Hon-basho Daily Comments

Senshuraku Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Wella, wella, wella, my little droogs, Day 15 has come and...ah, to hell with this crap. You know, it may be a less well known fact, but foreign names ALSO have meanings, and so in honor of Bernie "Musk Dervish Knut's Barn" McManus, I am today going to translate the names of some of the other contributors on Sumotalk However, unlike Bernie's, my translations are the only proper ones and cannot be contested.

So I had a stiffy. How could one NOT have a stiffy, with the lineup senshuraku presented this basho. Sure, one could lack a Y chromosome, but that would simply mean two stiffies, wouldn't it? A few big battles for crucial eighth wins (with heartrending subplots to boot!), a huge showdown between two future Yokozuna, the Khan fighting for pride against the Great Japanese Hope, Circa 2006, and much of it figuring in the race for the tourney title.

After the second of the three battles for win number eight, my stiffy retreated to a gummy. After Hakuho laid Kotooshu out flat, my Gumby rallied to become a Woodrow, in anticipation of the final bout. And just after the Yokozuna meekly fell to his fourth loss, my wife called out: "Dinner!" Menu? Udon.

We've been hearing the term "conspiracy" tossed around concerning the Sumo Kyokai, and I have come to the firm conclusion that there is, indeed, a conspiracy. After watching replay upon replay, the evidence is indisputable: The Sumo Kyokai is asking young, sumo-clueless hotties to sit up front on the final three days of the basho. How do I know they are plants? They never look at or talk to the people next to them, people who are seated in the same box! How do I know they are clueless? They use cell phones while the wrestlers are warming up and they don't laugh at Takamisakari's antics. How do I know they are hotties? Anal flutters.

In the penultimate bout of the day, Hakuho looked like some two-bit hood from 1930's Brooklyn trying to knife a rival in the gut. He slid under Kotooshu's grasp at tachi-ai, grabbed the belt right under the navel with his left paw, snuggled in up close to the big Bulgarian and held fast. Kotozeki sensed that both men were in deep (Hakuho, belt; Kotooshu, shit) and tried to retreat, making Hakuho's job easier. He followed the Ozeki to the edge, where Kotooshu tried a desperation throw, but Hakuho was right on it, and launched himself and Kotooshu into the air and landed right on his foe. You could almost see the onegai dripping off Hakuho as he walked past Asashoryu to sit down and watch the final contest.

Which, unfortunately, wasn't much of one 'tall. As he had against Ama, Asa dug in quickly with his left hand, managing to get a hold of Tochiazuma's belt, but the Ozeki knew Asa had no right arm and it was a simple twist of the hips and flung down was the Yokozuna. Game over and third top flight championship for Tochi.

Let me say that I think Tochiazuma is a stand up guy, a class act all the way. His sumo pedigree is unimpeachable and his sumo manners impeccable. He always fights, in his own evasive manner, hard, which is perhaps one reason why he is oft injured. Truly, no one deserves the respect of sumo fans more than he.

And yet. Certainly, some things were out of his control. The Komusubi were below par, Tamanoshima due to injury, Kyokutenho due to whatever. Two Ozeki pulled out. He didn't face one Sekiwake. The judges are afraid of the Prime Minister. The Yokozuna had one arm and let's face it, after a record 13 tourneys being alone at the top, having to do every piddley little thing The Elders ask of a Yokozuna, having to shoulder every burden and be lambasted for any little slip up he commits in the petri dish that is a Yokozuna's life in Japan, do you really think The Khan was all that saddened to see Tochi win and give himself a chance to be promoted in Osaka? All Tochi will need is a runner-up 13-2 with perhaps a win over the Yokozuna to be promoted, as desperate times call for desperate measures. It seemed to me that Asashoryu's legs were generously immobile during that final throw today.

But look at how the Ozeki did against the five biggest guys he faced. He would have lost to Roho if the Russian had deigned to execute even a mild jump as he was walking out. He got slapped around and out by Miyabiyama. He somehow, oh, Auntie Em over the focking rainbow! lost to Iwakiyama. Can you say yaocho? And he beat Kokkai fair and square. And most affecting of all, he flew out along with Hakuho and there was no conference, no do-over, and there should have been. 

On the day he secured kachikoshi
Tochiazuma won with oshitaoshi
But a truly honest man
Who is not from Japan
Knows it should have been a torinaoshi

My point is not to take away from what he accomplished (hey, he slaughtered Ama), but to temper the talk of a Japanese Yokozuna. I am telling you here and now, unless The Elders rig the living shit out of his "shedjewel", Tochi has about as much chance of becoming a Yokozuna in Osaka as I have of becoming Maria Sharapova's dentist ("Open wide, there, that's it. Now spit!") I'd love to see it, but we have been burned time and again by Tochi, Chiyo and Kaio, and I have no faith at all in their ability to put together two fantastic basho and make it to the top. I'm sure that Mike "Obstructed Knit Surge" Wesemann agrees.

Let's get to the rest of the boys.

M14!! Tokitsuumi took on Sekiwake Kotomitsuki who had lost four of his previous five to stand at 8-6. Hit and Mitsuki took Tokitsuumi back for what looked like an easy win, but the living sumo model moved to his right, reaching down in order to grab the back of Mitsuki's left leg. The Sekiwake sensed this and grabbed Tokitsuumi's arm to stop him grabbing his leg, but in the process unintentionally supported the M14 enough so that he could fully turn and then twist Kotomitsuki down for his twelfth, yes, twelfth win.

In the last 7-7 battle of the day, as soon as Komusubi Tamanoshima grabbed M5 Iwakiyama's belt with his injured right arm I knew his six day winning streak was ending. Iwaki bided his time and worked the his big but smaller foe out for his eighth win, sending the valiant Tama down to M1 for Osaka.

M1 Miyabiyama moved back to Komusubi with a true crush out of M6 Ama. He pounded away at Ama and the diminutive Mongolian was never able to grab anything but a seat on the clay as the heaviest man in Makuuchi landed on top of the lightest. Miyabi gives sanyaku another go at 8-7, while Ama should be enjoying the sights up at M2 after getting his first ever kinboshi against the ailing Yokozuna.

M11 Hokutoriki got a special prize to go along with his 12 wins. M1 Tokitenku finished a disappointing basho at 5-10 trying to leg trip M4 Hakurozan (4-11) but settling for an uchigake. Kenji Heilman, aka Kenji "Brunt Strum Paddock" was right on about saying a prayer for The Pretender.

I was psyched for the M10 Takamisakari/M2 Kokkai bout but had a sick feeling in my guttywutts (sorry, couldn't help myself) that Circus was going to be in full, Mommy, That Bad Man Is Kicking Sand In My Face mode again. Kokkai gave him two shoulder blasts, one chest thump, and a waist push and the overweight dame began to croon (and, as I said, I lost my stiffy). Circus walked out looking like someone put raisins in his oatmeal cookie. Last basho he blew his last five bouts to get eight losses, and this time he lost five of his last seven to do the same thing. He hasn't had a winning record since the Occupation ended or so. One more of these and we'll be looking at huge cheering crowds for Juryo. Kokkai finished on the plus side and with the two Komusubi plummeting, I think he should beat out Roho for the West Komusubi slot (but he probably won't). Want to know what these two big Europeans need to correct in their sumo? Look to the fact that they both lost to Jokutoriki, Roho by hikiotoshi and Kokkai by hatakikomi.

Big Boy M12 Kasugao just hammered M7 Aminishiki to his right and out in a second. Unstoppable. If the Korean could wrestle like this most every day, he'd be a regular in high Maegashira. He must be kicking himself for losing to Kyokushuzan and Toyozakura. Both men finish at 9-6.

6-1 on Day 7, M7 Kakizoe escaped with a winning record against Wakanosato, who performed reasonably well down at M16 with twice as many wins as losses. Kakizoe was all bidness as he slammed into Waka and kept the heat up with blistering, centered tsuppari until he drove the former Sekiwake out. Classic Kakizoe, but if Wakanosato had been say, Tochiazuma, Kakizoe would have been timely slapped to the side and down. Waka still seemed injured to me.

Jumonji almost recovered from his five match mid-basho losing streak but finished 7-8 after destroying Player To Be Named Later M15, who had no aging retiring veteran to bugger this time out. I could hear David Byrne: "And you may find yourself, living in a shotgun shack, and you may find yourself, at 4-11, and back in Juryo, and you may say to yourself, well, how did I get here?" Hope his family doesn't become destitute.

Is it just me or did it seem like every bout Yoshikaze was in this basho was a first time meeting? Anyway, his losses were double his wins after Futenoh got number nine following a lengthy tussle. A slaphappy tachi-ai led to a both men snagging inside right grips, then two handed grips. Yoshi started yanking the daylights out of Futeno's belt, which rode up suspiciously easily as in his Day 7 yorikiri win over Ama, and on this day, too, Futenoh was the better man as he shoved Yoshikaze and his buckling leg out and down.

The M9s went up against each other, both looking for that Perfect Eighth. Toyonoshima had a deep two handed grip on Kisenosato's belt, and looked to be taking out the rubbish (as our boy Simon Siddall, aka Simon "Nectar Caboose Ten Drain", might say), when all of a sudden Kise starts going apeshit, trying to do an armbar on Toyo's neck! Egads. Toyo must have panicked, because he let Kise break his grip and was shoved out after a pretty but pointless pirouette. 

M10 The Geeku got his eighth win against clay pounding surprise M17 Kitazakura, who could have won a special prize with his tenth win, but it was not to be as Kotoshogiku did a great Dejima imitation, breaking a feeble right hand inside Kita had and then bouncing him back to the edge and staying cool when Kitazakura stiffened by twisting him back into the ring and down.

In Juryo, Tochinonada took the yusho and will be back with the big boys come March, as it should be.

Well, this is, Clancy Kelly, aka "Devil's Lunchbox" Kelly saying, Vaya con dios, mi amigos. And remember, you don't need to show any stinking badges!

Day 14 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
For the first time since September 2004, the Emperor's Cup will go to someone other than Asashoryu tomorrow. By way of Tochiazuma's win today, 3-loss rikishi such as Sho and Oshu were eliminated from the yusho race. By the time Sho did meet Oshu on the final bout, it was a meaningless affair. When was the last time we had this situation, except maybe that it was meaningless because Sho had already wrapped up the championship?

Asashoryu (11-3) did overcome Kotooshu (10-4) in that last bout to avoid an unconceivable third consecutive loss. I sensed a general stiffness about Kotooshu again, as seen in his matta at the tachi-ai and his ensuing collapse to the dohyo after Asashoryu controlled the bout's tempo. Sho attacked from the side and made several attempts at a tottari in which the opponent's arm is pulled with both hands in a throwing motion. This kept Kotooshu off balance throughout and eventually resulted in a pull down win, though it was more a case where Oshu fell on his own than from Sho's pulling. Asashoryu clashes with Tochiazuma tomorrow with only pride on the line.

In today's key bout Kadoban Ozeki Tochiazuma (13-1) overcame the Pretender Hokutoriki (11-3) to take a huge step forward toward bringing the yusho back into a Japanese rikishi's hands. The Pretender has been looking terrible the last couple days, those pull down devils rearing their ugly heads once he was matched with the big boys. He tried it again briefly today but overall put together a decent effort of tsuppari against Azuma. The Ozeki attacked cautiously and stayed close to Riki so as to not succomb to any wimpy pull downs. In the end, he used Riki's own momentum with a well-timed slap of a lunging arm that brought the Prenteder crashing to the clay (along with his hopes for an upset yusho).

Sekiwake Hakuho (12-2) remains as the only rikishi left standing to potentially take the yusho away from Tochiazuma. In another big bout, Haku simply overmatched the upstart M14 Tokitsuumi (11-3) by securing the left "mae-mawashi" (front belt) in convincing fashion at the tachi-ai. With this leverage and a lower body stability that seems as if he has roots growing from his feet into the clay, Hakuho marched slowly and surely toward the tawara with prey in hand. Toki tried flayling like a freshly hooked fish making it's way to the boat, but it was to no avail. He broke the rope via uwatenage and down came his hopes of an upset yusho as well.

Counterpart Sekiwake Kotomitsuki (8-6) was dominated by the mighty mite M6 Ama (9-5), who displayed that explosive tachi-ai of his unbefitting of a man his size. He used it to drive Mitsuki immediately to the rope via a very determined nodowa attack, but the Sekiwake did manage to tie up Ama's arms at the eleventh hour to stop the barrage. No problem- as Ama pulled away, Mitsuki fell forward onto the clay. He was in emergency defense mode the whole time and basically lost his balance trying anything to stop the Mongolian.

In the Komusubi ranks, Tamanoshima has come all the way back from a dreadful start to even his record at 7-7. Who would have thought after a 1-7 start and a bum shoulder last Sunday that Tama would have a chance to kachi-koshi this Sunday? Well here he was picking up his 6th consecutive win, today against the fading M4 Hakurozan (4-9). Tama got inside on the Russian immediately, which invited a kotonage (hook throw). Problem was, this defensive reaction left Hakurozan's legs vulnerable and Tama took immediate advantage. He hooked the Russian's leg and down he went. Tama goes for majority wins tomorrow agianst another rikishi trying to salvage the basho from a 5-7 start, M5 Iwakiyama. Should be a good one.

Speaking of dreadful, the other Komusubi Kyokutenho continued his struggles with a loss to M2 Kokkai (7-7). Kokkai went in low, got the right uwate and did a good job keeping Tenho from his belt for the yorikiri win. I'm glad Kokkai won this one. How disappointing would it be to beat one Yokozuna and two Ozeki, then not get majority wins? If he would have secured win number 8 a couple days earlier, I'd say he was a shoe in for Shukunsho. Now that he's floundered around and has to come back to get it, I'm not so sure he'll get it now. I still think the Georgian deserves it.

Well, we're down to this folks. If Tochiazuama beats Asashoryu tomorrow, it's Azuma's yusho outright. This is also the case with a Tochiazuama loss coupled with a Hakuho loss to Kotooshu. If, however, Hakuho wins and Tochiazuma loses, we're looking at a playoff between the two. Let's hope for the latter. It would spice things up a bit and I'm sure the absence of Asashoryu in the yusho picture makes many a fan happy in Japan. If it comes to a playoff, practically the whole country will be rooting for their compatriot Tochiazuama. Either way, the talk of March will be Tochiazuma going from Kadoban Ozeki to Yokozuna candidate and Hakuho's long awaited march toward Ozeki.

Day 13 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
With the Emperor and his missus in attendance at the Ryogoku Kokugikan today one had the feeling that something interesting was going to happen. However, I am of the opinion that they were not really needed to make this tournament special. The Hatsu Basho of 2006 may well be remembered as the one when Asashoryu returned to the ranks of humanity from his brief spell in some immortal realm, not only because coming in today he had dropped two bouts in twelve days but also because certain other rikishi have acquired the confidence to believe that Asashoryu is not so invincible after all.

And I do not fully agree with Mike's comments yesterday as to why the yusho race is so close at this stage. It is not simply because of the withdrawal of Chiyotaikai and Kaio. Consider the current contenders...Kotooshu and Tochiazuma would most likely not have met their Ozeki counterparts until day 11 at the earliest, and yes, while they've had to fight a bit lower, Kotooshu's lowest ranked opponents have been the two M5 lads, Iwakiyama and Kasuganishiki. Iwakiyama is a danger to anyone on his day and who is to say that Kasuganishiki is more dangerous than, say, Tokitenku or Takekaze or even the injured Tamanoshima. Tochiazuma has had the same opponents but had one from M6 – Ama – who is also no pushover in comparison to the top Maegashira. All this reasoning also applies to the Yokozuna. The withdrawal of the Ozeki duo has had no discernible effect on the opponents of Tokitsuumi and Hokutoriki either, as they are both ranked too low. Hakuho is the only one who may have benefited as he picked up a fusensho (win by default) from Kaio. No, the main reason for me is the appallingly weak Maegashira top rankers and, of course, a Yokozuna who has looked shaky throughout, possibly due to inadequate preparation pre-basho. Maybe he has won the yusho so many times that he is getting a little complacent. We shall see as the year progresses.

No, this basho has been one of the most exciting in a long time. Did the surprises keep on coming today? Onward to today's action.

Yokozuna Asashoryu's right arm was all taped up, a reminder of how painful (and dangerous) kotenage can be. I doubt Hakuho is currently on the Yokozuna's Christmas card list after the tachiai henka last basho and the defeat yesterday. Up for the Yokozuna today was M6 Ama, always a threat, especially when you only have one arm. Asashoryu gambled and lost as he sought to surprise Ama with a harite from his injured arm, hoping to shift him to the left so that he could use his uninjured arm to fight with. Unfortunately for him, Ama went to his right as part of his strategy anyway but took advantage of the pause from the harite to get a strong migi-uwate grip and move in to the side. Here a healthy Asashoryu would spin round and stamp all over any advantage Ama had but it was almost sad to see Asashoryu struggling to stay on his feet unable to do anything at all as Ama pulled off the uwatenage. No disrespect to Ama, of course – he fought a great bout – but this was not Asashoryu (10-3) at full power by any means. This result now puts the eight yusho streak in VERY serious danger. Ama gets his kachi-koshi with a kinboshi and we might even see some decent rikishi in the jo'i next basho as Ama gets promoted. It was good to see Ama not going for the Yokozuna's bad arm here – yet another reason to like the guy. Asashoryu is likely to get his arse kicked by Kotooshu tomorrow if he's still in this condition. Let's see what the Yokozuna is made of in these extreme straits. He did not look good at all today.

Ozeki Tochiazuma kept himself firmly in the yusho hunt as he took advantage of a Kotooshu harite that did not have anywhere near the force to knock the veteran Ozeki off balance. Why bother trying this tactic with Tochiazuma, who has proved time and time again that it does not push him off track at all? Obviously Kotooshu was going for the tried and tested tactic of using harite to get the mawashi but he miscalculated badly here. Tochiazuma moved to the side as Kotooshu overbalanced and then charged in to finish the lanky Bulgarian off. Kotooshu actually put his heel out early, a sign of poor ring awareness, but it didn't matter in this case because Tochiazuma had him exactly where he wanted him anyway. Kotooshu is all but out of the race at 10-3 while Tochiazuma is now the clear favourite to take his third yusho at 12-1.

Tochiazuma has taken some stick from the commentators at Sumotalk for being boring but he deserves a lot of credit for a fine performance over the last thirteen days. When did we see him going backwards or doing negative sumo? Very rarely, if at all. Obviously if he takes the yusho there will be the inevitable talk of a Yokozuna promotion run at the Haru Basho, where a jun-yusho 13-2 would probably be enough to convince the Yokozuna Shingikai to promote him. It is too early to talk about this, of course, because Tochiazuma has to get past Hokutoriki tomorrow (gulp) and then Asashoryu on senshuraku. However, one thing I would like to point out is that Tochiazuma is almost ready to be a Yokozuna now and has been for some time. He has the character and the experience and now appears to have perfected a deadly oshi-zumo attack on top of his already formidable yotsu-zumo skills. He just needed to spark his desire. You may remember that Tochi was always a belt man when he was younger but now he swings the other way. It was the opposite case for Asashoryu who was a master slapper as he was waltzing up the ranks but then learned how to fight on the belt. I think it is a vital qualification for a Yokozuna candidate to be able to pull any technique out of the bag as required. At this time, only Asashoryu and now Tochiazuma can do that. Kaio can't push, and Chiyotaikai is rubbish on the belt. Kotooshu will get there eventually, as will Hakuho. Yes, it is time for Tochiazuma to have a go. Sumo needs two Yokozuna, and if one is Japanese, all the better. Sorry...I am jumping the gun again.

After M11 Hokutoriki's ludicrous behaviour yesterday I was hoping for Hakuho to massacre him. Some call four matta and a henka clever, apparently, but I reckon it was more a case of Kokkai being dumb – he should have seen that henka coming from the way Hokutoriki was behaving - and Hokutoriki being crap and lacking in character. Back to today's action, we all got our wish as the future Yokozuna delivered a stinging harite at the tachiai and then showed Hoku the exit in less than two seconds. Hokutoriki naturally tried the pull-down but Hakuho is a class act and those shenanigans ain't gonna work on him. Just have a look at Hakuho's low stance and excellent footwork as he took total control. Hokutoriki falls back with the chasing pack at 11-2. Hakuho has the same score but he should be 12-1 - how the hell did he lose to Tochinohana the other day? Costly is an understatement. He is still the main yusho rival to Tochiazuma but his destiny is not in his own hands as he needs Asashoryu to do him a favour to force a play-off.

In the bout between Sekiwake Kotomitsuki and M5 Iwakiyama, the gyoji was overruled by the head shinpan (judge), Kokonoe-oyakata. The gyoji allowed an obvious matta from Kotomitsuki to pass. Good call from Chiyonofuji there. Kotomitsuki will be regretting it, however, because in the re-run Iwakiyama showed us what he can do as he came out of the tachiai like a shinkansen version of Thomas the Tank Engine and blew Kotomitsuki into oblivion. Kotomitsuki saw which way the wind was blowing immediately and went for the pull down but it was not to be. This is the Iwakiyama we love to watch. A fantastic, unstoppable tachiai. Why doesn't that version come to the dohyo every day? Kotomitsuki falls to 8-5 and has giant-killer Ama tomorrow. Iwakiyama (6-7) will be hopeful of going for a last-day kachi-koshi as he should easily beat Tochinohana on day 14.

M1 Miyabiyama gave Komusubi Kyokutenho a schooling as he led in with a powerful thrust and then brushed aside the Mongolian's front two-handed mawashi grip. Miyabiyama made great use of one huge paw in Kyokutenho's face until the Komusubi finally lost balance and went down. Miyabiyama is still in with a shout of kachi-koshi at 6-7. Kyokutenho's nightmare continues at 3-10.

Komusubi Tamanoshima has been a real warrior fighting on with that injury and we can thank his oyakata for this astonishingly risky behaviour. Nice one...I can see you really care about your charge, forcing him to fight on with a serious injury thereby possibly shortening his career by years. Muppet. M2 Kokkai came in a worried man at 6-6, knowing that he needs eight wins to pick up a Shukunsho (outstanding performance award) for defeating two Ozeki and the Yokozuna in the first week. Tamanoshima came in low, while Kokkai for some reason did not go with his usual thrust attack, and forced the stalemate. Kokkai was happy to wait, knowing that time would work more damagingly against his injured opponent. However, Kokkai allowed his concentration to lapse and tried to grab Tama-chan's belt but the injured warrior pounced and went forward, eventually taking advantage of the Georgian's catastrophic loss of balance with a nice sotogake (outside leg trip). Tamanoshima keeps his unlikely kachi-koshi dreams alive at 6-7. Kokkai is in serious danger of losing out on the sansho as he falls to the same score. I say give Tamanoshima the Kantosho if he makes it to eight. Surely.

M2 Roho used brawn rather than brains today and came in with an elbow at the tachiai and employed powerful thrusts to M7 Aminishiki's face and neck. Inevitably, his wily opponent dodged one of these Kokkai-esque missiles and pounced when Roho lost his balance. This is the big disadvantage of going for these huge, slow thrusts – it is so easy to lose balance when just one misses its target. Akebono was the king of these – Roho should stick a few videos on before trying this again. At least he now knows how Kokkai feels every time he loses. Roho drops to 8-5. Aminishiki celebrates a kachi-koshi today at the same score.

M14 Tokitsuumi (11-2) got his Kantosho (fighting spirit prize) in the bag and kept himself in the yusho race with a fine demolition job on M7 Kakizoe, who was not in the mood for messing around and fought as hard and fast as he always does. Tokitsuumi showed great stance and footwork to finally bring his feisty opponent under control and march him out. It was testament to just how good Tokitsuumi is at the moment that Kakizoe could not do anything at all about this loss despite doing everything right. Kakizoe makes that five losses in the last six days and is still waiting for his kachi-koshi at 7-6. Let's see just how well Tokitsuumi is fighting when he meets Hakuho tomorrow. He might even be considered for the prestigious Ginosho (technique prize) if he can pick up one more win over the weekend.

M17 Kitazakura (9-4) is enjoying the finest basho of his career and really has the bit between his teeth. Winning streaks are vital for emotional rikishi like him. He was strangely subdued today, however, as M8 Jumonji (6-7) managed to get in on his side and spin him round a few times before getting the simple oshidashi win. Kitazakura was never really in this one. Perhaps he is happy enough with his nine wins and simply wants to avoid injuries at this stage but the verve of the last twelve days was absent here. He didn't even bash the air with his fist in frustration at his loss. Jumonji goes to 6-7.

M16 Wakanosato (9-4) arsed around trying to finish off M9 Toyonoshima (6-7), who didn't seem to realize what a good position he had at the tachiai. Waka negated that quickly and survived a couple of scares before finally taking control and getting the easy win. I said in my pre-basho report that anything less than eleven wins would be a disappointment for Wakanosato. That number is still in his sights but he must be kicking himself that he is not one of the many rikishi involved in the yusho race at this stage. No excuse for it after some sloppy losses.

M10 Takamisakari (6-7) and M10 Kotoshogiku (7-6) have both been giving erratic performances this basho. Kotoshogiku had the best of the tachiai and Circus simply could not get a decent grip of the mawashi. Kotoshogiku got in nice and deep and forced Takamisakari upright, giving him no chance at all. Yorikiri.

M12 Kasugao fell victim to M12 Toyozakura grabbing his right arm at the tachiai but avoided the quick kotenage. The technically excellent Korean never really recovered despite struggling manfully. Kind of a half-henka from Toyozakura but at least he made contact. Hmmm. At 5-7 one would expect something like this from Toyozakura. Not pretty at all. Kasugao is safe at 8-5. Toyozakura must endure a weekend of nervous tachiai at 6-7.

Here is how it stands:

1 loss: Tochiazuma

2: losses: Hakuho, Tokitsuumi, Hokutoriki

3 losses: Asashoryu, Kotooshu

Tochiazuma should murder Hokutoriki tomorrow, meaning Hakuho must beat Tokitsuumi to stay in touch. Both of these results will come to pass, I think. Then Hakuho must defeat Kotooshu while Tochiazuma has to beat the Yokozuna on the final day...failure for Tochiazuma to do this would lead to a play-off. I don't see it, although it is certainly possible. More likely it will be a straight win for Tochiazuma.  Asashoryu looks done and dusted, as does Kotooshu.

How about this one, though? Tochiazuma loses the last two days, Asashoryu wins them both, Hakuho loses to Tokitsuumi but beats Kotooshu, Tokitsuumi beats Hakuho and then loses on the last day, and Hokutoriki beats Tochiazuma and loses on the final day...this would lead to a five-way play-off. How likely is that? Not very, but we can hope.

As this is my last daily report this basho, I'll have a stab at guessing the sansho. There could be quite a few this time:

Kantosho: Hokutoriki, Tokitsuumi
Shukunsho: Hakuho, Ama, Kokkai (if he gets eight).
Ginosho: Hakuho, Tokitsuumi.

Kenji is up tomorrow, and then Clancy will give his review of day 15 and the basho as a whole on Sunday. I'll be back for a review of the basho at the end of next week. Thanks for reading.

Day 12 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Bernie and I were commenting to each other yesterday about the basho running low on steam despite the high number of rikishi still in the yusho hunt, but a lot of that was due to the withdrawal of Chiyotaikai and Kaio. I know that both of those Ozeki weren't on top of their games this basho, but you really feel the effect towards the end of a tournament when two of the Ozeki are gone and the other two Ozeki are left to fight an M5 and M6 on day 12...that is unless someone can rise up and punk the Yokozuna! Hakuho set fire to the barn today folks, so prepare for some drama these final three days to surpass that of last year's Aki basho. Oh yeah, and before I go any further, this is just a warning to the lone Hokutoriki fan , close your browser now because like the new Mrs. Hokutoriki, it ain't gonna be pretty.

I'll begin at the top of the leaderboard and work my way down today, which means I'll start with the Asashoryu - Hakuho matchup. Coming into the bout, Hakuho did actually have one win over the Yokozuna, which came at the 2004 Kyushu basho, but that was a gimmick win. You may remember then that Hakuho hit at the tachi-ai then backed up forcing the Yokozuna to chase him around the ring before Hakuho pounced on an Asashoryu miscue pushing him out from behind. Some people may call that smart sumo, but I say it's bullcrap reserved for rikishi with no game ranked at, say, Maegashira 11. Ever since then, the Asashoryu - Hakuho matchups have been very anti-climactic. That all changed today, however, as Hakuho finally showed me that he is serious about an Ozeki run.

The critical aspect of today's bout was the tachi-ai where Asashoryu didn't go for his usual hari-zashi move and where Hakuho didn't obsess over that frontal belt grip as he did against Miyabiyama most notably. Both were key as Hakuho used his size and strength to completely halt the Yokozuna in his tracks at the initial charge. Asashoryu did manage to get his right arm deep on the inside of Hakuho's left side, but Asashoryu does his damage with the deep left arm, not the right. Still, the Yokozuna had Hakuho upright just enough disabling the Sekiwake to grab that left outer grip. With the Yokozuna in the seemingly better position, he immediately began a cautious charge forcing Hakuho back to the straw a baby step or two, but Hakuho brilliantly used the backward momentum to evade a half step his left, plant his feet, lock both arms around the Yokozuna's right arm, and from out of nowhere, fling Asashoryu across the straw and down to the clay. Dare I say that Hakuho was toying with his opponent today? He made it look far too easy. This is just an example of why so many of us have been hyping Hakuho from the beginning.

I've said this before, and I'll repeat it again now. Hakuho was not going to be promoted to Ozeki nor was he ever going to flirt with the yusho until he beat Asashoryu in a straight up fight. Look at Kotooshu. Last July he beat Asashoryu straight up. That bout propelled the Bulgarian to three double-digit basho (four if you count this one), his name being on the leaderboard through senshuraku, and his ultimate promotion to Ozeki...oh, and not to mention that he was 2-1 against the Yokozuna over that stretch. So it begins. Hakuho began his charge for the Ozeki ranks today, he has his first legitimate win over Asashoryu, and his name will likely be on the leaderboard come senshuraku. It's no coincidence. Before I turn my attention back to the Yokozuna, how badly do you think Hakuho wants that bout with Tochinohana back? And how about his affair with Tochiazuma where no mono-ii was called? Thanks for nothing judges.

So what about Asashoryu? He's still right in this thing, and yes, he's still the favorite to yusho if his right arm is okay. After being hurled by that limb today against Hakuho, Asashoryu was rubbing at his bicep area after the bout. If he is still able to fight tomorrow, he controls his own destiny providing Hokutoriki allows someone a straight up fight the final three days. As for final thoughts on today's bout, the question is what was Asashoryu thinking at the tachi-ai. The Yokozuna has basically whittled his arsenal down to two moves from the initial charge: the hari-zashi move (right hand slap, left hand on the inside) or the tsuppari to the neck tachi-ai. He's almost gone exclusively to the hari-zashi move, so why he did neither today, I don't know, but that took him out of his rhythm from the beginning and was the key to his loss. Both Asashoryu and Hakuho stand at 10-2.

Moving on, Ozeki Tochiazuma looked to receive a fine technical test at the hands of M7 Ama today, a rikishi that has been exciting so far. That test never came as Ama resorted to a very unorthodox tachi-ai that spelled his doom from the beginning. Like Hakuho in previous bouts, Ama seemed determined to grab a frontal belt grip today from the initial charge. But unlike Hakuho who is tall, strong as a bull, and has long limbs, the only way Ama was going to pull that off against Tochiazuma was to duck in low as in lower his head below the level of Tochiazuma's hands. The move was destined to fail from the start as the Ozeki just swatted Ama back like an annoying bug and slapped him down to the clay without further argument. This was far too easy for Tochiazuma who manages to keep himself at the top moving to 11-1 while Ama falls to a very respectable 7-5. This wasn't a very good tune-up for tomorrow's clash with Kotooshu.

And lest I forget, there was one more leader coming into the day that I should probably comment on. Jokutoriki is the name as Clancy so amply put it once. Today's opponent was M2 Kokkai, a rikishi enjoying a pretty good basho himself including a commanding win over Asashoryu that set up a shukunsho run and a kachi-koshi hunt that would likely lead to a berth in the sanyaku. Hokutoriki entered the day tied for the lead and would face for the first time this basho someone with some clout on the banzuke. Hokutoriki was his restless self at the tachi-ai committing four false starts in about 20 seconds. In fact, let me comment a bit on Hokutoriki's tachi-ai. The dude obviously needs every advantage he can get, so he crouches at the tachi-ai with his hands around his knees trying to guess the exact moment when his opponent will go, so he can charge a half second earlier. Other rikishi like Kakizoe will try and get the early jump, but the only real problem I have with Hokutoriki's tactic is that a majority of the time his fists don't even come close to the dirt before he charges. It's a false start that doesn't get called, but I see him working. Anyway, we had the four false starts today that were in no way invited by Kokkai, so on run number 5 when Hokutoriki put both fists solemnly to the dirt, you just knew what was coming (see my Hokutoriki comments on day 5).

When a rikishi falls into one of these three categories, he must resort to gimmick sumo: he lacks game, he is a coward, he is scared of his opponent. So when a rikishi qualifies for all three, he of course goes for the tachi-ai henka. Today's evacuation was to the right with Hokutoriki cowardly giving his opponent a slap as he stumbled to the clay. Just great. You all know how much I hate the tachi-ai henka, especially when it involves the yusho and a rikishi going for his kachi-koshi. Thanks for nothing Hokutoriki. Just because you're bitter that you can't get the attractive ladies, don't take it out on your coworkers. And by the way, Roho looks lovely in that pink kimono. Have fun getting your ass kicked by Hakuho tomorrow should you decide to offer him a fair fight. The better rikishi did NOT win today and moves to an undeserved, over-inflated 11-1. Kokkai falls to 6-6 and probably would have paid a million yen today if he could have elbowed Hokutoriki in the gut as he got up off of the clay. A cheap shot deserves a cheap shot. And finally, Japanese fans, have you ever heard of the terms "booing," "hissing," and "rotten tomatoes"?

Let's move on to the rikishi coming in with two losses before my blood really starts to boil. Ozeki Kotooshu was paired with M5 Iwakiyama, who is on the verge of another bumbling make-koshi performance. Iwaki actually showed some promise at the tachi-ai getting his right arm in deep and standing Kotooshu straight up, but he did nothing with the position from there allowing Kotooshu to grab his favorite...the left outer grip. Kotooshu wasted no time in lifting up on the front of Iwakiyama's belt with his right hand as he forced the Hutt back across the straw. A genki Iwakiyama probably coulda and shoulda won this bout after that tachi-ai, but we haven't seen that Iwakiyama (5-7) for nearly a year it seems. Kotooshu jumps to 10-2 with the win, but has a very tough final three days in Tochiazuma, Asashoryu, and (I'm guessing) Hakuho. I'm rubbing me hands in delight at the prospect of senshuraku.

Thanks to Hokutoriki's antics demanding the spotlight, there's actually one more Maegashira scrub who is quietly vying for the yusho. M14 Tokitsuumi came into the day at 9-2 and was paired against future Komusubi, M2 Roho. Tokitsuumi has obviously been paying attention to his brethren higher up in the ranks because he knew full well to keep Roho away from the left outer grip today. I won't call it a tachi-ai henka because Tokitsuumi actually moved forward at the charge, but he clearly moved to his left to keep his belt away from Roho's paw. Roho, who must have been smitten by Hokutoriki sitting ringside, did not react well to his opponent and sort of stumbled forward out of the gate. Tokitsuumi quickly grabbed a left outer and used it to twist his opponent down to the clay in seconds. This was a very strange bout kind of like the two Asashoryu - Kotooshu bouts in September. On one hand, Tokitsuumi did not hit Roho straight up, but on the other hand, Roho (8-4) did not look prepared at all. He should have at least gotten a right inner grip out of that tachi-ai. Call it a sly side step for Tokitsuumi who moves to 10-2 with the win.

Polishing off the sanyaku, Sekiwake Kotomitsuki looked to receive a fierce test from M7 Kakizoe today. Kotomitsuki struck at the tachi-ai and then immediately moved to his left to counter the moro-zashi attempt he must have known was coming from his opponent. Kakizoe attempted to realign himself with his opponent and square up their chests, but Kotomitsuki circled around the ring refusing the invitation. Kakizoe could never get a hold of anything while Kotomitsuki finally managed a hold on Kakizoe's right arm that he used to twist his his opponent down to the dirt via tottari. It definitely wasn't power sumo from Kotomitsuki, but it was smart sumo considering his opponent's abilities. Kotomitsuki secures kachi-koshi and his rank for next basho moving to 8-4. Kakizoe still stands tall at 7-5.

In the Komusubi ranks, Tamanoshima proved that he can take tsuppari to the face with the best of them. Tama's record against Chiyotaikai is so good because the shoves just don't take affect. M1 Miyabiyama was the opponent today who wisely came at the tachi-ai with the tsuppari, but there would be no lumbering today as Tamanoshima stubbornly held his ground until he could force the fight close and to the inside. With Miyabiyama frustrated, Tamanoshima bulldozed him back and out for the impressive yori-kiri win. Both rikishi stand at 5-7 and still have that shot at 8 wins.

In one of my favorite bouts of the day, Komusubi Kyokutenho hooked up from the tachi-ai in the gappuri yotsu position with M4 Hakurozan where both rikishi enjoyed left outers and right inners. The chikara-zumo struggle turned at about the 10 second mark when Hakurozan went for a maki-kae but failed. Kyokutenho seized the momentum and at this point and drove Hakurozan dangerously close to the tawara. The Russian staved off the first attack, but Tenho wasted no time in mounting the second charge that succeeded in the force out of his opponent. Both rikishi stand at 3-9.

In the Maegashira ranks, M17 Kitazakura continues to impress this basho as he grabbed a firm outer grip on M6 Dejima's belt from the tachi-ai and refused to be bullied by the former Ozeki and yusho winner. I really liked how when Kitazakura grabbed the uwate, he made sure he had every fold of the belt in his grasp before he began his charge. I think this was the difference today in yet another great yotsu-zumo struggle. It should also speak volumes about Dejima that he was muscled back and out by a 35 year old rikishi today. Take nothing away from the elder Zakura who moves to 9-3, but Dejima's losing it little by little. He falls to 6-6.

I was genuinely pleased to see M7 Aminishiki overcome a pusillanimous tachi-ai henka by M11 Kyokushuzan today where the Mongolian grabbed the firm left outer grip, but couldn't close the deal (goes back to no game) as Aminishiki avenged himself with a beautiful shitate-nage throw to move to 7-5. Shu stalls at 5-7. M8 Futenoh stood his ground in the face of M12 Toyozakura's tsuppari attack, and after about three seconds of that nonsense, charged in, grabbed little bro's belt, and forced him out with ease. How is Futenoh just 6-6? I read that he re-tweaked his ankle in December. Let's hope that's the reason. Toyozakura falls to 5-7.

And finally, picking up their kachi-koshi today at 8-4 were former Sekiwake and Ozeki hopeful M16 Wakanosato (it took him 12 days?), who schooled the free-falling M8 Jumonji (5-7) in a belt contest and M12 Kasugao, who reverted back to his ssirum days and felled M10 Takamisakari (6-6) with a signature kote-nage throw before the Robocop could get anything going.

The Yokozuna has fallen a notch on the leaderboard, which breathes that much more life into this basho. Heading into the final three days with many of these leaders having yet to face off, here is where we stand:

11-1 Tochiazuma, Jokutoriki
10-2 Asashoryu, Kotooshu, Hakuho, Tokitsuumi

I say Asa, Kotooshu, and Hakuho win tomorrow leaving us 5 rikishi at 11-2 with two days to go. Simon makes you swoon on day 13.

Day 11 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
Hatsu rolls into Day 11 and the leaderboard says it all. This is a close basho featuring the usual suspects, the usual dropouts and the Yusho-al result not much in question. Sure, Morning's Blue Dragon has to face three race leaders after tonight, but tight races are his bread and butter, and he's eaten here before.

My main critique of the basho has been that it lacks the goals and milestones we enjoyed in '05. What do we get to start '06? One new Ozeki, one Kadoban Okeki, Asa scratches his perfect year on day 2, and Hokutoriki surges out of the gates with fellow chronic letdown Tochiazuma. Wonderful. On top of that, the two Grampa Ozeki pulled out once reality caught up and are now locked in a battle of spite over who's Kadoban cuisine reigns supreme. Remember to keep breathing, folks.

The bouts today are ordered by success. We'll start off with winningest (9-1) Hokutoriki vs. (8-2) Kitazakura and work our way down to the most loseristic (2-8) Kyokutenho vs. (1-9) Tokitenku. I'm also going to tempt the wrath of the Japanese-literate everywhere by using some of my own Kanji translations of the rikishi's shinoka. Edu-tainment with the stress on 'Tainment'.

Coverage begins with 'North Victory Power' M11 Hokutoriki against 'North Cherry Blossom' M17 Kitazakura. The Super 'Zakura Bros. have been great to watch this basho, and I'm happy that my forced pre-basho research brought them to my attention. The aging Cherries have shown a ton of determination and should both stay in the top division for at least another two months. The bout tonight was no disappointment with the two rikishi very determined to stay the course. Hokutoriki shifted from the tachi-ai which allowed Zakura to get under his armpits and back him up for a few seconds until the hold was broken. Riki then opened up with the footwork and danced away from his opponent, both of them flailing, until Zakura became winded and fell to a wicked slap-down. Hokutoriki continues to earn his woman's love at (10-1) while Kitazakura puckers up in disappointment at (8-2).

'East Chestnut' O3 Tochiazuma, our second of tonight's three leaders, had to deal with 'Black Sea' M2 Kokkai tonight who is having a great basho. Kokkai started off well and stood the Ozeki up a few times but Taz just kept beating away his arms until the Georgian was off-balance. One swat to the face and Taz sees double digits at (10-1) while Kokkai is still two short of his M2-kachi-koshi at (6-4). 

Sekiwakes 'Koto's Ray of Love' Mitsuki and 'White Phoenix' Hakuho were both cruising through the basho at a good pace with Mitsuki one uncomfortable win away from his Kachi-Koshi. Hakuho stepped in to grab a low outside left at the tachi-ai while Mitsuki sunk an inside right. Hakuho then hooked Mitsuki by the neck with his right arm and started shifting to the left in order to set up one of his dangerous and painful armbar throws. Lickedy-split and Mitsuki gets dumped to (7-4) while Hakuho twists another arm to reach (9-2).

'Peaceful Horse' M6 Ama was going for his 8th against 'Time's Sea Haven' M14 Tokitsuumi who has been sharing the leaderboard with 8 wins already. Both men got their right hand inside grips early but it was Tsuumi who pressed the first attack and pulled Ama in much closer than the Mongolian usually enjoys. Ama tried an interesting leg trip move but was unable to break free as Tokitsuumi pressed him to the edge and down. Tokitsuumi is carrying his (9-2) against Roho tomorrow while Ama swallows a hearty (7-4).

'Morning's Blue Dragon' Asashoryu finished the night against 'Rock Tree Mountain' M5 Iwakiyama in another deflated test before his Sanyaku downshift tomorrow. Moon-Face has a big size advantage over the Yokozuna and I keep hoping that he, like Kokkai, can find a way to make it work. That advantage dissolved at the tachi-ai as Asashoryu muscled his way under Iwakiyama and held him captive for a while as he searched for weakness. Iwakiyama held on but when his belt grip on the Yokozuna became lose he was quickly walked out by yorikiri. No news here, Iwakiyama hopes to resurge at (3-6) while Asashoryu is our third leader and co-running the show at (10-1).

'Spring's Sun King' M12 Kasugao has been shaking things up so far and would face hot potato 'Meet the Wall' M7 Kakizoe for their third time ever. Kakizoe was all armpit today as he quickly got under Kasugao from the tachi-ai and forced him out immediately. Both men sit on the doorstep at (7-4)

'Elegant Mountain' M1 goliath Miyabiyama was up against 'Russian Phoenix' M2 Roho for the fifth time in what is usually Miyabi's fight. Miyabiyama has been looking good this basho, but Roho has simply been looking better with the record to prove it. This tank battle was all about slap-downs with Roho the first to try but then driving low as Miyabiyama pulled one of his own. Roho kept his feet under him and bulldozed Miyabiyama out to earn his Kachi-Koshi. Miyabiyama brings his (5-6) record against Tamanoshima tomorrow.

'White Russian Mountain' M4 Hakurozan finally had his shot at 'Koto's Europe' Kotooshu tonight in yet another goofy stop on his tour of humiliating defeats. Talk about a tourist, Hakurozan hasn't shown a spark of what he needs to stay alive in the top flight. Coming out high from the tachi-ai, Hakurozan was stood up quickly as Kotooshu pounced on his belt and forced him out. Kotooshu is back to being a boring but effective Ozeki at (9-2) while Hakurozan is in it for the memories with a make-koshi (3-8).

'Youth's Village' M16 Wakanosato works his way up the rankings against old pal 'Radiant Eagle Mountain' M11 Kyokushuzan who is once again having a hard time catching the elevator this basho. Their 18 matches go back to '98 but this time it was all about Wakanosato who chased the trickster around the ring until Shuzan finally stepped out. Wakanosato prepares to re-ascend the banzuke at (7-4) while Kyokushuzan is losing the magic at (5-6).

'Peaceful Beauty Prize' M7 Aminishiki has been all about the barbarian wristbands this basho and was wearing them again against our grumpy little buddy, the 'Universal Heavenly King' M8 Futenoh. I have no idea what's wrong with Futenoh this basho, but I don't see any fight in him at all.  He isn't enjoying himself, and he isn't scoring as well as he should. From the tachi-ai they were both pretty even until Aminishiki started bucking to the right and threatened to get a right hand outside grip. Futenoh tried to pivot away but Aminishiki was in control and soon thrust him out without much difficulty. The barbarian beauty now sits at (6-5) while Futenoh enjoys his first back to back losses at (5-6).

'Watch the Rising Prosperity' M10 Takamisakari ( looser translation than most ) has been breaking even so far along with 'Earth Helps Sea' M14 Tosanoumi. This was the evening's shortest bout as Tosanoumi crushed Taka at the tachi-ai but then lost his balance and fell forward to quickly end the match. Takamisakari conjures more Sumo magic at (6-5) while Tosanoumi is a strong but spellbound (5-6).

Now that we're finished with the success stories of the basho we can start with the less fortunate couples. 'Rare Strength of the Village' M9 Kisenosato got to tangle with the 'Bountiful Cherry Blossom' M12 Toyozakura, younger of the 'Zakura brothers. Toyo started working the morote from the tachi-ai but soon Kissy had him under the armpit and then by the belt and out. Both are now at (5-6) and need three wins in the next four days for their promotions.

'Leave the Island' M6 Dejima has been back on form lately and faced 'Morning's Red Dragon' M4 Asasekiryu on day 11. Dejima charged straight in and fought off some throws before Sekiryu grabbed an outside left grip and settled them into the middle of the ring. Sekiryu then tried to lift Dejima up and out but was overpowered and countered at the edge. Red Dragon earns his make-koshi with that one while Dejima is ahead of the game at (6-5).

'Bounty of the Island' M9 Toyonoshima met 'Spring Day Prize' M5 Kasuganishiki in the battle of 4-6's still hoping for promotion. Toyonoshima stayed alive at one point by securing morozashi right at the edge and used it to stay low and drive out Kasu. 

'Chestnut Glory' M13 Tochisakae met 'Koto's Crysanthemum Reward' M10 Kotoshogiku in another 4-6 battle in which the Giku ignored Sakae's attacks and worked to set the old timer up for a slapdown. Sakae meets clay once again and is close to staying in the Makuuchi while Kotoshogiku knows he needs to step things up at (5-6).

'Heroic Air' M3 Takekaze hasn't been doing too well and neither has recovering 'Jewel's Island' Komusubi Tamanoshima, both at (3-7) going into tonight. Tama took control from the tachi-ai and despite a quick pull-down attempt was able to out-muscle the blocky pusher-thruster. Tamanoshima is recovering well at (4-7) while Takekaze can't staunch the bleeding at (3-8).

'Ten Word Sentence' M8 Jumonji got a jump on 'Chestnut's Flower' M3 Tochinohana and stood him up in no time before slipping to the side and slapping him down with ease. I'd say matta but it's a Jumonji fight so who cares? He's (5-6) while Tochinohana is balancing out his (11-4) Jun-Yusho from Nagoya with his (2-9) here.

'Noble Steed of Excellence' M15 Shunketsu sure deserves to be at the bottom of the list this basho with a (2-8) record threatening to send him outside the curtain in March. Facing off against 'Auspicious Wind' M13 Yoshikaze I had my fingers crossed for more magic but.. no, no... clean tachi-ai and ( relying on notes here ) 'Yoshikaze took the offensive and responded with a throw as Shunketsu rallied at the edge.'. Yup, Sukuinage it looks like and Yoshikaze hangs on to his dream of 8 wins at (4-7) while our Artiste Shunketsu is a tragedy-inspiring (2-9).

I'm skipping 'One Sided Mountain' Katayama and 'Young Creeper Horse' Wakatoba because they're entertaining Juryo tonight. but I thought I'd mention their names. I've got a few more translations to go but I hope you're enjoying them so far. The meanings of the characters are actually taken too literally and reflect the dictionary meanings rather than the people and places they were borrowed from, more of a Kanji lesson than history lesson. I hope you'll forgive me.

Finally we hit the absolute bottom of the barrel and find the scrambling 'Sunrise Heaven Phoenix' Komusubi Kyokutenho against gasping 'Time Heaven Void' M1 Tokitenku. The two sneering Mongolians are having a horrible start to the New Year and will be seeing a different class of opponent next basho if they don't start getting some wins soon. Tokitenku came in low and stood up the taller Kyokutenho before trying a quick throw and then getting both hands inside for a morozashi. Tokitenku nabs his second win of the tournament to pull even with his (2-9) twin.

The first chapter has been a sleeper so far, and I can only hope that someone has the Yokozuna's number through the final stretch. The Europeans have been a big downer because they're all doing very well with poor, boring sumo. Actually, I don't feel as if I have anyone to root for this basho. The Yokozuna is so passé, Hakuho and Tochiazuma have been lukewarm for too long, Futenoh and Kissy are slacking, and Yoshikaze stalled from the onset. No wonder Riki and the 'Zakura brothers are the big stories. Is a Hokutoriki-Kitazakura Yusho playoff rematch too much to ask for?

Mike gets to cover the Hakuho murder tomorrow.  Be sure to tune in for all the grisly details!

Day 10 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
You knew it was just a matter of time. The Pretender fell today to fall back into a tie on the leader board with Asashoryu and Tochiazuma, who both won. By Sunday, Hokutoriki's run will be a distant memory. Today, all it took was the determined left paw of Tokitsuumi (8-2) to land on Hoku's front belt at the tachi-ai to thwart the streak. With Hoku's tsuppari negated, Tokitsuumi walked him right out for an easy yorikiri win. Nothing against Tokitsuumi, but the joi' guys wouldn't even need a hand on the belt to thump the Pretender (9-1).

In another match of genki rikishi, Kitazakura (8-2) overcame Kasugao (7-3) by securing the left uwate and controlling the pace with consistent pressure. A nicely timed pull-down at the brink of a force-out clinched the kachi-koshi. This simply means at least one more basho of goofy fist pumping after Zakura wins.

The Mongolia-Russia clash that was Ama and Roho saw the diminutive Ama (7-3) display a lightening quick and relentless offensive that drew an ill-advised pull-down attempt from Roho (7-3). This made the ensuing yorikiri win for Ama look even more lopsided. Both rikishi couldn't get their tachi-ai in synch and spent what seemed like an eternity before clashing, then Ama came nowhere near touching either hand to the clay. This is one pet peeve I have about the shinpan (judges). They went through a phase several years ago stopping bouts frequently to enforce the "touch both hands to the clay" rule, and now they have turned a blind eye to it once again. I'm okay with either stance, just make up your mind. 

Kokkai (6-4) got the best of Kakizoe (6-4) in a good oshi-zumo match. Kokkai got awfully low at one point in the exchange which was too inviting for Kakizoe not to attempt a pull-down, if only for a moment. It was enough to spell doom for Zoe. A win against Tochiazuma tomorrow would give Kokkai a clean sweep of the Yokoazuna-Ozeki ranks and seven wins. One more win after that would guarantee the Shukunsho special prize and a first-time ticket to the Sanyaku in March.

Hakuho (8-2) used a super long left-hand reach to hook Miyabiyama's front belt at the tachiai. It was a stubborn grip, too, because it never was relinquished despite Miyabi's best efforts to break free and use that lumbering tsuppari of his. The successful tachi-ai led to an eventual shitatenage win for Hakuho, who is showing excellent lower body stability this basho. Miyabi falls to 5-5. Hakuho meets fellow Sekiwake Kotomitsuki tomorrow. 

Kotooshu (8-2) continues to impress in what is looking more like a pattern this basho: Get mawashi, place noggin securely under opponent's chin and plow ahead with authority. Is this a recipe that is becoming the maturing Oshu's signature sumo? Maybe so. The victim today was Kasuganishiki (4-6). 

Tochiazuma (9-1) almost met his match today in Iwakiyama (5-5), who used his bullish attack to push Azuma convincingly to the tawara. But sometimes the fruit falls from the tree straight into your mouth. It's been that kind of basho for Azuma, for a subtle (and desperate) twist at the rope brought the Rock crashing down in defeat. Azuma limped off the dohyo but appears to be okay. Let's certainly hope so-- the Ozeki rank cannot take another withdrawal. 

Finally, the musubi-no-ichiban saw Asashoryu (9-1) beat Kotomitsuki (7-3) for the 19th time in a row. Mitsuki has stated that one of his goals this year is to defeat the Yokozuna, but that will have to wait until March at least. He actually had good positioning after garnering the left outer grip and even showed a nice attack, but it was Sho's determination and scoop throw that prevailed. 

With 10 days down and 5 to go, we have Sho back atop the heap at 9-1 joined by Tochiazuma and of course, the Pretender. Hot on their heels at 8-2 are Kotooshu, Hakuho, Tokitsuumi and the ZAKURA, baby. Kitazakura, that is (insert goofy fist pump here).

Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As we officially head into week 2, no surprises so far right? I mean who didn't expect M11 Hokutoriki to be our sole leader after 9 days? I know I predicted as much. The Jokester's yusho run has been dealt a severe blow, however, by the withdrawals over the weekend of two Ozeki. Let me explain. The pairings for the 15 days heading into any basho are never set more than two days in advance, but some trends always hold true. The Yokozuna, for example, will fight the next highest rikishi on the banzuke on senshuraku, the third highest rikishi on day 14, and so on in descending order down through the Sekiwake ranks. So it's no surprise then that Asashoryu will face Sekiwake Kotomitsuki on day 10 because holding to tradition that would have left Hakuho on day 11 and then the four Ozeki the last four days...assuming everyone was healthy. Now, however, two Ozeki have withdrawn leaving two giant holes in the Yokozuna's schedule in the waning days forcing the Association to dig down to the Maegashira ranks to find two replacements. Not only does the Yokozuna get Maegashira scrubs, but the Ozeki do as well as their fighting schedules are tailored around the Yokozuna. In short, because Kaio and Chiyotaikai are no longer around, the probability is that Hokutoriki will be called into action sooner to face several high-ranking rikishi the last week of the basho. I'm pretty good at not making sense, and I think I'm doing that here, so let me just conclude by saying Hokutoriki is not the favorite to yusho. You'll see what I mean as the basho plays out unless of course the Association is so determined to have a native take the yusho that they leave Hokutoriki down with the scrubs.

Getting right to the action, Yokozuna Asashoryu has been fighting of late the competition the Ozeki were facing early on in the basho. That translates into a few days of cakewalks before the Sekiwake and Ozeki come calling. Today's flub was M4 Hakurozan, who doesn't look injured, but has seemed intimidated by the jo'i more than any rikishi in recent memory. Today, Hakurozan thought up of a pretty stupid plan if you ask me. I can see him working. He's thinking, "Okay, I'm fighting the Yokozuna today. Maybe I'll throw him a twist and see if I can catch him off guard." Said twist was a Chiyotaikai tsuppari impersonation that saw Hakurozan standing straight up from the tachi-ai and flail away with elbow and knee joints locked. I almost expected Asashoryu to pause, look into the shomen camera, and say, "what the hell is this?" He could have done that and still won today. Instead, he went about his business brushing off Hakurozan's "tsuppari" as he got deep on the inside of his opponent and easily forced him back and out. I felt today as well as day 7 when Asashoryu faced Tokitenku that he could have easily administered the tsuri-otoshi on his opponents, but call it a sign of maturity on the part of the Yokozuna. No need to humiliate an innocent victim. The Yokozuna moves to 8-1 with the win and once again sits in the yusho driver seat.

That's thanks in large part to M1 Miyabiyama. That's right folks, the Sheriff will be damned if he doesn't have his say in the yusho race. In easily the most exciting bout since Asashoryu - Kokkai on day 2, this was a back and forth 20 second contest that featured Miyabiyama's beefy tsuppari attack against Ozeki Tochiazuma's sheer grit and ring sense. Miyabiyama stuck to his tsuppari attack from the tachi-ai, but Tochiazuma evaded well this way and that in a desperate attempt to latch onto Miyabiyama's belt. There wasn't a square centimeter of the dohyo that these two didn't cover as they grappled in the ring. At one point, Tochiazuma lunged and managed to get a right arm deep on the inside of Miyabi's left pit and lift Miyabi's left arm straight in the air, but Miyabiyama used a nifty paw to the face of the Ozeki to push him back separating the two again. The longer the bout went on at its energetic pace, the more I thought there's no way that Miyabiyama (5-4) can have any more left in the tank, but the former Ozeki kept firing and firing until he had pushed Tochiazuma (8-1) back across the straw for an improbable victory.

A few things regarding this bout. First, Miyabiyama stuck to his best offensive attack, the lumbering tsuppari (was there any doubt?). Second, his footwork was phenomenal. There wasn't a point in the bout where he didn't keep himself directly in front of Tochiazuma. And third, Tochiazuma's record looked shiny coming in, but it was minus a single convincing victory where he completely dismantled a quality opponent. Roho largely backed into a loss on day 4, and then yesterday against Hakuho, how do the judges not call a mono-ii after that bout? I'll tell you how. Tochiazuma is Japanese; he's atop the lead in the yusho race; the referee signaled in favor of the Japanese rikishi (this one's crucial because if you switch belts to where Hakuho is the pusher and Tochi the receiver, there is a mono-ii); and the opponent was a foreigner. Simon and I have debated a bit as to whether or not there is a conspiracy against the foreign rikishi and particularly against Asashoryu. My take is this: I'm convinced that a meeting has never been held where it was discussed that a Japanese rikishi should be given preference over a foreign rikishi. I'm also convinced that if important-looking government officials decided to storm the offices of the Sumo Association wearing their suits and carrying cardboard boxes (of course, they'd have a few token women also be seen on the news as part of the fact-finding team), they would not recover a single document that hinted whatsoever of a conspiracy. I won't call it a conspiracy, but I will label it as favoritism. They don't have to hold such meetings. No one has to perform a useless search of the Association offices. These people are patriotic the same way that I am. They have their favorites the same way I do. I am definitely much easier on a Hakuho tachi-ai henka than I would be if Kotooshu did it. But the point is no matter what I say on this website, it doesn't affect the rikishi, the yusho, or the integrity of the sport. The judges, however, are in a different situation. Their decisions DO affect those three things. All I'm saying is that they are blatantly partial in favor of the Japanese rikishi. I challenge anyone to recall a single close bout similar to the Tochiazuma - Hakuho bout where the foreign rikishi was given the call over the Japanese rikishi. I can give you plenty of evidence supporting my claims the other way.

Sorry for the tangent....let's move on. Rounding out the Ozeki ranks, Kotooshu simply schooled M4 Asasekiryu today by grabbing the firm left uwate, pulling Asasekiryu up and off balance, and easily forcing him back and out. NHK tried to hype the bout by showing Asasekiryu toppling Kotooshu back in May, I believe, but Kotooshu has come such a long way since then and Asasekiryu has wallowed in the same mire. These rikishi are simply not in the same class anymore and it shows. Kotooshu moves to 7-2 with the win, and watch out, with Tochiazuma's loss today, Kotooshu is squarely back in the yusho hunt. Seki falls to 2-7.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki enjoyed similar domination over M1 Tokitenku today. The Sadogatake Sekiwake completely neutralized Tokitenku with a crushing tachi-ai, latched onto his belt with a right outer, and easily dumped the struggling Mongolian to the clay. This was over nearly as fast as it took me to stop the visual fast forward on my VCR today. Like stablemate Kotooshu, Kotomitsuki is suddenly given new life at 7-2 just one behind the leader. Oh yeah...sorry...two behind Hokutoriki.

Rounding out the Sekiwake ranks, Hakuho won by default over Kaio today to move to 7-2 himself. Wow, if the Association pairs Hokutoriki with some of the contenders, and someone can hand Asashoryu another loss, the yusho race should be fantastic down the stretch.

In the Komusubi ranks, Kyokutenho allowed himself to be schooled by M3 Takekaze...in a yotsu-zumo bout of all things. I know that the winning technique was oshi-dashi, but from the tachi-ai, these two immediately hooked up in the middle of the ring with Takekaze bending over low as Kyokutenho tried to grab a belt grip. Kyokutenho didn't look as if he was exerting too much brawn because after a stalemate for a few seconds, Takekaze just bulldozed the struggling Komusubi back and out for the nifty win. Takekaze is performing better than I expected as he moves to 3-6. Kyokutenho suffers make-koshi at 1-8 faster than anyone of his ability ever should. Shame, shame, everyone knows your name.

Komusubi Tamanoshima picked up his second win in a very similar bout to the one I just described. He locked up in the middle of the ring against M3 Tochinohana at the tachi-ai where the two rikishi stalemated in attempt to grab a decent belt grip. Tamanoshima finally worked his way into moro-zashi and forced Tochinohana out from there, but Tama seemed to injure his right shoulder in the process. Tochinohana is a big dude and put up a lot of resistance, so the strain of today's victory may actually knock Tamanoshima out of the tournament. At 2-7 for the Komusubi--after a win no less, that wouldn't be a horrible prospect. Tochinohana falls to the same mark.

Alright, let's get down to the Maegashira ranks where top dog M11 Hokutoriki was paired against a pretty formidable opponent in M7 Aminishiki. I've been pretty harsh in my remarks regarding Hokutoriki to this point, but here's why. Do you remember his performance last basho? He flat out quit. I don't care if he's ranked in the jo'i, I expect to see some effort. I bag on Takekaze a lot because I don't like his style, but he has at least been giving a great effort from his M3 position this basho. Takekaze is trying, and that's all you can ask of someone. Last basho from the same rank, Hokutoriki wasn't trying. So now he's down at M11, and he thinks he's a badass. He actually is this basho. I'd just like to see the same effort next basho when he shoots back up the ranks. That all aside, Hokutoriki had the guns blazing again today as time after time he repelled Aminishiki's charge with sharp thrusts to the throat, face, and upper torso. Again and again Aminishiki would make a run to try and grab Hokutoriki's belt, but Hokutoriki had the answer every time. After about 8 seconds, Aminishiki was worn out from the pummeling and made for an easy oshi-dashi target in the end. So Hokutoriki soldiers on at 9-0. The key to his run is no one has touched his belt. The minute he gives that up, he will lose. It will be interesting to see how the Association pairs him in the coming days. He has Tokitsuumi tomorrow, a similar opponent to Aminishiki. Give Tokitsuumi the belt, and Hokutoriki loses. Aminishiki falls to 4-5.

M2 Roho is in excellent position to keep his name on the leaderboard in week two. He's faced the Yokozuna, all Ozeki, and Kotomitsuki and still came into the day at 6-2. Not too shabby. Today against M5 Kasuganishiki, he showed exactly why he will grace the sanyaku next basho. From the tachi-ai he demanded the left uwate, which he used straightway to dump the M5 down to the clay with a powerful throw in mere seconds. Watch out because his only real formidable opponent left his Hakuho and maybe Miyabiyama. Kasuganishiki falls to 4-5.

How about M12 Kasugao? After his 0-2 start, he was all but forgotten, but against M8 Jumonji today, he weathered a stiff charge from his opponent that had the Korean backed up to the straw and finally latched onto Jumonji's belt with an outer grip that he used to force J-mon back across the entire length of the dohyo and out. Give Kasugao an outer grip and it's curtains. His 7 wins in a row probably tastes pretty good. I don't expect Kasugao to challenge for the yusho, however. Ever notice how there are some rikishi who just blow it for stupid reasons? I think Kasugao is one of those. Anyway, 7-2 at this juncture gets your shikona on the watch-list for a special prize at worst. Jumonji falls to 3-6 suffering his fifth loss in a row.

In the Zakura household, looks like older brother Kita is going to get the top bunk for the next two months. He overpowered M14 Tokitsuumi today in a belt contest improving to 7-2 (younger bro Toyozakura is 4-5). Tokitsuumi shares the same record, so that leaves two more Maegashira rikishi just off the lead. Kitazakura has been a mammoth at the belt this basho. Just as soon as I think "why doesn't he do this every basho?" I also have to remind myself he's 35.

In other Maegashira bouts worth noting, M5 Iwakiyama put a temporary halt M2 Kokkai's sanyaku/shukunsho charge as he withstood the Georgian's tsuppari attack with some thrusts of his own that set up a good pull down opportunity. Both rikishi are 5-4. M6 Ama was lightening quick in his charge today against M10 Takamisakari (5-4). He had to be because give Sakari time to latch onto your mawashi, and you're in trouble regardless of what kind of position you think you have. Ama charged low today like a bullet and had Takamisakari forced out in two seconds. I think the impact from Ama's tachi-ai actually made Takamisakari's vision better it was so hard. Ama moves to 6-3.

M11 Kyokushuzan foiled M7 Kakizoe's hopes of joining the 7-2 club by hitting at the tachi-ai and immediately evading Zoe's quick charge back and to the right. It wasn't a henka, and it was actually quite a good move to counter Kakizoe's style. Shu had his opponent off balance from the start and subsequently pushed him out from behind to move to 5-4. In a classic yotsu-zumo bout that should have been held 35 minutes later, M8 Futenoh survived a loose right outer grip from M16 Wakanosato from the tachi-ai. Waka only had one fold of Futenoh's mawashi, and that was just enough for Futenoh to keep himself in the ring. After some great chikara-zumo, Futenoh finally got a right grip of his own, which turned out to be one fold of the mawashi as well. But in this position, the taller rikishi prevails as Futenoh moves to 5-4. Wakanosato shares the same mark.

That's enough for one day. Asashoryu is still one behind the leader, but when that leader is Hokutoriki who still has some tough bouts ahead, the Yokozuna ain't sweatin' a bit. Here's how the leaderboard shapes up heading into day 10:

Hokutoriki 9-0
Asashoryu, Tochiazuma (8-1)
Kotooshu, Hakuho, Kotomitsuki, Roho, Kasugao, Tokitsuumi, Kitazakura (7-2)

School is in session tomorrow with Dr. Kenji.

Day  8 Comments (Geroge Guida reporting)
Strange days at SumoTalk. January has brought us a shirtless reporter (only here at Sumotalk) sporting a shiner and yesterday the debut of A Clockwork Clancy. Perhaps taking a note from the general weirdness of our humble Web page, NHK invited a highly unorthodox guest to the announcing booth, in the form of His Excellency Demon Kogure. He was the former front man for some group and now is, God help us, a performance artist. That's as far as my research goes on him. Anyway, imagine a Kabuki actor, in costume, losing his way and hanging out and cross-dressing with the Goth/Cosplay crowd at Yoyogi Park on Sunday morning and you get the picture.  Despite his passion and knowledge of the sport, there were plenty of sumo traditionalists who went into cardiac arrest seeing this court jester invade the conservative world of sumo.

To the action.

Asashoryu (7-1) remains one behind the lead, with a very easy oshi-dashi victory over M3 Tochinohana (2-6), who had no answer for Asashoryu's violent power. While Asa's tsuppari don't have the speed of Chiyotaikai or the blunt trauma effect of Miyabiyama, the full range, extension and power of his brand of tsuppari, when he so chooses to use it, is mighty hard to withstand. 

Kotooshu (6-2) locked in a lighting quick morozashi grip on M1 Tokitenku (1-7), turned him around, and sent him out by okuri-dashi. This was my favorite match of the day, more for Tokitenku's valiant defensive struggle and attempt at trying to make a counter move against near impossible leverage. Tokitenku's combined uchigake trip and kubinage throw, while stuffed, was damn near amazing for resistance is normally futile when your back is turned.  By the way, regardless of how Kotooshu does the remainder of this tournament, I'd like to order a cease and desist about how Kotooshu's sumo must be Ozeki-worthy. Ozeki as in our current crop of Ozeki, who now share something like 57 kadoban between them? Ozeki who often show uninspiring sumo, hardly ever threaten the Yokozuna and remain on the DL as much as on the dohyo? If these are the Ozeki standards that Kotooshu has to live up to, ease up on forward sumo and let Kotooshu use his God-given talents to wrestle his style. 

"Ahem"! Speaking of kadoban, the Hatsu basho is just about to serve up a heaping dish of two more. As you already read in the "News" section, Chiyotaikai has withdrawn from this tournament due to injury. A double disappointment because his scheduled opponent, M2 Roho (6-2), has a shot at san'yaku and after already dropping two Ozeki and one Sekiwake, a convincing win against Chiyo would almost cinch that promotion. 

Chiyo's partner in kadoban crime, Kaio, is in dire straits with an ugly loss today, slapped down by M3 Takekaze (2-6), who as Simon mentioned really doesn't belong in jo'i and certainly has no business toppling Ozeki. While Takekaze did dodge a bit at the tachi-ai (not a full blown henka) to parry Kaio's taichi-ai, Kaio looked helpless being slapped down via hiki-otoshi by an inferior rikishi. At 3-5, an injury-racked Kaio is going to have fight tooth and nail for kachi-koshi. While I hope I'm wrong, I don't think many of us will be too surprised if both Chiyo and Kaio are no longer active by the end of 2006.

I respect the mental game and psychological warfare that is such an important part of sumo, but I am tiring of rikishi, especially talented ones like Hakuho, who feel they need to play shiriki shenanigans and fake their opponents to a false start. Just get out there and fight! Hakuho attempted an immediate pull down, Tochi didn't sell it and drove Hakuho out head first, twisting his body almost 45 degrees in the process and throwing what looked to be shades of a flying clothesline. I thought this would be called a torinaoshi, as both rikishi fell off the dohyo at the same time. Replays showed Hakuho's right heel may have grazed the dirt, but it was inconclusive enough that even the NHK announcing crew thought a mono ii was in order. Perhaps a biased call given to the hometown boy? Tochi still spots a Dusty Rhodes-like purple splotch on his belly that dates back to Kyushu and is bull of the woods at 8-0. Hakuho eats a bionic elbow and falls to 6-2.

Too fast, too strong, too Kotomitsuki. The Komusubi (6-2) is more hit than miss this basho, easily tossing M4 Asasekiryu with a mighty uwatenage. 

When Tamonoshima wouldn't allow Kyokutenho his belt, the frustrated Mongolian reverted to a slap down hataki-komi for his first win of the basho. Both Komusubi are 1-7 and are almost guaranteed to be demoted from san'yaku.  It's a guilty pleasure when Sumo's two largest rikishi, M1 Miyabiyama (4-4) and M5 Iwakiyama (4-4), throw that heft around in a tsuppari showdown. Miyabi's tsuppari delivered with bad intentions, chalking up an oshi-dashi win.

M2 Kokkai (5-3) and M6 Ama (5-3) present arguably the most intriguing match-up in sumo - brute power vs. pure finesse. Ama, timed his way in between Kokkai thrusts to get in close and to the belt, but he came in too low and was drilled to the mat by a wicked hataki-komi. Hataki-komi is the least satisfying kimarite around; it's anti-climatic, feeble and provides no shock value or controversy like a henka does. But Kokkai made this one count with a slap down so thunderous that Ama's leg jackknifed straight up and inadvertently kicked Kokkai in the kisser.

The sumo we've been waiting for in Hakurozan (M4) finally showed up today. How pathetic has he looked passively eating tsuppari the last couple of days, with no lateral movement to keep his opponents honest? At 2-6, it's too little too late but a fierce uwatenage on M5 Kasuganishiki (4-4) showed some promise of things to come.

Dropping down to the lower rungs, undefeated M11 Hokutoriki had a case of the nerves and seemed destined to self-destruct against M8 Futenoh, with two "matta" or false starts from the gate. Hokuto regained his composure, moved forward and kept Futenoh either off balance or on the defensive with a relentless oshi-dashi attack. Hokutoriki is a fascinating case: he's got the body of a Brahma bull but the fighting spirit of a Beanie Baby (Yes, I like alliteration.) Don't expect him to have much of an impact on the yusho for he'll be fed to jo'i rikishi in Week Two.

Finally, M14 Tokitsuumi (7-1) kept his incredibly slim, but nevertheless mathematically legit hopes alive in the Yusho by winning a weird one over fellow M14 Tosanoumi (4-4) A rare mental lapse by Tosanoumi, who mistakenly thought Tokitsuumi had already stepped out gave Tokitsuumi a chance to turn the tables and finish Tosanoumi by tsukiotoshi, which looked more like a pro wrestling lariat to the back of Tosa's head. Even Tokitsuumi admitted that he thought he had stepped out back in the locker room. Today's lesson: Just like in baseball where a batter should always run it out to first base even if his hit looks like an easy ground out, rikishi should keep pushing, thrusting, bumping and grinding until there's no doubt your opponent has cleared the tawara. 

Clancy was dead on in yesterday's report regarding Tokitsuumi's prototype sumo looks but it's beyond capitalizing on at this point, as he'll never likely break any higher than mid-Maegashira and lacks charisma. Sometimes it disturbs me how much we talk about rikishi's looks on this site.

So to all my little Sumo-maniacs out there, thanks for reading and stay tuned for the triumphant return of Mike, who will be calling the action on Day 9.

Day  7 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
There was me, that is, Clancy, and my three droogs, that is Simon, Mike, and Georgie Boy, and we sat in the Ryogoku Kokugikan trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do about our cheap stinking seats. We'd sharpened up with some lovely steakiwegs and Super Dry, and were settling our great bolshy yarblockos in for a bit of the old ultra-violence.

With Sadogatake Oyakata Kotonowaka looking on as the day's special guest, M14 Tosanoumi brushed off M15 Player To Be Named Later like so much dog dung on the instep. Poetically, NHK had just shown a replay of Kotonowaka's last ever bout in November against PTBNL (after which Kotonowaka reportedly got an AIDS test just to be on the safe side). Today's result may have left a little dried maple smegma in the shorts of some of the M15's backers, who must have been disappointed he decided to actually stand and fight today. 

M14 Tokitsuumi (6-1) got back to winning today against the newbie M13 Yoshikaze (2-5). They locked up in the center of the ring with identical right hand inside, left hand outside belt holds, but Tokitsuumi showed the youngster his superior strength, finally lifting him up and out. Tokitsuumi is without question a prototype sumo rikishi in the looks department, handsome face, classic hair, and chiseled body, and this basho it seems he has the moves to back it all up.

After Katayama finished his amazing dog-at-fire-hydrant warm ups, he slammed into M12 Kasugao with a flurry of thrusts, but the big Korean managed to get under Katayama's left arm and push him back to the edge, fight off a mild throw attempt by Katayama, and execute a textbook upper arm throw to go to 5-2, leaving the M16 1-6. 

Long battling M17 Kitazakura, the oldest man in the top flight and on the right side of 30, is a man on fire this basho, going to 6-1 with a dominating push out win over the first Mongolian in sumo, M11 Kyokushuzan (3-4).

M11 Hokutoriki has been lambasted on this site for his lacking luster sumo, and rightly so, but it looks as though his oyakata kicked some sense into his head, because he is at least focused this time out. M15 Wakatoba tried to pull an I Dream of Jeannie at tachi-ai but there was no bottle to vanish into as Hokutoriki caught the vyrm in the puss with his left hand and knocked him back enough that he fell to his hands. At 7-0, Hoku may be having dreams of a near yusho run like in May 2004 (but probably also nightmares that he will once again meet Hakuho and once again be henka'd out of a title).

(A slight digression here. I noticed after Aminishiki jammed his thumb up Kasuganishiki's pucker on Day 3that the normally encouraging and appreciative crowd was deeply silent. Not one smiling face or clapped hand. There may not be many Japanese fans left in Japan, but the ones that come to watch generally know their sumo, and they deplore the henka. By contrast, all the henka lovers I know are Westerners, and I think that their stance may be a reflection of Western culture and mores, that cutthroat, look out for number one, win-at-all-costs attitude that prevails in the West. You know him, the guy who uses a broken beer bottle in a bar fight, who pretends to be hurt and then throws sand in the eyes of his adversary, who sucker punches 11 year-old girls.

I grew up in America heeding the advice, It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Yet nowadays, in the ever multiplying lands of pierced pudenda and tattooed tits, where every "hot" gal has a bolted navel and every "hep cat" has a REAL Chinese kanji on his neck ("Yea, dude, it means, 'White Magic', which I'm big into"), it's all about Just Do It, no matter how it gets done, and those of us who see the tachi-ai henka as cowardly are derided as atavistic powdered wigs, snuff boxes in one hand and outdated notions of macho valor in the other. Perhaps it is because we have spent so much time in Japan that we ken the underlying spirit of tachi-ai, unlike the many Wile E. Coyotes who come to Japan and work for Acme English Academy for a year and half and then return home, taking with them the fun and exciting aspects of sumo, but never coming to a deeper, more mature understanding of the culture or the sport. Sadly, their grasp of sumo remains at the embryonic stage (although some might suggest replacing the e-m-b-r-y with m-o-r). 

But hey, different strokes for different folks, right? Let's move on.

The lovable M10 Takamisakari (4-3) absorbed numerous thrusts from M12 Toyozakura (2-5) with his concrete neck and chin, and then gave Toyo's right arm a perfectly timed slap to send him down.

Kakizoe, below his ability at M7, simply destroyed Toyonoshima. As usual he set up at tachi-ai like a stone wolverine, both hands down, no screwing around, then gave the M9 a blast and never let up, running Toyo out and his own record up to 6-1.

Have you noticed just how many first time meetings there have been this basho? New blood in new positions. Makes all the malenky little hairs on my plott stand up. 

M7 Aminishiki (4-3) hit very hard at tachi-ai, but M9 Kisenosato (3-4) soaked it up and kept his right hand under Aminishiki's chin and his left hand under his armpit to center him and prevent him from coming in on the left, then drove into his throat and step by step backed him up across the dohyo and out. Looked not unlike the great Takanohana to me.

M6 Ama and M8 Futenoh both got nice belt grips, Ama on right outer and left inner, Futenoh on the left inner with his right hand keeping Ama's left arm locked into place. They proceeded to yank each other around for a while, the belts riding up high on both rikishi.  It was obvious that Futenoh did not want to get into a full-on belt battle with Ama, who despite his small stature can throw with the best of them now.  Ama for his part stayed very low with his left leg extended way behind him so Futeno could not lift him up.  Then Ama suddenly switched his right hand outer to a right hand inner, squeezing through a small opening between Futenoh's arm and body, but critically failed to dislodge Futenoh's grip. Futeno adroitly returned the favor immediately, then broke Ama's double handed grip on the back of his belt and lifted his right arm up. With the arm raised like some Pick Me! school kid with the right geometry answer, Ama was taken back (and probably taken aback) and out. Ama, whose mawashi looked like an ekiden sash by the end, drifts slightly down toward Earth at 5-2.  Futenoh can start to whiff kachikoshi at 4-3.

M5 Kasuganishiki (4-3) got his right hand in and left out and drove back M4 Asasekiryu (2-5). The Mongolian put up a good fight and tried a throw at the edge, then did a nice one-legged jump (echoing fellow Hakuho's sweet one legged retreating jump against Kokkai on Day 6) that I thought had the match won, but upon slow mo viddying I could see the Red Dragon's left knee brush the dirt ever so slightly. It was nearly simultaneous to Ganish touching down, and I would have welcomed a judges conference and do over. 

Hakurozan and Kokkai had their first meeting in Makuuchi, and Kokkai did an excellent impression of Chiyotaikai seven years ago, blasting the helpless newcomer out in a baby's breath with a withering tsuppari attack. Hakurozan seemed without a dook of an idea about how to handle his foe. Kokktaikai moves to 4-3 with a Yokozuna scalp and two Ozeki shrunken heads on his belt. Hakurozan is dealing with a different kind of shrunken head at 1-6.

Sekiwake Hakuho was looking for a perfect first week and seemed destined for it as Tochinohana, 1-5 coming in, had been showing little of the November basho form that sent him gangbusters up the ranks to M3. You'd think Tochi would have been intimidated by the big Mongolian chelloveck, but he took it right to the future Yokozuna, landing push after push as Hakuho tried in vain to lock up his opponent's arm. He made a big mistake by standing up and trying a pull down, but Tochinohana was right on it, legs solidly under him, and he gave one more push and the Sekiwake's back foot slipped off the bales and out. Like the condoms Simon now grudgingly wears, I have to wonder if that sock that Hakuho is wearing on HIS foot takes away some important feeling, because he seemed surprised that it had slipped off and out.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki (5-2), evidently sick and tired of playing Canada to stablemate Kotooshu's America, showed he will stoop to anything to make Ozeki, pirouetting out of harm's way at the tachi-ai and throwing the weakened and injured Tamanoshima off enough where his subsequent face thrusts to Hit and Mitsuki were ineffective. Tama then tried a couple of ill advised pull down attempts, and was finally forced back and out. Kotomitsuki, like the 51st state, can look damned strong at times and lamentably feeble at others. Still, a win is a win as they say in this diluted and deluded age we live in.

Roho put to rest any chance Ozeki Kaio (3-4) had of escaping this basho with a winning record with a huge tachi-ai forearm (while absorbing a wicked headbutt) and a quick force out that left the red, red, kroovy on the M2's face and on Kaio's shoulder. With four certain losses to come from among Asashoryu, Tochiazuma, Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki and Hakuho, Kaio may soon be seen leaving the building. Roho Zimmerman is knock, knock, knockin' on the sanyaku door at 5-2 with a Sekiwake and two Ozeki on his trophy wall (should have been three Ozeki but he calmly strolled out against Tochiazuma on Day 4 like he was walking his focking cat!).

M1 Miyabiyama (3-4) showed no fear of Chiyotaikai (4-3) and further exposed the fading Ozeki for what he is, too weak and too slow. Mark down Chiyotaikai for the same fate as Kaio if he doesn't resort to some trickery, and even then it may not save him. I've said it before, he has been a great Ozeki for a long time, and now a little too long.

Ozeki Kotooshu and Komusubi Kyokutenho both established inside right and outside left belt holds, but the Ozeki's hold was much stronger and when Kyoku's left hand slipped off his opponent's belt as he tried a leg lifting twisting throw, Kotozeki dumped him down hard. Having found his groove, I fully expect Kotooshu to run the table from here on in, lose to Asashoryu and finish at a very respectable 12-3. 0-7 Kyokutenho had better start winning some next week or he may be taking the Nestea plunge all the way down to M10.

M3 Takekaze should keep every scrap of every news article about him this basho, because he may very well never reach this high again (although I hope I'm wrong). He faced a murderer's row the first seven days, an All-Star lineup that included one Yokozuna and possibly two future Yokozuna, one Ozeki and possibly one future Ozeki, and he should be damned proud of how he comported himself. Definitely something to tell the grandkids about one day. 

Today he nearly added Tochiazuma to his Ozeki collection with a ballsy push to the edge, but the Sturdiest Rikishi in Sumo was not to be driven out so easily, and he slapped Takekaze down in the end. Tochiazuma goes to 7-0 and has tongues wagging, but his plate has been light so far, e.g., Tokitenku and Hakurozan, nervous first timers up this high, and he should have lost to Roho by all rights. While he is looking determined, I can't see him beating Asa or Kotooshu. 

In the final bout, Asashoryu took on M1 Tokitenku for the first time in Makuuchi. He slapped him hard at tachi-ai, then got an iron grip on the back of the belt. He bent down and went after the leg in real Mongolian style, and they spun around the center of the ring for a few moments as Tokitenku tried to avoid the leg grab. That was fine by the Yokozuna, who then calmly marched him back, and flipped him over at the edge. It may seem excessive, but this was not a case of Extrashoveyou being a Khan. He actually could have let Tokitenku go down into the clay face first, but he doesn't want people to get hurt, so he consciously flipped hard with his right hand while supporting Tokitenku's ribcage with his left, causing the M1 to revolve entirely around and fall harmlessly onto his tush and back. The man has grown into his Yokozuna role admirably. Asa is Jennifer Connelly tipsy in a sheer blouse in the film House of Sand and Fog, and Tokitenku is the record company executive who decided to release as a single Van Halen's cover of the Kink's You Really Got Me without including Eruption.

Well, I'm right shagged and fagged and fashed, it having been an evening of some small expenditure for your humble narrator, o my brothers. Bedways is rightways now, so best I go and get a bit of spatchka.

See you on Senshuraku.

6 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
Hatsu 2006 is shaping up to be an exciting affair and for the first time in many waxings and wanings of the moon-god, I am not going to call it for Asashoryu in the first week (I think my record is calling it on the third day, not exactly a risky proposition, I admit). Now I don't want to urinate on everyone's pillow or anything but I reckon the main reason people think this basho is so great is because the two main contenders have dropped bouts while other contenders don't look like screwing up too soon, meaning the yusho might actually go to someone we didn't expect it to for a change. In actual fact, the quality of sumo from the sanyaku ranks has been very patchy. The Yokozuna has done his job well, of course, but has looked a little shaky to me here and there, certainly when I think back and compare his sumo this basho to his recent imperious performances. I would not be all that surprised to see him drop another one or even two bouts before Armageddon on January 22nd. None of the Ozeki have been inspiring, even Chiyotaikai, whose tsuppari is just barely working against the dregs of the top-ranked Maegashira. I will wait to see how he does against the behemoths before I pass judgment on him. Even Tochiazuma, who looks poised for a real yusho attempt, has nonetheless been highly dull. Frankly, I'd rather watch a cat eating its dinner for two hours than a Tochiazuma bout at the moment. Still, I admire the fact that he has obviously found a formula that works for him and is sticking with it. In lower sanyaku, only Hakuho has looked consistently good. We have to look a bit lower down the banzuke to find good sumo. Ama, Roho, Kokkai, Kakizoe, Kasugao and Kitazakura have all been turning on the style. Hey, by the way, it's Friday 13th. Does that mean someone will be unlucky? I don't give a rusty damn because I'm not superstitious but for those who do believe in astrology and the like, I suggest you go here for an article which pretty well sums up my feelings on the subject.

On to the action...Yokozuna Asashoryu (5-1) played a bit with Komusubi Kyokutenho's affections, perhaps giving him the impression that he stood a chance in hell of an upset. No way, my friends. Asashoryu got migi-uwate and didn't let go until he got bored with the game and pulled down for the uwate-dashinage victory. Kyokutenho will be pretty miserable at 0-6 but he's been up against all the big boys in the first week, as is normal for those at the Komusubi rank. He should get a lot more joy in the second week. Asashoryu marches on.

Ozeki Kaio looked a bit more up-for-it today. Yes, he actually looked like he wanted to win this one, which is a big step forward. Naturally, M1 Tokitenku was hoping for an off day but he didn't get it. The Ozeki showed sufficient awareness to keep control despite not getting the belt grip he prefers. He went forward, another plus, and while Tokitenku (1-5) was probably bracing for a jump to the side at the edge, Kaio (3-3) bamboozled the Mongolian and played copycat with Asashoryu, showing that he can win by uwate-dashinage, too.

Ozeki Tochiazuma said a couple of days ago that he has a rule never to lift his chin (the one on his face, I mean) during bouts. Well, Tochiazuma, that explains a lot, because I have exactly the same rule when I peel potatoes. The similarity between me removing the skin of vegetables and your sumo over the last couple of years is abundantly clear: it is tedious in the extreme. Still, whatever works for you, Dai-chan, and it certainly did today as he massacred M3 Tochinohana (1-5) with a bread-and-butter performance that will speak in ominous tones to those following in his wake. If Tochiazuma (6-0) makes it to day nine without losing, we could be looking at yusho number three. That would be fantastic because his career will not last forever and he needs to make a concerted effort to reach Yokozuna sooner rather than later. I definitely don't want to him to do a Kaio on us and fall short of his potential.  He might be boring everyone stupid but I still love him.  Oh, my foolish heart.

M1 Miyabiyama very unwisely let Kotooshu onto his belt after a half-hearted attempt at moro-te, but even Sheriff Fatman should have taken the shiroboshi (win) here as he had morozashi for a time, until he delayed too long and allowed the Ozeki to break it. He will be shaking his head in disgust for losing this one and Kotooshu will know he got away with it big-time. Still, Kotooshu deserves credit for turning it around and he will feel he is still in the yusho hunt at 4-2. Miyabiyama is a lonely little bunny rabbit at 2-4.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai (4-2) showed us just how flimsy his tsuppari attack is as he somehow contrived to lose to grievously injured Komusubi Tamanoshima (1-5). Tama-chan just stood there for a while as Chiyotaikai went at it, and then politely asked the Ozeki to stop tickling his face and neck and took matters into his own hands. In a bit of a see-saw across the dohyo, Tamanoshima finally went for the back of the Ozeki's head and this proved decisive as Chiyotaikai was put into a weak position at the edge, allowing Tamanoshima to push him out for the oshi-dashi win. At least Chiyotaikai is trying to win his way but it could only be a matter of time before the shenanigans are pulled out.

Sekiwake Hakuho looks almost flawless to me at the moment so I was really looking forward to how he would approach the rejuvenated M2 Kokkai. In a ludicrous bout, Kokkai showed his respect for Hakuho's prowess on the belt by not going anywhere near him. The result was a cagey few moments until Hakuho pounced and pushed straight into the big Georgian's body. This was what Kokkai was waiting for, of course, and he immediately tried the pull-down, but Hakuho showed astonishing balance to stay inside the dohyo, even as Kokkai bore down on him. Furiously back-pedaling, The Mongolian turned things round very nicely (and may I say rather fortuitously) and caught Kokkai as he chased him back with a spectacular sukuinage to march on to his sixth straight win....Kokkai stands at 3-3 but has a kinboshi and two ginboshi under his belt and must be happy with that. He will desperately want a kachi-koshi so he can pick up his Shukunsho but there is a long road ahead.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki (4-2) picked up an easy win after slapping M3 Takekaze (1-5) at the tachiai and using that moment of disorientation to get the uwate grip and chuck his hapless opponent to the clay. Uwatenage – way too easy – and yet another demonstration for the world to see that Takekaze is way out of his depth at this rank. Kotomitsuki has been erratic as usual this basho. Nothing new there.  Has anyone noticed how commonplace the harite is becoming these days?  It used to be a no-no in the old days, frowned upon much as the henka is, especially for the higher-ranked rikishi.

M2 Roho gave M6 Dejima a good rogering after leading with a cute little harite (yes, another one) and getting the uwate grip that he wanted. Dejima, as we all know, can't fight on the belt against anyone, particularly foes with the brute strength Roho has. There was a slight scare at the edge as Dejima stepped to the side but Roho was on top of things and kept his balance. The Russian picks up his easiest win of the basho so far and looks sexy at 4-2. Dejima looks like a wilting daffodil at 2-4.

You have to admire M7 Kakizoe. What a fantastic little terrier he is, and he doesn't care who he is up against. He has a fighting spirit up there with the best of them. In today's action, he met M4 Hakurozan, a rikishi who has yet to show much in that particular regard. Sumo is not just about fighting spirit, of course, although it was in this bout. Kakizoe was simply hungrier in a straight-up pushing battle that Hakurozan seemed almost nonchalant about giving up. The Russian should start injecting testosterone, I reckon. Kakizoe doesn't need any of that, though, as he is clearly a real man. He is proving too good for this rank and stands at 5-1. Hakurozan drops to 1-5 and may well be feeling the effects of either the reported hip or toe injuries, but I don't think so; he was just outperformed by a better rikishi today.

M6 Ama is having a great basho. M9 Kisenosato is not. One worrying thing about Kisenosato is that he can only attack. He appears to have no defensive capabilities whatsoever. If he gets that tachiai going and goes forward, he can beat anyone, including Jason, Damien and Alien, but if someone comes at him, or beats him at the tachiai, he doesn't have a clue. Ama led in with a slap and took the bout to Kisenosato and you just knew it was all over. Once he'd wrapped Kisenosato up, all the youngster could do was try to swat the pesky Mongolian down. Ama stays on course for the Ginosho and more at 5-1. Kisenosato desperately needs to learn how to fight defensively - and not defensively in the way Bernie espouses, by the way - I like my rikishi to be noble, thank you very much, not flimsy ponces who jump to the side when they can't win any other way because they know full well it gives them an unfair advantage and also (in a few particular cases) know they lack the talent, dignity and depth of character to face opponents head on...mentioning no names, true to my solemn vow. Of course, they have to think about their livelihoods, don't they, their pay packets! Yeah - nice one - what do you do for an encore? Sorry, Bernie...couldn't let you get away with it scot-free!

'Ahem'...M13 Yoshikaze did very well to recover after losing his balance against M10 Takamisakari following an impressive volley of thrusts to the neck. He showed good awareness however and came back to secure morozashi. He nearly lost it again as Takamisakari managed to swing his diminutive opponent around but it was not to be in the end as Yoshikaze returned the favour and forced the crowd pleaser out. It's a two-day winning streak after a four-day losing one for the new boy and he seems to be settling in at last. Expect a few more wins in the same vein as the basho progresses. Circus falters to 3-3.

M11 Hokutoriki (6-0) just about kept himself in the zensho yusho hunt (but don't put any money on that) as M13 Tochisakae (2-4) sidestepped at the tawara. It was a desperate move by the veteran after being dominated by Hokutoriki's usual pushing/thrusting attack. You can't argue with the numbers, but Hoku-sama is not fighting anywhere near the level he was at in that famous yusho run back in Natsu 2004, where he had the added handicap of being at M1. Still, at least he is winning, and that provides mental inertia and focus of its own.

M14 Tokitsuumi (5-1) was given a sumo lesson in a superlative performance of technique and power by M12 Kasugao (4-2). It was only a matter of time before Tokitsuumi lost a bout because he had the unlikeliest 5-0 record coming in that I've seen for quite a while, winning more than one of his bouts through sheer grit and luck. Kasugao looks solid this run-out and should coast to a winning record.

M16 Wakanosato made that mistake that always winds me up – panicking and going for the pull-down against super-genki M17 Kitazakura when things didn't go his way in the slap-fest. Roho tends to do the same thing (in his loss to Tochiazuma this basho, for instance). It is truly infuriating. Wakanosato managed to get the belt a couple of times but was shrugged off far too easily by his globular opponent. I give 476 points to Kitazakura for this performance and I have to admit that he has really improved since the last time he was up in Makuuchi. He has the bit between his teeth and is surely odds-on to get a second top-division winning record (his last was in Aki 2001). Good luck to him. He deserves it after I derided him in my pre-basho report, while I deserve a slap on the bottom from a slightly balding middle-aged man in a ferret costume. 5-1 for Kitazakura. Wakanosato can kiss goodbye to his yusho hopes as he drops to 4-2.

At this stage it is looking like very much like a flat-out race between Tochiazuma, Hakuho and Asashoryu, with Kotooshu waiting in the wings. I am desperately hoping (against hope) that Ama and Kakizoe can keep up with them as well, at least until the next time I report on day 13. Go lads – you are kick-ass stars and I love you both from the very bottom of my cavernous heart.

Lord Clancy Nancy Elizabeth Mussolini Inglethorpe is up tomorrow. I just know you'll be tuning in for him.

Day 5 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I apologize for my goofy expression, but anytime I see a good looking shirtless dude, my eyes start to wander if ya know what I mean. Welcome to Sumotalk Bernie, you big hunk you. Now, where was I? After a solid first day of sumo and a second day highlighted by a dramatic Kokkai win over Asashoryu, the fervor surrounding this basho has begun to settle a bit. I'm not too pleased with three of the four Ozeki and the ghastly henka is starting to creep in too much for my liking. Nevertheless, I still think we're in for an exciting second week once all of the elite begin facing each other. Re-focusing my attention from what I can see standing next to Bernie behind the frame of this webpage to the task at hand, let's get right to the bouts.

Easily the most anticipated bout on day 5 was the Asashoryu - M2 Roho matchup. Roho simply laid the wood to the Sadogatake boys earlier in the basho by grabbing the quick left uwate, and he went for the same move today straight from the tachi-ai against Asashoryu. The Yokozuna answered, however, with a sharp thrust to the throat that kept the mighty Roho at bay. Roho didn't take the rejection lightly and lunged once more for the left belt grip, but Asashoryu wisely shook away his hips and forced both rikishi into that grapplin' stance where they lock arms and bend low at the waist. Asashoryu held the advantage with his left arm deep on the underside of Roho's right armpit. The Yokozuna wrenched the Russian upwards before driving him back to the tawara where he squelched any resistance from Roho by lifting up his left leg and slamming him down to the clay for the slick ashi-tori win. This was excellent sumo from both parties. Although Roho lost the bout, I was encouraged that he went for the belt instead of the pulldown. As the two rikishi were bent low jockeying for position, Roho (3-2) could have easily been baited into a pull down attempt, but with his right arm neutralized, he never stopped grappling with that left arm to get the belt grip (something that couldn't be easily seen due to the camera angle). The Yokozuna (4-1) was slick as usual taking away his opponent's strengths and making those quick adjustments that made the win seem easier than it really was. Great sumo from both rikishi , and it'd be a shame if we didn't have this matchup every basho.

I mentioned in my opening that I haven't been pleased with three of the four Ozeki, so you may be surprised that the one Ozeki I've been satisfied with is Chiyotaikai. He deserved to get beat by Takekaze, but against his four other opponents, he's been pretty stalwart focusing on his bread and butter tsuppari attack. Today's victim was M1 Tokitenku, a rikishi too inexperienced and too lanky of a target for Chiyotaikai to try anything else but his bulldozer tsuppari attack. Driving with his legs, Chiyo had Tokitenku backed up and out in two seconds for the great win. At 4-1, I don't consider Chiyotaikai a player this basho by any stretch of the imagination. Before you Chiyotaikai fans get too worked up about that, look at the opponents he's beaten so far: 0-5 Kyokutenho, 1-4 Tochinohana, 1-4 Hakurozan, and 1-4 Tokitenku. And I've already mentioned that loss to 1-4 Takekaze. Still, as long as Chiyo sticks to his tsuppari attack, I'm pleased with his effort.

Like Chiyotaikai, Kaio is another rikishi who has taken advantage of the weak and lame to pick up two wins. Today the Association graciously paired him with Komusubi Tamanoshima who is fighting like a crash test dummy that had his right arm ripped off and sloppily taped back to his body. Kaio delivered the usual tachi-ai where he leads with the left shoulder in an attempt to grab the right uwate. That outer grip wasn't even necessary as Kaio got his left arm deep enough on the inside to belly up with his opponent where the easy force out was inevitable. Tamanoshima 0-5 needs to withdraw before he continues to inflate his opponents' records. Kaio limps to 2-3 but that's thanks to an easy schedule so far.

How can I be displeased with Tochiazuma's 5-0 start that has included no cheap wins? He's just boring me to tears with his sumo. Here's my usual routine to psyche myself up for a Tochiazuma bout:

- stare at the minute hand of my clock to see if I can detect any movement
- watch reruns of Japanese congressional debates
- read a chapter from Leviticus

Once I've gotten that out of the way, I can usually sit back and enjoy a boring tachi-ai followed by an Ozeki who slumps over halting any action in the ring as he tries to bait his opponent to pull him down. Today against Kyokutenho I was not disappointed! The two had to have stood in the center of the dohyo for at least 30 seconds before there was any action. Finally, Tochiazuma pounced into a morozashi grip that he used to drive Kyokutenho back to the tawara. The Komusubi grabbed a pretty stubborn left uwate in the process and used it to fend of Tochiazuma's attack and actually force the Ozeki clear across the ring back to the other side. As Kyokutenho (0-5) went for the force out kill, Tochiazuma slipped to his left and pulled at Tenho's right elbow to dump him to the clay. So Tochiazuma moves to 5-0, but other than Roho, his opponents so far haven't exactly been racking up the wins this tournament. Wake me if Tochiazuma gets to 12-0. I'm with Bernie in his statement to Kotooshu yesterday...try and hurt somebody for godsakes!

Speaking of Kotooshu, I'll have to agree with Bernie again in that this Ozeki has been anything but dazzling. He's fighting the same lame opponents as his counterparts, which means he's beating the wounded in body and spirit and getting his ass-kicked by the oxen. Today, he displayed pitiful sumo against aforementioned ox, M2 Kokkai. Kokkai just laid into the Ozeki with some tsuppari to the neck that left Kotooshu standing straight up and completely out of any offensive-minded stance. As he did against Asashoryu, Kokkai smelled blood and wasted no time in lunging forward and grabbing Kotooshu around the neck before wrenching him down to the clay. Kotooshu managed a feeble attempt at a shita-te grip, but that was it. At 3-2, Kokkai has a win over the Yokozuna and two Ozeki if you need him. Kotooshu maintains the same 3-2 record, but like an unshaven woman, it ain't pretty.

On the subject of tsuppari to the neck, Sekiwake Kotomitsuki absorbed three or four against M1 Miyabiyama from the tachi-ai that left him standing straight up and off balance. Miyabiyama sensed the disorientation and immediately went for a well-timed slap down that sent his opponent toward the clay. To make matters interesting, Miyabiyama used a grip under Kotomitsuki armpit to flip the Sekiwake over as he fell, but whether the winning technique was sukui-nage or hataki-komi, this was thorough domination by Miyabiyama all set up by the tsuppari. Great effort from Miyabiyama who moves to 2-3 while Kotomitsuki falls to 3-2.

Contrast Tochiazuma's 5-0 with Sekiwake Hakuho's 5-0 start. Yes, they've been fighting the same opponents, but Hakuho is toying with his opponents and kicking their asses straightway. Has this kid even broken a sweat yet? Today he was the victim of a tachi-ai henka from M4 Hakurozan who meekly stepped to his left and just stood there. You all know how I despise the henka, but if you try it, don't you at least need to go for the slapdown or for the cheap uwate? Hakurozan did neither. Furthermore, his sidestep was as slow as that minute hand on my clock. Hakuho read the move with ease and just drove a right forearm into Hakurozan's mid-section sending the young Russian flying out of the dohyo. Hakuho is definitely Shakira shaking her booty on stage at 5-0 while Hakurozan is Air Supply performing on that cheesy 80's program Solid Gold at 1-4.

Slipping down to the Maegashira ranks, M5 Iwakiyama followed up his nifty uchimuso move yesterday with a series of thrusts to M3 Takakaze's (1-4) midsection that sent him back and out in seconds. For Iwakiyama (3-2), tsuppari = win. In one of the better bouts of the day M4 Asasekiryu had his hands full with M3 Tochinohana in a classic yotsu-zumo contest. Both rikishi enjoyed early left inside grips before grappling into the gappuri yotsu position with simultaneous right outer grips. Tochinohana (1-4) looked to have Seki on the ropes several times, but the better tactician and more experienced rikishi won today. Asasekiryu creeps to 2-3.

M7 Aminishiki picked up the quick and dirty win by sidestepping M5 Kasuganishiki at the tachi-ai. Aminishiki jumped cleanly to his left and slapped Kasuganishiki down before he was fully out of his stance. Defensive sumo my ass. Aminishiki didn't want to deal with the bigger and semi-hot rikishi in Kasuganishiki so he took the easy way out (the cop out). Both rikishi are 3-2.

M6 Ama quietly moved to 4-1 as he was determined to grab one of M8 Jumonji's arms in this bout. Ama hit straight up at the tachi-ai and immediately yanked Jumonji forward by the left arm. As Jumonji tried to balance himself, he reached his right arm around in an attempt to grab Ama's belt. Ama coolly shifted to the right arm of Jumonji (3-2) and yanked on it until the bigger M8 was walking himself across the straw. Smart sumo from Ama today. M6 Kakizoe schooled M9 Kisenosato by securing a lightening quick moro-zashi grip from the tachi-ai that he used to bully Kisenosato around the ring before finally pushing him out. Kisenosato (2-3) put up an admirable struggle, but he was not match for Kakizoe's speed today. Great sumo for Zoe who moves to 4-1.

In another entertaining bout, M10 Takamisakari survived a fierce charge from M8 Futenoh who used his left arm on the inside to push the Robocop back. Takamisakari countered brilliantly by lifting up underneath Futenoh's right arm throwing the M8 off balance just enough to where Sakari reached his gangly right arm around and grabbed the uwate. From there, he turned the tables nicely at the straw dumping Futenoh (2-3) to the clay via uwatenage. This was vintage sumo from Takamisakari (3-2) that is very good but unfortunately gets overlooked by his pre-bout shenanigans.

M11 Hokutoriki reminds me of a gaijin who teaches at a junior high school in Japan and thinks he's all that because the female students dig him. I'll admit that Hokutoriki has had a fine start, but just look how he reacts at the first sign of a formidable opponent in M14 Tosanoumi who packs a helluva tachi-ai. Tachi-ai henka to the left. This is how you know a tachi-ai henka is coming from the Jokester: he puts both hands to the dirt prior to the tachi-ai as he waits for his opponent. Usually, Hokutoriki will go 80's on us and do one of those tachi-ai where he sort of motions his hands to the dirt before charging, but when he goes for the henka, he needs those hands to push off to the side with. Loser. Today's henka didn't fell Tosanoumi in one second, but take away Tosanoumi's tachi-ai and you may as well take away his manhood. Poor oshi-dashi win for Hokutoriki who moves to 5-0. Tosanoumi settles for 3-2.

M13 Yoshikaze had to be excited today looking across the starting lines at M11 Kyokushuzan because he knew he was up against someone who dinks around and tries to please the crowd with monkeyshines rather than sound sumo. After a weak morote tachi-ai from Shu, Yoshikaze executed some great shoves that had Kyokushuzan backpedaling so fast that when finally pushed off the dohyo, I don't think Kyokushuzan hit the ground before Yoshikaze's hand touched the dirt. A mono-ii wasn't called as this was a no-brainer. Yoshikaze picks up win number 1 while Shu falls to 2-3.

M16 Wakanosato got back to his winning ways by laughing off M12 Toyozakura's tsuppari attack before executing a few shoves of his own that sent the not so fleet of foot Toyozakura down to the clay face first. How do you win by oshi-dashi when your opponent falls face first to the clay? I don't know, but this wasn't even close. Waka moves to 4-1 while Toyozakura falls to 1-4. Keeping it in the family, M17 Kitazakura latched onto M13 Tochisakae's belt and parlayed it into a powerful yorikikiri win to move to 4-1.

And finally, M14 Tokitsuumi really outclassed M16 Katayama in a sound yotsu-zumo contest where Tokitsuumi's experience and belt prowess prevailed moving the veteran to 5-0. With that win over Wakanosato, Tokitsuumi has his toughest opponent out of the way unless he's called upon to fight the elite late in week 2.

Five days in, and the yusho picture is still starting to take shape in my mind. Asashoryu is in as is Hakuho. I don't like any of the Ozeki at this point because once they fight each other and the Sekiwake, somebody is going to have to lose half the time; I think they even each other out. None of the Ozeki looks to be performing yusho-like sumo to me regardless of their current records, so is it safe to say Asashoryu, Hakuho, and one or two veterans from the low Maegashira ranks? Probably so. Simon holds court tomorrow.

Day 4 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
The meatgrinder was in full effect tonight with quite a few mismatches, at least on paper. The Yokozuna and Ozeki were entertaining five of their Maegashira brethren in the later matches but the strong Hatsu Banzuke made for many interesting bouts throughout the night. The big stories of last year have started to fade and the time for new heroes has come. Let's hope the new breed keep up the pace during Day 4.

The Asashoryu match is good to get out of the way quickly because it was pretty weak. Facing M3 Takekaze for the first time ever, Asashoryu probably wasn't sweating this too much and made sure to give the young pup the full force of his menacing shikiri. I've always loved the way he keeps his head locked on his victim while his massive shoulders swing away and I'm noticing that some of his young protégés are copying him. I don't always watch the broadcasts so my shikiri knowledge is a bit weak. Finally coming together, Takekaze took a slap in the face and got both hands against the Yokozuna's chest. From here he quickly ran out of ideas and was lifted and ejected within moments. To his credit he had wonderful balance during the loss and I'm sure he's sleeping soundly tonight. Asashoryu keeps up the chase at (3-1) while Takekaze has just been to Ulan Disney at (1-3).

Kotooshu is fizzling big time as an Ozeki. No, I don't think fizzle is too strong a word. Is he so good that he pretended to change his ways last basho? O2 Yogurt has lost, given up morozashi, sidestepped and danced through the first few days of 2006 and I'm not particularly impressed. M3w Tochinohana was on the day four menu and considering he hadn't been tangling with the genetic freaks of the Makuuchi for a while he was probably in for a challenge. Yogurt came in a bit high at the tachi-ai and Tochinohana was able to lift his left arm away and stayed low on the Bulgarian's right side. Unfortunately Kaloyan reverted right back to his Ninja Dance as soon as he felt he was in trouble and Tochinohana was left in the unfortunate position of trying to weather his girly but formidable defense. Yogurt wore him out quickly and pulled him down by the neck. I sure hope this is one of those wins that leaves Yogurt weeping and pounding the walls of his shower stall in shame. I'm a big fan of defensive Sumo, don't get me wrong, but the better man should win on his own terms, not in moments of self doubt. Plus, I've seen this from Yogurt before and I'm bored. Start hurting people already! Yogurt prances to (3-1) while Tochinohana joins fellow M3 ground beef at (1-3).

Top Ozeki Chiyotaikai had a date with a beautiful young Russian tonight and a lot of people figured that he'd win the day. This was their first time in the ring together and in hindsight I suppose you could have seen the result coming. M4 Hakurozan loves to do his slapping standing up and often offers his chest to his opponent. Chiyotaikai either slaps chest or runs and is only beaten when people put their heads down and break through his tsuppari. No fear of that tonight as Chiyo fired off -count 'em- 21 shots in 6 seconds to drive a well-massaged Hakurozan out of the dohyo. Hakurozan has been giddy in his first trip through the top ranks and will probably think of something better to try next time. Chiyotaikai keeps himself pertinent at (3-1) while Hakurozan retreats to take notes at (1-3).

The match between M2 Kokkai and O1 Kaio was probably not on anyone's list of most anticipated bouts. Kaio has been looking like a man enjoying retirement while Kokkai is starting to get tentative control of his gorilla transplants. The match was a yawner as Kaio had nothing to back up his tachi-ai and gave up before he was even out of the ring. Kokkai wishes that he could take back his match from the day before but so far Ozeki and Yokozuna wins contribute to his decent (2-2) start. Kaio has not yet BEGUN to fight at (1-3). 

Whew! So far what a crazy night, eh? Well, not really. Luckily things were to pick up .. ah, earlier...

Tochiazuma and Roho! Two guys at 3-0 and looking at resurgences in their careers, this was going to be a good match. With M2 Roho keeping away from his slap-down habit and O2 Tochiazuma unusually focused, these two will hopefully be big stories this basho and for the year to come. The bout started well but Roho started to go for the slap-down right away. Taz wasn't playing games tonight and stoically held the center of the ring until Roho fell off balance and was thrust out. Wasn't a good match after all, it turns out, but it did show that Tochiazuma is a rock this basho and he's certainly thinking of hauling the entire Yusho. Taz enjoys 4 straight as Roho checks his gut at (3-1).

S1 Hakuho was up against K1 Tamanoshima in another promising bout. Hakuho is fighting like another Asashoryu lately and I think he's finally getting it together on the dohyo. I particularly like that he is OBSESSED with Yogurt becoming an Ozeki before him. I loved his henka against the champ last basho but I think he learned that it was time to put the toys away. Tamanoshima was looking more like Tamanodejima with all the bandaging he had on his right arm. If I had to fight him I'd want to twist that sucker like there was no tomorrow. Turns out that great minds think alike. Hakuho had a great tachi-ai and came up underneath Tama with his usually grab-bag of feints and slaps. Tama seemed a bit shaken but rebounded from the tawara and drove a Hakuho back weakly to the center of the ring but allowed his bandaged arm to stray for a half second too long. Hakuho seized the poor limb and twisted the Komusubi down straight onto his other arm. Hakuho shouldn't feel bad if his opponent chooses to fight hurt but I saw him biting his lip after the bout as he watched the wincing 28 year-old leave the dohyo. One-time heel Hakuho is still my golden-boy at (4-0) while Tamanoshima has some extra incentive to take it easy for a while at (0-4).

The other Sekiwake-Komusubi matchup was between Streaky-Mitsuki and the luckless Kyokutenho. Kotomitsuki must have had somewhere he had to be tonight because he was in some kind of hury. Getting his hands on the inside right away he was able to drive Kyokutenho to the edge and keep him lifted well up. It eventually turned into a Kirikaeshi twisting backward knee trip but only because 'Tenho was doing so much twisting he tripped over backwards. The rest of this basho is, as always, a complete mystery with the infamous Kotomitsuki but you can't say he doesn't look good so far at (3-1). Kyokutenho lost four to the big boys already but has a more restful 11 days coming up.

Moon-Face M5 bruiser Iwakiyama faced the self-assured M1 Tokitenku in their second match together. Iwakiyama has been finding some astounding ways to lose in the past few tournaments and I know people were thinking about his spanking last basho at the hands of another tiny morote specialist, Ama. After being out-muscled at the tachi-ai Tokitenku shifted and nearly made it behind Iwakiyama before they settled into the beginnings of a mawashi fight. They locked up for little while until Iwakiyama finally reached out and swatted Tokitenku's front leg out from under him for the Uchimuso. This was one of the better kimarite moves of the night and I was happy to see Iwakiyama, now (2-2), come away with a win. Tokitenku is looking good at (1-3) with his usual exciting sumo.

M1 Miyabiyama was matched up against banzuke pilgrim Kasuganishiki last night in one of the biggest paper mismatches on the card. Kasuganishiki took advantage of everyone's low expectations by sidestepping Kokkai the night before, and he decided to try the same tonight. Miyabiyama's footwork did him in as he couldn't keep up with the retreating Juryo standby and gave up his side within seconds. Easy work then for Kasuga... damn that's too long a name. Easy work for K-Nish to drop him and go to (3-1) with wins over minor luminaries. Miyabiyama has only beaten lead zepplin Kaio so far in his (1-3) march.

Lil' Bronco M6 Ama was going to get another ride with M4 Asasekiryu tonight after taking their three matches in '05. Ama scored deep belt grips from the tachi-ai and then held on for a while as the Red Dragon tried to buck him loose. Ama controlled the entire match and his fellow Mongolian's death throes were never a real danger. Ama is a house at (3-1) while Asasekiryu remains a sad (1-3) pony.

I can't get it out of my head that M6 Dejima is going to retire soon but at least he looks better without all the bandaging. Tonight he was up against question mark M8 Futenoh who he managed to finally beat, way back in Aki '05. When Bloggin' Bigfoot Futenoh is down this far he should be creaming the competition but for some reason he's having a slow start in the new year. This match went as expected with the much younger rikishi able to overpower the veteran without too much struggle. Futenoh looks very preoccupied with his (2-2) record as Dejima slides to (1-3).

There was some woman screaming her mad head off last night in Tokyo and apparently she's a big fan of M7 Kakizoe. He's 3-2 against counterpart M7 Aminishiki and continued to school the handsome veteran with his strong forward movement in the bout last night. Aminishiki put up some resistance and went for a few pull-downs but Kakizoe was simply too energetic for him today and sent his opponent out before falling to the dirt . Both of them should be happy with their records so far as Aminishiki sits at (2-2) while Kakizoe posts a chasing (3-1).

M8 Jumonji and M9 Toyonoshima came up next for what was probably a good time for a pee-break. Jumonji is bigger, stronger and usually beats the much younger Toyonoshima with relative ease. Toyo had a grip from the tachi-ai but Jumonji kept forcing himself into a better position until he broke through to the inside belt. Toyo then panicked at the edge and was slapped down by a controlled Jumonji. The veteran sits at (3-1) while Toyo is just enjoying the ride at (1-3).

In the battle of the Japanese's Hopes, Sadogatake's M8 Kotoshogiku and Naruto's M9 Kisenosato faced off for their fourth time after Koto Elvis took the last two matches in '05. Elvis pulled off a blistering tachi-ai that set up the right outside grip and got him well underneath Kisenosato. Kissy had no fight in him once he was stood up and was eventually worked to the edge and toppled with an unnecessary leg grab. Both kids sit at (2-2) and will have a hard time impacting the Yusho from this point.

Down the list to the colourful couple of M10 Takamisakari and M11 Kyokushuzan. These two put on a show before their last match which I couldn't help feeling was all for the fans. The commentators were saying that they were trying to get each other angry but I think it was all put on. Once again they went through the theatrics and finally settled in for some sumo. The Wily Coyote lept over Robocop's left shoulder to start the match but was unable to pull Takamisakari down. They settled in to play with Takami's right arm for a while but Shuzan managed to keep it at bay during a lengthy struggle. Finally securing a left hand inside he was able to stand Takamisakari right up and began the long march across the ring. Unfortunately for him the entire effort was wasted because of a early Coyote step-out and Takamisakari magically pulls out the win. Both characters sit at .500 after four days.

M11 Hokutoriki and M12 Toyozakura faced off for the third time in as many years for a very short lived fight. I'm rooting for both of the late-blooming 'Zakura brothers as it is their second tournament in the Makuuchi together. This was a complete mismatch and Toyozakura was soon flying clear of the dohyo to fall to (1-3). Hokutoriki was all gun tonight and shares the lead at (4-0).

M12 Kasugao got to enjoy a free meal courtesy of starstruck M13 Yoshikaze. Yoshikaze is having serious trouble settling in to the Elite and his opponents have all mentioned how spaced-out he is before his bouts. Kasugao made sure to spend an extra amount of time staring down the new fish and Yoshikaze looked very uncomfortable and detached. Coming together, Yoshikaze unleashed some good tsuppari but was quickly slapped down by the relaxed Korean. Kasugao is trading at (2-2) while Yoshikaze is giving himself away at (0-4).

M13 Tochisakae was up against M15 Shunketsu in one of the earliest bouts of the evening. Shunketsu has been having a bad Shunketsu tournament with four Shunketsu losses so far. Tochisakae had picked up a few non-Shunketsu wins from Makuuchi swill and was hoping to pad his numbers a bit ( with Shunketsu ) before making his way up the ranks. Shunketsu was a man with a plan this evening and picked out the injury-plagued Tochisakae as his next Shunketsu henka victim. Very good choice, apparently, as Tochi fell for Shunketsu's magic and was sent into an uwate-summersault in no time. 

Shunketsu sure loves his henka, and who doesn't? Here's a little guy who resorts to out-smarting his opponents for a fair share of his wins and who has no 'lose like a man' pretensions. Henkas are far from sure-thing wins, and I'm convinced that whenever a henka is pulled the better man usually gets the victory. Perhaps not the better man in a straightforward all-size-and-muscle mawashi battle, but the better man in the martial art that is Sumo. This is still an embryonic theory of mine but let's look at some examples - Did Asashoryu fall for the inferior Hakuho's amazing henka? Was Kotonowaka not on the verge or retirement for lack of mobility? Did Robocop let the Coyote get under his skin tonight? Nah. The henka affects how the match is weighed but it does not create unrealistic results. Henka wins are earned just as henka losses are earned and Shunketsu knows the score. It was too bad he made Waka look so bad on his last day but if you blame Shunketsu then you've been following some other sport. Ah, Shunketsu, you'll always be loved on Sumotalk.

Ahem, moving right along. M16 Wakanosato should have steamrollered M14 Tokitsuumi early in the night but it was not to be. I only watched the match being streamed but despite what seemed to be a better position Wakanosato was driven to the edge and forced to try a pull-down before going out. There was a very long mono-ii with a lot of hand waving before they awarded the match to Tokitsuumi. Wakanosato hasn't lost to him since '04 and this was an upset to say the least. Both of these guys were trying to keep their perfect records but it is Tokitsuumi who goes to (4-0) as the man from Ibaraki falls to (3-1)

The other 'Zakura fight was between elders M17 Kitazakura and M14 Tosanoumi. Kita was another low ranker trying to stay undefeated through 4 days but Tosanoumi would be a challenge for sure. Kitazakura came out flying from the tachi-ai and pressed the attack in a wild back and forth match. Tosanoumi stuck it out for a while but was eventually able slap down the 34 year old. Kita took it very badly and strayed a while on his knees, pounding the clay with his fists. I know, buddy, I know. Tomorrow's another day. Both men enjoy (3-1) records from the wrong side of thirty.

The leaders after Day 4 are Tochiazuma, Hakuho, Hokutoriki and Tokitsuumi. Tochiazuma and Hakuho both have very good chances to Yusho and should make sure that the tournament goes down to the wire. I've managed to write a small book here today and will hopefully be 'Less Fact, More Smack' for my Day 11 duties. Let's hear one last 'Shunketsu' before singing off...


Day 3 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
If the first three days are any indication, we are looking at a vastly improved year of sumo in 2006. The plethora of cracking bouts continued today, and it was not only the sanyaku rikishi who were providing the goods. The uninspiring sumo of the Ozeki old guard apart, we have seen thrills and spills aplenty. Hatsu 2006 has all the ingredients to be one of the finest basho in years.

Yokozuna Asashoryu recovered well from his sluggish performance of yesterday to make mincemeat of M1 Miyabiyama, who at least tried to go with his fabled tsuppari, but he was brushed aside with contemptuous ease and bundled out in short order. The Yokozuna (2-1) will be relieved to get back to winning ways while Miyabiyama (1-2) will just sigh and shrug.

Ozeki Tochiazuma (3-0) did what he always does so well and absorbed the thrusts of M4 Hakurozan. The big Russian then overbalanced, sadly cutting short a bout I had been looking forward to. Hakurozan looked to have injured his left toe as he fell, which is a worrisome development. It would be sad if he was forced to pull out before facing the Yokozuna. Another bread and butter win for Tochiazuma, who looks well placed to make a decent run for a change. Hakurozan tumbles to 1-2.

Ozeki Kotooshu faced a solid test in the shape of Komusubi Tamanoshima as he led with a vicious harite and a step to the side. Tamanoshima weathered the storm well and settled into a dangerous position. Indeed, Kotooshu looked in trouble for a while, but superior technique won over in the end as Tamanoshima went forward but was faced with Kotooshu moving slightly to the side as he often (wisely) does when opponents come forward at him in order to get into a better position for a throw. To counter this, Tamanoshima attempted a desperate trip but it merely pulled him off balance, leaving him open to a lovely uwatenage from the shin-Ozeki. A win is a win but this was disappointing stuff from Kotooshu, who saw fit not to face his Maegashira opponent head on. Hardly Ozeki sumo. To be fair, he turned a reasonably dangerous situation into a win but we should expect much more from the talented Bulgarian. Kotooshu joins Asashoryu with two wins. Tamanoshima remains winless.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai came out of the blocks in the usual way, pummeling M3 Takekaze with his lightning tsuppari, but then panicked as he saw that his opponent was not in the slightest bit perturbed. You know the story from thereon – panic, go for the pull-down and hope he doesn't pull straight into his own body. Unfortunately for the Ozeki, he DID pull straight into his body and Takekaze kept his balance and followed the script. Chiyotaikai's sumo was ugly today and Takekaze (1-2) will be overjoyed he got lucky; eight times out of ten, he would have been pulled down with Chiyotaikai (2-1) dancing out of the way. I agree with Kenji on Chiyotaikai's problems – it's the total absence of lower body power that is making his tsuppari ineffective.

Ozeki Kaio creaked into action against tricky M3 Tochinohana but looked positively weak as he allowed the former Komusubi to get his right hand on the mawashi and use it to pull him up straight and then out. A fit Kaio would never have allowed that to happen so we simply have to face the fact that he is fighting with the grace of a camel and the joy of a vasectomy. The racked Ozeki suffers his second loss and if he falls to Kokkai tomorrow, he may well withdraw if the injuries are bad enough. Let's not take anything away from Tochinohana, however. He did his job, did it well and was rewarded with his first win.

M2 Roho made it a double whammy against Sadogatake Beya after calmly taking the tachiai charge of Sekiwake Kotomitsuki and wasting no time in going for the uwate-nage. Again, Roho shows that he doesn't need the cheap tricks to get wins, even against top rikishi. Let's hope he finally gets the message and goes on to post a winning record. Roho improves to 3-0 while Kotomitsuki takes his first loss.

Sekiwake Hakuho dominated Komusubi Kyokutenho after coming in low and getting the left hand outside. Kyokutenho (0-3) executed a maki-kae but succeeded only in inadvertently putting Hakuho (3-0) in a stronger position. Despite some resistance at the edge, it proved another easy win for the impressive Hakuho, who is showing flashes of the brilliance for which he was hyped when he initially shot up the ranks. I've said it before and I'll say it again: we have a future Yokozuna here. Kyokutenho rounds up a miserable first three days for the Komusubi rank, which is 0-6. Oops.

M6 Ama is just so good at getting out of tricky situations, partly because he is so hard to throw, and so it proved again today as despite M9 Toyonoshima having a strong left-hand outside grip along with migi mae-mawashi, the Mongolian midget managed to make a precarious right-hand inside grip count as he forced a long bout. Toyonoshima eventually sensed the danger and attacked, allowing Ama finally to get morozashi to finish the bout off. It was another stirring display from Ama, who will surely go on to get another Ginosho sometime soon, hopefully this basho. Ama stands at 2-1. Toyonoshima is 1-2, but I sense he will go on to get a kachi-koshi.

In a battle of two rikishi who love to go forward, M9 Kisenosato evoked memories of Takanohana as he absorbed the charge of M6 Dejima and took complete control with a powerful inside grip. The youngster showed us how far he has come when Dejima put up resistance at the tawara but Kisenosato did not do what he so often did in the past: toppled over to one side in his eagerness to finish the bout off. Instead, he took his time, neutralized all resistance, and then crushed it. The former Ozeki had no say in this bout whatsoever. Lovely sumo. Kisenosato goes to 2-1. Dejima falls to 1-2.

M7 Aminishiki (2-1) made a monkey of M10 Takamisakari (1-2) and showed everyone what a quality rikishi he is with a dominating victory. Eradicating any hopes of Robo-resistance with a stiff arm to the throat, Aminishiki moved quickly to wrap up his hapless opponent and bundle him out. Takamisakari is not quite himself and it is possible that the operation he had in December is affecting the quality of his sumo thus far.

M8 Futenoh fell victim to the cleverness of M11 Kyokushuzan as the veteran Mongolian got a decent slap in at tachiai and used the subsequent left-hand outside grip to spin his hapless opponent around. It was then an easy yorikiri win. Futenoh was not in this bout and it was all down to superior pre-bout tactical planning. The young blogmeister falls to a disappointing 1-2. Kyokushuzan jumps to 2-1.

M11 Hokutoriki schooled M13 Yoshikaze on the finer points of tachiai as the new boy came in with his head down and eyes nowhere to be seen, practically begging for the slap down. It has been a thoroughly demoralizing start for Yoshikaze (0-3) but I don't doubt he will pick up a few wins here and there. If he gets eight wins from this juncture, he will deserve the Kantosho. Hokutoriki looks a different man following his winter wedding and improves to 3-0.

M12 Kasugao took in his stride the usual hard tachiai (and impressive grunting) of M14 Tosanoumi, who can surely feel the breath of Satan blowing directly from Juryo onto his arse these days. Although Tosanoumi could go forward, that was exactly what the wily Korean wanted, as he got his right hand into a good position on Tosanoumi's body and got the sukuinage, aided and abetted as usual by the veteran's notoriously dodgy balance. Kasugao gets his first win on the board while Tosanoumi falls to his first loss.

M16 Wakanosato took Lord Voldemort (He Who Must Not Be Named) across one knee and gave him a good hard spanking, which quite frankly looks like bad karma for the loser for those two fingers he gave to Kotonowaka in the kindly veteran's last ever bout in Kyushu. Currently at 0-3, 0-15 is on the cards, or so we can hope. Wakanosato's quick harite knocked Voldemort off balance and it took just a few slaps to set up the easy pull-down win. Wakanosato is taking the piss at this rank and stands at 3-0. They'll probably put him up the order sooner than usual (in deference to his former Sekiwake status) before he can do too much damage in terms of yusho from low Maegashira, something the Kyokai likes to avoid if possible, although they sometimes leave things a little late to make a difference. Whatever, there is no reason he can't go on and win the big cup with the head start he has. He will face another rikishi on his game in Tokitsuumi tomorrow. Go Waka!

In the next set of bouts, Tochiazuma versus Roho looks good, as does Kisenosato-Kotoshogiku. Hopefully the momentum of the first three days will liven up an otherwise ordinary day four line-up. But never fear - we have another card up our sleeve. Up tomorrow is a new contributor to Sumotalk. We've admired his sumo takes and emails to the site for a while now, and when we got word that he'd pestered a kickboxing chick at a New Year's party into a sparring match and come away with a black eye, we knew he'd fit right in here. Make sure you tune in.

And finally, on the sad news of Hayateumi's retirement, I would just like to thank the luckless warrior for some fantastic memories. I know he isn't going to read this but I don't really care about that (and you never know). He was great and I'll never forget his speed and occasionally astounding technique, not to mention his fighting spirit in the face of terrible luck and adversity. Anyway, Hayateumi, may your garden always be free of moles...you will not be forgotten by me.

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Day 1 of the Hatsu basho contained superb sumo, and just as I was about to label day 2 as "good but not great," M2 Kokkai came along and opened a can of the whup ass in Asashoryu's face. I'm usually ready to call the yusho by about day 3, but the last two times that Asashoryu has lost early on, the basho have been barn-burners that came down to playoffs for the yusho. Let's get right to the action of a smokin' day 2.

One thing that's been evident the first two days of this basho was the petulant Yokozuna scowl. The problem is you've got to back that up with sumo to match the look. Asashoryu did just that on day 1, but he was completely dominated today by Kokkai. The Georgian must have trained at the Mr. Miyagi School of Wax On Wax Off prior to the basho because when Asashoryu came with his trademark hari-zashi tachi-ai (right hand to the face left hand deep on the inside), Kokkai was ready and wiped away Asashoryu's left arm from the inside. The move left Asashoryu standing straight up with his feet aligned. The Yokozuna went for a quick pull-down attempt, but Kokkai smelled blood and easily shook that off firing back a huge tsuppari that set up a solid right uwate. Asashoryu immediately grabbed the left inner, but Kokkai wasted no time in driving the Yokozuna back toward the tawara. With the late Pat Morita screaming from the grave "breathe though your nose, Kokkai-san!", the M2 did better than that forcing his right thigh on the outside of Asashoryu's left leg leaving the Yokozuna no where to go but back. With Asashoryu arching his back in a last gasp effort at the straw, Kokkai used his beefy left paw to bludgeon Asashoryu down to the clay by the throat.

If there's one thing better than Asashoryu kicking someone's ass and adding insult to injury by throwing him down by the neck into a heap, it's someone doing it to Asashoryu. Talk about picture perfect sumo from Kokkai today. The only sniff he allowed Asashoryu the whole five or six seconds was a measly inside grip on just one fold of his belt. There were several keys to this bout, all of them favoring Kokkai. First, wiping away Asashoryu's left arm at the tachi-ai left the Yokozuna with no offensive position. Second, Kokkai used his best move, the tsuppari, to set up a solid uwate. Third, once said uwate was secured, Kokkai wasted no time in pressing the action. How many times have we seen Kokkai put forth a good effort only to finally settle for the belt and stall. Fourth, as Kokkai drove Asashoryu back, he used his right leg beautifully to pin the Yokozuna to the straw. Kokkai was indeed an army with banners today. The question is now can he carry this momentum forward to the tune of eight wins? It would mean an instant Shukunsho prize and a probable sanyaku berth. I'm rooting for him. Both rikishi now stand at 1-1, but more importantly, Asashoryu suffers an early loss. What that does is give everyone else hope. Asashoryu must regroup tomorrow against Miyabiyama, but he better not get too careless because the Sheriff carries more weight than Kokkai and can make the Yokozuna pay.

Dropping down to the Ozeki ranks, Kaio gingerly took care of Komusubi Kyokutenho. Kaio actually delivered a very proactive tachi-ai where he got his left arm deep on the inside of his opponent and drove him back in an effort to grab his coveted right outer grip. Kyokutenho shook his left hip backwards away from Kaio's paw, but the retreating motion allowed the charging Kaio to force Kyokutenho back across the straw before the Ozeki fell to the dirt himself. Kaio's lucky that he decided to charge forward today instead of hold back as he frequently does. That solid tachi-ai and forward momentum were the difference in this three second affair, but you have to be worried at the way Kaio kind of slumped to the dirt after forcing Tenho out. The jury is still out on Kaio's lower back, but hey, he picked up that solid first win to stand at 1-1. Kyokutenho is listless at 0-2, and the greedy carp in the upper Maegashira ranks are already swarming in anticipation of that handful of dried corn (translation: open sanyaku slot). Go carp!

I won't even bother commenting on Ozeki Tochiazuma's sumo today. Rather, I'll paste in the comments I made in my pre-basho report regarding the Ozeki's sumo: "The Ozeki seems content to neutralize his opponent's tachi-ai and almost lean forward with his head inviting a pulldown attempt that he can take advantage of." I apologize for ending that sentence with a preposition, but that's exactly how it went today as well. Komusubi Tamanoshima (0-2) bit, and Tochiazuma drove him out with ease to move to 2-0. It's as simple as that, and you'll probably see a similar win by Tochiazuma (2-0) in the next day or two.

Ozeki Kotooshu shook off his ass-kicking yesterday and toppled M3 Takekaze with ease. Takekaze actually secured a deep moro-zashi grip from the tachi-ai, but for some reason he grabbed the top of Kotooshu's belt with both hands instead of gripping it from the bottom and driving upwards. It was a very curious strategy that was awarded with an immediate drive backwards where the Ozeki latched onto the back of Takekaze's belt with both hands and just drove him into the clay with his body. Kotooshu dusts himself off at 1-1, but it was careless sumo today. If anybody else gets that same moro-zashi grip, Kotooshu is 0-2. He and Kaio can already be classified as the two Ozeki with mediocre tachi-ai. Takekaze is hapless at 0-2.

Rounding out the Ozeki ranks, Chiyotaikai looked great today against M3 Tochinohana after a weak start. The Ozeki opted for the side-step to his left at the tachi-ai, but he really didn't implement any offensive move straightway. Tochinohana did and immediately began shoving the Ozeki back forcing Chiyotaikai to circle the ring and regroup. Chiyotaikai finally found his footing and responded with some powerful thrusts aided by his lower body that drove Tochinohana across the ring and out. Chiyotaikai's thrusts are still very powerful WHEN he drives with his legs as he did today. I thought the Ozeki should have done that from the tachi-ai, but he picks up the win nevertheless moving to 2-0. Good effort from Tochinohana who falls to a not so surprising 0-2.

Both of our Sekiwake are probably enjoying stiffies after 2-0 starts coupled with an early Asashoryu loss. Hakuho was actually a bit sloppy today against Asasekiryu allowing his fellow Mongolian to get somewhat on the inside, but as Seki tried to maneuver into the moro-zashi position, Hakuho reached around his shoulder and executed the most perfect armbar throw you've ever seen. Perfect because he used his thigh on the inside of his opponents leg to flip him over so hard that Asasekiryu landed square on his back. Like Kotooshu, Hakuho wins today against an inferior opponent, but I'd like to see a little more oomph from the tachi-ai. Counterpart Kotomitsuki executed textbook sumo against M4 Hakurozan. After a solid tachi-ai from both parties that saw Hakurozan grab the quick left uwate, Kotomitsuki used his experience to maneuver into a moro-zashi position that was too much for even the powerful Russian to overcome. Mitsuki wasted no time in driving Hakurozan back and out. This bout was short, but it was chikara-zumo at it's finest. I'm anticipating both Sekiwake hanging around the lead the rest of the way. Hakurozan falls to 1-1.

In the Maegashira ranks, Tokitenku picked up his first win after outlasting counterpart M1 Miyabiyama. Tokitenku really had no business winning this thing after Miyabiyama came out firing his lumbering tsuppari that had Tokitenku retreating this way and that. I really liked Kenji's description yesterday of Chiyotaikai's tsuppari in that they were more of a distraction than a potent offensive move. Tokitenku didn't use tsuppari with both hands today, but as he fended of the Sheriff's charge, he usually had one hand pushing at Miyabi's neck distracting the former Ozeki enough that he couldn't go in for the kill. The two circled round and round for fifteen seconds or so with Miyabiyama firing away and controlling the action; however, when you carry the most weight of anyone in the division, you don't want to get into long-winded bouts. As a tiring Miyabiyama went for the kill, Tokitenku somehow survived the shove, ducked low and to his side, and used Miyabiyama's forward momentum against him to slap him down to the dirt. This was an ugly win for Tokitenku, but give him credit for hanging in there. We saw several long bouts last basho from Tokitenku where he outlasted his opponents rather than destroying them from the beginning. It's a good strategy if you're in better shape than your opponent. Both M1's are 1-1.

After M2 Roho applied that facial to Ozeki Kotooshu yesterday, I was kind of hoping some of the Bulgarian's good looks would rub off on his opponent. No such luck for Roho there, but he did manage another good win against M5 Iwakiyama. After an awful tachi-ai that saw Roho extremely vulnerable and out of position, Iwakiyama managed to stand around like a bump on a log. If Iwakiyama fires the tsuppari today, he wins in a landslide, but he sort of just hung in there with a meek charge. Roho quickly regrouped and evaded back towards the referee giving him a nice bump down to the clay. Iwakiyama was onto the move but seemed lost as to what technique he should employ next. Roho, still out of any decent offensive position, reached up and wrapped his arm around Iwakiyama's neck wrenching the M5 down to the dirt with a sweet kubi-nage throw. Like Kotooshu and Hakuho before him, this was a bad start that ended nicely. Roho moves to a cool 3-0 if you count the gyoji he toppled today as Clancy put it. Iwakiyama falls to 1-1 but managed a nice kick of the referee on his way down, which should count for something. Speaking of the referees, I'm surprised that these guys don't get knocked around more than they do. You have old guys with bad eyesight wearing kimono that weigh 6 or 7 kilos trying to dodge two circling bulls in the ring. Hey, as long as it entertains, it works for me.

M7 Kakizoe looked to be in command against M6 Ama with a sharp tachi-ai and quick moro-zashi grip, but as he drove Ama back for the kill, the Mongolian used his right outer grip and a nice hook with his right leg on the inside of Kakizoe's left that provided enough momentum for the uwate-nage win. This was great sumo from both rikishi who now stand at 1-1.

The M7 Aminishiki - M8 Jumonji bout itself deserves no mention, but the ending does. Jumonji controlled the action from the start and had Aminishiki pushed back to the tawara. In a last ditch effort, Aminishiki went for a pull down at the tawara that was rewarded with a huge shove from Jumonji that caused his body to hit the dirt before Aminishiki landed outside of the dohyo. The referee ruled in favor of Jumonji, which was the correct call. A mono-ii was called for and the decision was upheld. Good work all around...this was an obvious decision. Still, Jumonji clearly hit the dirt before Aminishiki touched down outside of the dohyo. Aminishiki was pounded this bout, and he was so far away from the ring when Jumonji hit that it would have been ludicrous to award Aminishiki the win or even a rematch. So the beef I have of course is why does this same call ALWAYS go against Asashoryu? If that had been Asashoryu in Jumonji's mawashi today, this is how the bout would have ended: referee signals in favor of Asashoryu, bitter judge raises hand to call for a mono-ii, the judges conference for three or four minutes allowing the crowd to work themselves up into a frenzy clapping in unison, the judges decide in favor of the crowd and call for a rematch or rule Aminishiki the winner. It happens every time the Yokozuna is involved. Hey, I like to see Asashoryu get his ass kicked as much as anyone, but it galls me to no end when the judges break precedent and screw the sport's Yokozuna out of his just due.

Now that that's off my hairy chest, lets polish off the rest of the division. M8 Futenoh picked up his first win by securing his coveted hidari-yotsu position from the tachi-ai. His right uwate throw was too much for M9 Toyonoshima to overcome. Both rikishi are 1-1. M10 Takamisakari went straight for the mae-mawashi (front of the belt) today against M9 Kisenosato, but the Robocop was reaching far too low with both hands and looked as if he was trying to grope his opponent rather than grab his belt. Still, Kisenosato charged too upright, and when Takamisakari finally did latch onto something legal, he forced the kid back and out in seconds. Both rikishi are 1-1.

M11 Hokutoriki picked up his second win after using his rarely seen potent thrusting attack to bully M12 Kasugao (0-2) around and out. The only reason I mention this bout is that Hokutoriki gave a little fist pump towards his opponent after the victory as if he was some sort of badass or something.  Dumbass is more like it. Settle down Hokutoriki and save the fist pumps for someone ranked higher than M12.

Newcomer M13 Yoshikaze was worked by M12 Toyozakura (1-1) today after the latter secured moro-zashi from the tachi-ai and just tackled his opponent rather than drive him back and out. There has been a bit of hype towards Yoshikaze coming in due to the speed of his rise up the ranks, and it looks to me that his opponents are aware of the hype and want to have a say in the matter. Yoshikaze falls to 0-2.

And finally, M16 Wakanosato is just sleepwalking through the dregs of the division. Today he grabbed a firm outer grip on Katayama's belt and just muscled the M16 back before dumping him with the belt throw. Wakanosato looks to be in top form, which makes that Asashoryu loss today even bigger. I'm drooling in anticipation over the final 13 days. We've got a basho on our hands. Simon dances for ya'll tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
Hatsu basho is always special. What rikishi doesn't want to start the new year on the right foot? In this regard Hatsu basho has that natural incentive for all, and that translates to much anticipation for fans. Seen in the crowd today were nine of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, whose head stated "We'd like to see a new Yokozuna this year, preferable a Japanese one. But to achieve this, much more training is needed." Leave it to the Deliberation Council to provide such ground-breaking insight and deep analysis of the state of sumo today. I was taken aback, personally. 

On the dohyo, Asashoryu began his quest to better his record-breaking 84-6 record from 2005 with a self-proclaimed 2006 theme of "jibun ni katsu" (win against myself). The first step in that journey began with a strong win against Komusubi Tamanoshima. Sho wasted no time securing the right outside grip and threw Tama to the ground with a convincing uwate-dashinage, or open (one-handed) throw. 

Despite hopes that a fresh newcomer can shore up the struggling Ozeki rank, Kotooshu contributed to a rather paltry 2-2 start for his new comrades. Matched up against fellow foreigner M2 Roho, Oshu once again showed his penchant for becoming stiff in pressure situations. Unable to keep up with Roho's offensive which included a swift left outer grip, the Ozeki newbie was flip-flopped by a powerful uwatenage unleashed by the Russian. Afterward in the standard interview rank-and-filers receive when toppling an Ozeki or Yokozuna, Roho stated (with pretty good command of Japanese) that he wanted to make sure Oshu didn't get the left outside on him. The strategy worked, and Roho pocketed 540,000 yen via the 18 kensho banners for his efforts. 

The other Ozeki stumbler-out-of-the-gate was Kaio, who looked the worse for wear absorbing the brunt of M1 Miyabiyama's solid tachiai. After retreating a step back as a result, Kaio succumbed to a well-timed pull by Miyabi which got him completely off balance. With Miyabi now behind him, Kaio's day's work was done. It's not a good start for the 'ole warrior nursing a chronic lower back.

On the bright side of the Ozeki ledger we have Tochiazuma, who took on banzuke-rising M1 Tokitenku. It was Tenku's first Ozeki challenge, and he showed himself well with a spirited tsuppari that he seems to have added to his repertoire lately. But it wasn't enough to phase Azuma, who dealt with it in stride and proceeded to force out the young Mongolian with a commanding oshi-dashi. A good start indeed for the Kadoban Azuma who must win 8 to keep rank.

Wrapping up the Ozeki show was Chiyotaikai, who took on Komusubi Kyokutenho. Refreshingly unbandaged in either knee or elbow, Taikai displayed speedy turnover with his tsuppari to keep Tenho on the defensive, then pulled down the Mongolian for a day one victory. At 29 I hate to think Taikai is on the decline, but his tsuppari no longer has lower body oomph to drive out opponents- only an empty upper body barrage of hand speed that serves to distract at best.

Both Sekiwake showed poise and presence today to start the basho unscathed. Kotomitsuki, matched up against M2 Kokkai, got a rather loose right outside grip but took advantage of having the Georgian turned sideways. Mitsuki calmly pressed forward for the force out. Kokkai, making his fourth trip back up to M2 or M1, hopes this basho will finally see him get over that sanyaku wall. Mitsuki's counterpart Hakuho took on mighty mite Takekaze. No problems here--Haku got a right inside grip and used it to stay close to Take, who needs space to make his pushing game successful. Once Haku got the left outside grip, it was game over. Yorikiri.

In a battle of big winners from November, M4 Hakurozan (10-5) was matched against M3 Tochinohana (11-4). Roho's little brother has stated that he wants to "pass his brother on the banzuke". His inspired sumo today should give him hope. He showed a deft "taguri" or pulling of Tochi's right arm inward that enabled the balding Russian to work his way behind his opponent and win by okuri-taoshi. Pretty good move.

Another feature bout in the rank-and-file had to be Kisenosato-Futenoh, who are both trying to bounce back to prominence after tough Novembers. Kise gets the nod here, as he uncorked a nice uwate-nage throw shortly after locking into hidari-yotsu position with Mr. Internet. Futenoh re-injured his ailing right ankle in late December which has impacted his training. Hopefully he can stay on the dohyo for 15 days. 

To wrap up, our Makuuchi newcomer came up short despite the three Juryo rookies celebrating opening day victories. Shin-nyumaku and wide-eyed Yoshikaze couldn't handle the tachi-ai from veteran Tosanoumi.  After getting knocked back a few steps, he could only offer a meek pull-down attempt resulting in a fairly easy push-out win for the old veteran.  The three Shin-Juryo--Satoyama, Homasho and Mokonami--all made convincing statements in their respective sekitori initiations. Homasho, the first sekitori out of Shikoroyama stable (headed by the popular Terao), sports a look that could capture the heart of Japanese fans with the long nose and all...

Let's hope for a good basho, folks. Enjoy!


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