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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 (Harvye Hodja reporting)
I'm a bit of a softy, and will admit to having tears in my eyes yesterday watching Tochinoshin have tears in his, even if he was giving, as they are trained to do, the typical incredibly boring interview. My wife chimed in to say, "what an amazing body." Yes. The muscles on his shoulders and upper arms are kind of stunning. I remember when this guy came up. I used to do this thing where I'd list each new guy's age, height, and weight against each other to try to predict who had the most staying power potential. I remember thinking, "whoa, this guy is one of the strongest debuts on these stats I've seen in a long time." He went on, however, to be mostly a disappointment, struggling mightily in the sanyaku and then disappearing with an injury. "Meh," I concluded. But here he is. While he snuck into the top five for most basho until his first yusho at 58 tournaments, it doesn't feel like it did with some of those ahead of him on that list (Kyokutenho: his tournament was a mess; Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku: not real). With Tochinoshin, it feels deserved and, if late blooming, welcome. You can't help but feel great for him--and for the sport, which managed to defy expectations and, for the moment, to dispel some of the well-earned clouds of cynicism it generates.

One of the reasons the Tochinoshin win is so satisfying is his classic style: primarily using belt technique and main strength to slowly overwhelm guys. I do think his sumo this basho was extraordinary: focus, consistency, strength, and a couple of skin-of-his-teeth comebacks that required good ring sense and concentration. Compare to Goeido and his manic, nearly indescribable style: do you remember anything about his sumo from his yusho tournament? I maybe remember it being a bit hectic. And once again I'm proud of Sumotalk for having been all over the Tochinoshin story for a long time. Yes, I totally said his yusho was not happening, period, on Day 8. But when I wrote up Tochinoshin's imagined "give me a chance" conversation that led to this on Day 6, well, let's just say I don't often pick out random M3s in the first week to focus the intro on just because they started out undefeated: they're a dime a dozen. Guys like Tochinoshin are not.

What's next for Tochinoshin? I don't foresee him becoming an Ozeki. He'd make a good one, but he's into his thirties already. There will be lots of buzz for what he is likely to do in March, but keep in mind the last time something like this happened Kyokutenho followed up with an astonishing 2-13 flop. I don't think Tochinoshin will do anything like that--look for seven to ten wins--but I do believe this tournament was his one chance to do this. He took full advantage.

With the yusho already decided, let's go ahead and hit the bouts in the order they happened.

M17 Daiamami (7-7) vs. J2 Aoiyama (9-5)
Aoiyama started out with his patented hands to the face, though without the sort of slapping smack he sometimes generates. He also tossed in a tiny little pull that lost him the momentum, then slipped a little while feinting down towards the belt, getting him sideways to Daiamami, who took advantage to oshi-dashi him out, thus preserving his status in Makuuchi, where Aoiyama's resultant 9-6 will almost certainly put him too. See?

J1 Kyokutaisei (8-6) vs. M15 Nishikigi (7-7)
Like the previous bout, I figured one guy clearly needed the win and the other didn't: Kyokutaisei was coming up to Makuuchi win or lose. One tipoff that this may have played out was the very slow tachi-ai by Kyokutaisei. After that he fought okay, but had a lot of pushing without a lot of finish. Nishikigi was mostly fending him off, repeatedly barring him with his forearm, occasionally swiping him to the side. This worked okay for him: he eventually found room to drive Kyokutaisei out on that forearm, oshi-dashi, and survives with a kachi-koshi.

M13 Takekaze (5-9) vs. M16 Asanoyama (8-6)
Hmmm. Takekaze surged inside on his man, then flopped to the clay, tsuki-otoshi, when Asanoyama moved just a little bit to the side. That sort of winning move is supposed to be Takekaze's forte, not Asanoyama's. Day 15. Hmmm...

M11 Kotoyuki (7-7) vs. M15 Ishiura (8-6)
Now here's a bout where you might think Kotoyuki needed to be given a win to get that kachi-koshi. But really, why? At M11, going 7-8 versus 8-7 doesn't really make much of a difference. Ishiura certainly had no problem sending Kotoyuki down to defeat: he sprang nimbly out of there, and Kotoyuki rocketed forward, fell to the dirt, and rolled of the dohyo, tsuki-otoshi.

M10 Terunofuji (0-14) vs. M12 Sokokurai (5-9)
Typing "Terunofuji (0-14)" felt very weird to me. It is as if he is being punished--severely--for something. Nobody goes 0-15, people. I just don't remember it happening. (I'm sure someone will help me out in the comments section, though). Look, there are lots of reasons to buy matches, and one of them is to keep guys from going 0-15. Hey, maybe that's even more humiliating--having to get something fixed for you to avoid the oh-fer--but that's sumo. So I'm puzzled by this. He's looked lost out there for a year or two now, but at the moment he's not just lost: he is defeated, depressed, and eminently beatable. I have no idea what is going on. I've been saying for a long time he needed to get demoted from Ozeki and get his head back on straight. Well, so far that's 100% wrong--whatever is going on, he is now at a new nadir. He may need a year or two--literally--to recover. But it is strange. This bout continued it. He got exactly what he needed: inside and outside grips. In the past, he would have just leaned on the guy and crushed him little by little, or sometimes lot by lot. But here, Sokokurai had the same grips, and he was the one who was able to leverage Terunofuji to the edge and there ease him out with patience and superior power, yori-kiri. That is shocking: Sokokurai displayed superior power to Terunofuji. I'm at a loss.

M16 Ryuden (10-4) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (8-6)
Ryuden, special prize already wrapped up, gave this one to Chiyomaru. He kind of slapped at the ground in a sloppy way, then stood up into Chiyomaru with his hands and arms loose in the air. Chiyomaru happily pulled him to the ground, hiki-otoshi.

M9 Shohozan (9-5) vs. M14 Abi (9-5)
Here were two live wires for you. Abi was the genki'er, and it brought him a win. Lots of face slapping going on, but then Shohozan pulled the dosie-do, turning away for no reason and then pretending to try to recover by turning all the way around 360. Abi was all over him, a smothering, and Shohozan throughout did little but fend off Abi's hand slaps in a desultory sort of way. Abi, on the other hand, was really into it, and out went Shohozan, oshi-dashi.

M11 Daishomaru (6-8) vs. M7 Chiyonokuni (6-8)
Two of my least favorites here, but they gave us an entertaining performance. Chiyonokuni tried to knock Daishomaru's head off at the tachi-ai, but Daishomaru had something else in mind than the pull for once: getting low and inside and on the body. Chiyonokuni kept trying to peel Daishomaru's melon off his neck, despite being in so close, but Daishomaru weathered the assault to drive a significantly off-balance, limbs-a'flyin' Chiyonokuni out of the ring, oshi-dashi, just as he himself tumbled messily to the dirt. Good enough for slop.

M7 Chiyoshoma (6-8) vs. M14 Yutakayama (8-6)
Ho dee do, here we go, going along, la dee da. Chiyoshoma gave one neck push and made lots of grimaces, but he basically let Yutakayama lay his body all over him, grab him tight, and remove him from the ring yori-kiri. Lemon pie.

M4 Shodai (7-7) vs. M12 Kagayaki (8-6)
This was very similar to the previous bout, though it may have been Shodai's incompetence rather than compliance that led to Shodai getting thoroughly destroyed by Kagayaki. Kagayaki just kept burrowing aggressively away between Shodai's hands, trying to get his own arms in there and then spread them across the body for moro-zashi. After some honest struggling that is exactly what he did. Nice yori-kiri win for Fried Mosquito.

M5 Endo (9-5) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (13-1)
I really wanted Tochinoshin to finish it off 14-1--not just a yusho, but a dominant yusho record. I was also aware that modesty might require a 13-2, with a courtesy deferral to the popular Endo. So I had some trepidation for this one. Endo is not incapable of beating Tochinoshin: can happen on the right day under the right circumstances. But by rights this is a match-up where Tochinoshin should utterly dominate the underpowered Endo: they have similar classic sumo styles, but Tochinoshin's strength and size are clearly superior. It is, on paper, a mismatch. It was a great fight. Endo absolutely gave it his all, and showed his skill. Tochinoshin also was all in, wanting that 14. From the beginning, Tochinoshin couldn't quite get what he wanted: Endo was bent over far enough and kept his butt back far enough that Tochinoshin never got the belt. Endo, however, had reached in far enough off of Tochinoshin's very hard tachi-ai and follow-up aggression that Endo did have a belt grip. So Tochinoshin chose to work instead with Endo's arms: he held one up with his left arm on the outside, and wrenched on the armpit and shoulder on the inside on the other side. As a result of not having a real grip, though, Tochinoshin was vulnerable to getting slung this way and that by the better positioned Endo, and Endo took full advantage of this to have Tochinoshin in danger more than once. However, Tochinoshin was just too strong, and too skilled, and too big: he recovered consistently, advanced when he could, and bulled Endo out on main strength and through focus, oshi-dashi. This bout was, for me, emblematic of Tochinoshin's whole tournament: he has been better than his opponents, but not by leaps and bounds. Just by enough. He's had to earn it. Quality guys with solid technique like Takarafuji and Endo have been able to challenge him. But Tochinoshin is also a quality guy with solid technique, and loads of muscle and heaps of size on top of that to put him over the edge. What a tournament for him, showing what can be done with a thin natural advantage when you apply that advantage with care and force every time out. The law of averages says he should have dropped a couple of these. He didn't. That shows a true competitor on top of his game.

M3 Chiyotairyu (7-7) vs. M13 Daieisho (9-5)
Match-up of the two best Japanese linear aggressors in the division, But in any honest fight a mismatch on those terms in favor of the more explosive power of Chiyotairyu. And so it went. Daieisho was driven backwards, Chiyotairyu marched forwards, and the kisser-smashing end to this oshi-dashi dismemberment looked very good for winner Chiyotairyu.

M6 Takarafuji (7-7) vs. M2 Kotoshogiku (7-7)
As I said, I'm not convinced that a kachi-koshi is really that important as long as it isn't dropping you out of a division or the sanyaku or such, and neither of these guys had much to lose or gain by one win or loss more. So, I was worried it would be pure sempai deferment in favor of Kotoshogiku. Fortunately, that wasn't the way it happened. These guys went chest to chest in a long one, and there were moments of danger for both. Belts got to unraveling, legs were flung in the arm in some nice moments of balance to prevent defeat at the edge. In the end, relative youth and Quality were probably the deciding factors here: Takarafuji finally put in the successful effort on a last yori-kiri force out charge. I'll take it, and as long as Kotoshogiku fights like he did this tournament, he's welcome to hang around as long as he wants.

M2 Yoshikaze (4-10) vs. M6 Ikioi (3-11)
Ikioi looks a bit like Takamisakari sometimes with the exaggerated two-fisted sudden bounce off the clay at the tachi-ai. Then, as they were trying to get in low on each other, Yoshikaze made the mistake of a brief head pull, and Ikioi capitalized. He got hold of Yoshikaze from under the arm and leveraged him up and over, spinning him along the edge, with a nifty kote-nage. Hence both finish 4-11. Watch for a big tournament from Yoshikaze from the mid-ranks next time. Ikioi? That's been his pattern too, but he was supposed to do that THIS tournament. Time will tell. I'm not sold right now.

M8 Kaisei (8-6) vs. M1 Ichinojo (9-5)
Battle of the Thunder Gods. Much as I like Kaisei, between these two giants, Ichinojo is just better. While he's often sloppy and lethargic, he does have the ability to pull quick moves and use his arms powerfully, whereas Kaisei pretty much just relies on his body. The key in this one was that when Ichinojo already had a solid overhand grip that he would use to win, Kaisei was still fishing around for an inside grip. He eventually got it, but was too late; Ichinojo blubbered him out, yori-kiri, with superior size, strength, and skill. This was a very good tournament for Ichinojo, but he wants the tournament Tochinoshin just had. He won't get it unless he builds more fire--and longer career equity.

M1 Hokutofuji (4-10) vs. M10 Aminishiki (2-12)
Oh Aminishiki, you old thing. He did something I don't recall seeing: put one fist in front of the white line rather than behind. The gyoji had to make him move it back. On the tachi-ai he still had it right on the line, and with the other fist he clearly touched down in front of the line. He then made mincemeat of young Hokutofuji: one glancing upwards face-contact at the tachi-ai, then a wicked and very effective head pull for the hataki-komi win as Hokutofuji stumbled and danced out like a drunk getting electrocuted. On the one hand it is hard to believe Hokutofuji could be so foolish as to not guard against something like this. On the other hand no one but Takekaze is better at executing the pull than Aminishiki, and it was a good one. Ah, well.

K Takakeisho (5-9) vs. M4 Arawashi (7-7)
Interesting opening move by Arawashi: he hoisted one fist hard into the gut of Takakeisho as if he was trying to punch him in the groin. He was actually just trying to get the "mae-mawashi" frontal belt grip. He got it, and used his wiry strength to quickly win with it, yori-kiri.

M5 Okinoumi (5-9) vs. S Tamawashi (5-9)
Ah, Tamawashi. With nothing to lose or gain for either wrestler here, Tamawashi went for the gold. Kept those two hands to the face and grabbed hold of Okinoumi's throat often. I give credit to Okinoumi for not immediately caving in; he mawari-komu'ed (danced along the edge) twice to save himself. But give Tamawashi proper credit too for repeatedly squaring back up. The final throat-crusher was a wicked one, and the final oshi-dashi painful looking. Look around the banzuke for Tochinoshin-type "deserves a shot" candidates, and this is clearly next up on that list. Hope he gets it, doubt he will.

S Mitakeumi (8-6) vs. O Takayasu (11-3)
So where does Mitakeumi's Ozeki run stand given yesterday's loss to Goeido? Back to the drawing board, and on pause until a possible re-start in March. It's dead. In the end, on balance this tournament he's looked just liked he's looked for a year now: capable of winning 8 or 9, but not more. And "more" is going to be necessary for any real Ozeki run. There is no question he blew it here; five losses in a row after a 7-0 start was witheringly bad, especially the last three: Arawashi, Shodai, Okinoumi. So, in a way, today's match didn't matter at all: this tournament was already done for him. On the other hand, beating the runner-up on the last day would have been a good shot of confidence: if Mitakeumi wants to be an Ozeki, he has to have some emphatic wins over actual Ozeki from time to time. It was not to be. Takayasu stood him up in humiliating fashion at the tachi-ai. Mitakeumi did recover to get into a body-grips battle and push Takayasu to where he had one foot on the straw, but Takayasu easily turned the momentum around on him, then reversed directions once more for as academic looking an uwate-nage overhand throw as you'll ever get. It just looked way too easy for the Ozeki here. In the end, Mitakeumi gets credit for a thoroughly pedestrian Sekiwake performance and nothing more. I do think he will put together a legitimate Ozeki run this year, maybe starting as early as March, but Try #1 went in the chipper-shredder this second tournament week.

Y Kakuryu (10-4) vs. O Goeido (8-6)
I don't buy it that Kakuryu lost the last four days on purpose. Maybe, or maybe one or two of them. But I just haven't seen it in his sumo. My personal rule is that if it looks like the bout was thrown, I say it. If it doesn't look like it was thrown, I try not to speculate that it was, no matter how uneven the skill levels, no matter how politically expedient a fixed outcome would appear to be in certain cases: if I don't see it, it isn't fair for me call it. And I haven't seen it with Kakuryu. Yeah, he's looked weak. Yeah, he's done some pulling, which is his traditional weak point (or, if you believe he essentially always controls his own bouts except against, say, Hakuho or Harumafuji, his mukiryoku strategy). But mostly he's just looked like he hasn't had much and has gotten beaten. I can't say he threw those matches, because I didn't see it: he just looked straight up beatable and dispirited. Today's win was a perfect example of why the four losses may have been largely legitimate: Goeido, who is a terrible Ozeki, got Kakuryu going backwards as easily as anyone else, as if Kakuryu were a hospital lunch cart on wheels on a freshly varnished hospital ward corridor floor. But Kakuryu wasn't planning to lose: he proved that by having the presence of mind to turn on out of there and use what grip he had on Goeido to dump him deftly to the dirt, uwate-nage. Yeah, he looked bad overall here. But I don't think he wanted to be going backwards. He wanted to win--and he did. He just couldn't do it very well. This looks to me like the best he has at this particular moment. He's no Hakuho, and never has been, and for whatever reason, he's been pathetically un-dominating this week. This match finished wrapped that narrative up: Kakuryu won going backwards.

As for all of us, forward! As the broadcast finished up, they played a highlight reel of Tochinoshin's tournament, set to a cheesy guitar-wanker instrumental. Yes, indeed. Yes indeed.

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Day 14 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
At the start of week 2, this basho was on the fast track to becoming a big sleeper, but Harvye and I both seem to be on the same page in regards to just how compelling this tournament has been the last few days. I think everyone's in agreement over the excitement in recent days, but we have to remember two key points: none of the excitement is due to extraordinary sumo, and nothing happens until the Mongolian Yokozuna start intentionally losing. The Temporary Storyteller Kakuryu was.

There are a lot of different angles to cover today, but first let me comment just a bit more on the Kasugano-beya incident. As the story has played out the last two days, few new details have come to light. The oyakata was wrong not to seek proper medical attention for his prodigy, but he did report the matter sufficiently to the Association. As the media has dug into the details a bit, it turns out that the head of the Crisis Management Committee back in 2014 when Kasugano-oyakata reported the incident was none other than Takanohana. I'm pretty sure that Takanohana was the one who leaked the news to the press because the only other oyakata who was briefed on the situation was Kitanoumi, and he's been pushing up daisies for a few years now. If in fact Takanohana was the one behind this, he's become an even bigger snake in the grass within the Association.

A lot of media outlets are speculating that the story was released intentionally prior to the elections coming up next month for members of the board. I don't know yet if Kasugano-oyakata was one of the lucky two chosen by his ichimon, but Takanohana made his intentions clear years ago when he first upset the election process in an attempt to force his way onto the board of directors. The dude covets the title of commissioner, and it will be interesting to see if he ever gets it in light of his recent actions.

Despite that small cloud hanging over the Kasugano-beya, the success of Tochinoshin this basho has completely overshadowed it, and thanks to Kakuryu's intentionally dropping three bouts in a row, Tochinoshin entered Day 14 two bouts ahead of the Yokozuna and Takayasu. His yusho was all but a given at the start of the day, and I think NHK has been playing it perfectly in terms of keeping the fans interested.

I go back to Day 1 when Mainoumi was sitting in the mukou-joumen chair during the broadcast, and he was asked about what kind of year in sumo he through it would be. He said that he thought the Yokozuna would struggle and that 2018 would be a year for the up-and-comers. To parse that just a bit, the Mongolian Yokozuna are going to continue to cover for Kisenosato's ineptness by pretending to struggle themselves, and the Association is already working hard to fill the elite ranks of the banzuke with young, Japanese rikishi.

Allowing Tochinoshin to get to this point sets the precedent that it is still possible for a hira-maku rikishi to take the yusho. Tochinoshin hasn't been ranked in the sanyaku for an entire year, and just look at the rikishi who have consistently been ranked above him in Mitakeumi, Onosho, Takakeisho, and Hokutofuji. Then of course you have the two faux-zeki who aren't worthy to hold Tochinoshin's jock, and you can see what a joke the banzuke has become. For at least the last six months, I think the rikishi whose sumo we've been praising the most has been Tochinoshin's, so while it is no surprise to see him in this situation, it is a surprise that he didn't feel obligated to throw any of his bouts this basho.

With that in mind, let's get right to the M3 Tochinoshin bout, which came right after the intermission as his opponent was M9 Shohozan. This was one of the better bouts of sumo all basho because you could tell both parties wanted to win it badly. One of the major disappointments the last few years is that rikishi have had nothing to fight for. I know that sounds weird to say, but there's been about as much fire in sumo these days as an 80 year-old dude whose subscription of Viagra has run out.

Shohozan came out firing his tsuppari well keeping Tochinoshin away from the belt, but the thrusts weren't strong enough to put Shin in any trouble, and the Georgian actually responded well with tough tsuppari of his own. A few seconds in, Tochinoshin attempted to reach for the belt with his left, but Shohozan fought that off and eventually moved quickly to his right going for a quick swipe of Tochinoshin's left side. The hiki attempt barely connected, and it only allowed Tochinoshin to finally get inside with his left hand, and before he could even grab the outer right, he bodied Shohozan back and across without argument.  And just like that, Tochinoshin takes the improbable yusho. Improbable not because he doesn't have sweet game, but improbable because he wasn't compelled to throw any bouts in favor of the Japanese rikishi.

The crowd erupted in appreciation, and it really was a nice moment to watch. A cool aspect of having Tochinoshin take the yusho from this position on the banzuke is that he leaves the Kokugikan prior to the end of the broadcast. The last few days they've been showing him exiting the building to quite a bit of fanfare, and today was no different. It was really a fun scene to watch because we rarely get to see it.

This was the first yusho from a hira-maku rikishi since Kyokutenho backed his way into it at the 2012 Natsu basho. Before that tournament, you have to go all the way back to the 2001 Aki basho when Kotomitsuki accomplished the feat from the M2 rank. Up to this point, a Maegashira rikishi has only taken the yusho eight times, and when they occur, it often happens in flurries, so don't be surprised to see more rikishi yusho from outside of the Yokozuna and Ozeki ranks this year.

With the win, Tochinoshin moves to an insurmountable 13-1 while Shohozan gave it a great effort today finishing 9-5.

Due to time constraints, I'm just going to go in chronological order from here, so up next was M3 Chiyotairyu taking on M2 Yoshikaze. Chiyotairyu came out hard firing a few effective slaps into Yoshikaze's torso standing him upright, and then just like that he went for a quick pull that spilled the Monster Drink all over the dohyo in short order. Don't look now but Chiyotairyu is now 7-7 after that 0-5 start, and if they'd just turn this guy lose and let him go all out every day, he could become another Tochinoshin story. Of the Japanese rikishi on the banzuke, Chiyotairyu has the most tools, and that's not the first time I've said that. Yoshikaze falls to 4-10 after the loss.

M14 Abi's had plenty of bouts thrown his way this basho, so it was only fitting that he donate to M2 Kotoshogiku's cause today. From the tachi-ai, the kid proactively fired a few thrusts the Geeku's way before going for a quick pull, and by the time Kotoshogiku recovered, Abi had the left inside and right outer grip with Kotoshogiku half a step from the edge. Instead of going for the force-out kill, Abi voluntarily released the outer grip and went for a senseless pull that allowed Kotoshogiku back into the bout, and from there, the former Ozeki easily forced Abi across without argument. Easy yaocho call here, and it's bouts like this that ruin the authenticity of the two previous contests. Abi gracefully falls to 9-5 while Kotoshogiku still has life at 7-7.

M1 Ichinojo grabbed M6 Takarafuji around the left arm in ko-te fashion, and the two tussled a bit from there before ending up in migi-yotsu. After a few seconds of testing the waters, Ichinojo quickly moved to his right scoring on an easy dashi-nage throw with the inside right hand. Once again, here was the dockworker slinging guys around the ring as if they were a sack of potatoes. At 9-5, Ichinojo guarantees himself a seat in the sanyaku for next basho, and while I want to say 'how nice will it be to see Tochinoshin and Ichinojo ranked that high?', I doubt they're going to have free rein. Takarafuji falls to 7-7 with the loss.

Komusubi Takakeisho struck M4 Shodai well at the tachi-ai and knocked his foe back once, twice, three times a lady with a nice tsuppari attack. Shodai could do nothing here in the bout that maybe lasted three seconds. Takakeisho improves to 5-9 with the win and shows that he's higher up the real banzuke than Shodai. At 7-7, what are the chances that Shodai gets a gift tomorrow?

With Sekiwake Tamawashi already at make-koshi, why not give M4 Arawashi a bit of help? Arawashi jumped the gun a bit at the tachi-ai, but the let it go anyway, and before Arawashi could grab a grip of the belt, Tamawashi shoved him back. The two exchanged brief tsuppari from there before Arawashi moved left going for a weak swipe at Tamawashi's right biceps area, but praise the Lord as Tamawashi just ran himself out of the ring. Arawashi moves to 7-7 with the gift while Tamawashi falls to 5-9.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi grabbed Ozeki Goeido around the left shoulder and just went for a meager pull, and that enabled the Ozeki to charge straight into his foe and drive him back as if he weren't even standing there. Trust me, Goeido's not that good, and Mitakeumi was mukiryoku here, but it all looked believable to the sheep, so no harm no foul as both rikishi conveniently end the day at 8-6.

In the day's final affair, Yokozuna Kakuryu continued his intentional mukiryoku ways by keeping his feet aligned at the tachi-ai which enabled Ozeki Takayasu to drive him back quickly with a series of pushes. Near the edge, Kakuryu moved right going for a lame pull, but the movement was good enough to give him the left arm to the inside, but instead of amounting a yori charge, he went for that important move that they always teach you in keiko, which is to do a pointless 360 in the middle of the ring in order to fool your opponent. The funny thing was, Takayasu was looking for a pull, and so Kakuryu complied by going for weak pulls himself with his hands high and wide, and finally Takayasu got the left inside and was able to body the Yokozuna back and out. Kakuryu falls to his fourth intentional loss in as many days leaving him at 10-4 while Takayasu improves to 11-3.

Of course the media is talking about how weak Kakuryu is mentally, but that's just spin to cover for the yaocho. Exactly what would Kakuryu be afraid of?? He started the basho 10-0 that included wins over Tochinoshin, Ichinojo, and Chiyotairyu. Based on actual sumo we see in the ring, what would make him quake in his boots at the prospect of fighting guys like Mitakeumi and Endoh? It's just the way sumo is these days, and the Mongolian may as well make it five for five tomorrow by being a fraidy cat against Goeido.

That's a wrap for me this basho, and hopefully I have enough ammo in reserves for a post-basho report.
In the meantime, Harvye mops the floor for ya'll tomorrow.

Day 13 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Whoa. Just two days ago the tournament was looking like a runaway yawner in favor of Yokozuna Kakuryu. Now all of the sudden heaven and earth are upside down and it is a tense cliffhanger to see if Tochinoshin can hold on to a narrow lead and pull out a stunner. Similar to what Mike said yesterday, I have to admit this is totally, totally exciting. Mike also mentioned in his crackerjack Day 9 report that it seems like "order 66" has been put in place this tournament: some of the rikishi who we're not used to seeing shine are doing so. Ichinojo's disdainful tossing down of Yoshikaze backwards by the neck yesterday was an indelible moment that typifies this tournament's personality.

So too have Tochinoshin's moments shone. I'm not with Mike in thinking that Tochinoshin can beat his Japanese counterparts easily--it has been hard work, and he has barely managed it. That has made the matches all the more compelling, and I have more and more of a sense that my Day 6 fantasy of him being given a chance to see if he can do it may be what is really going on. He struggled hard and just barely beat Goeido and Takayasu. Takarafuji put him off his game by not letting him get inside, and was within a hair's breadth of beating him. In all three of those bouts, Tochinoshin worked like a steam engine, and one of the things it has been most enjoyable to watch is how clearly pumped up, proud, and only just containing his excitement Tochinoshin has been after his bouts. This tournament is something special for him, and probably a once in a career moment--think about what that must mean. He knows this, and has me on tenterhooks.

Unfortunately, I do agree with Mike that this story started to upend itself somewhat yesterday, as Tamawashi gave Tochinoshin the bout. Why? Who knows. In the Ving Rhames / Bruce Willis--esque scenario I gave you on Day 6, Tochinoshin's "getting his chance" was to end in an ultimate betrayal: if it worked out, he wouldn't be allowed to finish it. But what I didn't consider was the opposite: possibility: that if it worked out, his heya and the others might get together and arrange to let him finish it off after all. "Well, comrades, my boy has made it this far. Can I make it worth your while to wrap this up?"  It's possible that is the actual phone call that was made. This happens all the time in sumo. One of my most disheartening tournaments was Terunofuji's yusho:  it was clear he had the chops to win it on his own--but instead the last few days they just gave it to him. Unnecessary. Sad.

Anyway, loving it though I am, I have no idea what is actually going on with the narrative building this time. We have to check out the sumo in the ring to get a fix on part of that. But Mike is almost certainly right that the timing of the shade being thrown on Kasugano stable--Tochinoshin's heya--is suspicious. He may yet win this thing. Or his oyakata may yet make that call to let him be Fredo in a boat. Or any number of things. But somebody doesn't like it, for sure, and that just adds to the drama.

This tournament's emotional center clearly belongs to Tochinoshin at this point, win or lose, so let's start with his bout and the two guys with a chance to catch him (don't count Takayasu out). Here we go.


M3 Tochinoshin (11-1) vs. M1 Ichinojo (8-4)
This was a great match-up to play such a prominent part in this narrative; as I mentioned, Ichinojo being unleashed has been an exciting undercurrent in this tournament, and with what Ichinojo did in destroying Yoshikaze providing the lead up to this one, this felt electric. Tochinoshin was focusing so hard before the match it looked like he was going to sprain his forehead muscles. They surged in hard chest to chest on an honest, knocking tachi-ai, but Tochinoshin looked to be in trouble: Ichinojo is one big, long limbed Mongolith, and immediately parleyed the close contact into outside and inside grips. You do not want him leaning on you. However, Tochinoshin, with slightly more effort but just as effectively, got the same grips, and a test of his strength was on from there. He immediately bodied his foe up and moved his de-ashi forward for a force out bid, and lo and behold, it moved The Iron Blob of Gravity Grease back. Stood up that way, one of Ichinojo's grips popped off. Tochinoshin forced Ichinojo to the straw and belly humped him pretty vigorously--Ichinojo is at his best when standing on the bales and using his weight to press himself back in, so this was smart and needed. And if one guy was going to legitimately remove Ichinojo in a belt-to-belt test of yori-kiri power, it would be Tochinoshin. He did it. This was pretty straightforward, and I would have liked Ichinojo to show a little more guile and oomph, but this was another rock solid performance for Tochinoshin.

M4 Arawashi (6-6) vs. O Takayasu (9-3)
Great match for Takayasu here. He looked Chiyotairyu-esque, blowing Arawashi off the lines with a thundering tachi-ai, pasting him back with two or three hard hits right to the solar plexus, and curling his lip in disdain after watching Arawashi disappear into the crowd like a lead ingot dropped into a drawer full of fluffed velvet. It was ruled tsuki-dashi, and well earned. Takayasu stays alive, though just barely; Tochinoshin would have to lose both days and Kakuryu at least once and Takayasu would have to win both to get him into a playoff, best case scenario.

Y Kakuryu (10-2) vs. S Mitakeumi (7-5)
This was also an interesting match up to play such a prominent shine-up in this tournament. Last time I wrote, on Day 8, I confidently said this tournament was down to Kakuryu vs. Mitakeumi, period. Now look where we are: Mitakeumi has literally done nothing but lose since, and his Ozeki run is in tatters unless he wins out. Hence, this match wasn't just about whether Tochinoshin could hold his lead; it was about whether Mitakeumi's failure would be complete. It would not. He very, very easily knocked Kakuryu upright with his usual big aggression, bending him back with a gnarly hand to the chin, and drove him summarily out, oshi-dashi. And for the third straight day, the Invisible Yokozuna, Kakuryu, simply disappeared: looking glum and colorless, he had to shoulder random interlopers out of the way to get up the hana-michi while purple cushions plapped down ignominiously around him. He's got all the charisma of a hibernating mole, and the limelight is shrinking him, shrinking him, shrinking him.

Hard to believe it's still just Friday night and Tochinoshin is one win over Shohozan of all people away from clinching the yusho. I can't believe I just typed those words. Amazing.


M12 Sokokurai (4-8) vs. M14 Yutakayama (7-5)
On the one hand, Yutakayama had old It's Dark There (Sokokurai) going backwards. And his up-swiping thrusts looked mighty enough. But if you watched Sokokurai, his feet couldn't have been farther apart, and he never lost focus: he was the one in control. Indeed, just as Yutakayama thought he was sealing his victory, it was Sokokurai who was springing the trap: he stepped to the side and neatly pressed Yutakayama into the dirt like a late autumn leaf into the mud, hiki-otoshi.

M15 Ishiura (6-6) vs. M11 Daishomaru (6-6)
I have little patience for Daishomaru, and little use for Ishiura. And they had little respect for this match. Daishomaru stood around and let himself be driven out by Ishiura, ruled yori-kiri. Daishomaru didn't even try to pull him, just leaned on him a couple of times. If you can get driven out like this by Ishiura, it ain't right.

M11 Kotoyuki (6-6) vs. M17 Daiamami (6-6)
In my long tradition of deliberately misreading the kanji in sumo names, I'm calling Daiamami "Big Sweety." He must have been sweet on Kotoyuki, because he backed up and took a knee while Kotoyuki chased him. They ruled it "tsuki-taoshi," or thrust-over, a ridiculous kimari-te for this non-bout.

M10 Terunofuji (0-12) vs. M13 Takekaze (4-8)
Egad. Huge false start here by Terunofuji, and while he stood there looking confused and waiting for it to be called back, one paw curled in the air like a lame dog, Takekaze zoinged in for moro-zashi, stood him up, and yori-kiri'ed him out as if he were Yamamotoyama rather than a former champion. Is Terunofuji really going to go winless? And down to Juryo? This is really something, folks. But I don't know what this something is. He should retire. Seriously. This is not worth it.

M16 Asanoyama (7-5) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (7-5)
Chiyomaru's distended belly looks like it is going to burst laterally and spew bile all over. A rubber water balloon stretched to its limit. However, he kept it intact during this match by not letting Asanoyama touch it: grabbed Asanoyama by the face on beat one, pulled him to the pebbles on beat two, hiki-otoshi. Don't you touch my belly! This guy has some focused inner chi; he may not always win pretty, but he often wins calmly and thoroughly.

M9 Shohozan (8-4) vs. M13 Daieisho (8-4)
Sigh. Why do you do this to us, sumo? For whatever reason, apparently Shohozan had to win this one. Perhaps because he is the lame choice they have for Tochinoshin on his big Saturday? So, even though Daieisho kind of had overwhelming force going on and was forcing Shohozan back and bucking him up with his belly, at that point Daieisho bent himself over backwards and fell out of there onto the clay, "sukui-nage." I'm getting tired of these fake kimari-te. Shohozan didn't have to do much here but wait for things to happen.

M14 Abi (8-4) vs. M8 Kaisei (8-4)
Among the newish type guys, Ryuden made a terrible first impression but has since gotten it together and looked quite good the last few days. Returnee Yutakayama has made an indifferent impression at best and that has held. But Abi, who seemed barely there the first few days, increasingly strikes me as very genki. Now, that doesn't mean he's any good, but he's active and fights hard out there, and has a bit of the live wire on him. Something like an incipient poor man's Yoshikaze. Let's see how he goes. Unfortunately the match was another groaner, with Kaisei standing there and waiting for Abi to do whatever he wanted with him. Abi chose a few neck thrusts, a few pulls, then evasion, getting around to Kaisei's side and ushering him out with one hand on the belt and one hand on a meaty teat to steady himself, okuri-dashi. There was nothing going on here.

M15 Nishikigi (6-6) vs. M7 Chiyonokuni (4-8)
Neither of these guys are likely to ever amount to much more than they are right now: M15 and M7. They may go up and down a little, but they've established their level. Works fine for Chiyonokuni, as he's safely above Juryo, but not so much for Nishikigi--he'll have to go through his career with the fear of Juryo ever lurking just at his back. They played to their levels. Chiyonokuni thoroughly worked Nishikigi, standing him up with strong hands to the face, softening him further with some tsuppari, then stepping deftly to the side for the emphatic hiki-otoshi. This displayed his skill set very well. How do you like it? This is what you get at M7, and I suppose that's fine. If I were him I'd make a career out of it too.

M7 Chiyoshoma (6-6) vs. M12 Kagayaki (7-5)
What a sloppy mess. This looked to me like Chiyoshoma giving about 75% so that he would surely be beaten and Kagayaki getting confused by not having something firm to push against. Chiyoshoma was on him and off him like a yo-yo made of springy pork fat, and Kagayaki dutifully chased him around, trying to get on him and pressure him. Eventually, yo-yo ma stepped out, having let his string roll out too long. Oshi-dashi.

M10 Aminishiki (1-11) vs. M6 Ikioi (2-10)
I am enjoying Aminishiki's tournament, but only from a train wreck perspective, or a "here's what happens when you have absolutely nothing" perspective. One wants to say, "I respect you for trying." But he's so mercilessly outclassed right now it seems pointless. But hey! Who has the worst record in the tournament of those who have appeared each day? That would be Ikioi, coming in with a stunning 2-10. A lot of times we wait years for guys to finally put it together, then are surprised when instead they fall apart instead. We refuse to believe our eyes, pick them in Fantasy Sumo the next time around, thinking they are sure to rebound, and watch them stink it up again and disappear to Juryo. Huh. Maybe this is the trajectory Ikioi is taking? I know he is popular, but it is delusional to think he will put it together: he's shown no signs of that, and been trying too long now. These guys age hard and fast, and Ikioi may be due for his confidence-breaking year where he becomes just another, say, "What Ever Happened To You, Myogiryu?" So this was Popular Train wreck vs. Popular Developing Train wreck. They couldn't even get it together at the tachi-ai; Aminishiki was repeatedly feinting and gun-shy. Planning some trick, no doubt: he had no other way out. In the end it worked: the false start he was trying to pull happened, and was allowed by the gyoji. Aminishiki took advantage of the extra split second it gained him to make his big-time henka-and-head-pull work; it was a good one, done by one of the best and most experienced, and down went Ikioi, hataki-komi, though he should have known better and probably did. There was some sad comedy in seeing him fall for it despite it all. As for Aminishiki, think about it: if the only way you can win is by messing with the tachi-ai timing and then pulling the biggest henka you can and hoping for a miracle against an opponent who knows it is coming, you really, really should retire. He probably won't, though; at 2-11 from M10 he's going to get two months to rest up his knees before likely settling in for a good meal of buzzard wins down in mid-Juryo.

M6 Takarafuji (7-5) vs. M16 Ryuden (8-4)
As I mentioned, Ryuden has overcome his awful first few days to put his confidence together and show pretty well. He looked about right in this match against the now desultory presence of Takarafuji, who may go the way of Ikioi this year. This was a very good-looking bout, though. Takarafuji got Ryuden good a few moments in with a big long overhand right on the belt, but Ryuden stayed square and low and eventually broke that grip off. After this Takarafuji was in trouble; he tried to wait it out by locking his arms together with Ryuden's hands trapped underneath them and against Takarafuji's body, pinching in, but Ryuden's youth and motor was going to win that--the opening Takarafuji wanted never came as Ryuden methodically drove him out, yori-kiri. Takarafuji is pretty high above Ryuden in experience, rank, and sempai-hood, so it wouldn't surprise me if this was a "I'll give 90% and let's see what you can do with me, kid," but either way they sure made it look good.

M15 Endo (7-5) vs. M2 Kotoshogiku (6-6)
You know, there was a time when this site loved Endo and was on his bandwagon. He's too small and doesn't have enough power, but this tournament he's shown why even Sumotalk trumpeted him: the content of his sumo can be pretty damn great. I've come to really respect him; while bigger, more physical wrestlers often make him look silly, he rarely goes cheap: Endo goes forward, goes for the belt, and usually demonstrates sound sumo basics. As for Kotoshogiku, to my eye he's fought really hard this tournament and feels fresher than he has in years. You know you're going to get a lot of nonsense bouts with both of them, often through no fault of their own, but they've showed well in Hatsu and I'll take what I can get. This was kind of a wild one. As often happens when I've just praised a guy, it was shown that there are always two sides to a coin: "forward-moving Endo" went for a big ‘ol pull. Kotoshogiku got hold of his right arm pretty good, though, and from there it was on, with Kotoshogiku shayking The Little Shynyng Man up and down all over the ring like Eusa in Riddley Walker, and Endo trying to square him back up and get some pressure going. Endo's limber athleticism worked well for him here, as he survived the tussle and did eventually find a calmer moment to drive Piggly Wiggly (Kotoshogiku) out, yori-kiri.

M1 Hokutofuji (3-9) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (4-8)
Hokutofuji's had a terrible tournament, and Yoshikaze is just kind of there this time too. Hokutofuji worked on him, elbows down, palms up, and got an oshi-dashi out of it. Let's move along.

K Takakeisho (4-8) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (5-7)
Takakeisho is another guy having a bad tournament. Chiyotairyu, on the other hand, though he has only one more win than Takakeisho, has been interesting in ways Takakeisho hasn't. You just have the feeling everyday he could destroy somebody: he perks your attention up in a way other wrestlers don't. Takakeisho has the ability to hit pretty hard, and could have the same chops as Chiyotairyu someday if he puts it together and gets more aggressively confident, but for this tournament Chiyotairyu has been your man out of these two, no contest. Interestingly, he's one of the possible choices (along with Endo and Kaisei) being predicted to be paired up with Tochinoshin on the last day. Out of those three, I'd take him. He brought his "A" game today: it was one of his Awesome Destructions. Takakeisho did something weird at the tachi-ai, putting both hands against him at arm's length to try to neutralize his big tachi-ai. Nothing doing: Chiyotairyu batted the arms away and thoroughly overwhelmed Takakeisho, blasting him out of the ring hard at the end and causing him to topple at speed into the crowd like a bag of bricks falling from a broken crane, oshi-taoshi. Good grief.

M4 Shodai (7-5) vs. S Tamawashi (4-8)
Tamawashi deserves the kind of tournament Tochinoshin is getting, but for whatever reason isn't getting one. He's just been for show this time around. He let Shodai drive him back to the edge with moro-zashi, but when Shodai couldn't quite get him out and stupidly squandered it with a pull, Tamawashi evidently thought, "enough already:" from there he completely wrecked Shodai with his trademark hard hands to the face, and roughly obliterated him out with some final body blows, oshi-dashi. Yes, that's about right.

O Goeido (6-6) vs. M5 Okinoumi (4-8)
The problem with putting leaderboard matches at the top is that leaves you with Goeido at the end. Yes, believe it or not, he is still an Ozeki. Oh well. When I'm not busy being frustrated by him he's sometimes good for a little comedy. Today was fine, though. He just latched on to Okinoumi's body and forced him out, yori-kiri. Like, whatever man.

Looksee daisy: I went over my page limit (you can't see it, but I have one I set myself). It shows how Tochinoshin's push has spiced the whole deal up: everything just feels a little more interesting.

Tomorrow Mike goes all Chiyotairyu on us and oshi-taoshi's the bouts over backwards.

Day 12 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
As I scanned the headlines the morning of Day 12, I saw a new story pop up from out of nowhere that has now been branded as the Kasugano-beya Assault Incident. Two variety shows that are broadcast in the AM on Japanese television both ran with a story that provided details on an assault that occurred at the Kasugano-beya back in September, 2014. Only a few details have been announced, but what has been reported so far is that an unnamed 23 year-old rikishi in the stable beat the face in of a 22 year-old rikishi in the stable, who has also been unnamed.

The victim of the crime sought medical attention on his own after the stable determined he didn't need to go to the hospital, and when the stable master found out about it, he blew up at the kid and called him selfish. The victim obviously retired from the stable and pressed charges against the 23 year-old rikishi, and the perpetrator of the assault was found guilty in a court of law and sentenced to three years of prison.  The decision from the court occurred last year in June, but this is the first time any of this information has come to light in the media.

The media is suggesting that Kasugano-oyakata (former Tochinowaka) covered up the incident, but the oyakata is quite vehement that he reported the incident to a committee that exists to handle such cases within the Association, and he also claims that he gave a report to Kitanoumi Rijicho, who was the commissioner at the time. The oyakata also said the he didn't go public with the incident to protect the privacy of the parties involved, and then the judgment in the courts occurred nearly two years after the incident, and by then both rikishi had been retired from sumo for nearly two years.

The first question that popped up in my mind when I saw the headlines was:  Who leaked the story?  And why all of a sudden now?  You have to realize that when these scandals come to light, the release of information is all orchestrated.  Why suddenly report on the Harumafuji incident at the end of Day 2 during the Kyushu basho?  Why not in the morning?

The gambling scandal more than half a decade ago and the yaocho scandal (check that, yaocho doesn't exist in sumo...my bad) were also timed releases, so the first question that popped up in my mind was why now?

Among the headlines surrounding the scandal, I noticed that several celebrities who appeared on the variety shows attempted to exonerate Takanohana from any wrong-doing in the Harumafuji scandal. They quipped, "Well, it's no wonder Takanohana went to the police himself. That Kasugano kid didn't have the support of his stable, so we don't blame Takanohana for trying to handle the Harumafuji assault on his own."

It's amazing how obtuse some people are. The problem wasn't that Takanohana filed a police report in Tottori. The problem was he lied to the Association when they asked him why they got a call from the police; he submitted a falsified medical report; and he refused to cooperate whatsoever when summoned continuously for about a month by the Association. He was stripped of his title as director and demoted two ranks down the oyakata banzuke because of the aforementioned reasons, not because he filed a police report without letting anyone know.

The reason I bring Takanohana up is because I thought it interesting how I read in multiple articles where multiple people said that Takanohana was a victim, and this just proves that he was justified in attempting to act alone. So...one of the first thoughts that popped up in my mind when I read the bevy of headlines the morning of Day 12 was:  Did Takanohana leak the information regarding Kasugano-oyakata in an attempt to exonerate himself?

We all know that Takanohana's dad was a former rikishi himself, but how many foreigners are aware that his mother was a popular celebrity as well?  She's too old now to get roles in major productions, so her common turf would be these celebrity variety shows. This is pure speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if Takanohana was behind the leak and planted the story with those variety shows as an attempt to clear his name. The celebrities who made the statements were all older, and I haven't heard of their names, but it's not as if I follow that crowd anyway.  My point is that when my mind first processed the articles, I took note that more than one person was trying to clear Takanohana's name.

A secondary thought that popped into my mind was:  is someone suddenly attacking the Kasugano-beya now because of Tochinoshin's success this basho??  Is someone ticked off because Tochinoshin hasn't been cooperating as he usually does?

Once again, I have to emphasize that all of this is pure speculation, but what isn't speculation is the following point:

Somebody within the Association leaked the Kasugano story for a reason.

I'm just curious who did it, why now, and what their motive was.

As for the incident itself, it's already been resolved in the Japan courts, but the media will demand closure somehow, and so look for Kasugano-oyakata to be formally punished by the Association. I believe the oyakata when he says that he did report the incident to the proper authorities within the Sumo Association, but he's guilty of not providing his rikishi the proper medical attention when he needed it. The media is saying that Kasugano-oyakata tried to cover up the story, and while he did likely report it to someone, he obviously didn't want the story to get out in the media, so yes, he did sacrifice the well-being of that 22 year-old kid in order to protect his reputation. It's just too bad that someone has to ruin Tochinoshin's run here in January when this information could have been leaked long ago or in the future.

With that in mind, let's turn our attention to the bouts, and kudos to NHK for NOT deciding to post the leaderboard down to four losses. As a result, this is where we stood at the start of the day:

10-1: Kakuryu, Tochinoshin
8-3: Takayasu, Daieisho

In light of the Kasugano scandal, let's shift gears today and actually focus first on the leaders going in chronological order.

Our first leader on the board was M13 Daieisho who needed to solve M8 Kaisei. Coming into the bout, there was no incentive for either side to resort to shenanigans. Daieisho already let it slip that he might be out of place taking the spotlight away from others, and Kaisei knew he could clobber his foe straight up if his intention was to win. From the tachi-ai, Daieisho offered some hesitant thrusts Kaisei's way, but it was only in an effort to keep Kaisei away from the belt. Ain't no way Daieisho wanted to go chest to chest, so he offered weak tsuppari and fished for a few pulls. Kaisei's seen this before, and so he was cautious in his approach and applied enough pressure to where Daieisho was finally forced to evade along the edge of the ring and go for a pull, and when he did, Kaisei caught him nicely with a few potent shoves that sent Daieisho packing. Both rikishi end the day at 8-4, and this is a perfect example of why you don't want the leaderboard to go to deep. As much as I like him, Daieisho's sumo this basho has been nothing special.

And now that I think about it, M3 Tochinoshin's sumo this basho hasn't been anything out of the ordinary either. The only difference this tournament is that he hasn't thrown any of his bouts yet. I think of all the guys the last six months to a year or so, we've praised Tochinoshin's sumo more than anyone. Well, we've praised his sumo when he's chosen to fight straight up, so the only surprising aspect to his sumo this time around is that he isn't throwing bouts. The result is a 10-1 start that saw him tied for the lead heading into the day.

Today's foe was the slippery Sekiwake Tamawashi, and Tamawashi actually won the tachi-ai catching Shin nicely with a right paw to the throat and a left hand pushing into Tochinoshin's side, but The Mawashi let him off the hook by refusing to add de-ashi to the attack, and so Tochinoshin was able to tsuppari his way back into the bout. Sort of.  As he did so, Tamawashi caught him with a swipe to the left shoulder that knocked Tochinoshin off balance a bit, but Tamawashi refused to take advantage again, and so with the Mongolian largely there for the taking, Tochinoshin assumed moro-zashi and easily forced Tamawashi back and across for the win. The last two seconds looked good for Tochinoshin, but Tamawashi ruled this bout up until that point.  Kinda weird to see someone go mukiryoku for Tochinoshin, but that's what happened here as Tamawashi (4-8) shows he's not going to stop the Private's run. As for Tochinoshin, he moved to 11-1 with the win keeping pace with Kakuryu in the loss column.

Next up on the leaderboard was Ozeki Takayasu facing fellow Ozeki Goeido, and Takayasu caught his counterpart nicely with dual kachi-age from the tachi-ai, and the move knocked Goeido upright with his feet perfectly aligned, so all it took from there was a nice oshi charge from Takayasu, and he had his foe driven back once, twice, three times a lady. Takayasu moves to 9-3 with the tsuki-dashi win while Goeido falls to a paltry 6-6.

The final bout of the day featured Yokozuna Kakuryu who was given the mighty M5 Endoh to do battle with today. Have things gotten so bad that they need to bring Endoh up to challenge the Yokozuna this late in the basho? Apparently so, but challenge he would!! (Play along, okay?) The best way to throw a bout is to keep your hands high and wide at the tachi-ai and then look for a pull, and that's exactly what Kakuryu did here coming with his right hand to the outside and his left hand up near Endoh's face, but the Yokozuna wasn't applying any pressure as he aligned his feet. Credit Endoh for not panicking, and when he saw the Yokozuna high and wide, he immediately went for an oshi attack as Kakuryu put both hands at the back of Endoh's head as if we he was going to pull. He applied slight pressure as he backed up to his right, but it wasn't enough to throw Endoh off balance and the M5 stayed square and easily pushed Kakuryu back and out for the Yokozuna's second straight loss. The positive note here is that Endoh took what was given, and he displayed some fine sumo as he moves to 7-5. The negative is that Kakuryu purposefully put Endoh in that position and let his opponent win for whatever reason. With the loss, Kakuryu now falls to 10-2 and puts Tochinoshin in sole possession of the lead with three days ago.

As the dust settled on the day, the leaderboard now looks a bit more tidy as follows:

11-1: Tochinoshin
10-2: Kakuryu
9-3: Takayasu

If sumo was straight up, I'd give you my predictions, but since it's not, let's just wait and see what tomorrow brings in terms of the yusho race.  Anything can still happen here, and don't count Takayasu out either.

In other bouts of interest, Sekiwake Mitakeumi has had this major problem in week 2. Namely, nobody is letting him win any more. Today against M5 Okinoumi, Mitakeumi was looking pull from the start, and he sorta had Okinoumi off balance from the tachi-ai as he pulled and moved left, but Okinoumi recovered well and used his length to follow Mitakeumi around half the ring and stiff-arm him out to his fifth straight loss. They ruled it tsuki-dashi, but more than an ass-kicking, this was horrible sumo on the part of Mitakeumi who now falls to 7-5. For his troubles, Okinoumi improves slightly to 4-8 with the win.

Komusubi Takakeisho and M2 Kotoshogiku both put their hands high at the tachi-ai looking to pull out of the gate, and with both sets of feet aligned on the dohyo, it provided for a pretty ugly start to the bout. After a few seconds, Takakeisho got his left arm up and under Kotoshogiku's right stink pit and seemingly had him dead to rights, but he wasn't driving with his feet letting the former Ozeki stay in the bout. From this position, Kotoshogiku escaped left clearly grabbing Takakeisho's mage in the process, and when the two hooked back up, it was in the hidari-yotsu position. Takakeisho maintained his mukiryoku attitude, however, and so the Geeku was able to body him back to the edge where he just rammed his belly into Takakeisho and then tripped him up with the right hand behind the left thigh in sweet watashi-komi fashion. Takakeisho hit the deck hard falling straight onto his back, and he's lucky that he was close enough to the edge to where his head didn't hit anything solid. They probably coulda called a mono-ii here and disqualified Kotoshogiku for hair pulling, but they didn't, so the Geeku moves to 6-6 with the win while Takakeisho falls to 4-8. Before we move on, Takakeisho was obviously mukiryoku here, but give Kotoshogiku credit for winning like that. I know Kisenosato couldn't do it.

M1 Ichinojo grabbed M2 Yoshikaze around the left arm in ko-te fashion while pushing into Cafe's torso with the left arm, and Ichinojo had his foe so upright that he just moved his left hand into choking position and shoved Yoshikaze clear outta the dohyo by the neck in one fell swoop. I haven't seen a move like that since Darth Vader roughed up that rebel spy in Episode 4 when he wouldn't give away the location of the stolen Death Star plans.  Ichinojo and Tochinoshin are like a couple of dock workers this basho just picking guys up and slinging them this way and that as if they didn't even exist. Ichinojo picks up kachi-koshi with the mauling at 8-4 while Yoshikaze certainly took his medicine here falling to 4-8.

M1 Hokutofuji put both hands high against M6 Ikioi ready to spring the pull trap at a moment's notice, and Ikioi just walked right into it with no attempt to thrust or get to the inside of his opponent. It took about two seconds before Hokutofuji darted right and felled his taller foe with a hiki-otoshi, and Ikioi gave no sign that he was trying to win this bout. Ugly all around as Hokutofuji moves to 3-9 while Ikioi is now 2-10.

M3 Chiyotairyu seemed a bit hesitant as he moved forward into M6 Takarafuji firing thrusts that were good enough to keep Takarafuji away from the belt, but Chiyotairyu couldn't help going for at least one pull. Fortunately for him, Takarafuji didn't make him pay, and despite giving up most of the dohyo, he repented quickly and began his thrust attack that bullied Takarafuji back across the ring and out as he tried to evade left. They ruled it tsuki-dashi because Chiyotairyu straight-armed his foe outta the dohyo, but it wasn't that impressive. A win is a win is a win, however, as Chiyotairyu now finds himself at 5-7 while Takarafuji falls to 7-5.

In a nice fake bout, M7 Chiyonokuni moved cautiously forward against M4 Arawashi firing his ineffective tsuppari, and Arawashi was more than happy to just methodically move backwards with his arms out wide feigning a move to get an arm to the inside, and about three seconds in when Kuni gave Arawashi a love tap on the left wrist, Arawashi just somersaulted forward in an exaggerated dive. Good grief. Kuni moves to 4-8 with the gift while Arawashi falls to 6-6.

Coming off of his nice win against Mitakeumi yesterday, M4 Shodai was proactive again today against M7 Chiyoshoma moving forward at the tachi-ai and fishing with the left arm for the inside while pushing nicely into Chiyoshoma's torso with the right. Chiyoshoma was more than happy to play along doing nothing at the tachi-ai except for standing straight up and absorbing Shodai's charge. As he retreated backwards, Chiyoshoma grabbed at Shodai's extended arm and just pulled him square into Chiyoshoma's own body guaranteeing the easy win, and while Chiyoshoma was obviously mukiryoku here, you still have to credit Shodai for moving forward and using measurable techniques in his sumo. What I mean by measurable are techniques that actually have names. How often do we see a Mitakeumi bout where there is a lot of action but nothing concretely describable only to see the Sekiwake win in the end?  Shodai's had two good days, and I'm happy to see him at 7-5.  As for Chiyoshoma, he's gladly playing along as he falls to 6-6.

With kachi-koshi on the line for the winner, M14 Abi henka'd to his left against M9 Chiyomaru, but it was as piss-poor of a henka as you care to see. Luckily for the rookie, Chiyomaru didn't make him pay, and so the two engaged in a weak tsuppari affair where both rikishi were upright. After about eight seconds of this nonsense, Abi was finally able to push Chiyomaru over and out...on paper, but Maru was mukiryoku here all the way. I hate to see a kid get rewarded with a kachi-koshi after a henka and such poor, upright sumo, but dems the breaks these days in sumo as Abi moves to 8-4. I'm sure Chiyomaru will find his eight win soon as he falls to 7-5.

In a pretty entertaining affair, M9 Shohozan went hard after the lethargic M12 Sokokurai, and Darth Hozan was able to bully Sokokurai around the ring as the latter seemed content and trying to grab the Sith Lord's arm and yank/twist him out. Around and around they went for about 10 seconds before Shohozan got the left arm inside coupled with the right outer grip, and he wasted no time going for an outer belt throw, but Sokokurai survived it. There was so much action to this point that both rikishi stalled in the center of the ring catching their breath for about 10 seconds, and then it was Shohozan back at it this time mounting a force out charge leading with the right outer, and Sokokurai all of a sudden just crumpled to the dirt in a heap near the edge of the ring. It was a strange ending to the bout, but credit Shohozan for the good win as he picks up kachi-koshi at 8-4. As for Sokokurai, his make-koshi becomes official at 4-8.

M10 Aminishiki put both hands near M13 Takekaze's head and immediately attempted a pull, but there is nothing left in the tank, and so Takekaze just rushed forward and knocked Aminishiki out of the ring tsuki-dashi style. I do believe when you lose to Takekaze by tsuki-dashi it's time to retire, and at 1-11 now for Aminishiki, it's time. As for Takekaze, he moves to 4-8 with the win, and at least his camp didn't have to buy this one.

M10 Terunofuji and M17 Daiamami hooked up in migi-yotsu whereupon the Ozeki did what he's done every bout this basho: absolutely nothing. Daiamami just pressed forward from the start and had Terunofuji pushed back and across in about two seconds. I have no idea what Isegahama's MO is regarding Terunofuji, but watching this is just ridiculous and insulting to my intelligence. Terunofuji falls to 0-12 now while Daiamami is gifted a win moving him to 6-6.

M16 Ryuden got the quick right arm inside against M11 Daishomaru and used it beautifully to lift Daishomaru upright and into position to where the rookie was able to grab the left outer grip, and that's just the way they draw it up. And just the way that so many of the Japanese darlings can't execute. Anyway, Ryuden didn't bother monkeying around using sound de-ashi to score this emphatic, linear win picking up kachi-koshi in the process at 8-4. As for Daishomaru, he falls to 6-6.

M16 Asanoyama continues to cool fast when he was unable to get to the belt today against M11 Kotoyuki. Kotoyuki's initial tsuppari volley wasn't that overpowering, and Asanoyama actually threatened the left arm inside, but Kotoyuki wriggled out of it and resume his tsuppari attack that scored nicely into Asanoyama's torso giving Kotoyuki the nice oshi-dashi win not to mention 6-6 record. As for Asanoyama, he falls to 7-5 after that hot start.

And finally, M12 Kagayaki's kachi-koshi bid came up short when he settled straightway for a yotsu contest against M15 Nishikigi. Kagayaki's a pusher and Nishikigi prefers the belt, so when the two hooked up in hidari-yotsu, Nishikigi had the advantage. The two stood in the middle of the ring for close to thirty seconds, but the moment Kagayaki panicked and went for a maki-kae with the right, Nishikigi grabbed an outer belt grip and scored the quick yori-kiri win. Kagayaki still needs one more at 7-5 while Nishikigi is even steven at 6-6.

The sumo hasn't been great to date, but I have to admit, I'm looking forward to seeing how this will all play out.  Harvye escorts us that next step tomorrow.

Day 11 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Today NHK put Kotooshu in the booth alongside Yoshida Announcer for the Day 11 broadcast, and it is obviously in response to Tochinoshin's big run this tournament. They relived the moment when Kotooshu clinched his only career yusho on day 14 way back in May of 2008, and then they showed his father in the stands and the roar of the crowd when they realized that he had flown all the way in from Bulgaria to witness the moment. It's not a signal that Tochinoshin is going to take the yusho here in January; rather, they're letting the Japanese fans know that hey, this same sorta thing has happened in the past, and there is good that can come from it.

What I mean by "good" is some sort of emotional attachment to sumo that will bring the fans back next time. There hasn't been a single positive story this tournament surrounding a Japanese rikishi that's lasted, so I actually think it was a good move to put Kotooshu in the booth today and rehash his yusho, especially the part about making it personal by showing his emotional father in the stands.

After this intro, NHK next listed the leaderboard, and they were actually posting guys three losses off of the lead!  When you have a tournament where the Yokozuna starts the basho off going 10-0, it's meaningless to consider a three-loss rikishi heading into the shubansen (final five days).  In a normal world.  Sumo has been anything but normal, especially the past two years, and this leaderboard is a last-gasp attempt to keep guys like Takayasu and Mitakeumi on a fake leaderboard.  Still, let's just play along knowing that anything can happen at any time, so here are your leaders heading into the day:

10-0: Kakuryu
9-1: Tochinoshin
8-2: Daieisho
7-3: Takayasu, Mitakeumi, Takarafuji

If I took that leaderboard seriously, I'd actually start with those rikishi, but I'm just going to continue my trend of going in chronological order. That means we start with J2 Aoiyama who put a hand to the shoulder of M15 Nishikigi before going for a quick pull, and with Nishikigi fumbling forward, Aoiyama began a sweet oshi charge knocking Nishikigi back blow by blow with perfect de-ashi, and there wasn't a single thing Nishikigi could do the entire way other than stand there and get his ass kicked. Aoiyama moved to 6-5 with the win while Nishikigi falls to 5-6.

M13 Daieisho charged with tsuppari up high, and then he quickly put his hands around M16 Ryuden's neck giving the rookie moro-zashi, and from there the taller Ryuden just turned the tables and forced Daieisho back and across with ease. Daieisho's tactics today were silly and clear signs of yaocho, and at 8-3 now, Daieisho may as well make a little bit of money on the side. As for Ryuden, he moves to 7-4 with the "win," and his kachi-koshi seems inevitable at this point. Before we move on, I was a little bit alarmed by a Daieisho quote that I read in the headlines after yesterday's bouts. The Sports Hochi rag quoted him as saying, "Is it wrong for me to be standing out?" ('Medatte warui ka' in Japanese).

What would ever prompt a rikishi to feel bad about standing out or doing well in a basho? Just the fact that such a thought is even on Daieisho's mind is an example of how he understands the way things work in sumo. He knows there are favorites and darlings, and he knows that he's not one of them, so for him to consider feeling bad about taking the spotlight away from the chosen rikishi is a great example of a Freudian slip.

M16 Asanoyama kept M12 Sokokurai away from the belt with some nice shoves, and when Sokokurai extended his right arm in an effort get it inside, Asanoyama shoved at the back of his shoulder sending him stumbling over near the edge where Asanoyama finished him off oshi-dashi style. It all looked good, but Sokokurai was mukiryoku as Asanoyama halts his four-day skid ending the day at 7-4.  As for Sokokurai, it's business as usual as he slips to 4-7.

M11 Kotoyuki moved a bit to his right at the tachi-ai in a useless henka, and a move like that is an immediate red flag. M12 Kagayaki squared up in kind as the two traded a few shoves, and then Kotoyuki inserted his right arm inside for no reason--the second red flag. Yuki could have actually grabbed the left outer grip, but he just stood there letting Kagayaki execute a kote-nage for the win. Kotoyuki came up limp after his spill off the dohyo, but you know what they say in sumo...let up in the ring and someone's gonna get hurt. Happened today as Kotoyuki graciously fell to 5-6 while Kagayaki moves to 7-4.

M10 Aminishiki came with a right hari-te that connected well against M17 Daiamami, but that was the extent of his offensive as Daiamami assumed moro-zashi and forced Shneaky back and across without argument.  Daiamami moves to 5-6 while Aminishiki falls to 1-10, and to me, and I know some people feel sentimental about Aminishiki, but the dude is spent.  His kachi-koshi in Kyushu was a feel-good farce, and what we're seeing here in January is called reality.

M15 Ishiura henka'd to his left against M10 Terunofuji as the Ozeki just stumbled forward, and Ishiura quickly wrapped him up from behind sending Fuji the Not So Terrible across the straw in less than two seconds. I don't know what to think about Terunofuji these days, and he just went along with the grease job today.  The dude is definitely not injured as he falls to 0-11 while Ishiura slithers his way to 6-5.

M14 Yutakayama kept M8 Kaisei away from the belt with a series of tsuppari, but they were purely defensive in nature as Yutakayama was on his heels instead of driving forward.  On the contrary, it was Kaisei leaning forward looking for an opening, and after about five seconds he sensed it and pounced with an oshi attack of his own, for which Yutakayama had no answer.  Pretty straightforward win here as they awarded Kaisei the tsuki-dashi kimari-te that sent him to a 7-4 record.  Yutakayama is still enjoying his best Makuuchi basho as he falls to 6-5.

M8 Tochiohzan henka'd left against M14 Abi, but he didn't really go for a pull just standing there, and Abi read it perfectly pushing the compromised Tochiohzan back and out in a second.  My opinion here is that Tochiohzan was mukiryoku--well, he was mukiryoku, I'm just not sure if it was intentional or not--as he falls to a harmless 6-5 while Abi moves a step closer to kachi-koshi at 7-4.

M13 Takekaze and M7 Chiyonokuni bounced off of each other at the tachi-ai before Takekaze went for a lame pull attempt, but Chiyonokuni wasn't of a mindset to make him pay. Kuni just stumbled forward and then gave chase as Takekaze moved around the ring to his left going for pulls in the process, and after a few seconds, Chiyonokuni found himself against the ropes, and so he grabbed Takekaze's extended right arm and just pulled Kaze into his body as he toppled backwards creating an extremely unnatural fall. They called it oshi-taoshi because they had to come up with something, and Takekaze moved to 3-8 with the gift.  At M13, he still needs to buy..er..uh..muster three more wins to guarantee a spot at the dance come March. Chiyonokuni gracefully fell to 3-8.

M11 Daishomaru henka'd to his right and M7 Chiyoshoma seemed to know it was coming because he didn't even bother to pivot; rather, he put one leg forward bent at the knee, and then at the first sign of contact, he put both palms to the dirt and then ran forward a few steps as if to say "you got me!"  Obvious yaocho here as both dudes end the day at 6-5.

M9 Shohozan came with hurried tsuppari against M6 Ikioi, who employed the useless wax-on-wax-off technique trying to brush Shohozan's hands upward as fast as Shohozan was thrusting forward. With Ikioi completely flat-footed from the start, he eventually lowered his hands and just stood there allowing Shohozan to body him back and across without argument. They ruled it oshi-dashi, but Shohozan (7-4) wasn't really pushing, and it wasn't really a force-out.  It was just Ikioi being mukiryoku and cooperating fully as he falls to 2-9.

M9 Chiyomaru kept M5 Endoh away from the belt with some nice tsuppari from the tachi-ai, and as Maru shaded left, he was able to spring the pull trap and send Endoh forward and down nearly as quickly as it began.  Chiyomaru moves to 7-4 with the hataki-komi while Endoh was simply bested today as he falls to 6-5.

In a bizarre bout, M3 Tochinoshin came with a right kachi-age and opted to alternate shoves towards M6 Takarafuji as the latter retreated a bit and moved to his left. As Shin followed him around the dohyo continuing to use thrusts instead of getting to the belt, it made for a strange bout indeed. After about five seconds of these unorthodox tactics from Tochinoshin, he got the right arm inside but almost seemed hesitant to do so. The left outer was there for the taking, but Tochinoshin just wouldn't commit and eventually let Takarafuji wriggle out and shove Shin away. Now it was Takarafuji's turn to get the right inside, and he used a brief left kote-nage shortly after to send Tochinoshin back near the straw, but as he plowed forward trying to force Tochinoshin to his second loss in watashi-komi fashion, Tochinoshin bore down from the top and was able to force Takarafuji down to the dirt before he stepped out.

This was a strange ending, and the ref pointed towards Tochinoshin, but they called a mono-ii just to make sure because it was so close. Video replay showed that Takarafuji definitely hit the dirt first, so the initial ruling was upheld. The biggest question on my mind throughout this bout was why didn't Tochinoshin go for the belt? He's superior in both size and strength compared to Takarafuji, and he could have defeated his foe easily from the belt, but I think the answer to that question is the same as the answer to the question as to why doesn't Hakuho constantly use his signature tachi-ai where he gets the right inside and the left outer grip?  I mean, no one has ever been able to solve that tachi-ai so why not use it every bout?  When creating parity in sumo, you dumb yourself down to the competition, and that's what happened here.  The better rikishi won the bout as Tochinoshin moved to 10-1, but he certainly left the door open for Takarafuji who fell to 7-4.  And darn it...at four losses back, he's no longer on the leaderboard.

M3 Chiyotairyu played nice today keeping his hands pointed down at the tachi-ai allowing M2 Kotoshogiku to push with his left hand at Tairyu's side keeping him upright before assuming moro-zashi and easily forcing Chiyotairyu back and across without argument.  In the same vein as my comments from the last bout, you watch Chiyotairyu destroy these guys with his freight train oshi charge and then wonder why he doesn't at least attempt that move every day...especially against a guy like Kotoshogiku.  The answer is that way too much sumo is compromised these days, and Chiyotairyu was simply letting Kotoshogiku win here for whatever reason.  The end result is Tairyu's falling to 4-7 while Kotoshogiku "improves" to 5-6.

M1 Hokutofuji used that useless tachi-ai against M1 Ichinojo where he puts his right arm against his opponent's shoulder and then backs up in pull mode, but Ichinojo was cautious in this one not wanting to be baited into an actual pull, and so the majority of this bout was Hokutofuji's staying back and firing a few shoves here and there in an effort to keep Ichinojo away from the belt.  For his part, the Mongolith didn't commit to anything waiting for his opponent to tire a bit, and when he felt the timing was right, he went for and scored on a nice pull attempt in the center of the ring. Ichinojo moves to a safe 7-4 with the win and learned the answer to Daieisho's question long ago when it comes to:  Is it bad if I stand out?  As for Hokutofuji, he falls to 2-9 with one of those wins coming against Hakuho, which shows just how twisted this sport has become.

Komusubi Takakeisho came with a tsuppari attack at the tachi-ai against M2 Yoshikaze, but his feet were perfectly aligned, and so the shoves had no effect.  Luckily for Takakeisho, Yoshikaze wasn't of a mind to move forward himself, and so he stood there defensively fighting off the shoves the first half of the bout.  Finally, Yoshikaze struck forcing Takakeisho back two full steps with a nice shove attack, but instead of finishing off his bidness, he went for a dumb pull and then let Takakeisho wrap his left arm around Monster Drink's right and kote-nage him over to the edge while pushing into his neck with the left, and the fat lady sung at that point.  Both rikishi end the day at 4-7 as Yoshikaze let the youngster off the hook.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi's feet were slipping on banana peels from the tachi-ai as he looked to mount a charge against M4 Shodai, but Shodai scored on a nice left shove up and under Mitakeumi's extended right and it moved the Sekiwake to the side and near the edge, and before Mitakeumi could recover, Shodai fired a right paw into Mitakeumi's torso sending him back and across with some oomph in the lopsided bout.  Mitakeumi was destroyed yet again, and the results are completely different when his opponents actually try and beat him.  I know there has been talk of an Ozeki run with Mi-fake-umi, but does a serious Ozeki candidate get his ass kicked four consecutive days by an M1, an M3, and both M4's?  Once again, these bizarre stats are simply a result of a phony environment, so Mitakeumi falls out of the yusho race for reals at 7-4 while Shodai looked great here moving to 6-5.

M5 Okinoumi kept his hands in kachi-age fashion at the tachi-ai but wasn't moving forward, and so he played the role of practice dummy today allowing Ozeki Takayasu to shove him by the neck back and out with little resistance.  With Takayasu's arms that high, he was completely exposing his inside and allowing Okinoumi to set up a counter attack, but Okinoumi's intentions were clear from the start as he made no effort to fight, he stood completely upright, and then he allowed the Ozeki to easily push him back and out in the uneventful bout. Takayasu moves to 8-3 with the win while Okinoumi is a harmless 3-8.

M4 Arawashi grabbed the left frontal belt against Ozeki Goeido who brought his right arm to the outside and began backing up in search of a pull while Arawashi seemed content to keep the Ozeki in the bout.  With his back against the edge, Goeido suddenly found himself with the left inside, and so he mounted a hurried attack forcing Arawashi across the entire ring to the other side, but at the edge, Arawashi executed a right kote-nage keeping his body square with Goeido giving the Ozeki the chance, but the hapless Ozeki collapsed to the dirt before Arawashi stepped out.  Like the Tochinoshin bout and most of Hakuho's bouts, this was one of those weird endings because you had Arawashi there leaving Goeido openings throughout, but the faux-zeki couldn't capitalize.  Arawashi will take it as both fellas end the day at 6-5.

With the Japanese "leaders" fading fast, I suppose it was time for Yokozuna Kakuryu to finally make his move.  Against Sekiwake Tamawashi, Kakuryu kept his feet completely aligned at the tachi-ai as he and Tamawashi butt heads, and then the Yokozuna just stood there upright firing a few token shoves with Tamawashi before going for a lame pull.  With his feet still aligned, the Yokozuna was an easy target for Tamawashi (4-7) to push back and out.  Actually, Kakuryu took care of the "out" part all on his own just sliding his foot back across the straw unnecessarily in sloppy fashion, and this bout was obviously thrown in order to keep the leaderboard interesting at least into the weekend.  Kakuryu graciously fell to 10-1 with the loss, and the result produced the following leaderboard as we head into Day 12:

10-1: Kakuryu, Tochinoshin
8-3: Takayasu, Daieisho

If NHK actually decides to go three losses deep tomorrow, that will add 10 more rikishi to the leaderboard, and with the handful of withdrawals to this point, that would mean that well over a third of the division would still be in the hunt.  I know such a prospect gives some people a stiffie, but I'm not that easily entertained.

Watch for another chronological breakdown of the day tomorrow.

Day 10 Comments (Geoffrorious Pudensticker reporting)
I've been asked to fill in today by Mike and Harvye, those glum lecturers who spread a great piffle of odium here daily.  I've told these two poncey princes my opinion on many an evening, watching Mike drink his milk and Harvye his beers no one knows the name of that taste like mildew, down at the public house.  But they do not desist!  Geoffrorious, those two gentlemanly raconteurs always say, if you're so right--and right I am!--why don't you come out and prove it?  So here I am.

I call our confabs at the pub "The Blue Sky Club," to needle them, because they see darkness all the time and absolutely, positive refuse, the devils, to recognize what is right before their eyes:  the beauty and glory and purity of this sport, sumo. Such magnificent strength and honor!  Such humility and grace.  Such a beautiful song of tradition and elegance.  When I see the opprobrium that Mike and Harvye would spread on such leading lights as the finely powerful Goeido, the sublimely sporting Takayasu, and that supple genius whose future awaits, Shodai, I quail with embarrassment on their behalf.  Likewise their insufferable holding up of the untoned Kaisei, the inert Ichinojo, and that straining mad heathen, Tochinoshin.  I much prefer a lively dance with Mitakeumi any day over the violent hogwash perpetrated by Tamawashi.

M16 Ryuden (5-4) vs. J2 Azumaryu (5-4)
Two dragons. Young Ryuden undoubtedly has a fine future. Azumaryu demonstrated what will undoubtedly be a future of tricks and hijinx by turning to the side during this bout and pulling. However, our heroic young sailor Ryuden held on to the belt he had and kept up the attack. Some might say Azumaryu gave in at the end, but that is rubbish; faced with the clear and present power of young Ryuden, why, Azumaryu simply had to give in. And wouldn't you too.

M14 Abi (6-3) vs. M14 Yutakayama (5-4)
These two fine young fellows engaged in such fisticuffs as could grace a back alley dust-up. However, as always happens when fights of this type occur between men, one is the manlier. And when Yutakayama had the temerity to biff Abi in the face, Abi grabbed his hand and pulled on it as if to say, "no, sir, I protest!" But there is nothing to protest in sumo. Yutakayama responded as is his right with continued batterings, and claimed a fine oshi-dashi victory.

M13 Takekaze (1-8) vs. M15 Ishiura (5-4)
There are haughty types who scorn the pull. However, when a little man does this, is he not demonstrating his skill? Taking advantage of his disadvantage? Now I'll grant Ishiura is even smaller than Takekaze, so you might fault Takekaze for his masterful pull. But no, sons, this hataki-komi was well earned: Takekaze looked at his foe with a gimlet eye, perceived he would be vulnerable, and pulled him, sir. Fine perception there. Yes, sir!

M12 Sokokurai (4-5) vs. M15 Nishikigi (4-5)
Sokokurai is always up to no good, and cannot be trusted. He will go this way, he will go that, but the path of honor? No! While Nishikigi; why, his name means something like "Western Brocade," and signifies a fine and beautiful thing. Fortunately, though Sokokurai, as is to be expected, began with a needless face slap and then kicked repeatedly at Nishikigi's leg, they fought themselves into a fine match of belt-gripping sumo, with left hands inside. I was gratified to see virtue win out; in the end Nishikigi turned his lad with a humdinger momentum-shifting lean-back and inside tug, and out went his foe, yori-kiri.

M17 Daiamami (4-5) vs. M12 Kagayaki (5-4)
Rotund like a tower of old, Daiamami stands upon the dohyo like a colossus of Rhodes. But he has no match for the subtle skill of Kagayaki, who charged from underneath, and kept pushing, pushing, pushing up, bloodying the very nose of the colossus. The colossus tried to swipe Kagayaki down at the end, but it was too late; Daiamami's golden foot had just touched down, past the straw, a moment earlier.

M16 Asanoyama (6-3) vs. M11 Daishomaru (4-5)
Yes, Daishomaru can pull, but he can also push. And why should we doubt it? Have we risen, through painful years of toil and sacrifice, to the rank of M11? No we have not! Asanoyama may be having a fine tournament, but Daishomaru is his senior, in rank and in skill, and why should we be surprised when Daishomaru's attack, linear and strong, is effective. And out Daishomaru drove him, by god!

M8 Tochiohzan (6-3) vs. M13 Daieisho (7-2)
Daieisho reminds me of a flower on a fresh spring meadow, so delicate, yet so full of the power of nature. While Tochiohzan is like a Grecian urn: classic and beautiful. So enraptured by this vision was I that I nearly forgot to watch the fighting. Daieisho sprang forth with heavenly heaves to the face, thrusting through all grim resistance, and soon drove Tochiohzan out.

M7 Chiyoshoma (5-4) vs. M10 Aminishiki (1-8)
What pleasure it gives me to announce here that Harvye, as usual, predicting willy-nilly this and that whichever falls his fancy, was once again false, False, FALSE! Career ending injury, he crowed, just days ago when Aminishiki had a small problem with his tender knee. But here Aminishiki is, back, in fine fettle, and a hundred times more a man than Harvye will ever be. What heroism! But it was for naught, like a war horse hauling cannon through the mud. Aminishiki grabbed at Chiyoshoma's belt, but as if to keep himself from falling over rather than in attack, grimacing in pain even as he did so. Chiyoshoma yori-kiri'ed him out instantaneously. Aminishiki had a far off look in his face, undoubtedly perceiving the abyss. Poetry.

M11 Kotoyuki (5-4) vs. M7 Chiyonokuni (2-7)
Here are two favorite targets of slander on this site. But why? Is Kotoyuki not an entertainer? And does he not have the finest, politest bow in sumo? And does Chiyonokuni not give his all with everything he has, every match? If you were out there, would you grasp the belt in forlorn foresakenness and give yourself in to your doom, or would you hold your head high and then fight, tooth and nail, with everything you have for your very life? Is that not what Chiyonokuni does? Hail! And fight Chiyonokuni did, like a cornered hedgehog with two iron firsts. This nimble warrior uppercutted and face-thrusted and generally willed himself to an oshi-dashi victory. And if you don't like that, chap, well, you can drink your pint alone, sour Sam.

M6 Takarafuji (6-3) vs. M8 Kaisei (6-3)
The other day this site had the temerity to call Kaisei "boring." If you are bored by craftsmanship, well then, yes, Philistine, be bored. And you too may join Sammy for a pint of tear-stained bitters. But when I watch Takarafuji, I see hints of the eternal muse: Sport. These gentlemen pressed their chests against each other, leaned in for each other's belts, and treated us to the kind of belt battle this site's primary writers are always whining about for. Takarafuji's muscles strained like an Adonis, taut like wire. He endured danger: broken free from his grip, he chose for a few moments an unwonted tsuppari battle with his behemoth foe. But, as if called by the gods to fulfill wishes, he went onto the belt and body again, and--glorious denouement!--treated us to an armpit-throw finish, sukui-nage. What more can you ask!

M9 Chiyomaru (5-4) vs. M6 Ikioi (2-7)
The proud belly of Chiyomaru against the electric strength of Ikioi. Glory! Chiyomaru was very clever in this one, if I don't say so. Rather than trying to bull Ikioi around with his girthy girth, he pushed him twice, then pulled him smartly and sharply to the ground, hataki-komi. Ill gotten, my foot! It is smarts, lads, can't you see that?

M9 Shohozan (6-3) vs. M5 Endo (5-4)
Glad to see the handsome Endo step over the bales, lest I get too dyspeptic thinking of the calumny heaped upon this sport at times. Why, who could not behold the sweet face of this angelic cherub and not find his heart melting a little? Paired with that hirsute Heathcliff, Shohozan, why it was a match made in romantic heaven. As nature would have it, beauty tamed the beast. At first, as Shohozan blasted darkly away, all manly violence, I thought our Endo would succumb, like so many ladies afore. But light on his well-formed feet, Endo twirled to the side, a young slip of a thing at the country dance, and turned to see his growling wolfy mate Shohozan now with his own back to the fence. Endo prised him to his place in the dustheap of churlishness, yori-kiri.

M3 Tochinoshin (8-1) vs. M2 Kotoshogiku (4-5)
And here we have a man who looks like a soldier, Tochinoshin, against an old soldier of the sport himself, Kotoshogiku. Give ‘em hell, old chap! You certainly know who I was rooting for. Tochinoshin? Fresh upstart! However youth, tiger tiger burning bright, was served. Kotoshogiku did his honorable best, fighting "mano a mano," as they say, chests together, belts clenched. But the young buck before him proved too much, and lifted him smoothly to his doom, yori-kiri. I would be remiss if I did not note that Tochinoshin performed a series of butterfly kisses along the shoulder of Kotoshogiku in the process. Not for the faint of heart, dear reader.

M1 Hokutofuji (2-7) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (3-6)
One point where I agree with Mike and Harvye is that these two fellows are both in fine fettle. Chiyotairyu pushed off hard and never stopped, showing us all how it is done, with an overwhelming tsuki attack that didn't end until the dashi kerplunked into the piggy bank. And for a moment the two worlds were united, Blue Sky Club and Gloomy Gus Mopers, in cheering for this explosive grand old sport.

K Takakeisho (3-6) vs. M1 Ichinojo (5-4)
Slow as a blunderbuss in the hedge on a January morning, Ichinojo had as little chance of catching foxy Takakeisho out as of finding a fairy in his ear. Though Ichinojo tried and tried, Takakeisho simply would not let Ichinojo lay his girth upon him. Dancing about this way and that, and striking amiably and quickly, Takakeisho sought to escape and find a moment to fell his towering pursuer. However, though he did gull Ichinojo into stepping out on one of his charges, alas, I must admit, fox Takakeisho also fell backwards out of the ring just before, giving Ichinojo the victory. Live to fight another day, young lieutenant!

M2 Yoshikaze (3-6) vs. K Onosho (4-5)
I am duty bound to report that Onosho, plagued by pain in his right knee that developed yesterday, withdrew from the tournament. This is not tiddlywinks.

S Mitakeumi (7-2) vs. M4 Arawashi (4-5)
Another fine young specimen: Mitakeumi. I had every hope of seeing him disassemble the sneaky wiles of Arawashi. However, his lessons in life continue, and today's lesson was, "do not charge a dastard unless you're ready to meet a bastard." Because as he charged forward, Mitakeumi found Arawashi was no longer there, having decided to avoid the fight, disappear out to the side, grab Mitakeumi's arm, and grind his nose into the dirt, tottari. I say!

O Goeido (6-3) vs. M4 Shodai (4-5)
As you can see with your very own eyes, I have praised Goeido in my intro. However, I will readily admit that he is, on occasion, a trifle… odd. But what can you do when faced with such a skillful young master as Shodai, who very well may be our next Yokozuna? Shodai wrapped him up good from the tachi-ai, both arms inside, kept him diagonal to him and off balance, and pushed him out, yori-kiri. Some will say that Goeido should not have had his arms so wide and high, nor should he have draped his arm over Shodai's head. But when faced with the technical brilliance of Shodai, what could he do?

S Tamawashi (3-6) vs. O Takayasu (6-3)
Before the sumo match we were treated to a staredown nearly as dramatic. I must say Takayasu must have won it, for his subsequent sumo was full of "oomph!" ‘Twas a vigorous affair. Takayasu knocked Tamawashi upright at the tachi-ai. Then they engaged in fisticuffs, long and hard. Finally, when Tamawashi could take it no more, and who could?, he relented and let Takayasu come in upon his body, from which position Takayasu bumped him out with said body, oshi-dashi.

Y Kakuryu (9-0) vs. M5 Okinoumi (3-6)
While Kisenosato is of course by far my favorite Yokozuna, I suppose I must not turn my nose up at Kakuryu today, who gave a serviceable effort. First he pushed off on his man from the tachi-ai. Then he grabbed an overhand left grip upon the belt. Then he used this to spin Okinoumi back toward the center of the ring and turn him around. Then he pushed him out from behind, okuri-dashi. Well, I suppose this must suffice if we are to be deprived of Kisenosato's dignified gravitas for the balance of the fortnight.

Tomorrow one of the other fellows will return as usual to play the devil on your left shoulder. I do hope I have been the angel on your right. And I do mean Right!

Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Big ups to Harvye and Don for throwin' down over the weekend, and while I wasn't necessarily away, I did miss the part where Darth Sidious spoke into his Apple Watch and told all of the foreigners to execute operation 66 against the Japanese hopefuls.  And it's not just the fact that the foreigners beat some of Japan's top guys the last few days, but it was the ease in which they did so.  It just felt as if the Japanese faithful received a massive reality punch in the gut, and to make matters worse, the leaderboard at the end of day 9 was as follows:

9-0: Kakuryu
8-1: Tochinoshin

All is not lost, however, because as we've constantly seen in the past, it only takes one intentional loss from a foreigner to breathe life back into a basho and give the local fans hope.  NHK will also surely move their leaderboard tomorrow down to the two-loss column, which will add a few more Japanese rikishi back to the list.  As is the case for any basho the last few years, however, the only aspect that can truly make a tournament attractive to the Japanese fans is for the foreign rikishi to lose on purpose, and so as glum as things look right now, all it's going to take is a strategic loss here or there for some excitement to build again.

Frankly, the best part of the basho so far has been the Tokyo weather. They showed this sweet sunset a few days back...

...and then today Tokyo got a few inches of snow that actually stuck to the ground. I hear everyone managed okay with the weather except for maybe Osunaarashi. The big news at the end of day 8 was that the Ejyptian has withdrawn after it was discovered he was guilty of driving an automobile and testing out his vehicular okuri-dashi against a car in front of him.  Oops.  His withdraw means that he will fall down to Makushita for the upcoming Haru basho (assuming he isn't forced to sit that one out as well), so we'll see if UberArashi can make it back up to the big dance so he can carry a sweet dude parasol on snowy days instead of a cheap vinyl brella from the nearest konbini.

On those notes, let's examine the Day 9 damage straightway starting with M14 Abi who faced M16 Asanoyama. The rookie came out strong with some effective shoves that had Asanoyama checking out the yagura, and as he looked to duck his way back into contention, Abi switched gears and executed a quick pull down moving to his right and throwing Asanoyama down to his third straight loss.  Abi received a few gifts early on, but it must feel good now to know that you can win legitimately in the division.  Both parties end the day at 6-3.

M13 Daieisho was one of the Japanese dudes on NHK's leaderboard at the start of the day coming in with just one loss, and he was sure to breeze by M15 Ishiura wasn't he? Normally, yes, but he forgot to account for Ishiura's tachi-ai where he just ducks in as low as possible hoping for a nice grip near the short hairs.  With Daieisho's arms extended at the tachi-ai, Ishiura ducked underneath coming away with the left inside and the right frontal belt grip. Almost as quick as it started, Daieisho's belt came unraveled, so the ref had to tie the belts back up, but that was just killing time because when the two restarted, Ishiura lifted up beautifully on the front of Daieisho's belt and twisted him down shitate-hineri style. This was a great display of Ishiura's sumo as the Magical Mystery Tour cruises to 5-4 while Daieisho falls to a not-so-shabby 7-2.  What are the chances he'll be ready for Ishiura next time?

M13 Takekaze played the part of punching bag yet again today at the hands of M15 Nishikigi.  From the tachi-ai, Nishikigi came in too high allowing Takekaze moro-zashi, but the Oguruma veteran had no idea what to do with it. Well, check that. He managed to attempt a pull of Nishikigi's torso from the a seemingly insurmountable position. The tug did catch Nishikigi off guard, but he still had his wits about him to where he was able to shove Takekaze back and out hard as he fell to the dirt. Nishikigi's hand actually touched down before Takekaze stepped out, but Kaze was so far removed from the dohyo that they didn't even bother to call for a mono-ii (thank the gods).  Nishikigi moves to 4-5 with the win while that was a tough way for Takekaze to make-koshi at 1-8.

M12 Sokokurai and M16 Ryuden hooked up in hidari-yotsu from the tachi-ai where Ryuden had the right outer grip but a very shallow presence on the inside with the left.  As a result, Sokokurai was able to masterfully use his left inside position to keep Ryuden upright and off balance as the two danced around the ring several times before Sokokurai was able to trip Ryuden over and down in front of the chief judge.  Sokokurai moved to 4-5 with the win, but he stepped back onto the dohyo quite gingerly seeming to favor his lower back.  As for Ryuden, he fell to 5-4, and this was a great example of how important the inside positioning is. The outer grip gives a rikishi the advantage IF they are sufficiently positioned to the inside, but Ryuden wasn't, and so Sokokurai was able to finagle the win.

One of the worst tachi-ai of the day was exhibited by M17 Daiamami and M9 Chiyomaru. Both parties were out of sync with sloppy charges that amounted to little, and once the dust settled from that, Chiyomaru found himself over-extended with his arms up too high, and so Daiamami was able to to fend him off with a few well-placed shoves into Chiyomaru that sent him back and ultimately across. I think it's safe to say that 10 years down the road when they're looking for sweet bouts to replay, this one will be discarded first as Daiamami moves to 4-5 while Chiyomaru falls to 5-4.

Look at M12 Kagayaki taking it to M9 Shohozan from the tachi-ai with his long tsuppari attack, and with Darth Hozan keeping his feet aligned the entire time, he was an easy oshi-dashi target for Kagayaki who picked up the nice, linear win.  My gut tells me that Shohozan isn't this sloppy as he falls to 6-3, but credit Kagayaki for employing the sumo basics as he moves to 5-4.

Good thing we saw good basics in the previous bout because there was nothing to see in the M14 Yutakayama - M7 Chiyonokuni contest that followed.  Both guys used long tsuppari from the tachi-ai, but both were also looking for the quick and dirty pull, and so the action flowed to one side of the ring and back with both dudes trading ineffective shoves and bad pulls.  After about five seconds of the nonsense, Yutakayama finally got his left arm to the inside, and when he did that, he was able to force Chiyonokuni back and down so mightily that Kuni took a pretty bad spill off the dohyo.  Hopefully Yutakayama will attempt to get to the inside earlier as he moves to 5-4 while Chiyonokuni is just plain bad at 2-7.

M11 Kotoyuki came out hard from the tachi-ai and with M7 Chiyoshoma mukiryoku, it made for a quick bout. I can't exactly fault Kotoyuki here as he employed his brand of sumo, but Chiyoshoma just kept his arms out wide and then went for a lame tug of Kotoyuki's right arm stepping his feet out before any type of counter move could form. This was likely tsuki-dashi, but because Chiyoshoma was so mukiryoku, they had to downgrade it to just oshi-dashi. Both dudes end the day at 5-4.

It was nice to see the M6 Ikioi camp come into the day not feeling as if they needed to throw his bout. Against M11 Daishomaru, Ikioi was all business coming forward nicely at the tachi-ai and using a careful oshi attack to drive Daishomaru back two steps before reconnecting and finishing him off in good oshi-dashi style. Daishomaru could do nothing here as he falls to 4-5 while Ikioi moves to 2-7, and how ironic is it that the better rikishi here has the far worse record?  Dems just the breaks when sumo is so easily compromised.

M8 Tochiohzan got the solid left arm to the inside against M6 Takarafuji at the tachi-ai, and he probably could have wrangled the moro-zashi position as well, but it was Takarafuji's turn to win today because Oh just went limp and allowed Takarafuji to force him back and across in two seconds.  The funny thing was...Takarafuji's hands were so high and misplaced that it made this yaocho call even easier as both dudes end the day at 6-3.

M8 Kaisei came away with a left ko-te grip against M5 Endoh from the tachi-ai, and before Kaisei could pull his gal in tight with the right inside, Endoh spun away creating a bit of separation, but Kaisei swooped right back in this time getting the left inside, and from there he just used his massive size advantage to body Endoh back and across with ease.  Kaisei was fiddling with a right outer grip as he won the bout, but he didn't really need it today improving to 6-3 while Endoh is knocked down a step lower at 5-4.

It's a shame that M3 Chiyotairyu felt obligated to throw so many bouts early on because he's easily the best Japanese guy to watch these days when he's 1) trying, and 2) of the mindset that he doesn't need to go for a quick pull. Today the dude just destroyed M5 Okinoumi with a stiff paw to the neck that drove Okinoumi back a few steps and then a quick pull as Okinoumi looked to duck back in. Chiyotairyu moves to 3-6 with the win and has the most powerful tools of any Japanese rikishi on the banzuke. Okinoumi falls to the same 3-6 mark after the loss.

M2 Yoshikaze got the left arm deep to the inside of M2 Kotoshogiku lifting the former Ozeki upright, but Monster Drink was indifferent with the right arm refusing to go for the outer grip and refusing to finish Kotoshogiku off.  The Geeku was at the mercy of his Fukuoka foe from the beginning, but as soon as Yoshikaze attempted a lame pull with that right arm and backed up in the process, Kotoshogiku had the momentum shift he needed scoring the quick force-out win from there. Yoshikaze was clearly deferring to his senpai here as he falls to 3-6, and Kotoshogiku finishes the day 4-5.

M1 Ichinojo briefly got the right arm inside against Komusubi Onosho as he tried to wrap up his squirrely foe in ko-te fashion with the left, but when Onosho went for an ill-advised push with the left hand into Ichinojo's face, it left the Komusubi totally exposed on that side, and so Ichinojo pivoted to his right, grabbed Onosho around the arm, and then just kote-nage'd his arse over and down as if he was visiting from Jonokuchi.  The difference in sheer power and ability was so stark here, and this was just one of the bouts where a foreigner just shredded a Japanese hopeful. At the end of the day, Ichinojo found himself at 5-4 while Onosho drops to 4-5, and is it me or does Onosho look like a beaver more and more every day?

Before we move on, if Onosho has a sweet settuh chompers, Ichinojo can definitely boast the most dandruff in the division.  When they interviewed him over the weekend, it looked as if they were panning in close, but reality was that Ichinojo just took up so much space.  Anyway, dude's got some serious druff going for him.

Across the way, Komusubi Takakeisho won the tachi-ai against M1 Hokutofuji pounding him back from the starting lines with a nice volley to the neck, but then he stopped his forward progression hoping for a pull. The problem was that Hokutofuji was pushed back so vigorously that he didn't have the wherewithal to try and duck back into the bout, but with Takakeisho stopped in his tracks, it just created some awkward separation. And awkward separation and lame pull attempts would define the middle portion of this bout as both rikishi scored on shoves only to blow them with pull attempts. About 10 seconds in, Takakeisho finally shoved Hokutofuji off balance, and instead of going for a pull, he cautiously moved forward again offering a few more shoves until he had the pull-happy Hokutofuji shoved out for good. Great start and great ending for Takakeisho, but the cream in the middle was sour as both rikishi end the day 3-6.

M3 Tochinoshin blasted Sekiwake Mitakeumi upright with a right kachi-age and left shove from the tachi-ai, and that enabled Shin to get the right arm inside and then grab the left outer as Mitakeumi tried to squirm away. The Sekiwake actually got a hand on Tochinoshin's outside belt with the left, and to his credit, he went for a quick belt throw, but Tochinoshin withstood the move with ease and then really pulled his gal in close lifting up at the belt and walking Mitakeumi over to the edge with the Sekiwake on his tip toes.  From that point, Tochinoshin just lifted Mitakeumi clear off his feet tsuri-dashi style at the edge setting him on the other side of the straw like a sack of potatoes not to mention sending him to his second straight loss. Oh snap!  When the foreigners are allowed to do their brand of sumo against any of the Japanese rikishi, the bouts aren't even close.  It's also interesting to watch the faces of the Japanese fans seated in the suna-kaburi (first few rows).  It's like total shock and disbelief that their guys can be beaten so easily, and they certainly got a mouthful of that reality today. With the win, Tochinoshin firmly stands in second place at 8-1 while Mitakeumi's yusho hopes are all but dashed at 7-2.

In a ridiculous bout, Ozeki Takayasu stood the willing M4 Shodai upright with a kachi-age and then hand to the face, and then as the Ozeki shaded to his right in attempt to set up a push from the back of Shodai's left shoulder, the M4 just dove forward and down pushing off with both feet to make the fall even more exaggerated. They ruled it hiki-otoshi, which stands for pull-down, but there wasn't much pulling to be had in this one.  Shodai just dove forward and down at the first sign of contact from the side.  Whatever.  Takayasu's the better rikishi anyway as he moves to 6-3 while Shodai falls to 4-5.

As bad as the previous bout was, the Ozeki Goeido - Sekiwake Tamawashi matchup was even worse.  From the tachi-ai, Tamawashi just slipped both arms up and around Goeido's neck sorta like that awkward hug you give grandma at Thanksgiving, and Goeido easily took advantage securing moro-zashi and driving the limp Tamawashi back and across in a second and a half.  This was such an obvious yaocho, and it's so comical that Tamawashi sits there at 3-6 while guys like Goeido (6-3) and Mitakeumi (7-2) are cruising to kachi-koshi.  I really liked Tamawashi before he suddenly got the guilt trip that made him feel obligated to lose to the Japanese hopefuls on a continuous basis.

With no momentum stemming from the Ozeki bouts, it wouldn't get much better with Yokozuna Kakuryu and M4 Arawashi, who has both knees heavily taped. The two began in migi-yotsu with the Yokozuna maintaining the left outer grip, and when Arawashi went for a limp maki-kae with the right, Kakuryu just forced him straight back and out in about three seconds.  Kakuryu stays perfect at 9-0 and is your storyteller this basho.  As for Arawashi, he falls to 4-5.

While it definitely looks like a two-horse race at this point, there's still a long way to go.  Just hearken back to the last time I used the word hearken.  Either that, or remember that crazy Aki basho where Harumafuji was down and out, and Goeido had that big lead only to blow it down he stretch.  I realize that the tables are turned this basho because a foreigner has a commanding lead at this point, but nothing surprises me in sumo these days.  Nothing.

What shouldn't surprise anyone is Harvye's returning for Day 10 duties.

Day 8 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Good old "nakabi"--the middle day, seven days on either side of it. I like to write on nakabi; it feels relaxed. The yusho race is often peeping out pretty good at this point, but still subject to lots of speculation. Our yusho race this time around is pretty simple: Kakuryu vs. Mitakeumi. In his role as Temporary Storyteller, I give Kakuryu about a 90% chance of taking it: Mitakeumi is nearly as well served by, say, a 12-3 finish that solidifies talk of an Ozeki run as by actually winning the tournament, which would feel premature. But if the collapse of Kisenosato and the fade of Goeido and Takayasu gets everybody in a panic, we could see it happen--you truly never know.

My expectation for Kakuryu was that he and Hakuho would both take a deferential step back in apology for their part in the October/November Harumafuji/Takanoiwa hijinx. And I do think that was probably part of the reason Hakuho lost two matches and withdrew (I do believe he has or had a real toe injury, but do not believe that had anything to do with his withdrawal). So the question is, why is Kakuryu going ahead and winning? One, like any good drama, the narrative needs a villain, and for those who dislike the Mongolian ascendancy, he can provide that. Two, while you and I may be paying attention to Kakuryu's part in the scandal, most casual fans won't connect him with it. Hakuho stepped in it hard by describing his efforts to mediate, bringing the incident up during his yusho speech, and by being Hakuho: he's just way more prominent. Whereas Kakuryu remains The Invisible Yokozuna.

So Kakuryu gets a pass, it appears. If Mitakeumi has a chance at the yusho, it will require Kakuryu to step aside, and the Harumafuji narrative could yet be scheduled to play a part in that; effluent from the shadowy world of sumo obligations.


S Mitakeumi (7-0) vs. M1 Ichinojo (3-4)
This is the kind of match as an evaluator that you both look forward to and dread. On the one hand, Ichinojo is a big boy and should be a handful and a good test for the aspiring Mitakeumi. On the other hand, and because of that, the chances that the match will be funny looking are deeply increased. I hate writing about matches that turn out that way. But let's look on the bright side: fortunately, this was a good one. Mitakeumi bounced off of Ichinojo like a super ball thrown at a brick school wall. Ichinojo calmly stood there, immobile and imposing Mongolith, and as they further engaged we knew we were on: Mitakeumi was underneath and inside, but Ichinojo commenced The Lean. Meaning that for a minute it was just standing there, Ichinojo pressing down and waiting to tire Mitakeumi out. Also, Ichinojo had an overhand grip on the belt. At this point Mitakeumi was pretty much helpless, and it was just a matter of time. So eventually Ichinojo trundled forward with the package that he had, and Mitakeumi had as little chance of resisting as a piece of beach Styrofoam against the evening tide. Out Mitakeumi went, yori-kiri.

This was fun stuff; let's turn to Kakuryu's bout to see whether things would even up and lock us into a sharply dramatic week two struggle, or whether the signal on nakabi was that this may be a runaway yusho for the lone contending Yokozuna, with Mitakeumi's Ozeki-run story playing over it as first fiddle.

Y Kakuryu (7-0) vs. M4 Shodai (4-3)
I had my eyes open for this one. Not too long ago, Shodai and Mitakeumi were twin hype-bunnies, rising the banzuke together, and Shodai was the bigger name. That train has pretty much derailed for Shodai, but could be put back on the tracks at some point if he can show better form and thus deserve a little more help. Kakuryu was 5-0 against him coming in, moreover, so if Shodai is still part of the future-stars queue, it won't be long before Kakuryu has to help that story get told and lose to him. Would today be that day? Shodai has looked so bad, and there are so many other better options (Mitakeumi, Takakeisho, Hokutofuji, Onosho), that I decided the Substitute Teacher (Kakuryu) was probably just going to go ahead and knock Shodai out. It was too early for anything else.

It was a crappy match, but Kakuryu did go ahead and win. He had a kind of weak-looking outside right grip, and was going backwards, but he moved easily to the side and pulled with that grip, dumping Shodai comfortably to the dirt, getting the uwate-dashi-nage decision you see on backwards-moving throws. This was so typical of Kakuryu's sumo: he is a Yokozuna, and does have it in him to win and win and win, but the way he does it is usually so drab he'll never be anything but The Invisible Yokozuna. Nevertheless, I predict a smooth run to the yusho for him from here.


M14 Abi (4-3) vs. M17 Daiamami (3-4)
Abi has looked pretty genki, and he showed it here with a big, leaping henka followed by some windmill shoves that removed his rotund foe from the ring tsuki-dashi (ridiculous; should have been oshi-dashi) in mere seconds. This was set up well by the announcers reminiscing about "kuru-kuru Mainoumi" ("the spinning Mainoumi"), and video of him springing about like a cricket. So anyway.

M13 Takekaze (1-6) vs. M14 Yutakayama (3-4)
Takekaze tried to shade to the left to get out of this one, but didn't seem committed to it, as he then put up with bigtime roundhouse uppercuts without any more attempts to evade or pull. At a certain point he decided to fall down forward as Yutakayama stepped slightly to the side. They called it tsuki-otoshi, another fake kimari-te. This did not help my opinion of Yutakayama.

M12 Sokokurai (2-5) vs. M15 Ishiura (4-3)
Similar to Takekaze, Ishiura was shading to his left. However, unlike Takekaze, he kept it up, moving when necessary, and employed some tactics, like some arm pulls. That was your first sign that this was straight-up. Second, unlike Yutakayama, who comfortably just went for it, Sokokurai was cautious, keeping his hands on Ishiura's shoulders and waiting for the right opening. He got it--kind of. Ishiura got in underneath him, and Sokokurai was in trouble, but he chose to pull on the back of Ishiura's belt and drive him into the dirt nose first underneath him while backing up. Problem is, his knee touched down to the dirt while he was doing this. Apparently nobody saw that, though; they gave the win to Sokokurai uwate-nage.

M16 Asanoyama (6-1) vs. M12 Kagayaki (3-4)
A good test for Asanoyama, who has been good this tournament but here faced another still youngish guy who has been improving slowly over time, and should expect to be at a slightly higher level than the currently bottom-feeding Asanoyama and not want to give in to him here. Kagayaki smothered him with his long arms, pinning Asanoyama's own arms first, then reaching in for that old belt; he dominated throughout. Asanoyama shook this way and that, trying to throw him off, but the uwate-nage was academic and easy and quick for Kagayaki.

M11 Kotoyuki (4-3) vs. M16 Ryuden (4-3)
I'm pretty surprised Kotoyuki has four wins because he's looked a real mess the last year or so and has very few weapons: a big first hit, then an inconsistent and usually ineffective tsuppari attack. His tachi-ai attack here was more subdued here than usual, but he did then go for his usual tsuppari and drove Ryuden back to the straw. I'm not sure about the veracity of this whole thing, though, because Kotoyuki started pulling, unnecessary against this weak foe and not keyed by anything in the ring I could see, and Ryuden of course happily chased Kotoyuki back across the ring, stuck not just one but both arms inside on the wide-open Kotoyuki, and hugged him out, yori-kiri. So it goes.

M15 Nishikigi (3-4) vs. M11 Daishomaru (3-4)
Another questionable yawn fest. Slow motion tachi-ai, no fire on either side. Daishomaru, an inveterate puller, pushed quietly on Nishikigi's body, and by golly out he went, oshi-dashi. You could say that Daishomaru had lower position and Nishikigi was too upright, but this just looked too easy.

M13 Daieisho (6-1) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (5-2)
A bit of grappling tsuppari here, but basically Daieisho trusted himself and went for it and it worked. Chiyomaru has been showing some skills, but Daieisho has to know that he has to trust himself in a bout like this against an M9. Part way through, a particularly well-planted stiff-arm to the chin got the momentum thoroughly in Daieisho's favor, and oshi-dashi it was.

M6 Takarafuji (4-3) vs. M9 Shohozan (6-1)
I noticed that Shohozan is 8-1 across his career against Takarafuji. As I'm down on Takarafuji and his passive sumo this week, that seemed fitting: these guys are always around the same level on the banzuke, but you would have to think Shohozan's proactive, concentrated style would match up well with Takarafuji's patient one. Along those lines, Shohozan probably should have battered away at Takarafuji a little more in this one; instead, he let it be a belt battle, and that isn't in his favor. At the beginning, it was Shohozan who had the advantage, with both arms momentarily inside, but Takarafuji is much taller and with long arms, and responded quickly by grabbing a good-looking inside/outside dual belt grip, resulting in a convincing yori-kiri win.

M8 Kaisei (4-3) vs. M6 Ikioi (1-6)
Solid work by Kaisei in this one. Blat! They splatted against each other firmly at the tachi-ai. Then they pushed solidly with shoulders and arms for a moment. However, Kaisei did well to snake across for a left overhand grip, and more importantly, neutralized Ikioi's arm on the other side, holding it in check. From there he launched a lumbering and irresistible yori-kiri force-out.

M5 Okinoumi (3-4) vs. M7 Chiyonokuni (1-6)
Ugh. Both guys were doing what they were supposed to do, but it worked out for Chiyonokuni, and that's one reason guys don't do solid sumo much anymore: it leaves you too vulnerable to the guys who don't. Chiyonokuni took a thorough dig through his bag of tricks: tsuppari, a trip attempt, and finally a big pull at the edge that crashed Okinoumi full length to the clay, hataki-komi. Okinoumi? He mostly did everything right. He kept his feet apart. He kept his opponent as square to him as he could. He kept his eyes on Chiyonokuni and leaned in and reached for the belt. He maintained and moved forward. He still lost. Just before the pull, he hesitated on the forward movement, and ultimately that was what cost him. But I kind of hate to see sumo like this, where Chiyonokuni can dismantle a solid guy basically by digging holes under him.

M8 Tochiohzan (5-2) vs. M5 Endo (5-2)
This was just a little bit of a thing. The normally forward moving Endo shaded left, but Tochiohzan had kachi-age'ed him pretty hard in the face with a forearm when he was doing it. You can choose to think that is why Tochiohzan was then so easily able to pull Endo down by the head, hataki-komi, but as Endo put both palms lightly on the dirt I chose to think Endo was playing the game here for whatever reason.

M7 Chiyoshoma (4-3) vs. M4 Arawashi (4-3)
Our two lithe and wicked mid-ranker Mongolians. Chiyoshoma has a much better upside, and dominated this one. He cat-slapped Arawashi and got a right outside grip, and as they went belt to belt Chiyoshoma bodied Arawashi out absolutely no problem, yori-kiri. It's possible they worked this out at Tottori karaoke or whatever, but in either case the match does demonstrate the key difference between them: while they both spend a lot of time pulling and dancing around in a lot of their bouts, when it's time to bring out the sheer strength and aggressive, straightforward sumo power, Chiyoshoma has more of it than Arawashi does.

M2 Yoshikaze (3-4) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (6-1)
So you may have notice that despite dedicating my whole intro to him on Day 6, I totally left Tochinoshin out of my yusho-race intro today. That's just the way it is:  M3s who are one loss behind a Yokozuna they just lost to on Day 7 do not come back and take tournaments from them. Yesterday, any yusho fantasy was over for Tochinoshin, and that's fine. We can still enjoy seeing how close to the leaders he can keep it, and whether he can pile up a 13-2 or so. That would be awesome. He belongs at Sekiwake, and that will be open for him if the current record trajectories continue with him, Tamawashi, and Onosho. Today, however, Tochinoshin had Yoshikaze to deal with, a mysterious golden boy for Team Japan who is in his sunset years but keeps getting ol' sun back up over the horizon for a few extra months, and seemed a good candidate to steal thunder from Tochinoshin today: somebody wants Yoshikaze to shine this tournament. I was apprehensive. However, the match was straight up, vicious, and a good one. Tochinoshin was red-faced and thorough in his aggression and forward movement, using face thrusts, an uppercut forearm mid-way, and a few roundhouse head-slaps to keep Yoshikaze moving backwards. Yoshikaze tried to maintain by keeping his head low, his arms tight, and seeing if he could get inside, but Tochinoshin gave him no room in there and finally destroyed him with a few emphatic chest shoves at the end that got him a well-earned tsuki-dashi ruling. This is what we come for.

M1 Hokutofuji (2-5) vs. K Onosho (3-4)
Frankly, my suspicion is that Onosho will pull out a kachi-koshi and grab the other Sekiwake spot, putting Tochinoshin at Komusubi, but that's fine. This was a very messy match. They went head to head at the tachi-ai, but Onosho couldn't really handle Hokutofuji and so did a lot of evasion, circling, and pulls. It was dynamic, sure, but I'd have liked to see them stick a little closer to each other. Ultimately blame lies with Hokutofuji, too, for the eventual hataki-komi loss: he didn't consistently respond to the whirling pace of the match by moving forward, responding by instinctively tossing in a few pull tries of his own, and that let Onosho, who had set the pace, keep the pace: Onosho was ready for a push-and-pull battle, and Hokutofuji wasn't, and lost it.

M2 Kotoshogiku (3-4) vs. S Tamawashi (2-5)
Nice hit by Tamawashi on the tachi-ai, then solid aggression throughout with inside-arms to the body and well spread, forward moving feet. Perfunctory oshi-dashi win for one of the best.

O Goeido (5-2) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (1-6)
Having dropped out of the yusho race with his two losses, Goeido becomes just a sideshow. A tiny portion of the crowd cares, but a lot of them just have a good laugh at him--there's something about Goeido that deflects passion and invites bemusement or ridicule. Today, ridicule would be the way to go: Chiyotairyu pulled out that "da bomb!" Chiyotairyu attack, nearly knocking Goeido out right at the tachi-ai, and over the next second, as Goeido stumbled and bumbled backwards, Chiyotairyu finished him swiftly off, tsuki-dashi. What a destruction. Yikes! It's not all as dark as it sometimes seems: I guarantee you there were dozens of happy ojisans in the crowd, one or two Sapporos into their afternoon, having a good chuckle. And ordering another beer.

K Takakeisho (2-5) vs. O Takayasu (4-3)
A few moments of feeling each other's uppers, then Takakeisho compliantly flopped to the ground on the pull, hataki-komi. And, well, sometimes it is as dark as it seems, too.

Mike tsuki-dashis Day 9 tomorrow.

Day 7 Comments (Don Roid reporting)
First of all just let me say thank you to everyone who took the time to like the Sumotalk Facebook page and / or liked our posts or left a comment. If you haven't done so yet, feel free to head on over and give our page a like and join in the discussion.

Harvye's portrait of Tochinoshin approaching his oyakata for a chance to give his all without having to do any favors for anyone seemed to transport me into another realm of my imagination - somewhere between Japanese anime, reality and the dohyo.  However, I'd like to take a different approach to my open here on day 7, more of an investigative journalism approach.

Mike raised a point once again this basho that some people agree with and others scoff at.  Namely the point that Kisenosato's fellow Yokozuna have been intentionally throwing bouts in order to take the attention away from the fact that Kid is a bumbling oaf.  If that were true, certainly there would be some facts to back it up, right?  Luckily for us sumo fans there's a great resource available which I'm sure many of you are familiar with, Sumo Reference.  So, I'll save you an afternoon of clicking and you can just check out my research below.

QUESTION:  Are the other Yokozuna intentionally throwing bouts to make it seem like Kisenosato isn't the only oafish Yokozuna?

TIME FRAME: Jan. 2017 - Jan. 2018

Times when a Hakuho loss occurred on the same day just after a Kisenosato loss

Times when another Yokozuna lost on the same day just after a Kisenosato loss

Times when a Yokozuna loss occurred on the next day when Kisenosato fights last and loses

Times when no loss occurred after a Kisenosato loss on the same day (or the next day when Kisenosato fights last and loses)

Bouts highly in question
Hakuho vs. Takayasu (Hatsu 2017 day 9)
Harumafuji vs. Tamawashi (Haru 2017 day 14)
Harumafuji vs. Yoshikaze (Nagoya 2017 day 1)
Harumafuji vs. Onosho (Kyushu 2017 day 1)
Hakuho vs. Hokutofuji (Hatsu 2018 day 3)
Hakuho vs. Yoshikaze (Hatsu 2018 day 4)

Bouts which seem to contradict that someone is throwing bouts to protect Kisenosato's image
Kisenosato vs. Kotoshogiku (Hatsu 2017 day 9)
Harumafuji vs. Kisenosato (Haru 2017 day 13)
Kisenosato vs. Kakuryu (Haru 2017 day 14)
Hakuho vs. Okinoumi (Natsu 2017 day 4)
Hakuho vs. Kotoshogiku (Nagoya 2017 day 1)

At first look, I think you'd have a hard time proving the theory that the other Yokozuna are intentionally throwing bouts to cover for Kisenosato's oafishness. There are a total of eight times when Kisenosato lost and none of the other Yokozuna lost after his bout (or lost the next day when Kisenosato was the last bout of the day) and there are also eight times when at least one Yokozuna DID lose just after a Kisenosato loss (or the next day when Kisenosato had the last bout of the day). That's exactly 50% of the time.

However, everything is circumstantial. The most incriminating bouts occurred in the Hatsu 2017 basho (when Kisenosato was fighting for his yok promotion), in the Haru 2017 basho (his first tournament as a yok) and in the current basho (when he has already declared he is injury-free and is making a comeback). The other tournaments where the "no loss occurred after a Kisenosato loss" incidents seem to pile up (May, July and November) is when he pulls out due to injury and is not a threat to the yusho and the other Yokozuna would have no reason to start throwing bouts in his favor.

It's extremely hard to prove this theory and there is evidence on both sides of the equation. Certainly there seems to be some very strange bouts. It's easy to cry yaocho or accuse someone of taking a dive. The hard part is to think of the reason why someone might do it. That is all speculation. Mike is without a doubt a master of breaking down the hold-for-hold action atop the dohyo. His speculation on WHY some funny business may be happening is very insightful and is based on his knowledge of Japanese culture through years of living in Japan and the time he spent actually visiting the different heyas and watching keiko. So before you go ahead and just write him off as a conspiracy nut, do your research as I did and make an unbiased opinion based on the action atop the big clay mound. That being said, I do think that it COULD just be a coincidence that things have happened this way. At this point, nothing would surprise me.

Coming into day 7 the main question for me is if any Japanese wrestler can rise to the occasion and take the yusho with the main stumbling blocks out of the way. Harumafuji is history, Hakuho is kyujo and so is Kisenosato (not that he would be much of a stumbling block anyway). This creates a great opportunity for someone who wouldn't normally have a chance, to come up and steal the cup. As we approach the half-way point, the leader board looks like this:

6 - 0:  Kakuryu, Mitakeumi, Tochinoshin, Asanoyama
5 - 1:  Shohozan, Daieisho
4 - 2:  Goeido, Takayasu and six other ham-and-eggers

Ryuden (3-3) vs. Yutakayama (3-3)
Not a bad way to start off the action. Both guys fought hard. Yutakayama's pushes were fought off by Ryuden and eventually neutralized when he got under Yama's stink-pits and just plowed through him like a blocking sled on an American football practice field.

Abi (3-3) vs. Nishikigi (3-3)
Almost a mirror image of the previous match, both in terms of the records of the rikishi and also the style of the bout. Abi was doing a number on Nishikigi with his pushes. He had Kigi on the run and then slapped down his shoulders, causing him to stumble forward. He then caught Nishikigi and tossed him off the dohyo.

By the way, how are you guys watching the action this month? Is anyone watching the new Abema stream? It's pretty cool, actually. They have a three-person commentary team made up of the play by play guy (hugging a stuffed animal), the knowledgeable ex-wrestler and the token hot chick. They also do a great job of making things interesting between the bouts. They play music in the background, do interviews with some of the wrestlers and have interesting little short video clips and graphics and whatnot. I think this may help attract the younger male audience we were talking about in the pre-basho podcast with Mike and Kane.

They're also plugging Asashoryu's New Year's Eve TV show a lot, the one where he challenged all comers. If you can win, you get 10 million yen. Check out the video of his bout with former K1 kickboxer Bob Sapp below.

I'm actually going to be doing commentary on Bob Sapp's "fight", next week in Izmir, Turkey for a kickboxing promotion called Mix Fight Championship. Sapp was a HUGE star in Japan in the early 2000's, but has been taking dives since 2005.

Asanoyama (6 - 0) vs. Daieisho (5 - 1)
An important bout (on paper) for the yusho, but you know neither dude is going to win it. Daieisho blows him out of the water right from the get-go and Asanoyama's hopes of that zensho yusho go up in smoke.

The next bout of interest for me was M15 Ishiura (3 - 3) vs. M12 Kagayaki (3-3), not because of the very feminine appearance of Kagayaki's man breasts, but because Ishiura has really been impressing me lately. Sure, he sometimes gets his ass kicked because of his size, but I always root for the undersized guy, especially when they show a lot of heart, as Ishiura does. And boy, he had all of his tricks on display today, didn't he?

Kagayaki blew him back at the tachi-ai, but Ishiura scooted to his left, then changed direction to his right, working the hay bales at a feverish pace. Kagayaki kept his hips square, his pace forward and his arms out, but when he finally got Ishiura where he wanted him, he got taken on a magical mystery tour which truly has to be seen to be believed.

What caught my attention after that was M7 Chiyoshoma (4 - 2) taking on M9 Shohozan (5 - 1). They tussied around for a while before the beat down came. Chiyoshoma starting wailing Shohozan in the dome with some wicked hari-te. You could clearly hear the crack of each slap all the way up in the nosebleed section. He hit Shohozan hard with three of them, but in the end he got too greedy and it cost him his position. In the time it took to uncork those last two bad boys, Shohozan was moving forward much faster and pushed him out.

M2 Kotoshogiku (2 - 4) vs. K Onosho (3 - 3)
I have to admit that I'm much more interested in the Geeker now than I was during his Ozeki run. Besides the smaller guys like Takanoyama and Ishiura, I also tend to root for the old timers like Wakanosato, Kyokutenho and nowadays, Kotoshogiku. They guy's obviously seen better days as far as his health and he's never going to return to the Ozeki rank, but I love the fact that he refuses to just lay down and die. Today he got pushed back to the bails quick by Onosho, who just came barreling straight into him. Geeku absorbed it though and put up a hell of a fight, not once, but twice or even three times at the edge before he managed to shift his body weight. He had a hold of Onosho with that right arm the whole time and took him down with a sloppy-looking but effective kote-nage.

S Mitakeumi (6 - 0) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (3 - 3)
Mitakeumi is one of the guys who has a chance to win this thing. He's got everything going for him right now:  he's new, he's young, he's undefeated so far, he's already defeated both of the Komusubi and the other Sekiwake and he's Japanese. Yoshikaze's not in the running at all. Plus, he's already had his share of big wins by defeating Hakuho and Kisenosato. What does he need this win for? You could tell he wasn't really trying very hard today, for whatever reason, because when he's in full badassery mode, he's arms are flailing at 100 mph in eight different directions at the same time. Today he only went for an ill-fated slap down about half way through the bout which put him in an even worse position than he was already in. Mitakeumi had him up against the edge before stepping back and watching Yoshi fall face first into the clay.

M1 Ichinojo (2 - 4) vs. O Takayasu (4 - 2)
It has always amazed me how small Ichinojo's feet are in comparison to the rest of his body. It's like they just somehow shrunk like a scrotum in cold water. It's so bizarre. Sometimes we complain that we don't get that real chest to chest sumo that we'd normally like to get. Well, we got it today. Once they settled into their grips after the tachi-ai, they were both left-out, right-in on each other, the difference being that Takayasu had a deep left grip and Ichinojo had none, but was working for the right hand. It looked like a stalemate for a while. I can only imagine the kind of weight and pressure they can put on their opponent, simply by leaning on them. Imagine Ichinojo leaning on anything besides another sumo wrestler. What do you think would happen? Takayasu tried to slip his left arm inside, but it was blocked by Itchy. He went back to his original game plan, but couldn't secure a tight grip. Nojo got the right arm in deep and when he sensed Takayasu coming forward, took a step back with his left leg, pulled with his right arm and put his right leg forward, in front of the Yeti's left leg, disrupting his balance and sending him rolling like a log off the dohyo. Great match!

O Goeido (4 - 2) vs. K Takakeisho (2 - 4)
You know that feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night with a really dry mouth and it's difficult to swallow? You just lay there trying to swish around whatever little bit of spit you can muster up until you get a goober big enough to swallow down and wet your whistle. That's kind of how I feel watching Goeido. As Kane has pointed out a couple of times, he always tries hard but at the end of the match, even if he wins, there's sometimes that look of "How the hell did I do that?" on his face. I couldn't see the opposite camera angle on this match, but I think Goeido managed to get the left hand on the belt before he drove Taka out of the ring.

Y Kakuryu (6 - 0) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (6 - 0)
A main event anywhere in the world, by god. What a great match to make today to narrow down the number of undefeated wrestlers. From a lot of the comments I've been reading, not only here on Sumotalk and on the Sumotalk Facebook page, but also on some of the different Youtube channels, it seems like a lot of people are rooting for Tochinoshin to win it all this tournament, and why not?  Dude deserves it.  Well, I think he broke a lot of hearts today. And judging by his picture in his high school year book, it probably wasn't the first time. Tochinoshin hit him hard at the tachi-ai and tried to slap him, but Kakuryu shrugged it off and got the right hand deep on the outside for a second. Tochi broke the grip and created space with his arms as they both flailed at each other. They went back and forth for a few seconds before the interim storyteller was able to get a more advantageous grip. When he backed the Georgian up to the edge of the ring, we didn't see the Tochinoshin of old where he would dig in deep and put up the fight of his life. Today we just saw him accept his loss and so too, perhaps, accept the fact that January 2018 is not his month. I guess his oyakata got that phone call after all...

We shall see. At the end of today's madness only Kak and Mitakeumi remain undefeated with four others behind them at 6 - 1.  Tomorrow Harvye returns to make your back crack and your liver quiver.

Day 6 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
I have this vision of Tochinoshin begging an oyakata to be given a chance.  It would be a quiet day, early January, after the fade of New Year's debauchery, extra cold, nothing moving.  Shuffle across the stable complex, knock on the sliding door, get an audience.

He'd say, "just this once, let me go for it."  The oyakata, a bit chilled on the tatami, even with the kerosene stove blazing, would know immediately what he meant:  no giving in this time, no charity.  Just hard effort and what comes, comes, day in and day out.  No favors to friends in other stables, no deals.  It would mean Tochinoshin's stable would have to swear off of equity building with him for the fortnight, respond to all offers, "sorry, 'Shin isn't available this time around."  The oyakata looked at him, bleary eyed with too much sake from too many Shin-nen-kais.  Recovering.

The oyakata would consider it.  Tochinoshin?  He was a good one.  Injury survivor.  Strong as a bear.  Calm, never disrespectful. There was that time with the curfew and the western clothes, but everybody gets to be young sometime. And that was long ago.  The oyakata pondered him as he'd first seen him.  Big, tall, and heavy:  a great sumo body, built for stardom.  They'd thought, maybe, at the beginning, that he would take it.  But then there was the ligament injury, and he'd fallen so far down.  Granted, he'd made it back up, but it felt too late. Things had moved on. Still. Give him this one chance? Why not. The oyakata absentmindedly brushed senbei cracker crumbs off his robes, onto the fraying, bluish straw mats.

And the oyakata would nod:  "okay."  Thinking:  this boy has done right by me.  "You might not win," the oyakata would warn him, the words gelid in the winter air.  Tochinoshin would nod back.  Though he couldn't know it, he would barely, barely beat Takayasu, half by luck, on Day 4.  On Day 5, though he thought he was much, much better than him, Goeido would give him the fight of his life.  But he would win both those:  earn it with hard work and harder sumo.  And he'd find himself 5-0.  One step at a time, one day at a time, seeing what he could do, what he could really do, if he tried.

But that was all in the future.  Now, in this early January meeting, feet and hands half numb in the drafty, underheated rooms, the two men were done talking.  "Got for it" didn't need to be spoken.  Hands didn't need to be shaken--not that they would in Japan anyway.  Tochinoshin would just rise, bow--not specifically because of the favor being done, but because he always bowed when he left his oyakata's chamber--and leave.  The oyakata would barely nod.  They'd be silently happy with each other.  Tochinoshin: thinking "this is it, my one chance.  I got it."  The oyakata: thinking, "well, he's earned it. Let him try."

And as Tochinoshin chafed his meaty, slow way back to his room, the oyakata would get out a cigarette, smoke slowly, ponder.  Knowing.  Poor boy, he'd think.  If it goes well, sometime one day during this tournament, someone is going to call me, call on my antique black telephone, with the cord and the dial-ring, sitting there in the tokonoma by the plant and the scroll.  Someone is going to call.  And ask in a certain way.  And I'm going to have to tell 'Shin:  "sorry kid; have to let this one go, too."


K Takakeisho (2-3) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (5-0)
Tochinoshin had to earn every inch when he beat the Ozeki, and today was going to be like that too, I thought:  Takakeisho hasn't put it all together yet, but he has game.  He aggresses well, pushes hard, and has enough pull and retreat in him to make him dangerous to the gullible.  Against such youthful ambition, today was another big stone in Tochinoshin's path toward his Big Chance, looked like, on paper.

However, in reality Tochinoshin showed how very good he is.  Takakeisho did nothing but pull here, and Tochinoshin kept his feet moving and had the presence of mind to, instead of falling down, grab onto Takakeisho's belt hard and deep.  From there Takakeisho wiggled around a bit and kept on pulling, but he was being well smothered by the Grizzly, and this yori-kiri victory for Tochinoshin was so dominant it ought to be eye-opening for anyone unconvinced.  What does it mean?  It means Takakeisho has a ways to go yet.  It means Tochinoshin is really good.

And it means today was not yet the day for Tochinoshin's oyakata to take that phone call he cannot refuse.


M15 Ishiura (3-2) vs. M16 Asanoyama (5-0)
Ishiura kept low, bent over and with his head down, and this in itself is fine. But he had nothing else to offer. He doesn't have the power to face up to guys like this, and Asanoyama is on fire this tournament. Asanoyama slugged away at him, bash, bash, bash, dutiful and purposeful, and the oshi-dashi came quickly and easily.

M17 Daiamami (2-3) vs. M15 Nishikigi (2-3)
Daiamami had the momentum, but Nishikigi had the hold. Nishikigi found Daiamami's fatness underneath him and driving hard, but lo!, he also found Daiamami's arm stuck in under his armpit. So Nishikigi smartly held on tight to that arm and started to spin and leverage it. He was on his way out, but he won this battle by dragging Daiamami to the dirt, kote-nage, before Daiamami could drive him all the way gone.

M13 Takekaze (1-4) vs. M16 Ryuden (2-3)
Ryuden reminds me a little of Kagayaki: tall, supple looking, promising sumo body. But terrible sumo. Kagayaki has gotten better, but I've seen none of that from Ryuden yet: his sumo skills have been non-existent during his terribly fought bouts so far this tournament. He's lucky he's got that body, because he hasn't yet shown that he has anything else. Today, for the first time, he showed some solid stuff: put his left hand in and held on to Takekaze, kept his feet apart, and simply drove him from there oshi-dashi. Out went the laundry cart. However, Ryuden is going to have to show it against more than this broken down bit of buzzard flesh.

M2 Sokokurai (2-3) vs. M13 Daieisho (4-1)
In case you haven't noticed, I like Daieisho some. Shades of Kakizoe today: both fists on the dirt, ready to go and waiting. He then stood Sokokurai up with two hands inside to the chest and focused, uplifting shoves for a linear, dominant oshi-dashi win. Unfortunately, it didn't look to me like Sokokurai was trying. Still, nothing wrong with Daieisho here.

M14 Yutakayama (2-3) vs. M12 Kagayaki (3-2)
Like Ryuden, Yutakayama has made a bad impression on me thus far.  Every time I see him I think, "whoa! Dude is big and solid!"  But then every time he fights he looks stiff and lost, easily beatable and directionless.  Like Ryuden, though, today he pulled it together for me a little bit for the first time. The key to this messy up-close-tsuppari-in-the-grills affair was to keep Kagayaki in front of him, and Yutakayama did that well.  He also did a good job of knocking Kagayaki side to side, particularly with one hard right hand to the body near the end: people who like fisticuffs liked this match. Yutakayama won with a mangling oshi-dashi. Kagayaki may have helped him a little with a very lame pull in there, but Yutakayama looked toughish in this one.

M14 Abi (3-2) vs. M11 Daishomaru (2-3)
Abi, on the other hand, has made no impression on me at all. As Mike might say, it has been a quiet 3-2. This match featured a false start by Abi, then a sort of lurching, off-kilter tachi-ai that should also have been called back. They went at it pretty good for a moment there with some wild slapping, but I think they were both still a bit startled. Daishomaru was the first to clue in, taking advantage of the hectic confusion by whipping Abi to the dirt in front of him, hataki-komi. This guy is really good at pulls, people.

M8 Shohozan (4-1) vs. M11 Kotoyuki (4-1)
Both having nice tournaments; both will fade like a wan January sun in the Tokyo afternoon early dusk. But let's enjoy them for the moment: Kotoyuki looked determined not to fall into his normal bad habit of "one big slap and done with myself," instead going for little rapid pitter-patter to the face and busy feet. However, Darth Hozan's inner chi is just way, way more settled down than Kotoyuki's, so he said to himself, "okay, I'm getting out of this." He backed up calmly and easily, circling comfortably around the edge and pulling down determinedly, and Kotoyuki eagerly came after him and was pulled down hiki-otoshi, half falling out of the ring on him own beavery momentum. Oh, Kotoyuki.

M8 Tochiohzan (4-1) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (3-2)
Now that Special Sauce (Tokushoryu) has disappeared, my new guilty pleasure is Chiyomaru: "here he comes! Waddle waddle. Just look at that belly sticking out! It's like a wonder of nature." Anyway, unfortunately in this bout we didn't get to enjoy him juddering and jiggling about much, as he stepped lamely to the side and pulled Tochiohzan down, hiki-otoshi. Oh well.

M10 Aminishiki (1-4) vs. M8 Kaisei (2-3)
It isn't the first time I've said it, but this time I really do think Aminishiki's knee injury is career ending; he withdrew and Kaisei got the freebie. What a run for Aminishiki, though; you can't say he didn't give it his all over a long, long career. Looked very painful yesterday going down and grabbing that knee. Off into the sunset, boyo, off into the sunset.

M6 Takarafuji (3-2) vs. M8 Chiyonokuni (1-4)
I probably spent a year or two thinking Takarafuji would incrementally brush up his technique and make something of himself. Waiting. Instead, he never developed any dynamism or even perceptible focus and has settled into mediocrity. As a result, no wrestler could be more boring right now: slow and passive and going nowhere. Still, I hoped he would pound Chiyonokuni, who doesn't belong at this level and is annoying with all the hijinx he pulls to stay here. Nothing doing; Takarafuji doesn't pound anyone, and that is part of his problem. This turned out to be a pretty good match anyway, though. As is his wont, Takarafuji just kind mostly stood there and maintained, resisting and looking for an opening, figuring out where he wanted to direct the match. Chiynokuni was whacking him in the face over and over again, and Takarafuji took it like an overindulgent Dad with a poorly behaved one year old. However, father knows best. Having sussed it all out, when Junior got a little too bold and came in too close, Daddy grabbed him around the torso thick and hot and immediately removed him from the ring, finally, yori-kiri. This was a classic Takarafuji win: patience. But in the end he has too much of that.

M5 Okinoumi (1-4) vs. M7 Chiyoshoma (4-1)
Oh, that Chiyoshoma. He's back to showing his slinky strength. I think I disavowed him just three days ago--too much pulling--but he always just winks at me and I'm back in his arms again. He fought poorly today though. He kind of got overwhelmed. He was busy pulling on Okinoumi's arms when he should have been aggressing to his belt. And when he did go for the belt he was tentative and his arm was too straight; no leverage. Okinoumi is a big fella and grabbed holt of 'im pretty good and just bulled him back and out, yori-kiri. Both of these guys have uneven effort and quality levels; I'd like to see them fight on a day when they are both on their A-Game, but this wasn't it. May never happen.

M4 Shodai (2-3) vs. M5 Endo (4-1)
Battle of the disappointments. This was one of those where Endo got obliterated and looked like a little bitty bit of a thing. He kind of hopped on top of Shodai's charging arms and got removed upon them too, yori-kiri. I'm not sure this was on the up and up: say what you will about his ultimate ability, but as a competitor I like Endo: he very rarely gives anything less than his best, so this looked out of character.

M6 Ikioi (1-4) vs. M4 Arawashi (2-3)
These two dudes were holding on to each other's belts and straining away, and Ikioi whipped Arawashi around on what looked like it was going to be an excellent throw, but Arawashi stuck his leg out and caught Ikioi's leg, collapsing it and causing Arawashi to fall on top of him for the soto-gake win. Some people like this kind of stuff.

S Mitakeumi (5-0) vs. M1 Hokutofuji (1-4)
Mitakeumi got one hook wrapped around Hokutofuji's right arm, and one hook deep into Hokutofuji's ample left teat, with which he kept him upright and too far back to grab belt with his stubby arms. From there Mitakeumi kept on keeping on until the oshi-dashi was done, and looked very good here. Like I said on Day 3, Mitakeumi's Ozeki run is happening this year. Like, right now.

M1 Ichinojo (1-4) vs. S Tamawashi (2-3)
These guys are two ends of a spectrum: the soft, lazy-looking, depressing sumo of Ichinojo vs. the hard, kinetic, wake-up-call sumo of Tamawashi. Ichinojo has more body, but he is years away from the possibility of building up the concentrated kickass that Tamawashi positively oozes. Dumb match, though, and I don't know how these guys don't sometimes break their necks. Tamawashi was slow on the tachi-ai, and decided to press on Ichinojo's belly and stand there. Not going to work. Ichinojo let go of him and shrugged him off to the side, kind of, got behind him, and knocked him over and out, tumbling him down onto his head upside down off the dohyo, oshi-taoshi. I can't say I've figured out why Tamawashi danced out of Ichinojo's hold in that unnatural looking way, though. You?

O Goeido (4-1) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (2-3)
This match was a heap of useless dumb-assedness. Yoshikaze pushed up on Goeido, then pulled him down while he stood there waiting, arms back, hataki-komi. Even Goeido is not this bad of a wrestler. Why this outcome? I dunno. Happens.

M3 Chiyotairyu (0-5) vs. Y Kisenosato (1-4)
As we knew he would, Kisenosato withdrew. He did NOT retire. Not yet. You know what? I respect this guy. Yeah, his oyakata made up some kind of nonsense about a pectoral injury. But Kisenosato himself said the other day his condition is just fine. It would have been so easy to say instead, "I'm hurting a little bit." He didn't to that. Say what you will about Kisenosato, he's got some gatsu and honor. Now ask yourself this: do you really want him to retire? It would be a little sad and maudlin, but for me, the answer is yes, I do. It would take another heaping helping of gatsu and honor, frankly. Let's see if he can muster it.

K Onosho (2-3) vs. O Takayasu (4-1)
This just looked kind of silly. Onosho had Takayasu upright and going backwards, and Takayasu both pulled him and, for a split second, looked like he was going to do that "white flag" / "I'm not here" thing Hakuho pulled against Yoshikaze last tournament. Instead, he was knocked into all kinds of rambling dance flying by one nasty hataki-komi downward swipe by Onosho. Like, Takayasu totally lost all his marbles and jitterbugged around the ring and in a semi-circle around Onosho before putting his palms on the clay.

Y Kakuryu (5-0) vs. M2 Kotoshogiku (2-3)
I'm liking this idea of Kakuryu as The Temporary Storyteller. I'm also thinking of him for some reason as The Substitute Teacher. It's very Kakuryu. Meanwhile, I never thought I'd see Kotoshogiku fighting in the last match of the day on the same day that Terunofuji is a ranked low-Maegashira and semi-retired. Go figure. Meanwhile, this was a chest to chest with left arms inside, and Kotoshogiku had his genki on and gaburi-yori'ed Kakuryu busily all over the ring. Looked like he had him a couple of times, but Kakuryu is not a Yokozuna for nothing (did you notice Kakuryu is in fact a Yokozuna, by the way? Yes, really!), and he wasn't going out like that. (Aside: compare to Kisenosato.) Eventually they settled down in the middle of the ring to see who could tire who out and who would launch the effective throw. Just as the gyoji was wiping his nose (yes, really), it was Kakuryu, of course, who ignited. He broke Kotoshogiku's grips off with a masterful hip wrench. He didn't end up throwing, and had trouble with the yori-kiri because Kotoshogiku's mawashi had loosened up and Kakuryu couldn't get much leverage with it, but he got it done, including having the presence of mind to keep his toes in the air on one foot that was dangerously far out onto the straw. Yes, Kotoshogiku gave him a bunch of trouble here--it was fun. But Kakuryu showed why he is a Yokozuna, even if a minor one. And as Temporary Storyteller, the tournament is his for the taking.

Tomorrow Don infuriates the deliberation council with a suffocating nodowa.

Day 5 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
I thought today was the best day of sumo we've seen this tournament.  Now, I must qualify that by saying it's the same as building a really good soap box derby car.  Regardless of how well the soap box derby car performs, it's still a soap box derby car constructed of inferior materials when compared to a typical automobile.  I'll clarify more what I mean by that as we examine the day 5 bouts, but the big news heading into the day was the withdrawal of Yokozuna Hakuho. I think he said something about an owie on his big toe, but when you really get down to it, they're not paying him anyway, and he was doing Kisenosato a huge favor by running a bit of interference and stealing some of the negative headlines.

The problem for Kisenosato is that he didn't withdraw, so we're back to the same scenario that we face every day he chooses to fight:  1) he'll either get his ass kicked, or 2) his opponent will have to throw the bout in order for him to win.  I seriously cannot remember the last time I watched a Kisenosato win and thought, "Hey, that was legit!!"  I think it was about six months ago when I said he doesn't even belong in the division, and I know of no proof based on what he has shown in the ring that would prove that claim otherwise.

The drama surrounding Kisenosato today will have to wait until the end, so let's cover the day's bouts in chronological order. A dude I've never heard of before in Kyokutaisei came up from Juryo (he can thank Hakuho's withdrawal for that) to face M16 Asanoyama who has looked great so far.  Kyokutaisei showed obvious nerves in this one bouncing a bit at the tachi-ai and then jumping the gun and then just standing up and pausing when they didn't call it back.  In the mean time, Asanoyama just rushed forward getting his right arm to the inside and a left outer grip to boot and he had Kyokutaisei forced back and out in under two seconds.  Kyokutaisei kinda looked at the ref as he was going out, but what he really shoulda done is raised his hand, called a matta, and then pouted when he didn't get it.  Hopefully the kid will be less nervous next time he's called up, and he wasn't able to show us his stuff today as Asanoyama breezes to a 5-0 start.

M16 Ryuden got the left inside and right outer grip against M15 Ishiura from the tachi-ai, and then he just burrowed forward plowing Ishiura back and across without argument.  On the surface, this looked like a dominant win for the rookie, but Ishiura was mukiryoku the entire way.  Ishiura just stood there at the charge, and he never tried to escape or evade once Ryuden had him in his clutches.  Ishiura had room to give as he falls to 3-2 while Ryuden limps forward to 2-3.  And for the record, Ryuden still hasn't won a straight up bout in the division.

M17 Daiamami and M14 Yutakayama engaged in a pretty entertaining tsuppari affair where each guy traded tit for tat firing thrust after thrust each others' way.  After switching sides in the dohyo and continuing to shove each other, Daiamami finally relented and went for a dumb pull.  Yutakayama seemed ready and went for that do-or-die shove as he was being pulled down, and it looked live as if Yutakayama won by oshi-dashi, but the ref pointed towards Daiamami.  They called a mono-ii and reviewed the tape, and while Daiamami hadn't technically stepped out before Yutakayama hit the dirt, Amami was so far gone that I think they made the correct decision by awarding Yutakayama the win.  Why reward a guy for a dumb pull?  Both rikishi end the day at 2-3, but I will say I've enjoyed watching both of them grapple the first five days.

M15 Nishikigi and M13 Daieisho traded shoves from the tachi-ai with Nishikigi seemingly gaining the upper hand due to his size and length, but a few seconds in Daieisho sprung open the trap door moving quickly to his left and going for a pull in the process.  Nishikigi couldn't quite keep up, and credit Daieisho for his good timing and speed in this one as he moves to 4-1.  Nishikigi falls to 2-3.

M14 Abi and M12 Kagayaki also began their affair with equal shoves, but Abi knew he was up against a tall task, and so he moved back and to his right a bit, but Kagayaki covers a lot of real estate fast, and he was back on top of the rookie in a flash.  The problem was he wasn't really firing his usual tsuppari, and so when Abi next moved left going for a pull, Kagayaki just dove to the dirt giving the rookie the win.  Watching the slow motion replay, Abi barely made contact in his pull attempt, but that's all Kagayaki needed to just push himself forward with both feet and belly flop to the loss.  Both dudes end the day at 3-2, and there's no harm no foul.  This is simply part of sumo.

Speaking of thrown bouts, Oguruma-oyakata must have read my suggestion for M13 Takekaze yesterday because he finally put a crowbar to his wallet and bought a bout for the aging veteran.  Today's taker was M11 Daishomaru who methodically charged forward waiting for Takekaze to play his hand, but the problem was, Takekaze wasn't really doing anything.  As a result, Daishomaru just stayed square with him not committing to anything, and two or three seconds in, Takekaze finally lunged right and went for a lame swipe with the right hand at Daishomaru's left shoulder, and Daishomaru dutifully just leaped forward and down catching himself with both palms to the dirt.  Another obvious call here as Takekaze picks up his first win at 1-4.  Daishomaru falls to 2-3 in the process and his camp will buy bouts as needed in the future, so it all works out in the end.

M11 Kotoyuki largely whiffed on his first volley of shoves from the tachi-ai against M12 Sokokurai, but Sokokurai has been passive the entire basho, so when Kotoyuki did start connecting on some shoves, Sokokurai moved right in an attempt to escape, but Kotoyuki kept up the pressure catching the foreigner with a few more potent thrusts and sending him across the ropes without argument tsuki-dashi style.  I have to give Kotoyuki credit for the straight up win in this one as he moves to 4-1. As for Sokokurai, he's just sorta there this basho as he falls to 2-3.

M9 Shohozan's feet were completely aligned at the tachi-ai, but M9 Chiyomaru couldn't take advantage because he wasn't moving forward himself, and so after the ugly start, the two engaged in a lively push affair where no one was really connecting effectively.  From this position, Shohozan flirted with moro-zashi only to have Maru slip away left, and then after a few more shoves, Shohozan got the left inside and searched for the right outer grip in the process with Chiyomaru backed up near the edge.  Maru was able to scoot to his left in an attempt to pull and reload, but as he came back towards Shohozan, the Sith Lord just jumped out of the way and pulled Chiyomaru across the straw...barely.  It was an ugly bout where Chiyomaru's own momentum worked against him in the end, but it was real, so kudos to Shohozan as he moves to 4-1.  Chiyomaru falls to 3-2 for his efforts.

M10 Aminishiki and M7 Chiyonokuni traded hesitant shoves from the tachi-ai because you just knew both guys were really looking for the pull, and so after dancing this way and that, Chiyonokuni finally sensed the timing was in his favor, so he darted right tugging Aminishiki forward and down by the head in the process.  Even before he had fully hit the dirt, Aminishiki grabbed at his right knee, and he was clearly injured unable to climb back on the dohyo to bow to his opponent.  You gotta hand it to him for trying, but the dude is just too beat up.  Chiyonokuni picks up his first win of the festivities as both rikishi end the day 1-4, but Aminishiki is likely done for the tournament.

M7 Chiyoshoma henka'd to his right against M8 Kaisei, and Shoma got so much air that Kaisei unfortunately couldn't make him pay for the tachi-ai. As Kaisei looked to square up, Chiyoshoma roamed to his right and finagled his way into moro-zashi, and from there he began a force out charge straight back. Kaisei resisted near the edge, and so Chiyoshoma pivoted left going for in an inside belt throw that was too quick for Kaisei to really counter.  Chiyoshoma moves to 4-1 with the quick and dirty win while Kaisei is a harmless 2-3.

M6 Ikioi barreled forward towards M8 Tochiohzan with his head down kinda going for a push, but little pressure was being applied, and so Tochiohzan was able to back up and move left pulling Ikioi forward and down in the process.  This one was likely rigged as Ikioi just didn't show any life falling to 1-4.  Tochiohzan moves to a quiet 4-1 record for his troubles.

M5 Okinoumi used a right kachi-age at the tachi-ai against M5 Endoh, but he was already shading backwards, and so Endoh was able to advance forward as the two hooked up in hidari-yotsu.  Okinoumi used his length to grab the early right outside grip, but he wasn't really pressing, and so the two spun 90 degrees and he let Endoh grab a right outer of his own.  At this point, the gappuri hidari yotsu bout was on, and both rikishi attempted right outer grips in what was shaping up to be a pretty good looking bout.  After a few seconds, Okinoumi let go of his outer grip and just wrapped his arm around the outside of Endoh's left, and at this point, Endoh executed the perfect yori-kiri win leading with the right outer and keeping his opponent at bay with the inside left.  Granted, Okinoumi was mukiryoku (you can see his nonchalance in the pic at right) and let him get the advantageous position, but it was still enjoyable to watch Endoh win the bout in this manner...if that makes sense.  I mean, when was the last time you ever saw Kisenosato, Mitakeumi, Takayasu, Takakeisho, Onosho, or Goeido win as Endoh won today?  Okinoumi falls to 1-4 with the loss while Endoh is the opposite at 4-1.

M4 Arawashi snuck his left arm to the inside against M6 Takarafuji but quickly pulled it back out and backed up for no reason. Keeping his arms high and wide, he was the easy push-out target for Takarafuji who complied in mere seconds.  Tidy little yaocho here as Takarafuji moves to 3-2 while Arawashi falls to 2-3.

M4 Shodai and M1 Ichinojo struck lightly whereupon Shodai moved out left going for a quick pull that had little effect, and as Ichinojo stayed snug and squared back up with his foe, the two ended up in migi-yotsu.  From this point, Ichinojo just stood there applying no pressure as he waited for Shodai's move, and the move came in the form of a maki-kae with the left arm that worked (because Ichinojo was applying no pressure), and so Ichinojo responded with a maki-kae of his own now moving the bout to hidari-yotsu.  From this point, Shodai danced near the edge attempting the feeblest dashi-nage that you'd ever care to see with his left hand while Ichinojo had the right outer grip, but Ichinojo just played along and danced out of the ring in unspectacular fashion.  Way easy yaocho call here as Shodai moves to 2-3 while Ichinojo has few cares in the world at 1-4.

In a battle between our two Komusubi, Onosho jumped out of the gate first with a paw into Takakeisho's neck while the latter shaded to his left going for a meager pull, and after that first volley, Onosho next attempted a swipe down Takakeisho's torso that had no effect, but that was all Takakeisho needed to just plop down forward and do the splits in the dohyo with both palms breaking his fall.  I'm not even going to speculate on the politics behind this one other than to say that Onomatsu-oyakata was one of the first to support Takanohana when he rebelled from the system seven years ago, but Takakeisho took a dive here leaving both dudes at 2-3.

Don't be surprised to see Sekiwake Mitakeumi on the leaderboard late in the basho because things are just working out his way early on to the point that when we get to week 2 and they start to look for Japanese rikishi to tout as legitimate yusho contenders, Mitakeumi should be high up on the list.  Today, fellow Sekiwake Tamawashi cooperated nicely using his usual tsuppari attack but conveniently leaving out the lower body.  But, credit Mitakeumi for using a nice series of pushes and then pulls to eventually set up moro-zashi thanks to The Mawashi keeping both arms high and wide, and the Japanese rikishi was able to force his opponent back and then push him out in the end. Once again, this was obviously thrown in Mitakeumi's favor, but credit Mitakeumi for actually employing sound waza to get the deed done.  He now moves to 5-0, and I'm sure the cooperation will continue.  As for Tamawashi, he dilly dallies to a 2-3 record.

Ozeki Takayasu displayed his best sumo of the tournament today taking advantage of M1 Hokutofuji's annoying habit of striking high and going for a quick pull at the tachi-ai. The Ozeki would have none of it, however, catching his foe with some beautiful thrusts to the neck and head, and as Hokutofuji tried to evade, Takayasu stayed square attempting an offensive pull and then shoving his way into a left outer grip and right hand pressing up high into Hokutofuji's torso.  With Hokutofuji back pedaling from the beginning, the Ozeki just used good footwork to set his opponent up and fling him out of the ring with a few final shoves.  Great stuff from Takayasu, and just because he looked like an Ozeki today, it doesn't mean that he earned the rank.  This sumo contributed to my better mood today as Takayasu moves to 4-1 while Hokutofuji falls to 1-4.

Next up was Ozeki Goeido facing a tall task in M3 Tochinoshin who reached with his left to grab the outer grip at the tachi-ai, but Goeido was too slippery spinning away and forcing the bout to migi-yotsu where Goeido actually grabbed the left outer grip.  A true Ozeki would defeat his opponent at this point, but Goeido didn't have the skills, and so Tochinoshin wrenched his hips beautifully cutting off Goeido's left outer before reaching and finally getting a left outer of his own.  In the melee, the slippery Goeido managed to bring his left to the inside nearly giving him moro-zashi, but Tochinoshin fought his left arm away well eventually maki-kae'ing the right inside and leaving both dudes in the gappuri migi-yotsu position. The crowd really showed their appreciation at this point as they should have, and regardless of the result, I was really pleased to see Goeido put up a fight like this.  The problem for Goeido today, however, is that his opponent wasn't going to let him win, and so while the Ozeki did fight nicely, he still was at the mercy of Tochinoshin.  After gathering his wits, Tochinoshin walked Goeido back to the edge where the Ozeki wrapped his left leg around Tochinoshin's right, but that's a useless move.  You gotta attempt to move laterally and score on a counter tsuki-otoshi or inside dashi-nage or whatever.  Goeido didn't, and so Tochinoshin finally forced him back and across.  Don't look now but Tochinoshin is 5-0, but we all know that ain't gonna last much longer.  As for Goeido, it was the best sumo I've seen him do in a really long time, but the dude still came up short at 4-1.

M2 Kotoshogiku picked up the freebie due to Hakuho's withdrawal, so the former Ozeki now stands at 2-3.

M3 Chiyotairyu jumped the gun against Yokozuna Kakuryu moving his left leg forward, and as he instinctively drew it back, the Yokozuna charged.  And they didn't call a mono-ii as they should have.  As a result, Chiyotairyu was there for the taking, and so Kakuryu took getting his left arm inside along with the right outer grip, and he forced Chiyotairyu back and across in a few seconds.  I mean, Chiyotairyu likely would have wilted today anyway, but they should have called a false start here. Kakuryu stays perfect at 5-0 while Chiyotairyu falls to 0-5.  Before we move on, Chiyotairyu played his hand with that false start, and he was moving forward resigned to a yotsu struggle.  What I wished he had done is come out with the tsuppari guns blazing because if he connects properly, he's got a small chance.  Oh well.

In the day's final bout, M2 Yoshikaze looked to get both arms to the inside, and Kisenosato did nothing to cut that off, but instead of assuming moro-zashi, Yoshikaze backed out going for a useless pull of Kisenosato's abdomen in the process. As Yoshikaze backed out, he shaded left with Kisenosato in pursuit, but Kisenosato's arms were wide and high as if he intended to do who knows what?  From that position, Yoshikaze assumed moro-zashi for reals this time, and with Kisenosato unable to apply any pressure, Yoshikaze wrenched him over trading places in the dohyo so that now Kisenosato's back was to the straw.  With no counter move coming from Kisenosato, Yoshikaze just lifted him up by the front of the belt with both hands and fired a left tsuki into his side that sent Kisenosato backwards falling onto his butt in the corner of the dohyo before somersaulting backwards down to the arena floor.

There's no reason kicking a man while he's down, but it was comical to hear the persistent murmurs running through the crowd as everyone wondered, "What? Another loss? How can that be?"  Just read Sumotalk and it will all make sense.

I don't see how Kisenosato doesn't withdraw after his fourth consecutive loss (to yet another hira-maku rikishi), but now the question is:  will he retire?  No one in the Association or the YDC or the media has the stones to call for it outright, but Kisenosato just can't go on like this.  Let's just see what happens, and if/when Kisenosato does retire, it wouldn't surprise me to see Hakuho follow right on his heels.  The loss leaves him now at 1-4 while Yoshikaze moves to 2-3.

With Hakuho now gone from the tournament, I think it's safe for Harvye to dub Kakuryu the temporary storyteller tomorrow.

Day 4 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
On day 1 of the broadcast, NHK mentioned that 2017 was the first time in nearly two decades that sumo had sold out for all 90 days of the year. I don't dispute that every available ticket was sold, but it doesn't mean that every seat was filled. I noticed a lot of empty seats during the Kyushu basho throughout the two weeks, and today during the second half of the bouts, as they panned outward showing the entire arena, I saw quite a few empty seats up in the rafters. There's no doubt that all of the tickets the Sumo Association has to sell are gone, but I don't think the tickets are quite as hot as they used to be for the scalpers and 3rd parties who swoop in and buy up tickets when they first go on sale. Sure, the tickets may be sold, but not every seat is filled.

I took the pic above when they panned up high as Endoh and Arawashi were warming up for their bout.  If you look in the upper corners of the pic and then the corner section kind of hidden in between the "sold out" banners," you can see a lot of red, and in some cases entire rows are vacant.  I get it that it's a Wednesday in the first week of the tournament, but the point I'm trying to make is that I think sumo's popularity is beginning to show signs of fatigue on the fringes.  Yes, the tickets are all sold for now, but is there anything there in the product to keep up the momentum?  How long can sumo last by pretending that all of these Japanese rikishi are worthy of the ranks they hold?  I would think at some point that actual substance matters, but we shall see.

Let's get to the better sumo straightway.  I say "better" because we're lucky if we get a handful of good bouts on any given day, but what transpires the last 30 minutes of the broadcast is simply awful, so let's get to the stuff better than the last 30 minutes.

That means we start with M17 Daiamami and Myogiryu visiting from Juryo in a bout that went to migi-yotsu before Daiamami used an ottsuke with the left as he shaded that same direction. This would lead to a left outer grip that he used to execute a quick uwate-dashi-nage with little resistance from Myogiryu throughout the bout. A likely gift here as Daiamami moves to 2-2 with mediocre sumo.

M15 Ishiura backed up and shaded left against M15 Nishikigi who used a right kachi-age looking for the left inside. With his opponent bearing down and moving forward well, Ishiura tried to move laterally, but Nishikigi knocked him down and out with brute strength as Ishiura's ippon-ze-oi attempt at the edge never formulated. Ishiura suffers his first loss here at 3-1 while Nishikigi is even steven at 2-2.

M14 Abi used some nice shoves at the tachi-ai against M16 Ryuden, but he was back pedaling in an effort to set up a pull. Ryuden chased well looking to get his arms to the inside, but Abi was just too slippery scoring on a flurry of nice shoves near the edge to set up a pull for real where he grabbed the outer belt with the left using a dashi-nage to drive that final nail in Ryuden's hitsugi. This was a semi-entertaining bout between our two rookies, but neither displayed sound sumo basics as Abi moves to 2-2 while Ryuden falls to 1-3.

M16 Asanoyama looked for the right inside at the tachi-ai while M14 Yutakayama tried to push him away, and while he did push Asanoyama back with one volley, Asanoyama next worked the left arm inside grabbing a deep belt grip in the process. As Yutakayama dug in with a left inside of his own, Asanoyama unnecessarily went for a maki-kae with the right. It didn't work and it would have cost him against a solid opponent, but he got away with it today just moving out left instead and swinging his gal around and out for the nice yori-kiri win. Asanoyama is off to a nice 4-0 start while Yutakayama continues to struggle in this division at 1-3. To see him do nothing after that failed maki-kae attempt from his opponent was troubling.

M13 Daieisho was extremely proactive with his thrust attack into M13 Takekaze forcing the veteran to the defensive early. Takekaze tried to stand pat with the left inside, but Daieisho countered with his own left hand keeping Takekaze in close so that when the veteran did try and escape left going for a pull, Daieisho was there ready to force him out using his opponent's backwards momentum to his advantage. This was shooting fish in a barrel for Daieisho who cruises to 3-1 while the Takekaze camp must be tight for money this basho. Dude's 0-4.

M12 Sokokurai stalled a bit at the tachi-ai trying to trick his opponent with a surprise attack, but the sneak attack belongs to the Japanese, and M12 Kagayaki showed why timing his charge perfectly and catching Sokokurai with a left to the neck and right to the left torso of Sokokurai who was retreating that way, and after perfect de-ashi and some fine thrusts, Kagayaki had his foe driven back and out in such lopsided fashion they awarded the tsuki-dashi win. Kagayaki moves to 3-1 while Sokokurai falls to 2-2.

M11 Kotoyuki caught M11 Daishomaru with two hands to the neck, but his feet were aligned so he wasn't able to move forward. Instead, he shaded right just a bit shoving Daishomaru at the back of the shoulder with the right hand sending Daishomaru over to the edge and nearly out, and by this time, Kotoyuki was able to rush forward and finish off his business before Daishomaru could counter with a lame pull. The announcer said after this one that it was Kotoyuki's first win over Daishomaru, but I understood it as "This was the first time Daishomaru couldn't afford to pay Kotoyuki off so he took his chances and lost of course."  Kotoyuki's 3-1 if you need him while Daishomaru falls to 2-2.

M9 Shohozan used a quick right hari-te at the tachi-ai against M10 Aminishiki, but it didn't connect well and his left arm wasn't close to the inside, and so he was wide open for a pull attempt that came straightway from Shneaky.  Aminishiki almost had his gal with the pull and then a right arm to the inside, but Shohozan slipped out of that and worked his own left arm to the inside felling Aminishiki with a scoop throw at the edge. Never under estimate the power of the dark side as Shohozan moves to 3-1 while Aminishiki is a tough-luck 1-3.

M8 Kaisei offered some light shoves at the tachi-ai against M9 Chiyomaru instead of looking to get to the belt, which is his strength, and so Maru easily escaped to his left attempting a few dull shoves into Kaisei that had little effect.  Kaisei instinctively tsuppari'ed his foe across the dohyo, but at the edge, he just leaned forward and took a dive as Chiyomaru tried to catch up with a left hiki-otoshi. Nice acting from Kaisei who put both palms to the dirt and managed to keep his knees from actually touching as he falls to 2-2. Chiyomaru moves to 3-1 with the favor, and hopefully the Brasilian will eat well tonight on the Kokonoe-beya dime.

M7 Chiyoshoma did the Ama salute on his penultimate trip to the starting lines bending forward so that his entire torso was parallel with the dohyo. The move drew a few oohs and ahs from the crowd, but that's as good as it would get for the Mongolian. When he charged for reals, he kept his right arm out wide and left arm patting M8 Tochiohzan's shoulder just gifting Oh moro-zashi, and as Tochiohzan went for the immediate force-out, Chiyoshoma faked a kubi-nage all the while keeping himself completely square with his opponent. Easy yaocho call here as Tochiohzan takes care of business leaving both rikishi at 3-1.

M6 Ikioi used a right kachi-age at the tachi-ai to bounce M7 Chiyonokuni away, and then he kept his foe at bay for a few moments before getting his right arm to the inside while Chiyonokuni grabbed the left outer, but without the inside on the other side for Chiyonokuni, Ikioi had all the ikioi, and he showed it by forcing Chiyonokuni all the way back to the edge and then shoving him out before Kuni could escape in desperation. Wasn't the prettiest'a bouts, but Ikioi will take the win as he moves to 1-3.  Chiyonokuni is still stuck on a bagel in four tries.

M5 Okinoumi and M6 Takarafuji hooked up in hidari-yotsu where Takarafuji hugged his gal in close searching for the right outer grip. At this point, Okinoumi's belt unraveled slightly completely exposing Takarafuji's left side, but Okinoumi purposefully refrained from grabbing the outer grip as seen in the pic at right keeping his hand up high instead, and so the winner was determined at that point.  With Okinoumi pretending not to know what to do with his right arm, Takarafuji eventually got the right outer, and it was an easy yori-kiri from there. Okinoumi falls to 1-3 after his mukiryoku performance while Takarafuji is a meh 2-2.

M4 Arawashi made every mistake possible--intentionally--against M5 Endoh in their bout today. He kept his arms open at the tachi-ai, he went for a pull without actually pulling, and he kept his feet aligned near the edge, so it was no wonder Endoh had him pushed back and out in like two seconds.  As if.  Endoh is 3-1 after the fakery while Arawashi is a quiet 2-2.

Hoo boy. M3 Chiyotairyu must be raking in the cash this basho, but hopefully he invests some of the filthy lucre into acting lessons.  After doing nothing with his arms beyond just extending them forward against M4 Shodai, he just toppled over to his left putting his knee down about a second and a half in.  Shodai wasn't even close to executing anything, and he was still standing fully upright with this confused look on his face. They had no choice but to rule this one tsuki-hiza as Chiyotairyu throws yet another bout falling to 0-4. Shodai picks up his first win of the basho, and this dude needs all the help he can get.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi's feet were aligned at the tachi-ai (what's new, right?) against Komusubi Takakeisho as he reached for the left frontal grip, but Takakeisho was able to escape left and place his left arm against the back of Mitakeumi's right shoulder, but he didn't do anything with it, and so he waited for Mitakeumi to shove his way back in, and when the Sekiwake did, Takakeisho bested him again with a shove or two, but he was only looking to take a dive here and not win the bout, so when the first sign of a bad swipe came along his dickey-do, he just fell to the dirt. It wasn't nearly as bad as Chiyotairyu's dive, but Takakeisho did fall on purpose here, and doncha just love it when a bout featuring two Japanese "starts" ends like that...with a dude on all fours?  As is usually the case, Mitakeumi wins the bout without having to do anything, and he now stands at the fluffiest 4-0 I've ever seen. As for Takakeisho, he dutifully falls to 2-2 with the loss.

Sekiwake Tamawashi was a bit more proactive with his shoves today against Komusubi Onosho, but his legs weren't into it at all, and so he was all upper body dictating the pace but never looking to win. In this style, Onosho was busy moving left, and just like the last bout, at the first sign of a pull, Tamawashi just dove forward belly flopping across the tawara in spectacular fashion. This was one of those bouts where Onosho was dominated the entire way, but somehow pulled it off at the last moment. What drama!! Onosho is gifted his first win at 1-3 while Tamawashi is a gracious 2-2.

I think the guy I feel most sorry for in the division is Hokutofuji. He may very well be the best Japanese rikishi on the banzuke, but he just doesn't get the hype of the other guys.  Yes, his win over Hakuho the other day was of course rigged, but he finished the Yokozuna off a lot better and a lot faster than any other Japanese dude could.  He's got some good upside to him, but they don't really hype him because he's just too ugly.  In fact, I was doing some research on the kid when I discovered that he's actually in the process of recording his memoirs that he intends to release in an autobiography upon his retirement as an active rikishi.  Here, let me just show you the cover of his book, and you'll see what I'm getting at:

Turning our attention back to the ring, M1 Hokutofuji kept his arms wide and high from the tachi-ai against Ozeki Goeido, but he was actually still in full control of the bout firing a shove here and there keeping Goeido on the run. At one point, Hokutofuji had the clear path to the right inside and easy yori-kiri win, but he pulled out (cool) and just kept those arms high and wide again. Goeido finally clued in and got the right arm inside and easily worked Hokutofuji back with no resistance, and at the edge Hokutofuji stood straight up allowing the Ozeki to slam him down and off the dohyo. Yet another bout where the loser completely dominates everything, but in this case at least, Goeido made it look good in the end. The Ozeki have been coddled all basho as Goeido moves to 4-0 while Hokutofuji falls to 1-3 like the good lad that he is.

M3 Tochinoshin was non-committal to anything at the tachi-ai against Ozeki Takayasu before firing a few light shoves towards the Ozeki, and as Takayasu backed out of it, Tochinoshin had the left arm to the inside if he had wanted it, but he of course didn't want it. The problem was that Takayasu had no momentum and wasn't in any position to pull although he did make a few motions that way, and so after dancing around half the ring, Tochinoshin finally grabbed the left inside belt and had the clear path to the right outer grip. He refrained from grabbing it, however, and just waited for a move from the Ozeki. Takayasu finally attempted a hurried charge that Shin countered with a right tsuki-otoshi, but he kept himself square instead of stepping out wide as one would normally do thus giving the Ozeki an opportunity. Takayasu couldn't finish the deal, however, slipping down as a result of Tochinoshin's light tsuki-otoshi before the Private stepped out himself.  This one was close enough that they could have called a mono-ii, but replays did show that Tochinoshin's feet had yet to touch out when the Ozeki hit the dirt. This was another one of those bouts where the foreigner gave the over-hyped Japanese dude plenty of chances, but Takayasu was too hapless to capitalize.  So be it as Tochinoshin finds himself at a dangerous 4-0 while Takayasu suffers his first loss at 3-1.

Normally, I'd be excited at the prospect of a Yokozuna Kakuryu - M1 Ichinojo matchup, but whenever the elite Mongolians fight, it's like the Williams Sisters when they used to face each other in the finals of a grand slam. You'd get some good tennis here and there, but neither girl was really into it. They went through the motions because they had too, but the match always ended in straight sets, and the fans knew that they didn't get full effort. T'was the case here today as the bout started in migi-yotsu before Kakuryu attempted a maki-kae with the left. Ichinojo picked up on the momentum shift and forced Kakuryu back close to the edge, but Kakuryu held on with his moro-zashi and eventually turned the tables. Sure, the better guy one here in the end, but there were no red faces and no belts coming loose because there simply wasn't that much pressure exerted by either party.  Kakuryu is a quiet 4-0 while Ichinojo whistles Dixie at 1-3.

It's fun to go back every now and then and relive some of the spoof graphics ST has posted over the years.  Kane is the master at them, and every other basho or so he'll send me a handful and we'll have a good laugh about it. One such graphic that is worth dusting off today is the poster of Turtle-no-Sato after finding himself stuck on his back yet again after getting his ass kicked.  I mean, it's one thing to get turtle-ized at the hands of Hakuho or even Tamawashi, but getting your ass kicked by M2 Kotoshogiku??

The two former Ozeki faced each other today in a bout that began in hidari-yotsu, and after a brief tussle in center of the right, the Geeku unleashed a nice tsuki-otoshi with the right hand into the Kid's left side that felled Kisenosato onto his back in the center of the ring. There are a couple of unwritten rules when it comes to a Yokozuna's losing: he should never lose from the shomen angle (chest to chest straight back), and he should never get dirt on his back. Shoulder blade? Acceptable. Back? No way. Good thing Kisenosato isn't a Yokozuna, so those unwritten rules are still preserved, but what was funny after this one was the shock in the announcers' voices and the oohs of horror from the crowd as if they were stunned at the result.  It's actually scary that people can be so gullible and accept Kisenosato as a Yokozuna, but today's bout was yet another example of how hapless the dude is. Dude, Kotoshogiku left you in his wake!!

At 1-3, he's gotta come up with another fake shindansho soon and withdraw, and if he needs help with it, I hear that Takanohana has more time on his hands these days.  Kisenosato actually reminds me a bit of Wakanohana (speaking of the Hanada brothers).  Like Kisenosato, Wakanohana in his prime was a rikishi with pretty serious game, but as we neared the end of the 1990's, Waka didn't have much left in the tank. They let him win two basho in a row in 1998 so he could earn the rank of Yokozuna, but he was a terrible Yokozuna.  He had one Yokozuna-like record after his promotion (13 wins or higher), but the last year of his existence, he couldn't muster a single kachi-koshi and spent most of his days on the sidelines.  Wakanohana was better than Kisenosato overall, but the situation between the two is very similar.

As an aside, remember the day when Yokozuna were expected to win at least 13 bouts per basho?  12 was acceptable on a strong banzuke, but 13 or higher was the norm.  Now look at the expectations for Yokozuna, and it's a clear sign of how everything has been dumbed down to the point where you're just happy if a Yokozuna can last the full 15 days.  At any rate, both Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku end the day at 1-3.

A trend that I've talked about since Kisenosato was promoted to Yokozuna is that we've always had at least one of the Mongolian Yokozuna mirror Kisenosato's actions in order to draw attention away from just how inept the dude really is.  When Kisenosato withdrew from consecutive basho, there was Kakuryu doing the same.  And then when Kisenosato suffered a really bad loss, how many times did Hakuho respond in kind?

As soon as I saw Hakuho flat-footed at the tachi-ai today against M2 Yoshikaze, I was like here we go again. The Yokozuna did offer a meager right ottsuke into Yoshikaze's left shoulder, and then he positioned his left hand near Yoshikaze's face, but that was the sum of his attack.  The problem was that Monster Drink hadn't clued in yet as to what was happening, and so as he lamely swiped at Hakuho's left arm where the mere touch of course sent the Yokozuna down to the dirt where both palms touched and nothing else.  It all happened in about two seconds, and just like that, Kisenosato no longer has to bear the brunt of the negative headlines 100%.  Hakuho falls--literally--to 2-2, and now the media can speculate that two Yokozuna are in danger of withdrawing instead of just the Japanese guy.  As for Yoshikaze, he picks up his first win of the basho at 1-3, and I actually read a headline that dubbed Yoshikaze the "Hakuho Killer."  Huh?

This was one of those days where at the end of it I'm like, "Is it day 14 yet?"  Unfortunately, no, so I'll see you right back here tomorrow where we see if they can actually top day 4 in the lame category.

Day 3 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
My wandering eye begins to turn towards the younger guys. It used to be that I would get interested in certain bouts. Now, more jaded, I almost never scan the day for interesting matches. Look at today's headliner, Kakuryu vs. Yoshikaze: now who is going to put off their nap until 17:55 for that? We've got cows to milk in the morning.

However, today a match did catch my eye today as I scanned the list: Sekiwake Mitakeumi versus Komusubi Onosho. With the withering of the talent level in the top ranks of late, it won't be long now before you see some true fresh blood (Takayasu didn't count) at Ozeki. A look at the last year for these two guys tells an interesting tale; in 2017 neither had a losing tournament:

Mitakeumi: 11-9-8-9-8-9
Onosho: 9-9-10-10-10-8

Onosho's mark is excellent, but the first two tournaments were in Juryo. He's still green, and looked a bit lost in November. As a debutant Komusubi, he is ripe for a 5 win comeuppance or so this time out. We shall see. But Mitakeumi? He's ready, and you can expect an Ozeki run this year. Last year's last five basho were all in the sanyaku. He's not super young--he turned 25 on Christmas Day. He needs to not stall out, so expect him to turn it on in 2018. That 2-0 start bodes well for him. It's happening.

There's one other guy who belongs in this conversation; can you name the wrestler this line belongs to?


Three elevens in one year is real good, and they all came in Makuuchi. It's Takakeisho. It's tempting to dismiss this line--that five was in his first tournament in the jo'i, as like countless also-rans before him he got licked. But that last 11 was back in the very same rank--M1--and he just scalped a Yokozuna on Day 1 this time out. He's been a little less steady than the other two, so he's less prominent, but he's still just 21 years old (as is Onosho).

Since Takakeisho also had an interesting match today, against late blooming hard-hitter and Sumotalk fave Tamawashi, let's cover the matches by these guys first.


K Takakeisho (1-1) vs. S Tamawashi (2-0)
Well, it was a terrible match. Takakeisho was subject to significant in-broadcast hype, and I'm not saying the two things are connected, but Tamawashi probably decided he'd better let this guy have it today, too. Takakeisho went after Tamawashi hard off the tachi-ai, driving him back without any of that push-pause business, but that's because he was doing "long-form" push-pause, with some pull thrown in: after the first big long push, he pulled... then just stood there. That would be the pause. Thing was, Tamawashi just stood there too. They stared at each other in a stupid and pointless rendition of the "here I am, come get me" thing. This doesn't make any sense for Tamawashi, whose strength is advancing with hard slaps, and who isn't particularly prone to the pull. Nor is Takakeisho known for his pulls: there was no reason for Tamawashi to be particularly cautious. Tamawashi should have just destroyed him here. After a moment went back at if or a while, but then it happened again: Takakeisho pulled, stood back, and they just stood there looking at each other. Finally Takakeisho said, "well, okay, then," and drove Tamawashi the last few feet off the dohyo, oshi-dashi, as that was where Tamawashi had chosen to stand and wait for him. I'm sorry to say it, but you could hardly get more transparent: Tamawashi had no chance of winning this way, and so of course he didn't. So weight up my intro and my forecast for these young guys against this paragraph, and there you have the paradox and dilemma of sumo today.

S Mitakeumi (2-0) vs. K Onosho (0-2)
This one was a little better, but not much. Better acting, that is. Onosho came after Mitakeumi's throat, and had him pretty well bent backwards through most of the match. However, he didn't finish it off. At the end, he was still square to Mitakeumi, and should have been able to thrust him out. Instead, more than Mitakeumi evading, Onosho turned to the side a little, and Mitakeumi gave him a desultory little pat on the butt that sent Onosho on out, tsuki-otoshi. It looked good in fast-mo, but it weren't. And once again the state of sumo is demonstrated to us. Mitakeumi has to get his first. Onosho's time will come, but this match tells you it will have to wait.

That's kind of what I said in my intro, too, but I didn't want it to happen this way. I should've known. Well, let's go look for some redemption. There will be some in there somewhere.


M16 Ryuden (1-1) vs. M16 Asanoyama (2-0)
A couple of dark belts, a couple of semi-anonymous low ranked guys. Ryuden went really low at the tachi-ai, and was rewarded with a nice handful of meaty inside mawashi. However, Asanoyama slung him this way and that like a bear trying to break a salmon's back, and though he had no belt grip, dominated the match with a bodily yori-kiri force out. Nice work.

M15 Ishiura (2-0) vs. M17 Daiamami (1-1)
Daiamami took his sweet time getting into the crouch, trying to annoy Ishiura. Even wiped his nose a couple of times. So Ishiura henka'ed him, grabbed him by the back of the belt and the inner thigh, and ended his match, shitate-nage. Have to say Daiamami earned it.

M15 Nishikigi (0-2) vs. M14 Yutakayama (1-1)
Nishikigi started this one with wee little inside pushes on the chest, and Yutakayama responded manfully with upward scooping tsuppari that soon had Nishikigi going real backwards, real fast. Fortunately for Nishikigi, he knows how to evade, and Yutakayama crashed full length on the dirt just as Nishikigi's heel went out. Looked to me like Nishikigi had lost by a fraction of a second, but the gyoji had given it to him and they went for a redo. Fair enough. Then they false started. Oh, what a mess. The second time Nishikigi tried the exact same thing, a boring straight-ahead ramming, head down, arms a flailin', then pushing, and it worked like buttercream pie, oshi-dashi. Don't know what to make of that, except that neither of these guys are very good.

M13 Takekaze (0-2) vs. M14 Abi (0-2)
Abi did the same thing Nishikigi did: put his hands together and pushed. This worked even better against Takekaze, who looked like a dog toy getting knocked about by a Doberman, than against Yutakayama. Instant and dominant oshi-da... Wait! I was just about to write, "they could have even given him the tsuki-dashi," and lo, that's what they went ahead and did. I'm that fast with the keys, see.

M13 Daieisho (1-1) vs. M12 Kagayaki (2-0)
Yeah man, I like sumo. Here's two funsters. It wasn't a great match, but these two usually give an interesting effort. Kagayaki was scooping up, Daieisho was thrusting in the face. You could just call it a tsuppari-battle, but their focus was different. And Kagayaki's focus was dumb. He whiffed on one of those exaggerated swoops and got turned kind of diagonal, and Daieisho focused and kept moving forward on the face. And out went Kagayaki, oshi-dashi; one moment of lack of concentration, and if your opponent is on you're out.

M12 Sokokurai (1-1) vs. M10 Aminishiki (1-1)
Now I like Aminishiki pretty well, but I also feel like he was dredged up like Gorman Thomas for a hoary comeback, and I keep thinking, "is this the best you've got?" He's like a poor man's Takamisakari: "and now, to liven up the also-rans, we present you, a crazy clown!" Except there's nothing really crazy about him except that he'll do anything to win. And what's crazy about that? The bedroll wrapped around his knee was all grubby and dirty looking, like he's had it on his entire career and never changed it. Pretty much. Sokokurai was having none of it, and the match was pathetic. Aminishiki swiped down with a slow and lumbering pull like a senile dude searching the countertop for his glasses. Sokokurai said, "here's yo glasses, chump!" and knocked the whole counter and the old man too backwards out of the room, oshi-dashi.

M10 Terunofuji (0-2) vs. M11 Daishomaru (1-1)
Terunofuji withdrew due to diabetes. Hmmm. That's a new one. Don't know what that means, but it bodes ill for Terunofuji. Good grief. I do have some grief for him. When he was good, he was good. Now this. Where do we go from here? Retire and go on a diet, that's where he should go. Sorry, but that's the damn truth. It's not worth it.

M11 Kotoyuki (2-0) vs. M9 Chiyomaru (1-1)
You know what? Chiyomaru has a little bit of the prima donna in him just like Kotoyuki. I sensed it when Kotoyuki got into the ring: these two dudes are of a piece. Kotoyuki gave him the epic staredown, then false started. Kotoyuki then did the same thing he'd done on the false start: two big hands to the face. Too predictable. And then he... did nothing else of consequence. This is Kotoyuki's problem. Always trying to admire his handiwork. Chiyomaru stepped to the side, let Kotoyuki get past him, turned around, and showed Kotoyuki what two big hands look like, thrusting him emphatically out and getting the tsuki-dashi call. Now, looked to me like Kotoyuki was barely trying there, especially at the end, but maybe he just knows he's lame at this point. Chiyomaru? He don't know nuthin' of the kind. As an athlete, sometimes you don't want to.

M8 Tochiohzan (1-1) vs. M8 Kaisei (2-0)
Oh, Kaisei. Looking like a mandarin orange stuffed with pork rinds in his bright orange mawashi. However, he curled his arms open at the tachi-ai, draped himself all over on Tochiohzan, giving the latter his favored double-inside position, then flummoxed about like an abandoned pancake jumping around in the skillet in an earthquake. In other words, it shore looked to me like he lost on purpose. Oshi-dashi was the "whatever" call.

M9 Shohozan (1-1) vs. M7 Chiyonokuni (0-2)
Battle of the wee tough dudes. They tsuppari'ed, looking wee and not so very tough. However, Shohozan is much the tougher, and since Chiyonokuni didn't try any evasion or trickery, Shohozan just looked him in the eye and beat him in the face until it was over, oshi-dashi. Chiyonokuni looked like he was blinded by the lights of a pick-up truck and getting hit at 30 miles per hour on a country road after too much malt liquor.

M6 Takarafuji (0-2) vs. M6 Ikioi (0-2)
The Quality. Two decent guys with no wins. So they were Workmanlike. Ikioi reminds me of Takamisakari sometimes with the sudden, lurching tachi-ai. They went chest-to-chest, but no one had any belt for a bit; they cuddled each other's uppers in a frenemy sort of way. Eventually the patient Takarafuji got both hands on the belt and used it to get a yori-kiri win. Hanging around with The Quality.

M7 Chiyoshoma (2-0) vs. M5 Endo (2-0)
Now THIS was a henka; disdainful, wicked, and powerful. Chiyoshoma whirled out to the right, caught Endo by the belt, and twirled him to the dirt in an ill-gotten but impressive looking uwate-nage. Dayum.

M4 Shodai (0-2) vs. M4 Arawashi (1-1)
Hoo, boy, is Shodai ever looking hapless. He's bigger than Arawashi, and Arawashi looked kind of unsteady and herky-jerky in this one, but still Shodai pretty much just stood there and got done. Arawashi had his pick of attack routes, working on the belt on one side before switching to the other and tipping Vanilla Softcream onto the pavement by the body, sukui-nage. Remember when I compared Arawashi to Kakuryu? ("No, only you remember that, Harvye!") Shodai made Arawashi look like Kakuryu here.

M5 Okinoumi (1-1) vs. M3 Tochinoshin (2-0)
Okinoumi offered nothing here, and Tochinoshin got him with a simple linear force out. Started out with a forearm bar, then held him by the elbows, worked his hands onto the body, then finally down onto the belt. Yori-kiri. Is he just stronger, or was Okinoumi not trying? I don't call Okinoumi Lake Placid for nothing.

M3 Chiyotairyu (0-2) vs. O Takayasu (2-0)
Chiyotairyu blasted him! Chiyotairyu tsuppari'ed him! Takayasu stepped to the side and pulled him down by the arm, tsuki-otoshi. This is what you do to a one-trick pony.

O Goeido (2-0) vs. M2 Kotoshogiku (0-2)
Oh jeh oh jeh. Call the knacker man and take him away. Goeido stood Kotoshogiku up with a nice arm under the right pit, then reversed momentum subtly and easily and dumped him promptly down, sukui-nage. Nice sumo here by Goeido, but it's easy to do when you're fighting decay.

M1 Ichinojo (0-2) vs. Y Kisenosato (1-1)
Sigh. I've been pretty down on Ichinojo, as sloppy blob, as lazy lob, but yeah, when he wins he makes it look very easy. Simply put, he looked like the Yokozuna here, and I don't say that lightly. He had nothing inside at first, but still had the momentum on his side by sheer force by pushing with his upper body, then changed it up deftly with a maki-kae to put the right arm inside. He never stopped moving forward from there, never was in danger, and thoroughly overwhelmed Kisenosato on the way to a linear yori-kiri win. Wow. Onosho, Mitakeumi, and Takakeisho are going to have to pick it up, because the time is now.

Y Hakuho (2-0) vs. M1 Hokutofuji (0-2)
Why, you ask, didn't Hokutofuji make it into my intro? Lord knows I like him and root for him against his hyped rising brethren. However, I just don't feel the "future star" vibe with him. I feel long-time respectable-mainstay. Like Mitakeumi, he's already 25, and his 2017 was fine but less impressive: 9-7-10-8-7-11. I'd love for him to surprise me, and I still like him lots. But first he has to show me something against Hakuho--Hokutofuji had three kinboshi coming in, but none against Hakuho, who had manhandled him.

Now folks, I wrote that before seeing the match. And like my intro with Mitakeumi and Onosho, the reality turned out to both match the intro and be something differently entirely. I said Hokutofuji would need to show me something--and I guess Hakuho thought so too, because it was Hakuho who showed us something instead. Hakuho pushed at him a little. Then Hakuho pulled on his head. Then Hakuho evaded and pulled, kind of, just a little, and backed up some more. And Hokutofuji pushed in response to all this, and drove Hakuho out so easily, well, mini-zamboni on a skate rink. Oshi-muki-dashi-ryoku.

Oh man, it's been a rough day...

Y Kakuryu (2-0) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (0-2)
...and here it is, the headliner, and whoa, can you feel the Quaaludes! Surging through me like I have a while IV of them hooked up to me!

Come on Kakuryu, can you give me something to help me out? It would be fitting, since I mocked you in my intro, for this to be yet another match that proves the point by being something entirely different... Show me some Yokozuna fire and fury, please!

No. Kakuryu held Yoshikaze up for a bit, like a man steadying a newborn bullock taking its first few wobbly steps, then lazily pulled him to the ground in at least our third tsuki-otoshi of the day; I've lost count. Yeah, yeah, so, so. Yes, yes, sumo, yes, fine, whatever, yes, yes, sumo...

Mike stands you back upright tomorrow with a wicked kachi-age to the nose.

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The first two days of sumo have been rather non-eventful, and so I was surprised when NHK's News 9 program on Monday night spent the first nine minutes of the news broadcast basically doing a hit-piece on Yokozuna Hakuho. From seemingly out of nowhere, they raised the issue of Hakuho's resorting too much to hari-te and kachi-age at the tachi-ai. As far as I know, those are two legal moves in sumo, so why does anyone care that he uses hari-te and kachi-age?

I was actually quite incredulous as I watched the story unfold because I don't think I ever saw a nine-minute story that covered the old ref dude who sexually abused young boys within the Association. How that guy still has a job and Harumafuji doesn't isn't beyond me, but it's just another example of the double standard imposed against foreign rikishi. And since when has Hakuho's tachi-ai ever been a problem? How can they constantly overlook the ineptness of Kisenosato from start to finish in his bouts and then spend nine minutes talking about how Hakuho's tachi-ai doesn't reflect the style you'd expect from a Yokozuna.

The story on Hakuho goes right along with Mainoumi's comments on day 1 when they asked him about his prognosis for the coming year, and he said, "I think the Yokozuna are going to have a tough year, and I can see a changing of the guard where the young rikishi rise up and challenge them." I know that Kisenosato is going to have a bad year...if he can even make it through all of 2018, but Hakuho and Kakuryu along with every other foreign rikishi in the Makuuchi division are hands down better than any rikishi from Japan.

Mainoumi's remarks are simply an attempt to spin the current situation in sumo as if the foreigners are on the ropes and the rising generation is about to take over. I certainly don't see any evidence of that within the dohyo, but just like that famous line in Field of Dreams, "If you say it they will come."  Expect plenty of spin as the announcers continue to cover for the rampant yaocho that occurs on a daily basis, and before we get to the day 2 bouts, I thought it was pretty funny when the News 9 dude on the streets was seeking comment from fans outside of the Kokugikan, and one dude said, "I'd like to see the rikishi do more gachinko sumo," and for those of you who don't know what the term "gachinko" means in sumo, it refers to someone who refuses to participate in fixed bouts.  Wouldn't we all brother...wouldn't we all.

Enough of that funny bidness. Let's turn our focus to Day 2 praying that we wouldn't see as many yaocho as we did on Day 1.

M16 Ryuden began the day getting the right arm inside from the tachi-ai against M17 Daiamami, and the rookie also had the left outer grip, but he couldn't do anything with it allowing Daiamami to maki-kae with the left, burrow into moro-zashi, and then wrench Ryuden completely upright near the edge using his gut nicely to keep his foe up high as he walked him sideways and back. Ryuden blew his advantage from the tachi-ai because his footwork was so poor. Instead of pressing forward, he let his feet flow sideways giving Daiamami the opening he needed to counter and win. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

M16 Asanoyama got moro-zashi from the tachi-ai against M15 Nishikigi and pressed forward quickly. Nishikigi attempted a maki-kae with the right as he was being forced back, but Asanoyama coolly grabbed the left outer instead and finished his bidness in a matter of seconds. Asanoyama moves to 2-0 while Nishikigi falls to 0-2.

M14 Abi focused on pushes into M15 Ishiura's shoulders and face at the tachi-ai, but he wasn't connecting against his smaller opponent, and so Ishiura was able to sneak left and time a perfect pull of Abi's outstretched arms pulling him to the dohyo a few seconds in. Ishiura moves to a quiet 2-0 while Abi starts his Makuuchi campaign 0-2.

M14 Yutakayama's tachi-ai was sloppy, but M13 Daieisho just stood there allowing Yutakayama to push him sideways with a left slap at the shoulder, and from this point, Daieisho could have slapped his way back into the bout, but he let Yutakayama do his thang and connect with another left to Daieisho's right armpit sending the listless Daieisho back and out with ease. Daieisho was clearly mukiryoku in this one allowing a sloppy Yutakayama to pick up the win leaving both dudes at 1-1. Just watch Yutakayama's feet and positioning, and it's terrible, but if you're opponent let's you win, you gotta take it.

M12 Sokokurai was cautious at the tachi-ai considering his opponent was M13 Takekaze. This allowed Takekaze to score on a quick shoulder slap and get his left arm inside with a right outer grip to boot, but at this point he remembered that he was in fact Takekaze, and so he panicked going for a weak kote-nage with the right and a few shoves that Sokokurai easily exposed leading with his own left arm to the inside. Sokokurai picks up his first win allowing Takekaze (0-2) to just self destruct.

M12 Kagayaki scored with a nice moro-te-zuki at the tachi-ai against M11 Daishomaru whose arms were misplaced out wide, and that initial volley allowed Kagayaki to scoot in with the right arm and flirt with a left outer as Daishomaru looked for a path to escape. The path wouldn't form, however, as Kagayaki stayed square and caught Daishomaru with a nice left shove sending him out of the dohyo for good. Kagayaki is a cool 2-0 while Daishomaru falls to 1-1.

M10 Terunofuji continued his intentional, hapless sumo today against M11 Kotoyuki, who charged with shoves up high. Normally, that would give the Ozeki the easy opening to the inside, and it was there today as well, especially with the right arm, but Terunofuji just kept that arm up high and waited for a pull attempt to come from Kotoyuki. As soon as it came, Terunofuji just put both palms to the dirt in submission. I'm not sure what Isegahama and Terunofuji have decided here, but this is ugly. Terunofuji falls to 0-2 while Kotoyuki is gifted the easy win as he moves to 2-0.

M9 Chiyomaru kept his arms extended and high against M10 Aminishiki giving him the path to the inside right, and Aminishiki is by no means a yotsu-guy, but when your opponent isn't even trying, go ahead and do what you want. Aminishiki looked a bit uncomfortable in the yotsu pose and hesitated in grabbing a left outer grip, and so Chiyomaru just took his right arm from the inside and moved it out, and from that point Aminishiki was able to score the yori-kiri win. What an ugly bout of mukiryoku sumo here as both rikishi end the day at 1-1. Out of Aminishiki's nine wins since his return last tournament, he's earned one of them while everything else was gifted him.

M9 Shohozan was proactive at the tachi-ai shoving M8 Tochiohzan upright and away from the belt, and this led to the early left arm inside for Shohozan. Instead of welcoming the yotsu fight, Oh just stayed right and let Shohozan bullly him back to the straw where Tochiohzan just squatted down as if relieving himself in the woods. He stood back up but really made no effort to counter Shohozan's attack, and so the Fukuoka native made quick work of his opponent scoring the easy push-out win. I don't know if Tochiohzan's mukiryoku attitude in this one was intentional, but he made no effort to win here. He didn't take advantage when the bout went to yotsu early on, and he didn't offer a single pull attempt against his opponent. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

M8 Kaisei and M7 Chiyonokuni win the award for the day's ugliest tachi-ai to this point as Chiyonokuni charged a half second early while Kaisei shaded a bit left with his feet out of position. The bout didn't get much better from that point as Kuni continued his wild push attack while Kaisei managed to get his right arm to the inside, and when the Brasilian threatened a bout of yotsu-zumo, Chiyonokuni panicked and went for a pull. At that point, Kaisei rushed forward scoring the easy win moving to 2-0 in the process while Chiyonokuni fell to 0-2.

M7 Chiyoshoma went for the right frontal grip at the tachi-ai and left inside against M6 Takarafuji, who knew he was in a pickle after losing the initial charge, and so he pivoted left in an attempt to set up a counter kote-nage throw, and while the throw did shake Chiyoshoma off balance a bit, the Mongolian recovered well and felled Takarafuji across the edge with a right scoop throw. While a true nage-no-uchi-ai never formed here, it was nice to see that ending as Chiyoshoma moves to 2-0 while Takarafuji falls to 0-2.

M6 Ikioi shaded a bit left at the tachi-ai against M5 Endoh opening the path for a quick right kote-nage, but instead of going for the throw, Ikioi gave a limp shove from the position instead sending Endoh over near the edge but not out. As Ikioi looked to square back up, it was now Endoh's turn to move left and offer a weak shoulder push that sent Ikioi down and out before Endoh stepped out himself. My impression here is that Ikioi was mukiryoku, but regardless of that, he falls to 0-2 while Endoh is gifted an unsurprising 2-0 start.

M5 Okinoumi got the firm left inside against M4 Shodai at the tachi-ai keeping him up high from the start, and Shodai's mistake at this point was settling for a belt grip with his own inside left. He needed to keep Okinoumi up high on that side away from the outer grip, but he failed to do so, and so Okinoumi grabbed the right outer and quickly scored on a nice outer belt throw picking up his first win at 1-1. Shodai falls to 0-2, and it seems as if the hype for him is waning quickly.

M3 Tochinoshin slammed into M4 Arawashi at the tachi-ai demanding the right inside position and left outer grip, and dare I say that this resembled a classic Hakuho tachi-ai?  Arawashi attempted to dig in with the right inside, but he was had as Tochinoshin smothered him in tight before escorting him back and out in a matter of seconds. This brand of sumo is completely non-existent among the Japanese rikishi as Tochinoshin moves to 2-0 while Arawashi falls to 1-1.

M3 Chiyotairyu didn't even attempt to go for a shove against Sekiwake Mitakeumi instead putting his right arm against Mitakeumi's left shoulder while grabbing the left outer grip. This left Tairyu completely open and exposed, and so Mitakeumi easily got the right arm inside and used it to drive Chiyotairyu back quickly, and instead of digging in or trying to counter, Chiyotairyu just took a dive putting both knees to the dirt beyond the straw providing for an awkward ending to this fake bout.  You look at the pic at left and that's NOT the typical ending to a yori-kiri bout. Mitakeumi is gifted a 2-0 start while Chiyotairyu knows his place at 0-2.

M2 Yoshikaze attempted to duck in tight at the tachi-ai, but Sekiwake Tamawashi just stood him upright with his patented shoves and used perfect footwork to drive Yoshikaze back and out once, twice, three times a lady. We don't get to see it often, but it's a treat when the Mongolians exhibit sound sumo. Tamawashi is off to a 2-0 start while Yoshikaze falls to 0-2.

Komusubi Onosho also knows his place, especially when fighting against a senpai in Ozeki Goeido. What an ugly tachi-ai as Onosho kept his arms high and wide, and this allowed Goeido to work his right arm to the back of Onosho's belt where he grabbed the knot of the belt and just used it to drag the Komusubi forward and down. They ruled it uwate-nage, but it looked anything like your conventional uwate-nage bout because Onosho wasn't even holding onto his opponent. It's just hard to describe such ugliness with words, and you contrast it with Tamawashi's perfect performance the bout before, and the difference in ability and sumo basics is stark. Regardless, the end result is Goeido's moving to 2-0 while Onosho falls to 0-2.

Ozeki Takayasu and M2 Kotoshogiku bounced off of each other at the tachi-ai before the Ozeki was able to gain the shallow moro-zashi position. He wasn't able to work his way in tight, however, as Kotoshogiku forced his right arm to the inside with a maki-kae. Takayasu grabbed the outer left, and there the two stood for about a minute and a half before Kotoshogiku went for a maki-kae with the left that worked to give him moro-zashi, but he didn't have enough gas in the tank to score the yori-kiri win. He tried for sure, but the Ozeki was able to turn the tables and bowl the Geeku over with a right outer grip in the end. Takayasu moves to 2-0, and was it really the case that he could do nothing with the advantageous position for a minute and a half? Against an old and broken down Kotoshogiku? E-gads. For his troubles, Kotoshogiku came up short again at 0-2.

Before we move on from the Ozeki who are a combined 4-0, I took some video of their slow motion replays yesterday, so you can see the mukiryoku attitudes of their opponents. In the first bout, Yoshikaze just puts his elbow to the dirt at the first sign of a throw, and as you watch it, ask yourself the last time you've ever seen a kote-nage throw where the loser just hit the deck where he was standing in the dohyo when the throw occurred. As for Ichinojo, key in on what he does (or doesn't do) with his right hand throughout the bout. Either the dude was entirely mukiryoku or they need to shoot that right arm full of Viagra prior to his bouts, and that doesn't even begin to account for his upright stance and bad footwork:

I wonder if Yokozuna Hakuho was aware of the hullabaloo in the news regarding the content of his sumo and his tachi-ai? Today against M1 Ichinojo, he went for his usual right inside left outer grip tachi-ai and got it while the Mongolith shored up his own position with a right inside position. From this point, the two just dug in with Ichinojo employing is usual style of just standing there like a bump in a log. Hakuho took his time going for a dashi-nage midway and then securing a shallow moro-zashi from that point, and after a minute or so of sumo, Hakuho finally forced Ichinojo back and across. I'm quite sure Hakuho could have finished this one earlier, but with Ichinojo having no path to victory, he took his sweet time and gave the fans their money's worth. Hakuho moves to 2-0 with the win while Ichinojo falls to 0-2.

I speculated in the pre-basho podcast regarding the Mongolians' feelings regarding Takanohana, and my guess is that they're not going to do any favors for Takakeisho. We got our first matchup today in Yokozuna Kakuryu vs. the new Komusubi, and Kakuryu was all business bringing a stiff right hari-te at the tachi-ai before fighting off Takakeisho's light shoves.  Kakuryu next worked his right arm to the front of the belt and left to the inside as well, but before Kakuryu could pull his gal in tight, Takakeisho attempted to move laterally and escape.  Kakuryu was on him like white to rice, however, scoring the easy yori-kiri win in a few seconds. Kakuryu moves to a cool 2-0 thanks to that illegal tachi-ai while Takakeisho could do nothing here falling to 1-1.

In the day's final bout, M1 Hokutofuji made damn sure that Kisenosato wouldn't start out 0-2 keeping his feet aligned throughout and always making sure to retreat as Kisenosato chased him around the ring. Early on, Hokutofuji grabbed Kisenosato's extended arm and could have pulled him out of the ring with it, but he just used it as an excuse to run to the other side of the dohyo. In his pursuit, Kisenosato did connect on a few shoves to Hokutofuji's shoulders, but the M1 was already backing himself up to the other side of the dohyo where he carelessly just slid his left foot out of the dohyo before Kisenosato could blow it all by tripping over his own two feet again. Nice easy yaocho in favor of Kisenosato who needs charity to move to 1-1 while Hokutofuji falls to an obedient 0-2.

There are few surprises two days in as Harvye gives you all a hari-te tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Is scandal good for sumo? You can take a shallow view and say yes. Certainly, I find myself more interested than usual this basho, and Sumotalk readers also seem fired up, in a variety of directions, by the happenings of October and November. Let's face it: scandal is naturally interesting, and attracts attention. Also, aside from the macabre-interest angle, the scandal gives another advantage: how will Harumafuji's absence play out--will we feel it? How will Hakuho and Kakuryu behave? Having been docked a month's salary, will they do some "mea culpa" intentional losing to show their shame? While I will miss Harumafuji's sumo, which was the best combination of dynamism and power in the ring going the last two years or so, I won't miss the crowding at the top of the banzuke. The ranks still need more winnowing there.

However, this "is" of course a shallow view. Scandal is not good for sumo. Sumo lost many fans temporarily, and many permanently, during the long string of exposed yaocho, bullying homicide, and other awfulness that darkly clouded the sport a few years back. Though the seats are full again, to me the cynicism seems thicker, and can't be so easily dispelled. Yes, with scandal of the Harumafuji-Takanoiwa type you get a few months of salacious news, upheaval, and guilty fun with predicting who is up, who is down, and who is all the way out. But when the miasma clears, you're left with something that has lost another layer of its luster, and the luster, in sumo's case, was already peeled down pretty close to the bone. So we heave another sigh, squint, and try once more to focus on what is going on in the ring.

M17 Daiamami vs. M16 Asanoyama
I'm happy to say as I sat down to watch this match a little thrill went through me. Ah, sumo! 2018. We'll enjoy what we can of it. And the match was a nice little bit of a thing, too, no cynicism needed. Asanoyama pushed off a little bit at the tachi-ai and got himself an outside left. That was paired with a right inside by his foe. But Asanoyama already had Daiamami off balance and stood mostly upright; with a little spinning he was able to pull an overhand throw (uwate-nage) and the year was off to a good start.

M16 Ryuden vs. M15 Nishikigi
I like Ryuden's size and body type. He looks both supple and strong on the one hand and sufficiently tall and heavy on the other. He hit hard at the tachi-ai, kept his can back, and fired on a right frontal grip to dump the over-straining, vulnerable Nishikigi, uwate-nage.

M15 Ishiura vs. M14 Yutakayama
This was, as expected, the big man Yutakayama aggressing and the little man Ishiura evading and tricksing. Yutakayama, however, lumbered and stayed upright too upright in his approach, going for ineffectual-looking face slaps rather than any serious inside work, and Ishiura ducked around, grabbed him by the butt button, and twirled and tipped him out in a nifty bit of yori-taoshi bout-ending business.

M14 Abi vs. M13 Daieisho
The person in the cubicle next to me at work is named Abby, but looks rather different. That's all I can think of when I see "Abi." Meanwhile, yesterday Mike, Kane, and Don asked the question on the podcast, "what Japanese guy besides Chiyotairyu has the ability to blast his opponent off the dohyo when he is on?" Like them, my answer was "nobody." But one alternate name that flitted across my mind was Daieisho. He's just a little bit of a thing, but there is sometimes some consequence in his forward movement. He absolutely did not live up to that compliment in this match. Abi easily stopped him dead, bending him backwards with thrusts to the face, and dominated for most of the match. However, give experience its due: after a few second of this, and when dangerously close to the straw, Daieisho went with Plan B: he stepped to the side, and the rookie darted past him onto the dirt, tsuki-otoshi.

M13 Takekaze vs. M12 Kagayaki
I'm looking for a good tournament from Kagayaki this tournament at this rank. In a world where he plays to his strengths, he would be a guy in that same conversation with Chiyotairyu--but he definitely isn't so far. Turn it on, man! He had plenty here, though. Takekaze pushed him a little on the chest while Kagayaki was being cautious, but because he was being cautious, when the pull came he was above to advance under command and oshi-dashi Takekaze with ease.

At this point they announced the retirements of Shotenro, Kitataiki, and Sotairyu, to which my thought was "those guys were still active?"

M12 Sokokurai vs. M11 Daishomaru
I'm not sure Sokokurai was trying his best. Why? Because Daishomaru, nearly a pure puller, pushed him out. Daishomaru did set the pace well with one lurching pull and left-back evasion, but after that there really didn't seem to be any reason why Sokokurai should stand up and be trundled out with only the most basic resistance, oshi-dashi. But that is what happened.

M11 Kotoyuki vs. M10 Aminishiki
The battle of the colorful characters. The only real question is whether Aminishiki will be gifted his way to another 6 or 7 wins this tournament so his popular form can be seen in Makuuchi for yet another trip down memory lane in March. Based on this bout, though, the answer is no. Kotoyuki overwhelmed Aminishiki with two young hands to the face. In turning to the side in fright, Aminishiki's feet slipped, and down he went, hataki-komi.

M10 Terunofuji vs. M9 Chiyomaru
Frankly, I'm relieved Terunofuji and his blender-gristle knees no longer have to defend the rank of Ozeki. He should do quite well down here… then again, there' are those knees. Once you're shot in that way for the high ranks, you're pretty much shot for the low, too. Time will tell. Well, these two larglings put their chests together, leaned in, and put their right arms underneath and onto each other's belts. And there they stayed. Then, eventually, Chiyomaru bellied Terunofuji up, over, and out, yori-kiri, just like that. How do you explain this? One of the announcers had a great line: "Chiyomaru's belly gets in the way." Let's go with that.

M9 Shohozan vs. M8 Kaisei
Pretty much a mismatch. Shohozan got under and inside like a bottle rocket fired into a bathtub filled with hand cream--which then came alive, tipped over, and crushed him. Beautiful, dominant kote-nage win for Kaisei.

M8 Tochiohzan vs. M7 Chiyonokuni
It's nice when the better wrestler wins and shows he means it. Chiyonokuni hit Tochiohzan very hard at the tachi-ai, then went for his best wicked slaps. But it had little effect on Tochiohzan. He didn't move backwards at all. He just advanced, and with a hard thrust to the face and then another to the body, hi-ya!, oshi-dashi, he won.

M7 Chiyoshoma vs. M6 Ikioi
I was loving Chiyoshoma for a while, and I still think he's pretty good. In fact, these two guys are a pretty good analog for each other: lithe and strong, active in the ring. But Chiyoshoma pulls way too much these days. He won this one going backwards, with successive swipe-downs to his right, keeping Ikioi off balance and headed in the wrong direction. Eventually Ikioi belly-flopped, hataki-komi, as Chiyoshoma nonchalantly balanced on the straw. Did Chiyoshoma do this well? Yes. But it wasn't very fun.

M6 Takarafuji vs. M5 Endo
First Endo grabbed Takarafuji's arm. Then Takarafuji grabbed Endo's arm. Grab your partner by the arm, back and forth, dosie-do! I can hear the caller in his cowboy hat now. Slappity-slap, went Endo. Scoopity-scoop, went Takarafuji, trying to get in underneath. But Takarafuji looked kind of lame and lazy about it, and Endo knocked him over at the edge, sukui-nage.

M5 Okinoumi vs. M4 Arawashi
These guys were working towards each other's belts with some chest to chest stuff when Arawashi just yanked out of there with an underhand throw, shitate-nage, pivoting beautifully and then rolling head over heels out of the ring off the momentum of his own move. Cool. I tend to think Okinoumi is pretty good. I also tend to think Arawashi is pretty good. So look at the result here: who was self-evidently stronger, faster, more skilled? If Okinoumi is one of the best Japanese wrestlers on the banzuke, but "pretty good" Arawashi can do this to him, where do we lie?

M4 Shodai vs. M3 Tochinoshin
I was really looking forward to The Bear (Tochinoshin) mashing Vanilla Softcream (Shodai) into the asphalt. And that's pretty much what happened. The Bear had prefect position, his rippling-muscled left arm overhand and on the belt outside, his right arm inside on the body. He just bodied The Cream up and removed him, yori-kiri. Kitanofuji announcer said of Shodai, with some half-disgusted, half-delighted growling, "you've got to think of something better than that."

M3 Chiyotairyu vs. S Tamawashi
And here's our Sumotalk hot-topic "it" girl of the moment, Chiyotairyu. Would he a) blast Tamawashi out of there? Or b) start to do that, pull, and lose (the defining bout-trajectory of his career thus far)? Or would he c) be stopped dead in his tracks by Tamawashi, who is very good, showing us just what's up? I put my money on those results in this order of likelihood: b, c. a. This had promise. The result was "b," textbook bad Chiyotairyu, an oshi-dashi win for Tamawashi. And what do we learn from this? One, that Chiyotairyu's push power is real: despite being one of the best and plain toughest guys out there, Tamawashi couldn't completely neutralize it. Two, Chiyotairyu ultimately remains a guy going nowhere. You have to have more than one move.

S Mitakeumi vs. M2 Kotoshogiku
The Bully, Mitakeumi, surged inside with both arms, then pistoned his legs until Kotoshogiku stepped out, yori-kiri. That's just where these guys are in their careers now.

M2 Yoshikaze vs. O Takayasu
Takayasu stood Yoshikaze up at the tachi-ai with a pretty wicked double-forearm upward scoop, then rapidly tsuppari-ed him backwards. Takayasu got in a little trouble after that because he was too upright, and Yoshikaze was on him, but Takayasu pivoted out of there, switched the side he was working on deftly, and collapsed Yoshikaze to the ground, kote-nage. Easy win for The Boring Ozeki.

O Goeido vs. M1 Ichinojo
While here is The Frustrating Ozeki. My line on Goeido remains that he looks terrible, whether you think the matches are straight up and he's winning by what looks like mistake, or whether you think the matches are not straight up and he has to get a bit of charity to get what he gets. Either way, I can barely stand to watch him, his inconsistency is so maddening. I would think his oyakata would walk around the heya with supplicating hands in the air a lot and break a bunch of crockery: Goeido, the Epileptic Mayfly, appears to be engaging in a violent form of avant-garde interpretative dance more often than actual sumo wrestling. Well, let's give him credit today, though. He put his right arm inside, hunched his head down, slung his body back, and drove. Sumo! He stood Ichinojo up and bumped him out, oshi-dashi. Okay, good enough I guess.

Y Kakuryu vs. M1 Hokutofuji
Here, people, is your dark horse for the yusho. No, not Hokutofuji! The Invisible Yokozuna, Kakuryu! With all this talk about Kakuryu having to put up or get out, I think he puts up, as it seems a little early for him to retire. And no one benefits more from Harumafuji's retirement than Kakuryu. In the end he pretty well destroyed Hokutofuji. Grabbed him by the neck and shook that neck around. Tried to break Hokutofuji's head away from his torso. Sufficiently loosened up by this rough treatment, Hokutofuji was ripe fish for flopping to the clay on an efficient pull by Kakuryu, hiki-otoshi. Kakuryu was totally concentrated and totally in control. Yikes.

K Takakeisho vs. Y Kisenosato
I will admit it: until this match, I thought Kisenosato your most likely yusho winner. But I don't know where he goes from here. Takakeisho was doing his normal push-pause business, and doing it better than sometimes: less backing up and less time in between. Fast and aggressive. However, I've always maintained that Kisenosato is hard to move: heavy and well grounded, legs well apart. And as such Takakeisho couldn't quite get him out. As a Yokozuna, Kisenosato should have then flattened him. But he sure didn't. Since the push-pause wasn't getting it all the way done but he was still alive, Takakeisho switched to try a pull. That didn't work either, and left him near the edge. And easy pickings for the Yokozuna, right? Nope. Kisenosato whiffed on the force-out. So Takakeisho went back on the attack, and for a second time drove Kisenosato all the way across the dohyo, looking very good. It was Takakeisho's turn to whiff at the edge though, in this back and forth bout, as Kisenosato got out of the way just in time. Third chance for the Yokozuna to show his quality, right? Capitalize, crush? No. Again, Kisenosato couldn't. While he did get Takakeisho turned to the edge and Takakeisho did in fact fall backwards and out, Kisenosato wasn't close to square to him, and as Takakeisho fell backwards into oblivion Kisenosato went past him and also fell out of the ring. Kisenosato's leg touched down first, giving Takakeisho a victory that was categorized as tottari (arm-pull). This was just a horrible match for this Yokozuna; Kitanofuji announcer grunted loudly in disgust: "yaaahhhgh," then spent some time growling, burbling the phlegm in his throat. Translation: "we finally get a Japanese Yokozuna, but we get THIS? How much longer do we have to suffer through this farce?"

Y Hakuho vs. K Onosho
And to end the day, the reigning champ against the golden boy. A chance for redemption a bit. Forty-four banners were marched around the edge, and the crowd wanly hoped today would be The Day. No such luck. Hakuho was back to "let's play around a bit here" mode, but as usual it didn't really matter. In today's version of "what weird way can I win," Hakuho kind of went for the right inside but mostly didn't, standing, turning, and retreating instead. At the edge he finished his step to the side and let Onosho's momentum carry him out. It was ruled tsuki-otoshi (thrust-down), which I suppose is as good as anything. It wasn't an auspicious start if we're looking for omens on the next fourteen days.

Tomorrow Mike knocks the day unconscious with repeated blows to the face.























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