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Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14

Senshuraku Comments (PZ Kelly reporting)
I've been in the States for nigh on three years now, and I've started to get back into the swing of things, grooving on being a real American once again. One thing this means, of course, is that I've become a glutton for punishment, am not ball and chained to outdated notions such as believing what I see and hear with my own eyes and ears. I'm red, white, and blue blooded, and love a good alternative fact as much as the next fella.

So obviously continuing to follow sumo is right up my alley. The Japanese may be famous for their ability to mimic and then improve upon successful business models, but when it comes to spinning a deliciously sweet alternate reality mountain of watagashi (consider this your JPese language assignment for the day, my googly eyed goombahs) they are trailblazers.

Heading into Day 15, I was anticipating being the one to handle the first yusho of The Kid, a lad I've been watching since he was just a little hagiwara fish back in the day. Marked for glory, it's been mostly non-story. A likely Yokozuna in any era not linked to Ulan Bator, Kisenosato has toughed out a decent but unspectacular career in the upper ranks, for the past several years as Ozeki, and has defended his tiny parcel of land without remark.

SoI expected a big finish, a day I could really enjoy, but in his 14th tussle Hakuho lost to a low level guy, all the built up energy just trickled away, and now I have to spend an hour or so writing about pretty much nothing. Not the most appealing prospect, but I can't say it's the first time a huge climax has slipped through my fingers. And at least I won't have to wash just one tennis sock after the report.

The first bout of note had Sokokurai and Takanoiwa both at M10 and both at 11-3. Sokokurai, who looks more like a guy charged with maintaining a clean water supply for the village down at the local yakuba than a sumo rikishi, played defensively with Takanoiwa's madcap thrusting. At about nine seconds in, having led his horse to water, Sokokurai dropped him into the drink mostly by getting out of his way. Takanoiwa looked a tad flustered, seemingly unsure of how he could have put in so much effort and wound up with naught but sand in his grasp. I'm sure Secretary Clinton feels your pain, brother.

E13 Gagamaru, already spitting teeth with 9 losses, essentially lent his chest to a fellow European Kaisei, who was 7-7 and tryin to get to heaven. If you've ever watched sumo practice, you've seen this bout.

After three years in Juryo, Okinawan rookie Chiyooh was gunning for a shin-Makuuchi kachi-koshi. Unluckily for him, university lad Hokutofuji, in only his second Makuuchi event himself, was not in the mood to be generous, snatching a deep and crippling inside left at tachi-ai that stood the E15 up and rendered any attempt he might make to escape feeble indeed. No sweat for the E8 who will be looking to continue his blistering run of needing two basho only to escape Juryo (incl. a 12-3 yusho) and two 9-6 to begin his career in the top flight.

Next we had two guys with Terao like frames coming in at 7-7, and that normally means intensity in ten cities (a BOC shout out to my homies!) Sadanoumi, teetering on the brink of demotion, came in guns ablaze vs. one of the 13,769 Kokonoe wrestlers in the upper division, Chiyoshoma. The Kumamoto man broke like a bear, getting the hidari yotsu left hand inside, forcefully and with great fury driving his foe across and out. I'm glad he won, because if he hadn't, we probably would have seen some tweet like, "Sadanoumi lost. Sad."

Endoh came in needing one to get his eight, was definitely the aggressor in this contest, but Takayasu, fighting despite doctor's warnings to avoid strenuous activity this close to the delivery date, timed a leap away, kind of like the type of move you do when your letting little kids chase you around trying to tag you, and you wait till they're right in front of you and then bend your torso and leap back and to the side as they swipe in, leaving them wondering how in the world you do that voodoo that you do. Endoh gambled on that final push, and now will have two months to listen to his master's voice just utterly berate him for being a pretty boy who gets all the fine ladies. As for Takayasu, Musashimaru called. He wants his belly back!

Tamawashi and Takekaze fighting in the third to last bout on Day 15 is pretty hard to fathom, but this is where we find ourselves, so stop your whining. She lost and that's all there is TO it! Oh, wait, where was I? Yes, Takekaze, stupefyingly still going strong at nearly 38 years old, straight up murdered the Mongolian with a powerful charge right to the titties that left Tamawashi with no option other than capitulate. The last time Takekaze got his KK from this high up, a 9-4 from W4 in 2014, he was promoted to Sekiwake. WTF?? So who knows what'll happen this time. A 10-5 from E5,maybe Yokozuna?

I'll admit that I've paid more attention to my duodenum over the past three years than to sumo, but WHAT happened to Terunofuji? Dude had that crazy run of 48-12 with two runner ups and one championship, but for the past eight basho, it's been straight KK, MK, KK, MK, KK, MK, KK, MK 4-11 today as he let a battered and beaten Kotoshogiku thoroughly destroy him with his signature gaburi. I suppose since this is possibly The Geeku's last bout ever, it made sense. Still, hard to see this skilled, young man performing so poorly. Who knew a collarbone was so important to sumo rasslin?

So finally we came to the sole Yokozuna against his arch enemy, Ennui. Sorry, as you were. Against his longtime slapping bag Kisenosato who, as noted above, had already secured his first ever yusho. This battle was a near repeat of their Nagoya 2016 bout, as Hakuho came in hard charging nearly out of control, as if to say, "Yo, I gotta be proactive against this titan or else he goan KEEL me!" Course, hard charging sumo has two advantages. One, it gets the fins flappin, and two, it can more readily appear legit when it's not because the tiniest mistake or deflection has disastrous results.

Unlike in Nagoya, where the Yokozuna slipped off and to the dirt almost immediately after pushing Kisenosato to the ropes, today he centered himself a bit more on the Ozeki's frame, allowing for some crowd pleasing thrusts leading up to the rapturous moment when the most skilled and intelligent sumo wrestler of all-time makes his boner dive to the side. After 12 jun-yusho, The Kid gets his first yusho. That's GOTTA be a record.

This win is of course all the ammunition the YDC needs to finally, FINALLY crown a JPese Yokozuna once again, and with it my 19 year wait is over. I am formally retiring from sumo, truly and forever, as I cannot enjoy it any longer. While I lived in Japan, it was easy to accept the back scratching and deferring because that way of seeing the world pervades the culture.

But being back in the States, in the bosom of our Great Leader, I no longer can rouse myself to give a damn, about much of anything these days, truth be told. So it's been a great ride, 12 years of writing alongside the best sumo expert I've ever come across. I hope it continues for decades to come. I'll be watching from afar. Thank you all.

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Day 14 Comments (Don Roid reporting)
Kisenosato has such a track record of dropping the ball in clutch situations that he couldn't possibly win today, right?  But Hakuho's sumo has been so reprehensible as of late that anything's possible heading into today. If we're really lucky, it might come down to a playoff on day 15. With most of the top rikishi dropping like flies and with the kind of matchups we have today, though, you'd think the Emperor's Cup is literally RIGHT there for Kisenosato's taking.  So, let's just jump into the belly of the beast straightaway.

Ozeki Kisenosato (12 - 1) vs. M13 Ichinojo (10 - 3)
There is a small heard of ham-and-eggers pervading the upper banzuke this glorious day, one of them being Itchynojo due to the fact that he's got quite a decent record this month and also that it's day 14 and there's really no one else for Kisenosato to face except for Hakuho, which has to be saved for senshuraku.

This one started off weird. Both guys obviously had some butterflies. Kisenosato was squatting with both fists dangling an equal centimeter or two just above the dirt, staring down Itchy. Ichinojo made his move for the tachi-ai, but Kisenosato just sat there staring into oblivion. The Mongolian got the idea and placed both fists flat, putting the ball into Kisenosato's court. They collided like rusty bumper cars at an old carnival, shifting slightly clockwise. It looked like Ichinojo was looking for the left arm outside grip but was cut short by Kisenosato. They both appeared to be quite nervous and Ichinojo began trying to push forward on the chest, but Kisenosato was able to thwart his every attempt with quick hand movement. Nojo then tried to go for the left hand again, but Kisenosato fought it off and managed to get a double inside grip. He got it by getting his left hand under the right armpit of Ichinojo, propping him upwards and sliding his right arm inside, then keeping a low, powerful base as he pushed forward. It looked like he may have had him a bit off balance with his left leg as well.

I think this bout was straight up. Both guys were obviously pretty nervous and it showed. Kisenosato now moves to 13 - 1. That means that if Hakuho loses, he's pretty much got it made in the shade. But there would be a few popcorn matches before we'd find out.

Watching Ozeki Kotoshogiku (4 - 9) at this point is kind of like watching Old Yeller being put down. Even though he's a guy who has never produced like an Ozeki is expected to, you still feel bad for him when it's time to go. These last two days must be DRAGGING for him. It's probably like staring at the clock during the final few minutes of class on the last day of school. M3 Ikioi (7 - 6) is a guy I like to watch and a guy who's got some skills, but something about him just tells me he's not fully matured as a fighter yet. He looks like he's panicking when he's in there sometimes, especially against higher ranked wrestlers.

He did well today, though, despite not getting that right arm inside, like he'd wanted to. As Geeku started coming at him, he kept his distance, moving backwards and to his right, again looking for the right arm inside. As Old Yeller moved forward, Squeaky turned him with his right arm deep under Geeku's armpit. He planted his left leg and lifted his right hip to off-balance his opponent, then gave him an extra bump or two to finish him off. Solid, patient sumo from Ikioi today. He also gets his kachi-koshi and will be movin' on up in March.

Both Ozeki Terunofuji (4 - 9) and Sekiwake Shodai (5 - 8) are already make-koshi and are just out there for $hitS and giggles today. For Fuji, I guess it really doesn't matter if he loses another match, as it won't affect his rank next tournament (besides having to win at least 8 bouts in March), but for Shodai, every loss is important here and could affect how low he drops. They've fought four times before with both of them wining two apiece.

It looked like Terunofuji got a great jump on Shodai. Even though he's not 100%, you could really see that even a 60% Terunofuji tachi-ai would flatten a normal man. Shodai absorbed it though, and spun out of danger's way. You'd think that Fuji would just be in "screw it" mode today, but no. Shodai had a solid grip and began working for that yori-kiri, but the Ozeki fought it off and put on his rally cap. Shodai backed off and regrouped, getting the same grip (left out - right in) once again. This time it was curtains for Terunofuji and he seemed to let up a bit just at the very end when he knew the inevitable was coming, probably just for safety's sake. After he stepped out, he trapped Shodai's arms hard, to avoid stepping backwards off the dohyo and re-aggravating that leg injury.

So during the last two bouts we had a chance to use the John and we've made a peanut butter, banana and peach jam sandwich and we're ready to see if this January is any more miraculous than last year as Yokozuna Hakuho (11 - 2) faced M10 Takanoiwa (10 - 3). This is a guy who debuted in 2009, having his first top division bout exactly five years later. He then bounced back and forth between Juryo and Makuuchi for a while, climbing over a mass of bodies in Maegashira to have a peek at what the valley looks like from the top of the mountain, but he's never fought The Storyteller before. He's already snuck in the doors of Mordor and got right up to that little cliff inside the volcano. All he has to do now is just toss the ring into the lava and without Kisenosato doing anything else, he'll have given him his first yusho. If he doesn't, Kisenosato and Hakuho will continue this family feud in the Fast Money round on the final day.

Hakuho again went to the chest, as he's been apt to do this basho, which denied Takanoiwa any kind of belt access. They both scrambled momentarily before ending up with left out, right in positions. From my point of view it looked like Hakuho was in complete control at this point. He had his hips well back, and even though he didn't have a deep grip with the right hand, any time Hakuho gets in this kind of a position, he's almost impossible to beat.

Hak seemed to settle in first, but didn't attack at this point. He seemingly waited for his opponent to make his move. It was here that I noticed Taka try to trap the right arm of Hakuho with his left. He kind of slipped his left wrist under Hakuho's right elbow too at the same time. He had a decent grip with his right hand to boot. So Taka made a charge, forcing the bigger, strong, taller, more experienced, higher-ranking, recording-setting Yokozuna back to the hay. Hakuho hunkered down and gave him a fight, but was eventually put out.

My gut instinct on this one was ...confusion.  When Hakuho put up a fight at the end, it kind of told me that he was really trying to win.  But then when I watched it back several times I think he had a few opportunities to really be offensive, but he wasn't able to (or chose not to, however you look at it) take advantage.  His facial expression just after the bout was hard to decipher. If he did throw the bout, he did a MUCH better job of making it look like it wasn't fixed than he normally does. I'd also much rather see him throw THIS bout than have to see a repeat tomorrow of his bout against Kisenosato from Hatsu last year [*uyf*].

Ssssooooooooooo, anyway …

Have you ever had a really awesome dream?  One that you woke up from saying 'Hot diggity dog, now THAT was really something'? (Maybe one of those dreams where Obama and all the other ex-presidents jump up during Trump's inauguration and shout 'Just kidding!  You didn't really think we'd let him take the oath, did you'?)  Then you go to the first person you see and tell them all about it and they're like '...uh, yeah that's great'.  Isn't it weird how your dreams are so incredibly intriguing and fascinating to YOU, but not to others?  I feel like I'm listening to someone else's amazing dream when I hear all the excitement over Kisenosato winning the yusho. Double 'uyf'.

There's certainly not many highlights for Kisenosato here. He didn't even have to fight Harumafuji or Kakuryu, he got a freebie against Goeido, and he actually LOST to Kotoshogiku who will be demoted next tournament and who pretty much everyone has beaten this time around. He did have a good bout versus Terunofuji, but that guy is injured and not even close to fighting at 100% right now. I don't see any valid reason why he should be considered for Yokozuna promotion and I facepalm when I think about what might happen against Hakuho tomorrow. And while it's probably good for the sport in general to have another Japanese yusho and for Japanese Yokozuna rumblings to start again, I really don't think anyone wanted to see it happen this way, including Kisenosato.

Oh, and I guess some other bouts happened too, but to be honest, I just breezed over most of them. But here's a few that caught my attention.

J3 Ura (10 - 3) vs. M15 Sadanoumi (7 - 6)
If you haven't been following Ura this tournament, you're really missing a lot of entertaining matches. He's fighting much better this month than he has been the past few tournaments and he's pulled out more than a few crazy kimari-te. He's up from middle school today to take on Sadanoumi, who will get his kachi-koshi if he is victorious.

Ura got REAL low at the tachi-ai. I mean, his back was fully horizontal and about waist high on Noumi, who hit his shoulders with the palms of his hands. They fell into what looked to be a right in - left out position when Ura stepped backwards, pulling his opponent with him. Then he grabbed him by the back of the head with his left hand and flipped him off the dohyo like a pancake. Ura's right heel was pretty close to going out, but by this point Sadanoumi was already in mid-air sailing towards the front row.

Mike and Harvye seem to think Ura will not be a major factor in Makuuchi any time soon and I'd be hard pressed to disagree with them, but man, it sure is fun to watch this guy.

M12 Takakeisho (6 - 7) vs. J2 Daieisho (10 - 3)
This match was brutal. Daieisho was out for blood right from the get-go and was going to the face and neck with powerful thrusts and slaps. When this created some space, Takakeisho followed him in, but Daieisho got on his bicycle and started backpedaling. Taka started putting on the pressure with pushes of his own, but Daieisho countered with what can only be described as a right uppercut, using the open palm of his hand, which cleaned the clock of Taka and send him halfway across the dohyo. Wicked.

M16 Osunaarashi vs. M9 Ishiura (5 - 8)
I'm going to be writing a blog for FightBox soon about how sumo is structured and what implications that has for wrestlers who are injured. It's hard to watch guys like Osunaarashi struggle through the tournament and continue to fight despite being injured. And even though Ishiura could have probably taken the injured Egyptian's best shot and kept going, he chose to perform the most outlandish henka in recent memory and Osunaarashi bought it hook, line and sinker.

This match was a dud. Osunaarashi will be back in Juryo again next basho and it doesn't really seem like he can just "tough it out".  If he tries, his future in the sport is questionable, at best.  Unless he takes several months off, gets surgery and makes a comeback from rock bottom, I don't really ever see this guy fighting again in the upper Maegashira ranks or higher.

Oh, and one other bout I wanted to mention. It actually didn't even happen today, but on day 12 in the Makushita division when Sd1 Tomisakae took on Ms59 Musashikuni (Musashimaru's nephew). Musashikuni railed him with a right elbow at the tachi-ai, knocking Tomisakae out cold for literally like 5 or 6 seconds, leaving him lying flat on his back, waiting for the arena lights to slowly come back into focus. You can see the bout here. It kind of reminded me of when Hakuho KO'ed Myogiryu some time ago.

Clancy makes his return tomorrow to tie a bow on the 2017 Hatsu. If you want to stay in touch, you can follow me on my Facebook page or on Twitter. I'll be trying to land some more sumo interviews for my podcast and I'm sure I'll have the Sumotalk crew back on a few times this year as well. Cześć.

Day 13 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The big news as we head into Day 13 is that Goeido suddenly announced his withdrawal after that epic bout with Endoh yesterday. But you know what they say...if a rikishi lets up in the ring then someone's gonna get hurt. Goeido was supposed to face Kisenosato today, and usually when a rikishi's withdrawal will affect the yusho race by giving a contender a freebie, they will reshuffle the day's bouts, but not so today. And I can't really blame them. Back on Day 2 when they asked the commissioner in an interview on NHK what he thought about Kisenosato's chances at Yokozuna, he really didn't know what to say, and the reason is that he knew that they sure as hell couldn't trust in Kisenosato's sumo. When you're at the mercy of every one of your opponents during a basho, it's just too tough to make a firm declaration.

Even now, Kisenosato's yusho is not a given despite where he finds himself this late in the contest. It's not a given because he still has to face two guys that he cannot beat, and you never know when someone is going to come out and decide to fight straight up. At this point, I'd say that Kisenosato's chances of taking the yusho are about 60%, but I don't see how they can make him a Yokozuna. It doesn't mean they won't, but I think they'll take the stance of "We'll let him yusho, but let's hold off on promotion." The problem with promotion is two-fold: 1) By promoting a guy like Kisenosato, you severely harm the integrity of the rank. And 2) you have to sustain him at the rank, and the only way to do that is with continued yaocho, so the best case scenario is to have him get injured and retire before he can do too much damage.

The problem then of course is that now you lose Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato from the elite ranks, and you don't have anybody ready to fill their spots. Well, you have Tamawashi, but you know what I mean. It's just this ongoing chain of things that have to be covered up. It's like when a person lies and then gets caught in the lie and so they have to lie more to cover it up. That's what persistent yaocho like this has done to the integrity and the quality of sumo, and so what we're witnessing here truly is a sport that's selling its soul to Asashoryu. I mean the devil.

But I'm only here to expertly break it all down, so let's start with M16 Osunaarashi who welcomed J2 Kyokushuho up from Juryo. Kyokushuho just dominated the bout, which went migi-gappuri-yotsu from the tachi-ai, but it was the Mongolian who took charge wrenching Osunaarashi upright with the left outer and step by step working him over and out. This was quite a simple bout; yet, there are a handful of rikishi higher up the ranks who are incapable of doing textbook sumo like this. Osunaarashi falls to 3-10 and is hobbling around like a dude 10 years his senior. Kyokushuho moves to 8-5 and will seal his promotion to Makuuchi for sure next basho with one more win.

M11 Kagayaki came with his usual moro-te-zuki at the tachi-ai against M12 Daishomaru standing his foe upright before getting his left hand underneath Daishomaru's right pit while fishing for the right outer grip. Daishomaru has proven that he isn't a yotsu guy, and then he's at a further disadvantage against the taller foe, and so as Kagayaki naturally drove him straight back, he went for a counter pull but was too far gone. Took about three seconds as Kagayaki clinches kachi-koshi at 8-5 while Daishomaru falls to 5-8. It's been nice to see Kagayaki learn the ropes lower in the division, and this will ultimately benefit him in the future.

M9 Ishiura shaded left against M13 Gagamaru, but you gotta henka the Georgian more than that. YubabaMaru easily squared back up with a right paw to the neck as he fired a few tsuppari once, twice, three times a lady sending Ishiura back and out before he could sufficiently evade left. Miyagino-oyakata, Ishiura's stable master, was on the broadcast and was emphatically stating how Ishiura's sumo was weak and that his prodigy lacked power. Fujii announcer, who set up the question reminding us that Ishiura got the Kantosho last basho, didn't seem to want to accept Miyagino's explanation referring back to the last tournament, but Miyagino kept breaking down the negative aspect of Ishiura's sumo almost as if to say, "Aren't you listening to me ya dumbass? I'm the master!!" I can relate to that feeling...believe you me. Both rikishi end the day at 5-8.

M15 Sadanoumi has been the perfect study in yaocho and the way it can work at the lower levels where nobody's paying attention. The dude stormed out to a 5-0 start, but it was so uncharacteristic. His opponents weren't putting forth any effort, and his bouts were lasting like two or three seconds. On day five, I called him on it and said the dude would not finish better than 9-6, and it's an easy call to make because I could see what they were trying to do. At the bottom rung of the banzuke, his stable master wanted to give him a cushion to ensure kachi-koshi. The problem is he still had the other 10 days to fight and entered today's bout against M9 Kaisei at a precarious 7-5. With no confidence in his straight up sumo, he moved right at the tachi-ai, but henka is not his game, and so despite getting his right arm to the inside, he didn't knock Kaisei off of his perch at the tachi-ai, and so the Brasilian slowly worked his right arm to the inside as Sadanoumi attempted to drive him back, and a half step before the tawara, Kaisei sprung the scoop throw trap using his right arm to hoist Sadanoumi over, out, and down to a 7-6 record. As for Kaisei, he stays alive with the opposite mark at 6-7.

M8 Chiyonokuni slammed both hands into M11 Nishikigi's throat at the tachi-ai, but he was shading backwards instead of trusting in sound de-ashi, and so Nishikigi plodded forward as Chiyonokuni fired defensive tsuppari into his opponent. Near the edge, Chiyonokuni all of a sudden switched gears and went for a quick pull that felled Nishikigi down to the dirt easy peasy Japanesey. Yes, you want to see a dude winning while moving forward, but credit Chiyonokuni for setting it all up with effective tsuppari to the throat of his opponent. Chiyonokuni picks up kachi-koshi at 8-5 while Nishikigi falls to 4-9

M7 Aoiyama came with a powerful kachi-age against M14 Chiyotairyu, who was too timid to even try and blow his opponent off the starting lines, but Chiyotairyu wasn't looking pull, and I think he knew that his opponent would be ready for it. I mean, Aoiyama can cover so much distance so fast that he would have sent his foe two rows deep if the pull had come. It didn't, and so with no confidence, Chiyotairyu tried to exchange tsuppari with Aoiyama until the foreigner just moved in getting the right arm to the inside. Chiyotairyu complied with his own right to the inside, but damned if Aoiyama didn't maki-kae with his left hand giving him moro-zashi. Chiyotairyu's sumo is so bad he couldn't take advantage of the momentum shift, and so Aoiyama eventually succeeded with the maki-kae giving him moro-zashi, and I needn't tell the rest of the story as Aoiyama moves to 7-6 while Chiyotairyu's make-koshi is official at 5-8. While the dude's in the booth weren't laughing outright, they came close when talking about Aoiyama...and a maki-kae?? That only works against a hapless dude like Chiyotairyu.

M7 Myogiryu and M15 Chiyooh hooked up in migi-yotsu at the tachi-ai, but Chiyooh is just too big size-wise for the ailing Myogiryu to bully around. Myogiryu did try and wrench his foe upright with the right inside belt grip, but Oh's belt loosened up a bit in the process allowing Chiyooh to grab the left outer grip, and the power of an outer grip in a belt fight was on full display here as Chiyooh yanked his gal upright and then scored the easy force-out win from there. Chiyooh is still alive at 6-7 while Myogiryu falls to 4-9

M6 Kotoyuki hopped a bit at the tachi-ai, but he was moving forward against M14 Chiyootori intent on using his full-on tsuppari attack, and he caught his foe well enough so that Chiyootori could not set up anything offensively, and so Kotoyuki trusted his game and just plowed forward with his legs and firing the tsuppari as he went, and the result was a dominating tsuki-taoshi win that sent Chiyootori sliding down the back of the dohyo. Both rikishi end the day at 6-7.

M13 Ichinojo stood his ground well as M6 Chiyoshoma struck and then tried to slap and pull his foe down creating some separation, and as Chiyoshoma looked to come in for round two, Ichinojo slapped his left arm aside and got his own right arm to the inside, but he didn't commit to pulling his gal in tight nor did he really go for the clinching left outer grip, but then he again he really didn't need it as he had Chiyoshoma up against the edge. Still, Ichinojo simply wasn't applying any pressure, and so he let Chiyoshoma maki-kae with the left and just reach up and under around Ichinojo's right shoulder and pull him down to the dirt. I guess "pull" isn't quite the most appropriate word here because Ichinojo was already just sliding down to the dirt of his own accord.

This was one of those bouts were the official kimari-te was merely a move to try and catch up to the dude already mid-dive, and Ichinojo was simply taking himself out of the yusho race with this one. When I looked at the day 14 pairings prior to the start of today's action and saw that Ichinojo was paired against Kisenosato tomorrow, I was like sheesh, that's a tough matchup, but I'm afraid that he just signaled his intentions here by graciously removing his name from the leaderboard. Who knows as he falls to 10-3 while Chiyoshoma improves to 7-6. After the bout, they caught up with Ichinojo, and he said, "I should have been more aggressive. I was kind of stiff out there." Yeah, kinda. Once again, when yaocho occurs the focus is never on actual technique. What did Chiyoshoma do to win? Nothing. It was Ichinojo who just failed to apply pressure as he stood stiff as a board at the end. When bouts are compromised, you can never discuss the technique because it's all missing.

Next up was M4 Tochiohzan facing M12 Takakeisho, and the rookie actually struck Tochiohzan pretty well with a right paw to the neck, but he wasn't confident in a forward moving charge, and so he started backing up and looking for a pull. Fortunately, he did enough damage winning the tachi-ai because as Tochiohzan pursued and committed on a do-or-die push to the rookie's gut, Takakeisho danced right and just managed to pull Tochiohzan down to the dohyo floor before he stepped across himself. It was close, and I was disappointed to see Takakeisho not trust the sumo basics, but gunbai to the rookie who moves to 6-7. As for Tochiohzan, he's kinda fallen into that same rut as Okinoumi where the two are like jilted lovers totally forgotten in favor of the younger, better looking girls. Tochiohzan is a meager 3-10.

M2 Arawashi henka'd to his right against M8 Hokutofuji, and as the youngster looked to recover, Arawashi next darted to his left pulling Hokutofuji forward and off the dohyo by the back of the shoulder. This bout lasted about two seconds, and the fact that Arawashi decided to henka Hokutofuji is a sign of respect for the kid in my opinion. Arawashi and his dirty pool move to 5-8 with the cheap win while Hokutofuji falls to 8-5. It's just fine for Hokutofuji to slowly move up the ranks and solidify his craft prior to his eventual rise to the sanyaku.

M2 Shohozan and M5 Yoshikaze clashed fast and then both immediately began firing wild tsuppari towards one another, but in reality, they were more like looking for the pull. Still, the two were churning so fast it's not worth describing each blow, so after a few seconds, Shohozan just lurched into moro-zashi and forced Yoshikaze back and out from there surviving a late kubi-nage attempt from Cafe. It's funny, the wild tsuppari is Shohozan's bread and butter, but he didn't attempt a single thrust against Shodai yesterday just opting to hook up at the belt and play blowup doll from there. Strange how that works innit? Shohozan improves to 5-8 while Yoshikaze is on the brink now at 6-7.

I was looking forward to the M10 Sokokurai - M1 Mitakeumi matchup just to see what Sokokurai would do. He and Mitakeumi hooked up in the grapplin' position from the tachi-ai where both have a hand at the shoulder and another at the elbow, and after a few seconds of wrangling, Sokokurai shaded left swiping at Mitakeumi's right arm, and as the two resettled, they were now in the hidari-yotsu position as Sokokurai still maintained a bit of separation by ducking his head and pushing it into Mitakeumi's left shoulder. At this point, it was clear that Sokokurai was dictating the pace because the majority of his bouts flow like this where he attempts to stay out of harm's way until he can move in for the kill. Said kill came a few seconds later as he struck quick as a cat pushing Mitakeumi's left arm away and then lifting the overly-hyped guy upright with his own right hand, and then in true Sokokurai fashion, he worked his hands to the front of the belt and forced Mitakeumi back and across without argument. Hate to beat a dead horse here, but did Mitakeumi display any technique in this one?? Sokokurai dictated from start to finish and was never in trouble as he simply filleted his foe. It's laughable how people always try and discredit my takes using arguments that focus on everything except what happens in the dohyo, but the proof's right there in the pudding..er..uh..technique. Sokokurai moves to 10-3 with the win while Mitakeumi falls to 9-4.

M5 Takekaze henka'd to his left against M1 Takarafuji trying to catch Takarafuji's left arm in the kote-nage position, but he couldn't execute the throw before Takarafuji squared back up, got the left arm to the inside, and then shoved Takekaze's henka arse off of the dohyo. I always enjoy Oguruma-oyakata's excuses for his guy when he's in the booth and Takekaze henkas...which is every time Oguruma-oyakata is in the booth. Regardless, Takekaze falls to 8-5 wile Takarafuji inches forward to 5-8.

Komusubi Takayasu went for a right kachi-age at the tachi-ai against M10 Takanoiwa, but Takanoiwa struck and quickly moved left forcing a tsuppari fest for a few seconds, but Takayasu's hands were up too high, and so Takanoiwa ducked down gaining moro-zashi. From there, he shored up his position a bit and mounted a powerful yori charge...that he suddenly stopped just short of the tawara of course going limp and allowing Takayasu to fire a counter tsuki with the right hand that easily spilled Takanoiwa to the dirt. Takanoiwa actually landed on his back and look at the pic at right and explain how Takanoiwa ends up on his back based on a move that came from Takayasu.  But that will happen when you "chikara wo nuku" or refrain from exerting any pressure, and the Mongolian was simply following suit after Ichinojo earlier in the day who took a strategic loss to remove himself from the leaderboard as well. Afterwards as Fujii Announcer and Oguruma-oyakata were breaking down the slow motion replays, they kept going back to just how good Takanoiwa's position was, and they were right. But...politics was in play here as both rikishi end the day at 10-3.

I think M3 Okinoumi is getting sick and tired of all this shull bit surrounding the big six, especially when he clearly has more game than all of them...probably put together. Today against Sekiwake Shodai,he came with the right kachi-age keeping Shodai upright (something that's not difficult even without the kachi-age), and then the two grappled for position in hidari-yotsu swapping places on the dohyo before Okinoumi reached for and got the right outer grip. From there, he repositioned his left inside and then just used his superior position to easily escort Shodai over and out. As I like to say, the only real drama in sumo these days is will they are won't they? Thankfully Okinoumi didn't, and he picked up the easy win moving to 3-10 in the process. Shodai was exposed yet again as he falls to 5-8.

Sekiwake Tamawashi caught M3 Ikioi by the neck with both hands keeping him upright, and when Ikioi wasn't able to swipe Tamawashi's arms away, the Mongolian just used the de-ashi to push Ikioi over, out, and off the dohyo with little argument. Just dominating sumo here from the Sekiwake who moves to 8-5 while Ikioi falls to 7-6. Tamawashi has been a pretty good measuring stick of what a legitimate rise up the ranks is like, and although he did defer to Kisenosato earlier in the basho, he showed today that he can turn it on when he wanna.

At this point they announced the withdrawal of Ozeki Goeido giving Ozeki Kisenosato the freebie and a 12-1 record. Funny thing is...today was the first time in a long time where the broadcasters didn't call into question the content of Kisenosato's sumo, so he's at least got that going for him. Goeido falls to 8-5 and will safely avoid kadoban status as we head into Osaka.

With Ozeki Terunofuji safely at make-koshi already, he feebly offered his arms straight forward against M4 Endoh, who promptly moved to his right, grabbed the Ozeki's left arm, and then yanked him over and out in two seconds and no resistance whatsoever. What a joke, but this bout reflects the entire basho as Terunofuji harmlessly falls to 4-9 while Endoh moves closer to kachi-koshi at 7-6.

In the day's final bout, Yokozuna Hakuho gained moro-zashi from the tachi-ai against Ozeki Kotoshogiku but then let the Ozeki square back up by getting his left arm to the inside sending the bout to hidari-yotsu. With Hakuho leaning in tight, he fished a few times for the right outer grip, but feeling no pressure from the Geeku, he moved left put his right hand at the back of Kotoshogiku's head, and then just dragged/dumped him to the dohyo with ease leading with the left inside grip. Kotoshogiku's lucky that the Yokozuna let him hang around as long as he did, but I think it's Hakuho's way of showing a bit of respect with the Geeku on his way out. Hakuho moves to 11-2 with the easy win while Kotoshogiku will undoubtedly announce his retirement after the basho at 4-9 now.

I haven't really entertained the concept of a leaderboard all basho because this isn't a yusho race. It's politics hard at work in order to prop up the Japanese rikishi, and of course Kisenosato has been the key beneficiary to now. As it stands, Kisenosato is up by one at 12-1 with Hakuho trailing at 11-2. All others have effectively eliminated themselves from the contest, so it will come down to either Hakuho or Kisenosato. Despite everything pointing in the direction of a Kisenosato yusho, it's not quite a slam dunk yet for the simple reason that he still needs his final two opponents to let up for him unless Hakuho decides to just fall tomorrow and make it official a day early.

Don Roid gets lean and mean again tomorrow.

Day 12 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
This is my last outing this basho, so let's look back at the storylines I listed on Day 2.  As predicted, Hakuho has been a story, but only in the negative sense. The story hasn't been, as it should be, "will Hakuho take another yusho?"  It has been "will Hakuho prevent Kisenosato from taking the yusho?"  We could see that coming already on Day 2, when I finished up my report with this:  "Who is your lone Ozeki with two wins? Kisenosato! Let's get silly-bold and give ourselves a day-two leaderboard: Hakuho, Kakuryu, Kisenosato."  With the exception of Kakuryu dropping out, we're still in the same boat on Day 12.  I also wrote this about the potential Kisenosato storyline on Day 2: "Kisenosato, next Ozeki to crown the ant hill?  Seems like a remembered 2016 mirage, but is a likely 2017 reality."  During the two months off from sumo over the holidays, the idea of Kisenosato as a champion faded from consciousness--it was just too hard to believe in, as there's not enough that meets the eye in the ring to back it up. It is only in reality that we can make such a truth stranger than fiction. So, let's visit our two contenders:

O Kisenosato (10-1) vs. M3 Ikioi (7-4)
As usual, Kisenosato stood wide open at the tachi-ai and gave up the inside position. Ikioi drove him back right away, but then chose to pull on his arm in order to get things back in the middle of the ring and to tsuppari a bit. Waste of time for a strong lad like this, methinks: should have just shoved him out. Well. Now it was Kisenosato's turn to give Ikioi a few smackerls in the face, but we ended up back where we started: Kisenosato was still wide open, so Ikioi nestled back in underneath and inside on the left, with one arm overhand on the right, though I dare say he could have put that inside too if he'd wanted. We now began a dance around the rim, with Kisenosato with his back to the center and Ikioi with his back to the ropes. They were standing tall, these fellows, and nobody had any belt. Ikioi kept reaching over Kisenosato's back and pawing for the belt above the ass there, but he couldn't get it sometimes, let go another time. He changed, trying a maki-kae to get that arm inside, but Kisenosato denied it. At that point Ikioi decided he'd spent enough effort in this one, relaxed, and let himself be gently pushed over the straw, yori-kiri. Does that sound exciting? It wasn't. The word for this, somehow, was flabby. And so we draw a day closer to the possible Hokutoumi Triple Crown, a neat row of Ozeki Championships for Japan, Kotoshogiku-Goeido-Kisenosato.

Y Hakuho (9-2) vs. M4 Tochiohzan (3-8)
The Storyteller (Hakuho) still has a say in that though. In fact, he still controls his own destiny. Win out and he takes it. Easily done for the Hakuho of old. But this was really horrible stuff from him today. The Hakuho of new. Hakuho hit Tochiohzan once out of a wide open stance, then stepped back, and Tochiohzan fell on his face, hiki-otoshi. Even Hakuho looked embarrassed at how easy this was. And kind of bored and disappointed. With that, Hakuho kept one off the leader, but if this is excitement, I'm a dead dog. Frankly, I hate to say this, but Hakuho has looked so bad on the way to his 10-2 record that I hope HE DOES NOT take the yusho. He's made winning-Yokozuna-sumo look about as awful as possible this basho, and without Harumafuji's wild throws or Kakuryu's competence around to leaven things, it's tough to take. We've had to enjoy Hokutofuji and Sokokurai and stuff, but the top of the banzuke has been particularly unappealing this tournament.

Storyline number two was Kotoshogiku's possible demotion. That has lived down to the hype; he's had, really, a typical basho for him--we've seen him kadoban so often in his career--so we're finally nearly to the end of this story. Yay?  Except, I don't want to read another book. If Takayasu is going to be an Ozeki, when do we have to endure a Takayasu yusho one of these days? Think about that. Let's check in on them both:

S Tamawashi (6-5) vs. O Kotoshogiku (4-7)
And goodbye, Ozeki Kotoshogiku, at long last. Tamawashi made it look ridiculously easy. He grabbed Kotoshogiku by the neck right away and slid him effortlessly back to the rope. He then let go and gave one solid, easy shove, oshi-dashi, and the demotion of Kotoshogiku was complete. I'm on record as predicting Kotoshogiku retires the day he gets this demotion-clinching make-koshi, so that means by the time you read this he should have announced it. Hope I'm right; there would be no point in coming out for a silly, likely embarrassing swan song in March.

K Takayasu (8-3) vs. M2 Arawashi (4-7)
Who's had the better tournament, renewed Ozeki candidate Takayasu and his shiny 8-3 record, or quick-twitch bundle of filament and grit Arawashi, with his 4-7 record but his scary demonstrations of speed? I'd say the latter. But. Arawashi was hit hard on the tachi-ai and stood off Takayasu. Takayasu then gave him a little pull and Arawashi went demonstratively dancing forward limbs all akimbo and touched the dirt with one hand, hataki-komi.

For minor storylines on Day 2 I listed Shodai's hypefest (fizzled), Kakuryu's yusho defense (frazzled), and Terunofuji's continued mediocrity (um, success?). Here's how they fared today:

M2 Shohozan (4-7) vs. S Shodai (4-7)
If you've been following this site the last few tournaments, a theme has been that a lot of top guys don't have a defined style or signature move; Goeido is the ultimate example of this to me, but Mike pointed out that new stars Shodai and Mitakeumi are also hard to define, and he's absolutely right. So I assigned myself a little project to see if I could concentrate better and figure that out. Last time it was Shodai, this time Mitakeumi. Last time I came up with this for Shodai: "he is smooth and smart in the ring, takes advantage of mistakes to win defensively, and will try to get inside and push on the body to win offensively." I also dubbed him Vanilla Softcream, as there was something bland and creamily boring about him. Interestingly, this all evaporated this time: Shodai hasn't fought much like that at all, and I am back to not knowing who the hell he is. He's also just plain fought badly. I'm on record as saying he or Kisenosato will be the next Yokozuna, and I stand by that. Probably this guy. But that comes purely, and I mean Vanilla Softcream purely--from reading the political tea leaves, because man is he uninspiring to watch. If I have to watch Yokozuna Shodai and he still looks like this, I may quit. You know who the three guys who my eyes and instincts say could put things together and turn into Ozeki are? It's not Shodai, Mitakeumi, and Endo. It's Tamawashi, Arawashi, and Chiyoshoma. And I'll add in Hokutofuji, though it is still a little early on him. So let's hope their talent is unleashed, rather than a sleepwalk in the Garden of Earthly Shodai.

As for the match, this was one of those odd looking ones where the loser seems to be pulling the winner rather than being pushed by him. Yes, winner Shodai had one arm inside under the pit, but the match was keyed by Shohozan, who was pulling that arm and pretending to try to throw with it, which gave Shodai all the momentum and an "oops, I guess I won" oshi-dashi victory. People will think I mean that Shodai can't beat Shohozan straight up. That's not it at all. It's just that they decided not to chance it. Hence Shodai remains one of those guys who not only doesn't have a style, but we have little idea how good he really is or isn't.

O Terunofuji (4-7) vs. M5 Takekaze (7-4)
Wow, what a weird looking match. It looked like it was in slow motion, as Terunofuji refused to advance, defending against the inevitable pull. This left him a sitting duck, though, so Takekaze punched him smartly in the face once, then gave him a little pull on the cheeks, like a pinching uncle. When Terunofuji ducked his head in off of that (why??!), there came the inevitable pull: Takekaze put his hands on the back of Terunofuji's head and sunk him, hataki-komi. How many times can guys know Takekaze is going to pull them, yet fall to it? And Terunofuji is kadoban yet again. Think parity.

Let's cover the rest of the bouts in chronological order. Yes, there are "leaders" sprinkled in there, but as I said, the only two who really matter are Kisenosato and Hakuho.

M15 Chiyooh (4-7) vs. J1 Hidenoumi (5-6)
The pride of Yoron Island (Chiyooh) grabbed Bright Wildebeest Ass (Hidenoumi), shook him off his belt, and worked him out with a good overhand right grip, yori-kiri. First time I've seen Chiyooh fight well this tournament--and it was against a Juryo visitor, natch.

M12 Takakeisho (4-7) vs. M12 Daishomaru (5-6)
Takakeisho, who looked like a hard-hitting, compact bundle of something pretty good in Juryo, has looked lost, ineffective, and forgettable in Makuuchi. He needs to regroup, or early returns have him looking like nothing more than another Hidenoumi or such. Fortunately for him he was paired with the absolutely awful Daishomaru today, who tried one big push, then immediately went for the pull as he almost always does, but Takakeisho expected it and followed him close. In the face of even this mild pressure, the disappointed Daishomaru actually turned away and trotted out of the ring, okuri-dashi. I think I have a new least-favorite.

M11 Kagayaki (6-5) vs. M15 Sadanoumi (7-4)
Kagayaki is really big, folks, and he's shown improvement this basho. This was the third time, after initial haplessness the first few days, that I saw him respond to lateral movement from his foe by sticking to the guy and winning. His first few basho he seemed timid, limp, and slow. Nervous? Overwhelmed? There was none of that in this bout, as his tsuppari landed home like a storm of sledgehammers, and Sadanoumi looked small and destroyed, tsuki-dashi. If Kagayaki can continue to make strides and fight like this more often, we may be looking at a Makuuchi mainstay rather than the embarrassing Juryo bait he has been thus far.

M10 Takanoiwa (9-2) vs. M11 Nishikigi (4-7)
I continue to think the face slap at the tachi-ai is a dumb move. Takanoiwa tried it here, and all it did was leave his arm there for the picking; Nishikigi grabbed him by it and things looked bad for Takanoiwa. However, he did nice work from that point, shaking and pushing free of it. When Nishikigi then whiffed on a knockout revenge-punch attempt, Takanoiwa was on him with impressive speed and depth, wrapping him up and driving him out, yori-kiri, and even got a bit of a dame-oshi in. The Lil' Yokozuna II.

M9 Kaisei (4-7) vs. M16 Osunaarashi (3-8)
Match-up of foreign bruisers having uninspiring outings. Osunaarashi looks pretty lame of late, and was all defense here. He was able to use the straw well, once or twice avoiding being pushed out by leveraging his feet on the bales, but if that's all there is to praise you're being damned with faint praise. Basically Kaisei pushed him here and there around the ring--offense!--until he found a spot where he finally get him out, yori-kiri. Both men need to meditate a little and reload for March.

M14 Chiyotairyu (5-6) vs. M9 Ishiura (4-7)
Good fun, if stupid-looking. Chiyotairyu went with just about the dumbest possible tachi-ai, looking like he was trying to reach up and over both of Ishiura's shoulders and grab the back of his belt, which would look pretty nifty if it worked and he then upended Ishiura forward like a baby getting dangled from his diaper, but of course it didn't work that way and probably couldn't, unless against a tiny child, as Chiyotairyu came away with nothing except Ishiura underneath him in a deep, deadly moro-zashi. Ishiura pushed him swiftly over the straw and knocked him down, yori-taoshi in this nonsense match.

M8 Hokutofuji (8-3) vs. M13 Ichinojo (9-2)
An intriguing match of contrasting powerhouses. The slow, sloppy, deflated-looking yet massive and hard-to-move Ichinojo against the explosive but sometimes overeager forward-moving focus of Hokutofuji. These styles played themselves out here, but Ichinojo looked like the guy with the better tools. Hokutofuji manfully tried to push him out, starting with good push at the neck and then at the chest, but he gave in and tried a little pull, too, and that just draped Ichinojo onto him like a barrel of rotten gelatin. From there it was curtains, as The Mongolith (Ichinojo) moved Hokutofuji irresistibly back and out, yori-kiri.

M7 Myogiryu (3-8) vs. M14 Chiyootori (6-5)
Kind of sad match of underwhelming nobodies who once looked promising. Decent sumo in this one, though. A bit of arm grappling, but when Myogiryu finally got an overhand grip, he used that to immediately pull Chiyootori through towards him, using his other hand on Chiyootori's head to help him along, and slung him all the way across the ring and to the straw, where Myogiryu turned and stood to him and yori-kiri'ed him out.

M13 Gagamaru (4-7) vs. M7 Aoiyama (5-6)
You can simulate this match at home. Open two cans of spam. Dump into large iron kettle. Tilt kettle left side down and the right side up. Aoiyama was the denser spam, ploughing into Gagamaru and spamming him out with arms of congealed spam, oshi-dashi.

M6 Chiyoshoma (5-6) vs. M10 Sokokurai (9-2)
This was an arms-on-shoulders, keep-a-distance match, and later even a lean-over-and-hold-hands match, as these two wily contenders spent more time feeling each other out than going for it. However, young Chiyoshoma is already the better wrestler, and he eventually reached in, got the front of the belt, and controlled the match from there, pulling Sokokurai forward into a little fall, uwate-dashi-nage.

M8 Chiyonokuni (6-5) vs. M6 Kotoyuki (5-6)
With Chiyonokuni's small size and Kotoyuki's big attack, I thought this one spelled henka. It did not, but Chiyonokuni can also spell p-u-l-l, his next best noun, so he spelled that at the straw and belly-flopped Kotoyuki to a hataki-komi loss.

M3 Okinoumi (2-9) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (5-6)
Lake Placid (Okinoumi) grabbed onto Yoshikaze high up. Way, way too high up. Lo! Yoshikaze found himself in moro-zashi and pushed Lake Placid out, yori-kiri.

M1 Takarafuji (4-7) vs. M1 Mitakeumi (8-3)
The Mystery of Mitakeumi, Part VI. What's a waza? Waza who? Whazzap! Thus far the days I've covered Mitakeumi he has not done a single henka or pull. He has spent about half his time on the belt, and half in tsuppari. However, in every single match he has surged inside at the end and smothered his opponent out with close, aggressive pressure (yes, he won all six days I covered him). Perhaps he would like his waza to be setting the guy up with tsuppari and then getting inside for oshi-dashi or yori-kiri wins. That's more or less what he did, standing Takarafuji up with effective neck thrusts, then putting both hands tight on his belly and pushing him out, oshi-dashi. So, as The Mystery of Mitakeumi ends, I feel satisfied I can describe him at least as aggressive forward movement, lots of tsuppari, and good finishes close in on the body. However, as with Shodai, who knows? That may all evaporate. Yes, I think I more or less have him pegged. But I also think it is telling that it is so hard to get to that point. As I did with Shodai, I feel more like I'm trying to keep an amoeba in the focus of my microscope than being wowed by an elephant.

M4 Endo (5-6) vs. O Goeido (8-3)
This looked a little silly. Goeido had his left arm inside and was pushing Endo back, but he didn't bring his right foot along, so when Endo removed himself backwards from the grip Goeido crumpled to the dirt, tsuki-otoshi. If this is Ozeki sumo, then I don't want any Ozeki at all, please.

And here's your "Hakuho's Patented Excitement Leaderboard!" as we head into the homestretch:

11-1: Kisenosato
10-2: Hakuho, Takanoiwa, Ichinojo
9-3: Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Sokokurai

Mike beheads Sir Lancelot tomorrow.

Day 11 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)

It means technique, and it's one of the most important words in the sumo lexicon, especially if you're in the business of expert sumo analysis. In order to correctly analyze a bout of sumo or a rikishi's ability, you have to understand sumo technique and how it's employed during a bout. And as important as technique is, the majority of sumo fans have little idea what it is or how to analyze it correctly.

Technique is so important to sumo that they actually have a special prize called the Ginoushou that gets awarded to the rikishi who displayed the best technique during a tournament. It's a hard award to come by, and you may remember that I commented on a news article that I read last year that said the Ginoushou hadn't been awarded in 15 of the last 20 basho. Of the five awards given, two of them were granted to Yoshikaze for the 2015 Aki basho and Kyushu basho, and you may remember that's when they were hyping him up and feeding him wins because they had an exhibition in his home town of Saiki, Oita Prefecture after the Kyushu basho...which conveniently sold out.

In other words, sumo had a stretch of three or more years where no one was fighting worth a damn, and so it was fruitless to give out the award. Just ask yourself what kind of sumo was being displayed generally from the start of 2013 up through the 2016 Haru basho. After the dearth of Ginoushou the last few years was reported in the media, the Association has promptly ensured that the award be given every basho since even though it's still the same old crap sumo with little technique.

You also have technique come up as part of the ever-important shin-gi-tai equation when considering a rikishi for promotion to Yokozuna. They say that in order to be promoted to Yokozuna, you have to have heart (shin), gi (technique), and tai (the body), and one reason Hokutoumi struggled mightily in his day 2 interview when asked if Kisenosato could be promoted to Yokozuna after this basho is because this is how he fares in the equation:

Heart: no
Technique: no
Body: yes

It's not just Kisenosato, though, and his lack of technique. Konishiki correctly pointed out that nobody is fighting with any heart these days either, and so you couple that with the obvious lack of technique, and the result is sumo that is so bad quality-wise that when Don Roid asked Konishiki about the rikishi these days in particular the Ozeki, he just let out this big, long sigh.

The problem with sumo is that an agenda established by the Association meant to build up Japanese rikishi is utterly destroying the quality of sumo we see atop the dohyo because rikishi with real game (i.e. foreigners) are being asked to tone it down, and all rikishi are made to feel obligated to throw bouts in favor of a select handful of Japanese rikishi that can be marketed to the herd. When you compromise the quality of sumo or sound technique, the result is the type of basho we have on our hands now, and they same type of tournaments we've seen over the last year.

Day 11 started with a rikishi in M13 Ichinojo who has been asked to tone it down big time so as to not steal the spotlight from more important guys like Shodai and Mitakeumi. Ichinojo was paired today against M16 Osunaarashi in a bout that saw the Ejyptian come with moro-te-zuki only to be rebuffed by Joe who demanded the right inside pulling his gal in chest to chest in order to set up the left outer grip. Osunaarashi tried to move laterally to slow his certain death, but just as soon as Ichinojo got that left outer, he forced the M16 back with ease. Ichinojo moves to 9-2 with the win and used the solid yotsu-zumo technique that he's capable of when he tries to win. Osunaarashi falls to 3-8 for his troubles.

M11 Kagayaki fired a right paw into M11 Nishikigi's neck at the tachi-ai while inserting his left arm to the inside, and with Nishikigi up so high, Kagayaki was able to force him back quickly causing Nishiki's right knee to buckle, and that allowed Kagayaki to get moro-zashi and score the nice, yori-kiri win. Proper technique here was a solid tachi-ai from Kagayaki and the ability to keep his opponent upright with that right paw to the throat and left arm to the inside. Solid, solid stuff as he moves to 6-5 while Nishikigi flounders at 4-7.  And speaking of hyping up small-town exhibition events, has Nishikigi gotten any run since the Morioka Exhibition held in his hometown concluded?

M12 Takakeisho came with a timid tsuppari attack against M10 Sokokurai, and so the latter just patiently waited for the rookie to tire using good tsuppari of his own and threatening a pull here and there to keep Takakeisho from really committing. After dancing for about 10 seconds, Sokokurai finally worked his left arm to the inside, and Takakeisho was had at this point as Sokokurai set up the right inside as well (hence moro-zashi) easily forcing the rookie back and across. Very smartly played by Sokokurai today who knew that he only needed to get to the inside, and so he patiently waited for the opening knowing that Takakeisho was too afraid to commit on a real forward charge. Sokokurai moves to a fantastic 9-2 while Takakeisho has maybe won one legitimate bout this tournament at 4-7.

M12 Daishomaru caught M9 Ishiura with a nice right paw to the neck as Ishiura tried to shade left, and the blow put Ishiura on his heels from the get-go. The two briefly squared up with a hand to the neck and one to the elbow, but having lost his momentum at the tachi-ai, Ishiura was a sitting duck and so Daishomaru plowed forward using a nice tsuppari attack that was so effective he caught Ishiura mid-air as the dude tried to escape laterally at the edge. Nicely done for Daishomaru who moves to 5-6 with the win while Ishiura continues to struggle at 4-7.

M9 Kaisei has been very generous this basho, but there was no point in deferring to M15 Chiyooh, and so the Brasilian struck hard at the tachi-ai demanding the right inside, and as Oh tried to escape to his left, Kaisei had him forced back and out before he could even grab the left outer grip. Excellent tachi-ai from Kaisei who can move forward like this when he wanna against the rank and file. He improves to 4-7 while Chiyooh falls to the same mark.

M8 Chiyonokuni was too high in his charge against M15 Sadanoumi, and with the latter moving forward well himself, Sadanoumi was able to secure moro-zashi from the get-go, and it was so deep that Chiyonokuni could barely think to move laterally before Sadanoumi crushed him back and down for the beautiful yori-kiri win. Sadanoumi improves to 7-4 with the win while Chiyonokuni falls to 6-5.

M'gal M8 Hokutofuji learned his lesson the other day against Takekaze who henka'd the youngster and pulled him down in short order. Guys with decent game will learn quickly, and so you know that Hokutofuji was aware of how much his opponent, M14 Chiyotairyu, likes to pull and move side to side, so when the henka came from Chiyotairyu, Hokutofuji kept his balance and was able to square back up with his foe and stand toe to toe with Tairyu in a virtual bar room brawl. Chiyotairyu mainly looked for a pull opportunity, but he also used his beef to throw a punch here and there, but Hokutofuji never panicked continuing to stand toe to toe with his large foe and trade equal punches and pull attempts. In the end, Chiyotairyu got frustrated and committed to pull sumo, and once he did, Hokutofuji got the right arm to the inside and scored the immediate force-out win from there. Hokutofuji picks up a stellar kachi-koshi at 8-3 and as he walked back down the hana-michi, I was like "Too bad the dude is fat and ugly because they could really market a guy with his tenacity and dare I say...definitive technique?"  Granted, all of these guys are fat, but they're not all ugly, and so the ones that have the looks these days are the younger guys that get all the hype (Endoh, Mitakeumi, and Shodai). As for Chiyotairyu, who falls to 5-6, his technique is very definable. He has a great tsuppari attack when he's confident, but more so than not, he can't overcome his penchant for the pull, a technique that definitely detracts from his overall sumo.

M7 Aoiyama used nice tsuppari to bully M14 Chiyootori back and eventually upright to where the Bulgarian was able to rush in and get the right arm to the inside. Chiyootori can prove slippery, and so Aoiyama twisted him upright with the right arm in a move called kaina wo kaesu, and with his left arm pointing up to the rafters, all Chiyootori could do was try and slither out of the move and catch Aoiyama off guard. The plan never worked, though, because as he tried to moved to his left, Aoiyama grabbed hold of his right arm with both hams and just twisted Chiyootori down and out kote-nage style. Aoiyama moves to 5-6 with the nice win while Chiyootori falls to 6-5.

Next up was M13 Gagamaru who pushed M7 Myogiryu back from the tachi-ai a few steps after some decent resistance, and as Myogiryu looked to move to his right and catch YubabaMaru by surprise with a pull, Gagamaru quickly regained his wits, pivoted well, and then fired a roundhouse with the right arm that connected to Myogiryu's dome knocking him down to the clay in a spectacular display. Whenever I see a blow like this, I immediately go back to my childhood days and that Punch Out! video game where the nasally announcer shouts, "Knnnnock out!!" Gagamaru stays alive at 4-7 while Myogiryu suffers make-koshi at 3-8.

M10 Takanoiwa knocked M6 Chiyoshoma back from the starting lines with some nice tsuppari, and Chiyoshoma quickly went from taking swipes at the front of the belt to moving right and looking for a pull, but Takanoiwa squared up well catching Chiyoshoma with the right arm to the inside, but there was a lot of real estate to cover, however, and so as Takanoiwa drove Chiyoshoma back, the younger Mongolian had time to work his own right arm up and under his foe's left side, and Chiyoshoma was primed to score the counter kote-nage win, but his feet scraped the outside of the dohyo giving Takanoiwa the win in the end after a high-spirited if not reckless bout. Takanoiwa survives moving to 9-2 while Chiyoshoma gave it his best falling just short at 5-6.

M6 Kotoyuki kept M3 Okinoumi upright with some tsuppari at the tachi-ai, but Okinoumi just didn't look into this one, and so Yuki managed to fire a right paw to Okinoumi's left side turning him a bit sideways, and then Okinoumi just gave up from there as Kotoyuki rushed him out from behind. You may have noticed that I haven't called yaocho yet all day, and while I believe that Okinoumi's heart wasn't in this one, I think it's more due to the fact that he's being forced to watch these younger, less-skilled guys get all the run. In my opinion, the two best Japanese rikishi in the sport are Okinoumi and Ikioi, but the two receive little respect. Okinoumi falls to 2-9 with the loss while Kotoyuki improves to 5-6.

M5 Yoshikaze committed a false start today awkwardly taking a short step to his left against M2 Arawashi, but it wasn't called, and so the result was a bout that didn't have any continuity from the start as Yoshikaze quickly got his left arm to the inside ushering Arawashi back and across without much of a fight. Arawashi loaded up a right kote-nage counter throw, but he was never able to full pull the trigger it was over that fast. I'm not sure exactly what happened here, so let's just chalk it up to both rikishi being out of sync at the tachi-ai. Yoshikaze improves to 5-6 with the win while Arawashi falls to 4-7.

Wow, we've come this far, and I've yet to declare a single bout of yaocho, but you know that's gonna change soon, and it could be as early as now with M1 Mitakeumi stepping atop to the dohyo to face M5 Takekaze. I talked a lot about technique in the intro, and it's been interesting watching Harvye try and nail down Mitakeumi's technique, but I don't know if he's gotten any closer to defining his sumo. You can say things about Mitakeumi like he hustles and he works hard, but what's his technique? What waza (that can also be plural) defines his sumo?? The short answer is that it doesn't exist, and part of the problem is that this guy has been propelled higher and faster up the banzuke than he's actually ready for. Why not let these guys learn their craft down low and then have them methodically rise up the ranks like everyone else?  Having said that, if I had to rate the big six on my own mini-banzuke, Mitakeumi tops my list as follows:


Today he faced a tough test against M5 Takekaze, but I could tell from the start that Takekaze wasn't out to win the bout. The veteran put both hands to the back of Mitakeumi's head at the tachi-ai and then quickly moved left, and normally we'd see the pull come at this point, but Takekaze was actually looking down towards his feet and away from his opponent!! Mitakeumi employed no technique to cause Takekaze to assume this position nor did I identify any other technique that would have suggested Mitakeumi was in charge of this bout. After the let-up on the pull attempt from the tachi-ai, Takekaze moved left and right as he's wont to do swiping at the back of Mitakeumi's head and then getting his right arm up and under Mitakeumi's left, but the veteran never once committed on a pull attempt. Despite this, Mitakeumi couldn't keep up with Takekaze, and it was obvious that the older dude coulda run circles around his foe and set up a nice tsuki-otoshi, but it wasn't to be. At about the four second mark, Takekaze grabbed Mitakeumi's right arm as if he was going to go for that same ipponzeoi move he did against Kaisei the other day only instead of actually attempting the throw, he just slid himself down Mitakeumi's right arm of his own accord falling to the dirt. And just like that, we have our first yaocho of the day.

When they showed the slow motion replays and reverse angles, I was looking for anything--anything!!--that Mitakeumi did to cause grief for Takekaze, but there was nothing there. Takekaze dictated the pace of this bout and then took a dive fully knowing his place in the sport. With the win, Mitakeumi moves to 8-3 and will surely take over Shodai's Sekiwake slot for March. As for Takekaze, he falls to a harmless 7-4.

After the bout as they were watching the replays, Mainoumi was unable to provide a single technique employed by Mitakeumi to explain how he won the bout. He surmised the performance by saying that Mitakeumi can "read his opponents well," and "he sure kept his cool in this one." These are just trite phrase that sounds positive, but they lack any mention of technique used.

M1 Takarafuji and M4 Tochiohzan hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai, and Oh hates fighting without moro-zashi, and when he didn't get it from the start, he resorted to a move left and a weak pull attempt, but Takarafuji was all over it easily scoring the force-out win in about three seconds moving to 4-7 in the process. It's a shame how inconsequential these two have become as Tochiohzan falls to 3-8.

I talked about being unable to identify consistent waza that can be associated with Mitakeumi, and of course the same goes for Sekiwake Shodai. Today against Komusubi Takayasu, it was the Komusubi's intent to win, and so the result was Takayasu's driving Shodai back quickly from the start and then reversing gears near the edge pulling Shodai down by his extended arms. This one maybe took three seconds, but Shodai was completely dominated by Takayasu. Once again, when guys actually try and win against the big six, the bouts aren't even close. A parting shot regarding Shodai who falls to 4-7 with the loss. How can anyone give this dude the time of day after his performance against Hakuho on day 1? If you even remember that bout, Shodai meagerly went forward at the tachi-ai and then just back-pedaled himself out of the ring at the first sign of contact. I don't know that I've ever seen a guy come so close to shatting himself in the ring. Shodai's record is a huge farce even at 4-7.

Sekiwake Tamawashi fired tsuppari towards M2 Shohozan, but Darth Hozan is a tough target to hit, and he was able to fight off the Sekiwake's initial thrust attack and slip into moro-zashi. Shohozan twisted Tamawashi over to the side, and even though the Sekiwake was able to push himself out of the grip, his foot work was shot and his body upright, so when Shohozan persisted with his feisty attack, Tamawashi went for a pull only to be greeted by a paw to the teet that sent Tamawashi packing for good. The Mawashi falls to 6-5 after the loss while Shohozan improves to 4-7.

Ozeki Goeido henka'd out left against M3 Ikioi grabbing the cheap outer grip, and with Goeido already heading towards the opposite end of the dohyo, Ikioi could have easily used his right arm inside to force the Ozeki back and across, but he just stiffened his body up like a board allowing Goeido to guide him down with that left outer grip obtained from the tachi-ai. This was just ridiculous sumo. First, you have an Ozeki whose afraid to take his opponent straight on, and so he escapes to his left. Then you have Ikioi who could have demolished Goeido had he wanted, but he just lamely fell to the dirt. I mean, how many bouts that end in uwate-nage look like this? How many guys get thrown face down after uwate-nage? This was a good example of a kimari-te not matching the actual physics of the bout. Obvious yaocho here as Goeido his gifted kachi-koshi at 8-3 while Ikioi literally falls to 7-4.

When I ranked the big six above, I put Kisenosato at the bottom based on recent performances against his peers. Remember last basho how Endoh just kicked his ass? Then you had Kotoshogiku dismantle the Yokozuna "hopeful" a few days ago in a bout that I think was over-analyzed a bit. Clancy has provided some outstanding takes over the years, and one of my favorites was when he introduced the philosophical principle of Occam's razor as it applies to bout fixing and the propping up of Japanese rikishi that is so prevalent in sumo today. "Stilling" as we say in Utah from WikiPedia, "The principle [of Occam's razor] can be interpreted as stating among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected."

I think in the case of the Kisenosato - Kotoshogiku bout, it was as simple as Kisenosato leaving himself open at the tachi-ai (something that I've harped on for years now) and then Kotoshogiku getting the left inside grip. When talking of technique, Kisenosato has one half move which is a lame tsuki with the left hand. Kotoshogiku on the other hand has two distinct moves as part of his technique: he can get the left arm to the inside at the tachi-ai, and he has the gaburi-yori move. That's a bad matchup for a guy who can't protect himself at the tachi-ai and has nothing else in his arsenal to dictate a bout.

Anyway, Ozeki Kisenosato was paired today against M4 Endoh, and I'll be damned if Endoh didn't let him win. Sheesh, when Endoh starts doing you favors, you know you're bad. Kisenosato's tachi-ai was horrible as he kept his hands sheepishly high, and so Endoh did what he does well which is to get to the inside initially. Today that came in the form of the left inside position, and as Kisenosato plodded forward, Endoh was able to run a circle around the Ozeki grabbing the left outer grip, which he used straightway to drag Kisenosato over towards the edge dashi-nage style. The crowd screamed in horror as Kisenosato looked back with his footwork shot, but miraculously, Endoh never finished the move!! As the two squared back up at the edge, Endoh now had the left inside position and right outer grip, but he just let go of the right outer (as you can see if you have the reverse angle replay) and just backed up declining moro-zashi as he let Kisenosato drive him back across the ring with a weak right kote-nage. I mean, Kisenosato was standing so upright with his knees locked when "executing" that kote-nage grip that it was comical to see Endoh just fall to the dirt in cartwheel fashion. When you set up any throw in sumo, how do you do it? You have to plant your leg opposite the throwing hand, and if you can somehow use your hip or thigh in tight against your foe as a fulcrum all the better. Kisenosato was in no such position today. In fact, the dude was standing fully upright with no lower body to body to speak of.  In the pic at right, he's flat-footed with knees locked...the typical stance we see guys take when they execute throws.  Or not.  But hey, he pulled it off in the end. Do you believe in miracles?  Yes!!

The philosophy of Occam's razor as mentioned above should always take precedent when analyzing bouts of sumo IF actual technique exists. When it doesn't, then you look for next simplest explanation. You already read my explanation and analysis, and if you don't believe that, just go listen to Mainoumi's analysis of this bout that he offered while they panned in close to the Ozeki after his bout where not a single hair was out of place. There wasn't anything in Kisenosato's sumo that he was able to point out, and his first words were, "Tada, sumo no naiyou ha imaichi desu ne, " or the content of his sumo is just not there, and then he followed that up with, "If Endoh's knee wasn't bothering him, he would have lost today." It's funny because I don't see any tape or a brace on Endoh's knee, but they have to explain it away somehow. What they couldn't explain is the technique that Kisenosato used to win because it just wasn't there.

In the day's final bout, Yokozuna Hakuho came with his patented right inside left outer grip charge against Ozeki Terunofuji, and the Yokozuna wasted no time in wrenching his foe upright and driving him back a step or two. Terunofuji is no slouch, however, and he did have his own right inside position, and so he was able to rebuff the Yokozuna briefly and force the action back to the center of the ring. Terunofuji forced his can way back breaking off the Yokozuna's left outer grip, and so the two stood in a stalemate in the center of the ring for about eight seconds with Hakuho maintaining the lower stance. After the brief stalemate, Hakuho made his move wrenching his right side into the Ozeki creating separation before quickly rushing into moro-zashi and scoring the easy yori-kiri from there. Terunofuji knew he was had after about three seconds of action and didn't even bother with a counter move at the edge, and I think he an Okinoumi are thinking along the lines of "What's the point?"  The result is Hakuho's moving to 9-2 while Terunofuji falls to a precarious 4-7.

The final bout slated for today never occurred as Yokozuna Kakuryu withdrew giving Kotoshogiku the freebie and giving the Geeku a slight glimmer of hope at 4-7. You can definitely say that the Mongolians have totally withdrawn themselves early from this basho just as they did back at the 2012 Natsu basho.

My opinion is that they don't want to be the guys standing in anyone's way, and it would not surprise me to see Hakuho drop one more bout as Harvye suggested because I think he'd prefer to go into his senshuraku bout against Kisenosato two losses behind. If the two do happen to be tied going into senshuraku, I think Hakuho will choose to beat Kisenosato straight up, but as a I like to say, the drama these days is will they or won't they?

As for Kisenosato, he has to be the favorite for the yusho at this point with a one bout lead, but regardless of what happens, I don't think he gets promoted to Yokozuna because the substance of his sumo is simply not there. In fact, as they closed the broadcast and faded out, Mainoumi's parting shot was, "It's still a mystery as to what kind of sumo Kisenosato will do these last four days." Everybody in the know knows that this run is all fake, and I just can't see them rewarding Kisenosato with Yokozuna based on his sumo so far. Sumo which nobody can define.

Day 10 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)

When I start writing my reports, I randomly type in some characters, as it makes it easier to have something to highlight and set up the parameters. I then erase the random characters when I have it set up and am ready to start writing. However, today, getting ready to write, I looked up and saw that my fingers had typed "uyf." I stared it at. Lo!  It seemed providence has struck;  "uyf" is exactly how I feel about this basho. "Uyf."  It's a sign.  So I'm leaving it there. Uyf.

In the spirit of uyf, and since it is Day 10, let's look at the leaderboard. Moreover, let's go two-losses-off-the-leader deep, as it is entirely possible (probable?) our two leaders will lose at least two more, and equally possible their chasers will lose, by fate or choice, at least one each, leaving us with a 12-3 yusho. That is what the last two days of silliness has brought us to, so let us enforce the consequences of said silliness, and see what it looks like:

8-1: Kisenosato, Takanoiwa
7-2: Hakuho, Ikioi, Hokutofuji, Sokokurai, Ichinojo
6-3: Goeido, Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Takekaze, Sadanoumi

How many true yusho threats do you see in there? All the losing by the top guys has made it "exciting," but that's just a smokescreen: there are only two possible champions in that list, and it has been that way for days. They are The Storyteller (Hakuho) and Kisenosato, as The Storyteller is insisting on keeping Kisenosato's story loud and in your ear. Or, heck, maybe it will be Ikioi. Or hell, Hokutofuji. Will Goeido save Japan? Could be Mitakeumi, right! Just could!!! Just might!!!! Might could!!!!!

Nope. It will be either Kisenosato or Hakuho. But, as The Storyteller is telling this story, we'll do it his way today, and play along by going in order of this "Hakuho's Exciting Leaderboard Creation!" just to see what that feels like.


M15 Sadanoumi (6-3) vs. M13 Ichinojo (7-2)
Let's say for fun you slammed your head against a dump truck, and then the driver turned the truck on and drove over you and your body fell off a cliff. Well, then you would look like Sadanoumi did in this yori-kiri loss to Ichinojo.

M10 Takanoiwa (8-1) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (4-5)
This is the second tournament of late with Takanoiwa hanging around on the leaderboard, but don't worry, when you fight fourth on the day against an M14 with a losing record it means the Association isn't too worried about your yusho chances. Nor was I. Takanoiwa also got wrecked here. He was grabbing at thin air while almost falling backwards as Chiyotairyu blasted him across the ring, then he fell forwards between Chiyotairyu's arms as Chiyotairyu executed a lightning pull for yet another bad win, hiki-otoshi. And just like that, another insignificant obstacle to Kisenosato's championship was shoved aside.

M16 Osunaarashi (3-6) vs. M10 Sokokurai (7-2)
Big Sandy (Osunaarashi) tried to get back to his bread and butter here, giving a few wicked slaps right away and then lurching in for the belt; he got a nice inside right. However, Sokokurai also hunkered down, and pretty soon they both had right inside/left outside grips, and we were in for the long haul, testing the question of who was stronger: the big bruiser with the bad knees, Osunaarashi, or the wily Mongolian with the tensile strength. It was a long one, and we saw something I'd never seen before: Sokokurai proved he has a good laundress: his mawashi strings fell off, and stood primly on the dohyo like a camera tripod, well starched. In the end Sokokurai slowly moved Sandy to the edge and out, yori-kiri. Sandy needs, oh, a year off. But he won't get it. Sokokurai stays hot.

M5 Takekaze (6-3) vs. M8 Hokutofuji (7-2)
This one was a perfect situation for Takekaze: young, inexperienced foe who likes to move forward hard. So, even though he knew it had to be coming, Hokutofuji still was taken by surprise by the skill and speed of the immediately tsuki-otoshi pull, losing to experience in one second flat. Well, now he knows.

K Takayasu (6-3) vs. M1 Takarafuji (3-6)
Takarafuji did nothing here and let Takayasu stand him up and punch him out, oshi-dashi.

M1 Mitakeumi (6-3) vs. S Shodai (4-5)
I have to admit I was looking forward to this match-up of the New Hopes. It was also The Mystery of Mitakeumi, Part V, although he doesn't look very mysterious to me anymore: it's all aggression, whether going for the belt or tsuppari. Shodai was smart about that at first, taking it to Mitakeumi inside and keeping him off of him with big, upwards-moving roundhouse shoves that had him going backwards. However, when Shodai turned to the side and tried to pull Mitakeumi past him and down by the arm and it didn't work, that left him facing the wrong direction and with Mitakeumi behind. Shodai recovered to not go out okuri-dashi, but Mitakeumi put his smothering pressure on him then, and stood him up inside on the body on the way to a yori-kiri win. Mitakeumi didn't look particularly good here, but took advantage of a mistake well for the win. Another day of smothering, close finishing for him.

O Kisenosato (8-1) vs. O Terunofuji (4-5)
Don was spot on about Kisenosato twice yesterday: one, the loss to Kotoshogiku was deliberate, lord knows why. Two, it is hard to see what he is doing to win when he does: he seems to exert not much effort or pressure at all, yet guys can't get around him. My explanation of this has been that he is big and is skilled at moving forward: he is an immovable object invalidating irresistible forces. Mike's explanation has been that guys give in to him. This one was pretty much par for that course, though he did make it look a little better by doing a bit of gaburu here, a bit of straining and lifting there. Basically, after the initial face push Kisenosato grabbed a hold of one fold of Terunofuji's belt on the outside, and with his other hand alternately worked on belt or pushed on Terunofuji's teat. They were both standing up quite tall, and this battle was fought with chests. Terunofuji has been supremely mediocre the last year or so, and so it is hard to say what is going on with him, but he was hapless here, just kind of going along for the ride as Kisenosato juddered him this way and that on the way to working out a yori-kiri win. If this is excitement, well, I am an hedonic. Hand me another doughnut.

O Kotoshogiku (3-6) vs. O Goeido (6-3)
Kotoshogiku's surprise win yesterday had me wondering if he may escape demotion after all somehow, while Goeido had quietly piled up enough wins to be on this "leaderboard," so I was curious to see how this one would play out. Well, Goeido destroyed Kotoshogiku. He stood him up with a solid charge, then reversed gears and pulled him down, wrapping Kotoshogiku's arm up on the left and tugging him by the shoulder on the right, sukui-nage. Goeido looked very good, but the big question for me now with Kotoshogiku is won't a retirement right in the middle of a Kisenosato yusho run be kinda an spotlight-stealing downer? Hmmmm...

M3 Ikioi (7-2) vs. Y Hakuho (7-2)
This would be a good one for Hakuho to lose, thought me, but with Kisenosato staying ahead, well, a loss was also not needed. Yet Ikioi has a following, and, well, where does Hakuho go from here? Down in the dumpers? So I was ready for a Hakuho loss. In the event, it was typical crap sumo from Hakuho as of late, as he stood tall and fired tsuppari. Ikioi tried giving back the same, and when Ikioi ducked in low to go for the belt Hakuho pulled him down, tsuki-otoshi. Nothing to see here, people. Hakuho keeps it close, and that's what just about everybody wants.

The revamped leaderboard:

9-1: Kisenosato (one Japanese)
8-2: Hakuho, Takanoiwa, Sokokurai, Ichinojo (four Mongolians)
7-3: Goeido, Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Ikioi, Takekaze, Hokutofuji (six Japanese)


M11 Kagayaki (4-5) vs. M13 Gagamaru (3-6)
Kagayaki industriously went after Gagamaru with slaps from below, like a guy picking up pizza trays made of lead, and Gagamaru compliantly moved straight backwards and out, yori-kiri. He needed to try some lateral movement here, but then again, he's not really good at that, is he?

M14 Chiyootori (5-4) vs. M11 Nishikigi (4-5)
Nishikigi had an extremely deep grip over the shoulder with his right hand, but he should have let go of it, because Chiyootori got a weensy little frontal grip and pivoted around and bumped Nishikigi out with his hip while Nishikigi kept holding on to that big belt grip--which was now next to the straw. Basically Nishikigi followed the belt out of the ring, shitate-nage.

M12 Takakeisho (4-5) vs. M8 Chiyonokuni (5-4)
Takakeisho lost this one by showing his hand. After losing the first four days, then winning the next four, after a day nine loss he undoubtedly was eager to get back after it and reclaim momentum and his confidence and start another win streak. Hence, he had two hands on the clay waiting, zapped to pop. He also flinched in a near false start, showing how coiled and tense he was, and Chiyonokuni knew what to do with that: hit the clay quick thereafter and got things started before Takakeisho could pull back and regroup, and pulled the over-eager-beaver right down, hataki-komi. Yeah, I hate the pull as much as the rest of us, but sometimes it's pretty damn cool. You could see how this one made sense, and Takakeisho got what he deserved.

M7 Myogiryu (3-6) vs. M12 Daishomaru (3-6)
Hoo, boy. Myogiryu had the distasteful Daishomaru's head between his hands and was sliding him effortlessly backwards, but Daishomaru evaded to his left and Myogiryu fell down in an ungainly way, looking way too surprised, as Daishomaru did a little superfluous patty cake on the back of Myogiryu's head and shoulders to get the tsuki-otoshi victory. This was an embarrassing loss for Myogiryu.

M15 Chiyooh (3-6) vs. M7 Aoiyama (4-5)
Aoiyama started it off with meat mallet thumps, but when that didn't work tried a long, slow pull that also didn't work. He then had to go in the body, and was in trouble, as he isn't good there. However, being so much bigger, he nevertheless drove Chiyooh swiftly to the edge... where Chiyooh stepped gracefully to the side and nonchalantly flicked him to the dirt, uwate-nage. I thought this was a size and skill mismatch, but I was wrong: even Chiyooh has better skills than Aoiyama.

M6 Chiyoshoma (5-4) vs. M9 Ishiura (3-6)
Both men were lightning quick in this one--Ishiura in moving away from tachi-ai contact to his left, and Chiyoshoma in rushing forward to oblivion and falling down, okuri-taoshi.

M8 Kaisei (3-6) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (3-6)
Oh, Kaisei. Sometimes you look so silly. The Funny Fat Kid. They were grappling around in a fairly pointless way, one side pressed together and holding on, the other side an arm wrestling match to see who could get control over there, when Yoshikaze disengaged with the whole business: pushed Kaisei nimbly away from him and stepped slightly backwards. Kaisei did a little pirouette as he fell into the void, shitate-dashi-nage.

M4 Tochiohzan (3-6) vs. M6 Kotoyuki (3-6)
Tochiohzan stayed way, way back off the lines so when Kotoyuki henka'ed mildly Tochiohzan was easily able to read it and square straight up to him: plenty of room to react. However, it took him so long to get there Kotoyuki had time to size him up, too, and was waiting with hot hands to a hard body: the tsuki-dashi Kotoyuki victory was mighty and swift.

M3 Okinoumi (2-7) vs. M4 Endo (4-5)
Okinoumi had the momentum early, pushing Endo manfully in the face. However, Endo lowered his head and reached in for the long inside left on the belt, and Okinoumi backed up. Being bigger and better, he probably still should have won, but he did not, never taking advantage of opportunities for grips his height could have afforded him, and he stepped weakly and meekly out in one of those lame "oh, okay, it's over" finishes we so often in bad matches, yori-kiri.

M2 Shohozan (3-6) vs. M2 Arawashi (3-6)
I tend to think the cat slap to the face is just a bit of ineffective showmanship silliness. Shohozan snuck one in there against Arawashi--who promptly grabbed Shohozan's arm and flung him through the air heedless and onto the cold earth, tottari. Zoinks! Good stuff by Arawashi here, even if Shohozan did keep his fingers away from Arawashi's body in a suspicious, crumply manner after that first hissy slap. Anyway, am I going to have to dust off my old Kakuryu comp for Arawashi? Should I start touting him as the next Tamawashi?

Y Kakuryu (5-4) vs. S Tamawashi (5-4)
Kakuryu had absolutely nothing and was summarily driven out by the wham, blam, in your face, hard-hitting tsuppari charge of Tamawashi, tsuki-dashi. I love this guy of late. Lookee, lookee who has the better record amongst these two. Tamawashi!

Mike refuses to let Takekaze pull him tomorrow.

Day 9 Comments (Don Roid reporting)
Yesterday "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka died, joining the ever increasing list of pro wrestlers from the 80's that I grew up watching who are no longer with us. Another wrestler on that list, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, had a great line one time: "Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions".

Is there letting up in sumo?  Sure. Are there flukes in sumo? Sure.  Is there a bit of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours"? Probably.  Can even the most unlikely of rikishi upset the best on any given day?  Absolutely.  Is there actual money exchanging hands for wins and losses?  Who knows?  Having been a professional wrestler for 15 years and being involved in a "worked" business where all the outcomes are predetermined and having done commentary for FightBox TV, probably calling well over 1,000 fights of all different styles (sumo, MMA, kickboxing, wushu, boxing, taekwondo etc.), all I can say is that NOTHING surprises me anymore.  In combat sports, ALWAYS expect the unexpected.  All we can do is watch and make our own judgments.  And for the record, reality is ALWAYS stranger than fiction.  Regardless of if you're aboard the yaocho train or the straight up train, I advise you to keep an open mind to what you're watching.  Sometimes even careful observation, logic and reasoning are not enough to fully grasp what is happening.  Only the two guys up there on the dohyo know for sure what has transpired.

With that in mind, let's get to today's action. Usually I start my report about halfway through the Makuuchi division, but I've got a soft spot in my heart for Osunaarashi (M16) since he was the first sumo wrestler I interviewed on episode 88 of The FightBox Podcast. Today he was facing Daishomaru (M12).  The Egyptian started off looking pretty good, but has lost a lot of firepower recently as his leg injury is probably acting up again.  With little choice other than to drop to low Juryo or even Makushita, he continues to tough it out, but it's just not in the cards for him. Today was no exception.  Daishomaru sidestepped to his left and drove Osunaarashi out in a heartbeat.

Fast forwarding to the meat and potatoes of today's action, sumo's golden boy, Endo (M4) would take on Hokutofuji (M8) in an impressive showing for Fuji. He really came to fight today and after the bout went strutting and snorting, huffing and puffing like a badass back to his spot, obviously very pleased with himself. Zack Morris was able to get his left arm inside at the tachi-ai, but couldn't get to the belt. Hokutofuji slid backwards and regrouped launching an offensive charge with his left forearm on Zack's collar bone and shoulder. He even managed to pick up the spare by sending Endo off the mound and taking out a judge at ringside.

Up next were (M2) Shohozan and (M4) Tochiohzan who got gridlocked in a left-in, right-out position for several seconds before Shoho overcommitted with the right arm. Tochiohzan was able to shrug him off and send him down to the sand. Afterwards Tochiohzan had the "just another day at the office" look on his face.

Sekiwake Shodai got the position he was looking for (or at least one that worked for him) right from the get go on (M1) Takarafuji who tried just about every trick in the book to better his grip, but to no avail. In a last-ditch effort he tried taking a step backwards to help him weasel his left arm inside, but by that time Shodai had pushed him back so far, it was already a foregone conclusion. Shodai will have a lighter schedule in week two, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep his rank or not.

The number that jumped out at me in the following bout was that Sekiwake Tamawashi is 0 - 4 against (M1) Mitakeumi.  Well, today he got smoked again as Mitakeumi got a bit lower and blew him out of the water.  Afterwards Tamawashi looked pretty dejected.  Back to the drawing board, I guess.  He's now 5 - 4 and is walking the razor's edge.

(M2) Arawashi went up against Ozeki Terunofuji who, perhaps, is still suffering from the never-ending injury. He looked to be favoring that knee still, as he couldn't really keep a solid base, bouncing from time to time as he tried to plant his left leg and throw his opponent.  Normally brute strength would have paid off for him, but not in this kind of condition.  Arawashi pulls off a hell of a throw here, sending Terunofuji head over heels.  When you see a throw like that, you know it's the real McCoy.

(M3) Okinoumi vs. Ozeki Goeido
Pro wrestling is fake. No shocker there. But when done correctly, it should give the illusion of a real fight. In fact, when done well, you should not even be thinking "Is this real"?  You should just get so caught up in the performance that you get sucked into the story and real emotions start to get stirred up in you.  The same thing happens when you're watching a good movie and you start to cry, even though you know the characters aren't real, they're just actors playing a part.

But once in a while actors, pro football players, comedians, talk show hosts or other celebrities get thrown into a pro wrestling match in an attempt to get ratings, sell tickets and reach a broader audience.  When these kinds of matches happen, regardless of how fake the pro wrestlers may seem to you, the celebrities are usually SO bad, that it's almost a parody of the sport.  It's impossible for you to suspend disbelief and let yourself just enjoy it for what it is.  So if you're the kind of person who used to watch Hulk Hogan back in the day and say to yourself "Look at this guy!  Why is his body suddenly shaking uncontrollably and he's impervious to pain?  That's SOOOOO fake!"  Then go back and compare Hulk Hogan and Mr. T from WrestleMania 1 and notice how GOOD the Hulkster looks when he's put in there with someone who has absolutely no idea what he's doing.

In the match today, Okinoumi's performance was akin to Mr. T's at WrestleMania 1.  Probably the most half-hearted effort I've seen in a while.  Goeido moves straight forward though Noumi with little or no resistance at all. It was so bad, that he even had to fake his winner's strut back to the other side of the dohyo.

Moving on …

When I asked former Ozeki Konishiki what he thought about the current group of ozeki in episode 106 of The FightBox Podcast, there was an awkwardly long pause before he gave his answer. He must have been thinking about how to say "they suck a skunk's stink gland" without actually using those exact words. Coming into this match, Ozeki Kotoshogiku (2 - 6) is just two losses away from becoming "Sekiwake Kotoshogiku" and he's still got to face all of the toughest competition in the final week. His opponent is Ozeki Kisenosato (8 - 0) who he's faced 62 times in the past.

My gut instinct on this one tells me to pull my BS card, which, as you know, I don't pull very often. However, Kisenosato has always been a hard wrestler for me to figure out. I still have no idea where his power comes from. Sometimes it looks like he's doing absolutely nothing and he's pushing guys around like school children. Other times he's giving absolutely everything he has and he's getting manhandled by weaker wrestlers. I just don't know what to make of him.

My problem with this match is that I can't really explain what happens, technically, to allow Kotoshogiku to gain the upper hand. At about the 8 second point of the bout Geeku suddenly breaks through, but I can't identify what exactly happens which allows him to do that. I do know that Kisenosato looks extremely awkward in this bout. He does this weird little thing with his right foot about 3 seconds in and he looks completely off balance throughout the fight. And honestly, Kotoshogiku is not really fighting much better in this bout than I've seen him fight in other bouts this tournament.

And even though I am pulling the BS card on this one, I find myself unable to explain why Kisenosato would intentionally let up to give hippity-hoppity the win. I mean, even if he does, Geeku still needs 5 more wins just to get the bare minimum he needs for kachi-koshi. So, are the rest of the Ozeki and Yokozuna going to play ball too just to delay his inevitable demotion?  Doubtful.  Not with how piss poor Kotoshogiku has been performing this basho.  Otherwise everyone will start looking like Okinoumi. And not only that, but Kisenosato is freakin' undefeated coming into this fight.  Isn't winning the yusho more important than keeping a sinking ship in the water for a few more hours?  It just doesn't add up.

Anyway, my final take on this bout is that it looked as if Kisenosato was letting up, especially towards the end. I'm not sure why he'd do it (which makes me think he didn't), but I can only call what I see. Option B - he choked … which he's absolutely known to do. Seems more logical.

Okay, [deep breath] let's see how far down the conspiracy hole we can go, shall we?  WTF just happened in this match? Yokozuna Hakuho (7 - 1) comes out with his left hand and right forearm to Komusubi Takayasu's (5 - 3) upper chest.  Hakuho then does this little moonwalk backwards.  To me it didn't even look like Yasu was pushing him that hard.  But then again, I'm not the one in there with Takayasu.  Was he just trying to get some space between him and his opponent?  Were the pushes really that forceful?  Is that how Yokozuna fight now?  Backwards?  With no attempt to get any kind of advantageous grip or position? Just slapping away at a Komusubi's hands while tip-toeing around the edge of the ring?

Guys, we've all seen Hakuho fight for years. Is this the Hakuho we all remember? The one that went undefeated for so long? The one that holds almost every record in sumo? If this is the best he can do, maybe there really is something wrong with him. Maybe the underestimating of his opponents really is causing him to lose unnecessarily. Maybe he really is losing his touch. Or, maybe, just maybe, there's a little BS in this fight too ;)  There's not really even any pillow-throwing going on which leads me to believe even more so that this was another Mr. T performance.  If you want to go full-on conspiracy theory, maybe he saw Kisenosato lose and just decided not to make it any harder for him. Or maybe it was just Takayasu's day. I don't like this kind of sumo from Hakuho. Right now it's like he's trying to buy an Armani suit with a pocket full of nickels and the clerk ain't takin' it.  Look at his demeanor when he steps off the dohyo.  Look at the way he's looking downward.  Sure, he's taking care to look where the steps are and not to fall, but he's also in deep thought for a second, and he's not happy with himself.

In the final bout of the day Yokozuna Kakuryu (5 - 3) took on (M3) Ikioi (6 - 2). This one looked legit to me. Kakuryu looked to be fighting the way he normally does with fluid, side-to-side movement and an unpredictable plethora of techniques, but he just got caught by Ikioi who got low with both arms, propped him up and drove him backwards off the dohyo. Maybe it was something about how Kakuryu fell that made it seem real. I'm also really big on facial expressions and body language after the fight as a signal of yaocho and I didn't see that from either fighter. Ikioi had a "Don't fu€k with me mudder fudder" look on his face afterwards. Full on bad-assery mode.

The most entertaining part for me, though, was the super fan who sits opposite the hard cam, about six rows up a little bit left of center in the top hat and jacket (does he have a name?). He looked like a maestro conducting an orchestra with his fan. Friggin' hilarious. What a moment. You gotta love it. Great way to finish a very entertaining day.

Mike and Harvye are back for the next several days, but I may make another appearance if need be. Quick shout out to Kintamayama for uploading the day's bouts to his Youtube channel. The pressure has never been greater for Kisenosato, which makes me think he'll blow it again. Let's find out! I'll have more thoughts on this week's and next week's edition of The FightBox Podcast.

Day 8 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
I too was begeistert (something like "caught by the spirit," a good thing) with Don Roid's interview of Konishiki. I have a child under ten, so most of my exposure to Konishiki has been in the form of "Koni-chan," dressed up in an orange jump suit with yellow lumps on it that look like dollops of turd, entertaining children as a regular cast member on Japan's version of Sesame Street. No, I'm not making that up. The amazing thing about the guy is he pulls it off: he is gentle, charming, and good for kids. In fact, he can pull anything off: at the same time, he can give an hour long interview where he pulls off being a badass: with Don, he talked about wanting to kill guys, getting beat by his coach, being aggressive, and in general displayed all the toughness you'd expect from a combat sports veteran. Don then played a clip of his singing, and damned if he didn't pull that off too--surprisingly beautiful.

But I digress. The substance of the interview was great, too--the sumo insights are many and often reassuring (you think things look weirdly slack out there? So does Konishiki). Mike has made several of these points already, and I recommend you just listen to the whole thing [Mike: hyperlink?]; the guy has charisma in spades and it's just fun to spend some time with him. But I want to key off of a minor point he made; Konishiki talked about how many foreigners there are in the stands these days, and actually recommending that there be more foreigners, not fewer, in the ring. I think that's a non-starter, but it sure would improve the level of fighting. To defend the idea, Konishiki pointed out that around 30 to 40 percent of the fans in the upper decks may be foreigners. That is a guestimate, but it doesn't sound too far off to me. In short, the Sumo Association is making a lot of money off us.

Today's broadcast was an acknowledgement of that, with a Japanese speaking, deep voiced Caucasian Japanese TV "talent" named Patrick Harlan, an American who goes by the name of "Pakkun," and is basically Demon Kogure level, in the broadcast booth and later in the crowd for the Japanese broadcast, as well as Mongolian former rikishi Kyokutenho, whose Japanese is amazing, in the booth. They showed wrestler names in English, and between near every bout showed foreign fans in the venue. Foreign fans and wrestlers were the topic throughout the broadcast.

This may grate on some--foreigners in Japan get tired of being treated as a novelty, and Pakkun didn't have much relevant to say and knew it--trying his best to cover up by staying positive and naively humorous--but it can also be seen as a positive sign. Unless the sport and its fans recognize and internalize the degree to which their sport has been internationalized, from its wrestlers to those who pay to attend, it is going to remain easy to push pro-Japanese-wrestler storylines, and hard to celebrate when the best of the best happen to not be Japanese. Think about futbal or baseball, and your favorite players: do you care even the slightest bit which country your favorite players are from? Is there anybody on your favorite team, even a single person, who is from the city where the team plays? These sports are fully internationalized and we as fans have fully internalized that. Hideki Matsui was so New York Yankees he felt like the next in the Lou Gehrig / Mickey Mantle hero line. Sumo has a long, long way to go on this (and I think it is more likely to go backwards, perhaps eliminating foreigners from fighting entirely, or otherwise handicapping them, for example, rather than increasing their numbers as Konishiki suggests). But today was an okay gesture and I'll take it.

And give Pakkun credit; asked about Japanese Yokozuna, he said he can't wait to see one--but wants anyone who does it to earn it in the same tough, qualified, undeniable way that the Mongolians did. He wants that person to be a real, damnation Yokozuna. Amen to that.

M13 Gagamaru (2-5) vs. M15 Sadanoumi (6-1)
Nice head butt on the tachi-ai, two coconuts clunking, then good pressure while slung low by Gagamaru. He stood up a bit and Sadanoumi was able to reverse the momentum, but Gagamaru pushed him upright with a good meat paw to the face then pulled him pretty easily down, hataki-komi.

M12 Takakeisho (3-4) vs. M1 Chiyotairyu (3-4)
Fourth straight win here by Takakeisho, who took advantage of Chiyotairyu's predictability by backing up while being slapped at, then stepping just a little to the left and watching Chiyotairyu fall on his face, hiki-otoshi. Chiyotairyu looked terrible here, as if not even trying, just ploughing forward whatever comes.

M11 Kagayaki (3-4) vs. M16 Osunaarashi (3-4)
Osunaarashi has been having a terrible tournament; none of the wicked, effective fisticuffs aggression at the tachi-ai we've seen from him in the past, no action on the belt thereafter, and it showed in this match. Kagayaki is a big dude with some oomph in his own right, and he had Big Sandy (Osunaarashi) going backwards from the very start, off balance and defending. Also, Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) must have been reading our reports and practicing hard, because for the second day in a row he moved laterally and still won, taking care to keep Osunaarashi in front of him and close enough to pound on as they circled around the ring on the way to the yori-kiri win. Now, near the end Sandy did get some belt grips, and I wondered why he let go of them, but he was dominated here and that has been par for the course this tournament. He looked gimpy on those knees again, too.

M15 Chiyooh (2-5) vs. M11 Nishikigi (3-4)
Over winter break my family and I spent a few nights on Yoron Island. It's the last island in Kagoshima Prefecture, way down in the forgotten Pacific towards Okinawa. It's mostly sugar cane fields, and you can drive across the whole thing in about 15 minutes. We saw the whole island twice or more, bumbling around on bicycles or driving 30 kph per hour between the cane stalks while the green leaves brushed the windshield, going to totally empty beaches and wading in the brine, mounting minuscule hills for views of the ocean all around, visiting whatever more-minor-than-minor tourist attraction that came into our heads (someone built a picnic pavilion to mark an old castle foundation; it was overgrown with weeds and had a big spot of accumulated bird dung in the center). There were goats roped to trees, getting ready to be turned into dinner, and a hotel had a sign outside: "please feel free to walk our dog." I drank lots of the local sweet potato liquor, Shimayuusen, and they told us it used to be an illegal homebrew that graduated to being sold. I reflected that really there isn't any place much more remote in Japan than Yoron. Why am I telling this story? Chiyooh is from this island. Why does this matter? Most sumo guys were traditionally from provincial places like Yoron, or Hokkaido, Iwate, Kyushu backcountry, etc. Why? Sumo was a way out, and sumo toughness partially came from tough upbringings and hunger. We've dwelt on this at length on Sumotalk before: guys from places like Mongolia have that hunger now, and increasingly Japanese rikishi don't. Why? Well, even in Yoron, life is pretty nice nowadays. I'm sure Chiyoo grew up in pretty unsophisticated rural isolation--we visited a hilltop outdoor dohyo--these aren't very common in Japan, but can be found here and there--and I can imagine him with nothing much else to do, spending weeks and months upgrading his rural, farm-fed rough and tumble skills. Yeah, Yoron is the kind of place big time sumo wrestlers used to come from, so on the one hand, with a population of 5,000, it's odds of producing a rikishi are tiny. On the other hand, having been there, it was "yeah, of course!" Unfortunately, Chiyoo has done nothing to live up to that romantic pedigree, as he's been one of those really terrible rookies who looks totally out of place in the top division. Here he tried pushing hard off the tachi-ai, but might as well have been pushing at the outer wall of the Kokugikan, because Nishikigi didn't budge. Chiyoo then tried a pull so predictable and slow that Nishikigi followed it easily, driving Chiyoo out with emphatic yori-kiri. I've been waiting to tell that Yoron story for four eight days, hoping Chiyoo would have a good day and I could celebrate him a little, but I finally had to just give up and tell it off a loss. Here's to you, Chiyoo (raises glass of 30% alcohol Shimayuusen, straight).

M12 Daishomaru (2-5) vs. M10 Sokokurai (6-1)
Daishomaru, a pull expert with nothing else, is one of my new least favorites, so I was hoping he would get worked here, and he did. Sokokurai didn't put him away right away, leaving him open to be pulled, but then again maybe he didn't put him away because he was being careful about that pull. Indeed, Daishomaru did almost swipe him out at one point, and it was only Sokokurai carefully arching his toes that saved him, as half his foot was over the straw. After that he was even more careful, actually momentarily refusing to approach Daishomaru at all, and we had one of those standing-there-looking-at-each-other moments. But of course Daishomaru didn't dare approach Sokokurai either. So Sokokurai finally said "oh well, flug it," cautiously advanced, and the meek and weak Daishomaru was pushed out this time like a tuft of cotton dander on a spring wind, oshi-dashi. This is the kind of sumo that results when so many wrestlers fight defensively that guys are afraid to be aggressive. But I'm with Kane: Sokokurai is intelligent in the ring and fun to watch.

M14 Chiyootori (3-4) vs. M9 Ishiura (2-5)
I've been enjoying watching Ishiura get dismantled this tournament--he's underweight for this division and fairly helpless in a straight up fight--and he was devoured here by Chiyootori, who wrapped him off a nice tight, forward moving tachi-ai, both arms inside, and drove him out in a fraction of a second, yori-kiri.

M13 Ichinojo (5-2) vs. M8 Chiyonokuni (5-2)
Huge size mismatch. Chiyonokuni did the smart thing in this one, going far and fast to his left in a tachi-ai henka, but Ichinojo stopped his momentum and faced up. Chiyonokuni was smart again, then, tsuppari-ing wildly in Ichinojo's face, doing everything he could to keep The Mongolith off his body. It worked too--disoriented, Ichinojo did eventually flop to his belly just outside the ring--but it was too late, as Ichinojo had concentrated hard enough and maintained carefully enough to push Chiyonokuni far enough back that he'd already stepped out first, oshi-dashi.

M7 Myogiryu (2-5) vs. M10 Takanoiwa (6-1)
Takanoiwa is developing into a pretty good middle-of-the-banzuke talent--meaning he cleans up when in the lower half and gets creamed when he is in the top half. He's M10 this tournament and so, yes, cleaning up. Good, destructive sumo here; powerful left outside grip on the belt, and stuck a fierce head-bending hand in the face and up high on the other side when he needed it. Yori-kiri obliteration.

M5 Takekaze (5-2) vs. M9 Kaisei (3-4)
Kaisei needed to be cautious here, as this was another massive size difference. He was--but not enough. When Takekaze inevitably spun away just after the tachi-ai and tried to pull him down by the head, Kaisei held onto his belt and spun with him. When Takekaze retreated, Kaisei stayed close to him and followed him. However, when Takekaze turned on a dime at the straw and pulled Kaisei down beautifully by the arm at the edge, ipponzeoi, well, Kaisei lost.

M8 Hokutofuji (5-2) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (2-5)
Great sumo here from a guy who does nothing but move resolutely forward, hurrah!, Hokutofuji. Hard, linear tachi-ai, straight powerful force out, oshi-dashi. Dude just put his head down and drove, and finished Yoshikaze by flinging him over backwards by the neck. Even when losing I don't think I've seen Hokutofuji fight badly yet this tournament, though he's fought a lot of solid veterans like Yoshikaze. Good stuff.

M4 Tochiohzan (1-6) vs. M6 Chiyoshoma (4-3)
I've been pretty happy with the sumo today. Chiyoshoma gutlessly (and probably needlessly, given how bad Tochiohzan has looked this tournament) henka'ed, but Tochiohzan caught him, worked with the belt, and drove this flyspeck out, yori-kiri.

M7 Aoiyama (3-4) vs. M4 Endo (4-3)
I've been saying Endo has good technique but lacks power for years now.  What do I mean by that? You rarely see Endo in unorthodox matches. He tends to either go for the belt or to tsuppari, but there isn't a lot of henka, or running around the ring, or pulling. He sets things up in a traditional way and hopes he can then finish whoever he has set up off through superior position. However, traditionally that led to great comedy with him, as all of the sudden it would collapse and he would be utterly destroyed, as he didn't have enough power to finish any of the stuff he'd set up. When the other guys realized he couldn't close they just blew him away. But I didn't have any problem with his sumo per se: he always gave an honest, solid effort. Lately, he's seemed to even add some power--making him a threat for real, finally, in some of his matches. I will tentatively buy it that injuries held him back some and we weren't seeing the real Endo. But there's still a mirage element with him; today, as so often in the past, he got blown away. He took the behemothic Aoiyama on straight up, and Aoiyama punched him off of him with his forearms and out of the ring without a second thought, tsuki-dashi. There is a bit of tragedy to Endo, because the real Endo lies halfway between his good technique and straightforward fight that I'd like to respect, and his vulnerability to the many, many guys who are bigger, stronger, and better than him, no matter how comparatively sloppy their technique may be.

M6 Kotoyuki (2-5) vs. M3 Ikioi (5-2)
Oh, Kotoyuki. He's reminding me a little bit of Chiyotairyu or Toyohibiki these days: big tachi-ai attack, but once that doesn't work he's helpless and hapless. He didn't try very hard here either. Yes, he got two big hands to the face off the tachi-ai and a few more good blows to the nose and thereabouts thereafter. However, after that he put his arms down and leaned in with his head, as if that was his new chosen weapon of attack. And not very straight on. So Ikioi turned and pushed him out, yori-kiri, like a guy knocking a wet sponge off the counter into the mop bucket.

K Takayasu (5-2) vs. M1 Mitakeumi (4-3)
Oh oh--battle of "rising stars." Ignoring that for the moment--let's be optimistic and hope for straight up--it was also time for The Mystery of Mitakeumi, Part IV. Thus far, we'd seen him going always forward, twice on the belt, once with tsuppari, and winning by crowding guys out. Today was right in line with that. Very hard tachi-ai by both parties, bashing heads fast and aggressively together. Then, Mitakeumi tried tsuppari, but it wasn't effective, as Takayasu was all over him. However, to his credit, Mitakeumi kept his legs unaligned, and slung his body at a good angle to resist being pushed out. Also, when eventually reversing the momentum, he did it by bringing along excellent footwork. He also surged inside on the body, moro-zashi, and bulled Takayasu out, yori-kiri. After four days of observing him in order to be able to say, "what's his style?," the results are pretty clear: forward moving, no tricks, doesn't separate much, and will be very aggressive when he has the belt or the body in his grasp. I consider tsuppari a weak technique and he has too much of that, but I like his bullying sumo pretty well.

S Tamawashi (4-3) vs. M1 Takarafuji (3-4)
Ho hum. Takarafuji took a fall here. Yeah, Tamawashi was above him and can be given credit both for good neck shoves to get Takarafuji upright, then a hiki-otoshi pulldown, but Takarafuji wasn't doing anything, just standing there and flailing his arms about, never going for a grip or making any moves and falling down rather too compliantly. Looked like mukiryoku to me. Think parity.

O Terunofuji (3-4) vs. O Goeido (5-2)
Nice to see Terunofuji beat Goeido up a bit. Goeido kept low and was trying to get inside, and Terunofuji bashed him in the neck with a forearm, stepped disdainfully to the side, and chopped him down, hiki-otoshi.

O Kisenosato (7-0) vs. M3 Okinoumi (2-5)
Round and round and round they went, and Kisenosato was in deep trouble. He'd given up moro-zashi, as he often does, and was already pulling. However, Okinoumi spent a lot more time going sideways than forward, and didn't seem interested in any throws or going for anything better than the upper-body trips he had, so Kisenosato kept his cool and, at the very end, pulled Okinoumi right through the spinning momentum and to the clay, tsuki-otoshi. For the moment (foreshadowing…), it's a nice, clean yusho race, folks: Kisenosato and Hakuho, "good" vs. "evil," hope vs. boredom, Reality TV vs. the bite of reality... Think parity.

M2 Shohozan (2-5) vs. O Kotoshogiku (2-5)
I think the writing is on the wall for Kotoshogiku. He had Shohozan going backwards with some tough inside pressure, and even had Shohozan's feet on the straw. If Shohozan had wanted to give Kotoshogiku a gift, nothing would have been easier: one more half step back and done. But instead Shohozan moved right along the straw and dragged Kotoshogiku down by his arm, rolling him off the dohyo like a barrel of peanuts, kote-nage. Two more losses and Kotoshogiku is an Ozeki no more. So close… go ahead and retire, Kotoshogiku, and I'll write something really nice about you!

Y Kakuryu (4-3) vs. S Shodai (3-4)
This one started off with a few mutual hard slaps to the face, and that was okay. Shodai had nothing, and connected on none of his advances, while Kakuryu clocked him pretty good more than once. But the key was that Kakuryu ducked in low, brought his feet with him, and pushed hard, annihilating Shodai back into one of the judges oshi-dashi, flying in an ungainly riot out of there like a scarecrow torn up by a tornado.

M2 Arawashi (1-6) vs. Y Hakuho (7-0)
As much as the Mongolians are guilty of giving in to Japanese wrestlers, they are even worse when fighting each other, from the ridiculous Asashoryu/Hakuho choreographed "sumo" when both were Yokozuna, to unnecessarily gifting Terunofuji a yusho he could have won on his own, to pretty much every match between the current Yokozunae: those are yawners designed to support mutually beneficial results. I thought Arawashi beat Kakuryu straight up the other day--yes, I did. Kakuryu is the least of the three Yokozuna and though really good is frequently vulnerable, too, and he looked mentally out of it. Arawashi is tough, limber, and a bag of tricks, and can beat anybody who doesn't take him seriously and quickly wrap him up or just plain (carefully) flatten him. However, I do find it highly improbably that he could beat Kakuryu and Hakuho and nobody else this tournament. But that's what happened. And I find it very credible that the Mongolian kingpins would get together, at least in spirit, and give Arawashi a few "welcome to the jo'i" gifts. Did I see anything that was clearly, incontrovertibly mukiryoku here? No. Did I see good sumo from Hakuho, which he is capable of producing anytime, anywhere? No. But it was fast and Arawashi did look good. They jumped onto each other and spun around, and Arawashi pushed Hakuho out, yori-kiri. It was a very quick bout; Arawashi grabbed a left outside grip, and they immediately spun a full 240 degrees. When they stopped, Hakuho was off balance and stood up a bit and released what grip he had of Arawashi, but he didn't have much choice, as Arawashi was on him like melted cheese on a hot burger, and immediately pushed him out from there. Think parity. Flash victory, storm of cushions.

Well, it ain't a nice, clean yusho race no more! The Hokutoumi revolution remains in full throttle, as Kisenosato is set up for the third yusho by a previously yusho-less Japanese rikishi in the last seven tournaments. …or will he choke, like so often before? We've got a long, long way to go, and Hakuho still controls his own destiny, but the pedal just officially touched the metal (or, in my case, the dirty, gravelly floor mat with the hole in it where my heel goes) for the remainder of the tournament.

Don takes the wheel tomorrow.

Day 7 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The biggest news heading into the day was the withdrawal of Yokozuna Harumafuji. I didn't even bother reading what the injury was because the dude isn't hurt more than any of the other guys usually are. Harumafuji made an acrobatic fall in his bout yesterday against Tamawashi, and that will happen when you're not going all out in the ring. In Don Roid's interview with Konishiki, when they got around to discussing the current rikishi in sumo, Konishiki kept using the phrase "not aggressive."  Over and over he used that term because it's true. Well, what's the antonym of aggressive? Calm.  Easy-going.  Laid-back.  Complacent.  That describes sumo these days to a T, and I would sum up those four words in a single Japanese word: mukiryoku.

With that in mind, let's get to the day 7 action starting with M16 Osunaarashi who came with a moro-te tachi-ai, but he started slapping from above instead of thrusting horizontally, so J1 Toyohibiki easily got the left inside and dug it into Osuna's left armpit lifting him up and dumping him with an offensive right tsuki-otoshi to the side. Osunaarashi limped back favoring his right knee after the bout, and he also drops to 3-4 for his troubles.

M14 Chiyootori stayed low fishing for the front grip with both hands against M13 Gagamaru, and after a bit of wrasslin and wranglin, Otori came away with the right frontal grip and then left inside giving him moro-zashi. From there it was a walk in the park as he scored the easy yori-iri win moving to 3-4.  Gagamaru falls to a paltry 2-5.

M15 Sadanoumi and M12 Daishomaru bumped heads at the tachi-ai where Sadanoumi came away with the left inside, and lately Daishomaru just quits at the first sign of trouble (i.e. at the tachi-ai), and so as he lamely looked to go left, Sadanoumi got the right inside as well and just danced his foe back and out yori-kiri style.  Sadanoumi's is 6-1 if you need him while Daishomaru falls to 2-5.

In a bout between two rikishi who don't fare well as soon as you take away their bread and butter, M11 Kagayaki used his long arms to make contact first with M14 Chiyotairyu's neck moro-te-zuki style, and so Chiyotairyu quickly abandoned a forward charge and moved left firing a tsuki into Kagayaki's right side. The move threw Kagayaki laterally where he is usually vulnerable, but Chiyotairyu didn't pounce and allowed Kagayaki to square back up in the center of the ring. Once they started round two, Chiyotairyu only had pull on his mind, and Kagayaki read that like a dirty manga on the subway easily scoring the push-out win from there. Watching the replays, Kasugano-oyakata in the booth said of Chiyotairyu after that first push to the side, "He had his chance." He did but couldn't capitalize, and that is way too much analysis for this bout. Sorry about that as both rikishi end the day at 3-4.

Kane and I were briefly chatting about what rikishi are interesting this basho in terms of doing sumo that is fun to watch. I offered Hokutofuji first and Kane came back with Sokokurai, and I heartily agree. M10 Sokokurai in the ring is like Robert Langdon trying to solve his next puzzle. Today's riddle came in the form of M15 Chiyooh who put up his best fight of the basho. Both rikishi came out in migi-yotsu where Sokokurai looked to have the lower position. He eventually reached for and got the left outer grip, but Chiyooh's mawashi was loose today, and so as he pulled on the mawashi to try and lift his gal upright, he didn't have the usual leverage, and this enabled Chiyooh to grab the left outer of his own, and the gappuri migi-yotsu contest was on. Sokokurai used his skill advantage to drive his foe back to the edge, but Chiyooh threatened an utchari causing Sokokurai to give pause. After the rikishi moved slightly back towards the center of the ring, Sokokurai regrouped and this time forced Chiyooh to step out of the dohyo first. This was a great bout of sumo, and I can't recall a single bout from the big five that was fought in this fashion where sound sumo practices were employed and both rikishi wanted to win. You can see genuine sumo when it occurs, and unfortunately, most of that is happening before the five o'clock hour.  Sokokurai moves to 6-1 while Chiyooh falls to 2-5.

The reason that Ichinojo is fighting at M13 of late is a result of compromising his sumo, and today was a good example of that against M10 Takanoiwa. Despite getting his right arm well inside of Takanoiwa, he did nothing with it opting to hold it near the front of Takanoiwa's belly like a wet rag as Takanoiwa set up his grips. After a few seconds of wrangling, Ichinojo pulled his right arm outside giving Iwa the left inside and easy right outer grip, and from there, Ichinojo just offered mild resistance as Takanoiwa worked him back to the straw, lifted him upright a couple of times, and eventually pushed him across. Harvye talked about these kinds of bouts yesterday in his intro and how you suspect that something was fishy but that everything looked straight up. Ichinojo was mukiryoku in this one all the way, but he had the room to do it falling to 5-2 while Takanoiwa surges to 6-1.

The mukiryoku sumo would continue in the next bout as well asM9  Ishiura kind of shaded to his right going flappy bird against M12 Takakeisho never once looking to get to the inside or offer a serious pull. With Ishiura moving slow enough for Takakeisho to handle, the rookie squared himself up with a few thrusts that were actually too high and would have gotten him in trouble against an opponent looking to win, but Ishiura wasn't and so Takakeisho was able to push him back and out in a matter of seconds. Prior to the previous bout, they showed a bout between Takanohana and Akebono way back from the 1994 Kyushu basho where Takanohana won on senshuraku clinching his promotion to Yokozuna, and so it was a nice little set up to see all three Taka rikishi win on a weekend.

M9 Kaisei and M11 Nishikigi hooked up in hidari-yotsu where Nishikigi hunkered down low in order to keep Kaisei away from the belt, and after a few seconds of stalemate, Kaisei just pulled his left arm from the inside to the outside!!  There isn't a term to even describe that move because you're just telling your opponent: here ya go...moro-zashi!  It still took Nishikigi a few more seconds to figure out what he had, but he once he mounted his charge, he lifted Kaisei upright and forced him back with little resistance from the Brasilian. Watching live and from the Shomen angle, it was tough to see anything with kaisei's wide load in the way, but NHK graciously showed a replay from the reverse angle, and from there it was obvious to see all of Kaisei's blatant moves implemented in order to throw this match.  I don't care what the politics are behind this one or if money changed hands; Kaisei let Nishikigi win, and it was obvious as both rikishi finish at 3-4.

If Kane has Sokokurai, then I have M8 Hokutofuji, who struck well against M8 Chiyonokuni and got his right arm planted firmly into Kuni's left armpit lifting him upright and driving him back in a flash, but Chiyonokuni arched his back at the edge, slipped right, and timed a perfect right tsuki-otoshi that send Hokutofuji down at the edge. Afterwards as they were breaking down the bout, Kasugano-oyakata said that there was nothing positive about Chiyonokuni's sumo, and there wasn't. His hands were high at the tachi-ai, and he was only looking for a pull, but a win is a win is a win. I watch a rikishi get dominated like this yet still pull out the win at the edge with the magical tsuki-otoshi, so when a rikishi doesn't make the effort to at least try against the big five, it's a major red flag.  Both rikishi here are a nice 5-2.

M6 Chiyoshoma looked to latch onto the front of M6 Kotoyuki's belt from the tachi-ai, and while he eventually lost his grip, it unnerved Kotoyuki to the point where he abandoned his tsuppari attack and looked to evade right. As Kotoyuki looked to square back up after breaking off Shoma's grip, it was the Mongolian's turn to move right and execute a pull for reals that sent Kotoyuki down and out in an overall ugly bout.  Chiyoshoma is on cruise control at 4-3 while Kotoyuki falls to 2-5.

M7 Aoiyama came with a moro-te-zuki tachi-ai into M5 Yoshikaze's neck and face, and you could just see that Aoiyama meant business today. And the business is exactly what he gave Yoshikaze just pummeling him back and out before Yoshikaze could escape to his left. Afterwards, Kariya Announcer said of Aoiyama, "If only he could do this sumo all the time..." Yeah, if only, but we all know why he doesn't.  Aoiyama improves to 3-4 while Yoshikaze falls to 2-5.

Here comes the roar of the crowd, so you know that M4 Endoh has just stepped into the ring. His opponent today was M7 Myogiryu, who was proactive from the tachi-ai firing his right paw into Endoh's neck and using the left hand to push Endoh upright and back shoving into the armpit area. With Endoh's arms out wide and in no position to defend, Myogiryu suddenly stopped his attack and faked a quick swipe at the front of Endoh's belt before thinking about a pull of Endoh's left shoulder. With Endoh still in no position to do nothing, Myogiryu fired a right tsuki into Endoh that sent him dangerously low and to the side, but Myogiryu was polite from here reaching over the top of Endoh and grabbing the very back flap of his belt that allowed Endoh to finally position his left arm to the inside and with Myogiryu voluntarily up high, Endoh grabbed the left grip and scored the force-out win!!  What makes this bout obvious is that Myogiryu stopped his initial de-ashi for no reason and then he completely opened himself up to give Endoh the stifling left inside and right outer in the end. There wasn't a single thing that Endoh did to stop Myogiryu's charge or to set up his ultimate nice yotsu position. Yaocho all the way as Endoh moves to 4-3 while Myogiryu falls to 2-5.

M5 Takekaze easily survived a right hari-te attempt from M2 Shohozan, and with Shohozan showing no promise of a decent charge, Takekaze just moved right and pulled Shohozan down with ease. Shohozan falls to 2-5 with those two wins coming against...wait for it...Terunofuji and Harumafuji. As if.  Takekaze improves to 5-2 while Shohozan is 2-5.

M2 Arawashi spent most of his time whiffing against M1 Takarafuji. In a bout that could have gone to hidari-yotsu, Arawashi pulled his arm out and then next when he found himself to the left of Takarafuji, he coulda grabbed Takarafuji's right arm and yanked him out from there, but he whiffed on that move as well just stepping out of the dohyo as Takarafuji tried to catch up with a left swipe. Total yaocho here as Arawashi stopped short of executing the obvious moves while Takarafuji did nothing to set his gal up or force Arawashi back in the end.  Arawashi falls to 1-6 while Takarafuji improves to 3-4.

Ozeki Goeido exhibited a horrible tachi-ai with his arms wide giving Sekiwake Shodai the path the right inside, and if you look at the pic at right, Shodai's left hand is already up and under the Ozeki's right, but Shodai just abandoned the path to moro-zashi and stepped out left to try a weak left inashi against Goeido's right shoulder. That move alone was inexplicable. Isn't the point of sumo to establish the inside position and go chest to chest, especially if you're the bigger dude? From there, the outcome was obvious especially when the two looked to square back up and Shodai actually had moro-zashi with Goeido standing upright with hands above him, but Shodai not only let him out of it, he abandoned his right inside position and lamely focused on a left outer grip. As dumb as Shodai's moves were to this point, he still could have easily dashi-nage'd the Ozeki over and out, but he just stood there and let Goeido square back up, and as soon as he did, Shodai sloppily stepped out ending this horrible, horrible bout of sumo. I must state that all of Shodai's dumb moves were intentional. He coulda kicked Goeido's ass four or five times today, but he let the Ozeki off the hook every time and just threw this bout to his senpai.  Goeido improves--I guess--to 5-2 while Shodai falls to 3-4.

Ozeki Kisenosato and Tochiohzan struck in the hidari-yotsu position from the tachi-ai with Oh also having his right arm to the inside of Kisenosato's left.  If you look at the pic at left, you can see Kisenosato's left arm out wide and Tochiohzan's right elbow and arm creeping inside, but Tochiohzan didn't try and work that right deep to the inside.  He also didn't try and dig in, and he never attempted a counter move at the edge.  He just stood there like a practice dummy and let the dummy Ozeki just drive him straight back.

Kisenosato moves to 7-0 with the gift, but the yusho is not in the bag.  It used to be that he had the  Mongolian's lurking, but he still has everybody except for maybe Kotoshogiku lurking.  As bad as Kotoshogiku is these days, he's still a tough matchup for the Kiddie because the Geeku can easily get inside at the tachi-ai.  Kisenosato is no even halfway to the yusho, and while it wouldn't surprise me if everyone steps aside for him, there's still a long way to go.  Tochiohzan falls to 1-6.

Komusubi Takayasu didn't play along with Ozeki Kotoshogiku by allowing the bout to go to yotsu-zumo. Instead, he used a nice right kachi-age at the tachi-ai and then displayed good tsuppari into the neck area of the Ozeki that stood him straight up, and as Kotoshogiku tried to lean back into the bout, Takayasu reversed gears and just pulled him down.  Takayasu moves to 5-2, and I'm starting to see those Ozeki headlines again.  Takayasu?  And Ozeki??  Course, he already runs rings around the current JPN Ozeki, so whatever.  Kotoshogiku falls to 2-5, and remember the dude is kadoban, so this may be the end.  On one hand, I want to say let's hope so, but on the other hand, they're only going to replace him with someone else who isn't worthy.

Ozeki Terunofuji actually moved forward at the tachi-ai against M1 Mitakeumi, and seeing him do that kind of jolted me a bit because I'm so used to seeing him stand there straight up and just let the other guy win, but Terunofuji meant business today plowing forward and staying low completely disallowing Mitakeumi anything to the inside. I guess I should say the deep inside. While Mitakeumi had both arms inwards, they were only elbow deep as Terunofuji showed us his signature kime-hold where he just bore down on Mitakeumi staying square as he tried to move laterally, and when the timing was right, Terunofuji executed the push-out kill with ease. Mitakeumi could do nothing here and curiously, the flash from his previous curious wins this basho was missing.  Terunofuji limps to 3-4 while Mitakeumi is 4-3.

M3 Ikioi picked up the default win thanks to Harumafuji's withdrawal moving the good fellow to 5-2.

Sekiwake Tamawashi moved left at the tachi-ai against Yokozuna Hakuho completely avoiding a chest to chest clash at the tachi-ai, but Hakuho used his superior speed to move laterally himself in response to stay away from Tamawashi's tsuppari. After this awkward start, Hakuho just bore down, watched his opponent well, and then connected with jab after jab to Tamawashi's face, and as the Sekiwake looked in desperation to get close, Hakuho finally moved right and pulled Tamawashi over to the edge where his big toe just stepped out ending the bout just like that.  Nothing too spectacular as Hakuho moves to 7-0 while Tamawashi falls to 4-3.  Before we move on, Konishiki stated that Hakuho's sumo is all defensive, and while I agree with that, it's purely intentional.  If you had a tachi-ai where you could get the right inside and left outer every time, why wouldn't you use it every time?  Hakuho is just dinking around in order to display sumo more on par with the rest of the field.  Think parity.

Finally, Yokozuna Kakuryu went for moro-zashi at the tachi-ai but was rebuffed by M3 Okinoumi quite well, but the Yokozuna kept his left arm to the inside and dictated the bout from there using tsuppari to keep Okinoumi upright all in an attempt to get that left inside and just stick. But Okinoumi proved to be a slippery fish and traded Kakuryu's tit for tat well never letting him get fully to the inside. Kakuryu made an adjustment going for the right outer without that left inside, and he used that to dashi-nage his gal around, but Okinoumi used his size and skill to withstand it all. At this point, you could see that the bout was for reals, and these are two of the better guys in the division. Kakuryu never did get that left firmly to the inside, but Okinoumi never had the inside position either, so after about twenty seconds of quality action, the Yokozuna finally won with that dashi-nage in the end.

A couple of points to take away from this one. Okinoumi is probably the best Japanese rikishi in the sport right now. Another point is that once they hunkered down in the center of the ring, there was no way that Okinoumi was going to win that bout. The Mongolians are just too good and that far ahead of their Japanese counterparts, so while it was the best bout we've seen this basho the last 30 minutes by far, the Japanese rikishi cannot beat the foreigners.

For today's broadcast, they had singer songwriter Sada Masashi in the booth as a guest, and when the day was done, they turned to him and said, "Who made the biggest impression on you today?"  Without missing a beat, he bleated out, "BA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A.  KISENOSA-A-A-A-A-TO."

Of course.  That answer was as expected as Harvye hitting the sweet spot tomorrow.

Day 6 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
The other day someone asked me if I really through Mitakeumi beat Kakuryu straight up on Day 4. The true, honest answer is I'm not sure. Calling yaocho is a dicey proposition, and I've had to develop a strategy for how to approach it. It's not something I want to deal with, but it's unavoidable. As this basho rolls on with its wagonloads of questionable results, it is worth talking about that a little bit. Let me reiterate my take.

My strategy has one main point: try to be honest with myself, and hence with you. However, this cuts in two directions. First, obviously, if I see yaocho I try to call it. If it looks obviously fake, I try to say so. Most of the time it would be easier and more polite not to do so. But I don't want to make a fool out of myself or you, so, much as it makes me roll my eyes and grit my teeth with frustration, my deal with myself is that if I think the bout was fake I say so.

There is a trap there. The argument that bias can creep in and you begin to see yaocho wherever you want--or wherever you expect it--has merit. So the other part of the being honest is to ask myself, "did that really look like yaocho to me, or did it just upset my expectations of who was going to win?" The Kakuryu-Mitakeumi bout fell into this category. Yeah, I totally expected Kakuryu to win, and when he didn't, yeah, I totally had my doubts. I watched the bout about six times and wrestled with the question. (I wouldn't spend much time if it was, say, Chiyooh vs. Daishomaru, but yeah, I care, and try to get it right. Some of them it takes a while.) Those who think it was yaocho had plenty of ammunition: For me, Kakuryu's pulls, which he should know are bad strategy--this goes back to the "pull habit" press he was getting. Some say he has a pull habit that gets him in trouble. Other say he needs to lose some so he created a "pull habit" for himself. What's the truth? I dunno. But what I saw in the match was bad sumo--too much pulling--but not enough obvious unnatural movement or weak, flabby technique or effort to call yaocho on that particular bout. My feeling was that, to be honest, I didn't "see" yaocho there. What I saw was a couple of pulls that could be yaocho, but I had no evidence. Were those pulls yaocho? Maybe. But if I go around calling all the bad sumo I see yaocho, I'm not being honest anymore. I watched a bunch of New York Giants receivers drop passes in an American Football game last Sunday, and I reflected that I could have easily called yaocho on that--how could such great athletes drop such easy passes? Well, it happens. And Kakuryu's loss looked enough like a dropped pass that I left it at that.

Oddly, being honest with myself while writing isn't easy, and is a fine line to walk. Often, I end up NOT being honest with myself. I write plenty of calls in both directions that look silly to me the next day. Doubt creeps in. So, the best thing to do is step back and give yourself the eyeball test again: what did I actually see? A different way around it is to write something like the paragraph I just gave you on Kakuryu/Mitakeumi: weasel around and say well maybe it was maybe it wasn't. And to be fair I do that a lot, too. But my feeling is most of the time it is better to call it. Make the call. Gather your guts and say what you think. If I call yaocho, lots of people will roll their eyes. If I don't, other people will roll their eyes. So, obviously, you have to forget about all the people--all of them--and have the courage of your convictions and stick to them. I knew when I wrote that the Kakuryu-Mitakeumi match was straight up that people would question it--good. Good. I'm not here to "teach," and I don't believe most of our readers--who tend to be pretty sophisticated--need to "learn." Many of you know more about sumo than I do, and in any case, you can and do make up their own minds. False modesty aside, yes, I'm reasonably well informed, and my opinions should carry some wait. But I'm often wrong, and what I offer is my expert opinion--something for you to consider and, if so inclined, argue about.

So, as long as I'm being contemplative and dishing a bit, let me lay a little more honesty out there. Actually, I suspect there is way, way more yaocho and mukiryoku than I write down: I want to be pretty sure, rather than running around slapping that label on everything. If a guy suddenly hits 40 home runs in major league baseball after a mediocre career and I jump up and scream "steroids!" I'm being irresponsible and plain dumb. So I am slightly-less-than-honest and hedge plenty. Clever readers will have long ago noticed that when I say the sumo was bad or that the guy's move was inexplicable, etc., I'm often hinting that yes, this bout was fixed. I try to save the straight yaocho calls for the Barry Bonds moments.

That's enough discursive navel gazing for the day. Bottom line is this sport is rife with bouts that are not straight up. As many as two thirds? Yes, I've thought that at times. But I'm not clairvoyant--I just have eyes to see, and some experience to interpret with. So I'm going to tell you what I see, with a little interpretation based on what I know. And what I saw was Mitakeumi beating Kakuryu with better sumo.

Okay, time to bite the muse on the nipple a bit. Bloody lipped.

M13 Gagamaru (1-4) vs. M16 Osunaarashi (3-2)
Osunaarashi stood up tall like a rod, grabbed Gagamaru by the golova, gave him one shove, then tried to pull him. That was a bad idea, as Gagamaru stayed lower, pushed consistently forward, and easily took advantage of that pull. As they went out, Big Sandy (Osunaarashi) succeeded in throwing Gagamaru to the dirt, but it was too late, as he'd already been oshi-dashi'ed to deliverance.

M15 Chiyooh (2-3) vs. M13 Ichinojo (4-1)
Chiyooh fights like a waffle soaking in melty butter: soggy and cooled down. His one move here was to flap out of the way. The Mongolith (Ichinojo) grabbed him and thrust him out, oshi-dashi, with one amazingly long arm, like a dude closing the refrigerator door angrily to keep the goblins from swarming out of it.

M12 Takakeisho (1-4) vs. M15 Sadanoumi (5-0)
I've been patiently waiting for this new big clot, Takakeisho, to show us something, and this was his first good bout this tournament. He dropped big fat tsuppari on Sadanoumi like soup clouds raining steaks, kept those piggy legs stomping forward in weensy little determined steps, and got his body leaned forward in a good angle, not too steep, not to shallow, just right, like that girl who visited the three bears. Sadanoumi tried to tsuppari back, but his arms were knocked out like bad block towers, and he held on to destruction only, yori-kiri.

M14 Chiyotairyu (2-3) vs. M12 Daishomaru (2-3)
Daishomaru did absolutely nothing here, staring down at the ground with his arms hanging down like a plague stricken donkey, so Chiyotairyu, who hasn't won a match in a positive way yet this tournament, was able to spank him with one good tachi-ai shove and one good pull'n'roll. Donkey trotters for dinner, hiki-otoshi.

M11 Kagayaki (2-3) vs. M14 Chiyootori (1-4)
These guys were working away at each other's faces, drunken plasterers slashing daub onto wire-mesh store dummies when Kagayaki decided to pull, and whoops!, there went the even-steven momentum, and there ploundered Chiyootori forward and poundered Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) out, oshi-dashi.

M11 Nishikigi (2-3) vs. M9 Ishiura (1-4)
Stone Ass (Ishiura) henka'ed left first, then skipped right second, and like it would be for most of us that was enough jittery hardbody in front of his eyes to dizzy Nishikigi. Hiki-otoshi, and Ishiura finally had that tricksy vicskstory we've been waiting for him to resort to but wishing he wouldn't.

M8 Hokutofuji (4-1) vs. M10 Takanoiwa (5-0)
Hokutofuji drove his truck out of the yard, and danged if there wasn't a cow right there and he hit it. Cow was ornery too, and started pushing back on his truck and spinning the truck wheels out behind him, but Hokutofuji kept his foot on the gas and his front bumpers hard 'gainst that cow, and pretty soon had that cow all scared and back-arounds sideways, and he bash-crashed it through his fence, yori-kiri. I got to get me one these trucks. This here is a pretty good truck.

M10 Sokokurai (5-0) vs. M8 Chiyonokuni (3-2)
These two cheats sprung slowly at each other in the slow kind of tachi-ai you see from guys who don't want to get henka'ed too bad. Little Chiyonokuni was the first to pull his own ripcord, firing up a blast-o-matic of quick tsuppari, and Sokokurai went to the edge off it but, surprise!, sprang to a different spot and wasn't there to be pushed out after all. However, give credit to our little nationalist, Chiyonokuni, as he quickly got back after it with more blender arms. This was Chiyonokuni's game all the way, and when you fight at the other guy's speed, you lose. Sokokurai eventually fell down in the face of it, hataki-komi.

M9 Kaisei (2-3) vs. M7 Aoiyama (2-3)
Whale versus whale. Boobs versus boobs. Meat sweating on meat. Our best blubber boats went at it in a fitting way, bodying all over each other like piglets in a womb. They leaned on each other. The only real grip was a left outside by Aoiyama, as they pressed one flank together and kept the other apart in this fleshly long wrassle. Aoiyama tired of it first, tried a kick, tried a charge, but that was rash, he had nothing to work with, and Kaisei stepped to the side and push-rolled Aoiyama's ham shanks to the sawdust killing floor, sukui-nage.

M5 Takekaze (3-2) vs. M6 Kotoyuki (2-3)
Kotoyuki didn't look like he was trying too hard here, as he got all wrong-directioned off the tachi-ai and was staring into the crowd, and when he turned back to Takekaze he let himself be pulled down hataki-komi. Then again, he was facing the wrong way because he'd just tried to knock Takekaze out with his elbow off the tachi-ai and, well, it takes some doing to get your body into a position to try that. Okay dude stop being so manly and just beat him reg'lar like, mebbe.

M7 Myogiryu (1-4) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (2-3)
Myogiryu struck Yoshikaze in the pumpkin, then grabbed him by his Michelin, then menaced him close and personal like that guy with bad breath on the train. Yoshikaze punched Myogiryu about the shoulders, which worked less well. Oshi-dashi win, Myogiryu.

M6 Chiyoshoma (3-2) vs. M3 Ikioi (3-2)
This was a good hard working under-the-viaduct labor crew bout. Ikioi started it by trying to tear Chiyoshoma's body off by the arm. Then they settled into a brief stalemate, cans slung back, ridiculously long arms reaching, reaching, reaching for far, far off belts. Chiyoshoma tried a force out from there, and Ikioi won the match with a maki-kae, twisting one of his meat shivs to the inside, whence he spun Chiyoshoma over him, past, and out, in the most beautiful throw you'll see today, sukui-nage. It can be beautiful, people!

M1 Takarafuji (1-4) vs. M4 Endo (3-2)
Takarafuji stood there so actionless, like a block of cheese upright on the cheeseboard, I thought he was trying to lose. Endo pushed upwards at him diligently. But Takarafuji-cheese was just being patient, because the next moment he stepped aside and Endo rolled past him, a grape along the woodgrain, and Takarafuji-cheese turned and pushed him out, oshi-dashi, juice.

K Takayasu (3-2) vs. K Tochinoshin (0-5)
Amazing! Tochinoshin picked Takayasu up, put him on his hip, whirled him around two or three times, then slung him about ten meters into the crowd, hammer-throw style. Wow! Okay, I just made that up. Tochinoshin withdrew with a knee injury that was easy to see yesterday; Takayasu got the free win.

O Kisenosato (5-0) vs. S Shodai (3-2)
As a match between two of The Big Five, you kind of knew how this had to go. Like I've said, Shodai likes to get to the inside, and he did that here. However, he kept his left hand up high, didn't go for the belt, didn't try what looked to me like some very obvious tip overs, and tapped his left fingers up and down on Kisenosato's upper back like a nurse burping a baby. Neither guy looked like they were giving it much more effort than you'd give to a fairly passionate hug. Their white, creamy milk skin with its dusting of flour remained uncreased by springing sweat rivers. Big Baby Kise stood there firmly, then bullied the smaller Shodai out, kime-dashi. Hard won or sometimes not, Kisenosato's wins are based on being the immovable object that beats the irresistible force: he doesn't do much, just plays up his heaviness and solidity, keeps guys in front of him, then slowly moves the mountain to the Maegashira. You may think it looks like he isn't doing anything to win. Okay, YOU try to move him. He's one large baby.

M1 Mitakeumi (3-2) vs. O Kotoshogiku (2-3)
The mystery of Mitakeumi, Part III. On our first two days of examination, Mitakeumi was pretty consistent, getting a belt hold and keeping close to his opponent, lots of aggression and forward, fairly upright movement. Would the same hold try today? Except for the belt, yes. I think I'm kind of ready to say his game is based on speed, aggression, and forward movement; he used all of that here to gloriously dominate Kotoshogiku, springing forcefully off the tachi-ai and jamming both arms deep underneath, so far he never had to go for the belt. He then juddered forward like a boat trailer you just lost control of, drowning Kotoshogiku in the docking bay, yori-kiri.

Could this have been Kotoshogiku's last match? 2-4 is precarious for him, and going out on a loss to another of the big five would be fitting symbolism, and a nice nod. Yeah, I'm skeptical of the speed of the rise of Bully Goat (Mitakeumi), but you know what? There's a lot to like in his sumo.

O Terunofuji (1-4) vs. M4 Tochiohzan (1-4)
These guys were pogoing around the ring like low-slung jack-in-the-boxes, holding onto each other's shoulders and arms, when Tochiohzan popped out of there like a bottle cork, flipping his feet up behind him and putting his hands on the ground. I am down, down, down on Terunofuji, and this looked unnatural as hell. Terunofuji did nothing to make Tochiohzan fall. An optimist might say Tochiohzan tried to step back too fast while still being held at the arms by Terunofuji and hence lost his balance, but this "hiki-otoshi" by Terunofuji had no hiki to cause the otoshi. Tochiohzan either fell by witchcraft or this match was shullbit.

M2 Shohozan (2-3) vs. O Goeido (3-2)
Look out, Goeido is a frenetic fiery fire frog on fire! As Shohozan lashed at him from above like a tin wind chime in a typhoon, Goeido blasted beastly battlegas beisterveldts all over his sternum, bongo drum beater bringing a boatload of booty bester. Then it was all just too much and he relaxed and reached down and grabbed Shohozan by the public underwear they all wear and hugged him out that final intimate inch over the straw, yori-kiri. Goeido, Dancing Gaslight Mayfly!

S Tamawashi (4-1) vs. Y Harumafuji (3-2)
Tell me, when one guy does the splits and the other does a full body flip upside down and onto his back out of the ring, who is the winner? This match started a lot like the previous one, with lots of feisty arm grappling, but it ended wholly differently, as the Yokozuna's momentum crushed Tamawashi down from above, Tamawashi's legs going out in opposite directions as the laws of physics forced his body down between them onto the straw and his body threatened to hit it crotch first. However, in order to get in a position to exert this much downward force, Harumafuji was soon upside down and completely in the air, head pointed down, feet to the ceiling. He kept on going and landed hard on his back on the edge of the ring, from whence he crashed the rest of the way down. There was no question he was the winner, oshi-taoshi, as Tamawashi's corporeal obliteration happened before Harumafuji's did, but was this a cost-benefit winner for the Yokozuna? He was so beat up yesterday you could tell it hurt a lot even to squat to draw "heart" in the air. This can't have helped. No textbook victory--just pretty spectacular.

Y Kakuryu (3-2) vs. M2 Arawashi (0-5)
During a lackluster tachi-ai by Kakuryu, Arawashi grabbed a quick outside left, deep down on the belly in the belt, that he would never give up. Kakuryu then followed him about a bit, but when Kakuryu paused to try to push Arawashi off of him, annoyed, like a guy swatting at a fly, Arawashi swarmed onto him, a beard of bees, and buzz-sawed him mercilessly straight out of the ring, yori-kiri. Great stuff here from Arawashi--as the crowd waxed utterly indifferent--against a demoralized and all done Kakuryu.

Y Hakuho (5-0) vs. M3 Okinoumi (2-3)
Driving with legs that might as well be made of tempered steel, and a back like a sheet of manganese, cobalt, and nickel, Hakuho placed wrought iron arms under the fleshy ones attached to Okinoumi's mortal shoulders and drove forward, horsepower and thresher mechanics driven to a high whine of oxidizing performance by his engine busting coal to diamonds. And crumpled Okinoumi to the straw, yori-taoshi, like grass in a wind of copper-zinc shrapnel. Wish I could write that everyday about him, and probably could, if he'd let me.

Tomorrow Mike winds the good clock 'til the springs shatter the frame.

Day 5 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Let's start off the day reviewing a significant piece of Japanese culture spawned by an interesting occurrence yesterday that I have never before seen in sumo. It came after the Kisenosato - Shohozan match where the referee got caught in the line of fire of the bout's flow and had to duck out of the way at the end of the contest. He knew who had won, but he was a bit disoriented, and so he emphatically yet mistakenly pointed his gunbai in Shohozan's favor. He could just tell by the reaction of everyone and the general atmosphere in the arena that he was pointing in the wrong direction, so he sheepishly pointed back over towards Kisenosato and started to explain something verbally to the head judge. It caused some confusion generally, and so they called a mono-ii just to make sure everyone was on the same page.

The mono-ii was expectedly short because the bout was not that close, but the chief judge, Tomozuna-oyakata, couldn't explain the situation. He fumbled and stuttered and paused and fumbled and stuttered and paused again and took a really long time to explain what had just happened with the conference. Even then, the explanation was not concise, and it was an extremely awkward situation that took longer than the actual conference itself. And it wasn't just me because after he declared Kisenosato the winner, the first words out of Shirasaki Announcer's mouth were, "He really struggled with that explanation" to which Mainoumi said, "I was starting to get nervous there myself."

I was quite fascinated by Tomozuna's inability to communicate the mono-ii, and the problem was that the referee's actions were a first for everyone, and there was nothing that either of the rikishi did with their footwork or actions that made the bout close either. Everything fell outside of the normal script that the chief judge uses when he explains the mono-ii, and so Tomozuna-oyakata didn't know how to explain it.

While the script is not set per se, they all say the same exact thing with the same cadence as follows:

Tadaima no kyougi ni tsuite setsumei itashimasu.
(I will now give an explanation of the conference)

Gyouji no gunbai ha [rikishi name] ni agarimashita ga,
(The referee pointed in favor of so and so, but...)

At this point they'll point out what action caused them to question the call like so and so's foot looked to have stepped out first or so and so's body may have touched down first, and then they give their final judgment.

The problem, though, was two-fold: 1) the referee pointed in one direction, and then he pointed in another direction...a circumstance that just doesn't happen. And then 2) there wasn't a definitive move by either of the rikishi that warranted the conference, so there was nothing to explain on that front either.

The result was Tomozuna-oyakata's complete inability to communicate because the circumstance didn't follow the normal script. He got the first line of the script right because there was indeed a conference that needed explaining, but he was at a complete loss for words beyond that. Even the referee was a bit confused when he initially made the call because he wasn't sure if he was allowed to point in one rikishi's favor after emphatically pointing to the other guy. And then the judges took turns kind of half raising their hands as if to say, "Do we get up to discuss this?" Everybody knew who had won, but everything broke protocol, and so no one was sure how to handle it.

In Japanese culture, there's a popular saying that translates to, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." And so nobody wants to stick out. Nobody wants to break away from the norm. People just accept the way things are, and they don't question them. Everything is canned from the responses given by rikishi after a win or kachi-koshi to the explanation given by the chief judge after a mono-ii.  I don't know how many times I've been watching Japanese news and they interview someone on the street after an accident or a natural disaster or whatever, and I'm like, "I know exactly what they're going to say before they say it."  The same goes for the "Hero Interview" after a sports event when they interview the star of the game, who repeats the same old clichés that end with, "kore kara mo ganbatte ikitai to omoimasu. Hai!" (I will continue to try my best hereafter).  Then there's my favorite line at the end of every single newscast on every single channel in Japan: "Nyu-su wo o-tsutae shimashita," or "We just conveyed the news."  Yeah, I know. I've been sitting here for 15 minutes watching; you don't need to tell me you did something that I just watched you do.

The whole point of this intro is that it's far easier for the Japanese public to accept what's going on in sumo rather than to question it. Nobody wants to disturb the system and nobody dares to think outside of the box, and so what the media says goes; the results on the dohyo are straight up; Endoh is a rikishi to get excited about; Kisenosato is a legitimate candidate for Yokozuna; Shohozan and Mitakeumi are legitimate multi kin-boshi guys this basho; and the Mongolians are vulnerable. On and on the headlines go, and on and on the venue outside of Fukuoka sells out every single day.

It's all a brilliant scheme, but it goes back to my question in an earlier report: where's the substance? I talked about the mindset of a female Endoh fan a few days ago, and I will tell you exactly how her mind would flow if you asked her the question: Why do you like Endoh?

First thought unspoken:  I like him because he's kakko-ii, or handsome, but if I admit that I'll appear shallow.

Second thought also unspoken:  I can't think of any other reason why I like him

Actual verbalized response if she's semi-bright:  I like him because he tries hard.

People like Endoh because they're told to like Endoh, and that's just how this society operates. I'll watch the last 40 minutes or so of a broadcast where usually two-thirds of the bouts are obviously fixed...always to the benefit of the big five, and it amazes me that people can't clue into it.

Enough of that. These are just the types of thoughts that roll around my noggin when the sumo isn't enough to keep up my interest (in other words, all the time).

As we move to the day's bouts, we begin with M13 Gagamaru who had a tough time budging M13 Ichinojo from the tachi-ai, and when Ichinojo got his right arm up and under Gagamaru's left, he nudged him off balance enough to where he could easily fell him with a methodic tsuki-otoshi shove down. Ichinojo is a cool 4-1 while Gagamaru falls to 1-4.

M12 Daishomaru's henka to his left was slow developing, but M15 Chiyooh is proving to be as hapless as they come, and he couldn't adjust allowing Daishomaru to move fully left and then just place a cheap shove into the rookie's side to send him across and out in a lackluster affair. Both of these guys finish the day at 2-3.

Let's set up the next bout with a multiple-choice question.

The following is M12 Takakeisho's expression after...

1) He lost on day 1
2) He lost on day 2
3) He lost on day 3
4) He lost on day 4
5) None of the above

Against M16 Osunaarashi, the bout briefly looked to go to migi-yotsu, but the Ejyptian just pulled both arms out wide as if to pull or something. Fact was, he was just leaving himself vulnerable to whatever Takakeisho could muster, and the rookie probably sensed what was happening, so his attack came in the form of a bland oshi-dashi with Osunaarashi just standing there all mukiryoku. I took the snapshot above after Takakeisho clinched the bout, and sheesh, you'd think a kid would be happier having just won his first career Makuuchi bout. Problem was, he knew it was given to him, and all it does is just fluster him further. Getting your ass kicked by Chiyooh is insulting enough, and then to actually have the message sent of, "Hey, you're not good enough so let me BUY you your first win."  That expression up above is just teeming confidence, and Takanohana-oyakata obviously read my day 3 comments and finally put a crowbar to his billfold and bought the rook a win. As for Osunaarashi, I'm sure he's content hoarding cash at 3-2.

M15 Sadanoumi struck well getting his left arm to the inside against M11 Nishikigi, but he put his right arm up high as if to position for a neck throw. It was a curious move, but Nishikigi was of no mind to counter, and so Sadanoumi just bullied him back and out in mere seconds chest to chest. Something doesn't add up in Sadanoumi's 5-0 start. Nishikigi falls to 2-3, but he coulda and shoulda put up a better fight than this. Look for Sadanoumi to buy...er...uh...obtain a quick kachi-koshi and then fade down the stretch to a 9-6 record or thereabouts. At M15 on the banzuke, he has no room for error this basho.

M10 Sokokurai couldn't stick in close against M14 Chiyotairyu at the tachi-ai, so he got the hell out of there moving to his right as Chiyotairyu chased with arms extended. Tairyu never did connect with a full-on punch, and so the crafty Sokokurai was able to get the left arm firmly inside and force the bout to the belt. Chiyotairyu never did let him get that right outer grip, but he didn't need it. Chiyotairyu's own left inside grip was getting looser by the second as Sokokurai's belt unraveled, and in the end, Sokokurai just spun his foe around and down with that left inside belt throw. Good stuff form Sokokurai who moves to 5-0 while Chiyotairyu falls to 2-3.

M10 Takanoiwa struck M14 Chiyootori with a nice right kachi-age that knocked Chiyootori much higher than he wants to be, and when he attempted to rush back in and duck down, Takanoiwa just moved to his right timing a perfect slapdown of his hapless foe. Shooting fish in a barrel for Takanoiwa, who is a sweet 5-0 if you need him while Chiyootori is 1-4.

M11 Kagayaki came with a right paw to M9 Kaisei's throat that had little effect, but Kaisei's reaction was to pull his right arm out of the inside position and up around Kagayaki's neck as if he was going to set up a neck throw. When was the last time we ever saw Kaisei try and set up a neck throw two seconds out of the gate. Who does he think he is? Goeido? It was all a ruse in order to give Kagayaki the easy moro-zashi, which he used to bulldoze Kaisei back and out in a few seconds.

I mean, let's just break this all down rationally. Kaisei is a proven rikishi and a bitch at the belt.  Kagayaki is a mediocre push guy if that who can't do anything once his initial linear momentum is broken.  Does the flow of this bout even make sense? Well, it does if the bout was thrown in Kagayaki's favor, which was the clear case here as both rikishi end up at 2-3.

Though M9 Ishiura posted a better record last basho than M8 Hokutofuji when both were rookies, it was clear as day that Hokutofuji had more game, and it showed today as Ishiura moved left looking for a cheap tsuki to the side, but Hokutofuji showed good speed in order to square back up and get his left arm up and under Ishiura who ducked down low. With the smaller Ishiura wadded into a ball, Hokutofuji easily grabbed the right outer grip over the top and just flung Ishiura over and down with a brilliant uwate-nage. Hokutofuji's yaocho-less 4-1 has been my favorite performance of the basho by far. As for Ishiura, he falls to a yaocho-less 1-4.

I suppose I'll mention at this point two old ladies dressed in pink sitting in the second row directly behind the judge who gives the orders to go. Oh wait, one of those two people is actually a dude!! I still haven't figured out which one, but this couple is what's referred to in Japan as "o-warai," or comedians. The ironic thing is that there's little comedic talent involved here, and so the two wear costumes that are bright and gay--usually in pink--to mask the fact that they're not actually funny. Their names are Hayashiya Pe and Pako, and part of their shtick is to take pictures of them out and about and turn it into perceived comedy. Well, just prior to the Ishiura bout you could see Pe get all excited as if he was going to ...uh...Pe his pants (bada boom!) and get out the camera and point it directly towards Ishiura. My question is what prompted them to get all excited about Ishiura? Was it because of his sumo this basho? Was it because of his sumo last basho? Or was it because the media hyped him to no end in November completely disregarding the content of his sumo?

M7 Aoiyama used his bruising tsuppari to keep M6 Chiyoshoma away from the belt, but credit Shoma for trying again and again to get inside. Aoiyama wasn't going to let this one go, however, and after enough bruising shoves, he was able to work his left arm to the inside and use his length advantage to grab the right outer, and Chiyoshoma knew he was done at this point because the dude just let up and allowed Aoiyama to walk him back and across without further argument. Aoiyama moves to just 2-3 with the win while Chiyoshoma cools a bit at 3-2.

M5 Takekaze put both hands up high at the tachi-ai as if to set up a pull, but all that did was allow M8 Chiyonokuni to get to the inside moro-zashi style. Kuni's not exactly a belt guy, so instead of enjoying a nice snug hug, he opted to tsuki-dashi Takekaze back and out, but regardless, it was a lopsided affair in favor of Chiyonokuni as both rikishi end the day 3-2.

M6 Kotoyuki offered two hands into M4 Endoh's throat at the tachi-ai, but there were no de-ashi nor resolve to the charge, and so Endoh easily shaded right and shoved at Kotoyuki's left side spinning him around 180 degrees setting up the okuri-dashi win. This one was too easy, but you gotta build up Endoh somehow. He moves to 3-2 with the gift while Kotoyuki sacrifices a lot of kensho money falling to 2-3.

M7 Myogiryu shaded to his left against M4 Tochiohzan, but what good does that do if you're not going to full out henka? None is the answer because Tochiohzan easily squared back up against his opponent securing moro-zashi, and as Myogiryu tried to squirm out of it, Oh was right there to just push Myogiryu back and out for good. Both rikishi end the day at 1-4, but Myogiryu looks done in this division.

M3 Ikioi used his length to tsuppari M5 Yoshikaze away from the belt causing the two to grapple in the center of the ring for a few seconds before the bout ultimately turned to hidari-yotsu. Yoshikaze positioned himself at an angle disallowing the firm inside position from Ikioi, but Ikioi's got that kote-nage in his arsenal, and so he used it to swing Yoshikaze around and eventually down to the dohyo. This was just a soft bout all around and reflected the general theme of sumo we see these days. Ikioi moves to 3-2 while Yoshikaze falls to 2-3.

I was kind of hoping we'd get a better send-off into the yaocho portion of the broadcast from that last bout, but oh well. In a predictable bout, Komusubi Tochinoshin kept his arms way outside against Sekiwake Shodai allowing the big-fiver to get moro-zashi, and once obtained, Tochinoshin attempted one of those kote-nage throws where you stay in front of your opponent, and the result was the Private just taking a backwards dive to the dirt abise-taoshi style. Abise-taoshi??  Every time I see that kimari-te, I think back to the 1995 Kyushu basho playoff when Takanohana took a similar dive against his older brother, Wakanohana, in the yusho playoff bout. This spill was absolutely comical to me, but apparently the two ladies in pink above didn't seem to get it.  Oh well. Shodai continues to be propped up at 3-2 while Tochinoshin falls to 0-5 and, ours isn't to question.  I see from the wires that Tochinoshin has now withdrawn from the tournament citing an injury to the meniscus on his right now, but as the saying goes, "Let up in sumo and someone's gonna get hurt."

M1 Takarafuji gave up moro-zashi to Ozeki Kotoshogiku from the get-go, so Kotoshogiku just did what he always does: charge straight forward at your opponent's mercy. There would be no mercy today, however, as Takarafuji easily pivoted to his left near the bales and felled the hapless Ozeki to the dirt with a nice outer belt throw. That was just Takarafuji's first win of the tournament, but you can't blame him for at least trying to get something during the joubansen. Kotoshogiku falls to 2-3, and when are they going to put this guy out of his misery?

Ozeki Terunofuji continued to display intentional lackluster sumo standing there today against Sekiwake Tamawashi, who used a nice choke hold to stand the Ozeki even more upright and then thrust him back and out in less than three seconds with zero resistance. There's no question that Terunofuji was mukiryoku here, and as much as Tamawashi has been on a roll the last few basho, he doesn't have the game to pull of this kind of win if Fuji the Not So Terrible is trying. The legitimate Ozeki candidate this basho moves to 4-1 while Terunofuji falls to 1-4.

Ozeki Goeido kind of stutter-stepped forward at the tachi-ai against M2 Arawashi, who was just standing there defenseless, and so Goeido got the right inside and left outer grip and forced Arawashi back and out in maybe two seconds. Arawashi may as well have been a blow-up doll because that's the kind of resistance he showed his attacker. He falls to 0-5 and just adds to the string of horrible bouts the last portion of the broadcast. As for Goeido, he moves to 3-2 with the gift.

Ozeki Kisenosato and M1 Mitakeumi hooked up in kind of that awkward stance where each guy has a paw to the neck and the other paw at the elbow. In that fashion they circled around the center of the ring a few times before Mitakeumi got the left inside position. He instinctively used it to force the Ozeki back, and he had the Kiddie back against the straw with the clear path to the right outer grip and an easy victory, but he refrained of course allowing the Ozeki to force the youngster back to the center of the ring, and after another turn or two where Mitakeumi refused to grab the outer grip the entire time, it was Kisenosato who wouldn't ya know it finally come away with the right outer in the end. At that point, Mitakeumi's mission was accomplished, and he just gave up allowing himself to be walked back and out nice and tidy. It's so painful watching this kind of "sumo" as Kisenosato moves to 5-0 while Mitakeumi falls to 2-3. For the record to you slow'uns, Mitakeumi coulda kicked the Ozeki's ass if he wanted to.  Course, most of the major sports dailies attempted to portray the opposite be choosing to run the following photo accompanied with grand headlines:

Yokozuna Kakuryu used bland tsuppari against Komusubi Takayasu, but there were no de-ashi involved, and so the two just stood there in the enter of the ring trading ho-hum shoves. Kakuryu could have bulldozed his foe out at any time because Takayasu didn't deliver a single effective shot, but at around the five-second mark, Kakuryu suddenly lurched to his right and found himself on the dohyo floor thanks to...well, thanks to nothing. Takayasu delivered one of those try and catch-up shoves with the left, but Kakuryu just flailed himself to the dohyo giving Takayasu the win. More than doing Takayasu a favor here, Kakuryu was sending the message of, "Hey, I'm not going to stand in anyone's way this basho." He's keeping his commitment too at 3-2 while Takayasu improves to the same mark.

Yokozuna Hakuho used a right kachi-age against M2 Shohozan at the tachi-ai before shading to his left to do nothing but let Shohozan back into the bout, and so the two traded shoves in a wild and unstable affair that actually saw Hakuho pushed back near the straw, but he took advantage of an extended right arm from Shohozan and just shoved him up and under sending Darth Hozan down to the clay to the disappointment of the crowd. This was ugly sumo from both parties, and all Hakuho's doing here (and as he's done most of the basho) is just project this image of sloppy sumo so that when the time is right, he'll take that dive and none of the sheep will think anything of it. For the time being, though, Hakuho is 5-0 while Shohozan falls to 2-3.

In the day's final affair, Yokozuna Harumafuji demanded the deep inside position with the left against M3 Okinoumi, and when Okinoumi fought off the right outer belt attempt from the Yokozuna, Harumafuji shifted gears and just spun Okinoumi around and down with a nice left belt throw. Easy peasy Japanesey as the Yokozuna ekes forward to 3-2 while Okinoumi falls to 2-3.

If you haven't listened to it yet, you MUST listen to Don Roid's podcast with Konishiki. He is the best link to the past that we have because he came onto the scene early enough to fight many of the legends from the 80's. Guys like Akebono and Musashimaru rose to prominence as well and were key factors to sumo's success in the 90's, but they were a few years after Konishiki and missed some of the true legends. To hear Konishiki's story and recollections from the late 80's and early 90's is almost worth his fighting weight in gold.

Harvye's back tomorrow.

Day 4 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
I'm going to dispense with a traditional intro today and go straight to Sekiwake Tamawashi and his match. Give credit to Mike for saying yesterday it is Tamawashi (2-1) who looks like the legit next Ozeki. I've thought that myself several times over the last few tournaments, but never had the guts to actually say it. He's just too old. Yoshikaze and Tochiohzan both had similar big years in 2015 and 2014 respectively, but eventually cooled down, and I expected Tamawashi to do the same starting this tournament. However, here he is, continuing to dominate and looking just great. In this one he bullied 2-1 Komusubi Takayasu (speaking of competing Ozeki hopefuls!) out oshi-dashi in no time flat, like beating up some scrub in the practice ring. The guy I keep thinking of to compare Tamawashi to, trajectory wise, is Kakuryu, who surprised everyone when he followed five and half year of solid but unspectacular Makuuchi work by getting to Ozeki, then another couple of years and a surprise Yokozuna bubble-up. But he was years and years younger than Tamawashi when he became Ozeki: still just 26, whereas Tamawashi is already 32. The more appropriate comparison for Tamawashi may be Kyokutenho, who had some very strong stretches in his 30s and even grabbed a yusho at age 37. My suspicion is that Tamawashi's just as good as we're seeing, and after years and years of putting in his time, finally said "my turn now," cashed in some chits, and is being all he can be. Or, it's Indian Summer--but a nice long one. Whatever it is, let's enjoy it while it lasts. In either case, there is no question, hype and blinders aside, that he is the most exciting rikishi on the banzuke right now.

Let's get to the rest of the story.

M16 Osunaarashi (3-0) vs. M15 Sadanoumi (3-0)
What's gotten into Sadanoumi? Very good tachi-ai here; they smacked up hard and Sada got a right inside and a left outer. Osunaarashi had matching grips, but was a bit higher up, and that made the difference, as Sadanoumi was impressive in winning the power battle, yori-kiri, tipping Big Sandy (Osunaarashi) out as they both fell off the dohyo.

M13 Gagamaru (1-2) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (1-2)
Gagamaru hit hard and went in nice and low, but he was looking at the ground and never extended his arms for the belt, making him a sitting duck for the pull by Chiyotairyu, hataki-komi. Chiyotairyu has looked very bad this tournament.

M12 Takakeisho (0-3) vs. M15 Chiyooh (1-2)
Would love to say our two rookies participated in a high spirited, electrifying bout of aggressive, youthful sumo, but this was as limp and uninspiring a Makuuchi affair as you'll see. Takakeisho has looked terrible the first two days, and so came out firing hard with the tsuppari, but it didn't last, and wasn't very effective--Chiyooh, who has also has looked really terrible the first three days, was returning damp-looking tsuppari of his own, or just holding on to Takakeisho's arms when they landed softly, but that was enough to stay alive. After a few moments of this they tired, and wrangled with their arms for position at the head level, standing-around-like. Eventually Takakeisho bulled in underneath and looked to have the momentum to win--but collapsed wetly to the ground under a slow and weak looking at-the-edge comeback-pull-down tsuki-otoshi by Chiyooh. Yeesh!

M14 Chiyootori (0-3) vs. M12 Daishomaru (1-2)
Having three Kokonoe guys go one after the other day and in and day out at the very bottom of the banzuke is not a good advertisement for the stable. Sometimes Chiyotairyu has some flair, but otherwise these three represent a bag of mildewed cement. In this affair Chiyootori can be credited with keeping low, pushing fairly consistently, and bringing his feet along on the way to an oshi-dashi victory, but Daishomaru wasn't doing much but pushing a bit himself, and he's bad at that.

M13 Ichinojo (2-1) vs. M11 Nishikigi (2-1)
Hoo, boy, I'm falling asleep. These two gentlemen stood up so slowly and gently and I thought it was a false start, but it wasn't, and they snuggled lazily into each other. Well, Nishikigi did try a bit of a flesh-on-flesh upper body force out, but that was soon smothered, and there they stood. Ichinojo wormed his right hand slowly along to the belt inside on the right, then leaned on Nishikigi. In all fairness, this represented pretty good strategy from Ichinojo, as after a minute of this Nishikigi was no doubt tired, and Ichinojo's yori-kiri force out, during which he added an outer left grip and contributed an extra post-victory shove, was powerful. Okay, I'm waking up.

M9 Kaisei (2-1) vs. M19 Sokokurai (3-0)
Every day I'm like "Kaisei already?" He's a much better wrestler than M9. Sokokurai represented danger for him, though, in that the guy is wily and that's definitely something the un-limber Kaisei is not. So, Kaisei knew what he had to do: as Sokokurai spun this way and that around the dohyo, Kaisei had to follow him, keep his feet moving forward, keep Sokokurai in front of him, and keep his back to the center of the ring. Eventually he also moved in close enough to wrap Sokokurai up, and I thought it was curtains from there. But Sokokurai did well here, continuing to evade and spin, and lasted until the moment he needed: Kaisei took a little break and stretched back instead of forward, and Sokokurai pulled him in and dumped him down, uwate-nage. Unconventional, but in a match against a behemoth, that is how you do it.

M11 Kagayaki (1-2) vs. M9 Ishiura (0-3)
This was also pretty much a speck against a behemoth; Kagayaki is very tall and Stone Ass (Ishiura) is very small. I was all set to type, "Ishiura finally gave up and henka'ed wildly," but he didn't do that at all: give him credit for the straight up fight from the beginning. As usual, he was getting creamed at it, too. However, near the tawara he ducked in underneath (plenty of space for him down there) and got both arms inside. He then wisely (finally!) changed the line of the match, moving out to his left and taking Kagayaki with him. A little spinning and there you go, Kagayaki was all in a muddle and found himself being forced out, oshi-dashi. Same basic principal as in the previous match: a little guy beating a bigger guy with evasion.

M10 Takanoiwa (3-0) vs. M8 Chiyonokuni (2-1)
I don't know why I don't like Takanoiwa, but I don't. Something in his facial expression reminds me of "The Li'l Yokozuna," Hokutoriki, perhaps? Anyway, this match will do as reason enough. Chiyonokuni was slapping away at him, and Takanoiwa stepped back, made a couple of flailing windmill pulls, and dashed Chiyonokuni to the ground, tsuki-otoshi. Chiyonokuni needed to do a much better job of bringing along his feet, too. Bad sumo from both guys.

M7 Myogiryu (0-3) vs. M7 Aoiyama (1-2)
This was the worst match of the day, an inexplicable affair of two guys standing up tall and pushing on each other's heads. Myogiryu started it with a bit of a backwards-and-left tachi-ai cheat, but somehow when he then pushed on Aoiyama's head, that was enough to skate his huge opponent swiftly out of the ring, oshi-dashi. I almost wrote, "I refuse to report on this match." But I didn't!

M8 Hokutofuji (2-1) vs. M6 Kotoyuki (2-1)
"I am the master of my own happiness." Repeat to self ten times. Enjoy sumo. Hokutofuji was very helpful in this. He offered relentless, smothering pressure, pushing up in torrents on Kotoyuki's teats, chin, and face, and drove him methodically off the dohyo, yori-kiri. Kotoyuki added to the fun by continuing to stagger backwards even after he'd touched down outside the dohyo, falling over his tea kettle on the other side of the gyoji like a pin on bowling night. Yessir. Mastered.

M5 Takekaze (3-0) vs. M6 Chiyoshoma (2-1)
Someone finally did something smart against Takekaze: pulled him. It was just a matter of who was going to do it first in this one, and Chiyoshoma gave one good shove and then reversed, hiki-otoshi.

M5 Yoshikaze (2-1) vs. M4 Endo (1-2)
It's an indication of how far Endo has come that Yoshikaze really wanted to beat him here but just couldn't. Yoshikaze lined up with both fists on the ground Kakizoe-style and right up at the white lines, and came out hard with shoves and tsuppari. He drove Endo this way and that around the ring, throwing in a pull here, a wicked arm-wrench there. But none of it got Endo out of the ring. Endo's main role here was to maintain: keep his eyes on Yoshikaze, resist. Eventually Yoshikaze rolled off him in the wrong direction in some of this caffeinated hyperactivity, and Endo was there to push Yoshikaze out, oshi-dashi. Endo ain't great, but he isn't bad, and my fear is that that will translate into a Goeido-like future for him when somebody decides, "okay, I guess we can go ahead and make chicken salad, at least." He's okay right here, right now, just like this.

M3 Okinoumi (1-2) vs. M4 Tochiohzan (0-3)
Tochiohzan is toast. Burning in your toaster. Smelling like a scorched chestnut. He loves moro-zashi--for years it was the sole but formidable tool in his game--and he got it here. But Okinoumi held onto him in that position, Tochiohzan's moro-zashi as deep as tepid lagoon water, and walked him back and out, oshi-dashi. Charcoal.

O Terunofuji (1-2) vs. M3 Ikioi (1-2)
Much as I'm down on Terunofuji of late ("Fuji the Terrible" has taken on unfortunately new meaning), the result in this match was nonsense. Terunofuji had Ikioi all wrapped up and was driving him back, then reversed momentum of his own accord, went backwards, then all of sudden released Ikioi on the left side and awkwardly fell down across him, putting his hands on the dirt on his right side, sukui-nage, popping unnaturally out of there like a fat snap-dragon.

M1 Takarafuji (0-3) vs. O Goeido (1-2)
Push, push, push by Goeido. Hang on, hang on, hang on by Takarafuji. Goeido had both arms inside, which helped, and did a little adjustment that brought his head lower late in this one and let him finally drive Takarafuji to his end. Takarafuji tried to unleash a pop-out throw at the bales, but it was too late and he went down, sukui-nage, in this good looking bout.

O Kisenosato (3-0) vs. M2 Shohozan (2-1)
Kisenosato survived this one by three parts luck and one part guile. Darth Hozan is a tough character and hits hard: he was giving Kisenosato nothing and driving hard from underneath. Kisenosato had nothing going on: standing tall, no grip, no momentum. However, as we've seen often today, evasion is the bee's knees if you're getting outclassed, and Kisenosato turned Shohozan's line into an arc so that when they reached the straw Kisenosato no longer had his back to oblivion, but rather had it headed ever so slightly back towards the center, and he flipped and pushed Shohozan down to the bitter defeat, tsuki-otoshi, right on the straw. Not Yokozuna or championship quality sumo, but he'll take it.

S Shodai (1-2) vs. O Kotoshogiku (2-1)
Shodai sacrificed the tachi-ai momentum to make sure he stretched both arms down in low and scooped inside onto Kotoshogiku, and it almost cost him as Kotoshogiku drove him almost all the way out. However, Kotoshogiku's weakened twilight-years power wasn't enough to finish it off, and Shodai used the inside position he'd earned and worked out a yori-kiri victory.

Y Hakuho (3-0) vs. K Tochinoshin (0-3)
This was a classic match of chest-to-chest sumo by two big, strong wrestlers. Hakuho instantly had the left outside, and a split second later the right inside as well. However, Tochinoshin is a bear, and not so easy thrown, and was able to get a grip of his own--but only off and on. Hakuho was hampered by a loose mawashi on Tochinoshin that weakened the leverage of his left outer grip, but it didn't matter in the end as he won this test of strength with a force out, yori-kiri.

M2 Arawashi (0-3) vs. Y Harumafuji (1-2)
Harumafuji grabbed Arawashi by the belt, spun him around, stuck both arms inside, and forced him out, yori-kiri, ragdoll vs. combine-harvester-on-amphetamines style. And yet I read that the chair of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council says if Harumafuji continues his weak showing, he'll be asked to retire. What?!??  This guy won last July's tournament, went 12-3 and 11-4 in the two tournaments after that, and now he gets two losses and he's threatened???  Now, now people, now.

Y Kakuryu (3-0) vs. M1 Mitakeumi (2-1)
It's hard to play "The Mystery of Mitakeumi" game when he keeps fighting in critical end-of-day matches. As I mentioned, I want to watch him closely this tournament and try to figure out who he is as a rikishi. Two days ago, it was all belt. Today, he started with tsuppari, kind of disappointing, and only went for the belt at the very end. However, he did win moving forward again, and showed very well after the tsuppari by being fast, aggressive, and sticking to his opponent when his opponent retreated. I'd say the two things his victories had most in common were a crowding his opponent out of the ring. Two is not much to go on, but we'll have several more cracks at him.

But wait! Once again, I seem to have forgotten there was a Yokozuna in the ring, and that Mitakeumi's victory represents a crowd-pleasing, startling kin-boshi for an anointed Rising Star. So let us look at what said Yokozuna did in this fight. He was beaten fair and square, because he did something stupid: he pulled at Mitakeumi, a small one that got his momentum going the wrong way, and a big one after that to really sink himself. Because whatever Mitakeumi is or isn't, he's a bull, and was instantly able to respond to the pulls and translate them into victory.

So, as a result your patented Harvye Subjective Leaderboard on day 4 is as follows:

Hakuho, Kisenosato 4-0
Kakuryu 3-1

Tomorrow Mike's agate eyes cut like diamonds.

Day 3 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The broadcast began today with a piece on Shodai, who was newly-promoted to the prestigious sanyaku for the current basho. I actually missed the content of the interview because my feed started at the very end of the interview when they brought out the cheese and concluded the piece by focusing in close on Shodai's name up on the denkouban in the arena. Of course, I didn't need to see the piece. The fact that they are choosing to build up Shodai only fits the narrative I've been harping on the last year.

Essentially, you have the big five, and by that I mean the rikishi who receive the focus of the attention in the media and benefit from the majority of yaocho in the ring. Those five are the Japanese Ozeki, Shodai, and then Mitakeumi. Concentration on Endoh is hit and miss based on his results from the previous basho, and with Endoh hanging around the jo'i of late, they are of course milking that too for all it's worth.

And I should point out that I don't have a problem with it. They're not selling out the arena day after today because they're emphasizing the dominance of the Mongolians. They're selling out because they've built the impression that the Japanese rikishi are holding their own and then backing that up with results in the ring based off of fake sumo. It's almost as if the elite Mongolian rikishi have become mere obstacles in a giant obstacle course that you often see on Japanese variety shows. The entire focus is on the Japanese rikishi trying to make it through the obstacle course and not the greatness of the obstacles themselves. Did one of the big five make it past the loose Hakuho rocks in the river? Were they able to survive the oiled up Harumafuji monkey bars? Were they toppled by the large Kakuryu boulders rolled down a huge ramp at the end of the course?

Harvye referred yesterday to an interview at the start of the Day 2 broadcast with Hakkaku-oyakata where Kariya Announcer sat down with him live at the venue for about 10 minutes right before the start of the Makuuchi bouts. It was a pretty good piece, actually, and Harvye was spot on when they asked the commissioner towards the end about Kisenosato's Yokozuna chances this basho. He hemmed and hawed quite a bit, which tells me that he has no idea what's going to happen. In order for Kisenosato to be promoted to Yokozuna, he needs cooperation from 14 of his 15 opponents, and them's a LOT of variables in place that all have to come together.

I was actually going to comment on that interview as well today. The feed for me started with the first question (at least I'm pretty sure it was the first question) which was: "So, what are your thoughts looking back on the year 2016?" and without missing a beat, Hakkaku-oyakata rattled off, "Kotoshogiku and Goeido's yusho were highlights as was Kisenosato's winning the Nenkan-Saitasho award." That award is something I talked about around day 11 during the Kyushu basho, and it's the award that goes to the rikishi with the most wins in the calendar year. After day 9 when it was obvious that a Japanese rikishi would not take the yusho in Kyushu, I started seeing headlines touting Kisenosato as a possible Saitasho winner, and sure enough, Harumafuji faded enough down the stretch while Kisenosato navigated through the Mongolian obstacle course to win the award.

Care to guess the last time a Japanese rikishi won that award??  You have to go clear back to the late 90's when Wakanohana won it with 67 wins. How is it possible that one of the other Mongolians failed to win 69 bouts last year? It all goes back to my prediction in July of 2015 when I stated that Terunofuji's promotion to Ozeki now put four solid Mongolians at the top of the banzuke, and there simply weren't enough wins to go around to the other rikishi unless the Mongolians took themselves out of things. And that's exactly what's happened. Hell, we're only three days in and already Harumafuji and Terunofuji have taken themselves off of the yusho grid with two losses apiece, and this is all in an effort to take the focus off of anything but the big five and sometimes six.

Sumo has become all about generating the headlines regarding Japanese rikishi that will keep the sheep buying tickets to the event and keep them watching on television, and Hakkaku-oyakata strengthened that meme as the interview went on. The next question from Kariya Announcer was, "What are you looking forward to in this new year?" and without missing a beat again, the commissioner mentioned Shodai, Mitakeumi, and the Ozeki."  While he didn't name the Ozeki by their shikona, or fighting names, I'm positive he also had Terunofuji in mind as part of that answer. Just sayin' you know.

Incredibly, throughout the entire 10 minutes, the commissioner never once referenced one of the elite Mongolians until the very end when he was explaining how they can try to appeal to young kids and get them interested in sumo when you have more lucrative sports in the spotlight like soccer and baseball. So in passing, he mentioned the phrase, "what we can pay Hakuho," but that was it. The entire focus was on the big five when talking about rikishi, and the only time he mentioned the word Yokozuna was in reference to Kariya's question of whether or not Kisenosato can reach the rank.

If you look back on 2016, what rikishi made the most progress in the division, especially the last half of the year??  The obvious answer is Tamawashi, who also happens to be solidly perched at the Sekiwake rank, but nope, he's not on anyone's radar because we need to be worried about younger guys like Shodai, Mitakeumi, and Endoh, and then we also need the Japanese Ozeki to continue to pull their weight in 2017.

If everything in sumo were spontaneous, wouldn't you at least pay some respect to the Yokozuna?  I mean, you do have three of them on the board, and one of them is on the brink of 40 career yusho and the record for most wins ever in a rikishi's career. People who cannot see all of this for what it really is are simply obtuse. I realize that a lot of people don't have access to the Japanese broadcast, and the only way they can view the bouts is on YouTube, and so I'm here to explain the bigger picture using my expert sumo analysis in the process.

On that note, let's get to the action, and it would take quite awhile before we got a bout worth any snuff. M14 Chiyotairyu struck M16 Osunaarashi without a purpose and as he leaned forward, Osunaarashi just backed up causing Tairyu to slip to the dirt face-forward. How about just coming out and trying to kick your opponent's ass now and then? Chiyotairyu has been fighting so timidly hence his 1-2 record. Osunaarashi is 3-0 if you need him.

M14 Chiyootori stayed low at the tachi-ai keeping M15 Sadanoumi away from the belt initially, but with Otori not applying pressure in his own right, Sadanoumi eventually worked his right arm to the inside coupled with a left outer grip, and he knew exactly what to do from that point. Don't look now but Sadanoumi is 3-0 while Chiyootori is a hapless 0-3.

Ever since the Wolf gave up the ghost, the Kokonoe-beya rikishi have noticeably deteriorated in the quality of their sumo. Rookie M15 Chiyooh was so desperate for a win he henka'd to his left against M13 Gagamaru causing YubabaMaru to just belly flop to the dirt. Just great as both rikishi end the day at 1-2.

What the hell is M13 Ichinojo doing down at this level?  When he chooses to fight (hence win), the bouts are so lopsided. Exhibit A was his match against M12 Daishomaru who shaded left looking scared in the process, and the moment when Joe got the easy right inside, Daishomaru just quit and walked himself out. Ichinojo is 2-1 while Daishomaru falls to 1-2, and part of the problem with so much acceptance of yaocho in this division is that rikishi don't give a fying fluck anymore.

M11 Kagayaki threw two hands into rookie M12 Takakeisho at the tachi-ai and kept up the tsuppari pressure using decent de-ashi to methodically drive Takakeisho back and out before the rookie could swipe and evade at the edge. Dude, you gotta move laterally after the first step against Kagayaki, not when you're on your way out of the dohyo. Credit Kagayaki for sticking to his guns, and what I really like about this dude is that you know what you're gonna get. He moves to 2-1 with the nice win while Takakeisho falls to 0-3. Before we move on, Takakeisho rose to the division in a flash fighting under his given name of Satoh. I really liked what I saw from this guy in the lower ranks, but he looks completely lost the first three days. Time for Takanohana-oyakata to part with some cash to get his rookie going.

M10 Sokokurai struck well at the tachi-ai against M11 Nishikigi getting the left inside, and then he backed up a bit making Nishikigi give chase and allowing Sokokurai to slip into the right frontal grip. Nishikigi used his sheer bulk to survive the first force-out volley, but he was gassed on the second attempt, and Sokokurai must have sensed it because he picked Nishikigi up off of his feet by the front of the belt and escorted him across the straw drawing the tsuri-dashi winning technique. It wasn't your typical tsuri-dashi win, but hey, Sokokurai will take it as he moves to 3-0. As for Nishikigi, he had the size but not the skills to counter as he suffers his first defeat at 2-1.

Where Takakeisho looks lost, stablemate M10 Takanoiwa is not. Good night!!  Today against M9 Kaisei, Takanoiwa connected on a brilliant right hari-te to Kaisei's left jaw, and as he did so he moved left grabbing the outer grip sending Kaisei down in a flash. Takanoiwa likely didn't need that left outer because Kaisei was seeing stars after that initial face slap, and the collapse by uwate-dashi-nage was indeed straightway. Takanoiwa is a cool 3-0 while Kaisei falls to 2-1.

M8 Chiyonokuni must have taken notes of the last bout from the base of the dohyo because he came out against M9 Ishiura with a another quick right hari-te to Ishiura's face. Kuni continued to move right as he executed his henka and caught his foe with a tsuki-otoshi using that same right hand that sent Ishiura down in a second flat...if that. Replays showed that Chiyonokuni's slap did not connect with Ishiura's jaw, but still, that's gotta feel like a club to the head nonetheless. Chiyonokuni moves to 2-1, but he used a henka to get there. I guess what goes around comes around for Ishiura who falls to 0-3.

M8 Hokutofuji caught M7 Myogiryu with an early left tsuki from the tachi-ai that baited Myogiryu into a pull attempt as he was knocked off balance, but Myogiryu had no footwork or stability to execute that pull, so another left tsuki and right push from the youngster sent Myogiryu down for good in mere seconds. This was one of Hokutofuji's better wins of his brief career as he moves to 2-1 while Myogiryu's Makuuchi days may be done. He's 0-3.

M6 Kotoyuki redefined ugly today with this weird henka to the right against M7 Aoiyama, but that's not Yuki's game, and so Aoiyama rushed in with tsuki of his own before grabbing the right inside as the fat lady sung. Aoiyama picks up his first win of the shootin' match at 1-2 while Kotoyuki falls to the same mark.

At this point there was a noticeable stir in the crowd, and then I remembered..."M4 Endoh!!"  If I lived in Japan and someone mentioned to me that Endoh was their favorite rikishi, I would ask them, "Why do you like him?"  I can just picture the person (it'd be a female) quickly processing that question in her head and looking confused for a legitimate answer because the only reason people root for him is because they're told to root for him. What has Endoh ever shown us in the ring to warrant such hype? Whatever it is, it certainly wasn't on display today against M6 Chiyoshoma. Both rikishi charged hard assuming the hidari-yotsu position, but the instant Endoh began to press, Shoma moved right and timed a perfect tsuki into Endoh's left side sending him down with embarrassing ease. I mean, Chiyoshoma just schooled Endoh in this bout, and when rikishi are out to beat Elvis, this is the type of contest that results. Chiyoshoma moves to 2-1 with the easy win while Endoh is below .500 at 1-2.

M4 Tochiohzan offered a mild strike at the tachi-ai against M5 Yoshikaze, but when Café went for a brief pull, Oh had no de-ashi so when he did move forward in a reactionary style, Yoshikaze was there to greet him with moro-zashi, and Monster Drink wasted no time in shoring Tochiohzan upright before scoring the easy force-out win. Tochiohzan falls to 0-3 with the loss while Yoshikaze is a decent 2-1.

M3 Ikioi came with a right kachi-age against M5 Takekaze, but he hurried his charge without his gal in close and snug, so Takekaze simply darted to his left sending Ikioi stumbling forward on his way right out of the dohyo with a perfectly placed left arm to the underside of Ikioi's right. I kind of feel bad for Ikioi who falls to 1-2. He's a better rikishi than Takekaze, and he's a superior rikishi compared to Endoh whom he deferred to yesterday, and I think he saw an easy win today and the chance to get to 2-1, but he just hurried his charge and paid the price. Don't look now but Takekaze is 3-0.

After the Shodai interview at the first of the broadcast, they showed a replay of his bout against Arawashi yesterday where Arawashi had the stifling right frontal grip and left inside while Shodai countered with a meager left of his own. Course, the Mongolian let him off the hook so many times before bowing in defeat thanks to nothing that Shodai did. As they showed the replay today, the guys in the booth were trying to find where Shodai turned the tables yesterday when Isegahama-oyakata finally attributed it to Shodai's having strong lower back muscles (haikin ga tsuyoi). What?!

The dude faced a tall task today against fellow Sekiwake, Tamawashi, and I don't know about any of you, but I knew this bout would be decided on what Tamawashi decided to do. Fortunately for integrity's sake, he decided to fight straight forward, and when Shodai was late in his charge, Tamawashi was onto him like stink to bait with his usual feisty tsuppari attack to which Shodai simply had no answer. This was such an easy tsuppari win for Tamawashi that he didn't even need to shower afterwards. The Mawashi is already 2-1, a record that includes a gift to Kisenosato, and if you had to consider who the next legitimate candidate would be for Ozeki, it's easily Tamawashi. Unfortunately for Shodai today, his back muscles didn't seem to have as much strength as he falls to 1-2.

Two overly-hyped rikishi of late stepped into the ring next with Komusubi Takayasu taking on Ozeki Goeido. Both rikishi got their left arms to the inside before Goeido awkwardly leaned into his opponent looking for the right outer grip. He eventually got it, but Takayasu shook his hips nicely breaking off that outer grip causing Goeido to panic and go for a quick maki-kae with that right hand. He didn't get it, and obviously frustrated at this point unable to do anything, Takayasu just dumped him to the clay with an easy left inside throw. While Takayasu let Goeido seemingly dictate the pace in this one, he was in charge the entire time and easily defeated the faux-zeki moving to 2-1 in the process. Goeido falls to 1-2, but the focus this basho is entirely on Kisenosato.

Speaking of the devil, we'd get to see if M2 Arawashi was still in a giving mood, and thankfully for the sake of the basho and the Japanese fans, he was!!  The two rikishi hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai where Arawashi just took the stance of a limp rag waiting for the right outer grip from the Ozeki...which came, and then it was the easy yori-kiri with Arawashi upright and of no mind to counter. Where have I seen this bad dream before? Kisenosato is an unsurprising 3-0 while Arawashi falls to 0-3. Before we move on, I need to point out to the slow folk that I'm not saying they're setting Kisenosato up for the yusho this basho. I'm saying that his first three opponents let him win.

And the yaocho would continue as Komusubi Tochinoshin hooked up in migi-yotsu against Ozeki Kotoshogiku who of course managed to grab a left outer with no defensive posturing from Shin. Since Kotoshogiku's Viagra had yet to kick in, Tochinoshin actually got a left outer of his own turning the bout to gappuri-migi yotsu whereupon the Ozeki felled him with a right sukui-nage. As if! The ailing Kotoshogiku moves to 2-1 thanks to the gift, and all I can say is that I hope they're paying Tochinoshin (0-3) in cold hard yen and not that useless military script.

We would unfortunately end the day with zero good bouts from the Ozeki ranks as Terunofuji looked to defeat M3 Okinoumi. Fuji the Terrible fished for the left frontal grip at the tachi-ai before giving up a light moro-zashi to Okinoumi, but before Okinoumi could really get established, Terunofuji moved laterally and went for this little sideways tug that had no seeming effect other than it must have freaked Okinoumi out because he just stumbled like a drunkard clear across the dohyo and out. And it wasn't as if Terunofuji was in tow or anything. I think Okinoumi just got to the edge and said, "Eh, what's the point?" because he did look back and still just walked out. Once again, Okinoumi gets no love from the Association even though he's likely the best JPN rikishi on the board these days, and Terunofuji is willingly giving up bouts left and right probably at the behest of his stable master, so you get these two guys in there who are so disrespected, and what are they fighting for?? Obviously very little as they both end the day at 1-2.

I hope I didn't spoil anything by declaring Yokozuna Harumafuji already off the grid, but sure enough, he just couldn't quite figure out M2 Shohozan. And who can these days?!!  Shohozan actually executed a mild henka to his left that drew zero reaction from Harumafuji. And when I say that, I mean that the Yokozuna didn't even pivot to square himself back up. Instead, he offered light tsuppari with no lower body in play giving Shohozan moro-zashi, and while Shohozan ain't a great rikishi, he's surely not a dumbass, and he just drove the Yokozuna across and out for the easy win dumping him on Hakuho's lap ringside for good measure. Harumafuji did offer a half-baked kote-nage with the left arm as he was being driven back, but he was not committed to winning here and completely nonchalant at the end.  It was just like his bout yesterday against Mitakeumi. Go down and look at the pic from Harvye's report. A guy at the Yokozuna rank who really wants to win against mediocre rank and file rikishi does not end up backing himself out of the ring at an odd angle to his opponent who's standing there with feet aligned and arms extended as if to say, "What just happened?" Yaocho just happened, and Harumafuji gifted another win and Kinboshi to Shohozan, who improves to 2-1 while Harumafuji is done at 1-2.  I saw a headline after Day 3 that declared "This was Harumafuji's 31st kin-boshi!"  Meaning what?  Harumafuji is unqualified as a Yokozuna or that he really knows how to play ball?

Well, we've gone five bouts now with Ozeki and Yokozuna without a real fight, so let's see what Yokozuna Kakuryu and M1 Takarafuji could conjure up. The Kak executed a nice tachi-ai focusing on neck shoves against the M1, and Takarafuji frankly had no answer. Kakuryu remained persistent in his attacking forcing Takarafuji back until he sensed the timing was right, and he ultimately charged in for the yori-kiri kill. It was pretty ho-hum stuff, but at least it was real. Kakuryu moves to 3-0 while Takarafuji falls to 0-3.

In the day's final bout, Yokozuna Hakuho shaded left in an effort to grab the left outer grip against M1 Mitakeumi, and when Mitakeumi had no answer, the Yokozuna just yanked him over to the edge before bodying him back for good adding a nice dame-oshi to boot. While Mitakeumi did look confused here, at least he wasn't scared against the Yokozuna like Shodai, but I do think that the Yokozuna was frustrated that his opponent didn't put up a fight; thus the dame-oshi.  Hakuho improves to 3-0 with the win while Mitakeumi falls to just 2-1.

Three days in, I think the two main storylines are: 1) Will rikishi continue to defer to Kisenosato, and 2) Is Tamawashi on the brink of an Ozeki run?

Speaking of Ozeki--or former Ozeki, our man Don Roid sat down with Konishiki recently, and we'll be posting that interview coming up in the next day or two, and you won't want to miss that.

Same goes for Harvye's day 4 tomorrow.

Day 2 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
It's the New Year, friends, all is fresh, the number "7" feels odd on the end of the digits, the Emperor is in the crowd. The clouds are chilled and tremble, the blue in the sky is bright. Seven is a lucky number they say, and the tournament was sold out days ago. So what will the year bring? Luck?

(Note the letters in red; this is the graphic that greets visitors to the Sumo Association homepage)

As always, the storyline in sumo ought to be how many yusho the greatest rikishi of all time, Hakuho, can take this year. Forty career yusho may come as soon as warm weather. Or never. He's on a three tournament dry stretch, and if he doesn't win in January it will be his longest gulch since 2006-2007, when he was still an Ozeki. Look for Hakuho to either take the prize or for the prophets of doom to grow deafeningly loud, me amongst them.

Storyline number two is Kotoshogiku, who looked ready for retirement in November. I'm on record as saying he retires the day he gets his make-koshi losing record this tournament--but he was made to look very good on Day 1, so keep your horse pistol in the boot for the moment.

What else? Like me on several of those wonderful limbo days between Christmas and New Year's, sumo took a nice long nap over the holidays. The current tournament offers very little of the mad drama that chased the Japanese Ozeki from tourney to tourney in 2015. No one is up for Yokozuna or Ozeki promotion, no rookie electrified both the critics and the public in November. Things will develop quickly, but today the weather is clear and for remaining storylines your earnest reporter is left with bullet points, not paragraphs:

*  Kisenosato, next Ozeki to crown the ant hill? Seems like a remembered 2016 mirage, but is a likely 2017 reality. Will Mongolian ant-lions slumber, or dig deep pits?

*  Shodai: how quick of a development to Ozeki? Expect an off tournament, but he will go like crazy at some point in 2016.

*  Kakuryu: one can pretend, if one likes, that his attempt to stay atop the Yokozuna pile holds interest. After the November win, not to mention him at all seems disrespectful. So.

*  Terunofuji: continued mediocrity or not? His storyline has been a frustrating one, yet expect more of the same in 2017. Not healthy or good enough right now to threaten Yokozuna, still too good to get demoted.

And really, that's your beer; everything else is happoushu.

M15 Chiyooh (0-1) vs. M15 Sadanoumi (1-0)
Low and inside fastball from Sadanoumi, and Chiyooh whiffed over the top of it. Sadanoumi attacked hard with his head on Chiyooh's shoulder, his right hand inside on the body, his left pushing at the belt, and got an easy, dominant yori-kiri win.

M15 Chiyootori (0-1) vs. M16 Osunaarashi (1-0)
Both these guys are just 24. Boy, Osunaarashi feels like he's been around a long time, but is still surprisingly young. That's the mark of a guy holding on to potential for a late-bloomer break-out. However, if healthy he should be dominating at this low rank, and isn't so far. As with yesterday, he let his opponent drive him to the bales--Chiyootori had a nice inside right. For the second straight day, Big Sandy (Osunaarashi) looked like toast. But for the second straight day he was strong in the end, resisting, picking Chiyootori up a bit, moving a foot or two back towards the center, then stepping aside and ushering his foe out for the uwate-dashi-nage win. These have been exciting, but he needs to get off to better starts than this.

M14 Chiyotairyu (0-1) vs. M13 Ichinojo (1-0)
I figured Chiyotairyu had no chance in this one. His whole strategy is based on whanging his opponent off the dohyo with an explosive tachi-ai, but there was no way he wasn't going to just bounce off the blubber of The Blob (Ichinojo) like a waffle hitting a rubber wall if he did that. I was right about part of this--Chiyotairyu's attack went nowhere, and he was going right backwards. However, I was wrong about the denouement, as Blob proved sloppy as he so often does, and was loping, easy prey for the slow-looking, obvious, yet totally effective step-aside-and-pull-down hiki-otoshi Chiyotairyu bested him with when Ichinojo got him near the edge.

M12 Takakeisho (0-1) vs. M13 Gagamaru (0-1)
Everybody's Juryo attention was on the dynamic Ura in 2016, but the better rising-star money may be on the solid, hard hitting Takakeisho, a compact bundle, too short at 173 cm but embodying his 169 kilos well in a relatively flabless way, and still just twenty years old. A born pusher. However, Takakeisho showed none of his potential here: Gagamaru is even more compact, and in a push and shove battle, Gagamaru was the bigger ball bearing. After a moment Gaga got his right hand around on the back of Takakeisho's belt and finished him off with convincing yori-kiri.

M12 Daishomaru (1-0) vs. M11 Nishikigi (1-0)
Very slow moving tachi-ai for Nishikigi--taking care to avoid the henka or quick pull? Also stood up too straight. Also probably a false start. It all added up to control for Nishikigi, though: Daishomaru wasn't sure what was going on, had his best weapon taken away from him, and is helpless on the belt: Nishikigi wrapped him up and slung him around and out, yori-kiri.

M10 Takanoiwa (1-0) vs. M11 Kagayaki (0-1)
I'm going to have to give the credit to Mike for me knowing what to watch for: Kagayaki has shades of Toyohibiki in that it is straight-forward or nothing for him: he was dominating this one with big slaps from his big core, but as soon as Takanoiwa moved, with a little desperation, to the left at the straw, Kagayaki staggered so badly he nearly fell down right there, and after that was adrift, free to be driven swiftly out, oshi-dashi. Jeez. Keep throwing a guy the curveball until he proves he can hit it.

M10 Sokokurai (1-0) vs. M9 Ishiura (0-1)
The miniscule Ishiura is going to be helpless in Makuuchi unless he henkas from here to kingdom come, and his weakness has been definitively demonstrated these first two days. Sokokurai is a minor guy, with minor power. Yet when Stone Ass (Ishiura) did not henka him, he was unable to move him an inch. Sokokurai, no stranger to trickery, stood his ground cautiously for a while, sizing the bout up, then pushed out two hands that flicked Ishiura off the platform like a dead fly, oshi-dashi.

M8 Hokutofuji (1-0) vs. M9 Kaisei (1-0)
I thought Hokutofuji had a great debut tournament in November, but that drove him straight up the banzuke into guys like this. How will he handle it? Today, just fine, thank you. He hit Kaisei hard and had something going on with a long, thick neck hold and some low-slung, slow, patient momentum. However, he's still awfully green, and when he slipped a little, Kaisei just slapped him easily down, hiki-otoshi. Hokutofuji was also probably a little too low here.

M8 Chiyonokuni (0-1) vs. M7 Aoiyama (0-1)
I said Aoiyama better come to Tokyo angry, and it looked like he did, sticking out those big meat-grinder arms hard, but he also did some really terrible footwork here, stepping in high and far with one leg like a Las Vegas dancer while leaving the other foot way, way behind. That landed him on top of Chiyonokuni like a can of spam dropped on the kitchen floor, rubbery and jiggling and now helplessly off balance. Chiyonokuni picked him up with a tsuki-otoshi spatula and fed him to the cat.

M6 Chiyoshoma (0-1) vs. M7 Myogiryu (0-1)
The last and highest ranked of our five upper division wrestlers from Kokonoe stable (Chiyooh, Chiyonokuni, Chiyotairyu, Chiyootori, Chiyoshoma; a sixth, Chiyomaru, is at J3). However, this is far from being a dominant stable: their ranks are all low, and these are a bunch of has-beens and never-wuzzers, with Chiyoshoma checking in as their lone maybe-someday. I'm hesitant to grant even that status for him, but keep coming back to the need to be honest and admit his potential: Chiyoshoma is big on the henka, but you can't count him out like Ishiura, because when he does go straight up he can be frighteningly strong with those wiry limbs. It's an unpleasant combination from the sumo purist's point of view, but there is no denying its effectiveness. We'll see; here's hoping guys figure him out. Also: these Kokonoe guys are not quite as good as their rank even, as they get an artificial bonus by being given a pass against four guys in their vicinity on the banzuke. In other words, they hold each other up in their weakness. If this stable had, say, a decent occasional Sekiwake type or better, look out, but right now they are chaff in the breeze. Chiyoshoma was very kinetic in this match. No henka. He did try a pull, but when it didn't work he won with that fearful strength, sticking Myogiryu with a few sharp jabs, then throwing him manfully from his side, shitate-nage, pulling on his own knee with his other hand for fulcrum leverage--very cool looking. Hmmm. Those Mongolians. Yeah, he is the best guy in this stable--and the only foreign entrant amongst them. Ah, yes.

M6 Kotoyuki (1-0) vs. M5 Yoshikaze (1-0)
Lots of people will be looking for breakout years from Endo or Mitakeumi, but my dark horse is Kotoyuki, who strikes me as intelligent, focused, and powerful (all of which contributed to his early-career tendency to be a preening prima-donna, all of which may eventually come together for him in the ring). He set up his win here with big lateral movement at the tachi-ai, but after that he won with relentless and effective tsuppari, knocking Yoshikaze over, tsuki-otoshi. Nice footwork, hard hits, victory.

M4 Tochiohzan (0-1) vs. M5 Takekaze (1-0)
If I were facing Takekaze, I would just stand there. Literally. No tachi-ai, no forward movement. Because nearly every win is with a pull, and they are absolutely deadly. These two engaged for a few seconds, then Takekaze backed up and pulled Tochiohzan down, hiki-otoshi. I'll give Takekaze credit for being very, very good at this, but how can rikishi not either hang back or, if they most go forward, make sure to bring their feet with them? Takekaze has become very predictable, yet remains effective.

M4 Endo (0-1) vs. M3 Ikioi (1-0)
Hmmmm. Ikioi is known for his strength, but he made Endo look strong here. This was a battle of momentum and shifts, with both guys putting their hands at each other's shoulders and looking for the right moment to break it off or push harder. And, simply put, Endo found a place to push hard and drove his man out, yori-kiri. Ikioi is pretty inconsistent, so I'll give Endo credit for simply beating Ikioi straight up, and we're seeing a different Endo of late. Yes, I get it why Mike made fun of "the return of Endo's power" yesterday, as Endo has never been powerful in this division, but to be honest, yes, the difference I see in his last 16 bouts is a sudden wealth of hitherto un-hinted strength. He's always had good technique, but never had anything to back it up, and got lots of bad looking wins because he couldn't put anything away and had to rely on charity and flotsam. Lately, he looks recovered from depression, injury, or both, and I actually like his sumo. He looks like a different guy--in a good way. We'll see where this goes.

M2 Arawashi (0-1) vs. S Shodai (0-1)
These guys are fairly evenly matched, and Arawashi gave Shodai a hard run for his money, staying lower and getting him very nearly out on the drive. However, Shodai did a good job of returning his back to a position facing the center of the ring, and won on a counter-charge, yori-kiri.

O Kisenosato (1-0) vs. S Tamawashi (1-0)
The broadcast led off with an interview with the head of the Sumo Association, Hokutoumi, and the last topic they covered before the first bout was Kisenosato, showing his impressive win numbers from 2016. I wondered if this was The Hokutoumi Revolution foreshadowing Yokozuna Kise 2017. However, I was gratified to hear Hokutoumi say something we've been saying consistently here as well: there is no sense in having a weak Yokozuna, because he will then need to continue to go out there and perform well again tournament and tournament. In other words, if I'm reading these chicken bones correctly, Kisenosato is not going to get to Yokozuna unless he really, really earns it. (Which he can't.) The match was nonsense. Lovely tachi-ai, with a big popping sound as the guys head-butted and bounced off each other hard. Then Tamawashi did an effective looking face hold. After that, however, Tamawashi turned and ran away from Kisenosato and stepped out of the ring. Um, yes, really. An optimist would say Kisenosato managed to get behind him, pushed him on the shoulder, and Tamawashi's momentum carried him out of the ring, oshi-dashi. But. You can't make this stuff up.

M3 Okinoumi (0-1) vs. O Kotoshogiku (1-0)
Ah, here we go--I foresee Kotoshogiku's final spiral beginning here. If Kotoshogiku wants eight, he needed this one. And Okinoumi did let Kotoshogiku gaburu him around the ring a bit. "Hoo boy, really?" I thought. However, after a few moments of this, Okinoumi easily shifted his leftward-moving, Kotoshogiku-controlled momentum to the right side of his body by tilting his torso, and dumped Kotoshogiku over from that side, shitate-nage.

O Terunofuji (0-1) vs. K Takayasu (0-1)
Terunofuji went in low, did not go for the belt, and was pulled down by the head, kata-sukashi. Remember: last tournament Terunofuji was kadoban, and Takayasu was up for Ozeki promotion. In our minds, Terunofuji had a good tournament, because he cleaned up in the first week and quickly got out from under kadoban, and Takayasu had a bad tournament, because his Ozeki run fizzled quickly and he was never a factor. But in the hard, cold light of day one finished 8-7 and the other 7-8. They're not that far away from each other right now.

K Tochinoshin (0-1) vs. O Goeido (0-1)
Beautiful stuff here by Goeido. Tochinoshin was lightning quick on the tachi-ai and really wanted that belt, but he couldn't get it, and Goeido had a nice left grip in the belt. When Tochinoshin drove too aggressively to get a dominant grip, Goeido used that momentum and threw him to the ground, uwate-nage, actually flinging this grizzly through the air.

Y Kakuryu (1-0) vs. M2 Shohozan (1-0)
Exciting stuff here. Hard tachi-ai, then a few ineffective deeks by Shohozan, so Kakuryu drove powerfully forward and easily forced Shohozan back. However, Shohozan alertly and strongly wrenched on Kakuryu's left arm and sent Kakuryu spinning head over heels spectacularly out of and off the dohyo, his foot striking the basket and sending up a salt geyser on the way. The emotional reaction was "Shohozan did it!" and the gyoji went with that. However, as soon as the mono-ii was called we all kind of knew Shohozan had stepped out first on his way to glory, pressed too hard by Kakuryu's forward momentum, and the reply clearly confirmed as much. Yori-kiri Kakuryu win on paper.

Y Hakuho (1-0) vs. M1 Takarafuji (0-1)
Takarafuji is supple and subtle, and with Hakuho ignoring the belt on his right and trying to tickle Takarafuji in the armpit with his elbow and such, Takarafuji drove forward and almost had the victory; Hakuho stopped himself at the ropes just in the nick of time. Scared by that--I think he intended to toy with Takarafuji but win, and was startled and alarmed when he almost lost--Hakuho grabbed a meaty handful of inside right, oh did he ever, and within seconds of that had put this one definitely away, yori-kiri. Just win outright, dammit, you guy, you. Just win.

M1 Mitakeumi (1-0) vs. Y Harumafuji (1-0)
As a treat, we get to finish up with The Mystery of Mitakeumi. Last tournament I set my sights on figuring out who the bland-seeming, ill-defined Shodai really was, and after seven days of observation believed I had him pinned: Shodai will take advantage of mistakes and win going backwards, as he has good ring sense, but when going forward likes to be tight with his arms, go inside, and push on the body. Mitakeumi has been riding a similar hype train to Shodai, and Mike is right that he is another guy who, like Shodai, is ill-defined. I'll admit that if you asked me in a bar to describe Mitakeumi's style, and I didn't have a computer to look up any information, I plain wouldn't be able to do it. So this tournament I'm going to study and learn him, just like with Shodai last tournament. I'll start by looking up some facts on Mitakeumi: he prefers to get on the belt and is a guy who moves forward, as his top winning technique is yori-kiri at 47%, followed by oshi-dashi at 26%. That speaks well for him.

What did he do in this bout? Got on that belt. He was too high on the tachi-ai, but got a left inside and stuck with that. He got lateral to Harumafuji and "pushed" him out from there, using his thigh, yori-kiri. Now, that is the Mitakeumi part for you. Pretty straightforward belt stuff: we will build on that in the days to come. However, as this is the top bout of the day, and lo! we have just had an upset and the cushions are raining down, let us look at the Harumafuji part of the match, too (I may have forgotten to mention there was a Yokozuna in this bout). During that last part, when Mitakeumi looked to be bodying Harumafuji out with his thigh, actually Harumafuji was pulling Mitakeumi aggressively towards him, yanking him along. All the force of that movement came from Harumafuji, not Mitakeumi--who was bouncing and jerking off the movements like a rubber ball on a string. Eventually, Harumafuji ran out of room and went right out the ring, followed by his yo-yo, Mitakeumi. An optimist will say that Harumafuji was in a tight spot, tried to make the most of it, but just couldn't get any lateral movement or purchase, as Mitakeumi kept him going in the right direction and crowded him out. Other eyes will say Harumafuji pretty much chose where and how to go out of the ring, and took an attached Mitakeumi along for the ride. My eyes are stuck on those tines. The cushions will rain down regardless, 'cause my impaled eyeballs don't sell tickets.

Quick! Who is your lone Ozeki with two wins? Kisenosato! Let's get silly-bold and give ourselves a day-two leaderboard:

• Hakuho, Kakuryu, Kisenosato.

Tomorrow Mike furrows his brow and glowers.

Day 1 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Recently the Associated Press announced that the biggest news story of the year was the 2016 presidential election in the United States. That choice was a no-brainer, but I've been fascinated with the news cycle after the election, especially the topic of "fake news." I believe the term was first coined by the Hilary Clinton camp when they said that fake news stories planted by the right wing media that attempted to assassinate her character ultimately resulted in the election swinging towards Donald Trump.  Now in recent weeks, the headlines have been dominated with more claims that the Russians hacked the election turning the tide in favor of Trump in order to get him elected.

As I watch all of this play out, I can't help but notice the parallels between these current headlines in the US and the same headlines surrounding the "fake sumo" we see atop the dohyo.  In one instance, you have a political party simply making excuses to try and justify the reason they lost.  In the other instance, you have an Association creating fake results in order to cover up the fact that domestic rikishi just don't have the same game as the foreign rikishi.  And the reason that so many people buy into what the media feeds them is because they trust the headlines and ignore the actual content or substance of the claims.

For example, the claim of "fake news" from the Clinton camp was a general statement that alluded to all of the headlines generated by emails obtained by WikiLeaks and released in the months leading up to the election. While the Democrat Party and the Clinton camp made a fuss about being hacked and having information stolen (regardless of whether or not the Russians were behind it all), they never once actually denied the substance of any of the emails.  Rather, they tried to deflect the damning news by labeling Trump as misogynist or a homophobe or a racist or whatever and once the election results were in, the narrative quickly turned to:  we were hacked by the Russians.  Who cares who did the hacking?  What's more important?  The fact that the DNC and John Podesta's emails got hacked?  Or the truths revealed by the information released?  The content of the leaked emails were all true and never refuted by anyone, and so to deflect attention from that fact, much of the media is crying foul over the hacking, and not the true content that shed light on a politician and political party.  Talk about missing the forest for the trees.

As for the Russians influencing the election, I've seen plenty of headlines stating that claim as if it were factual, but I have yet to see a single story that actually detailed how they influenced the election or what voting districts were compromised or where any illegal acts were committed. Then I guess you also have the Russians just laughing at the people in the US making these baseless claims.  Look, the US and Russia have been trying to steal secrets from each other for decades, so crying foul now is weak if you ask me.  In short, when something is plainly obvious and you want to direct attention away from it, you do that by creating misleading headlines focusing the attention off of things that really matter. And I'd say, the majority of the people follow the headlines instead of the actual truths being manifest right in front of their eyes. It is okay to question authority and think for oneself.

In terms of sumo, I've been pointing out for years now that the Japanese media is using headlines to influence the mindset of the Japanese people and to create this false narrative of parity in the sport all the while deflecting the attention away from the fact that the Japanese rikishi simply suck and rampant yaocho is needed in sumo these days to create a banzuke balanced equally with Japanese rikishi and foreign rikishi and to provide enough headlines for the media to point the general public in every direction except the actual content in the ring.

Sure, I make my own claims here on Sumotalk which some may brand as controversial, but I always back it up with concrete sumo analysis.  There are plenty who decry my claims and throw out watered down terms like "conspiracy theorist," but what they never do is offer actual, substantive analysis from the dohyo that counters my comments.  I just find the phenomenon interesting whether it's politics, climate change, or sumo wrestling.

As we turn our attention to the day 1 broadcast, NHK started out by having the two guys in the booth (Mainoumi providing color and Nakatatsu-oyakata in the mukou joumen chair) each pick a rikishi whom they had high expectations for in the upcoming year. Without even watching the broadcast, can anyone guess who those two rikishi were?

They were of course Endoh and Shodai. NHK showed clips from bouts by both rikishi, and then they even had a recorded interview with Endoh.  It all looks fine and dandy at the start of a broadcast, but my question is: What evidence did you see from either of these two guys in the ring last year to tout them as rikishi with high expectations?  Throw out the records.  What in the content of their sumo makes you excited about them?  I can't think of anything.  Both rikishi scored some big wins on paper last year, and both find themselves at favorable ranks on the banzuke, but how did they get there?  What technique or trend from either rikishi propelled them to their current positions?

I would contrast that with guys like Terunofuji and Tochinoshin.  And when I talk about Tochinoshin, I'm referring to Tochinoshin 2.0, the rikishi who suffered a severe knee injury and fell all of the way down to Makushita only to fight his way back up charts with sound sumo.  The rise of Terunofuji and Tochinoshin was completely organic.  You could see the actual substance of their sumo, and you can easily describe the tactics employed by both rikishi even today.  When it comes to Endoh and Shodai, however, nothing is organic.  They're two rikishi who have been constantly hyped in the media, and their current status on the banzuke is the result of continual bouts thrown in their favor.  In my opinion, Shodai is a legitimate Makuuchi rikishi, but he's shown nothing in his sumo to warrant his rise to Sekiwake.  As for Endoh, he should be one of those guys who primarily fights in Juryo and occasionally rises to Makuuchi only to get beaten back down to Juryo.

But it's not just Shodai and Endoh.  Kisenosato, Kotoshogiku, and Goeido are not legitimate Ozeki and none of them achieved the rank with legitimate sumo.  Furthermore, there's nothing in their sumo that supports their ability to continue to maintain the rank let alone start taking yusho with such strong foreigners on the banzuke.  Yet, there they sit in elite ranks along with Shodai one notch beneath all in an effort to give the appearance of parity in sumo when nothing could be further from the truth.  And the truth is in the content of the sumo, something that we will continue to masterfully break down in January.

The day began with M15 Chiyooh who moved left at the tachi-ai going for the cheap outer grip against M16 Osunaarashi resulting in a weak clash from both parties. The rookie did get that left outer, but Osunaarashi easily hooked up in migi-yotsu looking to counter. Chiyooh led a yori attempt with that outer grip, but he didn't have his gal in snug with the inside position, and so despite forcing the Ejyptian back to the edge, Osunaarashi turned the tables in the end scoring a nice utchari win as his brute strength prevailed.

M15 Sadanoumi latched onto the front of M14 Chiyotairyu's belt from the tachi-ai, and it unnerved Chiyotairyu just enough to where he quickly abandoned his normal freight train attack and opted to look for an opening to pull. That would never come to fruition, and with Chiyotairyu fiddling around this way and that, Sadanoumi just pressed forward leading with that right belt grip that was inside and then outside at the end. Chiyotairyu needs to stick with his bread and butter and not panic at the first sign of a belt grip from his opponent.

M14 Chiyootori came in low at the tachi-ai against M13 Ichinojo looking for who knows what, but Ichinojo easily rebuffed him with paws to the head on torso keeping Chiyootori at bay. With Chiyootori in attack mode but no making any progress, Ichinojo just stood there like a brick wall for about eight seconds until Chiyootori ducked down near the edge with his arms extended as if he were fishing for a pull, but he was clearly gassed and Ichinojo knew it finally committing to a forward charge that knocked Chiyootori back and across with ease.  Go ahead and add Ichinojo to the list of rikishio whose rise up the ranks was organic.

M13 Gagamaru and M12 Daishomaru struck lightly at the tachi-ai with each rikishi looking more for a pull than to establish the firm inside position, and at the two-second mark as Gagamaru looked to advance forward, Daishomaru just backed up to his left and scored the easy pulldown win.  This was bad sumo from both parties, and if Gagamaru is not going to pay attention to sound de-ashi, then he's not going to win a whole lotta sumo bouts.

M12 Takakeisho looked eager to take on M11 Nishikigi, and he showed it with a false start out of the gate. Then, as the two reloaded, Takakeisho was early out of the gate again, but they didn't call a false start, and it caused Takakeisho to fidget in his footwork ever so slightly. The end result was Nishikigi getting the left arm to the inside, and although Takakeisho fought that off, he never had proper footwork to sustain his attack, and so Nishikigi next got the right arm to the inside and used his left nicely pushing in at Takakeisho's torso sending the rookie back and out with a patient oshi attack. I'm not sure how the five judges and the referee all missed the false start, and it did end up affecting Takakeisho's momentum...or lack of it.

M11 Kagayaki greeted M10 Sokokurai with two hands to the neck, but apparently Sokokurai has been reading my scouting report on Kagayaki which says that he can't win by moving laterally because Sokokurai moved back and to his right swiping Kagayaki's extended left arm away before pushing him down with a sharp slap to the left butt cheek. If Kagayaki can keep his gal chest to chest, he's gotta chance, but the moment the bout moves side to side, he's done.

Next up was M10 Takanoiwa against M9 Ishiura in a bout that saw the smaller Ishiura try and duck his way inside at the tachi-ai, but Takanoiwa rebuffed him straightway getting his left arm to the inside coupled with a smothering right outer grip, and Ishiura was had at this point as Takanoiwa lifted him upright with the left arm before just slamming him down hard to the dohyo abise-taoshi style. In reference to my intro, Ishiura was another rikishi who was being hyped prior to the basho both in the headlines and on NHK. When I watched Saturday Sports yesterday, they made it a point to keep your eye on Ishiura. Why? Because he posted a good record last basho? My take is how did he do it? As we constantly pointed out, this guy was scoring his wins with tachi-ai henka, but the content of one's sumo doesn't matter. As long as he's Japanese and a headline can be manufactured about him, everyone seems to run with it. Ishiura got his ass kicked today in a straight up bout, and any hype surrounding this dude is NOT based on sound sumo.

Up next was M9 Kaisei and M8 Chiyonokuni, which saw a busy Chiyonokuni try and manufacture anything to keep Kaisei away from the inside. Kuni used a few feisty shoves from the tachi-ai and then quickly moved left when Kaisei threatened to get inside, and though Chiyonokuni forced Kaisei to give chase, there was nothing in the content of Chiyonokuni's sumo that was going to keep Kaisei away from the belt, and the Brasilian constantly had that right arm to the inside whether it was fighting of Kuni's shoves or surviving a left neck throw. In the end, Kaisei was simply the better rikishi and Chiyonokuni couldn't manufacture sumo good enough to topple his superior opponent, and so Kaisei made it official with a wicked shove to Chiyonokuni's stomach that sent him flying outta the dohyo.

M8 Hokutofuji shaded left at the tachi-ai against M7 Aoiyama, but the Bulgarian was not out for blood here just playing along and letting his opponent survive despite Hokutofuji's being straight upright with in terrible position with his hands. With the two rikishi in a supposed stalemate, Aoiyama just pretended to slip and then took a dive down to the dohyo giving Hokutofuji the easy win and giving us the first yaocho of 2017. After the bout, Mainoumi commented, "We see Aoiyama just kind of break down like this a lot."  Ya think??  Notice how his Japanese foes aren't the ones breaking him down; he's doing it of his own volition, and this bout should have been ruled koshi-kudake.

M6 Kotoyuki blasted M7 Myogiryu off of the starting lines with his signature tsuppari attack, and as Myogiryu looked to duck back into the bout, Kotoyuki reversed gears and slapped Myogiryu down in a flash.  They called a mono-ii here to determine whether or not Kotoyuki pulled Myogiryu's hair in the process, but he didn't and won this bout fair and square by dominating the tachi-ai.

A bout I was actually looking forward today was the M6 Chiyoshoma - M5 Yoshikaze matchup, but the younger Mongolian kind of ruined it by putting his left arm up around Yoshikaze's neck and going for the cheap pull from the start.  Fortunately, Yoshikaze wasn't fooled by the move and not only got moro-zashi as Chiyoshoma tried to retreat out of the dumb pull move, but Cafe had Shoma by the back of the belt with the left hand, and he used that to lift Chiyoshoma clear up off the dohyo and then slam him down just outside the edge tsuri-otoshi style.  Hopefully that'll learn Chiyoshoma to rely on straight up sumo instead of his stupid tricks and games.

As I was watching the Emperor and his wife take their seats, I all of a sudden heard a huge roar from the crowd, and I was like, "What the?"  And then they showed M4 Endoh step up in the ring to take on M5 Takekaze.  Leading up to the bout, the guys in the booth were commenting on how it looks as if Endoh has regained his power.  Regained his what?  Did Endoh ever have power in this division?  That was answered when Takekaze executed a horrible tachi-ai giving Endoh the clear path to moro-zashi, but he couldn't make it stick allowing Takekaze to step to his right and just yank Endoh out of the ring in like two seconds. It's just ridiculous how people still believe the hype surrounding Endoh.

Two of Japan's better rikishi, M4 Tochiohzan M3 Ikioi, hooked up today, and this was a replay of Tochiohzan's yusho playoff bout against Kyokutenho a few years ago.  Instead of trying to attempt to get to the inside, Tochiohzan struck and then immediately went for a pull, but the taller Ikioi made sure that his hands were entrenched into Tochiohzan's gut, and he just went with the flow pushing Oh back using his length before being slapped down to the clay.

Sekiwake Tamawashi faced another of Japan's best in M3 Okinoumi, and the Mongolian completely dominated this bout getting a stiff right hand into Okinoumi's neck and using great de-ashi to keep Okinoumi upright while applying constant pressure. Okinoumi tried to evade and swipe that right paw away, but Tamawashi was on a mission here and dismantled Okinoumi with ease. Regarding the rise of Tamawashi of late, you can definitely define his tsuppari sumo. The dude's results of late are all legit, which helps to put the banzuke in proper perspective.

M2 Arawashi came with a lame right kachi-age and left outer grip attempt against Ozeki Kotoshogiku giving the Geeku the clear path to moro-zashi, but Kotoshogiku's sumo of late can't be defined as stable, and so Arawashi moved to his left threatening a pull that never came.  What he did do is made sure to stay in front of the Ozeki and keep his hands high and wide, and the force-out win came a few seconds after that.  This one actually looked good for the Ozeki, but if Arawashi wanted to win, he wouldn't have refrained from getting an inside position; he wouldn't have kept one arm high around the Ozeki's neck; and he surely wouldn't have stayed square with his opponent despite not having a pot to piss in.  Any Mongolian is crafty enough to solve Kotoshogiku in his current state.

Ozeki Terunofuji let M2 Shohozan do his thing at the tachi-ai just standing there trading tit for tat eventually letting Shohozan get moro-zashi. Instead of really clamping in tight and applying pressure, the Ozeki stopped short on a couple of kote-nage attempts and just let Shohozan force him back and out.  Afterwards the guys in the booth were talking about Terunofuji when he was genki, or more active, but this was just a case of a mukiryoku Ozeki.  Some of the guys speculated that his knee was giving him trouble to which Mainoumi added, "Yes, like Endoh."  Puh-lease. It was Mainoumi who picked Endoh has his kitai rikishi this year, so I get it that he needs to hedge that bet a bit.  The bottom line here is that Terunofuji made no attempt to win.

Ozeki Goeido and Mitakeumi bounced off of each other from the tachi-ai with neither really attempting to get to the inside and stick, and after that start, Goeido did what he does best which is to recklessly retreat around the ring with his arms wide open. Mitakeumi took full advantage securing moro-zashi as light as it was, and it looked as if Goeido might have a path to escape, but he went for a kubi-nage instead. This was the same type of kubi-nage that worked against Harumafuji a couple of basho ago, but today it had zero effect on Mitakeumi.  go figure.   After that neck throw attempt, Mitakeumi made it official with a yori-kiri that still needed some polish and stability.  I say that because the way Goeido presented himself today, Mitakeumi shoulda just kicked his ass, but he still struggled despite Goeido's making mistakes at every turn.  I think it was a good indication of both rikishi and their limitations, but credit Mitakeumi for the nice win.

In an extremely predictable bout, Ozeki Kisenosato left himself vulnerable at the tachi-ai as Takarafuji grabbed the early left inside position, and he had the right outer as well if he wanted it, but he refrained...of course.  From that point, it was the same old song and dance:  let the Ozeki get his own arm to the inside, inch forward so he can grab the right outer grip, and then just stay fully upright and allow the Ozeki to force you back.  Afterwards as they showed the replays, there really wasn't anything that Kisenosato did that you could point out.  Mainoumi did comment that Kisenosato was too high up and then he used the word "amai" to describe Takarafuji's sumo, a word that means he was going easy.  I mean, what else can you say? Kisenosato didn't win the tachi-ai; he didn't set anything up; and he was fully at Takarafuji's bidding, which is usually the case for this Ozeki.

A bout that generated a bit of ink coming in was Sekiwake Shodai facing Yokozuna Hakuho, but these two don't even belong in the same division. The only question was would Hakuho allow a day 1 upset?  Thankfully no as Shodai actually looked scared at the tachi-ai refraining form striking forward and actually retreating in fear.  I really can't remember the last time I saw a rikishi look that scared.  Sheesh, this was embarrassing as Hakuho rushed forward nudging Shodai to the straw, and instead of just humiliating him by sending him three rows deep, he reversed gears and lightly pulled Shodai forward and down without a fight. I just have to keep reiterating my stance regarding Shodai since he entered the division:  there's no substance there and if there is, what is it??  The Japanese rikishi are fully at the mercy of the foreigners, and Shodai definitely felt the fear of God today.  Literally.

Yokozuna Harumafuji moved to his right as he is wont to do a few times a basho, and instead of grabbing the right outer grip, he opted for the right kote-nage grip instead, and he used that easily to wrench Takayasu upright and to the side before easily pushing him out.  I don't like this brand of sumo from the Yokozuna, but let's see someone do it back to him.

In the day's final bout, Komusubi Tochinoshin stepped into the ring to face Yokozuna Kakuryu. Really the only way for Tochinoshin to win against these guys is to get moro-zashi, but the Mongolians are just too fast for him.  Exhibit A was Kakuryu today who lowered his head at the tachi-ai striking the Komusubi upright before easily getting the right arm to the inside and then using the left outer grip to spin Tochinoshin around and down in mere seconds.  There's really not much more to say here other than you can see the difference between the elite Mongolians and a pretty damn good foreigner in his own right when both rikishi go full bore.

I suppose my day 1 was a bit abrasive, but the current landscape of sumo is really getting to me.  During the year-end holiday, I noticed that NHK did a year-end review of sumo in 2016, but I had zero desire to watch it, so I didn't.  What was I going to glean from it?  Remember the good old days when I used to do year-end reports of my own?  Okay, maybe I shouldn't use the adjective "good," but back in those days, you had a Japanese rikishi legitimately win a basho and then go 13-2 the basho after and get denied promotion to Yokozuna.  You had a Japanese rikishi win 34 bouts over three basho...twice in the same calendar year and still get denied promotion to Ozeki.  Back then there was actual substance to report on. These days it's pretty much politics, and I have little tolerance for such nonsense.

Let's hope Harvye can find a silver lining tomorrow.






















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