Day 1
Clancy
Day2
Mike

Day 3
Simon

Day 4
Clancy
Day 5
Bernie
Day 6
Mike
Day 7
Martin
Day 8
George
Day 9
Mike
Day 10
Mike
Day 11
Martin
Day 12
Bernie
Day 13
Simon
Day 14
Mike
Senshuraku
Clancy

Senshuraku Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
I'd like to take the chance here on Day 15 of the New Year basho to introduce, properly, the newest member of Sumotalk. Loyal readers know that Martin claims to be Romanian (I think he's a "cyberspace" Romanian, but in actuality a Bulgarian) and that English is not his first language (although you'd never know by the length of his reports, my lord, Mike was seriously thinking about serializing that Day 7). This second point is a little difficult to swallow, too, as his grammar, syntax, and dexterity with The Bard's tongue are better than that of most native speakers, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on this point.

The only niggling concern for me is his hatred, his loathing, his...his detestation of all the Mongolians in sumo (currently 35 asskickers). Why would a man have such strong dislike for a people with whom he seemingly has nothing in common? I mean, Romania or Bulgaria, they're both pretty damnably far from Mongolia. What gives?

Naturally, as Sumotalk's resident snoop, I decided to look into it. What I uncovered is more shocking than Simon's run from Interpol, more disturbing than Bernie's own admission that he once got his ass kicked by a twist, and more provocative than Mike's "secret" late night phone calls from the hotel here to someone he addresses as "my little M. Butterfly".

As most of you well know, round about the mid 13th century, the Mongolians were more than just "slamming their opponents to the clay", they were ruling the largest, most extensive empire mankind has ever seen. They had at the time decided to enter Europe, just to see what was what. Turned out that they were light years ahead of the Europeans in warfare, and they smoothly advanced, "like buddah", as far as the lands where Martin now lives. Before the death of their leader back home forced them to return to Mongolia and leave Europe to recover (imagine what kind of world we might have if The Khan did not die right then), they naturally ran roughshod on the populations of conquered peoples, aka Martin's ancestors. 

Now you needn't work for The European Space Agency to realize that this means Martin's great-to-the-nth-degree grandpapas got worked over quite a bit, and so too did the mamas. I approached Martin armed with this info before the Day 10 bouts and after much imbibing he finally relented, admitting that, yes, nearly 75% of his blood relatives extant at the time were put in the ground by the Mongols in the year 1241. This is why he abhors the likes of the Yokozuna, Asasexy and Kakuryu. 

But Clancy, you might rejoin, that's ancient history. Why hold a grudge for so long? I had the same thought. I mean, my wife's relatives, a scant 60 years ago, got their collective keister kicked from Bhutan to Osaka-wan by the Yanks, but that fact didn't stop my wife from jawin' my bone by our fifth date.

So I dug a bit deeper. (Fans of Empire Strikes Back may see this coming.) Evidently Martin's great grandmother 18 times removed was violated by a Mongol warrior (coincidentally 18 times). She produced a son, who grew to marry. His bride was the daughter of a Mongolian couple who were inadvertently (along with hundreds of other countrymen and women) left behind when the Horde pulled out of Europe in 1242. These people established a few tiny but fiercely Mongolianesque enclaves in the middle of Southeastern Europe that survive to this day. One aspect of these communities is that they have steadfastly remained true to the Mongol tradition of marrying someone who is at least of some Mongol descent. Mixed again and again over the course of 800 years, it is safe to say that any Romanian (or Bulgarian) blood in Martin's line has long since been replaced by that of the Great Khan his bad self. In other words, Martin, you are a Mongolian! Sorry to have to break the news to you like this, in such a public forum, but life's tough all over. (I interviewed his mom and asked her why she never told him, and she said she just doesn't like to dwell on the past, that she wants her "Smarty Marty", as she calls him, to be an International Man. Now the awesome English skills make sense.)

Course, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with being Mongolian, and nobody knows that as well as Asa, who celebrated his Day 14 yusho by annihilating Kotooshu. After the Bulgarian's stage fright caused one matta, Asa came in low and kept the Ozeki's long left arm away from his belt, while getting his left arm deep under Shu's armpit (now that Kyokushuzan is gone Kotooshu can be Shu). They circled to the center where Asa, whose center of gravity lies approximately three kliks below the Earth's mantle, pushed his left leg forward and pivoted on his right with the speed of a dust devil, flipping the heavier and taller Ozeki down like he was Martin's ancestral grannie, who was probably not as humiliated as Kotooshu was upon getting up. Utter dominance.

Which leads me to a topic I'd like to touch on a bit, the whole "Asa dominates but vs. what kind of competition?" brouhaha. Seems Kitanoumi, whose place in sumo history will be lowered a peg by Asa within a year or so, has stated publicly a number of times that the Yokozuna's domination perhaps lies more with the feebleness of his opponents than with anything Asashoryu does himself. Now I know that he is the Big Poomba and all, and he needs to say things like, The Ozeki suck, in order to light a fire under them. But the fact remains that there are individuals in every sport who come along and dominate so utterly that they make everyone else look bad. Nobody was bemoaning the level of competition when Jordan was winning three NBS titles in a row TWICE, nor is it said that Vijay and Ernie and Phil are bums because Tiger regularly wipes the links with them.

But Clancy, I hear you moan, if the Ozeki were finishing 12-2 or 13-2, beating pretty much everyone else but Asa, then we could say it is Asa alone making history. But they are losing to Maegashira, to lower ranked opponents regularly. So what? They are still getting beaten by the Yokozuna when it counts, and since the Yokozuna himself never wins a yusho with greater than 2 losses, what does it matter if the Ozeki have 3 losses or 6? They still wouldn't catch Asa. You might say that 6 losses indicates they are subpar Ozeki. Well, Chiyotaikai and Kaio are two of the longest serving Ozeki in sumo history, Kaio I believe with the most yusho of any Ozeki who did not then go on to become Yokozuna, so that argument is specious at best. Furthermore, it is ridiculous in any sport to compare eras. Sampras vs Borg, Bonds vs Mays, Taylor vs Lewis, it's an exercise in, yes, futility. 

The problem with the current Ozeki is simple: They are so thoroughly dominated by one man, so totally blocked from becoming Yokozuna themselves by the presence of an all-timer, a man who may end up being called the greatest sumo wrestler of modern times, that they are mentally affected and it shows. End. Of. Story.

Kaio, coming in 7-7, surprisingly was given a nice, big fat deep two handed belt grip by Tochiazuma, who had already gone over 7 losses. Is it possible that Tochi is the only person in the universe who hasn't heard the term, "Kaionage"? Kachikoshi for the likable giant. Let's see how he repays Tochi's kindness in Osaka.

Martin is always on about how size matters, and in the Hakuho/Chiyotaikai bout, his point was vividly illustrated. Nearly every opponent who stood in front of Chiyo this basho and let him play mumblypeg on his chest, neck, and face was summarily driven out (think little Ama on Day 13). But Hakuho is an altogether different kettle of fish. He's big and tough, and those tsuppari affected the future Yokozuna about as much as a light dusting from the Gobi. Once that nonsense was over he moved in and grabbed the Wolf Pup's belt, which for all you math majors looks like this: Chiyo foe + belt grip = Kokonoe oyakata gastrointestinal distress. Glad to see my worries about Hakuho were misplaced. He got much stronger in Week Two, and I believe he will in fact solve that tachi-ai problem Mike is right about, and that Osaka will be his own little bubble bath until Day 15 vs. Asa.

I'm happy for Toyonoshima, but guess I'm a little gun shy. A few years back Hokutoriki had a breakout basho and everyone got their hopes up. Now he's 6-9 at Juryo 1. Then Futenoh got all us warm where it feels good with his own breakout about eighteen months ago, and now look at him (and he BEAT Toyonoshima this basho). Iwakiyama was showing promise just two basho ago, and Tamanoshima was runner-up last May! So, yes, he executed a perfect shoulder throw vs Mitsuki today, but his other opponents don't necessarily get me googly, Jumonji, Yoshikaze, and he LOST to Toyozakura! He's young and hung, but he needs to show me 8 wins from his M2 rank next basho for me to jump aboard.

What was wrong with Miflobby this time out? He abandoned his shoving attack this basho for some goofy mongrel strategy that worked like a charm. For his opponents. He tried to come out with the some of the old school shite today vs Kyokutenho, but the former Mongolian was able to stem that tide and get in close quarters, where he bided a bit and then got a right belt that sent Miyabi, quite nicely to the dirt and to the Maegashira ranks. I think if he had beaten Tochi on Day 7 and Tenho today, they may have dropped him only to W Komusubi. But 5-10? As much as they might like to reward him for that fine 2006 by keeping him in Sanyaku, their hands are tied. No way he stays.

Heartbreaking is the only word to describe Kisenosato's loss today to Ama (who got shtooped big time by receiving no Fighting Spirit award. What more spirit can a man show when he fights to 10 wins after the sudden death of his beloved father? This is why I hate awards that are decided by people's opinions rather than by actual contests. Fuck the sansho and the Oscars and the Grammys and the Booker and all that drivel. If you can't decide for yourself what is and isn't good, then you're a douchebag.) Had Kisenosato won he would have become Sekiwake, and he really should have. He had his hands square on Ama's throat, moved him back to the tawara, but when Ama slipped to the side, The Kid left his legs behind and fell to his ashamed face. A total rush job by Kise, who was in position to take his time. Then again, Ama is a master at slipping away, so it may be easy for me to say.

But it leaves us with some intrigue for the Komusubi rank. If they grant The Kid a reprieve and drop him only to WK, then who goes into the EK slot? The Geeku is likely to shoot up to Sekiwake, although I think Komusubi would be better for him at this stage. Will it be 8-7 Tokitenku, who stunk up the joint today but defeated two Ozeki, a Sekiwake, and a Komusubi, or 8-7 Kyokutenho, a former Sekiwake who beat three Ozeki, two Sekiwake, and a Komusubi, or 10-5 Ama, a former Komusubi in full on grieving mode who nonetheless took down two Ozeki, a Komusubi, Kyokutenho, and the 12-3 jun-yusho man? Or what if The Kid drops along with Miyabi to Maegashira? I think it SHOULD be ES Mitsuki, WS Ama, EK Geeku, WK Kyokutenho. I think it WILL be ES Mitsuki, WS Geeku, EK Ama, WK Kisenosato. 

Let's continue with the matches. Kokkai and Roho fought. One of them won, one of them lost.

The Geeku got his right arm up under PT's boy's left arm, negating his favorite grip, then kept his hips low and bodied him out by the belly for win number 9, just like I predicted on Day 1. What's that you say, I did NOT predict that? What did I say? "If he isn't sitting on at least a 9-5 come Senshuraku, I will invite you all to a live video feed of me swallowing a dog turd." Okay, okay, technically I was wrong, but the spirit of the boast was right, and really, doesn't spirit count for anything anymore? My prediction was that while he might lose on Day 15 to finish 9-6, he would have a good basho contrary to Mike's gloom and doom. So he WON on Day 15 to finish 9-6, what's the diff? 

Allright, I'm weaseling. I admit that I was a bit stoked on Day 1, and that I may have gone a bit overboard. And I really do want to keep my word and invite you all to a live feed (in more ways than one), but it turns out that the Sumotalk by-laws prohibit contributors from humiliating themselves, and I quote, "for the sole purpose of entertaining strangers and/or for financial gain when a causal link can be reasonably made between the aforementioned humiliation and comments made or actions undertaken during a basho", which pretty much leaves me slit up a treat. My hands are tied, myan! I have never been, nor will begin to be now, a rule breaker. But if you send an email to my box (heh heh, he said "box"), I will send you a snapshot of me preparing my son's daily bowl of natto-gohan, which takes roughly the same cojones as eating a dog turd.

Aminishiki, an opportunistic weasely rikishi if there ever was one, had nothing to lose or gain from pulling a henka vs Dejima, so he didn't and he lost to the White Rhino. If only The Dejyptian's foes were forced to stay in front of him at tachi-ai. Nah, he'd still get pulled/slapped down a lot. But I still can recall fondly that butthole hiccup he caused me to have on Day 3.

Homasho and Kasugao went at it with both men 7-7. Thrilling stuff, with Homasho getting a left hand belt so deeply that his hand was around the knot on the back and to the other side. This is good for the tango but brought him in too close for sumo, and Kasugao, after failing on a leg trip that was both defensive and offensive, kept his balance when Homasho sent them whirligig around and let the big guy fall to his eighth loss. If Kasugao ever discovers how to bring some consistency to his sumo, look out.

Asasexy nabbed a sweet 10-5 from E6, capping it by giving Jumonji, otherwise known as the New Jokutoriki, a sound beating. Jumonji started about two rows back at tachi-ai, which allowed Martin's cousin to build up a huge head of steam and nail the sumbitch, grab his belt, pull him to the middle and wing him down. The Mongolians are really starting to horde into the upper levels of sumo, aren't they? We could easily have six Mongolians in the top 12 slots come March. Now where have I seen that 50% Mongolian term before?

I noticed that NHK sort of got away from giving us that bird's eye view replay of the bouts, probably because it shows, indisputably, the egregious henka (the move that kept my buddy Simon in Room 344 sleepless at night, coughing up phlegm and vowing revenge on the Queen). Today Tamakasuga must have wanted number nine in a bad way, because he ran away from Tochinonada, who didn't recover and ended up doing a pushup on the clay. And to think many of you were slapping up Tamakasuga For President posters just a week ago!

Futenoh and Tokitsuumi went high at tachi-ai, holding each other off and upright, until Futenoh made a slick move to the side that had Mr. Handsome flailing forward, where Futenoh gave him a good hard neck shove, picking up his 8th win.

Two little Kaks battled it out today, with one Kak chasing the other Kak around the ring until he caught him, then grabbing onto him and lifting him up. It was great, seeing the two Kaks, sweaty and erect, bursting with pride at being the strong Kaks they are, sticking it to each other. Ryu finishes at 6-9, Izoe at 8-7.

Ushiomaru finished a nice 9-6 tourney with an impressive yorikiri win over Iwonkeykong, who took exactly five basho to go from his Makuuchi debut in 2002 to his Sanyaku debut in 2003, but has fallen off recently. I am hopeful he recovers his past form at some point this year. We need the guy. The Marios and Luigis of the sumo world are getting way too big for their britches.

Tosanoumi and Yoshikaze both picked up their 8th wins, Tosa keeping his long running Makuuchi road show alive for one more basho, Yoshi hoping to use this as a springboard to the mid-Maegashira where he rightfully belongs.

Well, that about does 'er. A few things sort of jelled for me after Day 15 ended. I think 2006 was the Year of Miyabi and there will not be another one ever, Kotooshu will never be Yokozuna, and Kotomitsuki will never be an Ozeki. I also think that if there were no foreigners in sumo, Chiyotaikai would have been a dai-Yokozuna. Still, they are all great wrestlers and are far more entertaining than J-League, NBA, and televised shyouji.

Did anyone think Top Hat guy and the Emperor were exchanging glances the other day. Wonder if they "accidentally" met at the beer concession stand:

Emperor: So, uh, how you doin?
Top Hat: Not bad. Yerself?
E: Can't complain. Who would listen!
Top Hat (chuckling softly at joke): Yea, fuhgeddaboudit.

Did you see that gaijin behind Asa at the start of the trophy presentation, actually singing the words to Kimigayo! Or maybe he was mouthing one of those subversive English language parodies. And I agree with Simon, yobidashi Hideo resembles Benny Hill's sidekick Jackie.

I trust you all enjoyed these 15 days. I know I did. Dunno, but for some reason I don't really care if there is a yusho race or not. I only need just a few good bouts everyday to make me feel good about my devotion to sumo, and to get my brain oiled to chat about it. Maybe I've been gone from America for too long, have been infected by the Japanese ideal of sports as a fundamental and fun part of life, throughout life, without much focus on the importance winning or losing. Or maybe I like sumo for what it is: Two men, both standing, one goes down (heh heh he said "goes down").

Day 14 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As much as I/we like to dish out various criticisms of the Sumo Association, the one area where they are as consistent as ever is they never compromise the yusho. Unlike a lot of you, they don't care if Asashoryu wins every yusho. Isn't that a Yokozuna's job anyway? The Association is most concerned about the surrounding rikishi, especially the Ozeki. You read Kitanoumi Rijicho's comments each basho, and it's nothing but frustration regarding the other rikishi, not with Asashoryu's dominance. Kitanoumi Rijicho was there once. He dominated as Asashoryu does now so he gets it. Getting back to the yusho, it's no coincidence that they paired upstart Toyonoshima with Ama today, a rikishi Toyonoshima has never beaten in five tries. Make the dudes earn the prestigious ranks...and the yusho.

Let's cover the bouts in chronological order today where we start with J2 Tochiohzan's ass kicking of M12 Toyozakura. This was quite the entertaining bout even though it was over in seconds. Entertaining because Tochiohzan knew exactly what was coming. The Makuuchi-to-be took a page out of Daniel-san's defense book and used the perfect wax-on wax-off technique to wipe away Toyozakura's initial tsuppari attack. While breathing in and out to perfection, Tochiohzan retreated ever so slightly causing Toyozakura to tsuppari into thin air throwing himself off balance. From there, the J2 easily dumped his hapless opponent to the clay by the back of the belt to move to 9-5. From the J2 rank, Tochiohzan is guaranteed his ticket to the Makuuchi division come March, and that alone will give us something to look forward to when the banzuke comes out.

I thought it was quite funny how M11 Tamakasuga suspected his 7-0 start may have been due to the fact that he had given up his vices. As soon as he made those comments, he went 0-6. He must of said to hell with it last night and done some serious partying in Tokyo because he really kicked M12 Tokitsuumi's ass today starting with a hard tachi-ai followed by a quick pull at Tokitsuumi's side that threw him off balance. Tamakasuga never relented driving some sharp tsuppari into Tokitsuumi's neck area until he could take no more and plunged to the clay. Yuh gotta be happy for the veteran who was once the sole leader after day 7. Both rikishi are 8-6.

M16 Otsukasa looked a lot like Asanowaka today "attacking" M11 Tochinohana's chest from the tachi-ai with fingers glued together. Tochinohana easily withstood the attack before finally getting a left arm deep on the inside of his opponent that he used to force Otsukasa back and out with. Tochinohana picks up only his fourth win while Otsukasa falls to 7-7.

It's pretty sad that M10 Iwakiyama is fighting this early in the afternoon, but he sure laid the wood to M15 Asofuji with a smashing tachi-ai and a couple of pushes to the face before pulling Asofuji across the dohyo and shoving him off at the tawara. As soon as I want to say Iwakiyama is under-ranked this low, I look at his 7-7 record and say probably not. The real reason is Asofuji is not Makuuchi material. He falls to 4-10.

M10 Jumonji is just pathetic. Unlike Asofuji, Jumonji actually has the goods to survive in the division, but his work ethic is lacking, he's terribly out of shape, and he makes poor decisions in the ring (at least he doesn't have jock itch). Today against Tosanoumi, Jumonji executed a tachi-ai henka to his right, but Tosanoumi had to know it was coming because he shifted gears to his left on the fly and shoved Jumonji back and out without argument. It was gratifying to watch Tosanoumi move to 7-7 while Jumonji fell to 4-10.

You ever wonder why M14 Hakurozan never brings a tsuppari attack? Today was the perfect example why. The Russian completely halted M9 Kakizoe at the tachi-ai with a great charge, but it might have been too good as Kakizoe was knocked too far back for Hakurozan to get a belt grip. Hakurozan began a tsuppari attack that looked to keep Kakizoe on the run, but Zoe was just waiting for an opening, which came near the tawara as Kakizoe perfectly timed an evasive maneuver causing Hakurozan to thrust into mid-air before getting shoved down to the dirt from the side. I don't want to call Hakurozan's fall comical, but you rarely see rikishi go down that awkwardly. Both rikishi are 8-6.

M13 Kasuganishiki just smothered M8 Kakuryu at the tachi-ai leading with a right shoulder and following with a left ottsuke that threw Kakuryu off balance. The move didn't finish the Mongolian off, but he was beat up enough to the point where he was an easy pulldown target from there. There's nothing else to say except that Martin was probably doing cartwheels after this ass-kicking that saw Kasuganishiki clinch his kachi-koshi. Kakuryu falls to 5-9.

M13 Yoshikaze used a fine tsuppari attack from the tachi-ai against M7 Kasugao to gain a deep left arm on the inside. Kasugao, who had moved a bit to his left at the charge to set up a quick kote-nage throw, went for the move anyway, but Yoshikaze's positioning was just too good, and the lightweight rikishi easily forced Kasugao across the dohyo and out from there. Both rikishi are 7-7. If Kasugao ever wants to make a serious push for the jo'i, he's got to stop losing like this to Yoshikaze.

M15 Ushiomaru had M7 Futenoh on the ropes--literally--with a solid left uwate from the tachi-ai, but for some reason he abandoned the grip with a maki-kae that didn't even give him morozashi. The bout quickly turned to a yotsu-zumo stalemate, but that favors the more experienced Futenoh, who eventually wrangled his favored left inner grip and used that to force Ushiomaru back and out straightway. This was a pretty entertaining display of chikara-zumo, but Ushiomaru made too many mistakes to call it good sumo. Who cares, though, right? The Ushi's got his 8 wins in the bag already. Futenoh moves to 7-7 and unbelievably has a chance to kachi-koshi this basho. His sumo has been terrible.

M14 Tamanoshima was far too passive at the tachi-ai today against M6 Asasekiryu and could never seem to get any momentum. Sexy kept his opponent at bay with some lightweight tsuppari that packed little punch but did keep Tamanoshima away from his belt. After both rikishi traded pull down attempts, Asasekiryu used his speed advantage to slip to the side and push Tamanoshima out from behind. This was pretty lackluster stuff as both rikishi are 9-5. I also noticed the red crop circles missing from Tamanoshima's back. Like Tamakasuga's vices, you gotta stick with with what got you here.

In a battle of 6-7 rikishi, M8 Takekaze outwitted M5 Kokkai at the tachi-ai by absorbing Kokkai's initial double thrust charge and grabbing onto his right elbow to throw the Georgian slightly off balance and upright. From there, Takekaze seized the opportunity by immediately attack straight forward and driving Kokkai back and out in a flash. Ten bucks says Kokkai wishes he could have this one back. He should never be done like that at the hands of Takekaze. The Georgian must lament his make-koshi at 6-8 while Takekaze lives to fight another day at 7-7.

In the marquee matchup of the day, M4 Ama coolly brought the goods from the tachi-ai with an effective tsuppari attack focused on the throat of M9 Toyonoshima that moved him back a few steps, but Ama whiffed on his second volley allowing Toyonoshima to actually force the action the other away for a step or two, but Toyonoshima made a critical mistake here by failing to go for Ama's belt and opting to counter with shoves of his own. At this point, Ama must have lost said cool because he wound up a right hook punch that actually landed square on Toyonoshima's jaw. Ama next moved in towards the belt where Toyonoshima went for the pull down, but in the process, he had a fist full of Ama's hair and couldn't follow up on the attempt. The ever slippery Ama took advantaged of the balk by sneaking behind Toyonoshima, grabbing his belt, pushing Toyonoshima from behind, and then brilliantly lifting up at Toyo's left ankle causing him to crash to the dirt in spectacular fashion. You could feel the energy in the Kokugikan as Ama did his best Asashoryu impression when the Yokozuna says to hell with it and turns his bout into a brawl, but the tactic worked as Ama moves to 9-5, keeps his unbeaten streak alive against Toyonoshima, and most importantly, busted that final cap into this sick horse of a basho that was on it's last leg anyway. Toyonoshima falls to 11-3 and will have to settle for some consolation prizes to be announced tomorrow.

M6 Tochinonada secured his favored left inner grip against M2 Tokitenku from the tachi-ai, and it looked as if Tenku was content to just stand in the middle of the ring, which surprised me a bit considering kachi-koshi and a probable promotion to the sanyaku was on the line and considering some of the fine techniques we've seen from the Mongolian thus far (no, those henka don't count). Still, he allowed Tochinonada to dictate the pace, which meant the two stood in the middle of the ring for about 20 seconds before Tochinonada went for a scoop throw with his left arm that was on the inside. The attempt failed and was the opening Tokitenku was waiting for as he slipped to Nada's side, curled his left arm from behind up and around the inside of Tochinonada's right arm, and yanked him out from there with the tottari move. Tokitenku could be a ginosho candidate if he wins tomorrow, but he'll take his 8-6 so far. Tochinonada suffers make-koshi at 6-8.

One of the most compelling rikishi this basho has been M1 Kotoshogiku. The probable sanyaku rikishi looked great early on, but made some poor decisions derailing his momentum mid-basho. He made another poor decision today against M11 Dejima by opting for a stick and pull maneuver at the tachi-ai that allowed Dejima to bulldoze the Geeku back to the rope in a flash. Luckily, Kotoshogiku swiftly repented of his ways and used a deep left arm on the inside to lift Dejima upright and halt his charge, at which point Kotoshogiku's superior sumo took over, and he was able to turn the tables and force his opponent out at the rope. It wasn't pretty, but to see Kotoshogiku at 8-6 from the M1 rank after a mediocre basho speaks volumes for this kid's future. His grin as he exited the arena was worth it as well. Dejima falls to 3-11.

Another loss by Komusubi Kisenosato would clinch Kotoshogiku's promotion to Komusubi, but some careless sumo from M3 Kyokutenho today ensured that the Kid would live to see one more day. After a sharp paw to Tenho's throat at the tachi-ai, Kisenosato used his left arm to push straight into Kyokutenho's right armpit causing the M3 to backpedal and evade around the perimeter of the ring. In the process, Kyokutenho was unaware of where he was positioned in the dohyo and carelessly allowed his right foot to step out before he executed a counter throw that would have given him the win. Kisenosato will take that any day, especially as it moves him to 7-7 leaving him to best Ama tomorrow for a kachi-koshi. Kyokutenho falls to the same 7-7 mark.

The forgotten Komusubi, Roho, was simply outclassed today by M2 Aminishiki who brilliantly cut off an early left uwate by the Russian and forced the action low and on the inside completely taking Roho out of his element. After some jockeying in the ring, Aminishiki used his frontal belt grip to mount a charge that stood Roho upright at the tawara where the Russian just walked out instead of digging in and going for a last gasp counter move. The effort hasn't been there all basho from Roho, who falls to a paltry 3-11. Aminishiki improves to 4-10.

The Sekiwake Miyabiyama - M4 Homasho matchup looked to be compelling coming in, but the Sheriff made sure it wasn't by using his tsuppari from the tachi-ai to keep Homasho upright and away from the Sekiwake's belt. Miyabiyama used good footwork to keep his tsuppari shoves sound and moving forward to the point where Homasho had no answer whatsoever and was pushed out in about 4 seconds. This was great sumo from Miyabiyama, but it's way too little way to late as the Sekiwake moves to 5-9. Homasho is still alive at 7-7.

In our only Ozeki matchup of the day, Kotooshu took himself out of the bout in my opinion from the tachi-ai as he elected to start a half step behind the starting lines. Why would he do that? All that did was made him extend his arms further away from his body at the initial charge, and Kaio wisely just dipped under the outstretched arms of Kotooshu, pushed up at Kotooshu's left arm standing the Bulgarian straight up and twisting him around a bit, and then bodied up to him forcing him out in about two seconds. Shame on Kotooshu for allowing Kaio to do him like that. Unbelievable as the Bulgarian falls to 9-5. Kaio's kachi-koshi hopes are alive and well at 7-7.

I guess Ozeki Hakuho has fought all the tough ones because he was paired up against M5 Takamisakari today. The bout wasn't even close as Hakuho's left arm that he extends at each tachi-ai actually stuck onto Takamisakari's belt...the first time Hakuho has gotten that all basho. From there, Hakuho could have walked in his sleep and won as he secured his right arm on the inside of Takamisakari and just twisted the cop to the side and out for the dominating win. Hakuho moves to 9-5 while Takamisakari will provide a bit of drama tomorrow for the fans at 7-7.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai used a slight henka to his left (probably wouldn't have been a false start under my rules) to counter the charge of Sekiwake Kotomitsuki, and the move worked wonders as it kept Kotomitsuki completely off balance. Chiyotaikai followed up the move with his usual tsuppari attack, and Kotomitsuki made the mistake of attempting to stand toe to toe with the Ozeki and trade tsuppari with him. After a few seconds of this nonsense, Chiyotaikai just timed a move to his left that caused Kotomitsuki to thrust into mid air leaving him the perfect hataki-komi candidate. Chiyotaikai was all over it like a fish to stink bait picking up the ugly pull down win and moving to 10-4. Kotomitsuki is stuck on 8 wins.

Which leaves us Yokozuna Asashoryu who only needed to counter the hobbling Ozeki Tochiazuma to make his 20th career yusho official. Asashoryu used a cautious tachi-ai that actually gave Tochiazuma a left outer grip, but there ain't nothin' a crippled Tochiazuma is going to do with that against the Yokozuna when the yusho's on the line. Asashoryu kept the action moving in circles until he was able to secure his own left outer grip before forcing the action back to the tawara where Tochiazuma dug in and resisted somewhat. Asashoryu countered with a few gaburi pumps of the belly before lifting Tochiazuma (5-9) clean off his feet and setting him across the tawara for the tsuri-dashi win.

So, Asashoryu clinches the yusho on day 14 for the 11th time in his career, which is quite an incredible number that caps off a pretty boring, uneventful basho. Fortunately, we have a few compelling rikishi with 7-7 records to keep us watching tomorrow in Kaio, Kisenosato, Takamisakari, and Homasho, but better than that, we have Clancy back tomorrow to wrap it all up.

Day 13 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
Excellent! Looks like I've shaken them off for a while. As you can see, I'm in disguise (don't tell anyone). I think it's pretty convincing – what do you reckon? As Martin told you the other day, the Feds got their filthy paws on me on day 11, meaning I couldn't report on the Asashoryu-Hakuho match-up. And if that wasn't enough to piss me off, they tore my library card in half and said I'd never borrow a book (or CD/DVD) again for three years at least. However, during a coffee break in the interrogation, I managed to henka a guard (sorry about that) and made a dash for it. They're not really up to much on security in Japan. But now I'm in real trouble...if they get me this time, it'll be a stint in Guantanamo AND Abu Ghraib for me on some trumped-up terror charge, and it won't matter which god I pray to. Incidentally, for those of you who were wondering which religion is the right one, watch this short video clip. (Warning: this clip is amusing and not offensive in the slightest).

Actually, I'd better get on with this report because a couple of likely Feds have just walked in here (here being a Russian doll-making establishment with a small café). You can always spot them (sunglasses, black suit, Hollywood contract, know about aliens etc.) so I'd better keep my profile low in this dark corner with my back turned and my hood up etc. It's a pity there is only one other customer in here (a Cossack) because it makes it a bit tricky to blend into the crowd. But don't you worry about me – British intelligence training is the best in the world (so spake Sean Connery in the Rock...and just watch the latest James Bond).

Well, to be honest, being on the run and all and not being in the best of moods, I'm tempted to go on a rant. The Lord (Tom Waits) knows the sumo has been diabolical this basho. And as most of you will know, when you're on the run from the law, one's mind naturally turns to the ills of sumo. Now where do I start? The first thing I've noticed is a creeping-in of rikishi going early at the tachiai but not getting called back by the head shinpan or gyoji. Just yesterday, Chiyotaikai did it against Asashoryu (but got his arse kicked in majestic and nonchalant style anyway) and Kotomitsuki did it to screw Homasho. What the hell is the point of making a rule of the two rikishi having both hands down on the shikiri-sen if you're not going to enforce it, or at best, enforce it loosely? Sort it out, you tadpoles.

Next...you know how you just cringe when you know something utterly awful is about to happen – like when that tosser Bono from U2 gets on his high horse (again) – well, I had that feeling yesterday when Ama got his kachi-koshi and was called into the interview booth. Despite him stating categorically to the press that he would no longer talk about his father (who died in a car crash before the basho), the total knob masquerading as a reporter went for it anyway...yeah, first question..."Was this kachi-koshi any different for you in light of the death of your father?" Now just think about that question...what purpose could it possibly serve apart from some poxy hope that Ama might get a bit emotional? (If you watch Japanese TV, especially in the daytime, you'll know that it's a dire festival of mawkishness, with tears being the prize commodity). I was caught between seething despite for the idiot in the suit, and fierce admiration for the dignity with which Ama brushed him off. So, nice one NHK; a total lack of respect for a great fighter who is grieving the death of a close relative but still managed a kachi-koshi on day 12 at a tough rank. You da men.

And, of course, no Sumotalk rant is complete without a comment on the henka. With Kotooshu a strong contender for this basho's Sumotalk 'Ugly Prize' sansho, it's relevant, and you know that most of us here at Sumotalk think the henka is girly sumo. But, hey, it's not against the rules – let's just marvel at the timing, right. Wow, he's just so clever to do that, and the crowd rise as one to applaud the fantastic...er...timing of a guy...er...jumping out of the way. Well, it's all right girls and boys, because it's not against the rules. Reminds me of a recent directive from FIFA (Federation Internationale F*ck All), or could it be the (sweet) English FA (F*ck All) in football – soccer to you North American barbarians. Traditionally, if a player went down injured, the other team kicked the ball out of play and allowed the hurt player to receive treatment. And then when the physio was done, the opposing team passed the ball back to the other team's goalie or defence. The fans always applaud this as fair play, sportsmanship. But now, due to some people allegedly feigning injury (yes it happens), FIFA or whoever has made it known that no team is obliged to kick the ball out of play and can play on, even if three players are down injured with their team mates checking them out...it's OK now to go on and score a goal. It's OK – don't worry – it's not against the rules. So that's all right then. The referee is only obliged to stop play in the event of a possible head injury so this is a possible (if unlikely) scenario. Yeah...I'm OK with that. And next time I have an arm wrestle, I'm going to surreptitiously tickle my opponent's inner thigh with my big toe under the table so I get a bit of an advantage (Ok...that might be against the rules, but only in Azerbaijan and Fiji). It's not against the rules...why the hell not? GET HENKA OUT OF SUMO!!! Come on, Clancy...back me up on day 15...get it out of your system! Again.

OK, that's better...rant over...it's much more fun than reporting on the sumo this basho, which has been (and let's be honest) with a few exceptions in terms of content, bollocks. Where the hell are the Ozeki, Sekiwake and Komusubi rikishi? There are five Ozeki and not one of them is within two wins of the leader coming into day 13, and all this with Asashoryu trying to help them out by losing to Dejima in the first week.

As a quick aside, I have a little quiz for you: who does top yobidashi Hideo (pictured right) remind you of? Here's a hint. (Warning: this is an audio file so bear that in mind if you're in your office! On second thoughts, turn the volume up...it might give someone a laugh).

On to the action: today's lamb to the slaughter for Yokozuna Asashoryu was veteran battler Ozeki Kaio, who was simply manhandled around the dohyo. Once the Yokozuna got the migi-uwate it was just a matter of time. Kaio fought valiantly and refused to give in via the seemingly inevitable yorikiri but you could almost see the little wheels spinning in Asashoryu's head: which technique am I going to use? Finally, he yanked downwards and pulled the hapless Kaio around and out. Uwatedashinage. 12-1. 14-1 yusho here I come. Kaio is in real danger at 6-7.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai (9-4) launched his trademark lightning tsuppari against M4 Ama (8-5), who had no answer at all. Ama tried to fight back with tsuppari, strangely not even attempting to make a grab for the belt. Bad idea, my friend. We've seen this type of win from Chiyotaikai a billion times.

Like a ferret who's just discovered that his best ferret has run off with his blushing ferret bride, Ozeki Hakuho has been looking very twitchy indeed this basho. He had to be content with only a right-hand grip in a long-ish bout against Sekiwake Kotomitsuki, no pushover on any day of the week. Kotomitsuki wisely kept the deadly left hand of the Mongolian well away from his belt and bided his time before executing a lightning quick maki-kae that Asashoryu himself would have been proud of, thereby getting morozashi and the inevitable yorikiri win. Hakuho really is out of sorts this basho, but it's ring rust as much as anything else. The most worrying thing, as I said in my day 3 report, is the fact that the top lads have worked out how to counter his tachiai. Between now and Haru he needs to go back to the drawing board. Both men are 8-5. Kotomitsuki stays at Sekiwake for yet another basho.

Forgive me for not getting too excited about today's only all-Ozeki match-up; the five men of this rank have been at best average, at worst poor. Ozeki Tochiazuma had Ozeki Kotooshu in an advantageous position as he started with his trademark ottsuke and then gained the hidari-uwate grip, facing the side of Kotooshu, exactly where he wanted him. However, in his condition, he was never going to beat Kotooshu in a throwing match and the Bulgarian countered with his own migi-shitate grip and threw Tochiazuma to his make-koshi. Nice one, Tochi...you've been risking further serious injury all basho and now you've got a losing record, meaning you could have taken the basho off and had exactly the same situation going into the Haru Basho. I shake my head. Kotooshu is 9-4.

Komusubi Kisenosato (6-7) has enjoyed a fine basho but fell for a sneaky little trip while seemingly in total control against the always-dangerous M2 Tokitenku (7-6). Excellent foresight from the Mongolian here, who saw very early that he was going to be thrown and pulled off a rare chongake (a kind of ankle hook). I wasn't too worried about this loss for Kisenosato because he will learn from it. And he is learning all the time. Future Ozeki here...no doubt whatsoever. Good technique from the Mongolian.

Well, Clancy, do you want some sugar on that dog turd you promised to eat if Kotoshogiku wasn't at least 9-5 come senshuraku? M1 Kotoshogiku executed a fine tachiai against the woefully hot and cold Komusubi Roho and went with migi-yotsu. And then, with Roho asleep at the wheel, slipped the left hand from outside to inside – and there we have morozashi and game over by yorikiri. Good, strong, solid technical sumo from Kotoshogiku today. He reminds me a lot of Wakanosato in the good old days, actually. Kotoshogiku is Tom Cruise at 7-6. Roho is Jack Skellington at 3-10.

With the retirement of Kyokushuzan still recent in my memory, I got to thinking how you miss rikishi when they're not there. I was never a fan of Kyokushuzan, and M1 Dejima's henka-yusho at the expense of Akebono ensured I was never a fan of him either. He's been around for a while now (he invented the kipper, you know), so there I was before Dejima came up for his bout thinking that I'll miss the big lug when he finally retires. Why? Well, imagine a world without knockers; particularly Dejima's knockers. Damn it, I won't live in that world. M6 Tochinonada walked right into a hatakikomi in today's bout. BUT!!! The judges spotted that Dejima had pulled the mage (top-knot) of Tochinonada. Pulling hair is an illegal move in sumo (and chess) so he was disqualified. Pretty unlucky. I think it's safe to say he didn't intend to do it. The former Ozeki will be as bemused as the rest of us at his 3-10 record (after defeating Hakuho AND Asashoryu). Tochinonada is hanging in there at 6-7.

M3 Kyokutenho couldn't quite believe that he'd lost to M5 Takamisakari. But it was no accident as circus boy executed a lovely maki-kae to get morozashi. From then on even the technically superior Kyokutenho stood no chance at all. The Mongolian paid the price for not taking Takamisakari seriously – he was uncharacteristically sloppy. Both men are at 7-6.

M4 Homasho put M14 Tamanoshima in his place nicely with a low tachiai that allowed him to get right in under Tama-chan's armpits. This gives the attacker the advantage of forcing the opponent upright, leaving them unable to use any lower body strength. And that, spawn of Satan, is why he won this bout easily. Homasho is in with a great chance of kachi-koshi at 7-6. Tamanoshima will be pleased nonetheless with a decent 9-4 record. You have to admire Homasho's sumo this basho. Another one on the up-and-up.

I thought I spotted Kate Bush in the crowd prior to the Kokkai-Kakizoe bout...but then I realized it wasn't her. Oh, well. In a ludicrous bout, M5 Kokkai played cat and mouse with M9 Kakizoe. Neither man really knew what he was doing and both were looking for the pull-down win. Kokkai (6-7) finally succeeded in pulling Kakizoe (7-6) down but his foot just strayed outside the tawara. The ensuing mono-ii went against the cuddly Georgian so he bowed very politely, skipped off down the hanamichi, and possibly went to the ice cream shop with his friend (a former roadie for Sparks). I'm afraid I can't tell you for sure whether this mono-ii was correct because my video broke. At least now you can define professionalism.

M9 Toyonoshima has been on fire, fulfilling the role of possible spoiler to Asashoryu (cough). His solid sumo has been one of the few high points of a deeply disappointing basho. M15 Ushiomaru has been no slouch himself and with his kachi-koshi in the bag coming in, anything from now on was a bonus. Not today, however, as Toyo kept the basho 'alive' with a clinical display, taking good advantage of Ushiomaru's floppy arms to get the morozashi grip and march him out with ease. Toyonoshima stands at 11-2 and fights Ama tomorrow, a match which is certainly winnable. Although he has next to no chance of winning the yusho, at least he is giving the Yokozuna a nice nudge in the back. Ushiomaru is a rare breed of parakeet at 8-5.

M11 Tamakasuga (7-6) has wilted badly since that fine 7-0 start, looking tired and lacking in the sharpness we saw in the first week. In a forgettable and untidy match, Tama-chan's opponent Otsukasa (7-6) eventually pounced and thrust the veteran down by tsukiotoshi. A horrible bout.

Oh, and by the way, M13 Kasuganishiki (7-6) should have at least had a mono-ii in his 'loss' to M6 Asasekiryu (8-5). Well, maybe the theories about the shinpan always favouring the Japanese in close calls are rubbish after all. Or is that because this was a totally inconsequential match? You decide.

Well, it's now between two men, and by two men, I mean one. Asashoryu is 12-1 and fights the injured Tochiazuma tomorrow. Toyonoshima is 11-2 and takes on Ama. The yusho race could be as good as over before the Yokozuna steps on the dohyo for his bout if Toyonoshima loses to Ama so let's hope the plucky lad gets his win and keeps some semblance of tension in the air. Honestly, I think you'd be mad to reserve senshuraku tickets these days. The best day to go to the sumo is definitely day 13 or 14. With Asashoryu around, it's going to be game over well before the final day in most instances.

Oh, I almost forgot...the Emperor turned up with his missus today. Good for them.

Well, Mike titillates your badger tomorrow and Clancy will wrap things up in patented fashion on senshuraku. And if you've been wondering where Kenji has been, he's got Black Death.

I'll be back between basho with the Sumotalk Good, Bad and Ugly Awards. Until then, I'll be lying low. Wish me luck, and keep it hanging to the left.

Day 12 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
Even when Asa downshifts into the lead in the second week of a tournament there are always a few rays of light to look forward to in the final days when the big guns finally draw on each other. There are upsets in the first week, s'true, but it seems it's always in the second that the bouts worth remembering start to fall. And yet this too has been taken from us loyal sumo gawkers as yesterday's Hack-Asa match fell a bit short of the usual suspense, and today's Hack-Oshu debacle is best forgotten quickly, especially as far as Kotooshu's concerned. The third match-up of the threesome will be the last bout of the entire tournament when Kotooshu faces Asashoryu, although there's barely a hope that it will mean anything.

First, however, I'll swiffer through the bottom half of the Makuuchi and then start back at the top. The big winners so far have been M14 Tamanoshima
The under-ranked Fridge, M9 Toyonoshima No nickname but gunning for prizes and only one other, M15 Ushiomaru, with a kachi-koshi in the lower half. Otherwise nobody is going down in flames as they all have at least three wins, besides poor Baruto, who is still the only withdrawal. I would have bet money on Tochiazuma pulling out time and time again this basho but 'lo, he continues undauntedly. Bless us all.

Asofuji started things off by getting embarrassed by a prancing Jokutoriki with not so much sumo as jogging. Then some spicy nibblings as Hakurozan laid into Tochinohana like he'd been dating his younger sister. Whoa-ho, has Mt. Baldy woken up these past few days or what? Today, fierce shots to the neck followed by a strong uwatenage. I enjoyed myself. Next course!

Iwakiyama grabbed the belt and wrenched Tosanoumi sideways with his back to the tawara, recovering for a yorikiri win, his 5th. Otsukasa lost a squirm-fest against fellow bo-wwwwhhheemoth Jumonji falling to a rear push-down okuritaoshi. M9 Kakizoe paid a visit to hot potato M15 Ushiomaru using his classic charge to go 6-6 and shrimpy goodness prevailed as Yoshikaze absolutely crunched his skull into Kakuryu's neck at the tachi-ai before dropping a few tsuppari and winning by tsukidashi in the space of about 2 seconds.

Tamanoshima proved too much man for the lower-elite once again as he stopped Takekaze dead in his tracks and forced him back quickly for his own tsukidashi win. Korean Kasugao was being pushed back by a solid Kasuganishiki before using a sly inside grip to upset 'Nish enough to launch a desperate kotenage over the edge
that worked! Toyozakura sprang with his usual vigour against the sleep-waking 5-6 Futenoh but when some space opened up he walked straight into a rare Futenoh hatakikomi slap down. M12 Zakura, now at 3-9, is nearly assured to soon join his brother in Juryo. Kita's scoring 5-7 at J1, if anyone's interested.

Tamakasuga is fading fast with his fifth straight loss, today against a defiant Asasekiryu who's come on strong of late and is one short of his kachi-koshi. Tokitsuumi went on the offensive after locking up with Tochinonada for his 7th by yorikiri and stepping into the top half we have Takamisakari and Toyonoshima--actually this is almost a highlight match for the night so I'll even give it it's own paragraph. Robocop, who makes up in crazed strength what he lacks in mass, had been on a slide since going 6-2 to start the year and would tonight face Toyonoshima, man of no good nickname, going 9-2 so far from the M9 rank. Both men connected with their chests from the tachi-ai with Toyo's arms more on the inside. Robo went for his right-arm grip but before he could find any purchase he had given up morozashi and was marched out faster than even Toyo realized. Toyonoshima sits at 10-2 but probably won't have many more wins like that handed out to him, or big stacks of envelopes for that matter.

Heading back to the top, Asashoryu maintained his lead with yet another win over the Ozeki who's style fairs the worst against the Yokozuna, Chiyotaikai. Actually today it's hard to say that Asa's tachi-ai was soft, he was just caught flat-footed by Chiyotaikai and was pushed back before he could even get his grips in. Taikai followed it up with some tsuppari but allowed Asashoryu to get an arm under and around the back of his left shoulder blade. With a quick tug of his arm the Ozeki was thrown to the edge of the ring and pushed out. It was looking good for a second, but no. 11-1 for the Yokozuna. 

Tochiazuma surprised me by holding the initiative against Kisenosato and beating him straight up with a nifty arm tug, which the youngster tried to resist and ended up being caught upright. Azuma is still on the verge of his make-koshi at 5-7 while Kissy's done me proud so far at 6-6.

Ama is once again one of the bright lights of the basho with an agile win here against the Ozeki Kaio who, I'll admit I was wrong, didn't retire in Kyushu last basho as I expected and now looks to be following the Kotonowaka route of being big, old and not especially maneuverable. Ama struck at the tachi-ai but twisted his shoulders to the left so as to squish Kaio's left arm against his chest. This gave him a grip on the gift bow of Kaio's mawashi, which he, being Ama, used to swing behind him for the okuridashi win. Ama earns his kachi-koshi stripes against an Ozeki who himself is showing pocket 6's.

The big bout! Woo! This is what I was talking about! Kotooshu and Hakuho have had some great bouts, although I'll admit that my favorites are the ones that Koto wins. So after such a punk basho I finally get some tall-boy loving and what happens? Kotooshu lunges too far at the tachi-ai but keeps his arms in to defend his belt
for a moment. Hakuho showed superior speed by pulling him to the side and throwing a tsuppari before the Bulgarian can decide what to do with himself. Kotooshu tried to slap it away but in doing so allowed Hakuho a tight double-inside which left Koto's arms helplessly dangling in thin air for the rest of the match. Pretty disappointing ending, Hakuho by yorikiri. Kotooshu looked pretty stiff. Both Ozeki are 8-4.

Kotoshogiku dropped Miyabiyama at the tachi-ai with a pretty insulting henka. I'd like to say I feel for the guy but if you're not bona fide Ozeki, such is life, and you'll have a few bad basho. Giku is yet another at 6-6.

Kotomitsuki is 7-5 after absolutely pounding Homasho at the tachi-ai, fighting off a grip with his own sukuinage attempt which succeeded at least in recovering the advantage. Mitsuki then--well, it's hard to describe, he's almost pulled a kotenage armlock throw but by standing in front of Homasho and running backwards, which worked at least in pulling him off balance and giving Mitsuki a rather macho oshidashi win. I don't think we'll see 10 wins from this guy but if he starts a 9-win per basho trend I'd be happy.

Can Roho get no love at all? With a ticket out of the Komusubi slot yesterday the Russian follows it up with another loss, this time to a uwatenage courtesy of the towering Mongolian Kyokutenho. I don't have much to say about either of these guys, although 'Tenho has been one of the sleeper hits of this basho with his 7-5 at M3 so far. Roho is quickly dropping from the headlines.

Tokitenku managed to hold up Dejima's tachi-ai headbutt and with a deft sidestep nearly slapped the former Ozeki down in a way that is usually quite common. Dejima caught himself this time and charged back at Tokitenku who pulled his 'Gumby Defence' of arching his back and slipping to the side and behind Dejima, finishing him off by okuridashi.

Kokkai decided to henka by Mike's rules by throwing a monster harite before diving for cover and almost had the footwork to out Aminishiki on the first go. The crafty but struggling M2 Ami managed to stand him upright and make it back to the center of the ring before succumbing to the abuse being leveled against him and going down by hatakikomi. Dirty, dirty sumo my Georgian gorilla. Kok's at 6-6 while Aminishiki rests at 3-9.

Another Day 12 come and gone, nothing e'special in a nothing e'special Basho. It looks possible to have Ama return to Komusubi if he can get another win or two by Sunday. 

Simon's scheduled for tomorrow, but Mike has refused to post bale for him. If Simon somehow does make it out, I don't know how he's going to sneak back into the hotel. His mugshot is plastered everywhere around here. Stay tuned.

Day 11 Comments (Martin Matra reporting)
You're probably wondering how I got to report on glorious day 11, aren't you? No? How about I tell you anyway? Yesterday I was enjoying a quiet afternoon in my fleabag room at our fleabag hotel (you didn't really believe Clancy when he said the doors opened with swipe cards, did you?), when someone knocked on the door. I instantly knew it wasn't one of the guys, because they just barge in with no previous warning, so I instinctively reached for the holster. Not finding it, I thought about it a bit and remembered I wasn't there on assignment, so I just asked through the door who the hell it was and what they wanted. No answer coming, I cautiously stepped behind the door, and when the guy busted it open, I grabbed him and threw him to the ground (by a kimarite I don't really remember, sumo was the last thing on my mind that moment). When he came to, he told me he was from the Interpol and showed me a picture of some guy named Danvers McEwan, who looked vaguely familiar and was wanted for numerous accounts of panda bear poaching. I was unable to help, so I sent him to Mike. Some thirty minutes later I heard police sirens outside, and I saw Simon being arrested. I then realized the picture that guy had showed me was of someone closely resembling our man. When I asked Mike about the whole thing, he told me it was a simple case of mistaken identity, and the guy they were really looking for was also known by some as 'Bryce'. With Simon held up at the local police station, someone had to take care of day 11, so, being the newest and all, I got to do the honors. Hang in there, Simon, I'll make you proud.

Having to do day 11 on such short notice proved to have some good parts too, like, say, an Asashoryu-Hakuho match. It all started with a low tachi-ai that allowed the Yokozuna to grab a deep left uwate while keeping his opponent's left hand at bay. He quickly made his move, going for an open throw, but Hakuho managed to survive. Despite getting a right inside of his own, Hakuho had little more to do than delay the inevitable, with Asashoryu completely controlling the hostilities from his right side and denying his younger foe any grip on the left. After the first throw attempt, Asashoryu stood Hakuho upright and tried to force him out, and when that didn't work he quickly changed his momentum and tried a second throw, but Hakuho's grip on the front of the mawashi allowed him to resist again. Finally, tired of all that cat-and-mouse game, the Almighty Yokozuna dug deeply under Hakuho's left armpit and pushed forward until there was no place left to go but out. It might have looked like Asashoryu had some trouble with his main rival, but the truth is that Hakuho never really had the initiative, despite not going down easily. The win puts the Yokozuna two wins ahead of the competition (don't you even think about Toyonoshima taking the cup) and sends all my hopes of a second Asashoryu upset down the drain. Hakuho stands at 7-4 and will have to wait another basho for another Yokozuna run.

Next up, Bulgarian Kotooshu took on fellow Ozeki Chiyotaikai, employing another henka, albeit a milder one, to get his deadly left uwate. Chiyotaikai never had a chance and he was soon thrown to the dirt by the trademark uwate-nage, but the victory leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Defeating the yotsu-challenged Chiyotaikai by yotsu-zumo using a henka is like stealing candy from a baby. Both Ozeki are out of the Yusho race, at eight victories apiece.

Russian ex-Komusubi Roho executed a poor tachi-ai today against veteran Ozeki Kaio, leading with his arms and trying to keep Kaio away from his belt. After the initial impact, Ugly tried a half-assed thrust to the Ozeki's face, but his balance was so poor that all Kaio had to do was push a bit to his right shoulder and turn him around, Cell-Block H style. An easy okuridashi win for the old Ozeki, which may provide decisive to his kachi-koshi, since his competition down the stretch ain't getting any lighter. Roho just sucked today, and his 3-8 record so far is no coincidence.

Ozeki Tochiazuma's injury is visibly taking away any power from his lower body. It could be seen clearly today against Mongolian M3 Kyokutenho. Tochiazuma slightly stepped to the left and charged head-first, but his massive opponent didn't back off that easy. Eventually, Kyokutenho got a solid right uwate and an inside left, but Tochiazuma shook the latter off, sacrificing position instead. Safely at the Ozeki's side, Kyokutenho resisted a timid push-out attempt and drove out the hapless Tochiazuma to his seventh loss. I think it's safe to say a healthy Tochiazuma would never lose like this, but he's anything but healthy right now. It's also safe to say we'll have at least one kadoban Ozeki this Haru. Kyokutenho is sitting pretty at 6-5.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki stopped his free-fall today with a win against M4 Ama. Although Ama delivered a tachi-ai as solid as ever, the larger Sekiwake went right for the left uwate and got it, quickly forcing a throw. It failed, and the two were locked in the center of the dohyo for a short while, but without a good grip, there was little the Mongolian could do when Kotomitsuki pressed the action moving to his left again and yanking Ama off balance to get behind him. Ama is very quick and actually managed to turn around and face Mitsuki again before being finally forced out by yorikiri. With 7 wins, Ama's promotion is just around the corner, while 6-5 now will most likely turn into another 8-7 for the Sekiwake.

The other Sekiwake reaped the benefits of yet another henka, this time from M2 Tokitenku. The Mongolian jumped to his left at the tachi-ai and went straight for the slap-down, but the Fatman probably planted an ACME Gimmick-Proof Homing Device in his mage, because he was on Tokitenku's every move and after surviving the slap-down he blasted him right into the second row. With 8 losses already, Miyabiyama'd better run the table from now on if he cares about staying in sanyaku. Tokitenku still has some kachi-koshi hopes with five wins so far.

Komusubi Kisenosato withstood M1 Dejima's vigorous tachi-ai and took him to the edge in a matter of seconds. The ex-Ozeki tried a last moment slap-down, but his palm completely missed Kisenosato's head, and he soon found himself out. They called it oshidashi, but Dejima clearly stepped out on his own, after bungling the hataki-komi. His 3-8 record is that much more unflattering after his two major upsets on days 2 and 3. Kisenosato is already 6-5 and is facing a 50% Tochiazuma tomorrow. With Miyabiyama in trouble, kachi-koshi now guarantees our youngster promotion to Sekiwake for the next tournament. Rejoice, Japanese fans.

The last of the Sadogatake, M1 Kotoshogiku, lost precious ground today in his quest for sanyaku. M4 Homasho scored his sixth win by keeping low after the tachi-ai and denying any sort of mawashi grip. Kotoshogiku took him back, but soon hit a brick wall and thought he'd change the strategy a bit. But an Asashoryu he is not and he thought wrong, going for a slap-down that only destroyed his momentum. Homasho couldn't ask for more and capitalized, driving Giku all the way across the dohyo in no-time at all. A last moment utchari had Homasho flying, but Kotoshogiku fell to his back first. After a solid 5-2 start, Kotoshogiku is suffering from a rebel four-day losing streak, and tomorrow ain't getting any better, with a frustrated Miyabiyama looking to stay in sanyaku. Homasho is 6-5 and, contrary to my expectations, he might just survive this high up.

M3 Aminishiki came hard today against M5 Takamisakari, probably aiming for that easy kensho money. Aminishiki moved forward right from the get-go and kept pushing until he got moro-zashi and forced out the one they call Robocop. I'm not sure what to make of this bout, but I think it was more a case of Takamisakari being useless than Aminishiki being strong. Takamisakari's 6-5 record is ambiguous too, but Aminishiki's 3-8 is pretty clear: he needs some time off from the sharks.

How about a little quiz for those of you bored already? Let's say M5 Kokkai were to fight a yotsu wrestler, say Iwakiyama, and say I gave you the name of the kimarite by which the bout was won, uwatenage. Can you predict the winner of the bout? What's that? Iwakiyama, right? I'd answer the same myself, but today Kokkai showed he can do some decent yotsu, when push comes to shove. He blasted with his left shoulder into Iwakiyama's face at the initial charge, and was deflected to his right, grabbing a quick right uwate. All of a sudden, Iwakiyama was in no position to do anything, with Kokkai to his left, and he was thrown off balance by the hairy Georgian with a pull to the back of the head, and finally thrown down to the clay by uwate-nage. Kokkai now stands at 5-6 and might get the critical 8 if he keeps his cool. Iwakiyama is looking bad so far and 4-7 says he's going down.

My favorite little Mongolian (neither little nor favorite for that matter) M8 Kakuryu met fellow countryman Asasekiryu. After taking a hard hit at the tachi-ai, Kakuryu, of course, started retreating and went straight for the pull-down, but it was a half-assed effort with little effect on his more experienced opponent. Strangely enough, Asasekiryu tried everything to keep Kakuryu away from his belt (both of them being Mongolian and all, maybe he knows something I don't, but somehow I doubt he was afraid of going at it yotsu-style with Kakuryu). Anyway, after the failed pulldown, Kakuryu showed some spirited shoves, actually driving his opponent back a few steps. Asasekiryu kept his cool and fought back, surviving a second meek pull-down, until he finally ran his elusive but weak opponent out of the dohyo. This was more cat-and-mouse sumo from Kakuryu, and I tend to think his role-model was Kyokushuzan in his later years. I won't regret his demotion to Juryo one bit, though I might have to wait a while for it (or so his 5-6 record says). Asasekiryu is at a dull 6-5. 

A rather uneventful bout faced M6 Tochinonada and M10 Jumonji, who won the Juryo Yusho last basho. Tochinonada hit harder at the tachi-ai, pushing his opponent back and gaining a right uwate which he used to drive Jumonji to the tawara. Jumonji's efforts were futile, and Tochinonada patched up his record to 5-6 with the yorikiri. Jumonji gets make-koshi for his trouble.

The next bout saw M7 Kasugao take on M9 Toyonoshima. Both of them are very technical wrestlers, but the outcome of the bout exceeded any of my expectations. Toyonoshima took Kasugao's charge standing and gained morozashi. The Korean sensed the danger and quickly tried his patented armlock throw, but Toyo countered brilliantly by hooking his right leg from the outside. In the next instant he heaved the Korean into the air for a spectacular back-drop. The powers that be named the kimarite sotogake, but it looked more like a kakezori or a kirikaeshi. Anyway, it was fantastic stuff, and just for this little gem the 9-2 Toyonoshima fully deserves his technique prize. Kasugao is two losses away from make-koshi.

Both M7 Futenoh and M11 Tochinohana came with 7 losses into today's bout, so one of them was going to get make-koshi. It was Tochinohana who "prevailed" in the end, in a race to keep the other from getting the right uwate. Yorikiri and a glimmer of kachi-koshi hope for the Orange Prince, outright demotion for Tochinohana.

The NSK had to dig all the way to M16 to find Takekaze's opponent for today. And they came up with Otsukasa, who provided little competition for the M8. The tachi-ai was honest and strong, both men coming to a brief standstill in the center of the dohyo. Takekaze then produced some quick footwork and thrust down Otsukasa while slipping to the side. Both rikishi are 6-5.

The one thing that stands out in the next bout is the name of the kimarite, sokubiotoshi. Whenever I see that, one thing comes to mind, hair pulling (I wonder why). Anyway, the beefier Tamanoshima had Kakizoe on the run most of the time, and finally got him with a rather spectacular slap-down (or chop-down, but fancy name aside, the sokubiotoshi is nothing more than a hatakikomi in disguise). Tamanoshima secures kashi-koshi while Kakizoe isn't feeling so good at five wins to six losses.

M11 Tamakasuga traded his 7 bout winning streak in for a 4 loss one today (eat your heart out, Bernie). He must be losing steam, the old man, because he tried the cheap pull-down right from the tachi-ai. M13 Kasuganishiki wouldn't fall for it, and he drove the veteran to the tawara in mere moments. Tama dug in hard, but what goes around comes around, so Kasuganishiki just pulled on the back of his head to send him tumbling to the dirt, evening their records to 7-4 each.

Soon to be Juryo Toyozakura got his 3rd win today, following a chaotic and closely contested bout. The things that made is so closely contested were the protagonists' poor balance and defense, and most of all, their complete lack of any offensive skills whatsoever. In the end Toyozakura won by managing to keep Asofuji's right hand away from his mawashi and literally tiring him out to get behind him for the okuridashi. Asofuji gets make-koshi and he too will be back among his people in Juryo come Haru.

Small but feisty M13 Yoshikaze slapped a few good ones on M12 Tokitsuumi's face, but size (or lack thereof) does matter and he soon found himself thrust out by tsukidashi. Tokitsuumi looks set on staying in Makuuchi with his 6 wins so far. The jury's still out on Yoshikaze, but we are moving on.

The other Russian in the division, still a Maegashira only by a fortunate turn of events, had no answer for M15 Ushiomaru's quick charge. I'm not sure what he was trying to do, I didn't detect any pull-down attempts, nor was he trying to get the belt (well, at least he didn't henka). Anyway, all he ended up with was moro-zashi for his opponent, who then forced him out by yorikiri to get his kachi-koshi. Hakurozan hasn't been looking that bad lately and don't be surprised if he gets his 8. Ushiomaru will be hanging around Makuuchi for at least one more basho.

So, what have we to look forward to? Let's see, we have Asashoryu with ten wins already and a healthy lead on all the main contenders (were there any to begin with?). There's also a mouth-watering Kotooshu-Hakuho matchup tomorrow and Toyonoshima threatening for some prizes. Oh, yeah, and Simon's bail hearing is up too, and I really hope he makes it so he can treat us with some day 13 smack.

Mac enlightens you tomorrow, so don't you dare not show up.

Day 10 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
When you were a kid, did you ever do anything stupid like shoot a hornet's nest with a BB gun even though you didn't have anywhere to hide? Put a lit firecracker in a glass jar to see what would happen with the lid closed? Sekiwake Kotomitsuki was as stupid is as stupid does today against the Yokozuna by exhibiting a henka to his right at the tachi-ai in order to grab the right outer grip. Kotomitsuki got it and was standing to the side of the Yokozuna, but Asashoryu showed his greatness by refusing to go down and getting his left arm on the inside to stop the bleeding. With Kotomitsuki's momentum compromised by the henka, he was unable to capitalize on that left outer grip leaving Asashoryu room to force the action back to the center of the ring. Asashoryu immediately went for a maki-kae, but Kotomitsuki fought it off by holding the Yokozuna's wrist away. But Asashoryu would not be denied, and on the second maki-kae attempt, he didn't really even go for a surprise move; rather, he forced that goddamned right arm on the inside and there wasn't nuttin Kotomitsuki could do about it. Now with the morozashi grip, Kotomitsuki was standing upright and on his way back to the tawara having just given Asashoryu a tachi-ai henka. As Asashoryu crouched lower in the morozashi position, it looked to me as if Kotomitsuki just took a dive at the edge rolling in the corner of the dohyo as if he were on fire. I was waiting for the Yokozuna to set something up in retaliation, and I think Kotomitsuki was expecting it too, so he gladly hit the deck with little persuasion. I may be wrong here, and Asashoryu maybe did intend the winning kimari-te of yori-taoshi, but Kotomitsuki's fall looked unnatural. With Mitsuki lying in the fetal position in the corner of the dohyo, Asashoryu added a double slap of his ass, a move that he does when he's pissed at an opponent for disrespecting him. What is it with the Sadogatake-beya boys this basho? The Yokozuna moves to 9-1 with the win while Kotomitsuki has managed a 4 bout losing streak.

M1 Kotoshogiku moved slightly to his left against Ozeki Hakuho probably in an effort to grab the quick left outer grip as he knew Hakuho's own left arm would be going for the frontal belt grip. Whatever Kotoshogiku was thinking, it didn't work as Hakuho managed to get his left arm on the inside of Kotoshogiku's right side and wrench him upright. To make matters worse, Hakuho's right arm was at the front of the Geeku's belt, so the Ozeki wisely parlayed that into moro-zashi, which he used to smite Kotoshogiku to the dirt with a wicked scoop throw. Adding insult to injury, Hakuho mounted Kotoshogiku as he fell to the clay probably as a gesture in return for the henka at the initial charge. Afterwards in the back halls of the Kokugikan, Iwasa announcer caught up with Kotoshogiku and asked him what he was thinking? Kotoshogiku indicated that he wanted to set up a left ottsuke move, but whatever his intentions were, I think he out thought himself today. With Hakuho's suspect condition, Kotoshogiku perhaps could have handled him in a straight up fight. The Ozeki moves to 7-3 and will battle Asashoryu prematurely tomorrow. The Geeku is at a dangerous 5-5...dangerous because he's losing momentum with stupid decisions in the ring.

Ozeki Kotooshu used a slight henka to his left to grab the easy left outer grip of Sekiwake Miyabiyama's belt. This is the kind of sumo we often saw in Aki 2005 when Kotooshu was making that run to Ozeki. I don't like it, but what am I gonna do? With the smothering outer grip of Miyabiyama, you just knew the nage was coming. Miyabiyama can do nothing at the belt against a guy like Kotooshu, so the Bulgarian ended things in short order with the usual throw. Those who have that fetish for seeing Miyabiyama thrown to the clay in all his fat got their fix today. Let's get back the tachi-ai in the final three bouts today. All involved tachi-ai henka to the left and all by Sadogatake-beya rikishi. Thankfully, two of the three list. Can anyone confirm whether or not Sadogatake is translated as monkey see monkey do? Kotooshu advances to 7-3 while Miyabiyama drops to an ugly 2-8.

In our only bout between Ozeki, Chiyotaikai showed no mercy for the injured Tochiazuma focusing his tsuppari attack into Tochiazuma's grill. Tochiazuma tried to evade to his right, but this was too easy for Chiyotaikai who thrust Tochiazuma out with ease. Chiyotaikai clinches kachi-koshi with the win and is the only rikishi who deserves to be listed on the leaderboard with Asashoryu. Tochiazuma falls to 4-6 and won't receive any mercy from Asashoryu, so he's can only lose one other bout. We'll see if he can solve Kyokutenho tomorrow.

Speaking of the M3, Kyokutenho must have read my comments yesterday on the tachi-ai henka because he used his left arm to slightly push at Ozeki Kaio's chest before stepping out wide to his right to grab the cheap outer grip. Kaio's giving up a quick uwate to a yotsu-zumo specialist like Kyokutenho spells disaster, and Tenho wasted no time driving the Ozeki back. Kaio's suspect lower back and lower body showed today. When he tried to dig in and stave off the charge, he just collapsed to the dirt. This wasn't cheap sumo from Kyokutenho because a powerful tachi-ai from Kaio would have denied Kyokutenho's initial tactic. Both rikishi are 5-5, and like Tochiazuma, Kaio's competition only gets better from here. It wouldn't surprise me to see two Ozeki kadoban in March.

Major props to Komusubi Roho for not taking the low road and delivering a henka to Dejima's charge when other rikishi have figured out that it's the easy way to win this basho. the Russian met the former Ozeki straight up getting his left arm deep on the inside of Dejima and immediately cutting off Dejima's attempt at the outer grip on the same side. Roho used his strength to stand Dejima upright, and in desperation, Dejima went for a maki-kae with the left arm leaving Roho a powerful left handed outer grip. Roho wasted no time in driving Dejima back to the tawara, and to emphasize the thorough domination, Roho even read a Dejima evasive maneuver to the left using his left leg to trip at Dejima leaving him nowhere to go but back and down. Wow, this was excellent stuff from Roho, and it leaves me scratching my head why he doesn't go for this every bout. I love to watch Roho's offensive yotsu-zumo; the problem is we rarely ever get to see it. Great stuff today, though, as Roho improves to 3-7. Dejima incredibly shares the same record after his awesome 2-1 start.

Komusubi Kisenosato took complete advantage of Aminishiki at the tachi-ai leading with a left shoulder and a left arm on the inside. The Kid was able to drive Aminishiki straight back at the tachi-ai grabbing a right outer grip in the process. Aminishiki tried in desperation to come up with anything at the tawara, but he was completely smothered and forced out with ease. There's nothing more to say the sumo from Kisenosato was so precise. The Kid evens his mark at 5-5, and the Sekiwake rank is his if he can scrape out yet another kachi-koshi. Aminishiki falls to 2-8.

M4 Homasho could never get on track today against M2 Tokitenku. After a stalemate at the tachi-ai, Homasho was attempting the usual burrowing into his opponent's mid-section, but Tokitenku executed a quick keta-guri with the right leg sweeping at Homasho's left leg. The move worked brilliantly. No, it didn't fell Homasho outright, but it forced him to totally rethink his attack. Tokitenku went for another leg swipe informing Homasho to keep back, and I think it flustered Homasho to the point where Tokitenku nearly dragged him down. With Homasho out of rhythm yet still trying to tsuppari his way on the inside, Tokitenku managed to burn him at the tawara with a pull down while tip-toeing the tawara as Homasho's midsection slammed to the clay. Both rikishi are now 5-5, but what was interesting is you could detect the disappointment in the NHK broadcast crew today at the loss. It's obvious that Homasho has been a surprise of late and that expectations are high.

M4 Ama dominated M5 Takamisakari from the tachi-ai today attacking low and driving the Cop back to the tawara in an instant, but in the process, Takamisakari gained a gangly left uwate over the top that he used to stave off the attack and turn the tables nicely (where have were heard that before when talking about Takamisakari?). Takamisakari had Ama on the ropes--well, staring over the rope--where he unleashed an outer belt throw with that left arm grip, but Ama displayed on awesome counter leg trip where he used his right leg on the inside of Takamisakari's left to completely raise Takamisakari's left stump off the ground. The move worked so well that Ama went for it again this time time as an offensive maneuver. With Takamisakari now aware that the right leg was going to counter his every move, he just stood in the center of the ring planning a next move. It would never come as Ama brilliantly went for an uchi-muso move and dragged Takamisakari down to the dirt with the right inner grip. This was Ama's best sumo of the basho without question as he moves to 7-3. It was interesting to see both Tokitenku and Ama fluster their opponents with the threat of a tripping technique in successive bouts. Good stuff. Takamisakari falls to 6-4.

Kokkai, where have you been my man? Today was an awesome display of those double tsuppari that we were so used to seeing so early on in the Georgian's career. M6 Asasekiryu had no answer has he swallowed a nasty dose of Kokkai elbow at the tachi-ai standing him completely upright. Kokkai's de-ashi were perfect from there as he needed one more double strike to push Seki back to the tawara and a final double blast to knock him clear off the dohyo. Sorry Asasekiryu (5-5), Kokkai (4-6) takes the title of sexy today.

You know things are really going bad when you lose to a rikishi you have dominated to the point of having never lost to him. Such was the case with M7 Futenoh coming in against M6 Tochinonada, and Futenoh even managed a right outer grip from a solid tachi-ai, but Tochinonada just charged forward for the easy yori-kiri win. Futenoh needs to learn to pick his nose like a man and just dig in. There was no resistance whatsoever today as he fell to 3-7. Tochinonada is 4-6.

M7 Kasugao led with his head and immediately went for the right kote-nage throw at the tachi-ai, but M10 Iwakiyama read the move well and stopped the move with a beefy left arm deep on the inside of his opponent. When someone as large as Iwakiyama is as deep as that with his inside grip, you have zero room to move. Kasugao attempted to break the position by circling around the ring, but in the process Iwakiyama grabbed a right uwate and threw the Korean down to the dirt. Like Tochinonada above, this was Iwakiyama's first ever win over Kasugao (5-5). You get burned so many times until you finally learn what your opponent is going to do. Iwakiyama improves to 4-6.

M8 Takekaze (5-5) completely dominated M11 Tochinohana (3-7) with a strong low charge that stood Tochinohana upright setting him up for the quick offensive pulldown. This was over in seconds and the only things missing were the leather outfits and the whip.

M8 Kakuryu enjoyed the clear advantage from the tachi-ai against M10 Jumonji with a nice nodowa to the throat pushing Jumonji back and then a well-timed counter katasukashi attempt sending Jumonji to the other side of the dohyo. But I think that Martin might be on to something in regards to Kakuryu's sumo. The new Mongolian just didn't seem to have the oomph to finish Jumonji off. Around and around the dohyo the two went with Kakuryu giving chase and Jumonji going for counter pull attempts. Finally, Jumonji (3-7) was just worn out and Kakuryu was able to shove him into the first row. It wasn't as dominating as that. It was more a matter of Jumonji's listless sumo and his being out of shape. Kakuryu pulls even with the win at 5-5.

In a battle between two 7-2 rikishi coming in, M9 Toyonoshima exposed M14 Tamanoshima's rather weak attack by striking nicely at the initial charge and then slapping the veteran Tamanoshima down to the clay. When NHK showed a replay of the bout from above the dohyo, I think I counted 18 of those big red spots on Tamanoshima's back. As much as I respect George, his explanation of magnet pads accounting for those red spots is stupid. Now I really thought his suggestion that those were red crop circles made by aliens was plausible. Magnets shmagnets. I'm sticking with the elves and aliens.

M9 Kakizoe's oshi attack hasn't seemed as well-ground as it used to be. Today he was involved in a wild pushing affair with M13 Yoshikaze where the younger Yoshikaze was actually getting the best of Zoe, but at the edge Kakizoe perfectly timed an evasive maneuver just as Yoshikaze went for the kill. You've seen the move a million times. Kakizoe was able to tiptoe the tawara while Yoshikaze fell face first to the dirt. Both rikishi are now 5-5.

M11 Tamakasuga's name has now officially been removed from the fake leaderboard. Today against M15 Ushiomaru, the two rikishi enjoyed a true shove fest, but the difference was that the Ushi was attacking with solid footing and his back arched just so. Tamakasuga was the rikishi forced to evade this way and that, and his feet were aligned several times which completely takes away a rikishi's balance. The veteran simply couldn't keep up with the sounder sumo being displayed by Ushiomaru, so in the end, he was given a ride off the dohyo. Sorry to burst everyone's yusho hopes, but that eliminates Tamakasuga. Both rikishi are 7-3.

As much as I've been criticizing M15 Asofuji's sumo this basho and saying that he isn't worthy of the Makuuchi division, he showed today against M12 Tokitsuumi that anyone can win if they get the moro-zashi grip. Tokitsuumi (5-5) failed to get any push from the tachi-ai thus giving up the costly grip. This one was over quick as Asofuji moved to 3-7.

The featured bout of the day of course was the Toyozakura - Hakurozan matchup. This one went exactly according to script with M12 Toyozakura coming out with a weak oshi attack while M14 Hakurozan immediately back-pedaled going for the pull down. Oh, the drama! In the end, Hakurozan was able to keep his foot on the tawara while Toyozakura took an exaggerated spill to the dirt and a 2-8 record to boot. Hakurozan looks as if he's here to stay another basho at 6-4.

M13 Kasuganishiki employed a haphazard oshi attack against M16 Otsukasa when really Kasuganishiki should have been going for the belt. Otsukasa just stood in the center of the ring and watched Kasuganishiki dance around until finally he threw the sloppy Kasuganishiki down. Both rikishi are 6-4.

Has M16 Tosanoumi injured that left knee of his? Today against J3 Shimotori, the veteran had no push from the tachi-ai allowing Shimotori to get an early right arm on the inside, which he eventually used for a scoop throw of Tosanoumi at the edge. The veteran falls to 4-6 while Shimotori is the opposite at 6-4.

Martin seeks more hate mail tomorrow.

Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As we head into week two, the inevitable is upon us once again. I can stomach Asashoryu winning every tournament, but it gets really old really fast when no one even tries to keep pace with him. I was thinking "what's been the most memorable moment of the basho so far?". The first thing that came to my mind was the story surrounding Ama and his losing his father to a car accident a few weeks ago. But then I realized that Dejima actually beat the Yokozuna on day 3. The bout didn't readily come to my mind because no one has capitalized from it. Asashoryu is in firm control of this tournament despite the early loss, none of the Ozeki or sanyaku are mounting any sort of a charge, and even Dejima has managed to squander that fast start away with a three bout losing streak late in week one. Things were a lot better when the likes of Tochiazuma and Hakuho were actually yusho contenders. And god forbid that Baruto ever gets into fighting shape again. We've got yet another mess on our hands, so let's start the scrubbin'.

Starting from today, Asashoryu fights the West Sekiwake and then works his way up the banzuke in ascending order. Of this group of rikishi, I'd say that Miyabiyama is the least likely to topple the Yokozuna. As good as Miyabiyama has been, he doesn't have the speed to contend with Asashoryu, so today was yet again another instance of "let's see how Asa dismantles the Sheriff today." He did it with an early right inner belt grip and then an eventual left outer grip that he used for a dashi nage throw. The throw attempt failed, but Asa was able to maintain his right inner grip and after gathering his wits for a few seconds, he rushed in for moro-zashi that he used to easily force the Sheriff back and out with. It was quite an uneventful affair, but the Asashoryu - Miyabiyama matchups always are. The Yokozuna moved to 8-1 with the win...and oh yeah, he's now the sole leader of the basho. Miyabiyama falls to 2-7, but hey, at least he didn't get his fat thrown down to the clay as usually happens against the Yokozuna. Let's move on.

Now that we're in week two, we should see an all-Ozeki matchup each day. Before I get to the Chiyotaikai - Kaio bout today, let me back track to the Chiyotaikai - Kotoshogiku bout yesterday. I know it's wrong to have favorites when trying to offer an objective opinion on the bouts, but coming into this bout yesterday, I wanted Kotoshogiku to go out and kick Chiyotaikai's ass. But that was until the Geeku showed the Ozeki up at the tachi-ai. If you don't get the live feed from NHK, you probably missed it, but as the two rikishi lined up at the starting lines, Chiyotaikai was ready to go and gave his opponent that motion of "let's go," but Kotoshogiku decided to implement a stall tactic, one that he probably learned from stablemate Kotomitsuki. As the two reloaded again, Kotoshogiku next jumped the gun twice coming out of his stance early before Chiyotaikai could get set. Chiyotaikai commented afterwards about how those shenanigans really pissed him off, and I don't blame him. It was so gratifying to see Chiyotaikai storm out, bust the Geeku in the chops, and humiliate him in the bout...and I wanted Kotoshogiku to win coming in!! I know these opinions aren't popular with a lot of you--and probably some of my colleagues here--but the Geeku received an old school lesson: don't diss the Ozeki, especially one that has earned his stripes. Now you might ask why does Kotoshogiku have to start when Chiyotaikai says so? He doesn't. It's perfectly fine for the opponent of an Ozeki--or even the Yokozuna--to fail to synch up a the tachi-ai, but once you give the motion that you're ready as Kotoshogiku did initially and then you stall intentionally throwing the Ozeki off of his timing, watch out. If you are of the opinion that nothing intentional happened prior to that bout, just answer this question: when was the last time Chiyotaikai came out like that against a quality opponent and finished him off without argument? Good to see me and my buddy Chiyotaikai are on the same page with this one. I haven't been on board with his sumo for awhile, but I've stated over and over the last few basho that I love how he's policing the other rikishi and keeping them in line. None of the other Japanese Ozeki are doing this, so I commend Chiyotaikai for his efforts.

Onto the bout today against Kaio, Chiyotaikai's momentum carried over from that bout with the Geeku as his solid thrusting attack was so quick and powerful that Kaio could only withstand it for maybe five seconds. After driving Kaio back from the tachi-ai with perfectly placed thrusts to Kaio's neck, Chiyotaikai switched gears on a dime and pulled Kaio down for the solid win. Chiyotaikai improves to 7-2 with the dominant win while Kaio falls to 5-4.

In yet another Ozeki matchup today, Tochiazuma and Hakuho "treated" us to some of the worst sumo you'll ever see from two Ozeki. Tochiazuma attacked to his left keeping his belt and arse away from Hakuho's favored tachi-ai where he extends that left arm for the frontal belt grip. In this position, the left ottsuke (push to the side near the back of the shoulder) was WIDE OPEN for Tochiazuma, but he couldn't move at all and didn't capitalize on the tachi-ai. Hakuho, who was let off the hook, stepped to his right and pulled his fellow Ozeki over from the side instead with a rather weak pull attempt, but it was an example of Tochiazuma's being maybe 50% healthy. Hakuho moves to 6-3, so while kachi-koshi seems to be in the bag, he's gotta use these last 6 days to hone his skills and get that ring sense back. Tochiazuma is in trouble at 4-5 with his brutal competition down the stretch. This was really ugly stuff from both parties, injuries or not.

Takamisakari knew better than anyone that his fast start from the M5 ranks would pair him against much better competition down the stretch. He got his first taste of that today against Ozeki Kotooshu. The two hooked up from the tachi-ai in the gappuri hidari-yotsu position, which means both rikishi have left inners and right outers. Takamisakari made it tempting by forcing the action close to the tawara, but there was no doubt about the outcome of this bout as Kotooshu demonstrated by slamming the Cop down to the clay with an uwate-nage. Both rikishi stand at 6-3, and this was a great example of the difference between the jo'i and the rank and file.

I mentioned those shenanigan stall tactics at the tachi-ai earlier...well the two masters of these sheningans hooked up today in Sekiwake Kotomitsuki and M1 Dejima, and they didn't disappoint. In my opinion, trying to psyche your opponent out at the tachi-ai only indicates weakness and a lack of confidence in one's ability. After some mental "games" between the two, Dejima rocketed out of his stance and blew the lethargic Kotomitsuki back and out in two seconds flat. Kotomitsuki obviously wasn't ready, but it's his own fault for dinking around at the start. All that does is produce one-sided sumo, which we saw today. Kotomitsuki apparently hasn't learned how to fight Dejima this basho. Either that or he took himself completely out of it from the start with the head games. The Sekiwake has no one to blame but himself as he falls to 5-4. Dejima improves to 3-6.

The most compelling match of the day featured Komusubi Kisenosato and M1 Kotoshogiku, the two rikishi who currently provide the greatest hope for Japan. Thankfully, they didn't disappoint even though the bout lasted about 5 six seconds. The two hooked up in another gappuri hidari-yotsu position with Kisenosato making the first move by driving Kotoshogiku back to the tawara. At the rope, Kisenosato wasted no time by attempting a throw with his outer grip, but Kotoshogiku had the gumption on his way down to reach for the back of Kisenosato's leg in watashi-komi fashion to try and trip his opponent down or out first. He wasn't able to pull the move off, but it did take some of the sting off of Kisenosato's initial domination. I thought this was a perfect example of the current ability of the two rikishi. As I mentioned in my pre-basho report, I think Kisenosato is slightly better, and today was a perfect demonstration why. He just has this fire and edge to him that gives him the slight advantage over his peers. This was great sumo from both parties, and I can't gush enough about these two rikishi. At 4-5, Kisenosato's competition will go down hill from here while Kotoshogiku at 5-4 still has a great shot to rightfully take over Roho's Komusubi slot.

Speaking of Komusubi Roho, he actually looked good today against M2 Tokitenku where the two hooked up in the gappuri migi yotsu position from the tachi-ai, which means the stronger rikishi usually wins. Such was the case today where Roho had Tokitenku forced out fairly easy in the belt contest. Roho picks up only his second win, but he can make that look more respectable in week two. Tokitenku falls to 4-5, and I've really been disappointed with his henka tactics coming into this bout.

In the Maegashira ranks, M4 Homasho continues to surpass my expectations of him. I saw a glimpse of greatness in this rikishi over two years ago as a non-sekitori...I just didn't think he would look this good this fast in the Makuuchi division. He opened up today's bout against M2 Aminishiki with his usual low charge that was fueled by a left outer grip gained at the tawara after driving Aminishiki back straightway. A nifty throw attempt at the edge didn't knock Aminishiki on his arse, but it did set up the easy force out. Homasho dominated the whole way as he moves to an incredible 5-4 while Aminishiki can't get anything going at 2-7.

M6 Asasekiryu gained a right outer grip at tachi-ai against M3 Kyokutenho, but when the larger Tenho showed resistance, Sexy wisely went for a quick maki-kae to get morozashi easily forcing Tenho (4-5) out from there. Asasexyryu moves to 5-4.

M4 Ama used a stiff morote at the tachi-ai against M6 Tochinonada setting up a quick right outer for himself and left inner belt grips for both rikishi. That right outer grip from Ama meant that Tochinonada was enabled his favored left inner grip position, so Ama wisely abandoned that attack backing his fanny away from his opponent opting to push Tochinonada (3-6) back and out with that initial right uwate. Today was a case of Ama never letting his opponent get settled in with that beefy body of his. Ama moves to 6-3.

M7 Kasugao used a nasty tachi-ai henka to his right enabling a quick kotenage throw of M5 Kokkai. This was dirty pool from the Korean who cheaply moves to 5-4 while Kokkai can't catch a break at 3-6.

M7 Futenoh should be ashamed of himself for not being able to get a decent position or belt grip from M8 Kakuryu's tsuppari attack. Kakuryu's shoves were well-timed and well placed, but Futenoh was anything but overpowered. Finally, after 10 seconds Kakuryu ended the funny business by pulling the hapless Futenoh over. Futenoh looked to be standing around (upright of course) like a bump on a log this whole bout and doesn't even deserve his 3-6 mark so far this basho. Kakuryu moves to 4-5.

M8 Takekaze (4-5) scored an easy oshi-dashi victory over the listless M10 Jumonji (3-6). Does Jumonji even care anymore? He made no effort to combat his opponent's attack today. M9 Kakizoe used his usual quick charge and inside attack, but his legs couldn't drive a tricycle today much less M11 Tochinohana (3-6) back, so Tochi just swayed to his left and easily pulled Kakizoe (4-5) down to the dirt.

M11 Tamakasuga looked to bounce back from his first loss with a decent tsuppari attack today, but M9 Toyonoshima was all over it and got on the inside a bit and countered with thrusts of his own that sent Tama-K circling around the perimeter. The younger Toyonoshima was simply too quick for the 35 year old and finished him off quite easily. Both rikishi are now 7-2 and still on that ridiculous leaderboard that NHK has been showing the last few days. I mean, you have guys like Takamisakari, Tamakasuga, Tamanoshima, and Toyonoshima when really you only need two names on there right now: Asashoryu and Chiyotaikai. Kotooshu was on that list yesterday until Ama greased him out of a chance, so as long as I'm on the prowl, let's talk a bit about the tachi-ai henka and how it's ruining the quality of sumo these days.

At the beginning of the broadcast on day 8, NHK flashed back to 1982 showing a bout between two former Yokozuna in Chiyonofuji and Takanosato. I had to laugh at the tachi-ai because neither rikishi squatted a bit and no one's hands went below his knees before the charge...you know, the good old days when they didn't enforce the proper tachi-ai? But as funny as those tachi-ai were, it completely took the henka out of the game. I don't see how anyone who supports the henka can argue that it makes the quality of sumo better. It doesn't by a long shot. How often do we ever see highlights from the past of a bout that involved a tachi-ai henka? Never. It's a dirty move and everyone knows it. The rikishi know it and squirm like hell when the press asks them about it afterwards. They also can't even look the dude they're giving the chikara mizu to afterwards in the eye. The fans know it's dirty. The venue becomes a library after a tachi-ai henka, and there are sometimes (deserved) cat calls when a foreigner does it. This basho has already been marred by some ugly tachi-ai henka, and we're not even two-thirds in. The problem is the rikishi feel this sense of entitlement with the attitude of "I got screwed by the henka on that day, so I'm going to get my win back by performing it myself." It really is a plague in sumo these days that keeps getting passed around and around.

Now I don't complain about anything or talk about a problem without offering a realistic solution. If any of you have read this site for two years or more...first, my sincere apologies, and second...you're going to read this take again. The way you eliminate the tachi-ai henka is to make it a false start. The definition would be if a rikishi's foot steps outside of the imaginary plane (those cool purple dots in my graphic) created by the ends of the starting lines BEFORE he touches his opponent, then it's a false start. You have two judges on the East and West sides of the dohyo that are looking right into the plane, so they could easily make the call. The rikishi could still do that little sly side step to grab the uwate, but they couldn't just jump to the side and slap their opponent down who has just charged into thin air. Sure, it would be a judgment call, but we all know what kind of tachi-ai I'm talking about. Kotooshu would have false started against Kisenosato...Ama would have false started against Kotooshu...and Kasugao would have been called for a matta today. I'm telling you...it's a solution that would clean up this sport and make the rikishi actually practice one of the fundamentals of sumo.

Let's pull out the mop and bucket beginning with M10 Iwakiyama, who was too indecisive with his hands at the tachi-ai, so M13 Kasuganishiki (6-3) just backed up a step to his right and pulled Iwakiyama forward and down. This was a shame because Iwakiyama really executed a nice tachi-ai...he just didn't' capitalize on it. No wonder he's 3-6.

How pathetic was M12 Toyozakura with a tachi-ai henka to his right of M15 Ushiomaru of all rikishi? Well, it was pathetic that he tried to pull the move off but it was even worse that it didn't work. Then, to add insult to injury, the Ushi stumbled all the way to the tawara, but Toyozakura's attempt to tsuppari him out after all that failed as well. Thankfully, Ushiomaru (6-3) slapped Toyozakura's sorry ass (2-7) out of the dohyo putting him and all of us out of our misery.

M12 Tokitsuumi (5-4) attempted a quick harite at the tachi-ai and thought of a pull attempt, but before he could finish that nonsense, M16 Tosanoumi had a deep right arm on the inside and a left outer to go along with his usual freight train charge. Rosie O'Donnell (the fat lady) sung from there as Tosanoumi improved to 4-5.

M14 Tamanoshima's lethargic charge was met by the fierce tsuppari of M13 Yoshikaze, whose push-out victory was complete in three seconds. I go back to that leaderboard NHK has been showing of late. A yusho candidate does NOT get his ass handed to him by Yoshikaze.

M14 Hakurozan came with his usual upright tachi-ai and meek pull down attempts against M15 Asofuji. Luckily for Hakurozan, his opponent doesn't belong in the division and after some faux tsuppari and a lost attack by Asofuji (2-7), the Russian managed to grab a left inner grip that he used to swing his opponent down with. Damn, Hakurozan is now 5-4, which means we'll probably have to watch him fight again in March.

Last and certainly least, M16 Otsukasa managed a right arm under J3 Satoyama's left armpit to set up the massive right uwate, but Ostsukasa's not a yotsu guy and this bout dragged on FOREVER with Otsukasa attempting a yori-kiri charge here and there only to rebuffed back into a stalemate. With so much time on my hands during the bout, I popped in the Beatles' Hey Jude and listened to that twice. Next, I went back and read Martin's day 7 report a couple of times, and as luck would have it, just when I returned to the TV set Otsukasa tried yet another yori charge that was countered by a nifty sukuinage throw from the Juryo rikishi. What happened in this bout is that Otsukasa showed Baruto's stablemate and sparring partner the same charge over and over, so finally Satoyama clued in to what was coming and countered the attack for the win. Both rikishi are 5-4.

Since I can't get enough of this, I'm back for more tomorrow.

Day 8 Comments (George Guida reporting)
As fate would have it, nearly one year to the day of my report from Haru Basho 2006, who else but His Excellency Demon Kogure was once again brought back to NHK's guest booth to give his unique insight on today's bouts. Despite the bizarre juxtaposition of the Demon--"cosplay" gone horribly wrong--sitting next to meat and potatoes Takasago Oyakata, the man knows his sumo and is isn't afraid to call rikishi out on bad sumo either, as you'll read later. Who's next in the guest booth, DJ OZAM?

Two months after the infamous "keta-guri incident", Asashoryu (7-1) opted for straight out domination rather than humiliation of Kisenosato (3-5) with what is becoming his patented lightning fast tachi-ai, immediate moro-zashi grip and unstoppable yori-kiri. A split-second hidari uwate-nage attempt by Kise at the dohyo's edge only served the insolent pup to get an extra-savage shove into the front row. 

A slow motion, brontosaurian tachi-ai between two Ozeki heavyweights saw Hakuho denied yet again his left grip. Despite allowing Kaio to secure a migi uwate, Hakuho countered with and offset any advantage Kaio initially had with a migi uwate of his own. I would have liked to have seen more fight from Kaio. Hakuho's yori-kiri seemed too easy. Things still aren't all there for Hakuho. Even his big grizzly bear swipes from the past few years seem to be missing that "thud" of yore.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai was a juggernaut on methamphetamines today, blowing out an unprepared M1 Kotoshogiku, who after two false starts could barely advance half a step from the tachi-ai before being steamrolled by one of the fastest oshi-dashi wins you'll ever see. Kotoshogiku is technically still in the hunt at 5-3 while Chiyotaikai leads all Ozeki at 6-2.

It's sad to see such an anticlimactic finish to two of sumo's most talented rikishi when M4 Ama resorted to another henka. The Demon took Ama to task from the announcer's booth, reminding the skilled Mongolian that last year Ama made a promise to never henka. Ama, with an "Aw shucks" grin, argued that it wasn't a henka, but rather that he was merely attacking from the side, which is about almost as good of a euphemism that you're going to get for a henka, one that I think Bernie would love to use in the future. Both underachievers (at least for this basho) fall to 5-3.

Tochiazuma's struggling something terrible this basho. M2 Aminishiki (2-6) is a pitiless, mechanical automaton that cares nothing for Tochiazuma's woes. Witness the hidari ottsuke to set Tochiazuma off balance, plus the constant tinkering, grabbing and wrenching
hink a modified collar-and-elbow tie-uphat Aminishiki thrives on, constantly searching for that chink in the armor of san'yaku rikishi. Add a well-placed kata-sukashi to steer Tochiazuma's neckless head into the dirt while simultaneously hooking his left arm and you have Tochiazuma batting .500 at the halfway mark. Tochiazuma was never in this bout from the get go, and you wonder how he's going to fare with a steady diet of Ozeki on his plate heading into Week 2.

Miyabiyama (2-6) needed only a few half-hearted tsuppari to expose Roho (1-7), setting him off balance and getting deep from Roho's left to toss him with a nifty sukui-nage. Takasago Oyakata suggested that Roho is overthinking his opponent's moves before the tachi-ai, thus leading to poor sumo and an almost guaranteed return to Maegashira ranks.

M2 Tokitenku (4-4), with a bit of luck, capitalized on a locomotive tachi-ai from Kotomitsuki, who simply came in too strong and fast for his own good. Toki was clipped at impact, but Koto's momentum carried him right to the edge of the bales, where the Mongolian pounced on the Sekiwake and needed nothing more than a light slap on the back of Koto Blitzed on Whiskey for the tsuki-otoshi win and keeps a potential san'yaku berth still at play.

Like an airborne virus, it seems everyone is catching the henka bug at Ryogoku Kokugikan. M5 Kokkai (3-5) caught it too, but whiffed on his henka attempt, allowing M1 Dejima to regain his balance and regain his composure as the two gargantuans settled for a lazy tie-up at the center of dohyo. (There should be an unwritten rule that a botched henka immediately forfeits all henka privileges for the following three basho.) After a few seconds of this, Kokkai went supernova, bum rushing Dejima (2-6) in an impressive display of pure leg drive and upper body strength, even more remarkable as Kokkai's hands were forced awkwardly in a "Stick 'Em Up!" position as Dejima cranked an ultimately futile frontal grip on his mawashi.

M4 Homasho (4-4), favoring his Sequoia that poses as a left leg, displayed gutsy "nebari" at the bales, stuffing a kote-nage and a migi uwatenage from M3 Kyokutenho (4-4) before trying a desperation tsuri-dashi of his own until a frustrated Kyokutenho resorted to just pushing the youngster out via oshi-dashi.

Nobody takes punishment with more flair and dramatics than M5 Takamisakari (6-2), who eats tsuppari like a Rock 'N Sock 'Em Robot, with the whiplash neck-thrashing, the gyrations, the shakes, spasms and quivers and what not. M8 Kakuryu (3-5) discovered that sumo's true eccentric can give as good he gets, hooking Kakuryu's left arm underneath for a deep migi yotsu and then wrenching him around at the bales until the young Mongolian crumbled, underestimating Taka's strength as many a rikishi foolishly do.

M11 Tamakasuga (7-1) failed to make kachi-koshi today, despite deft footwork and solid sumo fundamentals. The problem is M8 Takekaze (3-5), shorter and with an even lower center of gravity, makes for a difficult stylistic match-up for everyone's favorite blue-collar rikishi. After lots of chasing each other round with the close quarters sumo that both rikishi prefer, Tamakasuga lost his patience and charged in too low and recklessly, allowing Takekaze to sidestep and be in position for the oshi-dashi win. Tamakasuga shares the leader board with Asashoryu and Tamanoshima.

The mysterious red crop circles that Mike witnessed on Day 6 reappeared today on the back of M14 Tamanoshima (7-1) who, in one of the better bouts of the day, finally applied a wrenching shitate-nage on M10 Iwakiyama (3-5) after failing to force the big lug out on numerous yori-kiri attempts in a satisfying "power sumo" match up. By the way, those circles can most likely be explained as the result of sticking magnetic circle pads on your back, an increasingly popular remedy that pro athletes use for sore and stiff muscles.

In other bouts that need only one sentence to describe them, M13 Kasuganishiki displayed sound suri-ashi (see Mike's comments on Day 6) to neutralize the tsuppari of M12 Toyozakura (2-6) to pick up win No. 5 via oshi-dashi.

M12 Tokitsuumi (5-3) secured moro-zashi grip instantly on M15 Ushiomaru (5-3) to usher "Baby Fat" out with textbook yori-kiri. 

M15 Asofuji (2-6) (far more compassionate and loving than his brother Aminishiki) fell prey to M11 Tochinohana's (2-6) hataki-komi, despite a very stubborn migi frontal grip on Tochi's belt.

Mike brings the noise tomorrow. Be there.

Day 7 Comments (Martin Matra reporting)
Welcome, people, to the seventh day 2007 Hatsu Basho chronicle. Remember what was happening in sumo this time last year? Early losses by Asashoryu, Tochiazuma on a rampage, a solid Hakuho chasing that Ozeki promotion--the 2006 Hatsu had a lot of promise and it delivered. But what about this year, hmm? Well, for me anyway, the most exciting moment so far was, of course, that fairy-tale tsunami-taoshi Dejima destroyed the almighty Yokozuna Asashoryu with. As most of you already know, I'm not exactly Asashoryu's biggest fan, but that's irrelevant, as in terms of excitement, there's nothing better than the Yokozuna losing early (it gives us the illusion that the Yusho is still actually in contention). Asashoryu declared after the bout that he was expecting a matta, but I think it was more a case of vanity and underestimation from the Yokozuna's part: seeing Hakuho lose straight on the day before, he thought he could stop the train and, of course, he was run over. Unfortunately for Dejima, he suffered some unhappy losses due to overcommitment, and he's now forced to watch that Shukun-sho shamelessly walk away. How about the Yusho then? Even I can call this one: Asashoryu can stretch that thick arm and pat himself on the back for reaching number 20 and joining the elite (and for causing Taiho some serious agitation). 

Ozeki Kotooshu has been the black sheep of the basho so far, mainly because of that nasty, no, shameful, no, no, no--what's the word I'm looking for--that EVIL henka against Komusubi Kisenosato on day 1 (And I'm perfectly aware that poisonous hate-mail will start pouring from the Bulgarian fans; Ha! Bring it on, Bulgarian fans!). 1% of me is happy for Kotooshu, because he has now defeated his tormentor three times in a row, but the other 99% has a message for the Bulgarian: My man, the henka is stinky, no good. Stop doing it, for God's sake! (And you might throw in a little victory over Asashoryu as well this time, for old times' sake, eh?). I think Mike made a good point in his comments, so I won't waste anymore time on this subject.

Let's move on to today's action then. M15 Asofuji was not at all impressed by Katayama's uncanny ability of touching ceilings with the soles of his feet and rushed a solid right inside grip at the tachi-ai. Katayama stood his ground and eventually managed to get the left uwate. He then seemed to get the upper hand and took Asofuji to a tour of the dohyo, while Asofuji tried to throw him some three times, unsuccessfully. Katayama moved in for the kill, but Asofuji held on long enough for the pair to throw each other simultaneously. A torinaoshi ensued, and things went somewhat similar at the tachi-ai, with Aminishiki's brother going straight for the belt grip with his right hand. This time he got an uwate, but Katayama turned the tables on that, only to be thrown out in style moments later. Yes, you read right, I just mentioned Asofuji and style in the same sentence, and for good reason, as this bout was one of the most entertaining of today and it showed that good sumo can occur this low in the division also, and Clancy was right about us not giving it enough attention when it really deserves it. To wrap it up, Asofuji is 2-5 after the win and stares Juryo relegation in the face, while his victim is already in Juryo, so there's no point for us to worry about his 3-4 record.

M15 Ushiomaru is proving to be quite a hard slab of butter this basho. Today, against M13 Kasuganishiki, he produced a powerful charge that drove his foe a large step back. On Kasuganishiki's quick rebound attempt, Ushiomaru secured moro-zashi by pushing the right arm out of the way, and from there victory was just a formality. Yoritaoshi and a solid 5-2 for the M15. Kasuganishiki is at an uneventful 4-3.

M12 Tokitsuumi was roughed up today by M16 Otsukasa, after a tachi-ai that seemed to favor pretty-boy (What? MY comments are gay? Have you even read Bernie's day 5 report?). Driven back, Otsukasa kept his cool, dazed Tokitsuumi with a couple of well-aimed double tsuppari to the jaw, changed momentum in his favor and drove his hapless opponent out before he knew what hit him, finishing the job with some frantic gaburi-yori. Both rikishi are now at 4-3.

And here we are, looking at the sole leader of the Makuuchi division. Who would have thought Tamakasuga might start 7-0 after being beaten to a pulp only four months ago in Tokyo? I'm really asking myself, how can anyone just destroy the lower echelons of the division so convincingly and get prison-raped so badly by the jo'i? Is the difference between the two that big? Well, Tamakasuga is living proof of that, isn't he--Let's see, I was talking basho excitement earlier, and some of you noticed I didn't say anything about the hero of this paragraph. How would a cool 10-0 start sound, would that do it for you? 'Cause it sure would do it for me, even if Tamakasuga would get a lot of tougher opponents towards the end of week two. In fact, tougher opponents might make things even more interesting, with the 35 year-old riding the wave and collecting a few valuable scalps for a nice Kanto-sho. Well, I say he can do it, and I fully expect 11 wins from him. M16 Tosanoumi was the victim today, and his once feared tachi-ai didn't help him either. Tamakasuga took the charge with a good low stance and softened Tosanoumi's advance with the right hand to his shoulder. Afterwards, he kept the other veteran at bay with some fierce tsuppari that eventually withered Tosanoumi, so Tamakasuga took him off balance with a push to the left side of his head while quickly moving to his right. A second helping of stiff thrusts wore the veteran out, and Tamakasuga just got out of the way before Tosanoumi crashed out of the dohyo to an unflattering 2-5 record this low on the banzuke. Maybe it's time to retire, old man.

M14 Tamanoshima is also cruising through the lower layers of Makuuchi, but you'd have to expect that from such a skilled wrestler who only got there because of injury in the first place. The only dent in his current 6-1 record comes from a bad decision he made on day 4 against the bulky Ushiomaru, who quenched his meek pull-down attempt to drive him out convincingly. Today Tamanoshima took on M10 Jumonji, who tried to keep the former Sekiwake away from his belt so badly that he found himself out of the dohyo in a matter of seconds. A win that showed good strength still flowing through Tamanoshima's lower body and sent Jumonji to his fourth loss.

Up next is a bout that promised to be very ugly at first. Let's see, you have Iwakiyama, currently in a much "deserved" M10 spot, a big guy with probably the poorest balance in the division, and a balding Russian, nominee to the Sumotalk Ugly Prize, Kyushu 2006 Edition, by the name of Hakurozan who would have been in Juryo now, had it not been for several favorable twists. What should you get? That's right, a straight up tachi-ai from the Russian and a cheap pull-down attempt, capitalizing on the aforementioned poor balance (involuntarily, of course, because Hakurozan tries that with everyone when he's not pulling blatant henkas), ending with Iwakiyama falling on his already battered face. Well, things almost went that way today, except for one small detail--the pull-down failed. Hooray, Iwakiyama drove out Hakurozan easily for a well deserved loss one would think, and for good reason (we've seen Hakurozan give up at the edge plenty of times). But not this time, boys and girls, no, this time the guy with skinny legs actually showed some spirit and came back with vicious tsuppari, uh, for a second anyway, before getting back to his old and stupid ways with another pull-down attempt. That failed too, to nobody's surprise, and Iwakiyama forced the hostilities to close-quarters combat, trying to get some kind of belt grip, but ironically it was Hakurozan that managed to get a solid migi-uwate and keep Iwakiyama's greedy hands at bay. He then quickly tried the yorikiri, but the gorilla resisted and forced a brief stalemate, getting a right outside mawashi grip of his own. Moments later, the most miraculous thing happened, Hakurozan felled his big opponent with a beautifully executed uwate-hineri, so quick and surprising that Iwakiyama only had time to get his left leg under him for support half-way, and his knee buckled. Hakurozan looks like he's starting to earn his pay as he moves to his third win, while his much larger victim falls to the same record and is not looking good at all.

Little to say about the next bout, except that Yoshikaze got his little ass kicked into front row oblivion by the underrated M9 Toyonoshima. Mike once said that oshidashi is a win and tsukidashi is an ass-kicking. I'll add to it that tsukitaoshi is a slaughter. Right from the start Toyonoshima came with his hands in front, at first barring his opponent and afterwards riddling him with quick and effective tsuppari that drove the poor guy to the edge and on the verge of falling out. Toyonoshima mercilessly finished the job with a glorious double thrust (and rather unnecessary, but spectacular nonetheless) that sent Yoshikaze over the shinpan in a painful manner. 4-3 is not so bad for the M13. Toyonoshima boasts an interesting 6-1 and if he keeps it up he might just be thrown to the lions in the upper ranks. A prize is never out of the question, but I find that rather unlikely.

Ah, we get to my personal favorite of the day, the bout where everybody's little favorite Kakuryu got creamed by arguably the worst guy in the division, M12 Toyozakura. Mike humbly claims he can't yet put his finger on Kakuryu's sumo. Let me put my foot on it, whydontcha, or no, even better, let me throw in your faces how bad Kakuryu's sumo is. Days 1 through 4, no moving forward, he gets two wins over guys with poor footing that charge recklessly. Day 5, he wins against Kokkai in a bout featuring his stupidest sumo yet. Kokkai, if you're reading this, repeat after me until you get it through your thick skull: "Kakuryu is weak; running away from Kakuryu is even weaker; he who runs away from Kakuryu is a weakling; next time I will push his weak ass out in 2 seconds or less". Day 6: Weakuryu gains confidence from his victory against the big Georgian and tries some forward sumo against the hapless Tochinohana; he gets his sorry ass kicked, of course. Today, Toyozakura showed some uncharacteristically determined thrusts and had our crafty little Mongolian on the run in mere milliseconds. What's the matter, Kak, are you afraid of getting your pretty little face mauled by the big bad little brother Zak? I'm still upholding what I said last basho: Kakuryu should be in Juryo. He'll eventually get there, just you wait (Enter the Mongolian hate-mail. Bring it on, fellow sumolisteners, I dare you!). Toyozakura is gunning for the second Sh!t Sumo Award in a row. His current 2-5 record says he's gonna get it.

Next up, the M9 Kakizoe vs. M7 Futenoh bout. Something's definitely going on with the rikishi whose father grows oranges, he must be having a mid-youth crisis or something, because Kakizoe had his way with him today, all over the dohyo. A lightning-quick Kakizoesque tachi-ai pushed the larger Futenoh a couple of feet back, but Futenoh was holding his ground, so Kakizoe slapped his right shoulder for a quick hataki-komi, and when that failed (and Roho and Hakurozan better take notes here) he followed up with some frantic tsuppari and harite while backpedaling, and after a sly evasion at the edge, he grabbed Futenoh's left arm. The kotenage didn't succeed, but it dealt a harsh blow to Futenoh's balance, and all Kakizoe had to do was keep pushing, which he did, driving the victim out despite a last desperate pull-down attempt. Both guys are under the .500 mark, at 3-4 and 2-5 respectively.

M7 Kasugao stiffed 1-6 M11 Tochinohana with a late henka that allowed some impact, but still demolished the M11's balance for the cheap tsukiotoshi win. Bad boy, Kim Sung Tak. (Korean hate-mail? Nah, couldn't be.)

M8 "Cannonball" Takekaze head-butted M6 "Sexy" Asasekiryu (don't ask, I've no idea where they come up with these nicknames, if it were up to me I'd call him "Undead") at the tachi-ai and followed up with some spirited tsuppari, but Asasekiryu got tired of getting hit and quickly evaded to his right, getting a very deep left inside grip reinforced by a solid right outer. Takekaze tried to delay the inevitable by wrapping his fat right arm around the Mongolian's neck and going for the kubinage, but Asasekiryu resisted and forced him out for his third win. Takekaze's record is an unsound 2-5.

M6 Tochinonada executed a poor, no, make that a downright bad tachi-ai and gave up moro-zashi. Takamisakari, the crowd favorite (yes, there are strange people in this world, innit?), did the right thing in this situation and forced the giant upright and out with little to no effort. Tochinonada is slipping away with his 3-4 record, while Takamisakari's 5-2 so far from M5 is raking in some major dough from the sponsors.

Great, I finally get to cover a Kokkai bout. Currently stationed at the western slot of M5, the hairy fair-skinned Georgian faced last basho's revelation, M4 Homasho. If I didn't know better, I'd say Hakurozan and Kokkai hang out together, because their "styles" are dubiously similar, go for a tachi-ai with some thrusts and when that fails, go for a stupid half-assed pull-down attempt. These guys should go ask Chiyotaikai or Miyabiyama about that, 'cause they don't seem to understand that a good pull-down comes after the foe's balance has been seriously damaged. Today was no different, and Kokkai failed yet again, allowing Homasho to force the battle into yotsu ground. The Georgian gave up a shallow right uwate, and eventually succeeded in obtaining a left inside of his own, and pushed for a one-handed throw, but Homasho (as I could painfully see from his match with Kotooshu) is rather difficult to throw, especially by a pusher/thruster. The failed maneuver left Kokkai's left arm locked, and Homasho finished the job with a classy kote-uwate-gake-nage (if you look closely, you'll see all of these elements), but since that kimarite exists only in my imagination, the judges thought they'd go for a simple uwate-nage instead. Heh, what do they know, right? Kokkai is having a crappy day at the races so far with 5 losses, whereas Homasho is looking good at 4-3.

Now let's take a look at some people's next Ozeki candidate, M1 (by the crooked will of the powers that be, and what they be I ain't tellin' ya) Kotoshogiku in his solid win against M2 Asofuji's brother (it's truly amazing that a little style can do wonders for the way people look at you, innit?). Anyway, Aminishiki delighted us with a bulldozer tachi-ai that swept Kotoshogiku all the way to the tawara in a second or so, but fortunately he came to and quickly turned the tables on Sneaky, getting a solid left inside grip, followed by another solid right outside. Aminishiki tried desperately to evade, but after being chased around half the dohyo, he crashed out and flat on his back, earning his 6th loss in seven days, and with those rumors about an injury, I don't see him well until the end. Kotoshogiku on the other hand has already faced most of the tough customers, so I guess it's safe to say he's out of the woods and on his way to another Gino-sho and if he gets 11 or 12 even a Kanto-sho (of course, the NSK will award those special prizes by their own obscure criteria).

The seventh day brought forth the duel of the Komusubi, with Roho posing as the loser (without much effort though, this basho he is looking so natural in that posture), and Japanese hope Kisenosato as the dominator. The tachi-ai saw Kisenosato keeping the Russian away from his mawashi with a brief pushing attack. Roho (wouldn't you know it?) backpedaled for the cheap pull-down but Kisenosato showed good balance and systematically smothered any efforts from the Russian. At the edge, the Roho managed to grab a left shitate, but by that time Kisenosato already had a double grip of his own, so when Roho attempted the throw, he only succeeded in throwing himself over the tawara, with symbolic help from the younger Komusubi. Roho's lackluster 1-6 makes kachi-koshi very unlikely, but not yet completely out of the question. Asashoryu meets Kisenosato tomorrow, and what a fight that promises to be. In the rather improbable event of a Kisenosato victory, Shukun-sho is just around the corner.

Did I happen to mention Kotooshu and black sheep in the same sentence earlier? Well, the taller of the Ozeki wasn't satisfied with the rank I gave him, so he took an extra dip in the tar pit today with another lowly henka against (who else?) the light at the end of the tunnel, M1 Dejima. Of course, some of you (some of you Bulgarians, that is) might grumble "It was only a slight maneuver to get his favored left uwate grip!", but you know what? Give me a break, I don't want that kind of crap from anyone, much less from my favorite wrestler. And he should be ashamed of himself not only for the perpetration, but also for the quality of the henka. He should try getting Kyokushuzan's phone number, because today his maneuver gifted Dejima with moro-zashi. Unfortunately, the man who would beat Asashoryu could not capitalize, because of Kotooshu's height advantage, and was quickly forced to the edge, where he tried some fine-line tripping, but guess what, Kotooshu has longer legs too, so down Dejima went to his fifth loss. The Bulgarian Ozeki fully deserves his two losses, despite being shafted (nice one, Simon) by the shinpan on day 3.

The reason I didn't mention Ozeki Hakuho earlier is that I think he will be a non-factor this basho. Of course, getting 8 wins is not going to be a problem, but Asashoryu will mop the floor with him, and he will lose to at least two other sanyaku members, and all of this because of one stupid accident. He should sue those temple guys for not having a sign saying "Climbing the stairs can be hazardous to your health". Today he was henka'd by his fellow countryman M2 "Fat Bastard" Tokitenku, who got a solid hidari-uwate from it, and stuck to Hakuho's side for a while, eventually getting his right inside as well. He then tried to put some pedal to the metal with a shitate-dashi-nage attempt, with little visible effect on Hakuho though. An outstanding technical achievement followed, when Tokitenku swiped his left arm from Hakuho's grip and before anyone could realize it, he was wrapped around Hakuho's back, with a double inside from behind. It would take a miracle for anyone to get out of that kind of predicament, but Tokitenku took his time and just waited patiently for Hakuho to try and turn, and when he inevitably did, the M2 just forced him out safely. I will snap a mousetrap on the tongue of anyone saying Tokitenku was not 100% in control of this particular bout, but it was the hideous henka that allowed him to do so in the first place. He'll probably put that kensho money to good use and get himself a skirt and a date with the plastic surgeon.

M3 Kyokutenho faced Ozeki Chiyotaikai in what promised to be one of the most uneventful fights of the day. Man, were they wrong. As usual, Chiyotaikai came out with the tsuppari autocannons firing at a staggering 12,000 rounds per minute, but Kyokutenho must have been wearing his heavy armor--blah, blah. The real reason those tsuppari didn't have any effect on Kyokutenho was the lack of lower body support, but I'm not telling anybody anything new here, am I? Just as we were waiting for the pull-down, it came, but not where you'd have expected it from. Kyokutenho kept his grace under fire and put a nice thick wrench in the gears of Chiyotaikai's hopes for winning that bout with a hatakikomi so well timed and executed that it sent the Ozeki collapsing to his face in a large heap, and slapping the dohyo with frustration. He deserves it, it's his move, he shoulda seen it coming. Kyokutenho is still standing with three wins to four losses, while Chiyotaikai joins the Ozeki pack at 5 wins.

Veteran Ozeki Kaio's bout against Sekiwake Kotomitsuki was strange, to say the least, because Kaio won it without even a touch on his foe's mawashi. I'm not sure what Koto was trying to do, because he was desperately trying to keep Kaio away from his mawashi, while disallowing himself any belt grip. Which is completely strange, since Kotomitsuki is a belt fighter, and a good one at it, and he's younger and stronger than Kaio. One possible explanation is this: Koto knows Kaio is a deadly belt fighter, probably better than he'll ever be, so he figures his only chance to win is to keep the man away from his belt. Of course, the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it sounds, since Kotomitsuki has been beating Kaio lately, and you'd think he'd know by now not to employ stupid and useless tactics. Or would he? Anyway, during most of the bout, Kotomitsuki buried his left arm under Kaio's right armpit, denying him the deadly right uwate, and probably hoping he can outpush him. He couldn't, and now he's got to deal with the frustration and embarrassment, and the regrets of not going one on one with the Ozeki yotsu-style, an encounter which he should win more often than not. And Tokitenku will try to capitalize on all those negative feelings tomorrow. Both rikishi stand at 5-2.

Injury-ridden Ozeki Tochiazuma faced Sekiwake (still, but not for much longer) Miyabiyama. The Fatman seems to be lacking any power in those legs, because today's bout was a one-sided affair, with Tochiazuma all over his opponent. Miyabiyama had a weak tachi-ai, and after some meager tsuppari attempts, he held his ground shortly, before the Ozeki unleashed chaos. After an instant of a left shitate, Tochiazuma went all out and never relented until he ousted the Sekiwake with vicious thrusts and shoves. 4-3 is not so bad a record for a guy who's just had arthroscopic surgery, now is it--Miyabiyama falls to a painful 1-6 and he seems to be on his way to Maegashira.

The musubi-no-ichiban saw the mighty mosquito Ama, ranked at M4, take on the Almighty Yokozuna himself. I'm telling you right now, and you'd better remember: Size DOES matter, and in this case it's not necessarily about winning or losing (any rikishi is very likely to lose the bout with Asashoryu), but HOW you lose. Both men came low at the tachi-ai, and a short stalemate followed. As usual, the Yokozuna went for it first, with a slap to Ama's head, trying to get him off balance, but the smaller Mongolian held on well. What followed is a bit chaotic, but the general picture is Asashoryu trying to get a hold of Ama's belt and Ama resisting with quick, well-aimed thrusts. However, it's generally not a good idea to extend your arms towards the Yokozuna too much, and Ama paid the price for letting that slip his mind. Asashoryu grabbed his right arm and flipped him over like a pancake with the most spectacular tottari I've ever seen in all my years watching sumo. Ama looked to be in great pain and I wouldn't be surprised if he took the rest of the basho off. Asashoryu is trying to forget that stomping against Dejima, and so far it looks like he's doing a great job. Six wins and, of course, the Yusho as good as in the bag.

Not much hope left in terms of real excitement for this tournament to give, but there are some things worth looking forward to, like Tamakasuga's run, or a possible second defeat for Asashoryu (most likely at the hands of Kotooshu, but I'm not really counting on that, it's just a daydream). Also, there's Hakuho who's fighting for his Ozeki rank after only four basho. Also, it would be interesting to see just how badly the Russians can suck (not that we don't know it already) and just how much more can that little weasel Kakuryu skirt around Kyokushuzan style.

Day 8 has George on duty, as usual, and the only thing I have left to do now is wish you all a Happy New Year!

Day 6 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Ya get the feeling my comrades here at Sumotalk just can't seemed to get psyched up about this basho? Hopefully none of you think things are going smoothly either. Asashoryu promptly suffered an early loss to a dude that is currently 2-4; the only Ozeki at 5-1 is Chiyotaikai, but that has been more the result of escape artistry rather than powerful oshi-zumo; Kotomitsuki is looking good at 5-1, but how many times have we seen that act before? Tamakasuga and Toyonoshima went into day 5 as our sole leaders before Toyonoshima lost to Toyozakura and still had the audacity afterwards to proclaim his sumo as good. Two guys that usually have the enormous potential to breath life and excitement into a tournament in Miyabiyama and Kisenosato are a combined 3-9. Want me to go on? Just wait until I describe the first bout of the day in the division. Hope is not lost...barely, but it hinges on Hakuho and Kotomitsuki, two rikishi who can't afford to lose again if they're going to keep things interesting (translation of that last sentence: hope IS lost).

Let's get right to the action, and since I stiffed the likes of Ushiomaru and Kasuganishiki on day 2 when I failed to even watch their bouts, I will grace you all today by commenting on the bouts from the bottom up. M15 Asofuji was schooled by sophomore Juryo rikishi Tochiohzan, who secured a quick left arm on the inside, lifted Asofuji upright, and then drove him back to the tawara where he left him in a virtual heap after some sharp shoves to the torso. Wow, that was an embarrassing loss by Asofuji, who falls to 1-5...against horrible competition. Just goes to show you how bad the Makuuchi junior varsity is this basho. At J2 with a 5-1 record, the former Kageyama is a shoe-in for the top division come spring.

M16 Tosanoumi completely forced the action today against M14 Tamanoshima cautiously pushing him back to the tawara, and just when you thought he'd go for the kill, Tamanoshima slipped to his right and performed that oft-seen hikiotoshi move at the tawara. Tosanoumi went for the desperate watashi-komi on the way down, but he has so much weight on his body from the rib cage up, that he fell to the clay straightway and to an ugly 2-4 record. Tamanoshima's name is still on the premature leaderboard at 5-1.

M15 Ushiomaru has looked quite genki this basho, and today against M13 Yoshikaze, he came out with the guns blazing. Problem was it wasn't a solid attack led by the lower body, so Yoshikaze juked to his left causing the Ushi to whiff on a tsuppari and turn himself to the side where Yoshikazue sent him to perform a lapdance on Tokitsuumi in the first row. Both rikishi are 4-2, and I'm still trying to confirm whether or not Ushiomaru's shikona for his "other" job is Candy or Britney.

After a lively tsuppari-fest between M16 Otsukasa and M12 Toyozakura where it looked as if neither rikishi was in complete control, Toyozakura went to brace a foot against the tawara, but the rope was further away than he thought, and he just clumsily fell to the dirt. You watch these bouts in the lower Makuuchi division, and some are just laughable. I swear half of the current Juryo rikishi could kick ass in the lower Makuuchi. Otsukasa moves to 3-3 while I don't have words to express what Toyozakura is doing at 1-5 (floundering and bumbling come close). 

M14 Hakurozan walked into a quick left uwate from the tachi-ai against M12 Tokitsuumi, who has as sound of technique as anyone. Hakurozan's tachi-ai was so listless and lacked any drive with the legs, so there he stood nearly upright with a feeble right inner grip. It was no wonder that Tokitsuumi forced him back and out for the easy win. What in the hell is Kitanoumi Rijicho (Hakurozan's new stable master) teaching him in the dohyo? Obviously nothing. The 2-4 Hakurozan's going to get his ass-kicked in Juryo next basho too. Tokitsuumi improves to 4-2.

M13 Kasuganishiki jumped out to a quick start against M10 Jumonji, but the problem was Jumonji hadn't put both fists to the dirt. After a fine slap on his stationery opponent for good measure, the two rikishi reloaded where the bitter Jumonji jumped to his left at the real tachi-ai. Jumonji's technique has been so poor lately that he couldn't even win with a tachi-ai henka, and Kasuganishiki (4-2) easily recovered to grab a right inner grip that he would not relinquish throughout the 45 second contest. I mean, Jumonji just does a henka...he gets a solid left outer from the move...yet he can't do anything with it. Pathetic as he falls to 3-3.

As nice as it is to see M11 Tamakasuga enjoy this run, it's not going to last. Still, against the lighter M9 Kakizoe today, Tama-chan's thrusts worked beautifully as he chased Kakizoe back and to the side in a flash with shove after effective shove. Zoe had no answer and was so thoroughly overwhelmed that he had no room to evade at the tawara. Another solid win for the veteran. Tamakasuga's exhibited the soundest sumo of anyone this basho. It's so nice to see a rikishi rewarded because he sticks to the basics. In an earlier interview this basho Tamakasuga mentioned that he was losing his appetite for the vices. Keeping him away from the blue diamonds and keeping his focus on sumo should continue his career well into his forties. He's your leader at 6-0 while Kakizoe struggles at 2-4.

M8 Kakuryu is still largely a mystery to me. He's surviving so far in this division, but I can't yet put a finger on his sumo. I guess he's surviving on his quicks right now, but he had no answer for M11 Tochinohana, who came out thrusting and never relented forcing Kakuryu to dance around and around the perimeter of the ring before being shoved out. One of NHK's latest innovations that I really enjoy is the camera view from the top of the dohyo. You can see if dudes henka from the tachi-ai, and more importantly, you can see the rikishi's footwork. Tochinohana's effort today was a perfect example of great footwork. The dude was doing perfect suri-ashi as he chased Kakuryu around the ring; thus, he was never in trouble and thoroughly dominated his opponent. Too bad it was only his first win the basho. Ugh. Kakuryu falls to 3-3.

Today's bout was a perfect example of how M10 Iwakiyama has lost it. M8 Takekaze charged in low, but Iwakiyama easily stopped that effort with his girth rewarding the much smaller rikishi with some wicked paws to the throat. The problem was, however, that Iwakiyama just can't move and before he could capitalize and mount a good charge, Takekaze slipped his way on the inside, moved this way and that before he had finally worked Iwakiyama sideways making him a huge push-out target. We're seeing this far too often from Iwakiyama who falls to 3-3. As Takekaze (2-4) walked down the hana-michi they focused on his back. There where like a dozen large red circles all over his back. Like that huge bump that some rikishi sport on their shoulders, those big red marks are another mystery in sumo. My best guess is they have elves at the Kokugikan with high-powered vacuum cleaners sneaking up on the rikishi and sucking at their backs. Run faster my man....you've been burned at least a dozen times this basho.

M9 Toyonoshima and M6 Asasekiryu were involved in a rather uneventful match where neither charged hard enough at the tachi-ai to even touch each other's belts. So crouched low with heads nearly touching, Toyonoshima (5-1) simply outquicked a charge attempt from Sexy (2-4) by evading to the side and slapping him down. This was the worst match of the first half bouts by far...and that's saying a lot this basho. And is it too much to ask NHK not to start showing the yusho board so early, especially with the large number of scrubs still on the board.

Case in point... M5 Takamisakari was listed on the leaderboard. Today, the Robocop employed his usual bad tachi-ai reaching a right arm on the inside of M7 Kasugao's left side. Kasugao looked to grab the left uwate on the same side, and I think what happened is that move by Kasugo for the left outer grip distracted Takamisakari because from out of nowhere Kasugao used his right arm to viciously throw the Cop to the clay via his patented kote-nage throw. This was over in two seconds. Takamisakari falls to 4-2, and unfortunately, is no longer a leader. Kasugao is 3-3.

M5 Kokkai came with a nifty double-elbow-to-his-opponent's-face charge, but you gotta hit and then follow that up with some double tsuppari...if you're Kokkai. Kokkai didn't, and left his elbows up in the air, so M7 Futenoh simply stepped to his left and from the center of the ring yanked Kokkai into the first row by his left elbow. Both rikishi are still floundering at 2-4.

M4 Homasho displayed his best attack of the basho (yes, even better than against Kotooshu) today against M6 Tochinonada. The bout began in the hidari-yotsu position--a style that greatly favors Tochinonada, but Homasho wisely focused on disrupting Nada's left arm to the point where he managed to turn the gentle giant to the side providing for easy yori-kiri mass from there. Both rikishi are at 3-3, and Homasho is proving me wrong so far.

Ama, Ama, Ama. In one of the featured bouts of the day, Ama ruined the affair with a tachi-ai henka to his right against M1 Kotoshogiku. Problem was, Kotoshogiku read the move, so while M4 Ama actually got a right outer grip out of it, his footwork was nowhere to be seen, so the Geeku bellied up and rapidly forced Ama back and out with nary a contest. I think it's safe to say that Kotoshogiku is on this basho, so Clancy is spared the dog turd...for now. Ama knew he blew it as he walked into the corridors of the Kokugikan. Hopefully that henka attempt doesn't derail his momentum as it did to Kotooshu early on. What a horrible decision.  Both rikishi are 4-2.

In the battle of our Sekiwake, Kotomitsuki proved that he is in charge of late as Miyabiyama's lumbering tsuppari had little effect. The problem was that Miyabiyama's feet were sliding backwards as he tried to move forward, so Kotomitsuki easily withstood the initial charge and managed to latch onto the front of Miyabiyama's belt with the right hand. From there, Kotomitsuki wisely forced the contest into yotsu-zumo where he schooled the Sheriff for the easy yet uneventful yori-kiri win. Kotomitsuki surges to 5-1 while Miyabiyama falls to an ugly 1-5.

Ozeki Hakuho has seemed to have settled down the last couple of days, but Kyokutenho and Roho as your opponents will do that to you. Hakuho had that front left grip at the tachi-ai for about two seconds, but Roho managed to fight it off. Still, Hakuho was in great position to get that left arm on the inside, and as Roho fought off that initial front belt grip, he retreated slightly leaving the morozashi wide open. Hakuho seized the grip, and as Roho tried to handcuff Hakuho's hands to the inside, the Mongolian showed great footwork and patience as he maneuvered Roho back and out. This was a solid bout of sumo from Hakuho and not a bad effort from Roho either. Hakuho's recovery is on track nicely. As I mentioned in my pre-basho report, I think he's going to regroup quickly and return to his dominant ways shortly. At 4-2 he is on his way to a kachi-koshi while Roho falls to 1-5.

Today's bout between Ozeki Chiyotaikai and Komusubi Kisenosato was quite predictable. The Ozeki's pride kicked in from the tachi-ai where he tried to bully the Kid back with his tsuppari, but Chiyotaikai's charge this basho lacks any pop. Kisenosato retreated little by little and then unleashed an evasive move to his right--that you just knew was coming--where he grabbed the back of Taikiai's belt and attempted to push the Ozeki out. Problem was I think Chiyotaikai knew the move was coming as well, so as fast as he had turned around, he recovered in a split second and moved to the side himself causing Kisenosato to whiff on that final pushout attempt. With the Kids's balance now compromised, Chiyotaikai resumed his oshi attack leaving Kisenosato little to do but go for a meager pull down at the tawara. Nice win by the veteran. Kisenosato will move up the ranks once he learns to finish these bouts off. Still, Kisenosato didn't look to put too much effort into forcing the bout into a yotsu-zumo contest. Kisenosato is not sharp this basho as he falls to 2-4. Chiyotaikai's 5-1 start is meaningless in terms of the yusho race.

M2 Tokitenku's attack against Kaio today was way too high, so while he did throw some tsuppari the Ozeki's way, they had no effect whatsoever. Kaio just stood there waiting for an opening which he seized by grabbing a left frontal grip. Tokitenku immediately ducked low and out of the hold, but Kaio was leaning forward right on top of him. Just when you thought Kaio was going to go for a slap down attempt, he wisely attacked with a right kote-nage move that sent Tokitenku back and out in short order. When not required to use speed, Kaio still makes as good of adjustments mid bout as anyone moving to 4-2. Tokitenku falls to a respectable 2-4.

M1 Dejima's charge seems to have lost its pop after bulldozing Asashoryu and Hakuho out in superb fashion. I think these pull down losses the last two days have taken the confidence out of Dejima's tachi-ai because today against Tochiazuma, he just listlessly walked into a left outer grip from the initial charge. Take Dejima's momentum away at the tachi-ai, and he's useless as Tochiazuma demonstrated with a wicked left belt throw that sent some energy through the Kokigikan crowd. The Ozeki moves to 3-3 but is not out of the woods yet while Dejima is kissing that shukunsho award good-bye at 2-4.

M2 Aminishiki attacked low against Kotooshu today and secured a deep right inner grip on the Ozeki's belt. Kotooshu obliged with the left outer, but Aminishiki was in so deep that morozashi was a big possibility. Kotooshu wisely focused his sumo not on that left outer grip but using his right hand to fight off Aminishiki's left arm and keep it from getting on the inside as well, which would have given the M2 the dangerous morozashi position. When it was clear that Aminishiki's attack had been neutralized, Kotooshu made a quick move where he used his right arm to yank at the back of Aminishiki's right thigh in komata-sukui attempt. Ami was spooked by the move, and as he tried to retreat out of it, Kotooshu finally used that left outer grip to force Aminishiki back and out. This was perfect execution by Kotooshu after giving up a deep inside grip at the tachi-ai. The Ozeki is still alive at 4-2 while Aminishiki falls to a weak 1-5.

Back in the day M3 Kyokutenho would actually give Yokozuna Asashoryu a match, but not so the last two years. Tenho was asleep at the tachi-ai allowing Asashoryu to attack a bit to his left and gain an extremely deep position on the inside. Asashoryu kept the momentum up from the tachi-ai and drove Kyokutenho all the way back to the tawara. As Tenho resisted, Asashoryu used his left hand to grab at Kyokutenho's inner right thigh (fresh!) and lift it up via the most wicked komata-sukui you've ever seen. Kyokutenho's leg was lifted up so high that he took a nasty spill in the corner of the dohyo, but he's only got himself to blame. Tenho is happy to escape in one piece at 2-4 while Asashoryu is in firm command of this tournament at 5-1.

I gave you my thoughts on the prospects this basho in the opening. If Kotooshu can keep this mini run going, he too may play a factor, but so far, it's Asashoryu's to lose. I'll chime in again on Monday with Martin on the clock for tomorrow.

Day 5 Comments (Bernie McManus reporting)
I'm still scratching my head as to whether this is going to be an interesting basho or not, but after three straight sleepers last year it shouldn't take much to make its mark. Asa's loss to Dejima certainly gives it a glimmer of hope, but in deference to his personal loss I won't gush too much. He's my boy, don't get me wrong, but I'm finding that I root for him more in between the Hons then during. Oh, and for any Australians confused with my usage of 'root', I do, in fact, mean sex.

The Ozeki continued to stumble along today leaving only Chiyotaikai and Mitsuki as the only two Sanyaku or above holding pace with Asashoryu while Tamakasuga grabbed the unblemished lead with a victory somewhat lower down the rankings. We'll see if he can keep that going and maybe get a chance to notch an 8th ( hey, hey ) kinboshi, this time against some short Mongolian guy people keep talking about.

As much as I'd love to start my New Year locking horns with Clancy, his Kotooshu comments from day one ring so true that I just can't help wanting to jump straight into bed with him and pulling the covers over our heads. I still have a soft spot for the petulant Bulgarian giant but BOY did I have fun bashing him last year. It's tough for me to defend his day one actions except to say that if a henka's beauty is it's surprise, then pulling one in the first match of the new year is gorgeous. I'm really just pulling that out of my ass though, because even a henka bitch like me felt let down by the pasty looker. I couldn't really get it into my head that he'd spend a month and a half getting ready to kick some tail in '07 just to queef at first chance. He's had some good moves since, like today, but he's got some ground to make up in my book.

Aiiight, to the matches! First off... oh! Do my eyes deceive me? Hokutoriki AND Hakurozan? Touching? Yes! Ok, seriously, let's see what these guys can pull off... and... bwahahaha. Yeah, the twerpy Russian wins it, but I'll spare him the embarrassment of a description. Both hover near the .500 mark. I'd almost say that 'Rozan was a more disappointing story last year than Kotooshu because his goofy tactics seemed to be working there for a while ( and I'm all about goofy ) , before he completely fell apart.

Otsukasa then went to henka the awesome little Yoshikaze but, as I love to see, didn't quite catch him unawares and was left at a disadvantage for Yosh to capitalize on. He did manage to regain his footing briefly but Yosh had him in his sights and it was Yorikiri before long. 

Tamanoshima continues his romp through the 'little people' with another win, here against fellow 3-1 Tokitsuumi. Securing an inside right shortly after the tachi-ai he was eventually able to manhandle his opponent from the ring.

Ol' Flower Power Tochinohana hasn't had any luck so far this basho and tonight was pitted against the spry butterball Ushiomaru who's been making some waves in the new year. 'Hana tried everything he could to throw Ushi off but just couldn't make it to the inside and eventually Ushi sidestepped a charge and earned his fourth win by Hikiotoshi.

Getting to the big name of the basho we have Tamakasuga against Asofuji. Tama controlled most of this match but got stepped around at one point and Fuji even scored a grip at the back of his belt. Tama, tournament leader that his is, managed a quick recovery, broke the grip and and then forced Asofuji out the other side of the dohyo. Fuji falls to 1-4.

Winless Toyozakura faced lossless Toyonoshima in one of the more entertaining bouts of the night. Those scores didn't really show in their actions as 'Zakura came out with a great tsuppari attack which eventually withered but left him firmly in control. Retreating, Zakura took advantage of Shima's clumsy advance to secure an inside grip which he immediately went for the uwate throw which ended in the rear push down Okuritaoshi. Nice messy ending, bodies flying, great stuff.

Let's finish off the first half. Kasugao had a sloppy throw reversed by Jumonji for a Yorikiri, a retreating Iwakiyama pulled a Tsukiotoshi to thrust down the under appreciated Tochinonada, an animated match saw Asasekiryu shove out Kakizoe and finally Kakuryu made Kokkai pay for a poorly executed uwate-sidestep tachi-ai by chasing him out, again by Oshidashi. All eight of these guys have two or three wins.

Into the top half of the schedule we have Takamisakari pull off an ugly victory against Takekaze who practically ran past El' Clowno after crunching into his chest at the tachi-ai. Takami posts an impressive 4-1.

The Ama match was my first fist-pump of the night as he absolutely schooled Futenoh from the tachi-ai, had the inside in a split-second and wasted no time escorting him back and out. If Futenoh keeps this up I'm going to be giving up hope for him being a Sanyaku mainstay, there are just too many nights that he doesn't seem to put up a fight. Prove me wrong, Prince of Orange.

Dejima tried to follow up his earlier successes this basho against Homasho but couldn't shake the brawny brute from the tachi-ai and by pushing him back only managed to set himself up to be pulled down by Hikiotoshi. Having a 2-3 record at this point isn't too bad for Homasho because at M4 he's on the cusp of facing all the top guys. A weak record here should make the rest of his matches easier, although with the state of Ozeki these days, that may or may not be a blessing. 

Time for some big boy sumo between Kisenosato and Miyabiyama who pushed the fifteen second mark with a shoulder-twisting display of violence. The Sheriff caught Kissy by the throat and went for a quick pulldown, which the Naruto Nobbler fought off and parleyed into a deep left inside belt grip spelling doom for his Sekiwake opponent. Miyabiyama struggled and attempted a throw or two but was soon marched out by Yorikiri. Miyabiyama is really hurting at 1-4 while Kissy is still tenuously in the Kachi-Koshi game at 2-3 having already faced Kotooshu and Hakuho.

The next two Ozeki matches were pretty quick as Aminishiki lost his footing against Chiyotaikai and was pulled down while Kotoshogiku helped himself to a heaping teaspoon of Kaio who he Yorikiri'ed out within a few seconds. Taikai has his usual early share of early victories at 4-1 while Kaio and Koto have three wins up to day 5.

Kotomitsuki and Tochiazuma struck and stuck at the tachi-ai and for a moment I was thinking ' Uh oh, who's going to move first? ', but luckily Mitsuki grabbed the initiative and with an Asa-esque distraction move scored an uwate grip and using his momentum flung the tumbling Ozeki to the clay. Mitsuki is showing a 4-1 against ho-hum opposition while Tochiazuma is having one of his 'I've got an excuse' basho at 2-3.

So did I say that Kotooshu had something for you tonight? Securing a deadly outside left against Roho at the tachi-ai he tried for the inside right but was fought off. Roho was in deep trouble the whole time and his struggling only managed to delay Kotooshu's 'Hail Mary' uwate throw for a few brief moments. Unfortunately the European Ozeki has already racked up a couple losses and fallen off the pace while Roho is in a funk at 1-4.

It was nice to see Hakuho back to his winning ways here against Kyokutenho but you could see very clearly that the younger Mongolian's tachi-ai has been decrypted. 'Tenho walked in with his right forearm perfectly poised to shrug off Hak's belt assault, which he did, but then seemed to lack a second plan as Hakuho wrapped him up in Morozashi within seconds for one of his beautiful textbook Yorikiri attacks. Hakuho is another luminary with two losses to his credit while 'Tenho... well, he's just doing his thing at 2-3.

Tokitenku impressed the hell out of me in his match against the Dragon as he managed to get his grubby little fingers all over the Yokozuna's belt and even held the advantageous inside for a time. From the tachi-ai he managed to keep Asashoryu at a distance and used his superior reach to score an inside left and put the champ on defensive. Asa was quick to act and with some bulldog action ( noted earlier this basho ) thrashed his torso around until he got a right outside grip and then used his superior strength to cinch his elbow while Tenku's gripping arm was still straight and now mostly ineffectual. Having regained the advantage Asashoryu employed some Sotogake trickery to drive to an eventual Yorikiri win. Nice to see some contention in the Yokozuna matchups but seeing Asa have a 'soft' basho is always a little disconcerting.

So as the dust settles on day five we still have a messy situation on our hands with disarray in the Ozeki ranks, no Estonians to speak of and Asa looking touch-and-go, in my opinion. Mike's here tomorrow to keep the troops in line.

Day 4 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
The heat of this basho may be slowly spiraling down to approximately the level of the Cosmic Microwave Background, but things are sure hot and heavy at the hotel. As usual Herr Wesemann has reserved the top two floors of one of Tokyo's swankest to allow the seven of us time for uninterrupted reflection on the action in order to achieve a state of concentration from which we can produce the most exquisite reports (he calls this state "puritifullness"). Yea, we know he's something of a crackpot, but the view is nice and the minibar has corn nuts and he's just so. . .so. . persuasive. I for one would follow the guy to Guyana and back!

But sometimes, I just don't know. Like today for instance. Bernie (who is, in a word, Mike's bitch) was late for our 3:30, and Mike was visibly agitated. When Bernie came in claiming unavoidable detention in the little rikishii's room (he DID look a bit wan), Mike calmly commanded his prodigy to lower his head whereupon he punched Bernie on the left side of his head. Bernie meekly offered, "Today's meeting just slipped my mind. I am truly sorry."

Then there's that bogus Bryce still trying to pretend he's Simon by using "Brit-speak", peppering his chatter with references to "The Beckhams", deriding the Chunnel, claiming to be "knackered" and warning Martin, "Don't get shirty with me!". George and I are not buying it, so we invited Bryce over for a little rice wine. He arrived wearing a vintage Men At Work: Live At The Budokan t-shirt, and I soon excused myself to go to the head. I slipped into his room and went right to his notebook. First off, his screen saver was Naomi Watts (which isn't, in and of itself, proof of squat because I would break my own mother's collarbone for the chance to nail Naomi), some tawdry little graphic fantasy involving her and King Kong in a scene depicting emotional heights impossible for even the finest actress to attain, nevermind the physiological limits to such a coupling. But then I checked his Bookmarks, and the very top one was? http://www.effingpot.com

Still, whoever he is, if he's going to write like he did on Day 3, maybe I'll let it all slide. If he didn't have you cracking up at, "Incidentally, Tokitenku is a right fat bastard these days" then you are in need of a high colonic.

As promised I taped all the bouts on Day 4 and could, theoretically, expound on all of them (I could also, theoretically, send every one of you a dollar), but I'm instead just going to comment on the guys who are cute, odd, villainous, powerful, righteous, ascending or damned.

Day after Simon predicts E14 Tamanoshima (3-1) should feast so low down on the banzuke, he gets caught trying to suckle W15 Ushiomaru (3-1) at tachi-ai and pays the price with an embarrassing yorikiri loss.

Do I have to write about W14 Hakurozan? No? Thanks. E16 Tosanoumi moves to .500.

W13 Yoshikaze (2-2) brought his Sunday clothing tachi-ai vs E12 Toyozakura, driving him back and then brushing off yet another lame pulldown attempt (third match in a row), turning his foe to the side and running him out to his fourth loss.

W12 Tokitsuumi got a nice belt grip after one of those sweet sounding tachi-ai that should come complete with a graphic balloon word like "Pow!" or "Kaboom!" superimposed on it, then used the grip to defeat E13 Kasuganishiki with a textbook over arm pulldown.

Winless W11 Tochinohana was simply too light vs E10 Iwakiyama, who just hung around getting abused in all sorts of ways until his foe tired, and then used his 38 kilo advantage to sit him down and go 2-2.

W10 Jumonji (2-2) made sure E11 Tamakasuga stayed tied for the lead by pathetically failing to close the deal at the edge, letting a man who turned 35 on Shonichi turn the tables and headlock his ass down to the clay by kubinage. You had to see this one to believe it.

E8 Kakuryu retreated from W9 Toyonoshima (pictured at right) from the get go, and all the young man had to do was move forward and drive the younger man out to his second loss, while the Tokitsukaze-beya man maintains his share of the lead.

E9 Kakizoe (2-2) went chest to chest with a similar sized rikishi in W8 Takekaze (1-3), and it was a fierce little standoff before Kakizoe backed away to create just enough separation to slap down, a hatakikomi done the way it ought to be.

That sexy sexitori Asasexiryu was Leonard to Futenoh's Duran as both men gave as well as they got with brutal bombs to the neck and face. Once the fireworks ended the winless Mongolian nabbed a deep belt, then used his other arm to raise up the W7's arm and push him out for a well deserved first win at E6. The immensely disappointing future Mikan Mogul has one stinking win. 

Then to close the first half, W6 Tochinnada (3-1) used a henka (hey, if you neither move forward nor are present when your foe comes across, it's a henka) to get around to the side of E7 Kasugao (2-2) and fluster the shite out of him, then employing a well timed slapdown for one of those popular "a win is a win" wins.

What to say about the malarkey that Kokkai pulled today? I guess dude wants to be like Chiyotaikai was for a few years there, playing games at tachi-ai, stalling and stalling until his foe feels weird, and then shooting out of the blocks at the restart before his foe can even put two hands down. We really shouldn't be surprised by any of this because Mike said it long ago and it remains so drearily true: the Europeans seem to lack the proper cojones for tachi-ai. How else to explain the W5, slimmed down as he may be, afraid to set and fight little E4 Ama? His cheap little ploy worked today as he got out too quickly at the restart and drove Ama back and out with ease. 

E5 Takamisakari parlayed some fantastic defense at tachi-ai vs W4 Homasho into his third win. Homasho came in low, nearly grabbing the left belt, but Circus kept his right elbow bent and tight to the body, negating Homasho's grab attempt. He leaned forward onto Homasho, staying low and keeping his hips back, out of range of those long arm, until he strangely decided the time was right to try for an over the back left hand grab, which failed and allowed Homasho to come in and finally get that grip he wanted although giving Takamisakari the outer left in the process. Circus then executed a bullish left hand makikae, an outside grip changed to an inside grip. Now he was in the driver's seat and it was no problem to force (1-3) Homasho out by yorikiri.

Don't even have to check my notes for the Kotoshogiku/Tokitenku bout, so painful was it to watch (what, you think I LIKE dog shit?) The Komusubi-in-waiting unconscionably decided to come to tachi-ai with his elbows in but arms open, maybe trying to prevent an inside belt grab by E2 Fat Bastard, who hammered at his chest and then reached around for a deep back 'o the belt grip and the dirge was struck up: Poor ol' Geeku, poor ol' Geeku. Bring out your dead indeed! This was strategy, no doubt, but it went horribly, horribly, awry. I suppose the Geeku saw how a similar plan worked for Tochiazuma yesterday vs Tokitenku, but the E1 was a day late and the Mongolian figured it out in the meantime. I'm going to start looking around the neighborhood for the oldest, seediest turd I can find, because I figure, just a gut feeling really, that dry and crunchy is better than wet and soft.

Kotomitsuki and Blowhole gave us another cracking tachi-ai, could see the sound waves reverberating from this one (although it was all upper body but no noggin), and then went into a stalemate with both men pawing for a belt. Koto got a slice of the back of Roho's belt with his right hand, and while the Russian's mind was on this turn of events, Mitsuki slapped his inner thigh with the other hand, Fresh!, and down he went. I recall the same move last basho from the sekiwake. It's so slick you need to check the replay to see it, and it looks so damned innocuous. Goes to show you how finely balanced these huge men are while battling, and how even the slightest move/hit/shift can bring the whole thing tumbling down.

(Coincidentally, as Kotomitsuki passed the Water of Power to the next fighter, you could see two SHWEET little honeys in the stand behind him, giving him looks that said, We wouldn't mind you trying a little uchimuso on the two of us tonight. To hell with backstage at a Megadeath concert, I'd love to be a fly on the wall when the sumo dudes get to hard partying with their groupies. All SORTS of kimarite!)

Judging from his choice of attack vs Kaio today, it's safe to say that Miyabiyama must have sustained some frontal lobe damage from that punch his oyakata gave him. How might the thinking go?

Sheriff: Let's see, he's huge, strong and recovered. He's one of the all-time leaders in basho appearances in Makuuchi, and 99.38% of his wins have come from grabbing the other guys belt and tossing him around like a chew toy.

Deputy: Then there's only one thing we can do. 

Sheriff: Lemme guess. Forego the tsuppari and fight him on the belt?

Deputy (a shrunken head chuckling evilly to self): That's right, my chunky chum, tha-a-a-at's right.

Tochiazuma got lucky with Baruto dropping out. He's 2-2 and who knows, maybe he just will hang around.

Kotooshu got lucky when E3 Kyokutenho could not capitalize on his smash mouth tachi-ai, which buckled Kotooshu to the side and nearly down to his knees. How the former Mongolian failed to win this bout I will leave up to better men than me to explain (although San Miguel sort of did already in his pre-basho report). I suppose he was too slow to move in for the kill, and by the time he did move in, the Ozeki had gotten those enormous leg muscles set and powered himself up to a morozashi that ended things right proper. Kotooshu is the most deceptive 2-2 I've ever seen.

It would be waste of time to analyze Hakuho's sumo because it isn't Hakuho's sumo, at least not the guy we saw in 2006. He let Kisenosato have his belt deep on the back, and although his belt appeared to be about as tight as a napkin dispenser at Rotten Ronnie's, the Komusubi was still able to throw the Ozeki to his second loss while capturing his first win. If he loses vs Kyokutenho today his 8 wins are going to be a major struggle. I see him going down to Kaio, and Asa, perhaps Mitsuki and Tokitenku, too, so he has got to be careful. It would be a focking tragedy, for him and for sumo, if he was relegated to Sekiwake in Osaka.

I'm so tired, tired of Chiyotaikai's crap in particular, and the Ozeki rank in general. To see him pirouetting out of harm's way, backpedaling from tachi-ai as Dejima barrels on in, to see that Day 1 henka by Kotooshu, to see the lack of a challenge to the Yokozuna by any of them except occasionally Hakuho and Tochiazuma, makes me wonder what the rank of Ozeki really means these days. The powers that be tried to fix it some by instating the rule that an Ozeki is kadoban even when sitting out an injury, but that has only allowed them to take a basho off here and there and then come back and mop up on dregs to get 8 wins and start the cycle all over again. I appreciate their time served, I really do, but I just can't wait for Kaio and Chiyotaikai and Tochiazuma to call it a day and ride off to the retirement they all have earned.

I think the last time Asashoryu lost consecutive matches was in Sept. 2004, when he lost 6 times if I recall right. Today he was up against W2 Aminishiki, a dangerous foe if things get wild and wooly. Aminishiki blocked the Yokozuna nicely at tachi-ai, not allowing him to grab the right belt, but after a few seconds trying for that, Asa decided, Who needs it? and instead just used his right forearm as a battering ram, driving it up and under Aminishiki's armpit and chin while twisting his body to the left masterfully, then pushed his foe back and out, no sweat. 

So, as you can tell, not much excitement in the ring. Things should heat up in the next few days, as George and Bernie and Martin swing into action. I'll be back on Day 15, lobster bib at the ready just in case. Bernie, in fact, is on deck for Day 5, so strap on your creative English caps and try to remain on the bull for the full 8 seconds, okay?

Day 3 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
Blimey!! The maxim: 'day three is boring' no longer holds true, of that there is no doubt whatsoever. Kokugikan witnessed drama usually reserved for deep in the second week. Get your peckers out, people, and don't forget your parachutes.

M1 Dejima (2-1) fought the bout of his life as he came out tops at the tachiai, wrapping up the left arm of the Dai-Yokozuna and going forward with his usual verve and power. Asashoryu (2-1) fought back valiantly at the tawara but it was too late to side-step by then (thanks to the wrapped up arm effectively limiting his mobility) and Dejima had the momentum, not to mention the bit between his teeth, to keep his head and thrust Asashoryu into the crowd. This was simply a case of Dejima winning the tachiai, neutralizing any possible counter-attack and doing his own brand of forward sumo. Asa just wasn't in this at all. Keep it on video, my borderline-neutered friends, because you don't see Asashoryu getting his arse kicked good and proper all that often. The bout between these two will be interesting in March; ketaguri, anyone? Dejima has now beaten Hakuho and Asashoryu in two days. Eight wins gives him the shukun-sho. Great stuff.

Can you spell robbed? I can...watch: S-H-A-F-T-E-D-U-P-T-H-E-A-R-R-I-S. In a bout fought at whirlwind speed, Ozeki Kotooshu led in with a quick harite and slapped M4 Homasho around until he was able to get the right outside grip. Inevitably, Kotooshu attempted the throw, but there was one problem: Homasho attacked at the same time and although he was thrown (and in fact touched down marginally first) they gave it to Homasho on account of the fact that he had the initiative and was the forward-going rikishi. Well, bollocks to that! Kotooshu's body was not shinderu (dead) - he was in a strong position with a good grip. He executed the throw perfectly and was the last to touch down, although it was very close. Obviously the judges just decided that they touched down together and went with the rikishi who had more forward momentum. I'll tell you what - I'm going to apply for the post of sumo video judge because I don't think that lad ever does anything at all. At the very least, this bout deserved a mono-ii, and I'm afraid the judges are not doing a good job of quashing the already strong belief (judging from the emails we get to Sumotalk) among the foreign fan community that the Japanese sumo authorities have it in for the foreigners, particularly in view of the fact that this came only two days after Kotooshu was booed (unusual in sumo) for pulling a despicable henka on the Japanese darling Kisenosato. Plenty of motive for revenge - and a little message for the foreigners – 'this is what you get when you mess with us'. Yeah, there's no REAL evidence for this, but it is worth discussing. It matters not so much that it is true or false that the sumo authorities are racist – what really counts is what people believe, and this bout will be a powerful example for those arguing in the 'racist' corner. Kotooshu won this bout, and at least deserved a re-match. Disgraceful. As an aside, Kotooshu reacted with dismay and disbelief when he watched the replay immediately after the bout. He was not and will not be the only one.

M2 Aminishiki (1-2) reaped great rewards from moving to the right side and attacking Ozeki Kaio (2-1) laterally, making it impossible for the big Ozeki to get his favoured right-hand grip. The behemoth reacted with the slowness of age but Aminishiki was one step ahead yet again as he moved to the other side and attacked again, pushing the veteran out with ease. This was a pre-planned slaughter.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai gave Komusubi Roho no chance with his standard tsuppari and oshi-dashi win. Roho paid the price here for not bothering to look anywhere except at the dohyo as he came out from the tachiai. Looks like Roho had an all-or-nothing game plan that just didn't pay off. Chiyotaikai looked strong today and is back on track at 2-1. Roho is a wilting stalk at 1-2.

Ozeki Hakuho (2-1) emerged an unlikely victor in a real death match with Sekiwake Miyabiyama (1-2), who, like so many other rikishi, appears to have worked out how to neutralize the Mongolian's tachiai. In fact, Miyabiyama's tachiai was excellent today and he quickly settled into his usual tsuppari attack, which looked devastating at first. Hakuho, however, showed steel and determination to somehow survive at the edge and pull the long (left) arm of the (Sheriff) law and gain the initiative. It was then a simple pull down of the head for the hatakikomi win. I'm sorry but if Hakuho carries on like this, he is looking at a 9-6, maybe 10-5 record, not really the level expected of a future Yokozuna. When he doesn't get the belt, he looks very unstable – like an upright panda dancing at high speed on an ice rink. I hate to say it, but Hakuho is looking like a one-trick pony at the moment, at least when he doesn't get his own way and so needs to work on a far more assertive tachiai.

Ozeki Tochiazuma got his first win on the board over M2 Tokitenku (1-2), who must have smelled blood knowing the poor condition of his illustrious opponent. In fact, it was classic (modern) Tochiazuma sumo as he kept his balance and showed fine leg-work and lower-body stability to give the Mongolian no chance as he attacked with his usual cagey thrusts. He looked good today, and while I guess only Tochiazuma knows his real condition, I don't think anyone has forgotten how sorry he looked in the first two days. Give it up!  Incidentally, Tokitenku is a right fat bastard these days.  With his technical prowess that extra size may prove useful but not until he learns to use lower rather than upper-body strength.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki (2-1) attacked with the tachiai of a gargantuan mutant pig-dog and did just enough to elude the desperate evasion tactics of Komusubi Kisenosato (0-3), whose leg strayed out as he stepped to the side at the edge. While there was no doubt as to the winner of the tachiai in this bout, Kisenosato will nonetheless be disappointed at his dohyo awareness as a victory from the jaws of defeat was very possible here. Careless.

Oh dear! It looks bad for fans of M3 Baruto. The big Estonian was way too high while M1 Kotoshogiku's tachiai was textbook perfection. The big fella had the size to repair some of the damage as he got the right-hand outside grip, but his left leg crumpled as he attempted a last-ditch throw when Kotoshogiku went for the kill. He was limping badly off the dohyo and in fact required a wheelchair to complete the journey down the hanamichi. You never know, but it looks like he will have to withdraw. The injury was not the fault of Kotoshogiku, who fought a great bout. Props to him. Both men are 2-1.

M4 Ama fought off the initial thrusts of M6 Asasekiryu and forced a brief stalemate as both men established strong belt grips. Ama then moved back and pulled off a nice uwatenage. There was some confusion amongst the shinpan as it seemed initially that Ama hit the clay first but replays showed that Asasekiryu touched the dohyo with his hand on the way down to doom. Ama goes to 3-0 and Mike's 'Team Mongolia' conspiracy theory is alive and kicking. Asasekiryu is not a happy hamster at 0-3. No doubt about who the crowd favourite is this basho, however, and I have to admit that I've been rooting for Ama as well. How could you not? He is now one of the four remaining unbeaten rikishi...papa would be proud.

M5 Takamisakari (2-1) committed suicide by allowing M7 Futenoh (1-2) to get morozashi and march him out in short order. This was a case of normal service being resumed after a great first two days from the Robo-copper and a limp start by his more talented opponent. At the M7 rank, Futenoh really should be strolling to a winning record.

M7 Kasugao (2-1) made the mistake of playing M9 Kakizoe (1-2) at his own game, trading slaps and pushes. Kakizoe did a good job of keeping Kasugao four hundred kilometers from the belt, and so resoundingly won the tactical battle. Kakizoe just waited for his chance and it came as a poorly-timed thrust from Kasugao forced him off balance. Kakizoe nipped in behind for the okuridashi win.

As long as he can keep those injury demons firmly in the box, M14 Tamanoshima should have plenty of joy at a rank way below his level. He looked confident pre-tachiai and a quick glance at today's torikumi told you why – his opponent was M12 Toyozakura, who is obviously pining for a reunion with his more duck-like brother in Juryo. At this rate, he'll get his wish as Tama-chan wasted no time with Toyozakura's attempt to keep him at arm's length at the tachiai and kept his stance nice and steady, not overextending himself, positioning himself right between Toyo and the centre of the dohyo. Oshi-dashi and make that three out of three...for both of them.

M11 Tamakasuga schooled M14 Yoshikaze (1-2) with classic veteran sumo. At 3-0, he looks primed for another fine first week, followed by a bit of a collapse when he gets tired in the second. M14 Hakurozan (1-2) kept up his challenge for the Sumotalk Bad AND Ugly Prizes with a side-step and grab/pull of the belt of hapless M16 Otsukasa (2-1). Well...it was, um, well-timed. The best thing about this bout was BOTH men doing a henka to the left. What a pair of muppets! And no day of sumo is complete without watching M16 Tosanoumi (1-2) tipping over onto his face. Worst balance in sumo, but it is kind of fun. You wouldn't want him anywhere near your barbecue set.  M15 Ushiomaru (2-1) took advantage today.

Oh, and surely M11 Tochinohana should have had at least a mono-ii in his 'loss' to M9 Toyonoshima. It looked to me like he managed to stay on the tawara as Toyonoshima crashed to the clay, but then again, what do the undead know about sumo?

Basically it's carnage. The Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks stand at a combined total of 10-8, with no one unbeaten. If we add the Komusubi and Sekiwake ranks to that total, it is 14-16. Carnage indeed when you recall that after three days in Kyushu the above totals were 14-1 and 23-10 respectively. Our four leaders are Ama, Toyonoshima, Tamakasuga and Tamanoshima, none of whom will win the yusho. But the way things are going, you never know (ahem). For me the best sumo has come from the four leaders, as well as Dejima and Kotoshogiku. Expect Asashoryu to come back strongly tomorrow but I see Hakuho dropping a few more bouts this basho. For the neutral, it's exciting stuff, but for the sumo purist, it ain't all that purdie, and who the hell are you lookin' at?

Clancy brandishes his blue-veined todger tomorrow. I'll be back on day 11 (unless I am pecked to death by a giant chicken).

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
While there have been some poor choices made atop the dohyo these first two days, I've been impressed with the quality of sumo I've seen so far. The only problem is we're still only two days in and already the Ozeki are dropping like flies. When was the last time a non-Yokozuna or non-Ozeki took the yusho? I believe the answer is Aki 2001 when Kotomitsuki took the honors ranked from M2. The point I'm trying to make is the yusho ain't comin' from anyone below the Ozeki ranks this basho, so the yusho race is already starting to get away from us. Regardless of how good the sumo is, if there is no drama down the stretch it all seems to go for naught. 

Moving to the bouts, our final match of the day was compelling in that you had two rikishi with a combined 27 bout winning streak coming in with Asashoryu (17 wins) vs. Kotoshogiku (10 wins). The Yokozuna's footwork was not sharp at the tachi-ai today, and he ended up giving M1 Kotoshogiku a deep right arm on the inside. What made matters worse is that Asashoryu instinctively went for the right outer grip on the other side, which left Kotoshogiku's left arm on the inside giving the M1 the gifted morozashi. I don't think Kotoshogiku realized what he had there because instead of forcing that left arm deep on the inside as well, he elected to gaburu (thrust with the belly) against the Yokozuna. That of course wasn't going to work, so Kotoshogiku panicked taking his left arm from the inside back to the outside erasing his morozashi position and allowing Asashoryu to yank the two rikishi together chest to chest. In this position, Asashoryu lifted Kotoshogiku upright with a right hand frontal belt grip and charged in the process completely taking away the Geeku's feet opening up the easy force out win for Asashoryu. What a critical mistake from Kotoshogiku, who probably still doesn't realize how golden his position was. Instead of that gaburi garbage, the M1 should have been hellbent on capitalizing on the moro-zashi grip. You take two similar rikishi in Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku. Both are young, talented rikishi with loads of potential. The difference is I don't think Kisenosato makes that mistake today; thus, he is the one who has been enjoying sanyaku success for nearly a year. Kotoshogiku's nifty win on day 1 may quickly become a distant memory if he doesn't take care of bidness tomorrow against Baruto (start searching for that dog turd, Clancy). Asashoryu moves to 2-0 with his win streak intact at 18, but it really should be 28 if it wasn't for that non-call when Chiyotaikai pulled the Yokozuna's hair.

In the Ozeki ranks, Tochiazuma needs to swallow his pride and withdraw now before he further damages that left knee. Komusubi Roho actually executed a tachi-ai henka to his left today, but Tochiazuma knew it was coming and charged right into the compromised Russian. Roho was there for the taking--for any other rikishi--and Tochiazuma even managed a solid right outer grip leaving Roho nary a pot to piss in, but there was zero charge from Tochiazuma's lower body, and Roho was able to gather his wits about him, latch onto the Ozeki's belt himself, and easily walk him back and out. Tochiazuma did everything right today...he just didn't have that lower body charge to seal the deal. With no pushovers this basho in the upper Maegashira, Tochiazuma should hit the eject button now. As for Roho (1-1), he has a handicapped opponent and he still goes for the henka? Need I comment further? Okay, I will. Afterwards, they interviewed Roho and Fujii announcer (dude, you're the best NHK has but lose those new coke bottles) tried to pin the Russian down with two great questions, "how is your confidence after this win?" and "what are your goals for 2007?". I'm guessing Roho didn't understand either question because we got "ganbarimasu" for answers both times after long pauses.

In the best match of the day, Ozeki Kaio let up a bit at the tachi-ai allowing Komusubi Kisenosato to force the action early. As Kaio was supposedly being forced back, he stepped to his right and slyly grabbed the right outer grip. Over, right? Hardly. Just when you thought Kaio was going to finish off the Kid with that solid right outer grip in the middle of the ring, Kisenosato pushed at Kaio's right side and shook his booty masterfully breaking off that right outer grip in my favorite counter move in sumo (uwate wo kiru). With both rikishi now in the hidari-yotsu position (left arms on the inside), the game was on. As both rikishi grappled for any sort of position, Kaio timed a subtle move to his right giving him the deep position with the left hand that most importantly allowed him to raise the Komusubi upright. From there, Kaio secured the morozashi position and easily forced out the Kid in the end. This was beautiful sumo from both parties with Kaio's experience providing the difference. Kaio enjoys another good start moving to 2-0 and halting his losing streak to Kisenosato (0-2) at three.

Is Miyabiyama ranked at M1? What in the hell is he doing fighting Ozeki on days 2 and 3? No matter today anyway. The Sheriff welcomed Chiyotaikai to the jungle with a smothering moro-te tachi-ai that left the Ozeki nothing to do but spin his wheels. Miyabiyama followed up the double choke hold by slapping Chiyotaikai to the side using a powerful swipe with his right hand that nearly felled Chiyotaikai by itself. The Ozeki staggered like a drunkard barely able to keep his feet, so as the fattest dude in the division charged at him full boar, there was nowhere for Chiyotaikai to go but down. Miyabiyama so kicked Chiyotaikai's ass today that if the Ozeki were married, I'm sure he would have sent his wife over to the Musashigawa-beya afterwards to offer his full submission. This was powerful stuff from Miyabiyama (1-1) who recovered nicely from poor indecision on day 1. Chiyotaikai falls to 1-1 and is lucky to even be at .500.

Ozeki Hakuho looked okay against Aminishiki yesterday, but he was read like a dirty manga on the subway out of Tokyo today by M1 Dejima. Dejima obviously did his homework and knew that Hakuho would favor the left side (that frontal belt grip attempt) at the tachi-ai, so while Hakuho's left hand did flirt with the front of the former Ozeki's belt, Dejima used his freight train charge to push up at Hakuho's right side and force him back directly in front of the head judge. Hakuho was obviously blindsided by this powerful attack, so his right hand went to the back of Dejima's head for a counter pull down, but the execution was too swift. This was unbelievable sumo from Dejima, and I think Hakuho probably loses this bout even at full strength. Back in early 2006 when those Hakuho losses were rare, you had to beat him in the first 3 seconds or you were in trouble. I think that was the case today. Both rikishi are 1-1. It's far too early to comment on Hakuho at this point, but I think his opponents will get easier in week two aside from the Yokozuna.

Clancy was spot on in criticizing Kotooshu's choice of tachi-ai yesterday. Not only is it a cheap tactic, but what have you just proven to yourself? What, you can pick up a cheap win simply by running from your opponent? It's a dirty move that generates zero momentum and zero confidence in yourself. That was manifest today against Tokitenku where the Mongolian offered a wicked morote tachi-ai that stood Kotooshu straight up keeping him far away from the belt. Kotooshu countered with some tsuppari of his own, but they weren't thrusts fueled by a driving lower body, rather Kotooshu was slapping as his legs moved from side to side. With absolutely no direction to the Ozeki's attack, the collected Tokitenku next drove the stiffest right paw to the throat that we've seen all year, and as Kotooshu tried to grin and bear it, Tokitenku reached his left arm around Oshu's right thigh and pushed at his neck with the right while tripping the Ozeki with the left. Kotooshu was slammed down to the clay in such amazing fashion that even Tokitenku had to cheer for himself afterwards. Wow...that was an ass kicking. They need to come up with a new kimarite just for this bout: kubi-taoshi, or full frontal force down by the neck. So I go back to my comments that opened this paragraph...what did Kotooshu have to gain on day 1 except for a win on paper? Now look at the Ozeki's status...one cheap win that nobody took seriously and one embarrassing loss to a Maegashira rikishi. God I hate the henka. I think Kotooshu has just taken himself out of this basho and has no direction. Who cares if an Ozeki ends up 10-5? With Kotooshu's loss today, that means four of the five Ozeki have at least one loss two days in. Not good.

Does anyone see a pattern here...Sadogatake rikishi...tachi-ai henka? Not to be outdone, Sekiwake Kotomitsuki did himself a great disservice today by running from M2 Aminishiki (that'll look good on a resume). At the tachi-ai, Aminishiki was ready to go at least three times, but Kotomitsuki felt as if he had to play mind games, so he just stood there watching Ami flinch like a 6 year old who has to pee really bad. The two rikishi finally reloaded and charged whereupon Kotomitsuki delivered a tachi-ai henka to his right. Kotomitsuki didn't slap down at Aminishiki, so the M2 actually survived, but he had no momentum and no footwork allowing Kotomitsuki to grab a solid left inner grip that he used to drag Aminishiki clear across the dohyo and out. That'll learn him, right Kotomitsuki? You da man. What I really think happened is that Kotomitsuki read Clancy's day 1 comments, and once he learned there was a skirt at the stable, he wanted a turn to wear it. Kotomitsuki "improves" to 1-1 while Aminishiki has gotten off to a rough 0-2 start.

Heading down into the Maegashira ranks, the Baruto - Homasho bout provided a nice rematch. Baruto came with a slight harite at the tachi-ai with the left hand, but that didn't keep Homasho from charging in low and grabbing a quick right inner grip. The last thing Homasho wants to do, however, is give Baruto the right outer. The Estonian easily secured it, and the gappuri yotsu-zumo contest was on with both rikishi maintaining right outers. Homasho responded with the only way that would have given him a chance, which was keeping the rikishi moving around the perimeter of the ring hoping that Baruto's footwork would falter. It didn't, and when Baruto pinned Homasho up against the tawara, it was all she wrote as Baruto elected to push at Homasho's chest with both hands for the kill. You may remember last basho that Homasho actually beat the giant, but he did it by coming in low and pushing Baruto upright. Giving up that easy right uwate today was the death knell. Homasho falls to an unsurprising 0-2 while Baruto is off to a great 2-0 start. Going back to the confidence thing, you could just see it on Baruto's face after his day 1 dismantling of Miyabiyama. If this dude can get on a roll here...watch out. I think it's pretty safe to say that the only three rikishi who have a legitimate chance of hoisting the emperor's cup the next two years are named Asashoryu, Hakuho, and Baruto. Get used to 'em.

How about that story surrounding Ama and his father's death in a car accident just before the New Year? It's amazing to me that the story didn't break in the Japanese press until day 1, but then again, hardly anything broke in the Japanese press during the holiday. Talk about a heart-wrenching story. I mean, there's probably a lot of people out there who could care less if their fathers went straight to hell, but you could tell that Ama and his old man had an extremely tight bond. It was easy to root for Ama prior to this, but your name would have to be the Grinch if you didn't want him to go 15-0 this basho. Pair him with enough Mongolian opponents and he might do just that. Today's foe was M4 Kyokutenho, who obviously had no desire to beat Ama--and rightly so. After a brief exchange of tsuppari from the tachi-ai that saw Ama charge with two hands to the throat (moro-te), Kyokutenho retreated offering an ineffective slap attempt along the way. Ama seized the opportunity by getting so deep on the inside his left arm was locked onto the knot at the back of Tenho's belt. Kyokutenho lamely countered with a right kote-nage throw, but his footwork was lackadaisical, and he stepped out during the attempt giving Ama the easy win. There should be more of where that came from tomorrow against fellow countryman Asasekiryu. Ama moves to 2-0 while Kyokutenho largely takes one for the team at 1-1.

One of my favorite bouts of the today was the Kokkai - Tochinonada matchup because we saw the Georgian execute some flawless yotsu-zumo. Kokkai charged low at the tachi-ai allowing the bout to go to the belt. Tochinonada had a meek left arm on the inside--his favored position--but Kokkai handcuffed him so strongly that he was able to grab a right outer, which he used to bulldoze Tochinonada back and out with in mere seconds. We see this kind of effective yotsu zumo from Kokkai about as often as Hollywood produces a good movie. This reminded me a lot of Kokkai's yori-kiri win over Asashoryu a year or so ago. Great stuff as both rikishi stand at 1-1.

M5 Takamisakari is probably closer to being 0-2 than his actual 2-0 record. I thought Kokkai deserved a tori-naoshi yesterday in his bout with the cop, and then we had another extremely close bout today with the gunbai once again going to Takamisakari (over the foreign rikishi). After a bad tachi-ai from both parties, Asasekiryu attempted a quick pull that didn't work leaving the two rikishi grappling in the ring at a furious if not ineffective pace. Asasekiryu grabbed an early left inner grip from the fracas allowing Takamisakari to counter with a lanky right outer grip. To his credit, Asasekiryu initiated a force out charge, but no one can stand their ground at the tawara like Takamisakari, who lifted up under Seki's right arm pit with his left hand while maintaining the right outer grip. Asasekiryu had the lower position, but couldn't overcome Takamisakari's uwate as the two rikishi crashed outside of the dohyo with Asasekiryu apparently hitting the dirt first. At worst, it was an entertaining bout, and a 2-0 Takamisakari can only help sell more tickets. Asasekiryu drops to 0-2 with the loss, which makes his bout against Ama tomorrow that much tougher. What to do?

What not to do is set your timer to record the last half of the broadcast thinking that NHK will replay the first half bouts during the intermission as they've done every day of every basho up until now. Thanks for nothing fellas. My apologies to those waiting for my comments on the Otsukasa - Ushiomaru bout. They ain't coming. I'll repent of my ways and make sure to record all of the bouts for Friday. Rikishi to keep special tabs on in the bottom half are Tamanoshima and Kasugao. Both are off to 2-0 starts, and while Tamanoshima is a former Sekiwake, Kasugao has the strength to get there someday (not saying he will).

Bryce dishes it up with vegemite tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Happy New Year! I think it's safe to say that of all the many holidays celebrated in Nippon by far the most sacrosanct is New Year. The country truly comes to a standstill, and even notoriously hardassed Japan Inc. allows their serfs a good stretch of days off to spend as they see fit, which for most people means in front of the telly watching stupid "talents" give their stupid opinions on the stupid behaviors of stupid people. Oh, and the canned reaction cooking shows.

However, there is one dependable and thoroughly enjoyable aspect to the New Year festivities, and that is adherence to tradition, for the Japanese are nothing if not adherents to tradition. Course, all countries have traditions, but the twist here in Nattoland is that the traditions vary wildly from locale to locale, and for those of you who do not reside here, some of these would no doubt surprise. 

Certainly there are your garden variety traditions that will surprise nobody, like sending everyone you have ever met, including people you sat next to once on a train, a New Year postcard called a "nengajyou" with a drawing of that year's Chinese zodiac animal combined with photos of your progeny, plunging yourself into the frigid sea and then acting like it's the cold water, and not genetics, that makes your dick so small, and setting alight enormous bales of hay tied to the ends of long poles and waving them around while screaming out the name of the imaginary friend (aka "deity") one beseeches to help one make it through life.

But there are also little known traditions that have survived from long ago, especially in the countryside, which is where I live. In my town, for example, you are allowed to select and slaughter one neighbor's dog that has driven you exceedingly crazy the past year with it's unchecked barking at anything that moves, including dust. I have yet to take advantage of this tradition as I can never decide which one of the many I'd like to kill, to kill. Also, if your wife has an unmarried younger sister, it is permissible to shtoop her between the hours of 10:00 and 12:00 on New Year's Eve, which is why every single unmarried younger sister in Japan goes somewhere, anywhere, on Dec. 30 and does not return until Jan. 1 (which is fine by me, as my wife's only sister definitely got the brains in the family). But for me, the best local tradition is the one in which I get to tie down one old man and force him to say three intelligible words. Consecutively.

Now some of you may be wondering, Hey, what's the rumpus? Why is this Kelly schmo writing Day One? Where's Kenji? Well, I'm here to tell you that you're not going to be getting your little Kenji fix this basho, aight?, so you might as well deal with it. Kenji is dead. Okay, not that again. Actually, Kenji is very busy with his other website, written under a nom de plume, www.maddox.com. Check it out, It's really nifty and he says all sorts of spot on things about babies and the government and girls, he is so right about girls. Urp.

Ya'll probably noticed that Sumotalk had a binge, a surge, an onslaught of End of the Year "awards", provocative, creative, and in no way copying major sports columnists. You also noticed that my contribution was zip. So I've decided to rectify (hnn hnn, he said "rectify") this by entitling my Day One bouts, which may put them out of order, but that's okay, because, "You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!" (Thanks, Al.) 

Most Disappointing: This one is a slam dunk. Kotooshu went from being one of my favorite rikishi to being Roho's ass wiper. How in the name of all things sexy could he have chosen to henka Kisenosato in his very first bout of 2007? Is this how the Ozeki wants to begin his breakout year, by skirting the man who has dominated him for the past year? He should have sent out his 2007 nengajyou with a picture of man in a tutu with a little curlicue arrow pointing to it saying, "Me". Seriously, he will have to do some classy, gutsy wrestling for the next three basho for me look at him again as anything but a chump. What. A. Bummer. And anyone who even thinks about trying to compare this to Asa's ketaguri from Nov. had better get his or her head out of his or her ass. Not even close. 

Most Satisfying: I guess it's safe to say that I do not hold European sumo wrestlers in high regard, esp. now that Saint Kotooshu has fallen from grace, and so it was most delicious to see Takamisakari pick up a win vs. Kokkai by expertly holding his ground and withstanding a furious, two-handed, to the face and neck shoving attack by the White Knight from tachi-ai, then deftly avoiding the inevitable European pull down attempt by ducking in, keeping his gams underneath him, and grabbing the ham hock Kokkai calls a left leg while simultaneously pressing him back with his left arm on Kokkai's shoulder. A desperation squat by Kokkai at the end made it seem closer than it was. The Circus rolled into town and Kokkai the big Georgian unfortunately got a seat in the center ring.

Most Predictable: Don't know what past expiration date eggnog Mike was sipping when he wrote his pre-basho report, but there is no way in hell The Geeku is in for a letdown this basho. If he isn't sitting on at least a 9-5 come Senshuraku, I will invite you all to a live video feed of me swallowing a dog turd (or I'll post it on YouTube next to Bernie's Ottawa Sumo Videos!) Today the M1 did the chiffon shuffle vs mystery man Tochiazuma, who either got outfoxed straight up (unlikely) or is in no shape to wrestle (likely). The Geeku simply held on and did not budge, then pressed forward, with Tochi having no ability to stop the yorikiri. The Ozeki has a lot of heart, but get your snaps while you can, kiddies, because he may be withdrawing sooner than later.

Most Surprising: I am not a believer in Tokitenku by any means, but when a bout gets out of hand and things get all craygonuts, he often, like Kyokutenho, comes out the victor. Chiyotaikai, on the other hand, usually runs out of steam and loses once his initial pushing attack fails him. Add to that the lack of pre-basho chatter Miguel mentioned concerning the Ozeki's keiko and he figured to go down, right? Wrong. Chiyotaikai simply chased the Mongolian around the ring, sandwiching unrelentingly attacks around a short middle-of-the-ring standoff, keeping his feet underneath him as he made the final push and sending the M2 out. Loathe as I am to type it, superlative first bout of the year sumo from the Wolf's Pup. Taking notes, Kotooshu?

Most Instructional: For those of you who wonder how Asashoryu continually beats men much larger than he, look no further than today's whooping of undeserving Komusubi Roho. Blasted in the face at tachi-ai by the huge Russian's stout left arm, Asa gives the slightest bit, then uses what is surely the most flexible and lightning quick neck in sumo to slough off the attack, all the while grabbing Roho's belt and sealing the deal, as he uses his forward marching foe's weight as a fulcrum to employ what is surely the strongest right arm in sumo to throw him out and down. The key is that the Yokozuna doesn't try to absorb his foe's momentum with his entire upper body like most guys, he flings it to the side with the great head and shoulder moves, then moves in and locks on to the belt like a bull terrier. He's always sniffing that belt.

Most Fortunate: Hakuho was given the worst possible Maegashira foe he could get in Aminishiki, who is slippery and crafty and gets up for big matches, and what could be bigger than taking on a Yokozuna-to-be on Day 1 of a New Year basho? Aminishiki kept his head in Hakuho's chest from the start, but the Ozeki got a strong back of the belt left grip. Aminishiki maneuvered into an odd 90 degree position and  Hakuho tried to drag him down by the back of the head using a leg trip, but Aminishiki snuck out of that and they both ran to the edge, where Aminishiki almost pulled off a right handed belt throw, but Hakuho halted his own momentum and came back, both men sliding along the edge until the Ozeki got a good grip and went for the yoritaoshi, which he got but only after a fine twist by Aminishiki nearly got the Mongolian down first as both men crashed heavily out. Hakuho looked up like he just dodged a stalactite (or is that stalagmite, I can never remember which is which?) as he picked himself up from Kokonoe Oyakata's lap (where he dodged a stalagmite (or is that stalactite, I can never remember which is which?)

Worst Planned: Miyabiyama got a winning record every basho last year sticking to his bread and butter, but today he decided that Baruto is just too big to be shoved around the way he likes, so he tried a pulldown after a weak tachi-ai, and it didn't work. Baruto was all over the Sekiwake and seemed to have a scowl on his face afterward, as if The Sheriff did something wrong. No, Biomass, there was not even a sniff of a henka on this one. Your foe just made a bad choice.

Most Boding: Ama vs Homasho was just what I expected, with Homasho figuring to weather the storm keeping those big upturned hands on his foe's forearms a la Tochiazuma, and Ama going at him like a wolverine on angel dust (thanks, George). From what I saw today, it looks like Ama is ready to take it to everyone he meets (what, Clanc, this is unusual?) No, but his thrusting was dead on today, admittedly vs. a foe who doesn't try to move out of the way, but nevertheless I sense a good basho from Ama, garnering perhaps 10 wins, but no dog turd assurances here.

Biggest Waste: Kotomitsuki sent Kyokutenho back about a meter at tachi-ai, really nailed him, and then kept it up, but the former Mongolian, as he is wont to do, slipped to the side at the edge and dragged down the onrushing Sekiwake with a slick belt grab. Hit or Mitsuki was Hit for 99% of the fight, and then lost patience and went Miss right at the end, swan diving into the front row. If he had just waited a bit longer, he had this match.

Well, it's still New Year holiday here (tomorrow is the last day, Coming of Age Day, when all 20 year-olds get spiffed up and go around giggling that they can finally drink beer). Today I had a rehearsal for the town relay next Sunday (I'm the captain, hold your applause) and after the run we ate some of the best onion rings on Oith and got d-r-u-n-k (I spelled that out just in case little kids are reading this). Point is, I forgot to tape the sumo in time and by the time I called my wife to do it, the first half was nearly over (and for some reason they didn't show replays of the first half in the second half). Then I missed the first half bouts again on Sumo Digest, the daily televised recap show, while typing this damned thing! So no Kakizoe, no Tochinonada, no Yoshikaze nor the three Kasugas, Tama, Nishiki, and O.

I promise I'll give them their due on Day 4. Meanwhile, M Dub scratches the vinyls on Day 2. Miguel zin da house ya'll!

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