Hon-basho Daily Comments

Senshuraku Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Winter has arrived in Japan, but not so that you'd notice. After an entire summer spent battling mosquitoes at all the entrances to our very old home, we were cautiously optimistic that we could let our guard down and casually open the doors, leisurely walk in, and take a few seconds to close them, secure in the knowledge that we weren't letting in fifteen tiny vampires. Alas, that foolish dream was shattered a few moments ago as I put my three small ones to bed, for there on the wall was a pest, the nasty bloodsucker daring me to swat it. Being out of practice, I took a quick swipe and it sailed off into the dark corners of the room, and though I spent the last fifteen minutes battling the little focker, no luck. I'm presented with an eerily similar scenario as I sit down to write about Day 15. It seems that there are still mosquito types out there waiting to be squashed, sumo fans who think that the display of disgraceful sumo by Kotonowaka's Day 13 opponent (KDTO) was no such thing, that it is a "non issue". I will let my colleagues focus on the main talking points of the basho in their post-basho reports, so I can deal with you gnats at the end of today's report. But first, onto the rassling.

17 Jumonji broke a four match losing skid and beat 12 Wakatoba to finish at 9-6. Should jump to 12 or 11 in January. 10 Kyokushuzan (7-8) stiff armed and then pulled down 16 Kasugao, who somehow forgot the fact that Kyokushuzan never does a bang-bang tachi-ai and charged forward like a obaachan boarding the subway at rush hour, head down with no regard for who is in front of her. The Korean got his winning record, though, so these two should be just about the same rank come New Year. I guarantee Kasugao wins that one.

9 Takamisakari faced The Load His Mother Should Have Swallowed, 13 KDTO and unbelievably lost to finish 7-8 after starting 7-3. I hate to say it, but I like seeing him lose just so I can watch his dejected face. He is a classic, far more amusing than even Asanowaka ever was, and had that nice yorikiri win over Tochinohana on Day 4.

A rikishi who impressed me this basho was 8 Toyonoshima. Although he finished at 7-8 after beating surprising 15 Ganish (9-6), he showed some truly good fighting spirit and has me thinking he will spend a lot of time as a mid to high Maegashira throughout Heisei 18.

Former (and future?) Komusubi, M14 Tochinohana (11-4), made believers of us all with an emphatic win over future sanyaku regular 7 Kotoshogiku (6-9). To call Tochi's second career Fighting Spirit prize a shocker is an understatement. Every bout he wrestles in January will be eagerly watched. The Giku was up and down and will be going down next basho, but not past M10 and like the Governor of Calibunga, he'll be back.

6 Kokkai was, dare I say it, impressive this basho. If he can learn to land those tsuppari atomic bombs where he wants them to land he can have a Chiyotaikai-esque career, probably never attaining Ozeki but certainly Sekiwake. He was on target in Fukuoka and even declined to pull down Tosanoumi, the Ever Pulled Down, today, instead executing a deft kotonage arm throw that took him to 9-6 and left Senior Citizen Tosa at 5-10. With 13 Hakurozan (10-5) showing the same kind of oomph this basho with a variety of moves and never say die attitude, and his older brother 8 Roho (10-5) looking better (but not good, still doing cheap sumo too often), it seems the success of Eastern European Kotooshu has kicked these guys in their collective ass. The three of them won 29 of 45 bouts in Kyushu. Hakurozan was an especially delightful surprise this time out, his learning curve bending out of sight, and I predict that he will have a longer and more successful career in makuuchi than his bigger older bro.

9 Takekaze broke out a tube of KY and gave Miyabiyama some of his own medicine, henkaing his way to 9-6. Perhaps he was envious of 10-5 Miyabiyama's fourth Fighting Spirit award. My my, did Miyabi fight like a demon this tourney or what? With Kotooshu moving to Ozeki, Hakuho will likely move to Sekiwake, meaning that Miyabi could possibly leapfrog M1 Tamanoshima (8-7) and shoot all the way up to Komusubi in January.

4 Iwakiyama did as I predicted on Day 7, making a second week run, but despite running out 3 Dejima in a few seconds, fell one win short of kachikoshi. The Dejyptian goes back to Musashigawa heya to lick his many wounds and return in January to show all the pundits that he's bruised, bandaged, and beaten but not broken.

5 Ama became the latest opponent to utterly destroy the tachi-ai chimp 1 Hokutoriki, who never seems to actually touch the clay, instead looking like some angry ape grazing his knuckles on the ground to scare away foes. Works often for chimps, hardly ever for Hokutoriki, who finishes 2-13, with one win coming against a lame (literally) wrestler and the other inexplicably an oshidashi push-out against Aminishiki. Ama goes 7-8 but publicly grows a pair and gains many people's respect. 

7 Tokitenku was 5-4 after Day 9 but came on strong to pick up the prestigious technique prize at 10-5, and this despite falling in a long and exciting bout to K Hakuho (9-6), who evidently did not want to lose his first makuuchi bout versus a fellow Mongolian who looks to be starting his own push for sanyaku, with his Day 11 win vs Miyabi, his Day 13 win against Tochinohana, and his Day 14 lengthy tussle with Hakurozan being particularly memorable. He'll be M1 in Tokyo, along with either Roho or Kokkai.

K Kyokutenho ran away like a leetle girl but more importantly for all you "anything goes" fans out there got his eighth win. I'm so happy he can continue to put natto into little Kyoku Jr.'s mouth. S Kotomitsuki crashed and burned to an 8-7 that was a 7-1 after Day 8. Good thing Futenoh was lame this basho or else Hit or Mitsuki would have been swapping spots with today's opponent.

Ozeki Kaio (10-5) stepped to the side and got the back of Kotooshu's belt, spun him around and down. Welcome to Ozeki sumo, circa 2005. Let's hope Kotooshu (10-5, two special prizes) can restore some pride to the rank. Kotooshu actually won 11 bouts, but was the victim of that strange Days 10 and 11 weirdness that saw Tosanoumi actually beat Jumonji, Kotooshu actually beat Tamanoshima, and Kakizoe actually beat Iwakiyama but had the gyoji point the other way each time with no mono-ii called in any of the three bouts.

Finally, Ozeki Chickpeas did an impression of himself three years ago for about ten seconds, and then said, Aw, fuhgeddaboutit, and let Mr. History himself throw him out and down. Nothing more needs to be said about The Wolf's Drub. He has become a self confessed gutless Ozeki. He can still occasionally manage double digits in wins, but that's like saying the 90 year-old lady down the street can still occasionally give decent head. Not something I want to think about and certainly not something I want to see.  Asashoryu finishes the year as The Mandelbrot Set, Chiyotaikai as a public access television pie graph.

That's it for day 15. Now onto an issue that reared it's ugly head again this basho, the tachi-ai henka. I was sent a few strings from an online sumo forum that dealt with the topic of KDTO and his cowardly tactic and one person suggested mailing the comments to the guys at Sumotalk. Even though I will be laughed at by my Sumotalk colleagues for even lowering myself to the level of debating fangeeks, and despite the fact that I made an airtight argument against the henka in September ("There are many who defend the henka, or "tachi-fly", using words like "part of the game" and "keeps people honest". Reminds me of the empty, soulless, but immensely popular phrases "Shit happens" and "C'est la vie". A big league pitcher can throw at someone's head, but he's an asshole if he does. A doubles tennis player can intentionally smash the ball right into the face of his opponent, but he's an asshole if he does. When I mention to a buddy I would love to bang my kid's teacher, he has every right to go and tell my wife what I said, but he's an asshole if he does. There is a thing called the spirit of the game, and henka is a direct violation of that spirit. Stand and MEET"), there were three comments in particular that are in need of rebuttal and dismissal. 

First, someone made the case that KDTO is facing juryo relegation and that this will, essentially, destroy him and his family. He needs the cash, this fan claims, and so it is okay to avoid a tachi-ai or do whatever it takes to win, regardless of the circumstances of that day's bout (must have been the same case in Sept., when he, as Ishide and already having a losing record, henka'd Kasugao on Day 15 as the Korean was looking for his kachikoshi). Boo focking hoo, he might have to go down to juryo and work his way back up. They still are members of the heya down there, they still get a salary, they still have a livelihood. MOST of the men in sumo get by without ever making it to makuuchi, so screw this numbnut argument. If he can't perform his job with honor then he should go work at Family Mart.

Honor. This brings us to the second "brainiac from the planet Smartron 5" who, in a sort of clumsy quasi-poetic attempt at Deep Thought, made the claim (I think, the writing was rather murky) that there is honor in anything a rikishi does on the dohyo because he is on the dohyo (what?) After some hamhanded pan-Asian attempt at sociological insight (somehow the totemic Chinese tome The Art of War, apparently written by Tom Cruise, became a misguided Western fixation on exotic Japaneseness, huh?) he wrote that the only one who can decide what sumo is supposed to be is the wrestler himself. Is that so? That will assuredly come as a surprise to the sumo kyokai, who are constantly issuing statements about the content and quality of wrestler's sumo, and who can and often do refuse a promotion to a higher rank based on their interpretation of the rikishi's sumo (see Konishiki being denied Yokozuna). And also to Chiyotaikai, who not only apologized for his henka of Kaio, but called it, in one interpretation, "gutless". Some fandweebs who can't write a grocery list gushed all over this rant, but in the end it was all bluster but no muster. To be fair, I give it a B+ for passion but a D- for in reasoning. Nice try.

The third man on my list began his post, "For the millionth time, this is a total non-issue." Uh, Ballsy, if you need to make your point a million times, you're a control freak. Get over it. As for his argument, it goes like this. The Japanese are not making a fuss over it, only foreign fans are crying. Ergo, it is a "non-issue". Two things wrong here, Wittgenstein. One, foreign (ooh, I feel dirty just typing that word) fans are, in my experience, far more knowledgeable about sumo than the Japanese, and if they think there is something to rise up against, they have more than a mild right to do it. If that many sumo lovers think something is amiss, than it IS an issue, and being foreign doesn't change that an iota. Second, even if one DOES think that a Japanese pedigree makes a sumo opinion more worthy, the fact is the Japanese hardly ever say what they are thinking. In fact, it has been my experience here in Japan that there is often an inverse relationship between the number of people who are thinking some criticism and the chance it has of being voiced. EVERYONE was thinking KDTO is piece of shite, so no one said it. It is tacitly understood that he deserves condemnation. Internet sumo commentary, however, is for everyone, including many who do not live in Japan, and so we don't leave things unspoken, we, (Moderate that!), serve it up straight. 

And the point is, KDTO is a focking Gollum. And in honor of his name change, I composed a little ditty (apologies to The Knack).

Oh, I'm just a little fock, a little fock
But that was not reflected in 
My shikona!
It claimed that I was like a rock, like a rock
But actually I'm just a little 
Focking onna! 

Koto was going to retire, and I knew it
Yes, I knew it and he came into the bout, and I blew
'CauseIpulledahenka at tachi-ai-ai-ai-ai
M-m-m-my shikona

And now the guys at Sumotalk, Sumotalk
Will never ever print again
My shikona!
I could win the yusho once, twice or thrice, 
But they will just ignore me and 
My shikona!

Even ifIbecome, ifIbecome a great Ozeki and then
Continue on, continue on to yokozuna 
My-my-my-my-my Ow!
M-m-m-my shikona!

So, get thee over thine ob-stackles, seek thee thine oracles, but don't ever, EVUH challenge the experts here at Sumotalk. Unless you fancy being buggered for the world to see. 

Day 14 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
There was little chance that today's drama would actually surpass that of day 13, so while I do miss out on reporting on the most dramatic day of the tournament, my consolation is reporting on the most historic day of the tournament. Thanks to Kotooshu's heroics yesterday, there was a small chance that the yusho race would be extended into senshuraku, but that scenario was based solely on Kaio's age and Chiyotaikai's conscience. The day 14 featured bouts included Asashoryu vs. Kaio and Chiyotaikai vs. Kotooshu. An Asashoryu loss or a Chiyotaikai win would mean that the yusho would be decided on the final day. Let's assess the damage straightway.

I'll begin with the featured bouts in chronological order, which means the Chiyotaikai - Kotooshu dance is up first. Ozeki Chiyotaikai is a joke, and after his act yesterday, he moves right to the top of my shitlist displacing Lindsay Lohan and then anyone else who defends what the Ozeki did yesterday. If the tachi-ai henka is part of sumo, would someone please email me and explain exactly what part of the sumo training regimen the henka falls under? I've been to a lot of asa-geiko, but I've never once seen anyone perform a tachi-ai henka there. I've never once seen drills where the rikishi are henka'd over and over in practice so they can be prepared for it when it actually happens to them during the basho. The tachi-ai henka is a cowardly act that is exponentially inexcusable when an Ozeki or Yokozuna does it. Why am I going on about this? Because Chiyotaikai didn't perform a henka today, which means he got his ass-kicked. Chiyotaikai gave up from the start of this bout surrendering (war reference intended) the left uwate to Kotooshu without attempting a single tsuppari. Kotooshu planted his feet and then just dumped the hapless Ozeki to the clay with ease. My only regret is that Kotooshu didn't land on top of Chiyo in the process adding insult to injury. Kotooshu only reaffirms his Ozeki status by picking up his eleventh win. Today's win was easier than that default win over Futenoh on day 2. Chiyotaikai falls to 11-3 with the loss and can only hope for a Kaio win over Asashoryu that would keep Chiyotaikai's yusho hopes alive going into senshuraku...as if.

The day's final bout was preceded with the Kyushu crowd working themselves into a frenzy clapping in unison and chanting over and over, "Kaio! Kaio!" The emotion from the crowd actually triggered a bit of--dare I say--hope in the spectators. NHK followed that up nicely by showing last year's bout between these two where Kaio overpowered Asashoryu in a spectacular yotsu-zumo contest. Today's bout looked to be more of the same as the two immediately hooked up at the belt with Asashoryu grabbing the early right outer grip and Kaio getting his left arm on the inside of the Yokozuna. This was chikara-zumo all the way as Kaio wrenched at the Yokozuna in attempts to grab the right outer grip while Asashoryu stood firm with his own right grip. The key was Asashoryu positioning himself to Kaio's left and keeping his hips well out of harm's way. Kaio never did come close to grabbing the Yokozuna's belt, and in the end, his body just couldn't withstand the pressure applied by Asashoryu. Yori-kiri was the winning technique as Asashoryu sealed the deal. We've seen emotion from the Yokozuna in the past, and today was no different. He pumped his fist toward a fan in the first row who was cheering the Yokozuna on, and then as he squatted to accept the kensho envelopes he broke down in tears. The tears carried over to the interview room where Asashoryu could barely speak as he thanked everyone and then out into the corridor of the Kokusai Center where he gave one of his tsukebito a rare hug. It is a spectacular accomplishment by the Yokozuna that will undoubtedly receive more run as the basho wraps up tomorrow.

To sum up, Asashoryu clinched his seventh straight tournament yusho, which is a new record; he picked up his 83rd win of the year, which is also a new record; he became the first rikishi to win all tournaments in a calendar year; and he moved into the top five rikishi of all time in terms of yusho with fifteen. I'll comment more in my post-basho report regarding the significance of this run and where I think Asashoryu stands in terms of the great ones, but for now, Asashoryu is king yet again.

Moving on to the other bouts, in the Sekiwake ranks, Kotomitsuki looked to get back on track today against M6 Kokkai. Kokkai had different thoughts, however, and after a truly smashmouth tachi-ai where both rikishi bounced off of each other, Kokkai went for a series of what I would call bludgeon downs instead of pull downs. At first instinct, I was thinking "what are you doing going to the pull-down so fast," but the brunt force of Kokkai's blows were too much for Kotomitsuki to handle. It took about three of them before Kotomitsuki was smashed down to the clay in a heap. It's amazing what Kokkai can do when he really wants to kick someone's ass. Both rikishi stand at 8-6.

In the Komusubi ranks, Hakuho continued his mini-slide today against M3 Dejima of all opponents. The difference today was at the tachi-ai. Hakuho went for that tachi-ai where he sort of holds back and extends his left arm low ready to grab the front of his charging opponent's belt. He would not get the belt grip today, however, as Dejima just bulldozed the Komusubi back from the start. Hakuho soon realized he would not get the belt and scrambled admirably to try and gain any sort of position, but it was too little too late. Dejima's charge and positioning was just too good, and with Hakuho trying to counter at the tawara, Dejima offered a few of those gaburi belly shoves to finally seal the deal. Hakuho's passive sumo burned him today as he falls to 8-6. Dejima improves to 5-9.

Komusubi Kyokutenho made short work of M2 Futenoh. After grabbing the solid left uwate, he wasted no time in forcing Futenoh back to the tawara and out. Kyokutenho actually had two outer grips giving Futenoh morozashi, but Futenoh's inability to use that advantageous position is probably due to his ailing ankle. Short comments, I know, but there wasn't much to this bout. Kyokutenho dominated and showed his belt prowess by picking up his seventh win and keeping his kachi-koshi hopes alive. Futenoh falls to 2-11.

The only reason why I mention the M7 Kotoshogiku - M1 Hokutoriki matchup is because of their ridiculous prolonged staredown just prior to the tachi-ai. Come on fellas...looks at your records and just charge already. Play these tough-guy games when your combined records aren't 7-19. As for the sumo itself, Kotoshogiku made short order of the hapless Hokutoriki forcing him out from behind to improve to a respectable 6-8.

M4 Miyabiyama picked up his tenth win today with a perfect tsuppari attack against M1 Tamanoshima. The Sheriff brought his lumbering tsuppari from the start and never relented firing shove after shove into Tamanoshima's neck. Tamanoshima did his best to evade and wait for the opening to either get on the inside or go for a pull-down, but after about 10 seconds of constant abuse, Tamanoshima was off balance and worn out. Miyabiyama easily slapped him to the clay for the win. Miyabiyama is a cool 10-4, but Tamanoshima is a Kyokutenho loss away from the sanyaku at 8-6.

Today's M2 Kakizoe - M5 Ama bout was the perfect example of why Ama needs the belt to win. Kakizoe refused the belt grip with his usual feisty attack and relentless tsuppari that left Ama nowhere to go but back. Kakizoe kept the pressure up from the start, and Ama never did get close to Zoe's belt. The result was a very frustrating make-koshi for Ama. Kakizoe improves to 4-10.

M5 Kisenosato picks up the freebie today as he was scheduled to fight Kotonowaka, who announced his retirement yesterday in order to become the new Sadogatake-oyakata. The kid improves to 5-9, and I hope to see him make it six tomorrow. M6 Aminishiki kept his kachi-koshi hopes alive improving to 7-7 as he kept the de-ashi moving pushing out M10 Kyokushuzan out before the Mongolian could pull him down. Shu falls to 6-8. I guess the monkeyshines are no longer working, even at this lower rank.

M7 Tokitenku is hot this basho, and I was as satisfied with his sumo today as I was with anyone else. Against M13 Hakurozan, Tokitenku stuck to what has gotten him to this point the whole basho despite a nice head butt to Tokitenku's face at the tachi-ai and several solid throw attempts. I'm talking about Tokitenku's tsuppari of course. This was one of those bouts that resembled a prize fight where each rikishi goes back and forth unloading blow after blow. Hakurozan went for kote-nage throws, he went for pull-downs, and he fired off some vicious slaps, but through it all, Tokitenku stuck to the tsuppari. He could have gone for the pull down himself; he could have easily forced the bout to the belt, but he kept pushing the whole way through, and he finally wore Hakurozan down in the end. Kokkai should learn from this. Tokitenku improves to 10-4 while Hakurozan is just a step back at 9-5.

Ever wonder what would happen if two rikishi performed tachi-ai henka to opposite sides at the same time? M8 Roho and M16 Kasugao did just that today with each stepping to their left. This wasn't the quick and dirty pull down attempt, rather it was of the sly variety used to grab the quick outer grip. Roho succeeded in grabbing a firm left uwate, which he used to drive Kasugao back to the tawara. Kasugao dug in his heels, however, and managed to slip is right leg on the inside of Roho's left. With his left foot braced against the tawara, he drove into Roho tripping the Russian back and over to the dirt to pick up a slick kachi-koshi. Roho falls to 9-5.

M9 Takekaze executed a perfect tachi-ai today against M17 Tochinonada, but he seemed intent on forcing the bout to yotsu-zumo. Takekaze did get his left arm on the inside in great position, and he even looked in prime position to grab moro-zashi, but he's no match for the gentle giant in a belt contest and it showed. After keeping Tochinonada on his heels and scrambling for the first five seconds of the bout, Tochinonada finally secured his preferred left inner grip and disposed of Takekaze (8-6) in short order. Tochinonada scratches is way to 7-7 with the win and will look to secure an improbable kachi-koshi tomorrow after his putrid 3-7 start.

What is it about M9 Takamisakari and his inability to pick up that eighth win? Four days ago the Robocop was 7-3, but after another frustrating loss to M11 Tosanoumi, he's now managed a .500 record at 7-7. Tosanoumi was able to knock Sakari back from the tachi-ai, and then as the crowd favorite rushed in again to get any sort of inside position, Tosanoumi grabbed a firm left outer grip that would prove unshakeable. It was yori-kiri as Tosanoumi officially keeps himself in the Makuuchi ranks for next basho moving to 5-9.

And finally, how about M15 Tochinohana? Today he showed how a good tachi-ai and sound de-ashi can beat pull-happy retreating sumo any day. M12 Asasekiryu seemed frustrated by the tachi-ai and immediately went for the pull down. Tochinohana schooled Seki to the tune of picking up his tenth win in convincing fashion. It was Tochinohana's first double-digit performance in Makuuchi in seven years. Back when Sumotalk was confined to mine and Kenji's email accounts, we buzzed about the new kid Tochinohana who made it as high as Komusubi before falling off the face of the earth. It shows you just how devastating those injuries are. Asasekiryu falls to 8-6.

Clancy's up tomorrow wrapping up the daily comments for this basho and putting his own unique spin on the tournament. Don't so say I didn't warn you. I'll check back in a few days after the basho with a post-basho report giving you my takes on the key rikishi in Kyushu and even a few others. I'll also touch on Asashoryu's current dominance of sumo and how significant it really is given the surrounding competition. Sore ja.

Day 13 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
What a day of sumo! We had everything today - from the sublime to the very sad to the truly evil. In a time when sumo has been taking a real battering from every direction with regard to falling attendances and a perceived lack of competition for a seemingly invincible Asashoryu, it was just great for me, a long-term fan of the greatest sport in the world, to see that even when it is supposedly down and gravely wounded, sumo can still deliver the kind of drama we saw today in the Fukuoka Kokusai Center.

You really can't go wrong with a storyline like the one we had coming in today; there was always going to be the emotional charge of any senshuraku. We had a nigh-on unbeatable Yokozuna at the very peak of his powers going for three records that would ensure his name echoes down the ages along with only the very greatest, most sacred rikishi. Adding spice to this already volatile cocktail, if Chiyotaikai were to lose to Kaio today, Asashoryu could take the yusho at the expense of Sekiwake Kotooshu, a certain future rival. Although this would not be a fatal blow to the Bulgarian by any means, it would still put the icing on the cake for the Yokozuna.

As can so easily happen in sumo, the script did not necessarily run the way it was meant to.

The atmosphere was charged even during the Makunouchi dohyo-iri two hours before the main bout as fans roared their support of Kotooshu as he stepped up onto the dohyo, leaving no doubt whatsoever as to the direction of their loyalties. The Yokozuna was received politely as usual, an unintentional show of respect for a man they expected to win but wanted to lose.

For obvious reasons I'll kick off with the Ozeki duo. Kaio and Chiyotaikai met for the 35th time, with the balance of wins firmly in favour of the home favourite. The crowd went wild for it pre-bout and, for the first time this basho, I felt nervous anticipation and excitement. Unbelievably, Chiyotaikai pulled a henka on another Ozeki! Kaio did his best to recover but the damage had already been done. All you people who think the henka is OK, where the hell are you on this one? Whatever you argue about Kaio being 'stupid' for 'walking into it,' you cannot argue away the fact that with a henka, you are deliberately putting opponents at an unfair disadvantage. Add to that the fact that Ozeki are not supposed to pull henka on anyone (although it has happened before), and you are left with the inescapable fact that, yes, Chiyotaikai cheated – let's not beat around the bush here – I don't care what you say about henka being legitimate and not against the rules. Putting someone at a clearly unfair disadvantage, especially when they don't expect it, is cheating in the NOBLE (get that, henka supporters - is it sinking in yet?) sport of sumo. As Clancy once said on this site, 'tachiai' means 'stand and meet.' It does not mean jumping to the side like a total ponce, insulting your opponent and everyone who paid a lot of money to get in to watch. By means foul, Chiyotaikai keeps himself in the yusho hunt at 11-2 while the no doubt bemused Kaio falls to 9-4. Grrrr.

Now let's not keep you in suspenders any longer. The supporters were practically hopping with excitement by the time the big bout came around. After watching a shameful display by Chiyotaikai in a highly anticipated bout, they wanted blood, preferably Mongolian blood...

And they got it.

Thankfully, decent sumo was reserved for the musubi-no-ichiban as Kotooshu and Asashoryu showed us how it should be done. In an exciting bout, Kotooshu took the initiative and showed true Ozeki sumo for the first time this basho, putting some of the doubts as to the legitimacy of his promotion to rest as he executed a perfect tachiai and got both hands on the Yokozuna's mawashi, while Asashoryu managed only at first to get a left hand outside grip. Kotooshu crouched very low, using his superior height (and therefore length of torso) to huge advantage as he tried to keep his belt well away from the Yokozuna's grasping right hand. Asashoryu eventually got the right hand on the belt but Kotooshu attacked soon after with a great forward surge. His superior position had the Yokozuna pulling very hard on Kotooshu's mawashi just to survive and it came loose on both sides, adding to the problem of leverage for the Asashoryu. Kotooshu surged again and this time his excellent stance and footwork, combined with the loose belt (planned by Kotooshu?) conspired against Asashoryu. After a straining match on the edge, the two men went over, with Kotooshu on top. This bout was about tachiai; Asashoryu was pretty much beaten at the very start, and all that remained was for Kotooshu to make it look good and overpower the hitherto seemingly invincible Yokozuna with an inexorable push to the edge. And yet this Yokozuna never gives in, even when it is a hopeless cause, and that, folks, means yoritaoshi. The spectacular nature of Asashoryu's defeat - the crash off the dohyo into the first row - will do plenty to get the Japanese fans on the side of Kotooshu in the future – and that is no bad thing – but this bout was almost over when it began. I have been very skeptical about Kotooshu for his occasionally negative sumo and evasive tactics, and I'll be honest; this bout against Asashoryu has not changed that view. However, one thing he has proved today is that he IS capable of strong sumo, just as in that single other victory over the Yokozuna, and that he CAN beat the very best if he puts his mind to it. Whether he will continue this way in the future as Ozeki remains to be seen but I have no doubt that he will only improve, and that his confidence will grow. He has had an easy run this basho, no doubt about that, and there is still the question of how he reacts under pressure. The bout today was not really a pressure bout. Even if he had lost, as he probably expected to (who wouldn't?), he knew he would still have two days in which to grab that single win that would ensure promotion. I would like to have seen Kotooshu on nine wins on the final day against Kaio, with his back truly up against the wall, just to see his reaction in those straits. The pressure question remains unresolved but we will get our answer soon, certainly in the next year, as surely his next goal is to take a yusho. Asashoryu falls to 12-1 and fights Kaio tomorrow. Kotooshu goes to 10-3 and can relax now that he has his promotion in the bag. He will want to put a nice ribbon on things and beat at least one Ozeki over the weekend. But even if he doesn't, if the Kyokai were wavering on the ten wins before, you can guarantee that today's victory has put a stop to that. Get used to the title: Ozeki Kotooshu. And congratulations to him and all his fans.

This leaves Chiyotaikai one win behind Asashoryu, but they have yet to meet. Chiyotaikai meets Kotooshu tomorrow while Asashoryu takes on Kaio. If Chiyotaikai wins tomorrow, the basho goes to the final day whatever the result of Asashoryu's bout. Kotooshu himself has an outside chance but will need to win both bouts, with the Yokozuna losing both over the weekend. This could lead to a three-way play-off between the three men. A pretty unlikely scenario. We don't see Asashoryu losing three days on the run very often.  Don't expect it.

Phew! On to more mundane matters, Sekiwake Kotomitsuki finally got a winning record under his belt in a standard run-around bout against out-of-sorts-and-still-injured M2 Futenoh. This bout was remarkable only for the excellent twirl that Futenoh pulled off to avoid the okuridashi (rear push out), but it was to no avail in the end as Kotomitsuki got the straightforward tsukidashi (thrust out) win.

M5 Ama snapped his five day losing streak in style by powering out Komusubi Kyokutenho with an unbreakable hidari-shitate grip along with fine footwork and low stance. A marvelous tachiai didn't hurt him either. You have to admire Ama for bringing straightforward sumo against much bigger rikishi. He is going to have plenty of reverses, to be sure, but respect is due. Go Ama. Both men stand at 6-7.

Komusubi Hakuho, fresh from losing to Kotooshu yesterday took on genki M4 Miyabiyama in an unbelievable bout where Hakuho looked ready to drop from exhaustion. This was cracking sumo from Miyabiyama (9-4), who used that successful morote and tsuppari to constantly frustrate the talented Mongolian. Hakuho (8-5) was so knackered at the end that he just couldn't stop himself from rolling into the crowd despite having Miyabiyama at the edge. Make no mistake, however, Miyabiyama dictated the pace of this one and it was one of the best wins I've seen from him since his Ozeki days. If he can stick to this style in the future, he will cause problems for practically anyone.

M1 Tamanoshima has looked more solid this basho than he has for a long time. M3 Dejima really must have looked easy meat going solely off the current form of the two men. It was the same old story for poor Dejima as he flew into Tamanoshima in familiar fashion, head down, eyes nowhere to be seen. Tama-chan just thanked the former Ozeki for his kind consideration and slapped him down. Tamanoshima goes kachi-koshi and will be hoping Kyokutenho gets a losing record to leave a nice vacant spot at the Komusubi rank for him to park his three-wheeler in. Dejima is 4-9.

M5 Kisenosato surprised me today by actually giving up at the edge against M8 Toyonoshima, who also surprised me by pushing the Japanese whippersnapper right off the edge of the world. This was all a question of grip as Kisenosato lost his and allowed Toyonoshima to wrap up his body. It is usually game over at that point but I was disappointed Kisenosato gave up with a whimper like that. It is not in keeping with the Kisenosato I know and respect. Fair play to Toyonoshima who improves to 6-7. Kisenosato drops to 4-9, but I agree with Mike that he has had a largely encouraging basho. With the attitude he usually brings to the dohyo, he can only improve.

M7 Tokitenku served notice to us all that he is perfectly capable of using tsuppari to get what he wants with a series of smart, well-placed thrusts to the neck and face of red-hot M14 Tochinohana. This was another decent bout on a day full of them and was an emphatic statement from Tokitenku that he is no longer a softie, and that at 26 he is here to stay for a little while. Both men stand at impressive 9-3 records and either could well be up for a special prize with a bit of luck over the weekend.

M8 Roho led with a harite and got the simple pull-down win over M17 Jumonji, who has looked decidedly average since picking up his kachi-koshi, losing three straight, in fact. I don't have any problem with this kind of pull-down win as Roho just took was offered. There is no doubt that Roho still needs to learn not to go for the pull-down in less advantageous positions. 9-3 for the big Russian. Jumonji falls to 8-5.

M9 Takamisakari is still searching for that elusive kachi-koshi after running foul of powerful sumo from M13 Hakurozan, who got his quality out for the lads and hung poor Takamisakari out to dry. As with his big brother, a good harite was all that was apparently required to allow the Russian to get both hands on the mawashi, spelling curtains for the crowd favourite. Takamisakari just collapsed. Good sumo from Hakurozan who, like his brother, has ability and now just needs to learn to bring it to the dohyo every day.

With M9 Takekaze and M16 Kasugao we had two rikishi going for winning records so a real scrap was on the cards. Both have shown a few nice touches this basho, but have also looked weak in defeat, the kind of day-to-day inconsistency one learns to expect at this level. Takekaze (8-5) was the man with the goods as he made utter mincemeat of the Korean with a lovely low tachiai and relentless pushing attack. Kasugao stood no chance at all and about all he could do was wait for the inevitable yoritaoshi win. Good sumo from Takekaze and congratulations on the deserved winning record. Kasugao (7-6) has two more bites of the cherry starting with Tochinonada tomorrow, who will not make things easy for him, I guarantee.

M15 Kasuganishiki went looking for his kachi-koshi against M12 Asasekiryu and got it in fine style by leaving the Mongolian in a state of bewilderment with effective tsuppari from a good low tachiai and then moving in for the kill. It was emphatic stuff and he'll no doubt have a celebratory sweet sherry or two this evening. Asasekiryu already has his winning record but falls to 8-5.

M17 Tochinonada outclassed a feisty J3 Daishodai to keep on track for a nice comeback from 3-7 down. He now improves to 6-7 but knows he cannot lose or it's Juryo for him, definitely not where he wants to be. I am not going to make any predictions about this because I don't want to jinx one of my favourite rikishi. Break a leg, Tochinonada. Daishodai is 6-7.

And finally we have a sad story to tell. Let's first give a special mention to M13 Shunketsu who, despite already having a losing record with nine losses (and godawful sumo), saw fit to drag M11 Kotonowaka, a man fighting to avoid make-koshi, all the way down with him with a shameful henka. You have really got to love a guy who henkas a 37-year-old hero with no knees. And here's the real killer: this proved to be former Sekiwake Kotonowaka's final bout in a majestic 21-year career. Yes – Kotonowaka has retired. And even better, Shunketsu knew that this was Kotonowaka's last bout as he had announced he would retire to take over as oyakata from Sadogatake, who is 65 (the mandatory retirement age) tomorrow. He didn't even have the balls to give him a real bout after 21 years of great service.  I have a message for you, Ishide/Shunketsu: you deserve to go back to Juryo - no, make that Jonokuchi - and you are not fit to clean Kotonowaka's mawashi. Utterly disgraceful behaviour. Kotonowaka's final ever score is 5-8. Shunketsu is...not important. I don't want to think about him anymore. Unforgiveable.

To the big man, then: Kotonowaka made his debut in 1984 and reached the top division in November 1990. He picked up seven sansho (special prizes) over his career, five of them the Kantosho (fighting spirit prize), and two the Shukunsho (outstanding performance award). He never won the prestigious Ginosho (technique prize), but he certainly pulled off some lovely throws and overpowering yorikiri wins in his time. I hereby award him with a Sumotalk Ginosho, as well as plenty of respect and gratitude for some great sumo over the years. The big man also has eight kinboshi, three over Takanohana, two over Wakanohana, two over Asashoryu, and one over Akebono. My memory isn't too good but I can remember his first one over Asashoryu, which he got after using a powerful kimedashi grip followed by a lovely kotenage. Marvelous stuff. What a great rikishi he was, not least for his warm demeanour and good looks, which did much to attract fans to the sport. I'll always remember Kotonowaka in the same way I think of Terao, Akinoshima, Kotonishiki and Tosanoumi – great characters, real individuals, who were gracious in both victory and defeat.

Goodbye Mr Ippun.

Day 12 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
On day three in my report I stated that I wasn't even going out on a limb when I said that Asashoryu would yusho. Anybody could have called that. And even though the yusho has been in hand ever since Kotomitsuki lost his second bout, there's nothing like the excitement that builds up the last few days of the tournament when all of the big boys begin to clash. The atmosphere at the Kokusai Center was electric today, and the rikishi did not disappoint. This was a fantastic day of sumo, and I see no reason why this can't continue the final three days. There is plenty at stake besides the yusho.

Getting right to the action, I'll start at the top with the Asashoryu - Kotomitsuki matchup. On the line in this bout was Kitanoumi's 27 year old record of 82 wins in a calendar year. Sekiwake Kotomitsuki had a bit to say about it at first when he bested the Yokozuna at the tachi-ai knocking him back a step with a double forearm shove. With the Yokozuna off balance, Kotomitsuki secured the quick right outer grip, and looked for an instant to be in control. Wasting no time, Kotomitsuki forced Asashoryu back, but the Yokozuna dug in his heels and actually tried to lift Kotomitsuki off the dirt by the front of the belt. With Kotomitsuki's momentum halted, the Yokozuna circled to his right and managed to get a right grip of his own putting both rikishi in the hidari-yotsu position. After a few seconds of regrouping by both rikishi, Asashoryu once again circled to his right pulling Kotomitsuki along with him. Kotomitsuki didn't seem prepared for the move, and Asashoryu went for the kill throwing Mitsuki down while pulling at the back of his head with the left hand. This was a convincing win in the end for Asashoryu, but Kotomitsuki proved at first that you can indeed halt the Yokozuna's momentum with a good tachi-ai. Good sumo from both parties as Asashoryu now ties Kitanoumi's record by picking up his 82th (as the Japanese would say) win this year, or 12-0 this basho if you need him. Kotomitsuki falls to 7-5 having cooled down from a fast start.

In the Ozeki ranks, I just had to laugh at the Kaio - Ama matchup. It seems that I get to report on the days when Kaio's opponent goes for the morote tachi-ai, and the Ozeki just grabs his arm and wrenches it up and back as only Kaio can do. M5 Ama stepped right into the trap today, and after the arm wrench, which left Ama staring straight up and off balance, Kaio used his left arm to basically choke Ama back and out. This was typical Kaio sumo that the Japanese label go'in, or overpowering. Kaio has really picked up steam this basho, and at 9-3 I think he can actually give Asashoryu a run for his kensho on day 14. Ama falls to a dangerous 5-7.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai overwhelmed M6 Aminishiki today. At first thought I would say why is an Ozeki fighting an M6 at this stage of the basho? Then again, when you have rikishi withdraw from the jo'i as Wakanosato and Tochiazuma have, it's shikata-ga-nai. Chiyotaikai came out firing his usual tsuppari, and while they didn't exactly drive Aminishiki back, Ami could never get close and ducked his head in an effort to get on the inside of the Ozeki. Chiyotaikai saw the opening and just slapped Aminishiki down to the dirt. I can't fault Chiyo for the slap down in this one. He's just taking what's given him, but how funny is it that he's now 10-2, but no one considers him a threat for the yusho? He's not either. He's going to get worked these last three days. Aminishiki falls to 5-7.

You could feel the excitement from the Kyushu crowd today prior to the Sekiwake Kotooshu - Komusubi Hakuho bout. The fans have not exactly turned out in droves this basho, but they did understand the importance of today's bout between the future Ozeki and hopefully future rivals to Asashoryu. And the two did not disappoint. Wow, what a bout! From the tachi-ai, Hakuho secured the quick morozashi grip and immediately drove Kotooshu back towards the edge, but in the process, Kotooshu gambled on the maki-kae move (quickly changing an outside grip to in inside grip) and managed to get his right arm on the inside of Hakuho's left hand. With this new position, Kotooshu halted Hakuho's charge and forced the action back into the ring. Both rikishi wanted this one badly, so they immediately went for the throwdown with Hakuho's left outer grip challenging Kotooshu's right inner. Usually the outer grip has the advantage, but Kotooshu's height in this case proved the equalizer. In a classic nage-no-uchi-ai where both rikishi commit to the throw, both rikishi threw themselves off the dohyo in what looked like to me at the same time. The referee does have to choose someone, so in this case he did select Hakuho. I can see him working. Hakuho did control the pace of the bout and did have the outer grip. Kotooshu's head also seemed to break the plane of the dohyo before Hakuho hit, but this one was a mono-ii all the way. Thankfully the judges called it and got off their cans for a review. The bout was of course ruled a do-over giving us Kotooshu vs. Hakuho II in the space of three minutes. The only downside to this was that Hakuho looked a bit injured after the first bout. He was slow getting up and leaned on the dohyo a bit as if stretching a muscle out that was pulled.

In the rematch, both rikishi immediately clashed at the belt, but Kotooshu managed the left outer grip, which he used to immediately drive Hakuho back and out for the force out win. The second bout was anti-climactic, but that first bout was the best of the basho. Kotooshu secures Ozeki promotion with this win in my opinion as he moves to 9-6. He's got a buzz saw tomorrow in Asashoryu, but he only needs to beat one of the Ozeki the final two days and it's his. Hakuho fell to 8-4 and didn't even make it all the way down the hanamichi before stopping due to something that was bothering him. It's a shame because this was a great show. With his kachi-koshi in hand, don't be surprised to see Hakuho withdraw.

Komusubi Kyokutenho seemed to display a bit of pride today in his bout with M1 Tamanoshima. The reason I say that is because he looked as if he really wanted this one instead of just going through the motions. Kyokutenho zeroed in on the right outer grip from the tachi-ai, but Tamanoshima managed the lower angle which he worked into a morozashi-looking position that kept Kyokutenho at bay and away from his belt. Tamanoshima used this advantage to drive Tenho back to the tawara where Kyokutenho stepped to his right and attempted a counter kote-nage throw, but Tamanoshima's positioning was too good. He pushed out the Komusubi as if saying "I'm coming for your rank next basho." With Tama at 7-5 and Tenho at 6-6, that may be the case.

In the Maegashira ranks, M1 Hokutoriki really is a piece of work. He's kind of like a vulture that circles the dying in that he decides to use his own effective brand of sumo only against the young, the injured or the struggling rikishi. Hokutoriki actually does have some punch to his attack when he goes for the throat from the tachi-ai and immediately drives his opponent back. He proved he can do it in May of 2004 to the tune of a 13-2 record that stopped Asashoryu's longest winning streak in history (35). Today against the obviously injured Dejima, Hokutoriki went for that attack today and had Dejima pushed back to the tawara, but in the process, Dejma managed a decent morozashi grip himself. With his feet against the straw he was able to halt Hokutoriki's charge and turn the tables slowly forcing the M1 back and across the length of the dohyo for the yorikiri win. Dejima (4-8) is certainly scoring with the chicks during this current 4 bout win streak while Hokutoriki at 2-10 is resigned to shamelessly posting monochrome photographs of himself 6 years younger and 10 kilos lighter online and in chat rooms in hopes.

Despite his 4-8 record after today's loss, M5 Kisenosato is still having a good basho in my opinion because he's learning. Today against feisty M2 Kakizoe (3-9), Zoe actually grabbed morozashi from the tachi-ai, but Kisenosato brushed that off with a right uwate that he used to immediately force kakizoe back with. kakizoe abandoned his morozashi and brilliantly slipped to his side at the tawara attempting to use Kisenosato's momentum against him by pulling him out of the ring. Kisenosato managed to keep himself inside the ring after this initial counter move, but Kisenosato had lost his momentum and was a sitting duck for Kakizoe's second push out attempt. Kakizoe's speed overcomes Kisenosato's inexperience today.

The tachi-ai between M2 Futenoh and M7 Kotoshogiku resulted in a stalemate today. Futenoh secured his preferred left inner belt grip, but the Geeku stood him up higher than he wanted to be grabbing a pesky right uwate. The two rikishi jockeyed for any sort of position for nearly a minute in this hidari-yotsu position. You would normally think the rikishi with the outer grip would have the advantage--and he usually does--but today, the Geeku's belt grip was just on one fold of the mawashi. That would prove critical today as it allowed Futenoh to hang around. Finally, after a force out attempt from Kotoshogiku that fell short, Futenoh has sufficient positioning to grab the right outer grip. As soon as he had it, it was game over with the easy yori-kiri win. What this bout really shows is how much Kotoshogiku is struggling this basho. On a fair playing field, Futenoh is the better rikishi and should win as he did today two thirds of the time. However, with his ankle dinged up, he's a weaker rikishi yet was still able to overcome the mightily struggling Kotoshogiku. Futenoh inches to 2-10 while Kotoshogiku suffers makekoshi at 4-8.

M4 Miyabiyama displayed perfect sumo again today against M8 Takamisakari. The key was the Sheriff coming out with those lumbering tsuppari and keeping the Robocop away from his belt. Takamisakari saw the light after a few seconds of taking blows to the upper body and face and decided to evade around the ring and hope for a pulldown. No dice, however, as Miyabiyama's footwork was fantastic allowing the former Sekiwake to keep right in front of Takamisakari. This was an easy pushout to go to 8-4. Takamisakari falls to 7-5 with the kachi-koshi suspense lingering yet again.

In the early Makuuchi bouts, M6 Kokkai bested M8 Toyonoshima after the smaller M8 was unable to get close to Kokkai's belt. This was one of those wrasslin' bouts where the rikishi but heads and lock arms. Kokkai (6-6) used his size and sheer strength advantage today to eventually push out Toyonoshima (5-7) for the win. M7 Tokitenku came out firing tsuppari towards M10 Kyokushuzan and never relented until Shu had been pushed back and out. This was a one-sided contest leaving Kyokushuzan pouting at 6-6 having not been able to execute the morote tachi-ai. Tokitenku secures kachi-koshi at 8-4 with the win over his fellow countryman. As long as we're talking about the Mongoians, M12 frustrated M8 Roho with the okuri-dashi win to pick up his kachi-koshi as well leaving both rikishi at 8-4.

M14 Tochinohana streaked to 9-3 as he outmuscled the veteran M11 Kotonowaka with the yorikiri win. Kotonowaka at 5-7 is running out of gas fast. M13 Hakurozan has kept his fine form in tact this basho throwing over M16 Katayama (7-5) to pick up his kachi-koshi with three to go, and M17 Jumonji (8-4) was schooled by M16 Kasugao (7-5) today where the Korean used his trademark kote-nage throw to all but eliminate Jumonji from special prize contention.

Simon is your instructor tomorrow, and I'll be back on day 14. I was really encouraged by today's sumo, and I think the excitement generated today will carry over through the rest of the tournament despite the yusho having been decided.

Day 11 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
NHK had plenty of historical material on show in the break between the Juryo and Makuuchi bouts, which is not at all surprising, of course, as Asashoryu closes inexorably on those records that we have all heard about around 273.15 times. You'll hear these records mentioned wherever you go in the world of sumo punditry in any language. I myself wrote about the records in my pre-basho report, and have also mentioned them since, but only for the simple reason that they provide a little background to the basho and set a historical perspective. However, I would like to point out that in my view these records are in fact meaningless. What am I going on about? Read on.

Former Yokozuna Kitanoumi's 82 wins in a year is an astonishing achievement in any era. For those familiar with sumo, the sheer consistency and drive (and luck) required makes one shake one's head in appreciation. Asashoryu looks to be gliding past that record this basho, perhaps even going to 85 wins for the year. But who is to say that 85 in the modern era is 'better' than 82 in Kitanoumi's time? Define 'better' for me, someone. There are far too many factors involved in the achievement of these huge numbers, not least the level of the competition. It is like when your maths teacher at primary school was teaching you the rudiments of algebra by asking you to add three oranges to four apples. They don't fit together; you can't compare them; they are different beasts. In other words, all these records we throw around mean precisely nothing, apart from letting us know that those who achieve them are all outstanding. Getting one, two or even three more wins than Kitanoumi does not mean Asashoryu is a 'better' rikishi. It is a very human trait to categorize and put everything in relative terms. And, unfortunately, like so many human traits, it is utter bollocks. The only connection between the top rikishi in the various eras is the simple fact that they all did sumo. Everything else is a variable. So, when Asashoryu goes where no rikishi has gone before with these numbers, bear in mind that although he is undeniably a great Yokozuna, it does not I REPEAT NOT make him the greatest rikishi ever. And who cares who is? We have had some fine rikishi over the years. Let them stand where they all belong: at the forefront, together, to all intents and purposes equal.

On to today's action, Yokozuna Asashoryu (11-0) pissed on Kenji's chips (see the day 10 comments) by seeing off M1 Tamanoshima (6-5) despite a spirited charge from the solid top Maegashira. This win puts him joint second all-time in year wins alongside Taiho at 81. There, I'm doing it again – those records creep in everywhere. Tamanoshima took advantage of a dream tachiai to do what oh so few rikishi get to do these days: push the Yokozuna to the tawara. However, Asashoryu is not one to be pushed around and he fought back well and wrapped up his opponent's body.  The match turned when the Yokozuna managed to push upwards just under his opponent's left shoulder to sweep the arms to one side, enabling him to get inside.  It was all over from that point and Asashoryu just had to place Tama-chan onto the clay. Good sumo from both men. Tamanoshima's left leg bent rather awkwardly as he crumpled and I would not be surprised if he has hurt it badly.  Full marks to Tamanoshima for effort.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai gave us his best ballet dancing drill, tiptoeing around, avoiding any possible contact with Sekiwake Kotomitsuki. Horrible sumo yet again. If Kotooshu was this negative, he would be getting murdered by us here at Sumotalk. Yet here we have a real Ozeki shaming his rank with this kind of evasive crap. Yes, we know he has had injury troubles...I won't bother continuing - it has all been said before. Chiyotaikai picks up his ninth win. Kotomitsuki falls to 7-4.

Ozeki Kaio's sumo seems to have flowered in the last few days – fans of the veteran will know this is not the first time he has come into his own in the second week. M5 Kisenosato came in looking for his first ever Ozeki scalp. It was another classy uwate-nage from the should-a-been Yokozuna as Kisenosato tried and failed to get a right-hand belt drip, leaving him wide open for the throw. If only Kaio had not lost so meekly in the first week, we might be seeing a little competition for the Yokozuna. As it stands, Kaio is looking very strong and more than capable of beating Kotooshu, which will come as bad news to the Ozeki-hopeful. Kaio keeps his Ozeki rank for another few months at 8-3. Kisenosato is staring a make-koshi straight in the face at 4-7. His sumo has been encouraging this basho, however, and he must take heart from that.

In an absolutely must-win bout, Bulgaria's finest took on erratic M6 Kokkai, who, coming into today's bout, had not lost two consecutive bouts this basho. That record ended today as Kotooshu did bloody well to grab mae-mawashi despite being pummeled by Kokkai's trademark thrusting attacks. Once he had the belt grip, it was one-way traffic as he got the left hand inside and drove the Georgian out with a firm migi-uwate grip driving forward. That's a kachi-koshi for Kotooshu and he needs two wins in the final four days. These must come from the Ozeki-jin and Hakuho, and let's not forget Asashoryu waiting in the wings. Regarding Kokkai, he seems to be mixing up those thrusting attacks a lot more, sometimes going for thrusts with both arms, other times doing more orthodox tsuppari. It remains to be seen whether this will help him improve. He falls to 5-6.

Overall, Kotooshu's sumo has been passable this basho. Bear in mind that one of his eight win was by default, and another was a scrappy, evasive affair with Miyabiyama. The other six wins have all been fine, mostly clinical, occasionally impressive, although one of them came courtesy of the woeful Hokutoriki, who would probably have lost by yorikiri to Sharon Stone this basho. Closer examination of the losses is a little worrying: M1 Tamanoshima, M2 Kakizoe and M5 Kisenosato are all Maegashira and two of them currently have lost more than they have won. Ironically, there was not too much seriously wrong with Kotooshu's sumo in the loss to Tamanoshima, and the defeat by Kakizoe was clearly an attack of the nerves. However, Kisenosato kicked the Bulgarian's arse good and proper, which is a good thing in a way, because it makes their future rivalry that much juicier. Add to this no Wakanosato or Tochiazuma and things start to look positively weak. Luckily for Kotooshu, candidates for Ozeki promotion are not judged on the performance of one basho, but the previous three. Although his sumo was generally evasive and negative in September, he picked up 13 wins and defeated Tochiazuma and Chiyotaikai, and then in Nagoya, he had twelve wins and defeated Asashoryu, Kaio and Tochiazuma (again). These high-level scalps all look good on his record and Kitanoumi Rijicho was right to say that ten wins should be enough for the promotion. Although I am still not convinced about the consistency of Kotooshu's sumo, the promotion will be well-deserved if he can pick up two more wins. It is pretty clear that new blood is required in the Ozeki ranks, even if it is not the finished article. One encouraging point is that Kotooshu is still improving and will no doubt be capable of consistent Ozeki sumo in the future. Let's hope so for the sake of the short-term future of the sport.

Komusubi Hakuho clashed with rank and national counterpart Kyokutenho in a fine display of technical sumo that was won eventually thanks to Hakuho's superior strength and tactical awareness as he switched grips nicely for his own advantage. Once Hakuho had his opponent where he wanted him it was a simple case of marching him out. Kyokutenho was never really in this one but remains in the comfort zone at 6-5. Hakuho secures his kachi-koshi and fights Kotooshu tomorrow. Mmmm.

Whatever M1 Hokutoriki has been doing this basho, it hasn't been sumo. One of the most barren performances I have ever seen in honbasho, utterly bereft of passion or belief. The poor lad's head has simply dropped to the floor and he has not attempted any resistance at all against his daily murder. Until today. M2 Futenoh has just come back from injury; surely Hokutoriki would see this as a decent chance for him to register a second win. Right? Yes. For some bizarre reason, Hokutoriki seemed to have got out of bed on the wrong side and was pretty pissed off. He took this bout with a straight oshi-dashi demolition job. So what the hell has he been doing this basho before today? His oyakata should be yelling at him for this because he has just proved that he could have brought it if he wanted to, but he just hasn't bothered. You have to feel sorry for Futenoh, who was probably not expecting much resistance. He keeps his poor 1-6-4 record and must be ruing that injury. Hokutoriki looked a different rikishi and goes to 2-9.

Two other under-performers went at each other in M2 Kakizoe and M4 Iwakiyama. Kakizoe seems to make a habit of losing badly in the first half and then coming through at the end. In the last two basho he has won the last four days straight, and in the May basho he won the last three days. A repeat performance would not surprise me in the slightest. However, Iwakiyama OWNS Kakizoe with a 10-0 head-to-head record. Iwakiyama got the yoritaoshi win on the books today but how this bout was not a mono-ii, I will never know. In fact, there seems to be a moratorium on mono-ii this basho. Maybe the shinpan had a meeting before the basho and agreed that it was a pain in the arse to get up onto the dohyo out of that low seat. In my opinion, Iwakiyama touched the clay just before Kakizoe, so this was a blown call, which will be hard for the terrier to accept, as he pulled off a decent counter-throw. No doubt they'll say Kakizoe was shinitai but I say he got the throw off before he lost control of his fall.  There should have been a mono-ii at the very least. Iwakiyama is Lassie the faithful hound at 3-8. Kakizoe is Scrappy-Doo at 2-9. He woz robbed.

M4 Miyabiyama has had an excellent basho and has even managed to defeat all three Ozeki, a feat which will no doubt gain recognition in the form of a special prize. M7 Tokitenku has been no slouch either. Miyabiyama destroyed all the good work and grudging respect he'd won from me by going for the cheap win with a horribly blatant tachiai henka, just as I predicted in my day 2 report. I hope Miyabiyama gets a losing record for that now; there is no excuse for this kind of bullshit sumo with a 7-3 record coming in. It shows nothing but contempt for the opponent. Well done to Tokitenku for being on the case. He improves to 7-4. Miyabiyama has the same score. His remaining opponents have my full support.

Kenji's new favourite, M5 Ama took on listless (this basho) M7 Kotoshogiku. The drama was reserved for pre-bout as both rikishi entered into a staring-down match, pretty obviously because Kotoshogiku no doubt remembers that Ama – the guy who never does henka, remember - actually screwed Kotoshogiku good and proper on senshuraku in the Aki Basho with...wait for it...a tachiai henka. Added to that was the fact that Ama had already secured his kachi-koshi on that day and Kotoshogiku was 7-7, meaning the henka gave him a losing record. This all adds up to a good deal of (quite understandable) hatred and desire for revenge inside Kotoshogiku. The bout itself was a real disappointment because Ama inadvertently stepped out before fighting back at the tawara from Kotoshogiku's initial push, and the bout looked like it would get a lot more interesting from then on. However, props go to Kotoshogiku for decent attacking sumo, something we haven't seen much from him in Kyushu, and all that despite a good low tachiai from Ama. Kotoshogiku goes to 4-7 and will feel a bit better now he has wreaked his evil revenge. Ama's forehead will be wrinkled with concern as he falls to 5-6.

Stubble-lord M8 Roho met uber-chimp M9 Takamisakari in a mismatch of strength as Roho got an unbreakable hidari-uwate grip and swung Takamisakari out with ease. That's a kachi-koshi for the talented Russian, who really ought to be plying his trade in the top ranks. He can make it look so easy when he bothers to do legitimate sumo. Takamisakari must wait until tomorrow at least to pick up his winning record as he falls to 7-4.

M10 Kyokushuzan went with his trademark morote/tsuppari against M14 Tochinohana but the former Komusubi was in no mood to mess around as he waited for an opening and beat Kyokushuzan to the punch by wrapping him up just as the Mongolian himself was going for the kill. A straightforward win for Tochi, who looked overjoyed to pick up his kachi-koshi. Kyokushuzan will no doubt be happy to lose the remaining days now that he is well out of the yusho race in order to get that losing record and fall down the ranks a little more, making his next yusho attempt all that much easier. Kyokushuzan still looks sharp but he is getting on in years (33 next March – the average life expectancy of an elephant seal, possibly) and they will catch up with him eventually, the years, that is, not the elephant seals.

M17 Tochinonada has been very average in Kyushu and you have to say that he has not been anywhere near the same rikishi since that nasty injury he picked up in Nagoya. He had trouble with pesky M11 Tosanoumi today and survived a real scare at the edge but showed a little of the old magic and put on a considerable show of strength to turn things round until Tosa finally crumpled. They both looked ready to drop after this bout and it looks like Tochinonada, despite this win, is on the wane. He goes to 4-7, a ludicrous record at this rank for the fine rikishi he once was. Tosanoumi stands at the same record.

M17 Jumonji has been enjoying a breeze of a basho. Meeting a tough customer in M12 Asasekiryu, however, he walked straight into the lion's den and allowed the Mongolian to lead him around by the nose. Jumonji was simply guilty of keeping his head down. Not smart sumo at all. He won't really care at 8-3, however. Asasekiryu improves to 7-4 and goes for his winning record against Roho tomorrow.

M13 Hakurozan (7-4) kept M16 Kasugao (6-5) on his toes with a bewildering array of attacks: morote, pulling, and finally grabbing the mawashi and getting the uwatenage win. This constant changing of tack seemed to put Kasugao in a daze and he had no answer. While it was certainly effective, it was not a pretty sight. The important thing for Hakurozan, though, was the fact that he was in fact attacking, not aiming to defend. He would do well to keep this up.

There we have it. The yusho is a wrap and all that remains on that front is the day on which it will be secured. Only Chiyotaikai has a mathematical chance and should have no trouble against Aminishiki tomorrow. However, he will come up against Kaio on Friday, which could be more problematic. There is a distinct possibility that Asashoryu will beat Kitanoumi's record (here we go again), seal the yusho (and therefore take the other records) and deal Kotooshu a demoralizing loss all at the same time on Friday. If anyone can do all that, it's Asashoryu. As for the other main talking point, Kotooshu absolutely HAS TO beat Hakuho tomorrow because if he loses both to him and Asashoryu, that leads to major pressure on him to defeat both Ozeki in the final two days, which will not be at all easy as both Chiyotaikai and Kaio are firing on all cylinders now. And we all know what happens to Kotooshu when he is under pressure. And therein lies the only drama left in what has been a subdued tournament, with all the main contenders leaking wins here and there to leave the main man way in front all on his own, just where he likes to be.

See you on Friday for my final daily report of this basho. Mike will be here tomorrow.

Day 10 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
Ama had long since waited for this day, a day when he'd moved up the ranks sufficiently to challenge Asashoryu on the musubi-no-ichiban (final bout). Not that he hadn't clashed with Sho before many a time in the practice circle, but there's something special about waiting in a crouch in the corner of the dohyo while the Gyoji calls the final bout. You've arrived. The wait has ended. And so the stage was set for the first official bout between Sho and his mighty might countryman. 

Too bad it wasn't a fairy tale ending for Ama. The bout didn't disappoint, but it did prove a point that may surprise some. After Sho dished out his oft-used "how do you do" harite upon greeting Ama, the Yokozuna showed that even a swifty featherweight like Ama cannot match his speed. In a nifty move to simultaneously pull Ama's left hand forward while gliding around him in ninja-like fashion, Sho was positioned behind Ama before the challenger knew what had happened. I don't care how swift you are in this compromised position, the bout pretty much cannot be salvaged. Ama did resist nonetheless, resulting in a "spinaroo" with Sho reminiscent of Mainoumi's dashinage spins of a decade ago where he spun larger opponents dizzy before dumping them to the clay. Unfortunately Ama's situation was a last resort defense, not a planned offensive maneuver. Sho eventually lifted the youngster high off the dohyo and calmly placed him outside the tawara for his basho leading 10th victory against zero defeats. Ama drops to a still-respectable 5-5 at M5. 

You would have never thought Kaio had a career 6-13 record against Sekiwake Kotomitsuki by looking at the way the grizzled Ozeki manhandled Mitsuki today. Mitsuki (7-3) brought the kitchen sink at the tachiai, but Kaio locked his right paw onto his belt wouldn't let go. With not separation between them because of this, Kotomitsuki was in immediate trouble. Kaio marched him right out for a strong win. In fact, Mitsuki was marched right out the yusho picture with this one. Not mathematically, but it might as well be. Kaio, now with the same 7-3 record, is one win away from escaping demotion for the eight time. 

Chiyotaikai (8-2) and M5 Kisenosato (4-6) put on an entertaining show that featured Chiyo's lightening fast tsuppari turnover and Kisenosato's competitive fire. Unfortunately they both tried the pull down. Since Chiyo dictated the pace, the pull didn't haunt him this time. The Kid, on the other hand, put a stamp on his loss with the ill-fated attempt. It landed him in the second row and almost brought the Ozeki with him. Chiyo did a belly flop onto the edge of the dohyo that looked awfully painful. Chiyo's tsuppari still lacks its signature power, but isn't it the thought that counts? He's trying folks, he really is. Hey, he's tied for the second best record in the basho (on paper). 

Sekiwake Kotooshu, fighting for whatever the heck that magic number is that will get him promoted, dropped a critical bout today against M1 Tamanoshima (6-4) thanks to a error in strategy. Oshu went for the right harite (slap) to start things off, but he wanted the right inside grip (you could tell this by his attempt to go inside). Let's think about this for a second. If you slap your opponent toward your left with your right hand, it naturally shifts him toward your left shoulder so you can lock in on his belt's left side with an easy right outside grip. To go INSIDE with your right would require unnatural geometry as your opponent is already left of center moving toward you. Oshu was wanting morozashi but what he got was hidari yotsu (right outside / left inside grip), which is Tamanoshima's favored position. Although Oshu pressed on and drove Tama back, this position gave Tama leverage to turn the tables at the tawara for a come-from-behind sukuinage, or scoop throw. This error in strategy exposes the inexperience of Kotooshu, but it doesn't make me doubt his ensuing promotion to Ozeki. That said, Oshu does drop to 7-3 and still has the big boys looming ahead. 

Someone came on like a freight train in the Komusubi ranks, and it wasn't Kyokutenho. Yes, that leaves Hakuho, who improves to 7-3 with a win over M2 Futenoh (1-5-4). Hakuho showed a great tachiai and followed it up with a right inside, then left outside grip and never let up until the force out was in hand. His day one tachiai henka is looking more like a waste now as he mounts a strong second half effort. 

M17 Jumonji held ground with Chiyotaikai in the loss column with a win over M11 Tosanoumi (4-6) way deep in the division doldrums. This means basically nothing. No one's catching Sho here, let's face it. In fact, let's just enjoy his run at history. But I will end by throwing caution to the wind. Sho faces the more-than-capable Tamanoshima tomorrow. If Sho goes 14-1 this basho, I believe it'll be Tama that will take him. You heard it here first. If Sho wins tomorrow, he goes 15-0.

Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
On the bright side, I thought the sumo today was the best of the basho so far. On the downside to day 9, the last rikishi who had a remote possibility of catching Asashoryu for the yusho lost. I know there's still six days of sumo left and Asashoryu only has a two-win lead on the rikishi in second place, but trust me on this, everyone else has been mathematically eliminated from the yusho race. So sit back the rest of the way, smoke 'em if you got 'em, and hope that some sort of drama can be created with Kotooshu's Ozeki run and Kaio's fight to stave off demotion.

Getting right to the action, Asashoryu was pitted against Komusubi Kyokutenho today, a matchup before the basho that looked compelling. However, if anyone has been dialing it in this basho it has been Kyokutenho. In his previous big matches (against Kaio and Kotooshu), he just rolled over without a fight, so it was no surprise today when Asashoryu immediately secured the moro-zashi grip from the tachi-ai and drove Tenho back to the tawara in a flash. With his foot braced against the straw, Kyokutenho did show a bit of resistance as he attempted a meek armbar throw, but Asashoryu's grip was too deep today. After staving off the counter move, the Yokozuna decided against forcing Kyokutenho back and out and just dumped him to the clay with a left inside belt grip. I wish I could make it sound more dramatic, but it was just another easy win for the Yokozuna who moves to 9-0 and could probably win his remaining bouts even if his tsukebito tied his right arm into the folds of his mawashi before his bouts. Tenho falls to 5-4.

In the Ozeki ranks--and I do use that term lightly--Chiyotaikai was matchup up against M1 Tamanoshima, a rikishi who is back to his winning ways and one who always gives Chiyotaikai fits. The Ozeki knew this so instead of a tachi-ai at the shikirisen, Chiyotaikai backed up a few steps placing himself between the starting line and the straw. I see Chiyotaikai working here because in the past, here is how his bouts with Tamanoshima have gone: Tamanoshima ignores Chiyotaikai's tsuppari attack and gets deep inside of the Ozeki from the tachi-ai; the Ozeki realizes he is in trouble and goes for the weak pulldown; Tamanoshima sends the Ozeki into the first row. So on one hand, bravo Chiyotaikai for thinking up a crafty new plan today, but on the other hand, would you take a look at your damn rank? I have zero tolerance when it comes to Ozeki and Yokozuna resorting to monkeyshines at the tachi-ai in order to pick up cheap wins. Getting to the actual bout itself, Chiyotaikai came out firing his usual tsuppari that worked to drive Tamanoshima back a few steps. Tamanoshima fended off the attack and patiently waited for a chance to get at the Ozeki's belt, but he just never could get the timing down. After some awful girl-fight slapping sumo from both parties, Chiyotaikai succeeded in what else but pulling Tamanoshima down for the win. It's 7-2 for the Ozeki whose only forward moving non-shenanigan win this basho came against a hobbled Futenoh. If you think Chiyotaikai actually looks good this basho, wait until he fights the big boys the last few days. Tamanoshima falls to a very respectable 5-4.

M4 Iwakiyama finally unleashed his tsuppari attack from the tachi-ai today against Ozeki Kaio, but Kaio is one of the best at catching a flailing arm in mid-air and twisting it around to the extreme discomfort of his opponent. Kaio used the arm twist to position himself deep on the inside of Iwakiyama and forced the M4 back to the tawara. When Mount Iwaki braced himself against the straw, Kaio opted to reverse the momentum of the bout by pulling Iwakiyama forward and slapping him down to the clay. In his comments yesterday, Kenji mentioned after the Kotomitsuki pull-down win that he was fine with it even though some of his fellow contributors on this website might disagree. I'm completely fine with the pull down when used correctly. I didn't frown on Kotomitsuki yesterday, and like that bout, Kaio set it all up with good offensive sumo today. Actually, it was a very smart move on the Ozeki's part when you consider his fragile health. Why risk a battle at the straw and straining your back muscles trying to move a mountain when you can make a molehill out of your opponent by using his momentum against him? Kaio moves to 6-3 and should breeze to eight wins. Shame on Iwakiyama for his 2-7 mark.

In the Sekiwake ranks, Kotooshu displayed his best sumo in these last two tournaments today against M5 Ama. I expected this to be a better bout, and then when the two failed to synchronize things at the tachi-ai on the first try, I thought Kotooshu looked a bit unnerved after the false start. Far from it. Kotooshu came with the morote (both hands at the throat) tachi-ai and drove Ama immediately back to the straw. When Ama dared show the least bit of resistance at the edge, Kotooshu just pushed up on the Mongolian's chin and violently shoved him off the dohyo by the neck! Ouch. This was an ass-kicking through and through, and Ama (5-4) is a pretty decent opponent. Kotooshu moves to 7-2 with the win, but still has his work cut out for him. In his usual mid-basho press conference, Kitanoumi Rijicho responded to Kotooshu's current bid for Ozeki saying "he's had 2 or 3 good bouts this basho, but we're still focusing on the content of his sumo." This pending promotion is going to be dynamite to follow the rest of the way. You may think that Kotooshu is flying high at 7-2, but those last three wins are going to be a bitch to secure. Kotooshu hasn't exactly fought the who's who of rikishi up to this point. He has Tamanoshima tomorrow, and then the likes of Hakuho, the two Ozeki, and of course Asashoryu after that. I expect Kotooshu to finish at least 10-5, and then the debate begins. Does his win by default over Futenoh count or how about that sly tachi-ai henka against Miyabiyama on day 4? My opinion is that Kotooshu has been average up to this point. He can, however, put a stamp on his run over these final 6 days when 5 of his 6 opponents will be quality. If the Bulgarian can finish10-5, I say give him the promotion. It hasn't been the prettiest of Ozeki runs for Kotooshu, but when you compare him to our current Ozeki, Kotooshu is the best right now of the four. He's not going to make the Ozeki ranks any worse, and his promotion can only help the struggling sport in terms of it's popularity. But more on this as the basho progresses.

For those of you who tirelessly hawk your sumo wares on eBay, let me tip you off to a guaranteed sale: a voodoo doll of Kisenosato to the Sadogatake-beya. And don't forget to include a box of large pins with the shipping. Today the M5 just kicked Sekiwake Hit and Mitsuki's ass in a brilliant bout. Kisenosato charged up and into Kotomitsuki from the tachi-ai standing the Sekiwake up and driving him back to the tawara. Kotomitsuki countered by stepping to his right and attempting a kote-nage (armbar) throw at the ring's edge, but Kisenosato's footwork and positioning was just too good as he strong-armed the Sekiwake down and off the dohyo. It was reminiscent of the Hakuho - Kaio bout last year in Kyushu. Exact same winning technique at the exact same place on the dohyo. Hakuho's win last year kept Kaio from attaining the Yokozuna ranks, and Kisenosato's win this year knocked Kotomitsuki out of yusho contention. You could just hear the collective air being let out of the Fukuoka Kokusai Center--not to mention Fujii announcer's voice--with the realization that there would be no yusho-arasoi in Kyushu. Kisenosato is just 4-5, but he's had an incredible basho thus far. The future is bright for this kid. Kotomitsuki falls to 7-2, but he has been second best to the Yokozuna so far.

Komusubi Hakuho won by default over M1 Hokutoriki today. No, Hokutoriki didn't withdraw...he showed up as planned, which means the bout went something like this: smothering tachi-ai for Hakuho that resulted in an easy belt grip followed by a one second yori-kiri win. Here's a question for the Kotooshu Ozeki promotion debate: which win should count more towards his promotion...the win by default over Futenoh or his day 5 win over Hokutoriki? I think the Futenoh win was tougher to obtain, after all, Kotooshu probably experienced at least some pain and suffering that first Sunday night wondering how he was going to defeat Futenoh the next day before the M2 withdrew. Hakuho is 6-3 but is relegated to spoiler this basho while the Jokester falls to 1-8.

Speaking of Futenoh, the gritty M2 picked up his first win of the tourney by crushing M6 Aminishiki back and out with a strong oshi-attack aided by solid footwork. Aminishiki could gain no advantage at the tachi-ai and as he danced around the ring in retreat, Futenoh was on his every move. Great win for my man Futenoh who stands at 1-8, or 1-4-4 for you politically correct types who don't like to see people's feelings get hurt. Aminishiki falls to 3-6, but he may yet have a say whether or not Kotooshu secures Ozeki promotion. With Tochiazuma and Wakanosato out, and Kotomitsuki being from the same stable as Kotooshu, the Bulgarian's day 11 opponent will probably come from the M6 ranks occupied by Aminishiki or Kokkai.

On the subject of M6 Kokkai, he moved his record over .500 with a pretty good win over M2 Kakizoe. Kokkai fended off Zoe's pesky charge with his usual tsuppari, but Kakizoe's quickness allowed him to dodge the full force of the Georgian's attack. Kokkai chased Kakizoe around the ring a bit with his shoving before Kakizoe actually managed to force the bout to the belt. The problem was Kakizoe had used up a lot of his energy at this point, and when he went for the force at at the ring's edge, Kokkai was able to successfully counter with a nice kote-nage throw. Goliath wins...this time...to move to 5-4 while Kakizoe falls to 1-8.

M3 Dejima showed for the second day in a row that he has some pride as he just bulldozed M7 Tokitenku (5-4) back from the tachi-ai. When the Mongolian resisted at the ring's edge, Dejima (2-7) made it official with a nice scoop throw. Where was this attack the first week? You just KNEW that the winning technique in the M4 Miyabiyama vs. M8 Roho matchup would be a pull down; the question was who was going to be the victor? Miyabiyama took charge with a smashing tachi-ai that rendered Roho useless. Before the Russian could mount any sort of attack, Miyabiyama took the initiative and slapped his opponent down to the clay for the easy win. There was nothing cheap in this bout. Miyabiyama set everything up with his excellent tachi-ai and lumbering tsuppari. Props to the former Ozeki who moves to 6-3. Roho shares the same mark.

M11 Tosanoumi proved just how deadly the outer grip is as he outlasted the struggling M7 Kotoshogiku. I believe that the Geeku is a better belt fighter at this point, but even he couldn't overcome the stiff left outer grip that Tosanoumi secured form the tachi-ai. Kotoshogiku wrenched this way and that and tried in vain to counter with some sort of moro-zashi grip, but the veteran prevailed moving to 4-5. Kotoshogiku needs to desperately regroup at 3-6. In a very similar bout, M8 Toyonoshima never did get the moro-zashi hold to counter M11 Kotonowaka's outer grip, but Toyonoshima positioned himself perfectly attacking from Kotonowaka's uwate side rendering the advantageous grip useless. Toyonoshima gritted his way to the yori-kiri win leaving both rikishi at 4-5.

M9 Takamisakari improved to 6-3 today by just crushing M15 Kasuganishiki back from the tachi-ai. It's amazing the impact that scrawny body can have against the larger opponents. The Robocop cleaned up the mess with an easy yori-kiri win leaving Kasuganishiki at 6-3. M14 Tochinohana also moves to 6-3 besting M9 Takekaze's gimmick attack with sound sumo basics. Takekaze falls to 4-5. And finally, M17 Jumonji actually keeps his name in second place on the leaderboard by dismantling M10 Kyokushuzan's own gimmick attack today. At 7-2 Jumonji proves that a solid tachi-ai can overcome a weak moro-te charge any day. Shu falls to 6-3. There are a host of other 6-3 rank and file rikishi that I haven't mentioned, but I'm as tired as you all are, so I'll end here.

I've already called ("phoned" for my Canadian friends) the engraver and given the go-ahead for him to put Asashoryu's name on the Emporer's Cup, but I think Kotooshu's Ozeki run will provide enough drama and debate to keep us all watching over the waning days of the basho. See you in a few days. 

Day 8 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
Separation. Like the cream in non-homogenized milk. Like the oil in natural peanut butter. That's how Asashoryu is rising to the top and the others sinking downward. At 8 days in, we now have only one rikishi left, at 7-1, within arm's reach of the 8-0 Yokozuna.

Asashoryu today amassed his 78th win in 2005 to match his win total from 2004. He's already won more bouts yearly than anyone in each of the last four years. He's only 4 wins away from matching Kitanoumi's 1978 record of 82 wins in one calendar year. You already know the two other records he's on the verge of setting (just in case you don't, that's winning 7 straight championships and winning every tournament in the calendar year). On this day it was poor M2 Futenoh, who's trying to regain his rhythm after 4 days off from injury, tasked with trying to derail history. No dice. Sho got the right outside grip immediately, but found Futenoh's belt loosen which blunted his leverage. No problem. Let's make a quick adjustment and hook the leg to bring him down. The sotogake brings Sho to 8-0 and drops Futenoh to 0-4-4.

Kadoban King Kaio (now there's an alliteration) came one step closer to his coveted 8th win with a victory over hapless M2 Kakizoe (1-7). This too was a quick job as the popular Ozeki gave Zoe no space and bulldozed him out in a matter of seconds despite having no belt grip. Not only was it a big "W" toward number 8 this basho, it was Kaio's 794th career victory which brings him into a 9th place tie on the all-time list alongside recently retired Takanohana. At 33 'ole Kaio (5-3) might be nearing the end, but we can't deny he's made a pretty respectable run.

Counterpart Ozeki Chiyotaikai (6-2) did pick up a win against Komusubi Hakuho (5-3), but was I the only guy who thought Hakuho was toying with him? The problem I saw that led to Hakuho's demise was that he didn't unload on Chiyo with any offense to speak of. It's not that the Ozeki's tsuppari were particularly effective, it's that Hakuho didn't close the deal. Therefore amid a flurry of back and forth oshi-zumo, Haku finally got turned around and was guided out via okuri-dashi. It looked like a good win on the surface for Chiyo, but I digress. I give the Ozeki an "A" for effort and perseverance, but in no way does his attack have the umph it needs. 

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki climbed onto the clay with 1 loss on day 8 for the first time since his spectacular rank-and-file yusho campaign back in 2001. He kept it going with an arguable "quality" win against M1 Tamanoshima, who drops to 5-3. Koto (7-1) brought it for the tachiai but quickly went for the hatakikomi (pull-down) win. At least he didn't do the dreaded tachiai henka, which we all know he's prone to do, so I'm okay with it. My fellow comrades at Sumotalk may disagree with me, but that's what makes us interesting. 

The other Sekiwake (let's see, who was it now...oh yeah) Kotooshu, kept his Ozeki hopes well in line with a victory over M4 Iwakiyama (2-6). Oshu went for the "hello, how ya doin' " harite slap at the tachiai and quickly secured the right outside grip before "The Rock" could get on track. Then came the left inside grip. Then came the easy yorikiri win for Kotooshu (6-2). With 12 wins in July, 13 wins in September and now 6 wins in November, Oshu now needs only 2 more (technically) to reach the 33-win mark over 3 basho that is the unwritten criteria for Ozeki promotion. It's almost a given he'll reach that. But hold your horses. "Naiyo", or sumo "content", is also considered. Due to his somewhat inconsistent "naiyo" over the the course of this run, I'd argue 33 won't do it. He's got to go 10-5 this basho to lock the promotion. 

Embattled M3 Dejima (1-7) picked up his first win by defeating "The Kid" Kisenosato (3-5) with a quick moro-zashi and ensuing suffocating pressure. Dejima goes to a career 3-0 against the 19-year old phenom. 

Can M5 Ama do it again? Bully a guy 60 kilos heavier, that is, for the second day in a row? I was fired up to see it, but it wasn't in the cards. M4 Miyabiyama, Mr. Slow Motion, who's beaten all 3 Ozeki this basho, gave Ama the morote greeting and kept the "urusai" mighty might at bay with good spacing. Ama did dance around the tawara like he does so well, but got turned around in the process and got forced out. Oh well, I guess you can't expect to give away 125 kilos in two days (Iwakiyama at 173k and Miyabiyama at 178k vs. Ama's 113k) and come away victorious BOTH times. Ama reminds me of Kyokudozan (remember him?) from the 90's, except that this lightweight won't play the sidestepping game at all. Mike, if you don't mind, change my favorite current rikishi to Ama (sorry Tosanoumi, I still love ya). There's nothing not to like about this little Mongolian that could. 

Way down the ranks, the other rikishi at 6-1 coming in, Kasuganishiki, lost. This brings the 2-loss party to a whopping 6 rikishi, lead by Chiyotaikai (paper thin) and Kotooshu (more solid). We also had other points of interest like a mizu-iri marathon won by Takanowaka (3-5) and an "Oosakate" move by Aminishiki (3-5), a technique never recorded in Makuuchi until today. Don't ask, I've never heard of it either. 

But those are just side shows amid an improbable run at history. Like non-homogenized milk is good for the body, Sho's current run is good for the sport. Unfortunately homogenization is so commonplace today we no longer understand it's not good for us, just as Sho's dominance is so commonplace we no longer appreciate its significance in the sport. Okay, enough of the milk analogies and sounding like a broken record. I'll leave all the record breaking to you know who.

Day 7 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
Age, injuries, lack of a killer instinct, whatever the reasons, the fact is the current ozeki crop is weak, "very, very" as that most annoying commentator to ever appear on television anywhere, David Shapiro, would say (hey, Davey, I have an effin Goliath-sized suggestion for you. Once, just once, try saying "by" instead of "on the part of", okay? As in "Nice move BY Asashoryu"? Saying a lot of words in place of one simple one doesn't make you erudite, it makes you boring and laughable, man! Ha! And if you say, "Again..." at the beginning of a comment that you are MAKING FOR THE FIRST TIME again, I will personally see to it that you never work in television! Again!) Hey, Simon, you're right, rants feel good, pork chops taste good, bacon tastes good...

So taking a cue from the Manchester Marauder himself, I, too have a Dennis Hopper quote to use. However, THIS quote comes from a classic film, not from celluloid dysentery (There is no way in hell that bus would have done anything but fallen straight down off that broken freeway. I'm an engineer, I know. And how did they hide from Hopper the fact that the bus had HIT A PLANE and exploded? The airport would have been encircled by dozens of news helicopters (not too mention everyone on the ground) who would have seen the massive fireball all the way from San Di-f**king-ego! I'm an atmospheric chemist, I know.)

This quote pertains to Kaio, to Chiyotaikai, to Tochiazuma, and also to the retired Musoyama: "What are they going to say about him? What, are they going to say, he was a kind man, he was a wise man, he had plans, he had wisdom? Bullshit, man! Am I going to be the one, that's going to set them straight? Look at me: wrong!"

We will never know for sure what kept these great Ozeki from becoming grand champions, and it really doesn't matter. They have given us fantastic sumo to watch and enjoy for many years, but like Col. Kurtz they have seen their day come and now must let it go. It is time for the Brothers Kadoban to call it quits, make way for a younger generation of wrestlers to stir up the sport, re-energize the fan base and fill those cobwebby seats with the jagovs who only like personalities and events, and not sumo, but who spend the money necessary for all of us true fans to have some sumo to enjoy six times every year.

I know it would be unprecedented, but Kaio, Chiyo, and Tochi should hold a joint press conference after Kyushu and all three retire to become oyakata. By March or May we will have at least two new Ozeki, most likely Kotooshu and Hakuho, but perhaps also Kotomitsuki and Kisenosato. I know, you're thinking that they can become Ozeki on their own, that they don't need the Trio to retire to do that, that if the Ozeki can continue to beat them then they don't deserve the rank yet. I agree in principle, but I think the open slots would light a fire under guys like Hakuho and Kotomitsuki and even Kotooshu, make them hungry knowing that the rank is empty and waiting for them. Kisenosato is coming, we all know that, so he doesn't need a fire. But the last three basho have made me worry about the other three. Hakuho's egregious henka on Day 1 this basho, Kotooshu's penchant for choking, and Koto Hit and Mitsuki, well, say no more.

I still think all four will make Ozeki eventually if healthy, but sumo needs a charge, and a mass resignation of three burnt out Ozeki's who take turns facing Sekiwake relegation every tourney would be just the place to start. I know what I'm talking about, I'm a public relations specialist for a major Madison Ave. firm.

So, what happened on Day 7, funny man? Okay, no need to get blustery, I'll tell you.

They might as well set up an altar in the middle of the dohyo, complete with a stone knife and bucket to catch the blood, every time Hokutoriki fights someone in sanyaku or the grand champion. Asa lifted him up and out in less than one second, and The Lamb didn't even look chagrin about it. That's four consecutive days, against Kaio, the two Sekiwake and now the Yokozuna, where he has offered about as much resistance as I would if set upon by the shapely, sexy little divorcee (with an unfortunately severe hairlip, but don't laugh, those things can make you CRAZY if they rub the right artery) who lives down a piece from me. Asa looked like a bouncer at a bingo convention, for Pete's sake. Forget steroids in major league baseball, if Hokutoriki wasn't juiced last year during his run for the yusho I'll eat my toenails (oh, wait, I do that already.) Asa is Maria Sharapova's bottom at 7-0, Hokutoriki is a Halloween jack-o-lantern on Dec. 4th at 1-6.

Chiyotaikai took on Futenoh in his return from a right foot injury, an injury that is obviously not healed enough to get out of the way of Chiyo's pushing attack, which was working today but so what? If you dare point out his record, I'll tell you he beat a man who has yet to win once in Kyushu (and who has a purple leg Koizumi has his eye on), Little Miss Bingo (see above), Iwakiyama, who got stiff-armed and throttled by tiny leetle Ama today, and another Mighty Mite, Kakizoe (see my Day 4). He can beat the walking wounded, but call me when he takes on the The Kotos or Kise or Ama. 

Komusubi Hakuho took a nice shot from Kaio at the tahci-ai and then went into his usual extended arm keep away maneuvering (can you tell he is from the same land as Kyokushuzan?). This is not easy to do against the big Ozeki, though, and he did it well for a few moments, and when Kaio made a lunge with his right arm Hakuho timed his two-handed parry perfectly, driving Kaio's arm across his own chest and then using his shoulder and hip to bump the Ozeki out and down to 4-3, while raising himself up to 5-2. Five straight but the taste of that henka remains bitter in my throat. How about you?

Speaking of Kaio, young 5 Kisenosato (3-4) did an outstanding imitation of a young Kaio by remaining completely unfazed by Kotooshu's poorly positioned hands at his neck and head, bulling straight forward but with his legs so well placed beneath him that he looked like he wasn't even moving, and then suddenly Koto was standing outside the ring having lost 33% of his contested bouts. Still, it makes me tingly in my funny thingy to think about January and what these two will show us then. This may very well be Akebono/Takahanada stuff right before our eyes, two future dai-yokozuna at the beginning of their long and storied rivalry, unconventional long-bodied furrener vs. classically put together homeboy. Can I get a witness?!

4 Miyabiyama had what amounted to a day off yesterday vs. Chiyotaikai, but the former Ozeki was unlucky enough to meet Sekiwake Koto Hit, no Mitsuki, today and got spun around and summarily dismissed from the day's proceedings before he could say, I want a refund. Yabi is 4-3, Koto is 6-2 (yea, I know it's actually 6-1, but if he finally, after what, thirteen thousand years?, beats Asa when they meet, I'll pee in the kitchen sink (oh, wait, I do that already.)

Komusubi Kyokutenho schooled 3 Dejima. I'm a bit puzzled as to why The Dejyptian is not winning a few more this basho, or any for that matter. He always wrestles in trauma ward wear, why is this time any different? I suspect his ankles are a lot worse than before. Kyokutenho moves to 4-3.

1 Tamanoshima battled 2 Kakizoe (who I don't think really pulled Kyoku's hair on Day 5, just got a bit tangled in that long grass) and took the charge all the way to the bales, where he executed a deft sidestep and grab of the back of Zo's belt, and then dumped him like Mike will dump me from this site if I don't make my quota (so please write in and complain that you hate me). Tamanoshima, my darkest of dark horses to oneday make Ozeki, is 5-2, The Honorary Aussie 1-6 (but the taste of that 1 over Kotooshu remains sweet in my throat. How about you?) 

5 Ama is probably on the run from the law tonight, because he f**king murdered 4 Iwakiyama, strangled his mountainous arse with a straight arm that never let up until Iwaki (the man whose face truly should be on Mt. Rushmore. . .his REAL face, not a carving of it) was in 2-5 Land, making plans for a week 2 resurgence. Go Iwonkeykong!

6 Kokkai (4-3) finally used his pushing attack the way it should be used, placing his shoves dead center on 6 Aminishiki's (2-5) chest, and bringing his legs with him as he moved forward. Ironically, Aminishiki ended up being the rikishi who threw himself at his opponent at the edge, hoping for a win, and Kokkai made a nice move to evade and slap down. Certainly the best sumo Kokkai has done in ages.

7 Tokitenku (4-3) beat 7 Kotoshogiku (2-5) with a series of straight arms to the neck and chest, and a big slap straight to the cheek, and when The Geeku tried to charge forward Tokitenku leaned away and pulled him down by the shoulder. 8 Roho (5-2) made quick work of 8 Toyonoshima (3-4), with a one-handed back of the belt lift out.

9 Takamisakari did not move at the tachi-ai, being taken entirely unawares by winless 10 Takanowaka's fast charge (should have been a do-over). It was such an offside that Taka's roundhouse slap intended for Three Ring's face missed entirely, and when Takami stood up, he was in possession of a two-armed inside hug. He simply moved Taka back and out. P.T.'s boy stands at 5-2, two off the pace (hardy har). Still, I fervently hope he gets to 9-2 and gets a chance to fight Asashoryu. 

11 Kotonowaka (4-3) had a towering over the shoulder bolder hold on miniature 9 Takekaze, who in turn had his own belt grip, and they stood there looking like two nervous teens at their first dance. And as is so often the case with teens, this one ended badly as Koto the Elder drove his opponent face first into the clay after a protracted standoff. Takekaze looked like he'd been hit with a clay pie as he walked back to the showers, but he took it like a man, and that's what I love about sumo. This guy is tough, but falls to 4-3.

10 Kyokushuzan (5-2) beat 12 Asasekiryu (4-3) in a Mongolian-style sumo affair, lots of straight arms across a distance, waiting for an opening. Kyo got it and bent Asasekiryu's arm up into an awkward position and that was that.

11 Tosanoumi (2-5) vs 16 Kasugao (4-3). An outstanding battle starting with a strained, raised up, stand-off in the middle (excellent shot of Tosa's swaying mammaries), followed by Tosa making a push to the edge, and Kasugao answering with a sweet twisting no belt throw that sent them both to the dirt. I think Tosa could have won if he had let go of Kasugao's belt just as Kasugao initiated the throw. I should know, I'm an ex-All-American at Iowa State.

12 Wakatoba dumped 17 Tochinonada. Both are 3-4, but the sweet sirens of juryo are warming up their chords to sing Tochi's name. Mayday, mayday, pull out man!!

Rejuvenated 14 Tochinohana (5-2) looked to continue his refreshing and inspiring run against Roho's bro, 13 Hakurozan (4-3). Hakuro blasted Tochi in the face with his right forearm, a real bear, and Tochi never recovered. He was still rubbing his jaw walking back to his locker. 

13 Shunketsu (formerly Datsun Corp.) accepted an offer of straight left arm from 17 Jumonji and locked it up under his right arm and spun him out to just his second loss. Tonkatsu moves to 2-5.

15 Kasuganishiki gave 16 Katayama (2-5) the standard big hit at tachi-ai, kept up the attack as mega hit station KTYM squirreled away once, but not twice. Ganish is looking cracker jack at Maegashira 15.

So, at the halfway mark we have Asa cruisin', Kotooshu losin', Dejima woozin', Kotomistsuki bruisin', Hokutoriki snoozin', and Kisenosato refusin'. See you on Day 15.

Day 6 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
Dennis Hopper: "Pop quiz, hotshot! There's no-one in the stadium; the quality of the sumo is poor; the gulf in class between the Yokozuna and everyone else is ludicrous. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?" Kitanoumi Rijicho: "Uh...I know Kung-Fu?" What do you do? It's a good question. The very first thing I would do is give a major bollocking to those rikishi who keep going for cheap wins. Although sumo is different to other sports in a multitude of ways, decent entertainment is one element which is necessary, just as in any spectator pursuit. This has largely not been happening in Kyushu, and the sanyaku boys are among the main culprits. Let's take a little tour of the performances in sanyaku so far, shall we?

Although I admire Chiyotaikai for his past record and tenacity in the twilight of his career, not to mention his all-round good nature and humour, he has no business being an Ozeki displaying this kind of sumo. He knows it as well; you can see it in his face every time he racks up another pull-down win after failing to get his tsuppari working. He is not lazy – he really is trying hard in most bouts to do the kind of sumo he loves – but he just can't hack it anymore. On one hand we criticize Kotooshu for his occasionally negative sumo when he wants to become an Ozeki, so we need on the other hand to apply the same standards to current rikishi of that rank. Kaio has been giving up FAR too easily in the trickier bouts, especially when you consider that his home fans (all ten of them this basho) have paid their good hard-earned to see him saunter over the tawara at the first hint of a push from an opponent. Kotomitsuki was 4-0 going into yesterday and then tried a henka on Hakuho. Nice one. Good thinking. Just what the fans wanted. Mike has described Hakuho's sumo pretty well: cat-and-mouse. Not too pretty, basically. It is definitely effective but we know he can do so much better. Coming into today, Kotooshu had only one truly dominating win in five bouts and his competition has been soft so far but it is too early to tell how he is coping with his Ozeki bid. The real test will come in the second week, but you definitely get an early sense that the pressure is sloughing off the Sekiwake. And finally, Kyokutenho has been running hot and cold, and only really looked good schooling Kisenosato (again). There we have it – a mostly ho-hum sanyaku so far.

It is sunnier lower down the ranks. As Kenji pointed out yesterday, Ama has been showing balls galore with some lovely sumo. Kakizoe has oozed commitment as always despite his poor record. Tamanoshima, Iwakiyama, Asasekiryu, Tochinohana and Jumonji among others have all been providing the goods, albeit on-and-off in some cases. Even Miyabiyama, who I generally murder every time I write about him, has been showing good sumo so far. Unfortunately, the average fan doesn't know who the hell these people are (except for Miyabiyama, being a former Ozeki). Decent performances from the sanyaku rikishi are vital and we are just not getting them. Yokozuna Asashoryu is the only shining light in this whole mess. Right...rant over. "The prostitution rests."

I was really looking forward to the musubi-no-ichiban today between two great battlers, one the sole Yokozuna, the other the terrier-like M2 Kakizoe. Predictably, the huge battle I craved did not come to pass, which always seems to be the case with Asashoryu these days, as he put in a calm, steady performance to outmuscle Kakizoe for the simple oshidashi win. It really is embarrassingly easy for the Yokozuna and a zensho is very much on the cards. Who can match him? Only Kotooshu if he already has his eleven wins in the bag and the pressure is off.

Ozeki Kaio took his earplugs out so he could hear his fans imploring him to actually make an effort to win today against luckless and winless M3 Dejima. He obviously listened because it was vintage Kaio as he allowed Dejima to think he was doing well and then unleashed an effortless and beautiful sukuinage. Yes, I know Dejima isn't himself, but it was very satisfying for me to see Kaio doing the business in what could easily be his last basho. No one throws as beautifully and emphatically as the veteran Ozeki. Not even Asashoryu, who prefers other spectacular techniques like tsuri-dashi. Kaio keeps the demons at bay at 4-2. Dejima is writing to his mum at 0-6.

I expected more of the usual from Ozeki Chiyotakai against the notoriously balance-challenged M4 Miyabiyama. The Ozeki's thrusts had no effect at all and Miyabiyama wisely bided his time before the hatakikomi opportunity presented itself, which it inevitably did. Miyabiyama is Beavis at 4-2. Chiyotaikai is Butthead at the same score. Score-wise, one cannot separate the two kings of teenage-dom. Huh-huh-a-huh-huh-a-huh. I said score.

M1 Hokutoriki looks bloody awful and you have to wonder whether he has an injury, or perhaps his hamster is unwell and it's playing on his concentration. I suspect it is more a case of his head dropping as a direct result of his poor display in Kyushu so far. He lost very meekly today to Sekiwake Kotomitsuki, who was himself saved from a weak tachiai by a well-placed hari-te that knocked Hokutoriki slightly off his stride. Hokutoriki (1-5) showed no resistance at all as Kotomitsuki (5-1) marched him over the edge.

Sekiwake Kotooshu met his first stern-ish test (on paper) in the bulky form of Komusubi Kyokutenho. Kotooshu looked a lot more relaxed and it showed as he put those lengthy arms to good use to get both hands on the back of Kyokutenho's mawashi. That made his life a hell of a lot easier as he gently herded the hapless Komusubi over the tawara. This is the kind of sumo we need to see from Kotooshu every day: dominating, forward sumo. His Ozeki prospects look a lot rosier than last Sunday as he improves to 5-1. Kyokutenho is doing just fine thank you very much at 3-3 with both remaining Ozeki out of the way.

Komusubi Hakuho led the lumbering M4 Iwakiyama around by the nose with a characteristically evasive display of technique and ring-awareness which was nonetheless masterfully executed. Iwakiyama was just never in this one as he was out-thought and out-maneuvered by the clever Mongolian. Hakuho goes to 4-2, a good recovery from a nightmare 0-2 start, while Iwakiyama seems to have run out of steam as well as ideas at 2-4.

M5 Kisenosato did very well to grab migi-uwate from Tamanoshima, who had what looked to be a very powerful hidari-shitate grip, and showed great technique to use Tama-chan's right elbow as leverage to reach the belt and go on to get the simple yorikiri win. It was an encouraging display – nice to see that the youngster's head has not dropped despite his baptism of fire thus far. He picks up his second shiroboshi while Tamanoshima's decent run of four straight wins comes to an end with his second loss.

M5 Ama made M8 Roho look rather foolish as he cleverly invited him to lean forward just a little too far until he simply needed to slap him down by the head. Although this could be described as a pull-down win, it was obvious that Ama had not planned it and just took the opportunity that presented itself. He was not in trouble at all and just made the right choice of technique. This is when the pull-down win is perfectly acceptable and that is the difference between Ama and Roho. Both men stand at 4-2.

M8 Toyonoshima (3-3) was outfoxed by M12 Asasekiryu (4-2) after his kiri-kaeshi win attempt was turned round to a rare kawazugake (hooking backward counter throw) loss. This dramatic finale was the punch line to a cagey, technical affair that really could have gone either way. It was attractive sumo but it lacked oomph, something both these rikishi will need to go higher up the banzuke in the future.

M14 Tochinohana, who isn't far from 33 years old, has impressed with some slick technique so far this basho. Against super-likeable M11 Tosanoumi he met the other veteran's fading (these days) tachiai and got migi mae-mawashi. Tosanoumi proved a tricky customer and wriggled around like a slightly amused ape but Tochinohana was always in control and finally crushed all resistance after a brief straining match at the tawara. Tochinohana improves to a highly sexy 5-1. Tosanoumi falls to 2-4 but you can never write this old fella off for the kachi-koshi. He always was and will be a class act in every sense of the word. I just wish some of the younger rikishi around would take a leaf out of his book – the ones who seem to be under the impression that sumo fans actually enjoy rikishi grabbing the back of their opponents' necks and dancing to the side. You know who they are.

M13 Hakurozan has been as erratic as always in Kyushu, looking sharp on some days and woeful on others. The latter version showed up today as M17 Jumonji showed the big Russian how to go forwards. Sadly, the only answer Hakurozan had up his sleeve was the usual pull-down attempt. He was piss-poor today. When will he learn? A straight-up oshidashi win for Jumonji who now stands at 5-1. He may be starting to think of a sansho (special prize) but as he is fighting way below his natural level, he will need twelve wins at least to get one. He will certainly give it a go. I haven't seen him looking this genki for quite a while. Hakurozan is 3-3.

M16 Kasugao was guilty of a lack of concentration at the tachiai as he allowed M15 Kasuganishiki to sneak in at the side and get the easiest win he will pick up this basho. Sloppy stuff from the Korean and he'll be kicking himself later. Kasuganishiki won't care – he stands at 5-1 to Kasugao's 3-3. Kasuganishiki is quietly racking up the wins without much in the way of fireworks. However, I wouldn't get your hopes up about a yusho run yet.

Those were the highlights of a pretty average day at the office. It was good to see Kotooshu showing good sumo today. However, let's not lose sight of the fact that although he is 5-1, one of those wins was a fusensho and another was a scrappy one against Miyabiyama, although I concede that could easily have been a one-off. His other three wins have been pretty straightforward and there was nothing wrong with them. He is certainly showing better sumo than any other current Ozeki so I have no major complaints so far. One thing we need to remember is that Kotooshu earned his 'choker' tag for screwing up when he had chances for yusho, something Asashoryu would be very displeased about Kotooshu taking. This basho is a different kettle of fish. He just needs ten, probably eleven wins, not the yusho, and is not likely to meet Asashoryu until the twelfth or thirteenth day, so he could well have all the wins he needs in the bag before then, which would really take the pressure off and allow him to relax and show us what he is really made of. Even if he misses out on the yusho again, he won't really care as long as he gets his promotion. Sparks could easily fly when they meet anyway. I am reporting on day 13 so I hope to get that bout on my watch.

At this stage it is looking like Asashoryu as usual. The main challenges are going to come from Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki, with Hakuho up there as your dark horse at 4-2, although he would need to win all his remaining bouts and hope the Yokozuna drops at least two, which ain't gonna happen. I can quite easily see the Yokozuna wrapping this basho up on day 13 with a win over Kotooshu.

One final piece of good news: Futenoh returns tomorrow to fight through the pain of his ankle injury.  That's one more strong rikishi who could throw a spanner in the works, which can only be a good thing.

Thanks for reading. I'll be back next Wednesday when I hope to Christ things have improved a bit.

Day 5 Comments (Kenji Heilman reporting)
My question is, how does a guy follow that up? Clancy's colorful report, that is. This makes five days and five different faces reporting on the sad state of affairs at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center. I must say I've never seen the seats so empty in my many years of viewing sumo. I believe I could have slipped into the fourth or fifth row to take in the sanyaku bouts today, or held a block party pretty much anywhere in the masu seki tundra. Geez. The Kyokai is sweatin' about this, believe me. And the rikishi dropping like flies isn't helping matters. Today it was Tamaasuka taking a bow, following Tochiazuma and Futenoh. Wakanosato and Shimotori never made it to day 1. My, how far removed are we from the Waka-Taka peak years just a decade ago. 

One thing's for sure. Asashoryu (5-0) is rollin'. To say it's a speed mismatch when Sho meets M4 Miyabiyama (3-2) would be an understatement. Sho first got the right, then got a deep left grip before completely lifting up Miyabi for a brief moment before forcing him out. Not only a speed mismatch, it's a mismatch in strength, technique, you name it.

Chiyotaikai at 4-1 looks best on paper among the Ozeki, but his sumo is leaving a heck of a lot to be desired. Not a single offensive win among the four. Not a single instance driving back an opponent in five days. Today he made quick work of M3 Dejima (0-5), but it was via the good 'ole henka and ensuing okuri-dashi. Of course, Taikai has looked ugly in the early going before only to become more himself in the second half. Let's hope that's what we're in store for here.

Speaking of quick work, M1 Tamanoshima easily forced out Kaio (3-2) today in what is becoming a disturbing lack of effort by the home grown Ozeki. Just as in his day two loss to Miyabiyama, Kaio pretty much stepped out on his own when pushed to the tawara. Don't show any resistance or anything. That might take some effort. It might also put some fannies in the seats. 

Sekiwake Kotooshu (4-1) has got to like it when matched up against M1 Hokutoriki (1-4). When his long arms both get locked in on the one dimensional Hoku's belt as they did today, the result is a very easy yorikiri win. 

Komusubi "Henkaho" (love that one, Clancy) got a taste of his own medicine as Sekiwake Kotomitsuki tried the trendy tachiai henka. It must have ticked him off because Haku landed seven harite slaps to Mitsuki's face thereafter. This served to break Mitsuki (4-1) of any rhythm and resulted in his first loss. Why Kotomitsuki would resort to a tachiai henka when on a 4-0 groove is beyond me.  Hakuho is 3-2 after an 0-2 start. 

We even had some hair pulling today. Maybe that'll bring 'um in. M2 Kakizoe thought he had a "pull down" win but the judges ruled in favor of Komusubi Kyokutenho's appeal that his top not was yanked in the process. Zoe drops to 1-4 while Tenho stays one ahead on the ledger at 3-2. 

Bootie wigglin', up-and-comin' M5 Kisenosato continues to pay his dues at this level as M6 technician Aminishiki unleashed an uwatenage on the kid after absorbing a solid initial charge. 

I'll tell you someone worth the price of admission. It's straight shootin' M5 Ama (3-2). He weathered a nice attack by last basho's Juryo champ Toyonoshima (3-2) with his usual knack, this time by grabbing the leg and eventually delivering a shitatenage. I'd like to see Ama go against Chiyotaikai. Think Chiyo would try the pull down against little Ama? Bet he would.

In addition to Kotomitsuki, Jumonji also suffered his first loss today. This leaves Asashoryu with the only unblemished record with 5 days in the books. Looks like a runaway in the works. Too bad not many fans seem to care that history is in the making.

Day 4 Comments (Clancy Kelly reporting)
I was walking to my car after work today (I'm a coal miner) and this man rode by me on a bicycle. Even with all that soot in my eyes I could see this fella looked an awful lot like Miyabiyama. Not a doppelganger perhaps, but if you stuck him next to 1000 random off the street, he'd win the Miyabiyama look-alike contest. In the face only (come on, he was riding a bicycle for crying out loud, do you think the real Miflobbyyama could do that?). Naturally I came home psyched to watch The Bulgarian Beckham vs. Our Man In the Street. While I am far from superstitious, believing neither in gods, souls, kismet, nor For Import Only Corn Chips, I hoped (I believe in hope) the bout would be a good'n. I had also been looking forward to Tochiazuma and Henkuho, and I was fully expecting 'Zo to drive a VW hole through Chiyotaikai on his way to a second win over a sanyaku boy in four days. So after scarfing down some octopus and coughing up enough phlegm to decorate at least half of this year's Xmas tree, I sat back with some Super Dry and let the good times roll.

17 Jumonji stayed undefeated with a win over Katayama, whose name would be "Ktym" if English had no "Aa". KT drove forward from the get go, and Jumonji (his actual birth name, I tell you again) let 'em come, soaking up a decent pushing attack, but in the end Jumonji gave a very timely shove to KT's arms and the winless 16 fell on his tits.

13 Hakurozan (3-1) held up 17 Tochinonada (2-2) for a second at the tachi-ai, and then executed a twisting pull/slap down. I didn't spill my beer cheering, but it was a talented move by the Russian.

Veteran 11 Tosanoumi (1-3) took on 15 Kasuganishiki (3-1) and the only thing missing was some skinny deeply tanned young Thai man yelling, Pren! Pren! and hitting them both with a grass whip. A true battle of pachyderms, and I mean that fondly, as they both gave as good as they got as the saying goes, but as The Angel of Harlem once sang, "There's them that's get, and them that's got" and Tosanoumi was got as Ganish proved the stronger elephantine mortal by lifting out the exhausted former sanyaku man. Worth the price of admission, this bout.

With delicious retirement rumours swirling about like cinnamon in a bun, 11 Kotonowaka schooled young 15 (his Maegashira rank, not his age) Tamaasuka, grabbing his belt and pushing him back to the edge, where winless Tama made an unwise choice and decided to try and Hold Everything! by standing on his tiptoes. This merely postponed the inevitable, and when he finally landed, hurt something badly and had to be escorted out by those with Mercurochrome in their kits. At 3-1, it would be a shame to see the Koto the Elder (as opposed to Koto the Geeku, Koto the Hit and Mitsuki, and Koto the Younger) retire just so his oyakata could enjoy Pensacola. The man has one more year left in him, I can sees it!!

9 Takamisakari encountered The Resurrected One, former Komusubi Tochinohana, who entered the bout undefeated in his return to Makuuchi. Tochi delivered a resounding pop at the tachi-ai, but as he usually does, Three Ring stiffened, hunkered down, and waited. Tochi strained and strained at his deeply stooped (not "stoopid") opponent, trying for a right hand belt grip, and he got it. However, in the process he lifted his left shoulder up way too high, and Three Ring, nothing if not clever at reading the shifting body of his enemy, immediately shoved his right arm up and into Tochi's armpit and simply marched him back and out. By far the best sumo we've seen P.T.'s boy do in some while.

9 Takekaze also came into the day 3-0 but left 3-1 as 12 Asasekiryu (3-1) slapped him down before you could say, well, something.

7 Kotoshogiku (2-2) took a hard charge from former sanyaku man 10 Takanowaka (0-4), then showed why he will be an Ozeki by the end of 2008 by grabbing the front of Taka's belt and belly hopping him out, looking a lot like former Ozeki Musoyama in his heyday.

6 Aminishiki (1-3) was the victim of some lame-assed sumo, worse than Chiyotaikai at his pansiest, from 8 Roho, who sits at the ugliest 3-1 in a long while. Tell me, why bring a body like that all the way from Russia and then use it like a 6 year-old girl? He never had any intention of wrestling Aminishiki. He was looking slapdown/pulldown all the way. The only good thing that came of this bout is that the Golden Wits who try (and I do mean try) to come up with funny captions to freeze frame sumo shots may find something to yuck about in Roho's winning pirouette. 

I think it is fair to say that we all rested easy knowing that the unthinkable would never happen, but today, Wednesday, November 16, 2005, at about 5:18 pm Japan time, two men whose names are perfect palindromes met in a Makuuchi sumo bout. Of course I am referring to 5 Ama, or amA, and 1 Tamanoshima, or amihsonamaT. Little Ama hit and shifted at tachi-ai, but Big Tama was ready and did not over commit. Ama then looked to be strangling him one-handed. Then came a series of hard pipin' blows from both men to each other's necks and upper chests, left, right left, right, coolest noises I heard all day (apart from my five-week old daughter's six second shit, an eternity for an infant). Finally Tama drove Ama to the edge, and then Ama gave one last twisting, pulling throw, sending both men out together, and it seemed to me that it was way too close to call and there should have been a mono-ii at the least, but Ama is Asian after all, so...(those hundreds of empty seats in the hall aren't empty because it's raining, you know). Tama goes to 3-1, Ama falls to 2-2.

In the first of my three anticipated bouts, Sekiwake Kotooshu was backed up by a bullish yet-to-be-defeated 4 Miyabiyama (who seemed to not properly touch the clay), chased around the ring until Miyabi stepped a bit too far near the edge and turned, only to be greeted by a deft frontal belt grab by the Sekiwake and shoved out. As they both flew out of the dohyo, Koto the Younger showed again his impeccable manners, choosing to make a potentially ankle twisting jump over the tumbling Mountain of Miyabi instead of landing on him, as is his right. Koto is 3-1. Miyabiyama enters the dragon tomorrow.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki (4-0) got his right arm locked up by 4 Iwakiyama (1-3), but Iwaki could not pull off an arm bar, though he tried twice during a longish standoff, and the Sekiwake finally used his belt grip to walk Iwaki out like someone moving a refrigerator on their own.

Hokutoriki tried to stiff arm giant Ozeki Kaio and paid the price, getting his straightened arm locked and rocked, but luckily for Hoku not by the old Kaionage. The Maegashira 1 falls to 1-3, while hometown boy Kaio struts away with a 3-1.

My Tochiazuma/Hakuho matchup was shat 'pon by funny muscles, as the Ozeki took a bow out for the tourney. At least we didn't have to see from Hakuho one of those "tactical, legal, clever henka" that so many "fans" don't seem to mind but that the experts here at Sumotalk loathe.

It was onto the last of my plums, and it went off just as I expected, with 2 Kakizoe hammering Ozeki-in-name-only Chiyotaikai like Chiyotaikai used to hammer others. Unfortunately for 'Zo, Chiyo took some dance lessons in Vegas and tra-la-la-la'd his way back to the rope, and the flung himself like a swan into air (Balanchine would have been proud) and hung suspended as 'Zo and his man-sized balls crashed out. The Ozeki landed softly, brushed off his tutu, squatted down and accepted his winnings. Do we really have to put up with this in 2006?

In the last bout of the day, 3 Dejima must have been earning bonus monies for every second he hung in there, because he used his great weight advantage to stick around until the Yokozuna figured out just how he wanted to put him down. With more bandages on him than a platoon at Verdun, The Dejyptian brings out the sympathy in everyone, including Asashoryu, who seemed to be tentative about flooring his purplewhite ass! That is some serious malcoloring on Dejima's leg. I half expect it to be amputated and used as a footstool by the Prime Minister.

But I love the guy, first tits I fell in love with on a man. Asa is cruising toward his zenshoyusho, and Dejima, well, the disabled have a multitude of careers to go into (and no one knows that better than our own Simon, who, back in the day in Manchester, portrayed a disabled man navigating through his sexual awakening with great sensitivity and aplomb, in his third feature film, My Left Nut).

So, the day was exciting for bouts that I didn't see coming, and disappointing for bouts I was hyped for. What else is new. I'll be back on Day 7, unless the hole collapses and they hold a 36 hour vigil for all of us luckless black gold diggers.

Day 3 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
It's interesting how after just three days you can really get a feel for the basho and who's going to be standing at the end. There's no doubt that Asashoryu is at the top of his game, and barring an injury that would force him to withdraw, the yusho is his. I like what I've seen from some of the supporting cast so far, but with each Ozeki saddled with a loss, the only other rikishi with an outside shot at stealing the yusho is Kotomitsuki. Enough of that; let's get to the action that was highlighted coming in by the Asashoryu - Kisenosato bout.

This was going to be an interesting bout. Not because Kisenosato had a chance at winning, but it was going to be interesting to see how the Yokozuna treated Kisenosato in defeat. On one hand, Kisenosato has generated the most hype of any Japanese rikishi in awhile, and he has been on sort of a run. Asashoryu just loves to squash these kind of rikishi and let them know who is really boss. On the other hand, Kisenosato played a huge factor in the Yokozuna's yusho last basho by downing Kotooshu, and the kid also joined Asa for some pre-basho keiko...something I think Asashoryu appreciated. From the tachi-ai Asashoryu gained the quick moro-zashi grip and got so deep on the inside of Kisenosato that he had the youngster by the back of the belt. It was the perfect position for the humiliating tsuri-otoshi throw, but Asashoryu passed up his signature move and dumped the M5 with a harmless komata-sukui. It looked to me as if Asashoryu actually paused a bit thinking to himself "what kimarite should I use today?". I thought it was very classy of the Yokozuna to dump the kid as he did and not humiliate him with the tsuri-otoshi because had that been Kotooshu, Kotomitsuki, Miyabiyama, Hokutoriki, or a host of other rikishi, they would have been bounced backwards off of the clay. Asashoryu is in fine form at 3-0 and I'm not even going out on a limb when I say he will yusho. Kisenosato falls to 1-2, but he's doing just fine. I didn't sense any intimidation despite the huge stage, and the next time he's going to give Asashoryu a better fight.

In the Ozeki ranks, Kaio picked up another big win today against Komusubi Kyokutenho. After his usual cautious tachi-ai, Kaio managed to get his left arm deep on the inside of Kyokutenho, which was important because it kept Tenho from gaining an outer grip on that side. With the two rikishi hooked up in the middle of the ring in the hidari-yotsu style, Kyokutenho repeatedly tried to grab the migi uwate, but the Ozeki would counter by wrenching his hips away. Not only did it deny Tenho the belt, but it also put Kaio closer to his own right grip. Kaio's strength dominated here, and once he did gain the migi-uwate, Kyokutenho just backed that last step out. Might as well; it was over. Kaio moves to 2-1 and looks to be in fine form. Kyokutenho looks a bit uninspired at 1-2.

Ozeki Tochiazuma was unblemished coming in, but Sheriff Fat took care of that in a hurry. Keep your eye on Miyabiyama this basho. He's sitting in the very dangerous M4 slot, and he's already got two wins over the stronger Ozeki. In today's bout, the Sheriff stuck to his lumbering tsuppari, and while they didn't necessarily drive Tochiazuma back, they did keep the Ozeki away from his belt. Tochiazuma briefly looked to gain the inside position, but Miyabiyama was offensive minded the whole way, and as Tochiazuma made his lunge, Miyabiyama stepped to his side using the Ozeki's momentum against him to easily dump him out of the ring via hiki-otoshi. Sure I'd rather see the win moving forward, but Miyabiyama kept the pressure up the entire bout. At 3-0 he's definitely keeping order in the dohyo so far. Tochiazuma falls to 2-1.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai improved to 2-1 himself today, but that was in thanks to a lackluster M4 Iwakiyama. Iwakiyama seemed to take charge at the tachi-ai by firing away with tsuppari, but this was strictly an upper body effort. He wasn't driving with those tree tunks of his called legs, so as soon as Chiyotaikai was dangerously near the tawara, he quickly evaded to his right and was able to slap down Iwakiyama for the win. Chiyotaikai had that usual puzzled look on his face where he closes one eye and looks up to the rafters after a pull down win, but he was lucky today. He was dominated by poor Iwakiyama tsuppari, but you do have to hand it to the Ozeki for winning the bout. Iwakiyama falls to 1-2 and would do well to remember his lower body the rest of the way.

Moving down to the Sekiwake ranks, I'm in a tough position this basho commenting on Kotooshu. It's clear by the emails received after my pre-basho report and after my heavy criticism of the Bulgarian last basho that I am perceived as anti-Kotooshu. Nothing could be further from the truth. I pegged this kid as a future Yokozuna on this site before most of you had even heard his name. I've followed him since his first bout in the Jonidan ranks, and I haven't uttered a critical word of him until last basho (I'm even going to try and get off my lazy arse and update the archives, so those of you with too much time on your hands can actually verify all this). I really do like Kotooshu, so all I ask is that you Kotooshu die-hards out there remove your beer goggles and take my analysis for what it's worth (a helluva lot if you haven't figured it out already).

Today's bout with M3 Dejima was a must win. If you look at the upper half of the banzuke through the first three days, easily the most sickly rikishi up there is Dejima, a former Ozeki who means well but is just too dinged up to have an impact anymore. Both rikishi hit straight on at the tachi-ai with Dejima actually getting a little bit deep for Kotooshu's good, but Dejima's lower body is as broken down as an American-made car after five or six years, so he wasn't able to get any push. Kotooshu used his long arms to grab a lethal left outer grip, but as he went to dump Dejima to the clay, Dejima actually locked his right leg on the inside of the Sekiwake and attempted a pretty decent uchi-gake throw attempt. Thanks to his legs being twice as long as Dejima's, Kotooshu staved off the move and immediately attacked with another throw. Dejima just wouldn't go down, so Kotooshu brilliantly picked up Dejima's left leg and forced him out from there via watashi-komi. Kotooshu is 2-1, but he's still a very distant eight wins away from his goal. After being schooled by Kakizoe on day 1, he received a huge break with the default win over Futenoh on day 2 and another big break in getting Dejima on day 3. It is still all uphill from here. The brilliance of Kotooshu was seen today in his ability to switch gears and pick up Dejima's leg in order to push him out. Most rikishi can't make that adjustment. But what plays against his promotion this basho in my mind is his very weak tachi-ai so far and the level of competition he'll face here on out. I don't like the fact that I look at his 2-1 record at this point and actually feel relieved. We should be sensing a yusho run and a huge wave of momentum coming, but I don't think anybody does. Dejima falls to 0-3.

The kind of run an Ozeki candidate needs is the exact run that Sekiwake Kotomitsuki is enjoying. Today, Kotomitsuki flicked M5 Ama away like a hard booger rolled between your fingers. Kotomitsuki secured moro-zashi (two inside grips) from the tachi-ai and quickly forced Ama back to the tawara where he unleashed a huge sukui-nage throw that caused Ama's back to land flush on the raised straw. I wouldn't be surprised to see a big red imprint on Ama's back tomorrow he was thrown down so hard. There was nothing that Ama (2-1) could do today as he suffers his first loss. Kotomitsuki improves to 3-0 if you need him. He's thrown the competition around to his liking so far, and he's on one of those runs that could see a 13-2 finish.

In the Komusubi ranks, Hakuho finally got off the snide today as he toyed with M2 Kakizoe. After the rikishi traded a total of three false starts, they finally clashed where Hakuho resorted to his hit-once-and-stand-back tachi-ai. It's a very unorthodox style, but what Hakuho does is he separates himself form his opponent and forces them to come and get him. He fends them off with slaps to the side of their heads and is ready to easily evade an over-committed charge. Kakizoe charged forward cautiously, but only received a few head slaps in return, which opened up the path to his belt. Hakuho pounced when the timing was right and grabbed the frustrated Kakizoe's belt dumping him to the dirt with seeming ease. It's cat and mouse sumo as I call it from Hakuho who gets his first win at 1-2. Kakizoe falls to the same mark.

M1 Tamanoshima is a rikishi who I think will have a good basho. Today against M6 Kokkai he withstood the Georgian's tsuppari attack long enough to frustrate Kokkai into going for a very weak pull-down attempt. Tamanoshima pounced on the mishap and bullied Kokkai back and out with some tsuppari of his own. Kokkai, if you're going to go for the pull-down, go for the pull down. Don't just put your hands behind your opponent's head and then get second thoughts. Kokkai, who has been in a funk the last two basho, falls to 1-2. Tamanoshima improves to 2-1.

M1 Hokutoriki just pounded M6 Aminishiki back and out with a choking tachi-ai that drove Ami back from the start. The nice forearm shiver to Aminishiki's throat that followed at the tawara was all it took for Hokutoriki to overwhelm his opponent and leave him in a heap on the arena floor. This was the sumo Hokutoriki displayed at the 2004 Natsu basho where he damn near stole the yusho from Asashoryu. If I was Hokutoriki's stable master, I would make a tape filled with bouts from that Natsu 2004 basho and his bout today and force the M1 to watch it everyday. Someone has got to pound it into Hokutoriki's dome that he can do this. Both rikishi are 1-2.

M9 Takekaze moves to 3-0 as he out-hustled M7 Kotoshogiku with his brand of strike, evade, and pull sumo. Kotoshogiku's de-ashi (footwork) seems to be lacking a bit so far. He is a superior rikishi to Takekaze, but falls to an unhealthy 1-2 record. M7 Tokitenku used some nifty technique to topple M9 Takamisakari. In a yotsu-zumo contest Tokitenku was able to get his left leg inside of a Robocop counter move and trip Sakari back and down to the dirt. Both rikishi are 1-2. M8 Roho quietly sneaks out to a 2-1 mark after securing the uwate against M11 Kotonowaka and spinning him around a bit handing the 37 year old veteran his first loss. M8 Toyonoshima was very sharp today as he neutralized M11 Tosanoumi's tachi-ai and wasted no time driving with his lower body as he pushed Tosanoumi (1-2) back and out in a flash. Toyonoshima moves to an impressive 2-1.

My man M13 Shunketsu picked up his first win with a good tachi-ai that invited a weak pull down effort from M10 Takanowaka. After the pull down attempt, Takanowaka was standing straight up with no momentum. Even one of those ama-zumo guys who think they're all that could have finished off Takanowaka (0-3) today, but props to Ishi..I mean...Shunketsu for taking what was given to him. And how about M14 Tochinohana's fast start? Today the former Komusubi withstood Katayama's best pushing attack and patiently turned the tables in the end with a shove out of his own. I really like how Tochinohana is fighting with confidence this basho. He's refusing to let himself get pushed around despite his very infrequent Makuuchi appearances of late. At 3-0 Tochinohana is Jessica Simpson washing the General Lee while 0-3 Katayama is the sunbather by the pool with the hairy back.

And finally, the only reason why I mention the M17 Jumonji - J1 Tochisakae matchup is to let you all know what a thrown bout looks like. It was a straight up tachi-ai, but Tochisakae went for one of those quick and seemingly harmless double shoulder slaps. It caused Jumonji to stumble forward, however, completely out of position. At this point, Tochisakae had to be thinking "oh crap!" so with Jumonji turned to the side a bit and the right outer grip there for the taking, Tochisakae somehow overlooked the belt grip and meekly put his right arm on Jumonji's left side and pretended to push. Once Jumonji recovered and had his wits about him, the next thing you knew, Tochisakae was flat on his back. I really didn't even see the "shove" from Jumonji that knocked Tochisakae over, and believe me, when the win is oshi-taoshi, there's got to be a pretty big shove to knock your opponent flat on his back.. If you have the means, go back and watch it if you missed it. Hey, big surprise here. Jumonji is 3-0! Tochisakae falls to 1-2.

Clancy's up tomorrow where I have a hunch he's going to comment on the matchup of the basho so far when Kotooshu will face the red-hot Miyabiyama.

Day 2 Comments (Simon Siddall reporting)
Greetings, humanoids. Day one was pretty exciting, was it not? A fitting start to what should be a/an historic basho. We had hefty dollops of good and, as always, a little bit of evil, with Asashoryu, Iwakiyama, Ama and Tochinohana falling firmly on the good side of the fence, and Hakuho and Roho well over on the dark side. That's what we like, of course...we all need the villains, even if we criticize them, because the world would be a bit dull if it was just full of angels who behaved impeccably. The point is, even after one day, there is plenty to talk about, and that can only be a good thing.

On a side note, I have been a little alarmed to see all those empty seats in the Fukuoka Kokusai Centre. I suppose we were all hoping that with the emergence of Kotooshu as someone a lot of fans want to sleep with, they would be flocking in their hundreds and thousands to get a glimpse of those hairy pecs. Perhaps the fact that Kaio is no longer a yusho threat is prohibitively galling to his hometown fans. A real shame. They should be turning out in his honour as it may be their last chance to see him. In my post-basho report, I will be giving a list of things I think would improve sumo. I will obviously also then be looking forward to the emails of derision from Sumotalk readers.

As a continuation of this, Mongolian technical wizard Ama said yesterday something along the lines of this: the arena is quite empty, which is sad, and that the Japanese should be taking better care of things because if you ask any foreigner what the national sport of Japan is, they will say sumo, not baseball, Pride, K-1, or all that other rubbish we are bombarded with. I applaud Ama for speaking his mind about this, but I am sorry to say he may be told to keep his mouth shut in the future by the powers that be.

In yesterday's bout, Yokozuna Asashoryu gave us all yet another display of speed, awareness, balance and agility to counter a thoroughly nasty Hakuho henka. His opponent today was M4 Iwakiyama, who yesterday against Kisenosato showed everyone watching just how important a good tachiai is...and by good, I mean effing brilliant. There are few rikishi I like more than Iwakiyama when he is on his game. In today's bout, Asashoryu went for the vicious slapping approach straight from the tachiai, stunning the big man and throwing him off his plan. Iwakiyama gave as good as he got, in fairness, but Asashoryu is that rare combination of both brawn AND brains, and he knew he just had to stand his ground and wait for one of Iwakiyama's counter-tsuppari to miss slightly, forcing him off-balance. And so it turned out as Iwakiyama overstretched himself and allowed the Yokozuna to get inside for the easy win. 2-0 on his inexorable march to Kitanoumi's and Taiho's records. Iwakiyama falls to 1-1. One of the reasons for Asashoryu's astounding success is his ability to pull any technique or approach off the shelf as required. Such an opponent is almost impossible to plan against. And so he proved again today.

Ozeki Chiyotaikai got the job done yesterday against Hokutoriki. It wasn't a pretty sight, certainly, but that's usually the case these days with the troubled Ozeki. His opponent today, Komusubi Kyokutenho, has not historically done well against Chiyotaikai and was 2-18 head-to-head coming in (he actually beat the Ozeki last basho) but he managed today to make the Ozeki's tsuppari look utterly ineffective. Chiyotaikai then panicked and went for the back of the neck of his opponent, looking for the pull-down win, but Kyokutenho proved too wily for all that bullshit and pulled off the win by abisetaoshi (backward force-down). Chiyotaikai falls to 1-1 and looks poor on the evidence of two days. Kyokutenho improves to 1-1.

Ozeki Kaio creaked and squeaked his way to a first day shiroboshi yesterday and you have to say it was impressive when you take his injury problems into account. Against Sheriff Fatman (M4 Miyabiyama) today it was back to what I suppose we should expect from a man so crocked with injuries. I really feel sorry for him because he is clearly not able to do his own sumo. In fairness to Miyabiyama, he played to his strengths and got in early at tachiai with that lumbering tsuppari of his and forced Kaio to go forward and commit himself to empty air as Miyabiyama slipped slightly out of the way and got in to the side of Kaio to shove him out. Kaio falls to 1-1. Miyabiyama (2-0) has actually looked pretty good in his first two days of sumo so well done to him. If he doesn't do a henka this basho, he will get plenty of respect from me. We all know he's going to do one, though, especially if things start to go against him.

Ozeki Tochiazuma was a real bulldog in yesterday's bout against Tamanoshima, head down, entire body tensed, almost impossible to throw off course. In contrast, M3 Dejima looked very average indeed yesterday, and it was a similar story today as the one-trick-pony gave further evidence that his one trick – driving straight forward – is just not clicking at the moment. There is still plenty of time for this to improve - never underestimate the former Ozeki. Tochiazuma simply held up the charge with contemptuous ease and then twisted his rival-of-old down to the clay. Easy stuff. Tochiazuma improves to 2-0. Dejima has a molehill to climb as he falls to 0-2.

Sekiwake Kotomitsuki took on the ever-dangerous (ask Kotooshu) M2 Kakizoe. As an aside, I didn't see Kakizoe's defeat of Kotooshu yesterday as a shock at all. Kakizoe is capable of beating anyone on his day. Back to today's action, this was an intriguing battle which Kakizoe really should have won. Kotomitsuki (2-0) showed good footwork and ring awareness, dancing around the tawara to keep the attack-minded Kakizoe (1-1) off-balance until he was able to twist him down. Tottari (arm bar throw) was the winning technique.

Sekiwake Kotooshu is obviously suffering from nerves, and a major factor in this is the media circus around him. I'm going to respectfully disagree with George about Kotooshu's Ozeki bid being all but over, and also point out that I also predicted that Kotooshu might be tempted to try a style of sumo that he was not comfortable with and leave himself vulnerable to countermoves. Don't believe me? Read my pre-basho report. Back to George's point, you simply cannot say that Kotooshu's bid is in serious danger after one loss on the first day. It is certainly a dent in the armour, but part of being an Ozeki is showing the ability to turn things round when they're going against you, to show the mental fortitude necessary to succeed in a tricky situation. Let's not bury him until the bid is actually dead in the water, and let's also remember that he is very young, that this is his first Ozeki-bid, that he has almost unprecedented media pressure on him to succeed, and that he is (according to one Bulgarian reader of Sumotalk) actually a nice, reserved guy who is not at ease with all this unwanted attention. Let us also remember that it can take years for talented rikishi to get to the exalted rank of Ozeki and that it is not necessarily a failure if Kotooshu doesn't make it this time. He's only a kid. He will do it one day. Blimey, he might even do it this basho yet.

Rant over! Until that all-important first win is safely under the belt, Kotooshu is going to be a mental tram wreck. That first win came today in the form of a fusen-sho, a win by default, as Futenoh was forced to pull out after sustaining an injury against Kaio yesterday. This kind of win will probably not be counted by the Kyokai when they decide whether or not Kotooshu should be promoted. It is difficult to say whether or not this will help or hinder him. On one hand, he doesn't have that dreaded zero in his win column, but on the other, he knows that no-one takes a fusen-sho seriously. Good news for Kotooshu fans, though – he is fighting Dejima tomorrow – and that is a dead-cert win for the big fella, unless he tries to play Dejima at his own game and drives straight forward, which would not demonstrate particularly high intelligence. As for Futenoh, I was very sad to see him pull out. He has damaged ligaments in his right ankle, and the recovery time is around two weeks, but he said that he will try to return to the dohyo this basho if the pain clears up. Let's hope he can make a triumphant return. Very unfortunate.

Komusubi Hakuho may come to regret that horrible henka he pulled on the Yokozuna yesterday. One does not do that to Asashoryu and get away with it. He is going to have his arse kicked from blue to red raw by the Yokozuna in keiko just before the January tournament. Hakuho denied intentionally going for a henka yesterday, saying he merely saw an opening to get hidari-uwate. I doubt the Yokozuna will accept that explanation. M1 Tamanoshima should (on paper) have been much less of a challenge for the young pretender. What is it about Tamanoshima? He is really solid when he's just outside the top ranks but just can't hack it at all against the top boys. Luckily for him, Hakuho (0-2) looked very rusty today and allowed Tamanoshima (1-1) to catch him out despite the Mongolian having a half-decent left-hand grip, which usually spells doom for opponents. I am really not sure what is wrong with Hakuho at the moment. Perhaps he will make some comments about his poor display later.

M5 Kisenosato was up against M1 Hokutoriki today in an important bout in terms of his morale. Let's face it, his confidence could easily have been shot to pieces yesterday when he was up there against a half-decent rikishi at last but was totally overpowered straight from the tachiai. I hope his oyakata told him that there was nothing he could have done about it, apart from execute an equally brilliant tachiai in return. In today's bout, Kisenosato was very impressive and totally overwhelmed his opponent by taking the feeble charge easily in his stride and then unleashing his own devastating forward attack. This was a morale-booster, no doubt about it, because of the ease with which he dispatched the rikishi currently ranked top of the Maegashira ranks. Kisenosato is Mohandas Gandhi at 1-1. Hokutoriki is Donald Rumsfeld at 0-2.

M5 Ama did a great job of negating Kokkai's loving embrace yesterday in an amazing escape from the big Georgian's thrusting attack, followed up by a breathtaking display of technical brilliance. You have to say that Ama is one of the most exciting rikishi there is to watch. M7 Tokitenku is a lot more solid these days as well, a far cry from the days when Mike (and I) used to call him soft. These two (not Mike and I) had an epic battle in September, one which Tokitenku ultimately lost, so there is no doubt that payback was on his mind. Fans of technical sumo would be drooling over today's bout, I know. As it turned out, it was a surprisingly straightforward affair as Ama launched the perfect tachiai and drove Tokitenku straight back to the tawara. Tokitenku managed to put up some resistance at the edge but Ama was not to be denied and picked up the deserved yorikiri win. Ama is going very well at 2-0. Tokitenku falls to 0-2 but his sumo does not reflect this and he should recover.

They should bring out an action figure based on M8 Roho. It would probably be a big hit with kids who are nasty little bullies who feel slighted by everything and everyone around them, even when no such slight exists. This hypothetical model would strut around your living room all day long, casting surly glances in your direction if you breathe, make any noise or move slightly. You wouldn't be able to get the inside of the arms to touch the torso, but don't worry – that's not a design flaw – it's just an accurate copy of the original. The deluxe model has an added function (as seen on TV): exaggerated stare-downs for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than pure petulance, just as Roho did yesterday after the bout with Tokitenku. The super-deluxe model is interactive: you can fight with it, and whenever you seem to be winning, it will grab you by the back of the neck and try some cheap pull-down tactics. Go to www.roho-could-be-great-but-wastes-his-talent-and-everybody's-time-going-for-the-cheap-win.com for more details.

On to today's bout, M6 Kokkai (1-1) showed quickness of thought to use Roho's momentum against him and slap him down straight after the crunching tachiai. Roho (1-1) slouched back to his side of the dohyo and I had to get my telescope out to make out the customary bow he was supposed to make to Kokkai. It was there, I think, just, but perhaps my eyes are failing me in my old age (I am 35 and have 20-20 vision). What a nightmare rikishi he has turned out to be. What a disappointment.

M8 Toyonoshima looked very impressive making a monkey out of Takamisakari yesterday. It was a nice follow-on from his brilliant Juryo yusho performance in September. The competition was potentially a lot tougher today as he went head-to-head with M6 Aminishiki, who upset Asashoryu last basho with a cheeky trip. In a high-level technical exchange, Aminishiki finally forced the mistake from Toyonoshima as he bamboozled him into giving him up his left hand belt grip, and from then on it was curtains. Both rikishi stand at 1-1 and both look rather sexy.

M7 Kotoshogiku has been pretty impressive in recent basho. Don't let the 8-7, 7-8 records fool you; much of his sumo content has been excellent. He has kept up the good work, doing well yesterday to throw Aminishiki out of a good position on the belt and win. Things took a turn for the worse today, however, as he took on Crusty the Clown - aka M9 Takamisakari - and went in hard with a fierce thrust to the neck. Crusty stood his ground and did well to break Kotoshogiku's uwatenage attempt, which unbalanced Kotoshogiku and led to the uwate-dashinage win. Both men stand at 1-1.

M14 Tochinohana looked very sharp yesterday in his Makuuchi return. He is a former Komusubi (just one basho, five years ago in Kyushu, where he went 3-12) and you don't get to that rank by mistake, and neither do you win two Ginosho (technique prizes) by accident. Against Korean M16 Kasugao (0-2) he showed why he deserved all those honours by recovering well from the good low tachiai of his opponent and turning things round to get morozashi, enabling him to force the Korean out. Good sumo. At this rate he could be up in mid-Maegashira plying his wares...at least. 2-0 to Tochi.

Un-genki M15 Tamaasuka met genki M17 Jumonji and it just wasn't to be despite a huge improvement on the first day. Jumonji got a strong right-hand outside grip and there was little Tamaasuka (0-2) could do but put up gallant resistance. Jumonji (2-0) looks well up for it this basho and, as he is fighting well below his natural level, could well go on to get double-digit wins.

M17 Tochinonada lumbered and laboured his way to finally getting control of a mediocre M16 Katayama and got his first shiroboshi on the board. Although this was a pretty straightforward win for the ex-sanyaku mainstay, he is going to have to improve markedly to go on the kind of run we all know he is capable of at this low rank. Still, a win is a win...and this was a win. Tochinonada is a giant squid at 1-1. Katayama is Gary the Snail at 0-2.

As it stands, it's a familiar story on the leaderboard as Asashoryu cuts through all the crap to waltz to 2-0. Other rikishi at the same mark who look good to me are Jumonji and Tochinohana. Tochiazuma is up there as well but we can usually count on him to lose to some muppet or other that he has no business losing to. Ama looks in peak condition as well and he surely knows that this basho is his big chance to make it into sanyaku for the first time. He will need ten or eleven wins to do that so he is off to a good start. Kotomitsuki doesn't look all that great to me but he has yet to lose either. But with Kotomitsuki, as everyone knows, anything can happen.

Thanks for reading. Mike is here tomorrow and along with his usual comprehensive coverage, he will be filling us all in on the Asashoryu-Kisenosato bout. Can't wait for that one.

See you on Friday.

Day 1 Comments (George Guida reporting)
Press the panic button. Cancel Christmas. No tall, dark and handsome on the Ozeki menu for January. Kotooshu has lost.  Hyperbole? Yes. Justified? Based on the media maelstrom that has make the Kotooshu Ozeki run the be-all and end-all story in Fukuoka, yes. Yet, Sumotalk readers need look no further than Mike's Pre-basho report to see the writing on the wall. A tired and troubled looking Kotooshu made his way into the shabby Fukuoka Kokusai Center, with the weight of the sumo world on his shoulders. Kotooshu's mission - display Ozeki-like sumo this basho, Just as Mike predicted, Kotooshu brought straightforward, non-evasive sumo at the tachi-ai but it was a style he clearly wasn't comfortable with. Coming in much too high and with weak de-ashi, a fatal combination, "I'm a little teapot, short and spout" M2 Kakizoe tucked himself neatly underneath the towering Bulgarian, placing both of his hands on Kotooshu's shoulder and dropping him down for a stunning hataki-komi win.

Now the question remains, "What kind of sumo does Kotooshu display the rest of the basho?" The all-knowing, all-seeing Sumo Association has deemed the magic number of wins to be 10 for Kotooshu to attain Ozeki rank. Perhaps with this first day loss out of the way, Kotooshu can calm his shaky nerves, relax and focus on winning. But will he revert to his own ways to get there? Ten wins are still plausible, but if they're not quality wins can the Association renege on its promise? Does the new, as yet untested, brand of sumo continue tomorrow or will the Bulgarian retreat, sidestep and parry his way to Ozeki-dom? I'm thinking the latter as the pressure is just too much for him to handle at this stage.

Shockingly, Kotooshu's opening day kuroboshi wasn't the most controversial item of the day. Much ink has been spilled and bandwidth space consumed over the evils of the tachiai-henka and what place, if any, it has in sumo. Some hate it with a passion; others have come to begrudgingly accept it as part of the sport and can live with it in very small doses. Fortunately, all of us could rest easy that that the kimarite that should not be would never reveal its horrid form in a match-up against a Yokozuna. Not anymore. Today, Sunday, November 13, 2005 at approximately 5:55 pm Japan time, Hakuho ripped the security blanket off all sumo fans by doing the unthinkable: A full-blown tachiai-henka against Yokozuna Asashoryu.

And I am left asking why? Blasphemous Hakuho, why? Hakuho is one of the elite rikishi that has all of the physical tools to defeat Asashoryu. Has he no faith in his game? Hey, if Hakuho was strapped for cash I could see falling to the temptation of greed with the kinboshi carrot dangled in front of his face. But, returning to san'yaku as a Komusubi means he's not eligible for the award so it's not all about the Fukuzawa's, baby. Asashoryu's on the verge of rewriting history and for Hakuho to ruin it all with this nonsense is egregious. 

And yet, redemption and a crime avenged. We were reminded once again why Asashoryu may be truly the greatest rikishi of this, or any other era. Flashback to the Aki basho where Asa evades Kotooshu's uwate grip with a 180
jump. Again, it was the Yokozuna's speed, athleticism and overall brilliance that managed a victory out of nowhere as Asa's Bolshoi ballet worthy pirouette kept him alive when the henka had him dead to rights. Infuriated, Asa went straight for a clearly in disbelief Hakuho and eked out an oshi-dashi victory, more due to Hakuho's simply stepping out of bounds than Asa's push. 

Asashoryu's not going to be denied, folks. If a henka can't stop him, what can? No other rikishi could have recovered from this, especially from the likes of Hakuho. The post-match burning stare of hatred was classic and if this had happened two years ago, Asashoryu would have walked right up and broken Hakuho's nose on the spot or at least pummeled him into oblivion in the locker room. If you're still a fan of Hakuho after this, then say a prayer for him because Sho is going to brutalize him at the next degeiko.

Normally, I cover more matches but with Koto and Asa taking up so much attention, let's just say that taking a look at the leader board, there are about 20 rikishi in front at 1-0 and about 20 just one off the pace at 0-1; it's a wide open field completely up for grabs.

In a real downer, we learned that the baby-faced Baltic bad ass, Baruto, was hospitalized with appendicitis and will kyujo for Kyushu. I was confident that we'd see the Juryo 4 in Maegashira by January but it looks like we'll all have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, here's wishing for a speedy recovery.

Finally, I want to thank Kenji letting me fill in for him today as other commitments kept him kyujo for Day One. He'll back later this week and I'm sure he'll have a mouthful to say about the Mother of All Henka today.