained from its last match, that is an "in your face" to the Hokutoumi Revolution. This was a grim and depressing end to what was a very intriguing basho. I doubt the Publisher will want to print any more copies of this page.

Does this mean war? We'll find out in May.

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Day 14 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I didn't want to say it on day 12, but at the end of that day you could just feel the air escaping quickly from this basho. The cause of course has been Hakuho's fierce run in week two where nobody has even come close to putting up a fight against him let alone coming close to winning, and then when the Yokozuna laughed off the two other contenders this basho--Kisenosato and Goeido, you could just feel that the Storyteller was already writing the final paragraph.

As I've watched the action unfold the last few days, my mind keeps going back to that editorial I published in my pre-basho report where a journalist writing for the Sponichi Annex newspaper revealed that the newspaper had received a postcard from an angry fan who stated something to the effect that "we know Hakuho is letting up at the end of each tournament."  I went on to state that the Sponichi Annex wasn't the only outlet who received such a postcard because I know the Japanese people and culture well, and it looks as if the Sumo Association has taken notice. I couldn't believe how brazen the NSK was in January orchestrating that yusho, and while it looks as if order will be restored somewhat this basho, I'm sure there are more tricks up the sleeves up their robes awaiting us in future basho.

I can't believe I'm actually playing along with this fake yusho race, but since NHK is presenting it all as legitimate, I'll humor them and follow suit. The posted leaderboard coming into the day was as follows:

12-1: Hakuho
11-2: Kisenosato, Goeido

Let's start with Ozeki Goeido who was paired against fellow hometown favorite, M4 Ikioi. Goeido's arms were out wide at the tachi-ai giving Ikioi the early left inside, and the M4 also had the clear path to the right inside, which would have given him moro-zashi, but his mission today was to lose obviously, and so he fumbled around until Goeido retreated right going for a sloppy kubi-nage in the process that magically felled Ikioi to the dirt as Goeido ran himself clear off the dohyo. A normal kubi-nage can only be successful if the rikishi executing the move uses his body in close or an upper thigh as a fulcrum to lift his foe off balance, so to see such a light throw that ended up with Goeido's running up the aisles was comical. Let's not waste anymore bandwidth on such nonsense as Goeido stays atop the leaderboard moving to 12-2. As for Ikioi, he already has his reward. I mean, look at his 10-4 record...a crock in and of itself!

Next up was Ozeki Kisenosato, who used a right paw to Ozeki Terunofuji's neck in a passive manner as both rikishi got the left insides at the tachi-ai, and it is lethal to give Terunofuji the inside this early...if Fuji the Terrible is planning on winning. He of course wasn't today, and so he stood in the center of the ring as Kisenosato actually grabbed a right outer grip on Terunofuji's sagari!! The Kid held this position for a few seconds, which would normally spell danger for anyone not named Hakuho, but Fuji the Terrible wasn't so terrible here kindly waiting for Kisenosato to retool his grip on the actual belt and then force his fellow Ozeki back and across without resistance. Like Goeido, Kisenosato keeps pace at 12-2 while Terunofuji falls to 8-6. That fake bout back on day 12 where Kakuryu just laid down for Terunofuji was huge because it gave Terunofuji his eighth win meaning he could just roll over for Goeido and Kisenosato on successive days.

Before we move to the Hakuho bout, let me just warn you that I'm already seeing headlines saying that Kisenosato will be up for promotion to Yokozuna next basho if he can win 13 bouts. It's funny because the basho isn't even over yet, so why are they fingering Kisenosato as the Yokozuna candidate? What about Goeido? What if Goeido wins tomorrow pushing him to 13-2 while Kisenosato finishes 12-3? Would Goeido then be the Yokozuna candidate in May? I'm afraid that these headlines are already revealing the direction the Association would like to go hereafter.

Yokozuna Hakuho could have injected some serious drama into the final day of the tournament had he bowed to Ozeki Kotoshogiku, but thankfully he was all business today easily getting the right inside and left outer grip at the tachi-ai, and he wasted no time in planting his foot and slinging Kotoshogiku over and down by that left outer belt grip. Adding insult to injury, the Yokozuna landed on top of the pillow soft Ozeki for good measure. Hakuho is clearly sending a message with these extra curricular activities after his bouts, but I don't blame him one bit.

On day 8, you may remember that Hakuho dispatched Yoshikaze right on top of the chief judge, Izutsu-oyakata. The oyakata wasn't able to get out of the way fast enough, and he suffered a broken left femur when Yoshikaze landed on top of him. After Hakuho's day 9 bout against Tochiohzan, the leader of the judges committee, Isegahama-oyakata, called Hakuho into the judge's main office and formally reprimanded him. I thought that it was a joke because I didn't consider Hakuho's act to be a dame-oshi, and you don't disrespect a Yokozuna who is just doing his job. Does anybody remember Chiyonofuji? The dude roughed up his opponents all the time, so to reprimand Hakuho was weak. And...Hakuho is responding by sending his own message to the Association, and you've witnessed it every day since then in the ring. He isn't only beating his opponents, but he's kicking their asses and adding that personal touch like landing on top of Kotoshogiku when it could have easily been avoided. I actually love it because it's Hakuho's way of saying to everybody, "Mess with the bull you get the horns."  It still baffles me that people have been doubting this guy's drive and ability just because he's been dropping bouts on a frequent basis.

Wiz Hakhalifa  moves to 13-1 with the win, and I just don't see him losing tomorrow to Harumafuji. With Goeido and Kisenosato fighting each other, if Hakuho were to lose then it'd ensure a playoff for the yusho between Hakuho and the winner of the Ozeki duel, but I just don't see it happening. Having Hakuho throw two bouts in twenty minutes would be way too risky, especially after this week two run, but if it does end up that way, you know it will have been mandated by the Association itself. Kotoshogiku falls to 8-6 with the loss, and it'd be funny if Kakuryu adds insult to injury tomorrow by beating the Ozeki.

The result of the three aforementioned bouts leaves the leaderboard unchanged, so let's move on.

In a senseless bout, Yokozuna Harumafuji put his right hand on Yokozuna Kakuryu's left shoulder allowing the Kak to get to the inside and force the bout to hidari yotsu. A few moments in, Kakuryu executed an easy maki-kae with the right arm while Harumafuji just let him have moro-zashi, and once obtained, Kakuryu executed the swift and decisive yori-kiri ensuring to keep Harumafuji upright and intact just beyond the bales. Ho hum as both dudes end the day at 9-5.

Hey, don't look now but the next few bouts were actually legit, so let's get to them!!

M2 Okinoumi reached for the right frontal grip against Sekiwake Toyonoshima at the tachi-ai in their hidari-yotsu contest, but he was denied while Tugboat actually came away with a right outer of his own. Toyonoshima looked to press the action with that right outer, but Okinoumi retreated to his left applying pressure with the left inside, and Toyonoshima just couldn't keep up as Okinoumi finally got in position to throw him over to the edge and push him back that final step. Refreshing stuff as Okinoumi improves to 7-7 while Toyonoshima falls to just 3-11.

M2 Tochinoshin came with a hefty tsuppari attack against Sekiwake Yoshikaze landing blow after blow into Café's face and neck, and when it was clear that the Sekiwake couldn't stand toe to toe, he went for a quick pull / swipe moving back and left, but Tochinoshin was on the move easily resuming his tsuppari attack and knocking Yoshikaze back and out for good. Yoshikaze took all of the punishment in this one falling to 3-11 while Tochinoshin improves to 5-9.

Komusubi Takarafuji kept both hands in tight at the tachi-ai against M5 Kyokushuho, who used some wild tsuppari to keep the Komusubi away from the inside. With Kyokushuho gaining no ground with his shoves, Takarafuji lifted up on Shuho's left arm raising him up and giving the Komusubi the right inside, and in an instant Takarafuji executed a right scoop thrown that sent Kyokushuho down hard to the dohyo far too easily considering Takarafuji's awkward stance. Both guys end the day at 6-8 and have looked okay this tournament.

Komusubi Tochiohzan brushed off a light right hari-te from M6 Shohozan getting the left arm to the inside and forcing the bout to hidari-yotsu, but you could see that Oh was uncomfortable without the right inside as well, and so he tested the maki-kae waters alternating the threat of a pull with that same right arm. After a few seconds, it was clear Tochiohzan wasn't going to get moro-zashi, so he took a gamble and committed a full-on pull using the right hand at the back of Shohozan's head and the left hand hooked up and under his shoulder. Against a good rikishi, Oh gets his ass kicked with that kind of sumo, but he got away with it today against Shohozan as both dudes end the day at 3-11. I commented on this a few basho ago, but it's worth repeating that Tochiohzan cannot fight with one arm inside and then an outer grip. For some reason, it's moro-zashi or bust.

If Hakuho is the King of Everything, M1 Kotoyuki is the King of Gimmicks, and today against M6 Myogiryu he refused to go at the tachi-ai keeping Myogiryu waiting for an awful long time. When the two finally reloaded, Myogiryu offered a weak henka to his right allowing Kotoyuki to catch him with some nice tsuki quickly forcing him to the edge where Myogiryu could do nothing as Kotoyuki polished him off in seconds. I like how Chiyonofuji described Myogiryu's tachi-ai as "amai," which is translated as "soft" in this instance and just opened the way for Kotoyuki to do his thang.

I mentioned a few days ago that for whatever reason, Kotoyuki has become the Association's new pet project, and he moves to 11-3 thanks to another mukiryoku opponent, and they're likely trying to build this guy up as the next Ozeki candidate. As we've known for a couple of years now, Kotoshogiku is beyond being on his last leg and has been living off of yaocho manna to keep him around during that span (which is why that yusho in January is so laughable), and so I wouldn't be surprised a bit to see Kotoyuki the next dude promoted in his place. Myogiryu settles for 10-4 after his "amai" performance.

M10 Gagamaru redefined the term slow at the tachi-ai allowing M3 Aminishiki to connect on a wicked right face slap that set up moro-zashi. Not one to win chest to chest and moving straight forward, Aminishiki wasn't committed on the full frontal charge, which allowed Gagamaru a right kote-nage counter attempt, but he was in poor position to execute the throw allowing Aminishiki to easily survive and turn the tables with a scoop throw that just bowled YubabaMaru over and down with ease. Gagamaru falls to 5-9 while Aminishiki stays alive at 7-7.

M3 Aoiyama must have been pleased to be involved in a bout where he didn't have to throw it, and against M11 Amuuru, he brought the hissing tsuppari pummeling the Russian back and across without argument. Due to the lack of meat on his body, Amuuru avoids that chest to chest clash at the tachi-ai and looks instead to weasel his way in from the sides, and while that works pretty good down lower, it has no place among the jo'i, and that point was demonstrated today against Aoiyama. Both furry-ners end the day at 6-8.

M12 Hidenoumi did nothing with this arms at the tachi-ai gifting M6 Shodai the quick moro-zashi, and the youngster knew exactly what to do with that gift forcing Hidenoumi back and out in seconds. I haven't paid enough attention to Hidenoumi's tachi-ai to know if that was intentional or not, but it was poorly executed sumo from Hidenoumi who falls to 6-8 While Shodai moves to 9-5. From the M6 rank, he will be promoted to the jo'i next basho, so let's see if he's handled in the same manner as Kotoyuki.

M15 Kitataiki and M7 Kaisei hooked up in hidari-yotsu where Kitataiki grabbed the right outer first mounting a yori charge straightway, but in the process, he gave up the right outer to Kaisei who easily turned the tables slinging Kitataiki over to the edge with that outer grip and nudging him across in the end. Kaisei is a quiet 10-4 while Kitataiki falls to 3-11.

In the most anticipated bout of the day, M7 Takekaze and M16 Akiseyama clashed in the center of the ring with Akiseyama's arms poorly positioned, and so Takekaze just shoved the Waterbed back and out in mere seconds. Takekaze moves to 5-9 while Akiseyama falls to 4-10.

M13 Mitakeumi moved to his left firing on a quick kote-nage / tsuki-otoshi attempt that was lame, but M8 Chiyotairyu's sumo was even lamer squaring back up and going for a quick pull that allowed Mitakeumi to rush in, assume moro-zashi, and easily force Chiyotairyu back and out. Mitakeumi moves to 9-5 while Chiyotairyu falls to 2-12. Chiyonofuji, who was in the booth providing color as previously mentioned, said that Chiyotairyu needs to practice more butsukari-geiko to cure his ails. I would recommend a psychiatrist, but that's just me.

M12 Tokushoryu went for a few quick pulls from the tachi-ai, but M8 Takanoiwa kept his balance the entire way, especially at the side of the dohyo where Tokushoryu nearly had him pushed down with a shoulder slap, but like a roach, Takanoiwa survived actually managing to get the right inside and left outer grip, but Tokushoryu just used his size advantage to break off those grips, turn the tables, and get moro-zashi as he bodied Takanoiwa down and out in the end leaving both rikishi at 7-7 heading into the final day.

M9 Sadanoumi henka'd to his right, but it was poorly executed allowing M14 Daishomaru to push Umi back to the straw, but at the edge, Sadanoumi next moved left timing a perfect counter tsuki into Daishomaru's side sending him down to the clay before Sadanoumi stepped out. Both guys finish the day at 7-7.

M9 M11 Toyohibiki's tsuppari charge was hurried against M14 Daieisho, and instead of going for body blows, he focused on a right paw to the face that allowed Daieisho to back to the side and left pulling Toyohibiki down with ease. Daieisho moves to 9-3 while Toyohibiki has to win tomorrow at 3-11 to stay in the division.

With kachi-koshi already in the bag, M10 Tamawashi's tsuppari attack was half-assed, and despite knocking M13 Chiyootori back a step or two, The Mawashi just relented backing up to the center of the ring. As Chiyootori looked to duck in to get to the inside, Tamawashi instinctively set up a slap down attempt that was wide open, but it never came. Finally, after letting Chiyootori get to the belt, Tamawashi wriggled his way into moro-zashi at the edge, but instead of turning the tables for the win, he executed an utchari move where he made sure that he touched down before Otori. Chiyootori did nothing here to set up this win, and yet he magically comes away with kachi-koshi as both rikishi now stand at 8-6. All is well.

Finally, M11 Ichinojo met M15 Satoyama with a right ham kachi-age at the tachi-ai and then just pulled him down with the left putting his weight into the move causing Satoyama to crumble like a house of cards in mere moments. The hataki-komi win propels Ichinojo to 10-4 while Satoyama falls to 6-8.

Well, it's all in Hakuho's hands tomorrow. He has two chances to win one in order to take the yusho, but let's hope it doesn't even get to that point.

We pay Harvye the big bucks tomorrow.

Day 13 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Oh sumo, why do I love thee so? When you are so bad to me sometimes. Why do I thrill to you, want you, when you treat me poorly and take other lovers, cheating on me all the time, hanging out with bad boys. Sometimes I don't even like you--I get so frustrated with you.

I remember one evening in the pouring rain
And in my heart was an aching pain

But you're my man, and I want you back. Come back to me any time. Just show up at the decaying door, termites in the lintel, linoleum peeling from the floor. I shake my head and look away, I'm glad you're gone when you're out of town, I run you down to others, but still I can't help it--I want you back in my life. You have such a hold.

The human heart is a mystery. Yesterday when Hakuho won, I leapt spontaneously in my chair and did a fist pump, I wanted it so much. Why? Why should I love him? He's cheated so much--I know that. Whether when the yusho was bought from Asashoryu, or all those bouts he throws, all the time, right in our face, when we respect him so much. Why should I bleed for him?

Muddy river is muddy and wild
Can't give a bloody for my unborn child

Some people may say I'm accusing the Japanese wrestlers of yaocho, of mukiryoku--and yes. I do. But it is the Mongolians, the Mongolians, who cheat me worst of all, rob me of good sumo, fall and dance and prance when they should kill, cause disgrace, humiliate it all, steal from us the pleasure of good matches, when they go weakly into the good night. Why love them? Because I can't help it. Because in the end I'm not cheering for them--I'm cheering for greatness. I'm cheering for sumo that awes. I want to scream from the rafters for feats of strength--they're the ones capable of doing it best. When Hakuho rages across the dohyo like some flaming Tibetan deity with a blue face and teeth made of skulls and makes of his foes a world of suffering, of their existence emptiness, exposes the reign of death and the howling void of nirvana, I'm grateful. That's what I came for.

Sure as a bird flying high above
Life ain't worth living without the one you love

Ya, a funny thing happened. I wanted him so much to beat Goeido, and it was an electric, wild moment of sporting joy. And yet, too, at that moment the wind went out of the tournament liked a pricked balloon at the county fair on a windy day in rural Saskatchewan. That old human heart. Mine houses two notions simultaneously: I want Hakuho to win, because he's the best, and I'm emotionally tied to that outcome. And yet, I want the tournament to be close, and for a Japanese Ozeki to make things easier by finally--finally!--doing well. Despite myself, like Mike said yesterday, this tournament was exciting because Kisenosato or Goeido might win--no matter how fake that might be. You can see why it works for the general public; if even I thrilled to this tournament's exciting faux-zeki yusho and Yokozuna runs, knowing what I know, who wouldn't? It ain't so easy to say this is good, that is bad. The more I watch, the more I think Itai is right and 2/3 of this nonsense--but I'm no closer to quitting it. Because stuff like yesterday happens, and happens, and happens again. Mike said it: we have three days left, and we have no idea how it will turn out.

Fare thee well my honey, fare thee well

I love you, bad boy. Don't know if you're good for me or not. Hate you sometimes. But the heart knows.

M13 Chiyootori (7-5) vs. M14 Daieisho (7-5)
You know that feeling when you've made a high stack of blocks and it starts to lean, then it starts to fall, and you're all oh no No NO! as you try to catch some of the blocks but they tumble down? That's the feeling Chiyootori had. He was doing polite, careful little shoves on the stack of blocks known as Daieisho, but Daieisho started thrusting and pushing back harder and faster, and Chiyootori found himself going backwards a little, then backwards a lot, then no No NO! he was over the tawara, oshi-dashi.

M11 Ichinojo (8-4) vs. M12 Hidenoumi (6-6)
La di da, la di da, no one wanted this one off the tachi-ai, where they both kinda slid out, then embarrassedly stepped for'ard and said, "how do!" This vapid start by The Iron Blob of Gravity Grease (Ichinojo) let Hidenoumi get inside on moro-zashi so thick he was like a babe snuggling into mother… or maybe Ichinojo was like a drunk being carried home by his little brother, arms dangling down sleepily to the belt over Hide's shoulders. It was enough though: Ichinojo awakened from his slumber and carried Hidenoumi out, yori-kiri. As so often, we saw the best (dominant size) and worst (lazy technique) of Ichinojo here.

M11 Amuuru (6-6) vs. M10 Tamawashi (7-5)
You could feel the tension and concentration on the lines as these two guys eyed each other up, each within reach of kachi-koshi if they can just get one or two more wins. They went at it a'brawlin' from the first hit, but Tamawashi is much the better man, and pretty well mutilated Amuuru in moments with a merciless barrage of focused air raid bombardment. Tsuki-dashi.

M14 Daishomaru (6-6) vs. M8 Chiyotairyu (2-10)
Slap, clap! And a slide 'em that foot to the left! Pop your partner on the shoulder! Jerk 'em to the ground like a tsuki-otoshi boulder! That's how Daishomaru did Chiyotairyu in, with a smooth henka-lunka after a smackdelicious hard-contact tachi-ai. If that's how you gonna stay in the division, better t' go 'way, boy.

M8 Takanoiwa (6-6) vs. M16 Akiseyama (4-8)
They joke that fat people can't see their feet. Old Waterbed (Akiseyama) had Takanoiwa burrowed so deep into his gut like a blood-sucking Aitkin County tick that he couldn't look down, either. He was staring straight ahead while fumbling about at this thing lodged in his nethers. That wasn't going to work. Nice yori-kiri underneath-work by Takanoiwa, carrying this broken-down waterbed out to the curb for pick-up.

M12 Tokushoryu (6-6) vs. M7 Kaisei (8-4)
I admired how Tokushoryu really went for the win here, but he's just not good enough. He had two solid chances at it: after he surprised Kaisei with an aggressive choke to the neck and a strong pull off of that, and a moment later when he himself ended up too close to the tawara but was able to evade and then had Kaisei dangerously near the edge. However, in neither case was he able to finish the deal, and Kaisei was onto him as dangerous by this point: grabbed a big outer left grip, came in close, and removed this blubber-tub of annoyance from the ring, yori-kiri. Always fun when guys show that when they want to win, hey, they're just better than the other guy, no matter what he pulls. That's why they rank 'em.

M15 Satoyama (6-6) vs. M6 Shodai (7-5)
Shodai went in high and wide open at the tachi-ai, then looked surprised when there was nothing there to grapple with, as Satoyama torpedoed in underneath as he almost always does. Don't these guys watch film? This left Shodai in a dangerous position, with Satoyama nestled under his shoulder and in control. However, you still have to have enough power to use that position to drive your opponent out, and Satoyama just doesn't. Pretty soon Shodai reached over and got a good grip on Satoyama's belt, giving him a measure of control, too. After one of Satoyama's pushes failed, and he tried to reverse momentum with a push-and-spin, Shodai just took advantage of this tiny lapse and drove Satoyama out, yori-kiri. One trick ponies have a hard time climbing out of the gulch.

M6 Myogiryu (10-2) vs. M13 Mitakeumi (7-5)
Myogiryu has quietly had a great tournament, but he was way overconfident here against a guy who he should have recognized is already a pretty good wrestler. Myogiryu just drove forward, thinking he could dominate this newbie, and didn't bother to secure any grips. When he reached down on the left to try to get one, Mitakeumi pushed up on his right and used Myogiryu's momentum to turn him around and push him out, yori-kiri. Nicely done by the kid.

M15 Kitataiki (3-9) vs. M5 Shohozan (2-10)
Shohozan may not be much, but he's way better than Kitataiki at this point, who gets props for staying on the shelf a couple of years past his expiration date. (He's that chunky milk in the back corner of the fridge.) Shohozan just put one hand in his face off the tachi-ai, and when Kitataiki flinched like a guy who getting gleeked on by a close-talker, Darth Hozan was instantly on top of him and drove him out with little pitter-patter feet, yori-kiri.

M9 Toyohibiki (3-9) vs. M4 Sokokurai (4-8)
Sometimes moving to the side makes it look so easy. It wasn't precisely a henka by Sokokurai, just one half step to his left, then looking down and waiting for Toyohibiki's belt as it cruised into range. He grabbed it, then with his right hand grabbed Toyohibiki's head and used these two points to spin Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki) on his own fulcrum to the ground, uwate-nage. Sokokurai didn't need the early half-cheat to win, but it sure was effective. In fact, despite myself, I'll admit it looked pretty damn good.

M4 Ikioi (9-3) vs. M10 Gagamaru (5-7)
Rubber Baby Bucket (Gagamaru) didn't step forward much, didn't use his hands effectively, and didn't evade when driven backwards. Ikioi played it well by keeping slightly lower and holding his arms in dual-pronged fork-lift mode, leaving him in position to get moro-zashi when it opened and score the easy yori-kiri win.

M9 Sadanoumi (6-6) vs. M3 Aminishiki (5-7)
Hoo boy. Looook at me. Loook deep into my eyes, said Aminishiki, as Sadanoumi held onto his head and peered up at him out of a grappling position. You are feeling veeeeery sleepy Sadanoumi, said Aminishiki. I have you in my power now. And shloing! He pulled Sadanoumi down to the ground, hataki-komi. The Hypnotist.

M7 Takekaze (4-8) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (3-9)
Takekaze just had to henka here; to be fair that's his style, and he has no prayer in a straight up fight against this guy. However, he chose to move laterally only after the tachi-ai, and neither far nor fast. In Japan we call that "chu-to-han-pa," which pretty much translates as "half of this and half of that is half nothing." Tochinoshin has been lightning the past year or so, and was all over him, including one hard face slap that turned Takekaze to a 90 degree angle.

I had a man who was long and tall
Moved his body like a cannonball

After that it was a very easy okuri-dashi win by Tochinoshin against this totally overmatched opponent.

M2 Okinoumi (5-7) vs. M5 Kyokushuho (6-6)
Yuck. Giveaway by Kyokushuho, who pushed hard once off the start lines, then just gave a weak and telegraphed pull which Okinoumi used to swiftly drive him out okuri-dashi as Kyok' held on for the ride. Try harder, gentlemen.

M1 Kotoyuki (9-3) vs. K Takarafuji (5-7)
Somebody get Kotoyuki a spittoon. Prang!!! They both kind of slid to the side off an uninspiring tachi-ai, but Lobot (Takarafuji) slid farther, and was then at the mercy of his amped-up foe: he needed to be aggressive here and show this showboat who's who, but he didn't, and wasn't able to do anything with his arms after that, just kind of ineffectually stabbing in at randomly imagined attack points and was easily battered away by Kotoyuki before The 'Yuk settled in to a concise two-hands-to-the-chest push, leading to an oshi-dashi win. Yawn.

K Tochiohzan (2-10) vs. M1 Takayasu (3-9)
All the action was on the mukou (other, away from the TV) side. Tochiohzan had his other, right, arm inside where he wanted it, and the whole bout was about him trying to get the same on the left, insistently jerking his hand around other there, while Takayasu defended it, mostly by keeping his right arm in and against his belly. But both of them were flailing their arms about over there like two guys having a cookie-dough-beating competition. This continued throughout the whole match, and Takayasu played it well: when Tochiohzan became too obsessed with that move, Takayasu took advantage of the loss of appropriate focus and reached up and pulled him through and down on that side, hataki-komi: you want it? You're gonna get all you need!

S Yoshikaze (2-10) vs. S Toyonoshima (3-9)
This was the rare bout that looks like just a bunch of dumb slapping on first watch but improves on the replay. Off the lines these two bodied up well, then separated as Yoshikaze began working on a series of hard, well placed face slaps. The audio was good here and you could hear it well when he connected. Toyonoshima was just trying to keep his eyes open. Yoshikaze's own peepers were perfectly functional; he saw his way onto Tugboat's deck and ended the match in odd fashion by placing his right bicep on top of Tugboat's face and smashing it down, bowing Toyonoshima into a crescent-moon-shaped tumble at the tawara, oshi-taoshi. Toyonoshima got bent so sideways you could have strung a bow from the top of his head to the tip of his toes.

O Goeido (10-2) vs. O Terunofuji (8-4)
And finally, a match that matters. I looked at this and decided it was incumbent on Terunofuji to lose: he had his kachi-koshi, and it would be good for the basho to keep Goeido close to Hakuho on the leaderboard. Or, alternately you could say this one was ripe for a straight fight: Goeido's yusho cred was badly damaged by his farcically weak loss yesterday, and he already had ten wins, so no need for him to get more.

See how this works? You may think you know what's going to happen, but you never do. Then again, you do sometimes know what did happen.

Fuji the Terrible fluttered his arms like a li'l butterfly and stared at the ceiling while Goeido smothered into his chest and into instant moro-zashi, immediately followed by yori-kiri victory force-out by Goeido. MMMMMMMaaagic Boy! Ah, me. Oh, my.

M3 Aoiyama (5-7) vs. O Kisenosato (10-2)
Aoiyama was placid here, playing to his opponent's strength by immediately agreeing to a "no thrusting zone" body-and-belt battle. Kisenosato first got two arms girthily around Aoiyama's uppers, then both hands onto Blue Mountain's belt. Magic! Aoiyama never got anything at all (maaaaaagic!), and it was over quickly from there, yori-kiri. A one, a two, a three! Mmmmmmmagic Boys! Ah, me. Oh, my.

Y Kakuryu (8-4) vs. Y Hakuho (11-1)
And would Hakuho, too, dance to the magic tune? As this was a meaningless opponent, all he had to do was lose here and he both leaves his statement of the last few days intact ("see how I can utterly destroy the Japanese Ozeki") and graciously re-gifts those same Ozeki a chance to win the basho--it's what he's been doing for years.

Or, he can choose to win, as he's being doing nothing but of lately. Once again, we really have no idea what's going to happen.

Zounds! Zoinks! He destroyed Kakuryu as effortlessly and completely as he did Kisenosato and Goeido, and in much the same manner: cat slap to the face, then he actually stopped time and leapt through a black hole onto Kakuryu's body, restarted the space time continuum, and drove Kakuryu out, moro-zashi. Now, Kakuryu did absolutely nothing here but look helpless, a damsel in distress with no hero in the ring, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway: this is the changeling-child Hakuho that Odin sent down to the steppe for us so many years ago.

If I had wings like Noah's dove
I'd fly the river to the one I love

Y Harumafuji (8-4) vs. O Kotoshogiku (8-4)
The 'Maf made Jar Jar (Kotoshogiku) look very silly here, like some grandpa they wheeled in with his walker, or like a 50 year old suburbanite who won a Kellogg's cereal back-of-the-box "fight the Yokozuna!" contest. 'Maf slithered upon him in fanged terror, ripping another hole in the space-time continuum (also known as a "false start," but no matter), smacked into Kotoshogiku's face with his shoulder, and got so deep onto Kotoshogiku's belt all the way around at the back they want to hire him to sling hay bales in Nebraska. And the hay bale went a'rollin' 'cross the broken stalks and scattered corn, shitate-nage, in another bout that made the Japanese Ozeki look very silly.

The Storyteller (Hakuho), 12-1
Kisenosato, Goeido 11-2
Look familiar? That's because it feels so good! Mmm, mmm two double quarter pounders with cheese, please! (Cut to slightly embarrassed Japanese fans on the street giving a thumbs up and saying, "I'm lovin' it!") Well, I've always loved some cheeseburgers too.

Tomorrow Mike tells the truth. Again.

Today's musical accompaniment by Marcus Mumford, Oscar Isaac, and T Bone Burnett.

Day 12 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As we entered day 12, the question on everyone's mind was "who is going to take the yusho?" We have three candidates coming into the day in Hakuho, Kisenosato, and Goeido, but the mere fact that people are even thinking the words "Kisenosato," "Goeido," and "yusho" in the same sentence is a win for the Sumo Association. Sumotalk readers know of course that a Kisenosato or a Goeido yusho is purely up to Hakuho first and then cooperation from the other Mongolians, but the majority of Japanese fans don't don't factor yaocho into the equation thinking that all of these results are legit.

And this mindset is all due to Kotoshogiku's yusho in January. Prior to January, when a Japanese rikishi would get close we all knew they were going to fold down the stretch because they were always at the mercy of others, but now that an actual yusho has been orchestrated for one of the Three Amigos, the mindset of everyone has totally changed...including the readers of Sumotalk. People are declaring with much more confidence this basho that Kisenosato or Goeido will take the yusho because they've seen with their own eyes that the Association is now willing to arrange a tournament, and that's where the Sumo Association has won in all of this. Regardless what your stance is regarding the existence of bout fixing, etc., everyone is much more optimistic that a yusho from a Japanese rikishi can occur with more frequency.

Focusing now on the day 12 bouts, the leaderboard at the start of the action shaped up as follows:

10-1: Hakuho, Kisenosato, Goeido
9-2: Myogiryu

What a thing'a beauty innit? Four Japanese rikishi surrounding the greatest rikishi of all time, so just to be able to provide that visual to the fans helps to legitimize that the Japanese rikishi can actually compete because there is no evidence atop the dohyo that suggests such a premise. With that in mind, let's work our way up the leaderboard in chronological order meaning we start with M16 Myogiryu, who used a right paw into M11 Amuuru's face lifting him up and driving him back quickly, and as Myogiryu persisted in his forward attack leading with tsuppari, Amuuru attempted to spin to his right to counter, but Myogiryu had too much momentum knocking the Russian back and across before he could get anything going. I thought Amuuru could have exerted more effort in this one, but Myogiryu is the superior rikishi as he improves to 10-2 keeping himself firmly on the leaderboard. Amuuru falls to 6-6 with the loss.

That was all just token coverage because the bouts that counted for reals occurred in the last 15 minutes. Let's take Yokozuna Harumafuji and Ozeki Kisenosato first where the only question was: would Harumafuji go straight up? Both rikishi butted heads at the tachi-ai before the Yokozuna delivered a stiff right palm to the Ozeki's face that split his lip and drew blood, and with Kisenosato on his heels, the Yokozuna went for the quick oshi-dashi kill. Credit Kisenosato, however, for moving to his left and attempting a counter pull that threw the Yokozuna off balance, but that was the Ozeki's best shot, and when Harumafuji recovered he said "I'll show you pull" backing up and dragging the Ozeki along for the ride by the back of the head. Harumafuji had plenty of dohyo behind him to work with as he executed the pull, and he was never in danger as he sent the Ozeki down to his second loss in as many days much to the chagrin of the Japanese fans. The result was Harumafuji's improving to 8-4 while Kisenosato now keeps Myogiryu company in the two-loss tier at 10-2.  Kisenosato was quiet in the press afterwards, and it's almost as if these guys can't explain the two bout losing streak.  It's simple:  the Mongolians didn't let you win on consecutive days.

Before we move on, I think today was a good example of why everyone correctly considers Kisenosato to be the superior rikishi of the three Japanese Ozeki. There's no point debating right here if Kisenosato is a legitimate Ozeki or not; the point is that he executed a pretty good counter move as he was being driven back that I don't think the other two are capable of pulling off. Still, the dude cannot set up anything on his own from the tachi-ai, and that's why his records basho in and basho out are inflated and why he will ultimately need help if he is to notch a career yusho.

The most anticipated bout of the day on paper was of course Yokozuna Hakuho vs. Ozeki Goeido, and as the two stepped atop the dohyo, the Osaka faithful were extremely vocal clapping in unison and shouting GO-EI-DO! GO-EI-DO!. That hat DO quickly turned to D'OH! as the hapless Goeido could only offer both palms against the Yokozuna's shoulders at the tachi-ai, but the Yokozuna easily swiped those limbs away and just stormed the Ozeki back and off of the dohyo with a potent oshi attack that took less than 2 seconds. Unfortunately, the only drama involved with this bout was whether or not Hakuho was going to throw it, and thankfully he didn't. Goeido falls to 10-2 with the loss and don't look now but Hakuho is your sole leader at 11-1.

Hakuho has been on a serious mission these last few days bloodying two decent rikishi in Yoshikaze and Tochiohzan and then dominating two of the Japanese Ozeki. When I was searching the wires yesterday for a picture of the Hakuho - Kisenosato bout to use in Harvye's report, I had about six choices from all different angles, and I'm telling you...Kisenosato got his ass kicked no matter which angle you viewed it from. To the Kid's credit, he at least tried to stand toe to toe with the Yokozuna whereas Goeido is so hapless he was unable to make a contest of the bout. It should be clear to everyone the last few days that Hakuho hasn't lost a step; he's not injured; and he's not disinterested in things. He's still in his prime and has no equal in this sport. It's not even close.

Hakuho is of course the clear favorite to yusho at this point, but I'm not even going to try and predict an ending to this tournament. He could just as easily decide to lose to one of the other Yokozuna down the stretch in order to make things interesting, which is why we have to take each day one at a time and then analyze what happened after the fact. Regardless of what happens the final three days, here is your true leaderboard:

11-1: Hakuho

And then this is the leaderboard that NHK will display:

11-1: Hakuho
10-2: Kisenosato, Goeido, Myogiryu

In a rather meaningless bout, Ozeki Terunofuji stepped out left grabbing the quick outer grip against Yokozuna Kakuryu and just kept moving that direction swinging the Yokozuna over and down with that ill-gotten uwate. Kakuryu had an opening with the right to the inside, but he just played along going down quickly and giving Terunofuji kachi-koshi in the process. Both rikishi now stand at 8-4, and it's a shame that we rarely get to see the Mongolian Yokozuna ever go chest to chest.

M3 Aminishiki came with a wild left hari at the tachi-ai against Ozeki Kotoshogiku that did more to let the Ozeki to the inside than it did to set up an offensive maneuver from Shneaky, and after Aminishiki whiffed on the slap, he was there for the taking. And the Ozeki took getting his usual left inside right kote grip that he used to force the upright and defenseless Aminishiki back and across. This was the typical yaocho in favor of the Ozeki where the opponent gives him the inside, stays upright, and doesn't even think to counter at the edge. Kotoshogiku finally picks up kachi-koshi at 8-4, and I actually think the two henka against him by Kisenosato and Terunofuji were to save face. If they're going to beat the Geeku anyway, go ahead and henka him at least giving him the excuse that he wasn't beaten straight up. As for Aminishiki, he falls to 5-7 without a care in the world.

M1 Takayasu looked to gain moro-zashi from the tachi-ai against Sekiwake Toyonoshima with a right frontal belt grip, but Tugboat quickly backed out of it yanking Takayasu towards the edge by the right arm, and as Takayasu looked to square up with a few tsuppari, Toyonoshima easily ducked under his arms gaining moro-zashi and forcing Takayasu back and across with some oomph. Both rikishi end the day at a paltry 3-9.

Komusubi Takarafuji looked to get the left inside against Sekiwake Yoshikaze, but Monster Drink was just too busy backing out of the move and using a left paw into Takarafuji's neck to create separation and set up a wild pull. But Yoshikaze's act was just too wild and unstable, so Takarafuji stayed square and caught him with a nice left shoulder near the edge that knocked the Sekiwake back and out. Takarafuji improves to 5-7 with the win while Yoshikaze falls to just 2-10.

I suppose at this point it'd be worth bringing up the subject of pet project rikishi. Yoshikaze is one of those guys who last year all of a sudden came out of nowhere, defeated a few Yokozuna (thanks to mukiryoku sumo), and then rose up to become a constant in the sanyaku ranks the last half year or so. Yoshikaze really didn't have the game to sustain himself at that rank, but for whatever reason, he became a feel-good story and has managed to spark a bit of excitement into sumo for the domestic fans. In reality, Yoshikaze's a mid-level guy at best meaning he can consistently kachi-koshi from the M5 or so rank all on his own.

The reason I even bring this up is because for whatever reason, M1 Kotoyuki is the obvious new pet project. Now, I've always liked the guy, and I like how he usually sticks to his bread and butter tsuppari attack, but he has received serious help this tournament in achieving his current record. He's legitimately good enough to beat the other rank and filers who ride that elevator up to the sanyaku only to get their asses kicked and fall back down only to work their way back up again. What he's not is a legitimate sanyaku mainstay, at least not yet. I think he can earn the sanyaku all on his own, but to see him at this record in his jo'i debut is a joke. I don't know why they picked Kotoyuki; perhaps it could be his little "Ho!" gimmick that he does before each bout, but regardless, he's had opponents lay down for him left and right so far.

Today against Komusubi Tochiohzan, Kotoyuki kept him away from the inside with a powerful right tsuki to the chest, and when he followed that up with a nice left ham to the neck, Tochiohzan was too upright and on his heels to do anything, and so Kotoyuki kept moving forward and knocked Tochiohzan back and out in seconds. Kotoyuki moves to 9-3 with the win and could end up winning two special prizes in the end. As for Tochiohzan, this guy is taking his lumps at 2-10, but that will happen when you're obligated to lose to a handful of rikishi.

M4 Sokokurai got the left inside early against M2 Tochinoshin denying the same position from the Georgian on the other side, so as Tochinoshin looked to fend of the moro-zashi against him, Sokokurai moved left and executed a left scoop throw that was not strong enough to cause the exaggerated spin and fall that we got from Tochinoshin. I mean, I have no explanation as to why these two would be in cahoots, but Tochinoshin just took a dive. When they showed the replay from up above, Sokokurai actually began the final throw with his left hand on Tochinoshin's belt, but midway through it slipped off and it became a scoop throw. Such an indecisive move does not topple the Private like that, but I have no idea why this bout would be arranged. Sokokurai moves to 4-8 with the win while Tochinoshin falls to 3-9. Kotoyuki 9-3 and Tochinoshin at 3-9? Give me a break.

M10 Gagamaru and M2 Okinoumi hooked up in hidari-yotsu where Okinoumi enjoyed the right outer grip and no resistance from his opponent, and so the yori-kiri came straightway where Gagamaru's only attempt to counter was a half-assed right kote-nage throw that he halted midway. Not sure if this was laziness on the part of Gagamaru giving up afer his opponent got the outer grip, but this was a boring bout of sumo as both parties end the day at 5-7.

M3 Aoiyama blew M5 Shohozan off of the starting lines with his hissing tsuppari, and after driving Darth Hozan back and close to the dark side, he quickly switched gears scoring on the reverse hataki-komi using his opponent's forward momentum against him. Nothing wrong with this kind of hataki-komi as Aoiyama kicks his opponent's ass moving to 5-7 while Shohozan falls to 2-10.

M8 Takanoiwa looked to latch onto a left frontal grip against M4 Ikioi, but Ikioi hit that arm from the side knocking Takanoiwa off of the belt and exaggeratedly to the side. Ikioi then rushed in and got moro-zashi so deep that Takanoiwa only had a kubi-nage left in his arsenal. He didn't even bother going for the throw allowing Ikioi to easily force him back and across from there. Nice fake bout to give the Osaka native kachi-koshi at 8-4 while Takanoiwa falls to 6-6.

M5 Kyokushuho and M11 Ichinojo hooked up in the migi-yotsu stance where Kyokushuho enjoyed the left outer grip keeping his can back and away from the same grip by the Mongolith, and from this point, Ichinojo was just conducting a bout of butsukari-geiko largely standing there and making his opponent work for the force-out win. And so Shuho wrenched his larger foe this way and that bodying him back in the end with no offensive attack or counter attack coming from Ichinojo. Intentional or not, the Mongolith was mukiryoku here falling to 8-4 while Kyokushuho polishes his record up a bit at 6-6.

M12 Tokushoryu and M6 Shodai hooked up in the gappuri hidari-yotsu position from the tachi-ai where Tokushoryu largely just stood there and allowed Shodai to wrench him around the ring and out. I just didn't see any effort from Tokushoryu here to try and defeat his opponent, so give Shodai the easy win at 7-5 while Tokushoryu falls to 6-6.

M7 Kaisei was lethargic at the tachi-ai pulling his right arm out from the inside and doing nothing with his left, so it was no wonder M13 Chiyootori got moro-zashi and began forcing Kaisei back near the edge with ease. Kaisei was so straight and upright here that even the Mormons were taking notice, and when Chiyootori went for a left inside belt throw, Kaisei literally took a knee at the edge. Easy yaocho call here as Chiyootori inches closer to kachi-koshi at 7-5 while Kaisei's already done this basho at 8-4.

M7 Takekaze lamely charged forward offering an even lamer pull of M14 Daishomaru, and when it was the rookie's turn to go for his pull, Takekaze hit the dirt as if a piano had fallen on him from the sky. This was total yaocho in an effort to stop the bleeding for Daishomaru who had been getting his ass kicked of late. He's now 6-6 while Takekaze's pockets were surely lined at 4-8.

Neither M8 Chiyotairyu nor M15 Kitataiki moved forward at the tachi-ai where Chiyotairyu used his right hand to push into Kitataiki's neck, and with Kitataiki doing nothing with his attempt to grab a left outer, Chiyotairyu just backed up a step and slapped Kitataiki down. The arena was so quiet after this one I thought they were observing a moment of silence for the victims in Belgium. Chiyotairyu is just 2-10 while Kitataiki is 3-9.

M9 Sadanoumi was lazy at the tachi-ai allowing M12 Hidenoumi to gain moro-zashi, and all Sadanoumi had to counter with was a left outer grip that was unraveling Hidenoumi's belt. Hidenoumi's yori charge was so forceful that Sadanoumi's counter move to the left and attempted outer belt throw barely made a dent. While Hidenoumi did dominate this one, as the two crashed out of the dohyo, Hidenoumi's left arm hit the clay mound hard causing him to lie there on his stomach for a few seconds. When he got up, he was holding his right arm in that manner that rikishi do when they've dislocated a joint. In this case, it's likely the elbow. That's gonna sting as both rikishi end the day at 6-6.

M9 Toyohibiki was proactive against M16 Akiseyama plodding along with a mediocre tsuppari attack, but he was connecting more with blows from the tummy (as my mom would say) than he was with blows from his shoves, and so at the edge, the rookie was able to evade at the last second and push Toyohibiki down with a paw to the side. Toyohibiki was so oblivious to this move at the edge--the place where you expect it the most--that I think there's some buying and selling going on so as to not make Akiseyama's debut a total disaster. The rookie is now 4-8 while Toyohibiki falls to 3-9.

M14 Daieisho and M10 Tamawashi engaged in a fierce tsuppari battle from the tachi-ai, but Tamawashi's longer arms of the law were clearly scoring the blows while Daieisho was forced to think of a plan to counter. That plan came in the form of a left kubi-nage, but before he could really execute it, Tamawashi steamrolled him back and out for the big solid win leaving both gentlemen at 7-5.

And finally, M13 Mitakeumi used perfect tsuppari and a cautious retreat to keep M15 Satoyama far away from the inside, and once the youngster realized his shoves were working, he pressed forward hard with the lower body and knocked the Imo back so fast he was able to pounce in with the left inside and force Satoimo back and across for good. Beautiful win for Mitakeumi as he improves to 7-5 while Satoyama falls to 6-6.

Harvye's back tomorrow.

Day 11 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Allow me to reveal the true extent of my geekdom. Last basho on Day 13, inspired by Kotoshogiku's upcoming yusho, I prepared a Star Wars themed report, and came up with these "rejected subtitles":

The Phix'em Menace
Attack of the Clowns
Revenge of the Sick
An Old Dope
The Association Strikes Back
Return of the Joke
The Fauxzeki Awakens

I didn't use it in the end, but whaddayaknow! These subtitles are still fresh. In celebration of this basho's science fiction story, I present to you today: Haru Basho, Episode XI.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (M15 Kitataiki, 3-7) vs. Walrus Man (M12 Hidenoumi 4-6)
At first I thought Ben Kenobi was just going to try to use The Force to win this one, because he stood there and let Walrus Man get both arms inside. But Walrus Man must have already drunk too much at the bar, as he couldn't make hay of this at first. He changed up his grips a coupla times, and had Obi Wan on the ropes, but Obi Wan pushed things back to the center and I thought he might just win. Nothing doing; in a cool move, Walrus Man spun Obi Wan around in the ring, hammer throw style, and Obi-Wan was actually hurt by his own grips, as when he didn't let go they contributed to the centrifugal force being exerted on him. Whirlygig shitatenage!

Ugnaught (M15 Satoyama, 5-5) vs. a random Stormtrooper (M10 Tamawashi, 6-4)
The Stormtrooper wasn't going to let himself get beat by a hairy little pig man from Bespin, right? But no matter how many times the Stormtrooper slapped the Ugnaught in the face, the Ugnaught and his low center of gravity wouldn't go down. All those laser blasts from The Stormtrooper essentially missed--can't hit anything, those Stormtroopers. So the Ugnaught just waited for an opportune moment, grabbed the off-kilter Stormtrooper by the back of his uniform, turned him around, and shoved him out, okuri-dashi. Useless Stormtroopers.

Dengar (M10 Gagamaru, 4-6) vs. Greedo (M14 Daishomaru, 5-5)
Dengar just stood up on a false start that wasn't called, punched Greedo in the face once or twice, and Greedo and his green mawashi turned around and walked out of the bar, oshi-dashi. Wow--does this really count as sumo? Be forewarned: there will be several bad give-up bouts like this today. (But wait, why is Dengar wearing Aminishiki's leg brace on his head?)

Princess Leia (M11 Amuuru, 6-4) vs. R5-D4 (M9 Sadanoumi, 5-5)
Princess Leia is a tough chick, so she was all up in R5-D4's face with two hands, trying to disorient him and let her get something even she, with her slight, winsome frame, could work with. However, at one point she pulled R5-D4 in toward her (ooh! Do it to me, do it to me!), and the little barrel shaped droid ploughed smartly forward. Curtains, yori-kiri win for R5-D4--but not before they both fell out of the ring as Princess Leia tried a desperation throw at the edge (almost worked--gyoji got it wrong and they needed a mono-ii to correct it). R5-D4's head blew up again: both ended up with bloody foreheads. Good stuff.

Jabba the Hutt (M9 Toyohibiki, 3-7) vs. Aunt Beru (M12 Tokushoryu, 5-5)
Jabba surged forward here with a wicked, slimy paw to Aunt Beru's face, and if he'd paid the slightest attention to keeping Beru in front of him, he's have won. Instead, Beru avoided nimbly at the edge, impressive for a middle aged woman, and grabbed Jabba's girthy belt (didn't know Jabba wears a belt, did you? But thank god he did!) From there Jabba was of course easy yori-kiri force out material. Consolation prize: glass of blue milk.

Gamorrean Guard (M16 Akiseyama, 2-8) vs. Rancor (M8 Chiyotairyu, 1-9)
Brrraaagghhh! The rancor surged forward out of his cave, and shoved the hapless Gamorrean Guard hard in the face and upper body and drove him back toward the bone-strewn wall, eager to gulp down another fatty meal. However, the piggy guard squealed a bit and stepped to the side, letting the Rancor flop pitifully to the ground, defeated in the nick of time (again, the gyoji thought the wrong guy had won, and had to be corrected), hataki-komi. If he Gamorrean Guard had lost, the kimarite would have been "lunch."

Tusken Raider (M13 Mitakeumi, 6-4) vs. Rancor Keeper (M7 Kaisei, 7-3)
The Tusken Raider is a mean desert bully, and rather than let the him get all genki and beat on you with his Gaffi Sticks, better to just jump up in his face and smother all that excess energy. The Rancor Keeper is big and sweaty and hairy, and dropped all that body-mess on the Tusken Raider's face forthwith, plop. The Tusken Raider pretty much just said "whoa!" and backed out of the ring, yori-kiri. I mean, how'd you like to hug that?

Willrow Hood (M14 Daieisho, 7-3) vs. Luke Skywalker (M6 Shodai, 5-5)
Nice quick left inside by the Galaxy's last hope, Shodai, who calmly parlayed the left into a patient but very dominant yori-kiri win. 'Course, Willrow Hood did nothing but stand around like a practice dummy--would have been better to try to run away with the ice cream maker (for fans of ridiculously detailed ironic geekdom, do yourself a favor and google "Willrow Hood ice cream maker").

Snaggletooth (M6 Myogiryu, 8-2) vs. Jek Porkins (M13 Chiyootori, 6-4)
When you're a little dude like Snaggletooth facing a big blob like Porkins, you have to do the little things right. No problem. Snag got in underneath, and simultaneously fended off Jek's advances with his left hand down below around the belt while keeping Porkins off him on the right with a smart and immediate armpit life. When he sensed Porkins floundering around blind for some kind of offense, Snag went on the offensive and drove Jek's ship into the surface of the Death Star in a blaze of destructive glory, oshi-dashi.

Biggs (M4 Ikioi, 7-3) vs. the Sarlacc (M11 Ichinojo, 8-2)
They say if you fall into the Sarlacc pit you will be slowly digested in its belly over 1,000 years. Yes, I've seen the Sarlacc do that to guys. But not if the Sarlacc lets you get an arm inside, stands up, and walks away from you backwards to a yori-kiri loss. Yeah, yeah, I know I said don't like the Sarlacc and his sumo, and I think a lot of times he loses not on purpose but because of lack of will, but that's just half the story: yes, he does mukiryoku too, and this was that.

4LOM (M8 Takanoiwa, 6-4) vs. Yoda (M3 Aminishiki, 4-6)
Yoda the much better wrestler is, and showed it did. Out he started in a pretty straightforward manner, with one sharp-nailed green claw to 4LOM's throat, and after that scared 4LOM seemed, because when twice pulled him Yoda did, advantage 4LOM not was able to take (do, or do not! There is no try!). Grabbed 4LOM by the ear and face again Yoda did, and for 4LOM another hope there was not, as beat him by oshi-dashi Yoda did.

Wampa Ice Creature (M3 Aoiyama, 3-7) vs. R2-D2 (M7 Takekaze, 4-6)
R2-D2 may be a nice little droid with an amazing amount of clever tricks hidden within that barrel frame, but when he is battered on his shell by a huge beast with claws the size of his head, pretty soon physics takes over and he's going to fall down, hiki-otoshi.

Darth Maul (M5 Shohozan, 2-8) vs. Chewbacca (M2 Tochinoshin, 2-8)
Without a dual-bladed light saber in his hands, Darth Maul is just a sour looking guy in black. Our favorite Wookie did what Wookies do best: alternately holding onto his man by the shoulders and battering him about the face and head with hairy paws. This one-sided bar brawl ended with Darth Maulhozan losing on kao-daboku: "face blow." Okay, I made that up: it was oshi-dashi. But Darth Hozamaul did in fact ultimately fall out of the ring upon being clobbered in the kisser with a resounding uppercut from Chewie. Fun stuff from the banzuke's most exciting guy to watch on a day in day out basis.

Wedge Antilles (M5 Kyokushuho, 4-6) vs. Wuher the cantina bartender (M1 Takayasu, 3-7)
Interesting bout here that showed Wedge's speed and technique: guy is really growing on me. These two were just trading slaps (yawn) with a couple of half-pulls from Wuher, when Wedge put his head down and took his eyes off Wuher for a moment; Wuher took advantage and dove inside for moro-zashi. Should have been curtains for Wedge, but Wedge backed out of it so quick Wuher didn't have a good enough grip to hold on when Wedge knocked him on the top of the head and down to the clay for a last-second hataki-komi win. How do you beat a guy who has moro-zashi on you? This was not something I would have suggested, but it worked great.

Imperial Probe Droid (M4 Sokokurai, 3-7) vs. Lobot (K Takarafuji, 3-7)
Imperial Probe Droid? Yes; sometimes these things just come to me. Anyway, as I've said before, Lobot's style is passive, and I think that hurts him. Here, combined with de-ashi, was masterful. Lobot knew Probe would be dangerous if he let him dictate the pace, so Lobot used his arms to block any attempts from Probe to get onto his belt or body: rather than going for a grip, Lobot's upper limbs were all protection and defense. This worked because his lower limbs were consistently driving forward, putting pressure on Probe. Then it was quick curtains once Lobot did go for a grip and try to drive Probe out. You can't say Probe was spent at this point: rather, Lobot had both squared and sized him up, and Probe had no tricks to play and no place to go. Bang. Yori-kiri. Match over.

Yarna D'Al'Gargan (M1 Kotoyuki, 7-3) vs. Gonk Droid (S Toyonoshima, 2-8)
And why wouldn't Kotoyuki be compared to a fat middle aged dancer with three rows of breasts?

Dance he did, in one of many horrible matches today. Here Yarna did that thing everybody does where they push Gonk's head back and try to break his neck--which never works. Except this time when Yarna let go and one-stepped off to the side, Gonk pretended to be stupid and pitched forth onto the clay, tsuki-otoshi. You don't get through eleven-plus years in the upper division with asininity of this nature: this fall by Toyonoshima was as fake as those second and third rows of tits on Yarna's body. As for Yarna, despite my loathing of her prima-donna fantasy world of self-love, I'd gotten to respect her hard charging sumo over the last few tournaments. This tournament the combination of the showmanship and the cheating in her favor is even more disgust inducing than wrapping your head in her decayed kilt she's wearing and breathing deep.

C-3PO (S Yoshikaze, 2-8) vs. Lando Calrissian (M2 Okinoumi, 3-7)
I thought C-3PO was doing well here by using an armbar and later a handhold to neutralize Lando's questing left arm, working with a high arm on the body on his own left, and keeping a low position. But in the end he's just a slightly effeminate, hyperactive golden droid, and one good face shove from an annoyed Lando sent C-3PO clattering off the landing pad, oshi-dashi. This was one of those bouts where all my attention was focused on the loser, and I had to go back and watch again to see if the winner did anything to earn it. The answer is Lando just looked bigger, stronger, and better: C had the better position and more aggression throughout, but not enough oomph to finish it. Lando had plenty once he finally called on it.

Jar Jar Binks (O Kotoshogiku, 7-3) vs. Kylo Ren (O Terunofuji, 6-4)
If I haven't previously fully expressed my feelings on Kotoshogiku's yusho, this should give you and idea. And in real life he should have about as much chance against Terunofuji as Jar Jar would against the dark prodigy from The Force Awakens: there was no need for Kylo to henka blandly but effectively to the left here, and roll Jar Jar to the dirt with the instant hataki-komi. But that's what he did. Meesa sayin', yousa look silly. This is all politics: Kylo will get his eight, and Jar Jar will get his too. And don't give me any nonsense about Kylo paying Jar Jar back for anything: this was just a way to beat Jar Jar but make it look Jar Jar got robbed. Ech. Boy does January feel like a galaxy far, far away.

Darth Vader (Y Harumafuji, 7-3) vs. a random Jawa (O Goeido, 9-1)
And finally, one of two matches that matter today. If the Jawa wins this one, you can mark it down: we're going to see a yusho either from him or from Admiral Ozzel (see below). If Vader wins, this storyline ends and all eyes turn to Ozzel. Like the match before it, from the Star Wars angle, this one is another apt metaphorical comparison, where this Sith Lord should cut down his runty, fearful desert scavenger foe like a scythe through spring grass. Instead, I've never seen Vader look more like a lethargic wet noodle. In a match with no tone or fire, Vader just backed up to the tawara, did a deep knee bend to simulate some kind of resistance or struggle, followed the Jawa back to the center of the ring when he wasn't immediately finished off, and allowed himself to be thrown down by the neck (kubi-nage) in a raucously overamped win by the Jawa (you'd look funny fighting with rinsed pasta in your kitchen too). Yes, we have four full days left. But I'll be demmed if March isn't January, Part II: There Is Another.

Admiral Piett (Y Kakuryu, 7-3) vs. Boba Fett (K Tochiohzan, 2-8)
Oh. My. God. Another really, really awful match. Did neither guy want to win? Boba went for a pull, and after that Piett followed him around the ring--slowly. With two hands held in scoop position for some kind of in-theory grip he might go for if they were actually going to wrestle. Instead, after a second pull, Boba stepped out of the ring without contact (though ruled oshi-dashi) as if he'd just run the 100 meters and was feeling a bit winded. Does it matter to them so little at this point? Are the top level upper division matches so rigged they barely can remember to fight when they're not rigged? Was Boba so dispirited about his chances of beating a Yokozuna here that he thought "this sucks, just get me to tomorrow"? This looked like a botched high-school play rehearsal, or a blown pass route in American Football: "weren't you supposed to turn left?" Is this supposed to pass for sumo? Oh. My. God.

Admiral Ozzel (O Kisenosato, 10-0) vs. The Emperor (Y Hakuho, 9-1)
This one started with a false start, and Ozzel (the commander Vader choked to death for incompetence in Empire) showed a real sense of entitlement during it. He flinched and almost put his fist down, but took it back; this drew The Emperor off the lines, and when it did, Ozzel flung one arm up in the air as if to say "foul! Foul! Man, it's a foul! Call if, ref!" We see a lot of that in U.S. sports, but I don't know if I've ever seen it in sumo before. Embarrassing. The Emperor did not look happy, and when they went for a second time, The Emperor came hard and heavy, with moves so fast I could hardly see them: a little hand feint to the face, then his left arm inside lifting Ozzel up at the pit and his right pushing down at the belt on the other side, chest driving massively forward. He toppled Ozzel in about a second flat: glorious, righteous destruction, heavy and thudding, at the tawara, yori-taoshi.

Hallelujah! And the heavens sang with joy! Justice was done! Now, this doesn't mean Ozzel doesn't still take this tournament--it is now even more "exciting." We still have four days left. Ozzel is still tied for the lead with the Emperor and the Jawa with one loss, and I'd say 50/50 everybody finds a way for Ozzel or the Jawa to take it. Like starting with the Jawa beating The Emperor tomorrow, how about? But it would have been easier just to give it to Ozzel here, and that wasn't done. This woke me up from my cynical slumber right good, and I can't wait to see what happens next. Damn it all, it's working on me too!

And by the way, if you're thinking, what about Han Solo? The answer is Asashoryu. All the way.

Mike senses a disturbance in The Force tomorrow. Mike bullseyes womp rats in his T16 tomorrow. Mike lets us know who your father is tomorrow. Etc. Pick your own joke!

Day 10 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As we conclude the chubansen, or middle 5 days, we once again find ourselves on the cusp of a dramatic finish to the tournament. Of course the drama has been set up by just that: drama, not real sumo. Still, I find myself waking up early each morning thinking to myself what's going to happen next, and I watch the bouts with great anticipation. I do think that it's too early at this point to come to definitive conclusions as to how the basho will end, but as I pointed out in my day 3 comments, the Sumo Association has already succeeded this tournament in further conditioning the perception of the fans regarding the following points:

1. The Yokozuna have lost their edge resulting in parity among the division
2. All four Ozeki are for real
3. Kotoshogiku's yusho in January was legit

Regardless of how the Haru basho plays itself out, those three points are alive and well and will continue to buoy up sumo's popularity. I mean, do fans even cheer when Harumafuji and Kakuryu get beat anymore? Taking down Hakuho is still special due to his career achievements, but beating the other two Yokozuna these days is akin to toppling Okinoumi. As for point number two, the three Japanese Ozeki were in the thick of things coming into the day with one of them, Kisenosato, maintaining sole lead of the tournament. And then to point number three, you only need to go back as far as my Hatsu post-basho report where I warned everyone to expect a Kisenosato yusho soon as well because the only way to make Kotoshogiku's yusho in January legitimate is to create the same scenario in proceeding basho for one of the Japanese Ozeki.

At the very start of the NHK broadcast today, they showed a whittled down leaderboard where they just went one loss deep, but as soon as the action started they rearranged the board to account for two losses, and so I'll play along and assume that all of the two-loss rikishi on up are still in the hunt as follows:

9-0: Kisenosato
8-1: Hakuho, Goeido
7-2: Harumafuji, Kakuryu, Kotoshogiku, Ikioi, Myogiryu, Ichinojo, Daieisho

Daieisho? "Heck yes!" as we say in Utah.

We start with M11 Ichinojo, however, who did battle with M13 Chiyootori as the two hooked up into migi-yotsu where Chiyootori tried to move left, but Ichinojo squared up fast and used his right ham to lift Chiyootori upright and off balance, and the Slug had Chiyootori forced back and across before he even needed the left outer grip. I talked in the intro about perceptions that the Sumo Association is trying to create in the minds of the fans, and one of the perceptions that a lot of people have formed in their minds regarding Ichinojo is that he's slow and lazy. Don't be fooled by those bouts where he plays along with that stereotype because the dude showed again today how quick he is in the ring when he wants to be. Yamamotoyama was slow and lazy; Ichinojo has serious game. Just ask Chiyootori who tried to stick and evade today only to have the Mongolith right on top of him the entire way. Ichinojo picks up kachi-koshi with the win improving to 8-2 while Chiyootori falls to 6-4.

Next up are a pair of two-loss rikishi in M14 Daieisho and M6 Myogiryu. Daieisho was proactive at the tachi-ai but couldn't decide whether or not he wanted to attack with tsuppari or force the bout to the belt, but he charged forward anyway. His indecision cost him, however, because Myogiryu just retreated in kind and timed a perfect tsuki with the right hand knocking Daieisho over by the side nearly as quick as the bout began. Myogiryu picks up kachi-koshi as well at 8-2 while Daieisho will have to wait another day at 7-3. The Sumo Association was obviously troubled to have Daieisho fall off the leaderboard darn it, but these things will happen.

Hometown favorite, M4 Ikioi, and M7 Kaisei hooked up from the tachi-ai in the migi-yotsu position where Kaisei secured the left outer grip near the front of Ikioi's belt. Ikioi was lucky that his belt started to unravel because it allowed him to at least attempt a left scoop throw, but all that did was force the action to the other side of the ring where Kaisei silled the dill from there with the perfect yori-kiri display leading with that left outer grip. Can't draw it up any better than this as Kaisei improves to 7-3 knocking Ikioi out of contention with that same 7-3 mark. Look, the purpose of Ikioi's hot start was to generate early headlines, but he's not going to stimulate the fans outside of Osaka, and so he will quietly get his kachi-koshi soon and move on.

Our final two-loss rikishi not paired against another leader today was Yokozuna Harumafuji, who did nothing from the tachi-ai against Sekiwake Toyonoshima moving forward with the body but doing nothing with his hands, and the inactivity continued as Toyonoshima finally connected with a right hand to the neck that knocked the Yokozuna back. As Harumafuji retreated, he lamely slapped from the outside with both hands, but that was just a useless ploy as Toyonoshima drove him straight back sending the Yokozuna down unnaturally onto his ass in just a few uneventful seconds. After the loss, the crowd really had no reaction because they're so used to this kind of crap occurring in the ring these days, and so with the intentional mukiryoku sumo, Harumafuji is knocked out of the yusho race for good at 7-3. Toyonoshima picks up a rare win moving to just 2-8, and while we're on the subject, one of Harumafuji's other losses came at the hands of a 2-8 rikishi, and in a normal world, a Yokozuna--let alone the Yokozuna ranked at the top of the banzuke--does not lose in this manner to rikishi who can only muster two wins over 10 days. Of course, this isn't a normal world...

Perhaps the most anticipated bout of the day featured an Ozeki duel between Yokozuna hopeful Kotoshogiku and Osaka native Goeido, and what do ya know...we got a straight up bout! After watching the Japanese Ozeki fight the first nine days, I was beginning to question whether or not sumo was a combat sport anymore, but we got straight up sumo from these two today. Goeido used a nice hari-zashi tachi-ai slapping Kotoshogiku's face with the left before getting both arms to the inside giving him moro-zashi, and Kotoshogiku can do little on his own as it is, and so Goeido lifted his fellow Ozeki upright with the left arm and then just continued in that vein spinning Kotoshogiku over and down with a nifty scoop throw right there in the center of the ring. Goeido dominated this one moving to 9-1 in the process while Kotoshogiku's Yokozuna hopes are thankfully squashed as he falls to 7-3.

Before we move on, let me ask everyone two questions:

1) What was your impression of Goeido's sumo the first 9 days?
2) How often do I point out in Kotoshogiku bouts that involve mukiryoku sumo that his opponent failed to even attempt to raise him upright?

And yet, one of the most hapless rikishi among the jo'i shows just how easy it is to get to the inside of Kotoshogiku and then topple him by simply lifting him up on his toes. Kotoshogiku has been so frail the last few years that it makes his yusho in January that much more laughable and implausible. And he didn't have a bad day today. He was fully exposed by another rikishi whose considered a joke these days.  Sheesh, when Goeido leaves you in his wake as he heads back to his side of the dohyo, isn't it time to consider hanging it up?

Moving to the remaining one-loss rikishi, Yokozuna Hakuho executed his bread and butter tachi-ai against Ozeki Terunofuji today meaning he got the right to the inside and left frontal grip, and once that position was obtained he just drove his legs forward and Terunofuji back and out in mere seconds. Just look at that picture at right; that is power sumo at its finest...and against a pretty good rikishi no less.  The last three days we've seen the Hakuho who was once allowed to dominate sumo, so let's see how he reacts tomorrow against Kisenosato. With the win, Hakuho remains a presence on the leaderboard at 9-1 while Terunofuji will have to fish for two more wins the rest of the way at 6-4.

And that brings us to our lone, undefeated rikishi, Ozeki Kisenosato, who needed to solve Yokozuna Kakuryu on the day. The two butted heads at the tachi-ai drawing some blood from the Yokozuna, but Kakuryu seemed unfazed setting the pace early with a tsuppari attack. The problem was, there were no legs behind his shoves, and so Kisenosato was able to push back against him and keep things in the center of the ring. Kisenosato finally fired a left tsuki that did little to halt Kakuryu's momentum, and as the Yokozuna recovered, he assumed the deep moro-zashi position, which allowed him the clear path to a yori-kiri victory if he so chose. Like his approach from the beginning, however, his sumo continued to remain light non-committal as he allowed Kisenosato to use a left kote-nage throw near the edge as the Ozeki moved left. This briefly created separation, but Kakuryu instinctively resumed moro-zashi, and this time waited for a right kote-nage throw that magically sent the Yokozuna hopping across the edge giving the victory to Kisenosato in the end. I can't say that I was surprised by the result, and the moment that I saw Kakuryu gain moro-zashi and do nothing with it, I knew the outcome of the bout.

This was similar to the Tochiohzan - Kotoshogiku bout where Oh had the Ozeki dead to rights with moro-zashi, but he chose not to take advantage. And then look at the Kakuryu - Goeido bout yesterday. Goeido seemed to know what to do with moro-zashi the instant he got it, so to think that Kakuryu was too obtuse to understand the situation is ridiculous. This was a clear case of yaocho in order to keep Kisenosato in first place at a perfect 10-0. As for Kakuryu, he follows Harumafuji and takes himself off of the leaderboard at 7-3. Now, this doesn't mean that Kisenosato is a lock for the yusho because he still needs to go through Hakuho tomorrow, but I'd say chances are fiddy-fiddy that we have our second Japanese yusho in as many tournaments.

At the end of the day, the leaderboard going down to the two-loss rikishi looks as follows:

10-0: Kisenosato
9-1: Hakuho, Goeido
8-2: Myogiryu, Ichinojo

The most prominent bout tomorrow is no doubt Kisenosato vs. Hakuho. I really don't see Hakuho dropping his bout against Kisenosato tomorrow. I think it's just too obvious and risky to have Kisenosato dismantle all three Yokozuna just as Kotoshogiku did in January. Besides, there are still enough scenarios where it could work out just fine for Kisenosato in the end even if he does lose tomorrow. We still have five days of sumo to go, which can be an eternity, so let's just take 'em one by one as they come.

In other bouts of interest, M1 Takayasu henka'd to his left against Sekiwake Yoshikaze sending Yoshikaze sprawling to the edge, and just as Café looked to square back up, Takayasu was there to greet him with a final shove to the neck sending Yoshikaze to his make-koshi fate at 2-8. Takayasu ain't faring much better at 3-7, but it's still no excuse to henka.

M2 Tochinoshin and Komusubi Takarafuji hooked up in migi-yotsu from the tachi-ai with Takarafuji bearing in tight with his left side to neutralize Tochiohzan's right inside position, and as the two bumped chests in an effort to establish better position, Takarafuji executed a maki-kae with the left arm giving him moro-zashi. Tochinoshin is no slouch from this position, but Takarafuji lifted the Private clear off his feet looking to tsuri-dashi him out of the ring, but he had too much real estate to cover, so when Tochinoshin landed, he went for a quick left kote-nage throw, but Takarafuji had all the momentum forcing Tochinoshin across first sending both rikishi sprawling down to the venue floor below as Tochinoshin held onto his foe on the way down. Once again, Tochinoshin is involved in the best bout of the day despite his falling to 2-8 while Takarafuji barely stays alive at 3-7.

Komusubi Tochiohzan and M2 Okinoumi bumped chests in the center of the ring with Oh looking for moro-zashi, but he couldn't quite get the right arm to the inside, and so as Okinoumi pressed forward, Tochiohzan went for a dumb pull instead causing Okinoumi to seize the momentum and easily drive the Komusubi back to the edge freshly using a right hand at the back of Tochiohzan's left thigh to knock Oh down before he could evade right with a counter pull at the edge. Good stuff from Okinoumi who made the proper adjustments as he moves to 3-7 while Tochiohzan joins the ranks of the make-koshi at 2-8.

M3 Aoiyama easily won the tachi-ai knocking M1 Kotoyuki back two steps with some beefy shoves, but then the Bulgarian just stopped in his tracks and backed up a few steps of his own volition with no reason from Kotoyuki to do so. With Aoiyama now voluntarily on his heels, Kotoyuki charged forward and polished him off with shoves of his own standing there like a badass after pushing Aoiyama out. This looked strange to me live, and when I watched the replays, sure enough, Kotoyuki did nothing to cause Aoiyama to back pedal and return to the center of the ring after he'd driven Kotoyuki to the edge. I mean, if Aoiyama just continues that forward charge, it's a wham bam thank you ma'am oshi-dashi, but he clearly relented and gave the bout to Kotoyuki. I'm not sure why they're building Kotoyuki up this basho by giving him wins over Yokozuna, Ozeki, and other tough rikishi like Aoiyama, but someone wants him to get a special prize and reach the sanyaku. They're generating enough headlines with his hocking a loogie into his fist each bout, and I've been preaching all along that it's all about positive headlines that you can generate about the Japanese rikishi, so I guess he's as fresh of a face as they have right now that can be marketed. He's one win away at 7-3 while Aoiyama falls to 3-7.

It's interesting to watch two guys full of shenanigans face each other at the starting lines, and when they finally went, M7 Takekaze knocked M3 Aminishiki upright with a nice shoulder to the chest, and Aminishiki had only one option: pull. Problem was he isn't limber enough to move laterally after losing the momentum, and so Takekaze read the pull like a dirty manga on the subway and pushed Aminishiki back and out as fast as Shneaky could back pedal leaving both rikishi with 4-6 records.

M8 Chiyotairyu was proactive using his freight train tsuppari attack against M4 Sokokurai, but he didn't connect with that mammoth shove from the start, so Sokokurai was able to evade and move left circling the perimeter of the ring with Chiyotairyu in tow, and just as the two were in front of the chief judge, Sokokurai timed a pull of Chiyotairyu's outstretched arms causing his knee to crash to the dirt first. Chiyotairyu falls to 1-9 as a result while Sokokurai is a few steps better at 3-7.

M5 Shohozan locked M12 Hidenoumi's right arm inside at the tachi-ai and used his right hand into the taller Hidenoumi's neck to drive him easily back to the edge where he finished him off with a final shove to the middle of the chest. T'was a rare win for Darth Hozan who moves to 2-8 while Hidenoumi falls to 4-6.

M5 Kyokushuho and M9 Toyohibiki traded tsuppari for a few seconds, but Toyohibiki was frustrated and unable to really push his foe around, and so the bout turned to hidari-yotsu where Kyokushuho fired a left scoop throw straightway that sent Toyohibiki over and down before he could latch onto a right outer grip. Kyokushuho moves to 4-6 with the nice move while Toyohibiki is on the brink at 3-7.

M8 Takanoiwa and M6 Shodai began in hidari-yotsu where the Mongolian grabbed the right outer that was also a frontal grip rendering Shodai's left inner useless, and with the youngster unable to counter, Takanoiwa wrenched him back to the edge quickly. Shodai attempted a meager left inside throw to counter, but that arm was useless as Takanoiwa knocked him over onto his back across the straw scoring the dominating win. Takanoiwa moves to 6-4 with the nice win while Shodai is schooled at 5-5.

M9 Sadanoumi and M16 Akiseyama hooked up in migi-yotsu where Sadanoumi gained the left outer grip far too easily and used it to scoot Akiseyama back and across with little argument. The rookie is lost in these parts as he suffers make-koshi at 2-8 while Sadanoumi is even steven at 5-5.

M10 Tamawashi came out blazing with his tsuppari against M14 Daishomaru who attempted to escape left, but Tamawashi was onto him like white to rice polishing the rookie off in mere seconds with a great tsuki attack. The Mawashi is 6-4 if you need him while Daishomaru falls to 5-5.

M10 Gagamaru fired a tsuppari with each hand into M15 Satoyama who moved left going for a quick pull with his left hand at Gagamaru's side and the right hand near his head, and while that didn't fell the Georgian straightway, it knocked Gagamaru off balance enough to where Satoyama snuggled in tight securing the left inside belt grip and using his body brilliantly to throw Gagamaru to the clay with ease. Ho hum as Satoyama evens things at 5-5 while Gagamaru's head is under water now at 4-6.

M11 Amuuru got the left inside against M15 Kitataiki who tested the waters quickly moving to his right and executing a kote-nage with the same arm, but Amuuru kept pace as the two squared up near the center of the ring with the Russian closer to the bales. After gathering his wits, Kitataiki went for the kill using his right outer to force Amuuru against the edge, but Amuuru used his height and a left inside belt grip to defeat the veteran in a sweet nage-no-uchi-ai at the straw...the kind of nage-no-uchi-ai we never see among the jo'i because we never get two guys going this hard (cool...I said hard). This was a sweet win for Amuuru who improves to 6-4 while Kitataiki falls to 3-7.

Finally, we've come this far so we may as well mention the hidari-yotsu battle between M12 Tokushoryu and M13 Mitakeumi where Tokushoryu secured the right outer first scoring the textbook yori-kiri from there. Tokushoryu moves to 5-5 with the win while Mitakeumi is a quiet 6-4.

Before I turn the reins back over to Harvye tomorrow, it's worth mentioning I suppose that during the broadcast NHK devoted some time in between bouts to review the premise of yusho kettei-sen that involve more than two rikishi. They reviewed the last two decades or so showing clips where playoffs for the yusho involved three or even four rikishi. I won't get into how that all works now, but I thought it odd that they would bring it up at this point of the basho. I mean, we've had a crowded leaderboard like this before countless times on day 10, so it will be interesting if they try and have the wild and crazy Haru basho live up to it's moniker with a playoff involving three or more dudes. I'm not suggesting that will happen; I just thought it interesting that they brought it up today since they haven't entertained such a scenario in years.


Day 9 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Coming in, today was a doozy of a beautiful floozy. If you're a believer in this tournament--and certainly, the parity of records lends to some drama--today was your day. There were six guys with one win or less, including all four Magic Boys (it's magic!): Kisenosato, undefeated, followed by Hakuho, Kakuryu, Kotoshogiku, Goeido, and Ikioi. These six guys were all playing in the final four bouts today, and four of them against each other (Kisenosato vs. Kotoshogiku, Kakuryu vs. Goeido). Zounds!

Well, we'll get to that in a minute. Before we do, yes, they have parity of records. And except for Ikioi, who is a deep dark horse and, as Mike pointed out yesterday, just here for local color, they have a fair parity of taking this tournament.

But do they have parity of skills? No. I've talked a bit about what I call the inverted-sandwich banzuke: two slabs of meatloaf with a bit of pasty wonder bread in-between: your four super Mongolians on top (Hakuho, Harumafuji, Kakuryu, and Terunofuji) as beef loaf, followed by three weak Japanese ozeki (Kisenosato, Kotoshogiku, and Goeido) in the middle, followed by a bunch of pork loin foreigners (Tochinoshin, Aoiyama, Kaisei, Osunaarashi) whose way to the top is blocked by the wonder bread Ozeki and the glut of Mongol-steak above them.

But wait, Harvye! This is patently unfair, isn't it? It says all the Japanese are bad and completely fails to mentions quality guys like Tochiohzan and Takarafuji. Harv, do you really think Kaisei is better than Kisenosato, as this seems to suggest?

Okay, no, I don't. So, let's play a little mental game, and I'll put it on the line. With the given that this could change at any moment as guys wax and wane, what follows is the meta-banzuke I think stands up right frickin' now--if you let these guys all play to their abilities, they never gave each other matches, and yaocho didn't exist, what would the banzuke look like? It would look like this. I'm going to take the liberty of allowing myself to re-do the amounts of Yokozuna and Ozeki as needed. I'm assuming injuries matter, leaving Terunofuji as the biggest question mark: I'm betting his injury is over and ranking him where I think that puts him (if his knees are shot, I'm way wrong on him and should rank him lower). As for Juryo, I'm going to ignore it: Osunaarashi would probably finish at Komusubi or so, for example, but let's simplify and leave that out. Let's go:

East / West
Y Hakuho / Y Harumafuji
Y Terunofuji
O Kakuryu / O Tochinoshin
O Kisenosato
S Aoiyama / S Tochiohzan
K Takarafuji / K Kaisei
M1 Myogiryu / M1 Yoshikaze
M2 Goeido / M2 Aminishiki
M3 Toyonoshima / M3 Kyokushuho
M4 Okinoumi / M4 Ichinojo
M5 Takayasu / M5 Sokokurai
M6 Tamawashi / M6 Ikioi
M7 Shodai / M7 Kotoyuki
M8 Gagamaru / M8 Shohozan
M9 Mitakeumi / M9 Sadanoumi
M10 Takekaze / M10 Kotoshogiku
M11 Tokushoryu / M11 Takanoiwa
M12 Amuuru / M12 Chiyootori
M13 Hidenoumi / M13 Chiyotairyu
M14 Toyohibiki / M14 Kitataiki
M15 Daieisho / M15 Daishomaru
M16 Satoyama / M16 Akiseyama

Yes, I'm switching Kakuryu and Terunofuji out. I think Kakuryu makes a great, great Ozeki--period. And yes, that's where I want Kisenosato, Goeido, and Kotoshogiku. I think without the pressure of being Ozeki, Goeido could be dangerous and would fight much better. He's no Ozeki, but he could mix it up in the jo'i. As for Kotoshogiku, a year ago I thought he was going to retire. That's why January was such a head shaker: been waiting for something like it to happen. But this guy? THIS GUY?

Please feel free to save this and make fun of me in six months. Or heck, make fun of me now. My bottom line: the top ranks are a mess, need to be blown up, and should look more like this. The lower maku-uchi, frankly, is a crapshoot.

So, as I'm still putting ol' Hakuho at the top, here's hoping talent will out (like murder), and he takes this basho.

Let's check back in on real life:


O Kotoshogiku (7-1) vs. O Kisenosato (8-0)
The crowd knew what it was here for today and kept the air full of cries, screams, and growls as the endless banners marched round and round the livid ring. The Sumo Association no doubt cried, screamed, growled, and chewed rents in the sleeves of their dusky robes as these guys had to face each other and end up with a loss for one of them. Such a shame with such perfect stories on the line! Why not eat the whole cake!

Heh. Kisenosato just hopped to the right after a head-popping tachi-ai, and Kotoshogiku sprawled to the surface, tsuki-otoshi. Kotoshogiku came in very, very low and I'm not sure he didn't see what was coming, but even with this all he has to do is win out and the "content of his sumo" will surely be judged very lively and worthy, no? Don't bet against it! Meanwhile: will Kisenosato choke down the stretch yet again? Of course… not? I feel like a broken record but in the year and a half I've been reporting on sumo the tune has not changed: the top-match drama is not in the ring, but in the hallways: what will people chose to do? I admit being fascinated. But I linger too long here! Onward!

K Tochiohzan (2-6) vs. Y Hakuho (7-1)
Gad. Hakuho was on a mission here. So fast, so strong. Forward moving, powerful, fearless, effective. The oshi-dashi was instant, total, and created in classic Hakuho style: a left face slap followed in a split-second by a right fore-arm blast to the face that stunned Tochiohzan and, as we saw as he walked away under the stands, bloodied his nose. Ni-shukketsu-ren-sho ("two days in a row of bleeding wins") for Hakuho. That's right: he won so fast Tochiohzan didn't even have time to bleed until it was over. Sumo so good it makes you want to cry. Please, please win this tournament. I'm begging you. I'm pleading.

Y Harumafuji (6-2) vs. M4 Ikioi (7-1)
The ‘Maf was in complete control from beginning to end, and his choices were legion: push out or pull down? Destroy or delay? Grab the belt and sling to the rafters or wait for him to do something and demolish him with it? In the end Harumafuji kept his distance, watching his foe and smacking him confidently, until he thought the crowd had had enough, and then he removed all doubt, oshi-dashi. So far, today belongs to the better wrestlers.

Y Kakuryu (7-1) vs. O Goeido (7-1)
So here I was thinking: heh, in the end the Mongolians didn't have to give up any today anyway--the only two stories that matter in Rijicho world are Kisenosato championship (intact!) and Kotoshogiku Yokozuna (can't be helped!). Then Goeido got all manly and mangled Kakuryu out, yori-kiri. Whatever.

8-0 Could-It-Really-Be-Kisenosato?
7-1 Hakuho, Don't-Look-Now-It's-Goeido
6-2 Don't Worry About These Guys


[Before we get to that, let me note that today's heart-warming intro segment was about trying to get little kids into sumo. If my son told me he wanted to get into sumo and wear down his body and his integrity with years of soul-etching abuse and locker-room group-social-introversion, I'd tell him you do what you want, but I think that is a very, very bad idea. Please don't. Call me a Grinch; this left my cockles witch-cold.]

M13 Chiyootori (5-3) vs. M16 Akiseyama (2-6)
Akiseyama tried a few moves here, and I could try to describe this in detail, but basically Chiyootori looked like a guy struggling to get a couple of bags of wet cement into the back of his pick-up truck. Eventually two arms to the inside got the job done with this heavy inanimate matter, yori-kiri.

M12 Tokushoryu (4-4) vs. M15 Kitataiki (2-6)
Nice low tachi-ai from Kitataiki, who really bulled into that blob of congealment, Tokushoryu. Tokushoryu was backing up from the start though, and fell down on his own while escaping along the rim of the ring, putting both hands on the dirt, hiki-otoshi. False.

M13 Mitakeumi (5-3) vs. M11 Amuuru (5-3)
The Bully (Mitakeumi) against The Lover (Amuuru). I know who I'd date any day. But nice guys often do finish last, and Mitakeumi was mean-good, pushing his opponent upright off the tachi-ai, then going for his guy's neck to keep him there. After Amuuru foolishly responded to a bit of separation by trying to pull his lover back in (take me back!), Mitakeumi took immediate advantage by driving his opponent out, out, out, I said get out of my life now I'm tired of trying to be nice about it!, oshi-dashi.

M10 Gagamaru (4-4) vs. M14 Daieisho (6-2)
Slow motion tachi-ai here took away Gagamaru's deliberate-false-start advantage: Daieisho did not surge forward into Gagamaru's charge, but waited for him, neutralizing him and letting Daieisho control the pace of the start. Then Daieisho, sensing where on the banzuke they both should lie, did exactly the right thing: ran away. Far, far away. I'm not sure Gagamaru was trying hard here, as even he is more mobile than he showed in playing Ferdinand the Bull to Daieisho's ole! as he whizzed slowly past him and eventually lost oshi-dashi, but I'll give credit to Daieisho for the perfect strategy (though bad sumo): when your opponent is a mac truck, do not lie down beneath its wheels.

M15 Satoyama (3-5) vs. M8 Chiyotairyu (1-7)
Wow--Chiyotairyu knew to take care of Mr. "Get Down On It": obliterate him at the tachi-ai, so there is no "under" to get to. But just as I was about to enjoy a dominant Chiyotairyu win, Satoyama also knew exactly what to do: step to the side easy as sugar and let your opponent fall; they called it tsuki-otoshi. Sigh. Chiyotairyu. (Shake of head.)

M8 Takanoiwa (5-3) vs. M14 Daishomaru (4-4)
Pretty unimpressive sumo here by High Cliff (Takanoiwa), who responded to a run-of-the-mill opponent with nothing but flummoxed-looking pulls and a couple of belt-whiffs with the left hand. Good enough sumo by Daishomaru, who won this by hitting so hard on the tachi-ai he flat stopped Takanoiwa. Oshi-taoshi.

M7 Takekaze (3-5) vs. M10 Tamawashi (4-4)
(Usually I watch on the computer, but today I'm watching on the widescreen TV, which squashes out guy's bellies like a glacier steamrolling the corpses of fallen climbers: the bigger guts look like wooden trays: maybe Takekaze can bring me a nice baguette and camembert on his belly-shelf-platter) Both of these guys are pretty skilled, but I see a guy on the slide of age, Takekaze, and a guy who is right now at his peak, Tamawashi. Tamawashi is also bigger. Takekaze did nothing with his hands at the beginning: just placed them on his opponent's elbows. Why? He just wanted to pull and evade, and the tachi-ai is just set-up for that. However, Tamawashi knew it was coming (of course!), and easily turned to face his opponent and follow him about the ring, slapping him wickedly in the face with concentrated menace. Maybe Takekaze's ultimate lame-looking fall to the dirt was to avoid more punishment in this brutality-berserker-bout. Tsuki-otoshi.

M11 Ichinojo (6-2) vs. M6 Shodai (5-3)
I didn't like Ichinojo's sumo much here: he was passive off the tachi-ai and let himself move backwards. Yet, he dominated: after that he moved swiftly forward and drove his opponent off the dohyo, yori-kiri, without any much grip: all he needed was his weight and strength. So what does this do for my assessment of Ichinojo as not much of a thing? Supports it. Shodai is still an apprentice, and is easily taught his lessons. However, Ichinojo should not have needed to take a moment to figure this one out, to move backwards: he should have rapped the boy's knuckles off the bat. My prediction is we'll see continue to see this sometimes: Ichinojo can look very powerful when winning. But he doesn't have the concentration or skills to do it consistently, and will often look equally bad losing. More seasoned wrestlers would have dismantled Ichinojo here off of the initial weak move. No, his rose has wilted in my garden a few tournaments back.

M9 Toyohibiki (2-6) vs. M5 Shohozan (1-7)
Since his fall to juryo, I'm not that sold on Darth Hozan, intensity or no. No one should be intimidated by the one-dimensional and fundamentally inept bottom-feeder Toyohibiki. Yet Shohozan looked at the size difference and moved left off the tachi-ai, scared. Didn't work: he didn't move far enough, and Toyohibiki followed it easily, driving out t' ‘Hoze in convincing tsuki-dashi fashion. Looks to me like the Hozer's record is going to send him back to about where he belongs next time around.

[Aside: today's ringside commenter is former Homasho, looking for all the world like an action movie star, a youngish right wing politician on the rise, or a particularly subdued and elegant yakuza in his natty suit, fashionable glasses, and low-voiced tones. Sho' Was Sweet in the ring, though!]

M5 Kyokushuho (3-5) vs. M9 Sadanoumi (3-5)
Very nice aggression in a chancy win by Sadanoumi here, yori-taoshi. Kyokushuho was trying to pull Sadanoumi down all the way--and doing a good job of it--so Sadanoumi moved his feet forward like hotcakes and ran in and down, grabbing onto Sadanoumi's belt on both sides, more to hold himself up than in any yori-kiri attempt. He used this momentum to make Kyokushuho sit down on the dohyo before he himself fell down on him. Wasn't pretty but it worked for a guy going in the wrong direction against a guy who is probably better than you think.

M12 Hidenoumi (4-4) vs. M4 Sokokurai (1-7)
Hidenoumi was overanxious here; he had a fist bobbing up and down off the dirt like they were about to go while Sokokurai was still standing straight up. No doubt It's Dark There (Sokokurai) noticed, as he moved left at the tachi-ai to take advantage of his opponent's over-eager nervousness. And boy was he nervous: to what looked like his own surprise, Hidenoumi immediately got both hands inside, but was so keyed up didn't use it and Sokokurai was able to move out of it right smart. Basically Darkness was just too fast and seasoned for Bumpkin (Hidenoumi) here, and quickly had him going the wrong direction fast and stepping way out in an uncontrolled wild spray of sand, yori-kiri. Boy.

M7 Kaisei (5-3) vs. M3 Aminishiki (4-4)
Kaisei just tried to stick with this tricky dicky, keeping him in front of him and moving forward with his can back in order to keep safe. He didn't pay much attention to grips or arms, allowing Aminishiki to get both arms inside. And what did Aminishiki do? Who but him would try to parlay that into a pull, of all things. Don't know that I recall seeing a moro-zashi pull before. This resulted in a pretty spectacular defiance of gravity: Kaisei got airborne and level off it, a missile headed for the ring-side judge with only Aminishiki to blow away in between. Which he did: Aminishiki stepped out just before Kaisei thundered down following him and created a new crack in the continental plate, watashi-komi.

M4 Aoiyama (3-5) vs. M6 Myogiryu (6-2)
Great stuff by a guy who should be one of everybody's faves: Myogiryu. The thing he should have done was evade, but he didn't, standing in and weathering Aoiyama's hissing pile-drivers like an ascetic choosing Niagara to do his cold-water-penance under. He actually squatted and ducked at one point rather than running. Gutsy. Now, eventually, having proved his point, he did move to the side, but he'd earned it. Overcommitted, Aoiyama headed for the brink, and was only able to turn in time to see his oshi-dashi doom. Liked this.

MATCH OF THE DAY: M2 Okinoumi (2-6) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (1-7)
I think Okinoumi is better than we usually see, and this match was indicative of that. I kept moving him up the ranks when I wrote my meta-banzuke. Yeah, he gets gifts. But he gives up a lot too. I see him as the epitome of a guy who is satisfied with his lot, could give us a lot better, and is easy play going either way. He proved it here by fighting hard and tight against Tochinoshin, who is a mighty piece of business. This was a classic belt battle, and they twisted and turned all over the place, red faced and on it. Okinoumi had the inside grip and made it very dangerous for Tochinoshin, but ‘Shin was too strong for him: in the end it a fearsome uwate-nage spun Okinoumi all the way over and to the clay. There aren't more than two or three wrestlers out there who don't see this and privately think, "wish I could do that."

M1 Takayasu (1-7) vs. K Takarafuji (2-6)
Takayasu got lower off the tachi-ai on our second close, tight chest battle in a row, and stood Takarafuji up with a wicked left to the neck. But Takarafuji is pretty tough and didn't move far; as is his passive way, he maintained and looked for an error. He didn't get it. Instead, Takayasu pulled out on the left, lightning fast, while pulling hard on that pink-purple belt with his right, getting Takarafuji past him to dispatch him okuri-dashi. Well played by the opaque High ‘n' Easy.

S Yoshikaze (2-6) vs. M1 Kotoyuki (5-3)
Blech. Kotoyuki moved to side and Yoshikaze fell down, tsuki-otoshi. Didn't prevent Kotoyuki from dramatically holding the ill-gotten cash-bundle in the air like a dictator spreading his arms to drink in paid-crowd cheers in a Soviet town square--in this guy's mind, the audience never stops clapping.

S Toyonoshima (1-7) vs. O Terunofuji (5-3)
Sometimes Terunofuji looks too big: he lets a lot of guys get underneath and stand him up, leaving him in kime position (both arms outside and having to pinch down and try to smother, smash, or sling). He's also very strong and skilled, so he can get out of these predicaments, but I'd like to see him be lower on the tachi-ai. No matter, here Toyonoshima wasn't able to move him despite an immediate moro-zashi, and so eventually pulled one arm out and tried a pull. After that Terunofuji wound Toyonoshima like a clock: spun him round a few times and slung him to the dirt, sukui-nage. I like both these guys and I liked this.

Mike slaughters Oompa-Loompas tomorrow.

Day 8 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
After being on the road for the last four days, it was great to be back in my Lazy Boy with the Japanese broadcast, the remote control by my side, and plenty of replays from various angles. Of course, the only problem with this scenario is I'm being forced to stomach utter crap atop the dohyo with Japanese spin, slow motion replays, and multiple angles just to rub it in that much more. I'm not sure yet what the Sumo Association's intentions are this basho, but we have a leaderboard coming into the day chock full of Japanese rikishi who have been positioned there through bout rigging, and I'm sorry to say that the yaocho was rampant today as well. If we must, here's how the fake leaderboard looked at the beginning of the day:

7-0: Kisenosato, Ikioi
6-1: Hakuho, Kakuryu, Kotoshogiku, Goeido, Ichinojo

I think it's best to go in chronological order today working our way up the leaderboard, so that means we begin with the M6 Myogiryu - M11 Ichinojo matchup that took place early on. Myogiryu henka'd to his left looking to wrap up Ichinojo's right arm while pushing his own right arm into Ichinojo's neck knocking the Mongolith upright, but Ichinojo was able to use a coupla kachi-age to knock the pesky Myogiryu back creating separation. As the two looked to collide again in the center of the ring, Ichinojo went Creed on his foe standing there with arms wide open allowing Myogiryu to assume moro-zashi and force the Slug back and out with no resistance. This one looked like a dominant win for Myogiryu, but Ichinojo didn't attempt a single move to at least give him an opportunity to win. After the bout they were saying that Ichinojo just moves too slow, but that's clearly not the case. We saw how deft he was in the ring against Mitakeumi, and the fact that Ichinojo tried nothing here to win or even counter against his opponent raises red flags for me. I have no idea what was going through Ichinojo's mind here or what kind of instructions he may have received prior to the bout, but this was not a dominant performance from Myogiryu. This was a bout of keiko where Ichinojo was at his foe's bidding. The result is both rikishi ending the day at 6-2.

Up next chronologically was another one-loss rikishi, Ozeki Goeido, who had a tall task ahead of him in M2 Tochinoshin, and so his response was to henka to his left like a leedle girl and let Tochinoshin just stumble forward and down. I actually thought Tochinoshin could have kept his feet because such little contact was made, but his intention likely wasn't to win this bout anyway. Not even the Osaka faithful could cheer for this one it was such a pathetic display of cowardly sumo. In fact, if I was an Osaka native, I'd renounce my place of birth I'd be that ashamed of this Ozeki. Goeido is a complete coward, and shame on any Ozeki who runs from an M2 rikishi like this. Since no one else will call Goeido out, I will as he moves to 7-1 after the chickenshit bout. As for Tochinoshin, he falls to 1-7 and must lay in his futon at night staring at the ceiling as he thinks, "At least they're paying me well."

The most anticipated bout of the day--at least in the eyes of the Japanese public--was the battle show put on by our two undefeateds, Ozeki Kisenosato and M4 Ikioi. The two hooked up immediately in the hidari-yotsu position where Ikioi actually had his arm to the inside of Kisenosato's left, but he pulled it to the outside (red flag #1) leaving the two squared up in hidari-yotsu. As the Ozeki looked to press forward, Ikioi flirted with a right kote-nage throw, but instead of finishing the move off, he just allowed separation (red flag #2) between the two. As they hooked back up again, Ikioi allowed Kisenosato to secure the firm inside position with the left again and then waited for the Ozeki to grab the right outer (red flag #3). During this span of a few seconds, Ikioi never attempted to raise the Ozeki upright or take advantage of his own right outer grip (red flag #4), and so once Kisenosato grabbed the outer, Ikioi just stayed snug and allowed the Ozeki to force him back without argument even though the tsuki-otoshi with the right hand was there for the taking (red flag #5) at the edge as seen in the pic at right. To the novice fan and Ryogoku groupie, this looked like a dominating performance from the Ozeki, but it was anything but that. Ikioi dictated everything here allowing Kisenosato to win and move into first place alone at 8-0. Allowing Ikioi to even reach 7-1 is a treat for the Osaka fans, but when you have two guys like this who could both benefit from the win, you give it to the senpai.

As disgusted as I was with those first two Ozeki bouts, I think we reached new lows with the Ozeki Kotoshogiku - Komusubi Tochiohzan matchup. Kotoshogiku executed a horrible tachi-ai coming in upright with his hands out wide, and Komusubi Tochiohzan instinctively did what he does best: grab moro-zashi. And not only did have the deep moro-zashi, but Kotoshogiku was so upright that Kariya Announcer actually gasped at the consequences. But never fear, Tochiohzan made his intentions clear when he refused to drive the Ozeki straight back and out instead opting to play Easter Bunny and hop senselessly this way and that. After a few seconds, Kotoshogiku executed a maki-kae with the left arm that was so slow even the sloths in attendance were like, "Could you just hurry it up a bit?" Once Kotoshogiku's left arm was somewhat to the inside, he moved forward pressing into Tochiohzan's side while gripping him in the kote hold with the right. At the edge, Tochiohzan's muscle memory caused him to flinch on a left scoop throw that would have sent the Ozeki into the second row, but his mission today was to lose, and so he just stepped out before the Ozeki tumbled to the clay of his own incompetence. I mean, look at the picture there at left. If you didn't know the outcome, who would you say was going to win? Kotoshogiku is already bent over like those 90 year old grandmas pushing small carts to the shouten, and the Komusubi is in the perfect position with his hands and feet to execute that counter scoop throw, but he just lamely stepped back without inflicting any damage. And all this after Tochiohzan had the insurmountable moro-zashi from the start. The result of this nonsense is Kotoshogiku's skating to a 7-1 start while Tochiohzan is touted as the ultimate team player falling to 2-6.

These three bouts were so insulting to my intelligence, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one who was ready to exact blood from a stranger. Yokozuna Hakuho came hard at Sekiwake Yoshikaze with two hands to the face shoving the Sekiwake upright, and then he wasn't done after that firing and connecting with a couple of wicked left face slaps, and somewhere in all of this, the Yokozuna did indeed draw blood and a lot of it. Yoshikaze knew that he was getting his ass kicked hard by trying to stand toe to toe, and so he spun away from the Yokozuna to the other side of the dohyo, but thankfully the Yokozuna was done pounding his face and mercifully got his right arm to the inside while using his left at the back of Yoshikaze's right thigh (fresh!) to dump him clear off of the dohyo and right into the chief judge, Izutsu-oyakata. Both rikishi were pretty much covered in blood after this one, and the source was Yoshikaze's nose and face, and while I feel bad for the Sekiwake on one hand, you really gotta feel for Hakuho and all that he's being forced to endure here.

I mean, how can you watch the crap presented on the dohyo today and not be frustrated to look up at the leaderboard and see a phony Japanese rikishi standing at the top? How can you stand there and watch your countryman, Terunofuji, be treated like this at the hands of inferior rikishi and not be pissed? Or what about Harumafuji mysteriously tripping and falling over against Yoshikaze the other day without any contact? What they are allowing to transpire on this dohyo is utter bullshit, and everyone knows it including the Yokozuna, and I think he just burst today and took it out on Yoshikaze. The Sekiwake wasn't the only one banged up after this one. Izutsu-oyakata couldn't get up after getting crushed by Yoshikaze, and they had to wheel him out of the arena using that antique wheelchair and into a waiting ambulance. Hakuho moves to 7-1 after the ass-kicking, and I can only wonder about what's going through his mind. He has to be frustrated with the current events, and as a result he's taking it out when and where he can. Poor Yoshikaze falls to 2-6 with the loss.

Wrapping up the leaderboard, Yokozuna Kakuryu flirted with the right arm to the inside against M3 Aoiyama, but Aoiyama shoved him back with some nice tsuppari hissing in the process. With Kakuryu on his heels, the Yokozuna's next move was to time a thrust from his foe and pull him off balance, and so Aoiyama relented just a bit allowing Kakuryu to move back to the center of the ring. As Aoiyama came for round two, Kakuryu ducked under his arms and secured the deep moro-zashi, and from there Kakuryu charged forward and hard toppling the Bulgarian before he had even reached the bales. The result is that Kakuryu stays on the leaderboard at 7-1 while Aoiyama falls to 3-5.

After the dust...and blood settled on the day, the leaderboard was reshaped as follows:

8-0: Kisenosato
7-1: Hakuho, Kakuryu, Kotoshogiku, Goeido, Ikioi

The final four bouts of the day tomorrow have some compelling matchups with all of them directly involving the leaders.

Kotoshogiku vs. Kisenosato
Tochiohzan vs. Hakuho
Harumafuji vs. Ikioi
Kakuryu vs. Goeido

As for those final three bouts, all three Japanese rikishi are incapable of defeating their foes in a straight up fight, and I know that declaration will make most people question, "How can you say that? What if one of the Mongolians slips or has a bad day or is plagued by an injury?" But that line of thinking is akin to me suggesting that an American soccer club could be thrown into the UEFA Championships and actually win a match. But what if the American goalie has a an incredible game? What if a defender for the European club fails to mark a guy and they slip in a single goal? What if the stars align and the Americans can pull off the upset? What if all of the above happened on a single night? No, no, no, and no. It's not possible. I watch soccer with the same pair of eyes that I watch sumo, and the gap between the Japanese rikishi and the Mongolians is exactly on par with the gap between US soccer and European club soccer. You can just see the difference in speed and ability.

Having said that, we all know that the chances of a Mongolian going down tomorrow are high, but there's no need for me to review the political implications regardless of which one loses. As for the Kotoshogiku - Kisenosato matchup, Kisenosato is the better rikishi, but it's just a matter of which is more important: a Kisenosato yusho or Kotoshogiku's promotion to Yokozuna? I don't see how they achieve both this basho because even achieving one of those feats would cause the same yaocho chaos we saw in January, especially when the Japanese Ozeki are paired against the Mongolians. It's so unfortunate that the real drama yet again is will they or won't they? It's getting to the point where I'm almost afraid to see what low they'll stoop to next.

As for the other bouts on the day, Yokozuna Harumafuji and M4 Sokokurai looked to hook up into hidari-yotsu at the tachi-ai, but Sokokurai was actually pinching the Yokozuna's right arm out of position giving Sokokurai the path to moro-zashi...with his arms only. I say arms only because the Yokozuna had his can way back and he was hunkered down, so Sokokurai would have still had his work cut out for him. The two stayed low for several seconds before the Yokozuna finally attacked using his right kote position to throw Sokokurai over to the edge and off balance. But the throw didn't finish Sokokurai off, and so the Yokozuna rushed in and delivered a knee to the back of Sokokurai's left thigh, but Sokokurai was a roach today who couldn't be killed, and so Harumafuji finally squared himself back up and scored the eventual yori-kiri win moving to 6-2 in the process. Sokokurai falls to a paltry 1-7 with the result.

Ozeki Terunofuji just kept his arms forward and low at the tachi-ai allowing M2 Okinoumi to step right and hook his left arm up and under Terunofuji's right armpit and pull with the right hand. Terunofuji just stood there and allowed the whole thing to transpire, and then as he was pulled down and off the dohyo altogether, he broke his fall with his left hand and then came up favoring that left elbow. I don't know if he was playing it up for the cameras or if he's really injured, but what I do know is that Terunofuji was completely mukiryoku here. It's not as much as let's buoy up Okinoumi as it is let's justify those other wins by guys like Kotoyuki and Ikioi. Then when you consider that Terunofuji will still fight his fellow Japanese Ozeki, it makes sense to have him banged up to help explain further losses. The way he was moving his elbow after the bout, it wouldn't surprise me if the 5-3 Terunofuji actually went kyujo, but let's see how it plays out. Okinoumi moves to 2-6 with the gift.

Sekiwake Toyonoshima gained moro-zashi from the tachi-ai against Komusubi Takarafuji, but he didn't have his opponent upright sufficiently in order to mount a yori charge, and so the two dug in in the center of the ring for close to two minutes as one looked for a pull and the other fished for an outer grip. Ultimately, Takarafuji had Toyonoshima locked into the kime position, and at about the two and a half minute mark, he must have sensed a lack of pressure because Takarafuji suddenly sprang forward mounting his first yori charge of the day that sent Toyonoshima back, off the dohyo, and in to the second row. With all the tom-foolery going on, these two guys are glad just to be involved in a straight up fight as Takarafuji improves to 2-6 while Toyonoshima falls to 1-7.

M5 Shohozan and M1 Takayasu engaged in a tsuppari affair from the tachi-ai with Shohozan managing to drive Takayasu back a step, but Takayasu dug in well looking to turn the bout to yotsu-zumo. Shohozan focused at this point in keeping Takayasu from getting the left arm to the inside, but in the process, Takayasu countered with a nice right tsuki into Shohozan's left side sending Darth Hozan stumbling down to the clay. Both rikishi end the day at 1-7.

In a highly-anticipated bout among the Japanese fans, M3 Aminishiki henka'd to his left at the tachi-ai swiping at M1 Kotoyuki's extended right arm, and when that didn't work, Aminishiki next henka'd quickly to his right at the edge in an effort to throw Kotoyuki off balance again, but Kotoyuki kept his footing long enough to where Aminishiki's left foot clumsily stepped outside of the ring. This was probably the ugliest bout of sumo this basho (I wrote that before watching the Goeido bout), and do we really have to put up with this? I know Aminishiki has elements to his sumo that many fans love, but the dude just drives me crazy. He falls to 4-4 while Kotoyuki improves to an inflated 5-3.

M5 Kyokushuho sorta offered a right shoulder at the tachi-ai against M8 Takanoiwa before going for a non-committed pull gifting Takanoiwa the right inside. Once the two rikishi were chest to chest, Takanoiwa was far away from the left outer, and so he briefly attempted a maki-kae with the left hand but couldn't pull it off. As he regrouped with the left, Kyokushuho did nothing to keep him away from the outer grip, and once obtained, Takanoiwa made his force-out charge with no resistance from his foe. Kyokushuho could have at least attempted a right scoop throw or tsuki-otoshi near the edge, but he just stayed snug with his opponent opting to be forced back straightway.

When it comes to Takanoiwa, I've always liked the kid, and he's been able to kachi-koshi on his own and hover around the M10 range, but many of his opponents are going mukiryoku on him this basho, and today was another example. I know this is all flying beneath everyone's radar except mine, but I've already explained why it makes sense for Takanoiwa to make a run towards the sanyaku. He improves to 5-3 with the win while Kyokushuho falls to 3-5.

M10 Gagamaru offered shoves at the tachi-ai against M6 Shodai, but they were the type where his arms were open and he wasn't using his legs. In fact, Gagamaru actually backed up slightly as he offered his push attack allowing Shodai to easily get to the inside with the deep left. Once there Gagamaru wrapped both arms around Shodai's left, but he was applying no pressure, and so the instant Shodai attempted a left scoop throw, Gagamaru hit the dirt quickly putting his left hand down early to break his fall. Gagamaru was clearly mukiryoku here from his legless tachi-ai to his refusal to grab the right outer belt once Shodai made it inside with the left. It was just all around an unnatural bout of sumo in favor of Shodai, a Japanese newcomer whom the Association is trying to build up. He moves to 5-3 with the win while Gagamaru falls to 4-4.

M10 Tamawashi moved to his left against M7 Kaisei not trusting his tsuppari attack, but there was really no pull involved allowing Kaisei to easily square back up, so with no momentum against the larger Kaisei, Tamawashi's shove attempts were fruitless from there. Kaisei sensed that his opponent was all bark and no bite at this point, and he used a few shoves of his own to send Tamawashi back and across. Tamawashi used one last desperate pull before he went out causing Kaisei to teeter on the edge of the straw, but the Brasilian watched Tamawashi's feet and made sure the Mongolian stepped out before he planted his own stump outside of the straw. Pretty good stuff here as Kaisei moves to 5-3 while Tamawashi falls to 4-4.

M7 Takekaze got the left arm inside at the tachi-ai against M12 Tokushoryu and then performed a maki-kae a second later getting the right to the inside as well, but moro-zashi was clearly a position from which he didn't want to fight...at least today, and so he backed out of it looking for an opportunity to pull instead, but Takekaze had no idea where he was in the dohyo and ended up stepping back and across after a single weak shove from Tokushoryu. This was bad sumo from the start as Tokushoryu improves to 4-4 with Takekaze dropping to 3-5.

M8 Chiyotairyu settled for the yotsu contest against M12 Hidenoumi who secured the right arm inside early and used his bulk to drive Chiyotairyu's bulk back across the bales before Hidenoumi could even secure the left outer grip. Chiyotairyu's only offensive attempt in this one was a quick swipe down Hidenoumi's torso, but the two were nearly chest to chest at the time rendering Chiyotairyu's overall sumo as useless as tits on a boar. Hidenoumi improves to 4-4 while Chiyotairyu is his usual hapless self at 1-7.

M15 Kitataiki and M9 Sadanoumi hooked up in the gappuri hidari-yotsu position from the tachi-ai, and with both combatants largely upright, the balance to this one was awkward from the beginning. Sadanoumi secured the outer grip first, and it was near the front of the belt, and so he took charge nudging Kitataiki back step by step. Unable to do much with his right, Kitataiki attempted a nice utchari at the edge leading with the left outer grip causing both rikishi to crash out of the dohyo, but on their way down, Kitataiki's left foot dragged outside of the dohyo first giving the win to Sadanoumi, who improved to 3-5. Kitataiki is ailing at 2-6.

M15 Satoyama worked his way inside and low at the tachi-ai against M9 Toyohibiki securing the left inside belt grip and right frontal grip to boot. Toyohibiki attempted to counter with a right outer of his own, but it was on one fold of the belt and insufficient enough to keep Satoyama from executing a flawless inside belt throw to pop ToyoNikibi over and down. Toyohibiki's effort to shove Satoyama away from the inside at the tachi-ai led to his demise as he falls to 2-6 while Satoyama is one better at 3-5.

M14 Daieisho looked to shove M11 Amuuru away from the inside at the tachi-ai, but the ploy only worked for a second or two before the Russian rushed in and secured moro-zashi. When I say secure, his arms were both to the inside, but he really didn't have Daieisho's body secure, and so Daieisho was able to quickly back up to his left and pull Amuuru down at the edge before Daieisho was forced out of the dohyo himself. They called a mono-ii here it was that close, but replays clearly showed that Amuuru's left foot gouged the sand before Daieisho stepped out upholding the original call. Daieisho is 6-2 now if you need him while Amuuru falls to 5-3.

M16 Akiseyama used a dual kachi-age from the tachi-ai to strike M13 Mitakeumi back a half step, but after unleashing the blows, he left both arms out wide allowing Mitakeumi to pounce to the inside and secure moro-zashi, and from there Mitakeumi used a perfect scoop throw with the left to throw the rookie over to the bales where he then bumped him across making it official. Mitakeumi is a quiet 5-3 while Akiseyama's struggles continue at 2-6.

Last and probably least, M14 Daishomaru was proactive from the tachi-ai using a right tsuki to the back of the left shoulder of M13 Chiyootori, but he was unable to create any separation causing the bout to look more like yotsu-zumo than Daishomaru's preferred oshi-zumo. Around the ring the two danced until Chiyootori finally got the right arm to the inside with a belt grip while using the left to neutralize Daishomaru's attacking hand, and the yori-kiri was swift from there. They actually opened the day's broadcast with a nice piece highlighting Daishomaru, so it was unfortunate to see him lose the first bout of the day and fall to 4-4. As for Chiyootori, if he improves to 5-3 in the forest and nobody is around, does he make a sound?

With that, I need a strong drink, which for me is a chocolate milk. Harvye's up tomorrow.

Day 7 (PZ Kelly reporting)
Living in the U.S. has enabled me to do something I'd been unable to during my long time in Nippon--watch March Madness. The Japanese have an abiding interest in MLB, a reasonably acute awareness of the NBA, and a growing infatuation with the NFL, but they seem interested in university aged Americans solely for their ability to come to Asia and ensure that all Japanese schoolchildren reach adulthood with the ability to reply to the question, "Do you speak English?" by putting their thumb and forefinger two centimeters apart and say, "Sukoshi. Chotto dake."
Why mention it? Because this weekend I'm busy watching real amateur sporting drama. Additionally, the game of the year in the NBA is on tonight (Spurs/Warriors), and at this very moment on my grotesquely oversized television, Djokovic is tearing a rapidly aging and future Rogaine spokesman Rafa a new hole in his net.

But I'm nothing if not a man of my word, so I am keeping my promise to Mixmaster Mikenstein to write Day 7 come heck or high wawa.

In 1999, two psychologists at Cornell Univ. in NY, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, performed a series of experiments that demonstrated relatively unskilled and unknowledgeable individuals suffer from the illusion that they are more skilled and knowledgeable than they, in fact, are. Labeled The Dunning-Kruger effect, it concluded that these people: 1) Fail to recognize their own lack of skill; 2) Fail to recognize the extent of their inadequacy; and 3) Fail to recognize genuine skill in others.

But enough talk about all the foreign "experts" on sumo, shuffling around outside Tokyo heyas like they're waiting to take a bite out of Officer Rick Grimes. Let's review the day, for the good that's in it.

Unlike this year's NCAA college basketball tourney, there were very few upsets (by rank) today in the sumos, and none whatsoever in the final ten bouts. Of course, in a world where each grappler goes balls out fifteen days straight, a Tochinoshin ought to paste a Kotoshogiku, not the other way around. Today's tilts, however, represent that rare occasion where the higher ranked guy might reasonably be expected to defeat his lower ranked foe. I mean, even a schlep like Goeido should take down a silver citizen like Aminishiki.

Not showing any reluctance to take on gigantic Aoiyama, Yokozuna Harumafuji did not shift to the side while managing to keep his delicate Fred Astaire's beneath him (unlike Day 6). The Mongolian GC took a two-handed upper chest shove from the E3, then parlayed a brief separation into an efficient charge forward that included a stiff arm to the throat and a headbutt to the chest, which proved sufficient in driving Aoiyama out.

(Love listening to sports announcers. Kenny Smith, analyzing college hoops, just said in disagreement to his colleague, "You can't prerequisite it with, ‘He doesn't have talent.'" Prerequisite!)

Hakuho slipped right in at tachi-ai and grabbed a firm left outside belt on the most any-given-day dangerous of the Maegashira, Tochinoshin. The Yokozuna quickly turned him and drove back, ignoring the Private's resistance while jiggling him like a toilet handle and flushing him to his left to prevent the E2 from getting any stability in his stance from which to mount a counterattack. Focused and intent.

Kakuryu exchanged slaps with Yoshikaze, then pulled him down by his ear for the quick and clean win. I wonder if he'll be sewing a silk purse tonight?

The last of the Ozeki to step up was the aforementioned Goeido. He pretty much had but absorb being crowded at the tachi-ai (can't call it "hit") by the veteran of The Second Battle of Bull Run, Aminishiki. Shaking off a kitty cat sized swipe at his topknot, the Ozeki extended his arms and The Bedroll went gently into that good night, no raging.

Despite being significantly smaller than the Kentucky front line...uh, I mean Terunofuji, Sokokurai acquitted himself admirably by fighting off the Ozeki for a good long time in a classic yotsu tussle. Alas, his effort did not produce a win as he was lifted back and out in the end after a well fought 30 second match.

Like the guy with the stupid black and white avatar of some antiquated bearded fella said yesterday, Japan has got itself a case of the Geeku Peekaboos. Every single thing the lil' rascal does these days is scrutinized and fawned over. My wife, the quintessential non-sports fan who pays attention when the media tells her to, said his backbend, almost pornographic in its suggestiveness (well, at least to MY filthy mind it is) has become the stuff of legend.  Never mind that he's been doing it since forever; now that he has defeated the mighty Mongolian swarm, he can do no wrong.

Well, today he did it all wrong, and Toyonoshima was able to pin him to the ropes with naught left but to grab the Ozeki's mawashi right there in front of him, above the pubes, and sill the damn ned dill...but he just could not tuck his fingers in from under and lift. Makes me wonder if Tugboat has ever opened a car door. Stabbing frantically at Geeku in a vain attempt to push him back six inches, the Sekiwake was abruptly sent titties over teakettle like he'd tried to shake hands with a centrifuge. My stars, that Kotoshogiku boy sure can fling em, can't he dear? Toyonoshima is a few months late for Oscar consideration at 1-6.

So with all the Yokozuna having tasted defeat at least once, the Ozeki is not still only in line for a promo to Grand Champion, but could conceivably do it with a yusho. Within the word "conceivably" lies a multiverse of possibility, am I wrong? I mean, I can conceive of one HELL of a lot of things.

Kisenosato smartly kept his arms in tight at tachi-ai, denying Okinoumi the inside he desired. Forced to move his right arm out, he gave up the inside left to the Ozeki, who wasted no time in securing the belt. He then grabbed an outside right belt, wrenched up on the strands, and followed the E2 as he tried to slide away along the ropes. A strong win by the undefeated Ozeki who would, were he to yusho here in Osaka, set Japan ablaze with excitement. Two Japanese yusho in a row?? There'd be guys on busy city street corners doing deep backbends while squinting like someone threw sand in their eyes.

The other undefeated wrestler remained undefeated as Ikioi bested Myogiryu. After a confused, Bluetoothless warm up routine that saw both men unable to synch up, Myogibear-elled into Ikioi with some verve and ferocity. But there was nothing civil about this war as Ikioi nega, I say negated that energy by employing the North/South defense, meaning he twists his foe's torso up high on one side with an armbar, and simultaneously pushed down on the other. And in this manner, our little Icky got himself all growed up. Leading to start the second Sunday? Life is sweet tonight for this late bloomin Kansai lad, yessuh!

Finally, had to watch Gagamaru obliterate Mitakeumi if for no reason other than to confirm for mine own eyes the fact that he DOES look like he's sitting in a rubber baby bucket swing. Dude is NOT going to make Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue anytime soon. Then again, given how much SI has caved to the "No Fat Shaming" crowd...

Anywho, I'm gonna sign off here, crime stoppers. I'm getting a surgical procedure done Thursday (elective, no worries, just sick and tired of logging around this huge pecker of mine, reduction being the only way to go to have any semblance of peace when I visit the beach and gym), so I will be more than likely writing Day 15 with a sack of frozen peas on my "down there" teehee.

Not sure who is on tap for Day 8, but I'm sure he's smooth, refreshing, and with an ABV high enough to satisfy your need for sumo intoxication.

Day 6 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
I was in the Osaka area when Kotoshogiku took his yusho in January, and I still am. These two months, Kotoshogiku has been a national hero, a constant presence in pop life. His name is on the lips of people who don't usually care about sumo, he is referred to in metaphors, he is on TV, he is in the newspapers, he is making people happy across the islands. It reminds me of when I came back to the States once after a long time away and the first Batman movie was coming out and there was Batman absolutely everywhere. It was like Batman had taken over the nation. Kotoshogiku is like Brad Pitt after Thelma and Louise or Miley Cyrus after the twerking. Instant star. He's even an international star--funny to see his name popping up in the international press. It is odd and discombobulating, like David Hasselhoff's popularity in Austria.

The basho sold out quickly. A group of people I know were trying to get tickets; they laid the ground work, pooled their money, and picked a range of dates: any weekend or holiday. They studied the rules on the internet. The called about fifteen minutes after the phone sales started. All the tickets on the days they wanted were already sold out. Now, it's possible they goofed this up--the ticket buying process is not intuitive--but still. A few days later I tried to get tickets through internet reservation; my parents are in town and are big sumo fans themselves (it was my mother who first pointed out to me how scary cold Hakuho is at core). The entire second week was already sold out. We conferred and determined any date was good; by the time I finally got on line again there were only tickets on days three, four, and five, and at a minimum price of 8,800 yen--about $70. I scooped some up. This was a few weeks ago. A few days later, all the tickets were gone. All. There is an atmosphere of carnival fun around sumo right now: people are enjoying this unexpected emotional Spring in the sport.

We were at the venue yesterday, and it was a fine day of attending sumo. I don't have much in the way of atmospherics to add--the crowd was surprisingly vocal in favor of Myogiryu at ring-entry time, and expectedly vocal for Goeido and Ikioi. They were lest lusty lunged than I expected for Kotoshogiku, but he got his cheers sure enough. I thought they'd go crazy for him--they really didn't.

As with last year, I was struck by how jovial the crowd was: they don't care as much as we like to think about the outcomes, and have a good laugh when things don't go as expected. Some of them are naïve: the young man next to me was very excited when Kotoyuki did his hoot, and yelled out, "wow! He did it!" The audience was, as usual, awash with foreigners. I often move about and watch from different seats, and end up engaging some of these people. For the most part, they have no idea what is going on, at all, and spend most of the day gazing desperately at the free matchup printout they've been given, trying to figure out who is fighting. But they have fun. So did I.

Watching live is of course much different from TV--you keep wanting the replay. The most interesting moment in this way was Kotoshogiku's loss. I thought he'd won, but we really had no idea. It happens fast, your memory can play tricks on you, and you're many meters away. He could have clearly won, clearly lost, or been in an absolute tie--you're just raw guessing. So, I was interested that I "thought he'd won." That was because the crowd emotion felt that way, called for that. It was everybody's expectation. Perhaps the mono-ii took so long because they half couldn't believe it themselves, and had to make absolutely sure before giving in to it. When they announced that Kotoshogiku had actually lost, it was kind of shocking. But why would it be? Because we were emotionally prepped for him to win. (I, of course, was glad he lost.)

But that's yesterday, and Mike has already covered it for you, masterful as always. So, now to today's matches: we had some very good matches, some very bad cheats, and some good non-bout drama. A day of ups and downs. Let's get to it. We will not go in order.

Match of the day: O Terunofuji (4-1) vs. M1 Kotoyuki (2-3)
As you know, I despise Little Snow (Kotoyuki) and his self-regard. I love Terunofuji and his old fashioned power sumo on the belt. These two polar opposites in the world of rising stars got into a stare down before the match. Loved it. This was Terunofuji saying, "you disrespect my countryman, Hakuho, with your hoots? I'm going to destroy you. Punk." Fuji the Terrible got an early win in the staredown when he took one arm up and put it on his knee, as if saying "yeah. I'm staring at you. Yes." Kotoyuki immediately did the same with his arm--looking like an imitative whelp. Great stuff. But Teru lost the staredown in the end, looking away first and standing up. An intended dis, but I'd rather have watched him stare Kotoyuki into Kingdom Come. Terunofuji got points back when it was Kotoyuki who then had to apologize to the judges.

Yes, I just wrote that much on a stare down. It was that cool. All the tensions of the sport and the national prides at play were in here. It primed us for a Terunofuji annihilation of Kotoyuki. A schooling. A beat down. A set the record straight. A pork roast.

Except that wasn't what happened at all. Kotoyuki did everything right. He moved forward at the tachi-ai. He got his hands up and kept Fuji upright with stiff pressure to the neck and under the chin. He kept moving his feet forward, and avoided aligning them. He was tenacious. I watched this four or five times, was impressed and sort of thrilled with the oomph of it the first time, and my favorable impression of Kotoyuki remained through each viewing. My impression of Terunofuji declined with each viewing. He was beaten badly here. Teru's sumo was weak. He was too high at the tachi-ai, and never ducked in to go to the belt--to be fair, Kotoyuki did a great job of forcing him up and off of it. Terunofuji tried some head pulls--not his game. At the end, pinned at the tawara and on the edge of death, it looked like he had an opportunity to evade to his left or sling Kotoyuki down to his right, as Little Snow had overcommitted a bit with some gaburu humping and was sliding off to the side a bit. But instead Terunofuji broke under the pressure and stepped out backwards, yori-kiri. This was a very impressive win for Kotoyuki.

Who won the stare down now? Ouch. Whatever way you look at it, and there are multiple ways, this match said a lot, and hence was the match of the day.

Let's move on more swiftly.

I'm Still Here: S Toyonoshima (1-4) vs. Y Hakuho (4-1)
Like Mike, I don't buy it that Hakuho is injured (or stoned or going through a divorce or having trouble getting used to a new toothpaste or any other wild speculation you want to make up). What I see is a guy goofing around in the ring. It's now rare that he doesn't do that--but nice when he gets back to his bread and pungent cheese. I want more of those meals. Today was somewhere in between. He tried a little feint to the face on the tachi-ai, then instantly went for the face for real, but was fighting a little high, as usual of late. Toyonoshima squared up and was game, but was no match for the power of The Storyteller (Hakuho). Hakuho kept after Toyonoshima's head, got him moving backwards, and once he felt that, broke out the swift, loping leopard-lion strides of his beast-on-a-kill-mission-mode for the yori-kiri win. Dang, homes.

You've Got To Be Kidding Me, Part I: O Kotoshogiku (5-1) vs. M3 Aoiyama (3-3)
Aoiyama, who tore down his opponent's house with sonic-boom-thrusts yesterday, tried no thrusts today. Instead, he fell into the arms of Kotoshogiku, held on to him, hopped a bit as he was driven backwards, then pounded his feet up and down on the clay, a stomper, like a three year old having a tantrum, to give the impression he was doing something. He was summarily whipped down to the gritty earth by Kotoshogiku, tsuki-taoshi.

You've Got to Be Kidding Me, Part II: Y Harumafuji (4-1) vs. S Yoshikaze (1-4)
These two leapt towards each other with a bit of butting of heads, but Harumafuji is more powerful, and won the momentum battle. However, he was uncontrolled and wide open, with both arms in the air like a guy in an old western about to draw his guns on Main Street, and Yoshikaze smartly smacked them down, knocking Harumafuji off balance. Harumafuji then bounded forward, bounced off Yoshikaze or perhaps an invisible force field, and fell down to the side, hiki-otoshi. What? Yeesh.

But Fortunately We Also Had This: K Tochiohzan (1-4) vs. O Kisenosato (5-0)
Both of these guys used their signature style, but it was a display of wanton domination by Kisenosato. Tochiohzan kept his hands in tight, going for two hands inside, moro-zashi, but Kisenosato bodied onto him and forced him out yori-kiri instantly, crushing him to the dirt and falling on him for good measure as they tumbled over the tawara, cinder block towers under a wrecking ball. I don't give a good day-um WHATCH U say ‘bout Kisenosato.

And This: M6 Myogiryu (4-1) vs. M7 Kaisei (4-1)
Let's face it, we like Myogiryu because there is no one more no-nonsense on the banzuke. He's not real big, but if he isn't fighting hard, he's not there at all. Kaisei is a mountain of flesh, so Myog' had his work cut out for him. Myogiryu was so persistent in getting under and up against Kaisei he might as well go out and take a patent on his new product, the Kaisei Sweat Shower. He got in below right away. He tried gaburu shoves. He tried keeping his can back and outwaiting Kaisei. He tried surging forward. He tried maki-kae to get his left arm inside, but couldn't get it in there (he had ‘im good with the right, though). So he just let that arm flail in the air, sacrificed it to his own momentum and practically got it displaced, as the rest of him smashed onwards, finally at the end bringing the arm down for a both-arms-inside yori-kiri shove-out. Good stuff, Maynard.

Worst Performance of the Day: M11 Ichinojo (4-1) vs. M14 Daieisho (3-2)
I think Mike and I have a disagreement on Ichinojo. Mike says The Slug is bagging it, putting in his time and giving away wins for future blandishments. I say he has terrible focus, terrible technique, and insufficient fighting spirit. This match lends itself to either interpretation. Daieisho is one of the weakest nothings on this banzuke, and he humiliated Ichinojo in this one. Ichinojo padded lamely forward at the tachi-ai, sticking his hands inside but keeping his fingers flat and unused like someone drying her nail polish. As Daieisho attacked him aggressively, he fuddled around a bit with those hands like a guy searching for his glasses on the nightstand when the phone rings at 3:00 a.m. Then he tried a few pulls while being pushed out of the ring oshi-dashi, backpedaling. By, god, man!

Poor Fellow: O Goeido (4-1) vs. M1 Takayasu (0-5)
Poor Goeido. He was so badly beaten yesterday he was clearly freaked out today and felt the need to henka Takayasu for safety's sake. And henka him hard. Yep, as henkas go, well, if you want to be safe, might as well get way out to the side there. Like, way away from him. Like, I'm not taking any chances on them train tracks, man. Like, in the neighbor's yard, dude. Like, whew, I sure would like a win and wipe yesterday from my memory. Takayasu did not fall down on it, but when he turned to face Goeido it was already over; Takayasu's resistance was lackadaisical, and Goeido was able to go in and very easily throw his man down, tsuki-otoshi. That Goeido, folks. That Goeido.

Those are the biggest ups and downs of the day. The other matches follow:

M15 Kitataiki (2-3) vs. M13 Mitakeumi (3-2)
This one was keyed by pulls by Mitakeumi, the second of which allowed him to spin Kitataiki around with a hold on the back button of the belt, after which Kitataiki was burnt toast, yori-kiri. Not a good look for Mitakeumi, but a winning one.

M12 Tokushoryu (2-3) vs. M15 Satoyama (1-4)
Good stuff here, and if these guys weren't so inconsequential this would make it into the "featured bouts" section above. Satoyama stayed ultra low, as is his wont, but as usual that didn't lead to any quick win and he had to wait it out, being pressed down upon all around the ring by his lumbering and laboring foe. In the end Tokushoryu got him very near the edge and looked to have this one in the bag, but Satoyama evaded sideways and backwards, curling his body ever so slightly little by little to get his back around as he pulled Tokushoryu along the tawara by one hand. He then ushered Tokushoryu forward to the clay by that hand while jerking his own body out backwards, getting the kainahineri decision. Looked like a magic trick: he appeared from behind the falling Tokushoryu like a rabbit out of a hat.

M14 Daishomaru (3-2) vs. M12 Hidenoumi (2-3)
A lot of times I think a bout just shows who's plain better. Here Daishomaru had the better position of a good, low tachi-ai, and was pushing up from below on Hidenoumi, and had him upright. Should lead to a win. But Hidenoumi was clearly stronger, and Daishomaru couldn't maintain the momentum, and in a few moments was easy oshi-dashi fodder. When you're getting dominated by Country Bumpkin (Hidenoumi), you don't belong in the upper division.

M16 Akiseyama (2-3) vs. M11 Amuuru (3-2)
Akiseyama has absolutely no muscle tone--amazingly saggy. Yeah he's big--but outside of that he has one of the least athletic bodies I've seen in sumo. Another guy I'd predict is not long for this division. Fat accumulates on people's bodies in very different ways, and it accumulates on his like plastic grocery bags full of watered-down yoghurt stapled to soggy cardboard. He tried a bit of tsuppari action here, and Amuuru is not a strength-and-power guy, so it was working, but Amuuru evaded just a little and Akiseyama clumsily fell down, tsuki-otoshi. Send him to the minors, coach, he's striking out on the curveball.

M10 Gagamaru (3-2) vs. M13 Chiyootori (2-3)
Another interesting body: Gagamaru is of course absurdly round. He also has the highest, longest ass of anybody I've ever seen. His mawashi is halfway up his back. He looks like a baby in one of those rubber bucket baby swings at the park. Weird. He did nothing here and lost to Chiyootori in an uneventful linear force out, yori-kiri.

M8 Takanoiwa (3-2) vs. M9 Sadanoumi (2-3)
Too much to describe here, and yet not much. Lots of high-arm grappling for quite some time at the beginning; Takanoiwa was the more aggressive and controlled the pace throughout. Eventually they got together on a migi-yotsu, right arms inside on the belt and lefts outside, but Sadanoumi was the upper pancake in this short stack of two, and lost this one after a bit of flailing around trying to get some kind of maki-kae going.

M10 Tamawashi (2-3) vs. M8 Chiyotairyu (1-4)
Snack Break (Tamawashi) is quite a bit bigger than Explosion (Chiyotairyu), who forgot to light his own fuse: he didn't move forward at the tachi-ai. It was curtains from there, as Tamawashi looked huge in this one and bullied him around with devastating slaps and thrusts and got the tsuki-dashi decision. Chiyotairyu is in trouble when matches against guys like this look like this much of a mismatch.

M7 Takekaze (1-4) vs. M9 Toyohibiki (1-4)
Oh, boy. Classic, simple Takekaze stuff here: he noted that his opponent was committed to working forward against him, so he grabbed his head, pulled down, stepped out of the way, and enjoyed his hataki-komi win. It is a mark of how outclassed Toyohibiki is that Takekaze telegraphed this move with a long and calculating look but Toyohibiki still didn't see it coming.

M5 Kyokushuho (2-3) vs. M5 Shohozan (1-4)
This one reminded me a lot of the Tamawashi/Chiyotairyu match a few minutes ago: Darth Hozen (Shohozan) isn't real big, and he made Tokushoryu, who is a kind of colorless but a tough professional guy, look like a giant scary Yokozuna out there. It wasn't just size: it was presence as well that Shohozan lacked as he was quickly whapped to the clay, hataki-komi, after two hard frontal set-up slaps by Kyokushuho. As my Dad said yesterday, "the Mongolians are just bigger."

M6 Shodai (2-3) vs. M3 Aminishiki (4-1)
Aminishiki shaded to the left ever so slightly at the tachi-ai, allowing him to get a good left belt grip, but he played it pretty straight from there. He did try a few pulls with that good left grip, but Shodai did well in keeping turned to the side, letting him keep his feet from getting aligned and presenting a much less vulnerable balance target. Meanwhile, while he never had any belt grip, Shodai kept one arm under one pit and eventually won by pulling up on the other pit, tsuki-otoshi.

M2 Okinoumi (1-4) vs. M4 Sokokurai (0-5)
Booo-ring. A guy in a pink shirt in the first row right in the camera line gave the national audience a nice big yawn right as it started. Actually, it was nice beltwork, de-ashi, and low, forward moving action by Sokokurai, who had strong-looking left inside and right outer grips.

M4 Ikioi (5-0) vs. K Takarafuji (1-4)
Takarafuji had a nice right inside grip here, but Ikioi drove harder and at a better angle, head slightly down, feet churning behind, for a nice yori-taoshi dropping of Takarafuji. Something tells me the less said about this Magic Boy! bout, the better, though.

Match of the Day, Pt. II: Y Kakuryu (4-1) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (1-4)
Yes, the Invisible Yokozuna, Kakuryu, is so colorless that even though this was a great bout I completely forgot about it and it ended up down here in the "rest of the story" grouping rather than near the top where it belonged. Why? Because he's forgettable! Well, he gets to send us off, then.

Wildly grunting as usual--and I am loving it--Tochinoshin had all of my attention as he bulled off the tachi-ai and sought a grip. Look at that, I thought, impressed, as he drove the Yokozuna backwards and did manage to get a left overhand grip. I wasn't paying any attention to Kakuryu at all.

Whoops. I didn't even notice until this point, when Tochinoshin's momentum stalled, that there was Kakuryu suddenly with an extremely deep moro-zashi, both hands way back on the belt and gripping strongly. You don't beat a Yokozuna when he's got you like that, no matter how mightily you struggle and growl.

This one ended with Tochinoshin with both feet on the tawara in one of those ergonomics-defying resistances where you think simultaneously: "he can't possibly hold on any longer" and "is he really going to get out of this?!?" He couldn't, and popped over the tawara. Props to Kakuryu. But also to Tochinoshin. There is nobody more fun to watch right now.

Clancy will, as always, make me say "lord almighty!" tomorrow.

Day 5 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As we conclude the jobansen or final five days, the question on my mind is how long will they allow all of this silliness to continue? With so much scrutiny on sumo these days, it's so risky to have all of the high profile Japanese rikishi keep winning with mukiryoku bouts. If the acting is good, it's one thing, but if it's obvious even to the casual Japanese fan then you're really playing with fire. As I pointed out in my pre-basho report with that newspaper editorial, the Japanese fans who know what's going on are not few. So, would the funny bidness continue through day 5, or would some of the Ozeki bouts be straight up? In order to answer that question, we need to work our way through all of the bouts starting from the beginning, so let's get to it.

M14 Daishomaru shaded to his left at the tachi-ai going for a slight pull with the right hand and disallowing M16 Akiseyama any momentum from the start, and you know what...Akiseyama is simply too big to recover from this and move laterally to the point of making his opponent pay the price for a lame henka and pull. As he squared back up, Daishomaru had the right arm to the inside and was flirting with the left frontal grip, and Akiseyama could do nothing as his fellow rookie finally just bodied Akiseyama back and across the straw. Daishomaru improves to 3-2 with the win while Akiseyama falls below .500 at 2-3.

M13 Chiyootori stayed low at the tachi-ai against M15 Kitataiki starting in the grapplin' position but ending up in migi-yotsu. Kitataiki eventually reached for and got a left outer grip, but it was just one fold of the belt, and so when Chiyootori grabbed his own left outer on the other side that contained multiple folds of the belt, he was able to quickly force Kitataiki back and across from there. Both of these guys end the day at 2-3.

M15 Satoyama was his usual duck low and move laterally (he went left) at the tachi-ai, but there was no foolin' M12 Hidenoumi today as he constantly stayed square with the Imo and finally had him cornered near the edge where he easily dumped him with a right scoop throw. If Satoyama's age didn't do him any favors a few years ago at the big dance, it's only gotten worse now as he falls to 1-4. Hidenoumi takes what's given as he ekes forward to 2-3.

M12 Tokushoryu and M14 Daieisho hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai without really crashing chests, and the larger Tokushoryu must have sensed the lack of pressure from his opponent because he mounted a force-out charge straightway before even bothering to secure the right outer grip. And the plan worked to perfection as he had his foe pushed back and across before anyone could question, "Where's the excitement so far?" Tokushoryu moves to 2-3 with the win while Daieisho cools a bit at 3-2.

M13 Mitakeumi ducked in low at the tachi-ai against M11 Ichinojo who was looking to get the right inside and left outer grip, but with Mitakeumi in that unorthodox pose down low, Ichinojo quickly shifted to his left and used Mitakeumi's forward momentum against him pulling with the right hand and yanking with the left by the belt so forcefully that Mitakeumi was turned around at the edge and pushed into the third row by the arse. Wow, what a display from Ichinojo here. First, the dude was able to adjust quickly to his opponent's low charge. Second, he was nimble enough to move laterally, and third, he was deft enough to set up that throw before even completing step two. Discredit Mitakeumi here a bit for not even looking at his foe, but after watching Ichinojo dismantle Mitakeumi like this (he was 3-1 coming in), you have to question why he is even this low to begin with? I mean, Ichinojo wasn't thinking pull at the start here, and look at the result as he moves to 5-0. Mitakeumi is now 3-2.

M10 Gagamaru committed another blatant false start as Harvye often points out keeping his left fist off of the clay, but they were too disinterested to call it back. I don't think it affected the bout today against M11 Amuuru who wasn't looking to get to the inside opting to focus on his usual pull attack where he will retreat if needed. The problem with that tactic today, however, is that Gagamaru is so large he just takes up too much room in the ring, and so Amuuru had nowhere to go but back. Gagamaru didn't exactly force the Russian back, but when he connected on a solid right ham to the neck, it was good enough to polish Amuuru off for good as both dudes end the day at 3-2.

M8 Chiyotairyu was all business against M9 Sadanoumi thrusting him back quickly from the start, but Sadanoumi had the wherewithal to scoot left in an effort to catch Chiyotairyu off balance. Chiyotairyu adjusted his body well, but his mind betrayed him as he attempted to counter Sadanoumi's move with a pull instead of keeping up the pressure with his thrusts. Bad move as Sadanoumi read Chiyotairyu's mind and pushed him clear across the dohyo and out for the comeback win. At least Chiyotairyu's thinking about moving forward now despite his 1-4 mark. Sadanoumi is one better at 2-3.

M8 Takanoiwa and M10 Tamawashi engaged in a tsuppari affair from the start, which is clearly Tamawashi's game, but the taller Mongolian really didn't use his feet or take advantage of a few optimal pull opportunities that were there, and so with Takanoiwa hanging around and Tamawashi content to just stand there, Takanoiwa executed a few wild slaps causing Tamawashi to just dive to the clay before Takanoiwa could actually execute the winning left tsuki-otoshi. I'm not buying any of Takanoiwa's three wins, but at least someone else is. Tamawashi ends up 2-3.

M7 Kaisei agreed to fight M9 Toyohibiki at his own tsuppari game, and the Brasilian executed flawless footwork in raising Toyohibiki up with a few shoves from the tachi-ai and then pummeling him back and out once, twice, three times a lady. This is exactly how they draw it up in the keiko ring as Kaisei shows his diversity moving to 4-1 while Toyohibiki is the opposite mark at 1-4.

M5 Kyokushuho withstood M7 Takekaze's initial thrust charge with ease, and with Takekaze just standing there spinning his wheels--literally--and no momentum, Kyokushuho simply moved right and shoved Takekaze over and down by his left side. Nothing else to see here as Kyokushuho improves to 2-3 while Takekaze is still stuck on that one win.

M5 Shohozan caught M4 Sokokurai with a beautiful left tsuki at the tachi-ai standing him straight up, and as Darth Hozan churned with the de-ashi, Sokokurai tried to escape to his right, but Shohozan was onto him like stink to bait and scored the win that was so impressive they awarded him with tsuki-dashi. Shohzan picks up his first win at 1-4 while Sokokurai falls to 0-5. Incidentally, Sokokurai took a few days off as a result of the flu, so the dude is probably still trying to recover from that let alone a 150 kilo beast trying to slap him silly.

M6 Shodai won the tachi-ai against M4 Ikioi with a nice left kachi-age and had the taller Ikioi back a step, and the youngster wasted no time rushing in to secure the right inside position and left outer grip, but the great start stopped there as Shodai chose not to do anything with the vital right inside and just stood there like a dumbass holding that left outer belt as he waited for Ikioi to throw him over with a right scoop throw. The ending here was interesting because if both guys are trying, this turns into nage-no-uchi-ai, but it ended up with Shodai keeping his feet and just running over to the edge of the dohyo where Ikioi polished him off from there. Shodai (2-3) shoulda had this one in about three seconds, but he let up giving Ikioi the cheap win and 5-0 record to boot.

M6 Myogiryu has looked great this basho and was out for blood against M3 Aminishiki, but Shneaky lived up to his namesake here cheaply jumping to his left at the tachi-ai and shamelessly henka'ing Myogiryu forward and down before the bout even got started. Dirty pool from Aminishiki who seems to shirk the tough bouts. Both guys are still sporting sweet records at 4-1.

Komusubi Tochiohzan crushed Sekiwake Toyonoshima back from the tachi-ai with the right hand and led with the left inside in an attempt to secure the early force-out win, but Toyonoshima was able to dodge at the bales and escape to the center of the ring. Didn't matter as Oh was onto his every move firing effective shoves to keep Toyonoshima upright before scoring on a nice right tsuki to send Toyonoshima around and out for good. This one wasn't even close as Tochiohzan is surely relieved to finally be fighting straight up as both gentlemen end the day at 1-4.

Ozeki Terunofuji came with the hari-zashi tachi-ai against M1 Takayasu slapping with the right hand and getting the left to the inside, but during the melee Takayasu managed a good grip on the front of the Ozeki's belt with the right hand, and usually that's a game changer, but not against Fuji the Terrible. The Ozeki played along with Takayasu's force-out charge springing the counter left scoop throw at the edge to dump Takayasu forward and out with ease. Terunofuji was never in trouble here as he moves to 4-1 while Takayasu needs to live and learn a bit at 0-5.

M1 Kotoyuki actually believed that his win over Harumafuji was legit, and as he approached the starting lines against Ozeki Goeido, I was thinking "Did he get the memo?" Apparently not because he came out and just knocked Goeido silly driving him around the ring this way and that with his patented tsuppari attack finally knocking Goeido over onto his arse after about six seconds of punishment. This bout was obviously fought straight up, so you can see just how incompetent Goeido is. Kotoyuki's not exactly a jo'i mainstay, but he kicked Goeido's ass right and proper likely to the shock of many who thought the Ozeki's 4-0 start was all that. All that it wasn't as he drops to 4-1 while Kotoyuki will earn a Shukunsho if he can parlay this 2-3 start into a kachi-koshi.

Ozeki Kisenosato rammed his left shoulder into Sekiwake Yoshikaze standing him upright before assuming the hidari-yotsu position, and Yoshikaze played along getting his own left to the inside meekly giving up the right outer in the process, so Kisenosato just walked the Sekiwake back and across without argument. The spunk and will to win that propelled Yoshikaze to this rank in the first place was entirely missing here, and intentional or not, Yoshikaze was mukiryoku. Kisenosato stays unblemished at 5-0 while Yoshikaze (1-4) just has to go through this for the betterment of the sport (in some peoples' eyes)

Ozeki Kotoshogiku charged into M2 Okinoumi getting the right inside, but before he could get settled, Okinoumi moved left and instinctively went for a left kote-nage that sent Kotoshogiku down the dirt before Okinoumi himself stepped out. They gyoji pointed towards Okinoumi and watching live, I thought he won as well, but the men in black called a mono-ii and deliberated for a long time (and I mean long). Watching the replays, I thought the gyoji made the correct call, and they upheld the initial decision in the end. The funny thing was, it looked to me as if Okinoumi was half-assed throughout and ready to do Kotoshogiku's bidding, but the Ozeki was so hapless he couldn't take advantage. Look, when you execute a kote-nage throw, you pivot to the side of your opponent and put some mustard on the throw. Okinoumi barely moved to his left, and the pressure he applied to the Ozeki probably wouldn't have even bruised a 12 year old girl, but today is good example of just how hapless Kotoshogiku is. I mean, if you're 18-1 coming in and a legitimate Yokozuna candidate, Okinoumi ends up on the chief judge's lap after that mediocre effort. You also don't lose to a guy who starts the basho 0-4; you just don't. The result in the end was Kotoshogiku's falling to 4-1 while Okinoumi picks up his first win of the tournament to the shock of the Osaka crowd.

Yokozuna Harumafuji charged hard into M2 Tochinoshin using a choke hold to stand the Georgian upright, and as soon as Tochinoshin began leaning into the Yokozuna, Harumafuji quickly retreated moving to his left and yanking down the M2 by the left arm. Harumafuji didn't move left very far causing for an awkward ending to the bout, but a win is a win. I think this was the first bout where we really saw the condition of Harumafuji's knee injury because he really needed to move further outside of his opponent than he did. Regardless, he moves to 4-1 while Tochinoshin falls to 1-4.

Yokozuna Kakuryu came with a left hand to Komusubi Takarafuji's neck (I know...you're thinking to yourself 'Takarafuji has a neck?') and wrapped his right arm around Takarafuji's left, but it wasn't enough as the Komusubi shoved the Yokozuna away leaving the two combatants trading shoves in the center of the ring. Kakuryu had no forward momentum from the tachi-ai, and it showed because he couldn't bully the larger Takarafuji around, and after about five seconds of action, Takarafuji grabbed the right outer grip. The problem was he didn't have any position with the left inside, and the Yokozuna quickly exploited that mistake by moving slightly right and unleashing a right scoop throw that felled the Komusubi in the end. The Yokozuna was a bit casual here, and it almost cost him, but he comes out of the fray at 4-1 while Takarafuji falls to 1-4.

Speaking of casual, Yokozuna Hakuho didn't really go for anything at the tachi-ai against M3 Aoiyama leaving both rikishi separated across the starting lines looking for an opening. After a few swipes, the Yokozuna secured the right inside position but only had one fold of the belt, and so the two behemoths dug in for about eight seconds with Hakuho testing the dashi-nage waters. He finally went for the first one pulling down at the back of Aoiyama's head with the left, but the Bulgarian survived well and kept the matchup chest to chest. After another five seconds or so of inaction, Aoiyama went for a maki-kae with the left and got it giving him moro-zashi, but he seemed confused as to how to attack while Hakuho solidified his stance with the left outer grip. With Aoiyama too upright to really make a move, the Yokozuna ended the funny bidness by pivoting left and throwing Aoiyama down for good with the left belt grip. I'm not sure of course what the Yokozuna's intentions were here because it looked a lot like a bout of keiko where Hakuho wanted to test a few moves, but I think in the end it's a benefit to the currently landscape of sumo if it looks as if the Yokozuna has lost a step. Trust me, he hasn't as he improves to 4-1 while Aoiyama is still a respectable 3-2.

Well, that's a wrap on the first third of the tournament, and day five saw our first two Japanese Ozeki go down. In Goeido's case, they're just trying to get him to eight wins, but the bigger story of course is Kotoshogiku and this faux Yokozuna run. At the end of day 4, all I could think about was a day of reckoning coming in week two when Kotoshogiku and the other Japanese Ozeki will have to face the four Mongolians, so now it's just a question of will the Mongolians show mercy? Or will they exact justice? We still have a long way to go, almost too long for the fairytale to play out.

Harvye is your Prince Charming tomorrow.

Day 4 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Wither sumo? Wither this basho? What to say of Kotoshogiku and his January tournament victory, and his current push for Yokozuna? For comment, I call on those rockin' Mormons from Duluth, Minnesota, the musical band Low, from their recent album Ones and Sixes:

"Our fathers said what their fathers said
Our mothers did what their mothers did
We find each other on the edge of it
To be forgiven if we don't forget
You want religion, you want assurance
A resurrection, some kind of purpose
You have the vision, you opened your eyes
A complication, you should have looked twice
You have forgotten how to use your head
You got somebody else to paint your fence
Is it the body or the evidence?
You want it all without the consequence
You want religion, you want assurance
A resurrection, some kind of purpose
It's not what you say, it's what you take back"

And that's all I have to say about that.

J1 Seiro (2-1) vs. M15 Kitataiki (2-1)
Our second division man in this one, Seiro, did a nice job of getting inside, and this was a decent chesty struggle. Seiro had a good hold in there, and used youthful strength and lifted up, up, making Kitataiki look very much like a fish on the line, struggling and wiggling about frantically, before he got thrown into the bottom of the boat, overhand, uwate-nage. Now's jus left t' bang ‘im on the head ‘an eat ‘im for dinner.

M16 Akiseyama (2-1) vs. M14 Daieisho (2-1)
Akiseyama! Oy, you are a fatly blubber man! Your blubber hangs down so pendulously, all a quiver! Titly masses swinging slurpily! Only Aoiyama competes in the "I have to look away because it is too fleshily suggestive" category. But how does he compete in the ring? As expected, I would say. Daieisho was slow off the sand, even though he had both fists down a'waitin', ala Kakizoe. But Akiseyama was even slower, barely oozing forward a bit as Daieisho plunged hands hammily into his spam. Daieisho forced Akiseyama out oshi-dashi very easily as the big man did nothing but jiggle like struck pudding.

M13 Chiyootori (1-2) vs. M15 Satoyama (0-3)
Chiyootori is now just a guy. Once he was a Guy, and looked ready for sanyaku regular visits, but that never materialized, and he is manifestly just a guy, however jauntily he may bounce his butt before the tachi-ai. Satoyama, meanwhile, is your resident oddball, featuring his ultra-low tachi-ai attack. He did it here, and it is very strange to watch him with his arms above and behind his own head, the head nestled under the other guy's shoulder, the arms seeking some pull down purchase but not visible to himself. I'll give him credit, though: it worked. Chiyootori pushed him around some, but couldn't get any leverage, and when Chiyo got real low himself in an effort to compete, it brought the game to Satoimo's level, and ‘ol potato just pulled him down real quick, hiki-otoshi.

M12 Tokushoryu (1-2) vs. M14 Daishomaru (1-2)
Special Sauce (Tokushoryu, made of butter) stood up way too high in this one and looked lethargic in his resultant bangoes. Big Round Circle (Daishomaru) knew what to do, stepped to the side, and watched Saucy fall on his face, hiki-otoshi. This is about where Sauce belongs on the banzuke--but I'd be happy to see him go even lower.

M13 Mitakeumi (2-1) vs. M12 Hidenoumi (2-1)
A match I've been waiting for: The Bully vs. The Country Bumpkin. Bumpkin (Hidenoumi) looked like a rube who got caught stealing cream from the porch in the rough part of town, as Bully (Mitakeumi) came down off the steps of the brownstone and grabbed ol' Bumpkin by the neck and started to beat him up. Bumpkin closed his eyes and put his head back and his hands up, kind of saying, "oh no, sorry sir, I didn't mean to!" But Bully beat him around, and Bumpkin just pursed his lips and tried to defend himself, all soft stubborn corn-fed gumption, until, helpless, he grabbed Bully's arm, just trying to save himself until the police could come rescue him, but Bully said "Fine!" and fell down on top of him while pushing him out of the ring, yori-taoshi, the stolen jug of milk shattering under Bumpkin's ass as Bully collected pocket change.

M11 Ichinojo (3-0) vs. M11 Amuuru (3-0)
The Slug (Ichinojo) has well-earned this rank with absolutely terrible sumo the past few basho. The first day of this tournament, when he took forever to barely beat run-of-the-mill Tamawashi, I thought, "yep, he's an M11." But that hard fought, close, yet winning effort seems to have woken him up: yes, you have to fight hard EVERYWHERE on the banzuke. Earn it, dude. So he's done that since. Today he drew everyone's favorite overachieving scrapper, Ah Murder You (Amuuru). This was a match to look forward to. However, Amuuru double-clutched at the tachi-ai, then stuck his face in Ichinojo's teats to stay, like a sailor on home leave, while Ichinojo absorbed his snuggling like The Judge in Blood Meridian and liquified him across the bales, yori-kiri.

M9 Toyohibiki (1-2) vs. M10 Tamawashi (1-2)
Tourney by tourney, I've been gathering a sneaking respect for Snack Break (Tamawashi). While I used to think he was boring, now that I'm watching him more closely, I realize that what looked colorless is actually tenacity and focus. Whereas Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki) is kind of sad, like a shiny new Chinese pen bought for a fraction of a penny at a Kathmandu five-and-dime street stall whose nib falls off on the first letter you write. Kerosene had a little bit of forward momentum, but not a lot of balance and he just isn't very good, so Snack Break just maintained against him until his nib fell off, hiki-otoshi.

M10 Gagamaru (2-1) vs. M8 Chiyotairyu (0-3)
Lord Gaga wasn't bothering to get both fists down as usual, but while I was distracted by that, Explosion (Chiyotairyu) wasn't, and got in on him hard and handy, then thought to himself, "Kotoshogiku is a cool Japanese hero," and, inspired, went into a spasm of wild imitative humping until his opponent spilled across the straw, yori-kiri. "Ah, I feel like a Yokozuna!" burped the richly sated Chiyotairyu.

M7 Takekaze (1-2) vs. M9 Sadanoumi (0-3)
A mildly interesting cat and mouse game. Sadanoumi opted for a post-tachi-ai henka, sort of wheeling one arm up and across Takekaze as he stepped out to the side. However, no one is better versed in henkacy than Takekaze, and it didn't faze him. They were soon all chesty good. Unfortunately for Takekaze, at this point in his career he just isn't as quality as the other wrestler, who used energy and an outer left to spell L-O-S-S to Takekaze, yori-kiri.

M6 Myogiryu (3-0) vs. M8 Takanoiwa (2-1)
While this ended in a hataki-komi pull win for Myogiryu, the match all keyed off its first moment, when you could just see the concentration and determination as Myogiryu's eyes lasered in on his opponent's face and he staked in and stretched a wicked arm to the throat, unbalancing and disorienting his opponent enough to give him control of the match thereafter.

M7 Kaisei (2-1) vs. M6 Shodai (2-1)
Shodai had what he needed here, both arms inside, but this was a good test for him and he failed it. Baby Huey (Kaisei) is big and heavy and smothering, and Shodai was accomplishing nothing inside and so took his left arm out. It was already too late, though, as Kaisei pressured down on him and smoked him out, yori-taoshi. This is the first time I've seen Shodai look outclassed: Kaisei looked stronger and dominant. It will be interesting to see if Shodai can focus his inner chi in matches like this in the future, because it's just been play time until now. If he can't, Young Master has hit his first ceiling.

M3 Aoiyama (2-1) vs. M5 Kyokushuho (1-2)
Blam! Bang! Blam! Blast! Bap! Boff! Ba! Tsuki-dashi! Each "B" word represents one hissing thrust from Blue Mountain (Aoiyama)--I counted. Zoinks!

M5 Shohozan (0-3) vs. M3 Aminishiki (2-1)
One day Aminishiki was sitting by the river fishing. Pop! A wee dark hairy gnome sprang out of the dirt next to him! Aminishiki shrieked eek, pushing down on the gnome's head and rolling away to the side. But the gnome viciously came at him, trying to bite his shins and clabber his clooey claws on his gams. Aminishiki, however, remembered how much bigger than the gnome he is. Wanting to get back to fishing, he grabbed the gnome by a hairy dun outstretched arm and slung the dusky gnome fiercely into the river. "Kote-nage," he mumbled in satisfaction as he sat down to spike another worm on his greasy hook.

S Yoshikaze (0-3) vs. K Tochiohzan (0-3)
Here it is: the first moral disappointment of the day. Yoshikaze is lots of fun, a wild yip, but Tochiohzan is the better wrestler and looked ready for him at the start, getting his arms inside on a hard hitting tachi-ai. But then, though Tochiohzan is the best in the business at two arms inside, instead the match devolved into Tochiohzan hitting his man up high with two arms mostly out wide, letting The Possessed (Yoshikaze) deek and stick and jab and plunder inside and below, eventually getting himself a yori-kiri win. Sigh.

O Goeido (3-0) vs. S Toyonoshima (1-2)
And here we go, the Magic Boys! Goeido! Kotoshogiku! Ikioi! Kisenosato! Erasing ten years of futility with days of wondrous undefeated sumo! How do they do it! I mean, How Do They Do It! That's why we're calling them: ….drum roll please! Banners! Fanfare! Glitter! Glitterati! Thhhhheeee MAAAGIC BOOOOOOOOOYS! Yessiree! Hmmm… how can I describe this match? "Dance Class?" Actually, odd looking as it was, I had no problem with this match. Dingsbums (Goeido, Dutch for "thingamajigger") hit very hard off the tachi-ai, was disciplined in keeping both arms tight inside, and swiftly and smartly slithered one of those arms onto the belt of a comprised, backwards moving Tugboat (Toyonoshima). There was a trip attempt in there by Tugboat, but essentially they got back to center ring with Dingsbums holding the cards. They then released each other and did a dosie-do, Goeido using his grip to spin his opponent around by the back of the belt and force him out. 4-0… Magic Boy!!!!!!

M2 Tochinoshin (1-2) vs. O Kisenosato (3-0)
Here comes Magic Boy #2, Kisenosato! This one was all about arms. They took a while to get beyond sticking each other's arms together like two pairs of tongs tangled up in your kitchen drawer. Tochinoshin was looking to keep his inside, Kisenosato more looking to maintain position and keep the primal-grunting human were-boar from devouring him alive, but then there was a pull by the were-boar, and Kisenosato was able to body in, from which point he of the Apple Cheeks (Kisenosato) was able to work a yori-kiri win.

O Kotoshogiku (3-0) vs. K Takarafuji (1-2)
Oooh, he is so powerful! He is so svelte! Kotoshogiku smacked hard into his waiting opponent and drove the helpless man out as if he barely even existed, yori-kiri! That Kotoshogiku! Every little thing he does is magic, everything he do just turns me on, even though my life before was tragic, now I know my love for him goes on.

M4 Ikioi (3-0) vs. O Terunofuji (3-0)
Mmmmmmmagic boy #4! One after the other, they just keep gettin' er done! Like a dream it is. Terunofuji had a long left on the belt of Ikioi and was in lower position: lookin' good for The Future. However, he let go with the left hand, then tried an ill-advised pulling throw that give Ikioi the momentum. Ikioi then drove the Mountain of Terror (Terunofuji) to the straw, where Terror did not evade and was eased out, yori-kiri, in a friendly clasp. Maaagic. The storyline might be cleaner if it was: "Magic Boys: 4 Ozeki, 4 4-0 records." But perhaps the storyline is thought even better if it is, "Magic Boys: Undefeated Hometown Heroes By The Bushel Full."

Y Kakuryu (2-1) vs. M1 Kotoyuki (1-2)
Kotoyuki came in with two insolent hands to the face, like he was going to power this Yokozuna out too. Kakuryu nonchalantly stepped to the side and tossed him down by the neck: "say hello to the floor." Hataki-komi. This was comically easy for Kakuryu.

M2 Okinoumi (0-3) vs. Y Hakuho (2-1)
Another match featuring a lot of goofing around by Hakuho. He went in low off the tachi-ai, scooping up with seeking arms underneath, but found nothing there and went for blows up high instead, mixing in a random pull. It didn't hurt him, though, as Okinoumi was just maintaining and had nothing going on here. So, Hakuho mowed him down with some oshi-dashi moxy. And in a sign of the continued decline--not so much in his sumo as in his Yokozuna ambience--after Okinoumi had stepped out Hakuho gave him a very late, emphatic, disdainful shove off the clay quadromid. Frustration showing here. The Storyteller (Hakuho) may be willing to play along, but it doesn't mean the state of things doesn't bother him, the whole shabby narrative, and it showed here. What has Okinoumi done to deserve this? Nothing. Not a traditional rival, not a threat to Hakuho, not a guy who has acted like a silly prideful prima donna like Kotoyuki. So why dame-oshi HIM? Because the Yokozuna is sick of it all. Yeah, man. I don't know if he makes it through this year.

Y Harumafuji (2-1) vs. M1 Takayasu (0-3)
When Harumafuji stepped into the ring I realized things have turned a corner for me. Could Hakuho still be the best? Probably. But the sumo he has displayed in the ring the last year or so doesn't bear it out. It is this guy, Harumafuji, who gets me a bit tingly. He is much more likely to bring out a display of awe-inspiring dominance than the lost-looking, mail-it-in, downright silly Hakuho we've been watching. This match was nothing special--a bit of undisciplined but powerful charging that left Takayasu in no position to take advantage of Harumafuji's typical careless aggression, ending in Harumafuji surging inside for a very easy oshi-dashi win--but it was a lot more fun than watching Hakuho play patty-cake-ring-around-the-maypole-tiddlywinks.

So, what happens next? The set-up is interesting so far: four popular Japanese Magic Boys! (Kotoshogiku, Goeido, Kisenosato, and Ikioi) all undefeated, with all four Yokozuna (Hakuho, Harumafuji, Kakuryu, Terunofuji) looking lackluster and unfocused. Do they turn it around and grind inferior men to dust? Or do the Magic Boys ride off into the sunset? I'm betting on Hollywood, but the devil take my money.

I'll be in attendance tomorrow (but not writing--got some guests to take care of). I'll let you know how things looked when I report on Friday, but Mike has the mic for Thursday. Halebejezulujah!

Day 3 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
NHK kicked off the broadcast today with a short documentary on Kotoshogiku's original stablemaster, the former Yokozuna Kotozakura. They began with a clip of Kotoshogiku still dressed in his black high school uniform at the press conference where he announced he was entering the Sadogatake-beya, and then it was all Kotozakura all the time. They replayed a sit-down interview they did with him shortly after his retirement that included some real video gems of classic bouts and then Kotozakura after retirement donning the keiko mawashi and conducting butsukari-geiko with his first sekitori, Kotokaze, the current Oguruma-oyakata and a former Ozeki. It's stuff like this that actually keeps me sane right now, but as soon as they faded away from the documentary on the Boar, they refocused the cameras in the booth where none other than Kotozakura's son-in-law and current Sadogatake-oyakata, the Bore (or former Kotonowaka), was there to provide color. And sheesh, if you thought Kotonowaka's sumo was boring back in the day, just try and listen to him in between bouts.

It was a smart move, though, to set up this sentimental story in order to keep the momentum going for Kotoshogiku and his Yokozuna run, but little did I know that we had an unexpected treat that involved the Sadogatake-beya in store at the end of the day. I mean, you couldn't script things better than this.

Before I get too ahead of myself, let's start from the beginning where Osunaarashi made an appearance from Juryo in order to fight M16 Akiseyama, and the Ejyptian completely avoided contact at the tachi-ai scooting out left in lame fashion, but Akiseyama didn't charge forward hard and just turned to face his foe. With both dudes just standing there, Osunaarashi went Ali on the rookie firing open hand punches into his face one after the other, and Akiseyama was obviously stunned at this point, so Osunaarashi grabbed the left outer grip, twisted his gal sideways, and then escorted Akiseyama out for good. I hated the henka, but it was nice to see the Bouncer back in the division kicking ass and taking names. Osunaarashi still looks as if he's limping, so this stint in Juryo is actually good for him. He can beat up on the guys down there (he's 3-0) while using that leg as little as possible. Akiseyama suffers his first loss of the tourney at 2-1.

M15 Satoyama stayed low at the tachi-ai against M15 Kitataiki getting the left inside, but Kitataiki used his own left arm well to keep the Imo upright instead of trying to get it in tight, and with the secure kote-nage grip with the right arm, Kitataiki easily escorted Satoyama back and across moving to 2-1 in the process. The magic that Satoyama never had in this division remains dormant as he falls to 0-3.

M13 Chiyootori and M13 Mitakeumi both opened with shoves that were more to get inside than they were offensive thrusts, and after a few seconds, the two began to hunker down in the grapplin' position where Mitakeumi went for a quick pull. It didn't work entirely, but it allowed Mitakeumi to get to the inside with the right and eventually the left using as slow of a maki-kae as you'd care to see, but Mitakeumi must have realized that he had the upperhand because he quickly stepped out right and pulled Chiyootori down to the dirt for good. Mitakeumi dictated the pace here start to finish as he moves to 2-1 while Chiyootori falls to 1-2. Afterwards, they caught up with Mitakeumi, and he described his sumo as "Morokatta," or slow. No kidding. It took about two seconds to finish that maki-kae of his, but Chiyootori still couldn't counter in the bad bout all around.

M14 Daieisho struck M12 Hidenoumi and quickly moved out right slapping downward on Hidenoumi's right arm, and that move coupled with Hidenoumi's loss of balance sent him stumbling down to the clay in an ugly affair. Damn, I had to pop a Viagra just to stay awake at this point as Daieisho improves to 2-1 while Hidenoumi falls to 1-2.

M14 Daishomaru (can anyone tell the difference among Daishomaru, Daieisho, and Hidenoumi? I know I can't) shaded left at the tachi-ai, and M11 Amuuru quickly responded by squaring up towards his foe causing him to shade left as well. With a bit of separation at the tachi-ai, it was the Russian's turn to say come and get me. The problem was, Daishomaru couldn't get inside of Amuuru's long arms of the law, and so the Russian took control from there basically conducting a bout of butsukari-geiko on the spot moving to the side and pulling Daishomaru down in the end. Not the prettiest bout of sumo, but Amuuru will take it as he moves to 3-0 while Daishodenoumi falls to 1-2.

M10 Tamawashi used his long tsuppari to open against M12 Tokushoryu, but Tokushoryu grabbed his extended right arm and pulled him forward a bit causing The Mawashi to lose his chain of thought, and as the two hooked back up, Tokushoryu had his gal upright enough to where he dove inside with the left arm and came out with the right outer grip as well, and with Tamawashi upright, it was an easy force-out from there. Both rikishi end the day at 1-2.

M9 Toyohibiki and M11 Ichinojo created a disturbance in the Force as they knocked chests ending up in the migi-yotsu position. Ichinojo quickly grabbed the left outer grip and Toyohibiki complied on the other side leaving the two behemoths in the gappuri yotsu position. Toyohibiki tested the force-out waters first, but Ichinojo used the bales to his advantage to rebuff his foe and force the action into the center of the ring, and from there Ichinojo did what he does best: hunker down and wear your opponent out. And that he did stalling the action for more than a minute, and when Toyohibiki went for a final right inside throw, Ichinojo countered with the left outer sending Ibiki down to the dohyo floor. Replays from the reverse angle showed that Toyohibiki only had one fold of the belt with his outer grip, which explains his fascination with attacking from the weaker, inside right. Ichinojo is 3-0 if you need him while Toyohibiki is sputtering a bit at 1-2.

M8 Takanoiwa got the left inside against M10 Gagamaru and quickly fished for the right frontal grip as well, but unfortunately for the Mongolian, Gagamaru wasn't bought and paid for today, so the result was Gagamaru's grabbing Takanoiwa's left arm in the kote-nage grip and just slinging the Mongolian over, down, and out with a massive kote-nage throw. Looked like Gagamaru was playing with a rag doll here as he moves to 2-1 while Takanoiwa falls to the same mark.

M7 Kaisei struck M9 Sadanoumi with a right shoulder / right kachi-age combination, and the blunt force was strong enough to knock Sadanoumi silly leaving him standing there upright and the perfect target for a wham bam thank you ma'am oshi win in favor of the Brasiliain. It was really that simple as Kaisei bruises his way to 2-1 while Sadanoumi is lost in the mix at 0-3.

M8 Chiyotairyu held up at the tachi-ai perhaps expecting shenanigans from M7 Takekaze, but the latter was all bidness today using a left choke hold and right tsuki to Chiyotairyu's side to just bulldoze Chiyotairyu back and out in less than two seconds. It's rare that you see someone go Chiyotairyu on Chiyotairyu but that's what happened as Takekaze picks up his first win at 1-2. Chiyotairyu is his usual 0-3 self and should awaken from his hibernation about day 6.

M6 Myogiryu had a nice big target in M6 Shodai to attack from the start, and the former Sekiwake charged hard into the youngster knocking him upright and forcing him to fish for something to the inside. He would never get it as Myogiryu used a great choke hold with the right and teet shove with the left to knock Shodai back close where a final simultaneous teet shove attack sent Shodai nursing in about three seconds. Myogiryu is in fine form at 3-0 while Shodai falls to 2-1. And while I'm on the subject of Shodai, let's compare his first coupla basho to Terunofuji. With Terunofuji you could just see that the dude was learning on the job. He didn't cause a bang in the division overcoming a 2-7 start in his debut to finish 8-7, and then his second go around ended at 9-6. He lost a lot of bouts along the way, and when he made it to the jo'i, he only finished 6-9, but through it all you could see that he was close and that he was developing his style. Once he corrected his mistakes and figured out what gave him the best chance to win, he flew to the Ozeki rank and hasn't really looked back save that fluke knee injury suffered in September. In Shodai's case, I really don't know what his style is yet. He's had so many bouts thrown in his favor, I still don't have a good feel for the guy, and he's definitely not being forced to work things out for himself day after day after day.

M5 Shohozan came with a paw to the neck at the tachi-ai against the larger M4 Ikioi and then used a few tsuppari with no legs to do who knows what allowing Ikioi to bring things in tight with the left inside position. Neither dude had an outer grip, but Ikioi just gathered his wits and then easily threw Ikioi down with a right kote-nage. I actually thought this was legit until the very end because as Ikioi went for that kote-nage, Shohozan actually aligned his feet when he felt the pressure instead of digging in to stand his ground and counter. Rikishi make mistakes frequently, but aligning your feet as you're being thrown isn't one of them. The Tiny Dancer went down far too easily here for my liking as he falls to 0-3 while the hometown Ikioi is...you guessed it! 3-0!! Isn't it grand how things seem to always work themselves out these days?

In the usual unorthodox affair that involves M3 Aminishiki, M5 Kyokushuho struck first and went for a quick pull, but when Aminishiki kept his footing and squared back up, he said, "Son, I'll show you what a pull is!" and he did just that hooking his right arm up and under Kyokushuho's right pit while slapping down forcefully with the left. Easy peasy Japanesey as Aminishiki moves to 2-1 while Kyokushuho is the inverse at 1-2.

M3 Aoiyama blasted Komusubi Takarafuji off of the starting lines with his hissing tsuppari drubbing Takarafuji back into the corner of the ring, but T-Fuji was able to evade quickly to his left throwing Aoiyama off balance a bit. The Bulgarian quickly recovered, though, and resumed that brutal tsuppari attack so effective from the start that Takarafuji simply had no answer as he was pummeled clear up the hana-michi. Aoiyama is a slick 2-1 while Takarafuji falls to 1-2.

Sekiwake Toyonoshima charged hard and low against Ozeki Kisenosato, but the Ozeki did well to keep his left arm in tight and deny Toyonoshima moro-zashi. Tugboat did have the left inside, but he was too upright to really do anything, and so he backed up near the straw and moved to his right with the Ozeki in tow. The two rikishi settled in at this point near the edge with Toyonoshima hunkered down and threatening something to the inside while Kisenosato kept him at bay with a left paw to the shoulder and right hand at Tugboat's elbow. After a few seconds of inaction, the Ozeki shoved Toyonoshima upright and used a good choke hold to get him across the straw for good. This was an unorthodox bout without any distinct moves to call, but there wasn't anything there that made me suspicious as Kisenosato moves to 3-0 while Toyonoshima falls to 1-2

Ozeki Kotoshogiku and M1 Tochinoshin quickly hooked up in migi-yotsu from the tachi-ai where Tochinoshin grabbed the early left outer grip, but he did nothing with the right arm allowing the Ozeki to drive him back and then use an early scoop throw with his own right to send the action to the other side of the dohyo. Tochinoshin still maintained that left outer grip, but he kept his right in no man's land throughout allowing the Ozeki to eventually work him over and across. To the novice fan this looked legit, but Tochinoshin was clearly mukiryoku in this one. You only need to focus on his right arm throughout and what he did with it...or what he didn't do with it. You learn this in Sumo 101, but a yotsu guy gets established with the inside position first and then uses that position to apply upwards pressure in an effort to get the opponent upright and off balance to the extent where you can then body him back and hopefully secure the outside grip on the other side (Kotoshogiku's stance and scoop throw being exhibit A). Tochinoshin just kept the right hand in no man's land, however, with the palm open half the time never once applying pressure upwards even though he's the younger, taller, stronger rikishi, and the result was the M1's allowing the Ozeki to take care of bidness. Look, if Tochinoshin had given the same effort and used the same tactics today that he exhibited against Terunofuji, it wouldn't have been close. But who does what is not up to me; I just call 'em as I see 'em. Kotoshogiku is a safe 3-0 with the gift while Tochinoshin falls to 1-2.

Komusubi Tochiohzan got moro-zashi early against Ozeki Terunofuji, but it was more the result of the Ozeki's allowing it than it was a superb charge from Tochiohzan. The reason Terunofuji allowed moro-zashi is because he got a left outer belt grip near the front of the belt that completely rendered Oh's right arm useless, so who cared what the Komusubi did with the right hand? Not Terunofuji as the Ozeki wasted no time wrenching Tochiohzan over and out. Young rich Mongol smokin' Oh when I wanna as Terunofuji breezes to 3-0.  Tochiohzan falls to 0-3.

Sekiwake Yoshikaze moved forward (I can't really say he charged) against Ozeki Goeido and just stood there ducked down with feet aligned. Not even Goeido could screw this one up as he put his right arm at the back of Cafe's shoulder and just executed the swift, uneventful pull-down in about a second and a half. I've never seen such nonsense, but when you're dealing with Goeido, you have to make it obvious or the Ozeki won't figger it out. Goeido skates to 3-0 with the gift while Yoshikaze falls to 0-3.

Yokozuna Hakuho slapped with the left while using a kachi-age with the right to knock M1 Takayasu completely upright, and from there the Yokozuna got the right arm in deep and just bodied Takayasu back and out before he needed to do anything with the left. The gap between Hakuho and the rest of the field was manifest in this one as the Yokozuna moves to 2-1 while Takayasu is taking his lumps at 0-3.

Yokozuna Harumafuji came with a sideways slap with the left against M1 Kotoyuki that had no juice, and he did nothing with the right keeping it out wide allowing Kotoyuki to just charge straight forward and drive the Yokozuna back and out in less than two seconds with his usual tsuppari charge. At the edge, Harumafuji faked a left tug at Kotoyuki's extended right arm, but in the end he just turned sideways and hopped out as the Mongolians are wont to do when they throw bouts.

Let's analyze this bout by examining the two combatants. First, you have a seasoned Yokozuna with seven yusho under his mawashi. On the other side, you have a jo'i first-timer who made his Makuuchi debut 20 basho ago and has a winning percentage of about .500. Oh, and not to mention, the rank-and-filer is a one trick pony, so you know what's coming. You don't think a Mongolian Yokozuna would be able to devise a strategy to kick his ass? I know, I know, Harumafuji allegedly has the knee thing going on, but why keep your arms out wide at the tachi-ai? You're fighting a thruster, so why not beat him to the punch and go for his neck first at the charge or just wait for the first extended arm and push into it upright or skate to the side and throw him off balance? If your knee won't allow you to move forward (it did against Tochiohzan), then commit a tachi-ai henka just as you did yesterday against Okinoumi. To think that Kotoyuki could kick Harumafuji's ass like this with the Yokozuna actually trying is laughable, but hey...at least Kotoyuki thought it was legit.

He stepped off the dohyo fighting back the tears, and it provided the picture perfect moment with prodigy having scored his first kin-boshi and his oyakata there in the booth to gush over him. Man, that Sadogatake-beya sure is something!! The whole episode was so cheesy I won't need to call Dominos for several months now. The result of the "bout" is Harumafuji's falling to 2-1 while Kotoyuki picks up his first win at 1-2. Isn't it interesting how after three days all three rikishi who have wins over the Yokozuna are only sporting 1-2 records with those lone wins over the Yokozuna? If you think that the Yokozuna are the ones being obtuse, you need to look in the mirror.

In the day's final bout, Yokozuna Kakuryu got the left inside and right outer against M2 Okinoumi before quickly testing the force-out waters, but in the process Okinoumi countered well with left scoop throw forcing Kakuryu to rethink his haste and shore up his grip. The two dug in for about twenty seconds before the Yokozuna was able to finally spin Okinoumi around and throw him down with that right outer grip gained at the tachi-ai. This was actually a pretty well-fought bout from both parties, and it was nice to at least end the day with something legitimate. Kakuryu moves to 2-1 with the win while Okinoumi falls to 0-3.

If we step back and analyze the first three days, what impressions do the Japanese fans have?

1. The Yokozuna have lost their edge resulting in parity among the division
2. All four Ozeki are for real
3. Kotoshogiku's yusho in January was legit

Sounds good to me! Harvye makes his Haru debut tomorrow.

Day 2 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
How nice was it to see that Kelly feller back in the saddle for day 1? As usual, he had very little to work with on the dohyo, but it doesn't mean you still can't write a sweet report! Job well done PZ...if that is your real name. My most anticipated segment of day 1 is how NHK chooses to lead off the Makuuchi broadcast, and when I tuned in yesterday, we were treated straightway to a graphic of the last six rikishi promoted to Yokozuna. Going backwards, you had the four Mongolians, you had Musashimaru, and then way back in 1998 you had Wakanohana III, the last Japanese rikishi to achieve the rank. Ota Announcer emphasized that it has been 18 years since a Japanese rikishi received promotion, and the way it was presented to the audience gave me the impression that "18 years" is the next number that the Association is worried about. All this time we have been focusing on how many years since a Japanese dude took the yusho ignoring the fact that it's been nearly two decades without a Yokozuna. And then, if you're talking about a legitimate Yokozuna, you have to go clear back to Takanohana who was promoted in 1994.

We had the Natsu basho of 2012 and then several basho after that where Kisenosato was at least in the yusho discussion heading down the stretch, and I don't think anyone would have been surprised if something had been orchestrated for the Kid, but actually entertaining the thought of another Japanese Yokozuna was purely laughable because we could see with our own eyes that they couldn't even maintain the Ozeki rank without serious help each basho. Now that an entire yusho has been orchestrated for Kotoshogiku, we're faced with the very real prospect that we could see a Japanese Yokozuna crowned before the end of the month. I just felt uneasy as they discussed the topic at the start of day 1 because the feeling I got was that someone important wants this to happen...and that someone ain't me!

On that note, let's turn our attention to the sumos themselves starting from the bottom and working our way up. M16 Akiseyama played it perfectly against M15 Satoyama striking him with a wicked left hari-te and then using a few tsuppari to keep him away from the inside. As Satoyama tried to evade, Akiseyama was on his every move sucking him into the hidari-yotsu contest by grabbing a stifling right outer grip. Satoyama (0-2) offered a weak scoop throw attempt midway, but Akiseyama dominated this one picking up his second win in as many days. I thought Kitataiki handled the rookie with kid gloves yesterday, but Akiseyama surely earned this one as he moves to 2-0.

M14 Daishomaru shaded left at the tachi-ai against M15 Kitataiki with a weak henka that Kitataiki easily read by getting the left inside and the right frontal belt grip, and the rookie had nary a pot to piss in getting forced back and across in mere seconds. That will to win that Kitataiki lacked yesterday against Akiseyama was back in full form today thanks in part to Daishomaru's horrible tachi-ai. Both fellas ended the day at 1-1.

For the record, I thought that M13 Mitakeumi handled Daishomaru yesterday with kid gloves as well giving the rookie the win, but nobody cares about his opponent today, M14 Daieisho, and so Mitakeumi struck him hard with both hands to the neck and upper torso standing Daieisho upright before immediately switching gears and pulling him forward and down. Win a tachi-ai like that, and you'll win the bout 90% of the time. These two yayhoos also end the day at 1-1.

M12 Tokushoryu was thinking pull from the tachi-ai against M13 Chiyootori, but Chiyootori came hard with his arms outstretched, and he was easily able to stave off Tokushoryu's lame pull attempt and secure moro-zashi in the process. In a pickle, Tokushoryu tried to spin out of the dual insides, but Chiyoooootori was there to shove him out from behind in the end. Good stuff from Otori who moves to 1-1 while Tokushoryu is a meaningless 0-2.

M12 Hidenoumi used a series of tsuki with the right hand to the side of M11 Amuuru keeping him from really getting in close, and so the frustrated Russian quickly moved right with a lateral shove that created separation. The two hooked back up in migi-yotsu where Amuuru used a left outer grip to dashi-nage Hidenoumi around and into the firm right inside for the Russian, and from there Amuuru pushed Hidenoumi back and across causing his heel to barely touch out beyond the sand before Amuuru put his right hand to the ground. They called a mono-ii here it was that close, but I just fast forwarded through the nonsense and saw that they upheld Amuuru's win as he moves to 2-0 while Hidenoumi falls to 1-1.

M10 Gagamaru put a hand to M11 Ichinojo's neck and used the left to wrap it around Ichinojo's right arm, but it was a useless tachi-ai that allowed Ichinojo to work his way into moro-zashi, and once obtained, there was nothing Gagamaru could do but enjoy the ride back and out. Ichinojo is a sweet 2-0 if you need him while Gagamaru gave up early here falling to 1-1.

M10 Tamawashi used quick tsuppari from the gun against M9 Sadanoumi driving him back quickly, but Sadanoumi offered a tug at Tamawashi's extended right arm that threw the Mongolian off balance just a bit. Sadanoumi was retreating, however, and couldn't take advantage of the move, and so Tamawashi squared back up and resumed his pesky tsuppari attack focusing on head slaps that sent Sadanoumi back again stumbling backwards awkwardly across the straw. The Mawashi picks up his first win of the contest while Sadanoumi is 0-2.

I was talking to Clancy yesterday about the bouts, and I said the most obvious yaocho on the day was the Kaisei - Takanoiwa bout. You needed the reverse angle to see it--something that Clancy didn't have since he watched the bouts on the innernet, but both of us agreed that it wasn't worth making a big deal about for day 1. Still, my antennae was raised for M8 Takanoiwa's matchup today against M9 Toyohibiki, a matchup that Toyohibiki dominated head to head coming into the day at 5-0. Toyohibiki sorta offered his usual shoves from the tachi-ai against Takanoiwa, but he was shading backwards instead of driving forward with his usual de-ashi, and with the Nikibi just standing there upright, it easily allowed Takanoiwa to settle into a lethal right frontal belt grip and left outer. Once obtained, Takanoiwa backed up a step or two setting up a left dashi-nage that sent Toyohibiki belly flopping to the dirt with ease while Takanoiwa performed a 720 in the center of the ring pirouetting twice and showing that gal Ina Bauer a thing or two. This one was more subtle until that bizarre ending (when was the last time you saw a guy do a 720 in the ring...for any reason?), but Toyohibiki (1-1) was mukiryoku and gave Takanoiwa (2-0) the win, and so the question is...why Takanoiwa? A scrub Mongolian?

Well, I think it has something to do about the current elections going on within the Sumo Association for the next commissioner and board of directors. I think it was four years ago, but when the oyakata were voting for the directors for sumo's board (they vote every two years), there was a small faction within the Association that rebelled and actually voted for Takanohana instead of the candidate(s) designated by their Ichimon...as if Takanohana was going to come in and reform things. When it was learned that oyakata actually voted against the wishes of the Ichimon to which they belonged, it created such bad blood and a sense of betrayal among that oyakata that it actually resulted a rift in the Ichimon/stable structure in sumo. The Tatsunami-beya left it's own Ichimon; Takanohana withdrew his stable from its Ichimon; and then the rebel stables who voted for Takanohana all broke off and formed this new Takanohana Group.

The Takanohana Group exists today, and we happen to be in the middle of election season, and once again, there are "rogue" oyakata pushing for the election of Takanohana causing more havoc and even a death threat. After all of the scandals a few years ago, they put three outsiders on sumo's board of directors to help manage the Associations affairs, and one those outsiders received a death threat where the caller said, "If you support Takanohana, I'm going to kill you." I mean, this is serious business, and if you think sumo has this squeaky clean backend that has nothing to do with the yakuza, you're in denial. Anyway, I think part of the argument against supporting Takanohana is "What have you done for the Association since retiring from the sport? What rikishi have you contributed since forming your own stable? How are you even relevant in the current landscape of sumo?" I am purely speculating of course, but I believe Takanoiwa's first two wins have been bought for political reasons that have to do with the current election cycle. And while we're on the topic of Takanohana, can a dude get any more creepy?

Sorry for the diversion. Moving right along, M8 Chiyotairyu is not even thinking de-ashi this basho (perhaps out of fear?), so even though he offered a few lame shoves M7 Kaisei's way, the Brasilian was easily able to easily counter with shoves of his own that caused a retreat from Chiyotairyu where he lamely fished for an opening to pull. It wouldn't came as Kaisei secured the right inside and left outer grip, and the fat lady sung at this point with Chiyotairyu just giving up and walking back the last step. Complete turn around today for Kaisei who moves to 1-1 while Chiyotairyu falls to 0-2.

At this point they reviewed the Juryo results and then "treated" us to the Kagamioh - Endoh bout. Kagamioh won the tachi-ai and then quickly abandoned his right kote-nage in favor of hidari-yotsu where he gave Endoh the left outer. Kagamioh just stood there waiting for Endoh to do something, and once he started to make a move, the Mongolian just tumbled to the dirt of his own volition landing on his leedle bum. This bout was as fake as Kotoshogiku's yusho.  I mean, just look at that picture at right.  how often do we see a guy land like that??  You've really neared rock bottom in sumo when you have to arrange yaocho in Juryo.

M6 Myogiryu traded M7 Takekaze's tit for tat with shoves at the tachi-ai before getting the right deep inside where Myogiryu just plowed the upright Takekaze back and out onto the venue floor below. When your opponent is on his back with legs spread up straight in the air as if he's about to give birth, you know you've done your job. Well done for Myogiryu who moves to 2-0 while Takekaze just went into false labor falling to 0-2.

M5 Shohozan came with a right hari-te barely tapping M6 Shodai's face before standing completely upright and just waiting for Shodai's attack. Shodai offered the usual shoves forward as Shohozan played the part of practice dummy just standing there and allowing himself to get forced back tsuki-dashi style. Shohozan had plenty of room to try and maneuver to the side, but he just stood there and took it from Shodai. Trying to build the youngster up are we?? This bout was so ridiculously fake that even Shodai was embarrassed. The newcomer moves to 2-0 with the "win", but the problem is I don't know how good the kid really is because at least half of his bouts in the division to this point have involved shady sumo. Shohozan falls to 0-2 and will be rewarded somehow for his charity.

M4 Ikioi and M5 Kyokushuho traded tsuppari before hooking up in the gappuri migi-yotsu position where Ikioi looked to take advantage pressing Kyokushuho back near the edge where both fellas went for unorthodox outer belt throws trying to wrench the other off balance. After that brief melee, Kyokushuho forced the action back to the center of the ring but lost his outer grip in the process allowing Ikioi to use his right inside position to throw Kyokushuho over and down. Likely mukiryoku sumo here in favor of the hometown dude as Ikioi moves to 2-0 while Kyokushuho settles for 1-1.

M2 Tochinoshin charged hard against Sekiwake Toyonoshima securing the left outer while attempting to work the right to the inside. The Sekiwake would deny that right inside forcing Tochinoshin to grab the right outer grip on that side as well, but he had all the momentum rendering Toyonoshima's moro-zashi position useless. The Corporal? When was Tochinoshin ever promoted up from Private? Ah screw it. The Corporal was pressed in so tight that Toyonoshima had no room to maneuver laterally, and so Tochinoshin forced his gal up against the straw and eventually back never allowing a counter move to develop. Tochinoshin is my salvation of late when he doesn't fight the Japanese Ozeki because I know his sumo will always be straight up. He moves to 1-1 while Toyonoshima falls to that same mark.

Sekiwake Yoshikaze led with his noggin knocking Ozeki Kotoshogiku completely upright form the tachi-ai where Cafe also got his left palm planted in the Ozeki's right teet, but the Sekiwake backed out of his stance and stayed upright allowing Kotoshogiku to move forward and sorta nudge Yoshikaze back and across leading with...really nothing. Kotoshogiku didn't connect on any offensive move until Yoshikaze had already backed himself across the straw, and then the Ozeki finally struck him with a shove to the chest sending him down to the venue floor for what it was worth. I wish I could describe a single move that caused Kotoshogiku to 1) neutralize Yoshikaze's position form the tachi-ai, and 2) mount an offensive that led to a win, but there wasn't anything. Yoshikaze clearly won the tachi-ai and then just relented keeping himself upright and limp in the process gifting the Ozeki his second win in as many days. As I feared in my pre-basho report, it doesn't look as if anyone wants to shat on Kotoshogiku's parade, so expect this nonsense to continue until the Geeku runs into the Mongolians; then things will really get interesting. Yoshikaze takes one for the team here falling to 0-2. Before we move on, normal sumo calls for two rikishi to dig in and try and outmaneuver each other from the belt or to engage in a shove affair where they try and throw each other off balance. This bout didn't have a single element of standard sumo in it; it just ended in a matter of seconds with Yoshikaze somehow finding himself beyond the bales.

M3 Aoiyama and Ozeki Terunofuji traded beefy shoves from the tachi-ai, and Aoiyama did well to keep the Ozeki away from the inside, but the Bulgarian couldn't force his foe to back pedal. Terunofuji's not exactly an oshi guy, but he survived the opening before grabbing Aoiyama's right arm in kote fashion as he fished for something to the inside with the left. He didn't get it straightway, and so the Ozeki executed a kote-nage while pushing into the back of Aoiyama's head with the right. Aoiyama survived the move, but he wasn't able to keep Terunofuji's right arm from the inside, and once the Ozeki got it, it was curtains as he methodically forced Aoiyama back and across from there. Terunofuji has looked sharp moving to 2-0 while Aoiyama falls to 1-1.

In easily the worst-acted bout of the basho so far, Komusubi Tochiohzan shook off a left hari-te from Ozeki Goeido with ease and had the clear path to moro-zashi, but he stopped his forward charge, pulled out altogether (cool), and just stood upright waiting for the Ozeki to make the next move. That move would be a retreat with a few slaps leaving the two separated by a meter and both standing completely upright. It was clear that Tochiohzan was at the Ozeki's bidding at this point, so he just stood there and threw a few lame slaps Goeido's way before allowing him to the inside where the Ozeki used moro-zashi to shove the listless Tochiohzan back and across. This bout was utter nonsense as Goeido moves to an unsurprising 2-0 while Tochiohzan was just playing along at 0-2.

Komusubi Takarafuji went through the motions with Ozeki Kisenosato hooking up in hidari-yotsu and refraining from grabbing the right outer grip multiple times even though his hand was slapping against the belt early on. From there, it was just stand around and let the Ozeki grab the right outer belt first, and once obtained, Kisenosato mounted his charge. Takarafuji resisted well, but he wasn't looking to win, and so he played along faking a left inside something throw where he just whiffed pulling his left arm loose from Kisenosato's body and turning himself around stepping out of the ring. Kisenosato sorta caught up with his opponent offering a shove from behind drawing the okuri-dashi win, but this one was as fake as the other Ozeki bouts...although much better acted. As I speculated in my pre-basho report, the Ozeki appear to be taking charge collectively as Kisenosato joins his compatriots at 2-0 while Takarafuji moves to 1-1.

Yokozuna Harumafuji shaded to his left at the tachi-ai grabbing M2 Okinoumi's outer belt, and once obtained, the Yokozuna kept moving left using that ill-gotten belt grip to swing Okinoumi over and out of the ring in one fell swoop. As part of the opening of the day 1 broadcast, they showed a keiko session between Harumafuji and Kakuryu on March 7th where Harumafuji injured his right knee after failing awkwardly on it. They mentioned that Harumafuji didn't perform any keiko after sustaining that injury, and then there was the usual feigned concern for the Yokozuna's health. Course, Harumafuji came out on day 1 and just kicked Tochiohzan's ass, but I think his sumo today was an effort to preserve that right knee. It doesn't excuse his tachi-ai, but I'm just breaking it down. While he moves to 2-0 in the process, don't be surprised to see the Yokozuna start losing here and there and blaming it on that knee. As for Okinoumi, he falls to an expected 0-2.

Yokozuna Kakuryu struck well at the tachi-ai getting both arms to the inside, but before he could really get settled into moro-zashi, M1 Takayasu attempted to retreat outta the hold. Kakuryu was out to win this one, however, and he used his opponent's backwards momentum against him offering a few shoves to the torso and face scoring the oshi-dashi win in mere seconds. Methodical stuff as the Kak picks up his first win while Takayasu falls to 0-2.

Finally, the long awaited Hakuho - Kotoyuki bout ended the day, and as expected, M1 Kotoyuki hocked a loogie just before they charged dissing the Yokozuna to his face. Hakuho said I'll show you diss to the face as he came with a face slap from the left and then a right right kachi-age that ended with the side of Hakuho's right fist planted in Kotoyuki's chops.  The kachi-age move allowed the Yokozuna to get beneath Kotoyuki's extended left arm, and it turned Kotoyuki sideways and off balance leading the Yokozuna to push him once in the neck and then one more time from behind sending him out in less than two seconds. I kinda wanted to see Hakuho rough him up a bit more, but I'll take those blows to the face with both hands.  And hey, where was this tachi-ai yesterday against Takarafuji?? The Yokozuna is now 1-1 while KotoLoogie falls to 0-2, and my man Mainoumi commented after the bout that the Yokozuna looked irritated after Kotoyuki barked into his fist before their bout. Mainoumi remembers as well as I do that Hakuho singled out the M1 and asked him stop barking like a dog before his bouts, but Kotoyuki refused the advice and will pay the price for it I'm sure as he fights the Mongolians.

That's a wrap on the day 2 bouts that included too much drama of the wrong kind.  Something tells me when I return tomorrow for the day 3 bouts, things are not going to improve.

Day 1 (PZ Kelly reporting)
What in the name of the Buddha's brother Rudy have yall been DOING here? I leave sumo for a few months and all hell breaks loose? The Geeku takes the yusho, not only astounding us all, but lending enormous credence to the hypothesis that the universe is infinite?

No Kane-a Rock-a-Rolla reportage, with phantastically phat photoshops and tipdripping pics of outrageously effable and effinine effales? Mike's "paranoia" about bullshit sumo effort being validated by actual, incorruptible Japanese? Harvye being wooed by the Trump campaign, who figure if he can lipstick up THIS pig every two months, maybe he can convince the U.S electorate that their candidate isn't the second coming of the Bohemian Corporal?

Okay, so two reasons why I am returned. One, Osaka was my very first home in Japan way back in time, and two, I'm on Spring Break from my job screwing up the minds of 20 tiny Americans five days per week. I will not lay claim to being in the know on everything like I (never) was before, but phuqmy if I ain't goan absolutely anal-eyes the living piss outta today's matches for you, my lil' darlinks.

Akiseyama, in his first top division bout despite being only three years younger than his foe, 7.5 year Makuuchi veteran Kitataiki, got a double inside moro-zashi from the tachi-ai. Kitataiki was able to stall the charge, and they went into one of those protracted yotsu battles where a single strand of the mawashi rides up under the wrestler's titties like a plastic ring around a can of Coke, and the most exciting thing is wondering when the ref is going to dart in to remove any sagari that have fallen from the mawashi without getting stomped. Eventually it seemed that Kitataiki ran out of patience and/or endurance and went for the pull, and in a flash the rook read it, drove forward, and took him down.

Daieisho did his best Dr. Doolittle on homeboy Satoyama, playing push me-pull me for a short time before his last push was of the, "See that corner over there? Sit down and SHADDUP in it!" Let's hope Daiei can departmentalize like in a similar manner every bout this time out.

Heya mate (no, that's not Australian for, "Yo, waddup, bro?") Daishomaru let the other top flight rookie Mitakeumi flail around for a second before executing an excellent sukui-nage that there was nothing underhanded about, beltlessly flipping him over and down like this was judo and not sumo. Powerful.

E13 Chiyootori seemed to be in charge vs. Hidenoumi, driving the W12 back the bales twice only to see him find some separation and slip away in a hotly contested yotsu belt battle. Just as the crowd began a loud applause to show their appreciation for the effort, Hidenoumi literally pulled a SHWEET hikkake, which is sort of like the more infamous bukkake known by all perverted foreigners, except that with hikkake, the dude who gets done ends up with only egg on his face. Saucy!

At 180 cm in height, and 180 kg in weight, and a purported 180 cm in depth, Tokushoryu is essentially a human cube. Dreamy Russian Amuuru is a lean, mean fighting machine (which, contrary to how it sounds, is not such a good thing in sumo, where heavy and placid with occasional outbursts of gee whiz generally carry the day). However, no one seems to have told him this on shonichi as Ah Murder You used his superior speed, agility, and more than ample strength to drive into his foe and send him skirting away, dismissing the Kise beya man's attempt at a late armbar and running him out all nice and yori-kiri like, innit.

Next up we had Mongolian Ichinojo vs. steppe brother Tamawashi. Dafuq is Ichinojo doing down here? My how the mighty have fallen. Dude took the Juryo yusho in only his third basho in the sport, then a loss in the next Juryo yusho playoff, then a runner up in his Makuuchi debut (something I'm sure all of you know, but dayum, son). Injuries? Anywho, today he locked up his countryman and they leaned in on each other a damned sight, until the former Sekiwake was able to move the onetime one-time Komusubi (know any other sumo writers who can pull off such English hijinks?) back-n-out.

E10 Gagamaru was looking rather slimmed down it seemed to me, and it seems to be working as he had little trouble fending off Sadanoumi's slothful and tentative tachi-ai with a paw to the throat, followed by a controlled charge that spelled the end of the day's proceedings for the much lighter W9.

If you ever want to show your family back home why winning the tachi-ai is of utmost import in sumo, link them to today's bout between everyone's favorite veteran Hutt, Toyohibiki, and a lad of not unimpressive proportions his own badself, Chiyotairyu. The Kokonoe man was not to be intimidated by what he perhaps took to be a pulsating pile of pusillanimous powderpuffery, and went into The Nikibi with a thunderous POP. The aftermath, however, was ugly for the W8 as he was blown back and out before he could squeeze in one more attack. Toyohibiki won this tussle clear as...il.

Takanoiwa began his match with Brasilian Kaisei with a hari-te face slap that could be heard in the hallway. Kaisei proceeded to grab the little bastard and nearly carry him to the edge. Looked like it was going to be a deserved crushout, but as the sumo gods are wont to do, they gifted lil Taka at the edge with the strength of a horse and the maneuverability of a crane, and he flung that big boy DOWN!! Gotta imagine Kaisei lost more than a few of those gorgeous chest hairs while boogeyboarding the clay. To make matters worse, Takanoiwa, trying to avoid falling on his foe, palmed the Brasilian on the back of his head, driving his nose into the dirt while he lay there facedown. Oh, the ignominy!

Makuuchi sophomore Shodai, a man I'd not seen before, took the fight to Takekaze, a man I've been seeing what seems like forever. Since going 11-4 at Juryo E3 in Osaka 11 years ago, this pugnacious puma has been in Makuuchi, never once missing even the majority of a tourney. How has he managed to remain relevant for this long? Well, let's not get crazy here. He's never been relevant exactly, but dude is as tenacious, in shape, and as nimble as Trump is a xenophobic racist, and that's a fair bit, eh? Today he escaped twice at the edge from a ferocious pushing attack by Shodai, but the third time was not charming as he forgot to leap out into the air (shinitai) and pray the judges gift him like they used to Chiyotaikai, losing and deservedly so by a toe as young master Shodai, by 12 years his kohai, plummeted to the dirt.

In the next matchup, a false start call by a rather kibishii gyoji cocked things up, as both men looked at him with faces that queried, "What's a mada for you?" On the reset, Myogiryu absorbed and sidestepped, seeming to not want any part of AC/DC man Shohozan, back in black with a countenance most cannot countenance. On the offensive throughout, Shohozan whiffed on a shove and was spun around with his back to the crowd. As Myogiryu flailed into him for the win, we had our second straight bout where the loser could might have pulled it out if he had simply leaped backward into the air. Shohozan so owned this bout that the shinitai would not have been a concern and he would likely have been awarded the win. Like both these guys.

27 year-old E5 Kyokushuho and 32 year-old W4 Sokokurai collided hard enough to cause some decent separation between them. They reconnected and it looked to be going the way of yotsu stalemate when Kyokushuho swiftly hunkered down into an unbeatable outside right belt and lifted his Chinese opponent into the air and out of the circle. This is a case of where the timing of the age difference is pivotal. A 24 year-old taking on a 29 year-old is one thing, but so much power and speed is lost, generally, between 27 and 32. Just look at star NFL running backs, world by the balls at 27, nearly out of football by 32.

Ikioi treated a hari-te from Aminishiki like it was Don Corleone patting Johnny Fontane's cheeks before saying, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." Ikioi refused all of the 37 year-old's offerings and then some, blasting him back and out in a Nueva Jork minute.

Yoshikaze dangled a huge pair by taking Aoiyama straight on, but on this day he was unable to do what he often does, slip away and cause his larger but off balance foe to tumble. A smothering is what it was. Hollywood will now probably make a crappy horror film out of it based on that description alone, and yes, there WILL be a scene where the soundtrack goes absolutely silent before something jumps out and the theater's speakers go from level "10" to "Space Shuttle Launch In My Ear."

Excellent effort from both Tochinoshin and Terunofuji. Identical inside right, outside left belt grips made for a gripping, growling affair as neither man relented in his pressure on the other. A brief maki-kae got two hands on the inside but the Corporal, but he went back to the outside and after a few moments, they lifted each other up and sort of crabwalked together close to the edge. On this day it was Terunofuji who was able to back his foe out, but both looked exhausted and this is what real effortful sumo looks like. Let's hope it stays this way through to the musubi-no-ichiban.

Okinoumi seemed to have little desire to get offensive with kadoban-since-birth Ozeki Goeido, choosing to form his left hand's fingers into some sort of Saturday afternoon sci-fi horror matinee CRAW! when it was resting literally right on top of Goeido's belt at the tachi-ai. Course, grabbing that belt would have lifted the Ozeki up, given the E2 great leverage, and, heaven forfend in front of the hometown fans, taken the goddamned air out of this basho for most of them. So, much huffing and puffing before big bad Goeido blew the little straw house down. I see sumo is still up to its old tricks, huh? Some things never change, including the seals flapping their fins together after the fish is consumed.

One might suggest that Kisenosato was lucky that Kotoyuki slipped on one of his shoves to the Ozeki's chest, but that's poor reasoning. Kisenosato has at least enough game to force Kotoyuki into some fervent sumo that carries with it rewards and risks. It's like when someone double faults in tennis to hand the opponent the win, and everyone says, "Winner got lucky." No, the winner had enough game to force the server to HAVE TO make a great second serve or else be dead meat.

So was that the case here today? Probably. Kisenosato was on the defensive, for sure, but he stood his ground under assault, shifted his head ever so expertly, and Kotoyuki went down like a second grader on a Slip N Slide. Keep your feet under ya: Sumo 101

Takayasu fronted Kotoshogiku (and for any American gangsters out there, that aint about not giving the Ozeki his "propers"; only means didn't shift to the side) and the result was a high tension but ultimately fruitless effort by the W1 as the Ozeki and reigning champion never let his foe get a belt grip. . .Kidding! Takayasu had two or three chances to at least TRY to jam his fingers in, but all he did was brush them over the belt like he was in 6th grade and his parents were coming home anytime now. Now I see how this Fauxzeki took his first career yusho in January.

At first it seemed that Yokozuna Kakuryu had Toyonoshima where he wanted him, but its very difficult to budge a tug. After several moments of paused, catch-our-breath yotsu, Toyonoshima went for the force out but Kakuryu resisted it and in doing so moved Tugboat back to a full arm's length away. But critically a strand on front of the Yokozuna's mawashi had come loose and was up around his chest, with the former Sekiwake holding on like a mastiff to a postman's leg. They got tighter in, and as the Yokozuna was staring down at Toyonoshima's feet, the gyoji, out of the fucking BLUE and for no reason (they were securely fastened) reached and snatched away the sagari, distracting Kakuryu for just a split second, the very same split second Tugboat decided to yank down and then fire forward thrusters. Boom, drop the Yokozuna, drop the mic, but hey gyoji? Wait till the tassels drop, ya douche!

The silliest sumo of the day had to be Yokozuna Hakuho "absorbing" a non-existent tachi-ai from Komusubi Takarafuji, then immediately trying to pull him down while sliding to his left so he was nearly out of the ring. All this did was bring Takarafuji along to grab an inside left belt, which Hakuho, probably the best sumo wrestler ever at pulling the lightning quick arm switch from the outside to the inside, just let be, choosing instead to keep his right hand outside and push awkwardly up into Taka's pit. Piss poor strategy from a legend who you would think might be focused on Day One of Spring. The Komusubi then just pushed him out. Two grand champions down on Day One. Will it be three?

Harumafuji made sure at least one Yokozuna would win as he exploded from the shikirisen, hammered his noggin into Komusubi Tochiohzan, and rammed him out in less than a second.

I may return for a day or two later in the basho, so stay tuned for Mike and Harvye and whomever else we can dig up from our glorious (urp) past. Let's make sumo great again, my friends. But remember, no protesting!




















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