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Day 1

Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9

Senshuraku Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
It's always anti-climactic wrapping up a basho when the yusho isn't determined on senshuraku, but there are still kachi-koshi to obtain, prizes to win, and of course bouts to be thrown. The last five days of this tournament have been dominated by debate going back and forth as to whether or not Hakuho threw any bouts during that three-day losing streak. It's one thing to debate a loss that comes out of nowhere as was the case when Hakuho fell to Kakuryu, but as time goes on and more things occur that just don't seem right, it's put into better perspective. That trend continued into today with the final two Ozeki bouts, and I don't see how anyone who watched the Kotooshu - Kisenosato bout can say with a straight face that it wasn't staged. The Mongolians are crafty in the ring, and they're also brilliant actors, but today showed why dudes from Bulgaria don't take Hollywood by storm.

As long as we're on that bout, let's discuss the details of this one first. Going back the last five years or so, Kotooshu has owned Kisenosato primarily because Kisenosato always seems to settle for yotsu-zumo when he really needs to use his strength, the tsuki-oshi approach. The Bulgarian's limbs are so long that all he has ever needed against Kisenosato was a solid inside position. Anyway, this bout played right into the hands of Kotooshu from the tachi-ai as the two rikishi hooked up in the hidari-yotsu position; yet, Kotooshu refused to grip the Kid's belt with either hand even though it was right there for the taking. Let's start with Kotooshu's right hand first, which was on the outside of Kisenosato's left. The Bulgarian's hand was right at Kisenosato's belt but he wouldn't grab it instead causing his hand to slip off as if he just couldn't grab the cloth. If you have the means to watch the angle NHK showed in slow motion replay, it was embarrassingly obvious that Oshu was refusing the outer grip. On the other side (the side away from the camera), Kotooshu kept his left arm right in the middle between Kisenosato's armpit and mawashi. The way to set up an opponent from the inside is to either grab his belt ensuring that you can burrow in deep, or lifting up into the opponent's armpit to get him upright. Next to a sound tachi-ai, establishing this inside position is key to sumo. So when I watch Kotooshu keeping his left arm in the middle of Kisenosato's back, which defies sound sumo logic, it's clear as day that this bout was staged. I don't care who you are, you cannot watch this bout and then declare with a straight face that it was real. The end result is that Kisenosato ends the basho 11-4 one behind the Yokozuna, who is the measuring stick in the sport. It's critical that one of the two Japanese Ozeki stay within arm's reach of the Yokozuna for reasons I already introduced in my pre-basho report. Kotooshu gives up the win today in exchange for a much more prestigious win over Hakuho on day 13, and the best word to describe his sumo in this one is "casual."

Okay, as long as we're talking about fake bouts, let's move to the Harumafuji - Kotoshogiku matchup where the Geeku entered the day at 7-7. Was there any doubt as to who would win this? The two rikishi hooked up in the hidari-yotsu position where Kotoshogiku secured the easy right outer grip and began his gaburi force-out attack. Harumafuji dug in with the lower body, but his right arm just dangled at his side through the entire contest. A few seconds into the bout Kotoshogiku executed on an outer belt throw that forced Harumafuji off balance and turned him around 180 degrees, but the Geeku was right there afterwards to easily force the Mongolian back and across for the win. What do I look at in this bout to say that it was staged? Absolutely no lateral movement from the Mongolian, no effort to use his right hand (or legs), and he kept himself squarely in front of Kotoshogiku's body the entire time. In a yotsu contest that includes belt grips, of course Kotoshogiku has the advantage. So Harumafuji's lack of effort to force the bout to oshi-zumo (where was his moro-tezuki tachi-ai?), and the absence of any counter attack or lateral movement shows that he was just making this one look good. The benefit of staging this one is that a Japanese Ozeki doesn't suffer make-koshi and go kadoban just two basho after his promotion. I know this is hard for many people to read, but none of what we've seen the last six months is coincidence. Status quo for sumo is Hakuho going 88-2 each calendar year, so when he drops three bouts in three days, there's a reason behind it.

With the yusho determined and all other business taken care of including Kisenosato's 11 wins and Kotoshogiku's kachi-koshi, the final contest of the day was a straight up contest between sumo's top two rikishi, Yokozuna Hakuho and Ozeki Baruto. I guess the only question remaining for Baruto was could he capture an elusive 15-0 zensho yusho, something that's only been accomplished 6 times by an Ozeki in the sport? The Yokozuna easily brushed off Bart's moro-tezuki tachi-ai and grabbed the Estonian in an armbar grip wrapping his right arm around Baruto's left. Hakuho used the position to body Baruto towards the edge where he inserted his left arm deep on the inside of Baruto to keep him upright and used that right arm to grab the outer grip for good measure. This one looked to be over nearly as fast as it began, but Baruto did the one thing that someone does when they're actually trying to win the bout...dig in at the edge and at least try something to counter. Hakuho's positioning was so solid that Baruto couldn't escape, but it did require Hakuho to reload and body the Estonian off the dohyo for good and down to his first loss of the basho.

As the dust settles on the basho, it's clear to see that Hakuho can do what he wants to whom he wants whenever he wants. Yes, Hakuho can be beaten in a straight up fight, and it happens once or twice a year, but it is clear that the Yokozuna is heavily involved in manipulating the course of a basho. The more I see this take place, the more I'm left to wonder if Asashoryu was so disliked because he refused to cooperate to the extent asked of him by the Sumo Association. Along with Asashoryu, his stablemaster, Takasago-oyakata, was also blistered in the media for his failure to reign his prodigy in.

While I do know that bouts (still) are fixed in sumo, I do not know the details behind the arrangements. During the yaocho scandal, it was revealed that rikishi lower in the division and even in Juryo were paying each other for bouts. I can understand that when a single win could mean the difference between a sweet paycheck, notoriety, chicks, etc. and being banished back to the Makushita ranks where zero perks exists. But orchestrating bouts among the elite ranks serves a far different purpose, and I don't think that money necessarily has to change hands. My feeling is that the oyakata are the ones arranging things behind the scenes, not the rikishi themselves and their tsuke-bito. Looking back over the events of the last five years and the way Hakuho is treated vs. the way Asashoryu was treated, I think that Asashoryu largely said "screw you" to the Association and did his own thing.

If you look at the current situation in sumo, we know that it was a major sore spot not to have any Japanese rikishi among the Ozeki and Yokozuna ranks. That problem was taken care of in fairly short order, but the issue now is that the last portrait of a Japanese yusho rikishi was removed from the Kokugikan rafters prior to this basho. This is a major sore spot in Japan, and it's my belief that what occurred at the Hatsu basho were circumstances implemented to groom the public at large in preparation for a subsequent yusho from a Japanese rikishi. I've been stating for at least a year now that I believe Hakuho would let anyone yusho if they would just step up and do the majority of work. The Ozeki have been so horrid for so long, however, that none of them had been able to yusho until six months ago when Harumafuji did it in Nagoya and now Baruto with his victory at Hatsu. If we wind the clock back two years, Asashoryu was about to retire. What ensued after that was domination in the sport from Hakuho that this generation has never seen that resulted in three consecutive zensho yusho (something unheard of) and a 63 bout winning streak. Then, all of a sudden Hakuho seems vulnerable again right about the time that Takanohana-oyakata made his surprising declaration one year ago that Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato would be considered for Ozeki promotion even though they had both just been promoted to the sanyaku after fighting as Maegashira rikishi the previous basho in Kyushu.

In my opinion, Hakuho personally lowered the bar in 2011 allowing himself to be beat mostly at the hands of Japanese rikishi in an attempt to the let the field catch up to him somewhat. The two top Ozeki, Harumafuji and Baruto, were able to capitalize on this with two yusho the last four basho. Prior to this clip, an Ozeki would take the yusho about once every two years. Now all of a sudden, they're taking half of the yusho? And I expect this trend to continue and not because Hakuho has lost a step. To the contrary, he's more powerful and experienced now than he ever was. The hope is that either Kisenosato or Kotoshogiku will be able to get hot, start out at least 10-0, and then watch the magic happen the last five days...the same circumstances that Harumafuji and Baruto were able to capitalize on recently. I know such talk makes a majority of you uneasy, and if that's the case, ignore what I'm saying and enjoy this first career yusho from the Estonian.

Let's move on to other notable bouts from the day. How sweet was it to see M5 Myogiryu paired with Sekiwake Kakuryu on the final day? Talk about a sign of respect. Yes, Kakuryu did win the bout knowing that Myogiryu would come forward at all costs, so the Sekiwake was able to shift after an exchange of tsuppari at the tachi-ai and catch Myogiryu off balance, but this will only work once or twice before Myogiryu figures these guys out forcing people to beat him straight up. Finishing 9-6 is outstanding for Myogiryu who will be ranked among the jo'i in Osaka. Kakuryu ends with a decent 10-5 record, but something tells me he could win 11 next basho and there wouldn't be a peep regarding Ozeki promotion.

Sekiwake Toyonoshima failed to get inside sufficiently against M3 Kitataiki from the tachi-ai and was just crushed down to the dohyo in uncomfortable fashion by the larger M3. A win may have kept Toyonoshima in the Komusubi rank for Haru, but losing to a 2-13 guy that dropped him to a record of just 5-10 will send him back down to the hira-maku for March.

One of the bright spots this basho was M3 Takayasu who kept his tsuppari way up high against Komusubi Miyabiyama, and while that's normally a dangerous tactic, Miyabiyama finished this basho 3-12 for a reason, so Takayasu was able to use his youthful vigor to just power the former Ozeki back and across with his signature oshi attack. Takayasu ends the festivities at 6-9, but that's a helluva debut in the jo'i for a guy who never really did impress since he entered the division.

M2 Goeido finished 6-9 after winning a bout against Komusubi Wakakoyu that you just knew would end in a pulldown. The difference here was Goeido's ability to ram into Wakakoyu from a lower stance. This left the Wookie upright throughout, and Goeido was able to capitalize on a pulldown a few seconds in. Wakakoyu ends his sanyaku debut at 5-10 thanks to zero upsets.

M1 Aminishiki will be a Sekiwake next basho after picking up his 9th win by sneaking to the side of M4 Tochinowaka and pushing him out from behind. Word is a new bedroll is in his future with the pay rise, and that's about all we'll have to look forward to from this guy in Osaka. Expect Toyonoshima to be right back up here for May. As for Tochinowaka, he continues to plod along finishing the festivities 8-7. That's fine though. Just ask Gagamaru what it's like to be thrust among the jo'i after a 12 win basho from the depths of the division. Tochinowaka's methodical rise means there will be no surprises nor sudden change in competition. He's as ready as anyone to officially enter the jo'i for March.

M14 Takanoyama actually had a chance to stay in the division coming into the day at 6-8, and all that stood in his way was M6 Kyokutenho. The two immediately hooked up in the gappuri yotsu position from the tachi-ai whereupon Takanoyama immediately hooked his leg around the back of the Chauffeurs threatening a soto-gake. Actually, a soto-gake is set up when you have forward momentum and can push your opponent into the leg trip. Takanoyama's is an act of desperation hoping to somehow impede his opponent's balance and fell him to the dohyo. The next time I see guys practicing this desperation soto-gake in the keiko ring will be the next time I'm on board with Takanoyama's "sumo." Kyokutenho knew what was coming and proceeded with caution easily forcing out the M14 and sending him to a 6-9 finish. Tenho moved to 9-6 in the process which will move him back into the elite ranks for March.

M7 Aran picked up his kachi-koshi (I think he was 4-7 at one point) against M11 Sadanofuji when the latter agreed to a yotsu contest instead of trying to best the Russian with his decent tsuppari attack. At least Aran picked up that win with a forward moving tactic, but the real talking point here is Sadanofuji's willingness to allow this to go to yotsu. With kachi-koshi already in the bag, it didn't matter as both guys finish the festivities at 8-7.

In our lone bout between two rikishi at 7-7, M8 Shohozan proved to be the better rikishi slamming into M11 Fujiazuma from the tachi-ai and never letting up until Fuji had been pushed back and out. The difference here was quickness, and Shohozan is becoming a poor man's Myogiryu. I'm much rather have Myogiryu and Shohozan around than say Yoshikaze and Takekaze.

And finally the best matchup in the first half was between M10 Gagamaru and M8 Tochiohzan, two rikishi who entered the day with 11 wins. Gagamaru crushed his opponent back with a solid tachi-ai and de-ashi for which Tochiohzan had no answer. This was over in about two seconds as Gagamaru was so potent as he moved forward that Tochiohzan couldn't even evade his thrusts. Now, Gagamaru needs to understand that this same sort of tachi-ai can also produce results high in the ranks. His first time fighting among the elite, Gagamaru was too timid probably in fear that his opponent would evade and pull him down. Well, that fear and hesitation led to exactly that as Gagamaru was horrible in his jo'i debut. Today's sumo was an example that a solid tachi-ai from Lord Gaga is so effective that his opponents have little room for escape. It's all head games at this point for Gagamaru who proved this basho that he has no business fighting below the M4 rank.

That's a wrap on the senshuraku bouts. Since I focused so much of this report on the yaocho we're seeing and why I think it's occurring, I intend to write a post-basho report that focuses more on the rikishi themselves and what they did well in January and where they need improvement.

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Day 14 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I have quite a dilemma on my hands, especially during a basho like this one. I would liken it to my experience of coaching baseball in the local city league. For the last several years, I have been coaching a team in the 9-10 year old division, and the goal of course is to win as many games as possible, but I also try and juggle the kids into as many positions as possible so the same kid isn't stuck batting 9th and playing in right field for half the game. The dilemma is that on a 12 man roster, you have 1/3 of the kids that are great athletes, the middle third are serviceable baseball players, and then the bottom four just plain suck. Practice is extremely difficult in this situation because you're there as a team practicing, but with every boy at a different level, it's a challenge to make sure everyone can participate and get something out of the experience. If you cater the practice to the best players on the team, the worst kids can't keep up, they get frustrated, and no longer want to play. If you work from the bottom up, the good kids get bored quickly and soon turn to throwing rocks and chasing butterflies instead of engaging in baseball practice.

So let me switch now and compare this to our reading audience, which I will classify into three groups. The first group are our disciples who trust us, believe nearly every word that we say, and are firmly on the bandwagon. The second group is what I would label as sumo purists. Members of this group hold a deep inner conflict because they want so badly for sumo to be 100% pure, but they know deep down that sometimes bouts are fixed, racism rears its ugly head, and double standards exist. When things are totally obvious like the NSK admitting yaocho on their own or Kisenosato getting promoted with just 32 wins even before the basho had ended, they can't deny that sometimes everything isn't what it appears on the surface. And then the third group are people new to sumo who like what they see but are so overwhelmed with everything that it's all they can do to try and get names, ranks, and rules straight. Over time, these people will graduate into one of the aforementioned groups.

Anyway, like coaching a youth baseball team, the challenge is to write a report that accommodates our diverse readership yet entertains and educates everyone in the process. To further complicate matters, when something suspect or controversial happens on the dohyo, there's no way to cover the event and please all of the readers. Some people are fine with bout fixing here and there, but others just don't want to accept that it's happening even when deep down they know that it is. Take Oscar's day 13 comments for example when he addressed the Hakuho - Kotooshu matchup, a bout that was fixed. You could just read the inner turmoil Oscar was going through in trying to cover the bout. His instinct told him the bout was thrown, but consciously he wasn't sure because the pieces seemed to fit on the dohyo. I've copied and pasted some lines from his description of that bout that were red flags in his mind:

What's wrong with Hakuho?

Today, in a bout he fought and won a million times before, he lost.

Kotooshu had no trouble whatsoever to get his beloved left uwate.

They decided to give us a little bit more of a show by not forcing the throw...

Now, how many times has Hakuho shrugged off Kotooshu's uwate, got one of his own and rolled the hapless Ozeki to the ground? Toldya, a gazillion times...

Hakuho is off his game and I don't know why.

Right after stepping out, Hakuho relaxed...

Hakuho looking exhausted...

There were so many red flags in that bout and things that just didn't fit, and Oscar's subconscious caught them all. Yet, his mind didn't want to believe it was fixed but he just couldn't help adding the line "I dare not say that this was staged (nor that it wasn't)." Saying this bout was fixed would have drawn the ire of many of our readers. It would have also directly contradicted his belief that the Hakuho - Kakuryu bout was not thrown because when yaocho occurs, it happens in bulk as something is being set up. My day 11 comments spurred a lot of debate and commotion, and after reading what the disbelievers were saying, I posted extra comments in that little comment box thingy we have at the end of our reports explaining the scenarios that readily came to my mind why Hakuho would have thrown that bout against Kakuryu. Here are the scenarios I came up with then:

* He wanted to bring the yusho line down closer to Kisenosato's level

* He wants to help Kakuryu reach Ozeki since he's clearly on par with Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato

* Every Ozeki is entitled to at least one yusho and there's a definite window for Baruto this basho

* He wants to appear vulnerable so that when he throws one to give a JPN rikishi the yusho it's less conspicuous

* All of the above

Now that we've watched the basho play out, I think all of those reasons are legitimate. Many disbelievers argue that "anyone can have a bad day or make a mistake," and while that's true, a dai-Yokozuna doesn't make mistakes three days in a row. If Hakuho had wanted to beat Kakuryu and did lose legitimately, he would have stormed back the next few days knowing that he still had Baruto on senshuraku to make things right again. His losing to Harumafuji the next day (that henka was planned as Clancy already pointed out) and Kotooshu the day after that was all part of the scheme.

I know some people will say that Hakuho could be injured, but he sure didn't look injured in his day 14 bout against Kotoshogiku. He got the right inside position against the Ozeki from the tachi-ai and then just threw Kotoshogiku over and down with a left tsuki-otoshi...all while standing flat footed. He didn't even try in this one and still kicked Kotoshogiku's ass. Hakuho is just fine and will demonstrate his prowess again tomorrow against Baruto. He's already done the Ozeki plenty of favors this basho; he's not going to add another on senshuraku.

So what of Ozeki Kotooshu who "manhandled" Hakuho yesterday? He met up with Baruto today and ended up three meters up the West hana-michi three seconds after the tachi-ai. If you must know the details, Baruto used his moro-tezuki tachi-ai, grabbed the left outer grip, and then just swung the Bulgarian over and out with such force, Kotooshu lay sprawled out on the concrete below. Like Hakuho, Baruto won today with such ease that it makes me chortle to think that anyone believed that Kotooshu was strong enough to beat Hakuho this basho in a straight up fight. The longer this basho goes on, the weaker the argument gets that everything you've seen the last few days has been legitimate.

I'm covering the senshuraku bouts as well and will talk in detail about each rikishi tomorrow, and since nothing else worth noting happened on the dohyo (unless you may have been surprised that the Yokozuna killer, Kakuryu, had his ass handed to him by Takayasu), let me end the day's comments with this:

The origins of Sumotalk began with me and my friend Kenji emailing comments back and forth regarding sumo. We talked about rikishi who were hot; rikishi who were underachieving; epic bouts; epic basho; disappointments; and anything else that we thought was worth noting. We mixed in a bit of trash-talking along the way, and sometimes we disagreed with each other, but the point was we watched the same bouts and then gave our input as to what we had just watched. Over time, we realized that we were able to catch things and provide input that we thought would be beneficial to sumo fans who weren't able to understand the Japanese broadcast, and so a website was born.

I believe that Sumotalk provides a service that you can't find anywhere else. I'm amused when I read comments from people like "you guys have been ruining sumo for years with your talk of conspiracies" or "I'm sick of you guys being unable to accept that Hakuho will sometimes lose." What I infer from such comments is that talk of yaocho greatly troubles people; yet, for some reason they still continue to read Sumotalk. Why?  It's extremely healthy to have a bit of conflict between contributors and readers, and I'm even glad that Andreas and Oscar didn't feel as if they had to adhere to my views regarding that Hakuho - Kakuryu bout since it's good to have contributors with opposing views. Don't let my opinions bother you because if I can get you to think about something regarding sumo you would have never considered on your own, then I've done my job, and Sumotalk is still worth the read.

I will wrap everything up tomorrow.

Day 13 Comments (Óscar Gutiérrez reporting)
Before we enter the action and what I'm really supposed to do, allow me to tell you something about something else. SOPA and PIPA, funny acronyms (actually spanish words, meaning "soup" and "pipe"), that stand for Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act are proposed laws to the US Congress, whose goal is basically censor internet. As I'm not from the States, I don't really know if it's a topic that regular networks are talking about but, as embedded in the System as they are, I could bet my ass they aren't. So, if you're interested, you can find a lot of info in the cyberspace, there was even sort of an internet strike this week. But this goes much beyond online piracy, this is 1984 (the book, not the year). As the world leaders are a bunch of copycat pricks, this might be the start of something outrageous and the umpteenth violation of people's rights claimed to be necessary to protect us from ourselves. Well, I'm a grown-up and I want to run with scissors if I feel like it.

Actually, in my homeland, our Congress, almost unanimously, already passed a law that supposedly fought against online piracy more or less on those "guilty before proven innocent" terms. The good part is that the code needed to carry out the law isn't even being discussed, and I dare to say the main reason is laziness and not because of strong political convictions or the wave of unpopularity that may strike the recently elected government. Spain is different.

Now, let's see the basho. Leaderboard on day 12: Baruto (12-0) and Hakuho (10-2). Yes, you're reading it right. It's like that, not the other way around. More so, Hakuho was defeated by the two countrymen he's faced. The hell is this???

Before the start of today's action, let me give you my take on yesterday's henkaful affairs. If you can, take a look at Baruto-Kisenosato 30 seconds before the actual blatant henka. Baruto goes Kakizoe mode, crouches, puts his fists to the ground and looks up to Kisenosato, who is still upright and is calmly crouching down, seemingly affected by a hard case of hemorrhoids. Baruto waits, waits, keeps waiting, and then hemorrhoid-man, finally down, faints putting his fists to the ground. Baruto looks visibly upset, collects his hands, shakes his head and wiggles his hips a little bit. He then is who waits till his rival is finally ready and then transforms the shin-ozeki into an ostrich. In my opinion, Baruto was up for a fight, he had little to fear against a guy he had beaten the last 6 times in a row and 17 out of 20 times. The Estonian simply got fed up with the Kid's attitude and thought: "You want to gain an unfair advantage at the tachi-ai with shenaingans. I'm going to give you shenanigans, you little Chiyotaikai apprentice."

On the description of the Hakuho-Harumafuji thing, Clancy was absolutely spot-on. Hakuho never goes full throttle at the tachi-ai, yet yesterday he did. Why on earth Harumafuji, already KK and out of the yusho race, would go through the embarrassment of henka'ing a fellow countryman Yokozuna is beyond my limited knowledge. I can't imagine why, but to me it's clear this was staged.

And one last thing, I concur with Andreas on Kakuryu-Hakuho being clean. I only have seen it a couple of times at regular speed and, to me, Hakuho gets beaten because he is human and Kakuryu is a helluva fighter. And that's about it. Let's go with day 13 already, a day that may decide the yusho on Baruto's favor already, but if you want to know if it did, you'll have to wait till the end (no, you can't use the scroll, aaaaaaaaarghhhh!).
On the super-heavyweight category, Gagamaru charged lower and dominated the pace pushing at Fujiazuma's armpits. Fattiazuma, faced with an upgraded version of himself, had no answer with his oshi game straight up, so evaded and went for an all-out charge at lord Gaga's belly forgetting his legs on the way, fact that earned him a trip to the floor courtesy of a well-timed slap on his neck. Gaga adds DD wins to his DD rack, and Fujiazuma will have to fight another day for his kachi-koshi

Sagatsukasa henka'd Tokitenku, grabbed his right arm and yanked it around to set up a tottari throw, but he's no Hakuho (or Kaio for that matter). Tokitenku who is a tough nut to crack with those kind of cheapos, moved well and the moment he freed himself, he went over the top of Sagatsukasa (now, that's easy) and pushed him down for the second hataki-komi of the day. Tokitenku gets to 9-4, while Sagatsukasa earns his make-koshi and will fight to stay in Makuuchi come Haru.

Nionoobie used his height inferiority to his favor, and controlled the flow of the bout. When Daido went for a bold attack at the face, Noobie reacted accordingly and pushed at the side of Dildo's arm, throwing him completely off balance, and making it easy pickings for the oshi-dashi. 4-9 record for both, so bring already the Chiyotairyu's and Sakumayama's of the world, please.

Not so long ago, Tochinoshin was the youngest rikishi in the division, full of promise. Now he is M6 and facing a guy born 3 years after him, he's going Kokkai's way. Today, the Private gained an early inside position that allowed him to control the busy body of Chiyonokuni. The surprising rookie tried his best to escape, but he was in a hole too deep against a guy much stronger than him. The bad news happened when Tochinoshin, trying to force his way for the definitive uwate on the other side (remember your Mike: first you get on the inside, then you go outside), pinched Chiyonokuni's right arm and by the looks of it, the rookie dislocated his shoulder. Tochinoshin gets his kachi-koshi and it would be unfair, but Chiyonokuni may have also lost a deserved kanto-sho, he's 9-4.

Sadanofuji is way out of Tochiohzan's league. Today the M11 gave a valiant effort as he always does, but his wild tsuppari attack only allowed the stronger Tochiohzan to get moro-zashi and there is no way you're getting out of that. He tried to resist, but Oh was in no rush and methodically escorted his rival out of the dohyo. 10-3 for Tochiohzan, and quite frankly that's less than what I expected from him. Sadanofuji is a respectable and deserved 7-6, and I'd like him to kachi-koshi.

Shohozan won easily the first battle with stiff hands to Asasekiryu's neck that sent the former Sekiwake's feet to the tawara. The sophomore then grabbed a strong right uwate maintaining an inside position on the other side and used Asasekiryu's longing for his own uwate to throw him down for the easy uwate-nage win. Or that's what he thought, the war wasn't over yet. The veteran pulled a rabbit out of his hat, using his free right hand to trip Shohozan's left leg while falling to the ground, so the M7 stepped out of the dohyo in finishing the throw. Black robes appeared on the dohyo, and correctly gave the win to Asasekiryu The Fantastic by yori-kiri, but I would call that watashi-komi. 9-4 for Sexy, and 6-7 for Matutano, whom I'd like also to kachi-koshi.
Ahoy-yama has raised his game since the internet strike took place. Now don't tell me he's not a pirate, arrrrrr. Bad thing is that wasn't till day 10 of the basho and he had make-koshi by then. Today he made easy work of rookie Kyokushuho using his skull as a battering ram, throwing the Mongolian off balance and disposing of him in the blink of an eye via yori-kiri. 3 wins for Kyokushuho is awful.

Aran henka'd Kaisei for the cheap uwate. Can't say it was unexpected. The Thug got off to a dream start, good uwate, deep shitate and forehead to the Brazilian Bigfoot's chest. The problem arises when your skill tree consists of one branch, brute-force. Kaisei is no slouch, he resisted his foe's advances and managed to dislodge Aran's grips, getting sort of a fresh start. After a rub of foreheads (almost an Eskimo kiss), Aran got easily to the side of the tectonic Kaisei and turned him around for the okuri-dashi win (they called it yori-kiri, meh). 6-7 for Aran with awful sumo, expect him to bounce back with double digits wins on Haru, but I told the same last time around. Kaisei is Juryo fodder with his 4-9 from the bottom of Makuuchi.

I don't really think Tenkaiho is going to be an Ozeki, but I picture him as a mid-Maegashira mainstay for years to come if he's injury free. Today he beat none other than the Chauffeur in a gappuri-yotsu contest. Kyokutenho tried to pull off one of his magic counters when he's close to the tawara and swings his opponent out, but Tenkaiho stayed fair and square with him and finished the job lifting Kyokutenho over the straw if ever so slightly. Kachi-koshi for the solid rookie and 7-6 for the "retiring" Kyokutenho (and this is an example of why your language should have dual question marks)

We can argue all you want about Takanoyama, but the thing is he adds a halo of excitement to his bouts, if only for being that light and making a life amongst those behemoths. Today, Yoshikaze tried to play big boy and that is definitely not his act. Both guys entangled his arms in a soft slap exchange and when Yoshikaze tried to move forward, Takanoyama timed perfectly a pull that will not make the highlight reel of the tournament but got the job done. I was expecting much more of this one, a wild affair with lots of things happening, but Yoshikaze must have had decaf. Fatboy Slim avoids make-koshi and Yoshi avoids kachi-koshi, but I'm sure it wasn't his intention.

Yoshiazuma is absolutely hilarious. He started the bout half a second before Myogiryu but instead of attacking and, worst case scenario, being called for a matta, he stood upright waiting for his foe to come into him. Yogi-ryu is smarter than the average bear and went immediately for the happy camper's chest, pushing him easily and stealing his pic-a-nic basket. Yoshiazuma was so sad that he exited the dohyo by himself at the end and 3 wins means he's headed to Juryo (good). Yogi's 9-4 and vying for a sanyaku spot and a sansho of some kind.

Tosayutaka has lost a step. My bet is he hasn't recovered from his injury, I don't know if physically or mentally. Homasho made easy work of him with his trademark ottsuke, rendering useless my man's efforts to get a mawashi grip. Tosayutaka circled around in vain and when he was allowed to get those belt grips is because Homie had his' all wrapped up and ready to force his foe out. 6-7 for Homie, a little disappointing; 4-9 for Tosayutaka, very disappointing.

Kitataiki stuck his head out at the tachi-ai hoping that Toyohibiki's charge would run into it. The Hutt knocked the shit out of him and forced his dizzy opponent out in mere seconds. Sumo 101, the tachi-ai. 1 henka and 12 losses for Mike's mancrush (no wonder he jumped on Tochinowaka's bandwagon). Toyohibiki lives to fight another day to avoid make-koshi.

Okinoumi showed the way to fight Takekaze. He stayed low and tight at the tachi-ai, denying the Oguruma fatty to get on the inside. Then, he only had to wait for the pulling maneuver, and Okinoumi read it like a dirty manga pushing Takekaze out and towards the similarly-built Toyonoshima, who was on the sidelines waiting for his turn. Further resemblance is out of the question between those two guys, by the way, one does proper sumo and the other, well, is simply Takekaze. I take great delight on Takekaze's 3-10 record, none at all on Okinoumi's.

Wookie-koyu made Andreas proud today by showing his moro-te-zuki tachi-ai (two stiff hands at the throat) and using it not to pull, but to push the crap out of Takayasu, who was never on this one. I'm not sold on Wookie yet, but he's gone way past Kimurayama-level hate from my parts. If he starts to walk cockily I might have some of my Hokutoriki's strange love in reserve for him when on the lower parts of Makuuchi. 4-9 for both, clearly outmatched by the competition, but they'll be back.

Goeido-Toyonoshima is a delightful fight to see if Goeido is on the mood. Today he was, and denied Tugboat moro-zashi by getting his left hand inside while getting a right uwate. Toyonoshima was not going to go fish for an uwate with his chubby arms and he pinned Goeido's left arm, dislodging the grip and almost getting on the inside on there as well. Goeido countered with the uwate throw all while keeping his eye on the maki-kae attempt by Toyonoshima. They settled on the initial position again, Toyo's right hand being the only one without some cloth to touch. Then, the fan-man (or gyoji referee, according to Hiro Morita) patted both guys' backs, a sign for them to freeze immediately. Goeido's mawashi knot had untied and the fan-man did his best to redo it properly. What's whit those guys, two days I'm reporting, two days they're trying to get completely naked (see Tochinoshin vs. Fujiazuma), if only I had that luck with the ladies. Anyway, Toyonoshima, after being patted on the back again (sign now telling them to unfreeze), in matter of milliseconds lifted his left elbow catching Goeido asleep, and depriving him of his early earned uwate. From that point on, Toyonoshima lead the way, with Goeido utterly pissed off trying to get his uwate back and the Sekiwake used that desperation to his favor throwing the M2 to the ground with a sweet uwate-dashi-nage. By the way, as I have only one camera angle, I don't know when Toyo got that uwate, but I assume it was probably after the disruption. A pity for Goeido, who fought well and would have probably won if not for that interruption. Next time make sure your mawashi is properly tied. 5-8 for both, who were surely expecting to get kachi-koshi this basho, but they've been more or less okay and have pulled some nice upsets.

Next bout featured a cautious tachi-ai, a good approach for both, knowing each other's fame. Still, Aminishiki got the best of it and got a good hit on Kakuryu, whose feet slipped to make things worse. The Sekiwake managed to get a mae-mitsu grip out of it (man, he knows how to survive) and forced Shneaky on the defensive, and so, the Mongolian staged his comeback with some nice tsuppari that backed down the M1 all the way to the straw. Then, the Yokozuna killer reversed gears, pulling the hapless Aminishiki to the ground. 9-4 for the Kak, paving the way for an Ozeki-run with a shukun-sho. Aminishiki is 7-6 and trying to get his last career appearance on the sanyaku, methinks.

Now, we get to the main event of the evening. If Baruto wins this, he gets the yusho, there's no way Kotooshu is defeating him tomorrow. On the other hand, even losing, Bart had the upper hand with Hakuho being so shaky he could perfectly lose to any of the Ozeki. Kotoshogiku gave his all and his start could have hardly been better. He got straightaway a right uwate and the inside position on his left side. Baruto's left arm was pinned against his chest making it almost useless, but the Biomass forced his way in on that side and got the Baruto-uwate (over the shoulder outer grip) with his right hand. The difference with pre-Ozeki Baruto is that he fought to keep his inside position, how many times we saw him go foolishly for the double uwate and get knocked out by a strong opponent like today's one was. Now, Baruto in gappuri-yotsu means death if your name doesn't rhyme with Oruho (a word you should use if you visit Spain, it's an alcoholic beverage, mind you, but with another spelling). Kotoshogiku tried with all his might to force Baruto back, but what he found was his feet flying on the air, the so-called Baruto-dashi. The Estonian finished the job inside the dohyo by rolling Giku to the ground with a great shitate-nage. So now, he was dormie and I'd have bet my house on this being his hatsu-yusho. Giku finds himself at 7-6 and he's kachi-koshi having Hakuho and the goal-less Harumafuji left.

Shin-Ozeki Kisenosato got his 10th win today with the kind of sumo he should always deploy, and that is tsuki-oshi. But I have love to spare and man, do I love Tochinowaka's right hand, every time it's on the inside trying to raise his opponent and ready to get an inside grip on the mawashi. Kisenosato seemed in control of this one though, pushing with his left hand on Tochinowaka's armpit and with his right aimed at the M4's neck. But Tochinowaka is a hard customer and fought back getting to second base and pushing the Ozeki's boobs raising him up. Kisenosato, with his back against the wall, managed to get a left inside grip when Tochinowaka's right hand slipped of his boobie, and walked him all the way through the dohyo for the yori-kiri. Tochinowaka is 7-6, but this was the first sanyaku he faced this basho, so I'm not pleased.

Harumafuji abused Miyabiyama, plain and simple. The Ozeki did as he pleased, Miyabi's tsuppari is no longer denying a sanyaku guy of anything. Harumafuji easily forced his way into the belt and made my day employing an uwate-dashi-nage to throw the Komusubi off balance and finishing him off with an easy yori-kiri. 10-3 for the Yokozuna henka'er, just opposite to Komusubi Miyabiyama's 3-10, and don't expect him back on this rank.

What's wrong with Hakuho? Today, in a bout he fought and won a million times before, he lost. Kotooshu had no trouble whatsoever to get his beloved left uwate and both guys went into nage-no-uchi instantly, meaning they were standing precariously on one foot and trying to throw his opponent down. As it wasn't to be that easy, they decided to give us a little bit more of a show by not forcing the throw at health costs, and the bout settled on Kotooshu's dual grips (inside an outside) versus Hakuho's one and only right hand inside grip. Now, how many times has Hakuho shrugged off Kotooshu's uwate, got one of his own and roll the hapless Ozeki to the ground? Toldya, a gazillion times, but not today and I dare not say this was staged (nor that it wasn't), the fact is Hakuho is off his game and I don't know why. Kotooshu dominated the bout with his uwate and combined the threats of the force-out and the overarm throw to finish Hakuho the first way, with a yori-kiri. Right after stepping out, Hakuho relaxed and both guys ended up lying over some unfortunate fellas on the first row, Hakuho looking exhausted. 10-3 for both guys, Kotooshu has looked well this basho(!). Hakuho hasn't.

So, that's it, it's Baruto's hatsu-yusho officially and with 2 days to spare(!?). Congratulations, he finally made it, and now the Yokozuna talk will start subsequently. I'm telling you that if some guy on the current banzuke can, it's him. His mental focus is the question. Does he really want to withstand the pressure and constant scrutiny that comes with the rank? Or the easy Ozeki life is too hard to pass on? I have the feel that Hakuho wouldn't mind sharing some of the spotlight, but Baruto will have to earn it. Now, another question mark is Hakuho. I think he's due an off basho here and there, but the Harumafuji show is what I really don't understand. Also, is he really injured or what? Well, all this questions will have to wait till Haru basho, but stay on this one. There are a lot of little things to solve, like who's going to get the 3 sanyaku slots behind Kakuryu. Toyonoshima has to win out to be downgraded only to Komusubi, and then you have Aminishiki, who's one win off securing one of the spots, Myogiryu probably, and if these guys falter we have Tochiohzan and even Tochinowaka as hopefuls.

Then, the elevator, with Nionoumi, Kaisei, Kyokushuho and Yoshiazuma going down along with maybe Tosayutaka and Sagatsukasa, to be replaced by Tamawashi, Wakanosato (glad he's back), Takarafuji, Ikioi (interesting prospect for a mid-Maegashira career, we'll see) and maybe Hochiyama and Shotenro. Not a lot of fresh faces, huh?

Finally, the sanshos. Kakuryu will get his first shukun-sho. The gino-sho is Myogiryu's to lose (though he really hasn't blown everybody off with technique, but that's what the kyokay guys do). Finally, the Kanto-sho will be decided on a senshuraku showdown between Tochiohzan and Gagamaru.

So, stay tuned, because Mike's got the weekend and will surely have some interesting things to speak of, but I stole the yusho news :P. Let me dedicate this one to Baruto's countryman, Dr. Kadastik, who helped a bunch of us to be able to watch this sport before the kyokai boosted the free streaming quality.

Hasta la vista.

Day 12 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
There are two things that can generate interest in sumo, and they are a yusho race and a successful Japanese rikishi. We had the latter at the end of 2011 with the promotions of Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato, and now it seems we are getting the former in Ozeki Baruto, a man who has yet to take the top division title. Coming into Day 12 the Estonian was a perfect 11-0, one win in front of the suddenly human Yokozuna. His scheduled foe was the aforementioned Kisenosato in his first basho at the rank. Surely this bout would be a thriller, one that would cause Mario to rue the day he stopped writing for ST so that he could pursue his dream and open that macramé boutique.

Well, evidently Baruto did not receive the memo, because he leapt to the side and slapped Kisenosato down before he could even properly rise from his crouch. I could go on, but why do? Baruto was gifted a win yesterday when HowDo inexplicably stayed perfectly stiff and upright right in front of Baruto, not bothering to duck down once, nor trying to move his legs to the side or grab an arm and pull. Combined with the asspounding (in the prison sex sense of the word) he administered to The Kid today, he need only have Hakuho lose out of nowhere again and hed be sitting pretty.

Well, oddly enough, Hakuho DID lose again, and it was strangely similar to the way Kisenosato lost, except Kublai didnt need to be slapped down, because he was Red Bulling his way off the dohyo as Harumafuji waved the henka cape at tachi-ai. The Yokozuna had such a head of steam that he ended up three or four rows deep, on his ass, with a look of, "OMG, no hu-way!" Cant recall the last time I saw someone henka the Yokozuna, nor can I recall Hakuho going to all out against someone at tachi-ai like that. He started far back from the line, and then did an Usain Bolt into the ether. Normally he keeps some momentum in reserve, knowing his game after tachi-ai can match anyones, even if they brought more power to the start. Difficult also to imagine HowDo doing this on Day 12 to a dai-Yokozuna who is square in the yusho race and who is his countryman and probably his good friend and DEFINITELY his senpai. I wont bother trying to explain to those unfamiliar with Japan why this move by his kohai Harumafuji is insanely hard to fathom, but trust me, it is.

In between this "drama" we had Kotooshu avoid being pulled down by Takayasu and pushing him out for his 9th win, and Kotoshogiku using his greater bulk to wrap up and belly out the Day 10 Yokozuna slayer Kakuryu.

So it is all there for the taking, and Baruto can even afford to lose to Hakuho on (presumably) Day 15 and still take his first ever yusho. Id love to see one of the mediocre Sadogatake Beya Ozeki take him down before then, so Hakuho would have the incentive of another yusho if he could win and force a playoff, but what are the chances of that? Well, hes won 10 out of the last 15 times hes met Geeku, but lost 10 out of his last 15 to Kotooshu, so if the Bulgarian can step up and go boom, who knows? Course thats all assuming Hakuho can beat the Sado Boys himself. Lets see, hes a combined 55-10 vs. them, but given how "vulnerable" the Yokozuna is looking, Id say hes goin down BIGtime, myan!

I guess what it all means is that there will be tension, and there will be nailbiting, and there will be displays of power and bravado, and it will be fun to watch. (I should note that I cut and pasted that last line from a report I once did on a World Wrestling Federation tournament.)

Goeido brushed off Miyabiyamas persistent shoves and came in low, a bit too low as Flobby whacked him but good. Stumbling, the Father avoided touching down and instead chased the circling away Komusubi, using his body to avoid falling down and pushing him out in the process.

Aminishiki continued his run to sanyaku by powering out Homasho, who tried his normal head down, lean forward gambit, but Shneaky was very focused today and drove him out with as dominating an oshi-dashi as youre liable to see. Word has it his oyakata has promised him a new bedroll if he gets KK, the old one getting itchy.

Myogiryu walked through Kitataiki like he was a leetle girl, getting moro-zashi from the start and simply obliterating the E3. He walked back to his side with his usual ramrod straight gait and look of nonchalance while casually picking his fingernails. In his kachi-koshi interview, dude showed how Sam Jackson cool he is, accepting praise and not smilin or ticklin or nothin. Could also swear I heard the Kansai native saying, Sou desu na! Dudes a keeper.

What happened to Kakizoe?

Two 7-4 Mongols by birth met in Tokitenku and Kyokutenho, both masters of slippery sumo. Wouldnt you know it, though, they gave us a very good yotsu, cheek-to-cheek bout (though Tokidoki could not resist tossing in a leg tripping attempt at one point). After some good struggling, Tokitenku was able to press the Chauffer to the bales and work him out.

Asasekiryu was leading off the second half matches from M15! Whoa, is THAT what a 7-4 record gets ya these days? At any rate, he had a little surprise for Toyohibiki, called "jump out of harms way and slap you on the back of the head." Toyohibiki was grateful Sexy thought of him, but seemed a bit miffed when accepting the gift. Go figure. Not At All Sexy (Mike, wheres that Sinead pic?) gets his first KK in over a year. Maybe, just maybe Toyohibikis camp could have reminded him of the Mongolians recent travails, might have saved him a trip to the dirt.

Note from Mike:  Ask and ye shall receive

In the interview room the NHK guy put Sexy on the spot, mentioning that he henkad. The Secretary gave him the briefest of "Im gonna fuckin kill you later" looks and then smiled and admitted it was "mazui," which means "leaves a bad taste," but hell take it. Hi Mom!

With both men at 6-5, there was plenty of incentive to get real, and Shohozan did just that, bringing his full on slapping attack vs Tochinowaka. Tochi handled it well for the most part, but got driven back to the edge by the unrelenting awesomeness that is Shohozan. Sadly for the E8, Tochinowaka channeled his inner Miyagi by waxing his thrusts off at precisely the right moment, causing ShoNuff to fall down and out.

The best bout of the day came from Yoshikaze and Tochinoshin. No Shine hammered away at the slapping Starbuck with his forearms, but none of them landed well and Yoshikaze ended up getting into a moro-zashi, two arms inside, and had No Shine with his back to the edge. Tochinoshin immediately did what tall guys do, namely locked down on the smaller mans arms and squeezed. Café took a few moments to set himself, then dropped his hips and lifted the Private off his feet, for about a nanosecond. Resistance was futile as the Caffeinated One was borg-like in his intensity and No Shine was definitely going out backward. However, unlike say, Hakuho on Day 10, Tochinoshin decided to fight till the bitter end and used the grip he had to spin Café around as they both crashed out. If his heel didnt slightly dig into the dirt outside the ropes as he pivoted the MIB might have given him this one. Fantastic bout that demonstrates what sumo looks like when both men fight with all theyve got and dont quit.

Ahoy-Yama made Daido walk the plank in no time flat, Aran exfoliated Yoshiazuma without breaking a sweat, and Chiyonokuni ordered an "Eat Me!" pizza and had it delivered direct to the dohyo for Tochiohzan, slipping away at the edge and leaving Oh Snap to wonder how in the name of the seven lords o leapin he managed to lose this one.

Takanoyama, he of the mighty physique but with less hair than a lollipop dropped on a carpet, got steamrolled by the only guy in the division who clearly resembles a steamroller, Gagamaru. If someone who doesnt know the sport much came in just as that bout commenced, hed be forgiven for thinking it was an exhibition where a high school rugby star tries his hand at sumo, cause due to his "waza" being more "what the?" this Czech got bounced!

In Juryo it looks like Wakanosato will be back up in Makuuchi next time, and perhaps Shotenro, but Takamisakari is gonna need to win his last three to make it back for Osaka, and at 3-9 at J8 it looks like Tochinonada might be retiring after 16 years in sumo. He was a Gentle Giant, a serious foil to the top guys in Makuuchi for much of his long career. Hell be missed and remembered.

That does it for me this basho. Ill be busy running a race on Day 15 so Mike is going to find a substitute, and tenll get ya twenty hes funnier, fresher, and has more money in the bank than me. Arrivederci!

Oscar returns tomorrow

Day 11 Comments (Andreas Kungl reporting)
Admittedly, sumo is a rather repetitive affair. Just like with many other "normal" sports, the clearly laid out set of rules and objectives lead to limited variation in the actual execution of the action. At least for the casual observer, I might add. But isn't it true? Just look at winning techniques (terminology training: kimari-te). Every second bout is decided by Frontal Force Out (yori-kiri), the other half by Frontal Push Out (oshi-dashi), another third by Slap Down (hataki-komi), closely followed by fifths of Overarm Throw (uwate-nage), Underarm Throw (shitate-nage) and Lift Out (tsuri-dashi), the latter courtesy of having Baruto, Aran and Tochinoshin on the list of active wrestlers (banzuke). This might not be proper math but close enough to felt reality.

With sumo, though, an additional source of potential monotony could be identified by comparing the preparation time for each bout with its "on-time". Guys salt the clay for ages, then step away for another drink and another affirmative slap on the odd muscle. Iterate x=x+1. And when they finally get it going, you just looked up because your better half was using this especially high pitched note in her endless gorgon's song about your smoking/drinking/whoring/sock distribution habit, and..'s gone. Half a second is a long time for 175kg in diapers to switch from upright to sucking (pretty salty) clay. The sad truth is: this might turn a couple of people off. Otherwise perfectly sentient and sensitive human beings could even end up preferring to watch really, really dumb "sports" like running or driving in circles.

It is because of these specific traits of sumo that the sport is directing attention to the exceptional, the rare, the outrageously odd, the unique -- more so than, say, football makes us reflect about the quickest red card in a FIFA World Cup match (Uruguayan José Batista after 56 seconds in the 1986 group stage match against Scotland. Did you know?). If you follow sumo only a little, you should anyway know about the magic 32 (Taiho's top division title record). If you followed sumo during 2010, you might have registered Hakuho's 63 wins in a row (second only to Futabayama's 69, but I'm not sure if he counts for me, since I can't see it on youtube). Konishiki is somewhere up there in the ultimate Sekitori Fatness Chart, while Mainoumi easily occupies a top spot on the Wee Shite Scale. Such things float around and they fascinate us. As do rank achievements. Our very dear and flabby Miyabiyama entered the sport as a special Makushita entry (tsuke-dashi) and conquered the division with two consecutive titles, practically storming to Ozekihood within 13 basho, which is still an incredible feat. And our less dear Aran entertained us with eleven consecutive winning records post debut, zooming up all the way to Maegashira number six before finally hitting the wall.

I am aware that this is somewhat geeky stuff. Nevertheless, in sumo such things are very naturally at hand. Especially if nothing else is going on. Today, though, I find myself in the privileged position to be able to announce something utterly exceptional of the above mentioned type, while still a lot of other interesting things keep happening around me, sumowise. It's a blessing and I wish I would have about two extra days for writing this report. So let's quickly get started after losing so many words of introduction.

Please meet Sakumayama, the new record holder for staying undefeated after professional sumo debut. He clinched his 27th consecutive win on my Day 11 of Hatsu basho 2012, which makes me somewhat proud. Imagine: His career record is 27-0. He has never heard another name than his own announced after his bouts. Which is actually a lie, since he lost the playoff for the Jonidan title in September, but anyway. Only a couple of wrestlers ever reached a 20-0 debut. Active ones are Tokitenku and Akiseyama. The old record of 26-0 was held by former Komusubi Itai and former Ozeki Tochiazuma. Itai was first in 1979, so the record stood in stone for more than 30 years.

Of course I need to add a few things here. All this doesn't make Sakumayama a shoe-in even for Sanyakuhood (cf. Akiseyama). Many of sumo's most awesomest motherf**kers lurked in the lower divisions for some serious education treatment. And Mr. Sakuma didn't fall from the sky either. At age 23, he is an accomplished amateur champion having competed already for years in collegiate sumo. Usually, an athlete of his quality would enter professional sumo directly at Makushita level (like Miyabiyama in the above example). Unfortunately for him (or rather his previous opponents), such an opportunity is thoroughly regulated. Only winners of certain prestigious amateur championships do qualify for such special status. And Sakumayama didn't, simply for the reason that another über-athlete in Chiyotairyu happened to compete for the same championships in that very year. The final fun part of this specific rivalry derives from the fact that Sakumayama now fights for Kitanoumi beya (headed by -- you guessed it -- the former Yokozuna of the same name), while Chiyotairyu hails from Kokonoe beya (lead by former Yokozuna Chiyonofuji). I will leave space here for your own research. Anyway, I wish to see Sakumayama extend his streak to Natsu basho, a 7-0 would most likely place him in Juryo.

To the top division. It is always with great interest that I follow Mike through his analyses of specific high-profile bouts, especially when they feel dodgy. Unlike other Sumotalk contributors, I don't participate in off site intra-team discussions, mainly because I never got comfortable with using instant messenger tools (and their nasty side-effects on my system). Therefore his Day 10 description of Hakuho's loss was news for me, too. Let's take it as proof that not all voices of Sumotalk speak in unison, when I hereby announce that I think that -- in the case of Hakuho against Kakuryu -- Mike is wrong. How dare I?

Mike's case is mainly built up on Hakuho's refusal to secure a double-inside grip, when he had the opportunity to get it. The accompanying picture seemingly fortifies this claim. After watching the bout for about 20 times, I simply deny that Hakuho had any real chance of gaining moro-zashi. A couple of seconds into the bout, Kakuryu had deflected the initial charge and engaged the Yokozuna in a counter-clockwise movement, intending to unbalance his opponent while trying to pull down his head. Naturally, Hakuho didn't respond by trying to dig in his right hand during that motion, since he would then just have increased the turning speed, setting himself up for a throw or pull down. At the very instant, when Kakuryu had to give up the maneuver, Hakuho just caught up by returning to a chest-to-chest position, nevertheless finding himself still unbalanced enough to be threatened by a pulldown or maybe even a blitz yori-kiri. His very natural response is to get rid of Kakuryu's hand on his head (which is shown on the snapshot Mike published). Now, this is the moment when in Mike's opinion moro-zashi could and should have been established. But what is lacking in this picture is the dynamic of the bout, because already an instant later, Kakuryu shifted his stance, digging low into Hakuho's chest, effectively eliminating all windows of opportunity Hakuho might have enjoyed for a microsecond. And the rest of the bout is what is was. A legitimate loss for the Yokozuna, in my humble opinion.

Up to this point, the Hatsu basho seems raw, brutal, intriguing, with a lot of genkiness and willpower around. Even Kotooshu showed his mean bruiser face from time to time, something we didn't see a lot in recent years. Did you notice the increased usage of oshi-zumo, even this late in the basho? Usually, the percentage of belt battles increases towards the end of a tournament. The reason for that is general decrease of power the rikishi have in their bags. It might be the new division personnel, but I see a lot of thrusting sumo even on Day 11, and I like it. The sub-sanyaku bouts were an extreme example of this observation. We witnessed quite many ultra-quick and dynamic bouts, so let's zoom through them staccato style:

Even if Takanoyama shouldn't really be in Makuuchi division (which I would leave open for discussion), he still provides some excellent entertainment. His utchari against Tosayutaka was a textbook example of small man defensive sumo. Yoshiazuma on the other hand showed a variation of textbook big man against small man sumo by expertly pulling Sagatsukasa down in an ugly but highly effective crap sumo move. It is Yoshiazuma at who mosdef shouldn't be in the top division.

My new favorite Sadanofuji received the Miyabiyama Memory Award for expertly tsuppari'ing Ninoumi to oblivion (i.e. over the edge). All the while, the incredibly mobile Gagamaru pushed Kaisei butsukari-geiko style to and over the edge in two seconds. Kachi-koshi for the Georgian and I love it. The Brazilian might get relegated to Juryo. Meanwhile, Daido didn't take much longer to overpower Asasekiryu and even throw him. And that is all so poor by the former Sekiwake.

Tochiohzan ran over light-weight Kyokushuhohoho, who's another candidate for an immediate bounce back to division two. Tochiohzan calmly sails towards a sansho. The ranking situation might even allow him to reenter sanyaku. Celebrating his kachi-koshi on Day 10 of his division debut basho naturally took its toll on Chiyonokuni's concentration. Shohozan was only partly responsible for his opponent's premature fall today, the hangover taking care of the better part. Aran, on the other hand, threw himself over the tawara in an amusing attempt to pull down Fujiazuma. Refreshing.

Kyokutenho will retire after Natsu basho to take over a soon to be vacant oyakata title. And good riddance. I really respect his skills but his controlled low risk sumo started to get on my nerves recently. And you know how he always wins by pulling over his opponents to his side while moving backwards to the straw? Well, today against Tochinoshin he exactly lost like that. Grim. Henkataiho got yori-kiri'ed by Yoshikaze via moro-zashi. Nothing to see here, folks. Tokitenku brushed of the blindly (and somewhat successfully) charging Toyohibiki right at the edge. Then Toyohibiki finally opened his eyes. Best early junior Hutt non-sense.

The exact same thing happened in the bout between Aeiouiyama and Tochinowaka, only that the bout concluded on the west side and that the Bulgarian didn't fall off the mound. In a compelling match-up youngsters Myogiryu and Takayasu met for the first time. Takayasu lost the thrust exchange in the sense that he gave away a double-inside grip. He then tried to escape the deadly situation with kime arm bars and lateral movement, but Myogiryu's footwork turned out to be excellent (once more!). Yori-kiri and a realistic chance for sanyaku promotion for this promising grappler.

I daresay Kitataiki will do the Bushuyama soon and return to the depths of Juryo sometime this year for good. He might still have the willpower but physically he seems to have turned more and more inert. Goeido applied one of the meanest slap downs on him that I have seen in a while (but curiously with Goeido such moves often still look like "technique"...). Okinoumi is so off his game, he might very well be injured. This basho even my grandmother would slap him down and she's two years dead. His opponent (and agent of hataki-komi) was my man Wookie, who will be up for demotion, but I still want to cuddle him.

In the first sanyaku bout of the day Miyabiyama met Aminishiki. The bout was as ugly as one would expect, so please spare me the plight. I would really, really hate to see Shneaky back at Komusubi or even (beware!) Sekiwake. Like Kyokutenho, he's occupying space for interesting new blood. It is a small (hoho!) miracle that Toyonoshima doesn't have a clue against Takekaze. The Sekiwake is so highly attuned to slay the giants that are usually around him, he somehow lost the skill to deal with someone of his size. Bizarre. Toyonoshima needs to win the rest for falling only to Komusubi.

In the first feature bout of the day, freshly inaugurated conqueror of Yokozunæ Kakuryu had to deal with one of two potential Kotooshus. The first would have been the still-hungry-for-yusho variety (not so unlikely this basho), the other one the oh-right-I-got-my-8 variant. Interestingly, it was something in between. While Kotooshu didn't bring the killer determination he had mustered in a couple of bouts this fortnight, he nevertheless lacked the final bit of focus to really put the supersolid Sekiwake at any risk. The bout started quite similar like the one between Kakuryu and Hakuho the day before. The Mongolian forced the Ozeki into a circle movement soonish after the tachi-ai, only this time the immediate result was moro-zashi for the Sekiwake. You might have seen that Kotooshu had survived a couple of such situations this basho, but Kakuryu did his video study homework and knew what was coming. Thus, he instantly turned his opponent's do or die charge into a nicely executed shitate-nage.

Kotoshogiku pretty much trademark-bellyhumped a surprisingly passive Homasho to the left and to the right and out. this was so one-sided, it was probably even legitimate. The Geek stands at 6-5, showing first sings of perma-Ozekidom mediocrity. Homasho will always stay a riddle wrapped riddle solving manuals.

Harumafuji lost some weight but gained some speed, while Baruto seems to have rediscovered that he can use his fearsom paws for something else than scrathing his head in puzzlement after boneheaded losses. this could make an interesting clash. A well-time and quick tsuppari exchange developed, which mainly saw the Mongolian on the receiving end. Baruto's key to success was his excellent timing at the tachi-ai. Nevertheless, he is often much too upright for my taste. Physically, he can get away with it against most opponents, but Hakuho wouldn't forgive him that.

In the final bout, Kisenosato withstood the Yokozuna's initial charge and actually enjoyed the momentum for a second. Then Hakuho did something he hadn't resorted to for some time: he initiated an armlock to set up tottari (a potentially injury inducing technique). Kisenosato escaped the attempt in high panic mode, but consequentially becoming easy push out fodder for the Yokozuna. At least he could hit Hakuho on the head while flying off the dohyo. I didn't like Hakuho's move at all. It shows that he is either not fit (toe injury) or doesn't trust his sumo after yesterday's loss. Probably both. Kisenosato is an Ozeki through and through.

Clancy is back tomorrow.

Day 10 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
You could probably tell from my comments yesterday that I was starting to get bored with the basho. Everything seemed right with the top two guys on the banzuke undefeated building up to their senshuraku showdown and then a token Japanese rikishi in the mix as well just one back, but if things transpired as they usually do, the contenders would suffer losses here and there down the stretch allowing Hakuho to waltz his way to another yusho. However, everything changed with today's final bout, and it wasn't just because Hakuho was how he lost. Whether you believe everything on the dohyo is straight up or whether you believe that guys do each other favors, there was something for you today, and the last five days of the tournament should be extremely compelling regardless of one's view.

Before we get to the Hakuho - Kakuryu bout, let me just review a very basic element of sumo because after reading my intro, I'm positive that half of you groaned, "not again," and nearly the other half perked up because you generally accept that bouts are thrown in sumo but you missed it today. The lesson we need to review is the importance of getting to the inside of one's opponent. Unless you're are strictly an oshi guy, everything should start with establishing a firm inside stance from the tachi-ai. Obtaining the outer grip is key in gaining the advantage over your opponent, but it is all set up after first obtaining the inside position, and if you gave someone the choice of two outers vs. two inners, the two inners wins out 100% of the time. The inside position is so critical that they even have a term called moro-zashi to represent getting both arms on the inside, and once a guy gets moro-zashi, it's very difficult for him to lose. Now, of course there are exceptions like Baruto who can still regularly defeat guys with two outers, but there is no term in sumo to signify two outside positions because it's never desirable.

And as long as we're reviewing terms, there's also the maki-kae, which means bringing one's arm from the outside to the inside. It's a very dangerous move, but it's often worth the risk because if someone can successfully pull it off, it now means they have moro-zashi, a stance from which their chance of winning skyrockets. Just like moro-zashi, the term maki-kae does not have it's opposite because there is no reason why a rikishi would give up an inside position in order to obtain an outside position, not even to gain one outside grip and certainly not to get both arms on the outside. You'll often hear me say that rikishi need to fight from the inside out. I say this about Goeido all the time, and one of Kisenosato's biggest weaknesses is that he always goes for that outer grip, but he doesn't sufficiently set himself up from the inside first. Anyway, the word in Japanese is "sasu" and it means to insert or plug in. Conjugated to be used in sumo terms, it changes to "sashi", or "zashi" if it's the second word in a compound like moro-zashi (double-insertion). You hear the term "zashi" all the time because getting to the inside is critical in terms of sumo success.

Okay, with that lesson in mind, let's get to the final bout of the day featuring Yokozuna Hakuho and Sekiwake Kakuryu. Hakuho implemented his usual kachi-age tachi-ai where he uses his forearm to knock his opponent upright in order to gain what else but the inside position. Normal Hakuho sumo has the Yokozuna getting the inside position and then immediately using de-ashi as he bodies his opponent back trying to grab an outer grip with the other hand, but Kakuryu avoided that today by backpedaling as soon as Hakuho knocked him upright. Having been thrown a slight change-up, Hakuho's lack of de-ashi made him vulnerable allowing Kakuryu to grab a right frontal belt grip which he used to spin the Yokozuna around in circles while pulling down at the back of his head with the left hand. Hakuho was able to stand his ground, however, with solid footing and a firm inside belt grip with the left arm.  After a few turns, Kakuryu realized he wasn't getting anywhere, and so he squared back up bringing his left arm down to the inside coupled with his outer grip with the right hand. At this point, Hakuho relinquished his inside grip with the left arm and brought the arm to the outside (a reverse maki-kae if you will) giving Kakuryu moro-zashi in the process. The Kak seized the opportunity and drove the Yokozuna back to the tawara where Hakuho tried to stave off the charge at the edge by bodying into his opponent, but Kakuryu responded by actually trying to tsuri the Yokozuna clear off his feet. That didn't work in terms of a tsuri-dashi win, but it did get Hakuho off balance enough to the point where Kakuryu bodied him back to seal the deal. And just like that, Hakuho suffers his first loss of the tournament and first loss to Kakuryu in 21 tries.

Whenever I watch sumo and especially when I comment on the day's bouts, I always look for the keys to bout. Who won the tachi-ai? Who made the best adjustment? Who had confidence in their sumo? What was the turning point of the bout? The answer to that last question is undoubtedly Hakuho bringing his left arm from the inside out giving Kakuryu moro-zashi. And this after Hakuho's right hand did absolutely nothing unless you count trying to pull Kakuryu's arm down as if to say "get me in moro-zashi dumbass".  If you look a the picture at right, who has the clear path to moro-zashi?  Hakuho's sumo today was inexplicable, especially for a dai-Yokozuna who is capable of winning 63 consecutive bouts. The elite rikishi in the history of the sport simply do not make such catastrophic mistakes. Hakuho was still in the center of the ring, he had his footing, he had his left hand on the inside of Kakuryu, and his right hand was up high and out of the way or just dangling in no-man's land. Conventional wisdom suggests at that point he brings his right arm down and to the inside, hugs Kakuryu in tight, lifts him upright with the moro-zashi position, and then smothers him out of the ring. So when Hakuho employs zero de-ashi and abandons an advantageous position giving his opponent moro-zashi instead, he's committing suicide on the spot.

Now, the action in the ring was so quick and flowed so naturally that I'm sure 99% of you missed that move with the left arm and the lack of de-ashi even after watching the replays, but if you have the means to go back and watch the bout, do so. It was clear as day. And I haven't even gotten to the end of the bout where Hakuho didn't try to evade his opponent's charge at the edge. If you want to win a bout and your opponent has you up against the ropes, you basically have two choices if you still want to win the bout: go for an utchari or move one way and try and push in at your opponent's side sending him in the other direction for a counter tsuki-otoshi. Hakuho tried neither which is puzzling to me for such an accomplished rikishi.  Now, did Hakuho make those mistakes on purpose or was he just frazzled after being spun in a circle a time or two? Make your own interpretation and read into it what you want. The end result is Hakuho saddled with his first loss at 9-1 and Kakuryu picking up the biggest win of his career moving to 7-3 and all but securing an Oscar...I mean a Shukunsho at basho's end.

Since that Hakuho upset came out of nowhere, the most anticipated bout coming into the day featured the two Japanese Ozeki in Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku. Would Kotoshogiku defer to Kisenosato due to the Kid's better record and status as yusho contender? Or would the Geeku go all out and continue his dominance over his friendly rival? It was tough to really tell as Kisenosato henka'd to his left at the tachi-ai and just knocked the stumbling Kotoshogiku down with a left forearm into the side of the Geeku's body. A half second bout between the two Japanese rikishi that involves a henka doesn't exactly stimulate the fans, but the end result is favorable in terms of adding excitement to the basho. Kisenosato moves to 9-1 with the "win," but what message does he send here? If he's serious about the yusho, I want to see him man up and beat the big boys straight up, not dilly dally around with henka and evasive sumo. Kotoshogiku takes one for the team more or less as he falls to 5-5. Considering he still has Hakuho and Baruto on the docket, his back is firmly against the make-koshi wall.

So, with Hakuho and Kisenosato tied at 9-1, could Baruto actually take sole possession of the yusho lead with a win over the feisty Sekiwake, Toyonoshima? It didn't look promising early as the Ozeki completely whiffed with a face slap at the tachi-ai enabling Toyonoshima to secure the early moro-zashi, but as he does so well, Baruto instinctively went for the outer grip over the top and got it with the right hand, so despite Toyonoshima's best force-out efforts, Baruto was able to throw him down at the edge by the back of the belt with the right hand. Baruto survived a scare here as he moves to an unblemished 10-0, and I can't recall the Ozeki ever having sole possession of the lead this late in a basho. The beauty of it all is he still has to face the two guys in second place, so regardless of what anyone's stance is on the validity of this or that, we have an exciting yusho race brewing. Toyonoshima is on the brink now at 3-7.

Ozeki Kotooshu breezed through M3 Kitataiki to pick up a kachi-koshi as early as I can remember for him. Kitataiki stayed low at the tachi-ai, so the Ozeki just reached over the top of him, grabbed the left outer grip, and used his right inside position to square up with his gal before executing the swift yori-kiri. Let's hope at 8-2 now that Kotooshu doesn't just dial it in the rest of the basho, especially since he can still impact the yusho race. As for Kitataiki, he's been completely useless up here at 1-9.

Rounding out the Ozeki ranks, Harumafuji struggled a bit with M3 Takayasu who made the first move after an exchange of tsuppari-ai at the tachi-ai followed by Takayasu's pouncing into the left inside position and going for the force-out kill straightway. He got HowDo as far as the edge of the ring, but he over extended himself going for that final push, and the savvy Ozeki slipped into moro-zashi allowing him to regain the advantage and eventually force Takayasu out for the comeback win. Harumafuji moves to 8-2 with the win and can play the role of spoiler along with Kotooshu should the two choose to do so. As for Takayasu, he falls to a very respectable 4-6. I was high on this kid when he first entered the division, but after his debut he looked too lightweight in his sumo to me. I didn't think he'd stand a chance among the jo'i this basho, but I was completely wrong...and glad for it since I love this kid and where he's come from.

I commented yesterday in some disbelief that M1 Aminishiki could actually be promoted to Sekiwake for the Haru basho, but dude keeps on winning, and if he beats a current Komusubi--as he did against Wakakoyu today, I guess he at least deserves a return to the sanyaku. As far as the bout goes, the best way to put it is Wakakoyu gained momentum every time he went for pushes, and he lost said momentum when he transitioned to pulls. The end result was a seasoned veteran pouncing on a momentum shift and scoring the pushout win with Aminsihiki moving to 5-5 in the process and the Wookie officially suffering make-koshi at 2-8.

In the other Komusubi matchup, M1 Takekaze executed the girliest tachi-ai henka against Miyabiyama I think I've ever seen. It was so soft, in fact, that Miyabiyama not only survived but had the wherewithal to come back and win the bout that featured expected pushes that were really used to set up a pull. Miyabiyama ekes his way to 3-7 while Takekaze is 1-9.

In the Maegashira ranks, M2 Goeido looked to take charge against M2 Okinoumi getting his left arm in deep, but as he fiddled around with a right frontal/outer grip, it seemed to me that he lost all concentration and allowed Okinoumi to execute an inside counter throw of his own that sent Goeido sprawling to the dirt. Okinoumi limps to 2-8 while Goeido falls to 3-7. I equate Goeido to those dudes who gather at the mall's alternative toy store after hours to participate in Dungeons and Dragons marathons. In other words, I just can't figure 'em out.

M6 Kyokutenho henka'd to his left against M4 Tochinowaka grabbing the quick and dirty outer grip using it to easily force the stumbling Tochinowaka outta the ring in a flash. Sucks for Tochinowaka who falls to 5-5, but dude should take it as a sign of respect to be henka'd by a veteran who wanted no part of him. Kyokutenho accelerates to 7-3 with the cheapie.

The M4 Homasho - M6 Yoshikaze matchup was entertaining in that Homasho just stood in the center of the ring while Yoshikaze danced all around him firing off faux tsuppari. When the chance came a few seconds in, Homasho pounced and decaffeinated Yoshikaze in short order leaving both dude at 5-5.

What's happened to M5 Toyohibiki? Today against M9 Daido the Hutt charged low but was met by a kachi-age (forearm) from Daido's right arm followed by a quick move to the left and ensuing pulldown. When Daido (3-7) makes it look easy, you may need to rethink a few things. Toyohibiki falls to 5-5.

I loved the M5 Myogiryu - M9 Tochinoshin bout that saw Myogiryu jump the gun and commit a false start that really seemed to irritate the Private. You couldn't see it as much on his face, but when the two reloaded, Tochinoshin decided to pay back the diss from the youngster by henka'ing to his left and going for the quick pull. The problem was, though, that Tochinoshin grabbed a fist full of hair in the process and had no choice but to let it go. Upon doing so, he found himself retreating with nary a pot to piss in, and Myogiryu used his quickness to rush in tight and throw Tochinoshin over with a sweet sukui-nage. I love it when someone pretends to be bitter with a henka and ends up getting his ass kicked. Both guys finish the day at 6-4.

The previous bout was very similar where M7 Aoiyama committed a false start against M10 Tokitenku going for a hari-zashi. The soft slap pissed Tokitenku off big time, and as he tried to go for a hari-zashi of his own after the two reloaded, Aoiyama seized the opening getting his left arm on the inside and forcing Tokitenku back quickly to the edge where the eventual right outer grip sealed the yori-kiri deal in favor of Aoiyama who moves to 3-7. Tokitenku falls to 6-4, and we'll see if he remembers this in Haru.

M10 Gagamaru launched a beefy paw into the throat of M7 Aran followed up with a left hand pushing into Aran's gut. Gagamaru had so much momentum at this point thanks to solid de-ashi that it was once, twice, three times a lady as he took the Bride with some oomph in this one. At 7-3, I'm looking forward to Gagamaru's return up the ranks. He has tons more to offer than we saw in Kyushu. Aran falls to 4-6.

I loved the pairing of M13 Tenkaiho with M8 Tochiohzan. When a rookie from the bottom of the ranks starts out quickly, it's always nice to see how they do against a veteran a few notches up. Not so well in the case of Tenkai the Hutt as Tochiohzan got his right arm on the inside and then used a nice tsuki into the Hutt's side with the left hand that toppled the rookie over nearly as soon as the bout began. I say make the rookies earn their kachi-koshi as Tenkaiho stumbles to 7-3 while Tochiohzan's majority is in the bag at 8-2.

Let's end with the first three bouts of the day, which featured the three remaining rookies and then Takanoyama. M16 Nionoumi got morozashi against M12 Yoshiazuma, but he had to extend himself upwards since Yoshi is so damn tall that the rookie was over extended, so Yoshiazuma (2-8) turned the tables and forced the compromised rookie out instead. Nionoumi has been lackluster this basho as he falls to 3-7.

M13 Chiyonokuni struck quickly at the tachi-ai against fellow rookie M15 Kyokushuho before moving to his left and shoving his opponent down with a nifty tsuki into the side. Chiyonokuni has been the most exciting rookie to watch by far as he moves to 8-2 with the win while Kyokushuho (3-7) will likely have to refigure some things in Juryo next basho with Nionoumi.

And finally, M14 Asasekiryu jumped into the inside of M15 Takanoyama (4-6) so fast there was no time for any shenanigans as Sexy (7-3) scored the bulldozing yori-kiri.

With five days to go, we have a solid leader board and nothing but meaningful bouts the rest of the way in the Yokozuna/Ozeki ranks starting with Hakuho - Kisenosato tomorrow. Guess we'll find out to what extent the table has been set then. The Reverend Kungl ministers tomorrow.

Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
It's nice to come back in after four days off and see a legitimate leaderboard forming as we head down the stretch. One of my pet peeves is Maegashira rikishi showing up on the leaderboard undeservedly, so with no one down low doing better than 7-2, we're really able to keep the focus where it should be in terms of the yusho race...the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks. With the top two rikishi on the banzuke undefeated, it creates more anticipation for their senshuraku matchup, and with Kisenosato just one back, he still controls his own destiny for better or worse. While it's highly unlikely that all three of these rikishi can carry that momentum into the final day of the basho, the Sumo Association can't complain with a Japanese rikishi in position to strike.

Let's start with the leaders today and work our way down the banzuke. Starting from today, Yokozuna Hakuho gets the Sekiwake followed by the Ozeki in ascending order according to rank. Normally, I'd say that Sekiwake Toyonoshima would be one of the tougher opponents, but he's been down this basho while other Ozeki have been overachieving. From the tachi-ai, Hakuho got his right arm on the inside and used it to lift Toyonoshima's left arm straight up so that it was pointing to the rafters, which painfully no longer contain any portraits of Japanese rikishi. As the Sekiwake tried to wriggle out of this predicament, Hakuho committed on a push-out from the center of the ring half using his body and half using his left arm that got the job done, but I thought his sumo overall was a bit sloppy. The safer play would have been to grab Toyonoshima's belt and force him back and across, but a win is a win and Hakuho moves to 9-0. It's kind of hard to nitpick at a dai-Yokozuna, but his sumo overall this basho hasn't looked as crisp as it usually is for whatever reason. Toyonoshima falls to 3-6 and must still battle Baruto, so there is little room for error. If he does happen to finish up 7-8, there is no one close to take over his rank, but that's post-basho fodder, so let's move on.

Ozeki Baruto kept pace with the Yokozuna after defeating M3 Takayasu in a tsuppari-fest. Takayasu gave it a valiant effort striking the Ozeki in rapid succession, but he just couldn't move the BioMass, so Baruto was able to keep his opponent in front of him at all times and finish the M3 off in short order. Like Hakuho, Baruto's sumo hasn't been flawless, but when you have some weak links among the Komusubi ranks and jo'i as we do this basho, these guys don't have to be perfect in order to skate through the first nine days. At 9-0, Baruto gets the aforementioned Toyonoshima tomorrow and then a steady diet of Ozeki leading up to senshuraku. As for Takayasu, he falls to 4-5 and will continue to slide as he faces more Ozeki in week 2.

Coming into the day just one behind the leaders, Ozeki Kisenosato kept pace using his patented hari-zashi tachi-ai against M4 Homasho where the Kid slapped with the right hand and secured the left on the inside. Overmatched by the Ozeki's size and strength, Homasho tried to back out of the move to the side, but Kisenosato's de-ashi were sound enabling him to keep up with his opponent and force him back across the straw without argument. Kisenosato moves to 8-1 with the win but must now face his fellow Ozeki, a group of guys he hasn't fared well against in the recent past. Although he bested Kotoshogiku in pre-basho keiko, the Geeku has ruled Kisenosato of late (the two clash tomorrow) at the hon-basho. Kisenosato has also struggled mightily against Baruto and Kotooshu while Harumafuji is no slouch himself. I'm of the opinion that the Sumo Association has aided Kisenosato in his rise to this level, but at some point, he's got to shoulder part of the burden himself, and that test starts tomorrow and runs through the end of the basho. I'd be surprised if the Kid finishes the last six days with more than three wins assuming that all bouts will be fought straight up. As for Homasho, he falls to 4-5 and just doesn't have any vitality to him this basho.

We witnessed our first Ozeki duel today with Kotooshu battling Harumafuji in a short bout where HowDo won the tachi-ai by shoving upwards into Kotooshu's throat and then moving to his left and pulling Kotooshu forward resulting in the Bulgarian stumbling off the dohyo altogether. Kotooshu's failure to make any lateral adjustments when Harumafuji moved to the side was a bit alarming, but after losing to Homasho a couple of days ago, it was was pretty clear that Kotooshu's start was due more to weakened competition than a resurgence in his approach to the sport. Both Ozeki are equal now at 7-2 but watch for Harumafuji to finish with the better record.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku had to have been relieved to see M3 Kitataiki across from him at the starting lines, a rikishi who has assumed the role of the jo'i punching bag so far. The two ended up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai whereupon the Ozeki used his gaburi belly bumps to nudge Kitataiki back, but Kotoshogiku hasn't exactly equaled a strong attack this basho, so he failed to finish his gal off yori-kiri style. Instead, he used the right arm to push at Kitataiki's side as he deftly moved out of the way sending the M3 down via tsuki-otoshi. When a rikishi is truly on his game, he is able to defeat his opponents in a linear fashion whether by force-out or by a shoving attack. And while Kotoshogiku has been winning by forward techniques (cept for today), his attack has been weak all basho. At 5-4, I attribute it to a lack of preparation or a decision to pay off some debts this basho. Kitataiki is hapless at 1-8.

Sekiwake Kakuryu quietly moved to 6-3 after dispatching M1 Takekaze by bringing his left arm from the inside up to the back of Takekaze's melon shortly after the tachi-ai and pulling down with that hand as he threw kote-nage style with the right arm on the other side. You'll notice that Takekaze (1-8) is minding his P's and Q's while fighting amongst the jo'i. In other words, he's avoiding the henka and getting his ass kicked right and proper. Kakuryu has cooled down a bit at 6-3, and with a few more Ozeki and the Yokozuna to go, he's still got his work cut out for him.

The Sumo Association teased us long enough and finally gave us what we wanted today by pairing up the two Komusubi in Miyabiyama and Wakakoyu. Who didn't know that this would be a tsuppari contest ending up with one guy pulling down the other? Wakakoyu was quicker on the trigger evening the records for both guys now at 2-7.

M2 Okinoumi picked up his first win of the basho--barely--against M1 Aminishiki. After giving up moro-zashi to his foe, Okinoumi wrapped his left arm around Shneaky's neck and then offered a meek tsuki-otoshi with his right arm pulling both rikishi off balance and to the dohyo floor at the same time. A mono-ii was called, and I believe the ruling went something like this, "Both rikishi hit at the same time, but since that poor sumbitch Okinoumi doesn't have any wins, we determined that Aminishiki hit the ground first." Okinoumi ends up 1-8 while Aminishiki falls to 4-5. As I type this, I just realized that Aminishiki has faced most of the top guns and could conceivably pick up eight wins. If he can kachi-koshi and Toyonoshima loses eight, would they really bump Shneaky up to Sekiwake?

Two guys who I have previously branded as Japan's "Next" met up today in M2 Goeido and M4 Tochinowaka. The two quickly hooked up in migi-yotsu with Goeido also maintaining an outer grip, but both grips were only on one fold of the belt, and so he couldn't quite muster the leverage to make this one a quickie. Tochinowaka nonchalantly stood his ground and looked for any opportunity to throw as well, but in the end, Goeido defeated the taller opponent throwing him over with the right inside grip as he beautifully used his hip to act as a fulcrum to launch Tochinowaka off balance. It's a beautiful move and one that Goeido has mastered, but the problem the last few years is he easily abandons the in-tight belt contest in favor of cat and mouse push/pull bouts. If someone could get Goeido (3-6) to focus on constantly fighting from the inside, he possible could become Japan's next. Until then, that crown has been wrested from him by Tochinowaka (5-4) despite today's loss.

One of my most anticipated bouts of the day (and another indication that I have grown a bit bored with the proceedings) featured M5 Myogiryu against M8 Tochiohzan. If I had to pick one for my stable right now, I'd take Myogiryu, but the kid still has to learn to win this high in the ranks. The bout didn't live up to my expectations, though, as Tochiohzan got his left arm on the inside but quickly abandoned a yotsu contest by evading to his left and going for a quick pull down of Myogiryu. The move worked boosting Tochiohzan to 7-2, but I wanted to see Oh's yotsu skills against Myogiryu's thrusting skills. Unfortunately, both guys seemed timid in their approach, and the bout ended in a pull down.

All of M9 Tochinoshin's bouts have taken a painfully long time to develop, and if he's ever serious about gracing the sanyaku again, he needs to get back to a more wham bam thank you ma'am approach. Today was another drawn out affair against M5 Toyohibiki in a migi-yotsu contest that eventually turned to gappuri meaning both guys had simultaneous inside and outside belt grips. Tochinoshin should crush an oshi guy in a contest like this, but what seemed to be the difference was Toyohibiki's weaker outer grip on just one fold of the mawashi, not Tochinoshin's size and strength advantage. Shin did pull this one out with a boring yori-kiri to improve to 6-3 while ToyoIbiki is sleepwalking at 5-4 after that quick start.

M8 Shohozan was way too eager against M6 Yoshikaze shoving both hands high into Yoshikaze's neck, but with the relative newbie exposed too high, Cafe easily slipped to the side knocking Shohozan off balance and setting him up for the quick yori-kiri win. Yoshikaze is 5-4 now while Shohozan (4-5) shoulda focused those tsuppari into Yoshikaze's body.

M10 Gagamaru simply overwhelmed M7 Aoiyama gaining the quick left inside position and using his legs to power the young Bulgarian back and out in a flash. De-ashi have been the key for Gagamaru who improves to 6-3 while Aoiyama looks unsettled this high at 2-7.

Rookie M16 Nionoumi has begun to grip after his bad 2-6 start, and so he henka'd M12 Tosayutaka today in an effort to pick up the quick and dirty win. Wasn't too quick though as Tosayutaka did recover, but he still had no momentum from the get-go and the rookie was able to push him out in about five seconds leaving both dudes at 3-6.

Although it's been about 8 years since I've attended a keiko session at the Naruto-beya, I'm pretty sure they weren't teaching the "yank your opponent's arm at all costs" tactic that M14 Takanoyama has seemed to have discovered. I always tend to root for the underdog in any sport but only when the underdog actually belongs in the division, league, etc. Takanoyama doesn't. It reminds me a bit of the first ever Mongolian rikishi in professional sumo, Kyokushuzan (he actually entered sumo the same time as Kyokutenho but reached the Makuuchi division several years before Tenho). He somewhat took the sport by storm in a gimmick sort of way. People were all gaga about him because he was winning with all of these different techniques, but the two techniques absent from his arsenal were yori-kiri and oshi-dashi. To his credit, he sorted things out and worked hard to the point where he eventually became a semi-legitimate figure in the division, but sumo isn't comprised of children's games like hide and seek or tag. I guess what I'm trying to say is if you don't practice it in the keiko ring, I don't want to see it atop the dohyo during a hon-basho.

Today against M13 Chiyonokuni, Takanoyama went after Kuni's arm and tried to yank him out of the dohyo, but Chiyonokuni was able to maneuver behind Krusty II and trip him down with his thigh at the back of Takanoyama's thigh. It's just ugly sumo and unwatchable in my opinion. Chiyonokuni sails to 7-2 while Takanoyama falls to 4-5.

And finally, M13 Tenkaiho moved to 7-2 as well keeping his arms in tight to keep M14 Sagatsukasa away from the belt and then raising them up similar to a kachi-age move that knocked Stripe upright and set him up for a pulldown. Like the two combatants themselves, this wasn't pretty at all, but Tenkaiho got the job done. Sagatsukasa falls to 4-5.

A pretty uneventful day, but we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Day 8 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
I was chomping at the bit for todays bouts, because with so many matchups on the docket loaded with intrigue (4-3 Takayasu vs. Hakuho, 1-7 Kitataiki vs. Baruto, and 0-8 Okinoumi vs. Kisenosato), my mind was afire with the possibilities.

So you can imagine my disappointment when my father, instructed to record the bouts from 4pm, only recorded the final twelve (he blamed it on the tv--ha!). I missed the only bout that I actually WAS interested in, namely Yoshikaze vs. Gagamaru. Starbuck won with a shitatenage, which Im sure was fun to see, so Ill have to go and search it out after writing this report.

I ran for two hours and twenty minutes today, so Im not exactly brimming with genki. You may have also cogged (I made this word up and would like yall to disseminate it for me) the absence of Kenji in this first week, a lamentable situation that will continue in Week Two. Dudes kyujo, so combined with my desire to sleep for nine hours, and the fact that I only saw half the bouts, let todays short but insightful report be its poor substitute, k?

First bout had two blue-collar servants meeting in Mongol Kyokutenho and Russian Aran. A slightly shifting tachi-ai by both fellas led to a cheek to cheek slow dance that must have lasted for some time, because on the replay (the point when my recording began), they edited it ahead to the dénouement, which in this case had the Chauffer pressing Aran back and the Bouncer refusing to vacate the premises. With both men returned to the center, Kyokutenho realized that this would call for some Bugs Bunny-like stragedy, so he allowed Aran to run him backward with the idea of crushing the Chauffer out to his waiting limo. Course we all knew what the Bouncer did not, that Kyokutenho was going to set one leg forward and the other back, then twist his foe down, and thats just what he did.

I was looking closely at Myogiryu, and Ill be damned if the kid doesnt resemble, a bit, our dear friend and former ST contributor Mack Abro. Another reason to like the guy is that he hails from Hyogo state, where I reside. Yet another reason is that hes polished and seems to keep his cool (or maybe thats just his "Im WAY smarter than you" visage cause hes a university man). Today he took on Daido and after absorbing a tachi-ai that moved him back some, he get into a nascent moro-zashi position which he didnt need to then see to fruition as it was sufficient to run the Big Doh out. 5-3 after eight days and he looks to be moving into "fight the top guys in Osaka" territory. Shweet, cause Ill be there live, yo (unless it gets cancelled again this year due to some scandal).

Speaking of which, I miss Kotomitsuki still.

Toyohibiki spent quite a bit of time messing with Shohozans head at tachi-ai, causing the meat to false start. Once it got going, Shohozan went for the throat, literally, but Toyohibiki laughed it off, literally (I saw a chuckle). Shohozan snagged a quick inside right and, gonads to the wind, went immediately for the twisting throw. The Nikibi did the one-legged dance and righted himself, then pushing the E8 back to the edge and getting the W by toppling them both him with a textbook uwate over arm nage throw.

Tochinowaka made short work of Takekaze (rimshot) by not falling for the E1s smash and scram tachi-ai. The W4 moved to 5-3 by keeping the squirt in front of him, ignoring his frantic, squirrel clawing for purchase on an icy tree struggles, and working him out in classic yori-kiri style, legs aligned laterally, hips lowered, and arms lifting on the belt and driving forward.

After taking his second Ozeki down yesterday, it would stand to reason that Goeido would bring his A game vs. Aminishiki, right? Wrong. He had the W1 back on the ropes and losing, but for some reason tried to hook Aminishikis eternally injured right leg with his left. The only problem was Shneaky wasnt leaning to his right, so his balance was not dependent on the Bedroll, and the gambit did not work. Shneaky then lifted his off balance adversary up and ran him across the ring and out. Goeido ought to have kept pressing on Aminishiki instead of trying to hook the leg, but hes Japanese, prolly a little tired after a week, and a futon is hard to resist.

Kakuryu floundered today vs. an easily beatable opponent in Wakakoyu. He absorbed the tachi-ai and started forward, but Wakakoyu spun out of the way and Kak seemed to leave his left foot behind him and had to lunge. Wakakoyu helped this fall by pressing down on his shoulder. On the replay, it sure looked like his left hand, right in Wakakoyus armpit, didnt even respond to his falling. Youd think that instinctually the fingers of the hand would at least try to grasp the flesh right at their tips to halt the fall, but no. Very clumsy, distracted sumo by a guy who needs to beat all lower ranked guys and a good number of higher ranked one as well.

Miyabiyama dialed up Geekus number by holding him up as he charged forward, and then expertly moving aside. Oscar probably stood there mimicking this with an imaginary red cape. MiFlobbyama had a grin on his mug that he just could not wipe off. You could tell he won in precisely the manner he had planned. Kotoshogiku has to have more confidence in his strength and not try to rush things. To say Geeku is off his game is an understatement (as is saying Contributor Emeritus Simon takes the ladies unawares).

After two upsets, it was up to Ozeki Ba Rude Oh (sorry, but Im thinking about applying for the NHK English broadcasting job, and need to brush up on the proper pronunciation) to staunch the flow. Period. And a bloody good job he did of it indeed, quickly snatching a belt and ragdolling Kitataiki to the clay. The crowd showed their appreciation for the emphatic win, and while it was superlative sumo by the Biomass, it made me wistful once again for Asashoryu, who used to throw people like that eight or nine times per basho. Shit, the years of wild sumo we could have had if they had not found (manufactured?) some bullshit excuse to get him out of the sport.

Yeah, Hakuho is great, but lets not forget, Hakuho won his 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th yusho when Asa was completely out (for three) and pulled out (for two). After that, in his next seven basho (and Asas last seven) Hakuho went jun, yusho, jun, yusho, jun, yusho, jun. In three of those jun-yusho Asa took the yusho (the other was a yusho by Harumafuji after he famously defeated Hakuho and Asashoryu on consecutive days using leg tripping hijinks and then Hakuho conventionally by shitatenage in a playoff). Since Genghis got screwed out of sumo, Hakuho has waltzed to nine out of ten yusho, not losing ONE SINGLE TIME in the four tourneys immediately following Asas "retirement."

So would sumo have been WAY better the past two years with the two Yokozuna? You be the judge.

Okinoumi put up a way better fight than he has been up until now, leaning in on Kisenosato with an inside left and vainly it turned out fishing for the right inside belt. After many boring moments of stillness, the Ozeki made his move, stepping back and opening his stance while at the same time yanking with his left hand belt grip and bringing the 0-8 down hard and ungainly. Kid has to keep this up till he starts getting the other four Ozeki, which is when well find out what hes made of this basho for realsies, as my nephew says. With Baruto at 8-0 and Kotooshu at 7-1 and HowDo at 6-2, there will be some fireworks for sure. But will any of their cream rise to top Hakuho?

Homasho got hit by Harumafuji, and fell down. Took under a half second.

Kotooshu showed some adroitness by avoiding running out when Toyonoshima slipped to the side, but he recovered and came back and wrapped his long arms around Tugboat, snagged his front belt almost from behind, and flipped him down. Hes had mostly scrubs (relatively) till now, lets see how he is in Week Two when he meets his equals. I definitely would not mind him being in the mix as far as Day 14. Shitty as hes been, I still got a soft spot for the... .actually, no I dont.

Takayasu was going to lose, lets put it right out there. Fisrt time meeting with Kublai, dude didn’t stand a chance. With that out of the way, let me say that Hakuho is going to remember this bout. Takayasu came in ferociously, slamming up against the Yokozunas face with his noggin a few times, and shoving some paw into his mug. It was evident that Hakuho was NOT expecting such gusto, as he allowed the W3 to push him back before he slapped him down. Hakuho was not in any trouble, mind you, but neither did Takayasu back down. Dude made the entire Naruto Stable proud with his manimalistic performance. I mean, losing by hataki-komi several seconds into a bout with Hakuho moving backward must feel almost like a win.

Well as the head priests said to Thutmose the Third (and were then killed and interred along with their queen) "that about wraps her up!" Mike will be here reporting everyday for the rest of the year twenty-twelve, so enjoy!

Day 6 Comments (Óscar Gutiérrez reporting)
This is my first report of the year when the world shall end. Because, let's face it, Mayans were a great civilization, very wise, and it's not like my civilization practically erased theirs from the face of the earth, leaving only some ruins, pyramids and crap for later people to study…You know, Mayans didn't become extinct, unlike unicorns. So, picture this: you're out just hanging around in some club and a trustful fella comes in and tells everybody:

"2 hours from now the world is going to end. Let's prepare for it and enjoy our last minutes. What should we do?... Any ideas, anybody?"
I don't know about you, but I can assure you that by the time I hear the word "end", my pants would be ankle-high preparing for the end of the world orgy. So, being a firm believer in org…., I mean, the Mayan calendar and in general, apocalypses, I've started making my preparations, researching stuff, and I found this: a bunker where we can wait for the end of the world, there'll be some actresses of the adult industry, and I'm expecting no more than a handful of guys. So if you're a hot chick (SumoTalk's regular audience, innit?), don't wait one more second and reserve your place in the coolest end of the world orgy. I'll be there, if you're a guy I hope you won't.

Let's go with the thing I've actually been asked to talk about, the chanko eaters. It's day 6 and for the first time in eons, Hakuho, at this stage, is trailing the yusho leader, Baruto, by one win. If you haven't been paying attention, or if you actually have and think I'm nuts, the Biomass is 6-0 in only five days (5 rikishis and a gyoji knocked out) and is undefeated against Hakuho in competitive tournament for the last…one bout. Adding to the uncertainty, we have another 2 Ozeki with an unblemished record, and the only 2 Ozeki who have scratched the loss column are…the Japanese ones. This is surely going to get the Japanese people thrilled about the outcome of the tournament. For the rest of the world, I'm trying my best.

The action starts with a guy with the ultimate sumo body, Kyokushuho, facing Sagatsukasa, that is also the Japanese word for Gremlin. Jury's still out on Kyokushuho, he's a 23 y-o rookie, Mongolian (that's a bonus), but he's looking unprepared yet. Gremlin tried to rush into the inside at the tachi-ai, but the rookie wouldn't let him. Left hand on the inside for Kyokushuho and complete annihilation of his foe, who had nowhere to run. 2-4 for the Mongolian, but beating 2 guys that, together, barely outweigh Gagamaru is nothing to brag about. Gremlin is 3-3 if you care.

Nionoobie is another physically challenged rikishi that helped by the disturbances in the force that eliminated 20 or so guys from the banzuke, has risen to a spot far higher than his skillset would allow him to under normal circumstances. Today he was facing another rookie, Tenkaiho, who is nothing outstanding but has nice bulk and enough savvy for this levels of competition. Nionoobie tried a dung beetle impersonation, getting inside and pushing-rolling, but Tenkaiho had just enough of the 4 dimensions (time and space) inside the dohyo to tap the M16 on the back of the head. Tenkaiho is 5-1, and that shows the level of crappiness on the low Maegashira zone. 2-4 for Nionoobie, who at least got to second base today.

As a side note, on our Spanish culture time for today, thinking about hataki-komis, we have in Spanish a single word to express the act of giving somebody a smack on the nape (had to look up this word, I would have said back of the head). We call it "colleja", and I don't know what 8 year-old kids do to their mates that just got their hair cut in the English-speaking world. Here in Spain, the back of your neck reaches lobster red mere seconds after you walk through the school doors (hence the need to invent a word to describe that smack). Some intensive research over the Internet about the matter didn't bring me any results (except for a bunch of porn to add to my already lengthy collection, you know, Rule 34), so if there's an English word to express that, I would be glad to hear it.

Back to the action, two big but not in the fatty kind of way guys faced next. Yoshiazuma henka'd to grab the cheap uwate and got it. With it, he had Kaisei on the ropes for a while, but the Brazilian showed some resilience and managed to survive his foe's advances all over the dohyo using his right hand inside to threaten the scoop throw. When the bout settled in gappuri-migi-yotsu, Yoshiazuma had lost all the unfairly advantage he won at the tachi-ai, and Kaisei showed that he is some levels above this sucker, dispatching him via yori-kiri. This bout would have been a nice one (apart from the henka) had it not been fought at a tectonic pace. With 2 wins, Kaisei doubles what Yoshiazuma has.

Asasekiryu and Tosayutaka present us the first decent bout of the day. The yotsu battle featured a right shita-te for the Mongolian versus a left uwate from the Japanese and personal favourite of yours truly. Asasekiryu, master of dislodging grips couldn't muster that this time and after some nice struggle, both guys went into nage-no-uchi with the grips you have been already informed of. The veteran Asasekiryu chickened out first and put his free hand to the floor to stop the fall. Still, the ladies in black robes decided to gather up to discuss the latest gossip, cause the decision was very clear for me. Maybe the guys placed on the back couldn't see it well, let's not be that picky. They finally made the right call and gave the win to the guy with bigger cojones. Tosayutaka is only 2-4 and Asasekiryu's record mirrors that, but don't get me started on how he's getting those wins.

Takanoyama showed why he's a fan favorite. Despite his physical challenges (challenges that, unlike Toyonoshima's, he could resolve by eating all the food on his plate), he survived feisty tsuppari by Sadanofuji using some ballerina skills, probably his hidden passion. Billy Elliot managed to evade once, twice, three times a lady Sadanofuji's stiff paws, but wasn't able to get anything going after the big escapes. Finally, he grabbed the M11's left arm, but giving him his back and with his feet really close to the tawara. An ippon was never on the cards, because the Czech had no place to support himself, but it made for an odd picture. Okuri-dashi and 4-2 for Sadanofuji, just the opposite than White&Nerdy.

Chiyonokuni faced Lord Gaga straight up, with two hands to his throat. Of course, Lord Gaga wouldn't budge and went into bulldozer mode, but the rookie stepped out of the way at the right time and left the Georgian pushing nothing but thin air. We all know maneuverability is not exactly a bulldozer's main feature and Gaga walked himself out of the dohyo. Chiyonokuni is off to a nice 5-1 start in his rookie basho, Gagamaru is 4-2 and should aim for double digit wins.

Fujiazuma and Tochinoshin exchanged a couple of slaps and decided not to apply for today's girly award by going into hidari-yotsu. Fujiazuma tried to belly his rival out a couple of times, but No-shine is no slouch, survived the early charges and was about to take control but he stepped on one of those fringes that hang up from the mawashi, which was on the floor from the early struggle. The bout, just like Tochinoshin's career, stagnated, and focused on who was going to step on the fringy thing that was on the floor between the two rikishi. Tochinoshin kicked it and Fujiazuma stepped on it a little bit as well. Finally the gyoji got it out of the way (seriously, what are those things for?). Now we could focus our interest in sumo….nah, nothing farther from the truth. The next point of interest was if we were going to see Tochinoshin's thingy, as his mawashi was untying thanks to Fujiazuma's efforts to hold onto it. I presume that this fact was more key (or would it be "keyer"? This sounds like German machinery to me…) to the final yori-kiri than the Georgian's sheer power. Weird win for Tochinoshin, his 4th, one more than Fujiazuma.

Shohozan was quick and right on target at the tachi-ai, aiming for Tokitenku's neck with his hands. This alone threw the Mongolian out of balance enough that the only thing he managed to do in the entire bout was flail his arms wildly. My friend Cheetos wasted no time and with nice forward movement annihilated Stan, the salesman from Monkey Island. Props for a great 4-2 by the sophomore on a career high rank. More hate than love for Toki's 3-3.

Daido's go-to move is grabbing an uwate and creating some space to pull the throw. I don't know how on earth this guy has gotten this high. Today, Tochiohzan, whose bread-and-butter is getting on the inside, actually did and proceeded to destroy Dildo throwing him into the first row. 4-2 for the former Ozeki hopeful, Daido has only one win.

My cousin, who was featured in previous reports (mainly because he's the only palpable presence whom I can talk sumo with, very popular sport in Spain as you can imagine), being recently introduced to the sport, can only recognize two guys from the troopers: the first, Takanoyama, whom he's a fan of for the obvious weight challenge and his flashy wins; the second, Aran, who, in his opinion, plain sucks. Well, he's only seen the Thug against la crème de la crème, this basho he's out of the meatgrinder, but I don't think my cousin's gonna change his opinion anytime soon with this kind of displays. Today, Aran weathered Myogiryu's push storm with crappy pulling sumo right from the start. Miyagi in one of his attacks forgot his legs and Aran dispatched him with a hataki-komi, the only kimari-te he was willing to use. Let's look on the bright side of life, at least Aran didn't henka straight out, 4-2 for him, 3-3 for the youngster.

In the battle of girth, Ahoy-yama's rack cancelled Toyohibiki's tachi-ai and Mt. Pirate ran him straight out without breaking a sweat. I expected the exact opposite to what happened, that's how knowledgeable I am. First win for the Bulgarian and second loss for Hibiki.

Homasho got the two arms inside Kyokutenho's, but even so, the Chauffeur is a tough customer. The veteran tried to swing Homasho to either side but Homie's main feature is balance. The former Komusubi survived strikes that would have beaten your regular rank-and-filler and put the Mongolian off via yori-kiri to even both men's records.

Yoshikaze pulled out a henka against Tochinowaka. The good news is that Tochinowaka hadn't overcommited at the tachi-ai and managed to survive showing good footing. Cafe switched on and started to move back and forth trying to confuse my man. He even slapped him, how daring. Tochinowaka didn't lose his cool at all and sent the jolly leprechaun rolling to the ground. 3-3 for Tochinowaka means it's still learning time and his breakthrough basho will probably have to wait; 2-4 for Cafe.

Okinoumi had only fought top rankers till today. In previous bashos he had managed some early upsets to build upon. This basho, not only hasn't he gotten a single win, he didn't even come close to it, and today he displayed a poor effort. Takayasu was all over him from the start, first with tsuppari, then actually grabbing the belt, and that's the way to go instead of some crappy pull attempt as he's done in the past. Okinoumi had no response whatsoever and this was easy as pie for the young gun. 4-2 for Takayasu, who still isn't suffering from growing pains, let's see how he fares against the top guys, starting tomorrow with Giku.

Henka'ing a winless Miyabiyama must feel as good as kicking grampa in the groin. The douche bag was Kitataiki, also winless till today, and adding to insult the kimari-te was uwate-dashi-nage. Way to get people's respect, or my boss'.

Shin-ozeki Kisenosato didn't leave room for chance and kept Takekaze always in front of him. Chubbykaze lasted a spectacular 3 seconds before going to visit some guys sitting on the front row. No problemo for Kisenosato, who is 5-1, the exact same record that Takekaze is sporting, only turned around.

Today's main bout is Kakuryu vs. Harumafuji. Guess at what exact moment the streaming went to hell… Anyway, I managed to get the stream going just in time. Kakuryu tried to get a mae-mitsu grip while the Ozeki was trying to connect with Kak's neck. Harumafuji misfired, lost ground and Kakuryu grabbed him by the nuts. Then, the Sekiwake took the floor off the Ozeki's feet. Harumafuji protested like a little child, kicking the air, and was sent to his room, which was outside the dohyo, via tsuri-dashi. 5-1 for both men. Kakuryu is on the same level than the recently promoted Ozeki, let's see if they are as lenient with him as they've been with the Japanese hopefuls (HA!)

Kotooshu nearly lost against winless shin-Komusubi Wakakoyu. This sentence alone tells you his actual chances for the yusho. The couple exchanged wild tsuppari and Wakakoyu couldn't be happier about it. Kotooshu got the flying hataki-komi win by a whisker, luckily for him Wakakoyu had landed on his generous belly just before the Bulgarian stepped out. Don't let the 6-0 record deceive you. If Kotooshu gets even a jun-yusho, I'll go on a pilgrimage to Japan. On foot.

Toyonoshima got the two arms inside of Kotoshogiku's compact frame (amazing how he gets it done). The problem was that it didn't amount to anything because Shogun kept his arms tight and put pressure on Tugboat's forearms, wasting no time and walking him out of the dohyo for the cool kime-dashi win. Both men are 3-3 and these are 2 of the 3 top Japanese rikishi…

Aminishiki went straight up with Baruto charging to the Biomass' center of gravity, pointlessly. Aminishiki bravely kept trying, hoping for a stupid Baruto pull (wouldn't be the first time), but Bart kept calm and timed perfectly a slap to the back of a lounging Aminishiki, getting the easy hataki-komi win. 2-4 for the former Sekiwake, if this was 2 years ago, he would be a good bet to kachi-koshi, now he is not. In spite of being the same kimari-te than Oshu's, this was a solid win, and this Baruto guy is your best chance to avoid a Hakuho sweep. Besides, he's still one knocked gyoji in front of the Yokozuna.

Last, but not least, Hakuho made easy work of the 1-4 Goeido (and of whom does he not?), who still doesn't know how to beat the Yokozuna in 13 tries. Kublai won the tachi-ai, right hand inside, left hand outside and dismantled Goeido's defenses in a blink. Now, the streaming went down again, but at least not at the worse moment. Goeido was completely unbalanced, had one foot over the tawara and the other one kicking in the air with the Yokozuna stuck to him like flies to shit, so I can safely infer that the final yori-kiri was only tenths away from the frozen pic I had. The sacrificial lamb for tomorrow responds to the name of Kitataiki the Henka'er. Good luck with that, buddy.

The torch goes from Spain to Romania, Martin takes over tomorrow and will suck your blood (no other stereotypes I can think of right now).

Hasta la vista.

Day 5 Comments (Andreas Kungl reporting)
On some days, having a basho going on, watching, thinking or writing about sumo can be the most wonderful pastime. On other days, though, the significance of proper footing, grips and mental approach for persisting in a bout of wrestling is itself somehow thrown off the dohyo. Today, unfortunately, is such a day. This text is, as always, addressing the non-Japanese sumo community, of which I proudly consider myself part. Thanks to Mike's hospitality, I regularly find myself in the privileged position to publish my thoughts and observations outside of more common and potentially less visible forum activities. Nevertheless, I don't consider myself an essential part of anything. Would I disappear (and I had been for a while, if you remember), it would most likely not go unnoticed, but then again it would (hopefully) not matter too much. This stands in contrast to quite a few other really, really important people of the Sumo Fan Family. Not the least member of this distinguished group is Bob Reimer, better known as Kofuji in the forums and games.

I cannot tell you a whole lot of things about Bob, since I haven't had the privilege to converse with him virtually or even in person. Nevertheless, he has always been featured most prominently in my field of vision, whenever I scanned the sources for sumo information. For two reasons. Firstly, he has been the technical mastermind behind many of the sumo games and gaming sites, tending servers, making things work, solving problems. Secondly, he has published information and treatment updates about his illness for quite some time now. Bob suffers from cancer. Right about the time when the lower division bouts of Day 5 of the 2012 Hatsu basho started, Bob informed the community that he would be intai from all games. And that this in all likelihood would include the game of life. His doctors prepare to close the file, 4-8 weeks, a Haru reunion unlikely.

Now, I told you I haven't actually known Bob Reimer at all, but I can connect to the sumo community of which he still is a most essential part. Reading his sober and matter-of-fact reports about new diagnoses, new setbacks, new hope, new treatment got me greatly involved. And not just because I am human. My own sumo (reporting) hiatus was related to my wife's diagnosis of lymphatic cancer. In the first dark days back then, my initial reaction lead to my announcement of temporary kyujo from all sumo related activities. Shortly after, though, I realized that they had become an even more valued retreat, where I could charge the batteries that were so very low back then. All you guys who love sumo helped me keep afloat when I needed it. And Bob indirectly contributed heavily to that. That's why I care and that's why I want to make you all aware.

Over at the other forum many people already articulated their thoughts, wishes or just their emotions that they wanted to share. I also did that and it would have been enough as such. One fellow forumer, though, posted a short message, the crucial middle part of which went like this: "I hope that you will use this opportunity that God has given you (if you have not already done so) to accept his Son as your Savior." I didn't answer to this and the accompanying Psalms in the thread, because it is most certainly not the right place for flaming, but here I will. My answer is BULLSHIT.  Not for the reason that no religion can find a satisfying explanation and/or solution for the existence of suffering in the world. No. Only the profane fact that the folly of outdated superstition (and religion is nothing bloody else) is always and continuously opposed to scientific progress, while at the same time blabbering on about hope and salvation. In a more religious world, my wife would be dead. In a more religious world, Bob would have had less hope for earthly salvation. So what I hope Bob really does with the time he has left is not following the balderdash of warmongering prophets or masochistic saints. I would hope that he will be able to follow the example of the wonderful Bill Hicks, who reportedly spent the last weeks of his young life with his family, showing them things he cared about, telling them stories of his life, creating a feeling of togetherness, so that he might not be forgotten oh so quickly.

If you will have to pass away already soon, Bob, I will try not to forget you.

This one time, I am not intending to let unwelcome news provide me with an excuse to back away from actual reporting. So if you're in the mind for sumo regardless, I invite you to stroll along for a couple of more paragraphs.

I increasingly start to be unable to tell Kaisei and Aoiyama apart. Both are big, fat white youngsters who made their impression in their respective debut basho, but now look like they really got the hang of thorough downer abuse. So, one of them was unable to convert superior physical traits into anything resembling attack against undersized Sagatsukasa. The half-pint even closed the bout by oshi-taoshi, of all kimarite. The other one chased Yoshi the Coffee around, but without paying real attention. Scotty beamed Yoshikaze away from the tawara and to the backside of his opponent, but alas! it mattered not, since the latter just stepped out of the ring in a way that looked like a mixture between boredom and shock. There is a difference between the two, though. Kaisei has one, Aeiouiyama none. I don't see many more coming for either of them, to be frank.

How bad has Asasekiryu actually become, if he cannot transform his trademark low stance in a stalemate into a win against newbie Tenkaiho? I like the shin-Maegashira, but the bottom of the top division should be his natural limit, since he was an accomplished amateur already before joining the pros at the age of 23, but still needed four long years and a couple of scandals to drag himself up the ranks via many unimpressive 4-3s and such. Made Redundant is 4-1, but only because he is surrounded by rookies. He's lucky if he can get 7. Henkataiho might look like he is in the san-sho race, but he will luck out eventually.

Forgive me, if I zoom through a couple of the lesser bouts. I'm still getting accustomed to all the young blood and cannot really say many substantial things about the various (almost) newbies. I see that Chiyonokuni looks fresh and exiting. Today he hunted down Ninoumi, who is also not exactly a slug. Big speed and alertness by the Wolf's Pup's Pup, but let's see if he'll smile after being introduced to upper upper division tachi-ai. BTW, I like his shikona very much, since at least in the Western transcription it looks like a synthesis of Chiyonofuji (his stablemaster) and Onokuni (who happened to be responsible for putting an end to the Wolf's winning streak at 53 in '88).

Skinny crowd favorite Takanoyama henka'ed and sushirolled Yoshiazuma, who somehow reminds me of the force-retired Shimotori. All the while Kyokushuho was most classically outtachiai'ed and yorikiri'ed by Fujiazuma, whose four appearances in Makuuchi almost make him something like a semi-veteran in these tumultuous days. Kyokushuho has been hailed as promising by some (probably partly triggered by his Mongolian passport), but still needs to deliver.

I'm really worrying about Tosayutaka. Well OK, he might be just back from injury absence and Juryo stint, but his Ooomph somehow buggered off for a quiet cigarette around the corner (best case scenario) or in Hawaii (more likely). I noticed that he is unable to do anything against heavy opponents now, not even when he has gotten them at the edge. Simply because he lacks upper body strength. And against quick and sharp ones, he cannot counter likewise. Not good. Gagamaru, again, has earned his Overcoming First Major Bashing And Losing Streak merits, and slowly tumbles back to his former fat self. Effortless push out, almost surreally slow. Sadanofuji continues to impress me, not only because he got rid of deteriorating Tokitenku with a series of vicious throat holds and pushes. Demonic stuff from Teufelsberg. Then again Shohozan might look good after a 10-5 division debut in Kyushu (which curiously didn't win him a kanto-sho). I doubt that he will make a deeper impact, though. Today he was unable to do anything at all with a double inside grip against Tochinoshin, who -- admittedly -- countered excellently with kime armlocks on both sides. Nowadays, the Georgian's wins are forced by sheer power, which can work in this part of the banzuke.

Hey, I just remembered what stuff Kaisei and Aoiyama must consume in order to get comfortably numb! Vids of Aran bouts. It's just so f**king depressing. Today no henka, but still a scrappy win against clueless Daido who is somehow cute. Talking of clueless and high: Tochiozan. Lost. Against mighty and soon-to-be-pensioner Kyokutenho, which is the guy who -- faced with fiery opposition -- would regularly hail a taxi in order to get out of the ring if he had the chance to.

The bout between Toyohibiki and Tochinowaka perfectly matched the music I am listening to while writing these lines (Meshuggah - Obzen): Violent, fast, cruel. Mike repeatedly stated his high hopes for the tall Mr. Lee, but, personally, I'm still undecided. He does remind me a little of Wakanohana III who was, after all, a Yokozuna. This resemblance, though, derives mostly from his rather peaceful appearance which manifests in a generally reduced tachi-ai and overall air of passiveness. He does have potential for sure, but I miss the spark, the killers determination, especially when confronted with an opponent who happens to bring these things along in a fat belly full of anger. Like, say, Toyohibiki today. The smaller Hutt spat and screamed from the beginning trying to overpower his aite with nasty palm-to-face pushes. To credit Tochinowaka, he withstood and drove his fellow Maegashira back to the straw securing a right shitate in the process. This turned out to be not enough, though, as Toyohibiki turned the momentum withstanding yori-kiri and shitate-nage. In a final blast of aggression, he did it better than his counterpart, completing the yori-kiri with the assistance of a final push to the throat. Brutal. Excellent. Toyohibiki's attitude is one of the few surprises this basho.

Homasho got toreador'ed by Myogiryu, who already wears the dragon in his name with pride. A refreshing kid all around. His style makes me think Tochiazuma. Let's see if he can ever achieve such heights. Takayasu, on the other hand, was useless today against the Walking Bedroll. An ugly bout, actually, since the youngster's tsuppari turned out to be completely impotent, while Aminishiki looked for a pull down right from the beginning. That it turned out oshi-taoshi was really rather a coincidence and could have to do with the fact that Takayasu mostly walked backwards (still firing tsuppari, though. Tststs...).

Wakakoyu is so much overranked at Komusubi, it's really a bit painful to watch. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that he should be awarded the kanto-sho every basho he shows up. This guy is the epitome of fighting spirit. He really, really tried hard against Toyonoshima, thrusts and belt, you name it. In the end, the smaller tech wizard did his magic, this time improvising himself out of the lacking of moro-zashi literally one-armed: he completed the yori-kiri having only half of his tools for lifting, unbalancing and pushing available. Both guys are a joy to behold. Stick around.

To the top ranks! Weren't the Ozeki looking good in the first couple of days? Even Kotooshu seemed to bring an attitude! Did I just write this? Anyway, with Day 4 the second Japanese Ozeki lost a beat, so we have the top four furries march along with fire, while the sons of Nihon lick their wounds once again. The first grandmaster to deliver on Day 5 was Harumafuji, whose most recent history of buttsectomy made him lose weight and thus somehow morphed him back a little to his former Ama self. This shows significantly in the speed department, so Kitataiki, himself a sharp customer at the tachi-ai, got swooshed back in a nanosecond by his much lighter opponent. Determined sumo by the Mongolian so far. 5-0 and headroom.

For the second time this basho, Kotooshu survived a moro-zashi by his opponent. And this time it was against a tall one in Okinoumi. The Bulgarian bullied his way through this one, and I say respect. If he can keep this attitude...who am I kidding... Talking of which, seeing the Geek getting wrestled to the ground in a beautiful uwate-hineri move by none other than headcase Goeido, I think oh my, oh my. If only Goeido would have lived up to his potential, it wouldn't have been necessary to overpromote Kotoshogiku out of sheer political need. The Geek will always be Sekiwake in my reception of things.

I'm undecided if Baruto's sumo today was very clever or very stupid. I tend to the latter but start to slowly change my mind. Credits for reading Takekaze's henka, but then things became somewhat untidy. And here's the tricky part: On the one hand, the Ozeki's attacks seemed uncoordinated, too upright and generally too vague. Then again, had he moved in too hastily for either thrust or grip, the small Maegashira might have been able to pull off something sneaky. Wait. I will look once more... ...OK. I got it. Baruto's strategy was correct, but his tactics call for some refinement. Be it as it may, the Estonian oshi-dashi's to five and oh but is in constant danger of stumbling over his notorious lack of focus.

In one of the best bouts of the tournament if not several, shin-Ozeki Kisenosato faced the undefeated prime time Sekiwake Kakuryu, who is now working on his own Ozeki run for quite some time. Let me comment on the Mongolian first. I think he is one of the most improved rikishi, if you consider a time frame of three years or so. Whenever I thought that he had peaked, he still moved one notch higher. Slowly but very steadily. And I like what I see. I think he would be a worthier Ozeki than Kotoshogiku and he very well matches today's counterpart Kisenosato. In this bout, though, the Ozeki dominated the proceedings from beginning to end, driving back the Sekiwake from the start. Kakuryu tried a few things of his own, but the Kid's shoves seemed irresistible. After driving Kakuryu around one full circle and to the edge, Kisenosato couldn't finish the job, though, and his aite had the chance to dig in, get a right shitate and attempt the last ditch throw. The Ozeki opened his stance, trying to counter with the left outside throw. Standing side by side in such a way, the position became too open for any of the two to finish the move leading the pair to simultaneously seek for balance in a ballet on the tawara. And here a miracle occurred. With otherwordly presence of mind, Kisenosato spun the fraction of a second faster around his own center line while applying only a minute pat on Kakuryu's shoulder with his right hand. And this made the difference that destroyed the Sekiwake's balancing effort, effectively making him step out. A new kimarite should be named after Kisenosato for that. What a bout.

Drawing the curtains for a rather thrilling day on the dohyo, Hakuho welcomed Komusubi Miyabiyama (which I spell out in such a way because it's fun and probably the last time). Of course I don't need to mention the outcome or what occurred exactly. Miyabiyama put up resistance and that's enough. What IS worthwhile mentioning is Hakuho's final move. From time to time I am giving him fire for all his go-with-the-flow talk, because I always suspect it's partly posing. Hakuho's final push that completed Miyabiyama's movement today was a beautiful and outstanding example of what he probably means with that. I lack the words. It was aikidoy, tai-chiy, pretty oriental, like a manifestation of nature: The strong tree letting the wind pass. On the other hand it also looked a bit arrogant, just like the guy pocketing the eightball looking at you smiling instead of at his cue. Oh well, nothings perfect.

Oscar might show you the meaning of passion this time tomorrow.

Day 4 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
A word one could use to describe the sumo from Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku today is "disastrous," but beyond that, a nearly fatal disaster occurred around the dohyo today that threatened to deal the sport a huge blow accidental as it was. During the Baruto - Wakakoyu matchup with the two rikishi in the center of the ring, the referee was standing on the corner or the dohyo closest to the West hana-michi. As Baruto began to force Wakakoyu over and back towards the East hana-michi, the referee sprinted across the edge of the dohyo to get better positioning, but for some inexplicable reason he ran right into the line of fire and was knocked clear off the dirt mound by Wakakoyu landing backwards on his head.

My gut wrenched a bit since the referee didn't have any control over his fall, and then when he lay there motionless in that purple kimono at the base of the ring, I thought the dude was dead. With Baruto and Wakakoyu waiting for someone to declare the winner, a few yobi-dashi ran to attend to the ref and then a few oyakata, but he was unresponsive. Finally a doctor showed up--at least he was dressed like a doctor, but he had no clue how to handle the situation. At one point he grabbed his stethoscope, but then stopped probably realizing this guy doesn't need his blood pressure checked; he needs to get to a hospital fast. A couple of oyakata brought in a stretcher and they finally hauled the guy out of the arena while the ref scheduled for the next bouts hopped up onto the dohyo to declare Baruto the winner of the previous bout (dang, did I spoil it for you?).

Fortunately, the referee regained consciousness and had movement in both arms and feet at some point after he was removed from the venue, but I was almost afraid to check the headlines after watching the recording for fear the dude had been killed. Fortunately, it sounds as if the guy only suffered a concussion, but results of a CT scan have yet to be released.

I've called for the Sumo Association to take several measures to help improve the sport, but none of those were life or death. I don't think it would be too much to ask the Association this time to insert some padding around the ring or at least make it safer for those not wearing mawashi.

As if this accident wasn't horrifying enough, next up atop the dohyo was Ozeki Kisenosato and Sekiwake Toyonoshima who both exhibited the strangest bout I think I've ever seen resulting in a Kisenosato loss that completely sucked the air out of the venue. Both rikishi offered weak tsuppari from the tachi-ai and then a few meager pulls until finally Kisenosato grabbed an outer grip and swung Toyonoshima over to the edge but not out. Kisenosato looked surprised that Toyonoshima didn't go out, and then as he started to advance, Toyonoshima did an unnecessary 360 at the edge for what reason I can't explain other than to speculate he wanted to put himself back in harm's way. Kisenosato gave chase, but looked so out of shape he whiffed on a pushout shove at the edge stumbling forward to the straw and with Toyonoshima standing directly behind, he had no choice but to push the Ozeki out.

I know it's weird to call a bout yaocho when the guy who was supposed to win loses, but I can't explain this bout any other way. It looked to me as if Kisenosato expected Toyonoshima to go down several times, and when he didn't, he grew confused and didn't know how to respond. As for Toyonoshima, that 360 at the edge was so unnecessary I can't help but think he wanted the Ozeki to catch him and finish the bout. It sort of reminded me of how two actors would portray a sumo bout in a ballet or something. The movements would all be there but with no serious contact. There was no hard charge at the tachi-ai, neither guy grunted, yotsu-zumo was avoided at all costs, and both guys were completely out of synch. On the heels of the near disaster the bout before, you could have lined all four edges of the dohyo with quadriplegics, and every single one of them would still be in their place at the edge of the dohyo there was so little action and linear movement in this contest.

It's one of the strangest bouts I've ever seen, and even if it was legit (it wasn't), the end result is that Kisenosato is saddled with his first loss of the basho. A loss like this is so costly because all of the hype and the marketing we've seen since the new year goes for naught if Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku can't pull their weight in the ring. Kisenosato is a solid rikishi for sure, but today was proof the dude can't act worth'a lick.

I guess I've already spoiled the Ozeki Kotoshogiku bout, so let me just add that he was dominated by...M1 Aminishiki. Demonstrating what a legitimate tachi-ai is, Aminishiki slammed hard into the Ozeki and grabbed moro-zashi from the gun, and thanks to his height advantage, he was able to press in close to the Ozeki and disallow any sniff of a counter attack. Aminishiki didn't waste the momentum from the tachi-ai and had the Ozeki pushed back and out in just a few seconds.

I think it was yesterday when Mario instant messaged me saying, "How do you like that? The top 7 guys are 20-1." While only a quantum physicist could crunch those numbers, a dunce like me easily identified that the one loss belonged to Kotoshogiku when he was bested straight up by Takekaze. Four days in, the top seven are now 25-3 with Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato responsible for the three losses. All of the Association's efforts are now lipstick on Makiko Uchidate this basho, but at least there's five more tournaments this year to get one right. If anyone's counting, Kisenosato is now 3-1, Kotoshogiku 2-2, Toyonoshima 2-2, and Aminishiki 1-3.

As much as I enjoyed Okinoumi and Homasho in September, the two have lost their luster the last coupla basho. Today, the M2 hardly put up a fight as Yokozuna Hakuho grabbed the right inside position from the tachi-ai, flirted with moro-zashi, and then simply dragged Okinoumi over and down by the left hand as Okinoumi played hard to get. Hakuho is on cruise control at 4-0 while Okinoumi is the converse.

In the day's penultimate bout, Ozeki Harumafuji stayed low against M1 Takekaze while shoving into his neck to keep him upright, and as Takekaze tried to stave his opponent off, HowDo grabbed the left frontal belt grip and lifted Takekaze off balance to set up the easy peasy force-out. Nails as Harumafuji moves to 4-0. Takekaze is 1-3.

Even though he hasn't a win to show for it, I've appreciated Wakakoyu's effort. Today against Baruto he took the initiative pushing up and into the Ozeki and then immediately trying to pull him off balance. With each pull Wakakoyu retreated a bit, so it was cat and mouse with the Ozeki chasing the Komusubi around. As mentioned previously, when Baruto finally caught Wakakoyu in the center of the ring and began shoving him backwards, the ref ran directly behind Wakakoyu and took the brunt of the contact as Bart pushed Wakakoyu out from behind and Wakakoyu forearmed the gyoji to a near death...literally. Baruto moves to 4-0 but hasn't looked great while Wakakoyu falls to 0-4.

Rounding out the Ozeki, Kotooshu was solid again greeting M2 Goeido with a moro-tezuki (two hands to the throat) tachi-ai and pushing him back towards the straw. The Father tried to evade to his left, but Kotooshu caught him squarely sending him down so hard it was ruled tsuki-taoshi. Kotooshu is a nifty 4-0 as well while Goeido falls to 0-4.

Well, what do you know? Komusubi Miyabiyama's tsuppari attack returned today against Sekiwake Kakuryu! I don't know why I sound so excited as Kakuryu still kicked the Komusubi's ass with tsuppari of his own. Uneventful stuff, but I've enjoyed Kakuryu's run to 4-0 more than other undefeated rikishi so far. The Sheriff if 0-4.

M4 Homasho moved to his left at the tachi-ai in order to grab the cheap outer grip against M3 Takayasu, but Takayasu fought his way out with some well-placed tsuppari before grabbing a right kote-nage around Homasho's left arm and wrenching him enough to where he just bodied the veteran out from there. Takayasu moves to 3-1 and is doing exactly what he needs to in defeating his fellow Maegashira. He's 3-0 against them with that one loss coming to a Sekiwake. I suspect the Naruto-beya prodigy will get shredded when facing the sanyaku on up, but as long as the NSK keeps feeding him Maegashira, he's only helping is cause by building momentum. Homasho falls to 2-2 with the loss.

M4 Tochinowaka was rather passive again at the tachi-ai against M3 Kitataiki gaining a weak left frontal grip that he actually parlayed into moro-zashi, but the position was gained by reaching out his arms, not by charging hard into Kitataiki, so Kitataiki had the wherewithal to pinch in tight and start bullying his foe around. Kitataiki got Tochinowaka to the edge, and as the youngster persisted, Taiki went for a shove to the face to finish Tochinowaka off, but from out of nowhere, Tochinowaka pushed at the side of Kitataiki's shoulder and sent him flying down the clay for the spectacular comeback win. What was so incredible about the tsuki-otoshi move was that Tochinowaka was facing towards the center of the ring and had no push from his legs. It was a sideways swipe that was all upper body. Now, if he would only start using his legs in his sumo, he will be nigh unto unstoppable. For now, he's 2-2. Kitataiki falls to 0-4, and I really feel for the guy because he dominated this bout. As he walked down the hana-michi, you could read his mind by the look on his face that said, "how in the hell did that just happen?".

Maybe I spoke too soon the other day when I said I loathed Tokitenku more than any other rikishi. M7 Aran has now pulled back even with the Mongolian after classlessly henka'ing to his left against the undefeated M5 Toyohibiki and slapping him down in a half second drawing deserved jeers from the crowd. This was pathetic stuff from the Russian who moves to 2-2 while Toyohibiki has every right to be livid at 3-1.

M5 Myogiryu grabbed the quick right outer grip from the tachi-ai against M7 Aoiyama, who actually had moro-zashi there for the taking but couldn't figure it out. Instead he made this lame slap attempt against Myogiryu's side showing that he wanted the outer grip on that side, but Myogiryu said enough of the funny bidness and slipped to his left pulling Aoiyama over and down with his left outer grip. This was too easy as Myogiryu rights the ship at 2-2 while Aoiyama is being exposed here at 0-4.

M8 Shohozan's run was halted today as he pushed up into M6 Kyokutenho's neck from the tachi-ai driving the Chauffeur back, but notice how I said "up" into his neck. Tenho's height forced Shohozan to extend himself vertically whereas in sumo you want to keep your center of gravity as low as possible. The result was Kyokutenho escaping the shoves at the edge of the ring and shoving Shohozan off balance and out for the nice counter win. Tough luck for Matutano at 3-1 while Kyokutenho shifts gears a bit moving to 2-2.

M11 Fujiazuma put himself in great position again facing M9 Daido, but he's forgetting to set up his charges with the lower body, and he's getting burned at the edge. Today, Fuji had the left outer, but his force-out charge had no mustard allowing Daido to slip to the side at the edge and throw Fujiazuma down with an outer grip of his own picking up his first win. Fujiazuma has to be frustrated at 2-2.

The longest bout of the day certainly doesn't mean it was the best bout of the day although the M9 Tochinoshin - M11 Sadanofuji contest had it's moments. Tochinoshin had a light moro-zashi from the tachi-ai, but Sadanofuji easily shoved his way out of it resulting in both guys trading yotsu grips and digging in for the long haul in a bout that lasted well over a minute. Tochinoshin would normally dominate a yotsu contest against an oshi guy like Sadanofuji, but the Private looked so out of shape that he didn't have the gas to force Sadanofuji back and out. Finally, Tochinoshin made a great move by kicking his right foot against Sadanofuji's right ankle in a ke-kaeshi attempt that didn't trip Sadanofuji, but it caused him to lose concentration whereupon Tochinoshin seized moro-zashi and ended the bout straightway. Both fellas are 2-2.

M10 Gagamaru has figured out the de-ashi as he stayed low and bulldozed M12 Yoshiazuma straight back and out in the migi-yotsu contest. Lord Gaga now needs to remember these de-ashi higher in the ranks. At 3-1, he'll likely get his chance next basho. Yoshiazuma falls to 1-3.

M10 Tokitenku jumped the gun ever so slightly but still couldn't take advantage against M13 Tenkaiho offering a lame hari-zashi attempt that set up the migi-yotsu contest. Tokitenku did grab the left outer with his long arms, but he couldn't bully TenkaiHutt around, and after a couple of yawns, Tenkaiho forced the aging Mongolian back across the straw. Tenkaiho is 3-1, but dude has no flash to his sumo. Tokitenku fights his first sound bout and of course suffers his first loss.

M13 Chiyonokuni has been one of the most entertaining guys to watch this basho, and today's bout against M12 Tosayutaka wasn't disappointing. The two hooked up in the migi-yotsu position meaning they both had right inside positions, but Chiyonokuni allowed an easy maki-kae by his opponent showing that Kuni is still green around the edges and that Tosayutaka has been here before. Tosayutaka took charge and drove Chiyonokuni back, but the rookie somehow countered at the last moment masterfully using a tsuki-otoshi shove with the left arm that sent Tosayutaka down about the same time that Chiyonokuni stepped out. I actually thought Kuni won this one, but a mono-ii was called and a do-over declared. In the second go-around, Tosayutaka demanded moro-zashi from the tachi-ai and had Chiyonokuni pushed back and across to his first loss. Too bad because he shoulda been 4-0 in my book. Tosayutaka picks up his first win.

I just can't figure M16 Kasei out. The first three days we've watched M14 Takanoyama's opponents obliterate the guy by firing tsuppari square into his chest. Takanoyama hadn't come close to winning a bout, so why would you allow him to hook up in a yotsu contest? Beats me, but Kaisei lethargically agreed to the hidari-yotsu bout, and while Takanoyama wasn't going to force his foe back and out, he used his leg to trip Kaisei up and off balance for the beautiful kake-nage win. Takanoyama picks up his first win while Kaisei has me scratching my head with the same record.

And finally, just when M15 Kyokushuho (1-3) thought he had some momentum after his first ever Makuuchi win yesterday, he went for a stupid pull down just after the tachi-ai against M16 Nionoumi and paid the price as the squatty Nionoumi (2-2) scored the easy push out win. Kids!

And finally, I got an email from a programming director at ESPN asking us to pimp their show called Sports Science as the latest edition includes a segment where they put an NBA big man up against a "sumo wrestler" to see if the NBA guy can keep the sumo dude out of the paint as he goes for a rebound.  It's worth the watch I guess, especially if you want to see a sumo wrestler in white socks and tennis shoes.  Good ole Merican media.

Andreas spells me tomorrow.

Day 3 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
With the ranks between Komusubi and M3 absolutely hapless thus far, there's been little excitement going on in the ring, but the same can't be said for the current marketing campaign launched prior to the Hatsu basho. In all my years of watching sumo, I've never seen the Association marketing to this extent, but then again, this is the first time in history that a Japanese rikishi's portrait hasn't been hanging in the Kokugikan's rafters signifying the yusho rikishi from the last 32 basho. I knew it would be a sore spot for the Association not to have any Japanese rikishi among that circle of fame, but I didn't realize to what extent. After watching three days of the basho and all of the extra-curricular events going on, let me tell you, the Association is going all out both inside the ring and out to resurrect interest in the sport.

Some of the extra events include having Hakuho enter the Ryogoku Kokugikan through the main doors by walking across the plaza to the entrance in front of waiting fans instead of having his personal car take him to the basement entrance; having Hakuho available to sign autographs and to meet and greet fans before and after the bouts at the Kokugikan; and my personal favorite...having 10 oyakata form a group called the Oyakata All Stars actually release a CD aimed at young children. I nearly ruined my laptop by spitting my beverage all over it when during the broadcast they showed a clip of an oyakata in a recording studio singing a children's song with that big yellow bird, Sekitori-kun, gaily dancing to the beat. Speaking of that yellow bird, Ross Mihara told me awhile back that he was cutting back on the days he would call the action for the English broadcast from five days per basho to three. I knew there was something behind this revelation that he wasn't telling me, but it became clear as a bell today when I recognized that it was Ross in that bird costume dancing with the oyakata. No, I never did get a look at Ross' face, but I'd recognize those legs in yellow tights anywhere.

On a less serious note, my fear is that something is being concocted to have Kisenosato or Kotoshogiku not only score their first career yusho but actually have one of them promoted to the Yokozuna rank. I don't remember if it was in a blog or in a previous report, I but I commented how certain themes or phrases seem to pervade all of the media outlets in Japan and how that's a clear sign that something is being orchestrated behind the scenes. The recent surge in marketing shenanigans is definitely one of those themes, but something else I'm seeing now is Kisenosato's name being associated with the Yokozuna rank. Not only did I see a few signs held by fans in the audience that "encouraged Kisenosato to reach for Yokozuna," but I read a news article where the Sumo Association actually took a survey of fans regarding who they thought would be the next Japanese rikishi to yusho. The winner was Kisenosato, and if I had to speculate, either Kisenosato or Kotoshogiku would be promoted to Yokozuna with just one yusho. Like promotion to Ozeki, the 33 wins over three basho is an unwritten rule, and regarding promotion to Yokozuna, the unwritten rule is "two consecutive yusho from the Ozeki rank or two consecutive basho with records worthy of the yusho." A record worthy of the yusho is at least 13 wins, but as we saw with Kisenosato's promotion to Ozeki, that line could easily be lowered to 12.

In 1986, there was actually a Yokozuna promoted with no yusho at all in Futahaguro who went 14-1 and 12-3 over two consecutive basho earning him the prestigious rank. If Kisenosato were able to take a single yusho and then post a 12-3 performance on the front or back end, he would be promoted for sure. I'm not saying this is going to happen because Kisenosato has to do a lot of the work himself, but I get the sense that the stage is being set for it to happen as long as Kisenosato can get hot and go 13-2 or even 12-3, especially if consecutive jun-yusho are involved as was the case with Futahaguro. Since the Sumo Association took a survey recently, allow me to ask a multiple choice question along the same lines:

Question - During a Miyabiyama bout, you can always expect to see the following tactic:

A: Henka
B: Hari-zashi tachi-ai
C: Tsuppari
D: Frontal belt grip

The answer to the question is C, so you can imagine how I rolled my eyes while watching the Kisenosato - Miyabiyama bout today when the Komusubi's tachi-ai consisted of bending down low and walking front and to the left. From this stance, the Ozeki shoved at the back of the Hutt's shoulder with the left hand easily sending Miyabiyama across the straw and out. I've watched sumo long enough that I can unequivocally say that if Miyabiyama wanted to win a bout, he would resort to his lumbering tsuppari. That he looked like an elephant scrounging the dohyo floor for peanut scraps from the tachi-ai tells me that he had no intention of putting up a fight. And this is on the heels of what I thought was a suspicious looking fall from Aminishiki yesterday. The Sumo Association will never script a basho and arrange for a person to yusho, but what's happening for Kisenosato as far as I can perceive is the resistance level coming from some of his opponents has lowered. It is not a do-or-die prospect that Kisenosato take the yusho this tournament, and it very well could be that Kotoshogiku captures the yusho before Kisenosato, but if the resistance level for both guys is being lowered like this, it undoubtedly increases the chances that one of them can put together 25 wins over two basho with hopefully one of those performances resulting in a yusho or a playoff for the yusho. The bar has been lowered that much. At the end of the day, Kisenosato stands at 3-0 while Snuffalufagus is 0-3.

In other bouts of significance, Yokozuna Hakuho secured the right inside position against M1 Aminishiki and quickly committed to a force out charge. The move was a bit hasty as Aminishiki tried to evade at the end, and while Hakuho did force him back and out, a more nimble Aminishiki could have escaped at the edge and sent Hakuho into the first row from behind. The Yokozuna is a cool 3-0 while Aminishiki is winless.

When was the last time anyone typed "Kotooshu is off to a 3-0 start"? Course, when you face M1 Takekaze, it's not too difficult even after giving up moro-zashi. Kotooshu has got to get serious about his tachi-ai, but in the meantime, he just sucked Takekaze in close and dumped him across the edge with a left outer belt throw. Takekaze did get moro-zashi from the tachi-ai, but it wasn't as if he had any forward momentum, so the Ozeki was easily able to stave off the double-inside position as Takekaze falls to 1-2.

Probably the best bout of the second half was Ozeki Harumafuji fighting Komusubi Wakakoyu. The Ozeki came low as he usually does, but the Wookie fought him off with a shove or two creating some separation. Harumafuji used his speed, however, to dive back to the inside this time latching onto a right frontal belt grip that the Komusubi would not shake. Harumafuji did score the yori-kiri win in the end, but Wakakoyu showed great resistance, especially after he buffeted the Ozeki out of any offensive position from the tachi-ai. Wakakoyu looked pissed as he walked back down the hana-michi, and while he didn't let one get away today, he fought a good fight and had a chance. I like that he was upset at losing. Shows the boy has some fire in him even at 0-3. Harumafuji is unscathed at 3-0.

Goeido should have been more pissed as well after using a quick, low charge into Ozeki Baruto grabbing a left outer grip, but the Ozeki actually took a half step to his right at the tachi-ai in order to grab the quick and dirty outer grip, and the move was a slight henka disallowing Goeido to square himself up properly. The Father persisted well and managed to force Baruto to the edge, but the Ozeki said enough funny bidness and shoved his right hip into Goeido's mid-section sending him down to the clay and causing him to faceplant in the process. Goeido had blood on his forehead when he got up, and he should have a bruise that will turn so purple it will rival Dejima's legs. Seems like I'm repeating myself when I say that the Ozeki is 3-0 while the upper Maegashira rikishi is 0-3.

Our one scathed Ozeki, Kotoshogiku, welcomed M2 Okinoumi as the two hooked up in the hidari-yotsu position from the start, but Okinoumi looked uninspired as Kotoshogiku grabbed a devastating right fontal grip and used it to cuff and stuff the M2 back and across the straw in seconds. The Geeku moves to 2-1 while Okinoumi is winless as well. I cannot stress enough how the Komusubi and upper Maegashira are killing this basho early on with their horrible sumo.

Did they pair the Sekiwake up today to guarantee at least one watchable fight in the last 30 minutes? Toyonoshima took the initiative from the tachi-ai hoping to get in close, but he was rebuffed by Kakuryu's tsuppari attack that was so potent he knocked Toyonoshima back and out in mere seconds earning the kimari-te tsuki-dashi instead of the wimpier oshi-dashi. Kakuryu isn't this far ahead of Toyonoshima ability wise, but Toyonoshima's feet were aligned too oft during the contest; thus the tsuki technique instead of oshi. The Kak's a cool 3-0 himself while Toyonoshima has had a tough schedule so far leaving him at 1-2.

M4 Homasho moved to 2-1 after holding up just a bit at the tachi-ai against M3 Kitataiki, and having thrown his opponent a change up, Homasho burrowed his way inside, drove Kitataiki back a bit, and then reversed gears pulling him down to an 0-3 start.

M4 Takayasu is exceeding my expectations, and he scored a fabulous win today over M4 Tochinowaka. I noticed yesterday how Tochinowaka was content to just stand in the center of the ring and fight Myogiryu off until he was ready to commit on the kill. He did the same thing today against Takayasu; in other words, he was passive. He knew he was the superior rikishi, but if you stand there and let your opponent dictate things, he may surprise you as Takayasu did today by tsuppari'ing up high and then quickly reversing gears for the pulldown win. Tochinowaka would do well to mimic Hakuho's tachi-ai instead of fighting passively and waiting for an opening. He falls to 1-2 as Takayasu moves to 2-1.

I was happy to see M5 Myogiryu get his first win against M6 Kyokutenho by leading with his head, demanding moro-zashi, and instead of grabbing Kyokutenho's belt with both hands, he wisely pushed up into the Chauffeur's armpits rendering Tenho useless and the easy force-out fodder. Kyokutenho joined Myogiryu at 1-2 with the loss.

You gotta give props to M5 Toyohibiki for starting 3-0, and he did it today against M6 Yoshikaze who charged low and blind allowing Toyohibiki to wrap him up with a right armbar and left paw pushing in at Cafe's armpit. Yoshikaze's struggles continue at 1-2.

Look at M8 Shohozan jumping out to a 3-0 start of his own by jumping outta the gate against M7 Aran and using wild tsuppari to ensure Aran didn't grab the belt. When a slim opening came, Shohozan nearly yanked Aran's left arm off knocking him off balance and then bullrushing him back and across the straw with a watashi-komi leg trip for good measure. I'm lovin' me the newbies like Myogiryu and Shohozan. Aran sputters at 1-2.

I believe I stated last basho that I thought other deserved the Kantosho more than M7 Aoiyama. Myogiryu finished just one behind but was much higher in the ranks. I think Aoiyama's beating up on the dregs of the division last basho has given him a false sense of security this time around. Against M8 Tochiohzan, the youngster was sleepwalking at the tachi-ai allowing Tochiohzan the easy moro-zashi, which he used to back Aoiyama (0-3) out in a matter of seconds. Tochiohzan improves to 2-1.

My least favorite rikishi on the board right now is M10 Tokitenku, who henka'd to his left against M9 Tochinoshin. What's even more galling is Tochinoshin caught himself right at the edge and turned around just in time to be pushed out, so the bout goes down as an oshi-dashi win for Tenku (3-0). What's worse is we haven't seen the dreaded keta-guri yet. Tokitenku is everything that's wrong about sumo. Tochinoshin falls to 1-2.

M10 Gagamaru has really improved his de-ashi, and as M9 Daido tried to evade Lord Gaga after the tachi-ai by moving to his right and pushing at Gagamaru's shoulder, he ran out of real estate with Gagamaru bearing down on him and firing off timely shoves. Gagamaru is an impressive 2-1 while Daido has yet to score at 0-3.

M11 Fujiazuma weathered M13 Chiyonokuni's initial tsuppari volley and managed to force the fight to yotsu-zumo where Fujiazuma enjoyed the right outer grip, but it was a lazy uwate, Fujiazuma's footwork was sloppy, and he failed to pull Chiyonokuni in tight, so Kuni demanded an outer grip of his own and threw Fujiazuma down to his first loss near the edge. Chiyonokuni moves to 3-0 and adjusts in the ring extremely well for a rookie.

M12 Tosayutaka enjoyed the brief frontal belt grip against M11 Sadanofuji, but the much taller Fuji just shoved his way out of the hold and sent Tosayutaka back and across with ease moving to 2-1 in the process. This could be the last time we see Tosayutaka (0-3) in the division as he's getting his ass kicked this low in the division.

M12 Yoshiazuma was slow again at the tachi-ai allowing M13 Tenkaiho to get the solid inside position with the right. Yoshiazuma was so long that he easily grabbed the right outer grip, but he was up so high that Tenkaiho was eventually able to use his enormous gut to nudge Yoshikaze off balance just enough to where he took a knee drawing the kimari-te tsuki-hiza. I believe Tenkaiho (2-1) did a bit more than that to pick up the win, but Yoshiazuma's got a glass jaw if there ever was one. He falls to 1-2.

Watching M14 Takanoyama get his ass kicked is like watching the bout while fast forwarding because the dude is thrown around so violently. Today, M15 Kyokushuho picked up his first win fighting off a Takanoyama right nodowa and slight move to the left by just unleashing wicked tsuppari that sent Takanoyama across the dohyo and into the second row as if a pit bull were shaking a rag doll. Sometimes when I'm critical of a rikishi a reader will lamely say, "well, let's see you do any better." That in itself is a horrible take, but if I did get on that dohyo, I don't think I'd get my ass handed to me much worse than Takanoyama who falls to 0-3. And while we're on Takanoyama, he's a great yardstick to demonstrate the difference between Makuuchi and Juryo. Takanoyama can survive and sometimes thrive in Juryo, but he has no business even in the depths of the Makuuchi division.

I'll skip the last two bouts since I don't have anything to point out from them. I plan on reporting again tomorrow, and I'm sure I'll be far more interested in this latest NSK marketing scheme than I will the sumo.

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
If you've ever worked in Japan then you'll know that the country has a lot of holidays. In fact, there's hardly a month in the calendar where there isn't at least one three-day weekend. The reason for the high volume of holidays is that Japanese people are generally too afraid to use paid vacation because it just wouldn't do to actually go out and spend leisure time while the rest of the office was still working, and so frequent holidays guarantee that the workers will at least have a day off each month. Then several years ago, the government realized that during three-day weekends the general population gets out of the house and spends more money, so they took many of the holidays off of their hard date and allowed them to float so they could create three-day weekends.

Today's holiday in Japan is one such holiday. The name of the holiday is Seijin-no-hi, or coming of age day, and it basically means that youth who turned 20 during the past year can now buy alcohol and cigarettes legally instead of sneaking these items from vending machines conveniently placed near schools or parks or any other place where young people hang out. The holiday used to fall on January 15th annually, but now it comes on the second Monday in January. The whole reason I even bring this up is because the Sumo Association and NHK went all out today knowing that they'd have a larger audience than usual.

In Clancy's report yesterday, he alluded to the sell-out at the venue and the timing with the holidays, and you could see that in play today as NHK set up a festive room in the Kokugikan with Fujii Announcer and Mainoumi joined by two "sumo celebrities" in Demon Kogure Kakka (the former lead singer of a shock metal band who still wears facial makeup and a Burger King crown on his head) and Mitsuru Yaku (an anime artist who gained popularity by becoming the go-to guy when the Japanese media needed a celebrity to slight Asashoryu). Besides the festive holiday decorations, they also had a roundtable in the middle of the room with two sekitori-kun dolls in the middle of it. While I was in a huge hurry and didn't have time to listen to the comments and shenanigans in between bouts, it was evident today that the Sumo Association recognizes a window where it can appeal to the general public and try to bring back lost sumo fans riding the coattails of the recent promotion to Ozeki of Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato.

It's actually a smart move by the Association to start the basho when they did so they could have today's holiday land on day 2 instead of missing out altogether this month. They knew they would have the possibility of a larger and younger viewing audience, and so they attempted to make the broadcast as attractive as possible by implementing that special broadcast room with two special guests. The reason why I even bring this up is to illustrate that certain promotions to certain ranks are sometimes part of a greater marketing plan.

Okay, prolly more information than anyone needed, but perhaps I'm stalling since there really wasn't any talking points in today's sumo. The day began with M15 Asasekiryu henka'ing to his left against M16 Nionoumi at the tachi-ai and slapping him down in a second. There wasn't a single good thing about this bout, and it really got the day off to a bad start. I think one reason why foreigners are being blackballed from sumo (something I don't mind at all) is because they fall into this pattern of working their way to the top division only to stall and rely on horrible sumo tactics to continue pulling in paychecks. Based off of general memory, far more foreign rikishi pull these dirty henka tactics than do Japanese rikishi. Asasekiryu is an undeserved 2-0 while Nionoumi gets his first taste of dirty sumo at 1-1.

I'm not sure who that was fighting in the M16 Kaisei mask today, but he secured the right inside position from the tachi-ai and just bulldozed M15 Kyokushuho back and across without argument. This was as impressive of sumo as we've seen since Kaisei's debut back in May as he picks up his first win. Kyokushuho's first go-around in the division is off to a difficult 0-2 start.

M13 Chiyonokuni looked relaxed again today in his bout against M15 Sagatsukasa. Kuni used his bread and butter tsuppari attack, and you could just see Sagatsukasa hunker down and look for that evasive pull maneuver, but Chiyonokuni kept himself squared with Stripe the entire bout and had him chased out in about 10 seconds moving to 2-0 in the process. I like the kid's confidence so far, but he'll need a bit more size higher up the ranks. Sagatsukasa falls to 1-1.

M13 Tenkaiho met up with M14 Takanoyama easily gaining moro-zashi from the tachi-ai, and then like a lot of fat guys in the past, he just stood there possibly to catch his breath? Whatever the reason, the two rikishi barely moved until Tenkaiho suddenly charged about 30 seconds in forcing Weird Al Yama across towards the head judge's seat and down via the yori-taoshi win. This was a curious bout, but Tenkaiho picked up his first Makuuchi win while Takanoyama falls to 0-2.

M11 Fujiazuma and M12 Tosayutaka traded like four consecutive maki-kae from the tachi-ai, and if anyone cared, I'd actually detail the whole thing. What it came down to was an eventual hidari-yotsu contest where Fujiazuma grabbed the right outer and Tosayutaka couldn't counter due to his crocodile arms. Score the yori-kiri win for Fujiazuma who is a shweet 2-0 while Tosayucroca falls to 0-2.

I had forgotten just how tall M12 Yoshiazuma is, and it's too bad that he really doesn't have any game because he has a great sumo body. M11 Sadanofuji, no shorty himself, took full advantage of the huge target pummeling Yoshi's torso and sending him back and out on his arse in short or for the tsuki-otoshi win. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

M10 Gagamaru secured the quick left inside position from the tachi-ai against M9 Tochinoshin and had the Private forced back and out in two seconds flat. I'm not sure what surprised me the most...the fact that Gagamaru dominated the Georgian or the fact that I used the words "Gagamaru" and "quick" in the same sentence. Both whiteys stand at 1-1.

M9 Daido used a hari-zashi tachi-ai slapping M10 Tokitenku's face (lightly) with the right and then securing the same arm on the inside followed up with a left outer grip all while Tokitenku methodically henka'd to his left. Daido looked to be in full control until Tenku threatened an inside leg trip and spun out of the grip altogether. As Daido gave chase, Tokitenku was able to pull him down in the end, and as Daido stood back up, Tokitenku gave him a small pat on the arse prolly because Daido gave a helluvan effort. I didn't mind the butt slap as a gesture, but Tenku didn't slap and take his hand away. He slapped and left it there kind of creeping me out a bit. I mean, who knows, the dude may have a fetish for smells? Anyway, Tenku moves to 2-0 with ugly sumo while Daido falls to 0-2.

M7 Aran led M8 Tochiohzan 9-1 head to head coming into the day, but Tochiohzan completely dictated the pace of their bout today using tsuppari to keep the Russian away from the belt initially and then pushing into Aran's right armpit to send him back and out with relative ease. This was easy peasy as both rikishi stand at 1-1.

M8 Shohozan stalled a bit at the tachi-ai unnerving M7 Aoiyama just enough so that when the two actually charged, Shohozan's moro-tezuki tachi-ai and quick pull thereafter sent Aoiyama stumbling forward to the dirt rather awkwardly. These dudes are headed in opposite directions with Shohozan at 2-0 and Aoiyama at 0-2. Aoiyama has got to adjust for the speed higher up in the division.

I thought M4 Homasho would squish M5 Toyohibiki with relative ease, but the Nikibi surprised everyone including his opponent with a solid charge and effective tsuppari from which Homasho couldn't duck out of the way. He tried, but de-ashi from Toyohibiki enabled him to score the oshi-dashi victory in mere seconds propelling the Hutt to a nifty 2-0 start. Homasho falls to 1-1.

M5 Myogiryu executed a smart strategy by using frequent tsuppari to keep M4 Tochinowaka away from the belt as he looked for an opening, but Tochinowaka was cool as a cat fighting each volley off before eventually working his way inside with the right arm, but he didn't quite calculate Myogiryu's speed as he executed the force-out attempt, so as Myogiryu sailed back across the straw, he was able to pull Tochinowaka down to where the larger rikishi's right knee hit the dirt before Myogiryu had touched out. The referee ruled in favor of Tochinowaka, but a mono-ii was correctly called for where it showed that Tochinowaka's knee touched down first, but by the time it did touch down, Myogiryu's entire body was across the tawara and in the air.

A do-over was called for, and Myogiryu was obviously gassed from the first encounter since he was doing all the shoving while Tochinowaka stayed centered in the ring fighting him off, so after a few token shoves from Myogiryu, Tochinowaka had to have sensed his opponent was spent, so he quickly shoved him back and out with a few thrusts. Tochinowaka moves to 1-1 and showed excellent patience throughout. Myogiryu falls to a tough luck 0-2, but the kid's gotta realize he can still kachi-koshi from here.

M3 Takayasu picked up what will be a rare win for him this basho using a low tachi-ai against M3 Kitataiki that allowed him to secure the left inside grip. Sensing he was up too high for his own good, Kitataiki went for a maki-kae with the right arm, but it was so slow that Takayasu was able to take advantage and force Kitataiki back and across for the fine win. You'll notice that I mentioned Takayasu's tachi-ai was low today. I've been harping on this kid all along not to fight so high, and today was an example of how he needs to stay low. He moves to 1-1 while Kitataiki falls to 0-2.

Sekiwake Kakuryu welcomed M2 Goeido in a brief tsuppari affair before Goeido just couldn't stand it and finally put his hands at the back of the Kak's head. That opened up moro-zashi for the Sekiwake and it was wham, bam, thank you ma'am as the Kak shoots to 2-0 while the hapless Goeido is 0-2.

Ozeki Baruto implemented his usual moro-tezuki tachi-ai against M2 Okinoumi before wrapping his right arm around Oki's dome and employing a left ottsuke at the back of Okinoumi's armpit to twist him around and back towards the straw where the oshi-dashi win was in short order. Nothing really to say other than Okinoumi didn't come out as if he though the could win, so he didn't. Baruto's 2-0 if you need him while Okinoumi falls to 0-2. The problem with Goeido and Okinoumi sucking is that they'll fall low for the Haru basho banzuke allowing someone else to take their place who sucks even worse.

It was easy pickins for Ozeki Kisenosato again today facing M1 Aminishiki. The Kid used an effective right nodowa to force a quick retreat from Shneaky, but before he could muster any funny bidness, Kisenosato stiff-armed Aminishiki's gut with the left arm sending Aminishiki to an exaggerated fall to the clay. Who knows if Ami took a dive, but Kisenosato wasn't really planted when he made that shove, and Aminishiki went flying more so than what you'd expected from a rikishi standing upright. Anyway, Kisenosato is 2-0 with Aminishiki at 0-2.

Ozeki Harumafuji received his first test today as he welcomed Sekiwake Toyonoshima with a left paw to the throat that set up the left inside position and right outer grip. Before Toyonoshima could really dig in and attempt a counter move, Harumafuji used his right leg on the inside of Toyonoshima's left to lift Tugboat off the dohyo kake-nage style where he then dumped him to the dirt with the outer grip. Fantastic stuff from Harumafuji who will take that 2-0 start while Toyonoshima suffers his first loss.

I was a bit surprised that Ozeki Kotooshu didn't go for the belt against Komusubi Miyabiyama opting to engage in a tsuppari contest, but it didn't matter. Miyabiyama's too fat to bully around and get in close against an Ozeki and Kotooshu shoved him out with relative ease. How weird is it to see Kotooshu off to a 2-0 start? Before I get too giddy, I must remind myself that he settled for a tsuppari contest against Miyabiyama when he shoulda beat him at the belt. MiFlobbyYama is an expected 0-2.

Komusubi Wakakoyu rose to this rank by using stiff tachi-ai, tsuppari, and then well-timed pulls, so what does he do against a yotsu specialist today in Ozeki Kotoshogiku? He asks for a belt fight by securing the left inside position from the tachi-ai. The Geeku complied with a left inner of his own, and then easily schooled the Wookie by demanding the right outer grip and forcing him back and across from there. Kotoshogiku picks up his first win while Wakakoyu looks lost at 0-2. Betcha Tochinowaka doesn't pull any of these stupid moves when he's promoted to Komusubi.

And finally, Yokozuna Hakuho fired off a few tsuppari, flirted with the right inside, and then went for a pulldown of M1 Takekaze, all within about a second from the tachi-ai. The result was the Yokozuna muscling Takekaze back against the tawara with such force, it reminded me of my comic book days when you simply had words like "BIFF!" and "POW!" when a guy was getting his ass kicked by a super hero.  Takekaze unwisely dug in for more abuse, and thankfully Hakuho turned back to pull mode yanking Kaze with the left hand at the back of the M1's right shoulder sending Takekaze clear across the ring and off balance at the edge. As Hakuho swooped in for the kill, Takekaze quickly gathered his senses and just put his butt down to the dirt rather than get pushed off the clay mound altogether. This bout musta resembled a typical fight that took place in Rome's Coliseum two thousand years ago when they let a hungry lion loose in the ring with a hapless dude. At least Takekaze has a win already at 1-1 while Hakuho skates to 2-0.

All in all an uneventful day, and it doesn't like like we're going to get anything from the Komusubi rank on down to M3, which will make for a really boring first week. I suppose I should get my beauty rest since I'll be right back at it tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
I know what youre thinking, sitting there all well fed and fat from your twenty-twelve holiday celebrations. Youre thinking, sure, here comes Kelly, acting as if hell throw down and write a dinger of a report, but in fact dudell (its a word) just patch together a few random thoughts, maybe adhere a couple of gags to it. In essence, just toss one off and move on to bigger and better things.

Well I cant say youre completely wrong, as I did toss one off (to which the tissues in the wastebasket will attest) and it was bigger and better (than Martins, I feel confident in claiming), but dontch yall worry, cause Im not about to letch yall down. Like it used to be in the heady days of yore, when the Fantastic Captain Kadastik was pounding the keys for glory and the greater good, Im going to cover each and every bout in meticulous fashion. Thats right, this report will be long and insanely difficult to follow—lets get Old School!

First off was a rookie with an outstandingly round and fully rubable belly (is that perhaps one reason why we male furreners like sumo so much, because something that brings derision and laughter for us in the West, a huge gut, is revered here?), Nionumi taking on the big Brasilian with the flappy mammaries, Kaisei. Neo took the red pill and found himself up and under those flapmams, pushing for all he was worth, with titgrips kind of like the opposite of rock climbing. Kaisei leaned back into him, but just as he seemed to be about to drive the newbie out, Nionumi did this slow motion twist where his black trench coat just kind of whipped around, and Kaisei fell past him and was easy shove down fodder. He then gave this kind of bark when he was done, as if to say, Hell YEAH that felt good after ten years toiling down below. Good for him and for all men on a mission.

Next up was the man who used to be Asashoryus executive personal assistant against another rookie, Kyokushuho, a guy who has a sumo bod not unlike his countryman Hakuho. The new guy started off quickly into Asasekiryus face, causing the veteran to falter a bit, but the Secretary managed to grab an inside left and use it to avoid being crushed down by his advancing foe. He then showed his sumo smarts by not waiting for the action to come to him, slipping his right arm up lightning fast around the back of Kyokushuhos neck and using his forearm to grind him down by the short hairs.

They held an interview at this point with Nionumi and true to form, he said absolutely nothing but "move forward," "my sumo," and "day at a time." Gotta love how predictable predictability is in Japan.

Takanoyama was back with that Adonis like figure (but sadly bald pate), but this isnt MMA and short, fat, glumpy (its a word) Sagatsukasa knows it. Armbarring the European after a questionable tachi-ai sidestep (though it should be noted that Gizmo has a banged up left shoulder and ergo did not want it involved in the proceedings), he flung and let go, then simply shoved at the now off balance lightweight (in sumo terms) until he was forced to jump off the dohyo. I imagine thats kind of how an average man would look getting beaten if the rikishi was in some exhibition up against some winner of a "Wrestle a Sumo" lottery and didnt want to hurt him. If it had been a nightclub, Takanoyama would have undoubtedly walked out with the much hotter chick, but this aint disco, no matter how much dancin they do.

The final two new guys battled each other in the next bout as Chiyonokuni took on Tenkaiho. Chiyonokuni has something of that near-sighted duck look that Yokozuna Takanohana had, and so going on looks alone should have won, considering that Tenkaiho is one seriously ugly bro. The Kokonoe man went at it hard, lots of fierce thrusting (now where have we seen that before?) Tenkaiho tried a lame pull attempt, but that just let Chiyonocountry For Old Men inside, where he collapsed on his foe as they spun to the dirt.

Gotta say that Chiyo also gave a better than average interview. Good on ya!

Yoshiazuma survived a ferocious attack by Tosayutaka by dancing on the volcanos edge, using his much larger form to tire out the visibly pooped W12. I thought Tosa U. might have schooled his older foe seeing as how he had a good grip on the belt, but with little strength left after the initial onslaught, he was easy enough to shove out. Nice patience shown by Yoshiazuma, who reminded me of a leopard on one of those nature documentaries that grabs hold of some gazelle and waits for it to stop kicking, then kills it.

Another Tamanoi Heya man followed in Fujiazuma, looking to take down Sadonofuji (no relation). After a brief scare for Sadonofuji at the edge, the men settled in to a cheek to cheek in the center. Finally Fujiazuma pushed his opponent back and out in classic NFL blocking sled style, apropos of the playoffs which start for my NY Giants in thirty minutes, three a.m. for me. Yes, Im up all through the night, and whats worse, Im scheduled to run 26 km sometime this morning.

Evidently, Gagamaru did not receive the memo on Tokitenku, which reads: DONT get low near this man! Once Butterball ignored this advice, we hardly had time to formulate the thought, uchimuso, before it happened. Maybe we ought to call Tokitenku "Jokeytenku," cause hes such a knee slapper!

I have to wonder if the young dude who was sitting in the front, a semi-famous boxer here, with gold streaked locks, was asked or paid to sit there, to make it look like the "stars" come out for sumo!

Daido could not escape Tochinoshins clutches, and the Private ended up lifting him off the ground and then throwing him down with a . . .a . . .aplomb!

You know something is amiss in sumo when Tochiohzan is on the dohyo and Toyohibiki is seen waddling down the hanamichi behind him. Looking to spit in Mikes eye, Oh Snap let Shohozan dictate the pace of the bout, playing it defenseive the entire time. You could see on Snaps face that he thought he was going to get an opening and slap Shohozan aside for a pushout win, but it never happened as the metronomic E8 looked like someone playing one of those dance rhythm video games where you have to hit or step in time to some beat.

So Russia and Bulgaria came all the way to Japan to fight. I dont like Aoiyama so much, mainly cause his areolas are the same color as his skin, also cause hes slow at tachi-ai, and today was no exception as he made poor Aran false start twice. When it got going, Aran stiff armed him to the throat, which kept the big fella away long enough for Aran to get in on the belt. But Aoyama got a nice grip as well and it looked like it was gonna be a gunfight, when all of a sudden Aran planted his leg and used his significant musculature to twist Aoyama around, and then evict him via yorikiri. Excellent move by the Bouncer.

If you want a guy who holds his paper together, look no further than Kyokutenho, cause dude has been a staple of this division for a long time now. Homeboy made it to Makuuchi for the second time in May 1999 and has never left due to losing on the dohyo, employing his strength and especially his wiles at the edge to last this long. Today Toyohibiki ran him straight back and to the ropes, where he dug in and twisted, but it appeared his heel touched a tiny bit before Toyohibiki came crashing down and out. Close one but no mono-ii cigar and the Nikibi remains undefeated through one day.

Ive been watching sumo now long enough for a certain phenomenon to start taking place, namely the judges around the dohyo are often mostly guys I used to watch wrestle. It reinforces the traditional feel of the sport, like seeing Dave Cowens coach the Celtics.

Yoshikaze scored one for the veterans by slapping down on Myogiryus arms as he lunged forward in a half-second bout. I had been anticipating this matchup, but Starbuck told me to take my expectations and dangle.

Tochinowaka aggressively pushed Homasho back from the start, and thought he had Homasho at the edge and out, but committed too soon to that last lunge, leaving his legs behind him and allowing Homasho the time to shove him down.

Takayasu was too high in his initial attack, and when he pressed the action as he should, Toyonoshima was waiting with those legs that are more pillar than anything else. Deft swing down leg trip by Tugboat, who, I agree with Mike, should do well this basho. A technician extraordinaire, had he been blessed by the good DNA with another 30 cm vertical, hed be a Yokozuna.

Kakuryu went for the throat, literally, vs Kitataiki, but got a little too high and turned around with his back to the wall. He manned up and resisted, turning the E3 sideways and then plowing him off the dohyo spectacularly into the crowd and onto Kisenosato who was waiting on the pillows.

Heading down the hanamichi with those centipede eyebrows, Kisenosato looked to be all bidness. Interviewed about his role as shin-Ozeki, said that he did not like the fact that no Japanese rikishi portrait would be in the rafters next tourney if one of them doesnt yusho this time out (something that Mike explained in his pre-basho--boss dont leave much for us toadys to comment on anew). It strikes me as cogent that he makes this declaration publicly, which is tantamount to staking his rep on it, and serving notice to the Japanese audience in particular that its gonna happen sooner rather than later (as, uh, Mike, uh already pointed out).

He started off today with what would normally be a dangerous opponent in Goeido, who actually defeated him during his run to the new rank in Nov. Today, however, Goeido had nothing, getting manhandled into a position straight away that necessitated a 360 spin, but Kid didnt get this far by not being able to seal the deal even if his foe does something that makes the crowd gasp. Chalk up a geiko like pushout for the Ozeki and a big fart like noise emanating from the kokugikan for the effort Goeido showed. The Father should have lowered his shoulder and rammed back into Kise after the spin, normally a dumb move, but since he was going to lose anyway, he might as well have taken a shot. Might have caught the Ozeki off guard.

Harumafuji got the front mawashi for a second, then changed it to a back belt, and slung down Okinoumi lickety split while joining his foe in the plunge. HowDo almost touched down first but the ref made the right call.

Aminishiki makes me laugh the way he looks at his arms after the final warmup, as if hes checking the pipes that are about to do so much damage to the other guy. Guy does not lack for confidence. Unfortunately, sad little Kotooshu, looking so forlorn and marginalized compared to the supernova he was in late 2005 when he took three jun-yusho in a row, was in the mood to win, and kept Sneaky right in front of him long enough to blast him out before he himself stepped out. No upset this time for Aminishiki. Despite being a serviceable Ozeki for six years now, Kotooshu cannot be seen at this point in his career to be anything other than a slight disappointment. Does he have a late career surge in him, a la Chyinofuji? Stranger things have happened, but dont go risking Juniors college fund on it.

Takekaze, at a rank that ought to get him slain daily, took on sophomore Ozeki Kotoshogiku and shocked the capital by flip flopping an armbar Geeku had on him into a shoulder twist down. Now Takekaze will proceed to lose nine straight. Poor Geeku, out of the spotlight and perhaps a little groggy from all the New Year festivities.

Dont be fooled if you think by the packed house that sumos popularity is skyrocketing. I mean, Kanto is the most populated urban area on Earth, and with everyone having sat on their ass for a week eating and drinking, its no surprise they want to get out and do something. Anything.

Miyabiyama himself is no slouch when it comes to hanging around, having made Makuuchi in March of 1999 and never leaving due to losing on the dohyo (gambling demotion in 2010). I mean, dude spent two basho only in Juryo (out of university) before his promotion to Makuuchi and took the yusho both times. Back at Komusubi, he came in looking to upset Baruto, one of the few guys in the division larger than Flobby himself. It seemed briefly as if he had a chance, but Baruto toyed with him, slapping the back of his head, pulling and pushing until he worked him back out. Miyabi had this, Aw shucks grin on his face after he lost, the same face Kaio used to have in his final, interminably long years. Gotta wonder how much Miyabiyama himself thinks he has left in the tank.

Best "Trying To Get Peoples Expectations Up Only To Let Them Down" award goes to NHK, which showed Wakakoyu taking two keiko bouts off of Hakuho before they went at it for real today. But did anyone think something different than what happened would happen? Hakuho had a busy New Year for sure, appearing on many TV programs, but its gonna take more than that to bring him down to Wakakoyus level. If you need to know, Hakuho hammered the poor fella back to the edge, where he of course tried to resist, and Hakuho just watched him fall forward like a lumberjack watching a redwood. Days work done, lets go have some grub.

Mike polishes off the leftover seechi tomorrow. God bless em.









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