All Columns written by Kenji Heilman
for the Kyushu Basho 2002
November 16, 2002 -- My, how the flavor of a basho changes in the span of a week. First it was Takanohana dropping out a couple days before shonichi, next Kaio a couple days in, then Musashimaru a couple days after that. All of a sudden a refreshingly stout basho that had 2 Yokozuna and 5 Ozeki going in has no Yokozuna, 4 Ozeki and, as Mike put it, an uninspired higashi Sekiwake in Wakanosato. Come on boys, who wants this thing!?
Asashoryu, the only rikishi so far to make it through the first 7 days unscathed, showed today why I think he is the next Yokozuna. He got beat thoroughly by Miyabiyama yet picked up the win with his uncanny waza timing, side stepping the hard charging Miyabi just as he came with what would have been the final tsuki to push Asa out of the ring. This guy has presence beyond his 22 years. The only question mark is how he will fare from here. In Nagoya his record in the last 6 days was 3-3. Last basho, it was worse at 1-5. With the slew of dropouts this basho, this is as good a chance as ever for Asa to forge through to pick up his first yusho.
Musoyama and Akinoshima are chasing Asashoryu with 1 loss apiece. Musoyama is a hard guy to predict because he always looks solid with his sumo; whether he wins or not is a different story. To borrow a quote from Forrest Gump, in that regard he is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you're going to get. That's why you can never count him out. Akinoshima is showing the youngsters his veteran savvy down at M14, but sustaining this kind of momentum will be difficult in a few more days if he keeps winning because he'll find himself up against sanyaku or sanyaku caliber material. But I wish the old warrior well; he deserves one more time in the spotlight.
Chiyotaikai's loss today is exactly why I can't see him making Yokozuna. Was Hokutoriki's timing that good or does Chiyo have a hard time adjusting when someone throws a wrench in his freight train sumo? I say maybe a little of the former and a lot of the latter.
One rikishi who is raising my eyebrows this basho is Takanowaka at 5-2. He has fire in his eyes. He may be the one who wants this thing enough. A yusho may be far fetched, but I think he has the intensity and desire to pull out a sansho based on what I've seen thus far. Let's see just who has what it takes to prevail in the second half.
November 11, 2002 -- And we're off! On top of being deflated over the last minute withdrawal of Takanohana, it wasn't a very eventful shonichi. And Tochiazuma's loss is hardly surprising considering he is coming off a kyujo and had to face a tough Miyabiyama. I think Miyabi's strong tachiai made him resort to hiki, then his rusty 'sumo-kan' was the nail in the coffin.
The can't miss bout today was Asashoryu-Tosanoumi. Tosa didn't disappoint with his customary smash mouth offense, but he couldn't handle the agile swiftness of a defensive Asashoryu. This is exactly why I think Asashoryu is our next Yokozuna. Even when he doesn't look his best, he can turn the tables on you so deftly.
Chiyotaikai looked a little apprehensive, as did Kaio, but I think with the butterflies gone now we will settle in to a basho with a solid sanyaku presence. The biggest question mark is just how much will Maru's sore wrist affect him the rest of the way? Only time will tell, but I think this one will get plenty interesting in the days to come...Check in with you again in a few days.
November 2, 2002 -- Ah, it's that time of year again. We both remember the chill and excitement in the air as we scouted the spots around Fukuoka where the various stables set up shop for the upcoming Kyushu basho. I'll never forget watching the asa-geiko of a promising yet relatively unknown Juryo rikishi named Chiyotaikai. Or the chanko I had two zabutons away from Akebono in Azumazeki-beya the morning of senshuraku in 1994. To my amazement Akebono ate only a few gyoza and downed two tall bottles of beer for breakfast, then went on to lose to Takanohana in one of the biggest back-and-forth yokozuna taiketsus I've ever seen. Or the 12th day of the '96 tournament when my dad and I had 2nd row 'sunakaburi' seats. I remember our legs were toast after being confined to such cramped quarters for so long, but it was well worth it. I think it's safe to say that the Kyushu basho holds a special place in both of our hearts.
The 2002 rendition looks to be as exciting as ever. I say this because it looks like the top guys are all healthy for the first time in a year and a half. That means 2 Yokozuna and 5 Ozeki, which will keep the torikumi interesting for the entire second half of this basho. Remember that just two bashos ago in Nagoya, we had only 1 Yokozuna (Musashimaru) and 1 Ozeki (Chiyotaikai) that fought the whole basho.
As for my picks, I know that Takanohana is the sentimental favorite to reclaim the cup after coming so close in his unprecedented comeback last basho. He should be better shape physically and psychologically to do it. Musashimaru is a safe choice as always. Kaio looks strong, as he beat Chiyotaikai 18 out of 30 bouts in a recent practice session. But my pick this time is Asashoryu. He's no longer under the shin-ozeki microscope, and after fading last basho no one seems to be talking about him. He's got that hunger you need, and therefore he's my pick to sneak up and take this thing, with Takanohana a close second.
Look for the Barometer (Wakanosato) to hit double digit wins again and resume his quest for Ozeki. Kotomitsuki could surprise as well. I'm afraid Kyokutenho may be the goat this time that has to endure the murderous first half schedule of 7 top rankers.
My darkhorse is Dejima sitting down there at M10. He looked awfully good for the couple days he was healthy last basho. If he can string together a few basho without getting hurt, I think he has a legitimate shot at another run for Ozeki.
Moving down the ladder some more, Akinoshima is now the old man trying to hang on. He's been slipping ever so slowly down the ranks. It's always kind of sad to see old warriors fall, so I hope that he can hang on for a few more kachikoshi before the curtain falls on his giant-killing career.
I see no other big stories for now, but I'm sure they will develop as they always do. I just hope for a basho with a healthy makuuchi. It will be refreshing to see little or no names in the 'kyujo' section of the denkoban. That should set the stage for yet another memorable Kyushu basho.
Asashoryu wins with a 13-2, Chiyotaikai is runner-up. Dejima takes Kantosho with an 11-4 mark.