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Day 14

Senshuraku (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Sometimes the tale is told so clearly nobody can miss it, and the tale of this tournament is awful political bout fixing leading to a native Japanese yusho for the first time in a decade. On Sumotalk, the story of this basho has been an informed, informative, and mostly good-natured debate in the comments section that focuses on the question of whether the yaocho and mukiryoku we all see is real and backed up by manifold evidence, or is in our minds and created by bias and expectations. I'll get to the matches in a few moments.

But first, briefly, I want to compliment the comments sections writers for their contributions; I always read and am influenced by the comments section. Positive, negative, or indifferent, it informs my thinking and lets me know what I need to address in the sport (and in my writing).

Second, I want to lay out my conclusions on exactly what bout fixing in the sport is. The evidence that it exists, is widespread, and is an integral part of the sport as currently constituted is incontrovertible. This cannot be debated. What I believe that we do not have is a solid tool for assessing when it happens. In my opinion, Mike applies an excellent but also fallible tool: in-bout breakdown of technique. However, I agree that the sport often moves too fast for anyone to use this tool effectively, that mistakes and injuries often have an invisible effect, and that the nature of chance and randomness may create false patterns or obscure real ones. Nevertheless, to quote Simon, who once wrote for this sight, we can use our eyes. Sometimes, like with Hakuho's loss to Kisenosato yesterday, the mukiryoku is so obvious we might as well just say so. Could I be wrong? Yes. But I would say that just as I can see very obviously with my eyes that Kagayaki is a poor upper division wrestler, sometimes yaocho is equally plain. In addition, yaocho is salted throughout the sport and I believe there is actually more, not less, than Sumotalk calls. I think that when people call yaocho and mukiryoku, they often get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. Nevertheless, evidence indicates some wrestlers do have nearly their entire 15 days fixed in some bashos, like Harumafuji's initial yusho (Mike had an excellent list of additional compromised yusho in yesterday's report). Bout fixing becomes especially prevalent the higher you go in the banzuke, and the later you go in the tournament, but sumo is rife with bout fixing throughout the fortnight and up and down the ranks. Mongolians do it, Japanese do it, and other foreigners do it: it is usually not part of a plan to uphold a certain narrative, but is an endemic element of the sport. (The commenter calling himself "The Storyteller"--go back a few days--was particularly eloquent on this.) There are also many, many straight up, competitive bouts. That is why although we see certain narrative fixing patterns that I do believe exist--like the propping up of Japanese Ozeki--we do not see others, like actual yusho by those same Ozeki. That is because yaocho is spread throughout, making it difficult to shift the actual narrative. Bout fixing is, in short, another competitive element.

Third, I want to unequivocally state that this is bad for the sport and should be rooted out. There are many who say this is a Western way of thinking, and that sumo should be thought of not as a sport, but a separate cultural edifice: therefore yaocho is okay because it is an inextricable part of this fabric. I disagree. Accepting yaocho on this basis is an insult to Japanese culture: do we really believe Japan wants to be characterized by notions of privileged otherness left over from the 1850s? The world is an increasingly integrated one, sumo is to a degree integrated as well, and they are selling a product in a market that bases sales at least to a degree on authenticity of results. Just as Volkswagen should not be allowed to cook the books on the rules it has agreed to abide by, nor should sumo be exempt from an expectation to be played clean and straight up. Unless it wants to opt out, it should own up. Nor should we apply principles of subjective values ("cultural relativism"). Some things are objectively better than others, and we should have the courage to stand up for those things. Two of those things are honesty over dishonesty, and fair play over cheating. These things should not be culturally determined--they are positive values that should be universal and defended.

How, then, to root match fixing out? If I am going to pontificate, let me offer a prescription. One, wrestlers should be expelled, no mercy and no exceptions, for bout fixing. This means Hakuho should have been summarily expelled years ago when he and Asashoryu were implicated in a taped yaocho admission by an oyakata. If this leaves us with no wrestlers, very well--start over. Like in baseball, where Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson have never been readmitted, the rules should be clear, firm, and draconian. Two, the sport needs to be run not by former wrestlers, but by a third party--they need a commissioner like Fay Vincent was in baseball: someone independent from the incestuous power structure, an ombudsman with ultimate authority. They should be run be a company interested in income, not a cabal interested in protecting what resembles feudal fiefdoms. Three, the sport needs to generate its own revenue. No subsidies, no NHK deals of questionable profitability. Move the bouts to later--upper division matches should be live between 20:00 and 22:00--and compete in the free market. Four, and very important, ban fan club contributions and strictly monitor income sources for young wrestlers. There is a contention that fan clubs run by organized crime groups are a primary source of income for underpaid young wrestlers--a brilliant way of tying them to the system, making them beholden to uphold the current system and its cheating later on. Pay them better from honest revenue, and strictly ban interaction with these clubs.

So, as we conclude this demoralizing tournament which, if we have eyes to see, clearly has a championship outcome determined in large part by subjective influences not in keeping with good sports ethics, this is where I sit on this beautiful sunny Sunday in Japan. In the meantime, let's cover the sumo.


S Tochiohzan (6-8) vs. M7 Toyonoshima (12-2)
This match as a leaderboard bout was somewhat of a red herring: Toyonoshima's path to the yusho was improbable, requiring him to win, then losses by Kotoshogiku and Hakuho, followed by a two way playoff with Kotoshogiku. Or, if Hakuho won, a three-way playoff in which they would go in round robin until someone beat the other two consecutively (no way Toyonoshima manages that). Nevertheless, as this tournament has demonstrated that anything can happen, let's cover it. Bottom line: if Toyonoshima loses this bout he's out. If he wins he's alive--for the moment.

Tochiohzan hit Toyonoshima hard off the tachi-ai and had the mo' going all his way. His last thrust was a bit wild and left them widely separated. At that point the match went into slow motion as Tochiohzan didn't seem sure whether he needed to close and finish it, and Toyonoshima teetered on the straw and then let it go and stepped back and out, unmolested. Toyonoshima had no intention of winning here, as all he did was give a bump at the tachi-ai, arms wrapped tightly against his own chest, then let himself be pushed backwards while fumbling about with his hands. So, this red herring has been devoured down, and we can concentrate on the real yusho candidate: Kotoshogiku.

O Kotoshogiku (13-1) vs. O Goeido (4-10)
If Kotoshogiku wins it's over: champion. If he loses, Hakuho has to win to force a playoff. Amazingly, "Ozeki" Goeido came into this having lost eight in a row this tournament. He'd also lost his last three tournament match-ups with Kotoshogiku.

In the end, it was simple stuff. Kotoshogiku got hold of a compliant Goeido, throwing a left arm bar that he turned into an arm inside around the body, held Goeido around the body outside on the left, and drove him back to the tawara. There, I expected him to gaburu Goeido out: it would have been a fitting way for him to finish off his championship, as he built his career on that move. However, instead, he stepped back and slung Goeido way, way too easily to the dirt, tsuki-otoshi.

Kotoshogiku, champion.

I will not dwell on the maudlin screen cut-out showing someone (probably his mother) holding a framed picture of his beloved grandpa. I will not dwell on Kotoshogiku's father in the crowd, who covered his face and cried--and good for him; that was nice, actually. I will not dwell on the nauseating certainty that there will need to be Yokozuna promotion speculation for Kotoshogiku at the March basho. I will not dwell on the totally unexcited, bland as milk aftertalk of the announcers. I will not dwell on the curiously calm venue: yeah, people cheered. But except for the father--and I like fathers, so congrats to him--this wasn't exciting at all. If we want to dwell on this, go back and read my intro, or Mike's yesterday. The tournament ended here, ignominiously and sadly.

Y Harumafuji (11-3) vs. Y Hakuho (12-2)
Because Kotoshogiku won, this match was entirely irrelevant, of course. So, the two pantomimed a face-first burial of Hakuho. They hit lightly off the tachi-ai, then Harumafuji hopped lightly to the side, nimbly grabbed Hakuho by the back of the belt, and tipped him forward to the dirt, uwate-nage: Hakuho actually KNELT on the dohyo: one knee and two fists down, head bowed. Submission. Corpse of the great, a pauper's grave.


M10 Chiyootori (4-7-3) vs. M13 Takekaze (10-4)
All too easy. Chiyootori spiked his opponent in the head, then held on up high while hunched over and pushed. Takekaze didn't or couldn't get his little arms onto the belt, and didn't or couldn't evade left or right (um… this is Takekaze, folks) and was pushed straight out, oshi-dashi. I say didn't.

M12 Shodai (9-5) vs. M9 Gagamaru (7-7)
Something on the line for both: a prize for Shodai, a special prize for Gagamaru. This was good stuff. Basically you had Gagamaru delivering a beating and Shodai trying to resist, plus Gagamaru getting dangerously out of position and separated and lumberingly trying to square back up. Lots of wicked slaps up high and neck shoves by Gagamaru, and some tries at throws from Shodai. Gagamaru was also in there with an arm wrench at the end. However, the end result was a yori-kiri win for Shodai. The key to this match was that some of Gagamaru's thrust work was sloppy, and that Shodai's resistance featured concentration and focus. I'll give him a prize, too: Best of the Young Guns. He has a chance to be very good, and his defining element has been presence.

M9 Sadanoumi (6-8) vs. M12 Chiyotairyu (8-6)
Very typical Chiyotairyu here, unfortunately. Extremely forceful hit off the tachi-ai… then a hard pull. Sadanoumi had a very disappointing tournament, but he didn't miss this one; he easily took over the momentum from there and scored the yori-kiri win. I'm afraid Chiyotairyu is right where he belongs on the banzuke, and there he will stay for spring. Good.

M8 Myogiryu (7-7) vs. M15 Homarefuji (4-10)
Myogiryu drew a false start from his man; he should just get after it. If he can't waste this opponent, he doesn't deserve a kachikoshi (winning record). In the actual bout, he did come hard, but did it dangerously, standing up too tall, and, after a series of wicked thrusts and a couple of nice neck shoves, took Homarefuji down by moving backwards, hataki-komi. He had plenty of room and skill to do this, but a disappointing denouement nonetheless. He may have the kachi-koshi, but for him this tournament is best forgotten.

M16 Kagayaki (3-11) vs. M7 Tamawashi (5-9)
Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) may have had the worst debut tournament I've ever seen; this was his best bout of the skein, and it was nothing special. Nice, low, driving tachi-ai by Kagayaki, then Tamawashi evaded out and reversed the momentum. Mosquito was on top of it, though, evading in turn at the right moment and watching his foe step out; couldn't believe this was called tsuki-otoshi. Sigh. Mosquitoes only draw a tiny, tiny bit of blood.

M14 Toyohibiki (8-6) vs. M6 Okinoumi (9-5)
Nothing to lose or win on either part; let's fight. Instead, Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki) was baiting Lake Placid (Okinoumi) be being slow in getting his fists down, resulting in two false starts. Looked to be working, as off the tachi-ai Kerosene had a nice arm bar pushing a tentative Placid backwards. However, Placid is the better wrestler, and moved placidly to his right at the tawara, and Burp fell easily to the clay, tsuki-otoshi.

M6 Tokushoryu (3-11) vs. M11 Amuuru 7-7)
Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) was saucy in this one, employing a simple post-tachi-ai-contact henka to let Amuuru, with a winning record on the line, fall to the dust, hiki-otoshi. Amuuru was partly at fault, as at the key moment he was looking up into Sauce's face as if to determine what he was going to do next rather than concentrating on his core and what he needed to do there. Still, blech. Next tournament they'll be ranked about the same and we'll see how that goes for this useless blimp, Tokushoryu.

M15 Kitataiki (7-7) vs. M5 Sokokurai (7-7)
Both guys had it on the line in this one: good. It showed. Both started out with their cans slung back, cautious yet straining hard. Seeing there would be no easy win, they moved in chest to chest and got on the belts; It's Dark There (Sokokurai) got a dominant left inside grip he was to keep throughout. For a moment Kitataiki had dual grips, and got It's Dark There near the edge, but the grips were very shallow, just pinches on the top of loose folds of mawashi, and It's Dark There was able to shake free and drive the match back to the center. Being younger and stronger, Sokokurai worked his man back to the edge in this lengthy affair, then had to truly "force" him out: there was no giving up here. They both fell hard, and Sokokurai saved the match for himself by making sure one of his legs, which got loose and was flying up, toed back down inside rather than outside the tawara, looking like a wide receiving with a tiptoe touchdown catch on the sidelines in the U.S. National Football League. Great yori-taoshi win caps a good tournament for him, and nice effort here from an always hardworking veteran in Kitataiki.

M13 Takanoiwa (9-5) vs. M4 Kotoyuki (8-6)
Nice match-up of two guys finishing off superior tournaments. Kotoyuki hit very hard with two hands off the tachi-ai, and that almost finished it, but give Takanoiwa credit for sticking with it and coming right back inside. Problem was, that was no place to be. Kotoyuki kept up the directed and effective neck and face hits and thrusts; it was a bit violent looking in there. Eventually Takanoiwa, frustrated and almost done, tried a roundhouse punch of his own, missed, and essentially fell down of his own momentum off of his wild shot. However, give all the credit to Kotoyuki; this was an impressive tsuki-otoshi dismantling.

M4 Kyokushuho (6-8) vs. M10 Mitakeumi (5-7-2)
The Bully (Mitakeumi) hasn't been too bad this tournament, but he's a run of the mill guy. This was a battle of thrusts, and Bully sold himself out by going for a pull midway through. Kyokushuho is experienced and a rising mid-career professional, and he was easily able to advance forward off of the momentum shift and score the oshi-dashi push out. Bully likely survives to hang on at the bottom of the Makuuchi banzuke, but he'll need to take the big time a little more seriously in March.

M3 Ichinojo (2-12) vs. M3 Kaisei (4-10)
By god. What an awful performance by Ichinojo, and a fitting end to his tournament. He stood up slowly at the tachi-ai and fell into Kaisei's arms like he was doing trust falls in a team building exercise at a retreat. He then allowed Kaisei, who had a nice one-side-belt, other-side-body hold, walk him out yori-kiri. Slug (Ichinojo) did his usual recent thing of not playing it out, walking voluntarily and carefully across the straw. He's walking right down to about M13, but right now he looks like he's not interested.

M2 Takarafuji (8-6) vs. M8 Takayasu (10-4)
The key here was whose game they played: Takayasu's. It started with Takayasu standing Takarafuji up at the tachi-ai. Takarafuji never got close to the belt, and had to trade slaps. Takayasu was on him hard, and soon thrust him out, oshi-dashi. He kept his hands on Takarafuji's neck and face, and this seemed to work. Other wrestlers take note.

M2 Aoiyama (6-8) vs. M1 Shohozan (5-9)
Wow. Blue Mountain (Aoiyama) said, "you want to see thrusts? I got thrusts. You don't think I got speed? I got speed." Blue unleashed a debilitating barrage of rapid, descending face smacks. Darth Hozan spent the whole match looking at the "sold out" banners hanging above. Except he couldn't see them because he had his eyes closed. Blue then moved onto him like The Blob devouring a victim in Antarctica, smothering him out, yori-kiri. In case you haven't noticed, I like Aoiyama in the second week very much.

K Ikioi (4-10) vs. M1 Aminishiki (6-7-1)
So many henkas by Aminishiki this tournament. One too many? Ikioi had to be ready for it and survived. Aminishiki was game after that, too, holding Ikioi back with a stiff-arms to the neck, but he didn't accompany it with any follow-up move other than a pull, and Ikioi has grown enough not to fall for that either: glad to see him capitalize for an oshi-dashi win. Ikioi needs another year or so before we can tell whether he's a late bloomer who can hang up here a bit, or a never wuzzer who'll settle in at lower ranks.

K Tochinoshin (6-8) vs. S Yoshikaze (7-7)
Weak effort here by Tochinoshin. Yoshikaze was tenacious underneath, and did a good job of lifting Tochinoshin's arms up and off of him. Eventually he also got a deep grip on the back of Tochinoshin's belt and removed him from the dohyo, yori-kiri. Surprise, surprise: Yoshikaze holds serve as Sekiwake. As long as he can keep the energy level where he's had it the last six months, he's welcome. Tochinoshin is welcome, period, but I'd like to see him allowed to see if he is ozeki material or not.

Y Kakuryu (10-4) vs. O Kisenosato (8-6)
These two guys basically beat each other up a bit, like some proxy punishment for what had just happened (chronologically this followed the Kotoshogiku victory). Lots of wild hitting each other in the face, as if letting out the frustrations of "what is this fracking sport all about anyway?" As if to say, "let's just have it out here on each other a bit, because why Why WHY?" As if to say, "yeah, it's all a bunch of dumbass bullcrap; let's beat each other senseless." After a while they tired of it and moved in on each other's bodies and Kisenosato oozed Kakuryu over the edge.

I'm spent, this tournament's bought, and that's it.

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Day 14 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Eight or nine years ago, I uttered that infamous prophecy, "If Japan produces a Yokozuna in the next 10 years, his name will be Goeido." Thank the gods that I used the qualifier "if" in that statement, and while I obviously whiffed on my choice of Goeido, I did have the foresight to see just how bleak the next decade would be for Japanese rikishi. Now, that prophecy will ultimately be fulfilled since we won't have a legitimate Yokozuna from Japan in the next couple of years, but I'm here to utter yet another prophecy:

The next Japanese rikishi to legitimately take the Makuuchi yusho will be Kotokamatani.

So who is Kotokamatani? He's the 18 year-old son of former Makuuchi mainstay Kotonowaka, or current Sadogatake-oyakata. Kotokamatani got every centimeter of his father's height, and who cares what sumo skills he got from the paternal side. The kid is the grandson of former Yokozuna Kotozakura whose sumo was so tenacious he was branded the Boar. Kotozakura's daughter married Kotonowaka, who was coincidentally branded the Bore, and the union produced Japan's legitimate next. Kotokamatani won the Jonokuchi yusho this basho in his debut, and as my day 13 broadcast started, they showed Kotokamatani standing next to Yoshida Announcer in the interview room. Kotokamatani took up so much space and was so huge, Yoshida Announcer looked like a tiny moon that rotated around Kotokamatani's body. The interview went on as long as I've ever seen from a Jonokuchi rikishi, and during the interview, they showed a clip of Kotokamatani's yusho bout. I'm telling you already...the dude has it, and he will be the next Japanese rikishi to legitimately capture the Makuuchi yusho. I know the quality isn't great, but I did capture video of the bout for everyone to see:

Remember the prophecy. Kotokamatani.

Okay, let's shift our focus from thoughts on a future legitimate yusho race to our current faux yusho race that has come down to the following rikishi as follows:

12-1: Hakuho, Kotoshogiku
11-2: Harumafuji, Toyonoshima

Up first was M7 Toyonoshima who had a much more formidable task in today's opponent, Sekiwake Yoshikaze. Yoshikaze used tsuppari up high to keep Toyonoshima away from the inside, but he backed up and to his left quickly as if to set up a pull. That allowed Toyonoshima to rush in and secure the left arm to the inside while Yoshikaze countered with the right outer grip. After the two gathered their wits for a second or two, Yoshikaze mounted a force out charge leading with the outer grip, but the dude is not a yotsu guy and was completely out of his element here, and so at the edge, Toyonoshima was able to slip to his right and execute the perfect counter tsuki-otoshi move pushing into Yoshikaze's left side with the right arm as he vacated harm's way. As Yoshikaze (7-7) fell to the dohyo, he attempted to trip up Toyonoshima's left leg but ended up causing Toyonoshima to fall awkwardly to the dohyo instead, and so despite the nice win from Tugboat, he came up limping afterwards.

Toyonoshima moves to 12-2 with the win and should be fine tomorrow. His final duty before exiting the arena was to offer the chikara-mizu to Ozeki Kotoshogiku, who we all know had to solve Sekiwake Tochiohzan today in order to keep his yusho hopes alive. With the crowd absolutely electric prior to the bout, Tochiohzan quelled everyone's nerves a bit by executing a false start. As the two reloaded and went for reals, Ozeki Kotoshogiku came with a fabulous underhand hari-te that connected squarely with Tochiohzan's face and had the Sekiwake reeling from the start. Keeping his momentum, Kotoshogiku secured the left inside position with the right kote grip and immediately began his force-out charge. Tochiohzan looked to move right and counter with a tsuki-otoshi with that right arm, but he was too far gone as the Ozeki quickly forced him back and across the ropes before a counter move would come. Throughout the entire bout, Tochiohzan had his eyes closed and his face grimaced as if in pain likely from the sweet hari-te delivered by Kotoshogiku. So was the bout mukiryoku? I dunno. I certainly thought Tochiohzan (6-8) could have put up a little bit better fight, but you have to give Kotoshogiku credit for having a plan and executing it to perfection.

In the intro to my day 5 comments, I stated that things were going along as normal, which meant that the Japanese Ozeki were at the mercy of their opponents. And over the previous four days for sure, Kotoshogiku was at the mercy of his opponents charging forward without a plan and hoping to come away with his favored left inside position. The Mongolian Yokozuna all complied and allowed him to get that position before assuming the role of practice dummy and going along with the Ozeki's whims. Yesterday against Toyonoshima, it was the exact same story from Kotoshogiku in that he was completely at the M7's mercy, and that's why it was so easy for Toyonoshima to pull the Ozeki forward and down in mere seconds. Today, however, Kotoshogiku came with a plan and followed through on it, so credit him with the good sumo regardless of how hard Tochiohzan tried. With the win, Kotoshogiku stayed atop the leaderboard at 13-1 and could only wait for the results of the Yokozuna bouts.

For the record, I think we actually got a straight up bout yesterday between Hakuho and Kakuryu. Sure, Kakuryu gave up those last few steps, but he was turned around 180 degrees by then with Hakuho firmly in the Brokeback position. I don't blame rikishi from giving up from that position in order not to get hurt, but I thought the two actually fought straight up to that point. So, would we get another straight up fight between Yokozuna Harumafuji and Yokozuna Kakuryu? Sadly no. The two hooked up in the hidari-yotsu position from the get-go, but Harumafuji neither grabbed the solid left inside belt grip or the right outer grip even though both were there for the taking. With HowDo just standing there, Kakuryu clued in pretty fast and just executed a right kote-nage easily spilling Harumafuji to the dirt right there in the center of the ring. Before watching the slow mo replays and confirming that Harumafuji denied himself actual belt grips, I knew he just took a dive here. How so? When your opponent goes for a throw, if you want to win, you at least do something to counter. I mean, look at Yoshikaze a few bouts earlier. It was ugly for sure, but he at least scrambled for something. Harumafuji did nothing just hitting the clay and taking his lumps. Afterwards, they caught up with Harumafuji in the hana-michi, and he made the excuse that he felt out of sync at the tachi-ai. Whatever. Let's move on as the loss knocks Harumafuji out of contention at 11-3 while Kakuryu moves to a meaningless 10-4.

My partner in crime coined the phrase "The Storyteller" when speaking of Hakuho, and after all of the crazy action we've seen up to this point, here we are once again in the final bout of the day with Hakuho holding all the cards. To say that he had to solve Kisenosato would be a joke. He only had to do one thing today: make the decision of whether or not to fight straight up.

Hakuho's actions were obvious once the bout started, but I'm pretty sure the decision was made for him instead of Hakuho calling the shot with his stable master. The Yokozuna's sumo was extremely calculated today and not just his choice to lose the bout. If we must, Hakuho stood straight up from the tachi-ai and put both arms forward in defense as if he was a leedle girl instinctively warding off the oncoming blows from the boogey man. The boogey man Kisenosato ain't, but with Hakuho upright and his arms extended, Kisenosato just walked the Yokozuna back and across the straw finally making legitimate contact at the edge of the dohyo.

I mean, this wasn't even acting on the part of Hakuho. Everybody knew that this bout was thrown, and in my opinion, Hakuho acted deliberately like this to send the following message: I do not agree whatsoever with what you are all asking me to do, and to show my utter disdain for all of this, I'm gonna make it obvious that I am stepping aside, and the Sumo Association can deal with the repercussions. And damned if he didn't do just that.

How could anybody watching the bouts today not feel absolutely betrayed after this one? Shame on anyone who tries to defend this brand of sumo as legitimate and straight up. Shame on anyone who comes onto the comments section of this website and dares to try and call this anything other than what it really is. I can understand people wanting to bury their head in the sand and pretend that it's all real, but if you've watched the action this tournament up to this point and still think that yaocho is not rampant in sumo, you are a dumbass. Let me repeat: you are a dumbass.

And what's worse are the people who have been reading Sumotalk and my rock solid takes for years but still try and paint me as a charlatan. I'm the charlatan?? You come on here high and mighty thinking that because you have an education from some liberal university or because you live in Ryogoku that you are all experts, educated, or better than me and my readers. Wrong. You guys are as acute as Toyonoshima's gut, which is manifest by your rambling sumo takes. I often say after watching an obvious yaocho that my intelligence is insulted, but I get it now. You've believed that everything was straight up all these years because you absolutely lack the intelligence to be insulted. To quote the best line from the movie Platoon, "I shit on all of you." Its fine to disagree with me, but to paint me as the fraud is just pathetic, and if that declaration means that I lose readers from this site, good. As the faithful Christian that I am, it galls me to no end that all these years I have been casting my pearls among such swine as yourselves.

Okay, now that I've gotten that off of my A-cups, let's review the implications from the previous bout. With the win, Kisenosato picks up a predictable kachi-koshi at 8-6 while Hakuho falls one off the lead at 12-2. Heading into the final day, the official leaderboard is as follows:

13-1: Kotoshogiku
12-2: Hakuho, Toyonoshima

I thought at the end of day 12 that Kotoshogiku's yusho chances were at about 60% because I knew he was the underdog in two of his next three bouts. After today, that number goes up close to about 80%, but these Japanese Ozeki are so clueless and inept, it would not totally surprise me to see Ozeki Goeido actually win tomorrow. Look, if Goeido comes out with the intent to win tomorrow, it's a fifty-fifty chance. I don't expect that to happen, but yaocho is extremely difficult to predict. If you had put a gun to my head today and asked me "Hakuho or Kisenosato?", I would have taken the Yokozuna. Kotoshogiku is obviously in the driver's seat in terms of the yusho, but there's still one more day to go, and as we learned on day 13, anything can happen.

Just when you thought things couldn't get worse for Ozeki Goeido, they apparently did. Against M2 Takarafuji, the two hooked up in the hidari-yotsu position, and like Kotoshogiku the bout before him, I really thought Goeido was out there trying to make something happen instead of just charging forward with no plan. The problem was that Takarafuji is the superior rikishi, and once he dug in with that left inside as if to set up a charge, Goeido panicked and stepped out wide setting up a meager kote-nage throw with the right, but he could never really fire on the throw as Takarafuji was charging into his craw. Now near the tawara, Goeido just abandoned everything and tried to escape to his left pulling at Takarafuji as he went, but in the process, he grabbed a handful of Takarafuji's hair and yanked the M2 off balance to the point where he hopped along the tawara like a drunkard before collapsing on the other side of the straw. The chief judge called a mono-ii to confirm the hair pull, and they awarded the victory to Takarafuji by disqualification. Not the greatest way to pick up kachi-koshi, but Takarafuji will take it as he moves to 8-6. As for Goeido, he falls to 4-10 and assumes the role of Storyteller-minor tomorrow.

M1 Aminishiki henka'd to his left against Komusubi Tochinoshin grabbing the quick and dirty left outer grip, but Shin was able to square up with the pretty good position to the right inside, and after Aminishiki tried to spin around the ring to keep the Private on the move, Tochinoshin was finally able to halt the action and gather his wits in the center of the ring. With the solid right inside, Tochinoshin used his brute strength to try and bully Aminishiki into a tsuri-dashi, but Aminishiki's a big dude himself and was able to stay grounded. While the tsuri-dashi didn't work, Tochinoshin was able to grab the left outer grip, and he immediately went for the force out kill, but Aminishiki executed an incredible utchari at the edge leaning to his left and forcing Tochinoshin's left foot to just step beyond the straw before Aminishiki crashed to the dirt. They ruled in favor of Tochinoshin, but a mono-ii was called, and replays showed that Tochinoshin's left foot did step out before Aminishiki crashed to the dohyo. I think the video judges were focused on Tochinoshin's left foot because Aminishiki's right heel was already across the straw and likely touching sand, but they ruled in favor of Aminishiki in the end. As Kane mentioned to me, we saw the very worst and best of Aminishiki in the same bout as he moves to 6-8 while Tochinoshin's make-koshi becomes official as well at 6-8.

Before we move on, you watch a bout like this and then compare it to bouts where at least one party will let up, and it's easy to call mukiryoku sumo. I'm not saying that every bout has to end with a spectacular crash at the edge, but you can see when both parties are trying to win.

M3 Kaisei persisted forward in his charge against Komusubi Ikioi looking for the right inside and left frontal grip, but he couldn't quite get a hold of Ikioi who just backed out of the yotsu contest and went for a quick pull that briefly threw Kaisei off stride. The Brasilian regrouped quickly, however, and got the right inside for reals followed up with the left outer grip, but as he mounted his force-out charge, Ikioi countered well with a right scoop throw. Once again, Kaisei's momentum was halted briefly, but he still had a grab on Ikioi's belt, and so he stepped outside and dragged Ikioi down to the dirt via the dashi-nage move. Kaisei led this one throughout as both parties end the day at 4-10.

M1 Shohozan lurched into moro-zashi from the tachi-ai against M3 Ichinojo and immediately went into gaburi mode trying to keep the Slug up high, but Ichinojo moved a bit left and went for a left kote-nage throw while Shohozan went for a simultaneous right scoop throw creating a rare nage-no-uchi-ai where neither rikishi had a grip of the belt. The result was a slippery finish where both rikishi fell to the clay, but Ichinojo put his hams down first in an effort to break his fall. It was close, and they called a mono-ii, but the initial decision was upheld. The explanation to the mono-ii was quite comical: "We called a mono-ii to determine that Ichinojo's hands touched down first. And they did!" Darth Hozan moves to 5-9 with the win while Ichinojo falls to 2-12.

M10 Mitakeumi looked to stand toe to toe against M2 Aoiyama in a tsuppari affair, but the veteran Aoiyama said, "Bro, you ain't got no hiss," and then promptly showed Mitakeumi how it's done firing paw after paw into Mitakeumi's face and neck. Mitakeumi stood his ground well, but over time, he was just battered back and across the straw. This was great stuff from Aoiyama whose long arms and experience proved the difference. He moves to 6-8 with the win while Mitakeumi falls to 5-9.

M13 Takekaze obviously thinks he can best M4 Kotoyuki at a tsuppari fight because he was in KotoLoogie's grill from the tachi-ai knocking him back from the initial charge and then timing a pull that sent Kotoyuki off balance. Kotoyuki was very much alive despite the pull attempt, but Takekaze was in his head at this point, and so the smaller Takekaze used a great tsuki at the side of Kotoyuki's right shoulder to knock him back upright and to the side, and instead of attempting to square back up, Kotoyuki decided to pirouette needlessly allowing Takekaze to push him out from behind. Takekaze was in command throughout as he moves to 10-4 while Kotoyuki falls to 8-6.

M14 Toyohibiki struck well at the tachi-ai against M4 Kyokushuho with his usual tsuppari attack, but the de-ashi weren't behind the move, and it allowed Kyokushuho to evade to his right and go for the counter pull with his right hand at the back of Toyohibiki's left arm and left hand at the back of the head, and as Chiyonofuji said afterwards, "His legs just couldn't keep up." Kyokushuho moves to 6-8 with the win while Toyohibiki's kachi-koshi is still intact at 8-6.

M12 Chiyotairyu meant bidness against M5 Sokokurai for two steps plowing Sokokurai back to the edge in an instant, but Sokokurai had a hold of Chiyotairyu's sagari and used them for leverage as he darted out left. Normally the sagari will pull free from the belt, but with Chiyotairyu's large gut keeping them in place, Sokokurai was able to evade left, and the move completely befuddled Chiyotairyu. Instead of switching gears and making a right turn in attempt to finish off his gal, he aligned his feet and went for a stupid pull allowing Sokokurai to score the easy push-out win. Sokokurai stays alive at 7-7 while Chiyotairyu is coasting now at 8-6.

M12 Shodai and M6 Okinoumi hooked up in the hidari-yotsu position where Okinoumi actually came away with the right outer grip, but the veteran did nothing but stand there and allow Shodai to execute an inside belt throw that sent Okinoumi to the dirt in seconds. Okinoumi obviously let up here on purpose as the flow of the bout was not natural. If your opponent attempts an inside belt throw, you counter with the strong outer in a stance called nage-no-uchi-ai, but Okinoumi just wilted over and down like a wet rag. Even Chiyonofuji in the booth said, "I thought the position favored Okinoumi in one." Yeah, it did, which is why the yaocho is an easy call here. There's no way a veteran with an outer grip goes down that easily against a rookie. Both dudes end the day at 9-5.

M6 Tokushoryu henka'd to his left against M16 Kagayaki, but he wasn't serious about a pull or slapdown and just squared his body back up with Kagayaki and allowed the rookie to push him back and out with no resistance. Way to try and mask the yaocho with a henka bro, but you need to "act" the entire bout, not just at the tachi-ai. Both rikishi end the day at 3-11, and Kagayaki's three wins have been two yaocho and a freebie due to the withdrawal of Endoh. Not the best debut to go on one's résumé.

M7 Tamawashi and M15 Homarefuji engaged in the expected tsuppari affair with Tamawashi taking charge thanks to his long arms of the law and timely shoves to the face, but as Homarefuji was driven back near the edge, you could just see Tamawashi think about the pull for an instant allowing Homarefuji to slip left, but in the end, Tamawashi thought better of it and resumed his tsuppari charge earning the tsuki-dashi win in the end. Tamawashi one-ups his foe record-wise at 5-9 while Homarefuji falls of course to 4-10.

M15 Kitataiki and M8 Takayasu hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai, but both kept their hips back and away from an outer grip. The two slow danced in this position for fifteen seconds or so before Takayasu finally succeeded in latching onto the right outer grip, but when he did, instead of setting up the normal yori charge or outer belt throw, he basically attempted a dashi-nage without the nage. In short, the bout went from Kitataiki having his back against the tawara to Takayasu turning the tables by placing himself in between Kitataiki and the edge without doing anything with the outer grip. With Takayasu now standing on the tawara, Kitataiki tried to push him across but Takayasu countered with a desperate sideways swipe that sent Kitataiki out before Takayasu stepped out. Afterwards they asked Takayasu about that move, and his explanation was that he was "kata-sugiru," or too tense. Takayasu picks up double-digit wins at 10-4 while Kitataiki's still got one more to go at 7-7.

M8 Myogiryu executed his usual tachi-ai going for his opponent's throat in an effort to make him stand tall, and M13 Takanoiwa's defense was half-assed at best. About two seconds in, Takanoiwa ducked down and offered his left arm forward as if to gain the inside position, but the emphasis should be on "ducked down" because Myogiryu just drove a tsuki into the back of Takanoiwa's left shoulder sending him to the clay with ease and more importantly keeping Myogiryu's kachi-koshi hopes alive at 7-7. Dare I suggest that Takanoiwa's move here was intentional. I believe I do. He's 9-5 after the loss.

M11 Amuuru and M9 Gagamaru charged with Gagamaru's left fist easily 20 cm off the ground (or 8 inches as we say in Utah), and it looked as if the Georgian held up thinking the bout would be called back, but everyone stayed quiet, and so Amuuru just slipped into moro-zashi and escorted Gagamaru back and across without argument. From the referee to the judges to the NHK Announcers, everyone stayed quiet about the false start non-call just to get this bout out of their hair I'm sure. Both fellas end the day at 7-7.

Finally, M10 Chiyootori attempted to keep M9 Sadanoumi at bay with a right paw to the neck, but it was timid allowing Sadanoumi to easily swipe it away, get the left arm to the inside, and then double-down with the right outer grip near the front of Chiyootori's belt, and Otori (4-10) was long gone by this point as Sadanoumi scored the methodic force-out win moving to 6-8 in the process.

Well, we are obviously on the brink of the first Japanese rikishi yusho in 10 years. I think...no...I hope we all feel a bit betrayed by the way it's played out over the last few days. It's not that any of us don't want to see a Japanese rikishi yusho; we just want to see it done properly, and we want to see it awarded to someone whose actually worthy to put together an entire tournament worthy of the yusho. We've all been numbed down over the years to accept the fact that rikishi will be given the yusho if they mostly do their part. Harumafuji's first yusho was the case; Baruto's first and only yusho was the case; and it was the same for Kakuryu and Terunofuji. We could clearly see that Terunofuji and all of the other guys were putting together performances worthy of a yusho, so okay...Hakuho steps aside for one day and gives it to them officially. Watching this basho play out, however, has been a travesty, and I just hope the scars created by giving Kotoshogiku the yusho (assuming he gets it) are worth having his portrait hanging in the rafters for the next six years...just to make the Association feel good about themselves. Job poorly done fellas.

Day 13 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
When Kotoshogiku beat Hakuho two days ago I took it in stride--what are you going to do? But I have to admit I emotionally expected Harumafuji to beat Kotoshogiku the next day and put the world back right side up. When that didn't happen, to my surprise, I finally felt depressed. The whole thing just seemed so farcical. I suppose I've been waiting for something like it to happen for years, but that means also I was in denial all those years about how deep the cheating runs. Why should I think this Kotoshogiku run is any worse than the dozens of other thrown key matches I've seen? Why should I think an engineered yusho for Kotoshogiku is any worse than the engineered yusho given to Terunofuji last year? But yes--it bothered me. It just seems so obvious. Kotoshogiku just isn't this good. Heck, even amongst our most critical commenters, as of this writing not one person has stood up to say the Kotoshogiku win over Hakuho was straight up. The whole thing just feels so overcooked. And so do I.

So, I prepared a whole different intro today, not the one you're reading, talking about how the tournament is a joke, so I might as well have some fun too. I had a Star-Wars-content sideshow report planned, all humor, little substance.

But then something happened, and I couldn't write that report. Let's talk about that thing.

O Kotoshogiku (12-0) vs. Toyonoshima (10-2)
Pre-match, these guys looked bored and far away to me, their faces sad. I thought, "yeah, even they can't believe everybody is actually going through with this thing." Then the match started. A simple little tachi-ai, both guys with their arms bundled up, not hitting too hard, bumping. Toyonoshima started moving backward, as expected. But then, in the blink of an eye, it was over, and it was Toyonoshima moving back and left while Kotoshogiku kept moving straight forward. A simple little tottari arm pull by Toyonoshima dumped Kotoshogiku, fresh off three easy defeats of Yokozuna, to the clay.

I couldn't believe it. I actually yelled out and did a double fist pump and rose half out of my chair. My brief euphoric feeling was, "so there is some good in the world after all!" An outpouring of relief that the travesty of a Kotoshogiku zensho would not happen. I'm still very happy about that.

But it's a funny thing. Our commenters have had n smart, spirited battle over the idea of whether the expectation that yaocho will happen makes a person think it did, whether it did or not: bias. It's a strong point, and something I try to guard against, but there is no doubt of its pull. Yes: I expected Kotoshogiku to win this, and would probably have suspected mukiryoku if he did. So by that logic I should celebrate this Toyonoshima win as (pre-determined by my biased viewpoint) legitimate. Yes?

But no. The more I watched the replays, the more THIS looked weak. Kotoshogiku didn't even try to move his arms at the end. He didn't turn. He didn't go for the belt. He just moved forward and fell down. Really? Really. This stuff will drive you crazy. Shall I construct a conspiracy theory for you? Shall I yell mea culpa and blue-sky cry, "holy lord, it's clean!" Shall I just try to ignore that this looked weird to me, chalk it up to my own imperfect knowledge, and describe the match as if it were normal?

No. I'm not going to go down any of those rabbit holes. I'm going to go back to the actual sumo: it looked to me like Kotoshogiku gave this one up. I suppose I should just do what I've been doing for years: accept it and move on. What do I know? What does it mean? I don't know. But I won't make an idiot of myself--or treat you like a fool--by pretending this looked right. I'm sure glad it happened, though.

Y Kakuryu (9-3) vs. Y Hakuho (11-1)
So, naturally, my interest was piqued for this one. Would THIS be thrown? This wasn't great sumo. It started with a cat slap by Hakuho, then weak effort from him as he was driven backwards. There were a couple of momentum shifts after that. The first got Hakuho back to the center. He then tried a throw while lifting Kakuryu up on the other side with his leg. When that didn't work, he tried a throw in the other direction which he finished off by holding back Kakuryu's knee with one hand and spun Kakuryu around to face away from him. After that Kakuryu was easy pickins; Hakuho walked him out okuri-dashi with no effort to resist from Kakuryu, even though he had half of the dohyo available to him. No, not pretty stuff at all. These guys looked to be going through the motions in a tournament so heavily compromised over the last few days it's hard to take any of it seriously.

Y Harumafuji (10-2) vs. O Kisenosato (7-5)
Which brought Harumafuji nominally back into the yusho race--anything truly could happen. Harumafuji rammed his head into Kisenosato so hard it made a popping sound like a Toyota hitting a rubber mat. That was the one and only move of the match: after that Harumafuji fell straight down to the ground like a log--I wondered if he's been knocked out or stunned--while Kisenosato was propelled backwards off of the dohyo. Instant replay clearly showed that Harumafuji hit the dirt before Kisenosato stepped down outside the ring, but the mono-ii resulted in a do-over, which was fair in spirit if not in literal fact: Kisenosato was well past the straw and flying.

On round two, it started with another identical impressive popping sound, their heads smacking together, again on Harumafuji's initiative. After that Kisenosato had nothing. While he was still thinking, "wow, he did that again?," Harumafuji was getting a deep left inside grip so fast nobody saw it until it was done, and the yori-kiri force out was immediate.

Which leaves us with a leaderboard like this:
Kotoshogiku, Hakuho 12-1
Harumafuji, Toyonoshima 11-2

Where it goes from here lord only knows, thank god--and I'm not sure I can do anything but shake my head. All righty then. Let's rewind to the beginning and see what else happened today.

M16 Kagayaki (2-10) vs. M11 Amuuru (5-7)
Amuuru did what you are supposed to do: get low and try to force your opponent upright. Like, 60 times. This took way too long against an opponent having a tournament this bad. Amuuru eventually got an okuri-dashi win, but he's looked a little tired this tournament.

M10 Chiyootori (4-5-3) vs. M15 Homarefuji (3-9)
Homarefuji came with a volley of lively, hard face hits, the best he's looked all tournament, and despite a long arm to the neck, Chiyootori was bent backwards and in trouble from the beginning in this oshi-dashi push-out win for Homarefuji.

M13 Takekaze (9-3) vs. M9 Gagamaru (6-6)
This was a serious size mismatch, and props to Takekaze for playing it straight up. However, it didn't work: Gagamaru didn't have to do much more than lean down on top of him, and soon crushed him out, oshi-taoshi.

M12 Chiyotairyu (7-5) vs. M8 Takayasu (9-3)
The good: Chiyotairyu hit hard and drove forward without trying to pull. The bad: Takayasu did try to pull. The ugly: Takayasu just kind of gave up, standing on the tawara waiting for Chiyotairyu to finish him off oshi-dashi, a guy on the street corner looking around for his bus.

M8 Myogiryu (5-7) vs. M15 Kitataiki (7-5)
Hard working bout here. Myogiryu quickly got both hands inside, moro-zashi, but it was extremely shallow, and Kitataiki had him pinched off at the wrists, "kime" style. Eventually, Myogiryu had to pull out of it and give Kitataiki a shove to get the oshi-dashi win.

M10 Mitakeumi (4-6-2) vs. M7 Tamawashi (4-8)
The Bully (Mitakeumi) came with some long-armed, reaching slaps, and fortunately for him, Tamawashi had pull on his mind, so Mitakeumi was able to get the body for a dominant hold after that and drive his opponent down and out, oshi-taoshi.

M13 Takanoiwa (9-3) vs. M6 Okinoumi (8-4)
Okinoumi went for an ultra-low sweep-up with his hands at the tachi-ai, and got better position underneath. Takanoiwa responded by hunching down, but took it too far; Okinoumi just responded by ceasing his forward pressure and springing an overhand throw trap for the uwate-nage win.

M14 Toyohibiki (7-5) vs. M5 Sokokurai (6-6)
Very good performance by Toyohibiki here, who brought an enormous post-tachi-ai push that completely overwhelmed Sokokurai. However, that wasn't the best part. Right at the end, Sokokurai had the presence of mind to move to the side, and in Toyohibiki's case, that is where he usually loses: once his forward momentum stops, he is easily beatable. Not this time. He responded by moving to the right with Sokokurai, albeit walking backwards into him, and knocking Sokokurai out sideways on the rare winning technique ushiro-motare, or "backwards lean out." It was sloppy and half by mistake but it was all Kerosene Burp needed.

M4 Kyokushuho (4-8) vs. M9 Sadanoumi (5-7)
Sadanoumi put his head down too far, didn't bring his feet forward, and was pulled down, hataki-komi.

M12 Shodai (8-4) vs. M2 Aoiyama (4-8)
Lest you think all the ridiculous nonsense in this tournament has embittered me to sumo, not so. This was a great one to look forward to: a sizable young guy having a good basho against a dynamic and powerful jo'i behemoth. Blue Mountain (Aoiyama) gave no quarter here. He started with shoves to the chest, and when that didn't work sufficiently, looked annoyed and switched to the face, which bent Shodai back consid'rble-like. Aoiyama moved forward and continued with the blasting, and knocked Shodai cleanly and emphatically off the dohyo in a very dominant display, tsuki-dashi. After the bout down off the clay, Shodai threw his head back for a few moments as if to say, "whoo! I'm not broken am I?" No. Just broken in.

M6 Tokushoryu (3-9) vs. M1 Shohozan (3-9)
Darth Hozan may be mean and wicked and all, but he doesn't belong at this rank. To save some semblance of honor, he needed to win this one: he had a relatively skills-free opponent, a big man also too high ranked. He needed to show what his fire can do even when outsized. He did win, but it was ugly: he tapped Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) on the shoulder as if to pull for a split second at the tachi-ai, then moved forward out of control, falling down as he pushed Sauce out, oshi-dashi. This guy was at juryo #6 just two tournaments ago, and he belongs probably around M12, and he'll get there soon enough.

M1 Aminishiki (5-6-1) vs. M4 Kotoyuki (7-5)
The battle for King Nasty. Will it be Kotoyuki, with his pre-bout theatrics, or Aminishiki, with his in-bout theatrics? Lo! Kotoyuki said "I'm King Nasty before, now, and forever, dude"--he out nasty'ed nasty, pulling out the instant in-bout theatrics, going the whole hog with a henka of The Master himself. Aminishiki tumbled to the ground, hataki-komi, and you've to enjoy the henka when it's employed in bouts by guys with histories like this. Fun stuff.

M3 Kaisei (3-9) vs. K Tochinoshin (5-7)
These guys went after it the old fashioned way, heavy and head to head. They got on each other's belts and went for a weight-lifting gold medal. Tochinoshin controlled it with an inside right grip, then in the end moved his hands up around the torso in order to take advantage of an opponent he'd stood sufficiently up, giving him the yori-kiri win. Could he still get his kachi-koshi? Let's hope so, because he's looking great.

K Ikioi (4-8) vs. S Ichinojo (1-11)
Ichinojo swept upwards with his hands off the tachi-ai, but didn't get much out of it, ending with one arm dangling and an outside grip on the other side. Ikioi, meanwhile, had to be pleased: he had both hands inside around the fatty uppers of Ichinojo. Ichinojo did eventually drape his other arm over as well, and worked with a seriously loose belt on Ikioi (when you're wearing your mawashi in your armpits, you need to have it tied tighter). And that was the way it stayed for a few minute, chest to chest. Tochiohzan did try a force out and had The Mongolith at the straw, but in this bout Ichinojo did everything he used to do well: looked heavy and simply impossible to get over that ten-foot-tall tawara, and leaned on his opponent long and hard to tire him out. Eventually, right at the end, he pulled one arm out in a maki-kae and got an inside grip of his own. Position now shored up, he was able to slide a spent Ikioi out, yori-kiri. There is no doubt this was a good match, but in the context of this tournament it served to remind us of weaknesses in both men: why couldn't Ikioi take down this vulnerable butter ball who has been so bad against nearly everybody else this tournament? And why has Ichinojo been so bad every day when he is capable of doing this?

M2 Takarafuji (7-5) vs. S Yoshikaze (6-6)
Ridiculous. Takarafuji just flailed around, came in too high, made weak attempts to grab the belt with uncommitted body and arms, and let himself be body-hit out at the end while standing waiting for the oshi-dashi at the tawara and not moving left or right. Ridiculous.

S Tochiohzan (5-7) vs. O Goeido (4-8)
Smack and drop. After a good hard tachi-ai, Tochiohzan was holding Goeido up with two hands to the inside, but then stepped slightly left while Goeido was trying to swipe him to the right with two hands: an odd looking move that left Goeido 100% wide open and vulnerable on his own right. No matter--it was academic as he dropped to the clay, hataki-komi. Didn't look natural. But why wouldn't it be? I don't know. But it didn't.

Mike fries up fresh bacon tomorrow.

Day 12 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Several times this basho I've mentioned a prop that's used as part of the elite referees' costumes: a dagger. If you watch closely, the referees who work the final bouts of the day will have a dagger stuffed into their sashes as you can see from the picture at right. In the early days of sumo, the elite referees would actually use the dagger to commit Harry Carry (as we say/spell it in Utah) if they ever botched a call that involved an elite rikishi. I've brought this up several times during the basho as the referees have made mistakes implying that watching such an episode of hara-kiri would be a lot cooler than watching the actual sumo in the ring these days, and while that comment is mostly in gest--mostly, Harumafuji entered the day 12 bouts with a virtual dagger tucked into the folds of his mawashi. With one fell swoop, Harumafuji had the power to disembowel the hopes of an entire nation, and so the largest question heading into the day was not whether or not Kotoshogiku could upset the Yokozuna, but would Harumafuji let it happen? I mean, I can't remember when I've anticipated a bout of sumo so much, and the actual content of the sumo incredibly had nothing to do with it!

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, however, let's review the leaderboard at the start of day 12:

11-0: Kotoshogiku
10-1: Hakuho, Harumafuji
9-2: Toyonoshima, Takayasu

Starting with the two-loss rikishi, M8 Takayasu kept his elbows out wide at the tachi-ai allowing M12 Shodai to gain the left inside, and even though the clear path was open for Takayasu to get his own left arm to the inside, he brought it out wide giving Shodai the advantageous moro-zashi position. Shodai sensed his advantage and immediately began to mount a charge, and Takayasu's response was a half-assed maki-kae attempt with the left arm, the same limb he could have gotten to the inside from the tachi-ai. With Takayasu having lost any momentum due to that maki-kae attempt, Shodai just bulldozed him back and out in like two seconds. Takayasu was completely mukiryoku here. Either mukiryoku or just plain stupid, but I'm sure it's the former. Nothing in his sumo made sense today, and for whatever reason, he allowed Shodai to skate to a kachi-koshi and an 8-4 mark. As for Takayasu, he falls to 9-3 with the loss, and he wasn't going to chase down the leaders and steal Kotoshogiku's thunder anyway, so it's all good in the end...except for the sumo.

Up next, M7 Toyonoshima needed to solve M5 Sokokurai today in order to keep pace with the leaders, and despite a horrible tachi-ai from both parties who were out of sync, Toyonoshima was able to get his right arm inside before just driving Sokokurai back and across without argument. And when I say without argument here, I mean that Sokokurai was completely mukiryoku and not that Toyonoshima's sumo was any good. First, this should have been called a false start, but I think the lazy tachi-ai from Sokokurai indicated his intentions from the beginning. I realize that Toyonoshima probably has the advantage anyway, but Sokokurai (6-6) did nothing here to dig in and defend, and he just walked backwards instead of moving right and attempting a tsuki-otoshi move that was available. Course, Sokokurai did attempt that oft-seen lift up your knee at the edge for no reason as depicted at left, so it might have been all straight up.  Who knows?  Anyway, Toyonoshima moves to 10-2 with the win, and it sets up a very interesting matchup between Toyonoshima and Kotoshogiku tomorrow. You old schoolers will know that those two were rivals all the way through the ranks. They both entered professional sumo exactly 14 years ago as Kotokikutsugi and Kajiwara, and they both achieved sekitori status a few years later one basho apart. Toyonoshima jumped out to the early lead in the rivalry taking the yusho in both Jonokuchi and Jonidan in his first two basho, and Toyonoshima also reached sekitori status first, but Kotoshogiku has overtaken him of course in recent years with his promotion to the Ozeki rank. The fact that these two are going to face each other on day 13 with serious yusho implications on the line was a good move by the Sumo Association.

Moving to the one-loss rikishi, Yokozuna Hakuho was ready to gift Ozeki Goeido the easy win today, but the Ozeki is so hapless that he completely whiffed on the offer. At the tachi-ai, Hakuho immediately put both hands up high and at the back of Goeido's head while aligning his feet wide apart as he shaded right, but Goeido was completely inept charging blindly straight forward and never once trying to adjust to his opponent's position. With Goeido already stumbling forward, Hakuho just offered a light shove to the Ozeki's left side that officially sent him down for good in an all-around ugly affair. Some may have classified this as a henka on the part of Hakuho, but he was absolutely giving Goeido an opening with that ugly tachi-ai. The end result is Hakuho's moving to 10-1 and Goeido's falling to 4-8 making his make-koshi official. Before we move on, I just need to comment on the dame-oshi that Harumafuji delivered to Goeido after their bout yesterday. You remember that HowDo just plowed the Ozeki back and out with zero resistance, and with Goeido standing there beyond the straw, Harumafuji nudged him with his right shoulder knocking him off the dohyo altogether. The move drew no criticism from the NHK Announcers as they watched the replays, and I didn't see any mention of it in the media. And for good reason because Goeido absolutely deserved it. Well, he actually deserved a harder shove that the Yokozuna gave him, but you cannot come into a tournament ranked as Ozeki and just stink it up as Goeido as done and not draw the ire of your peers. It's a Yokozuna's place to keep these guys honest, and I don't care what the race of the Yokozuna is. Harumafuji's giving him that dame-oshi was a clear message that people are just disgusted with Goeido's sumo of late.

Okay, with that off of my manly chest, let's turn to the featured bout of the day, Yokozuna Harumafuji vs. Ozeki Kotoshogiku. Harumafuji got the early left to the inside against Ozeki Kotoshogiku and had the clear path to the inside right a second in, which would have given him moro-zashi, but he pulled that right arm outside in a faux attempt to grab the outer belt in the next second. I say faux attempt because Harumafuji's right arm was right there in position to grab the solid right outer that would have pinched Kotoshogiku's left arm useless, but Harumafuji pulled away from that as well settling for the straight up hidari-yotsu position. I'll pause here and post pictures from the first two seconds of this bout, each of which shows the Yokozuna in a seemingly dominating position.  Once he pulled out of 1) moro-zashi, and 2) a stifling right outer grip, it was clear from this point which direction the match would take:

After refraining from the two dominant positions in the first few seconds of the bout as seen above, Harumafuji did what his fellow Mongolians did the two previous days, which was to play no defense and just wait for Kotoshogiku to make his move. Kotoshogiku undoubtedly sensed the Yokozuna's intentions at this point, and so he quickly made said move by bellying Harumafuji back near the edge before shifting gears and felling the Yokozuna with a right tsuki into Harumafuji's left side as easy as you please. Like yesterday, there was a smattering of zabuton thrown in the arena, but it was nothing like the Asashoryu - Kotooshu bout they showed early on in the basho. Look, the people know what's going on, and they know a true upset when they see it, and so a few people threw cushions at the prospect of the first Japanese yusho in 10 years, but I doubt anyone threw a cushion because they felt they had just witnessed a true upset. I mean, when was the last time any rikishi has beaten the three Yokozuna in the same basho much less on three consecutive days? The true surprise here is that the three Mongolians actually let it happen, not that Kotoshogiku achieved anything of his own accord.

After the bout, Yoshida Announcer excitedly called up to the booth from the back halls of the venue signaling he had an update. As if on cue, NHK coincidentally showed a replay of Hakuho in the hana-michi watching the match on one of the monitors, and right next to him was Yoshida Announcer just waiting to oil his way in for comment. With the image of Hakuho watching the bout, Yoshida Announcer eagerly reported that he asked Hakuho for his impression of Kotoshogiku's sumo, and the reply from the Yokozuna was, "Kanpeki ni chikai," or it was about as perfect as you can get. Fujii Announcer and Kitanofuji both chimed in that, "Yes, even the Yokozuna acknowledges how good his sumo is!"

A couple of seconds later, someone else called up to the booth and reported that they had tracked Harumafuji down and repeatedly asked him for his thoughts on the bout, but regardless of what they asked the Yokozuna, he would just reply with a sigh (nani wo kiite mo, tameiki). I mean, you couldn't script it any better than this, could you??

The end result is that Kotoshogiku stands atop the leaderboard at 12-0 trailed only by Hakuho with one loss and now Harumafuji and Toyonoshima with two losses. As mentioned, Kotoshogiku will get Toyonoshima tomorrow; he'll likely get Tochiohzan on Saturday; and then he should fight Goeido on senshuraku. It doesn't matter that the Ozeki is the underdog in two out of three of those bouts. What matters is that the Mongolians have graciously stepped aside and put everything in the hands of the Japanese rikishi, and I would be absolutely shocked if either Toyonoshima and/or Tochiohzan fought straight up the next two days.

With Kotoshogiku safely through, the final bout of the day was the last thing on anyone's mind, but if we must...
Yokozuna Kakuryu struck forward and low into Sekiwake Tochiohzan, and Tochiohzan's response was to go for the immediate pull. Bad decision as Kakuryu just charged straight forward pushing the Sekiwake back and out in about two seconds. Kakuryu is out of the yusho picture at 9-3 while Tochiohzan's back is up against the wall now at 5-7. I think you easily sacrifice kachi-koshi, though, for the first Japanese rikishi yusho in 10 years.

In other bouts of interest, Ozeki Kisenosato came with his usual bad tachi-ai where he's unable to establish something to the inside, but M3 Kaisei returned the favor with a lost charge of his own leaving both guys fiddling around for a few seconds before finally hooking up in hidari-yotsu. Kaisei played defense at this point content to just lean in on his opponent while extending his right arm towards Kisenosato's belt should the Ozeki happen to walk into it. After a 10 second stalemate, Kisenosato finally took charge demanding the right outer grip that came with just one fold of the belt, but it was enough to allow him to sure up his position and score the ultimate force-out in the end. This was a huge win for Kisenosato, who moves to 7-5, because he's got the three Mongolian Yokozuna the final three days. Let's see how graceful the Mongolians act, especially in light of forfeiting the yusho, but surely one of them will let Kisenosato slide through. As for Kaisei, he falls to a meaningless 3-9 record today and probably could have put up a better fight.

M1 Aminishiki henka'd to his left against Sekiwake Yoshikaze, and as the smaller Yoshikaze looked to recover and square back up, Aminishiki greeted him with yet another mammoth pull, this time swinging Yoshikaze around and down for good. Seems to me that the only way that Aminishiki can win this high on the banzuke is with a henka. He moves to 5-7 with the quick and dirty win while Yoshikaze falls to 6-6. Remember the good ole days of Sumotalk when a tachi-ai henka like this would get me riled up? Now I see a henka and go, "At least it wasn't yaocho!!"

Speaking of henka, M1 Shohozan's dark ways were on display today as he offered a slight shift to his left that threw Komusubi Tochinoshin off just enough to where Darth Hozan came outta the fray with the solid moro-zashi grip. Tochinoshin is no slouch, however, and latched onto Shohozan's belt with the left outer grip over the top, and the battle was on. You had the clearly superior rikishi, Tochinoshin, in a pickle from the tachi-ai, but could Shohozan overcome his opponent's strength and height advantage? After an entertaining twenty seconds or so where Shohozan attempted to keep Tochinoshin upright enough to score a force-out charge, the Komusubi's strength finally won out as Tochinoshin was able to dump Shohozan over and down near the edge with that left outer grip. Watch the way that Tochiohzan dug in here after giving up moro-zashi, and then contrast that to the three Yokozuna in their bouts against Kotoshogiku where they only gave up one arm to the inside. Tochinoshin is still alive at 5-7 while Shohozan falls to 3-9.

M2 Aoiyama made some sweet hissing sounds at the tachi-ai against Komusubi Ikioi, but his tsuppari were nowhere to be found, and with Aoiyama's arms high and out wide, Ikioi easily assumed moro-zashi. For his part, Aoiyama did move right and feign a right tsuki into Ikioi's left shoulder, but he was mukiryoku all the way allowing Ikioi to score the easy force out win in short order. Not sure what the yaocho implications were in this one as both guys fall to 4-8, but Aoiyama was mukiryoku.

M2 Takarafuji and M4 Kyokushuho hooked up immediately in the hidari-yotsu position where the better belt fighter, Takarafuji, grabbed the stifling right outer grip. Kyokushuho did well to counter with a right scoop throw that threw Takarafuji off balance briefly, but he was able to square back up and mount a successful charge leading with that right outer grip. I always enjoy a good belt contest like this one as Takarafuji moves to 7-5 eyeing at least one of the vacant Komusubi slots while Kyokushuho falls to 4-8.

At this point in the broadcast, they announced the retirement of former Makuuchi rikishi, Daido, whose claim to fame was of course being the brunt of many a dildo joke at the hands of former ST writers.

M7 Tamawashi shaded left using an inashi shove at the back of M3 Ichinojo's right arm to push the Slug off balance before Tamawashi just ducked inside and worked his left arm in deep before Ichinojo could straighten his body up and counter. I don't know if Ichinojo is so fat now that he can't move or if he's completely out of shape, but I think the Sumo Association should float us all a check to compensate us for being forced to watch this awful sumo. Tamawashi moves to 4-8 with the win while Ichinojo continues to flounder at 1-11.

In a compelling bout between two thrusters, M12 Chiyotairyu blasted M4 Kotoyuki off of the tachi-ai with a nice shove using the right arm, but he immediately shifted into pull mode from there attempting to pull down at Kotoyuki's extended arms, but as Chiyotairyu backed up thinking pull, Kotoyuki just plowed forward and had Chiyotairyu pushed out in seconds. After the bout with Chiyotairyu having been pushed off the dohyo altogether, Kotoyuki just stared at him as he walked back over to his side of the dohyo with this incredulous look on his face as if to say, "What are you...some kind of dumbass?" I'll answer that one as both rikishi end the day at 7-5. Yes!

M13 Takekaze greeted M6 Okinoumi with a shove at the tachi-ai before skirting out to his left throwing Okinoumi off balance with a really nice inashi shove at the back side of Okinoumi's right biceps area, and Okinoumi was so off balance, his only answer for Takekaze as he charged in tight was a pull threat with hands up high. Takekaze just laughed that threat off and easily pushed Okinoumi out in a matter of seconds moving to 9-3 in the process. Thank the gods that Kotoshogiku is still undefeated or Takekaze would actually be on the leaderboard! Okinoumi's recent slide continues as he falls to 8-4.

M15 Homarefuji shaded to his left at the tachi-ai against M6 Tokushoryu, who was never really able to recover trying to tsuppari his way back into the bout up high rather than trying to establish something to the inside, and so with Tokushoryu still flailing away, Homarefuji just continued to move left throwing Tokushoryu off balance enough to where Homarefuji just rushed in at the end and scored the push-out win. Ho hum as both dudes end the day at 3-9.

M8 Myogiryu has lost that spring in his step at the tachi-ai and went forward timid again today against M10 Chiyootori focusing a right arm into Otori's neck, but there were no de-ashi behind the attack, and so Chiyootori was able to easily get the left arm deep inside after a failed Myogiryu swipe downwards, and now chest to chest, the larger Chiyootori was able to belly Myogiryu upright and back across the straw with little argument. Wasn't Myogiryu a Sekiwake mainstay the last half of 2015? Dude's now dropped to 5-7 while Chiyootori fights to keep himself in the division at 4-8.

M13 Takanoiwa showed some serious stones burrowing deep into M9 Gagamaru's girth with the right inside, and then he fully committed to the chest to chest affair by grabbing the left outer grip. Before Gagamaru could settle in with a left outer of his own, Takanoiwa began testing the uwate-nage waters, and with Gagamaru hopping off balance near the edge, Takanoiwa was able to spill him to the dirt for the nifty win. Just think how many guys are afraid of going chest to chest against Gagamaru, so credit Takanoiwa who moves to 9-3 while Gagamaru drops to 6-6.

With M16 Kagayaki reeling, M9 Sadanoumi didn't need to do much, and so his forward-moving tachi-ai was half-assed because he was really looking for the opportunity to pull. With Kagayaki completely lost at the tachi-ai and arms out wide, Sadanoumi kind of nudged his shoulder into the rookie and then moved out right pulling the taller Kagayaki down by the shoulder in less than two seconds. Akinoshima should bring Wakanosato back to teach Kagayaki how to get to the inside from the tachi-ai because the kid will go nowhere with sumo like this. He's been awful as he falls to 2-10 while Sadanoumi stays alive at 5-7.

Just great, M10 Mitakeumi! With his make-koshi fate sealed, the youngster henka'd M14 Toyohibiki jumping out to his left in an attempt to grab the left outer grip, but it was a poorly executed move forcing Mitakeumi to man up and face Toyohibiki for reals. Luckily for him, Toyohibiki had no momentum from the tachi-ai, and so Mitakeumi was able to work his left arm to the inside and eventually work Toyohibiki around and down with a left scoop throw. I really wish Mitakeumi had lost this bout because I hate to see youngsters get rewarded for such poor sumo. Regardless, Mitakeumi moves to 4-8 while Toyohibiki falls to 7-5.

Finally, M15 Kitataiki and M11 Amuuru hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai where both combatants had a right outer grip, but it was Kitataiki who retooled his outer onto more folds of the belt and then used that to pinch in on Amuuru's inside position as he led the force out charge with the lower body pressing into Amuuru's left hip area. Normally, I'd favor the younger, taller rikishi in a gappuri belt contest, but Amuuru isn't exactly a chest to chest guy. Sure, I guess you could label him as a yotsu guy, but he's more of a mover laterally than he is a straight up yotsu guy, and that's why the veteran Kitataiki was able to school him from the gappuri yotsu position. Kitataiki is a step closer now at 7-5 while Amuuru falls to 5-7.

Well, we are on the brink of the first Japanese rikishi yusho in exactly 10 years.  It could come as early as Saturday, especially if Hakuho decided to give Kisenosato kachi-koshi.  I mean, it'd be a nice touch on things considering what we've seen the last few days.  There is incentive for Toyonoshima (rivalry) and Tochiohzan (kachi-koshi) to fight hard against Kotoshogiku, but I don't think you can afford another 2012 Natsu fiasco, so let's just get this over with so everyone can move on.

Harvye picks things up tomorrow.

Day 11 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
As everyone knows, there was only one match today. Dominant Yokozuna Hakuho came in 10-0, carrying the weight of 35 career yusho, all of them during the 59 tournament drought of zero native Japanese wins of the championship--one basho short of ten years. Kotoshogiku, aging Ozeki, never having won a tournament, also came in 10-0, creaky with the weight of four plus years at this rank, during which he's gone kadoban five times, won eight matches eight times, and won in double digits just seven times in 25 tries. It was David against Goliath, or Goliath against David. Let's waste no further time.


O Kotoshogiku (10-0) vs. Y Hakuho (10-0)
41 banners marched by during the work up for this, while the crowd ate it up, loving it especially when Kotoshogiku did his patented pre-match "here I am" back stretch. That's almost one banner for each of the 46 times Hakuho has beaten Kotoshogiku, and more than ten banners for each of the four wins for Kotoshogiku in their series. For his part, Hakuho marched nonchalantly about. Here we go. The tachi-ai was cat quick for both men, with Hakuho offering two hands high and tight, then bringing them to the outside for a hold around the upper body, while Kotoshogiku concentrated on getting inside, and had a snap hold immediately, a left inside and a right out. Neither man would ever get a belt; within one second they both had upper body holds, with Hakuho in the slightly higher position, being much taller. Sensing his advantage, Kotoshogiku swiftly began the intense and fiery gaburi body-humping we've seen from him years ago at his best, and again often in this tournament, especially over the last few days. From here, Hakuho was essentially along for a ride, making ineffectual reaches for the belt, mostly just hanging on. There was one slight direction shift; Hakuho, backed towards the edge but still with room, did his resistance-hops in such a way as to spin them 180 degrees to face the other direction. However, this was no change in momentum and the basics of the match--Kotoshogiku body-humping furiously, Hakuho resisting--were consistent throughout. Backed to the tawara at the other side, Hakuho mounted no lateral evasion; Kotoshogiku sealed the deal by pulling his right arm out at the very end and applying his hand to Hakuho's chest for a shove that sent Hakuho gently over the edge and jumping nimbly into the crowd, defeated by force-out, yori-kiri, while the cushions began to rain down (though not as many as I expected). Hakuho turned back to the dohyo, put both hands on it, and leaned forward, as if to feign disappointment, and concern about where his sumo is going.

So the inevitable questions arise. Was this mukiryoku? My view on the question is there above, but I've tried to leave it as Hakuho left it--muted and hidden. The match was skillfully done by both rikishi; this was a good looking and, for those with a mild and passing interest, exciting win for Kotoshogiku. It did not make me gnash my teeth or tear out my hair; it is too much par for the course of late to get upset over or even be very much surprised about. However, I too lean on the dohyo in concern, wondering where the sport goes from here. There will now be four days of chase; the yusho is not in the bag yet, and there could easily still be a Hakuho or, more likely, Harumafuji victory--they are one match off the pace, and Harumafuji controls his own destiny as he plays Kotoshogiku tomorrow. But the cement shoes of the basho seem to be setting, and the symbolism is too ripe not to notice: the ten years weigh heavily. Most ozeki get at least one career yusho; Kotoshogiku is getting a little old for his--so what a perfect time for him to get it? If you look it at that way. Which I don't and won't. I will be rooting hard for Harumafuji against Kotoshogiku--in a grim and resigned way.

The Storyteller lost; I don't like this chapter of his book. But his themes are consistent, his tone impeccable, and his protagonist picked. You will and no doubt already have made your own decision--some of our very sharp commenters have been clear already, and know their stuff--but for me, sumo remains about what it has been about for many a year now: the decision by the Storyteller and his acolytes whether they will win or not. The remaining days offer more of that action.

Meanwhile, as always, I'll enjoy the lower bouts. We'll get to those in a minute, but first let's cover Harumafuji as he pursues the pace.


Y Harumafuji (9-1) vs. O Goeido (4-6)
Harumafuji's tachi-ai was slow and he was reaching in a bit timidly for the belt; Goeido was staying lower and doing the same, and I thought Harumafuji might lose. However, Goeido's arms were too short, and he got nowhere near the grip he needed, and not fast enough. After a second of this, Harumafuji gave up on it and changed his approach, bringing his arms up and around, and blasted Goeido emphatically out of the ring, oshi-dashi. Goeido, at 4-7, is spitted for roasting, but Harumafuji, at a dominant and enjoyable 10-1, will get to decide tomorrow how to approach Kotoshogiku. A win gives us a wild three man race for the yusho (him, Hakuho, and Kotoshogiku all at 11-1). A loss probably wraps it up for the Ozeki for three days of marching to glorious victory. A ticker tape parade.

For now, though, Harumafuji is a fierce and dominant rikishi with a will of his own who, for the second day in row, only barely resisted a dame-oshi of his already beaten foe into the first few rows of the crowd. Today it was with his elbow that quivered in readiness; unleash his will and it wreaks destruction. Let's see if he unleashes it tomorrow.

Okay, let's start over at the beginning. Ah!

M13 Takanoiwa (7-3) vs. M11 Amuuru (5-5)
Aside from one ill-advised head pull early on, Takanoiwa was in the zone for this one, working hard and with sufficient reserve to keep his head; they worked for each other's belts, but the key was a pull-out from an unfavorable position for a new grip by Takanoiwa followed by him dragging an unbalanced and overcommitted Amuuru around by the belt for a kote-nage sling down.

15 Homarefuji (1-9) vs. M10 Mitakeumi (3-5-2)
Glad to see Mitakeumi back from the flu--that'll teach him to take a dare from Aminishiki and eat a whole bowl of vomited-in chankonabe!--but sad to see him henka'ed by a guy 1-9 and already guaranteed demotion to Juryo. After that it was a very easy oshi-dashi win against an admittedly rusty and tired looking opponent by Homarefuji. They should just ban the henka, same way as they ban false starts. Easy to do, easy to enforce, done. I'll work my way into Hakkaku's inner circle and get this done, folks, just give me a couple of years.

M10 Chiyootori (3-4-3) vs. M12 Shodai (6-4)
With shades of Kakizoe, Shodai put both fists on the ground and waited. However, though he did a good job of trying to wrench Chiyootori up on the left side, Chiyootori had the better, lower position, and was working him steadily back. At the tawara, Shodai showed his signature "I'm not a veteran" veteran presence, stepping to the side with a surprisingly effective lateral shove at Chiyootori that caused the bigger man to just barely step out, one toe brushing the dirt as recalibrated, too late, at the edge. They kept fighting--I didn't see the toe-out at first and probably neither did they--and Shodai was much too easily removed immediately thereafter by a quickly recovering Chiyootori, but the (oddly designated) tsuki-otoshi win for Shodai had already been called.

M16 Kagayaki (2-8) vs. M9 Gagamaru (5-5)
I thought this was one Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) could handle, as Gagamaru's slow pace could lend itself to Kagayaki's passionless sumo, and at first that looked to be the case as Mosquito was driving Lord Gaga backwards, but near the edge Gagamaru simply unloaded with a right arm to the side and dumped the Mosquito unceremoniously to the clay, tsuki-otoshi. Another bad loss for this unfortunate rookie.

M9 Sadanoumi (4-6) vs. M15 Kitataiki (5-5)
Nice chest to chest stuff here by two gamely straining rikishi, but Sadanoumi was outclassed by a deep, superior right outer / left inner hold by Kitataiki for the nice yori-kiri win. Time for Sadanoumi to reload.

M14 Toyohibiki (7-3) vs. M8 Takayasu (8-2)
Normally guys beat Toyohibiki at the edge when he runs out of gas on his forward charge, but Takayasu is so much the better wrestler he didn't need that; he stopped Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki) in his tracks off the tachi-ai, then dropped him disdainfully with a masterful uwate-nage overhand throw. Nice work from here by Takayasu as thus far throughout the fortnight.

M8 Myogiryu (4-6) vs. M13 Takekaze (8-2)
This one should have had some intensity, as Takekaze has a chance to close in on a special prize and Myogiryu has only a little more time if he wants to recover from an inferior tournament and pull out a kachi-koshi, or winning record. However, they both looked half there on the first go round, with Myogiryu forcing Takekaze out as he fell to the dirt, so I was glad they called for a do-over: too close to call whether Takekaze's step out or Myogiryu's belly flop out came first. They were little better the second time though, trading slow motion ineffectual slaps. Takekaze, true to form, went for a pull, and that was the mistake Myogiryu needed to move in close and push him out, oshi-dashi.

M7 Toyonoshima (8-2) vs. M12 Chiyotairyu (7-3)
Simple one: one hard slap off the tachi-ai, then Toyonoshima pulled the post-tachi-ai henka, moving out back and left, and Chiyotairyu fell to the dirt on his momentum line, tsuki-otoshi. On the one hand, disappointing strategy from an excellent rikishi, Toyonoshima. On the other hand, what can Chiyotairyu expect? Mike and I are constantly on him for doing too much pulling and not moving consistently forward, as he has a very powerful attack. However, it's not quite fair, because what I've seen over the last few basho is that against the better guys it doesn't work--they just evade and beat him. This was well planned in advance by Toyonoshima, seamlessly executed, and a very obvious and easy way to defeat a guy whose attack is one dimensional. I'm not sure where Chiyotairyu goes from here. Mixing in pulls is clearly not the answer, but to be honest and fair, simple blast-em' sumo also can't be the answer.

M6 Okinoumi (8-2) vs. M5 Sokokurai (5-5)
Lake Placid's (Okinoumi's) characteristic lack of fire cost him here. After a sufficiently contactful tachi-ai, there came a moment of separation where they stared at each other, Lake Placid waiting for Sokokurai to make his move. And that he did, moving sharply in and getting a lower position. Placid needed to take the initiative there and force his size advantage. Not having done so, he was now helpless. Big and strong, it did not happen right away, but you could see he was struggling: too high up, he just couldn't get any pressure or grip. He tried a maki-kae but looked rather pathetic, just a guy wiggling his arms, as Sokokurai had him wrapped up and soon completed the flawless yori-kiri win. Sometimes when you're watching the bigger, better guy's mistakes you miss the lesser guy's determined, smooth, technical win. Sokokurai is holding his own well this tournament, and I'm curious to see what he could do in the jo'i. It will be a struggle, but he'll struggle well.

M3 Ichinojo (1-9) vs. M6 Tokushoryu (2-8)
Right now Ichinojo has nothing, and he was thoroughly schooled here by a bad wrestler having an awful tournament. Well, that makes two of them. These guys have similar advantages--size and girth--and similar weaknesses--slow moving, un-dynamic sumo that leaves them vulnerable to easy manipulation because of their unwieldy size. Being the bigger of the two, Ichinojo should have had the advantage. Instead, Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) deaked him repeatedly in the face, kept him at bay and upright, and then stepped easily to the side when the moment was right, turning to usher Ichinojo out for the very easy okuri-dashi ("send-out," but I like to think of it as "escort out") win. I have been down on Ichinojo, thinking his best shot now is to have a long high Maegashira career of slow wins like Kotonowaka, but at this point he's so lost and without an effective attack that he's going to have to rethink things to do even that. He has looked absolutely terrible this tournament, and little better for many months, and a stint in low Maegashira to see if he can gather any focus is just what he needs.

M7 Tamawashi (3-7) vs. M2 Aoiyama (3-7)
Prediction: win for Aoiyama. As I said yesterday, now that we're in the second week and his opponents are both politically and technically beatable, he's cleaning up. He looked like an Ozeki here; he went for a two-arms hold-and-push instead of his trademark meat thrusts, and it worked just fine as Tamawashi, despite his excellent konjo (fighting spirit), was pushed quickly out, oshi-dashi, finished off by some smothering face and body shoves at the edge.

M1 Aminishiki (3-6-1) vs. M1 Shohozan (3-7)
Someone in the comments was asking for more credit for Aminishiki, and let me give some: I respect his style and love this guy often. Not always, but often. Objectively, his long and tenacious career shows him by far the better wrestler than upstart yo-yo Shohozan, so it was very satisfying to see him school him here. They are equally ranked this tournament, but miles apart in terms of presence and average level of day-to-day skill. Darth Hozan went for volley of angry, biting face slaps, but Aminishiki just weathered it, then pulled his man forward and down, hataki-komi, like a guy walking to work in a rainstorm and making sure to tip his umbrella into the rain. Wait, did I just praise pull sumo? Yes. You don't get a 15 year Makuuchi career without knowing what you're doing out there, and Aminishiki knows how to win. If there was less pulling in the upper division in general, we'd celebrate this kind of beautiful use of an opponent's weaknesses. Beautiful stuff from Aminishiki--this is allowed by the rules, and he did it perfectly.

M4 Kotoyuki (6-4) vs. K Tochinoshin (3-7)
I was looking forward to this: Kotoyuki is the true rising star right now (give Shodai time), and Tochinoshin is the most improved wrestler of 2015/16 and probably the fifth best guy on the banzuke right now. This was power shoves vs. belt strength, and was a great demonstration in practice of how those techniques balance out for these guys right now. Tochinoshin let Kotoyuki dictate the pace early, kept off the belt and battered hard by Kotoyuki. Tochinoshin went at it with him, but was at a disadvantage as he let Kotoyuki play to his strength. However, to his credit, Tochinoshin in the end let Kotoyuki advance onto him, but didn't move back himself; suddenly those face slaps were hitting the air behind his head, and Tochinoshin found himself inside with grips on the body. Now they were playing HIS game, and he dominated from there, getting the yori-kiri win. This should be a lesson to Kotoyuki: like Tochinoshin did here, he is going to have to be able to develop and respond to other techniques than his own, or the best guys are going to work him hard.

K Ikioi (3-7) vs. M2 Takarafuji (5-5)
I'm not an Ikioi believer, and this looked very, very easy for Takarafuji. He put both fists on the ground, waited, absorbed Ikioi's slightly hyperactive attack, got a hold of him, waited to see where it was going and whether he had an opening, discovered he did, and flung his struggling opponent to the clay, sukui-nage. I don't like his passive sumo--too much waiting, even here--but this is a good example of how much strength and technique Takarafuji can bring to bear, which he should demonstrate more often.

S Tochiohzan (4-6) vs. M4 Kyokushuho (4-6)
Remember how I praised Aminishiki for his pull a few moments ago? In this one, Kyokushuho demonstrated the limits of the move. It is not his forte, and he was facing a superior rikishi, and in those conditions, a pull is not going to save you. Very simple stuff: Tochiohzan drove forward, Kyokushuho went up top for a linear pull, and Tochiohzan just kept moving his de-ashi forward and drove his opponent out, oshi-dashi. Like Kotoyuki and Sokokurai, Kyokushuho is one of your quietly rising, not too bad mid-Maegashira who may make a sanyaku appearance before long, and this hasn't been a bad tournament for him, but like Kotoyuki today he got worked by a superior opponent who's see it all. Kyokushuho is Tamawashi a few years later.

O Kisenosato (6-4) vs. S Yoshikaze (5-5)
In this match Kisenosato displayed all his weaknesses, and I will not bleat in his favor today. Open at the tachi-ai, he let Yoshikaze get in on him and dictate the pace with slaps and shoves. Not sufficiently reactive in the ring, he came up with no effective defensive response or shift of the bout's momentum. In trouble, he began to lean hard forward, to grip for Yoshikaze's body and try to force the bout to yori-kiri, but he was slow and ham-handed, and Yoshikaze capitalized by ripping him forward to the ground, kata-sukashi. All right, so we're near guaranteed another sanyaku tournament by Yoshikaze. I'll admit it's been a blast to watch him go hard day in, day out--a poor man's Asashoryu minus the speed, power, and charisma--so I'll relax and enjoy it.

Y Kakuryu (7-3) vs. M3 Kaisei (3-7)
Kakuryu has been in his normal role of "also ran" this tournament, but he was calm and solid here. He worked low and in for the belt, didn't like his position enough, pulled out, considered and rejected a pull, then dove back into the fleshy nethers, this time getting two arms around the body, from where he worked the befuddled Kaisei, who was reaching over the top for long, fruitless belt trys, out for a yori-kiri win. Kaisei does not have the speed or focus to beat opponents of this caliber when they are trying.

Mike burns down this house tomorrow.

Day 10 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Both in his pre-basho report and his podcast, Mike predicted 2016 would be much like 2015. So far that is much the case. Yes, we have developments--the withdrawal of Terunofuji raises questions about his immediate and long-term future that didn't exist when he was cleaning up the field in July of last year. Mitakeumi's temporary withdrawal (back tomorrow, though) and Kagayaki's terrible performance take some air out of the Three Young Guns (Mitakeumi, Shodai, Kagayaki) storyline that has foreign audiences, including me, perked up a bit.

However, the only real storyline remains Hakuho: will he, or won't he? Despite his wild and often deliberately undisciplined sumo, so far it appears he will take the yusho and remind everyone he is still The Storyteller. Harumafuji and Kakuryu remain just behind him, at one and two losses respectively, to vulture up the yusho should Hakuho falter. This is essentially the same as every 2015 tournament. Kotoshogiku's presence on the yusho line, coming in undefeated with Hakuho at 9-0, is also par for the course. Though usually it is Kisenosato in this position of threatening for the yusho, we've seen hot starts from Kotoshogiku and others in the past as well.

There has been little discussion in these pages of the change in Sumo Association leadership from the death of hallowed former Yokozuna Kitanoumi to the inauguration of hallowed former Yokozuna Hakkaku. That is because there is little to discuss: Hakkaku is cut from the same cloth as Kitanoumi, and offers no change of direction, style, or tone. The smooth transition from one traditional, old-style leader to another is meant to reassure: all is well, no change in the offing--sorely as it might be needed.

But! I've proved a very bad predictor in the past, so it is worth saying that if Kotoshogiku wins this tournament, things will indeed be different. I agree with those who say that he has looked much better this time around, with an unaccustomed vigor to his hump 'n' dump. But there have been at least three matches so far where his opponents looked to be sapping their own strength. Hence, if Kotoshogiku is allowed to take the yusho off of a performance like this, it will signal that things have changed after all: an unwelcome willingness to be more aggressive in creating fan-pleasing outcomes. I don't expect that to happen--we have a phantom challenge from a native son pretty much each and every basho, all of which have come to naught for ten years running--but there is tingle of uneasy excitement yet again around the possibility of "what if it really did happen?" Here are the remaining legitimate contenders for the championship this basho:

Hakuho, Kotoshogiku: 9-0
Harumafuji: 8-1
Kakuryu: 7-2

Let's handle those first; all fought in the last three bouts of the day.


Y Kakuryu (7-2) vs. O Kotoshogiku (9-0)
The surging Kotoshogiku got his first taste of the Yokozuna line-up today, and against someone he's fared well with in the past, winning 18 of 38 match-ups. He rocketed up and under and in close, getting inside on Kakuryu's open right, then began to intensely hump; his insistence was rewarded as Kakuryu, helplessly dangling on him in an upright position, was pushed back and swiftly out with no apparent chance for evasion to the side for the impressive yori-kiri win for the Geeku. The key to this one was the hard-smacking tachi-ai in which Kotoshogiku got in position to keep his opponent's arms high and useless. Kotoshogiku continues to be a fiery and confident presence this basho, and looked good here. The intrigue continues.

M3 Kaisei (3-6) vs. Y Hakuho (9-0)
Kaisei is no match for Hakuho and came in winless against him in six tries. His static tactics on the dohyo leave him vulnerable to the speed and ability to switch techniques the Yokozuna has. Also, Kaisei has no tools to take advantage if Hakuho plays around: he isn't quick enough. Finally, even if Hakuho fights to Kaisei's strength and they get in a body battle where this heavy behemoth leans on him, we all know Hakuho has too much power for that to be a safe strategy for Kaisei: Hakuho has the power to roll him. Hakuho brought his beautiful best here. He went back to the old standard: he leapt immediately in for an outer left and an inside right grip against this slow-moving opponent; sensing better leverage, he then changed to a right outer grip, but one so intimate it squashed Kaisei's left arm against his chest and gave the big man no advantage. Hakuho then changed again on that side, going back inside, this time on the body, pushing up at the armpit. Finally, as Kaisei was, at least, stubbornly hard to move, being heavy and all, Hakuho showed us what he can do, something a match against a roly-poly like this begs for: he up and uwate-nage'd him. It wasn't easy--it's a large load to lift--but this is the strength that allows him to own this rank, and the Yokozuna tipped this milk cow with the inevitability of a meat-factory brain-hammer for the cow. Loved it.

Y Harumafuji (8-1) vs. S Tochiohzan (4-5)
Hatsu 2016 is looking just like Kyushu 2015 for 'Maf: weak, shaky start with an early loss that tempted me to write him off, followed by a string of dominant performances featuring an electricity Hakuho has lacked of late, leaving 'Maf one off the pace as we go into the home stretch. If he wins this basho, it may be the beginning of The Year of Harumafuji, but he has some work to do yet. His first job was to see what he could do with Japan's best, Tochiohzan. 'Maf hit him so hard off the tachi-ai his own feet slipped out from under him backwards, and he was lucky to recover, but it worked on the front end: Tochiohzan was slipping his hands in towards moro-zashi, but 'Maf's impact was so forceful he was driven back off it. The sound of this tachi-ai was unique: a clean, loud slap, all done with the hands, sharp and crisp. It was also classic sloppy Harumafuji: he went all out, and it almost cost him--but it left us shaking our heads at his sheer raw ability. After this, Chestnut (Tochiohzan) was already compromised: up high and moving the wrong direction. So, he tried a little slap-down pull, but it was nearly invisible and 100% useless, as 'Maf had recovered from his foot slippage, and his second forward-moving shove ended the match, oshi-dashi. 'Maf was so keyed up his hands were still in thrust mode after it ended--there was a bit of comedy as he pulled the power from his hands just in time to leave him giving Tochiohzan's cheek a nice, cradling caress at the salt basket. Ah, romance. 'Maf remains one off the pace.

With the legitimate leader board done, let's look briefly at the...


M16 Kagayaki (2-7) vs. J3 Daieisho (5-4)
What is Endoh without the hype? Kagayaki: a powerless, befuddled bottom-dweller on his way down to Juryo, fighting straight up but just getting creamed doing it. Give Daieisho full credit: his attack was immediate, intense, and effective, with two stun-gun neck-thrusts, delivered from low and inside, like a logger holding up and then knocking back a falling tree, giving Daieisho the immediate tsuki-taoshi win. Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) has spent the entire tournament in the bug lantern, and is hereby officially demoted from the Young Guns.

M15 Kitataiki (5-4) vs. M12 Shodai 5-4)
I thought this was a good test for Shodai. Kitataiki is past his prime but is no pushover and knows a thing or two about sumo. The most noteworthy aspect of Shodai's sumo this tournament has been the depth of his calm and his smooth ring sense: time and again his sumo has been unremarkable, but his poise and response to pressure effective. This bodes well for him. He was in control throughout this match, and demonstrated impressive power. He brought his two forearms up like the tongs of a forklift, and impaled Kitataiki on them with dual inside penetration as he forced him back. He then reversed direction and turned and swung Kitataiki about on the ends of those forearms like a Raggedy Andy doll, slinging him off the clay platform for a very convincing sukui-nage win. I won't make predictions or overhype him, but let me put it plain and simple: his excellent sumo makes his matches a lot of fun to watch.

With the main events covered, back to the start for the rest of the matches.

M12 Chiyotairyu (6-3) vs. M15 Homarefuji (1-8)
These two guys have opposite momentum paths right now, and give Chiyotairyu--oft criticized for being mentally weak--credit for reading that and going for a "no-fear" linear force out of this wilted foe. This two second tsuki-dashi dismantling is all to the good, but the test for Chiyotairyu will be whether he will stick to these powerful guns once he goes higher--and if he does whether the simplicity of his attack will remain effective against better wrestlers. For now, props.

M13 Takekaze (7-2) vs. M11 Amuuru (5-4)
These two went hard at the tachi-ai; Takekaze got both hands tight and inside against Amuuru's sternum; he then backed up a little and Amuuru just fell down, hiki-otoshi. Either Amuuru's knee gave out, he slipped (though I didn't see that), or he wants to help Takekaze win a special prize. Let's move right along.

M14 Toyohibiki (7-2) vs. M9 Gagamaru (4-5)
Two round pushers. Gagamaru won this battle of similar styles by adding evasion to the mix: they were holding on to each other's arms off the tachi-ai, and it looked like a straight oshi battle, but Lord Gaga pulled out an arm with a smooth maki-kae, moved lightly to the side, and threw Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki) down kote-nage, using Kerosene's own momentum against him.

M13 Takanoiwa (7-2) vs. M8 Takayasu (7-2)
Takanoiwa is by far the lesser wrestler, and needed to play this one perfectly to win. He made good on that at the beginning, keeping his derriere back, his torso low, and forcing up Takayasu's arms. However, Takayasu is skilled and no dummy, and he risked enough backwards movement to wrench free of Takanoiwa's grip. Once accomplished, that left him plenty of time and space to bait, hunt, and kill an unmoored Takanoiwa, hataki-komi.

M7 Toyonoshima (7-2) vs. M9 Sadanoumi (4-5)
Perhaps I don't like change or have a bit of crusty front-runnerism in me, as I do dearly love to see the old vets do well. What a pleasure it has been to see Tugboat (Toyonoshima) bully opponents around with that stick-outy belly of his this tournament. He made Sadanoumi look like a weak blotch of nothing. Tugboat lurched off the tachi-ai into a good body-hold. Finding himself in moro-zashi, Toyonoshima then bounded forward like a low fat frog for an easy yori-kiri win. Sadanoumi was so open at the tachi-ai here I wonder if he and Amuuru have a wager on whether Takekaze or Tugboat is a better candidate for a special prize.

M10 Chiyootori (3-3-3) vs. M7 Tamawashi (2-7)
Bouncy Butt (Chiyootori) tried to follow my simple doctrine: he was nice and low. Tamawashi had the same plan--good for him!--but Bouncy was moving forward better and had him on the run. Bouncy was almost felled from above, but having good forward moving feet allowed him to recover. He then went for a pull-down. Instantly Tamawashi, who I respect as a technician, was on him and drove him back; Tamawashi finally won by getting hold of Bouncy's arms, now two low, and pulling them down to the dirt, hiki-otoshi, but this loss was all set up by Bouncy's pull attempt.

M4 Kyokushuho (3-6) vs. M8 Myogiryu (4-5)
Myogiryu's game is fast, intense attacks that leave his opponent no room to breathe, think, or move. He went with that approach, but made two fatal mistakes. He got Kyok' near the tawara, but paused, letting up just a split second that let his opponent get back in the match. Then, when Kyok subsequently drove the action back to the middle, Myog' tried a quick pull with evasion. It didn't work, and led to a pull from Kyok' that did work, sending Myog' to the clay while Kyok' pivoted on the tawara for a hataki-komi nick-of-time win (could have been a mono-ii, but the gyoji got this right).

M2 Takarafuji (5-4) vs. M4 Kotoyuki (5-4)
You could not have a better contrast in passive vs. aggressive styles. I've never liked Takarafuji's passive work, and my grudging admiration for Kotoyuki's aggressive no-nonsense sumo made me sense he had the advantage here. In fact, he completely worked Takarafuji in a lopsided affair that saw him drive his inactive, reactive foe around the ring at will until Takarafuji stepped lazily out at the end, all done, oshi-dashi. It's my opinion that aside from Aoiyama there's no one for giving up bouts like Mr. Wait-For-A-Mistake, Takarafuji, but then again maybe I just don't get his sumo, and what looks like mukiryoku to me is just his ineffective passive approach. Dunno. Meanwhile, don't look now, but Kotoyuki is demanding a solid position in the jo'i.

M6 Tokushoryu (2-7) vs. M2 Aoiyama (2-7)
Yaocho doubters please skip to the next match. On the topic of Aoiyama's mukiryoku, let's spend a little bit of time. See if you think my hat is tin foil or a green bookie's visor. Aoiyama started out 0-7, giving up matches right and left as, out of his M2 slot, he got a steady diet of top-ranked guys. All seven losses were to the four dominant Mongolians or to guys who the fans and Association like to see win right now. Here is the roster: Goeido, Yoshikaze, Harumafuji, Terunofuji, Hakuho, Kakuryu, Kotoshogiku However, once he got to 0-7 and started fighting guys like Tokushoryu, we're seeing a totally different wrestler. The three wins (yes, he wins today): Aminishiki, Kisenosato (yes, Kisenosato--at 5-3 the guy was already limp and out of the yusho race, but in little danger of make-koshi, so fair game), Tokushoryu. All dominant wins. He's a mafia soldier who hopes someday to be promoted to capo if he plays nice for enough years. I hope we get to see that promotion, because when he bring the meat, it drips with bloody gravy juice. Special Sauce (Tokushoryu), the worst too-fat, immobile butter-ball in the upper division, was helpless against Aoiyama's ruckfudder armed annihilation aggression, and lost in seconds, oshi-dashi.

M1 Aminishiki (3-5-1) vs. M5 Sokokurai (4-5)
Ami played this one straight up at first, and as It's Dark There (Sokokurai) is an underrated, tenacious dude with moxy, that didn't work very well. Finding the pressure intense, Ami decided a little horseplay was called for, and pulled down Dark's head, distracting him long enough to let Ami get inside with both arms and on the belt. Give Dark credit: he kept on working at it, evading and twisting, and though they both fell down at the same time, the judge pointed to Dark for the kote-nage win. He's a fun dude.

K Ikioi (3-6) vs. M1 Shohozan (2-7)
Whamma blamma bang bang bang! Darth Hozan went for nuclear-strike-force thrust-and-slap intensity, and it worked: Ikioi was helpless and lost, oshi-dashi. They're both over-ranked this tournament and their records show it, but then again I was surprised when I saw their records because they've shown well in their losses.

M3 Ichinojo (1-8) vs. K Tochinoshin (2-7)
I went camping in a big canvas tent on a rise in the Tanzanian bush once, and down in the ravine at dusk some lions sent up some rippling, echoing roars in the dimming light. It didn't sound like a cheesy movie roar of rage--it sounded like something unnatural tearing the air, ripping a hole in the fabric of existence and letting the void in. Tochinoshin, given more decibels and some sustain, sounds ready to go down into the ravine and test his will. He and the Mongolith (Ichinojo) hooked up with dual right-inside, left-outside grips for a classic sumo belt battle, but Lion-no-shin rent the atmosphere with grunt-growls of all-out effort. Slug (Ichinojo) seemed to mostly just hold on, and "being heavy" is not a winning technique, so eventually Lion lifted him out, yori-kiri, after lots of heavy roaring, and dined on his flesh.

M6 Okinoumi (7-2) vs. S Yoshikaze (5-4)
Another contrast-in-styles battle here, Lake Placid (Okinoumi) vs. The Possessed (Yoshikaze). Love it. Smartly, Placid decided to dial it up to eleven. Normally, it is not in your interests to play your opponent's game. However, "placid" is not a nick-name of flattery, but criticism--if Okinoumi's style is as smooth and bland as wonder bread, that's a bad thing. The real way to play into Yoshikaze's hands would be to be placid, and let him school you with corresponding focus and energy. Instead, Okinoumi went fast and hard, and with his superior size, his battering thrusts and forward motion overwhelmed Yoshikaze for an impressive oshi-taoshi victory. If he brought the same stuff he brought today more often, he wouldn't get slaughtered at Komusubi like he will next tournament.

O Kisenosato (5-4) vs. O Goeido (4-5)
Let me close out with one more attempt to try to bring balance to our Kisenosato analysis. Yes, yesterday he was roundly slaughtered by an M2, Aoiyama. However, I just don't buy it that an Ozeki shouldn't ever lose in that way. A dai-Yokozuna, perhaps. But everybody else is going to have their off days, and in the parity pool that should exist just under the best of the best, guys like Kisenosato and Aoiyama, both of whom have outstanding skills in their line, will have their good and their bad days. Moreover, because of the sandwich banzuke (dominant Yokozuna bread on top, vulnerable chewable Ozeki meat in between, under-ranked bruiser foreigner bread below), Aoiyama is under-ranked: he belongs more at the Sekiwake rank, or challenging for Ozeki, than at M2, and saying Kisenosato was schooled by an M2 isn't right: he was schooled by a peer. Happens. An Ozeki just has to be very good: not godlike. As for Goeido, he does not qualify as "very good." He will be protected in Osaka and come out with a rank-saving winning record--count on it. But his peers have not always seen fit to protect him when he is not kadoban, and he's having another hideous non-kadoban tournament. In nine tournaments as an Ozeki, including the current one, he finishes today with an overall record of 65-65. Unlike Kisenosato, he is not in the Ozeki-parity-pool. He belongs as a yo-yo mid-to-high Maegashira. Indicative of this, Kisenosato humiliated him. Kise was in control throughout, and looked pissed off, starting with a false start that included a disdainful, nonchalant shove, and ending with a bit of baiting during separation in the ring where Kise's body language was, "come and get it." Goeido did drive Kise back at the beginning, but Kise is bigger and better and maintained easily and with poise under attack. He then drove Goeido back in turn; Kise is far stronger, more powerful, and more effective at pressure. After the brief "you want some? Here I am" interlude, Goeido, tiring of the face slaps, lurched right into Kise's embrace, and Kise promptly and easily flung him derisively to the clay by the upper body, oshi-taoshi. This match was an excellent demonstration of the relative ability of these two Ozeki. Sometimes Kisenosato is dominant, sometimes he gets dominated by other rikishi. When was the last time you saw Goeido dominate?

Tomorrow Hakuho and Kotoshogiku fight each other, both 10-0. If Kotoshogiku wins, we have an exciting game of "catch" on our hands for the rest of the tournament. If Hakuho wins, that leaves it up to him and Harumafuji. I'll be covering it, with bells on.

Day 9 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I always enjoy day 9 because we can finally focus on the leaderboard and let a few of the others fall by the wayside. There is also a bit of drama this basho with Kotoshogiku entering the day a perfect 8-0. Most of the Ozeki's wins have been due to mukiryoku sumo on the part of his opponents, which isn't a new concept for anyone paying attention, but he's also had some decent wins and looks worthy to the Japanese fans, and so it adds a bit of extra drama to things to see Kotoshogiku in this position. I only wish that the final 30 minutes of sumo lived up to the actual yusho race, but they wrapped up day 9 today with everything except good sumo.

As I am wont to do in the second week, let's being the day with a review of the leaderboard, and I'll go two losses deep since I'm pretty sure the yusho line this month is 14-1 at best:

8-0: Hakuho, Kotoshogiku
7-1: Harumafuji, Takayasu, Okinoumi
6-2: Kakuryu, Toyonoshima, Takekaze

Let's go in chronological order today starting with the leaders meaning we go to the M13 Takekaze - M8 Takayasu matchup first. Takekaze was relentless against Takayasu from the tachi-ai firing shoves into Takayasu's upper torso followed by regular hari-te (face slaps). You have to credit Takayasu for standing his ground, but Takekaze connected hard on a few of those slaps, and it threw Takayasu off to the point where Takekaze was finally able to slip left and turn Takayasu around 180 degrees setting up the push-out from behind. Takekaze almost blew this one going for a few pulls early on, but I think he clued in pretty quick that those face slaps were working, and so he stuck with them and ended up scoring the upset win. Both rikishi end the day at 7-2.

Up next, M7 Toyonoshima attacked M11 Amuuru with a quick right hari-te at the tachi-ai, but he ruined that plan with an even quicker pull. Luckily for Tugboat, Amuuru didn't make him pay for his mistake, and so the two were able to dig into the hidari-yotsu position where Amuuru enjoyed the right outer grip. Toyonoshima was pressing upwards into Amuuru well, however, keeping him from setting up an attack with that outer belt, and the longer the stalemate continued, the more you thought the veteran would make his move, and move Toyonoshima did breaking off Amuuru's outer grip before dragging the Russian this way and that before finally pulling him forward and down with a right grip to the belt. If you're Amuuru (5-4), you can't just stand there and let a veteran rikishi dictate the pace of the bout. As for Toyonoshima, he stays on my leaderboard for the time being moving to 7-2.

M6 Okinoumi has been one of the better rikishi this basho, and the dude should have been undefeated coming into the day, but none of that mattered here as he ran into a brick wall in the name of M12 Chiyotairyu, who was all business charging hard from the tachi-ai and using a series of tsuppari to just pummel Okinoumi back and out once, twice, three times a lady. I watch sumo like this from Chiyotairyu and can't help but think "what if he was mentally tough enough to attack like this everyday?" I mean, Okinoumi could do nothing here as he falls to 7-2, and it's a great display of Chiyotairyu's potential, but I already know that Tairyu will never live up to it. Oh well. He's at least 6-3 now if you need him.

With the scrub leaders out of the way, let's move up to the Ozeki ranks where Kotoshogiku looked to overcome a formidable opponent in M3 Kaisei. Unfortunately, Kaisei was completely mukiryoku from the tachi-ai against the Ozeki in a migi-yotsu affair that saw Kaisei do nothing with his right hand. He even turned his body towards a Kotoshogiku left outer grip that was so deep, the Ozeki's hand was beyond the back strap of the belt. This was just ridiculous as Kaisei kinda hopped on his feet as Kotoshogiku swung him around and out for the three second win. I can't remember the last time Kotoshogiku and his crocodile arms managed an outer grip that was beyond the back vertical strap of his opponent's mawashi, but he got it today thanks to a complete lack of effort from Kaisei. I'm not sure how many of the Japanese fans bought this one today, but who cares? Kotoshogiku is now 9-0 and firmly planted on the leaderboard. As for Kaisei, he falls to 3-6 with the loss and couldn't care less. His stable master, Tomozuna-oyakata, is a member of the board of directors, and he obviously understood the implications of this bout.

In one of the ugliest bouts of sumo you'll ever see, Yokozuna Hakuho put his right hand towards Sekiwake Tochiohzan's face as if he was going mahikari on him and giving him a blessing down by the station, but then he suddenly pulled that hand away and moved left delivering a henka that sent Tochiohzan forward and down in a half second. This one wasn't quite as bad as it looked actually. Tochiohzan saw that right paw coming directly towards his grill, and so he closed his eyes in an attempt to ward off the blow, and the next thing you know he was stumbling forward and down as Hakuho made it official grabbing the left outer and just yanking the Sekiwake forward. The crowd was really upset at this point, and you can't blame them. A tachi-ai henka is bad enough, but when you have an entire fan base on edge due to the 10th anniversary of the last Japanese rikishi yusho, the move by Hakuho today was really uncalled for.

The fans really let Hakuho have it after this one, and I don't know when I've heard them jeer as loudly as they did against the dai-Yokozuna. If there was a silver lining to all this, as Hakuho waited to administer the chikara-mizu to Kotoyuki, there was an old lady dressed in a lovely fuschia blouse who looked just like Myogiryu giving the Yokozuna the business.

I have no explanation for Hakuho's sumo today, but the dude does move to 9-0 and remains tied with Kotoshogiku for the lead. As for Tochiohzan, he falls to 4-5 with the loss and wouldn't have beaten the Yokozuna anyway.

Next up, M4 Kotoyuki struck Yokozuna Harumafuji well at the tachi-ai, but he seemed too timid to really unleash his full tsuppari attack, and so he opted for a mediocre shove into Harumafuji's neck. The move actually drove the Yokozuna back a full step, and after Harumafuji swiped Kotoyuki's arms away, his right side was completely vulnerable to a left tsuki from Kotoyuki, but Kotoyuki hadn't calculated things that far in advance, and before he could really reload, Harumafuji ducked to his left, got the left arm deep inside, and then twisted Kotoyuki around 180 degrees before mounting him from behind and just riding him to the dohyo in Brokeback style. All in all, it was an ugly bout that helped contribute to my frustration with the day as a whole. Harumafuji keeps pace with the win moving to 8-1 while I thought Kotoyuki blew a great chance here as he falls to 5-4.

Rounding out the day, Yokozuna Kakuryu came with a right hari-te while Ozeki Goeido came with the left hari-te as both rikishi slapped at the initial charge. Kakuryu's slap actually connected pretty well, but he immediately backed up and went for his usual pull when he wants to create an opening for his opponent, and with the Yokozuna wide open and in pull mode, Goeido panicked and went for a do or die shove too far away from the edge. They initially pointed in favor of Goeido, but the Ozeki's right forearm touched down before Kakuryu had stepped all the way out of the ring. A mono-ii was called where they correctly reversed the decision giving the Yokozuna the ugly win. This was a case where Kakuryu was opening himself up for a loss, but Goeido was too sloppy and couldn't receive the gift. The last thing on anyone's mind at this point with Kotoshogiku 9-0 is Goeido's 4-5 record, and we'll see if they quietly buoy him up to eight wins. It's gonna be tough to do, but the Ozeki does have a history of upsetting Hakuho ya know. As for Kakuryu, he improves to 7-2 with the win, but I don't see him factoring into the yusho race in the end.  Finally, if you're scoring at home, this was the fourth time in three basho that the referee, Shikimori Inosuke, has blown the call in the final bout of the day. Man, I wish those daggers stashed in the referee's sash weren't just for show these days.

With the dust settled from the day 9 bouts, NHK's leaderboard only went down to the one-loss rikishi meaning it looked like this:

9-0: Hakuho, Kotoshogiku
8-1: Harumafuji

Hakuho draws Kaisei on day 10, and I don't see him taking the loss. Kotoshogiku gets Kakuryu, and it was timely for the Yokozuna to go for his bad pull habit today (wink, wink). It doesn't mean that Kakuryu is going to let Kotoshogiku win, but if he does, it will be due to similar sumo that he displayed against Goeido today. Darn that pull habit!!

If precedent from previous basho holds, I expect a two-bout losing streak from the Geeku coming up shortly. It just seems that the Mongolians are too feisty when it comes to the yusho. They'll play along with the ruse about creating parity in the division among themselves and the Japanese rikishi, but there's no reason for them to release their stranglehold on the yusho.

In other bouts of interest on the day, Ozeki Kisenosato was his usual wide open self at the tachi-ai, and M2 Aoiyama took complete advantage hissing his way into a tsuppari attack striking with the right and then catching the Ozeki with a left choke hold that backed Kisenosato all the way up to the straw where Aoiyama just shoved him back and out from there. I know there has been some discussion as to whether or not Kisenosato is a legitimate Ozeki, and I think what gives him credibility is the fact that he's the most consistent of the Three Amigos, but his tachi-ai is not worthy of an Ozeki, and Ozeki don't get their asses kicked like that to a rikishi coming in with just one win. Today's bout was embarrassing as Kisenosato falls way out of the discussion at 5-4 while Aoiyama moves to just 2-7.  Curiously, I could not find a pic from this bout on the wires.

Sekiwake Yoshikaze charged hard and low against M1 Shohozan, and the Darth Hozan had nothing but pull on his mind, so the question now was could Shohozan back up faster than Yoshikaze could charge forward? After a quick pull of Yoshikaze that signaled Shohozan's intent to retreat, he moved right and tried to pull the Sekiwake off balance, but Monster Drink added that extra shot of caffeine and just bulldozed both rikishi off of the dohyo and into the expensive seats. This was ugly, but Yoshikaze will take it as he moves to 5-4 while the Dark One falls to 2-7.

Komusubi Tochinoshin looked like Hakuho today at the tachi-ai grabbing the right inside and left outer grip immediately from the tachi-ai against fellow Komusubi Ikioi, but Tochinoshin's yori charge after that was so poor that I'm sure he was mukiryoku. Without really doing anything after that superior tachi-ai, he just let Ikioi drag him over and push him out with a mediocre right grip to the belt. This one just wasn't plausible after that tachi-ai, and after watching the replays, I saw nothing from Tochinoshin that showed he wanted or even tried to win this bout. Ikioi moves to 3-6 with the upset while Tochinoshin falls to 2-7.

M1 Aminishiki henka'd to his left against M4 Kyokushuho grabbing the solid left outer grip, and as Kyokushuho tried to recover, Aminishiki executed a pretty good suso-harai move sweeping his left foot into the back of Kyokushuho's right leg, and it was good enough to trip the Mongolian up enough to where Aminishiki just shoved him down by the face. They prolly could have awarded a few winning techniques here, but they ended up going with the suso-harai. That leg trip was sweet, but it was set up with a dirty henka. Aminishiki couldn't care less about doing sumo like this as he climbs to 3-6 while Kyokushuho falls to the same mark.

M2 Takarafuji saw M7 Tamawashi's tsuppari attack well focusing on swipes with the left hand of The Mawashi's extended arms. Takarafuji never held still moving left, moving left before finally latching onto Tamawashi's extended right arm and pulling him off balance and to the side setting up the tottari win. It's good to see Takarafuji at 5-4 while Tamawashi falls to 2-7.

The M3 Ichinojo - M5 Sokokurai bout was interrupted three times by the ref calling a false start presumably against Sokokurai, and by the time they went for reals, Ichinojo had no response for Sokokurai's henka to his left. As Ichinojo looked to square up, Sokokurai greeted him with moro-zashi, and Ichinojo was able to briefly back up and pull Sokokurai out of the grip, but Sokokurai used his superior speed to burrow back in tight into the heart of the Slug, and as we've seen him do on multiple occasions this basho, Ichinojo just backed up that last step giving Sokokurai the ill-gotten yori-kiri win. Nothing about this bout was right as Ichinojo falls to 1-8 whereas Sokokurai has some life left at 4-5.

M8 Myogiryu rushed his tachi-ai against M12 Shodai diving straight into the moro-zashi grip from his opponent. Shodai may be young, but he knew exactly what to do, and so he moved forward keeping Myogiryu upright to the point were a pretty good kubi-nage counter throw from Myogiryu failed to knock the rookie over. This one was over in about three seconds and marks one of the better wins for Shodai in his short Makuuchi career as he moves to 5-4. This was a tough loss for Myogiryu, and he fell to a surprising 4-5 before quickly dashing back to the dressing room and changing into that wig and a fuchsia blouse just in time for the Hakuho bout.

M9 Sadanoumi pressed well from the tachi-ai leading with the right hand against M13 Takanoiwa, but he was unable to really latch on and keep Takanoiwa where he wanted, so the wily Mongolian moved back and to his right scoring the pull down win in a matter of seconds. Takanoiwa is a cool 7-2 with the win, but I will not be adding him to the leaderboard. As for Sadanoumi, has the dude already peaked in this division? He falls to 4-5.

M15 Kitataiki and M9 Gagamaru bumped chests in a straight-up hidari-yotsu position, but it was Kitataiki who forced the bout laterally using a right outer grip to dump Gagamaru down to the clay. Gagamaru just never could pull his gal in tight, and he paid for it in the end falling to 4-5. Kitataiki one-ups his foe moving to 5-4.

And finally, M14 Toyohibiki smelled blood against M16 Kagayaki (who doesn't??) opening up with a potent thrust attack that the rookie actually fended off well eventually getting his right arm to the inside to turn the bout to yotsu-zumo, but Toyohibiki had the de-ashi and thus the momentum, and so he was able to polish Kagayaki off yori-kiri style leading with a right inside grip of his own. Toyohibiki stays hot moving to 7-2 while Kagayaki is on the brink at 2-7.

After a well-deserved vacation, Harvye returns and gives you all the business tomorrow.

Day 8 (Don Roid reporting)
Desperate times call for desperate measures and it seems like Mike has become desperate enough to take me up on my offer to write a report for Sumotalk if he suddenly found himself shorthanded. So here I am standing on the ring apron, ready to take the hot tag from Mike.

Sorry, if my pro wrestling lingo gets in the way, but I've been doing it for 15 years and it's second nature. So what that basically means is that I wear an unnatural amount of spandex, rub baby oil all over my body and simulate a real fight. Weird. Anyway, a hot tag is when the bad guys have singled out one of the good guys in a tag team match (2 vs. 2) and proceed to give him a good thrashing, preventing him from tagging in his partner. Then, in a last ditch effort, the babyface (good guy) struggles, strains, crawls his way to his corner and dives at the last possible second, tagging in the fresh man who then storms the ring, cleaning house and taking out both of the bad guys.

It sort of reminds me of what the Mongolians are doing right now. There are four of these barbarians right up there at the top, dominating everyone and even if one of them goes down with an injury, or even two or three, there's always someone else ready to take that hot tag and jump right in and win the tournament. And it's everyone else, foreigners and Japanese alike, who take the heat (the long thrashing before the hot tag) during the majority of the tournament. So with Terunofuji out of action, the Cup still seems to be well in hand for one of the others, most likely Hakuho, or at least it seems, thus far on this cold January day, in the shadow of the 10th anniversary of Tochiazuma's victory.

Getting into day 8, we are now entering the second week of the tournament, so the pleasantries are over and it's time to get down to the nitty gritty.

Let's pop my SumoTalk cherry with M4 Kyokushuho vs. M7 Toyonoshima. Toyonoshima has always been a fun guy to watch for me. He's undersized for his sport, as I am, but somehow often manages to find a low center of gravity to move his larger opponents around. In today's bout he absorbed Kyokushuho's tachi-ai and managed to get both arms inside and started to move his opponent backwards. Kyokushuho may have even stepped out early in the bout as he was back tracking, but he stepped out again anyway just before Shima hit the dirt.

I usually don't watch the earlier bouts in the Makuuchi division nor do I really pay a great deal of attention of the other divisions unless there happens to a particular match that catches my eye, such as Ura or Homarenishiki. That's how FightBox has always done it as well. They usually start each episode at about the half way point of the Makuuchi division bouts.

M8 Takayasu took on M4 Kotoyuki in the next bout. Kotoyuki is another guy I enjoy watching. He doesn't always win, but 9 times out of 10 his bouts are entertaining to watch. This was another fun one with both guys coming out pushing. During the melee Takayasu sidestepped and Kotoyuki fell, doing a face plant on the hay bales and rolling out of the ring.

M1 Aminishiki is back after trying to henka the flu for a few days to battle M2 Aoiyama. With Aminishiki you never know what the hell you're going to get. Whether you don't mind the henka or you think it should be banned, for me, it always seems okay when Aminishiki does it for some reason. He seems to pull it off as "just another move in his arsenal". It's expected to see some kind of shenanigans and trickery out of him and he didn't disappoint today. He immediately leapt like a toad, right from the get go, almost landing in an identical position to where Aoiyama had started the bout in. Before Aoiyama even realized what had happened, the fight was over. A good henka gone bad.

An awkward tachi-ai between M2 Takarafuji and Komusubi Tochinoshin left both men imposing their will on the other for just a second before the Georgian attempted a left hand inside grip, which was thwarted by Takarafuji, giving him the green light to get some momentum on Tochinoshin and a double inside grip to boot. Takarafuji wins by yori-kiri.

Sekiwake Tochiohzan and M1 Shohozan have fought 13 times before, so they must be quite familiar with each other. Shohozan tried to take a page out of Aminishiki's book by sidestepping to his left, which almost paid off as Tochiohzan was nearly sideways when Shohozan started to go on the offensive, but a quick slap to the face by Tochiohzan really disrupted Shohozan's balance and he started to crumble to the ground. Tochiohzan slipped to this right and finished him off quite easily.

Speaking of being familiar with each other, Ozeki Kisenosato and Ozeki Kotoshogiku have met 58 times previous to this bout with Geeku winning 31 of those to Kisenosato's 27. Wait a minute, let me stop right here for a moment. WTF, it's the 6th bout I'm covering so far and NO mention of yaocho yet? Well, don't worry folks, that's ALL about to change. Kisenosato seemed a little bit antsy at the tachi-ai and I thought he was going to get a good jump on the geek, but alas, Kotoshogiku hit him hard, moving him backwards, nearly to the bails, but Kisenosato rolled with the punches well, placing his left arm under Geeku's right armpit (a pleasant experience, I'm sure) with his right arm pointing upwards and gave him a shove, but the Geeku planted his left leg hard to absorb the blow and came powering back and they both fell into a left hand inside, right hand outside grip, with Geeku having the momentum and advantage. As Kotoshogiku started doing the Humpty Hump, as usual, Kisenosato tried to stick his left leg into the geek, but to no avail.

So where does the yaocho come in? It doesn't. In my opinion this bout was straight up and Kotoshogiku really has a lot of fighting spirit this basho. Good for him. He improves to 8 - 0 and is, for now, among the three undefeated left at the top of the leader board. Kotoshogiku's face at the end of the match told me "Yeah, take that sucka. I'm on a roll".

Next up are M3 Kaisei and Ozeki Goeido. Huge weight advantage for Kaisei. That's actually one of the reasons I like to watch sumo. There are no weight divisions and you can fight anyone regardless of how much you weigh. Besides pro wrestling, there really aren't any combat sports which allow for that. Historically, Goeido has gotten the better of the big Brazilian, beating him 9 times out of 12, but it certainly didn't look like that today. Goeido got a double inside grip on the front of the mawashi, but no matter what he did Kaisei had an answer for it, powering him backwards and dumping him off the dohyo very awkwardly, with Goeido falling backwards to the ground on to his derriere with a hairy, 190 kg Brazilian on top of him for the ride.

Now we get to the cream and pudding as Yokozuna Harumafuji (6 - 1 coming in) goes up against Komusubi Ikioi. Ama is a perfect 6 - 0 against Ikioi, who's been having exciting matches this tournament, but is still on the losing side of things at 2 - 5. Ikioi is ready for action in this one as he's got his right hand on the clay and his left hand hovering about an inch off the dohyo, locked and loaded. Classic Harumafuji technique here as he meets him with a soft tachi-ai, then deflects up and to his left, squeaking to Eeeky's backside, exposing an undefended right hand grip open for Harumafuji who uses a tug and Ikioi's own momentum to easily throw him off the mound.

This is as close to poetry in motion as you can find in sumo. When Harumafuji is good, he's REALLY good. He's a small guy and I'm really in awe sometimes at how foolish he can make his opponents look with this particular move that he has mastered over the last several years. But when he loses, he's sometimes looks pathetic against a larger opponent, because of his size. Great move by Harumafuji.

This next one between Yokozuna Kakuryu and M3 Ichinojo seemed to me, on paper, to have everything pointing in favor of Kak including 12 years of pro experience, he's eight years older, he's got a WAY better record coming in, and... well, he's a friggin' Yokozuna and Ichinojo is pretty much the runt of the Mongolian litter, it appears. But that's not how Ichinojo was going about his business today. Kakuryu was stopped short at the tachi-ai, trying to get a grip on Ichi as Nojo slipped his hips to the backside and started marching forward like a man on a mission, plowing Kak back to the bails. But this ain't Kakuryu's first rodeo and he fought off the onslaught of Ichinojo, thrusting forward with a solid grip on the mawashi. Ichinojo mustered up another offensive though, once again forcing Kakuryu back to the edge of the ring.

This is where things really go weird for me. It seems like Ichinojo just gave up once Kakuryu started pushing forward. If you watch carefully, when Kakuryu has his left foot planted on the ring's edge and is about to start his push forward, there are a lot of muscle groups at work here. Ichinojo is definitely trying REALLY HARD to push Kak back and Kak is using his left leg to stabilize himself against the pressure. You can see the muscle systems hard at work as the two forces square off against each other. There's no funny business going on.

Kakuryu gets his leverage, takes a few steps forward and Ichinojo feels the pressure, trying to stick his right hip into Kakuryu to go for a counter throw, but Kakuryu has too much leverage at this point and drives him backwards off the dohyo.

The thing that bugs me is, after Ichinojo went for that throw attempt, he really stopped fighting 100%. Kakuryu could also feel this "letting up" as is super obvious by the gentle manner in which he moves Ichinojo out of the ring. Ichinojo stops fighting back and Kakuryu didn't have to man up at the edge in order to force his opponent out.

So what happened? Did Ichi let up on purpose to give Kakuryu the win or did he simply know he was a beaten man and let Kakuryu finish him off? I'd tend to go with the latter. I think he just gave up at the end there, because he knew he had given Kakuryu his all in those two attempts that got him to the edge, but somewhere deep inside his gut he also knew he had nothing left to battle back again.

I don't think it was yaocho because what would Kakuryu have to gain at this point? Okay, he's 5 - 2 and he's not in a great position to win the tournament, but if he doesn't lose anymore until he starts facing the other Yok, he could still have a shot. But there's no way, in my opinion he can't beat Ichinojo straight up and would sink to that level. Ichinojo on the other hand, has nothing to lose by accepting the offer to throw the bout. He's 1 - 6 coming in and has NO chance of winning the tournament. So what the hell, right? Why not? But the better explanation for me is that he just quit out of frustration. He knew he had no chance of winning the tournament coming in and most likely he will also be make-koshi as well, so he went for broke against the Kak and nearly had the bugger, a few times, but when he felt it slipping away, he said "screw it" and gave up. The only thing Ichinojo was thinking at the end was "throw" and he couldn't pull it off, so he had no choice to give in to Kakuryu. But maybe I'm over thinking, it. I don't know...

Now THIS is a match I was really looking forward to. THIS is a match that should be fireworks given the fact that more than any other rikishi in the division, Sekiwake Yoshikaze has been fighting with a lot of heart. He is out there to do one thing and one thing only and that's to win at all costs. There's a fire in this kid that cannot really be seen with many other rikishi at the moment. The only problem? Today he's got Yokozuna Hakuho, so good luck with that. He has beaten him once before, but that match was REALLY weird.

So here we go, Yoshi has both of his fists down on the dirt, waiting for The Great One to make his move and Hakuho comes out with an open left hand, fingers spread wide, right to the face like he's trying to palm a basketball.

The only thing worse than having to fight Hakuho is having to fight a pissed off Hakuho. There's some distance between the two now and it's almost like déjà vu at this point as a pushing battle breaks out, just like it did the time Yoshikaze won in September of last year. At one point Yoshikaze even pie-faces the supreme commander with his right hand, maybe getting a little revenge for the tachi-ai!! This didn't sit too well with King Tut as he decided play time was over and it was time to put the kid to bed. He got his left arm up under the armpit and stood Yoshikaze upright and started working him, kicking and screaming all the way (unlike Ichinojo) to the ring's edge, held him there for juuuuust a second... and then... thud! He gave him an extra, unnecessary throw off HIS dohyo right onto the shimpan's lap. Hakuho wins by yori-kiri.

Now, clearly there is a moment when Yoshi has completely stopped fighting and Hakuho has won the bout, then... plop... he's thrown off the mound with Yoshikaze fighting it, but unable to defend himself. Obviously, that's against the rules, I think. Once someone steps out, the bout is over. And there's probably some unwritten rule about respecting your opponent and not doing anything after they step out. But this kind of thing happens from time to time, especially when you've got two alpha males in there going tit for tat with provoking types of offense, like pie-facing and slapping. It's true, Hakuho did start it with his face-palm of Yoshikaze, but Kaze wasn't having none of that and gave just as good as he got, even actually sneaking in a second, smaller pie-face as Hakuho was driving him off the dohyo. That may have been all Hakuho could take. No one is going to disrespect the all-time yusho leader like that, are they? Hell no. Especially not some Johnny-come-lately like Yoshikaze. Hakuho tried to punk out Yoshikaze, but he gave it right back to the Yokozuna and in the end it was Hakuho who got the last laugh. Point made, loud and clear.

At the end of day 8 we're more than halfway through the tournament with Hakuho and Kotoshogiku (yes, I said Kotoshogiku) unbeaten at 8 - 0, Harumafuji, Okinoumi and Takayasu are trailing at 7 - 1 and a group of five more are behind them including Kakuryu and a few others who will lose pretty soon at 6 - 2. I'd guess that either Hakuho or Harumafuji will win it, but could there be? Would there be? Is there any chance for a miracle? We shall see.

So what do you think? How did I do? If I totally crapped the bed and have no idea what I'm talking about, feel free to rip me a new one in the comments section. I'm a pro wrestler, I can take it. I've got thick skin. If you enjoyed it, let me know and feel free to check out my blogs and podcasts on sumo over at www.fightbox.com. And if you haven't heard it already, you can listen to episode 52 of The FightBox Podcast with Kane and Mike as my guests. I usually talk about sumo as it's ongoing in other episodes as well. And a big thanks to Mike for the opportunity to write here and thanks to Kintamayama for uploading today's bouts on to Youtube.

Day 6 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The day started off on a bit of a subdued note with the withdrawal of three rikishi. Jokoryu was no surprise after being whisked out of the arena on a wheelchair following his bout with Chiyotairyu, but the withdrawal of stablemates Terunofuji and Aminishiki was more of a surprise. In Aminishiki's case, he's suffering from the flu, so we may see him return later on. As for Terunofuji, it's being reported that he has a broken right collar bone. I haven't read a projected date for his return, but the possibility exists that he could miss the Haru basho as well, which would mean his demotion from the Ozeki rank. Of course, he could easily regain the rank with 10 wins in May, and if I was part of the Terunofuji camp, I'd say sit out until May and let the shoulder AND the knees heal up. Falling from Ozeki is nothing; Terunofuji is a future Yokozuna as long as he can stay healthy.

With three guys out, we have a shorter docket to cover today, so let's start from the beginning as usual. M15 Homarefuji dictated the pace throughout firing his tsuppari into J2 Sadanofuji's bulk, and when I say bulk, I mean bulk! At one point Homarefuji's knees practically buckled at the task ahead of him, but he was persistent and eventually turned the Sadamight around 360 degrees setting up the final push-out. Homarefuji picks up his first win of the basho at 1-5 while Sadanofuji's return to the division is looking shady at 2-4.

M13 Takekaze (4-2) picked up a freebie today with the aforementioned withdrawal of Jokoryu.

M16 Kagayaki and M13 Takanoiwa literally bounced off of each other at the tachi-ai, and then as they looked to hook back up the second time, Takanoiwa darted right pulling Kagayaki forward and down about two seconds in with a henka. Kagayaki falls to 1-5 with the loss, and he does not look the least bit comfortable in this division. As for Takanoiwa, he improved to 4-2 with the not so straight up win.

M15 Kitataiki was obviously watching the previous bout and thought, "Hmm...a henka. Sounds good to me!" Problem was it was poorly executed, and so M12 Chiyotairyu squared back up with ease and just pummeled Kitataiki downwards before pulling him down by the back of the belt making it official. Chiyotairyu improves to 4-2 with the win while Kitataiki is 3-3.

M14 Toyohibiki showed M12 Shodai what a big league nodowa was jamming his right, beefy paw into the rookie's neck and just plowing him back and to the side. Shodai showed his toughness by persisting near the edge, and so Toyohibiki got the right arm to the inside and bodied Shodai back and across that final step yori-kiri style. Great stuff from Toyohibiki who improves to 5-1 while Shodai still showed some toughness in defeat as he falls to 4-2.

M10 Chiyootori made his return from kyujo, so they fed him M11 Endoh. Or was it the other way around in let's give Endoh as easy of an opponent as possible? Regardless, Endoh musta felt he had the upperhand because he inched his way forward from the tachi-ai with a timid tsuppari attack, but it was going nowhere fast, and so Endoh decided to reverse gears and go for the pull. That move was timid as well, and so Chiyootori pounced finally driving his legs forward and pushing Endoh back and across without argument. I briefly scanned the headlines for day 7, and there's no mention of an Endoh kyujo yet, but the dude does not look right at 1-5. I mean, Endoh has never shined in this division, but he looks bad right now even for him. Chiyootori picks up his first win meaning he's 1-5 as well.

M9 Gagamaru was a man on a mission today repeatedly slamming both paws simultaneously into M10 Mitakeumi's neck and chest driving the youngster back quickly. Mitakeumi's only hope at this point was to evade laterally and counter, so he moved to his left and offered a lame swipe down at the charging Gagamaru, but the move's only effect was to set Mitakeumi up as this huge target that Gagamaru just sent to the dirt with two final pile driver thrusts. Both rikishi end the day at 3-3, and Gagamaru can be a mean sumbitch when he wants to be.

M8 Takayasu demanded the left inside at the tachi-ai against M11 Amuuru and then used nifty de-ashi to force his way in close where he next grabbed the right outer grip. The location of the outer was near the front of the belt allowing Takayasu to pinch Amuuru' left arm inwards and useless, and from this point, Takayasu swung Amuuru over to the edge and out leading with that right outer grip. Easy peasy half Japanesey as Takayasu soars to 6-0 while Amuuru falls to 3-3.

At this point of the broadcast, they reviewed the Makushita Jo'i bouts, and it looks like Ura won again pushing his record to 3-0. From the MS 6 rank, if he can reach five wins, he's got a shot at Juryo, and six wins will all but sill the dill.  As I was scanning the wires for pics, I came across one of Ura's bout that I'll post here.  I didn't see how the bout played out, but you can tell by this pic that it was unorthodox as usual.

M7 Toyonoshima kept his arms in tight denying M8 Myogiryu from the initial charge, and then Tugboat got both arms to the inside leading with the right arm as shallow as it was. Myogiryu was able to quickly maki-kae with his right arm causing Toyonoshima to go for the kill, but his hands kind of slipped off of his foe causing complete separation. After a few seconds of separation, Myogiryu dove back in only to be greeted by moro-zashi again, but Myogiryu had the momentum and bodied Toyonoshima back to the straw before throwing him down with a right kubi-nage. The two meant well I'm sure, but the sumo here was not great as both rikishi end the day at 4-2.

At this point of the broadcast, NHK took a trip down memory lane showing Kotooshu's first ever win over Asashoryu at the 2005 Nagoya basho. Kotooshu was in the booth today providing color, and so they chose arguably the best win of his career. Ranked as Komusubi, Kotooshu engaged Asashoryu in a tight belt contest where the Bulgarian executed a brilliant right belt throw using his right leg to trip Asashoryu over and into a complete summersault across the clay. The arena erupted with zabuton flying everywhere as the Announcer screamed so loud his voice started cracking like a 13 year-old boy going through puberty. You watch the electric sumo from back then and the reaction of the crowd...and even the announcers, and it's really hard to return to reality and get excited about the jo'i bouts these days.

Moving right along, M7 Tamawashi came with his usual tsuppari in an effort to keep M9 Sadanoumi away from the belt, and as Sadanoumi persisted, Tamawashi went for a right scoop throw that had little effect other than letting Sadanoumi hook back up in moro-zashi, and from there, Tamawashi's counter kote-nage throw with the right arm was insufficient as Sadanoumi plowed both rikishi right off the dohyo. Sadanoumi is even steven again at 3-3 while The Mawashi falls to 2-4.

M6 Tokushoryu shaded right at the tachi-ai pushing into M5 Sokokurai from the side, and as Sokokurai extended his right arm in an attempt to get it to the inside, Tokushoryu just fired a beefy tsuki shove into his side sending him to the dirt in about two seconds. You gotta wonder about Sokokurai's effort here, but regardless, Tokushoryu picks up his first win as both rikishi now sit 1-5.

M4 Kotoyuki was rebuffed at the tachi-ai by M6 Okinoumi who disallowed KotoLoogie his machine gun tsuppari attack and threatened to get to the inside with the left arm. With Kotoyuki quelled and forced to think yotsu-zumo, it was Okinoumi who bodied him back and then used a nice shove right into Kotoyuki's melon to stand him perfectly upright and shove him out from there. Kotoyuki, who fell to 4-2 with the loss--needlessly rolled about two rows deep as he was pushed off the dohyo. Kids! Okinoumi moves to 6-0...er...uh 5-1 with the nice win.

M2 Takarafuji and M3 Kaisei struck hard in the ai-yotsu position that ended up with both guys getting the left to the inside with right outer grips. Takarafuji had the advantage here, though, because he had his right hips back leaving little support for Kaisei and his inside position. After gathering his wits for a few seconds, Takarafuji executed the decisive force-out charge capping off a great bout of straight-up yotsu-zumo. What ain't so great are the records of these two who end the day at 2-4.

Sekiwake Yoshikaze was fully caffeinated today firing his tsuppari into Komusubi Ikioi with little effect, and the more subdued Ikioi was ultimately able to grab Yoshikaze's left arm in a right kote-nage grip, so it was now Ikioi's turn to wildly attack with a series of kote-nage throws. Yoshikaze stayed in tight, however, using that left arm to keep Ikioi upright enough to where he was finally able to dump him across the straw and down to the venue floor. This was sloppy sumo from parties as Yoshikaze continues his hot streak moving to 4-2. Ikioi is the opposite at 2-4.

M3 Ichinojo came with a right kachi-age and left paw pushing into Ozeki Kisenosato's right breast before the two turned a bit in the dohyo ending up in migi-yotsu. Ichinojo had the firm right inside grip at this point, and while Kisenosato had a left outer grip, he didn't have the right established enabling a charge, so Ichinojo just stood there in an effort to tire the Ozeki out. After about a minute and a half of no action, the Slug finally made his charge starting with a right scoop throw and then grabbing the left inside as well, but Kisenosato darted to his left near the edge dragging with that left outer before shifting gears and going right setting up a beautiful tsuki-otoshi move at the edge. This one was close, but with Ichinojo thinking Kisenosato would continue moving left, the counter tsuki-otoshi burned him enough to where he crashed down to the dohyo an instant before Kisenosato flew out of the dohyo himself. This was a veteran move from the Ozeki that earned him a big win, and there was no way the judges were going to the video tape on this one. Kisenosato won it fair and square as he moves to 4-2 while Ichinojo's funk continues at 1-5.

Before we move on, just after the tachi-ai when Ichinojo got the right arm firmly to the inside, the NHK Announcer instinctively said, "Migi-yotsu ni natte shimatta!" If you've studied Japanese at all, then you know that you put "natte shimau" or "shite shimau" at the end of a sentence to denote a negative meaning. You often hear the Announcers say "hiite shimatta!" when a guy goes for dumb pull because it implies that the stupid decision led to a loss...a negative result. When two rikishi simply go to migi-yotsu, however, there's no reason to say "shimatta!" The reason the dude said it because he--like all of us--thought that Kisenosato was doomed at that point, and so he blurted it out not knowing that he was doing it. I bring it up because it's these little nuances that indicate that there is a definite bias in sumo.

M1 Shohozan henka'd slightly to his left against Ozeki Kotoshogiku, but it was a terrible tachi-ai that even Kotoshogiku was able to read with ease and respond appropriately by just driving the compromised Shohozan back and across without argument. This was a senseless move by Shohozan if he wanted to be competitive in the bout, and he falls to 1-5 as a result of the blown tachi-ai. As for Kotoshogiku, he's now 6-0 if you need him. I just don't see Hakuho letting the Geeku beat him when that time comes, but nothing surprises me these days.

At this point, Terunofuji's kyujo was announced giving Tochiohzan the freebie and a 4-2 record. You could see yesterday that Terunofuji was in serious pain after his clash with Kyokushuho, and now the dude has significant injuries to three of his four limbs.

Rounding out the Ozeki, Goeido also enjoyed a free pass today with Aminishiki's withdrawal moving the Father to a 4-2 record.

Yokozuna Hakuho easily assumed his preferred right inside left outer grip from the tachi-ai, and while Komusubi Tochinoshin admirably dug in for a few seconds with the right arm inside, Hakuho was a cat just toying with a mouse here as he wrenched the Private in tight before dumping him with a methodic left belt throw. It's still in Hakuho's hands as he moves to 6-0 while Tochinoshin falls to 2-4.

Yokozuna Harumafuji shaded left at the tachi-ai grabbing the left outer grip first and then shoring up his position against M4 Kyokushuho with the right to the inside. Because the Yokozuna moved left, he was able to keep his can back far enough away from a Kyokushuho outer grip on that side, and so Harumafuji wormed his way in tight grabbing the right inside belt as well, and once that was obtained, he wrenched Kyokushuho back and forth all the way across the straw leading with the right inside grip. Harumafuji moves to 5-1 and should factor into the yusho race while Kyokushuho falls to 2-4.

Finally, M2 Aoiyama came with his usual tsuppari against Yokozuna Kakuryu, but it was more in an effort to keep him at bay than it was an all-out attack, and so Kakuryu just patiently warded off the two-ham attack from Aoiyama and worked his way inside with the deep left, a position from which he could now attack quickly driving Aoiyama upright, off balance, and then beyond the straw in the corner of the dohyo by the little salt basket. Pretty methodical stuff as all three Yokozuna coast to victories. Kakuryu lags behind a bit at 4-2 while Aoiyama simply lags at 0-6.

It's yours truly again tomorrow, and we'll see if we can get Don Roid to post some comments one of the days over the weekend. Nja.

Day 5 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As we wrap up the joubansen, or first five days of action, it seems as though everything is pretty much par for the course. The Mongolian Yokozuna not named Hakuho are dropping their obligatory bouts, the Ozeki are still largely at the mercy of their opponents, and Hakuho seems to be in cruise control ready to dictate yet another ending to a basho. Since there's nothing of significance that has stood out to me the first five days, let's begin today's discussion with Ura, a rikishi currently in the Makushita division making some serious noise.

I may have mentioned Ura in passing previously since the dude receives a lot of press in the Japanese media, but he is on the cusp of sekitori status, so I think it's worth discussing him here so when he really starts to dominate the headlines, there will be sufficient background information on him. Ura comes from a little known college in the Kansai area called Kwansei University, and he really gained fame by medaling in the world combat games a few years ago. The dude only stands 172 cm tall, but he's cat quick and is great at obscure moves that involve attacking his opponent at the legs. Since joining professional sumo, he's gained the most popularity by executing the izori move, which is sort of like a fireman's carry where you then jump backwards causing your foe to hit the dirt first. As the rikishi get bigger, Ura's sumo has morphed from the more difficult izori move to the more practical ashi-tori move, but it's still exciting to watch because you rarely see someone do his brand of sumo on the dohyo.

In the recent FightBox podcast we did, Kane and I discussed Ura a bit with Don Roid, and Kane rightly compared him to Satoyama in terms of stature and style, but the similarities end there. Namely, Ura is young and fearless, and he has as much speed as I've ever seen in a rikishi, so while he will attack low at the tachi-ai like Satoyama, the difference is that Satoyama's purpose is to avoid getting his ass kicked. Ura's purpose is to kick his opponent's ass and make it look spectacular if possible.

So the real question is can Ura succeed in the Juryo and Makuuchi divisions? The answer is absolutely. If you go way back to the late 80's and early 90's, you had guys like Kyokudozan, Mainoumi, Tomonohana, and Kyokushuzan, the first Mongolian to fight in the Makuuchi division. All of those guys had a style similar to Ura, and all of those guys made it to the sanyaku. It's interesting to note that none of them ever made it to Sekiwake, so they were just good enough to reach Komusubi, but their schtick never translated into consistent kachi-koshi performances from that rank. Still, the banzuke was more difficult back then, so if those guys were able to succeed then, Ura can absolutely make some noise now. There's not a lot of guys around in the upper division where that izori move will work, but he's young enough and quick enough that it will take some time for everyone to adjust to him. So far, he's in his second go-around in the Makushita division, and he's currently 9-0 following a perfect Kyushu basho.

They showed Ura's bout yesterday, and so I thought I'd record it with my phone and post it here so you can get a sense for his style. Get used to it...probably before the year is out.

On that note, let's focus our attention to the day 5 bouts that began with M15 Kitataiki striking low at the tachi-ai and securing the early right outer near the front of M16 Kagayaki's belt, but Kitataiki wasn't set up on the inside with the left, and so he swung the freshman around near the straw setting up the force-out win. As for Kagayaki, he actually had moro-zashi here with his hands and not his arms, and if he's going to succeed in the division, he's got to learn to capitalize on this. Kitataiki's right outer was definitely pinching Kagayaki's left, but he's got to burrow to the inside with the other arm and lift his opponent upright and dig in. Not only does Kagayaki let his opponents get to the inside easily, but I've yet to see him take advantage of his height. His sumo is mistake-ridden, so let's see how generous Akinoshima is in buying off other rikishi because there's no doubt Homarefuji just wilted for the rookie. With the win, Kitataiki moves to 3-2 while Kagayaki falls to 1-4.

M15 Homarefuji's strategy to tsuppari M13 Takanoiwa away from the belt was a good call, but the Mongolian was just wily enough using timely counter shoves to keep himself in the ring with room to move laterally. About five seconds in with Homarefuji in complete control, Homarefuji went for a right tsuki into Takanoiwa's side, and the Mongolian came out of the fray with the left arm finally to the inside. From there, he charged hard leading with that left and using his right elbow pushing into Homarefuji's torso. These kinds of counter moves are exactly what's lacking in regards to Kagayaki as Takanoiwa advances to 3-2 while Homarefuji is still winless.

M13 Takekaze looked to strike quickly and move left at the tachi-ai, but M14 Toyohibiki read it perfectly and drove Takekaze straight back and out with a right tsuki. It wasn't as if Takekaze's tachi-ai was horrible; Toyohibiki just read it perfectly and was ready with de-ashi when the opportunity arose. Good stuff here as Toyohibiki moves to 4-1 while Takekaze ain't so shabby himself at 3-2.

For some reason, M12 Chiyotairyu just loves to pummel M14 Jokoryu, and today was no different as Tairyu came out with guns blazing and good de-ashi. Jokoryu tried to escape right, but with Chiyotairyu bearing down, Jokoryu wasn't able to sufficiently plant his right leg at the perfect angle, and the pressure from his opponent's attack caused the knee to buckle and Jokoryu to just collapse in defeat. They salvaged the old wheelchair from the Pawn Stars folks and unfortunately wheeled Jokoryu out of the venue. I'm still waiting for the day when m'gal, Chiyotairyu, approaches his bouts everyday just as he did against Jokoryu. He's 3-2 in the meantime while Jokoryu is surely done at 2-3.

The most intriguing bout of the first half featured M10 Mitakeumi vs. M12 Shodai, but it came up a dud. I know, I know, it looked real, but Mitakeumi was mukiryoku from the start. Mitakeumi struck low supposedly looking to get to the inside, but he brought his left arm to the outside for no reason giving Shodai moro-zashi. Shodai didn't exactly have his gal pulled in snug as he made his yori charge, and it allowed Mitakeumi to maki-kae with the left arm as he retreated. Then, in the process Mitakeumi's body actually reacted instinctively as he began a counter tsuki-otoshi move at the edge, but the tsuki was half-assed and he didn't move completely to the side allowing the rookie to push him out in the end. Intentional or not, Mitakeumi was mukiryoku here the whole way, and I hate to see Mitakeumi lose his sumo virginity like this. Going back to my pre-basho report, I have no idea if Mitakeumi's oyakata advised him of this strategy; I don't know if the Shodai camp sent over some cash; nor do I know if Mitakeumi just decided this on his own. The "why" doesn't matter. I'm just pointing out the "what." Shodai moves to 4-1 with the gift while Mitakeumi falls to 3-2.

M9 Sadanoumi came with both hands to the neck against M11 Endoh before quickly getting moro-zashi before Endoh knew what had hit him. Because Sadanoumi was looking shove at first, he wasn't able to just bulldoze Endoh back without argument, but he did mount his charge straightway. In the process, Endoh was able to maki-kae with his right moving the bout to migi-yotsu, but Sadanoumi is simply the better rikishi, and when Endoh made the mistake of thinking he could easily maki-kae with his left as well, Sadanoumi polished him off with a textbook yori-kiri. They were talking afterwards about how all of the Japanese fans seem to be let down when Endoh loses, and you really gotta feel for the kid. All of this hype and these unrealistic expectations aren't his doing as he falls lower to 1-4. Sadanoumi sorta rights the ship at 2-3.

M9 Gagamaru was slow at the tachi-ai allowing M8 Takayasu to grab the left inside and right outer grip to boot, and Takayasu wasted no time in pivoting to his right and firing on the uwate-nage with the right outer. Gagamaru is such a load that the throw didn't come straightway, but Takayasu kept dragging and ultimately got the Georgian off his feet providing for a spectacular fall. Takayasu is a shweet 5-0 while Gagamaru has been subpar at 2-3.

M8 Myogiryu struck with a right kachi-age against M11 Amuuru, and with the Russian ducked down low, Myogiryu quickly switched gears and went into pull mode yanking Amuuru forward to the straw, and as the Russian looked to square back up, Myogiryu was onto him like white to rice and had his opponent pushed out with ease. Myogiryu hasn't looked great this basho, but he schooled Amuuru today leaving both rikishi at 3-2.

M7 Toyonoshima quickly gained moro-zashi at the tachi-ai, but it's tough for him with that stature to dispatch a much taller guy like M6 Okinoumi in short order. As Toyonoshima drove him towards the straw pushing up into Okinoumi, Oki was able to finagle the right frontal belt grip that quickly turned into the right inside, and with this new position, he was able to continue moving right and fire a counter tsuki-otoshi that sent Toyonoshima belly flopping to the dirt. For whatever reason, the ref pointed towards Toyonoshima instead of Okinoumi, and after the bout Toyonoshima was standing up like the loser while Okinoumi was squatting in the winner's pose, but the ref corrected them, and there was no mono-ii. They showed replay after replay, but there was no indication that Okinoumi stepped out at any point. I mean, Okinoumi's toes and feet were close at times, but he left no marks in the sand. This was the kind of decision where the ref would have been obligated to put that dagger in his belt to good use afterwards because this was a horrible call. Shame on the judges too for at least not calling a mono-ii in this one. Okinoumi was flat out robbed due to an old man's eyesight and lazy judges as both rikishi end the day confused at 4-1.

M6 Tokushoryu came out with a few tsuppari against M7 Tamawashi, but The Mawashi was able to move right and counter with shoves of his own that kept Tokushoryu upright, and from there, the nimble Tamawashi easily drove Tokushoryu back and into the first row. Tokushoryu's sauce is anything but special this basho as the dude looks sickly falling to 0-5. Tamawashi hasn't necessarily been kicking ass and taking names on that dohyo, but he does improve to 2-3.

M3 Ichinojo committed a sloppy false start against M4 Kotoyuki, and I wonder if it made him hold up for the do-over because Kotoyuki connected on some great right nodowa that kept the Slug upright and far away from Kotoyuki's belt, and so Kotoyuki kept the de-ashi turning shoving Ichinojo off balance and out of the dohyo for the surprising win. This one lasted mere seconds as Kotoyuki surges to 4-1 while Ichinojo has been curiously lethargic falling to the inverse mark of 1-4.

M5 Sokokurai looked to get moro-zashi from the start, but M2 Takarafuji yanked him out of it by the left arm, and as the two looked to square back up, Sokokurai got moro-zashi again, but Takarafuji used a series of counter tsuki-otoshi attempts to keep himself in the ring and ultimately regain the left arm to the inside. Sokokurai responded with the right outer and the chess match was on at this point. After catching their breath from the initial fray, Sokokurai made his move leading with that right outer, but he wasn't sufficiently planted to the inside with his left enabling Takarafuji to somehow survive, and so the two dug in again with the crowd showing their appreciation. Sokokurai stayed low and eventually backed out of everything leaving the two in the grapplin' position, and eventually (to the tune of three minutes and thirty seconds), Takarafuji finally grabbed the right outer grip, but that was just insurance since the real force-out came from his left inside. Easily the best bout of the basho so far as Takarafuji demonstrates the importance of the inside position picking up his first win at 1-4 while Sokokurai can keep his head up after this effort as he falls to the same 1-4 mark.

Sekiwake Tochiohzan kept his arms in tight from the tachi-ai as M1 Aminishiki attempted an oshi attack, and while Ami was able to drive the Sekiwake back a step or two, Tochiohzan slipped into moro-zashi and turned the tables. In a pinch, Aminishiki went for a quick pull, but Tochiohzan knew it was coming and sent Aminishiki into the first row for his troubles. Pretty methodical stuff here as both guys end the day 2-3.

Sekiwake Yoshikaze jumped the gun against Ozeki Goeido committing a blatant false start, and that was definitely on his mind the second time because when the two went for reals, Yoshikaze actually let up as he came out of his stance thinking the tachi-ai wasn't in sync. The ref ruled otherwise, however, and Goeido responded by grabbing the left frontal grip. Yoshikaze responded with the left inside and was actually able to bully the Ozeki upright and away from that left belt grip. Just incredible that an Ozeki would blow a tachi-ai like this, but sure enough, it was Yoshikaze who dictated the pace from here burrowing in low with that left arm forcing Goeido to attempt to counter with a right kubi-nage, but Yoshikaze proved too nimble grabbing Goeido's right leg and just lifting him off balance before dumping him across the straw with ease. I mean, Yoshikaze let up at the tachi-ai and Goeido was still unable to force the action to the Sekiwake's half of the dohyo! Unbelievable as both guys end the day 3-2.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku charged hard and stayed low against Komusubi Tochinoshin coming away with moro-zashi, and the Ozeki kept his gal in tight and more importantly upright as he began to force him this way and that around the ring. Tochinoshin tried to gaburi Kotoshogiku away just enough to grab an outer belt grip, but every time he reached his arm, Kotoshogiku would counter with a scoop throw that kept Tochinoshin upright and off balance. After about eight seconds, the Ozeki had pinned his foe to the edge setting up the ultimate force-out win in the end. I don't think we've seen a bout of sumo from Kotoshogiku like this in several years as he stays perfect at 5-0 while Tochinoshin falls to 2-3. As for calling this bout straight up, I've maintained all along that I think these Ozeki can win two or three bouts a basho on their own, and here's one of them for the Geeku. Once he got those lunch lady arms up tight into Tochinoshin's armpits, he took away the Komusubi's movement and did it beautifully. This was an upset win for sure, but I always give credit when credit is due...even if I have to wait a year or two.

Ozeki Terunofuji went for the quick hari-zashi with the right at the tachi-ai, but M4 Kyokushuho shaded a bit left grabbing the right outer grip in the process and hunkering down low so the Ozeki couldn't raise him upright with his left inside. Normally, Terunofuji would use that left inside to lift his gal upright, charge in tight, and then make his move, but Kyokushuho was positioned perfectly for a dashi-nage should Terunofuji advance and the Ozeki knew it. A stalemate ensued here for close to 30 seconds before Kyokushuho retooled his grip from one fold of the belt to the whole belt, and sensing that Terunofuji had nothing with which to attack, he made his force out charge pinning Terunofuji up against the straw. The Ozeki was unable to move laterally, and he just couldn't dig in any longer due to that right knee finally just giving up and letting Kyokushuho force him out in the end. Terunofuji was visibly in pain after this one, and the longer he keeps participating in hon-basho, the longer it's going to take for those injured knees to heal. Terunofuji falls to 3-2 with the loss while Kyokushuho improves to 2-3.

M1 Shohozan had the clear path to moro-zashi against Ozeki Kisenosato, but he brought his left arm back for whatever reason and just stood there as Kisenosato pushed him over and out. I mean, Shohozan didn't attempt a single move here in the five second affair, and this was either mukiryoku sumo from Shohozan or bad sumo from Shohozan. Take your pick. Kisenosato improves to 3-2 with the win while Shohozan's lone victory was that bout against Harumafuji. Seems to me that if you were able to hurl a Yokozuna into the first row in mere seconds earlier in the basho, surely you'd try and regain some of that magic against someone ranked lower.

Speaking of Harumafuji, the Yokozuna came with the right hand to the neck of M3 Kaisei and the left arm to the inside, and after bullying Baby Huey this way and that, the Yokozuna secured the right outer grip, and from here it was a perfect display of sumo where Harumafuji avoided the chest to chest affair with the larger dude and just finessed his opponent into a position where he could push in at his left leg (the harai move) and throw with the left inside at the same time sending Kaisei over and down with a beautifully executed left belt throw. I watch this kind of sumo from Harumafuji and then even Kyokushuho's skill against Terunofuji, and I tell you, these Mongolians have taken the sport to a higher plane. It's just unfortunate that we don't get superior sumo all the time, but I understand why we don't as HowDo scoots to 4-1 while Kaisei falls to 2-3.

And no sooner do I praise the Mongolians than Yokozuna Kakuryu comes out lamely against Komusubi Ikioi keeping both arms out wide allowing the taller rikishi the path to moro-zashi. With Kakuryu just fumbling down low, instead of body him up Ikioi just moved a bit to the left and pulled the Yokozuna down in about three seconds. Kakuryu put both hands to the dirt with no other part of his body touching the dohyo, and when that happens, you know the dude just took a dive, and in watching the replays, there really wasn't any move employed by Ikioi to send a rikishi to the dirt much less a Yokozuna. This was just a sloppy affair all the way around, the the fans seemed to sense it too because there was little buzz and excitement in the arena afterwards. Ho hum as the Kak drops to 3-2 while Ikioi is 2-3.

In the day's final affair, Yokozuna Hakuho righted the Mongolian ship by getting his right inside and the left outer grip against M2 Aoiyama, and the Yokozuna wasted no time in just dispatching his foe via uwate-nage. For what it's worth, Aoiyama was quite mukiryoku here, but I think he was just resigned to his fate. It's like hooking a trout in the winter time. If being caught is inevitable, expend as little energy as possible and hope the angler practices catch and release. Hakuho is a perfect 5-0 while Aoiyama is a listless 0-5.

Okay, five days in the books and it's business as usual. I'll be back tomorrow.

Day 4 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
We all know the storyline is Hakuho and whether he will gather up another yusho or perpetuate more fade. So far that storyline is well in hand, as amongst the best wrestlers on the banzuke he is already the only one with no losses. Next we have about ten days of seeing how that holds up.

Fortunately there is another brewing storyline, and that is the trio of young wrestlers, Makuuchi rookies Shodai and Kagayaki and sophomore Mitakeumi, who bring a note of freshness because they are all new Japanese entrants with youth and some pedigree that makes them interesting and generates a fun parlor game on who'll be the best of them. I won't say "who's next," because the phrase is overused and because, as has already been pointed out on this site, such hype does them no good. It's half unavoidable: we're so keyed up to see a young Japanese talent rise and show domination that every new comer is stared at the way a 25 year old guy who's never had a date stares at every woman he meets, wonders "is this my future wife?" and scares the bejeesus out of her. So I'll admit my own keen interest in them as well, but will hold off on whether they're Yokozuna or Ozeki material or other such unfathomables, and restrict myself to saying I hope at least one of them will be really good in a year or two.

So far, Kagayaki, who has the best body and age statistics in this group, has looked like nothing on the dohyo, with no speed, presence, or charisma. I'm pretty much ready to say he won't be anything interesting. Mitakeumi has impressed, in a negative sort of way, with his haughty attitude, youthful pride and exuberance, and bullying, aggressive sumo in the ring. I still say he is too small to really capitalize, but he certainly is displaying the presence and swagger star athletes need. Shodai is a quieter presence, but thus far I've liked his basics and his poise. So, watching to see which of these has the best tournament will continue to be fun, and I'll look forward to when they fight each other--which we get our first instance of today.

M13 Takekaze (2-1) vs. M15 Kitataiki (2-1)
When two grizzled veterans have drifted so low they host the opening match of the division, you know you shouldn't spend a lot of time breaking it down. Kitataiki worked on a belt grip, got one, was knocked off it by Takekaze, and then was in trouble, as Takekaze was able to play his game, keeping his man off balance until he could find a moment for the hataki-komi pull win.

M14 Jokoryu (2-1) vs. M13 Takanoiwa (1-2)
Jack Nicholson (Jokoryu) also went for the pull, which made this one also very easy to break down: Jokoryu consequently lost, as Takanoiwa didn't pay any attention to the pull, just concentrated on moving his feet forward and keeping pressure to his opponent, and got the very easy looking and well-earned oshi-dashi win as a reward.

M16 Kagayaki (1-2) vs. M12 Shodai (2-1)
And here we go! I keep hoping for Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) to break out; I love his name, his belt color, his physique, his history (paid a lot of dues) and that fact that Mike spotted him as a prospect like six years ago already. However, the match was illustrative of what I indicated in my introduction: Shodai seems to have "it," and Kagayaki manifestly does not. Mosquito left himself open at the tachi-ai, and seemed to be looking to get low and inside but forgot to bring his arms with him, while Shodai surged in, swept Kagayaki's arms backwards, and it was all over but for the finishing of it. Mosquito tried to get his arms down and in use, but Shodai kept sweeping them back up so easily they looked like fresh wet udon at Tanikawa Beikokuten. To say Shodai had moro-zashi is to understate his dominance here; he also had body position, ring sense, and pressure as he got the yori-kiri win. He looked like a veteran, while Mosquito looked like the rookie he is. That sort of precocious presence bodes well for Shodai, who is off to a hot, good-looking start.

M11 Endo (0-3) vs. M15 Homarefuji (0-3)
Just as I was about to write "time to make fun of Endo," Homarefuji fell down and lost, tsuki-otoshi. I was looking forward to this one, as I always look forward to Endo bouts (though for vastly different reasons than the crowd does), as with Endo winless I knew it was time for him to get a present, but wondered if Homarefuji would be willing to deliver, being winless himself and at the perilous bottom of the division. The match told the tale: Homarefuji had no problem moving Endo back with shoves and pushes, and Endo did nothing to knock him down, but half way to victory Homarefuji's balance bailed out on him, and viola! (pronounced "vee-oh-la" in northern Wisconsin), Endo got a win.

M14 Toyohibiki (3-0) vs. M11 Amuuru (2-1)
Toyohibiki's game is all about momentum: he needs to push his opponent out or down on his first attack, or he loses, period, as he has no ability to counter or adjust. So, after a very few seconds of pushing Amuuru around, when Amuuru's game was brought into play--staying low and reaching in for the belt, often on the front, then being patient and waiting for his opponent to make a mistake--I knew it was over for Toyohibiki. Indeed, after a few fruitless moments of trying to escape the grip of the Love God (it's Amuuu-ru!), Toyohibiki was literally dropped onto the clay, shitate-nage, as instead of throwing him Love God just let go of him at the right unbalanced moment. Plop. Done.

M12 Chiyotairyu (1-2) vs. M9 Gagamaru (2-1)
This one may have been a giveaway for whatever reason, as Gagamaru lowered his head, kept his arms in tight without using them--basically a standing fetal position--took two steps, and waited to be pulled down, which Chiyotairyu was more than happy to do, hataki-komi.

M10 Mitakeumi (3-0) vs. M8 Takayasu (3-0)
The Bully (Mitakeumi) still has a lot to learn. High 'n' Easy (Takayasu) looked pumped for this one. His emphatic hand clap before his final squat said, "let's see who's young and talented." It isn't that long ago that he was being hyped for being one of the first two rikishi born in the reign of the current emperor to make the upper division, and he's had enough success and shown enough grit that I still haven't given up on him developing into a jo'i fixture or regular sanyaku guy. The bout was a good one, but classic experience vs. inexperience. The Bully had the momentum and slid High 'n' Easy back to his last life line, but couldn't quite push him out, and when Takayasu wisely shaded to his right to get better ring position, The Bully foolishly went for the pull. At that moment High 'n' Easy immediately reversed the momentum, turned Bully around, got him to the tawara, and pushed him over it yori-kiri. Mitakeumi is going to have plenty of bouts like this.

In today's tale of the rookies, the ranking is very easy, and fits what I'd seen the first three days as well: Shodai #1, Mitakeumi a solid #2, and Kagayaki a very distant #3.

M6 Tokushoryu (0-3) vs. M9 Sadanoumi (0-3)
A match of two fading never-wuzzers. It is always gratifying to see guys try to pull and get soundly beaten as a result. That's all Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) offered here, and as Sadanoumi was already on his belt, the resultant yori-kiri win for Sadanoumi was swift.

M8 Myogiryu (1-2) vs. M5 Sokokurai (1-2)
Myog's tournament was going down the drain--you could see he knew he needed to turn it around and that to bring the fire was the way to do it. The far better wrestler, he was able to re-gather a bit of self-confidence with an opponent like this and swiftly get up close into Sokokurai's face and body up to him; he then handled a few moments of separation well by staying centered toward his opponent and reaching in for a neck grip so deep his hands looked much bigger than they have a right to. He then destroyed Dark Warehouse (Sokokurai) oshi-taoshi. This was the right way for Myog' to get back on track; expect more of this from him over the next few days.

M4 Kyokushuho (0-3) vs. M7 Tamawashi (1-2)
Lest it be said that we only call mukiryoku when it is a foreigner losing to a Japanese rikishi (which I did with Gagamaru earlier…) let me say that the rapid dismantling of Tamawashi, a savvy veteran, looked too good to be true here. This was over in a about two seconds, with Kyokushuho knocking his man upright, then pulling his seemingly blinded and befuddled opponent down, hataki-komi. I may very well be wrong, as there was nothing wrong with Kyokushuho's technique, and he hit hard and swiftly--could be he just got lucky here and everything went just as he planned. But I think two guys were in on that planning.

M7 Toyonoshima (2-1) vs. M4 Kotoyuki (3-0)
As I didn't get to make fun of Endo today, at least I can take a moment to heap derision on Kotoyuki. But wait! His sumo has been so good this tournament, I'll forgive the ostentation pre-bout theatrics for a day. These two guys have a similar physique, and I knew for damn sure there was no way Toyonoshima was going to intimidated by Kotoyuki's attack rush, so this was a good match-up on paper. In outcome, Toyonoshima perhaps showed us what Kotoyuki will be ten years from now, calmly absorbing Kotoyuki's aggression, leaping nimbly out of the way at the right moment, turning around, and yori-kiri'ing Little Snow (Kotoyuki) out. However, I must be honest and say Kotoyuki's thrusts here were palsied, pale imitations of his normal technique, and his forward movement ponderously slow, so I did wonder what was going on.

M6 Okinoumi (3-0) vs. M3 Kaisei (2-1)
You could just feel Lake Placid (Okinoumi) had a good shot at winning this. He's in his comfort zone at this rank, momentum is huge for these guys, and he is off to a hot start. This match all keyed off the left inside arm Placid employed; he used it to keep Kaisei's right arm off him and to leverage Kaisei up and keep him moving left, just keeping going, slowly revolving, until he could tip Kaisei over. It took two revolutions, and was assisted by a near invisible trip at the end and by getting that same right grip down off the body and onto the belt, but it worked, shitate-nage. Good match by Sea of Tranquility (Okinoumi) here.

S Tochiohzan (1-2) vs. S Yoshikaze (1-2)
Battle of the Sekiwake! And what an underwhelming one it is. Look at those records. And while The Possessed (Yoshikaze) has been a whole amusement park all by himself the last few tournaments, he is pyrite up here and I'm waiting for him to go back where he belongs so we can get someone else more promising in. That said, he played his game perfectly in this one, slapping wildly but with good concentration and focus, never allowing Tochiohzan to get inside as he loves to do. Tochiohzan did just kind of stand there, and there was a great moment when Yoshikaze surged to the inside on a wide-open, dazed-looking 'Zan, just like 'Zan likes to do when winning. After that it was an easy yori-kiri win for The Possessed.

O Kotoshogiku (3-0) vs. M1 Aminishiki (2-1)
Aminishiki has a reputation for being stubborn and refusing to play by the usual mukiryoku/deference rules. Oh, he does it too, but he's more unpredictable than some (Takarafuji, Aoiyama…). I'm sure guys hate to face him--you never know what he is going to do. Here, he went hard for the pull, and it worked pretty well; Kotoshogiku just managed to drive Ami out while falling full frontal to the dirt; it could have gone either way but went to the Geeku, oshi-dashi. This is as legitimate a win as you'll see from Geek at this rank at this point in his career.

M2 Aoiyama (0-3) vs. O Terunofuji (2-1)
Ahhhh! What a relief. We haven't seen THIS Mountain of Terror (Terunofuji) in quite a while. He was patient, strong, and didn't do any standing up and limping around. Blue Mountain (Aoiyama) is quite a big boy, and this wasn't easy for Terror, but it was classic Terror in many ways. First Terror got a hold of both of Aoiyama's arms sideways, pinned them, and tried to sling him down. Blue is too big though and it didn't work. Then Fuji the Terrible (Terunofuji) went for the belt, which was what he likes best. He had first one side, then the other, and Blue is not a belt guy, so from here the win was academic, yori-kiri, though it took some time because Blue did not want to lose. Good stuff. Terrible is so good I'm always surprised when he comes on line so early in the day; when he's on he still belongs right in there at the top.

O Kisenosato (2-1) vs. K Tochinoshin (1-2)
Great match. A grunting, lengthy belt battle. As anyone who reads this site knows, the Japanese Ozeki get a lot of insults. But Kisenosato will not get them from me without some balance. I think Tweedledum (Kisenosato) is a bad strategist and has terrible ring flexibility, but I also think his grip is strong and his yori-kiri willful and dominant. He is a legitimate but unfortunate Ozeki who is simply outclassed by much better Yokozuna. He is night and day from the embarrassing Kotoshogiku. As this match went on, it was 50/50 in a straight up fight who would prevail. I expected that to be Kisenosato--this kind of belt match is his bread and butter, and guys do sometimes let up for him. However, the scales tipped the other way, and in the end, it was Tochinoshin ending this one with a beautiful shitate-nage. I won't break it down except to say they both fought hard and strained mightily, and one must lose and one must win. So, if we don't believe in Kisenosato as a legit Ozeki, what do you say about this one? Do you say Tochinoshin could have won easily and let it drag on to give Kise a chance? Or are you more generous and says it was straight up and this shows Tochinoshin is a better wrestler (which I agree is possibly true)? The key point is the time BEFORE the outcome: if you're thinking mukiryoku, how do you justify the outcome? And wouldn't you admit that if this was straight up, Kisenosato, even though he lost, is pretty damn good? Sorry, this was great sum, period, and showed the power and guts of BOTH of these legitimate powerhouses. If guys are sometimes letting up for Kisenosato, they should stop--he doesn't need it. THIS is what he needs. This is what we all need. Great bout.

K Ikioi (1-2) vs. O Goeido (2-1)
Two false starts here by Ikioi. That was all just theatre to set up the loss by Ikioi, which Goeido almost screwed up by falling down. Goeido smothered his way forward off the break and these guys were pasted against each other like two glue sticks in elementary school art class. Then Goeido backed up while pulling Ikioi by the neck; Ikioi just went along for the ride on that and lost, kubi-nage ("neck throw"), while Goeido fell on his butt. Mukiryoku, dumb sumo all around, or both.

Y Kakuryu (2-1) vs. M1 Shohozan (1-2)
These two guys bodied up and got on the belt pretty good. Kakuryu drove the Brown Bunny (Shohozan) back to the edge, then was driven back to the center himself, though he seemed to be dictating the action; perhaps he was looking to adjust his grip or re-position, because when he drove Bunny to the straw a second time, he deposited him down and off the dohyo with a yori-kiri dump like a guy stuffing a rotten head of lettuce down the kitchen garbage disposal. I love it when the Yokozuna finish off their wins so emphatically. That's why they're Yokozuna: "I can do THIS."

M2 Takarafuji (0-3) vs. Y Hakuho (3-0)
This was very easy for Hakuho, as Takarafuji was his usual passive self, just standing there doing basically nothing. That may work with lesser guys, letting you wait for an opening, but it ain't gonna work with a Yokozuna. Hakuho's story today was that he's going to go to 4-0. Like, right now, dude. Hands to the face and neck to create distance. Lighting move to get arms to the body and belt and create pressure and movement. Arms moved up under the pits and around the torso to control while moving his opponent out yori-kiri.

Y Harumafuji (2-1) vs. M3 Ichinojo (1-2)
Delicious potential here if they don't decide to be nice to each other. They didn't. Harumafuji challenged The Iron Blob of Gravity Grease (Ichinojo) front on, and went for his hard-smack tachi-ai featuring evil dual-handed neck strangulation. Then he let go, backed up, and gave Ichinojo a couple of slaps. That didn't work, or course--the man is The Mongolith, for goodness sakes!--and Harumafuji looked kind of unhappy about that, so the 'Maf then attacked instead, putting his head into pile-driver mode and convincingly scoring the linear yori-kiri force out. Ichinojo was just standing there waiting for it all, but that's what he does anyway. Works pretty good against lesser guys. It's no wonder the Yokozuna get frustrated with his effort level; he's going to have to have more than "I'm big, I stand here, you try and fail to beat me, I smother you" against the Yokozuna. They didn't get to the top by standing around.

Twelve wrestlers on the banzuke matter. Their records at the end of today:
The best: Hakuho 4-0, Harumafuji 3-1, Terunofuji 3-1, Kakuryu 3-1.
The Ozeki: Kotoshogiku 4-0, Goeido 3-1, Kisenosato 2-2
The second best: Tochinoshin 2-2, Tochiohzan 1-3, Ichinojo 1-3, Aoiyama 0-4, (Osunaarashi out with an injury.)
Given the relative skill levels in these groups, the Association will take it.

(Hands microphone politely to Mike.)

Day 3 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
(Picks Mike's microphone off the floor. Doffs top hat and snaps spats at the audience.) Well, ladies and gents, gather round for some scrumpdiddlyumptious sumo action! The fat will fly! The foes will fall! Sweat and salt will be ground together into a fine layer of gooey grit atop the swept clay! See giants of strength do battle while holding nothing but straps of cloth! See smaller men burrow amongst the folds of other men's obesity! Will the G-Gr-Gra-Graaaand Champions of Mongolia sling native sons into the front rows of startled spectators, or will they crumble in shameful defeat, earned or picked, at the feet of victorious opponents, to the roar of the ravening masses? What will become of dozens of lesser tubbies, who must do their bestest to testest their mettlest against each-others bulging bosoms? Find out right here, folks, for a nickel, or free!

M15 Homarefuji (0-2) vs. M16 Kagayaki (0-2)
You pull you lose, or so it should be in these parts and all others. This was a battle of upper limbs a'bangin' on shoulder fronts, but Mountain of Praise (Homarefuji) chose to let up midway through, not even a pull really, just a beat, a sigh, a doom, a decay, and Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) moved leadenly in response across the baked earth and forced him out, oshi-dashi, to get off the hard times killin' floor. Both looked like lambs already slaughtered and bought.

M14 Jokoryu (1-1) vs. M15 Kitataiki (2-0)
Northern Carpenter (Kitataiki) was lightning off a surprise-quick tachi-ai, jerking 'em hands up snake-strike way, but Jack Nicholson (Jokoryu) was even quicker, stickin' 'em his own paws out front as if to say "whoah, woah, there!" and stopped the Carpenter from getting inside. Instead, it was Heath Ledger (Jokoryu) who got inside off this odd tachi-ai job, and Carpenter had to respond by pinching 'em arms of his, as if to say, "now now, now!" But Jack was sneaky, and the Carpenter didn't pinch tight enough, so Jack sneakily slid one of those python limbs effortlessly down in and got a hold of the cloth, and drew the Carpenter's curtains, oshi-dashi.

M14 Toyohibiki (2-0) vs. M13 Takanoiwa (1-1)
Both wearing belts of the palest gray or silver, they looked like ghosts in the moonlight. Two wrapped cadavers at dawn. Ghouls in a graveyard. Two shroud weavers drinking tea. Takanoiwa got a belt, but with the fallen trees of Toyohibiki's hammy arm hocks falling on his skull, it was kind of like what happens if you reach your hand in to grab the spools of moving plague-cart wheel: you have to let go. Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki) bodied up upon him with the smothering embrace of the finality of time and knocked him over the way winter wind reaps the shredded corn stalks, oshi-taoshi.

M12 Chiyotaikai (1-1) vs. M13 Takekaze (1-1)
If Takekaze were a bottle rocket, he went off here. A tricky little jumping frog and runner-about, he sometimes shows that sumo can still mean a pick-pack of punch-up; stand forward to pummel your foe, no matter 'a small you is, and sometimes that works. Takekaze burst from the tachi-ai, Chiyotaikai tried one ridiculous pull of his hairy pate, and Takekaze removed his foe into mid-air from mid-dohyo; Chiyotaikai disappeared left off my screen, like a flock of kites torn from the shipmaster's hands in gales off of Cape Horn, oshi-dashi.

M12 Shodai (1-1) vs. M11 Amuuru (2-0)
As I often find announcers annoying, I often watch sports with the sound off. The whole Packers-Redskins game this weekend was accompanied by a Pharoah Sanders, Eddie Harris, and Huun-Huur-Tu soundtrack, and I missed no Aikmanbuck. However, I'm glad I had the sound on for this one, because the match keyed off the thwacking platsch of Shodai's sheathed musculature bodying mightily into Amuuru's sleek physique--a sound you don't hear enough in sumo these days. Ol' Shodai put both fists down, Kakizoe-style, then catapulted up into Amuuru, WHAP! After that Amuuru looked like a sneak thief trying to climb over a barbed wire fence, and bleeding out on it, as Shodai got all in up underneath him and lifted him away, oshi-dashi. All you need to get over a barbed wire fence is a ladder and a rug, but Shodai stole his.

M11 Endo (0-2) vs. M9 Gagamaru (1-1)
Lord Gaga gazed down from his seat on high and saw a smooth faced child across the hall. "Who brought this fresh boy to fight me, his face yet un-nicked by razors?" thundered the Lord. "Lord, do not be deceived, a man he is," the retainers cringed, as light shone from the handsome visage of the unblemished cherub who now squatted before the Lord. "Hrrng. I will go easy," grunted the Lord, half to himself, and lumbered from his throne, mangling at the boy, afraid he would crush him to powder like fall leaves under steel boots, were he to roll his Lordliness down upon him like he would upon men. And well, too, that he took such care, for within moments the stripling stepped out under the Lord's close and sweaty pressure, all too easily vanquished, withering before him oshi-dashi but not killed as the Lord had feared: merely beaten. "This is not a man," muttered the Lord.

M9 Sadanoumi (0-2) vs. M10 Mitakeumi (2-0)
This match was identical to the previous, with your man on the right, The Bully, Mitakeumi, battering your man on the left, Sadanoumi about like a farmer dumping a wheelbarrow full of rotten cabbage over a stone wall. Get under, push up, drive in. Oshi-dashi for the sixth match out of seven so far today (and the other was oshi-taoshi). Surprising dominance by Mitakeumi in this one (but then again Sadanoumi is following that typical career pattern of the good-but-not-particularly-so: rise to the sanyaku, fade to mid-Maegashira for a long, comfy stay).

M8 Myogiryu (1-1) vs. M7 Tamawashi (0-2)
A battle of slips and slaps. Snack Break (Tamawashi) slipped first, right off the tachi-ai, and in response Myog' tried to pull him down by the head. Maybe shoulda gone in hard instead. In fact, Myog' is pretty good, and shoulda tried his luck at the belt with this guy: just get the f*** in there and see how he likes that action, jock! I bet he doesn't! The second slip, after a lot of back and forth, was by Myog', tripping over his own toes and falling down, for a kimari-te of tsuki-hiza, ending it rather anti-climactically just like that. That's the price he paid for letting this one linger.

M7 Toyonoshima (2-0) vs. M8 Takayasu (2-0)
Oooh, said Takayasu, let me put me hands on yer face, on yer face! Let me feel 'em velvety cheeks! Let me massage 'em vein-bulged temples! Let me hold your slaverry jowls in my hands. Oooh, said Takayasu after that, let me put my head to your head. Let's lean over to each other and rub our hair together and quiver and twitch our sweet brain cribs while we fondle each other's forearms, ooh, let me stroke that coarse, sweat-dampened arm-hair, grip the undulating muscles above your crackling wrists. Then let's just stand here a minute and hold each other this way, let's. Ooooh, said Takayasu finally, you are lulled to near sleep; let me rest my callused palm upon your suet-sheathed back just one millisecond and fling you down to the unforgiving soil, hataki-komi; I've waited for the right moment and the time is perfect and the throw is as beautiful as you.

M5 Sokokurai (1-1) vs. M4 Kotoyuki (2-0)
Bleeeaaarrrrggghhh! Kotoyoki arm-swing! Mwwwaaaaaggghf! Kotoyoki in yo' face, Inner Mongoloser! Brrraaaaggggghhhhl! Kotoyuki move forward and urggggulllgrrrg get down and aaaagggghhhf, I'm all up in you, It's Dark There (Sokokurai)! Mrrrraaaaaggggghhhhh! Oshi-dashi! I'm the next Ozeki! I'm a god among men! I'm KOTOYUKI!!!!!!!!!!!

M4 Kyokushuho (0-2) vs. M6 Okinoumi (2-0)
Tippty-dancy, light and nimble, tiptoe forward went Okinoumi and cleverly, daintily grabbed his man round the torso. That's called getting' low and inside. Pedro Martinez couldn't paint the black any better. And out goes Kyokushuho. Yori-kiri win for Lake Placid (Okinoumi).

M6 Tokushoryu (0-2) vs. M3 Kaisei (1-1)
While Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) was focusing on looking up and reaching up with his too-short arms to grab the neck and face of his looming opponent, Kaisei was focused on pummeling down and in, lowering the boom. This was simple force-out oshi-dashi stuff, completed in seconds, leaving Tokushoryu like a dish of scrambled eggs served lukewarm and spat upon.

S Tochiohzan (1-1) vs. K Ikioi (0-2)
Off the tachi-ai Ikioi was quick and his arms were tight and scooping forward and up, preventing Chestnut Mountain (Tochiohzan) from getting his favored grip, moro-zashi. After that, Japan's Best (Tochiohzan) had very little, and looked like a lesser wrestler as Ikioi slid him across and out, oshi-dashi. (To be true, I had forgotten to pay attention to who the opponent was, and rewound to check which mid-Maegashira ne'er do well Ikioi had manhandled, and was surprised to see it was our man the 'Zan.)

M3 Ichinojo (0-2) vs. O Terunofuji (2-0)
Lame, lame. The Mountain of Terror (Terunofuji) was moving forward and had a left overhand grip, but he let go of it too easily, couldn't get it back, and did a weak job of trying as The Mongolith (Ichinojo) worked his right arm to keep Teru's left away from the belt and worked him back. Then The Future (Terunofuji) did one of those "oh, okay, I guess I lost, I'll just step out myself here and look chagrined" things that is about as inspiring as a sandwich of pounded daikon pulp on crustless Wonder Bread. To be fair to The Iron Blob of Gravity Grease (Ichinojo), he was moving more and better than he usually does, kept his feet un-aligned, was relatively low, and did have some nice inside right position. But I found the second half of this bout utterly unconvincing on Fuji the Terrible's part. Yes, this was good Ichinojo, but it was bad Terunofuji. The good news is the knee doesn't look to have bothered Teru at all yesterday or today. And I admit to some awe in watching the amount of sheer poundage at work here: combined 341 kilograms.

O Kisenosato (1-1) vs. M2 Takarafuji (0-2)
Kisenosato reminds me a lot of Tweedledum when he bobs up and down out of synch with his opponent in the pre-match face offs, staring poker faced and over-serious silly, blinking madly. I like this guy, but it must be hard to try and try and try and try and you just can't find how to be smart! You wish you had more smarts and look so hard for them but you just never will really understand. Anyway, this was a good belt-battle. They both had inside lefts and went chest to chest. The turning point was that Kisenosato was able to add an inside right to finish it off, yori-kiri, while Takarafuji did not add such like. This match's analysis sponsored by Miyabiyama's shoulder bump.

K Tochinoshin (0-2) vs. O Goeido (2-0)
Loved it. As the gyoji, dressed in shimmering verdant green like an iguana in a Kankan tree in Suriname, raised the gunbai slowly as if he was about to flick out his tongue and draw Goeido in like a ripe dragonfly, Tochinoshin did just that: lurched skillfully forward and absorbed Goeido in his massive awesomeness. Goeido, I think, probably expected Tochinoshin to let go or evade or dance about like he was tripping on bad yeast, but instead, lo!, Tochinoshin continued to simply move forward. Even though he didn't have the best grips, he stuck with it, smothering Goeido with a left arm hooked around the outside from above and a better right arm wrapped around the body inside. Goeido was too small, and too outclassed on the power front, and despite superior position had no ability to apply any pressure. Tochinoshin just lizarded him out yori-kiri. Very good sumo here from this physical powermonger.

O Kotoshogiku (2-0) vs. S Yoshikaze (1-1)
I was looking forward to this: Kotoshogiku is a slow old clown and Yoshikaze is a wild old crazy horse on fire. Should have been a contrast in styles. Unfortunately, The Possessed (Yoshikaze) had been exorcised, and as Kotoshogiku offered a right arm full of Valium and a left full of Prozac, Yoshikaze dozed off and stepped out of the ring under Kotoshogiku's avalanche of bromide, yori-kiri.

M1 Shohozan (1-1) vs. Y Hakuho (2-0)
Although he did not employ one of his sounder techniques, Hakuho looked kind of angry today: "I'm going to show what I can do." He likes to play around with different techniques in the ring and usually win anyway, opening himself up to the occasional loss and lots of weird looking sumo: "look ma, I can even win while standing on my head with an egg beater clenched in my bellybutton!" Today he went with face slaps, neck thrusts, and generally good, mean puncher stuff. Interestingly, once he got Shohozan right on the bales with this, The Storyteller (Hakuho) surged in for a belt grip and upper-body-on-you domination, then thrust powerfully with both legs, sending both of them three rows back into the crowd. It was a dame-oshi--Shohozan had already stepped out and Hakuho's own feet were at the tawara when he launched this explosion--but it was also about as emphatic an "and now I'm going to make sure I've finished you off" as I've ever seen. Compare that to the lame, cynical end of the Ichinojo-Terunofuji bout. No apologies: this is the way to do it.

Y Harumafuji (1-1) vs. M2 Aoiyama (0-2)
The 'Maf zapped right in to moro-zashi, and whereas Aoiyama tried his best to sling him this way and that--moro-zashi opens you up to significant sideways leverage by your opponent--Spring My Fuji (Harumafuji) has too good of balance to lose that way. And Aoiyama did NOT try his best at the end. Losing and about to be dame-oshi'ed like Shohozan, he lifted both arms off of Haru as if to say "okay, okay, it's over." Yeah, it was: but stick with it, and if he doesn't have the sense to let it go, take him down with you.

Y Kakuryu (2-0) vs. M1 Aminishiki (1-1)
List of rejected nicknames for Kakuryu: Stumpy the Firenut. Ball of Guts. Gutball. The Invisible Yokozuna. The Stealth Yokozuna. The Occasional Bomb. Hello, My Name is Kakuryu. (The last one is my favorite) Anyway, fascinating match. On the one hand, if you watch Aminishiki, it looks like a legitimate win for him. He did a half-cheating tachi-ai where his hands barely touched, giving him time to get those hands up and brain Kakuryu on the top off the noggin for an effective pull that had Kakuryu stumbling forward. And Aminishiki was very quickly on his compromised opponent to then force him out, oshi-dashi. Also, there is clearly nothing Kakuryu could have done at that point--he tried to evade, but had nowhere to go and no balance or position. However, if you watch off the tachi-ai, you may note that in the space in which Aminishiki fit in three moves--the finger-sweep of the ground, the initial tachi-ai hit, and the pull--Kakuryu never did a thing: his arms just dangled. So I would say he let himself be pulled, and if that finally got him in gear, well, it was too late for those gears to do anything but grind. The good news here is that people actually realized Kakuryu is a Yokozuna: they threw cushions! Invisible no more!

Early Leaderboard-Of-My-Own-Creation Look
For some reason I always really expect that all the Yokozuna and all the Ozeki are going to win all their matches the first five or six days, and I'm shocked--shocked!--when bunches of them drop early ones. This is, of course, stupid of me: it is more normal these days to have a loss or two amongst the Yokozuna and even more amongst the Ozeki at this point, and that is what we have this time, too. There is nothing new under the sun, and as Mike forecast, 2016 is looking a lot like 2015. I said on day one there are only twelve guys on the banzuke who matter; here is how they are doing, with Strata A (Yokozuna plus Terunofuji) in red, Strata B (Clown-Zeki plus Tweedledee) in green, and Strata C (repressed foreigners plus Tochiohzan) in purple:
Zero losses: Hakuho, Kotoshogiku
One loss: Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Terunofuji, Kisenosato, Goeido
Two losses: Tochiozan, Tochinoshin, Ichinojo
Three losses: Aoiyama, Osunaarashi (out)
And that's pretty-much a three-day microcosm of how the last year or so has played out. Watch for Kotoshogiku to fade in the second week and red to hold strong.

It's you and me again tomorrow, pal.

Day 2 (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I consider myself a glass half-full person, but I'm also a realist. I don't let outside sources make up my mind for me, and just because something is printed in the media, published on the innernet, or even written in a book, I don't believe it until I can analyze all of the facts and then make an educated decision. For example, I don't invest money into a company because I want the stock to go up. I invest money in a company because I think the stock will go up based on a careful analysis of fundamentals and precedent. I start my day 2 like this because I want to come into the new year and say I'm looking forward to a better year of sumo, but I just don't see the fundamentals that would back up that assessment. Without rehashing previous takes and beating a dead horse, the ultimate problem with sumo right now is you get to the jo'i bouts and nobody wants to beat the hell out of anybody.

Rikishi are going soft on the Japanese Ozeki; the Mongolians are letting scrub rikishi beat them; and then the Mongolians go soft against each other...for whatever reason. You watch the content of the sumo the last thirty minutes and it's just different. In the two bouts surrounding the Kisenosato - Aminishiki fiasco, there wasn't a good tachi-ai or a single move by either rikishi that amounted to sound sumo. Then you had Hakuho executing this wild tsuki-otoshi move where he flails himself to the dohyo in the process for no reason. And all of this is on the heels of guys just taking dives against Goeido and Kotoshogiku, so when you get to the final bout of the day where Harumafuji locks Tochinoshin up in textbook yotsu fashion before dumping him emphatically to the clay with an outer belt throw, you're like, "Wow, where did that just come from?" It used to be that 80% of the bouts among the jo'i were like the day 1 Harumafuji - Tochinoshin matchup and then 20% of it crap sumo thanks to gimmick guys trying to cat and mouse their way to wins, but now it's the complete opposite: crap sumo 80% of the time with the occasional pleasant surprise.

On that note, let's get to the day 2 bouts where speaking of gimmicks, NHK introduced a new interactive approach to the broadcast where they posted various survey questions and trivia questions for the fans and then posted the results a bout or two later. I get what NHK is trying to do here with this, but I go back to what I've been saying for years now: why can't we let the actual sumo content sell the sport, not these little mascots and gimmicks? If Japanese rikishi were dominating the sport, you wouldn't need all of these distractions to try and over up for what happens the last 30 minutes of the broadcast.

As I go along in my comments, I'll introduce the various survey questions asked along with revealing the results (hold onto your hats!!) because I think it gives great insight into the core fan base and why sumo is so popular right now despite a dearth of good, Japanese rikishi. Let's start with the first question posed as they waited for the Makuuchi bouts to begin:

Who do you consider the strongest Yokozuna ever?  Hakuho, Taiho, Chiyonofuji, or someone else?

Before they had tallied the results from the fans, they went to the mukou-joumen booth occupied by the former Tamanoshima, who offered his answer: Takanohana. Tamanoshima's explanation was that Takanohana was the strongest Yokozuna because he never allowed Tamanoshima to do anything in the ring.

It's kind of a curious pick considering Tamanoshima fought Takanohana exactly one time in his career while he faced Asashoryu 25 times and Hakuho 8 times, but there's your answer from the first horse.

After showing some graphics of former greats like Taiho, Futabayama, Asashoryu, and the late late Kitanoumi, they finally revealed the fan survey results, and the winner? Chiyonofuji! Second place was Taiho, "Other" came in third place, and then Hakuho checked in at a distant fourth as seen below (Hakuho's blue, Taiho is red, Chiyonofuji is green, and Other is yellow):

Chiyonofuji was great for sure, but when did he retire? He retired in 1992, and so his selection as the winner gives you a glimpose into the age demographic of your average sumo fan in Japan. Based off of the results from the sumo fans and Tamanoshima's reasoning, we can deduct the following theories from the survey results:

1. There is a bias towards the nationality of the rikishi
2. There is a bias towards older rikishi suggesting the age demographic of the typical sumo fan is old
3. Records don't matter

Judging the choices by Tamanoshima and the fans in general, I think this single survey question helps to explain why the venue is selling out 95% of the time these days. It's not about the records; you need a gullible population to pull this off; and an obvious bias exists in favor of the Japanese rikishi. Use the media to put spin the Japanese rikishi in a good light prior to the basho and project the Mongolians as vulnerable, and Wa Law! (that's how we spell Voilà in Utah)

Leading off the day was M15 Kitataiki who entertained a tsuppari affair ever so briefly before latching onto J1 Fujiazuma's belt with the left hand and swinging him over to the edge setting up the easy yori-kiri win. Kitataiki is a methodic 2-0 to this point.

Okay, next survey question (and this is how you really know that they're catering to old, Japanese people):  What season does Hakuho resemble the most?

I think we're all waiting to see something positive from M16 Kagayaki, who shaded to his left with a henka against M14 Jokoryu and coming out of the fray with left kote-nage grip. After a weak attempt to bully Jokoryu over to the side, the two created separation and jockeyed for position where it was clear that Kagayaki has a penchant for letting his opponents inside too easily as Jokoryu secured the deep left inside position. Kagayaki used his long arms to grab an outer grip, but he wasn't set up on the inside himself, and so after a brief stalemate, Jokoryu pounced with a left inside throw that sent Kagayaki off balance and down. Terunofuji the rookie ain't as Kagayaki falls to 0-2 while Jokoryu improves to 1-1.

Okay, I know I was shamelessly teasing you all by not answering the previous survey question, so Aki was the correct answer! Yes, Aki!! If I was a true sumo expert, I'm sure I would be able to add insight into that question and answer, but I was so befuddled at this point that I found myself actually looking forward to the Toyohibiki - Homarefuji matchup.

M14 Toyohibiki exploded from the tachi-ai and didn't give M15 Homarefuji any sort of opening shoving his foe back and out with such force that he drew the tsuki-dashi technique! Toyohibiki moves to 2-0 with the dominant win while Homarefuji falls to 0-2.

Next survey question:  Who determines when it's time for the rikishi to start their bout? The referee, the judges, the yobi-dashi, or the rikishi themselves?

M12 Chiyotairyu came with his thundering tsuppari against M13 Takanoiwa followed by his stupid pulls, and the tsuppari were good enough to knock Takanoiwa off balance to where Tairyu was able to pull him down while barely keeping his feet on top of the tawara. They actually called a mono-ii to look at Chiyotairyu's feet, but there was no detectable sand flying, and he didn't leave a mark just beyond the rope, so the initial decision stands. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

If you're new to the sumo broadcast, it's the judge sitting on the mukou-joumen's East side who gives the go-ahead. When I was a newbie to sumo, it took me about three basho to figure that one out...although way back in the 90's, it was stylish for rikishi to go on their own before the judge gave his okay if both rikishi wanted to and were in sync.

M13 Takekaze was quick out of the gate shoving upwards into M12 Shodai and knocking him back and then to the side. Shodai's only hope was a quick pull, but Takekaze had all the momentum and looked to shove Shodai back and down in a matter of seconds. But wait! They actually pointed the gunbai towards Shodai, who used a desperation right kote-nage like tug to pull Takekaze to the dirt. They called a mono-ii and correctly overturned the call giving Takekaze the win, and my question is...if Shodai can come that close to winning at the edge with an ugly kote-nage tug, why don't more rikishi among the jo'i who lose to the JPN Ozeki try something like this instead of just walking straight back? Justin wondering.

One of the most anticipated bouts in the first half featured M11 Endoh vs. M10 Mitakeumi, and it was Mitakeumi who took charge with a right nodowa and a left hand up and under Endoh's right elbow that knocked Endoh back and down in such easy fashion it was silly. I mean, there's nothing to break down here. Endoh is a weak rikishi, and it showed today as Mitakeumi is a cool 2-0 while Endoh falls to 0-2.

M8 Myogiryu was quick outta the gate sort of shading to his left leaving M9 Gagamaru to just charge straight forward into nothing. Myogiryu easily pulled him down with the right to the back of the head and left hand pulling at Gagamaru's right arm. Shame, shame, everyone knows Myogiryu's name as he moves to 1-1 while Gagamaru is pulled to the same mark.

Next trivia question:  What gets announced every day during the zen-han (first half) Makuuchi bouts?

M8 Takayasu and M9 Sadanoumi engaged in non-committal migi-yotsu bout meaning both rights were placed to the inside, but their chests weren't aligned as if they wanted to pull out of the move at any time. From this stance, Sadanoumi grabbed the left outer belt, but he wasn't positioned properly to the inside, and so Takayasu was able to back up and pull Sadanoumi forward with the right inside at the belt and his left arm pulling at the back of Sadanoumi's shoulder. Pretty easy bout here as Takayasu bruises his way to 2-0 while Sadanoumi is still winless.

At this point in the broadcast, they revealed that the Juryo matchups for the following day are determined during the zen-han Makuuchi bouts and then announced. Once the dust has settled from the Juryo bouts, they quickly determine the next day's matchups and then run that over to a small printing room in the venue. The Juryo bouts are printed up on a half size sheet of paper and then distributed to the various parties concerned. Stop me if all this trivia talk has you too hot and bothered.

M7 Toyonoshima and M6 Tokushoryu hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai, and while Tokushoryu had the right outer grip, he was poorly positioned to the inside with the left arm, and so Tugboat just plowed forward forcing Tokushoryu back so fast he could only offer a meager pull that didn't come close to working. Yet another bout that shows just how important it is to attack once you have an arm established to the inside as Toyonoshima sails to 2-0 while Tokushoryu ain't so special at 0-2.

M6 Okinoumi charged forward from the tachi-ai without a decent grip of his opponent allowing M7 Tamawashi to slip into moro-zashi at the edge. With Okinoumi's left arm up high around Tamawashi's neck, Okinoumi was there for the taking, but Tamawashi simply didn't attempt a counter move despite enjoying moro-zashi. Not sure why that was the case, but Okinoumi was able to swing Tamawashi around and down with that weak kubi-nage. Intentional or not, Tamawashi was clearly mukiryoku here never going for a single move the entire bout. Okinoumi improves to 2-0 while Tamawashi falls to 0-2.

At this point, we finished up the first half bouts, and so NHK posed the question: What zen-han bout would you like to see again? The Endoh - Mitakeumi matchup was the runaway winner...of course. As they are wont to do, NHK panned around the audience during the break, and I was pretty sure I could hear a lot of bleating going on. BA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A. BA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A.

M4 Kyokushuho and M4 Kotoyuki bounced off of each other at the initial charge, and with Kyokushuho standing up high, Kotoyuki easily plowed forward with his potent tsuki attack knocking Kyokushuho back and across in short order. Because Okinoumi was so limp here, there wasn't enough of an ass-kicking to give Kotoyuki the tsuki-dashi win, but he'll take this one all day as he scoots to 2-0. The listless Kyokushuho is 0-2.

M3 Kaisei and M5 Sokokurai bumped chests at the tachi-ai before hooking up in migi-yotsu. Sokokurai actually had the left outer grip, but Kaisei's chest was positioned in so tight, Sokokurai had no room to maneuver, and so Baby Huey just drove his legs forward sending Sokokurai back across the straw and ultimately down into the front row of fans. The Brasilian giant finally awakens moving to 1-1 while Sokokurai falls to the same mark.

M2 Aoiyama came with the hissing tsuppari against Sekiwake Yoshikaze, but there were no de-ashi behind the shoves, and so Yoshikaze was able to slap his arms up and under Aoiyama's extended arms slipping into moro-zashi in the process, and having attempted no forward momentum from the beginning, Aoiyama was the easy force-out project from there. Two popular Japanese rikishi and poor sumo both days from Aoiyama who falls to 0-2 while Yoshikaze picks up win number one.

Okay, here's a doozy of a question: What does sumo need most to maintain it's current popularity? Good sumo, fan service, Japanese rikishi success, or more internationalization?

Ozeki Kisenosato was wide at the tachi-ai giving Sekiwake Tochiohzan the left inside, and Oh actually had the right arm positioned to get to the inside thanks to the Ozeki's usual open stance (see picture at right...Oh's the one on the left), but Tochiohzan never persisted with that right arm allowing the Ozeki to settle into hidari-yotsu. With Tochiohzan clearly mukiryoku at this point, Kisenosato attacked with a yori charge leading with the right kote-nage grip, and as Tochiohzan was backed against the straw, he instinctively began a counter tsuki-otoshi move slipping to his right, but he never fired on that tsuki with the right hand allowing Kisenosato to square back up and score the ultimate force-out win. This was so blatant, especially when Tochiohzan threw Kisenosato off balance with the tsuki-otoshi move because you actually had Kisenosato leaning over the edge of the rope as if he was at the edge of a tall cliff, but the Sekiwake never fired the kill shot and ultimately let the Ozeki survive and turn the tables. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1, and I think a Kisenosato victory in this one was about as predictable as it could get.

As for the answer to the previous survey question, the overwhelming answer to the most important aspect in continuing on with sumo's popularity was the success of the Japanese rikishi. The actual word used for success used in the question was "katsuyaku," one of the words in the Japanese lexicon that does not have an equal in the English language, but the closest nuance that I can come up with is "producing successful results." So what in the minds of the Japanese people would be considered successful results? I think the fans have been programmed to accept frequent upsets of the Mongolians and prominent names on the yusho leaderboard from Japanese rikishi, and that's exactly what's been playing out the last few years.

M3 Ichinojo kept his arms wide at the tachi-ai allowing Ozeki Goeido to duck in tight and just plow forward. Ichinojo could have dug in and gotten the inside with either arm, but he just played nice backing up and feigning a pull with the left arm at the back of Goeido's melon. Pure mukiryoku sumo for ya here as Goeido stays unblemished at 2-0 while Ichinojo continues to hold back at 0-2.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku and Komusubi Ikioi hooked up in hidari-yotsu where instead of using his superior height advantage to lift the Ozeki upright, Ikioi just stood there and allowed Kotoshogiku to raise the Komusubi up instead leaving Ikioi a right kote-nage grip with which to counter. Of course, he wouldn't even attempt a counter move simply standing there and waiting for Kotoshogiku to make a move. Said move came with a feeble left scoop throw attempt from Kotoshogiku, but Ikioi complied just throwing his right elbow to the dirt as he fell over of his own accord. That's two bouts for Kotoshogiku and two opponents who couldn't put their elbows to the dirt fast enough as Kotoshogiku enjoys a 2-0 start while Ikioi falls to 0-2.

At this point, I just need to comment a bit on Miyabiyama, who provided color commentary today. I always liked Miyabiyama back when he was an active rikishi and now as an oyakata. The dude has quite a sense of humor, and while that wasn't necessarily on display today, the dude is a helluva snake oil salesman. After watching the Japanese Ozeki bouts that were clearly thrown for each of them today, he didn't skip a beat in trying to break it all down. There was no hemming or hawing, just confident analysis that summed up how impressive the sumo was displayed by the home team. They should really put this guy in the booth more often because he sounds way believable.

Ozeki Terunofuji and Komusubi Tochinoshin hooked up in the immediate migi-yotsu clash where Terunofuji had a frontal grip with the left that turned out to be an outer. That frontal grip on Tochinoshin's belt was key because it totally rendered Tochinoshin's right arm useless, and without the sufficient inside position to dig in or mount a counter charge, Tochinoshin was yori-kiri fodder as Terunofuji just wrenched him over by the belt before bodying him across. The manner in which both Mongolians have handled Tochinoshin over the first two days has been a thing'a beauty. And this is the kind of sumo I'd expect from the Japanese rikishi as well if they really were true Ozeki and superior to guys like Tochinoshin, Ichinojo, etc.

And just as soon as I heap praise on Yokozuna Harumafuji for completely dismantling Tochinoshin yesterday, he comes out and gets his ass handed to him in seconds by M1 Shohozan. Er, allegedly. From the tachi-ai, Harumafuji's arms were wide and uncommitted allowing Shohozan to get two hands to the throat and stand the Yokozuna upright. Harumafuji offered a lame left shove to the face of Shohozan before the M1 ducked in and grabbed moro-zashi. Still just standing there like a bump on a log, Shohozan immediately went for a right scoop throw that sent Harumafuji flying across the straw in spectacular fashion. The only way that a Yokozuna is thrown like this is if he's not playing defense. Any defense. And that was the case today as Shohozan picks up the gifted win and kin-boshi. Of course the announcers brought up the fact that Harumafuji spent a few days in the hospital with cellulitis, or whatever. As I pointed out in my pre-basho report, the spin that these Yokozuna are vulnerable sets up perfectly a bout like this to occur. Does anyone really believe that on his very best day that Shohozan can dismantle a Mongolian in less than two seconds? If he's on his best game, he can maybe win 5% of the time...if that, but destroy him in mere seconds? Implausible as both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

As they showed Yokozuna Kakuryu warming up prior to his bout against M2 Takarafuji, they pointed out that during pre-basho keiko, Kakuryu was working on "not resorting to his pull habit." Once again, here is another ruse setting up a future Kakuryu loss against a strategic rikishi when he will inevitably go for a dumb pull and then blame the loss on that. Guys with a bad pull habit are named Chiyotairyu; they don't reach the Yokozuna rank.

Anyway, Kakuryu and Takarafuji looked to hook up in hidari-yotsu, but with Takarafuji pressing forward, Kakuryu backed up and went for an offensive tsuki-otoshi move with the right arm. It didn't knock Takarafuji over because his position wasn't necessarily vulnerable to the move, but it did create annoying separation and force Takarafuji to work his way back inside. He'd never get there as Kakuryu was quicker to the punch using tsuppari to keep Takarafuji upright before ultimately driving him back and across. Methodic stuff for Kakuryu who moves to 2-0 while Takarafuji is still an o'fer.

In the day's final bout, Yokozuna Hakuho came with a migi hari-zashi slapping with the right hand and then assuming moro-zashi as M1 Aminishiki's hands were up high fishing for a pull attempt. That would never come as Hakuho had the de-ashi working before you could say "de-ashi," and the Yokozuna had Aminishiki shoved back and out in less than two seconds. As an aside, if the henka Aminishiki displayed yesterday against Kisenosato--or even the sumo he displayed in the first go-around for that matter--would also work against the Mongolians , he'd be doing more of it. Regardless of that, Hakuho skates to a 2-0 start, and there will be no mention of his ailing left elbow until he gets upset...by a Japanese rikishi of course. Aminishiki is 1-1.

(Droppin' the mic for Harvye tomorrow)

Day 1 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Welcome to 2016. Hakuho remains the only story. 2015 was a year of decline, withdrawing from a basho for the first time in many years and only (only!) managing to win three tournaments (and one of the last four). There are plenty of nay-sayers now: his sumo doesn't look dominant, wear and tear is starting to tell, he is hurt, he is uninspired, they say. This last may be true, but I hope to god it isn't. In a perfect world, 2016 gives us a Hakuho revival. He decides the others have had their chance, that Terunofuji isn't ready, that he wants to show how very not done he is. In a more likely outcome, however, the Storyteller wins a basho or two--not more--and salts the earth with other Mongolians in the other basho. Or...in a world which would be something like a relief for many parties, including him, Hakuho decides to retire. Less going out on top than saying, like the actor who played Bobby on Dallas, "I've got better things to do than hang around this place." Really, if you had all that money, would you put up with the humiliation? The scorn? The self-abnegation? If I had a chance to be the best and show how very long I can be the best, yes. If not? No. But he's been a good soldier, so I think he's got another few years of being one, and I am rooting (against the odds) for forty yusho. Will he? Won't he? This year, as the last, and the last, last, last, last, last, last, the story is Hakuho.

I'll boldly predict not just the winner of this tournament--Hakuho--but the total tournament tally this year: Hakuho and Harumafuji two apiece, Kakuryu and Terunofuji one.

M16 Kagayaki vs. J1 Seiro
I'd been waiting for Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) for quite a while, him being long and tall and young, but in his few visits from Juryo he didn't excite, and that continued today. I'm far from throwing him away after one Makuuchi bout, but I've seen no fire from yet, ever. I figure you want to beat the Juryo visitor on your first day in Makuuchi, and he couldn't even do that. He was cautious here, and ended up with the higher position, while Seiro was aggressive and got moro-zashi (both arms inside) and quickly drove The Mosquito out, yori-kiri. Yikes.

M15 Homarefuji vs. M15 Kitataiki
These guys have both bounced off their ceilings, Kitataiki long ago, Homarefuji last tournament, when he was helpless in his higher-ever rank in mid-Maegashira. So he needed to win this one, and was fast off the tachi-ai, but wasn't very inventive, and Kitataiki, an aged veteran now, was more willful and more active. Homarefuji also stayed too high up; consequently he did not have enough leverage to drive Kitataiki out, and gave Kitataiki space to work underneath. Homarefuji had his man at the bales three times, but Kitataiki pushed back the first time, evaded out the second, and the third did not have sufficient control of Kitataiki's body; Kitataiki was sideways to him, and when he realized this, Kitataiki pushed out with this left arm and knocked his too-straight-up opponent over, oshi-taoshi. Two matches down, two skillful wins.

M14 Jokoryu vs. M14 Toyohibiki
Once upon a time Jokoryu looked like a prospect. Then he got injured, disappeared into Juryo, and hasn't been the same. I am wondering if it is still about the injury and at some point he will heal up and we will see a Tochinoshin-esque rise. Nothing doing today, as he became the third youngish wrestler who needs to start the tourney with a win today...to start it with a loss. He had no power or effective technique; Kerosene Burp simply pushed him around until he fell over, oshi-taoshi, like a man fighting a giant steel ball bearing relentlessly rolling: can't grip it, can't stop it.

M13 Takekaze vs. M13 Takanoiwa
It is fun watching shriveling veterans try to work a way to a win. Takanoiwa ain't much, but he hit pretty hard off the tachi-ai, and if he had driven promptly forward, this would have been over quickly: a statement win. However, he stood there staring at the dancing Takekaze, enjoying his home run, so to speak, only to see it land well short of the fence. Takekaze did not go out, and Takanoiwa had to re-engage. To his credit, he did this well, keeping in front of Takekaze and repeatedly taking it to him, but I thought Takekaze was going to win: give him enough chances (and he got plenty) and he'll eventually spring a trap. The trap he finally sprung was an attempted inside trip; he had his leg hooked in there pretty good. But Takanoiwa was very far inside and close on the body, Takekaze couldn't get any leverage, and High Cliff (Takanoiwa) pushed Takekaze out for the okuri-dashi win. This showed how little gas Takekaze has left in the tank. I don't know if he'll make it through 2016.

M12 Chiyotairyu vs. M12 Shodai
Unlike Kagayaki, I thought Shodai looked good in his visits to Makuuchi from Juryo, so I'm a little more hopeful here. He looked solid today, too, though Chiyotairyu either gave it to him or was very stupid, rolling placidly to the clay sukui-nage after a lazy step-out-to-the-left by Shodai, who was going backwards and looked bored. Shodai looked like a snotty waiter wheeling the dessert tray, then showing it with a contemptuous arm flourish: here you go, crème brulee! It doesn't get any easier than this. Hope to see more fight for him tomorrow.

M11 Endo vs. M11 Amuuru
I liked this match-up very much. On our left, someone everybody roots for, for no good reason anymore. He just isn't very good, just handsome. On our right, somebody nobody pays any attention too, but should: a late bloomer with a stick-to-it-ive style and gritty potential. Amuuru is much better story than Endo and has been for a while: I know who I'd buy a ticket to see. Anyway, both wrestlers stayed low, but Amuuru has superior arm length, and Endo couldn't get to his belt. Meanwhile, Amuuru could; he wangled a nice, easy right grip, used it to turn his rag-doll around, then finished off with comedy: he had Endo facing the wrong way. Endo tried to turn around, but couldn't, as Amuuru was holding him by the back of the belt, a mule at harness. Hee-yah!! Giddy'ap, li'l dogie! Okuri-dashi.

M10 Chiyootori vs. M10 Mitakeumi
Mitakeumi was just fine in his debut last tournament, underwhelming to a safe 8-7 record, but I believe he is simply too small to be a real sanyaku threat. Like most guys of his pedigree, my expectation would be a steady rise to the sanyaku, quick destruction there, and sinking back down to mid-Maegashira type stuff for the remainder of a solid career. Let's see how it goes. He did very well here with Bouncy Butt (Chiyootori--whose career has pretty much followed the path I just described). I may sound like a broken record with this, but Chiyootori was just too high. Mitakeumi kept his head sufficiently low, was methodical with his shoves inside, and worked his compromised opponent out, oshi-dashi. Nice win.

M9 Sadanoumi vs. M9 Gagamaru
Very nice bout here. Sadanoumi did everything right, but Gagamaru was just too big for him. At the tachi-ai, Gagamaru tried pasting Sadanoumi in the face. When that didn't work, he stood up even higher so he could paste him the face even more. At that point he let Sadanoumi inside for moro-zashi, and I thought Lord Gaga was toast. However, Gagamaru, a guy who looked clueless and as easily moved as a frozen lump of butter on a hot cookie sheet a year or so ago, has come back to Makuuchi and looked pretty good. As they are taught, he responded to the moro-zashi by squeezing down and in on Sadanoumi's arms, "kime," thereby neutralizing Sadanoumi's driving power. In the end he both collapsed Sadanoumi and threw him, kote-nage, while himself falling down; Sadanoumi popped out of there and tumbled to the ground like a ping-pong-ball out of a kid's spring-gun. Gagamaru has my attention.

M8 Myogiryu vs. M8 Takayasu
Here there are: the two winners of the "underachiever of last tournament now expected to clean up at this rank" award. Neither really went for it here, though, and that cost Momentum Man (Myogiryu). Myog' was inside and low, but too slow; Takayasu maintained sturdily against the rather passionless attack of his foe. Finally Takayasu saw an opportunity for a slap down; it didn't work, but it took Myog' out of the bout for a moment, and while he was recovering, High ‘n' Easy (Takayasu) squared to him and forced him out, oshi-taoshi. Not bad sumo for either man, but Myogiryu needs to fight with fire. If he doesn't, and is feeling demoralized by his demotion, this could be a tough tournament for him.

M7 Toyonoshima vs. M7 Tamawashi
Why do so many guys try to break Tugboat's neck? It doesn't work. Looking carefully at it when Tamawashi grabbed Toyonoshima's head and pushed it over backwards, I decided maybe it is not a strategy wrestlers premeditate, but something there for the taking: while Tugboat is disciplined about keeping his arms low and in and moving forward off the tachi-ai, he is not disciplined at keeping his head down, leaving it sticking up out there like a watermelon ripe for beach-slaughter. However, that rugged noggin is cheese in a mousetrap, because while Tamawashi fondled that greasy neck, Toyonoshima got a left outside grip that he was able to do more with his stubby arms would seem to allow, and drove Tamawashi out yori-kiri. This guy is a great reason to keep watching.

M6 Tokushoryu vs. M6 Okinoumi
We know what the Sea of Tranquility (Okinoumi) can do: he is good at ranks like these, execrable when he floats up to the sanyaku. On the opposite side, this is something of an important tournament for Special Sauce (Tokushoryu), I think: while he has spent some time in the jo'i of late, to my mind he doesn't belong. Mostly, instead of using his size as an advantage and ramming like a bull, he is passive and his size and shape and consequent lack of agility makes him a docile butterball, too easy to maneuver out. This bout lived up to expectations. Special Sauce did pretty well in moving forward, but needed to be lower: he should get under inside and blast upwards with his arms while driving forward with his feet (some Kotoyuki type action). Instead, he was pushing too high on Okinoumi's upper body, and Oki was able to maintain and eventually lean on Tokushoryu in stalemate, which is bad for the heavily, more quickly tire-able Tokushoryu. When wrestlers have identical positions, the superior physical specimen will usually win, and Okinoumi did, ending this long one yori-kiri. I expect a good tournament from him, and continued slow fade from Special Sauce.

M4 Kyokushuho vs. M5 Sokokurai
I've been thinking a lot lately about how little belt-sumo there seems to be these days; Mike has been talking about this as well. It feels like a different sport than it did fifteen years ago. Today has been a pretty good day so far--very little backwards moving victory, no tachi-ai henka, etc.--but still, there has been very little belt action as usual. Lo! These two started out like two guys concentrating very hard around the table at a knot-tying class: they got into one of those butt-back, head down, arms locked battles like they were trying to demonstrate the top and two sides of a rectangle in a geometry lesson. After a few moments of this, however, Sokokurai pushed his opponent up out of this (key move: get your opponent upright and move him backwards), and then Slap! Slap! Each man reached in turn inwards and firmly gripped that mawashi. Magic. After that it was a test of strength, and Sokokurai won with a lovely yori-kiri, lifting Kyokushuho off balance by the belt and driving him out. I don't think it is a coincidence that: a) these two have both risen to their highest ever rank right now with steady work; b) they got in a classic belt battle with good basics; c) they are both Mongolians. Think about that.

M4 Kotoyuki vs. M3 Kaisei
Much as I loathe him for his pre-bout theatrics and attitudinal cheapness, Kotoyuki's sumo has my increasing attention. Remember how I said Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) needed to get lower and blast upwards with his arms like Kotoyuki? That is exactly what the still relatively green Kotoyuki did against the highly experienced, massive veteran, Kaisei. Now, Kaisei was off his game--at one point he got the un-nimble Kotoyuki turned backwards, yet could not advance, and Kotoyuki did a 360 and squared back up--but nevertheless Kotoyuki loses if he doesn't work hard here. Kotoyuki also displayed power: Kaisei had him near the edge, but Kotoyuki had good position and took that moment to sling Kaisei out hammer-throw style, sukui-nage. This looked very good; he got a paw into the fat meat under Kaisei's armpit, lifted up and in, unbalanced the giant can of Spam in his hands, and tipped it out. Like Gagamaru, this boy has my attention.

S Tochiohzan vs. M3 Ichinojo
And just like that, we move from the also-rans to the big boys. Each bout features at least one player of one kind or another from here on out. Here we get our first sanyaku guy against a very dangerous M3. Let me say I am not with Mike on Ichinojo: he may be faking it in some matches, but I just don't think anymore he has the skills to be a consistent sanyaku guy. Yeah, he was dynamic early on, but guys have him figured out: he is passive, lardy, slow, manipulatable, and passionless. His sumo can also be dumb, like letting Tochiohzan get his favored technique, moro-zashi. After that The Mongolith's only chance was to use his bulk from above to dominate Tochiohzan into tired submission, but Tochiohzan is better than that and used his healthy sumo body and skills to bully Ichinojo around and, like in the previous match, lift up on his opponent's armpit at a key moment near the bales and dump him out, sukui-nage. Tochiohzan was in control the whole way and is the better wrestler.

(Yes, the top of the banzuke is a mess, with three mutually incompatible strata, an Ozeki sandwich in foreign bread: a) Hakuho, Harumafuji, Kakuryu, and Terunofuji dominant above, b) Kisenosato, Goeido, and Kotoshogiku as the all too chewable meat, and c) Tochinoshin, Aoiyama, Osunaarashi, and Ichinojo below, blocked by the meat. But this forgets one important guy, Tochiohzan, who fits none of those categories--he can probably beat the Ozeki consistently and the lower-strata foreigners occasionally to regularly. The twelve guys I named in this paragraph are only twelve guys on the banzuke who matter, some for good reasons, some for bad. What needs to happen is for the Ozeki-meat and the foreigner-bottom-bread to flip positions. That not being allowed to happen is screwing everything up. But these twelve carry the meaningful action. Everybody else wants to be in here but ain't.)

M2 Aoiyama vs. O Goeido
Goeido is a terrible Ozeki, but he reminds me of Takekaze in his ability to sometimes win with evasion and backwards-moving sumo. The difference is Takekaze does that on purpose, whereas for Goeido is usually looks like a mistake. Goeido seems to think he should win by moving forward, but since he doesn't know how, resorts to winning however he can. Aoiyama came at him hard with hissing thrusts here, and is no doubt the guy with more potential, but Goeido smartly stepped to the side at the edge, and Aoiyama plashed to the dirt, hiki-otoshi. Can't say much against that; yeesh. I'd do the same.

O Kotoshogiku vs. M2 Takarafuji
Kotoshogiku smacked hard at the tachi-ai, kept low, got an arm inside, and drove his man to the tawara. There the comedy started, as Takarafuji played "Mary Had A Little Lamb" in Kotoshogiku's fat rolls on one side, wiggling those fingers nimbly, and the shorter "Hot Crossed Buns" on the other, agile digits plinkety-plunkety into 'Giku's fat rolls. While he was concentrating on playing the bagpipe-accordion that is Kotoshogiku's torso, instead of moving forward, Kotoshogiku removed the instrument from his grip, backed up, and Takarafuji fell down out of sadness, clutching forward for his pipes, tsuki-otoshi: boo-hoo! Give my electric piano back! This was a bunch of ridiculous looking nonsense.

M1 Shohozan vs. O Terunofuji
Total. Mismatch. On paper. On screen. For our eyes. To our minds. Terunofuji should absolutely destroy Shohozan. But he didn't. I'm starting to get worried about him. Both knees are wrapped up pretty bad now--getting all Aminishiki-bedroll on us. According to reports, he now has two injuries, the second caused by favoring the first. And he has looked anything but dominant since getting hurt in Aki 2015. Mike wrote in his pre-basho report Teru thinks he needs this year to recover. In that case, he should probably go kyujo. If not, it could be a long year for him. There is a very real possibility a possible great career has already been derailed by knee problems that will never really go away. (There is also a very real possibility someone told him, "look, we just have too many Mongolian Yokozuna right now. Take it easy for a year, Hakuho will retire, and then we'll let you in.) I hope I'm overreacting to the injury, but let's just say I wouldn't sign him to a long term contract right now. In this match, against a guy who was in Juryo in the same Aki tournament where Fuji the Terrible got hurt, four months ago, it was a near even match-up. Pretty straightforward: deep moro-zashi for Shohozan, heavy kime-pinching by Terunofuji, who was standing straight up and looking very vulnerable. Shohozan had him in danger at the edge often. However, the Mountain of Terror was just too big for him, and in the end walked Shohozan over to the edge like a lumbering bear and pushed him out, kime-dashi. Two basho ago I was writing "The Future is Now." Now I'm wondering if The Future is The Past. Say it ain't so.

O Kisenosato vs. M1 Aminishiki
Tee hee. Two (too?) old battle horses here. Kisenosato spread his arms open wide to give his mama a hug as she stepped off the airplane, but surprise! It wasn't mama, it was Aminishiki! Who charged right into the hug, kept low, and reached up to pull Kisenosato's head down for a nice kiss! No, wait, he's pulling him down and to the ground by the head while leaping out past the tawara! This was good stuff by Aminishiki, taking advantage of what was available, but a mono-ii was rightly called, and a do-over. The second time was hilarious, as Aminishiki pulled a huge henka, then turned around and hit Kisenosato so hard the man fell over backwards with all his limbs flailed out, oshi-taoshi "Look, Ma, I'm a Starfish!" Now, that's how to impress the emperor, boys!

Y Kakuryu vs. S Yoshikaze
Raise your hand if you are tired of Yoshikaze's sudden blazing glory! No hands. Okay, raise your hands if you think Yoshikaze's possession by a ghost has been fun, but also think it is a flash in the pan and he will turn into a pumpkin this tournament! Lots of hands! This was a basic slap-fest, but Kakuryu is far, far superior, and as long as he didn't resort to a pull he'd be fine. Oh, wait, he resorted to a pull. Oh, wait, he won with it. Let's rewind. This match had two phases. One: Kakuryu slappity-ed The Possessed (Yoshikaze) back to the straw, but couldn't quite slap him out. Two: Yoshikaze slappity-ed Kakuryu back to the center of the ring, where Kakuryu belted him to the ground, hataki-komi. What happened here? Why did this pull work for the Nuclear Dragon (Kakuryu), when last tournament it resulted in several losses? On previous pulls, Kakuryu has been in tight on the body, and the pulls left him high, momentumless, and his opponents close and moving forward. Here, since the slaps created distance, when he pulled he had room to take his man down in front of him. More important, he moved to the side: something he failed to do when being driven out on failed pull attempts last basho.

K Ikioi vs. Y Hakuho
This was wild stuff. Started out with Hakuho trying to get a left grip, but he was just short. Ikioi was busy pushing up top. Then, Hakuho whiffed on his second attempt to reach in and grab on the left: the airball left him off balance and closer to the tawara than he liked. Ikioi tried to pounce, but Hakuho pounced too, this time getting hold of Ikioi's hand/arm and pulling hard. This was the move that propelled Ikioi out of the ring (and was ruled tsuki-otoshi, but felt more like tottari to me). However, Hakuho used so much oomph he stumbled to the ground too, twirling sideways along the tawara, at about the same time Ikioi went out. The judges talked it over, but gave it to Hakuho, which was the correct call.

Y Harumafuji vs. K Tochinoshin
Great match-up: two of the strongest guys in the division. The result was slightly disappointing, but only because Harumafuji's domination was so total. First he got a throat grip and gave Tochinoshin some serious, vicious backwards-head-removal business. Then he let go, brought him in, grabbed him, and removed him from the dohyo with an effortless overhand throw, uwate-nage. Let us posit for a minute that Hakuho is slipping: still lots of wins, but not enough drive or domination anymore. Is it possible then that this will be the year of Harumafuji? He was the more impressive of the two in winning the last tournament with a long streak of dominant bouts, and he was easily the more impressive today. We are one day in, so making year-long predications based on one of the 90 matches each man will fight this year is patently ridiculous. So let's kind of do it anyway! Harumafuji looked very, very good here against a very good opponent.

Mike rides this buffalo tomorrow.




















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