Kenji Heilman

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Aki Roundtable Report
The 2003 Aki basho may not be remembered as a significant basho on the surface, but it had its fair share of stories once you take a good look at it. Asashoryu put a stamp on his dominance amid a firestorm of behavioral criticism from all corners of Japanese society, Kaio went from being on the verge of Yokozuna promotion to being kadoban, Wakanosato outgrew his "Barometer" moniker and gets closer Ozeki than ever, Takamisakari completes the sansho 'hat trick' by collecting the Ginosho, Shukunsho and this time the Kantosho all in one calendar year, and we had the surprise emergence of one Iwakiyama who at M5 lost his first three bouts only to come back and post an amazing 11-4 record, picking up a special prize and a lot of respect along the way.

There's not much to be said about tournament winner Asashoryu (13-2) except for the fact that he is the best rikishi in sumo today. Asa was under a lot of scrutiny this basho and he responded the way I had hoped, which was to let his sumo do the talking. He's  mum to the press, as he should be, being as the press looks for any opportunity to jump all over him. His sumo had everyone talking about the first zensho yusho in 7 years before successive losses to Wakanosato and Tochiazuma on days 12 and 13. But he came back to get the job done. The zensho will come in time, as sumo is now entrenched in the 'Asashoryu jidai'. He is molding a defining style with his uncanny ability to secure morozashi to complement the incredible speed with which he attacks. 

Although the Yusho was determined on day 14, Senshuraku did generate some excitement. No less than eight rikishi came into the final day with 7-7 records, including pre-basho favorite Kaio of all people. Five would be successful in achieving the coveted majority wins, and Kaio was not one of them. He faced Yokozuna Asashoryu and put up a measly effort, as he succumbed to Asa's makikae and morozashi just as many before him had this basho. Yes, there is a physical aspect to Kaio's struggles as he is hampered by a right biceps injury that negates those prodigious uwatenages from the right side, but Kaio's faltering in the spotlight is just as mental in my opinion. He relies too much on exaggerated big moves like sweeping Kotenages as seen in his early loses to Takamisakari and Asasekiryu, then he out-thinks himself when times get tough. It's too bad Kaio will face his hometown crowd in Kyushu on the verge of demotion rather than promotion. 

Speaking of kadoban, the revolving door continues in the Ozeki ranks. As Kaio now enters the dangerous world of kadoban, Tochiazuma successfully escaped it for the third time in his career. He finished with a solid 10-5 mark, including a brilliant win over Asashoryu that brought back shades of his Yusho form from a couple of years ago. Let's hope we keep seeing this kind of sumo from Tochiazuma in the months to come. He's certainly capable of it. 

Chiyotaikai (11-4) was on Asashoryu's tail the whole basho and came up just a little short. The thing I liked about Chiyo this basho was that he did not employ the cheap pulling technique that has haunted him in his career. He remained true to his powerful tsuppari game the entire basho. He was a little too cautious against Hokutoriki and looked bad, yes, but overall he persevered as was seen in his 13 second oshi-zumo doozy against Miyabiyama. Chiyo has got to be the favorite to topple Asashoryu in Kyushu. After all, it will be his homecoming, too. 

Topping the inactive list was Musashimaru for the sixth straight basho. It has been September of '02 since Maru last completed a tournament. That's a full year for a wrist injury. No excuse. It's compete or retire for Maru in November.

Musoyama withdrew on day six after posting one win so he will be joining Kaio in kadoban land in November. The key here is can he remain injury free to eek out 8 wins again? Muso is Ozeki by the skin of his teeth these days. 

Knocking on the Ozeki door will be Wakanosato, who finished at a strong 11-4 to garner the Shukunsho compliments of handing Asashoryu his first defeat of the basho. This year alone, Waka has posted 11, 9, 9, 10, and now 11 wins. With 21 in his last two efforts, conventional wisdom says he'll be promoted with 12 wins in November. Even if he doesn't do it in November he can keep his chances alive by posting double digit wins again. Waka is kind of like Kaio in that if he can avoid losing early to lesser competition, you're looking at our next Ozeki. 

The Kantosho was awarded to M1 Takamisakari (9-6) and M2 Kyokutenho (10-5) on day 14, a day before they promptly laid eggs on senshuraku to make that decision look suspect. Takami got twisted down by M9 Aminishiki (10-5) and Tenho was embarrassed by M6 Kotomitsuki (11-4) in a bout where he showed zero desire to win. I thought the Kyokai's infamous 'must win' stipulation would have been appropriate in the Tenho-Kotomitsuki finale. Tenho had perfect positioning to defeat Koto but did absolutely nothing. When Koto went to makikae, at which point it is standard sumo to attack, Tenho did nothing again. When Koto succeeded in makikae and thus gained better positioning himself, Koto immediately attacked and won. Yet, the fighting spirit prize goes to Kyokutenho. Apparently, Kotomitsuki no longer qualifies for fighting spirit because he has Yusho experience and he expected to perform at a higher level than your average guy. This doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but then again, neither do the prize selections half the time. 

The Ginosho goes to M5 Iwakiyama, who quietly put together an 11-4 mark, including a good effort against Asashoryu and a win over Tochiazuma. I thought maybe Kantosho for him, but the Kyokai said his textbook oshizumo and aggressiveness applies more to technical merit. Again, it's a crap shoot for prizes but one thing is clear: Iwakiyama has arrived as a joi threat. 

Achieving kachi-koshi on senshuraku were M1 Tochinonada, who will be sanyaku bound again, M8 Kyokushuzan, who again put in just enough to keep a respectable rank, M12 Shimotori, who is struggling to regain his prior form, M13 Wakatoba, who along with Kakizoe successfully debuted as rookies, and M15 Otukasa, who avoided Juryo demotion. 

Juryo was won by J5 Takekaze (13-2), who may have posted just enough wins to rejoin Makuuchi again. Let's hope he can stay healthy this time. Also with good showings were old friends Takanowaka, 12-3 from J3, and Tamakasuga, 10-5 from J1. They'll be joining the party again in Kyushu. Looks like we'll have a shin-nyumaku in Toyozakura, who posted a strong 10-5 from J2 by winning his last seven. And Georgian Kokkai continues his rise through Juryo with a solid 9-6 from J4. Finally, St. Louis, Missouri, USA native Sentoryu gave a paltry 4-11 effort from J11, almost guaranteeing his demotion back to Makushita. Sentoryu has expressed interest in staying on to become Oyakata after his active career, but he is 18 basho short of the required stay as Sekitori to do that. At 34, time (and hair for his top knot) is running out on good 'ole Henry. 

Well folks, let's give a congrats to Nate for taking our Fantasy competition. I probably shouldn't mention that my wife, Bonnie, came in second to whip me. Actually, both Bonnie and Mike's wife, Kazue, spent time in first place this basho. If Mike's anything like me, I struggle and analyze when picking my stable, then Bonnie picks hers in about 3 seconds and just crushes me. Maybe I'll let her fill in for me in November, because I'll never hear the end of this one.

Day 14 Comments
Let's go in reverse order from usual today in case you have not seen the results from day 14. Kotomitsuki came into today one back in the loss column and tied with Chiyotaikai for second at 10-3. Interesting to note is that, in Kotomitsuki's career thus far, his Aki basho records have been 5-2 (Makushita), 14-1 (Juryo yusho), 13-2 (Makuuchi yusho), and 12-3 (Kantosho). That's a pretty stellar Aki history, and this basho has been right in line with it. Today he came hard at the tachiai against Wakanosato, but then went for the right inside grip which stopped his momentum somewhat. Waka then secured his own inside grip from the right side and eventually got a grip on the left outside as well. This was bad news for Kotomitsuki. Waka, now in command, pushed forward and threw a dashinage (one handed throw) that turned Koto around so that Waka could send him on his way out of the ring. With this, Wakanosato evened his record with Kotomitsuki at 10-4. Both men still have an outside chance at the yusho, depending on the final two bouts of the day. 

The Kaio-Tochiazuma bout was an interesting one. Kaio at 7-6 needed a win badly for kachikoshi, considering he's going up against Asashoryu tomorrow. Tochiazuma at 9-4 not only had escaped kadoban status but is still in the yusho hunt, albeit barely. This turned out to be Azuma's sumo, a continuation of yesterday's brilliance against Asashoryu in which he drives up from below in a rounded stance, either attacking the maemitsu (front of opponent's belt) or employing a hazu-oshi (drive upwards into opponent's armpits). But wait! Kaio's brute strength always keeps him in the match. At the tawara he gave a last ditch swipe with the left arm that completely flipped Azuma over and flat on his back. The only problem was that Kaio's right foot was sliding out over the top of the tawara in the process. The gyogi gave it to Azuma but there was a mono-ii. The decision was a correct one. Kaio's foot was out first, so Azuma wins and keeps himself in the race at 10-4. Kaio (7-7) goes into senshuraku facing Asashoryu with kachikoshi on the line. 

In the bout of the day Asashoryu (11-2) faced Chiyotaikai ( 10-2). A win here would give Asa the cup outright. A loss and you're looking at a potential log-jam that includes two Ozeki, a Sekiwake and Kotomitsuki still in the picture. What ensued was something absolutely unbelievable that no one could have predicted. Asashoryu employed a tachiai henka, sidestepping Chiyo at the outset of the bout! Amazingly, Chiyo was able to cope with it and continue on his feet but his much anticipated tsuppari offense was now out the window. However, the backwards momentum alone gave Chiyo the upper hand to drive Asa out initially, which it looked like he might be able to do. Asa had only a left inside grip at this point. But alas, as he's done so well this basho, the Yokozuna succeeded in a makikae to secure inside positioning on both sides, and the writing was on the wall for Chiyotaikai. Chiyo was dumped with a shitatenage that gave Asashoryu his fourth Emperor's Cup. The arena was still stunned at the method (henka) that Asa used to accomplish it. Afterward, he said he saw a dream last night holding his baby and winning the yusho today so he must have wanted the win on day 14. His dream came true, and it's well deserved. Love him or hate him, he is the best rikishi in sumo today. 

Day 12 Comments
What a shake-up today! Only one of the three Ozeki and one Yokozuna managed a win today, and it was not the seemingly indomitable Asashoryu. 

We will not see the first zensho yusho since 1996. Good call, Mike (sort of). Wakanosato today won the tachiai, didn't let Asa get moro-zashi, secured his preferred right outside grip with a powerful stance that had the Yokozuna sideways, and followed through on a tactically beautiful bout to deny what could have been only the seventh 15-0 since 1989. Waka refused to let Asa do what he's done so very well this basho, which is a maki-kae to get both arms inside. He kept his left arm tucked high under Asa's right armpit and would not budge. Asa still made the bout respectable despite being at such a disadvantage the whole time, but in the end he had no leverage at the tawara when he tried a last ditch shitatenage (underarm throw). The result was a powerful uwatenage by the Sekiwake that flipped Asa completely over and started a barrage of zabuton throwing. Asashoryu drops to 11-1 and Wakanosato just may have outgrown his "Barometer" moniker with this huge win, which puts him at 8-4 and in the driver's seat once again to make a run at Ozeki. 

Chiyotaikai (10-2) now finds himself only one back in the loss column with his impressive win over Miyabiyama (3-9). This was a 13 second oshi-zumo melee in which neither rikishi attempted a single pull down the whole time. It was a beautiful thing to see, folks, an oshi-zumo fan's delight. Chiyo is right back in this thing. 

Tochiazuma (8-4) laid an egg today against Iwakiyama (8-4), who is quietly putting together a very solid basho at M5. The mountainous Iwaki was on the offensive from start to finish, going in head first and relentless with his tsuppari attack. Who was the Ozeki, here? You could have fooled me, as Tochiazuma had no answer and was totally overwhelmed. 

I've decided that Kaio (6-6) has just flat out given up. He looked downright awful for the fifth day in a row in losing to Kotomitsuki (9-3), who is still in the yusho hunt. Koto moved to the right at the tachiai and grabbed the uwate on Kaio's left side, then spun around the lifeless Ozeki a few times 'ala Mainoumi, then dumped him like a bad habit in a matter of seconds. The analysts were discussing Kaio's arm as bothering him, but give me a break. All of a sudden his arm hurts again? He looks pathetic, and with the match-ups he's looking at over the final three days, we're looking at a kadoban Ozeki in Kyushu. Imagine that. Yusho one basho and make-koshi the next.

The yusho picture has cleaned up quite nicely now. With one loss Asashoryu is still in lead, but hot on his heels are Chiyotaikai with two losses and Kotomitsuki with three. Let's look forward to the Asa-Chiyo bout on day 14. 

Securing kachi-koshi (majority wins) on day 12 were the following, who all have 8-4 records: Wakanosato, Kyokutenho, Takamisakari, Aminishiki, and Kinkaiyama. Yes, Kinkaiyama. Where did he come from?

Day 10 Comments
Today was a huge test for Asashoryu and he passed with flying colors. His opponent, the upstart Kotomitsuki (7-3) vying to stay in the yusho race, came with a potent tachiai and drove the Yokozuna back with a strong tsuppari attack. His plan was to win the tachiai and not let Sho get inside with his left hand. It worked but it wasn't enough to overcome Sho's brilliance. The Yokozuna persevered, and after a lightening quick maki-kae to get inside with his left, he eventually drove Kotomitsuki out with a stern yotsu attack. Downright dominant sumo for 10 straight days. 

Tochiazuma's quest to remain Ozeki hit a road block today in the form of Wakanosato (6-4). Azuma didn't want Waka on his belt but the Sekiwake patiently awaited his chance and eventually secured migi-yotsu to gain the upper hand. After that, he just overpowered the Ozeki for the yorikiri win. Azuma still looks okay at 7-3 but he'd better pick up number eight soon before he's matched up against the big boys. 

Kaio (6-4) has now dropped three in a row, this time to a first time challenger in Asasekiryu (5-5). It looked like a replay of Kaio's first loss the other day to Takamisakari. After a tachiai that resulted in hidari-yotsu, positioning that both rikishi prefer, Kaio commenced to throw an exaggerated kotenage that he 1) backed up to attempt, and 2) lost his balance in doing so. In other words, he gave all his momentum to his opponent. I just have to shake my head at Kaio. Surely he can't expect to make Yokozuna performing sumo like this. 

Chiyotaikai (8-2) became the second rikishi to secure kach-koshi after Asashoryu with a ho-hum win over Takanonami (3-7). It took about two seconds. Nami offered a weak moro-te tachiai and actually thought he could hook his arms around Chiyo, who just blasted right through him. Nami is looking more washed up every day and I can't believe I actually have him in my stable in Fantasy Sumo. 

Probably in the second most anticipated bout of the day, Takamisakari (7-3) overcame Kyokutenho (6-4) in a bout that may give the crowd fave the upper hand at another special prize. It was certainly the loudest the crowd was all day, even though the bout matched two Maegashira rikishi with six more match-ups yet to come. It was a fast paced yotsu-zumo in which Tenho attacked in migi-yotsu position. But alas, Takami did his thing again in the 11th hour and turned the tables at the tawara. To the roar of the crowd he used his powerful right inside grip to score a sukuinage win and keep himself on the leader board. 

Speaking of leader board, it looks like this: Asashoryu leads the way at 10-0, Chiyotaikai is two back at 8-2 and five rikishi still have an outside shot (very outside) with 7-3 records. They are Tochiazuma, Takamisakari, Kotomitsuki, Tamanoshima and Aminishiki.

Day 8 Comments
To the dismay of many a sumo traditionalist, Asashoryu is putting a stamp on his dominance and is pulling away from a field that is obviously no where near the level of the controversial Mongolian Yokozuna. And I absolutely, unmistakably, undeniably love it.

Today he made Takanonami (3-5) look like a has-been by standing the former Ozeki straight up at the tachiai with a stiff nodowa (thrust to throat). The oshi-zumo onslaught that followed put Nami on the defensive, which he followed up with an ill-advised pull. The resulting oshi-dashi took all of about 3 seconds. Asashoryu is 8-0 for the sixth time in his career and the third time as a Yokozuna. He has won the tournament the last three times he has done this, and this time should be no different. The only question that remains is, can he go 15-0? The next few days will be crucial, as he often loses on day 9, 10 or 11 during these streaks. Tomorrow he has a big bull in Iwakiyama, who could potentially pose some problems with his girth. 

Kaio (6-2) laid a chocolate egg for the fourth consecutive time against Tochinonada (4-4). I guess he just can't beat this guy. It looked promising initially as Kaio seemed to be in position to secure his right outer grip but Tochi swiftly moved to his left to send the Ozeki out of sorts, then thrust him right out before Kaio could regain his balance. Just like that, Kaio is two back of Asashoryu and has lost hope of any faint Yokozuna promotion considerations that remained. 

Chiyotaikai (6-2) is "back on track", a railroad track in which he runs over his opponents, that is. He shortened and sped up his thrusts to overwhelm Kotoryu (3-5) today. He also attacks with his noggin, which is effective. Let's hope there's no more lapses in concentration from Chiyo as he showed on days five and six. We need Kaio and Chiyo to stay at two in the loss column for as long as possible to keep this basho interesting. 

Tochiazuma (6-2) probably infuriated Mike today in employing the old tachiai henka, or side-step, to defeat Miyabiyama (3-5). He definitely infuriated Miyabiyama, who glared up at Azuma after the split second loss and reportedly punched a few walls on his way to the ofuro. I'd have to agree; Azuma uses this technique a little too often for it to be acceptable. It's simply not worthy of an Ozeki not to take on challengers straight-up so often. All three Ozeki now stand at 6-2. 

I didn't quite understand Takamisakari's game plan today against Wakanosato. Both men prefer migi-yotsu, or right inside positioning, which they got from the tachiai. It would seem the table is then set for the best man to win, but Takami made three futile attempts to maki-kae, or shift to try to get left inside positioning as well. Textbook sumo is to attack when your opponent goes for a maki-kae, which is exactly what Waka did for an easy yori-kiri win. I wanted to see a migi-yotsu battle royal but it was not to be. Maybe Takami had no confidence in his preferred migi-yotsu if Waka had the same preferred position on him. At any rate, both men now stand at a respectable 5-3.

In the rank-and-file, Kakizoe suffered his second loss at the hands of Yotsukasa, who only has two losses of his own. This means, in addition to the three Ozeki at 6-2, we have Tamanoshima, Kotomitsuki, Kakizoe and Yotsukasa with two losses chasing Asashoryu. No longer do we have a one-loss rikishi. It doesn't look promising for the field but, as you all know, with 7 days remaining anything can happen.

Day 6 Comments
When it rains it pours for Chiyotaikai, Asashoryu showed the world in no uncertain terms who's the king of the hill, and the last unbeaten rank-and-filer finally went down today. 

Asashoryu (6-0) took on Hokutoriki (2-4), who was coming off a huge win over Chiyotaikai. Sho gained moro-zashi from the tachi-ai but mysteriously took his time to attack. It was as if to say, "watch this everybody, with positioning like this get ready for something grand". And grand it was. He put a leg behind Hoku in the kirikaeshi position, then picked him up to waist level before slamming him down. Hokutoriki actually bounced on the hard clay. Sho, don't be so timid okay? 

Chiyotaikai, after looking so good for four days is all of a sudden 4-2. Today he got a taste of his own bad medicine when Tosanoumi (2-4) resorted to the old side-step to win at the tachi-ai after a brief clash. Mike hates it when anyone does this, but we've disagreed before that I don't mind it when it's done by someone who rarely does it and pulls it out of the bag every so often to keep opponents honest. Tosanoumi was in desperate need of a win and mentioned he is not feeling in top form. My feeling is that you can show the sumo world that you have this in your arsenal once in a blue moon, but don't use it enough for it to be considered a staple or a bad habit. I do agree that it's too bad we could not see a knock down, drag 'um out push match that these two are capable of, though. 

Apparently Musoyama conveniently fractured his elbow in yesterday's loss to Kyokutenho, which paved the way for his withdrawal today. He finishes his work in Aki with a dismal 1-5 mark. Toki evens his record at 3-3 with the default win. 

To the crowd's delight, Takamisakari (4-2) may be on his way to another Shukunsho prize. Today he overcame Tochiazuma (4-2), looking like Takanonami while doing so. Azuma had the better tachi-ai but after an animated henka (side-step) by Sakari to secure a more favored position, he was able to get underneath Azuma's arm for his coveted right shitate. You could almost feel Azuma thinking, "uh-oh" as the rikishi paused for a few seconds. Then Azuma attacked. In true Takanonami form (except Sakari does it with the underhand grip), Sakari turned the tables at the tawara and won by yori-kiri. Pure strength when he gets that migi-shitate.

Kaio (5-1) avoided consecutive losses with a nice win over Tokitsuumi (2-4). He too got his favored position, migi-uwate in Kaio's case, and forced Toki's right arm skyward on the other side. There was no choice for Tokitsuumi now except try the desperation kubi-nage (neck throw), and it was pretty ugly as usual. He got turned around and Kaio politely guided him out. 

Wakanosato stands at 4-2 after a ho-hum win over the excruciatingly uninspired Takanonami (2-4, can you tell I took him in FS?) while Miyabiyama (3-3) got a taste of Kyokutenho's uwate-nage (3-3) in the Sekiwake ranks. 

In the rank-and-file, Kakizoe (5-1) rebounded after his first defeat yesterday to topple Tamanoshima (5-1), which put a blemish on everyone's record except for Asashoryu. Aminishiki kept pace at 5-1 along with Ozeki Kaio. Looks like this is turning out to be a two-horse race, folks. And the Mongolian looks awfully strong.

Day 4 Comments
Everyone in the top two ranks won today for the first time this basho. We are on a crash course to quite a finish, it seems, with Asashoryu, Kaio and Chiyotaikai all looking splendid in the early going. 

Asashoryu (4-0) looked in trouble for a split second today for the first time, but compensated quickly with his lightening speed for the win. Tokitsuumi (1-3) put up a good fight. Asa, respecting Tokitsuumi's inside belt technique, came out pushing today. Tokitsuumi almost got his left front grip that he wanted, but when he didn't he did a good job killing Asa's tsuppari by pushing up on his right elbow from underneath. This gave Tokitsuumi some leverage to attack, but at the ring's edge Asa turned the tables in a millisecond with a kotenage to stay undefeated. 

On the bout prior Sho's protoge "Seki" challenged Tochiazuma for the first time. Seki said he wanted to win so he could give "chikara-mizu" (water for strength) to Sho (all winners do this for the next rikishi up from the same side), but it wasn't to be. Tochiazuma (2-2) kept Seki (2-2) in front of him and stayed on the offensive the whole way in route to evening his record in a solid oshi-zumo match. Seki is showing he belongs this basho, though. He is looking pretty solid. 

Three cheers for Musoyama! Hip, hip, Hooray! He picked up his first win today against Hokutoriki (1-3), and he made it look easy. Hoku came out with his usual thrusts, but Muso (1-3) killed it immediately by locking onto Hoku's belt with his left hand. The bout was over at the tachiai after that, as Hoku was ushered right out. Hopefully this gives Muso the confidence boost he needs to propel himself back to respectability (is that a word?). 

Chiyotaikai (3-0) has amassed his four wins in 14 seconds total (2 seconds, 2 seconds, 8 seconds and 2 seconds). However, today's 2 second show was a yotsu-zumo! Kyokutenho (1-3) won the tachiai by securing hidari-yotsu but Chiyo responded well with a quick move to the right as Tenho went to attack with his left. The result was a hiki (pull) win, but this was more a case of good maneuvering than the bad decision making that has plagued Chiyo in the past. He gets an A+ on his report card so far. 

Kaio (4-0) must be solid as steel to be able to continually "receive" tachiais as he does. Today he absorbed the tachiai of the king of smash mouth tachiai, Tosanoumi (1-3), in ho-hum fashion, moved deftly to his left, attacked in his favored hidari yotsu position and promptly disposed of the Komusubi. He was aided by Tosa's ill-advised pull, but still. Kaio is looking very good in the early going. Kaio and "good in the early going" usually don't go together. That means look out, folks. We may be in for a barnburner. 

The Sekiwakes are taking turns winning and losing. Today, it was Wakanosato's turn to look good as he took care of Kotoryu to even his record while it was Miyabiyama's turn to lay an egg as he succumbed to Toki's tsuppari. All rikishi in this paragraph are 2-2. 

In the hira-maku, only two more rikishi join Asashoryu, Kaio and Chiyotaikai with unblemished records. They are none other than shin-nyumaku Kakizoe and the resurgent Tamanoshima.

Day 2 Comments
Day 2 brought us a couple of surprises, but for the most part the favorites continued to assert themselves convincingly over the field. 

You've got to tip your cap to Asashoryu (2-0). You can sum up his sumo in three words: Speed, speed and speed. The recipient of the whirlwind today was Kyokutenho (0-2), who looked like prey desperately trying to shake loose of a predator's grasp. Asa secured morozashi from the get-go and jostled Tenho around a bit before dumping him with a sukuinage (scoop throw). Next up, Takamisakari baby. I wonder if the crowd fave will cry on a hon-basho bout?

Chiyotaikai (2-0) has chalked up two wins now with about four thrusts. Today he blasted Toki (0-2) out in about two seconds. Chiyo is looking as strong as ever in the early going. With power like this, why would one ever consider a pull-down? Let's hope he doesn't for the next thirteen days, and we maybe in for something special.

Musoyama (0-2) faced arch-rival Tosanoumi (1-1) for the 33rd time with their record against one another locked at 16 wins a piece. I disagree with Mike that Muso "looked weak" against Tochinonada yesterday; I thought he looked solid and aggressive but just lacked the finishing power he struggled with so often. Likewise today. After a classic tachiai that is a model for every aspiring sekitori, Musoyama pushed his nemesis to the edge, but..... The rest of the story is oh so familiar. Tosa got both arms inside after some jockeying and succeeded in turning the tables, forcing the Ozeki out and sending him to a consecutive loss start.

In the surprise of the day, Hokutoriki (1-1) defeated Tochiazuma (1-1) for the second consecutive time. After a couple of matta, Tochiazuma looked uninspired in trying to upend Hoku's tsuppari. It was as if he was just putting up with it knowing he can win, but he wouldn't do anything about it TO WIN. Give credit to Hokutoriki for keeping the pressure on. It looks like a rocky road to eight wins for our kadoban Ozeki unless someone lights a fire under him. 

Kaio (2-0) patiently received Kotoryu's (1-1) tachiai, then calmly pushed him out in hidari-yotsu position. Didn't even need a grip of any kind. Kaio's methodical way is the antithesis to Asashoryu's firestorm, but equally as convincing. Can you imagine if Kaio got aggressive?

Miyabiyama (1-1) got back on track by blasting Tokitsuumi (0-2) back at the tachiai and then following through with a powerful tsuppari attack. Tokitsuumi, who started 6-0 last basho, is suffering a different fate this time around. 

In another mild surprise, Asasekiryu (2-0) defeated Wakanosato (1-1) for the second consecutive time as well, this time with a well-timed pull. Seki says he's trying to come out pushing this basho before securing his preferred belt grip. It's working, but did you notice yesterday he clearly pulled Tokitusuumi's mage en route to winning and the judges were mysteriously silent? Hmmm. I wonder if that would have happened if that had been Asashoryu doing the exact same thing. Something tells me, resoundingly, NO. 

As for the rest of the field, off to strong 2-0 starts are Kotomitsuki, Tamanoshima, Tamarikido and the much hyped shin-nyumaku Kakizoe.

Pre-basho Report
It's a special time of year. With the change of seasons, fall sports cranks up to the delight of many a fan. Add to that the Aki basho for us sumo fans and you've got yourself a lot of entertainment to choose from. Unfortunately of late, the news from our sport resembles more of the pro wrestling variety than of sumo. Any press is better than no press, I suppose. Since Mike gives us a comprehensive look at the banzuke, I'll just hit on a couple points and hope for a decent basho. 

Can someone tell me who is in charge of Musashimaru's wrist? Maybe it was the same doc who was in charge of Takanohana's knee. At least Taka was dealing with a major joint bearing his bodyweight. Maru's inability to recover from wrist surgery in ten, count 'um 10, months is completely unacceptable. Why isn't anyone else questioning this? Someone needs to take a hard look at sports surgery and rehabilitation in Japan. If Maru sits out this time, it will be his fourth full basho absent along with two partially absent basho since last November. Please, if you're going to be dispensing kinboshi like a bubble gum machine like you did the first week in Nagoya, sit out by all means. But come Kyushu, I say the Kyokai cracks down on Maru 'ala Takanohana and says "Participate or retire". Enough is enough.

At Nagoya we saw Yokozuna Asashoryu get booed and even have zabuton thrown at him during his dohyo-iri. The press jumped at any chance to highlight any "un-Yokozuna" like behavior. And with write-ups like the ponytail sighting, they were reaching desperately. In other words, many people in Japan are looking for Asashoryu to fall but fall he will not. Love him or hate him, Asa is here to stay. With all odds against him (remember, he won't get any close calls from the judges), Asashoryu goes 15-0 this basho and shuts everybody up. 

The Ozeki rank is hard to predict as usual. If Tochiazuma would stop being such a perfectionist about his sumo and relax a little, he can be successful again. But it's awfully risky relying on him. If Musoyama would regain his desire and practice as intensely as Asashoryu, he can be more successful too. But again, it's a big risk to take him. If Chiyotaikai would conquer his mental demons and stop calling his parents before big bouts with one excuse after another why he can't win, he'd win! Okay less of a risk here, but darned if he doesn't bug me. That leaves Kaio, who can't help injuring himself at crucial times. Since the calf doesn't sound too serious, Kaio is probably still a safe bet here followed closely by Chiyo. But Musoyama and Tochiazuma are capable of delivering, too. I'm drawing straws on this one. 

Expect solid performances from the two Sekiwakes Wakanosato and Miyabiyama. Chalk up 7 to 9 wins for West Komusubi Tosanoumi. His counterpart, shin-Komusubi Toki, is a question mark. As Mike says, everyone know this guy's sumo but they still have a hard time beating him. Which means he's getting better, so let's give him his due. But will it work this high up? Who knows, but I wouldn't bet on it. 

In the Maegashira ranks, I'd like to highlight Takamisakari this time. Here's a guy who's serious about his sumo. So much so that he cries about it. The press had some fun with this incident a few days ago, but my take on it is that Takamisakari is one of the first rikishi I'd want to wrestle in keiko and one of the last I'd want to face in a hon-basho bout. Takami may show his emotions like a kid, but he has desire like an animal. He has the drive to succeed. I think he continues to get better, barring injury, and makes a push toward Sekiwake. He is the 'franchise player', the 'kanban' of sumo, the quirky lovable hope holding together a struggling sport. Sumo needs another strong showing from Takamisakari. 

Intriguing is Asasekiryu at M4 and Kasuganishiki at M5. Both could turn out to be overmatched at this level, but at the same time they could make things interesting. 

Pick M7 Buyuzan and M12 Shimotori at your own risk. These guys are time bombs. They could explode and show their talent well, or be a dud just as easily. 

And welcome, Kakizoe and Wakatoba. Let's see what you've got. It's time to get this party started!

Yusho, Asashoryu, 15-0.
Shukunsho, Tosanoumi, 9-6.
Kantosho, Dejima, 11-4
Ginosho, Kyokutenho, 9-6