Day 1

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

Senshuraku Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The phrase of the day is one that we haven't heard in years...five years and two basho to be exact. "Ai-boshi kessen" means basically winner take all, and when two Yokozuna participate in such a contest, it means we have reached the pinnacle of sumo. If you go to our archives page, you can click on the link for Aki 2002, the last time sumo has seen an ai-boshi kessen between two Yokozuna. That was actually the basho before Sumotalk came into existence, but you can read Kenji and I raving about the Aki 2002 basho. There are some striking similarities. First, that was Takanohana's first basho back after he sat out for over a year with a knee injury. The Yokozuna was rusty for sure and suffered a few early losses, but he shook them off and went on a tear in week 2 only to meet Musashimaru on senshuraku for all the marbles. Takanohana came up short, but the drama was definitely there during those electric two weeks. Fast forward now to our current basho, and we have Asashoryu coming off of a long layoff and shaking off an early loss to force an ai-boshi kessen with Hakuho. The bout has been fiercely anticipated for a week now, and though Hatsu 2008 didn't quite live up to Aki 2002 (we were missing other relevant yusho candidates this basho), the final clash between the Yokozuna far exceeded the Takanohana- Musashimaru five years ago. In fact, today's bout was the best bout sumo has seen since at least the 1994 Kyushu basho where Akebono and Takanohana duked it out on senshuraku. Yes, the clash we were waiting for lived up to the hype and then some. So let's get right to it.

Requiring no stall tactics or shenanigans at the tachi-ai from either party, Hakuho came with a quick right harite slap while looking to get his left arm on the inside as well that would have set up moro-zashi, but Asashoryu focused on grabbing the front of Hakuho's belt with the right hand from the start, so he slapped Hakuho's left to the outside leaving both Yokozuna in the migi-yotsu position. Knowing that Hakuho had the height and reach advantage, Asashoryu looked to avoid a straight-up yotsu contest by attempting a quick maki-kae with his left arm about three seconds into the bout an then again a few moments later, but Hakuho fought the move of both times keeping the bout at migi-yotsu and more importantly gaining a solid left outer grip in the process at about 10 seconds in. Hakuho gathered his strength a bit before mounting the first force-out charge of the bout, but as he began pushing Asashoryu back, the veteran Yokozuna was able to grab a left outer grip of his own and force the bout back towards the center of the ring and into the gappuri migi-yotsu position, a stance that favors the taller and longer Hakuho. Asashoryu wouldn't give in, however, and seemed to be mounting a charge of his own set up by a brief tsuri attempt, but Hakuho dug in exerting so much force that between the two rikishi they began to float sideways with neither budging a centimeter backwards. After about five seconds of this pure chikara sumo, the rikishi settled back into the center of the ring to regroup as the Kokugikan crowd roared. While leaning heavily on each other's chests, Hakuho looked to reposition his right inside grip on the front of Asashoryu's belt, but Asa pinched the move off forcing Hakuho to return to the original inside grip. Hakuho didn't wait long, however, and began another force-out charge that moved Asashoryu back about two steps, but as the two neared the tawara, Asa went for the only move he could leaning back a bit and lifting Hakuho clear off his feet, but it was only for a second or two as the younger Yokozuna is just too big of a load, and with Asashoryu having expended a great deal of energy on the move, Hakuho moved in for the kill pivoting firmly and executing a throw with the left outer grip. Asashoryu just couldn't survive the move and was thrown to the clay after 48 seconds of kick-ass o-zumo.

Where does one even start with a bout like that? First, leading up to the bout, NHK showed several ai-boshi kessen bouts from the early 80's that featured the likes of Chiyonofuji vs. Kitanoumi and Chiyonofuji vs. Takanosato. Those bouts were classics and highlighted how sumo can be such a beautiful sport, but this one trumped them and then some. Just watching the quick offensives, the strategies, the subtle counter moves, and the pure will to win is something that can barely be described in words. Today's climax was all that is good about sumo and forced everyone to overlook racial boundaries and enjoy two Yokozuna performing their craft at the highest level I'd say the sport has ever seen.

The last few days as I've been chatting with my fellow contributors, the main topic of discussion of course has been who would win the bout. 'Hakuho will win' was my answer, and the reasons I gave were these. First, though Asashoryu has been on a roll since day 2, he's been in trouble in multiple bouts. Hakuho on the other hand has been as solid as ever only suffering a loss to the henka-ish Ama. Second is the ring rust factor. The reason Asashoryu struggled at times was because he needed to get back into the flow of his sumo; something that takes a lot of time. Third, and most important, were the tachi-ai of the two rikishi coming in. On multiple occasions, Asashoryu's tachi-ai was out of synch, and it invited trouble in several bouts. On the other hand, Hakuho was clearly inspired by his compatriot's return and ensured that he delivered his best sumo starting with his tachi-ai. The only time he got burned was when the speedy Ama moved to his right the entire contest. When you look back on these factors, it's clear that Hakuho was the favorite coming in...and I didn't even mention the size difference, which probably played the biggest factor today.

So, Hakuho picks up his third yusho in a row and 6th career championship overall with his win today. His 14-1 performance this basho was even better than his perfect run at last year's Natsu basho. As for Asashoryu, there's absolutely no shame in his 13-2 performance. He was jut beat by a better rikishi on senshuraku...a better rikishi this basho. I already see Asashoryu feeding off of this experience and making himself better for Haru. I'll already call him the yusho favorite. And finally, this is the bout we've been waiting to see from these two since Hakuho's emergence. Their most recent bout in Nagoya was thrown to give the yusho to Asashoryu when Hakuho was already out of the running. Their bout in May was thrown to give the yusho to Hakuho when Asashoryu was already out of the running, and you can check my blog to read my opinions regarding their bout last Haru. NHK replayed both bouts from Nagoya and Natsu last year, but to compare those bouts with the bout today is just silly. Today, both Yokozuna went at it 100%, and yes, Hakuho was the winner, but the bigger winner in all of this is the sport itself. Stay out of the Mongolians way and allow them to continue to propel this sport to new heights. Everyone wins that way.

We could just light up our cigarettes and lean back on the pillows now calling it good after that bout, but since there were a few compelling matchups preceding this action, we may as well get to them.

Ozeki Kotomitsuki entered the day at just 7-7, but Sekiwake Aminishiki hasn't given anyone too much trouble this basho. Both rikishi struck the migi-yotsu pose from the tachi-ai, and Sneaky actually had a sniff of a left uwate, but the Ozeki wrenched upwards with his right arm cutting that belt grip off and grabbing his own left outer in the process. Kotomitsuki immediately went for a kiri-kaeshi trip while tugging Aminishiki sideways by the belt, and while that didn't fell Aminishiki to the clay, it did knock him completely off balance to where he was the easy yori-kiri fodder from there. Didn't look to me that Aminishiki put up much of an effort in this one, and NHK didn't show a replay, but it wouldn't have suprised me if Aminishiki took his hand off the early uwate on purpose. Regardless, Kotomitsuki picks up his eighth win when it counted. Sneaky finishes just 5-10 and should be demoted from the sanyaku altogether.

In our only Ozeki duel of the day, Kaio secured the quick moro-zashi position from the tachi-ai against Kotooshu, but for some reason he didn't drive with the lower body and push the Bulgarian back and out. This was extremely peculiar stuff because the whole basho Kaio has been taking charge and pressing for the yori-kiri win. With the veteran Ozeki just standing there despite the better position, Kotooshu was able to work his way into dual outer grips that he used to force Kaio across the ring and out with. I can't think of a single reason why these two would need to throw the bout, but today's bout was not right. Kaio executed the perfect tachi-ai, and he had the most coveted position in sumo (besides the brokeback position) in morozashi; yet, he failed to attack and just gave Kotooshu the easy win. Who really cares though? At 8-7, Kaio will reach his goal of fighting as an active rikishi for 20 years while Kotooshu survives his first kadoban basho at 9-6.

In a compelling battle between two Mongolians, Sekiwake Ama simply outclassed M8 Kakuryu using his effective nodowa tachi-ai and some inspired thrusts that the younger Kakuryu had no answer for. The Kak was dispatched in about four seconds as Ama's excellent handwork drove him back and out for the easy win. Ama (9-6) picks up a Shukunsho thanks to Hakuho's yusho while Kakuryu (11-4) scores a much-deserved Ginosho for his efforts this basho.

Watching Komusubi Kotoshogiku fight today, you wonder why he went for that cheap pull down against Tokitenku when he first came back. The Geeku executed a perfect tachi-ai that saw him get his left arm deep on the inside of M4 Asasekiryu's right side while he followed that up with a smothering right outer grip to boot. From there, Kotoshogiku used his body to perfection as he forced Asasekiryu back and out in mere seconds. The Geeku has to be thrilled with his 9-6 finish, but a couple of those wins were set up with dirty sumo. Asasekiryu will threaten the sanyku for Haru with an impressive 10-5 finish.

In the one token bout that screamed for everyone to visit the restrooms and concession stands before the day's finale, M5 Tamakasuga focused on a nodowa attack from the start against Komusubi Dejima that stood him upright for a few seconds before KingTama just slapped him down to the dirt for the easy win. Tamakasuga's 4-11 will put him in more comfortable territory in March while Dejima contributed nothing this basho at 3-12.

M1 Kisenosato made short work of M1 Tokitenku fishing for a right frontal belt grip at the tachi-ai while pushing at the side of Tokitenku with the left arm. The Kid's ottsuke attack from the left proved to be too dominating as he knocked Tokitenku to the side and off balance. Kisenosato showed excellent footwork to keep himself in front of Tokitenku where a couple of neck thrusts and effective torso shoves had Tokitenku polished off in about 5 seconds. Wow...a great 10-5 basho for Kisenosato who deservedly picks up a Shukunsho.

M3 Goeido completely outclassed M2 Toyonoshima at the tachi-ai getting an early left hand at the front of his opponent's belt before going for the quick inner belt throw. Toyonoshima survived the attempt, but in the process Goeido kept his left inside position and performed a swift maki-kae just as Toyonoshima was trying to get his own left arm on the inside. The result was the moro-zasi position for Goeido, but the savvy Toyonoshima was able to position himself tight into Goeido's upper torso leaving the youngster standing more upright than he wanted to be. Still, there was nothing Toyonoshima was going to do with dual outer grips considering his short stature and crocodile arms, so Goeido first attempted a tsuri-dashi move lifting Toyonoshima clear of his feet, but the two were in the center of the dohyo, and there was just too much ground to cover. After Toyonoshima landed, Goeido went for the move again, but when it failed, Toyonoshima was able to apply pressure with a kote-nage attempt with his left arm that completely broke off Goeido's grip and sent him floundering towards the edge. Before he could recover his footing, Toyonoshima was onto him quick as a fly to poop securing the oshi-dashi win. There's just no way around it...Goeido blew this one as he ends up an expected 5-10. Toyonoshima's 6-9 is little consolation.

M2 Miyabiyama pulverized M3 Tochinonada today from the tachi-ai using the lumbering tsuppari that were so effective that Tochinonada had as much chance of getting to the Sheriff's belt as I do of getting to Shakira's bed. Twas over in about five seconds, and it was such a whuppin' that Tochinonada actually looked back and down while still in the ring just so he could plan where he'd fall. The bad news is Miyabiyama only comes away with a 7-8 record, but the good news it he'll stay among the jo'i for Haru. The gentle giant had a miserable 5-10 outing.

M4 Wakanosato lunged into the quick moro-zashi position against the slower M13 Iwakiyama and forced the Hutt back to the straw in seconds, and just when you thought the inevitable yori-kiri win was coming, Wakanosato reversed gears on a dime and threw Iwakiyama over and down with a left scoop throw. Easy does it as Wakanosato finishes a very respectable 7-8 while Iwakiyama is denied double digits at 9-6.

The second most anticipated bout of the day had to be the M5 Roho - M14 Takamisakari matchup, our only bout that featured two 7-7 rikishi. It was highly anticipated because everyone knew that Roho was going to try and henka his way to a win (and subsequent kachi-koshi) for the third day in a row. The real question was would Takamisakari be able to figure out what was coming. From what we know of the guy, the answer was of course "no". You know the sayings...a few cards short of a full deck...a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Anyway, the Cop lunged straight forward looking for the frontal belt grip with the left hand, but the Russian was nowhere to be found as he moved to his left in an effort to grab the cheap uwate. Roho's fingertips flirted with the back of Takamisakari's belt, but the Cop must have suddenly remembered what he was up against because he jumped to the side and did a complete 360 breaking off Roho's grip in the process and landing in the perfect moro-zashi position. From there, he used his length to keep Roho up high as he thankfully forced him back and across the straw proving that the sumo gods were out in full force today. After the loss Roho stood there for a second with his hands on his hips and a disgusting look on his face (well, disgusting as in he was disgusted with himself but go ahead and read it both ways) seemingly asking himself 'how did I just lose that bout?'. I'll save him the strain and tell him outright. You lost it because you suck. Takamisakari finishes his rough basho at 8-7 while everyone was cheering Roho's 7-8.

M6 Baruto grabbed the early right uwate today against M12 Futenoh, but Fruitenoh countered well ducking low and forcing Baruto to go down low with him. Well, it was good strategy until Baruto pulled a beautiful uchi-muso trick out of his back reaching low with that long arm of his and pushing outwards at Futenoh's right ankle felling the former Komusubi to the dirt. Baruto limps in at 7-8 and showed some flashes this basho, but I'd sum up his general performance in Hatsu as lazy. Futenoh escapes with his kachi-koshi (8-7) despite the loss.

You had to feel a bit for M6 Hokutoriki coming in. The Jokester was 6-5 after 11 days from the M6 rank no less before he was henka'd three days in a row to his make-koshi. I found myself rooting for the lug today against M10 Kyokutenho who had the decency to charge straight forward. Hokutoriki never panicked against his superior opponent keeping Tenho away from the belt with a tsuppari attack and frustrating the former Mongolian for 8 seconds or so before setting him up for the easy pulldown win. Hokutoriki must settle for 7-8, but when you think about it, he's much better off a notch or two down the ranks than he is among the jo'i. Tenho finishes a boring 10-5 considering his rank.

M16 Ichihara had himself a decent debut in the division, but if today's bout against M7 Takekaze is any indication, the Itch won't get scratched much past the rank of M10 or so. Ichihara came forward at the tachi-ai normal enough, but before he could get anything going, Takekaze blew right into his upper torso and drove him back so fast and so forcefully that Ichihara was literally pushed half way up the hanamichi from whence he came. Takekaze improved to 12-3 with the win picking up the Kantosho in the process while Ichihara must settle for 8-7.

The misery nearly continued for M7 Homasho today against M15 Yoshikaze as the latter took complete control from the tachi-ai with his tsuppari attack. Yoshikaze methodically drove Homie back to the tawara keeping him from getting close to the belt, but with about a step to go, Homasho retreated back a bit on his own, which caused Yoshikaze to overextend himself with a thrust attack opening the door to his inside. Homasho pounced getting a left arm on the inside and then overpowered Yoshikaze from there forcing him across the ring and out onto the floor below the dohyo. Homasho finishes just 4-11 with the win, and the bad news is, I don't think there's anything wrong with him physically. Yoshikaze finishes 8-7.

M13 Tamanoshima already had the fork sticking in him a week ago, but M8 Toyohibiki gave it a final good wrenching with a perfect moro-te (two hands to the throat) tachi-ai and some upper torso thrusts that sent Tamanoshima back and out with nary a fight. Nothing like building your confidence by facing the punching bag, Tamanoshima, but Toyohibiki can't be satisfied with his 6-9 record. I say he needs to rework that tachi-ai where he starts two steps back, and for the record Arbo...Mainoumi thinks Toyohibiki's tachi-ai is a mistake as well. Doesn't mean I don't want to cuddle with you tonight...just tellin' ya. Tamanoshima is on the brink of retirement as his 3-12 mark will send him to the mid-ranks of Juryo.

M15 Tochiohzan met M9 Kokkai with a moro-te tachi-ai but didn't seem to have thought out his plan beyond that. As Kokkai persisted by pushing up at Tochiohzan's arms, Oh went for a stupid pull down that Kokkai read with perfection pushing the youngster back and clear off the dohyo. Kokkai was good this basho as he finished 9-6 while Tochiohzan survived with an 8-7 record. Today's bout was a good microcosm in general regarding Tochiohzan's sumo. He failed to play to any of his strengths and had no idea how he wanted to attack his opponent.

And finally, M9 Wakakirin was in complete control against M12 Tosanoumi using alternating hari-te and nodowa to drive the veteran back, but Tosanoumi erased all of that with one grab of Wakakirin's right arm pulling him sideways and out of the dohyo. Tosanoumi finished at 5-10, which probably isn't enough to keep him in Makuuchi. Wakakirin is also on the brink as he finishes a lackluster basho at 4-11.

Since I don't get the live feed until 4 PM Japan time and since senshuraku always starts a little earlier, I missed the first two bouts of the day, but no biggie. I'll be back mid-week with my post-basho report. Word also has it that the former Tokitsukaze-oyakata is finally gonna be hauled off in cuffs, so stay tuned for that. The Haru banzuke is exactly four weeks away, so savor this tournament the next little while, and we'll see you all in a month or so. 

Day 14 Comments (Martin Matra reporting)
Well, I guess everyone got what they were hoping for, a senshuraku clash between the two Mongolian Yokozuna coming in with a healthy lead over the rest of the pack. Clash of the titans, epic battle or whatever you might want to call it, I'm not going to insist on it anymore (if you want to read about that, check out señor Arboleda's day 11 report). What I do want to comment on is my failure to comprehend how two people can be so bloody far ahead of anybody else in terms of sumo skill and success. I just don't get it. What do these two Mongolians have that EVERYONE in the rest of the pack is missing?! Strength? Skill? Motivation? Willpower? A good in-between for yaocho? How is it that the last time ANYBODY not named Asashoryu or Hakuho won the Makuuchi Yusho is two whole years ago? Why do I get the feeling that I'm not gonna get any satisfactory answer to my question? And while I was here with you, happily and uselessly beating around the bush, the two Mongolians got away with another Yusho, as both won their respective bouts and are at least two wins above everyone else, with lucky 13 each.

Let's go at it in the order of importance then. Yokozuna Asashoryu did today exactly what Hakuho did yesterday against the surprisingly genki Ozeki Kaio, a straight tachi-ai with the left deep on the inside, denying the veteran Ozeki his favorite right uwate. While the old man did get a solid left inside grip, it wasn't really enough to stop the younger Mongolian from having his way with him and forcing him out by yorikiri after a couple of unsuccessful uwatenage attempts that would have felled most of the other opponents. It wasn't thorough domination, but Kaio isn't exactly lightweight, and he does have all those years of experience behind him. He also has eight wins already, so he doesn't have to worry about tomorrow.

Yokozuna Hakuho won the tachi-ai against Ozeki Kotomitsuki, working his way early to a right shitate while denying his foe any grip on that side. Hakuho quickly went on the offensive, but Kotomitsuki executed a quick maki-kae that gave him morozashi, just when he was digging in at the straw. Smelling blood, Mitsuki surged forward, but Hakuho somehow killed his right grip, planted his feet firmly and rolled Kotomitsuki on the floor like a giant bowling ball. Call me crazy, paranoid, crackpot or whatnot, but that was way too easy. First of all, Mitsuki shifted grips surprisingly easy, and secondly, he went down even easier. Sure, Hakuho has grown into a fine, strong Yokozuna, but remember that Mitsuki beat on his ass every time he got a decent grip (and morozashi is pretty decent in my sumo book). Anyway, the bottom line is that Kotomitsuki is now an even seven to seven and desperately needs a win tomorrow against Sneaky, who is already out of sanyaku with 9 losses so far. Hakuho joins Asashoryu at the top of the leader board and their bout tomorrow promises not to disappoint. Also, Makiko Uchidate and the YDC will have to wait another basho to criticize Asashoryu, because I'd say 13 wins after a 2 basho suspension is pretty damn good, even for a healthy Dai-Yokozuna with inhuman strength and skill.

While we're on the subject of Mongolians, let's get Kakuryu out of the way. Ok, ok, I'll admit it, the dude has had some nice wins this basho, he dominated Tokitenku straight on, and he pulled a brilliant utchari on Baruto, but those guys are already makekoshi, and the rest of his opponents weren't exactly heavy hitters (well, most of them were heavy, but just that). I'm not still saying he should have gone to Juryo, but I'm still not convinced by his 'skills', so to speak, until I see a nice, round eight wins from within the Yokozunas' range. And I guess I'll have to wait for that, because today Kak lost again to Kotooshu. The Bulgarian did exactly what he was supposed to, and went 50% at the tachi-ai. Kakuryu isn't stupid (we Mongolians are particularly clever, aren't we?), and he, in turn, did the only thing he could, i.e. he put all he had into his tachi-ai and hoped he'd take Oshu by surprise. He almost did, with a couple of well-aimed thrusts, but the much taller Bulgarian quickly reached over him to grab the preferred left uwate, used the other hand to press on the foe's head, and flipped him over like a giant pancake, and all of this within two seconds, the time it would have taken for Kakuryu to finish him off. It wasn't dominating sumo form Kotooshu, far from it, but it was so damn sweet, because Kakuryu got burned by the same shit he has been pulling for all this time. 11 wins (because there's no way in hell or elsewhere he can take Ama tomorrow) should still be enough for the Mongolian to dive into the shark pool again in Haru, and I'm expecting him to be ripped to shreds by the big guys. Kotooshu can now breathe easily, because he just brushed off his first kadoban.

The best bout of the day, by far, was the all-Mongolian clash between Ama and Asasekiryu, two of the basho's performers. Asasekiryu didn't want to disappoint and he pulled one of the most daring moves I've ever seen. Probably knowing Ama would come high with his ferocious nodowa attack, not-so-Sexy ducked REALLY low, grabbed Ama's right leg and tried the suicidal izori (remember he tried the same thing against Hakuho, but failed miserably that time), but he couldn't quite get Ama on his back, so he had to do with what he had and felled Ama with the leg grip (and while Ama was falling, I think he might have kicked Ryu in the nuts, but I'm not sure about that). Asasekiryu's crouch was so low that he could slip under his foe even if Ama was going for the belt instead of the throat. Asasekiryu really does deserve the Ginosho, but, as always, the geezers in black have their own obscure criteria for that particular type of prize. Ama should hope Hakuho wins the tournament, because otherwise he'll miss out on the Shukunsho.

M1E Kisenosato paved his way to a special prize with a victory against future Maegashira Sneaky in a rather violent bout. Kise charged with his right paw to the throat while with the left he was testing the possibility of an inashi. Aminishiki tried to retreat quickly for the hikiotoshi win, but Kisenosato was on his every move and slapped him a couple of times more before settling into hidari-yotsu and using his left to push into Sneaky's armpit and stand him completely upright. From there, yokiriki was a mere formality. Aminishiki finally got what he had coming, with 9 losses and a tenth on the way. Kisenosato is sitting pretty at the 9 win mark.

Komusubi Dejima produced his usual freight train tachi-ai and managed to get a nice thick beam under M2 Toyonoshima's left. It's the same old story for everyone against Toyonoshima: get a solid sashi (preferably a left one), and his attack strength is all but gone, and Dejima the veteran is savvy enough to be able to do it. A stalemate followed for a couple of seconds, during which Dejima got his right hand on Toyo's mawashi and attempted the shitatenage. It failed, but it did get Toyo on the defensive, and from that point it was a one way affair, despite a token pulldown attempt at the edge by the shorty. It was damage control all the way, as both men are already in deep makekoshi trouble.

Overachiever Takekaze has a great low tachi-ai that managed to stand Komusubi Kotoshogiku right up and made him an easy morozashi target. Takekaze didn't waste much time after getting that grip, and as soon as he staved off a forward charge by Geeku, Kaze planted his legs firmly and scooped the Sadogatake man to the ground for his 11th win. Kotoshogiku already had kachikoshi and will return to Sekiwake next basho, with Aminishiki's impending demotion.

A rather violent bout was the one between former Ozeki Miyabiyama and Mongolian Maegashira Tokitenku. Both rikishi opted to attack with tsuki/oshi attacks, coupled with pull-down attempts. What's particularly surprising is that Tenku had an opening to get the mawashi several times, but didn't even bother to try it. In the end, after two unsuccessful pull-down from Tenku, Miyabiyama showed him the way it's done properly, slapping his left arm out of the way and sending him on a romantic date with the dohyo dirt. Eight losses for each of the rikishi.

With a full step behind the shikiri-sen and 170 kg, it's safe to say Toyohibiki is a meat-bomb (that doesn't really mean he's unbeatable, but...). Today he slammed hard into Tochinonada and had him permanently on the defensive, not allowing the veteran any sort of belt grip. After a series of pushes, Nada was pushed out of the dohyo for his 9th loss, while Hibiki climbs to the same record. If Toyohibiki could manage to have this kind of balance in every bout, he'd probably be a san'yaku regular, and I certainly hope he eventually learns.

Russian Ugly used a strange sort of flying henka-ish harite attack that somewhat reminds of the despicable deeds that doofus Wakanoho was perpetrating several days ago to quickly dispose of M3 Goeido and send him to his 9th loss. As I (and not only I) have previously stated, Roho would probably henka his own mother for the hell of it, so look for a big sidestep to the left tomorrow against Takamisakari, to get the cheap uwate. Goeido will certainly bounce back with a great record from mid-Maegashira next basho (if Kakuryu can do it, there's no way a future Yokozuna can't) because the predictable makekoshi was likely a great learning experience for the young one.

After reading Mike's day 12, Ichihara was eager to prove that huge fat guys CAN indeed henka and he greased Hokutoriki nicely by disappearing to his right and coming back to eject the Jokester from behind for his third henka loss in three days. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

The big disappointment of this here Hatsu, Estonian Baruto, delivered another particularly bad tachi-ai, but lucky for him his opponent was M14 Takamisakari. Baruto was driven back quite a bit after the initial charge, but he used his long arms to force his way into hidari-yotsu. The Estonian then took a second to breathe and heaved the lighter Japanese clean off the dohyo and to the tawara, where he finished him off easily. Another day, another win on sheer size and strength for the big man, but it's just not enough anymore, is it...akamisakari still has a fighting chance, but Roho will steal that from him tomorrow.

While I'm not going to analyze any of the remaining bouts, I do have some comments to make on this basho as a whole. As you've probably noticed, the henka has been on a rampage since day one, and a couple of guys were particularly bad (like, say, Baruto and Roho). My theory is that Asashoryu and Hakuho are to blame. Since they're light years ahead of anyone, the others probably don't have any motivation to give it their all, so they're content to scraping kachikoshi and they don't really give a damn about HOW they do it. Of course, there's nothing I want more than to be proven wrong, but that simply cannot happen until next basho.

As for the Yusho, this one's really hard. Most would say Hakuho, since he hasn't looked to be in trouble too many times, whereas Asa had to work hard for many of his wins, but me, I say Asashoryu bags this sucker tomorrow, because his will to win is just too much for Hakuho to handle right now (hungry after the suspension and all that). Of course, since I don't like Asashoryu one bit, there's nothing more I'd like than being proven wrong.

I'm all done for now, but Mike wraps it all up tomorrow. See you in March and may your sumo be good.

Day 13 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Coming into my very first Friday the 13th report, the primary questions bangin' 'bout in my "cabetha" were, in no particular order: Will Kaio stop Hak, Tenku drop Kak, and Asa pop Spock (allright, he's not Leonard Nimoy, but he's the closest thing to a Vulcan we have in sumo)? What I WASN'T ruminating on was just how many ex-Ozeki is Ama going to publicly backdoor? (As it turns out there are only two and he done 'em both.) Each question was answered pretty much the way I figured it would be, but that didn't drain them of drama. Far from it, Day 13's big bouts were, despite the predictability of their outcomes, some of the most contentious this basho.

But let's start with a run through the Maegashira. The first bout of note was Kaiho executing a fine sukuinage before Kasugao knew what hit him. There has been more than the usual number of these lightning quick sukuinages this time out (by Sexy, Wakanosato, Kaiho). Unquestionably one of my two favorite kimarite (along with Drop Kick To The Lumbar). Kokkai (who pissed me off by pulling a henka two days after I praised his sumo) wrapped up the young Wakanoho with a strong morozashi from the early going and backed him up and out in a second. The Nikibi armbarred Ichi at tachi-ai, but the rookie backed away and wiggled out of it, retreating and slapping the overextended Zitster down to his 9th! loss. 

Homasho got schooled by Tamanoshima, who stood him up at tachi-ai and managed rather easily to push him back and out after some short arm tussling. There is something wrong with Homasho that none of us knows yet. 3-10 for Peter at this stage in his career I can understand, but the heretofore steady as a rock Homey? I ain't buying it. 

Hokutoriki continued to reap "that which he hath sown" by getting fooled on a big ol' henka from Yoshikaze. No more here, because I feel Miguel's steely finger on the back of my neck, tapping out it's rigid dictum: Bandwidth. Bandwidth. Bandwidth.

In a bout I was salivating over since yesterday, Baruto vs. my still current fave rikishi (who has been unfortunately stinking up the joint recently, but I'm not a fair weather fanatic) Kakizoe. Coming in low at the start, it's amazing how a man that short can, just by the force of his shoving under the pits, prevent his foe, with a ridiculously long reach, from getting the belt. Kakizoe's strategy worked like a charm as Baruto was lulled into the notion (false) that Kakizoe would continue to hold him up by the pits (gross). He didn't of course, to which Baruto's form spread out on the clay like Greenland attested. 

King Tama henka'd Circus, who did not fall for it, and came at the old man like Kenji after cream. There was some separation, a smack from Tama for his little hoecake Bean, a spinning 360 from Tamakasuga and some chasing scenes in which the protagonist, played by Takamisakari, used his speed and fancy footwork to finally drive out the bad guy, in this case the lovable King. This was a family fight with something for everyone and I give it two thumbs up.

Can a man have any less dignity than Roho? If Kakizoe's bout made me salivate, this one made me micturate. The genial Russian stalled at tachi-ai twice, making Tosanoumi sit on his lunchpail waiting for the foreman to tell everyone to get back to work. When the whistle blew, Roho did his finest Tinkerbell impression and then pull, slap, pull, slap, and finally push out a flummoxed Average Joe, who's just lookin' to punch his timecard and get home to the wife and kids. I hope Goeido flattens his cheap ugly ass tomorrow.

Sexy jumped out of a cake for Futenoh at tachi-ai, but there was no joy at this stag party for while Fruity recovered at the edge, it was only to be slapped down like a rented mule. Not sure why Asa's mate would pull this stunt after both men had KK. 

Wakakirin grabbed a quick armbar on Tochinonada and threw him down toute de suite (in honor of the French website that provides awesome updated replays of each day's bouts).

So the first of the Day 13 trio of biggies had The Kak standing toe to toe with Tokitenku (say THAT three times fast). Both men went for the two handed clavicle attack at the start, and as is his wont these days, The Little Kak That Could snatched after a belt grip with his right hand, but it wasn't there and he got slammed in the neck for his troubles, and then he bent down and went for the same exact grip, only to receive an uppercut from his countryman, who had run out of gas and now was open to The Kak's forward pressure. He grabbed an outside right and a left on the front of Tenku's belt and from there it was a decent Hakuho imitation as he forced Tenku out yorikiri. Dude has been nothing short of tumescent this basho. He has come so far so fast, shooting up the ranks swollen with boundless energy. And while everyone else here at ST is pulling for him, it's odd how Martin loves to ride The Kak every chance he gets. 

Kyokutenho and The Kid locked up in a big belt battle after a bit of nodowa and chest slapping. With identical outside left, inside right belt holds, it was a contest of who has the strength. Old as he is, Tenho got the job done by throwing the Osaka Komusubi-to-be using nuttin' but pure (former) Mongolian chikara!

Goeido would have to be a numbnut not to have in his foremind the idea that Geeku might henka, after seeing that bit of nastiness vs. Tokitenku yesterday. That's all the advantage Kotoshogiku needed as he powered through a non-existent tachi-ai by Goeido, who knew he had lost the thing and started retreating, grabbing a last ditch belt that was as useless as tits on a rain barrel, despite Geeku's banged up condition. I'm with Mike, Geeku lost a ton 'o respect for that Day 12 Sadogatake sized dookie he left on the dohyo. No matter what you saw today, it was two wins for the price of one henka.

I have two choices in describing the Ama/MiFlobbyama bout. I can write it all out, or I can tell you all to go and read my Day 8 report on Ama/Dejima, because it was pretty much the exact same bout. "Harite pimp slap" forcing his foe to the left followed by sliding back belt grab that turned the former Ozeki around and put him in Manlove mode. Lock and load! The only difference today was it was a slightly more henkaish move today by Ama and Miyabi, unlike Dejima, had enough self-respect to forego trying to win from that San Fran bathhouse position while thousands of mouthbreathers watch and cheer. 

Two big disappointments this time out, 4-8 Toyonoshima and 5-7 Aminishiki, had a lackluster (cause it lacked luster, duh) bout, weak tachi-ai followed by lots of hand checking and a final Shneaky fall forward that Toyo timed well with an elbow push. This is fighting to avoid MK? As for Toyo, he be goin' the wrong way in Osaka. Wake up and smell the cat food, brohim.

It's beating a dead horse by now, but Kotooshu will forever have trouble with tough little guys like Toyonoshima and Takekaze. His balance is getting visibly worse each basho (and what in the name of Shukan Gendai was that dive on Day 12?).  Maybe he can't flex those knees. At any rate, he was undone from the get go as Takekaze used his noggin (physically) by smashing into the Ozeki and then used his noggin (mentally) by shifting very quickly and letting the kadoban Bulgar Keystone Cop his way out to his 6th loss. I have no qualms with tiny Takekaze doing a little dance after the initial hit. This giant Ozeki should be able to hold up enough at tachi-ai to avoid the flop yet bring enough to handle any sliding away by his much smaller foe. At 10-3, Takekaze's hangs to the knees, at 7-6, Kotooshu's is cream cheese. Huge Day 14 coming up for Kotooshu vs. Kakuryu. I'm psyched.

The second of the big three fights had Asashoryu trying to keep his record at one loss. As has been the case in recent basho, Mitsuki came out like a man embarrassed to have lost every bout for five years to the same man, desperate to get in on the belt and throw the Yokozuna. Asa gave the face slap at a tachi-ai Mitsuki won. Mitsuki immediately grabbed an outside back left, inside right belt and acted as if he was going for a throw, but Asa grabbed him around the neck so he quickly changed tactics and went for the forward push, driving Asa to the edge where he stiffened like a hinge and snapped them both back to the center of the ring. At this point they both had outside left belts and as Mitsuki tried for the spinning throw, Asa grabbed an inside right and used the leverage to stop their momentum. 

Kotomitsuki had now lost the bout as his energy was sapped and the Yokozuna was adjusting his grip on the mawashi and setting his legs for the throw that would follow as sure as eggs is eggs. As Asa went for a makikae, the Ozeki drove forward and sniffed victory, but the Khan hasn't 21 yusho in the bag because he's lucky. He simultaneously blocked an inside left and twirled Mitsuki around, using his enormous right arm strength to flip his foe, all the while having the wherewithal to use his free left hand to pull Mitsuki's neck over to ensure he fell on top of him, which he did with a huge thud. Clearly the best bout of the basho and one that may even get fans back on Asa's side, (and he might even start getting his fair share of kensho banners from the advertisers again).

Hakuho took on the resurgent gent Kaio, and while the fans got their money's worth, this one was never in doubt. Kaio leaned on the Yokozuna holding a nice firm inside left, but could do nothing with it because if he got a centimeter closer, Hakuho would grab the outside right he was fishing  for, looking like some octopus trying to dig a clam out of a crevice. So Kaio remained at an awkward position, with Hakuho trying to body him up closer, and at one point going halfheartedly for a makikae, at which point Kaio started a forward surge that got the crowd buzzing a bit. Then after a stall, Hakuho did in fact get the makikae, but Kaio recovered and both men now held inside right hand belt grips. The difference? Hakuho is a young and hung 23, Kaio is a feisty but crusty 34. Breathing like Arbo on Ladies Night, one could almost hear the regret and sadness of those missed Yokozuna promotion chances in Kaio's final gasp as he allowed himself to be shoved back and out.

I'm busy running for the glory on Sunday, and therefore Lucky Mikey will be devouring that epic battle we've been hearing about on Senshuraku. 

Martin puts a stake through Day 14's heart tomorrow. Be well people.

Day 12 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The Japanese public has largely accepted the reality that two Mongolians are dominating the sport, but you couldn't help but notice that the leaderboard coming into today contained four Mongolians and no one else. In fact at the end of the day, if you wanted to be generous and extend the leaderboard to rikishi with three losses, the only native you'd have is Takekaze. Ugh. Regardless, sumo fans who are able to look past the race of the rikishi can appreciate the fact that the level of sumo is being taken to new heights fueled by the Mongolian rikishi. Appreciate 'em. Let's cover the bouts in chronological order today.

Juryo rikishi, Sakaizawa, made his first appearance in the Makuuchi division only to be greeted by a quick kote-nage throw from M15 Yoshikaze at the tachi-ai. Sakaizawa survived the move and began pushing Yoshikaze back towards the straw, but Yoshikaze made that last gasp pull attempt has he slid sideways across the rope spilling Sakaizawa to the dirt just as Yoshikaze himself touched down. The gunbai went to Yoshikaze, but a mono-ii was called for and unfortunately they ruled that both rikishi hit at the same time making us watch these two fight again. In the rematch Sakaizawa went Rocky Balboa which meant that he just stood there and took punishing blows from his opponent with his hands at his side. Yoshikaze (6-6) finally went to the inside and secured a deep left arm that he used to throw Sakaizawa off balance and across the ring before forcing him out at the edge. Why must these scrubs make me waste so much bandwidth from the get-go?

Speaking of doing nothing, M13 Tamanoshima has excelled at it this basho. Juryo Ryuo greeted Peter with a nodowa that worked for a second or two, but then as he usually does, the Mongolian panicked a bit and began to retreat looking for the cheap pulldown. Tamanoshima followed Ryuo back, but was apparently uncomfortable with the forward moving momentum, so he too backpedaled and tried a pulldown, a move that Ryuo pounced on and used to push Tamanoshima out with ease sending the former Sekiwake to his 10th loss.

I didn't think that M14 Takamisakari would struggle with these lower rikishi as he has been this basho, but he's a great matchup against M12 Tosanoumi. First, Bean can take punishment like no other, which helps him stand in there against Tosanoumi's tachi-ai, and second, he's so damn gangly that it's easy for him to get an arm on the inside and force the bout to the belt. Wasn't necessary today as he stopped Tosanoumi at the tachi-ai forcing the blue collar man to lower his head and dig in only to be slapped down by a quick pull attempt from Takamisakari who evens things at 6-6 while Tosanoumi at 3-9 has a Juryo date with Tamanoshima in March.

The sumo got better with this next bout, which is strange because it featured M10 Wakanoho. The Russian waited patiently in his stance before greeting M15 Tochiohzan with a quick right hari-te and reaching his long arm around Oh's side to grab the early left uwate. He pressed straightway by swinging Tochiohzan around and back forcing his opponent completely upright at the tawara where he was a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am force-out from there. Wakanoho has deservedly taken a lot from us contributors, but today's sumo was perfect stuff, and might I add that I love to see a Russian clinch kachi-koshi with straightforward sumo. Tochiohzan's earlier momentum has cooled now at 6-6.

One of the most compelling match-ups in the first half featured M9 Kokkai vs. M16 Ichihara, but the bout was ruined from the start by an ugly henka from the Itch. In order for a henka to work, it's gotta be executed swiftly, but Ichihara isn't exactly built to leap to the side in a flash. He more or less stood up early (looked like a false start to me) and moved to his right eliminating any hope of a smashing tachi-ai. The two then began trading weak tsuppari alternated by bad pull attempts until they finally hooked up with heads low and arms on each other's shoulders. After about five seconds of the pain, Kokkai went for that phantom pull downwards that didn't really pull on anything, nevertheless, Ichihara crashed to the dirt. What a waste of a good matchup, but I guess Kokkai'll take the 7-5 mark while Ichihara falls to 6-6.

M16 Kaiho took the imitative from the tachi-ai today against M10 Wakakirin, who just stood up at the start instead of lunging forward. Tamanoi-oyakata (Tochiazuma's old man) in the booth today correctly stated that Wakakirin was worried about a henka from Kaiho; thus the ugly tachi-ai. Kaiho came out with a good thrusting attack that drove Wakakirin back step by step disallowing the youngster to really dig in and counter. When Kaiho tired out from the constant thrusting, Wakakirin moved in just in time to be greeted by a quick pull attempt from Kaiho (6-6) who slipped to the side near the edge. Wakakirin falls to a dangerous 3-9 and must win two more to keep himself in the division. Personally, I'd like to see him fall to Juryo to work on a few things.

M12 Futenoh came with an excellent tachi-ai leading with his left shoulder today against M8 Kakuryu completely disallowing the Mongolian a belt grip or any position, but as he tried to secure the quick left inside position, Kakuryu backed up and moved to his right forcing Futenoh to adjust and try to catch his quicker opponent. Kakuryu was too fast, however, and was able to work his way to the side of Futenoh and just yank his off-balance opponent towards the straw where a final slap on the ass sent Futenoh out in a rather uneventful affair. Like the Kokkai - Ichihara matchup, this was a bout that had so much potential but didn't really pan out. At least here we had a superb tachi-ai from Futenoh...he just couldn't follow it up, and Kakuryu responded the only way he could today, which was to move and pull. No harm no foul with either rikishi, but look at the Kak shooting to this 10-2 record so far while Futenoh is dribbling a bit now at 8-4.

M7 Takekaze used a henka to his left to avoid a belt confrontation with M13 Iwakiyama and instead of trying to pull the Hutt down, he inserted his left arm deep into Iwakiyama's right side and immediately began spinning Iwakiyama sideways and off balance. Iwakiyama tried to recover and regain his footing so he could grab Takekaze's belt, but the smaller Takekaze was just too quick and used his unfair advantage from the start to finally pull Iwakiyama down to the loss. Takekaze's 9-3 mark is all shiny and sparkly, but it's not the result of good sumo. Iwakiyama falls to 8-4 and is the better rikishi...this basho anyway.

M11 Kasugao obviously read my comments about Wakanoho and how I was disappointed that he didn't clinch his kachi-koshi with a henka, so the Korean complied beautifully jumping to his right against the hapless M6 Hokutoriki just slapping him to the dirt for the ugly win. Afterwards, they caught up with Hokutoriki as he headed to the dressing room, and he said, "He's never henka'd me before, so it really caught me off guard." As for Kasugao, the fact that he picked up his eigth win with a henka tells you that he is not confident in his sumo to have picked it up otherwise. That's why you never see this guy higher than M5 or so. Hokutoriki is 6-6, but can't be too upset now can he?

I think it was halftime at this point because as often happens at say a basketball game in the states, they bring in these little kids and let them play a five minute game of sloppy basketball up and down the court where that thing called a pass is as rare an uneventful night home with the kids for Britney. Today's halftime entertainment featured some amateur stuff from two guys named Tamakasuga and Kakizoe who traded upright tsuppari before KingTama began pushing at Kakizoe's neck forcing the smaller Zoe to stare straight at the ceiling. When that move wasn't working, the King went for a kubi-nage throw, but as I always explain, the only way that move works is if it's set up with another tactic using the other hand or a leg or something. Tamakasuga is too slow to do that these days and knew he was in trouble, so he spun out of the neck hold with a 360 degree pirouette that actually worked!! Well, it worked to the extent that Kakizoe didn't launch him into the first row afterwards. As the two began scrapping again in the center of the ring, Kakizoe finally just slapped the King to the dirt ending the halftime entertainment. Sweet Zoe Jane moves to just 3-9 with the win while the King falls to the same mark.

Speaking of sweet, M4 Wakanosato is just that against taller rikishi because he has this knack for getting the quick moro-zashi grip. That was the case today against M8 Toyohibiki who could do nothing but sorta dig in at the tawara, but Wakanosato was relentless in his moro-zashi charge and added insult to injury at the edge by shoving Toyohibiki down hard on his back at the straw instead of just driving him out. Both rikishi are now just 4-8, but Wakanosato has enjoyed some outstanding wins this basho.

M3 Goeido used a quick left hari-te at the tachi-ai to set up the deep inside position on the right against the listless M7 Homasho. Homie did comply with a left outer grip on that side, but Goeido ain't gonna lose this one with that sorta position as he just methodically forced Homasho back grabbing the left uwate in the process before using his body perfectly to force Homasho across the straw. Goeido moves to 5-7 with the win and still has a shot at kachi-koshi. The only word I can use to describe Homasho (3-9) is measly.

It was a given today that M6 Baruto was gonna give up the quick moro-zashi position to M2 Toyonoshima today, but he did this the last time they met and came away victorious, so why not? Well, this basho Baruto's left knee has disallowed him the ability to dig in, so that's why he didn't want to do it. It happened anyway as Toyonoshima is just too quick, but Baruto was able to keep Toyonoshima at bay with a smothering right uwate and his sheer mass. In this position, Baruto was in no position to execute any sort of offensive, and he knew it, so after a 15 second stalemate in the center of the ring, the Estonian executed an incredible maki-kae with the left arm forcing the bout to the gappuri hidari yotsu position. Now with the left arm on the inside, Baruto was able to wrench Toyonoshima straight up and easily force him out from there. Great sumo today from Baruto who survives at 5-7. Toyonoshima's make-koshi becomes official at 4-8.

Who didn't see an ugly tachi-ai henka coming from M5 Roho today? Well, M2 Miyabiyama didn't as Roho jumped to his left at the start and just pushed the Sheriff out from behind in the ugly affair. Roho has seven losses, so you know he's going to resort to this kind of crap the remainder of the basho. I can't remember the last time dude scored a clean kachi-koshi. The Sheriff falls to the same 5-7 mark.

Komusubi Kotoshogiku made his return to the dohyo today with his right leg heavily taped. The last guy he wanted to see was M1 Tokitenku, however, who has dominated the Geeku in the past and was enjoying a six bout win streak coming in. But the Geeku had a plan and unfortunately jumped to his left at tachi-ai and committed a grievous henka against Tokitenku slapping him to the dirt. Where do I even start? First, while I still do have a little bit of respect for Kotoshogiku, I lost most of it after today's move. Why even come back and join the basho if you're going to do that? What, did you think your shikona was Kotoshoho? Who is going to applaud Kotoshogiku for coming back if he's gonna henka his way to a kachi-koshi? I frankly think it has to do with the attitude that prevails at the Sadogatake-beya, which is slide this way and that when you really need the win. Kotooshu constantly did it during his run to Ozeki, and Kotomitsuki frequently does it to rikishi whom he knows he can't handle straight up. Why taint such an outstanding performance in week 1 with a blatant, cowardly henka? The Geeku moves to 7-5 with the gimmick and must get past my man Goeido tomorrow. Tokitenku falls to 6-6 and like Hokutoriki can't feel totally gypped by today's circumstance; it's the fans that got robbed.

Komusubi Dejima came straight up today against M3 Tochinonada and attacked a bit from the right side so as to choke off the left inside position from Nada, and it worked to a point, but the Gentle Giant was able to finally wrench Dejima up and nearly off balance with the left arm, but the former Ozeki survived. Problem was when they hooked back up, Tochinonada had the firm left inside position and was able to bully Dejima this way and that before finally inviting a frustrating pull attempt from Dejima that Tochinonada (5-7) capitalized on for the final push out. Pretty good stuff from these two vets today although Dejima only has two wins for his trouble this basho.

In one of the most anticipated matchups of the day, Sekiwake Ama faced M1 Kisenosato, but the bout was anticlimactic as Ama stepped to his right at the tachi-ai grabbing the cheap right kote-nage position that he used to easily spill Kisenosato to the dirt. Some might debate whether or not this was a henka because Ama did make contact with his left arm before he moved to his right, but in my book it was. It was akin to a yotsu guy like Kotomitsuki moving to either side only to mask it by grabbing the cheap uwate instead of making it obvious with the dirty pull down. The fact of the matter is, Ama wanted no part of Kisenosato today in a yotsu contest, and he lacked the confidence to set anything up with the nodowa attack. This bout probably explains why Ama (7-5) hasn't been as sharp as he was the last two basho. Kisenosato falls to 8-4 but still should pick up a deserved Ginosho for his efforts (Ama will likely get another Shukunsho and Kakuryu the Kantosho).

Yotsu-zumo fans were all anticipating the Kaio - Kyokutenho matchup today, and the Ozeki didn't disappoint gaining his usual left inside position but also surprising Kyokutenho by not going for the right outer position as he usually does and instead opting to go for moro-zashi keeping his right arm in tight. The move worked to perfection giving Kaio the desired position, and even though he didn't have two solid inner belt grips, nobody uses their body like Kaio, and he was able to easily force Kyokutenho back and out in mere seconds. You gotta appreciate Kaio's effort today as he simply dissected Kyokutenho as he moves to a stellar 8-4 mark for him. Tenho falls to 9-3, and memo to NHK, we don't need to see the three loss rikishi on the leaderboard. In fact every basho where you have both Yokozuna fighting healthy, forget about the three loss rikishi.

In another compelling match-up from the Ozeki ranks, Kotomitsuki entertained the red-hot M4 Asasekiryu. Sexy looked to grab the lower position from the tachi-ai, but Kotomitsuki kept him out brilliantly with a kachi-age move with the right hand that not only kept Asasekiryu from getting low and to the inside, but gave Kotomitsuki the firm left outer grip on the other side. Seki briefly flirted with a left outer grip of his own, which would have set up the gappuri-yotsu contest, but Kotomitsuki was too good today as he wrenched the M4 up breaking off the grip. Asasekiryu tried to hunker down and dig in at this point, but Kotomitsuki had him in two ways. First, he denied Asasekiryu the equalizing left outer grip, and second, he kept Asasekiryu up high. There was really nothing Sexy could do as Kotomitsuki pounced quicker than he usually does and easily forced Asasekiryu (8-4) back and out for the good win. This was a huge win for Kotomitsuki who improves to 7-5 because I don't see him beating either of the Khan, so he'll likely enter senshuraku at 7-7 and get a hot rikishi.

Ozeki Kotooshu didn't seem to have the fear in his eyes as he did yesterday against Asashoryu, but he definitely didn't have any resolve in his approach today against Yokozuna Hakuho. Hakuho pressed the action first with a tsuppari attack coupled with some well timed slaps that connected directly to the side of Kotooshu's grill. In an unorthodox affair, the two danced around the ring with Hakuho the aggressor and Kotooshu the one fighting off the attack. Hakuho used a nice left inashi (push from the side) to throw Kotooshu off balance and that was followed up by another great hari-te, but Hakuho never got the belt and continued his grizzly bear attack. In the end, it looked to me as if Kotooshu just took a dive, but Hakuho did get his left arm on the inside of the Ozeki to earn the sukui-nage kimarite. I can't think of any reason why Kotooshu would throw the bout, so my deduction is that he was tired of getting beat up and took the dive on his own. Nonetheless, that was a pitiful performance from an Ozeki. Kotooshu falls to 7-5 but should find a way to pick up a kachi-koshi with the two Yokozuna behind him. As for Hakuho (11-1), he only needs to watch for a Kotomitsuki sly side-step to waltz into senshuraku maintaining his one loss.

Yokozuna Asashoryu capped off the day against Sekiwake Aminishiki using a quick left hari-te that set up the outer grip on the same side. The Yokozuna continued to press the action straightway by using his right arm to lift up Aminishiki from the inside. Ami was had at this point as the Yokozuna swiftly forced him sideways and to the straw, but he did try a brief maki-kae with the left arm that actually did give him moro-zashi, but it was far too little far too late as the Yokozuna had Sneaky standing straight up on the straw at this point leaving him nowhere to go but back. Aminishiki has been off all basho, but don't count him out at 5-7. He doesn't carry the sneaky mantle around for nuttin'. As for Asashoryu, he's in cruise control heading into the final day.

We've had a short leaderboard for most of week two, which is the way it should be. At the end of today's festivities, the short-list looks like this:

1 loss: Hakuho, Asashoryu
2 losses: Kakuryu

As for the Kak, he's really a pretender there, but you can't take anything away from his brilliant performance this basho. As he's paired with rikishi much higher on the banzuke, he will fall by the wayside.

And as for the Yokozuna, they don't necessarily need to head into senshuraku with the same number of losses to keep things interesting. It's game on as long as one of them doesn't suffer a two bout losing streak the next two days, a scenario about as likely as Clancy sucking in his reporting duties tomorrow.

Day 11 Comments (Mark Arbo reporting)
Can you feel it? Can you?? There is an epic battle brewing. A battle not unlike Takemikazuchi's besting of Takeminakata all those years ago.  When Asashoryu Akinori was briefly vanquished six months ago, he had been set to tie Takanohana for 4th on the all time yusho list. This relatively young and healthy Yokozuna could not step onto the dohyo with out breaking records. Asashoryu's ambition was matched only by his skill. His creativity and ring-awareness had to be seen to be believed. Asashoryu has taken more than half the yusho since his Makuuchi debut 7 years ago.

Countryman Hakuho's entire carrier has been spent in the shadow of Asashoryu. 5 years younger, Hakuho has been looking up to Dolgorsürengiin Dagvadorj his whole life. Hakuho is a talented, powerful athlete who in just about any other time would have dominated the sport. However, despite making almost everyone in the Jo'i tremble, Hakuho has in some ways, been seen as the secondary Yokozuna who has had to settle for the scraps of what Shoryu didn't consume. Before Asashoryu's suspension Hakuho had won 3 yusho. One of which was by henka and, by most accounts, a gift from Asa. One of which Asa was absent. That only leaves one truly dominant performance.

With Asa relaxing in Mongolian mud baths Hakuho finally got to spread his white wings. Hak easily took both yusho in Asa's absence and finally got a taste of what it's like to really be a Grand Champion. Hakuho's confidence skyrocketed, and he finally took the East Yokozuna spot.

So the New Year's tournament began with Hakuho eager to prove his validity to his mentor and nemesis. Hakuho wants to be seen as an equal. Asashoryu, on the other hand, is looking to reassert his dominance and get back on track to break every record in the sport. Asa wants to be seen as unequalled.

Thus far in the basho Hakuho has been looking strong. He had dismantled just about everyone put in front of him until yesterday when Ama (another obscenely talented Mongolian) got the better of him. Asashoryu's basho saw a loss and several close calls in the early stages, but his sumo has grown stronger as the basho evolved, and fighters and fans alike are starting to remember who he is and what he is capable of.

These two warriors are on a collision course. They have left the pack behind and are set to meet in a fight that will have so much more meaning than just a yusho. More meaning than any sumo match I can remember. Sure something could go wrong, and by the time these guys get to fight the yusho could already be decided, but it won't. This epic battle is meant to be. Sumo needs it.

But first let's look at the chaff before we tackle the wheat...

Coming off 3 losses in a row, Ichihara almost picked up his 4th against Wakakirin.  Wakakirin (who just picked up his 8th loss) backed him up with tsuppari but couldn't quite put the big boy away.  The highlight of this one was when Kirin threw a wild backhand at Ichihara.  Oh Wakakirin,  your sumo has no place in Makuuchi, but I still so wish you could stay.  You fight like a pimp; high on PP and ready to defend or bdat a hoecake each and every moment.  So much anger for such humble skills.

In what (at least for me) looked to be the most promising of the match-ups that have no bearing on the outcome of the tournament whatsoever, Kokkai came out with another fierce elbow at the tachi-ai that landed square on Mt. Iwaki's already concave face.  Kokkai backed him up, but Iwaki countered with a tsukiotoshi at the rope.  A mono-ii was called, and Iwakiyama was rewarded the "W" for an early KK.  Not bad for a guy who was in Juryo last basho.

In a damage control match, Kakizoe and Toyohibiki traded pull-down attempts till Biki moved it from "R" to "D" and pushed Zoe out with Miyabi-esque lumbering tsuppari.  They are both drooping like Britney's knickers come next banzuke (I happened on a few other images I really wanted to use with that smile), but every win they can etch out will benumb their descent.

Tochiohzan pushed Kakuryu back to the edge of the dohyo right from the tachi-ai but Kak held on, attempting several throws and and then moving the action back to the centre of the dohyo. As Tochiohzan was thinking uwatenage, Kakuryu slipped his right foot behind Tochiohzan's left leg and pushed backward with his left hand sending Tochiohzan straight back on to his keister. This was a beautiful judo type sotogahe by a talented rikishi who is here to stay.

Yesterday Futenoh withstood a surprising (and stupid) henka attempt by invigorated Kokkai to pick up his KK. Today Takekaze got in close off the tachi-ai and as Futenoh already appeared to be slipping finished him with a sukuinage. Takekaze to joins the KK Klub.

Going into today's Wakanoho/Hokutoriki pairing I was, best case scenario, hoping for some kind of vicious animal attack at the Kokugikan that would be localized entirely in the dohyo. I was, at least hoping for a sexy double henka. This didn't happen and they met fair and and square in the middle of the ring. Wakanoho backed him up but then fell to Hokutoriki's well practised pull-down. At 7-4, the only thing more disturbing that Wakanoho's sumo is the ease at witch he is set to KK. Hokutoriki also may pull a KK out of his mawashi...lucky us!

Tamakasuga seemed to be controlling Kasugao with a series of pushes to the Korean's throat. But out of nowhere Kasugao reached behind Tama, grabbed his elbow, and flipped him down. It was called a tsukiotoshi, but it looked a whole lot more like a kotenage to me. What ever it was, it was impressive how Kasugao pulled it out of nowhere with no set up at all.

Riding a 4-day win streak, Hakurozan may just scrape out a KK from Juryo-3. Big ugly brother Roho might also have a chance of a KK in J-3 but in M-4, he doesn't. Nevertheless, fresh off a surprise Yokozuna date, today Roho looked great! (After writing that I kind of feel..."ickey"). Today, he and Baruto locked up in the centre of the ring, and Roho overpowered him (What is this Bizarro World???) with a beautiful outer arm throw. This match served to remind me of how much power Roho actually has and what a waste it is that he fights such crap sumo. Let's hope the day is not too far off when Roho will join his equally homely little brother and together they can battle young-up-and-comers and  old-down-and-outers as Juryo mainstays. Ride on brothers Boradzov! 

Just like every other one for the past 5 years, this has be a great basho for Mongolians. Sure the obvious characters are having fantastic outings, but so are these two guys: Kyokutenho has been the token "guy-on-the-leader-board-who-everyone-knows-won't-be-there-come-senshuraku", and Asasexy, the other Mongolian from the Takasago stable. Sexy came in low, and that's where he stayed. He patiently worked first his left and then his right hand into Tenho's mawashi and then mounted his final assault pushing his senpai out and into his second loss.

Homasho, Homasho, Homasho.  What the jahannam is going on in your head these days?  The only thing crisp asbout his sumo has been the bows before he exits the dohyo.  Today Homey was easily pushed out by fellow 3 'n 7 'er Tochinonada.

In a battle of 4 'n 6 'ers, Mt. Miyabi came out with a bit of tsuppari, but Toyonoshima quickly got a piece of his mawashi.  Miyabiyama locked his arms up, and they stayed in this stalemate for some time.  During the break, I enjoyed a delicious dries persimmon (hoshi-gaki) and looked around the ringside audience--not one pretty girl in site (but an unproportionate number of people wearing red...strange).  The match ended like it started with Miyabi returning to powerful thrusts that, this time, sent Toyonoshima awkwardly rolling off the dohyo.

After a popping tachi-ai, Goeido got in deep on Dejima's belt.  Both were leaning in when Goeido released his right and used it to pull down on the back of Dej's head while also pulling with his left mawashi hand.  I have no problem with this type of pull-down, and right now Goeido needs every win he can get.

Getting back to the Mongolians, Ama had a great tachi-ai against Tokitenku, and with legs pumping, backed him up right to the straw.  But Tokitenku dug in and with favourable mawashi grips pushed Ama right back across the ring and out for his 5th loss.  As far too often is the case, Ama wins the difficult fight yesterday but drops th ball in what should have been the easy on today.

Still just one win away from the 8 that I am sure he will get Kaio put up little resistance as Kisenosato yorikiri-ed the Ozeki out for his own KK. During this fight I finally found a pretty girl in the stands.

Not even the power of K. Heilman is enough to change the mind of the NSK, and today Kotomitsuki faced off against Wakanosato, as planned, and not Hakuho as Kenji seemed to think yesterday.  And it's a good thing he wasn't in there with a Yokozuna because it took everything he had in his tank just to down the M4.  Mitsuki came out looking for a pull down, but Waka got a hold of his right arm wrenching i painfully.  When KotoM was finally able to retrieve his arm, Waka went straight for a kubinage.  Mitsuki's head slipped, but Waka had already committed to the throw and spun sideways.  From this position, Sato could do nothing but get shoved out by the Ozeki.

Now for the wheat...

The Kotooshu/Asashoryu match was over before it began.  Asa's eyes said, "Boy, you're going to die," while Kotooshu's eyes were screaming "his eyes are right...I am going to die!".  When the fight finally started, Kotooshu attempted little offence and leaned waaaaay forward, whispering "please sir, just pull me down."  In perfect Mongolian, Asa did go for the pull-down, but Koto-Shoe was in the sand before he could execute it.

Tsuppari has become a powerful weapon in Hakuho's arsenal.  Today against Aminishiki, Hak seemed to be going belt off the tachi-ai, but then switched gears and let the boys fly.  Facing a  barrage of powerful blows to the face and throat, AmiN was out of the ring quicker than you can say Ike Turner.  Our Hakuho has grown into quite the little pugilist.

Writing these reports can be VERY time consuming, and sometimes I write parts of them before hand so they can get put up on the page asap. For example, I actually wrote the intro to this report last night. I was talking to Martin about the dangers of lauding the Asa/Hakuho battle 19 hours before I even knew if they were going to win their respective matches today. But like I said, this one is meant to be. I have faith that this yusho will be decided on the final bout of the final day. Enjoy!

Mike is going to grade the daikon tomorrow.

Day 10 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
Today wraps up the "Chubansen", or middle five days, which means the home stretch is in sight and thus we can really start talking about the yusho picture. After checking the leader board at the conclusion of today's bouts, I think you'll agree we're in a for a good finish. 

Hakuho came into today as the only undefeated rikishi and was matched up against Sekiwake Ama, who had won the previous two meetings. The trend continued as the little Mongolian's swift maneuvering yet again toppled the Yokozuna. Haku went with a harite at the tachi-ai to help secure the right uwate, but Ama's simultaneous movement to his own right was quicker and more agile. This allowed Ama to get around Haku and grab the belt from behind, after which he followed up with a fluid uwate-nage to dump Hakuho to his first loss in 2008. Ama improves to 6-4 and still holds an outside chance at 10 wins again. 

Like a predator moving in for the kill, Asashoryu had just witnessed his counterpart's first slip of the basho. You just knew he would take advantage and even himself up after that. And that he did against M4 Wakanosato (3-7). Despite a respectable effort by the veteran Waka, he was no match for the hurricane of offense put forth by Sho. The Yokozuna got inside immediately, got moro-zashi and never let up. Despite forging an inside grip on Sho's right, Waka was forced out easily. 

In the Ozeki ranks, Kaio (7-3) has reeled off four straight victories now as he bested Sekiwake Aminishiki (6-4). Ami got a shallow moro-zashi coming off the tachi-ai but tried an ill-advised pull that led to his demise. Kaio rode the momentum for and easy oshi-dashi win. After trading wins for losses early on, Kaio looks back on the up and up. 

Another Ozeki on the mend is Kotomitsuki, who evened his record to 5-5 against uninspired Roho (3-7). After locking into migi-yotsu position, Mitsuki unleashed a well timed uwate-dashi nage to send Roho reeling across the ring. It was enough, since we've all seen that even the slightest upset in Roho's balance is enough to make him give up on the bout. Mitsuki is coming around just in time for his match-up tomorrow against none other than Hakuho. 

Kotooshu got one step closer to holding rank (7-3). His victim was M4 Asasekiryu (7-3), who's had been looking very solid until today. Oshu so dominated this bout that I had to do a double take, thinking I was watching Chiyotaikai in his prime or something. No belt needed, just a strong pushing attack that took all of three seconds. A big win, considering his opponent tomorrow: Asashoryu. 

Down in the ranks, the other one-loss rikishi, M10 Kyokutenho, kept pace despite a valiant effort by M15 Tochiohzan (6-4) to topple him. Tochi got moro-zashi and applied pressure throughout, but the calm Tenho took it in stride and won via hiki-otoshi to keep pace with his Mongolian seniors. 

Two others reached the 8-win mark today. M8 Kakuryu (8-2) continued his impression campaign with a win over M7 Takekaze (7-3) and M12 Futenoh (8-2) survived M9 Kokkai's (6-4) tachi-ai henka to eventually garner his preferred hidari-yotsu position before going on to win. 

The leaderboard after day 10 is a Mongolian mix of Hakuho, Asashoryu, and Kyokutenho at 9-1, followed by M8 Kakuryu and M12 Futenoh (the lone Japanese) each at 8-2. The cream has risen to the top. I'm hoping for an epic 13-1 clash of Yokozuna on day 14. Enjoy the homestretch. 

Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The biggest news heading into day 9 was also the worst news as Komusubi Kotoshogiku was forced to withdraw from the basho after spraining his right knee yesterday against Hakuho. Kotoshogiku was definitely third best this basho, but when you step back and look at things, both of his losses came at the hands of the Yokozuna, and neither bout was close. It just goes to show the huge gap between the Khan and everyone else. As we head into the second half of the basho, the yusho will stay in the Yokozuna ranks; the question now is can anybody pick Hakuho off before Asa gets him? As mentioned earlier on this site, the Ozeki in week two are actually gonna be a step down in competition, so it's reasonable to believe that both Yokozuna will only have that one loss between them as we head into senshuraku.

Let's get right to the action where the withdrawal of Chiyotaikai means that Hakuho must dig deeper in the well of Maegashira rikishi for a replacement opponent, and today's lucky winner was Wakanosato, who usually does well against taller opponents because he can get on the inside, but Hakuho's tachi-ai has been too good this basho, and he managed a right arm on the inside so deep that he was able to stand Wakanosato completely upright. On the other side Hakuho flirted with a left outer grip but opted to just continuing lifting Wakanosato upright by pulling pulling up at his elbow. After gathering his wind for a few seconds after the tachi-ai, Hakuho unleashed a kote-nage throw with the left arm that felled Wakanosato to the dirt in spectacular fashion giving Hakuho the easy win and moving his record to 9-0. As has been bandied about in the press this basho, Hakuho has never won 10 straight as a Yokozuna. He must get through Ama tomorrow if he wants his first double-digit win streak. Wakanosato falls to 3-6 and gets thrown to the wolves tomorrow as he gets the other Yokozuna for his trouble.

Speaking of the other Yokozuna, in the featured bout of the day, Sekiwake Ama used his nodowa tachi-ai against Asashoryu to completely cut of the right inside position from the Yokozuna and stand him so upright that it set up the easy left outer grip, and one and a half seconds in it looked as if Ama had his man, but as only he can do, Asashoryu lifted up at Ama's right elbow all the while staring straight upwards thanks to Ama's choke hold. The counter move from Asa broke off Ama's nodowa and knocked him off balance enough to where Asa was able to grab the equalizing left outer grip himself turning the bout to gappuri yotsu zumo. From this position the two Mongolians would not disappoint as both rikishi dug in for about three seconds before Asa mounted the first attack driving Ama back to the straw and on his tiptoes, but the Yokozuna couldn't close the deal. As Asashoryu regrouped, Ama forced the action back to the center of the ring where the two hunkered down again. After a few seconds, Asashoryu went for the uchi-muso move, and though it failed, it did cause Ama to flinch a bit and lose his solid footing upon which Asashoryu stuck the fork into his opponent by throwing him to the dirt with a powerful left uwate-nage. This was by far the best bout of the basho, and it was fantastic to watch the speed and determination from these two rikishi. The Mongolian's have taken sumo to a new level, and when you get two of the better ones squaring off, you're gonna get a great bout every time. Asashoryu moves to 8-1 and picks up the victory largely because he was the aggressor after the tachi-ai, which was won by Ama (5-4).

M3 Tochinonada is one rikishi that Ozeki Kotomitsuki never wants a piece of, so he always slips to the side at the tachi-ai against him. Today he slyly moved to his right and grabbed the early outer grip that he used to pinch off any decent inside position from Tochinonada on the left side before pulling him around in a circle and completely off balance to the point where he was an easy push-out target from there. Kotomitsuki stops his three bout losing streak moving to 4-5, but he's still got a ways to go for that kachi-koshi as a couple of Khan are coming his way. The Association is prolly aware of this because they're giving him Roho tomorrow. The gentle giant falls to 2-7.

You could just see the pain on M3 Goeido's face yesterday after his bout with Kisenosato because Goeido knew that he had clobbered his opponent to the point where the NHK announcer used words like "complete victory" and "one-sided" to describe his sumo, but he still lost the bout. Today against Ozeki Kaio, the youngster went for the quick right outer grip from the tachi-ai, but an excellent hari-te with the right hand from Kaio threw Goeido off balance a bit and gave Kaio the right armbar grip. From this position, Kaio could have gone for the kote-nage throw, and I think Goeido knew it because he completely aligned his feet allowing Kaio to slip deep on the inside with his left arm using the position to just bully Goeido back to the straw and out. This was indeed a one-sided affair for Kaio who was a step ahead of Goeido the entire bout. At 6-3 Kaio is the best Ozeki in Hatsu, which doesn't say much. Goeido continues his schooling at 2-7.

Komusubi Dejima charged far too low against Ozeki Kotooshu today and never did drive with his lower body as he charged allowing Kotooshu to stop him dead in his tracks and slip around to grab the easy left outer grip. Since Dejima wasn't really movin', Kotooshu just continued to move to his left pulling Dejima to the side by that belt grip and using his right hand to pull down at the back of Dejima's dome as he easily rolled him into the dirt for the easy win. Nothing cheap here from the Bulgarian who improves to 6-3 but still has his work cut out for him in order to keep his rank. Dejima is on the brink at 2-7.

Sekiwake Aminishiki's strategy today against M1 Tokitenku was to stand his ground and try to fight off Tokitenku's thrusts hoping to spin him off balance in order to grab the belt, but Tokitenku saw his opponent well and bullied him quickly back to the tawara essentially cornering his opponent (I a round ring) to where he was able to finish him off with a final shove. Took about three main thrust attempts for Tokitenku who improves to 4-5 while Aminishiki is cooling off fast as 5-4.

M1 Kisenosato got into his crouch early against M5 Roho and waited calmly for the Russian to place both fists to the dirt, and when Roho took his sweet time doing so I thought "uh-oh, here comes a henka", but Roho complied and lunged straight forward...directly into a Kisenosato right outer grip and more importantly a left arm on the inside that was so deep, Roho didn't even come close to an uwate of his own on that side. The Kid pressed straightway pulling Roho over to the side of the dohyo where he just flung him into the first row via yori-kiri it was that overwhelming. Kisenosato just toyed with his inferior opponent today as he picks up his sixth win. Roho falls to 3-6.

M2 Toyonoshima used a curious tachi-ai against M5 Tamakasuga because he didn't lunge forward as he usually does trying to secure the moro-zashi grip. Still, he kept his arms in close as KingTama just walked forward without delivering any effective thrusts. After reading his opponent's initial charge, Toyonoshima pounced using a good nodowa to drive Tamakasuga to the side toward the edge where he finally secured his coveted moro-zashi position using it to force out the King with ease. I expected better from Toyonoshima this basho as he moves to 4-5; Tamakasuga is far exceeding my expectations for him even if he is only 3-6.

M7 Homasho has seemingly lost that blood and guts attitude that allowed him to excel among the jo'i despite some limitations to his sumo. Today he completely neutralized M4 Asasekiryu at the tachi-ai and had Sexy backpedaling to the tawara, but instead of lowering his head and going for the kill, Homasho halted a bit and went for a pulldown instead. Asasekiryu survived the move and climbed right back into the bout executing a pulldown of his own that sent Homasho stumbling out of the dohyo to a 3-6 mark. Sexy is just that at 7-2.

Call me crazy, but I think if you compare Ama back in his eight Makuuchi basho to the current M8 Kakuryu, the Kak is better. Today against M6 Baruto, the Kak shot straight and low into the Estonian's mid-section looking for the frontal position on the belt, and he actually came away with a left uwate, but Baruto's so tall he just reached over the top of his smaller opponent and grabbed an outer grip of his own on the back of Kakuryu's belt. At this point, the Kak knew he was in danger of coming at all, so he went for a maki-kae that did give him the moro-zashi position, but Baruto read the move well and had Kakuryu up against the tawara before he could get repositioned. Just when it looked like the easy forceout win for Baruto, Kakuryu dug in low, used his torso up against Baruto's for leverage, and somehow swung Baruto over and out with a brilliant utchari move. This was fantastic stuff from yet another Mongolian who will be a top ten rikishi in the next few years. Kakuryu moves to 7-2 and is worthy of a special prize this basho in my opinion. Baruto is incredibly 4-5 at this point.

M9 Wakakirin had a memorable bout yesterday against Kakizoe, but that's just it. Wakakirin's a lightweight, and he'll only have success against the smaller rikishi. M6 Hokutoriki would have handed the win to any other rikishi today after a sloppy tachi-ai where his feet were aligned. Wakakirin did move a bit to his left to throw the Jokester off even more, and in this position, Hokutoriki went straight for the pulldown even though he was in no position to execute it. Still, Wakakirin couldn't finish him off. After whiffing and floundering around trying to push Hokutoriki out, Hokutoriki just evaded to his right and slapped the hapless Wakakirin down near the edge. What a terrible bout, but it was a good example of how Wakakirin (2-7) really isn't cut out for this division. Hokutoriki moves to 5-4 with the win.

M7 Takekaze used his speed to halt M11 Kakizoe's tachi-ai and quickly evade to the side forcing Zoe to chase with some wild thrusts, but Takekaze is on a roll, and he watched his opponent well enabling him to set up the easy slap down win. Ginosho sumo it wasn't, but Takekaze will take it as he moves to 7-2. And what's a guy with that record doing fighting a now 1-8 Kakizoe?

It was more classic sumo from M8 Toyohibiki today who came from two steps behind the starting line with a right nodowa into M10 Kyokutenho's neck supplemented by a left arm pushing up into Tenho's pit that had the Chaffeur driven back to the tawara, and just as we were all waiting for the Nikibi to finish his bidness, Tenho somehow slipped out of the move evading to his left leaving Toyohibiki pushing into thin air at the tawara. From there it was easy does it as Kyokutenho escorted Toyohibiki out with ease via okuri-dashi. The youngster snatches defeat from the jaws of victory yet again as he sputters to 2-7. Kyokutenho moves to 8-1 and will be on NHK's leaderboard the next few days, but dunt matter. I'll refrain from typing "Kyokutenho" and "yusho race" in the same sentence out of respect for the yusho race itself. Damn, I just typed those words in the same sentence.

M9 Kokkai who has been on a bit of roll of late used a kachi-age (forearm to the face) tachi-ai against M12 Tosanoumi with his left arm, but the move compromised the Georgian's lower-body stance, and after a flurry of tsuppari from both parties, Tosanoumi was able to pull Kokkai down to the dirt with ease. Kokkai shoulda had this one, but he falls to 6-3 while Tosanoumi only picks up his second win.

In one of the more compelling bouts of the first half, M10 Wakanoho's bad sumo seemed to rub off on opponent M16 Ichihara today as the Itch struck and immediately went for the pulldown. Bad decision as Wakanoho was on the move and sent the compromised Ichihara into the second row with a Molotov cocktail and a match to go. At this point, it didn't matter if the rest of the day's bouts had sucked because seeing the old people scatter when the Itch came their way was worth the price of admission. The Ho improves to 6-3 while reality continues to badger Ichihara at 5-4.

M11 Kasugao looked to set up the quick kote-nage throw from the tachi-ai against M15 Tochiohzan, but Oh used his left leg to keep the Korean's right leg in check never allowing Kasugao to plant firmly enough to execute his favorite move. With his body upright and no grip on his opponent's belt, Kasugao was forced out with ease by Tochiohzan who moves to 6-3 after exhibiting some fine tactical moves today. Kasugao is 5-4.

M13 Tamanoshima has seemingly been giving up early in most of his bouts, so it was no surprise that M12 Futenoh was able to force him out with little trouble despite an average tachi-ai. Futenoh moves to 7-2 with the win, but keep him off the leaderboard NHK. Give us all a break. Peter is 2-7.

There was really no question that M13 Iwakiyama would beat M15 Yoshikaze today, but the fact he did it in a 15 second tsuppari affair was impressive. Married life has put a new spring in the Hutt's step because he kept Yoshikaze in front of him the whole bout and tsupparied him into submission. Iwakiyama improves to 6-3 for his efforts and is just two wins away from keeping his wife nagging him for two months about falling to Juryo. Yoshikaze is 3-6.

And finally, M14 Takamisakari used an early frontal belt grip to wrench M16 Kaiho to the edge, but Kaiho slipped the grip and looked to have the perfect position for the easy push-out, but somehow Bean slipped to the side of Kaiho and obviously jealous of the love Ama got in on Dejima yesterday, he grabbed Kaiho (5-4) from behind in the same brokeback manner to push him out from there. Bean's still got some work to do at 4-5.

Day 9's in the bag, and the two Yokozuna continue to roll. Maybe Ama can put a wrench in Hakuho's streak tomorrow, but I don't see Hakuho getting beat at the tachi-ai as he did in his previous two losses to Ama. After Ama, it's Aminishiki and the Ozeki who will try and stop the if. It's all coming down to the Khan, but we knew that prior to the basho. Let's just hope that the Yokozuna can keep themselves within one loss of each other heading into senshuraku.

Kenji expounds tomorrow.

Day 8 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Rollin rollin rollin, rollin rollin rollin YeeAH!! I luvs thizzol hosswhip! I plan to use it on any Maegashira who gits in mah way. Chagrin as I am to admit it, I screwed the pooch (no, that's not a reference to the Ama/Dejima match!) I started the VCR late thinking I'd catch the first half replays, but wouldn't ya' know it, NHK pulled a fast one on me and didn't show 'em. Still I ask you, am I the kind of guy who is going to let a little thing like not seeing the first seven bouts stop me from commenting on them? We think alike, you and I.

(Clancy rubbing temples, eyes closed with face of ferocious concentration.) Okay, first bout. Takamisakari vs. Chiyohakuho, visiting from Juryo. Lord have mercy, what a name! Sounds like one of those fake but cutesy shikona all us geeks in Nippon and elsewhere make up to "represent" us in on-line sumo gaming. Let's look at the kimarite. Oshidashi. Hmm. Okay, so Bean stood up a bit too high at tachi-ai, letting the smaller Kokonoe pup in and under the pits. As Chiyohakuho drove him back, Bean tried a desperation throw, but the youngster (who looks suspiciously like The Wolf--was there a jungyo in Kumamoto about twenty-five years ago?) kept himself centered and was able to push Circus out as he himself crashed to the dirt. Many thought a mono-ii would be called, but no dice. Takami mopes back to the lockerroom chatting with his tsukebito about whether he has tried the Asashoryu bento yet.

Kaiho vs. Tamanoshima. Kaiho henka'd, Peter recovered and tried to lock up Kaiho's arms, but it was too late as he was forced out yorikiri.

Yoshikaze used a blistering tsuppari attack (that left Futenoh bleeding from the right eye) to grab a deep two handed inside grip. But as he moved the punchdrunk E12 back, a single scarlet drop of blood fell right onto the bridge of his nose, and the subsequent queer sensation distracted him long enough for Fruity to grab the belt and turn the tables forcing the W15 out to his 5th loss while keeping himself up there with the leaders at 6-2.

Tochiohzan took out his frustration at everyone writing him off by launching himself into Tosanoumi, a man no one can recall having seen pull a henka in all his long years. The veteran is feeling his age this basho, though, and was unable to fend off his fifteen years younger foe, although he nearly escaped with a nifty leg trip attempt at the edge that missed but kicked a big clod of clay into Medusa's mop, who was sitting ringside for the first seven bouts only.

Next up Kyokutenho, loving the feeling of being on the second week leaderboard for the second time in three basho, played the cheeky monkey by literally grabbing Ichihara by the dog Frisbees and not letting go until he hollered "Uncle!" It was called yorikiri, but only because nipple twisting force out seems so inelegant.

In my highlight bout of the day, The Kak sprung out at the elder Hutt Brother Iwaki, who was wearing a Spronks t-shirt and taping with some address visible on it. The bold little Kak got inside on Iwaki, who sensed something amiss and pulled the shirt over Kakuryu's head. Given this advantageous position, the Mongolian simply shoved the too close E13 out in no time flat, with both men crashing to the floor in a tangled mess. The Kak stands proud at 6-2.

Now in bouts I did actually see, Takekaze skirted the issue with a hitting sidestep on Kasugao, but the Korean looked like someone stole his kimchi and that that someone was Takekaze. The angry W11 circled the dude around so they had swapped starting positions, and from there Takekaze retreated in a hurry with Kasugao keeping his feet underneath him and winning by oshidashi.

You know that move where Curly of the Three Stooges slaps his own forehead in rapid succession to let his brother Moe knows he's had enough? Well, that's what Wakanoho did to the back of Homasho's head, just slapping away until Homasho fell down without having moved off the shikirisen. Soiteny! Normally Homasho has the wherewithal to keep his feet, but this was rapid fire hatakimomi at it's ugliest. I've seen better Girl Scout fights. I should note here that upon further reflection, I am not as angry with Wakanoho and his kangaroo hop as I was on Day 4. He's only 19, and when I think of the kind of turkey I was at that age it makes me shiver. So I am officially cutting him some slack. Still don't want to see the move, but youth has it privileges, and one of them is being forgiven for more crap than are adults.

Back in Sept. I noticed Kokkai's sumo changing little by little. Formerly a desperation pulldown artist, he seemed determined to win by more employing more "manly" maneuvers. He had only a few pulldown kimarite in Sept. and Nov., when I thought he might win 10 and he won 9. His sumo this time out is just reinforcing my belief that he has seen the light (or had it beaten into him by his oyakata) and is not going to go for cheapies most of the time from now on. Today he was up against the giant Baruto, with his arms long as an orangutan's ("Right turn, Clyde"). He let Baruto have that over the shoulder bolder holder grip he prefers, and in the meantime grabbed his own morozashi (and I'm not going to say what that means because you should all know by now!!). 'Twas a sight to behold as The Geeku, I mean as Kokkai did the bear hug belly dance and centimeter by sexy centimeter scooted the Biomass out. It was gorgeous sumo, no doot aboot it (as Arbo might say--btw, what was he on about on Day 5? Hump Day for a 15 day tourney is Day 8, today, MY day! Dude obviously has as much problem with math as he does with eschatology).

As an aside, Baruto will reach Ozeki when I become Aiko-sama's nanny.

I'd rather introduce my baby sister to Simon than comment on a Roho bout, so thankfully it was over quickly. With the Nikibi coming from so far back, Roho just squatted down at tachi-ai and waited for him like an NFL cornerback about to apply a hit. From there Roho's strength and a deep left belt grip sealed the deal by taking him back to the edge, where he dropped the, yes, hapless W8 onto his behind. Must fix that tachi-ai.

The only thing of note in the Hokutoriki/KingTama bout was the viciousness with which the Jokester shoved out the oldest man in the division after dominating him with a few well placed nodawa and chest blows. He was clearly going out and was even flailing for one of those, Help me Bud! hand holds, but Henkatoriki just shoved him into the fifth row with this look on his face like he had just taken out Yokozuna Taiho. I hope he gets Kisenosato on Day 10 and the Kid rails the sumbitch in the jaw at tachi-ai. Don't misunderstand me, sumo is a rough sport, hard to put on the brakes, but most guys look at least a little concerned or contrite when they do something like that.

Did someone slip something into Sexy's morning natto? In case you haven't noticed, dude is on one hell of a roll the last three days, opening can after can of the tastiest whoopass on Tenku, Roho, and today Toyonoshima. A rather standard meet at tachi-ai turned into a lightning quick neck headlock throw by Sexy. It was so fast and smooth Toyo was looking for the number of the truck, knowhatimsayin? Mitsuki should take notice. Criminy, any wrestler in the division should take notice. Don't dilly dally. Like teenage Alex Brohm with Pa's sheep, just get in there, do yer bidness, and get out!

Wakanosato, who has produced a couple of the finer bouts this basho, produced one of the most boring today with partner in crime Tokitenku. A long drawn out affair of belt pulling and pushing, ending in Tenku's charging forward keeping his feet nicely beneath him and sending the backpedaling former Sekiwake (who, despite his favorable career record vs the Yokozuna, has about as much chance of beating Hakuho tomorrow as Barack has of hooking up for some "sugar" with Hillary after the U.S. elections) racing out.

MiFlobby used his strength to hold Aminishiki up at tachi-ai by the chest, and then let go as Shneaky plummeted forward and down. One might be tempted to point the Finger of Poor Sumo at Miyabi, and one would be wrongo! It is precisely his reputation as a heavy duty tsuppari man that forces Aminishiki to put that much weight forward to counteract what he knows is coming. It's what Chiyotaikai has been doing for so many years. Or had, poor fella.

No doubt some will be moaning henka about Ama's tachi-ai today vs. The Degyptian, but Uncle Clancy is here to tell you, No. Quitcha bitchin'. Ama gave the big fella a harite pimp slap and spread his legs wide (his own legs, not Dejima's), reaching around to grab the back of the belt (hnn hnn, he said reach around). The harite seemed to have the effect of moving the former Ozeki to his left, accentuating the illusion of a henka. His Riki Tiki speed then got him the position he most coveted--the Manlove. I had to turn the channel at this point because my children were in the room and we have as a rule in our home that the children do not watch anything of a violent or disturbing nature broadcast on television (although the violence and disturbing content in the home videos of me and my birth family is fine). Couldn't they get a room somewhere? I mean, please. No way Dejima could (or wanted to?) get out of that clinch. I noticed what looked to be representatives of the Nipponese porn industry approaching Ama as he made his way up the hanamichi, possibly to offer him a contract? Hey, I'm just a journalist reporting the facts as they come to me.

Kotomitsuki continues to look like a guy recovering from major surgery by getting the belt grip he wanted vs. Kaio, but failing to pull off a makikae, a failure that allowed Kaio to lift up his fellow Ozeki and drive him back and out. Gonna take a miracle for Mitsuki to avoid a losing record, and after that a lot of prayer for him to make eight in Osaka (my neck of the woods). Kaio has some bumps in the road ahead, certain losses to Genghis and Kublai, and likely losses to The Kid and Aminsihiki, but if he can win the other three, cue the Bros. Gibb!

Coming in we are all thinking, Kise beats Kotooshu this time, no doubt. So what does the Kid do? He inexplicably leaves his right arm out off his ribs at a timid tachi-ai, allowing Kotooshu to grab a deep inside left. Huh? Why not block him from the belt at the start, forcing him to try that flailing, slapping, pulldown crap he likes to do, then get in on his belt and whoop on 'em? Don't understand the strategy here, unless he made a mistake. To his credit, the Ozeki was fast and sure handed today. Once he got that belt grip, he backed the Kid up and though Kise got a single strand of his mawashi, it was not enough as the big Bulgar garbage canned him out to the curb to leave both men at 5-3. Kise had a hell of a first week, both in opponents met and opponents beaten. But he still has Toyo, Ama, Miyabi and Shneaky to go so he's not in the clear yet.

In the matchup of the day, the Choco Yoko took on the red hot Geeku. It took them some time to synch up at tachi-ai, with the Yokozuna staring as if the Geeku had committed a wrong (and in the world of sumo, if the Yokozuna thinks you did something wrong, you DID something wrong, because he is going to make you pay for it). The Komusubi's eyes were anywhere but on the Yokozuna's face, and the tension was thicker than Chinese food. At tachi-ai, Hakuho did his daily harite, wiped off Geeku's maemawashi attempt and went in for the kill. But Geeku was so nervous he fell down all on his own, twisting his knee something fierce as he did. To add insult to injury, Hersheyho's mo caused him to fall on top of the Sadogatake man in his rush to crush.

It'd be no surprise if he has to withdraw tomorrow. Just hope this doesn't become some watershed moment in his career, where we all look back and say, If he hadn't gotten injured in Hatsu 2008...

Final bout had Asa vs. Tochinonada. There were an appropriate number of kensho banners today, but have you noticed how everyday Hakuho has many and on some days Asa has had only a few? Guess we know who the darling of sumo and Nippon is right now.

After a head clanging tachi- ai, Asa went for the nodowa and chest pushing, trying to keep the dangerous belt thrower Tochi away and shove him out. Failing that, Asa then got in on the belt and tried for a twisting throw, but Tochi is a strong lad and had the Yokozuna's left arm locked up tight and was able to fend off the attempt. Asa was now very low, his head in Tochi's chest, too low to throw well, so after a brief breather, he stood up and used his right hand outside belt grip to twist Tochi to his right, going for an uwatenage. Tochi raised his arm up into Asa's arm in order to break his grip, so the Yokozuna had a choice: Let go of the belt and find a different strategy, or keep holding on and fight for balance while possibly being thrown. He found his balance and brought the fight back to the center of the ring, where Tochi tried for a right hand belt but was unable to get it due to the Yokozuna moving his hips back and out of harm's reach. At this point concerns about the Khan's stamina started to creep into my mind, and maybe he was having the same thoughts, because he made his move, swinging Tochi around once and twice, 180 degrees, and finally toppling the multiple kinboshi winner.

Rather than showing Asa's weakness, I think this bout is a great one for Genghis to use as an impetus to sharpen up and focus for the remaining days. The way Hakuho is looking, and with the sorry state the Ozeki are in, chances are he is 14-0 on Senshuraku. And wouldn't you know it, I can't write my usual Day 15 this time because I will be otherwise occupied (I'm marrying my first cousin). I'll be back on lucky Friday, Day 13. Senor Miguel smokes one down the middle on Days 9, 12, and 15.

Oh, almost forgot, did anyone notice that awesome zabuton throw on Day 6? After Asa beat Miyabiyama in the musubinoichiban, one single person inappropriately threw a pillow that expertly threaded the space between the Yokozuna walking back for his bow and the gyoji, knocking the kensho money envelopes out of the gyoji's hand. That was fabulous stuff, and my guess is it was a foreigner who did it. I will never forget that classic throw.

Day 7 Comments (Martin Matra reporting)
Since I'm not really in the mood for an intro, I'll jump right into the fray, but not before wishing everybody a Happy New Year. On with it, then.

M2 Miyabiyama gave current East Yokozuna Hakuho a run for his money in today's musubi-no-ichiban, after a tachi-ai that seemed to favor the Mongolian, who drove back the Fatman a step or two with some quick tsuppari. A missed hari-te on the Yokozuna's part, though, allowed Miyabiyama to get in pretty close and sniff a possible morozashi, but he was too slow to get it. After an exchange of thrusts, Miyabiyama tried to lock Hakuho's right arm, but the Yokozuna shook him off with ease and quickly had him on the run towards the tawara. The Fatman managed to withstand the charge, so the two rikishi resumed trading blows for a while, but Hakuho eventually managed to snatch a convenient left uwate and threw his bigger foe to the ground with little resistance. That's seven wins out of seven matches for the Dai-Yokozuna, who is well on his way to the third consecutive Yusho and sixth overall. Miyabiyama is 2-5, but given his opposition, he hasn't been looking that bad.

Returning to the Komusubi rank for the first time in several years, Dejima gave the other Yokozuna (still can't quite get used to it, but I'd better, and soon) a scare of his own, after a rather cautious hari-te tachi-ai from the latter. The former Ozeki used his freight train de-ashi to quickly drive his opponent all the way to the edge, but in the process, Asashoryu, whose evasion skills are even better then Kakuryu's (yeah, big surprise, that one, I can't believe it myself), managed to slip his left arm under Dejima's right, and, right at the edge, brushed him off by sukuinage like so much pocket lint. Unsurprisingly, after the deed was done and while Dejima was still looking at the finer cracks of the dohyo, Asashoryu was just standing there, looking bored as if nothing of importance had happened. All in a day's work, I guess, and it seems that ring rust didn't really affect Asa's winning ability that much, he's 6-1 and still in the Yusho race. Dejima's 2-5 isn't that bad either, given his all san'yaku menu so far.

The currently best Ozeki, junkyard-bound Kaio (!), met bothersome M3 Tochinonada in a bout with little importance in the grand scheme of this Hatsu. The old man completely won the tachi-ai and got his left deep under Nada's armpit, getting a solid uwate on the other side. Nada sensed he was in danger and tried a quick shitatenage, but the maneuver hardly budged the 170 kg Kaio, who reinforced his grip and attempted an uwatenage of his own. That didn't really work either, but it got Kaio facing Tochinonada's side, and a quick shake of the hip released the Ozeki from Nada's inside grip. From there, yorikiri was a simple formality. Kaio gets his fourth win while Nada is hardly breathing with only two wins so far.

Kadoban Ozeki Kotooshu tried today the same thing as yesterday against rookie Goeido, a tachi-ai with a high right, looking for the pulldown, and the left tight on the inside, as counter moro-zashi insurance, but Sneaky isn't a greenhorn anymore and he saw it coming a mile away, ducking at exactly the right instant and evicting the tall Bulgarian from the dohyo by the throat in less than two seconds, for his fifth win. I won't even bother to comment on Kotooshu's sumo anymore, but kachikoshi is likely, given the state of his opposition and his four wins so far.

Wanna talk about useless? OK, question: what's more useless than a light bulb in a blind guy's room? Right, it's Chiyotaikai with an injured elbow. Why he had to go 0-7 before going kyujo is beyond my otherwise great powers of comprehension, but today's bout with Tokitenku was a clear sign that Taikai's place right now is anywhere but on the dohyo. The Ozeki blasted seconds early from the starting line and bum-rushed his foe, but his tsuppari were so weak that Tokitenku almost immediately turned him around and escorted him out by the ever so humiliating okuridashi. And Tokitenku has been looking particularly shabby this basho, and has the five losses to prove it.

Sekiwake Ama raped Ozeki More-miss-than-hit with that fearsome nodowa Mike was so rightfully praising. The lightweight Mongolian pushed his 30kg heavier foe all the way to the tawara, where he got a firm left grip on the back of Mitsuki's mawashi and did a full 360 with him before ousting him by yorikiri. 4-3 isn't exactly Ozeki promotion material for Ama right now. Mitsuki is an unflattering 3-4.

Komusubi Kotoshogiku, indeed the best wrestler from Sadogatake right now, completely dominated M2 Toyonoshima again, wisely denying the short fellow the inside grip that he likes so much. Soon finding himself with the back to the wall, Toyonoshima tried a last moment kubinage (Kotoshogiku lost twice last basho by this highly defensive kimarite), but to no avail. Oshidashi, 6-1 and generally very good, forward and sound sumo from the Giku. 3-4 and 3 Ozeki scalps (worth about three cents apiece, but Ozeki scalps nonetheless...) are Toyonoshima's earnings so far, and, with most of the heavy hitters out of the way, he can still get an honorable kachikoshi.

As most of you know, my sumo bout sources are mainly two: the NSK live stream (abysmal quality, but hey, it's live) and the Frenchies at (and I'm taking a few seconds to thank them once again). I have to admit that when I first saw the Kisenosato - Goeido bout, on the stream, I thought Goeido was robbed blind just to keep the Kid in the Yusho race. A second look at the better quality clip later in the day made me see it wasn't quite like that. Alright, let's see what really happened. Kisenosato had a poor tachi-ai, almost immediately relinquishing a double inside grip. Goeido quickly had him on the run and out, and at first (during the live stream, that is) I thought it was as clean as it could get. The replay, though, was a lot less convincing, as it could be clearly seen that, although Goeido employed an interesting watashikomi attempt, he was clearly the first to touch the ground, moments before Kisenosato even started to fall over. The MIB decided to have a do-over, but in this case I think they should have awarded it to Kisenosato the first time.

The torinaoshi was a lot easier for Kisenosato, who made a good impression of Asashoryu, starting with a hasty hari-te tachi-ai, setting up hidari-yotsu while disallowing Goeido any trace of his belt. It was over in a mere two seconds, as Goeido was yorikiried to his 6th loss in 7 days. Kisenosato is well on his way to the Shukun-sho with 5 wins and a valuable Asashoryu kinboshi.

Veteran Tamakasuga took on former Sekiwake Wakanosato with a henka, followed by an inashi, but Waka's tachi-ai was too slow for him to be compromised by the move. Old man Kasuga fired his rather slow but bothersome thrusts in an attempt to keep Wakanosato away from his mawashi, but as it turned out, Wakanosato didn't even need it after all, because he simply ducked under Kasuga's extended arms and simply pushed him out, despite a late hatakikomi attempt at the edge. Both veterans are at the three win mark.

One of the worst wrestlers in this division, Ossetian Roho, was completely outclassed today by Mongolian Asasekiryu, who came very low at the initial charge, obtaining an early left outside grip. The M4 then focused on denying Roho a left uwate, after which he capitalized on his on uwate with a quick dashinage that made Roho give up even before he had stepped out of the ring. The Ho's 2-5 is screaming "Juryo!" while Asasekiryu is boasting a nifty 5-2.

One of the disappointments of this basho is Baruto, whose injuries and Juryo vacation seem to have done a lot of harm to his sumo basics (not that he had any sound sumo basics in the first place). Today's tachi-ai against Homasho was way too high, but the big Estonian lucked out, as Homie couldn't really capitalize and just seemed content to keep his foe off the belt. Baruto used his right arm, which was on the inside, to stand Homasho right up and set up the inevitable yorikiri. I don't even need to repeat myself, a poor tachi-ai like that is certain death against the really good wrestlers of this division. Baruto gets his 4th win after dealing Homasho his 4th loss.

After all the fidgeting and delays at the tachi-ai, I was 101% sure Hokutoriki would pull another one of his lowly henkas, but this time he decided to play it fair, so, guess what, he lost. The Jokester slammed hard into Takekaze, taking him back half a step, but Kaze held his ground well, resisting Hokutoriki's thrusts and taking him off balance to finish him off with a well timed slap on the head. Don't look now, but Takekaze is 6-1. Hokutoriki falls below the .5 mark.

The eternal thorn in my side, Mongolian Kakuryu, was on the receiving end of another ever-so-slight-impact henka from Korean Kasugao, who tried to capitalize on the inashi move with a quick oshidashi finish, but fell just short. The Korean then gained a solid double grip with the right inside, and proceeded to finish off the Mongolian with yoritaoshi, after some serious resistance at the edge. Kakuryu's 5-2 record isn't something to write home about, but if he keeps it up he's going to get promoted to the jo'i again, only to get his little ass kicked again, much to my malicious delight. Kasugao is 4-3.

The most violent tachi-ai of this fine day belongs to Kokkai in his fight with behemoth Toyohibiki. I think I replayed that particular part of the bout some 37 times, just to hear the sweet whacking sound Kokkai's forearm made when it was impacting Hibiki's face (imagine me evilly laughing, if you think that adds to the drama). Anyway, Kokkai applied a series of heavy, well aimed thrusts to Hibiki's face and neck, permanently keeping him off balance and on the defensive. The Georgian eventually forced the bout into hidari-yotsu and easily finished off his larger opponent to record his 5th win. Hibiki falls to his 5th loss.

Lightweight quick-on-his-feet Wakakirin used his speed to get the better of his tachi-ai against Futenoh, starting off with some quick thrusts, then backpedaling to lock Futenoh's right arm and deploy an effective kotenage that almost finished the opponent off, leaving him on the edge of the tawara, facing the spectators. Futenoh did manage to turn and almost avoided the final push, falling on his ass at about the same time the off-balance Wakakirin was falling on some unlucky guy in the front row. A deliberation was held, and they finally awarded it to Waka (as Futenoh clearly fell first), earning him his first win. Futenoh falls to his second defeat.

Russian youngster Wakanoho (who is, by far, the most loathsome rikishi on the entire banzuke, yes, even more loathsome than Roho!), pulled yet another henka (I think it was the third, but who's counting anymore?!), this time against the Robocop, Takamisakari. The maneuver got him a solid left uwate, but Takamisakari was on his every move, getting into a solid left migi-yotsu and heaving the Russian cleanly off his feet for a moment. He couldn't finish him by tsuridashi, but he did get him at the edge, where a last moment utchari attempt sent both wrestlers falling at roughly the same time. The gyoji did the right thing and named Sakari as the winner, and, as no mono-ii was called, justice was served. There's nothing more I love than a Russian doing a henka and losing.

While we're on the subject of Wakanoho, let me talk about a little thing I read today. Just when I thought I'd heard it all, one yahoo, probably gunning for the Daft Drivel of the Day Award, comes and says "yotsu is a failure to do sumo" (sic!). His main arguments are that "no one trains for yotsu", "the training exercises are all about oshi", "butsukari and suriashi build that lower body pushing power" and "while shiko might look like it's for improving nage technique it's primary purpose is to build defensive strength so you can avoid being thrown". He also says that railroad sumo gets more praise from the commentators and the oyakata and long yotsu bouts just show that a Yokozuna isn't dominant. And, the grand conclusion: "sumo is oshi". Alright...where do I even start?!

Since we're going into the way things are traditionally done in sumo, let's focus on the mawashi. Mr. Yahoo probably thinks the mawashi is there just for decoration or something, but, if you look at it, it's about the best accessory you'd need in a grappling contest. Why go to all the trouble of wearing such a solid belt if not to facilitate grappling?

Nobody trains for what universe? Yotsu, just like oshi, DOES require strong legs, the only difference between yotsu and oshi is that you use the mawashi to handle your opponent better, throw him off balance, lift him off his legs, etc. So, all the exercises used for the lower body are inherently good for yotsu. Also, to do good yotsu, you need strong arms, shoulders and chest. These are developed by some of the exercises, like, guess what, striking the teppo (nice try, by the way). And I have a sneaking suspicion that more than a fair share of the bouts in keiko are being decided by yorikiri (and, for that matter, yorikiri is the most common kimarite in sumo altogether).

The main point of shiko, as I see it, is to strengthen the legs and, more importantly, to improve one's balance, which is critical in every aspect of sumo, including, but not limited to, throws (both when executing them and defending against them). So I don't really see how shiko justifies the claim that yotsu isn't sumo.

Another great example of flawless argumentation from Mr. Yahoo: "to be sure an all round rikishi is more likely to be successful than a purely oshi specialist, but yotsu is the fall back position". Yes, of course a guy who can do more stuff is more likely to be successful, but yotsu is the fallback position why? The main defensive maneuvers are hatakikomi, hikiotoshi, tsukiotoshi and, to an extent, kotenage. Not much yotsu in there, is it? And look at some of the more successful rikishi in recent times: Asashoryu turned from tsuppari to yotsu and he's winning more by yorikiri than anything else. He also has some mean throws. Hakuho: great yotsu skills, lately he's been resorting to thrusts, but only to set up the belt grip. He also has mean throws. Kaio (in his prime) – mean nage machine. And the list can go on. Sure, there are/have been many pusher/thrusters around, but that doesn't mean yotsu isn't sumo. My own conclusion on the matter: oshi and yotsu are both important parts of sumo. And, for those of you who didn't bother reading my profile, I don't really have a preference. I enjoy a whiplash uwatenage just as much as I enjoy a fierce oshitaoshi.

But what does all this have to do with Wakanoho, you say? Well, Mr. Yahoo's favorite wrestler seems to be this particular Russian, and that's no surprise, because Mr. Yahoo is just as much of an attention whore as the flying henka-ite. Birds of a feather, and all that…

Anyway, there were some bouts left, but they weren't really important in the grand scheme of the basho, so I'll just skip them this time. The Yusho is still far from decided, but Hakuho would have to be the favorite, followed closely by Asashoryu. Kotoshogiku should breeze to 11-12 wins and some prizes, Kisenosato could also be good for 11+, as a whole bunch of others down there at the bottom of the banzuke. Rookie Ichihara is worth keeping an eye on (well, he's pretty hard to miss, anyway, the behemoth), because he seems to have great technique for an oshidashi meathead. And, of course, it is going to be interesting to see how Goeido fares after the first encounter with the sharks.

Want more? Read tomorrow's comments, because Clancy bought himself a new horsewhip and he's just dying to try it out.

Day 6 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I expressed great excitement at the onset of the basho due to the return of Asashoryu, naturally, but I was also geeked up about the strong competition throughout the jo'i. The problem now for a lot of fans, however, is that any rikishi not ranked Yokozuna can beat any other rikishi on any given day, and that's exactly what's happening. We're seeing everyone pile up the losses little by little while the two Yokozuna run away with the basho. I guess there's still Kotoshogiku, but I think the Association is keeping him from Hakuho for as long as possible to try and keep some sort of interest alive in the yusho race. The said race will come down to the two Yokozuna of course, but that's how sumo is supposed to be.

Having said that, let's get right to the action where M2 Miyabiyama did what he could against Yokozuna Asashoryu, which was to come with the tsuppari attack, but the Yokozuna never rushed it and timed a pull down of Miyabiyama's right arm that threw the Sheriff off balance to the point where Genghis knew he had his man and rushed in for the committed hataki-komi with both hands that sent Miyabiyama to the dirt with some oomph. There's really not much more to it than that; Asa took the safe route and picked up his fifth win in the process. With the two hottest rikishi not ranked Yokozuna out of the way in Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato, Asashoryu's only real test the rest of way should come at the hands of Ama. Miyabiyama falls to 2-4.

In the featured bout of the day, M1 Kisenosato must have lost his concentration at the tachi-ai because he allowed Yokozuna Hakuho to get the silly left inside position from the get-go. The Yokozuna helped set it all up with a well-timed right hari-te to the Kid's face on the other side, but once he had the left arm as deep as he did, he anchored the force-out attack with the lower body and had Kisenosato driven back and out in about three seconds. Hakuho was brilliant today from his tachi-ai down to his de-ashi. In fact, his sumo this basho has been about as crisp as Chris Rock's diction, so it's no surprise that Kublai leads everyone at 6-0. Kisenosato falls to 4-2, but he's already fought both Yokozuna, two Ozeki, and the Geeku.

In the Ozeki ranks, Kotomitsuki came hard at M2 Toyonoshima with...with a nodowa attack? That ain't Mitsuki's sumo at all, and as soon as Toyonoshima gathered his wits about him after staving off the move, he just bullied is way forward pushing up and into Kotomitsuki pits shoving the Ozeki back and out without argument. Nothin' more to say about it other than HitandMitsuki has been a lot more miss this basho. Both rikishi are 3-3.

Sekiwake Ama used that nodowa tachi-ai against Ozeki Kaio, and while Kaio is such a strong bull that it's hard to drive him straight back, it did keep him at bay and upright. As Kaio tried to stave off the choke hold, Ama quickly slipped to his right throwing Kaio off balance to the point where the Mongolian was able to use a kote-nage throw to heave Kaio to the edge setting up the easy force-out of the now upright Kaio. Both rikishi are 3-3 in a yet another unspectacular display from the Ozeki.

Ozeki Kotooshu came with a curious tachi-ai against M3 Goeido keeping both arms in close and down low disallowing Goeido any sniff at his belt. Goeido looked confused with the move because before he could resort to plan B, Kotooshu went for the two-handed pull down that easily knocked Goeido down to the dirt. It was a good plan I guess from Kotooshu, but I'd really like to see the Ozeki show some confidence in his forward-moving sumo and not just plan from the start to defeat his opponent by hataki-komi. Oshu moves to 4-2 with the win while Goeido falls to 1-5 after having fought the toughest schedule of anyone so far.

Sekiwake Aminishiki made short work of Ozeki Chiyotaikai today because he knew the tsuppari weren't coming. Taikai came with his head at the tachi-ai but raised his arms too far upwards just gifting Ami the moro-zashi grip from the start. Aminishiki didn't need to be sneaky here has he quickly escorted Chiyotaikai back and out. I mean, if Clancy thought he was escorted out of that strip bar fast because he was a furrener, you shoulda seen this bout. Sneaky improves to 4-2 while Chiyotaikai is still an o'fer.

Komusubi Kotoshogiku continued his stunning sumo today against counterpart Dejima, who lunged into his opponent head first only to be rebuffed into a neutral tachi-ai. As Dejima rammed with his head, he tried to sneak the right outer grip, but before he could get it, the Geeku wrenched Dejima upwards with stellar position on the left inside. Having completely neutralized Dejima's charge at this point, Kotoshogiku wasted no time in bodying Dejima back towards the straw. The former Ozeki attempted to counter with a right kote-nage throw, but Kotoshogiku was just too good and used his body perfectly to stay in front of Dejima and gaburi him back across the straw. This was precision stuff from Kotoshogiku who is in indeed the best rikishi from the Sadogatake-beya right now at 5-1. Dejima falls to 2-4, but there's no shame in that record from this rank.

M4 Asasekiryu charged low at the tachi-ai against M1 Tokitenku managing to secure a left outer grip, which he supplemented by keeping his ass back and away from the same grip on the other side for Tenku and by driving his noggin into Tokitenku's torso. Asasekiryu isn't deemed sexy without a reason, and today, he showed why he's one of the best in the business at this style of fighting as he methodically wrenched his way inside closer and closer grabbing a right inner grip as well. Through it all, Sexy denied Tokitenku the left outer grip and pestered him to the point that he was vulnerable for the sudden uwate-nage throw. It came and was precise as Asasekiryu improves to 4-2 while Tokitenku is still stuck on one loss.

M5 Tamakasuga settled for a yotsu contest against M3 Tochinonada today, and I thought that was a mistake, but KingTama kept his body in close and completely cuffed the gentle giant's left arm from an inside position with a frontal belt grip. After a brief stalemate, Tochinonada tried to muscle his way into a scoop throw position, but Tamakasuga jumped on the movement and attempted to drag Tochinonada across and dirt via a dashi-nage maneuver. As Nada fell, however, he swiped at Tama's right leg in watashi-komi fashion, but Tamakasuga brilliantly pulled off of the dashi-nage throw as Tochinonada's elbow his the dirt before Tamakasuga crashed down. Tamakasuga beating Tochinonada straight up in a yotsu-zumo fight? Repent and forsake your sins now because that rumbling you hear on the horizon is the Apocalypse. The King is now an impressive 3-3 considering his rank while the gentle giant falls to 2-4. 

M4 Wakanosato came with as hard of a tachi-ai as I've ever seen from him against M7 Takekaze today. Usually the veteran tries to hold back and let his opponent walk into an inner grip, but today he struck hard and just bounced off of Takekaze creating some separation between the two. Wakanosato tried to tsuppari his way back to the inside, but that's not his game, and even though he succeeded in getting a left arm on the inside, he didn't secure his against Takekaze's, and his feet were aligned. Takekaze pounced on the position by using his right arm to attempt a neck throw, but a neck throw never works unless it's set up by something else. In this case, Takekaze masterfully grabbed Wakanosato's right elbow with his left hand and used it to twist Wakanosato down and over as he yanked at the neck. Great stuff from Takekaze today who moves to...hold on...there's something in my eye...5-1? Wakanosato falls to 2-4, and isn't it interesting that his two wins have come against Kotooshu and Baruto...two tall Europeans who let sound sumo basics escape them early on?

M5 Roho used a hari-te and slight step to his left to grab the early uwate, but M7 Homasho quickly moved his ass out of the way cutting off the grip. In this position, Roho did what he does best, which is to panic and go for the pull down. Homasho obviously had his opponent scouted today because he stayed low and continued to drive into Roho as the Russian looked for a corner to evade to...all the while with at least one hand at the back of Homasho's melon. Poor, poor sumo again from Roho as he is easily pushed out by a relieved Homasho, who moves to 3-3. Roho is sputtering in all ways possible at 2-4.

M6 Hokutoriki moved slightly to his right at the tachi-ai against M9 Kokkai, but it was a move that I can live with because instead of going for the cheap pull down, he was trying to work the tsuppari attack. Kokkai reacted decently, but as he turned to start firing some shoves of his own into the Jokester's head and chest, his lower body couldn't quite follow suit, so while he was pushing right into Hokutoriki's face, he wasn't driving with the lower body. Hokutoriki was able to arch his back and withstand the shove before masterfully pushing up at Kokkai right armpit with his left hand and using that position to hoist Kokkai over to the tawara and out in fine fashion. Pretty good stuff from Hokutoriki today who moves to 3-3 while Kokkai must settle for 4-2.

M6 Baruto fought the best fight of his Makuuchi career today against M8 Toyohibiki. Of course Baruto has had bigger wins, and he's been involved in more exciting bouts, but in terms of solid sumo basics, this was Bart's best sumo ever. He began with a moro-te tachi-ai that completely kept Toyohibiki at bay, and to top that off, Baruto's feet were aligned perfectly...the left foot forward and the right foot back. Baruto then used some methodical tsuppari to carefully drive Toyohibiki back, and once the Nikibi showed the first bit of resistance at the edge by arching his back, Baruto swooped in the for the right uwate that he used to align his chest with his opponent's and then force him back, out, and to the ground for the smothering yori-taoshi win. Toyohibiki actually made things look close at the edge as he went for that last gasp shift-and-pull-your-opponent-forward move, but Baruto had set things up too well today, and the Nikibi was squished to the clay putting his hand down first before Baruto touched down. Getting back to Baruto, I've received emails before from the Estonian fans asking what I thought about Baruto's sumo, etc., and I've always replied to them that if Baruto truly wants to be successful, he must learn a tsuppari attack to set up the outer grip. Once dude has the uwate, he's unstoppable, and there's no better way to set it up than with a tsuppari attack. Perfect stuff from Baruto today as he evens things back up at 3-3. The Nikibi is 2-4.

As I hinted in my post Kyushu remarks, the fact that then rookie M9 Wakakirin could win 10 bouts in his debut yet leave no memorable performances was disturbing. Coupled with his low placement on the banzuke, he largely resorted to gimmick tachi-ai to set up his success. It's all coming back to bite him this basho, however, as his Juryo caliber tsuppari attack is doing nothing for him. Today, M8 Kakuryu just stood there flat-footed absorbing Wakakirin's tsuppari and waited for an opening that came about two seconds in. When Kakuryu pounced, he grabbed Wakakirin's by the left arm and easily shoved him over to the straw and out in an uneventful affair. Kakuryu has quietly joined the 5-1 club while Wakakirin is secretly admiring Chiyotaikai at 0-6.

M11 Kakizoe put up a valiant fight today against M10 Kyokutenho as he came with the strategy of keeping his arms in tight and Tenho away from the belt. That defensive strategy worked, but it didn't set up a good position from which Zoe could strike for himself offensively, so Kyokutenho resorted to a couple of pull down attempts that finally felled Kakizoe to the clay in a scrappy affair. Tenho's another 5-1'er while Kakizoe falls to 1-5.

M10 Wakanoho's sumo stinks, and we know stink here at Sumotalk. I mean, you should smell some of the hotel rooms here at the end of the basho, but compared to Wakanoho's sumo, I feel as if I'm basking on a beach in Maui. Today against M12 Tosanoumi, the young Russian thankfully didn't go for that ridiculous tachi-ai, but he did strike and go for a quick pull down. Luckily for him but not the rest of us, Tosanoumi is so far off of his game these days that he couldn't capitalize allowing Wakanoho to hook back up at the belt. The good rikishi at this point would muscle in close and set up the force out win over the ailing Blue Collar Man, but the bad rikishi continues to go for the pull down. Wakanoho (4-2) did win the bout, but it was a poor display of pull sumo throughout after a bad tachi-ai. This guy is a complete joke, and unless he settles down and tries to focus on actual sumo, he'll become a hiss and a byword just like the other Russians. Tosanoumi is 0-6.

Failing to hook up straightway with his opponent, M11 Kasugao opted for a few tsuppari against M13 Tamanoshima, and they actually had Peter retreating with his feet aligned, but the Korean blew the momentum by going for a quick pulldown. The move failed and gave Tamanoshima the firm left outer grip, but Kasugao shifted nearly 90 degrees to the side leaving the two in an awkward stalemate in the center of the ring. Tamanoshima seemed to have the advantage, but he never pressed, so when Kasugao finally went for a trip maneuver, Tamanoshima responded with a weak pull down of his own that allowed Kasugao to realign their chests and grab a firm left outer grip in the process. From there, the lifeless Tamanoshima (2-4) was forced back and out with ease. Kasugao evens things at 3-3.

M16 Kaiho shifted ever so slightly to his right today against M12 Futenoh to grab the cheap outer grip and to also completely cut off Futenoh's left inside position, but as he pinched inwards cutting off Futenoh's left side, he was in too awkward of a position to finish his opponent off. In the melee, Futenoh finally managed a left arm inside of Kaiho's right, and he quickly parlayed that into a deep position that allowed him to finally body up with the smaller Kaiho and force him out with some oomph. Futenoh improves to 5-1 while Kaiho falls to 3-3.

The biggest bout--in more ways than on--in the lower half today was the M13 Iwakiyama - M16 Ichihara matchup. The Itch led with his head at the tachi-ai, and his forehead actually struck Iwakiyama perfectly in that big dip between Iwakiyama's nose and brow, but Iwakiyama stood his ground well and ended up with a solid left arm on the inside. Ichihara complied by grabbing the quick right outer grip but made the mistake of pivoting as if setting up a throw even though he hadn't sufficiently neutralized Iwakiyama's position. The veteran Hutt pounced on the move and forced the Itch back and out in a short affair that lacked much drama. Iwakiyama sails to 5-1 with the win, but more importantly, he takes home the bragging rights among the Hutts this basho. Ichihara drops to 4-2 but has still shown flashes of promise. Kenji was correct in his day 1 report when he talked about Itchy's poise. The dude has it for sure even if he got burned after a mistake today against a veteran Hutt.

M15 Tochiohzan is slowly creeping back to life. Today against M14 Takamisakari, he actually let Bean get a deep left arm from the tachi-ai, but Tochiohzan bellied up in close and grabbed a right outer grip to go along with his own decent left inner position. I think it was the ineffable Johnny Cochrane who coined the phrase "If you snooze, you must lose", and snooze Takamisakari did as Tochiohzan pressed the action keeping his opponent standing upright as he bellied him back and across the straw. I'm genuinely happy to Tochiohzan starting to pull out of this funk although he's still only 3-3. Takamisakari is just 2-4.

And finally, M15 Yoshikaze patiently bore the tsuppari attack from Juryo Koryu before shifting to his left and using an armbar to twist Koryu around to the tawara and out from there improving to 3-3.

Day 6 is in the books, and we have a host of rikishi standing at 5-1, but the only name among that group that matters is Asashoryu. Course, with the roll that Hakuho is on does it really matter?

Martin elaborates tomorrow.

Day 5 Comments (Mark Arbo reporting)
I have been attacked by monkeys on only two occasions. And to be fair coconuts were only involved in the second attack. So it is with at least a small amount of pride that I tell you that, in my 33 years, coconuts have only been taken up against me in violence on two occasions. "Wait!", you ask "There was another attack?" Yes there was.

"Usurper!" That was all it took. One word to enrage a man enough to assault another with a delicious tropical treat. I do not think this necessarily means that the man is easily angered or mean spirited. We are all so greatly moulded by our past experiences that the right phrase, action or word (even an innocuous one) is all it takes to bring about a strong, almost uncontrollable, emotional response. We are little more than self deluding Pavlovian K9s. 

I of course had no way to know that Clancy hates to be called a 'usurper'. I mean, who could have guessed that? But as I yelled it at him across the table at our pre-basho luau it was only a millisecond till he himself was crossing the same table. But he did not use a coconut on me at this time.

I called him a "usurper" because he IS a usurper (a tinge of fear ran up my fingers and down my spine as I typed that sentence). The contract I have with SumoTalk Inc. is very clear that I am Mr. Hump-Day. It uses those words "Mr. Hump Day"! I get the coveted Wednesdays and the rest of those droids get to hash out the other days as they see fit. But Clancy couldn't let this natural (correct) order be and had to get in Mike's ear with his rebellious type thinking and his blackmail type photos. So right there as we were enjoying Pupu and the musical stylings of The Tikiyaki Orchestra, Mike announced an "Unfortunate but necessary last minute alteration to the schedule". I couldn't stay silent.

But now Clancy had jumped the table sending hors d'oeuvres and Mai Tais everywhere. Clancy is wiry but fast and strong as an ox and the force of his impact tipped me and my chair over backwards. Mounting me, Clancy got a few great punches in before I was able to smash him on the head with the tiki mug I still clutched in my hand. Clancy collapsed to my left right there on the pool deck, and I jumped onto his back wrapping my left arm around his throat to make sure he never usurped again. But, as I was choking Clancy, I heard a sound the made me loosen my grip and roll of my foe. It was the sound of a grown man crying like a little girl. I'll never say which contributor it was, but I think you know who I'm talking about. He was whaling with snot unashamedly flowing freely from both nostrils. As I, and later Clancy, got to my feet he entered into an impassioned and dramatic soliloquy about how we are a family and how he loves each and every one of us. As I stood there touched by his words and confused by his demeanour, I began to think that maybe it wasn't so bad if Clancy took just one Wednesday. Unfortunately Clancy who was standing behind me was beginning to think that he should grab a coconut and use it on my melon. And that's just what he did. And that's where the luau ended ... or at least my memory of it.

Mike and I once agreed that you could not truly call yourself a sumo fan if you, unable to be at home, have never stopped to watch sumo in one of the big Japanese electronics stores. (back then we used to agree on everything. Now he never even wants to cuddle and some time when he is reading my reports I worry he might be thinking about other writers). I can remember watching Henka-gate with Chiyo, Hak and Asa at a BestDenki (word to the wise THEY'RE NOT). I have also stopped at a gas station to watch sumo as well as tuned in on my cell phone while in a meeting. 

This evening I'm watching (or at least trying to watch) in a busy bar while making food and drinks (largely for myself). You see I clear my Wednesdays each hon-basho so I will have ample time to give my sumo reports the attention they (and you) deserve. But, as I mentioned, Clancy burgled my Hump Day and so now here I am reporting on a lowly Thursday on a busy work day. 

If my report seems late, of low quality, or in any way harmful to the bamboo stocks in China that are so necessary for the sustainable growth of the Giant Panda population, BLAME CLANCY.


Unbeaten Futenoh had his biggest test today (and failed miserably) against the only man to win from the west in the first 12 fights yesterday; Ichihara. Young Ichihara's sumo was by far the best we have seen from him yet. Both rikishi got inside lefts off the tachi-ai. With some squeezing and jostling Futenoh was able to break both of Ichihara's grips and appeared ready to yorikiri the newbie and maintain his unblemished record. But Ichihara gave us our clearest glimpse of what all the hype has been about as he took a half-step backwards, bent over and hugged Futenoh's right arm with both his arms and pivoted, flipping Futenoh from the middle of the ring clear out of the straw circle. This kainahineri (had to look that one up) was (in the Biblical sense of the word) awesome, and Futenoh is lucky to still have a right arm to blog with.

By all accounts Ichihara is poised to blow up like he is Max Headroom and this is 1984. But I, for one, have one 'small' reservation and I'll tell you what it is: He is really fat! Sure they are all fat and of course that helps them in numerous ways, but this dude is 23 years old and already weighs as much as the mountains Miyabi and Iwaki. That's too much for too young. It's going to take a lot of discipline for Ichi to not surpass 200kg when he is 25. That's a LOT of kgs on ankles and knees. A guy who's bread and butter is yorikiri needs the power, but he also needs to to be mobile. Awesome power and natural athleticism launched him through the lower ranks, but just like Baruto, I fear he is going to learn that the elite know a lot of nasty tricks, and it takes more than fright-train power to get enough of the goo in sankyu scalps to sustain a big boy's appetite. It seems to me that the guys who really dominate an era are guys who were under weight when they were coming up. Chiyonofuji, Akebono, Asashoryu and Elvis all relied on skill at the offset of their carriers while their bodies grew to compliment their diverse styles. But what do I know? I have only seen the guy fight a few times and I'm hoping I'm wrong anyway...dude could be the next Konishiki. I think that's a complement.

Kyokutenho wasn't really in the mood for a fair fight today, so he took a step to the left and fought the right half of Takamisakari.

Wakanoho and Iwakiyama both came into today with seemingly impressive 3-1 records. The difference is that Iwaki has been fighting some straight up solid sumo, and Wakanoho has embarrassed himself, his children, and his children's children. Day 1 he gets pushed out easily by Kyokutenho. Day 2 he got a pull down over Kakizoe. Day 3 he did the most ridiculous henka against Kakuryu and still almost lost (if it had been Asa or Hakuho across from him he may well have been brought down on his head), and then yesterday he and Wakakirin gave me as close to the elusive double henka as I have seen yet. Whenever I get all riled up about this, Martin reminds me that he is still just a kid and has a long time to grow into a solid rikishi. Now I do admire Martian's faith and patience, but a few things are becoming clear in my mind even at this early stage. 1) Baring some miraculous conversion he ain't gunna change 2) Wakanoho = one less exciting match every time I watch sumo for the next few years, and 3) I HATE WAKANOHO!

So how did the fight turn out? Well I can hardly believe it, but he went for another leap frog henka again today. Not a sly side-step combined with a grab at the belt, no, no, I'm talking about a dunk competition, 2 or 3 feet straight in the the air, no hope of any possible offence from this position type henka. Confused, Iwakiyama's face actual touched Wakanoho's mawashi in the most unhappy of places. Iwaki just trod forward with the double inside that Jumping Jack had given him, and it was over quicker than you can ask "Is it wrong to hope someone gets injured?". This time Wakanoho, grimacing like he had just knocked over a house of cards he had been working on all day, made no secret of his disgust with himself. That make two of us.

Fellow European Kokkai, contrastingly, has been keeping his feet on the dohyo and is having a phenomenal basho. Today he looked more like a defensive lineman than a sumo wrestler as he steamrolled Kasugao picking up his 4th win.

Kakuryu has been doing all his Kakuryu things to get the job done, and this continued today as he pushed and pulled at Kakizoe till he got him spun around then pushed him into the expensive seats. It's as flashy as lint, but he too has a 4-1. Poor Kakizoe only has one win, and that came over winless Tosanoumi.

Speaking of winless, Wakakirin finally got the bombs going today as he took all his frustration out on Homasho's pretty face. At one point he looked to have a good chance for a throw, but ever since he was exposed to those gamma rays a win means nothing when the rage takes over. Homasho looked like a tether-ball most of this fight ,but in the end got a handful of mawashi, spun Kirin around, and shoved him out. The anger subsides...but for how long? 

The first ever forward pass was thrown by the University of North Carolina in a 1895 game against the University of Georgia. This strange and controversial play would, in time, go on to change football beyond recognition. This is how change, and I believe progress, comes in sport. Some brave (desperate?) soul tries something new, and if it works others soon copy. I remember Mike once commenting that Toyohibiki's "South of the Boarder" Tachi-ai was the result of poor fundamentals or coaching. This is not true. Biki has been in great sumo programs ever since he left Jr. High. I, on the other hand, argued that this was to deter the onslaught of cheap henkas that the big boys inevitably face. And this seemed to be working: Until this basho I never once saw someone throw a henka at Biki. Score one for the "SOB-tachi-ai" right? Well, no. You see for every forward pass, Fosbury Flop or overhand foul shot there has to be a few glowing pucks and dive takers. Not every idea can be a 'touchdown'. Who better than to test this promising innovation than Hokutoriki, one of the true henka legends. So on day 3 Riki threw a mighty henka at Biki and, alas, his fancy-schmancy tachi-ai could not save him. The very next day Takekaze, smelling weakness, took a wide side step with a similar result. So I guess the verdict is in and Toyohibiki and I were wrong. I'm going to call this tachi-ai busted. 

Today Toyohibiki was met, as it is supposed to be, fair and square in the middle of the dohyo by Tamakasuga. The two got into a shoving match that Tama-chan quickly realized he couldn't win, so Tama started backing off looking for the pull-down. Biki kept his feet under him well but got dangerously bent over. He was, however, able to use this seemingly compromising hunched over position to his advantage by reaching around Tama's waist and grabbing his mawashi near the back. With this handle, Biki gained control and quickly threw Tama into the fans. Tomorrow Biki gets Baruto in what should be a very good or a very bad match up.

Roho and Takekaze had a strange and ugly affair even for a Roho/Takekaze affair. There timing was so out of sync and their tachi-ais so poor that there was no contact for the first full second of the competition, and when they did finally make contact, they had completely switched positions. Instead of mounting any resistance, Roho cleverly let Takekaze push him straight out, so he could quickly get on to giving long dirty looks and mumbling to himself as he returned to the dressing room...where I believe he may have punched a baby.

Given similar belt holds Hokutoriki couldn't out push or will Asasexy as Sexy picked up his 3rd win and Riki his 3rd loss.

Wakanosato only got his first win yesterday, but what a win it was. No doubt Sato is approaching his campaign with a new zeal after his embarrassment of Ozeki Koto-shoe. His streak of euro-victories extended to 2 today as he head-butted Baruto in the jaw as part of a great tachi-ai. He took an all too easy double inside from the struggling Estonian and that was that.

With his 4th special prize already warped up, Kisenosato spent most of his bout with Tochinonada today fending off throws. Kisenosato's' foot work was great and eventually he was able to cut the ring off and push Nada out. Kissy has never lost to 33 year old Nada...just incase those type of stats gets you off...

Aminishiki and Kotoshogiku are 2 handsome boys with handsome 3-1 records. But not all 3n1s are the same. In those first 4 fights AmiN saw no one ranked higher than M1 and Giku met no one ranked lower. This was an exciting, high-paced fight that had AmiN attempting several throws, but the Geek was patient and weathered the storm till he saw the window to push the smaller AmiN out. Both dudes fought great showing more amazing footwork, but in the end it was the Geek's weight and strength that made the difference. 

Now lets talk about our Ozeki, shall we? Clancy was right, Kise, Geeku, Toyo, Ama, and Goeido would make better Ozeki than the four we have now. For that matter, so would most of the guys immediately below them. KotoM has been dropping the ball a bit this basho, that's fine, could happen to anyone. KotoS on the other hand has not had a 'good for an ozeki' basho since before he was an Ozeki, and it was only his developing sweet henka skills that kept him off the KK list this long. Then there are the other two, and I'm not even going to waist my time typing about them again. They are an embarrassment to the rank, and they are the embodiment of what's wrong with the system.

Tokitenku came out with a few straight arms to Kotooshu's throat, but he couldn't keep the youngest Ozeki off his belt forever, and when Kotooshu finally got it he threw the Mongolian with a nifty uwatedashinage. 

All the talk about Kaio looking great pre-basho seems as forgotten as Bush's plans to land a man on Mars by 2015. So unexpected and then swept under the carpet so thoroughly that you find yourself wondering if you are actually just remembering some long ago opium induced dream. Well Kaio, for one, remembered as he ran Dejima straight back and off the dohyo with his initial powerful charge. Fly you crazy Mars rocket!

Miyabiyama faced Kotomitsuki for the 32nd time in their careers. Kotomitsuki did exactly what he was looking to do. He worked his way through the Sheriff's thrusts to get both hands inside and then showed the Sheriff the door. Like KotoS and Kaio before him, KotoM really needed this win. Tomorrow he will be tested by the Giant Killer Toyonoshima. 

I think if Chiyotaikai had not been up against Ama today he would have dropped out last night, but he has a great record against Ama, so I guess he decided to fight one more day. He shouldn't have. He looked horrible. He lost a tsuppari contest against little Ama. AmiN should pick up a freebee tomorrow. But if Chiyo for some reason does climb back in there, Mike is going to have to make some cliché remarks about Ozeki pride.

The biggest Asashoryu news in the Japanese media this far in the tournament has been the 'Asashoryu Bento (lunch box)'. Oh I wish I was joking, but sadly, no, there has been a wellspring of buzz as to what's in the bento, how much it costs and how it is selling. 

The biggest Shoryu news for me, conversely, is that the childish and reactionary curse of the 'you-know-which-kyokai' is finally over so at last I get to report on the most exciting sumo wrester of our generation. 

Asa's opponent today was that little Tasmanian Devil Toyonoshima. I have watched the fight so many times in slow-mo, and that is the only way I could have figured out how this all went down. Asa got into a bit of trouble when he came out with his harite at the tachi-ai. Asa is the master of delivering this quick blowand then getting his desired hand position. But today, because of rust, bad luck or Shima's speed, he didn't get it. He immediately switched and tried some tsuppari, but he couldn't get the little fat man to raise his hands in defence or retaliation. Shima was focused on that belt. At this time Shima briefly took a dominant double inside, and the fans were picking up their zabuton. Asa used a throw attempt to work his left inside while Shima pushed the action back to the edge of the ring. Using his outside right and pulling down on the back of Shima's shoulder with his left, Asa finally tipped Shima over. But Shima brought Asa along for the ride with his inside left. On his way down Asa jumped a little bit just to make sure it was visible to all who touched down first, and the two men hit the clay just a fraction of a second apart. The over zealous announcer screamed something about a mono-ii, but it was apparent to everyone else in the building that Asa had pulled it off.

This was a great save for the Dai-Guy, and he was having trouble suppressing the joy on his face. But it was just that, a save. Compare that with Hakuho, who also had a tricky little opponent in Goeido. Hakuho also used a harite but then quickly sunk in two deep grips. From there Hakuho spun and threw Goeido clear off the dohyo. Whenever Asa has one of these shaky bouts, Hakuho is countering with a dominant spanking the very next fight. I think Hakuho's confidence is at an all-time high right now, and I wonder how mortal Asa isn't feeling.

Well it has been a long first week and already and the rikishi are starting to show the ware and tare of their relentless hon-basho schedules. They have a busy weekend ahead of them but hopefully not too many of you do. So call some friends, go out and have some fun. Or invite them over for some beer and nabe...hell, invite me over for some beer and nabe...

Tomorrow is Mike's Coming Of Age Ceremony, so don't miss it!

Day 4 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Hello people (and any feline readers out there) and happy 2008. I wish you all clarity and contentment in the coming year. I was planning to greet you all this New Year by sharing some excerpts from the runaway best-seller here in Nippon, "Contrition: Tokitaizan's Death and How We Intend To Learn From It" by Kimura Shonosuke MCLXVI, but I was interrupted by the sight of the neighbor's peppermint striped tabby Knucklefat landing his Airbus A380 on my great-grandmother's back as she was finishing her 17th consecutive Ironman Triathlon. 

And when I got back to the typingboard, I suddenly recalled Uncle Kenji's admonition to "focus on the fighting" as it were, and I must agree. While one would need to consume and digest the details of five hundred years of Nipponese history to truly understand the young man's murder and Asashoryu's suspension, cursory comprehension will do in a pinch, and that's easy: Death in pursuit of glory ain't such a big thing in this culture, and Asa's a "furrener".

But like my recent barring from a Nipponese strip pub for being a "furry" (evidently there is little gratitude left in this culture toward America and Americans, who, after all, national self interest notwithstanding, saved the country from becoming the East Asian Romania--think Joe Stalin in Shibuya), we need to "get past" this, as my therapist is constantly chiding me. S'ontothematches!

I'll begin with Ichihara, a man who looks like some frightening but benevolent creature Frodo and Samwise might encounter as they trudge toward Mordor. With areolae the size of dog Frisbees and a demeanor that shouts, Ahm a goan smothah yo ass, he is quite the intimidating foe. Exactly NOT whom Tochiohzan needed to see at this juncture. Yes, the former hotrod rookie put up a good fight, driving The Itch back to the edge only to watch in dismay as this latest hotshot's huge mass held fast and brought the battle back to the center. There it became one of those single strand belt battles where they tug and lift and we sit there wondering whose 'nads we're going to be catching a glimpse of first. Finally TochiOh tired to twist The Itch down, but he reacted nicely by shoving up into the pits of the exhausted Kasugano lad and winning by yorikiri. An outstanding first match, boding well for the rest, but Tochiohzan had better soon rediscover the form that made him People Magazine's 1997 Sexiest Man Alive or he'll be selling used cars with his father-in-law.

Ryuo came up from Juryo for the day and decided to slap Yoshikaze around a bit. Ain't seen this much slapping since last year's Three Stooges festival in Kobe. Yoshikaze gave nearly as good as he got though, and the match wore on. Finally, the diminutive Mongolian got inside and belted his foe out all yoritaoshi like.

Kaiho, who had a nice win over Kasuganishiki on Day 3, reverted to cheap tactics and henka'd Mount Iwaki, but The Groom saw it coming and turned on a dime, recovering no problemo and shoving the former Komusubi out. In the background Takamisakari could be seen sitting there slapping his armpits in preparation. Even while seated!

Speaking of Day 3, I wonder how many barely edible sea cucumbers gave their lives to make that head of hair Uchidate wears. This is no joke, when I first glimpsed her Stephen King self there ringside, the first word that popped into my head, honestly, was "Medusa".!

Mr. Bean was eager to rebound from that ugly loss to Iwonkeykong on Day 3 and so naturally he went hells bells for Peter's groin. Must be some well known weakness Tamanoshima has ("Psst, dude can't fight if you have him by the short and curlies [course that would be "short and straighties" for Nipponese]. Pass it on"). He actually broke Bean's grip once, but the E14 came back with the same frontal wedgie attack. Peter then tried to do a Takanonamiesque double armbar lift, but Bean is too tall and he couldn't get the leverage, so gave up. Takami then got the bear hug at the edge, brushed off a mild leg trip attempt and it was all she wrote. 

Fruitenoh stayed poifect with a nice demolition of Kasugao. In control the entire time, the Dewanoumi man widened his stance skillfully when the Korean tried for his inevitable armbar nage, keeping his foe sideways and between his legs where he was easy pushout pickins. 

Next one of those bouts where you think, Damn, if Kokkai could do this kind of sumo every bout, yikes! He plowed into Kyokutenho at tachi-ai, knowing full well that the former Mongolian doesn't mind too much giving up the morozashi because he loves to win by double outside belt grip. But Kokkai's camp must have known this as well and wound the outer layer of his mawashi about as tight as Shar-Pie's mug, which turned it into more of a necklace than a belt once Kyokutenho started yanking on it. Then Kokkai did his best Dejima/Geeku imitation, bellying up to the former Sekiwake like some "torrid" Hollywood love scene between Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone and driving him out. Kudos to Kokkai for staying the course when the going got rough and employing sound, patient sumo.

Two youngsters met in Wakanoho and Wakakirin and Kirin henka'd to his left (probably afraid of having a falling Noho land on him like Dorothy's house—that kangaroo sumo has got to go). Noho turned and ran him out. Yawn.

In a battle of dopplegangers, one S size and one L size, tough little Takekaze slid off henka-esque to Toyohibiki's right after a brief head clanking tachi-ai, but the Zit recovered to no avail as the Oguruma man was on him like stink on a finger, heeding the words of Mr. Miyagi and wiping off any attempt at defense for the emphatic oshitaoshi win. Score this one for the little twin.

The Kak went straight and hard at Homasho, giving him no wiggle room. Homasho, as he is wont to do, stood there absorbing it all like some kindly neighbor trying to break up a fight between two large teens and instead getting the brunt of the blows himself ("Okay, fellas, let's put this thing to bed, shall we? Pop! Bam!") As the Kak jammed him at the edge, Homa did what anyone would do, leaned into it, but with perfect timing his foe Kak slapped him on the back of the neck and he collapsed in a breathless heap on the clay.

I dislike Roho and Hokutoriki enough to skip their bout. Roho won.

King Tama used some woogedy woogedy arm maneuvering to stall Baruto at tachi-ai, but it didn't amount to much as Biomass did what he should do, namely grab the little feller and place him out on the stoop for the milkman in the a.m. There was a brief moment of suspense at the edge when it looked like Tamakasuga might choose to put up enough fight that Baruto would have to fall on top of him as they both plummeted out. Then The King pictured a future of eating every meal through a straw and wisely stepped back and out. Choose life!

A typical bout for both Sexy and Miflobby as Asasekiryu went low sniffing for the belt and Miyabiyama pummeled away with fat slaps at any part of Sexy he could hit. This time out the flying mitts of fury, big as stove hobs, carried the day as Sexy was set up for the slapdown that turned into a spin around that ended with Flobby running out the W4 manlove style for the win (not that there's anything wrong with it).

Aminishiki had a shweet win over Wakanosato yesterday, but today he was in full retreat mode as the Degyptian brought his purple legs along for the party and took the Sekiwake back to the edge in a hurry. Course Shneaky didn't get his rep for being a craftsman by giving up, and he danced on the volcano's edge, flying out as Dejima crashed down. The MIB had a looksee and decided that Shneaky was a dead man walking (or flying as the case may be) and awarded the bout to the former Ozeki. Doesn't really bother me much because I don't care for Shneaky, but I would prefer a strict rule of he who touches first, anywhere, is the loser. This shinitai crap leaves it open to the possibility of too much finagling (see "Chiyotaikai: The Ozeki Ballet" published by Kodansha).

In a clash of two future Ozeki, Geeku absorbed an Ama two handed throat mash that would make a normal man spit out his Copenhagen, then fell forward on to the Sekiwake and hugged him back to the edge. Ama tried to pull off a throw, but The Geeku has made some major adjustments to his sumo balance in the last six months, and there was nowhere for the Mongolian to go but back and out, to Ama's visible dismay. The best wrestler at Sadogatake is taking care of bidness (and virtually owns Ama).

Tokitenku was looking for his first win vs Kaio, and the possibility of a henka was as real as Martin walking into the offices of EuroSport totin' a Benelli R1 looking for "closure". But he gave the Ozeki a fair tachi-ai, then shifted to the side leaving the mudstuck Kaio in a spot. He worked Kaio back to the edge and held him up there by the throat, letting go just as Kaio's forward momentum brought the curtain down on this one. Truth be told, with Kaio as immobile as he is now, beating him is like knocking over a statue of a great man—you need to be strong but not overly clever.

Hit or Mitsuki showed for the second day in a row that he isn't long for the Ozeki rank. After getting his ass handed to him on Day 3 by Goeido (who ACTED when he got the belt grip as opposed to Mitsuki who SAT there when he got the same), he came out today and was...what's the word...humiliated?. .destroyed?. .murdered by Kisenosato. The Kid won the tachi-ai so handily that he was able to get the belt two handed and push Mitsuki out as easily as I do my two-year girl when she tries to come into the toilet while I'm "workin'". Nothing to comment on here because when you get beat at tachi-ai that badly it's usually going to go wrong in a hurry. I like Kotomitsuki, but I truly believe he will be squeezed out of the rank in the not too distant future by six of Mainoumi's Seven Samurai (Goeido, Toyonoshima, Homasho, Kisenosato, Toyohibiki, Tochiohzan, Kotoshogiku), plus Ama and Tokitenku and Baruto.

Chiyotaikai lost to Toyonoshima, no surprise. The bad elbow has taken him out of things. I can't see him fighting past his Day 5 loss to Ama.

Wow, time to raze the current Ozeki. Kotooshu completed this dreary day for the Champions by getting thrown like a chew toy by Wakanosato. The former long running Sekiwake came in low, guessing that the Ozeki likes it up high, put his arms up under the Ozeki's pits and unleashed a sukuinage that was taken from the Sumo 101 textbook but executed at a PhD level. They may erase the current drawing they have for this kimarite on the gooSumo page and redraw it using this bout as the model.

Just think of how great it would be if the Ozeki were Kise, Geeku, Toyo, Ama, and Goeido instead of these four guys. And imagine what the late Kotozakura would say about the two highest ranked rikishi at his heya.

Hakuho had a walk in the park against the one time dangerous but now declawed Tochinonada. Using a harite slap to the face that actually seemed to knock Tochi off balance (rare for that over employed move), Hersheyho opened his foe up to a neck thrust, one more slap to the face, and would have slapped him down right there but for the fact that Tochi left his arm hanging out, so the Choco Yoko grabbed it and flung him down for the second consecutive sukuinage, although this one was more incidental than deliberate.

So the bout of the tourney so far, in anticipation at least, had the latest and most plausible Nipponese hope Goeido, coming off his minimizing of Kotomitsuki on Day 3, vs. the Khan of Khans, Asashoryu. It was like Arthur vs. Galahad in build up. But the unfolding was less than expected, as is often the case when hopes get too high. 

The twenty-one time yusho winner was so fast and smooth at tachi-ai he looked lubed, using his right hand to first deliver a harite and then to block Goeido's left hand going for a front belt grip. The Yokozuna blocked the arm right across Goeido's chest, so he was turned sideways and Asa could grab his belt. It looked like he was perhaps going to pick him up and slam him down, and he could have no doubt, but reports are he likes the kid and so he just shoved him out. Anticlimactic to say the least, but what can we expect for the first time meeting between the two? It ought to be good to see how the youngster approaches his second career bout vs Kublai tomorrow.

Senor Arbo takes his cudgel to the piñata on Day 5. 

Day 3 Comments (Alex  Brohm reporting)
Ah, sumo, the taste of salt in your eyes and clay in your mouth, knowing that if you blink that fat guy squatting in front of you will cripple you for life. Hello, my adoring fans! I've been thrown out of the hotel for making jokes about Kotoshogiku's placement taping, so I'm reporting from the Kokugikan today. I decided to bring my son, who keeps screaming for the ice cream that they sell here on the second floor. 

Maybe we'll walk around a bit. Hmm, not many people here today. Oh, look Musashimaru is helping out at the information desk. I'll pretend I can't find the ice cream and ask for help.

I didn't get here till the middle of Juryo, but I did see Hoshihikari lose to Kotokasuga. What a bummer, light weight Hoshihikari just got thrown around like a rag doll. Oh, and I saw Sakaizawa beat roly-poly Otsukasa, no surprise there, but I went for ice cream during Hakurozan / Ryuo. Oh, and thanks Musashimaru, it was delicious!

I won't be able to do my usual full coverage of the Makuuchi, so I'll just stick with the highlights. 

Iwakiyama – Takamisakari: Iwakiyama dominated Blinky from the tachi-ai, Blinky held on at the straw but couldn't stop Iwakiyama's momentum. After leaving the dressing room, Iwakiyama was all smiles standing in front of the concession stand. He was letting everyone take pictures with him, that is to say, with everybody but me.

Kakuryu – Wakanoho: After Wakanoho's failed flying henka attempt turned into a stumbling retreat, it was all Kakuryu, until Wakanoho hatakikomi'd Kakuryu, that is. Oddly, there was a mono-ii, I think they just wanted to take away Wakanoho's ill gotten gains, but decided a win is a win in the end. It was pretty clear for me. Sorry, I can't say the same about Wakanoho's skin.

Roho – Tochinonada: This was one match that didn't start with a henka, but it was Roho, so maybe I will have go home and check the tape to be sure. Tochinonada masterfully pushed Roho down, down, down till the Russian's body finally gave under the strain. All I can say is awesome!

Kotoshogiku – Kisenosato: Kotoshogiku gave Kisenosato a bit of his usual, and nature took its course. Kisenosato, you're here today, gone tomorrow. I mean, there yesterday, gone today. I mean, yesterday was really great.

Aminishiki – Wakanosato: Aminishiki's Cinderella story continues for a third day. Aminishiki finally beat Wakanosato after 11 matches.

Goeido – Kotomitsuki: After two continuous loses, Goeido picks up a big win against the Ozeki (at right).

Chiyotaikai – Dejima: An injured Chiyotaikai is painful to watch. Chiyotaikai started things off with a slow an ineffective tsuppari, and Dejima had only to wait for Chiyo to commit his mass to a forward motion then he brushed Chiyo of in a way that could be called a pull down, but was really simply putting Chiyo out of his misery. Thanks again Hakuho, for ruining Chiyo's basho.

Ama – Kotooshu: It can be said that I see every Kotooshu match through yogurt colored glasses, but that was a damned fine showing from my favorite cripple. After the initial impact Kotooshu turned Ama around and okuridashi'd him out from behind. It seems like this scenario usually plays out the other way around with Kotooshu getting the shove from the side or behind from Ama or old Tochiazuma. The Bulgarian is learning how to play the game. Be afraid!

Kaio – Miyabiyama: Miyabiyama started things off wrong with a mistimed henka. Kaio quickly reoriented himself and tsuppari'd an off balance Miyabiyama straight out. Everyone pines for the Kaio of old, but what of Miyabiyama? What of the old bounding two fists of justice Miyabiyama?

Tokitenku – Asashoryu: It breaks my heart to see the morning dragon rising from the west, but he's working on changing that. Asashoryu was all business after a seemingly unavoidable loss the day before, and gave Tokitenku a hard yori-kiri off of the sainted block of clay.

Hakuho – Toyoshima: The man who should not be king got a run for his money from the Shikoku islander. Toyonoshima powered his way on to a yori-kiri, but Toyonoshima power and Hakuho power are not even on the same dohyo. The Yokozuna had to remind me why he gets to wear the rope. Though forced bails he defied the physical laws that bind us mortals, and pushed Toyonoshima back, then around, and finally out for his own yori-kiri. After defying the laws of physics he defying the expected level of hinkaku and stuck out his tongue to show us how tiring the life of a superman truly is.

Happy New Year! January is the perfect time to begin a new feature, one that I hope to continue all year. Now, presenting to you, our readers, the first ever Young Ones Awards. The Young Ones Awards are given to the four youngest and most deserving rikishi in the Makuuchi level of professional sumo based on their performance from the previous basho. Our awards are…

The Very Metal Award (for fighting spirit and rude brutality) goes to Wakakirin, for the mean tsuppari barrages that led him to a solid 10-5 debut. On the final day, his totally unnecessary and uncalled for henka of Hokutoriki may have kept him from receiving a Kanto-sho, but it earns him big rudeness points with me. My apologies, to Baruto, the actual recipient of the Kanto-sho, your not a fresh face and you started too low on the banzuke to make your 11-4 victory really impressive. Also, you practically ran away from Chiyotaikai. You big fairy.

The People's Poet Award (for being a snotty clever trousers) goes to Wakanoho, for having the sand to say that he was going to do forward moving, Yokozuna-like sumo, then do a flying henka onto the head of comrade Kokkai. "I go over people's heads sometimes, a bit like an aeroplane! You think I'm an aeroplane, don't you?" No, we don't think you're an aeroplane, we think you're late for cheerleading practice. Now run along. I've got two more awards to give out.

The Dirty Hippy Award (for being a lentil-eating pacifist) goes to Homasho, though at 26 he's no longer young, his lack of resistance was Gandhi-like. Like, far-out man, Woodstock! I guess, Homasho doesn't have what it takes to make the jump from Maegashira 1 to Komusubi. Maybe, you are saying to yourself, "Oh, that's no big deal, getting to Komusubi isn't easy." Getting to Komusubi may be no picnic, but many rikishi have eaten sandwiches on that blanket. Out of the 41 Makuuchi rikishi in Kyushu 29 had made it to Komusubi or higher. Only 12 hadn't made it to Komusubi, and out of them 2 are fresh from Juryo, 3 more were recently promoted and hadn't even been in the Makuuchi a full year. So, out of the 12, 5 haven't reasonably had enough time to make Komusubi. That leaves Homasho in the company of only Takekaze (28), Kasugao (30), the much younger Kakuryu (22), Yoshikaze (25), Baruto (24), and Hakurozan (25). Homasho had better hurry up, before Baruto and Kakuryu leave him in the lurch.

The Charismatic Award (for having charisma, spotty) goes to Ama, when you have as many pock marks as he does, it's nice to have something to fall back on when your with the ladies. Ama hardly a fresh face, but at only 23 is still quite the young one. Ama's 10-5 may not sound like much, but remember ladies it's not the size of his ship it's the motion of the ocean. Those ten wins include Hakuho, his second victory in a row, three wins against the Ozeki the loss coming from Chiyotaikai, who was on a tear, he also beat heavyweights Baruto, Dejima, Wakanosato, Kisenosato, and Homasho. The content of those wins was also remarkable, with only one pull-down victory against Dejima. But, come on, it was Dejima "The Tank Engine" wadda ya gonna do?

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As I was scanning the news articles on Sunday morning Japan time, I ran across one from the Jiji press that commented on the rise in ticket sales and the record-setting kensho for day 1. The article gave credit where credit was due, which means the return of Asashoryu has lifted interest in the sport again, but the final line of the report was dead on. It said, "In order not to lose this current rise in popularity, it is imperative that the quality of sumo can be substantially measured." I echo that sentiment. You don't raise the popularity of the sport by driving it's best rikishi from the ring; rather, you inspire the younger rikishi to rise up and take the king down on their own. If the first two days of the Hatsu basho is any indication of the current state of sumo, we're off to a great start. The sumo has been terrific for the most part.

In fact, while watching the broadcast today and hearing the buzz in the Tokyo crowd, I couldn't help but to be reminded of sumo in the mid-nineties during the height of it's popularity. Back then you had two solid Yokozuna in Takanohona and Akebono. Then you had perhaps the best core of Ozeki in the history of the sport in Wakanohana, Musashimaru, and Takanonami. And beyond that, you had some quality sanyaku rikishi and jo'i mainstays to the tune of Kaio, Musoyama, Tosanoumi, Akinoshima, and yes, that Tamakasuga. Seemingly everyday brought quality matchups, and those core jo'i guys would take down the top dogs all the time. The quality of sumo on a daily basis was unequalled, but I think we are starting to see that same kind of scenario formulate again. We have our two Yokozuna at the prime of their careers; we have a decent Ozeki core that is enhanced by Ama; and then we have some solid, younger rikishi in the jo'i who can take down the dogs on any given day...guys like Kotoshogiku, Kisenosato, Toyonoshima, Aminishiki, and shortly Goeido. I can just sense a turn for the better in sumo starting now, so the YDC, the board of directors, and the mainstream press need to just back off and let the rikishi promote the sport's popularity in the ring. And finally, if Fujii announcer with Kitanofuji at his side in the booth and Mainoumi in the mukou-joumen chair is the best broadcasting threesome in sumo, then today's trio of Kariya announcer/Dewanoumi-oyakata/Sendagawa (former Akinoshim) is a close second. It was all good on day 2 brother, so let's get right to the action.

The most anticipated bout of the day was obviously the Asashoryu - Kisenosato matchup, and unlike a lot of other bouts that NHK tries to hype, they had legitimate footage to hype this one. You'll recall the 2006 Aki basho when Kisenosato beat Asashoryu handily only to have the Yokozuna retaliate in Kyushu with that famous keta-guri move. You also have Kisenosato's attitude, which was out in full force yesterday as he gestured towards Chiyotaikai and uttered a few words (to himself I think) after kicking the Ozeki's ass and sending him to the floor below the dohyo. I know a lot of people are turned off by Kisenosato's brazen ways, but I love it...especially when you can back it up.

As for the bout itself, Kisenosato used a moro-te charge (both hands at the throat) to completely neutralize Asashoryu's tachi-ai and keep him away from the inside. Having lost the tachi-ai, the Yokozuna's only option to set up an offensive was to tsuppari his way back in, but he opted to keep his arms extended in an attempt to keep the Kid at bay, but screw that, Kisenosato was comin' and come he did forcing his way into the moro-zashi position against a Yokozuna who was in no stance to counter. Asa knew he was in trouble and tried to slip the grip to his right countering with a neck throw with the left arm, but Kisenosato was too fired up and used perfect foot work to drive Asashoryu around 180 degrees into the brokeback position, and from there, it was no stoppin' the Kisenosato train as he launched the Yokozuna clear off the dohyo and into a heap down at the corner of the dohyo. You know that if you make the yobi-dashi grab their bucket of salt and little stool and run like hell that you've just kicked your opponent's ass. Wow...Kisenosato! He takes apart Chiyotaikai on day 1 and then bursts Asashoryu's comeback bubble on day 2.

Asashoryu's loss shouldn't be a surprise, however. You only need to go back as far as my pre-basho report and revisit the ring sense thing. Today was a perfect example of what I was talking about. First, Asashoryu's tachi-ai was lame. He was flat-footed and in no position to counter Kisenosato's move. Second, he wasn't prepared to come from behind by wiping away the Kid's moro-te tachi-ai. Wasn't it just the other day when Asashoryu was showing Goeido how to do the same thing? Let me put it in tennis terms. You're warming up for a match and you go to the net to practice your volleys. Your opponent hits it straight at you, and you try and volley it back to him or her, and then they try and hit it back to you alternating forehand side and backhand side. It's practice, right? The longer you can hit it it back and forth to each other, the more practice you get. That's what keiko is too. You work together to try and get the most practice out of a situation as possible. So even though Asashoryu dominated in the practice ring, it made no difference once he stepped atop the dohyo at a hon-basho. Look, don't write Asashoryu off. He WILL be back, and I still think a 13-2 finish can be expected. I'm just saying, don't be surprised that he lost so early. It was in the cards considering his long absence from the ring.

As for Kisenosato, he needs only 6 more wins now to cement a special prize or two and a trip back to the sanyaku. The best thing about this win is it sends Kisenosato's confidence sky high. Two days, one Ozeki and one Yokozuna and both of them launched of the dohyo at the hands of Kisenosato. Damnation!

Moving right along, in a clash of rikishi with similar statures, Yokozuna Hakuho jumped out a half second early against M1 Tokitenku looking to get his right arm positioned on the inside, but Tokitenku stayed low and clamped down on that side denying the Yokozuna his favored position. Hakuho changed the action on a dime at this point and took advantage of Tokitenku's low stance to simply slap at him downwards which caught Tokitenku off guard to the point where he put his hand down to break his fall. There was hardly any action here, but Hakuho will take that win every day of the week. A 2-0 start is exactly what he needed. Tenku is still 0-2.

If Komusubi Dejima were to have a chance today against Ozeki Kotomitsuki, he would have had to drive him back quickly from the start and finish of his bidness in seconds, but the Ozeki struck well completely halting Dejima's momentum and setting up the eventual left outer grip for Kotomitsuki. The Ozeki had only one fold of the belt, however, which probably contributed to his standing in the center of the ring for about 30 seconds (10 seconds longer than normal), but in time he mounted his force-out charge driving Dejima to the edge of the tawara and upright. Dejima dug in well using the straw for leverage, but Kotomitsuki ain't gonna throw this kind of position away and eventually managed to force Dejima out of the ring picking up his second win in as many tries. Dejima has yet to score the upset at 0-2.

The Fukuoka rivalry between Ozeki Kaio and Komusubi Kotoshogiku was on display today, and since Kaio wasn't facing demotion from the rank, Kotoshogiku was able to go all out and produce a good yotsu-zumo match. The two rikishi quickly hooked up into the hidari yotsu position with both fishing for the right outer grip that would prove the advantage. Neither got it as they wrangled back and forth across the ring trying to wrench each other up enough to where the belt was in reach, but Kotoshogiku's youth prevailed here as he was able to keep his legs planted firmly to the dohyo throughout catching a Kaio evasive attempt perfectly at the edge that stood Kaio upright leaving the easy force-out nudge in the end. Even though he lost, Kaio looked okay to me, and 8 wins is not out of the question. Both dudes are 1-1.

Ozeki Kotooshu was too slow at the tachi-ai today and allowed his nemesis M2 Toyonoshima to duck in for the quick moro-zasho grip. Kotooshu countered with the firm right outer position, but Toyonoshima has been here before and knew exactly what to do. Driving into Kotooshu's body and forcing the Bulgarian to counter quickly or be driven straight out, Kotooshu went for the right outer belt throw, but with Toyonoshima so far on the inside, he easily bumped his left hip high into Kotooshu's right thigh knocking the Ozeki's footing out from under him and setting up a spectacular left inner throw that caused Kotooshu to summersault to the dirt. Dewanoumi-oyakata provided the perfect analysis afterwards saying that Kotooshu's problem is he lets his opponent dictate the pace of the bout. Both rikishi are 1-1.

In an entertaining affair between two old-timers, Ozeki Chiyotaikai and former Ozeki Miyabiyama put on a great display of tsuppari sumo with both taking turns on the offensive and with neither party seriously going for a pull down. This was a 20 second battle of wills as both rikishi circled around and around the ring trading tsuppari and looking for the opening to plant firmly and go for the kill. In the end, Chiyotaikai's inability to use that right arm to set up an offensive position did him in as Miyabiyama was just too strong in the end as he shoved the ailing Taikai across the straw and to an 0-2 start, a position Chiyotaikai hasn't been in in a long time.

There was the deserved buzz running through the Kokugikan crowd today as Sekiwake Ama and M3 Goeido stepped onto the dohyo after their classic encounter two basho ago, and the two would not disappoint. Hooking up in the immediate gappuri migi yotsu position (simultaneous left outers and right inners), a battle of power ensued in the center of the ring for about 10 seconds until Goeido struck first with the outer throw attempt, but Ama hooked his right leg inside of Goeido's left and tripped the youngster down to the dirt as he attempted the throw. Problem was, the kid is so savvy, as he fell to the clay, he fell into Ama's left leg causing Ama to fall himself while it looked as if Goeido landed on Ama's leg technically keeping him alive. A mono-ii was correctly called for where it was ruled that both rikishi hit the dirt at the same time. As NHK showed the replays, it looked to me that Goeido's ass slipped across Ama's leg and hit the dirt a split second before the Sekiwake touched down himself, but I can't argue the call. Goeido went for the offensive maneuver, Ama countered beautifully, and Goeido was heady enough to fall into his opponent. Regardless, who doesn't want to see these two go at it again?

In the rematch, Ama did what I thought he should have done in the first bout, which was to use his powerful nodowa tachi-ai and drive forward at all costs. Ama did come with the right paw to the neck, but what really set things up was the Sekiwake using his head to drive up and into Goeido's chin completely knocking the kid off balance only allowing him a frivolous pull attempt as he was driven back. The rematch was over in two seconds, but you could not walk away from this bout and not say, "damn, that was some good sumo." You watch...the Mongolians are going to appreciate Goeido to the point where they take him under their wing, and I can just see the next few years where each basho comes down to the two Yokozuna, Ama, and Goeido with Kotomitsuki getting a little love in the short term.

Sekiwake Aminishiki played it perfectly today against M3 Tochinonada today attacking with his right arm on the inside to take away Tochinonada's favored left inside position. Nada looked a bit lost in the fray as Aminishiki quickly moved his right arm from the inside to the outside grabbing the belt in the process, but instead of digging in to set up a force-out or a throw, Ami wisely pull down and inwards completely cutting off Tochinonada from the inside left, his favored grip. In this position, Aminishiki wrangled Tochinonada this way and that before finally setting up the easy force-out win. This was beautiful sumo from Aminishiki today who's off to a fine 2-0 start. Nada's still got at least the one Sekiwake scalp at 1-1.

In the Maegashira ranks, M5 Tamakasuga stayed low at the tachi-ai keeping M4 Asasekiryu away from any inside position, but in the process he took away his own tsuppari attack, so while Asasekiryu had been neutralized from the tachi-ai, King Tama couldn't capitalize on it. For nearly 30 seconds the two danced around the ring going for petty pull downs here and there until finally Asasekiryu pounced on the inside securing a deep left inner position. From there it looked to be an easy force-out win, but Asasekiryu was gassed and actually hesitated a bit, but Tamakasuga failed to take advantage when I though he could have evaded and attempted a pull down at the tawara. You have to think the veteran himself was out of breath at this point too, so Asasekiryu finally managed the yori-kiri win in the end. Props to Sexy for his 2-0 start while the King falls to 1-1.

M5 Roho wasted what looked to be a solid yotsu-zumo contest coming in with a tachi-ai henka to his left against m4 Wakanosato where he masked it by going for the uwate instead of the pull down. With the left outer grip secure and Wakanosato off balance, it was easy pickings for Roho as he began to drive Wakanosato back, but for some reason he abandoned the left outer grip opting to slap Wakanosato to the dirt instead. Right there is the problem with Roho's sumo the last year....abandoning the solid outer grip in favor for the pull down. What the Russian needed to do was lift up with that left outer as he bodied Wakanosato back and out in true yori-kiri fashion, not abandon it to go for the pull down. Sure, he picked up the win, but that move speaks volumes to me about where the Russian is right now with his sumo. It's gettin' bad.

M6 Hokutoriki just cracks me up to no end. When he goes for a tachi-ai henka, he gets all fired up and places both fists firmly to the starting line, but when he comes clean, he kind of ambles to the starting line with his eyes down looking this way and that like a bad shoplifter, and then he quickly slams his fists to the dirt hoping for the sneak attack. We got the manbiki tachi-ai today against M7 Homasho, and Hokutoriki forced the action throughout with his tsuppari attack that was lacking the confidence needed to win. Homasho was driven this way and that but always kept his lower body planted firmly to the dirt, and after about 10 seconds of action, Hokutoriki went to plant his right foot, but it slipped out from under him (wink, wink) causing his knee to just hit the dirt while Homasho continued to stand there and watch him make a fool out of himself. They didn't announce the kimari-te until a couple of bouts later, but they finally decided on "tsuki-hiza", which loosely translates into Terao taking a wad of money out of his wallet and handing it to Hakkaku-oyakata. Both rikishi are 1-1.

Due to the recent fervor surrounding the return of Asashoryu, the news that M6 Baruto re-injured his left knee slipped through the cracks. I still don't know how he did it, but he has the joint taped up so heavily that he can barely bend his leg. Still, he could have the thing amputated and it'd be no excuse to lose to Hokutoriki as he did yesterday. M7 Takekaze obviously watched the bout and was looking for a cheap win of his own today because he moved to his left delivering a tachi-ai henka. Baruto doesn't exactly lunge forward at the start, so the Estonian was barely fazed and standing upright as Takekaze tried to mount an attack from the side. With Takekaze's footing having been compromised by the henka, he was in no position to mount a charge on his own against Baruto's bulk, but the Estonian did him a huge favor by going for a weak pull attempt allowing Takekaze to push him out with ease from there. Baruto, my man, take a step back and look at the rikishi who are doing you this basho. I know your knee hurts, but you can beat these guys in your sleep. Also, what the hell is Baruto doing in between basho? They're called off season workouts my man...something all professional athletes should do. Baruto will never succeed in sumo until he devotes himself to the lifestyle required by the sport.

M9 Wakakirin stepped slightly to his left at the tachi-ai trying to do who knows what against M8 Toyohibiki. The Nikibi caught the youngster with a fierce right paw to the neck standing him upright and into position where he could be pummeled back to the straw and out in seconds. To the level that Wakakirin sucked today, Toyohibiki was outstanding. It's always nice to see good sumo prevail over crap, so props to Toyohibiki for his first win.

Martin and I had our fun with M8 Kakuryu as he rose up the ranks, but as I suspected, his passing through the jo'i fire for a couple of basho has tempered him into a solid rikishi, especially when he faces the rank and file here in the middle of the ranks. Today, M9 Kokkai's only hope was to keep Kakuryu away from the inside with his tsuppari attack, but he didn't even try for the shoves allowing Kakuryu to duck his way inside at the tachi-ai and just grab one fold at the front of Kokkai's belt, which was all he needed to move to his left, tug at the Georgian's belt and pull him down easily with the left hand at the back of Kokkai's head. This was picture perfect execution from the Kak who shoots to 2-0.

M11 Kasugao will always have a tough time with M10 Kyokutenho because the former Mongolian is big enough to counter the Korean's bulk at the tachi-ai. Today was no different as Tenho struck low and then just waited for Kasugao to raise that right arm in the kote-nage position. He did a second later allowing Kyokutenho to pounce in the moro-zashi grip and force Kasugao back and out in two seconds. Tenho is off to a nice 2-0 start.

M10 Wakanoho is a difficult rikishi to comment on because his sumo--if you can call it that--is so unorthodox. After an awful tachi-ai where he stood straight up, he did the only thing he could which was go for the quick pull down against M11 Kakizoe. To his credit, he pulled with the left arm wrapped around Kakizoe's melon while trying to grab the right outer grip, but his positioning was just so bad from the beginning that Kakizoe shook it off creating complete separation between the two rikishi. As Kakizoe looked to hook back up, Wakanoho delivered a wicked right forearm to the side of Kakizoe's head that had to have dazed Zoe a bit because Wakanoho was able to finish him off with another ugly pull attempt at the tawara. The reason it's hard to comment on Wakanoho right now because his style looks a lot like amateur sumo (outside of Japan). Anytime I'm flipping through the channels and come across an amateur sumo tournament, it looks to me like guys standing straight up at the tachi-ai who then try and tackle each other. Sendagawa-oyakata was also correct in his comments today of Wakanoho when he said that no one wants to see him win with this kind of sumo.

M12 Tosanoumi charged a bit lower than he normally does today against M13 Tamanoshima, which completely cut Peter off from any sort of belt grip. Tosanoumi went for the quick shoulder slap about three seconds that knocked Tamanoshima off balance, but the veteran kept his footing well and as Tosanoumi looked to re-align chests, Tamanoshima greeted him this time with a left arm on the inside the was sufficient enough to drive Tosanoumi back and out. The problem with those quick pull/slaps that Tosanoumi attempted today is that if you don't win with them, you've just taken away all of your momentum. The Blue Collar rikishi is 0-2.

M12 Futenoh used a crushing tachi-ai today against M13 Iwakiyama grabbing a quick right outer grip while lifting up at Iwakiyama's inside with the left completely neutralizing the Groom from any decent counter position (taking notes, Roho?). Futenoh didn't waste the tachi-ai and drove Iwakiyama back and out without further argument picking up a nifty second win while Iwakiyama will have to explain his first loss to the missus for sure.

My reaction to M16 Ichihara's sumo on day 1 was "his opponent was Kaiho." I know some were raving over the rookie's start, but you have to take into account his opponent. In prolly the most anticipated matchup in the first half, M14 Takamisakari would give Ichihara a firmer test today that came from the tachi-ai when the Cop lunged into a quick moro-zashi grip and forced Ichihara back to the tawara in an instant. Ichihara tried to counter with a pivot and kubi-nage throw with the left, but the gangly Takamisakari is just too good and too experienced to blow a tachi-ai like that and his morozashi grip. This was over without incident, and the Makuuchi division's version of Mr. Bean put Ichihara's challenge this basho into better perspective. Tis the speed folks...or lack of it that concerns me with Ichihara. Nonetheless, both rikishi are 1-1 and will provide some compelling bouts this low in the ranks.

Since his return to the Makuuchi division, M16 Kaiho has looked terrible. It seems that he can't win unless he uses gimmicks from the tachi-ai. Well, either that or if he faces M15 Tochiohzan. Today, Oh hit fairly well at the tachi-ai, but did nothing to gain any offensive position, but he still pressed forward with his bulk. Kaiho countered with the left on the inside and kept his cool as he turned the tables at the tawara with a surprising scoop throw that fell Tochiohzan to a terrible first loss. The problem here was Tochiohzan's laziness. It didn't look as if he even cared about grabbing a right uwate to set anything up, and with that kind of nonchalant attitude in the Makuuchi division, e'en Kaiho will kick your ass. Unbelievable.

As I hinted to in my opening, with the core of solid rikishi in the jo'i right now, we'll have multiple compelling bouts each day just as we saw on day 2. Alex will 'splain it all tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
Happy New Year, fans. 2007 was a tough year for the sport of sumo in several ways that we've covered aplenty already, so let me start 2008 with my own little motto: "Let's keep it on the dohyo", shall we? The spotlight, that is. Here's to a turn-around year rich with content and quality clashes on the clay. 

That said, allow me to weigh in quickly on what has become the Asashoryu circus leading up this basho. To my eyes, the "love to hate Asashoryu" has picked up in full force where it left off when the Yokozuna got suspended last summer. It's not enough that he has apologized, shown fighting spirit in practice or schooled counterpart Hakuho five wins to two in the recent soken. As day 1 emerged, the comments you hear on TV are "he has been 'my pace' as usual since his return" or "he was a little too enthusiastic at the soken". The latter came from one of the suits on the deliberation council, and is absolutely comical. I guess Sho should be laid back IN THE RING now in addition to outside the ring, then? Ridiculous. 

Anyway, on to the show. I'll cover ten of the most anticipated bouts in day 1, starting with the two Yokozuna and working our way down. 

Asa "lazy outside the dohyo but too spirited inside" Shoryu did not disappoint in his first real bout in over five months (well, I guess if you're the masses, it may have disappointed since he won convincingly). He upped his perfect record against Komusubi Kotoshogiku to 7-0 with strong uwatenage. You could just feel the intensity in this bout, as well as the anticipation leading up to it. Sho started with a hari-dashi slap and looked solid in securing a migi-yotsu position before the deciding throw. The man is back. 

Following Sho's victory, Hakuho was matched up against the other Komusubi, Dejima, who has reached sanyaku rank again after a 27 basho absence. This is the third longest absence all time behind Aobajo (of the sideburns and hairy chest) at 43 basho and Daijuyama (of the gritty defense at the tawara) at 31 basho way back in the 70's/80's. Well the resurgence wasn't enough for the 33 year old Dejima as he failed to stop stumble-prone Hakuho, who came into today with a combined 6-11 record on day ones over the last three years. But on this day, Hakuho followed up Asashoryu's uwatenage a bout earlier with a statement making version of his own. Not only could the day one monkey be off his back, I believe there was a message here to the tune of "hey, I'm still the man here, and the other guy's going to have to get through me to win this basho". Let's hope for that epic clash in 14 days. 

The four Ozeki tallied a 3-1 mark to start things off in 08, and each had a story of his own leading into the campaign. 

Kotooshu comes into the basho tagged with kadoban status for the first time in his career after withdrawing early from Kyushu, another first. With suspect right knee wrapped as usual, he took on Miyabiyama. This one was a nail biter as Miyabi pushed Oshu out at about the same time that Oshu slapped Miyabi down. The gyoji gave it to Miyabi, but a mono-ii was appropriately called. The replay showed Miyabiyama clearly hit the clay first, and the judges correctly overturned the call to give Oshu the win. So Oshu won the war but lost the battle, as demonstrated by two pull downs attempts during the bout. A bittersweet beginning to Oshu's attempt to retain rank. 

Kaio, on the other hand, comes into Hatsu having just escaped his 11th kadoban in Kyushu. His opponent is mighty mite M2 Toyonoshima. Surprisingly, Kaio was drawing raves instead of doubts as day one emerged. He went a perfect 11-0 during the soken and has everyone wondering if he just might make it to Kyushu yet again this year. His performance against Toyo was consistent with this praise as he displayed a strong attack despite not being able to secure the right outside grip. He forced out Toyo with relative ease, showing a lot of upside early in the basho for the first time in recent memory. 

Kotomitsuki's story is his recovery from going under the knife to remove gallstones two days after Kyushu basho. It has been a slow process, but he was able to get off on the right foot against pesky M1 Tokitenku. Mitsuki showed a strong tachi-ai and a methodical attack to garner the belt, then confirmed his grip before unleashing a nice uwate-dashi-nage. Tenku countered this with a shitate-nage of his own that momentarily distracted Mitsuki, but it wasn't enough to turn the tables. 

That leaves Chiyotaikai, who you may remember went down on day 14 in Kyushu with an elbow injury after being on the receiving end of two crunching tottari attempts by Hakuho in a bout with major yusho implications to both rikishi. Well, Taikai's characterization of the health of his elbow went from a paltry "45%" at new year to a whopping "50%" leading into day one. Not good. The one thing he did have going for him was that he is 10-0 lifetime against his opponent, M1 Kisenosato. Ailing elbow aside, Chiyo boldly proclaimed "I'm only going forward with my attack, no back pedaling". The claim stood ground for about 3 seconds, as he went for the pull down shortly after realizing his attack wasn't budging Kise. Along with that bold claim went Chiyo's perfect record against Kise as the youngster easily took advantage of the momentum to force the Ozeki out. 

The two Sekiwakes had dissimilar fates to open the New Year Tourney. 

Aminishiki showed his veteran shrewdness against young stud Goeido, who has reached the big boys in just his 3rd basho in Makuuchi. This bout wasn't as much about Goeido but about Ami's crafty skill. He kept Eido's attack at bay with a steady menu of inashi to keep him off balance, very similar to how Tamakasuga stays competitive at an advance age. Eventually, Ami got the upper hand and won via oshi-taoshi in a close bout. Welcome to the show, Eido. 

My man Ama comes into Hatsu sporting consecutive 10 win campaigns from Komusubi rank, fancying an outside shot at Ozeki promotion with a huge basho. He has won the outstanding performance award two basho in a row and has beaten Hakuho twice as well as an Ozeki five times during that span. But the rap here is his tendency to lose against lesser foe. He displayed that today as he fell to veteran Tochinonada via tsuki-otoshi. The initial attack was good and the desire was there, but I sensed anxiety and a little bit of stiffness as a result of it. The more fluid Nada took the bout in stride and executed a well timed side swipe to down the eager Ama. 

To wrap up, I'd like to hit on two rikishi who are stirring the pot down in the rank and file. 

Baruto is coming off an 11-4 performance that brung him the fighting spirit award in November. Funny, "fighting spirit" was the last thing I would have described to explain his bout against "The Pretender" Hokutoriki to start this basho. Baruto loses in a surprisingly lopsided yorikiri, and didn't even seem too bothered by it. You can take this two ways. Not focused or shrug it off and back to business tomorrow. Only time will tell. 

The rookie everyone is talking about this time is none other than Ichihara, a rikishi who at this time last year was in his first professional sumo tournament at the very lofty rank of Makushita 10. He made it through Juryo in one basho, a feat not achieved in 17 years. He took on Kaiho, a man 11 years his senior from Nihon Daigaku. The pesky vet was no match; dumped via kotenage with ease. The thing that strikes me about Ichihara is his poise. He doesn't look or carry himself like a rookie. Will he quickly become the next great Japanese hope? Again, only time will tell. 

Let's hope for some great sumo to come everyone. See you a little later in the basho.


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