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Day 6
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Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14

Senshuraku Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
With Kakuryu wrapping up the yusho yesterday, today was all about wrapping up the tournament, kind of like the last day in elementary school when you basically hang around between getting your art projects back and cleaning your desk (and some kid finds a months old milk pack in there and the teacher dumps the curds-and-whey down the back sink and the smell fills the classroom--indelible, wonderful memory!). So, today I'll be looking not just at matches, but at how each guy did this go around (and in many cases his year).

Overall, how did our storylines go? I've been pushing Hakuho as story #1--he is, after all, the Storyteller, he got his 1000th win, and he is the best ever. Shouldn't his try for a comeback yusho after a tourney away have been the top story? Should've been, but wasn't. He fought consistently badly and didn't really feel like a factor after his first loss. I agree with Don he seems bored, and continue to feel he won't last much longer. The other two stories--the real, actual stories the media was covering--were the respective Yokozuna and Ozeki runs of Goeido and Takayasu. The results? On both counts, not close. Goeido came into today at 9-5, a respectable Ozeki record at best. Takayasu crashed and burned, not even managing a winning record: he came in 6-8.

So all three storylines fizzled. Yet I haven't enjoyed a tournament this much in quite a while. What happened is that a lot of guys performed close to their true talent levels, from Tamawashi on the good side to Kotoshogiku on the bad, and that was gratifying.

The Ring, The Year

Interesting question: is two wins worth sticking around for? Probably not; if Kyokushuho (2-12) had known this record was coming, he probably would not have participated. However, give him credit for the try: he no doubt thought he could get about five and stick in Makuuchi. Here's hoping he's healed up for May; he's a tough cookie and welcome back anytime. Oot Bird (Chiyootori, 6-8) is right where he belongs and his record mirrors that. In the match, it was a giveaway in Kyokushuho's favor. Chiyootori slapped into Kyokushuho hard at the tachi-ai and was lower, but then stood out of it and wrapped up Kyokushuho around the head, reversing the position advantage, and it was a very easy moro-zashi oshi-dashi win for Kyokushuho.

Chiyoshoma (8-6) showed us two faces this tournament: eye-roller henkas on the one hand, and surprising, wiry strength when he went straight up. I'm afraid we're going to see a lot of him, as that can be an effective combination (remember Hakuba?). As for Toyohibiki (6-8), he's been teetering on the brink of Juryo/Makuuchi for years now, and his loss today may very well have been his last ever bout as an upper division wrestler. Not a fun way to go out, but a fitting response to his style: after the head-butt tachi-ai, Chiyoshoma backed up and to the side and easily pulled Toyohibiki down, hataki-komi. Yep, that's Chiyoshoma.

Hidenoumi (4-10) has nothing; he's a pusher without sufficient power, and it showed this tournament. Best thing about him this tournament was his shocking pink Wildebeest-ass mawashi. As for Kagayaki (5-9), Mike pegged him right: no ability to evade or counter. He's big, but I don't think we'll see him higher than, say, M6. They didn't fight; Hidenoumi was concussed and had an injured ankle after yesterday's scary loss, and withdrew.

At M9, I expected Myogiryu (7-7), a talented, speedy, and hard-hitting pint of ale, to touch double-digits; instead, he's left us wondering if he's fading. Opponent Gagamaru (8-6) is a nothing-burger, but always fun to see him trundle around. Speaking of double digits, that's exactly where Gagamaru belongs: a "1" and one more random digit after the "m" for Maegashira. This was a pretty good match. Myogiryu rocketed into moro-zashi underneath, taking advantage of his slower opponent. However, Gagamaru is big and very hard to move, and they slow-danced a bit. Gagamaru did lean back and fish Myogiryu off the ground briefly, but it did no good, as they were standing in the middle of the ring at that point and Gagamaru is not very mobile. After that Gagamaru was spent, and Myogiryu maneuvered him out, yori-kiri.

I thought Sokokurai (8-6) was way under-ranked; guess not. He is getting old, was banned during this prime, and will be 33 next go around. As for Ikioi, don't get too excited--his 10-4 fits in with his classic yo-yo pattern: he cleans up when ranked below the jo'i: over the last four years, he is 133-76 at M4 or worse, and 43-107 at M3 or better. He needs to show ten wins from M3 up to get taken seriously. I would have henka'ed him here; he looked keyed-up, and trickery is one of Sokokurai's play cards. Instead, they engaged in a straight-up tachi-ai and a few moments of oshi-zumo--but Sokokurai was sneakily retreating and moving to the side all the way, and Ikioi didn't notice in time to prevent falling down and losing, hiki-otoshi.

No one had a worse tournament than Sadanoumi (3-11), despite homefield advantage. His career peaked with an 8-7 at M3 in May of 2015, and he has now had eight losing tournaments in nine tries since. At 29, I'm done with him. As for Daishomaru (6-8), he has no skills beside the pull, and I was gratified to see him get a make-koshi. Here, Sadanoumi tried to put a little of Daishomaru's own medicine on him, pulling hard on his head right away while going backwards, but Daishomaru did a nice job of turning to face him, moving his feet forward, and removing Sadanoumi swiftly from the straw circle, oshi-dashi.

Solid debut for Hokutofuji (8-6); he needs to calm down just a tad--he's vulnerable to veteran savvy--but he showed solid traditional sumo skills and a good sumo build. This actually wasn't a bad tournament for Takanoiwa (6-8) either; he's never had a winning record from above M8, but could plausibly try again from that rank next tournament if he won here, and is just 26. However, instead this was an easy win for Hokutofuji, who held Takanoiwa by the neck and pushed hard, then noticed Takanoiwa wasn't looking at him and had gotten sideways to him, so he grabbed him by the back of his belt and ran him out, okuri-dashi. Dominant sumo by the rookie.

Takekaze (8-6) is ageless, and this basho continued to show us what he does best: lots of pulls. Ichinojo (7-7) underperformed badly again, and is starting to look like just another too-large fat guy who is too slow to avoid being manipulated. This was a size mismatch, so I looked forward to how Takekaze would handle it. He was smart, staying low, moving around like a flea, and repeatedly putting both hands in Ichinojo's face. He tried a couple of pulls, but Ichinojo was too stable for that. Still, Takekaze sufficiently disoriented Ichinojo until he was vulnerable near the edge, where Takekaze ducked in inside, wrapped Ichinojo up, and sat him down on his bum on the other side of the straw, oshi-taoshi.

Special prize or no, breakout tournament or no, I am not in on Ishiura (10-4); he's just too small, and his wins were built on something good--speed--but also something bad--evasion. Entertaining? Sure. Future standout? No. Tochinoshin (9-5) is his opposite in many ways: big, strong, straightforward belt fighting guy born to do sumo. His late-career, post-injury surge has been one of the best stories in sumo these last two years. Ishiura looked so tiny in the match. He gamely tried to get in underneath and come up with something, but Tochinoshin flipped him over with a swift pull on the head and sideways push on the belt, kata-sukashi. Cool looking bout.

I had Nishikigi pegged as a nothing during his debut tournament; he promptly proved me wrong by getting to M6. However, if this were a Baseball America prospect review, we'd write, "Nishikigi has no standout tools but is adequate across the board, allowing projection as a playable back-up." So 4-10 at M6 feels about right. Chiyotairyu (6-8), to use another baseball metaphor, is a two-pitch pitcher, and eventually fastball/change-up guys like him get hit really hard: two pitches is better than one, but there's not enough variation to keep better opponents from taking advantage of the predictability. Nishikigi, however, struck out on those two pitches: he was knocked upright and helpless by the fastball, then easily ata-kikomi'ed (pulled down) on the change up.

I hope you have forgotten that I compared Arawashi (10-4) to Kakuryu a few tournaments ago. However, I admit that despite his evasive, non-standard style, he is a favorite of mine. I think if he could fill out, watch out, and this tournament was indicative of some degree of explosiveness. As for Vanilla Softcream (Shodai, 11-3), I used this tournament to try to get a beat on him, and decided he is smooth and smart in the ring, takes advantage of mistakes to win defensively, and will try to get inside and push on the body to win offensively. He needs to do more of the latter and less of the former to reach his potential, but he and Tamawashi are the two guys not named Kakuryu to have great tournaments. His second special prize tucked under his belt, Shodai will be Sekiwake next time around; I'll be conservative and predict Ozeki for him in March 2018. (And you know who he reminds me of? Kisenosato.) He sure didn't look like an ozeki here though, fighting defensively and losing. Arawashi dominated him, getting the first belt grip, a left inside, spinning Shodai around in the ring, switching to a left outside, and just plain uwate-nage throwing him manfully to the ground in the end. Nice work by Arawashi.

Over the last four tournaments of 2015, The Possessed (Yoshikaze, 5-9) went 44-19, collected four special prizes, and harvested two kinboshi. It was fun. This guy is 34 years old, folks; that was his Indian Summer, and consequently he's 41-48 in 2016. His results this tournament are simply indicative of where he is in his career. Aoiyama gets no such pass. Aside from Sadanoumi, his is the worst performance of the basho; he was 2-10, and had to dish out two henkas to get to 4-10. He'd better pound the s**t out of some sandbags the next two months and get to Tokyo angry. The match was a wild affair, and I found myself rooting for Yoshikaze, who played it smart, moving laterally this way and that to reduce the impact of Aoiyama's pile drivers, but not being cowardly, putting in slaps and pulls of his own when in front of Aoiyama. The most interesting thing he did was work on Aoiyama's arms, actively holding them up off of his face, impeding them wherever he could, like a guy struggling with wet laundry. In the end, though, it was a frustrated Aoiyama who keyed the match by going for two massive pulls, during the second of which he got off balance, slipped, and fell to the ground sideways like a redwood getting logged, oshi-taoshi.

At 29, it seems too soon for Tochiohzan (6-8) to fade, and we may see his Indian Summer yet, too, but his Ozeki run was in 2014 and that's a long time ago in the sumo world. In 2016 he was 40-49 coming in. Like Yoshikaze, this tournament just seemed par for his current course. Kaisei's record (2-12) was terrible, but I'm going to give him a pass. Yeah, he looked listless sometimes, but the competition is tough up here, and unlike Aoiyama he didn't look scared, and unlike Sadanoumi he didn't look helpless. Kaisei just got beat a lot in tough matches. He'll be back at this level and performing well again by summer. He did just fine in this one. Tochiohzan seemed to have all he needed: moro-zashi with both arms inside, and wiggling and humping the air to keep Kaisei off his belt. Problem was, Tochiohzan couldn't move Kaisei back an inch, and Kaisei finally just moved forward and pushed Tochiohzan out, oshi-dashi.

Ah, Endo (7-7). I was glad he did well in week one; he looked solid for the first time since his debut. However, I was also glad he did badly in week two. We need him not to get ahead of himself, and not to be deferred to. Across the aisle, I'm so happy for Tamawashi (9-5), who will fill the other Sekiwake slot with Shodai, and who won a special prize. He used to be one of my least favorite wrestlers; I thought him boring and colorless, and called him "Snack Break." However, by reporting on him the last two years, and hence forced to pay attention, it snuck up on me over time that this guy almost always gives a hard-hitting oshi-zumo effort. His 2016 was a lot like Yoshikaze's 2015 (and Tochiohzan's 2014), so don't expect much more from this 32 year old next year, but let's enjoy it while it lasts. I certainly enjoyed his match today: he looked like Aoiyama used to, with thrusts to the neck that looked like they were being delivered by an air gun, precise, hard, and full-length, wrecking Endo--Endo was collapsing at the waist and already half down by the time Tamawashi delivered his last blow (and, incidentally, deprived Endo of a special prize). This was tsuki-taoshi, basically "knock 'im down," one of my favorite kimari-te. Tamawashi had easily the most exciting performance of the fortnight.

I admit it: I don't have a handle on Bully Goat (Mitakeumi, 5-9) yet. So, it's official: I promise in March to follow my Shodai project with a "The Mystery of Bully Goat: Who is Mitakeumi?" project. Chiyonokuni is too small for the jo'i, and so 5-9 was actually not bad for him. Boom! went the tachi-ai, and I thought it looked good for Chiyonokuni, who wound up and tried a throw, legs akimbo, twice. However, he only had Mitakeumi by the head, as Mitakeumi moved steadily forward against him, and Chiyonokuni didn't have enough leverage to get Mitakeumi down. In short, as usual, Chiyonokuni was just too small, and for all his powerful looking assault on Mitakeumi's bulk, it didn't actually do anything and Mitakeumi yori-kiri'ed him out.

Kotoyuki was more fun when he was hateful; dare I admit I kind of miss the ostentatious hooting and grandstanding? Villains make for good rooting interest. Anyway, as Mike already said, Kotoyuki's 12-3 in March felt fluffy. But his 6-8 this tournament seems disappointing. He's just 25, and will make a serious sanyaku run at some point. Prior to 2016, Okinoumi's career was a lot like Ikioi's: formidable at M4 or below, a flop at M3 or higher. However, this year he got more consistent, sustaining himself at M2 or better for five consecutive tournaments for the first time in his long career (he's 31). Therefore 4-10 this tournament had to be a major disappointment, but he will likely regain and sustain his high level and be a legitimate threat for another year or two. This match looked all Kotoyuki to me: he was playing his game, grabbing Okinoumi by the neck and trying occasional pulls. Problem was, Okinoumi kept his eyes on him and waited, bent forward and ready, and when Kotoyuki got far enough back off of some of the pulls, thrust him the rest of the way out, oshi-dashi.

Do you remember 2011, when Takayasu (along with Masunoyama) became the first wrestler born in the 1990s to make the upper division? Things continued to look good through July 2013, as he scooped up special prizes and kinboshi, but he then stagnated for three years. So, I was a little surprised--and worried--when he got on his Ozeki run this year. He just didn't look like an Ozeki, and hadn't performed like one. So, as he is just 6-8, I'm relieved we can go back to just acknowledging him as "good, not great." Terunofuji (8-6) also clocks in as "good, not great," and in his case that's tragic, as he sure looked like the next Yokozuna when he went 48-12 over four tournaments in mid 2015. He's just 42-53 since then. During his exciting first week, I predicted he would STILL end up at 8-7--and we're almost there. Sigh. I still think he needs to be demoted. Terunofuji wanted this one, and couldn't get it: he looked like Kotoshogiku here, doing gaburu belly humps and hopping Takayasu around in a circle--but was unable to get him out, because he had one arm over the shoulder, and one arm in the armpit. Too high. Takayasu, meanwhile, was able to reach down and grab the belt, and at the end of some manful striving, it was a yori-kiri victory for Takayasu, who finished 7-8. And there's Terunofuji finishing 8-7. I guess Takayasu wasn't so far away from Ozeki after all?

This may very well be the end of a classic, quality-Ozeki career for Kotoshogiku (4-10); he's been at the rank five years, is 32, got his honorary yusho, and has little left to offer. I expect him to retire when he reaches make-koshi in January, but he may do so after this tournament instead. Meanwhile, it has been an excellent year for Darth Hozan (8-6). In 2015, after three so-so years in the upper division, he dropped down to Juryo and looked like toast. But here he is back, and holding his own in the mid-Maegashira ranks. For a guy his size and age (32), that's very good, and I've appreciated having him around. He's a lot like Tamawashi: hard-hitting, no-nonsense oshi-zumo. Mostly--he henka'ed and tried to slap down Kotoshogiku to start this one. When it didn't work, he was faced with trying to power Kotoshogiku out: he had moro-zashi and should have been able to do it. However, Kotoshogiku worked hard here and stuck to him and pushed him around for an eventual watashi-komi win. This was the best Kotoshogiku has looked in a while.

Sometimes the muse gives directives, and you just have to follow them. Takarafuji makes me think of a banana. Inoffensive. Bland. Not bad. Nutritious enough. Solid. Mysterious. Available. There. I dunno. 9-5 at M5 is exactly what we should expect. From a banana. As for Kisenosato, let me give you his tournament records in 2016: 9-6 / 13-2 / 13-2 / 12-3 / 10-5 / 11-3. Now, forget everything you know or think about Kisenosato and look only at those numbers once more without context. Does that look like a guy on the verge of Yokozuna promotion? Yes, it absolutely does. I expect a yusho in 2017 and would not be surprised to see him crowned grand champion, too. I have liked his sumo this tournament, and he did well again here: staying square, bending over, working with Takarafuji's upper body, which he held tight, and keeping his back to the middle of the ring. Takarafuji also worked hard, but with a lot of backward movement. That kept Kisenosato off his belt for a while, but not forever, and once Kisenosato did get a belt grip his bigger bulk was able to get him the yori-kiri win shortly thereafter.

Whatever the reason, at 10-4 Hakuho's fade is definitely on. He's won two of the last eight tournaments. Quick: how often has that happened during his Yokozunahood? The answer is zero; the last was November 2005 through January 2007, before his promotion. Meanwhile, Goeido (9-5) has already had his story told; welcome back to normality. The crowd was really, really into this one, though, as if Goeido had actually gotten his Yokozunahood. It made me sad: they resent Hakuho, and just want to see him get beat. Sigh. Like he has done throughout the tournament, Hakuho started by retreating and trying to pull. What, enamored of Daishomaru? Come on, man! When it didn't work, he fiercely tsuppari'ed Goeido, which was much more fun. However, he won it by stepping to the side and letting Goeido run past him, ushering him out uwate-dashi-nage.

Yesterday when they flashed on the screen that our champion, Kakuryu (13-1), had just won his third yusho, I thought it was a typo--only three?? I stared at it, checked it, re-checked it. I looked it up on the internet to make sure my kanji reading hadn't mysteriously gone south. If guessing at random, I'd have said he had five. Earlier in the day I had thought I heard someone say he had 11, and amazingly my thought had been "really, that many?", not the more appropriate "quatsch!" (nonsense!). Only three! Now, why would I think he had more? Because he feels so much better than the Ozeki that I perceive him being up there in dai-Yokozuna territory. However, writing that also causes me cognitive dissonance (or, if you like, hypocrisy). I'm on record as saying he is not a deserving Yokozuna, and my private nickname for him is The Invisible Yokozuna, because compared to every single other Yokozuna I've watched he does not look, feel, smell, or taste like a Yokozuna. He feels like, oh, Wakanosato in those great Sekiwake years. So, congratulations to him on that big third yusho (more than I have!), but forgive me while I yawn and take a little nap. I've been spoiled by Hakuho, Harumafuji, Asashoryu, Musashimaru, Takanohana, and Akebono, all of whom won at least eight yusho. This was a very nice tournament for Kakuryu, but his name just doesn't belong with them just yet. So, how does all that thinking and perceiving about Kakuryu shake out? If Kakuryu feels vastly better than the Ozeki, but also vastly worse than his fellow Yokozunae, how big does that make the gap between Hakuho/Harumafuji and Goeido/Kotoshogiku? Very, very big. Speaking of Harumafuji (11-3), hey man, keep on keepin' on. This has been an excellent year for him. Just one yusho, but he's only taken two in a year twice (2012, 2013), and his 67 wins on the year are his most since those years (69 each). Though he is already 32, he is still in his prime. Kakuryu only has 56 wins this year. 'Nuf said. The match was pretty simple: Harumafuji drove Kakuryu three quarters of the way back, then stopped and pulled the champion back in the other direction, and Kakuryu responded to the momentum shift and drove Harumafuji all the way back and out, yori-kiri. So, a nice 14-1 finish and a yusho for a good rikishi, Kakuryu, and our sumo was over for 2016.

That's a wrap.

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Day 14 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Back when sumo was normal, we'd head into a weekend like this fired up to see who could come away victorious in the end, but the last few years we tune in to see whose going to let up for whom. Regardless of the yusho race, who looks good this basho? Who is fighting with momentum as he head into the final weekend?  Kakuryu is the sole leader, but what kind of momentum does he have after letting Kisenosato beat him on day 11, beating Kotoshogiku on day 12, and then having Hakuho let him win on day 13?  Harumafuji comes into the day in second place, but do you feel as if he has any momentum after trouncing Kotoshogiku on day 11, letting Kisenosato defeat him on day 12, and then beating Goeido on day 13 in two sloppy bouts that included a lot of sideways sumo?  Then there's the greatest of them all, Hakuho, who scored an easy win over Takayasu before giving up wins to Terunofuji and Kakuryu on consecutive days.

As long as we're commenting on the leaders, let's examine the three loss rikishi and see what kind of momentum they've enjoyed the last three days. Kisenosato had Kakuryu let up for him on day 11, Hakuho let up for him on day 12, and then he was defeated by an M2 on day 13. Yaocho, yaocho, straight-up loss to a hiramaku rikishi = no momentum.

Ishiura scored a win over Myogiryu on day 11 thanks to a henka, and then he decided to go straight up the next two days only to get destroyed by Ikioi and Arawashi. No momentum.

And then Shodai is the only guy with three wins over the last three days, but he beat Ikioi on day 11 by isami-ashi after getting dominated, and then he picked up wins over Myogiryu and Chiyootori, two snoozers. I just don't see any momentum there either.

So, we head into day 14, and I've just reviewed the generous leaderboard down to three losses, and what's there to be excited about? The only drama is whether or not certain guys are going to let up for their opponents unless I'm missing something.

With that said, this is the official leaderboard as we head into the day:

12-1: Kakuryu
11-2: Harumafuji
10-3: Kisenosato, Shodai, Ishiura

With no momentum from anyone, however, I'm just going to go in chronological order on the day and start from the bottom up.

I missed the M10 Chiyoshoma - M11 Kyokushuho affair that Shoma won by yori-kiri in order to pick up kachi-koshi at 8-6. Kyokushuho wasn't right from day 1 as he falls to 2-12.

M10 Arawashi won the tachi-ai against M9 Myogiryu forcing the bout to migi-yotsu, and before Myogiryu would really get settled, Arawashi unleashed an inside belt throw with the right grip that sent Myogiryu to the edge and eventually across after Arawashi grabbed the left outer for insurance. Arawashi soars to 10-4 while Myogiryu is even steven at 7-7.

M11 Hokutofuji has shown some good flashes in his debut this basho, and standing across the starting lines from M9 Kagayaki, I thought to myself Hokutofuji has shown us a lot more positives than Kagayaki, so Hokutofuji had a good shot at clinching kachi-koshi today. Hokutofuji used a left tsuki into Kagayaki's outstretched left arm at the tachi-ai shading that way and creating separation. When the bout is no longer linear, it spells trouble for Kagayaki, and the rookie stood toe to toe with him firing tsuppari in impressive fashion before Kagayaki went for a dumb pull, and at that moment, Hokutofuji got the right inside and scored the easy force-out win picking up kachi-koshi. Kagayaki could have been mukiryoku here since he never went for the pull despite putting his hands in pull mode, but how can you tell when his sumo overall isn't great? Give Hokutofuji kachi-koshi at 8-6 while Kagayaki falls to a harmless 5-9.

M12 Chiyootori looked for the left inside at the tachi-ai and then the right inside and then moro-zashi as M8 Sadanoumi was feisty enough to move laterally and disallow Chiyootori from getting chest to chest, and after scrapping for eight seconds or so, Sadanoumi used a left dashi-nage to drag Chiyootori to the edge where he finished him off yori-kiri style in the end. Sadanoumi is still a sad 3-11 while Chiyootori suffers make-koshi at 6-8.

M13 Ichinojo grabbed the left outer grip from the tachi-ai against M8 Ikioi and then in one motion went for a maki-kae with the right while he tried an outer belt throw with that left, but the move had little effect since Ichinojo wasn't established to the inside with the right. Maintaining a light left outer, Ikioi was able to counter well with a right scoop throw that threw Ichinojo completely off balance and allowed Ikioi to go for the push-out kill sending Ichinojo across the bales before Ikioi bellyflopped to the dirt. Ichinojo's moves today were rather sloppy and who knows if that was intentional or not? Regardless, he falls to 7-7, which is consistent for a strong foreigner trying to project an air of parity. Ikioi sails to 10-4 with the win.

The action to this point had been solid, and so I groaned a bit when M7 Takekaze and M12 Daishomaru stepped into the ring, and for good reason as Takekaze just henka'd to his left slapping Daishomaru down for the cheap hataki-komi win. Takekaze's stable master, Oguruma-oyakata, was in the booth today providing color, and all he could do was slobber on himself trying to make excuses for Takekaze's sumo today. "Well, he is 37 years-old and still fighting hard..." As if on a dime, NHK bailed him out by showing a real bout of sumo with a flashback all the way to 1981 where Oguruma-oyakata fighting as Kotokaze defeated Sadanoumi to move to 12-1 on his way to his first career yusho. Back in the present, Takekaze picked up kachi-koshi at 8-6 while Daishomaru's make-koshi became official at 6-8.

M14 M14 Chiyotairyu came out with guns blazing against M7 M7 Takanoiwa, but he unfortunately only brought two rounds of ammo, so with Takanoiwa on his heels near the ropes, Chiyotairyu was spent with his arms up high allowing Takanoiwa to assume moro-zashi and force Chiyotairyu out before he could attempt a lame left kote-nage counter throw. Both rikishi end the day at 6-8 and at M14, Chiyotairyu's gotta win tomorrow to keep himself in the division.

Fresh off of his win against Kisenosato yesterday, M6 Tochinoshin stepped into the ring M16 Gagamaru, who was looking for kachi-koshi, and Tochinoshin let him get it coming with his arm in kachi-age fashion but dealing no blow allowing Gagamaru to dictate the pace of the yotsu-zumo match that ended up in gappuri migi-yotsu. Gagamaru quickly forced Tochinoshin to the edge and exerted so much energy his right leg actually came off of the dohyo and was in the air, and that would have been the perfect opportunity for Shin to move laterally and counter, but he stood square and walked back and out when the next volley came. Easy mukiryoku call here as Gagamaru is given kachi-koshi at 8-6, and while I say "given," Gagamaru has deferred plenty to Japanese guys this basho, so it evens out in the end. Tochinoshin is a cool 9-5 after the loss. After the bout, Oguruma-oyakata pointed out the irony of Tochinoshin defeating Kisenosato yesterday only to lose to Gagamaru today. Nothing makes sense if you think that all sumo is fought straight up.

M14 Sokokurai caught M5 Shohozan with a nice right paw to the face standing him upright, but the offensive ended there as Sokokurai relented in his tsuppari attack and actually retreated a step in no thanks to anything Shohozan did, and with Sokokurai putting both hands in pull fashion but never going for one, he easily allowed Shohozan to recover and score the quick push-out win. Shohozan picks up kachi-koshi with the gift while Sokokurai remains aloof at 8-6. Just after the bout, they announced that Shohozan will fight Kotoshogiku tomorrow, and you can already see the cheese forming in that one...two faithful Fukuokans going toe to toe with the Ozeki ending his career--hopefully--with a win.

M5 Takarafuji greeted M15 Toyohibiki with his arms in tight as if he was looking for something to the inside, but with Toyohibiki barreling forward, Takarafuji retreated to his left and escorted Toyohibiki forward and down with a nice tug at his extended right elbow. This was simply a matter of Takarafuji reading his opponent well as he improves to 9-5 with the win. Toyohibiki suffers make-koshi with the loss at 6-8.

M4 Kotoyuki went for a moro-te-zuki that connected squarely into the face of Hidenoumi, and Hidenoumi was out like a light crumbling to the dohyo and lying there face down for about 30 seconds. As they showed the replays, Kotoyuki's right hand caught Hidenoumi squarely in the left jaw, and the uppercut caused Hidenoumi's knees to buckle and send him down for the count. It's a man's game for sure as Kotoyuki picks up the tsuki-taoshi win moving to 6-8 while Hidenoumi was so woozy he was whisked out of the arena in the Pawn Stars wheelchair at 4-10.

The second half began with two of our so-called leaders in M15 Ishiura and M3 Shodai, who both entered the day at 10-3. After Ishiura's 10-1 start thanks to plenty of henka, I think even he was believing the hype that he was really that good, but after charging straight forward the two days after that, reality set in as he simply got his ass kicked. Knowing that a straight up tachi-ai wouldn't work today, he went Ura and ducked under Shodai's extended arms and went extremely low looking to just tackle Shodai back and down. Shodai got the left arm inside, however, and the right outer grip over the top, but Ishiura just went lower and lower driving Shodai back to the edge where he drove his left should into Shodai's gut looking for the yori-kiri with his right hand in watashi-komi fashion behind Shodai's left leg. Credit Shodai, though, for countering with a right outer belt throw that sent Ishiura crashing down as well. Shodai hit the dirt first causing the judge to rule in favor of Ishiura, but this is Shodai, and a mono-ii was called where they ruled that both rikishi touched down at the same time resulting in a do-over.

This was a purely political call that favored the senpai here, but what's done is done. In the do-over, Ishiura came straight forward (did he realize his place in the hierarchy?) allowing Shodai to get the left arm to the inside whereupon he immediately forced Ishiura back and across without argument. There's quite a bit to take away from this contest. First, Ishiura needs trickery at the tachi-ai in order to win. On one hand, it's hard to blame him due to his small stature, but on the other hand, sumo should not be a game of hide and seek. Second, Shodai was given the do-over in this one because it made more sense politically. Remember back in the mid-aughties when Asashoryu would always have close calls go against him? Even with the video replays, the judges' calls are still subjective to the politics of the sport. Sucks for Ishiura who falls to 10-4 while Shodai improves to 11-3.

M2 Kaisei played the part of brick wall against M6 Nishikigi at the tachi-ai, and with Nishikigi coming in low with his arms in tight, Kaisei quickly assessed the situation and then easily just pulled Nishikigi forward and down for the easy win. Kaisei is just 2-12 while Nishikigi falls to 4-10.

In a similar bout, the lesser rikishi, M3 Endoh, got his left arm inside at the tachi-ai, but there was no way he was going to bully his superior opponent around in M1 Tochiohzan...unless Oh wanted to give up the loss. He didn't, and so so while Endoh tried to use the inside left to set up a right frontal grip, Tochiohzan didn't panic and timed a perfect pull down for the easy win. Sure, Endoh can bully Hakuho back in seconds, but not good ole Tochiohzan, who improves to 6-8 with the win. Endoh's stuck on seven wins and will need some help tomorrow to secure kachi-koshi. He draws Tamawashi, so that will be interesting. My guess is that the Komusubi defers.

Speaking of the Komusubi, Tamawashi fired some hard tsuppari into M2 Yoshikaze's neck at the tachi-ai standing the smaller Cafe upright, and the tachi-ai was so dominating that Tamawashi scored the quick tsuki-dashi win before Yoshikaze could even think about moving to either side. Tamawashi is a cool 9-5 while Yoshikaze falls to 5-9.

M4 Chiyonokuni does nothing these days but look for the pull down win, and so Sekiwake Takayasu just kept his wits about him, made sure to stay square as Chiyonokuni moved right, and then followed up a whiff on a pull attempt from Kuni with a pull attempt of his own that felled Chiyonokuni with ease. Drab sumo here as Takayasu moves to 6-8 while Chiyonokuni falls to 5-9.

Sekiwake Okinoumi came with a modest kachi-age at the tachi-ai followed by a stiff right paw into Komusubi Mitakeumi's throat, but there were no de-ashi, and that's definitely not Okinoumi's game, and so with the Sekiwake content to just stand there with that arm extended, Mitakeumi went for a big pull that caused Okinoumi to lose his balance and just stumble forward and out of the ring. The big question here is why didn't Okinoumi even try and play to his strength, which is yotsu-zumo? It's not like Mitakeumi is one to dictate the pace of his bouts. Okinoumi falls to 4-10 with the loss while Mitakeumi is one better at 5-9.

M2 Aoiyama just jumped to his right against Ozeki Kotoshogiku causing the Ozeki to just roll forward and down in half a second. Nobody ever likes to see a tachi-ai like this, especially the Kyushu faithful, but the current attitude in sumo right now encourages it. You have Aoiyama who constantly defers to shat rikishi, and I think this is a way that he can release a little bit of his frustration. Both rikishi end the day at 4-10.

Ozeki Terunofuji and Ozeki Kisenosato hooked up in hidari-yotsu after a few shoves at the tachi-ai whereupon Terunofuji just stood there doing nothing with that right arm. He coulda grabbed the right outer girp with ease or he coulda pivoted and fired a right tsuki into Kisenosato's left side, and both were moves that would have silled the dill had he chosen to execute them, but he just stood there allowing Kisenosato to tug with that right outer grip for about 10 seconds. With Kisenosato making no progress, Terunofuji finally went for a right outer grip and then promptly let it go, and at that point, he allowed Kisenosato to methodically force him back and out. After Tochinoshin's deciding to win yesterday, I can't say that Terunofuji's attitude today was predictable, but it certainly wasn't surprising. Kisenosato sweeps all four Mongolians with the gift as he moves to 11-3. As for Terunofuji, he falls to 8-6, and you can see how big that gift from Hakuho was a few days before. After clinching kachi-koshi against the Yokozuna, Terunofuji has room to let up if necessary. He ends the day at a safe 8-6.

The yusho race came down to the last two bouts on the day that featured Harumafuji vs. Hakuho and then Kakuryu doing battle with Goeido. In the first bout, Yokozuna Harumafuji shaded to his left at the tachi-ai getting his left hand on Hakuho's belt with an outer grip, but Hakuho quick as a cat moved to his own left and unleashed a kote-nage throw against Harumafuji's right arm that sent HowDo outta the ring in about three seconds. You watch Hakuho move like this against a formidable Yokozuna, and it's easy to tell that he hasn't lost a step. No one else except maybe Kakuryu could have handled that henka form Harumafuji today, but Hakuho did it as if one hand was tied behind is back. The result is that Hakuho moves to 10-4 while Harumafuji is knocked two back of Kakuryu at 11-3. With no other two-loss rikishi heading into the day, it was all up to Kakuryu against Goeido.

The Yokozuna got the left arm to the inside of the Ozeki and then quickly went for a maki-kae with the right. He did get the right to the inside, but Goeido tried a maki-kae of his own with the right, and so the Yokozuna took advantage of the momentum shift to step left and just pull Goeido forward and out before the two even got settled. And just like that: ballgame. Kakuryu takes the yusho moving to 13-1 while Goeido falls to 9-5.

Well see what Harvye can make of senshuraku tomorrow, and isn't it interesting how they are not going to have Kisenosato fight Kotoshogiku this basho? The two should have fought tomorrow, but wins for both Ozeki are important.  In Kotoshogiku's case, I think he's going to announce his retirement in the next few days, and it'd be great to send him out with a win in his last bout. As for Kisenosato, he'll be able to head into January up for Yokozuna promotion if he can finish here 12-3, and so it will work out best if both Ozeki win tomorrow.  Oh, and back on day 11 I talked about the nenkan-saita-sho, which is the award for the rikishi who scores the most wins in the calendar year.  With Kisenosato's win today and Harumafuji's loss, Kisenosato is guaranteed to win the award this year.  It's just another example of how they're are trying to project the image of parity...everywhere but on the dohyo that is.

Day 13 Comments (Don Roid reporting)
What a great day to be alive! The sun is shining, the birds are singing and Americans all across the country are squirting mace into the eyes of their fellow shoppers and shoving pregnant women to the ground to save an extra 10% on a Playstation 4. Yep, it's Black Friday. And while Americans certainly have no qualms about making their shady behavior perfectly obvious on this day, in Japan it seems to be a bit more covert when it comes to the action atop the dohyo. So, would there be any funny business in the world of sumo today? Let's find out. As last time, I'm really only covering the latter half of the top division bouts, since that's all I'm really interested in.

And let me go ahead and contradict myself right off the bat by skipping down to the Juryo division for a New York minute by saying that it looks like Osunaarashi has withdrawn from the tournament, or at least he is missing his bout today. This guy can't seem to get a break. It's like he's injured almost every tournament now. I didn't see his bout yesterday, but it looks like he lost to Satoh. On the bright side, he already has his kachi-koshi, so at least that's one less turd in his punchbowl.

Turning back to Makuuchi, coming into today Kakuryu is leading with only one loss at 11 - 1 and trailing him are Harumafuji, Kisenosato and Ishiura (M15) at 10 - 2. The first bout that catches my attention today is Chiyootori (6 - 6) vs. Shodai (9 - 3). Shodai has had a number of impressive bouts this tournament, his best showing since his Makuuchi debut in January when he was 10 - 5. He didn't even break a sweat today against Chiyootori who had a solid tachi-ai, but Shodai absorbed the impact and immediately shimmied to his left and eventually got under Chiyoo's armpit to push him out.

Next, Kotoyuki (5 - 7) faced Aoiyama (2 - 10). Nothing to brag about here for either guy coming into this match as both are not doing their best sumo this tournament. The big guy must be getting desperate as he henka-ed the hoot right out of Kotoyuki, pushing him down into the dirt. Very ugly match. Kotoyuki make-koshi.

Both Mitakeumi and Yoshikaze are 4 - 8 coming in. Where is that Yoshikaze that we sometimes see who doesn't take no guff from nobody? That Yoshikaze that just don't give a fuzz? He's reared his head a few times this basho, but today he was more of a magician than anything else. I've watched this bout at normal speed and in slow motion a bazillion times and I still have no clue how he did this, but Yoshikaze had a right-handed, underhand grip on the outer layer of Mitakeumi's belt and with his back to the bails, he did a little pirouette on his right foot and spun around so quickly that Mita couldn't stop his momentum and he fell face-first off the dohyo, landing in THE MOST AWKWARD WAY known to mankind, sailing clear off the mound and taking the full brunt of the fall right on his face and neck as the rest of his 150 kg frame followed close behind, contorting his esophagus like a piece of Silly Putty. It was one of those moments where you just gasp and hold your breath for a few seconds and squish your face up like you have just bitten into a lemon. This dude is lucky he wasn't wheeled out in the big weird brown chair.

The Zack Morris of sumo (6 - 6) faced Okinoumi (4 - 8) in the next bout. Both guys were struggling for a while to get a decent grip on the mawashi. Endo succeeded first with a left hand inside grip. Oki-doki caught up, but it seemed to me like as he was trying to secure that left hand, Endo was already one step ahead with his right and gave a big yank, off-balancing the two-time Sekiwake. Endo gets the win and inches closer to a kachi-koshi.

Kaisei (1 - 11) has been quite lackadaisical the past few days, and how can you blame him? I'd be pretty downtrodden too if I'd been getting my gluteus handed to me the whole tournament. He spent the majority of the fight trying to secure his right hand, but as the bout progressed Takayasu (4 - 8) seemed to have the better leverage and was able to prop the Brazilian up a bit. He tried to switch his arms inside, but it was too late and Yasu gets the yori-kiri win. Kaisei looks dejected afterwards. Not the most entertaining bout of the day.

Ozeki Terunofuji (8 - 4) is a sad story. Such potential, such hope, such a bright future, it seemed. Then that nasty knee injury took away his power in the blink of an eye. But this tournament it looked like after a few days he started to feel more confident than we've seen him in quite some time. Today he was favoring his knee, though, a little after the bout with Tamawashi (7 - 5), who went after the right elbow of the Mongolian and tried to rip a wicked kote-nage. He didn't quite get all of it, but enough, perhaps, for the Ozeki to take the hint. As Tamawashi was going for the arm (which is also bandaged) he planted his right foot all up in Terunofuji's injured leg and Fuji probably immediately felt uneasy. As I mentioned, he either slipped out or his opponent lost his grip, but either way it was better to take the loss than risk further injury for the ailing Ozeki. Tamawashi is looking good. After the bout as Terunofuji was walking back to his side of the dohyo, it looked like he really didn't want to bend his knee too much.

After the anomaly of the January basho, Kotoshogiku (3 - 9) is his old self again. If you believe in divine intervention, that would be a pretty darn good explanation for the 2016 Hatsu basho. However, no explanation is really needed for his actions today against the 5 - 7 Tochiohzan. I think he tried to pull the ol' "half-a-henka" that we see Harumafuji employ so well, but it was REALLY sloppy-looking. Regardless, he won and seemed to be quite satisfied with himself after the bout. Bunch of poppycock if you ask me.

Tochinoshin (8 - 4) is up to face Kisenosato (10 - 2) from an M6 rank today. I always find that so weird when this happens so late in the tournament. There's always that WTF moment when you see a matchup like this scheduled so late, especially when one of the Ozeki / Yokozuna has a great record and could possibly win the tournament. Suddenly he's facing someone who's quite far down the banzuke while the other potential favorites are busting their humps against the highest ranking rikishi on the roster. But wow, what a fight this was! After Kisenosato's recent wins over the Three Kings on three successive days, I was almost expecting that momentum to continue through to the end of the tournament with Kisenosato possibly becoming the last of the Japanese Ozeki to get his yusho.

Tochinoshin had other ideas though! Did he ever! This is why I love sumo. Both guys trying to enforce their wills on the other and neither budging an inch. Eventually Tochinoshin had had enough and focused on getting inside and securing a grip, which he did. He got deep and you could see that Kisenosato was cruisin' for bruisin', but wasn't about to give up. You could really tell that Blinky was digging down deep. Check out the look on his face. But no matter how deep he dug, it wasn't enough. Tochinoshin shifted his body weight right at the end and tossed Kisenosato hard onto his left side. This was definitely the fight of the night.

I don't think I can really do the next bout justice with my commentary. In order to do that, I think I'd need the help of my old buddy Sigmund Freud. How the heck to you diagnose Hakuho's behavior in the ring lately? Here's my thoughts. I really think he just doesn't give a rat's ass anymore. I think he's just out there to entertain himself. To me, it looks like he actually enjoys getting himself into precarious situations on purpose just to see what happens, just to make it interesting. I think he's just bored. He knows there's absolutely no one who can give him a good workout on a regular basis and when he just goes out there and smokes everyone consistently, night after night after night, that's not much fun. So, he MAKES it fun by giving his opponent as many chances as possible. The only problem with this is sometimes the other guy actually manages to take that opening and finish him off … not that he cares much. If this is the case, it's quite sad indeed. The thing is though, Hak also has a temper. We saw it a few months ago when, at some point, he said "enough is enough" and he stopped playing these games and just destroyed everyone for the remainder of the tournament. This hasn't happened yet though in November, so the charade continues. This, of course, is only a (conspiracy) theory, though, so I could be way off here, so take it with a grain of salt.

Hakuho (9 - 3), led with the right forearm, as he does from time to time, while Kakuryu (11 - 1, leader) went for a double frontal grip on his mawashi. He ate the forearm, but managed to keep the grip momentarily before losing it. Then it was déjà vu all over again as Hak went for another forearm and Kak went back for the grip. Neither man got what they wanted. Then, Hakuho just stood there, flailing around for a second while Kakuryu got under his armpit and stood him up quite easily and started to push forward. The Storyteller continued to push at the face, which didn't help his cause at all. He leaned forward hard between Kakuryu's thrusts and managed to get some breathing room, but Kakuryu adjusted well and secured a right arm inside, left arm outside grip while Hakuho was backpedaling. This was the last straw and Kakuryu wins by yori-kiri.

I said in my podcast a few weeks ago that we would know by day 5 or 6 whether Goeido (9 - 3) would be a Yokozuna or not. Well, it may have taken a bit longer, but it seems now, on day 13, that any Yokozuna talk is already ancient history. Goeido went about this match as he often does, by charging in with reckless abandon and hoping for the best. By over-committing he can sometimes just outmuscle his opponent or catch them off balance or of guard, but, much like Toyohibiki, often times he's careless and makes himself look foolish. Today, against the seemingly unstoppable Harumafuji (we'll pretend that days 1 and 12 never happened) his strategy produced some bizarre results. First of all, and we talked about this on episode 95 of The FightBox Podcast with Mike and Harvye, Harumafuji didn't use any of his best weapons at the tachi-ai. He didn't use the "half-a-henka", he didn't use the choke hold, he didn't slap Goeido and he just barely even grazed him with a headbutt. Why is that?

He did manage to get a decent grip, though, and felt Goeido's pressure. He shifted his body and tried to use Goeido's own momentum against him. He first tried to throw him over his right shoulder, then went back the other way, but Goeido's right leg and Harumafuji's left got caught up and Goeido had just enough forward momentum to throw the Yokozuna off balance just a bit so that they both went crashing backwards in a heap. The landing was REALLY close as it looked to me like Goeido's body and Haru's toe both touched down at the same exact time. It's mono-ii time and the judges agree. Redo.

This time around Harumafuji uses the half-a-henka (much better than Kotoshogiku did, I might add) and makes it look easy. Then he jumped out of the ring and gave Tochinoshin a little hug for some reason.

So, to keep you abreast of the situation, at the end of day 13 Kakuryu leads at 12 - 1 and Harumafuji is one loss behind. I don't see Kakuryu vs. Harumafuji scheduled for tomorrow, so they must be keeping it for senshuraku. It should be interesting folks. Let's see what happens. Cheers to Mike for letting me get back in the saddle again. If anyone's a listener of our podcasts, make sure you check out episode 100 on Wednesday. Enjoy the rest the tournament!

Day 12 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Well, dear reader, I'd attended bashos at all the venues but Kyushu, so, on this cheerful, cold, sunny day I finally decided to make a pilgrimage to Fukuoka. This report was written "live" at the venue, with light editing later, but without instant replay, reverse angle, or commentary on the telly (though I probably could have figured something out--impressed to see they had free wi-fi at the venue). It's designed to give you the feel of what it's like to be there, rather than what's it's like to sit in my living room late at night with all my tools. I also snapped some pics.

The venue was a leisurely half hour walk from the shinkansen station. It is isn't ultra-conveniently located, with no subway station closer than a fifteen minute walk, but who needs it? The stroll was nice. I'd been to Fukuoka before (the city, not the Fukuoka International Center, where the basho is held), and it is a pleasant and laid back place. Livable place, not great for tourists, nice if you're not in a rush to see sights.

As for the venue, it felt intimate. I'd always been struck by the intimacy at Osaka and Nagoya, but the dominant impression in Fukuoka had to be an accessibility so thorough that I had to pause while walking the halls to get out of the way of wrestlers practicing their de-ashi. No kidding. As with the aforementioned venues, even the cheap seats seem close in Fukuoka, but what's really striking is how there are rikishi everywhere, and not just low-level ones. I arrived at about the same time as Osunaarashi, and entered by the same entrance; he stalked past the ticket takers, past the spectators waiting to cheer arrivals, and under the stands. A few minutes later I paused to snap a picture of former Wakanosato chatting with some fans. Later former Kotooshu walked; both being ridiculously tall, we exchanged a nod. For years I've been telling people that I'm the same height as Kotooshu but much stronger. Turns out neither of these things is true: today I was able to confirm that I am, in fact, taller than Kotooshu.

The place and the surrounding streets were lousy with rikishi. Watching the low-level guys practice in the hall, I was impressed by how rough they looked. Covered with sweat, talc, and bits of grubby tape that they picked at, one dude with a big red cut on his forehead. For a while I stood next to a particularly verdant, grey-belted behemoth, no doubt a terrible wrestler if he is this big this low. But my overwhelming thought was, yes, this guy would absolutely destroy me. He looked, in a word, scary. Today, respect to all rikishi. One thing that was brought home to me is that this is not just a spectator sport--it is a tourist event. Many people in the stands have no idea what is going on--especially the foreigners. They peer at their English language handouts, desperately trying to at least figure out who is wrestling, and can't. I overheard this conversation: Foreigner #1: "Do you know what the rules are?" Foreigner #2: "Are there rules?" To their credit, though, these same two guys cheered gamely, and oohed and aahed at the hard Makushita falls being taken. Yes, respect.

Overall, I liked the venue alright. It has some disadvantages, and will not catch Osaka as my favorite (I'd also put it behind Nagoya, which has castle surroundings and an Honest John feel. Tokyo remains my least favorite). There was no cafeteria or other restaurant inside, and I ended up with a $15 bento with the same Styrofoam dividers and cold pieces of undistinguished fish you can get at the 7-11. There were uniformed guards keeping me from the ring-side cushions; my normal practice is to go sit there for an hour or so early on. Here, I was prevented. Fair enough, I suppose, though fairly pointless--there is hardly anyone there until later. Finally, I can confirm that the reason the cushions, in all their purple majesty, are not launched when an upset of a Yokozuna ends the day in Fukuoka is because that would be hard to do. They're not tied down, but they are generally attached to one another in sets of four, and are foam mats more than standard zabuton cushions. Like throwing a gym mat.

But I was happy to be there, and had a great time.

To the action!

M12 Daishomaru (6-5) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (4-7)
Smack 'n' pull. Chiyotairyu hit Daishomaru hard, and before the man in green (Daishomaru) had a chance to pull Chiyotairyu down--Daishomaru's forte--Chiyotairyu backed up ever so slightly and hataki-komi'ed Daishomaru instead. Not a good match, but a bit of "goes around comes around."

M10 Chiyoshoma (7-4) vs. M16 Gagamaru (5-6)
Gagamaru basically bullied Chiyoshoma to the ground, bearing down on him with good pressure and collapsing his knee, yori-taoshi.

M14 Sokokurai (7-4) vs. M10 Arawashi (8-3)
In this battle of two guys who are often little lords a leaping, you might expect, say, a double henka. Instead, these gentlemen cautiously played it straight up, staying low and going for the belt. Sokokurai got the left outside that was superior to Arawashi's right inside and quickly drove Arawashi out.

M8 Sadanoumi (2-9) vs. M11 Kyokushuho (1-10)
Terrible tournaments for both, a slow tachi-ai in the match, a lame trip attempt by Sadanoumi, and an uwate-nage felling of him by Kyokushuho. The crowd groaned in frustration; Sadanoumi is from nearby, but certainly hasn't given them much to cheer about on any of his upper division visits to Kyushu.

M15 Ishiura (10-1) vs. M8 Ikioi (7-4)
Before entering, I caught fans taking pictures of the Ishiura banner, buried deep as it was in the line of colorful flutterings. And he got as many cheers during the ring entering ceremony as anyone, including hometown Ozeki Kotoshogiku. Meanwhile, the wrestler with the most random cheering--not a local, not in the lead, no particular reason 'cept being liked--was Ikioi. However, if Ishiura, with his Stone Ass and his Sexy Moustache, keeps this "Andy Warhol where's my 15 minutes?" momentum up, he'll eclipse Ikioi soon enough. Meanwhile, Ikioi is a quality guy, so I was looking for--hoping for!--two things: straight ahead sumo by Ishiura so we can evaluate him a bit, and a good fight. I'm as full of hope as anybody else, and would love it if Ishiura proved himself a gritty little wrestler full of promise. The crowd was pumped as the two combatants wiped sweat off one more time just before the start. Ishiura looked nervous: a ridiculous amount of sand swiping with his feet. Then, he went straight ahead--and was utterly destroyed: Ikioi got a big right arm in underneath and drove this little pimple effortlessly out, looking Hakuho-esque. The crowd loved it. And that, friends, is Ishiura.

M7 Takekaze (6-5) vs. M15 Toyohibiki (5-6)
Little round against big round. Yeah, I like Takekaze. I can't help it. I just do. The rules allow for pulls and henkas, and though I don't like those, he does them well. He's like fish. I don't particularly like fish, but when it is served well, yeah, it's delicious. Or like country music. People always ask me, what kind of music do you like? I always answer, "good music." Takekaze is good music--in a genre I generally don't like. So I was rooting for him here. It was a pretty good match. Takekaze got an arm in under the pit and spun Toyohibiki around once or twice, trying to upend him by the shoulder. However, he might have been better off henka'ing him outright, because Toyohibiki is a load, and eventually Big Round was superior to Little Round: Takekaze just couldn't beat Toyohibiki straight up body to body. And credit to Toyohibiki: normally terrible in the last third of any match, here he stuck with Takekaze and even beat him at the edge: a desperation throw by Takekaze was too little too late, as Toyohibiki was descending on top of him for the smash-down win, yori-taoshi. Good stuff from the cheap seats.

M13 Hidenoumi (3-8) vs. M7 Takanoiwa (4-7)
Looking up to check who was next, I didn't have to think much: the hot-pink, bright flush of Rotting Corpse Lily flower-flesh that is Hidenoumi's belt is, call it what you like, instantly recognizable. Let's go literal and call it Distinctive. Meanwhile, though they both had lefts inside, Takanoiwa had his first, and is the better wrestler--he yori-kiri'ed Hidenoumi out pretty quickly in this straightforward affair. The crowd, briefly excited by Ishi-Iki, remained flaccid. Nothing to report on that front.

But...at this point, an entire battalion of high school students in uniform vacated for the day, leaving a broad swath of inviting, empty seats that were quickly dappled by smart fans like me. With empty seats on all sides now, and my stockinged feet on the chair below me in front, it sure was a lot easier to write than it had been getting a cramp as I tried not to press my arm too snugly against the polite Ojisan neighbor at my actual seat. Roomy the seats at sumo are not.

M13 Ichinojo (6-5) vs. M6 Tochinoshin (7-4)
Ichinojo, with his comical big baby doll aspect, was probably the most cheered non-Japanese wrestler during the ring entering ceremony. I'd have rather it been Tochinoshin. It was a great match, as they both strained chest to chest on the belt. Both guys had right inside and left outside grips; for a while Tochinoshin broke off Ichinojo's outer left, but Ichinojo got it back and was the first to try the force out charge. Tochinoshin resisted it and survived, and his body literally flushed rusty red with exertion. The crowd roared. That's the spirit. Then it was time for Tochinoshin's force-out charge. Things looked good, but when The Iron Blob of Gravity Grease (Ichinojo) got to the tawara he just plain stopped, as he is wont to do. Now I thought it looked grim for Tochinoshin. But, this is Tochinoshin. He tried again, and this time The Grizzly (Tochinoshin) pushed The Mongolith (Ichinojo) out. Worth the price of admission? Not all by itself. But give me three bouts or so like this and yes, for $39, I'll take it.

M5 Shohozan (6-5) vs. M12 Chiyootori (6-5)
The crowd, woken up by the good sumo in the previous match, perhaps, broke into repeated rhythmic chants of "Shohozan." There was a large banner for him too, reading "don't think, feel". Meanwhile, he went ahead and earned it. Tsuappari'ed like a beast, went in at the belt, that didn't work, tsuappari'ed like something wild off the fells again, then back to the belt, gave that up too, and now tried a rip-his-arm off, then a hair-pull (almost! Oops!). That was enough for Chiyootori, though, who could no longer maintain, and Shohozan drove him out. Good fun.

M11 Hokutofuji (7-4) vs. M5 Takarafuji (6-5)
The kid in front of me was very cute, and was holding a homemade Takarafuji sign, so if I was going to be glimpsed on TV, this was the time. Was I? My family instant messaged me: "no." An old man walked in front of us, picking his nose and looking drunk. Okay, I'm glad we weren't on TV. Takarafuji gave Hokutofuji a big slap, then basically monitored him, his arms up high. The consequent performance didn't look too good for Hokutofuji, who had an opening underneath, it would seem, but couldn't get anything going. Takarafuji drove him easily out and just simply looked like the better wrestler--he didn't fight particularly well here, but still won easily. Well, let's give Hokutofuji some time. Meanwhile, I was happy for the kid sitting in front of me, whose even smaller brother climbed the stairs next to me while his Dad wasn't watching, and gave me a friendly slap on the knee: Harvye Hodja, climbing aid.

M4 Kotoyuki (4-7) vs. M9 Kagayaki (5-6)
Henka by Kotoyuki--pathetic against Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki)--but Kagayaki survived. Kotoyuki then went with "let's beat his face purple," which worked great. He finished off Kagayaki by squeezing his throat real hard for a moment and releasing him, so that Kagayaki actually fell forward, dead, asphyxiated. Well, that's what it looked like from where I sat.

M9 Myogiryu (6-5) vs. M3 Shodai (8-3)
The hometown thing is very noticeable live. I was editing earlier bouts during the 17:00 break when my attention was drawn back to the ring by a suddenly riled up crowd: Shodai of course. They even did some rhythmic chanting for him. Good, hard-smacking tachi-ai by Myogiryu was wasted as he failed to drive Shodai out, then wrapped his arm around his head and turned his back to him. Huh? And was driven out, facing the wrong direction, at a run. Um...glad I don't have instant replay.

M1 Tochiohzan (4-7) vs. M4 Chiyonokuni (4-7)
We now enter the portion of the banzuke where you have guys ranked high but having really bad tournaments, and you feel like taking a little nap. Four of the next five matches were in this category: wipe-out records that happen just below the winners. These loser-matches always feel out of place. Combined incoming record over the next five bouts: 33-77. Yikes! However, instead of feeling cynical, I always see this as a good opportunity to enjoy some good sumo. A lot of these guys have nothing to lose, and all of them are good enough in other tournaments. I'm a sumo fan, and not just watching for the yusho, so yeah, I'll watch these quality guys to see if they can do each other in. Yeah. Indeed, Chiyonokuni came in low and hard and did some good punching to the grill. However, he is too small, and Tochiohzan countered by maintaining, then punching, pulling, and pushing Chiyonokuni right out. Good stuff Maynard.

M6 Nishikigi (3-8) vs. M1 Aoiyama (1-10)
False start--not quite as boring in person as on TV. Here is another match where both guys wanted to win and--mostly--gave us some good sumo. Aoiyama brought those arms out--blam! blam! blam! At first, he also brought his de-ashi, trodding Nishikigi's path of doom with methodical, tromping feet. However, Aoiyama, to my mind, proved to me here why he isn't actually all that (I've soured on him a bit). When the going got tough, rather than amping it up even further, focusing, and destroying the insignificant Nishikigi, he backed up and pulled him to the clay. Oh, he won. But my feeling last year was that Aoiyama looked like he should be an Ozeki. My feeling this year is that he is scary and fun, but doesn't have the courage of his convictions in the ring--he's wobbly in the confidence department. That's okay, I'll enjoy him anyway, but lots of his losses are legit. He'll be back here, but he's not going any higher than this.

K Mitakeumi (3-8) vs. K Tamawashi (7-4)
I looked for Tamawashi to school The Bully Goat (Mitakeumi) here, but he didn't. He drove The Bully back with tsuppari, but Mitakeumi wasn't convinced and Tamawashi was standing up too high, and so Bully drove it back in the other direction. At the edge Tamawashi evaded and pushed down and Mitakeumi did flop to the ground, but it was too late, as Tamawashi clearly stepped out before that happened. Sigh. My little Tamawashi heart broke a little.

S Takayasu (4-7) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (3-8)
In general, the crowd was not as loud for local boy Yoshikaze as for Takayasu, but the crowd around me in the cheap seats was definitely the loudest they'd been yet: those kind of startling outbursts of full throated, diaphragm-driven yelling that make you understand why loud noises damage your hearing over time. That's great, though--I like a working-man's rikishi. No Cadillac Shodai, this one. Eventually, Yoshikaze became the third wrestler on the day to gather in rhythmic chanting--albeit a bit broken and spotty, like the teeth in Toyonoshima's dad's mouth. Well, I was convinced and rooting! Yoshikaze got low and pushed hard; there was a scary moment when Takayasu wrapped up Yoshikaze's extended arm and tried to pull him down, but Yoshikaze kept square and kept driving, forcing the now sideways Takayasu out. Victory! The fans around me were cheerful and had a good laugh. Why laugh? Good people, sumo fans, that's why.

M2 Kaisei (1-10) vs. S Okinoumi (3-8)
Last of the dregs, but again, I personally was perked up: one of the biggest and most underrated against one of Japan's best, big in his own right but more supple and strong. The crowd was perked up, too: Okinoumi, for no particular reason I could discern, became the first non-Kyushu wrestler to get rhythmic chants. Anyway, power sumo, please! We got it. Slow-motion tachi-ai, and then a belt fight. Kaisei had a good grip, and pushed Okinoumi to the brink, but Okinoumi managed to survive and bring the bout back to the center. There was a bit of tipping this way and that, but ultimately Okinoumi prevailed with a yori-kiri force-out charge.

O Goeido (8-3) vs. M3 Endo (6-5)
Who was the crowd rooting for here? To my surprise, the Goeido chants clearly outnumbered the Endo ones, though a reedy-voiced Obasan to my left made sure Endo didn't feel too lonely. And 12 kensho banners, yikes! Unearned, people, unearned! I must be affected by the enthusiasm of the crowd, though; suddenly I'm using a lot of exclamation points! At this point a lost Ojisan in a winter hat and flannel shirt wandered very slowly past, on his way to the completely wrong section of the crowd, before being rescued by a family member, who had a hard time convincing him to go back to his real seat. They stood during the whole match (stay here, grandpa! Look! It's Goeido and Endo, your favorites!) Ah, sumo. Anyway: Goeido did well in this one: kept his head down and his feet moving forward, and it was over in seconds, battering-ram sumo. Oh, there is a Goeido-Yokozuna apocalypse outcome still possible, lurking in my unwilling subconscious. Please let the next bout start quickly! The Ojisan, freed from his helpful son, wandered off in the other direction.

O Kotoshogiku (3-8) vs. Y Kakuryu (10-1)
And suddenly, it was nothing-but-Yokozuna-and-Ozeki time. Time flies when you're having fun. However, the crowd was...wary. Yes, they cheered Kotoshogiku, but you could feel they were...skeptical. They did enjoy his big-back-bend shtick, though. Ah, showmanship: this is entertainment. Thirteen kensho banners--oh oh, bad luck for Kakuryu?!? Nope. He toyed with Kotoshogiku, shaking his body this way and that to signify "action." Pretty soon, he'd shaken Stumpy (Kotoshogiku) up so much that hey, both of Kakuryu's arms were inside, moro-zashi. Easy finishin's from there, and Kakuryu remained on target for a yusho showdown with Harumafuji. Kotoshogiku remained on target for...retirement, please! After this match a bunch of fans left, like it was the 7th inning at a Dodgers game.

Y Harumafuji (10-1) vs. O Kisenosato (9-2)
Only five kensho banners for this one. These are two wrestlers who have crept up on this tournament, and at first no one seemed to notice they were watching a yusho-race key match. The crowd was pretty subdued--and I did not hear a single cheer for Harumafuji. Eventually, though, they got rhythmic chanting going for Kisenosato. It soon faded out: too hard to chant Ki-se-no-sa-to. Five syllables, I mean, really! My turn: Ha-ru-ma-fu-ji! Ha-ru-ma-fu-ji! Ha-ru-ma-fu-ji! Not really. But I did open my mouth to cheer for the first time since helping my neighbor boy cheer for Takarafuji. Well, somebody had to cheer for Harumafuji! I yelled manfully into a brief silence. There was an offended, silent pause. But I must have fired him up! Harumafuji almost got moro-zashi there! Well, I thought he had it for a second...but wait...no, there he is being bodied back and driven out by Kisenosato's tall standing, forward moving bulk. Wait, what?? The crowd went wild. So much for that showdown between Kakuryu and Harumafuji. The barn is burning brightly, folks.

Y Hakuho (9-2) vs. O Terunofuji (7-4)
Yay--my favorite wrestler is going last. As is fitting. Against the guy who, before he got injured and befuddled, was the most exciting thing to happen to sumo since, well, Hakuho. Unfortunately, this was largely an inconsequential match. The Storyteller (Hakuho) had already signaled his intention not to take this basho with earlier losses, and the main drama with Terunofuji, after a bounce back first week, had devolved into a political second week question of where he would pick up his kachi-koshi (my guess was here--good place for Hakuho to drop further back and focus the drama even more on Kakuryu and, let's face it, Kisenosato). But still...14 kensho banners--good. Two Mongolians, but the best talent match up of the day, so yes, put it last, honor it most. I was pleased to hear some enthusiasm for both wrestlers from the crowd. A lady behind me referred to Terunofuji as "cute" and, when he did his leg lifts, gasped "big." She and her husband had a friendly shouting match, with the husband chipping in for Hakuho. She didn't really think it was very funny. The bout started with a little tsuppari battle, and Terunofuji was in control after a few surprising moments, driving Hakuho to the edge. There, he stopped, his arms draped over Hakuho like a dead person. Why not drive him out, NOW? Or, why not a Hakuho destruction charge, now? Instead, they moved back to the center of the ring, where Terunofuji still looked, to me, draped and lame, whereas Hakuho looked tense as a spring and very, very capable--but not springing. Why? Then, Terunofuji did a second charge and Hakuho sort of floppily went out. Terunofuji kachi-koshi! Hakuho even less of a danger to Kisenosato's yusho hopes! The crowd was delighted. And my day was over.

So, there are some atmospherics from a day at the reals. As I put my shoes on and the crowd thinned out, I was just about to do the same. But here's your leaderboard first:

11-1: Kakuryu
10-2: Harumafuji, Kisenosato, Ishiura
9-3: Hakuho, Goeido (Yokozuna apocalypse, still alive!), Shodai (hometown rep)

As I walked out of the venue, I passed by three young women. "Tanoshikatta! Katta shi!" Said one of them: "That was fun! And we won!" Wait, who won? Yes, everybody's a winner at the sumos.

Mike sighs for Nagahama Ramen tomorrow.

Day 11 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The intro to my day 9 report focused on the fact that the three Yokozuna were firmly entrenched at the top of the leaderboard, and Terunofuji was once again establishing himself as a major force. Coupled with that, you had the two major story lines heading into the basho of Goeido's quest for Yokozuna and Takayasu's Ozeki candidacy having faded like a fart in the wind, and so what was going to keep things interesting down the stretch for the Japanese fans? I think the answer to that question also helps to explain a graphic that NHK introduced on day 9 or somewhere around there. It had to to with the number of exhibition tournament days going back the last five years, and the results of the chart were as follows:

Number of Exhibition Days

2012: 29 Days
2013: 26 Days
2014: 37 Days
2015: 64 Days
2016: 75 Days

For those new to Exhibition tournaments, the Sumo Association will often tour the more remote areas of Japan before and after major tournaments in an effort to promote itself. A typical exhibition (called jungyo) will last a day, but in some cases a city could hold an event over two days. The key to a successful jungyo is to have a sponsor willing to bear some of the cost and help with the logistics. Jungyo are a great way for the Association to generate money and also broaden its reach to the masses in general.

Typical events at a jungyo are practice sessions in front of the fans, chibi-sumo where they'll bring in elementary school age kids from a local sumo club to fight against some of the main guys, and then there's usually some kind of win-and-move-on tournament to cap the day. The key to an exhibition is not to get anyone injured, and so there's a term called "hana-sumo," or flower sumo, that is used to refer to the rikishi letting up and taking it easy in the ring. These days, we also refer to flower sumo as hon-basho, but that's beside the point.

The results of an exhibition tournament never count towards a rikishi's rank because no one is really going full out anyway, and it's possible to script outcomes in certain cases. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar, but the entire point of why I'm bringing this up is to consider why there has been such a rapid increase in exhibitions the past few years.

Coming off of the gambling scandal and yaocho scandal in 2010 and 2011, the exhibitions understandably dried up completely, but they started holding them again in 2012, and you can see from the chart above just how popular sumo has become since then. In fact, ticket sales, attendance, and the number of exhibitions are now reaching numbers last seen when the Hanada brothers were both prominent rikishi in the mid-90's.

So, to what can we attribute the rise in popularity again? The answer is of course proper marketing of Japanese rikishi. You had Endoh make his Makuuchi debut late in 2013, and having him around probably accounted for most the increase in the number of exhibitions from 2013 to 2014. You then had Goeido promoted to Ozeki in 2014. Kisenosato has been up for Yokozuna promotion probably five times in his career. And now we've had the surprise yusho from Kotoshogiku and Goeido this year. Along with those topics, you have new guys being hyped like Shodai and Mitakeumi, and it's all in an effort to keep the Japanese public interested in the local rikishi.

The Japanese fans are not interested in Japanese rikishi. They're interested in successful Japanese rikishi, especially when the top of the banzuke is dominated by Mongolians, and when Japanese rikishi can't be successful against their Mongolian counterparts straight up in the ring, then adjustments are made to give the appearance of such parity.

Consider this. With Kisenosato's..uh..defeat of Hakuho a few days ago, I saw the headline plastered everywhere that Hakuho would not be able to defend his title of most wins in the calendar year for the first time in ten years. It's kind of a meaningless stat, but it's one that comes up every year in the fall: what rikishi posted the most wins during the calendar year?

Hakuho has dominated the category for a decade, and at sumo's lowest point in popularity, the dude finished a year with a record 86 wins. I argue that he's capable of average 89 wins per year, but we all know that ain't gonna happen. So, with Hakuho out of the running for most wins in 2016, wanna take a guess whose in first place?

This is how it shapes up at the end of day 10:

Harumafuji 65
Kisenosato 65
Hakuho 59
Goeido 53
Kakuryu 53

There you have the three Yokozuna and beautifully sandwiched in between are two of the Japanese Ozeki. Now, how is that made to happen? There are two factors in place. 1) The Mongolians draw back and lower the level of their sumo, and 2) certain Japanese rikishi are propped up mostly at the expense of the foreign rikishi. It goes without saying that the elite Mongolians are dropping strategic wins throughout tournaments, but what about guys like Kaisei, Tochinoshin, and Aoiyama? One guy who isn't deferring these days is Tamawashi, and look what he's been able to do.

I only point this all out because at the end of day 9, this basho had no life, but just a few days and a few strategic losses from the Mongolians later, we've got a barn-burner on our hands with Japanese rikishi conveniently right in the mix!!

The leaderboard at the beginning of the day was as follows:

10-0: Kakuryu
9-1: Harumafuji, Ishiura
8-2: Hakuho, Kisenosato, Arawashi

Let's start there and work our way in chronological order.

Up first was M10 Arawashi who needed to solve M12 Chiyootori, and before we get to the bout, you can tell how serious the Sumo Association takes supposed leaders by who they pair them with later in the basho. And for good reason because Arawashi focused on the left outer grip from the tachi-ai, but he did nothing to set that up with the inside on the other side. Furthermore, he didn't move to his left to throw Chiyootori off balance, and so Otori squared up in moro-zashi and had Arawashi so upright he forced him back and acoss before Arawashi could attempt to counter. And just like that...one less leader to worry about as Arawashi falls to 8-3 while Chiyootori improves to 6-5.

Sumotalk unfavorite, M15 Ishiura, once again resorted to a henka, today against M9 Myogiryu. Ishiura moved left at the tachi-ai grabbing the cheap left outer grip, and then he wormed his way deep to the inside before Myogiryu could even square back up. The rookie has speed for sure, but if he tried these tactics in the keiko ring back when sumo was real, he'da been whopped over the noggin' numerous times with that bamboo sword. You can tell by the pic at right that Myogiryu wasn't given a straight up fight, and the problem is when you have a guy that henkas 75% of the time, when he actually goes straight forward it's almost like a henka because you expect him to go either way. I just don't like gimmick sumo and think it has no place in the Makuuchi division. Regardless of what I think, Ishiura stays firmly on the leaderboard at 10-1 while Myogiryu falls to 6-5.

Yokozuna Harumafuji easily got the left inside against Ozeki Kotoshogiku, who could of course do nothing to counter, and HowDo didn't even bother getting anything with the right hand opting to duck under and spin the Geeku around and down with a left inside throw just like that. Harumafuji keeps pace moving to 10-1 hisself while Kotoshogiku suffers make-koshi at 3-8. Dude's gotta retire at the end of the tournament doesn't he?

Yokozuna Hakuho just toyed with Sekiwake Takayasu striking hard at the tachi-ai but backing away from yotsu-zumo whereupon a wild bout ensued with Hakuho throwing playful swipes and jabs as Takayasu looked to get to the inside. A few seconds in, Takayasu actually had the path to moro-zashi, but Hakuho just shook that off with a nice sideways tsuki and then played with the Sekwiake like a cat with a cornered mouse eventually just slapping Takayasu off balance and down. This was a good example of Hakuho making his opponent look better than he really is, and he does this all the time to keep up the narrative that things are closer than they actually are. Hakuho stays two back at 9-2 pending the outcome of Kakuryu's bout while Takayasu falls to 4-7.

In the day's final match, Yokozuna Kakuryu had the clear path to moro-zashi from the tachi-ai against Ozeki Kisenosato, but he allowed the Kid to push him away, and then Kakuryu faked as if he wanted to get back inside and actually had the path to moro-zashi again with the left arm in deep, but he backed his way into the center of the ring where Kisenosato attempted as weak of a kote-nage as you please with the right arm that of course felled the Yokozuna to the clay just like that. In reality, there was no pressure from that kote-nage attempt, and the real force was Kakuryu just diving down and putting both hands down. An easy way to tell yaocho in sumo is when the kimari-te doesn't match the position of the rikishi. So tell me...after a throw with the right hand, why is Kisenosato's hand just resting on Kakuryu's back there? A throw sends someone sideways and over not straight down to his knees. But why bother continuing to break it all down? We've seen this bad movie time and time again during Japanese Ozeki bouts, so as long as the gullible and dense accept it, we'll continue to be spoon fed this garbage. Kakuryu falls--literally--to 10-1, and don't look now but Kisenosato is only one back at 9-2.

The end result of yet another elite Mongolian taking a dive is the following predictable leaderboard:

10-1: Kakuryu, Harumafuji, Ishiura
9-2: Kisenosato, Hakuho,

Tomorrow, Ishiura gets Ikioi, which is another winnable bout. Kakuryu draws Kotoshogiku, and there's absolutely no reason for him to defer to the Ozeki, and then Harumafuji fights Kisenosato. If Harumafuji chooses to lose that one, it will be three for three with Kisenosato against the Yokozuna, and that type of pattern signals giving a yusho to the benefactor. It's too bad that we have to watch to see what rikishi will choose and not how they will perform.

In other bouts on the day, Ozeki Terunofuji put both arms in kachi-age fashion at the tachi-ai and just stood there against fellow Ozeki Goeido who managed to get the the left inside and right outer grip, and with Terunofuji just standing there like a blob, Goeido was able to force him back and across with no resistance. Obvious, obvious yaocho here as Goeido squeaks to 8-3 with yet another gift. Terunofuji's kachi-koshi will have to wait as he falls to 7-4.

Two guys who are much better than their records indicate fought today in M1 Aoiyama and Sekiwake Okinoumi, and Aoiyama charged forward not necessarily firing his tsuppari but opting to just push into Okinoumi's right torso with the left hand and keeping his gal in close with the right. Okinoumi was never able to get inside with Aoiyama barreling forward, but Aoiyama's head was down and his sumo uncharacteristic, and so at the last moment, Okinoumi was able to evade left and slap Aoiyama down by the shoulder. Watching live, it looked to me as if Aoiyama won, but they couldn't be arsed with a mono-ii giving Okinoumi the win instead. That outcome was likely Aoiyama's intention anyway given the lethargy in his sumo despite having the upper hand throughout. Like Kaisei, he's also just 1-10 while Okinoumi improves to 3-8.

M2 Kaisei secured the right arm to the inside at the tachi-ai, and Komusubi Mitakeumi simply couldn't counter. With Kaisei pressing hard chest to chest, Mitakeumi attempted to evade back and to his right, but Kaisei was right there the whole time riding Mitakeumi hard and never letting him fully execute a pull. Good yori-kiri win for Kaisei set up by winning the tachi-ai. Course fighting an overrated opponent didn't hurt either as Kaisei picks up his first win at 1-10 while Mitakeumi ain't much better at 3-8.

Komusubi Tamawashi used a light henka to his left firing a tsuki into M1 Tochiohzan's right side, but Oh absorbed it well, and as the Komusubi rushed in looking to get his tsuppari attack going, Tochiohzan slipped into moro-zashi, and Tamawashi just couldn't shake it finally trying to create separation with a pull that Tochiohzan took advantage of with some sharp shoves to the chest that sent The Mawashi flying out of the ring. No kachi-koshi yet for Tamawashi who falls to 7-4 while Tochiohzan is still alive at 4-7.

M2 Yoshikaze hit M3 Endoh hard with the right shoulder knocking Endoh back a full step from the tachi-ai, but for whatever reason, Yoshikaze moved left as if he'd been henka'd. That made me suspicious as the two eventually hooked up in the hidari-gappuri-yotsu position, but with Endoh unable to muscle his smaller opponent, Yoshikaze went for a nice left dashi-nage move that threw Endoh off balance, and Cafe was able to finish him off with that dashi-nage and right hand pushing down at the back of Endoh's head. And this [Endoh] was the same guy who dominated Hakuho in chest to chest sumo in mere seconds? As if. Endoh the not so great falls to 6-5 while Yoshikaze is only 3-8.

M3 Shodai looked to get the left arm to the inside against M8 Ikioi at the tachi-ai, but Ikioi seemed to pinch in and threaten perhaps a kote-nage, and so Shodai relented on applying any forward pressure, and a veteran like Ikioi will just eat that up every time, and he showed how by breaking free of the inside grip from Shodai and forcing his way into moro-zashi. The one mistake that Ikioi made was that he rushed his charge too much allowing Shodai to just barely attempt a counter right tsuki-otoshi at the edge, and the move caused Ikioi's right foot to actually step beyond the straw before Shodai hit the dirt. Watching live, it looked like a dominating win for Ikioi, but they called a mono-ii, reviewed the tape, and ruled it an isami-ashi loss (accidental step-out) giving Shodai the lucky win. I think they should have credited Shodai with the tsuki-otoshi here, but regardless of that, it was the kind of move that I've been waiting to see from him. The first 80% of his bout was bad for Shodai, but I'll take that ending as he picks up kachi-koshi at 8-3. Ikioi suffers the tough-luck loss after dominating this one at 7-4.

M4 Kotoyuki was way high in his tsuppari attack of M4 Chiyonokuni causing Kotoyuki's arms to slip up high, and all that did was open the path for Kuni to get the right arm inside at Kotoyuki's belt, and he immediately scored the force out win before Kotoyuki could counter with a pull. Both combatants here end the day at 4-7.

M5 Takarafuji was lackadaisical at the tachi-ai standing straight up and letting M5 Shohozan push him out of a left inside attempt. Without much fight from Takarafuji, he attempted to move laterally and go for a dumb pull, but that just allowed Shohozan to capitalize on the momentum shift and shove Takarafuji back and out with ease. Takarafuji is still winless against the Fukuoka native as both guys end the day at 6-5.

M6 Tochinoshin looked to get his left arm inside at the tachi-ai against M6 Nishikigi, who already had his left inside established, but credit the youngster for fighting the Private off forcing Tochinoshin to grab the left outer instead leaving Nishikigi in moro-zashi. Still, this bout wasn't bought and paid for, so just picture Terunofuji when he gives up moro-zashi yet tries to win, and that was Tochinoshin today applying so much pressure from the outside that Nishikigi could only move backwards. The yori-kiri came in about seven seconds, and credit Tochinoshin for using his sumo skills to pull this one out. He's rewarded with a 7-4 mark that includes a few gifts to other rikishi while Nishikigi's make-koshi is official at 3-8.

M7 Takekaze came out shoving against M7 Takanoiwa but looked to briefly lose his footing forcing his thrusts upwards, and even though he was upright and exposed, Takanoiwa couldn't react fast enough, and so Takekaze had the wherewithal to escape left, grab Takanoiwa by the side of the belt, and then swing him over and out just like that. Takanoiwa blew this one falling to 4-7 while Takekaze is a respectable 6-5.

In the why am I even covering this bout category, M13 Hidenoumi secured moro-zashi from the tachi-ai against the listless M8 Sadanoumi and went all Kotoshogiku gaburi-shoving him back and out in a few seconds. The hard-luck Hidenoumi moves to 3-8 with the win while the hapless Sadanoumi falls to 2-9.

M16 Gagamaru stood completely upright at the tachi-ai against M9 Kagayaki giving the youngster moro-zashi, and then as Kagayaki looked to apply pressure, Gagamaru stayed square even though the right kote-nage throw that would have worked was wide open. Remember, Kagayaki cannot fight when forced to move laterally, but Gagamaru was completely mukiryoku in this bought-and-paid-for bout. Both gentlemen here end the day at 5-6.

M14 Sokokurai focused on the right outer against M10 Chiyoshoma, but he actually moved right to get it forcing both rikishi to trade places in the ring and settle into hidari-yotsu where Sokokurai had the right outer grip ill-gotten as it was. From there, Sokokurai gathered his wits for a few seconds and then went for the kill in the form of an impressive tsuri-dashi where he lifted Chiyoshoma up and out from the center of the ring. It was all set up with a cheap-ish tachi-ai, but what goes around comes around for Chiyoshoma as both men end the day at 7-4.

M11 Kyokushuho and M15 Toyohibiki began with a pretty nifty display of tsuppari, but the instant Kyokushuho went for his first pull, Toyohibiki got his arm to the inside and used perfect de-ashi to make Shuho pay oshi-dashi style. Toyohibiki is still alive at 5-6 while Kyokushuho falls to 1-10.

M14 Chiyotairyu put both hands into M11 Hokutofuji's throat only to promptly go for a stupid pull, and Hokutofuji was all over that like stink to bait pushing Chiyotairyu to the side and out in seconds. The rookie improves to 7-4 while Chiyotairyu pulls himself to the brink at 4-7.

Last and probably least, M13 Ichinojo came with a lazy hari-te at the tachi-ai while M12 Daishomaru struck and moved left looking to score a cheap pull. Every time Ichinojo tried to square up, Daishomaru moved left to where on the third attempt, Daishomaru was able to push Ichinojo off balance and out without much of a fight. Complete mukiryoku sumo here from Ichinojo who falls to 6-5 while Daishomaru improves to the same mark.

Day 10 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Yes, there has been some bad sumo. Mike got a particularly bad henkarific, pull-o-matic Day 8. But I got a particularly good day 7, with lots o' hard hittin' 'n' forward movin'. And I have to say, from my perspective, this tournament has been coming up roses. Coming into today, the three best wrestlers were the three leaders: Hakuho, Harumafuji, and Kakuryu. The guy who was the fourth best rikishi for a while, Terunofuji, was on a wicked winning streak and looking like all that losing the last year may have been possum after all. One horrible storyline had wilted and died (week two!): Goeido will not be promoted to Yokozuna. A second had also decayed and rotted: Takayasu Ozeki.

Yessir, take a step back, and good wrestlers are doing well, and less good wrestlers are not. That's a good thing. Oh, I don't kid myself. Don't think the three Mongolians won't divvy up the spoils over a bowl of gristle soup. Yeah, it'll be Richard (Hakuho), Serena (Harumafuji), and Venus (Kakuryu) Williams time. But until then, I'm gonna pick corn and roll it in butter. I'm gonna drop the huskings in the mallows heap, and chew the kerns. Let's see if there are any bright ears hidden in today's midden-leavings.


O Goeido (6-3) vs. O Kotoshogiku (3-6)
All the wrestlers of consequence in this tournament were packed into the last four matches. Our lone Ozeki battle of the day was first, and Goeido had faded so fast this tournament that this match was all about Kotoshogiku. Would he get a little luster by beating the guy who horned in on his "I finally won one" limelight? Or would he lose and retire--yes, I'm serious about that: it is time, and going out against a fellow Japanese Ozeki would be appropriate. In point of fact, Kotoshogiku didn't try, and was roundly obliterated by Goeido, who got low, wrapped him up, and drove hard, oshi-dashi. And unfortunately, this did not look like a retirement bout--too planned, and Kotoshogiku's head-jerk "bow" wasn't somber enough.

Y Hakuho (8-1) vs. O Kisenosato (7-2)
Oh, crap. I just hate reporting on shumb dit like this. Hakuho's first mistake was to make a fist, hold his hand down on the right, and fall off to the side needlessly on the left off the tachi-ai while grasping at air with his left hand. His second was to put his arms way up high at the shoulders instead of going for the belt. Nevertheless, he got back in the center. His third was to try a pull. His fourth was to not drive forward hard thereafter, stop his momentum when he nearly had Kisenosato out, and, what, try to knock Kisenosato over by the head?, when he had him near the tawara. His fifth was to decline to grab the belt and do some fancy footwork that caused him to circle back to the center of the ring rather than move forward. His sixth and final was to choose not to change the line of attack by circling towards the center after Kisenosato drove him to the tawara but couldn't get him out. And so, finally, Kisenosato walked him across the straw, yori-kiri. Now, you may say I am seeing what I want to see. However, actually, I am seeing what I HATE to see. It is true that my attention was riveted on Hakuho, and that I saw and noticed nearly nothing that Kisenosato did. That is because Hakuho dictated the pace of this one, his movements were so strange they drew my attention, and because all Kisenosato really did, or had to do, was follow Hakuho around the ring (and push repeatedly at his face). Well, okay, at the end there around mistake #5 Kisenosato grabbed Hakuho by the belt with his right hand over Hakuho's left arm, and then added an inside left that sealed the win. I'll say this--with all the moving around and action, Hakuho made this one look really good--if you're into that. And really bad if you're not. Hakuho had a nice smile after this one; he knew he put on a good show.

O Terunofuji (7-2) vs. Y Kakuryu (9-0)
This was cool. Kakuryu was knocked back at the tachi-ai, but quickly recovered by sticking both hands inside for a classic moro-zashi. All you could see of him, under Terunofuji's quivering sheets of fat, were his feet and his two arms curling out around the belly and holding on to the back of the belt. Terunofuji tried to pinch down with his dual-outside kime grips, but he was standing up pretty much straight and so couldn't do much. So Terunofuji did a quick maki-kae, pulling his left arm around and sticking it inside. This was his undoing; Kakuryu was now less stifled, and with his right hand, now outside, like a guy starting a lawnmower, pulled the ripcord of Terunofuji's belt and dragged him all the way across the ring, past himself, and out, yori-kiri. I'd love to see a zensho from Kakuryu this tournament. Four days to go; will those four days start with a loss to our January 2017 champion, Kisenosato, though?

Y Harumafuji (8-1) vs. S Takayasu (4-5)
Takayasu put up a very good fight in this one. I think Harumafuji was trying to go for the nodowa neck-choke at the tachi-ai, but Takayasu forced his hands down and didn't let him in, so Harumafuji bashed him in the face a few times instead. Again to his credit, this didn't seem to phase Takayasu--he moved not a bit. So, Harumafuji was forced to duck inside and low and get Takayasu's belt. Even there, Harumafuji spent some goodly time setting up a move, and instead of a pure throw, needed to finish this one off with a soto-gake trip. Good, workmanlike win for Harumafuji here. For Takayasu, the irony is, this was Ozeki sumo. Too bad he didn't have Ozeki sumo more often against guys he could beat with it in days one through nine. Inconsistency killed the cat.


M14 Sokokurai (6-3) vs. M15 Ishiura (8-1)
Stone Ass (Ishiura) he may be, but to me he is also a limp, wet banana, because all Stone Ass did here was jump out of the way, grab his poor blundering foe from behind, and follow that guy's ass out, okuri-dashi. Never have I been so bored by a 9-1 rookie debut. Stone Ass he is, but put him on a magazine cover, not in my jo'i.

M15 Toyohibiki (3-6) vs. M13 Ichinojo (6-3)
Like mashing two spam sandwiches on Wonder Bread together and seeing if they stick. Anyway, outside and high? Ichinojo. Inside and working hard? Toyohibiki. And that spelled an easy yori-kiri win for Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki). Ichinojo put in the same amount of effort as whatever gourmet chef gave you that mangled spam sandwich for lunch.

M12 Daishomaru (5-4) vs. M13 Hidenoumi (1-8)
Here is the list of the inveterate pullers currently in the top division: Daishomaru, Chiyoshoma, and Takekaze. At night they get together to drink Schlitz around a Styrofoam 'n' polystyrene fire with their cousins from across town, the Ignominious Evaders (says that on the back of their leather jackets), Sokokurai, Arawashi, and Chiyonokuni. Takekaze is like a little god in this group. "Men," he likes to say. "Sometimes you gotta go straight up, even against the better wrestlers." Silence as the group ponders this, resentful and kinda scared. "That's how I got all the way up to where I am, M7," says Takekaze, trying to buck them up. His eyes slide over to Daishomaru. "Kid, you henka all the better guys. Its damn shameful it is, givin' us a bad name." More silence. "Well, you heard me," Takekaze says, gets up from the fire, and wanders off into the chapparal to take a leak. "Was a Sekiwake once," they hear him shout. "Komusubi! Twice!" The polystyrene crackles. The urine splatters the yucca. Daishomaru stares into the sickly green-tongued fire, stubborn and silent. "Okay, I'll go straight up today!" Daishomaru yells to the chaparral. But they all know it's just Hidenoumi today. Heh. Fine. And straight up Daishomaru goes. Pushing at the chest, he gains a few inches. Hidenoumi discovers he's not being pulled, mans up, puts a soft arm under Daishomaru's pit, lifts him, pushes him, and walks Daishomaru across the rice bags, yori-kiri. Daishomaru sighs, silently curses Takekaze under his breath. He makes his way back to the circle, sits down heavily on the upturned industrial detergent bucket again. Sighs angrily. Everybody stares at the fire. Back to pullin' for Daishomaru tomorrow.

M11 Kyokushuho (1-8) vs. M11 Hokutofuji (5-4)
My informal count (okay, totally made up anecdotal impression) is that no one has faced more evasive sumo this tournament than Kyokushuho. On the face of it, this doesn't make sense: he is injured, so why do you need trickery? However, I'll give a grudging praise to the strategy of it. These guys do generally want to win ('cept when they don't), and against an injured opponent who can't move well it is the best time to use evasion and henka. The only chance the guy has is to hope you come straight at him, grit his teeth, and try to beat you by sheer gumption off the tachi-ai, to play his match. So you take him out of that game by evading, and he's a sitting duck, immobile and unable to counter. Leastways, that's how I see it. Hokutofuji is having a great rookie tournament, full of strength and forward movement, but not every day, and this wasn't one of those days. It wasn't too bad--there was some solid contact of them mashing their faces against each other at the tachi-ai, but Hokutofuji shaded plenty to his left, then stuck a left arm inside and bulled Kyokushuho out, yori-kiri. Like taking candy from a man in a diaper.

M8 Sadanoumi (2-7) vs. M16 Gagamaru (4-5)
Mismatch. Gagamaru took the brakes off his parked-on-the-downhill bus, put his hands in Sadanoumi's face, and knocked him backwards out of the ring, oshi-dashi. It's hard to believe Sadanoumi spent four tournaments between M3 and M1 just last year, because this tournament he looks small, weak, and defenseless. So much for hometown, turf, too: this Kyushu native now has a cumulative 14-26 record in Fukuoka.

M12 Chiyootori (5-4) vs. M8 Ikioi (6-3)
I pretty much see Ikioi as a bigtime underachiever. Great sumo body, very strong, some speed, some charisma. However, he has done little but yo-yo uninspiringly up and down the banzuke: he brings very little against the elite, so I grow unimpressed by his wins when flung down to the lower ranks. Chiyootori is a guy who has settled comfortably into those lower ranks, and I like Ikioi well enough (charisma!), so I was looking for Ikioi to destroy Chiyootori here. If he is ever going to amount to something, he is going to have to mount some dominance against guys like this, convince us not to send him back to Triple A. Instead, he had a lot of trouble. Couldn't force the Oot Bird (Chiyootori) out straight away. Tried a pull and couldn't get even the unstable blubbery roundness of Chiyootori to fall down. Had a little stalemate in the center of the ring. Finally, he got Chiyootori sideways (and tired out), and was able to oshi-dashi him from there. A win's a win, but put another never-wuzzer nail in Ikioi's up-and-comer coffin.

M7 Takekaze (4-5) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (4-5)
Yes, I still love sumo. I had genuine anticipation for this one. Why? You had The Little God of the Pull, Takekaze, against the Medium Size God of the Big Tachi-ai, Chiyotairyu. How would Takekaze play it? Seemed ripe for a YUGE pull, right? (Bigly.) Or a wicked and decisive henka. But no. Takekaze had to see that coming. So he zipped up his leather jacket, shuddered a bit in the bleak dusk breeze off the flats, and walked away from the melting fire. Headed on over to the ring. "They'll see," he told himself. And he stood right up into Chiyotairyu's attack, faced it head on, stopped it, and drove Chiyotairyu out in linear fashion, oshi-dashi, proving he's the better wrestler here in so many ways. There was a tiny pull in there by Chiyotairyu, and that bit of hesitation was all The Little Pull King needed. "Daishomaru! Heh!" Takekaze muttered disdainfully to himself. "Let my little puller-and-evader posse drink their Schlitz by the fire in the scrap yard. One day they'll learn. Or not. I'm gonna go pour some Jack with the big boys at the bar. Inside." He's a mighty fine wrassler in his way, that Takekaze.

M10 Arawashi (7-2) vs. M7 Takanoiwa (4-5)
Henka! Huge one. Wide, fast and effective. Arawashi victory, hataki-komi. Arawashi went back and sat down loudly at the fire again with the boys, threw on another pile of plastic dinner trays to burn. And they all laughed heartily and grumbled happy curses at Takekaze, thinking they'd somehow gotten the better of him. Fools.

M10 Chiyoshoma (7-2) vs. M6 Tochinoshin (5-4)
If there's a guy from the Plastic Fire Club who has a chance to someday take over Takekaze's patron saint role, it is Chiyoshoma, because sometimes he fights straight up, and usually looks good when he does so. He tried it here, and hey, sometimes it will work. But not today. Tochinoshin soon contained this wiry little man, literally, as in order to shut down the frontal attack that had seen Chiyoshoma get a long arm inside on the belt, Tochinoshin had to get "kime" on him: pinch down from the outside with both arms. Once he did that it was easy enough, with his size and brawn, for this grizzly to drive Chiyoshoma out, kime-dashi. Still, go down a shot with Takekaze, Chiyoshoma. You earned one here.

M5 Shohozan (5-4) vs. M9 Kagayaki (3-6)
A chance for Darth Hozan, captain of grit, to show his quality, thought I. Kagayaki, for all his pathetic inability to show dynamism or speed or to counter, is certainly big--his looming height seems to be about the only thing going for him. But because he is so flaccid in his wrestling, I thought the ultra-bomblastic (intentionally misspelled) Shohozan would be able here to demonstrate why he's the higher ranked rikishi by simply out-willing Kagayaki with a killer oshi-dashi attack. Wrong. Kagayaki had Shohozan going back almost instantly with a concentrated volley of pushes and slaps to the face, and it was he who scored the totalist oshi-dashi win. Just when I'm ready to write him off, Kagayaki shows like this. 'Hozan didn't try very hard here, though, and certainly didn't evade. Still, let's see if Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) can continue to fly a little further away from his personal bug lamp.

M9 Myogiryu (6-3) vs. M4 Chiyonokuni (2-7)
Was it Chiyonokuni or Myogiryu who slipped out slightly to the right at the tachi-ai, causing them to slightly miss each other? Yes, it was Chiyonokuni, of course, while getting uselessly slapped in the face by Myogiryu. Didn't matter though, as they soon squared up, and Myogiryu drove Kuni hyperkinetically backward. What did matter, though, was the evasion at the stuffed bags; Chiyonokuni did a brilliant tawara's edge tsuki-otoshi momentum-upending pull down of Myogiryu while tumbling off the ring on his back himself. This whole thing was suspicious, as Myogiryu seemed to lack a certain je ne sais quoi, but sure, go inside and have a drink with Takekaze, Chiyonokuni. Your evasion was needful and lovely.

M3 Endo (5-4) vs. M6 Nishikigi (3-6)
I'm glad Nishikigi seems to be a belt-and-forward-movement guy, but he's also kind of a blah not-much, so I thought this was a good test for Endo. Could Endo dominate? No he couldn't. But he did look well here, even if it took some time. Two hands to the face, then an outside right that controlled the match, setting up a brief inside left, but really a lot of body action and a bit of mild Kotoshogiku-style gaburi action for Endo, yori-kiri win. I'm going to be optimistic and hope that injuries and a crisis of confidence were really hampering Endo; I do like what I've seen of him this tournament. He is still too small and underpowered, but he's shown solid technique and has been calm and consistent and forward moving this tournament. I'll take it.

M5 Takarafuji (5-4) vs. M3 Shodai (7-2)
The Mystery of Shodai, Part V. In our first four chapters, two nice pushes with the hands inside redeemed two lame going-backwards pull-down wins. What would today tell us about who Vanilla Softcream (Shodai) really is? Well, I think the verdict is in: he likes to get inside on the body, is not prone to henka, evasion, or pull, and is a calm wrestler with good poise and ring sense. There you are. That is who he is. Here he pulled in tight at the tachi-ai and managed to get his left arm inside and held Takarafuji by the body, not the belt. However, he spent the whole match trying to keep Takarafuji off of him on his right, and that was too defensive of a posture. Takarafuji took advantage and simply had more oomph in this one, driving Shodai out, oshi-dashi. Get ready for lots and lots of Shodai, though. He's 7-3 here in a key tournament for him, has a fairly traditional style, has room to grow as a wrestler, probably hasn't shown us his best yet, and rarely looks really bad. Let's see where this goes.

M4 Kotoyuki (3-6) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (2-7)
Kotoyuki blew Yoshikaze backwards at the tachi-ai with upsweeping arms, then tsuki-dashi'ed him out. This is Kotoyuki at his best. But his tournament has sucked, so, so what.

K Mitakeumi (2-7) vs. M1 Aoiyama (1-8)
Two guys having really bad tournaments. If I've learned who Shodai is, I've forgotten who Mitakeumi is. Except that he is hereby dubbed Bully Goat. In the other round corner, I've come down off my high on Aoiyama of three or four tournaments ago; he just doesn't bring those hissing cheeseburger blasts with his arms out often off, and looks scared and tentative too often, tournament to tournament, match to match, mukiryoku or no. So this match did not have me excited. And it lived down to that well. Aoiyama was absolutely horrible, retreating lamely, giving one half-hearted sideways swipe at the face, and being instantly oshi-dashi'ed. He looked defeated and peevish. Fine, go away.

M1 Tochiohzan (2-7) vs. S Okinoumi (2-7)
Yawn. A bit of grappling, with stiff, robotic arm movements by Okinoumi and seeking, stretching ones by Tochiohzan, which got Tochiohzan the better position and the win, oshi-dashi.

MATCH OF THE DAY: M2 Kaisei (0-9) vs. K Tamawashi (6-3)
Speaking of defeated, how about Kaisei? 0-9, wooh. Meanwhile, Tamawashi is having the best tournament of his career. He dominated Kaisei in a mean and nasty way, grabbing a suffocating neck hold on this mountain of man and never letting go, until he dropped him over backwards in the corner by the salt-basket, oshi-taoshi. I have no idea how Kaisei could be so bad this tournament, but in this match he wasn't bad… he got beat by a bad-ass. Tamawashi? You go, man.


Okay, well, I had a lot of fun today, despite Hakuho. Tomorrow's Kisenosato/Kakuryu tilt will tell us whether Kakuryu is going to run away with this tournament, with Harumafuji as possible dark horse spoiler, or make a barn-burner of it with all three Yokozuna and Kisenosato's hopes alive down the stretch. Here's them:
10-0: Kakuryu
9-1: Harumafuji, Stone Ass
8-2: Hakuho, Kisenosato

Mike tells it like it always has been tomorrow.

Day 9 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
During both of the fake Japanese yusho runs this year, Kotoshogiku and Goeido either lead wire to wire or they were at worst tied with another contender, and one thing that will not happen is a Japanese rikishi come from behind to take the yusho. So much yaocho is required to even get a Japanese rikishi to contender status, so to orchestrate a come from behind yusho is just too risky and too obvious.

With a Japanese yusho out of the question, you next look to the major storylines heading into the basho, which were Goeido's Yokozuna candidacy and Takayasu's quest for the Ozeki ranks. Both of those campaigns have now failed miserably, so what's left to keep us watching? I guess the better question is what's left to keep the Japanese fans watching? The most they can salvage now is some kind of false hope with the leaderboard because this is how things shaped up heading into the day:

8-0: Kakuryu
7-1: Hakuho, Harumafuji, Ishiura
6-2: Goeido, Kisenosato, Terunofuji, Shodai, Ikioi, Chiyoshoma, Arawashi

Ishiura is getting a bit of ink due to his record, but when is this guy not gonna henka in order to score a win? Ishiura will come away with the Kantosho for sure, but he's inconsequential in terms of the yusho, so take him out of the equation and you have the three Yokozuna planted firmly at the top with Terunofuji deciding to fight like Terunofuji. This is definitely going to be one of those basho where they should keep the yusho line low enough to keep a few Japanese dudes on the leaderboard, but there's little to get excited for down the stretch regardless of who you are.

With that said, let's focus today's report on the leaders and then a few other bouts of interest. Up first was M15 Ishiura who lined up against fellow rookie, M11 Hokutofuji. Judging these two by the content of their sumo, Hokutofuji is the better rikishi with a more promising Makuuchi career, but Ishiura's henka streak was likely on Hokutofuji's mind because he was hesitant at the tachi-ai allowing Ishiura to dive in low and tight gaining moro-zashi and just rushing his fellow rookie back and out in less than two seconds. Ishiura moves to 8-1 with the win staying high on the leaderboard, but this guy is mostly gimmick sumo as Hokutofuji falls to 5-4.

M10 Arawashi held up a bit at the tachi-ai confusing M14 Chiyotairyu, and as Tairyu moved forward, Arawashi grabbed the side of his belt with the left outer. Normally, you would dig in with the right inside, but Chiyotairyu is rather hapless when he has to make an adjustment, and he actually brought that right arm to the outside of Arawashi's left allowing the Mongolian to snuggle in tight and easily force out Chiyotairyu (4-5) from there. Arawashi moves to 7-2 technically staying on the leaderboard, but I'd like to see more linear sumo from this guy in his wins.

Credit M10 Chiyoshoma for at least charging straight on, but he was looking pull all the way against M8 Ikioi grabbing the taller Ikioi with both hands and then backing up for the offensive pulldown. If Ikioi had established anything from the tachi-ai, Chiyoshoma's ploy wouldn't have worked, but the youngster got away with it today moving to 7-2 and knocking Ikioi out of the yusho race at 6-3.

M3 Shodai kept his arms in tight against M7 Takekaze, and due to Shodai's height, Takekaze had nothing to pull, and so he began a retreat to the side, but Shodai knew it was coming and just followed his foe squarely and shoved him across the straw with little argument. Shodai actually looked impressive here moving to 7-2, but he was fighting Takekaze, who fell to 4-5 with the loss.

Ozeki Terunofuji got the firm left grip near the front of M2 Kaisei's belt, and he coupled that with the right inside position on the other side, and there was nothing Kaisei could do against Fuji The Terrible. The Ozeki's left outer was in so tight that Kaisei couldn't get his right arm in deep, and the Brasilian wasn't close to a left outer of his own, and so Terunofuji pulled his gal in close before easily dumping Kaisei to the clay with a sweet left belt throw. There ain't much prettier than Terunofuji's sumo when he tries to win, and Fuji stays on the leaderboard moving to 7-2 while Kaisei falls to 0-9. It will be interesting to see Terunofuji fight his Mongolian counterparts IF both parties decide to fight straight up.

In our Ozeki duel of the day, either Goeido or Kisenosato would be knocked off the leaderboard for good as both entered the day at 6-2. Goeido fished for something inside at the tachi-ai, but he couldn't make anything stick, and so Kisenosato moved left quickly wrapping up Goeido's right arm in kote-nage fashion throwing the Yokozuna candidate off balance while pushing him down by the head with the right hand for the three-second win. There really wasn't much to describe here, and why is it that these guys can never go chest to chest? Terunofuji showed exactly how an Ozeki should fight the bout before, but the Japanese Ozeki are incapable of o-zumo. Ever. With the loss, Goeido falls to 6-3 and is officially out of Yokozuna contention. Once again, his only hope of achieving the rank was if people let him win throughout, and it's good that they haven't because had this guy been promoted to Yokozuna, can you imagine the ugliness that would have been required to keep him at the rank?  As for Kisenosato, he improves to 7-2 and will likely be the favored Ozeki in January.

The sole leader, Yokozuna Kakuryu, stepped atop the dohyo to face Sekiwake Takayasu, and once again, Takayasu's only hope at Ozeki was if his opponents gifted him enough bouts to get there. Coming into the day at 4-4, there was no reason to let up for him here, and so Kakuryu charged forward hard getting the left inside and trying to work the right inside as well. This forced Takayasu to try and swipe the Yokozuna away from the belt, and as Takayasu backed up, Kakuryu momentarily lost his position, but he dove in and got the left outer grip, which he used to spin Takayasu around almost 180 degrees and force the Sekiwake back and across before he could square back up. Kakuryu dominated this one moving to 9-0 in the process while Takayasu falls to 4-5.

Yokozuna Harumafuji demanded the left inside position against Sekiwake Okinoumi and followed that up with the solid right belt grip all the while plowing forward with perfect de-ashi, and Okinoumi simply had no answer as the Yokozuna scored the yori-kiri win in under two seconds. You could argue that Okinoumi is one of the better Japanese rikishi if not the best right now, but this bout was a good example of just how vast the gap is between the domestic rikishi and the elite Mongolians. Good night as Harumafuji moves to a cool 8-1 while Okinoumi drops to 2-7.

In the day's final affair, Yokozuna Hakuho easily secured the right inside position against Ozeki Kotoshogiku, who complied with his own right to the inside and his chest pressing in tight attempting to keep the Yokozuna upright and away from the left outer grip. Hakuho entertained the crowd for about 15 seconds letting Kotoshogiku put up a respectable fight, but during one of the Ozeki's hapless gaburi charges, the Yokozuna finally grabbed the left outer grip and then used it to escort Kotoshogiku back and across causing the Ozeki to hop backwards on one foot the last three steps. Credit Kotoshogiku for giving it his all, but he simply couldn't budge the Yokozuna against his will, which makes any past Kotoshogiku win against Hakuho all the more laughable. Though three of the Mongolians gave up some bouts early, they are surely flexing their muscles of late and showing everyone just how dominant they are. And it's good to see. I would love more parity and competition among the elite ranks, but not at the expense of compromised bouts. Hakuho moves to 8-1 with the win, and afterwards in the funny papers, he used the term "Gaman shita," or I just endured out there implying he had to work hard to get that left outer grip. Dude is a team player for sure as Kotoshogiku falls to 3-6.

That takes care of the leaderboard after day 9, and so as we reshuffle, here's what we're looking at down the stretch:

9-0: Kakuryu
8-1: Harumafuji, Hakuho, Ishiura
7-2: Kisenosato, Terunofuji, Shodai, Chiyoshoma, Arawashi

Just having those three Japanese rikishi among the leaders will have to suffice, and I fully expect Kakuryu to drop a bout here soon just to keep things inneresting through to the finish line.

Let's conclude the day's bouts by reviewing the rest of the sanyaku rikishi. Komusubi Mitakeumi chickened out against M1 Tochiohzan henka'ing to his left, grabbing the outer grip on Oh's belt with that same left hand, and then just escorting Tochiohzan forward and out. Dirty pool here as Mitakeumi has no confidence at this level when guys don't defer to him, and as I mentioned yesterday, the agenda this basho has called for other guys to get the wins over Mitakeumi. He's just 2-7 after the grease job while Tochiohzan falls to the same mark.

And finally, Komusubi Tamawashi used a nice left tsuki into M1 Aoiyama's left side at the tachi-ai that forced Aoiyama into pull mode, but Tamawashi stayed snug the entire way forcing Aoiyama to now evade laterally, and as he did, the quicker Tamawashi caught him with some nice tsuppari before getting the right arm to the inside that sent Aoiyama upright for good and back beyond the bales. Speed won out here as Tamawashi continues to impress at 6-3 while Aoiyama falls to 1-8.

There's really nothing to say here that hasn't been said a million times before. It's all up to the Mongolians all the time, and it seems pretty clear the last few days that they are going to take this thing over.

Okay, Harvye spells me for reals tomorrow.

Day 8 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
Today's comments will be rather brief since I simply don't have the time today to go into real depth, but I'm noticing a rather disturbing pattern where the quality of sumo is consistently bad. As has been the case all basho, the broadcast for me here in the states starts late, and so I missed the M16 Gagamaru (3-5) - M13 Ichinojo (5-3) matchup that Ichinojo won by yori-kiri, but after that, this is how the day started for me:

M12 Daishomaru (4-4) henka'd to his right quickly defeating M14 Sokokurai (5-3) in one second.

M15 Ishiura (7-1) henka'd to his left grabbing the back of M11 Kyokushuho's (1-7) belt dumping him to the clay in a second.

M11 Hokutofuji (5-3) had his feet aligned at the tachi-ai and quickly went for a pull of M13 Hidenoumi (1-7), and before the pull could take effect, Hidenoumi just plopped over losing by koshi-kudake.

Things improved a bit from that point when they first showed Homa Sho Am Sweet sitting in the muko-joumen chair, and then M10 Arawashi (6-2) displayed good skill by letting M15 Toyohibiki (3-5) think he was doing well moving forward in his tsuppari attack only to have Arawashi spring the counter trap near the edge securing the right inside grip, moving right, and then using it to twist Toyohibiki down by shita-te-nage.

Still, I was four bouts in, and I had yet to see a rikishi win by moving forward. I had yet to see a rikishi win with a good tachi-ai where he established his position be it push-sumo or belt-sumo and then use proper basics to outmuscle his opponent.

It was at this point of the broadcast when they cut to the 60th anniversary vignette taking a walk down memory lane, which happened to be the final bout of the 1988 Kyushu basho where Yokozuna Chiyonofuji and Yokozuna Onokuni hooked up in migi-yotsu.  Onokuni had the left outer grip leaving Chiyonofuji the tall task of trying to get out of the pickle, and with both rikishi exerting great force, Chiyonofuji finally managed to work into moro-zashi at the edge, but Onokuni's position was just too dominant with the left hand, and he was able to force Chiyonofuji down yori-taoshi style before allowing a counter scoop throw from the Wolf knock him down first. There you had two Yokozuna in an epic matchup exerting their full power, making adjustments in the ring, and then both committing on a move at the end that would send both to the ring in photo-finish fashion.

The contrast of that bout was stunning because when was the last time we saw a bout between two Yokozuna or two Ozeki or a Yokozuna vs. an Ozeki or a Japanese Ozeki fighting anyone where the description to the previous bout would apply? We just don't see it anymore. Then, you have a start to the broadcast that I experienced today, and I just notice how badly the quality of sumo has fallen.

The reason for the decline is the overall attitude in sumo the last few years where yaocho has become more of a necessity than sound sumo, and I think it's affecting all of the rikishi top to bottom. What's a guy like Hakuho supposed to do when he feels obligated to lose to a guy like Endoh and then let up with his style generally to project the semblance of parity in the sport?  What about guys like Aoiyama and Kaisei and Tochinoshin who are clearly superior to any Japanese rikishi but who have to wallow in mediocrity time and time again only to look upwards on the banzuke and see a host of rikishi above them who aren't worthy to hold their jocks?

Then, what about the Japanese Ozeki who know that their opponents are letting up for them or even Endoh? You could tell by Endoh's reaction after beating Hakuho that he knew the Yokozuna let him win. There was no emotion or shock or adrenaline. He knew it, and everyone knew it, and I think all of the rampant yaocho is demoralizing and desensitizing everyone up and down the banzuke. Whether guys receive help or whether guys are giving help, the point is that they're not all fighting straight up, and it's taking it's toll on the quality of sumo.

Getting back to the task at hand, M9 Myogiryu (5-3) and M14 Chiyotairyu (4-4) forced us to watch them stare each other down for over a minute before Myogiryu just henka'd to his right, grabbed the back of his opponent's belt, and sent Chiyotairyu out of the ring in a second flat. See what I mean?

We finally got a decent bout where M12 Chiyootori (5-3) patiently withstood M7 Takekaze (4-4) and his light pushes at the tachi-ai before working his right arm to the inside and schooling Takekaze in a nice bout of yotsu-zumo. And while I can easily praise this bout, it leaves me wondering, "What don't I see bouts like this the majority of the time among the elite ranks of the banzuke?"

Since all good things must come to end, M10 Chiyoshoma (6-2) backed up from the tachi-ai moving right and pulled M7 Takanoiwa (3-5) down by hataki-komi in less than two seconds. You'd normally look at Chiyoshoma's 6-2 record and have praise for the kid, but how can you praise non-linear sumo? And I completely agree with Harvye and his take of Ishiura yesterday. Yeah, the rookie is off to a hot start on paper, but too many of his wins have been from cheap sumo.

We got our second decent bout of the day between M6 Nishikigi (3-5) and M9 Kagayaki (3-5), but both these two guys are too hapless to really try any tricks. Kagayaki looked to force the pace with a few tsuppari, but his footwork was sloppy allowing Nishikigi to get the right arm to the inside, and as I've already pointed out, Kagayaki has no counter moves in his arsenal, and so Nishikigi's force-out win was academic.

The crap sumo continued where M4 Chiyonokuni (2-6) henka'd to his left going for a quick kote-nage of M8 Ikioi (6-2), but thankfully it failed allowing Ikioi to quickly slap his foe down for the two-second win.

The final bout of the first half featured M3 Endoh (5-3) who easily dispatched a listless M8 Sadanoumi (2-6), who did nothing at the tachi-ai and then followed that up with a lame pull that gave Endoh the easy tsuki-dashi win. Once again, a bout of sumo where only one of the guys was trying.

The first bout of the second half featured M6 Tochinoshin vs. M3 Shodai where Shin blasted his way forward at the tachi-ai against a slow-starting Shodai but kept his arms out wide and then backed up giving Shodai hope. Shodai looked to turn the tables forcing Tochinoshin back to the edge without really maintaining a grip or really using shoves, but Shin was able to slap him down before stepping out. For whatever reason they called a mono-ii, and you can clearly see that Shodai hit down way early, but they called it a tie and declared a do-over.

In the do-over, Tochinoshin came in kachi-age position but never struck his opponent hard and then kept his arms high and wide the entire time easily gifting Shodai the inside and then staying squarely in front of the youngster as Shodai used the left inside position to force Tochinoshin back.  Look, if there's one guy who is really consistent in his style of sumo it's Tochinoshin, and I can easily see when he's letting up in the ring...something he did in both bouts today. But, the end result is a horrible mono-ii call and win for Shodai, a rikishi the Sumo Association is clearly trying to build up. He did nothing today to deserve the win. It was all gifted to him by his opponent, and so there Shodai is at 6-2 while his superior opponent gracefully falls to 4-4. And that's not to say that upsets aren't possible in sumo. They absolutely are, but this was mukiryoku sumo all the way from Tochinoshin and then major help from the judges after that first bout.

M2 Kaisei was completely half-assed at the tachi-ai against M5 Takarafuji not committing to anything and then ducking to his left as if Takarafuji had tried some sort of counter move when he didn't. The two finally hooked up in hidari-yotsu sumo, and Kaisei's long arm was right there next to Takarafuji's belt, but he never once went for the outer grip instead choosing to dig in for nearly a minute before going for a sloppy maki-kae and letting Takarafuji just push him out in the end. Regardless of whether or not Kaisei's mukiryoku sumo was intentional or not, what does this guy have to fight for other than a paycheck? He falls to 0-8 while Takarafuji moves to 4-4.

The nonsense would continue has M1 Aoiyama went through the tsuppari motions against M5 Shohozan, but there was no hissing and no de-ashi. Oh, and there was clearly no intent to win because with Shohozan doing nothing, Aoiyama grabbed his extended left arm only to execute a kote-nage where he dragged Shohozan straight into his body and tripped over his own two feet for good measure. It's funny how Shohozan can draw an oshi-taoshi win without executing a single offensive move the entire bout.  And trust me, I watched the slow motion replay.  Not one single offensive maneuver and yet Aoiyama was somehow driven back and pushed down.  This was a joke of a bout, and once again, you have the far superior rikishi in Aoiyama falling to 1-7 while homeboy Shohozan moves to 5-3.

Thankfully the only ones taking Sekiwake Takayasu's Ozeki run seriously are the media because he was exposed yet again today by M1 Tochiohzan. Takayasu could set up nothing with his tsuppari attack from the tachi-ai, and Tochiohzan just laughed that off securing moro-zashi, and he was able to force Takayasu back and out so quickly that no counter move was even possible. Tochiohzan moves to 2-6 with the win while Takayasu falls to 4-4. Unfortunately, I think more rikishi are still going to feel obligated to lose to Takayasu, and once again, upsets can happen in sumo, but shouldn't an Ozeki candidate at least be able to do something against a dude 1-6 coming in?

M4 Kotoyuki beat Ozeki Kisenosato back a few steps from the tachi-ai using his tsuppari attack, but it was as if there was a rule that he could only have two shove attempts the entire bout, and then just had to put his hands to his side.  He did absolutely nothing after that good tachi-ai just standing there letting the Ozeki push his way back into the bout, and then Kotoyuki continued to flounder a bit before just turning and stepping out of the ring before Kisenosato could deliver that lethal blow. Obvious mukiryoku sumo here on the part of Kotoyuki who falls to 2-6 while Kisenosato's record continues to be inflated at 6-2.

Ozeki Goeido was schooled at the tachi-ai by Sekiwake Okinoumi who forced his way to the left inside and was looking for moro-zashi when Goeido went for a stupid pull that resulted in the momentum of both heading towards the edge with Goeido's back facing the outside of the ring. Goeido was in deep trouble and everyone knew it including Okinoumi, so the Sekiwake just dove to the dirt not thanks to anything Goeido did, but before Okinoumi crashed down, Goeido's left heel grazed the sand beyond the bales giving Okinoumi the win. This is one of those bouts where Okinoumi let up and actually took a dive at the end, but a stupid move by Goeido shifted all the momentum against him, and he of course couldn't keep his feet in the dohyo. Regardless of what your take is on this bout in regards to anyone's intentions, did Goeido look like a Yokozuna candidate? Is getting bullied around like that by a dude 1-6 coming in something that should even happen to an Ozeki??  It's just ridiculous, but I'm ecstatic that the superior rikishi won this one as Okinoumi moves to 2-6. Goeido's run at Yokozuna is done for all intents and purposes at 6-2, and I'm kinda bummed because I was already shopping for a Moses staff online at Amazon and getting fitted for a Levite robe.

In a real bout of sumo, Ozeki Terunofuji easily got the right arm inside and left outer grip against fellow Ozeki Kotoshogiku, and Terunofuji just dragged his peer over to the bales and forced him across with ease. I like the fact that it was real, but the fact that two rikishi so far apart in everything maintain the same rank is a joke. Terunofuji is serious about keeping the rank at 6-2 while Kotoshogiku may very well retire after this basho at 3-5.

In the Yokozuna ranks, Harumafuji used a nice left paw into M2 Yoshikaze's throat to stand him completely upright before parlaying that into moro-zashi and escorting Yoshikaze out in short order. Harumafuji moves to 7-1 in the process while Yoshikaze was completely outclassed here falling to 1-7.

Yokozuna Hakuho secured the left outer from the tachi-ai against Komusubi Mitakeumi and went for the right inside, but when Mitakeumi got the right inside first, Hakuho just grabbed the outer belt on that side as well and forced Mitakeumi back and across without argument.  Mitakeumi had no answer for the Yokozuna's sumo despite actually having moro-zashi, and I think Hakuho's going to make Mitakeumi work for another year or two before he'll even consider letting up for him. The vast difference in rikishi ability was on display here as Hakuho skates to 7-1 while Mitakeumi is overwhelmed at this level finishing 1-7. The problem when you have guys giving wins to Goeido or Takayasu or the Japanese Ozeki or even Endoh in the case of Hakuho, there won't be any crumbs left for Mitakeumi.  Still, you had three guys coming into the day at 1-6 facing Takayasu, Goeido, and then Hakuho.  Just look at the difference in the three bouts.

In the day's final bout, Yokozuna Kakuryu flirted with the left inside before Komusubi Tamawashi tsuppari'ed his way out of it whereupon Kakuryu retreated slowly around the ring making the Komusubi give chase and try and catch the Yokozuna with a lethal blow. It would never come, and after a few seconds of excitement for the fans, Kakuryu got the left inside followed up by the right inside, and instead of attempting a force-out win with moro-zashi, Kakuryu just backed up causing Tamawashi to fall slowly forward and down like a stiff board. I'm not sure if that was an intentional dive or if Tamawashi thought he was done and just gave up, but I suppose an awkward ending like that was fitting for a day of overall awkward sumo.

I don't like coming on here and sounding so negative, but when you look at the 21 bouts fout today, what were the positives? I think there were maybe three bouts that were worth our snuff and two of those featured guys like Takekaze and Nishikigi.  Everything else was either fixed, bad sumo, or fiercely lopsided.  I think the overall attitude is wearing on the rikishi, and I know that it's wearing on me.

Hopefully, Harvye can lift us back up tomorrow.

Day 7 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Hakuho's been waiting to lose to Endo for a long time, so now that Endo finally looked ready to get that particular win, Hakuho let him have it. This only sharpens the drama around the true number one storyline for this tournament: will the greatest sumo wrestler of all time, Hakuho, take his 38th championship? Or will he continue his gradual stepping away? In either case, he's not going to make it look too easy.

Meanwhile, the official storyline, Goeido's Yokozuna candidacy, took a sharp blow yesterday, as Tamawashi, who is reminding me of Kakuryu circa 2011, gave him a definitive "you are NOT a Yokozuna, man," loss. However, as Mike correctly pointed out, it isn't over yet; Goeido could still win out and get it. Or lose one and get it. In reality TV world either is possible. Still, you can tell this storyline is ill, and that the doctors are more likely to shake their heads in the corridor and let nature take its course than prescribe bushels full of drugs that will only prop the dying up for so long anyway.

Other storylines developing? Sure. There is Tamawashi, who has been passing Mike's eyeball test with hard-hitting, gritty sumo for several basho now. There is Endo, who has looked better than at any previous point since his first few tournaments in Makuuchi, and is being prepped for a Goeido-esque role. There is Terunofuji, who seems to have suddenly returned from the dead. Sure would be good to have him back, but I still think we're looking at a likely frustrating and inconsistent 8-7 finish. There are Kotoshogiku and Takayasu; I thought the former was being readied for retirement, to be replaced by the latter, but sadly it looks like Kotoshogiku may be allowed to hang on for a few tournaments (or, god forbid, another year or two, like Kaio's horrible denouement), while fortunately the Takayasu balloon looks well popped. There is rookie Hokutofuji--I have to say, this guy is looking kind of exciting. Good size, good focus, moves forward well. And there is one more important storyline I'm deliberately leaving out, because I keep forgetting it myself, and because its protagonist is always so hard to remember. Can you spot it?

M14 Sokokurai (5-1) vs. M16 Gagamaru (2-4)
Sokokurai jumped to the side weakly and wrapped his arms around Gagamaru's upper body, like giving him a hug. About as bad a tachi-ai as you can see. Gagamaru gratefully went inside and drove him out, yori-kiri.

M12 Daishomaru (2-4) vs. M15 Toyohibiki (3-3)
Daishomaru is an accomplished puller, and he backed up skillfully here and pulled Toyohibiki down by the head, tsuki-otoshi. An obvious strategy to use and win at when facing Kerosene Burp (Toyohibiki).

M12 Chiyootori (4-2) vs. M11 Hokutofuji (3-3)
Heads bumped each other hard here, and Hokutofuji drove Chiyootori back with a powerful, bent over attack. However, he almost learned a hard lesson: when he got big ol' Chiyootori to the tawara, he decided it would be easier to pull this round clot down than try to get him over the tawara. Well, maybe, but Chiyootori knew it was coming, survived the pull, and drove forward in his own right. Fortunately, Hokutofuji recovered from his temporary insanity, turned the momentum back in his favor by pivoting at the center, and drove Chiyootori out for good, oshi-dashi, now wisely eschewing the pull. Another good looking win for the rookie.

M11 Kyokushuho (1-5) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (3-3)
This was Chiyotairyu at his very best, driving forward with his feet and feasting on Kyokushuho with wicked tsuppari to the face. Kyokushuho had no answer and was tsuki-dashi'ed out in an instant. Granted, with his injury Kyokushuho is much like a practice dummy, but it was fun to get a chance to see what Chiyotairyu can do when all gears click.

M10 Chiyoshoma (5-1) vs. M15 Ishiura (5-1)
So why am I listing Hokutofuji, coming in at 3-3, as a storyline, and not Ishiura at 5-1? I just haven't seen it with Ishiura so far. The first day I reported on him he was destroyed by an M14. The second he henka'ed. The third he fought great, but. And there is the size... I had my peepers peeped today, though, especially against a guy like Chiyoshoma, who is a bag of tricks but, interestingly, has quite some wiry strength when he dispenses with the shullbit and fights reg'lar like. Chiyoshoma tried to tsuppari up high--props on the straight-ahead--but Ishiura cleverly ducked underneath once (didn't work), twice (gotcha!) and Chiyoshoma was completely helpless from there. Ishiura had his left hand all the way around on the left side of the back of Chiyoshoma's belt, and with his right hand grabbed Chiyoshoma around the right knee. A pretzel of sorts. This yori-kiri win was well done by Ishiura, and I am warming to Sexy Moustache, but I still think he's too small to make a real impact. Meanwhile, does Ishi-ura mean pre-Ura? Is he the ducking-low, speedy little Ura before the Ura? Actually, "Ishi-Ura" could be "Stone Ass." Let's go with that. Stone Ass.

M9 Myogiryu (3-3) vs. M13 Hidenoumi (1-5)
Excellent fight. Myogiryu hit Bright Wildebeest Ass (Hidenoumi) so hard off the tachi-ai I thought he might knock him down. Not so, but it did get Myogiryu a nice, deep inside right. Credit to the Wildebeest, though, as he did a good job of spinning the line so that he wasn't facing the tawara when Myogiryu drove him close. Myogiryu responded with a good, angry spin of his own, and it was on. The battle of wills went awhile, drawing deserved applause. Myogiryu then showed us excellent stamina and determination: though the Wildebeest is bigger, Myogiryu was the one who did not tire, and manned up at the end to lift Hidenoumi up by the holds he had on him, especially a tight, devastating outer left, and walked Wildebeest over the tawara, yori-kiri. Pretty much always good for a good fight, our Myog'.

M8 Sadanoumi (2-4) vs. M13 Ichinojo (3-3)
Pretty easy stuff for The Mongolith (Ichinojo). Sadanoumi was burrowed in underneath and driving him forward, but Sadanoumi is just not strong enough to push out the Iron Blob of Gravity Grease, and just not big enough to reach down and get his belt. Literally. For all that forward moving, all Ichinojo had to do was bend down a bit, keeping his can back, and that kept Sadanoumi unable to reach his belt. Physically impossible: it was too far away for his arms. Then it was a simple--but still kind of awesome--matter to smother Sadanoumi clear across the dohyo and into an ignominious yori-kiri defeat.

M8 Ikioi (5-1) vs. M6 Tochinoshin (3-3)
Another great, manful match here. You could see Tochinoshin wanted this one by the quiver in his muscles, the tension is his one leg back, one leg forward stance, the way he worked hard with an outer left grip, hand like an eagle claw. Ikioi had belt too, but it was unraveling, and Tochinoshin drove so powerfully with those mammalian thighs that he quickly earned the powerful yori-kiri win. Okay, I still love sumo.

M6 Nishikigi (2-4) vs. M10 Arawashi (4-2)
Arawashi dumped so much salt he had a little pile of it on the front of his mawashi. He looked like he was trying to knock it off with repeated blows to the side of his belt, staring at it, but eventually he just left it, and it disappeared into the folds of his belly as he crouched down at the tachi-ai. Could that be some winning magic? Sour salt belly? For this was another great match. Much like Ichinojo and Tochinoshin before him, Arawashi won this with classic form. He keep those feet far apart, stretched himself far forward to get a good grip on the belt, and held on. Eventually he decided to use that inside grip on the left to bring Nishikigi to heel: he began to pull, pull, pull, in a lifting way, twisting their line around; while this brought him close to the tawara, it also worked; in the end he slung Nishikigi's body around him like an ole! cape flourish at a bull-fight--a beautiful shita-te-nage win.

Hey! This is fun! This throw followed four yori-kiri in a row, which were preceded by a tsuki-dashi. Daishomaru was the only backward-moving blot on a day of eight forward-moving kimari-te thus far.

M9 Kagayaki (2-4) vs. M5 Takarafuji (3-3)
Basically, neither guy could finish. Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) did a nice job of bashing Takarafuji upward on the tachi-ai, then capitalizing on that by driving him even further back with a neck-thrust. However, once he bodied up and tried to push him out, he didn't have the oomph, and these two veered around the ring here and there for a bit. Fortunately for Kagayaki, Takarafuji couldn't or wouldn't take advantage either--his hand slipped off a grip, he did not take advantage of a momentum change--and when Takarafuji left himself vulnerable by not keeping close enough--seemed to be holding back an arm--Mosquito used the other arm and twisted Takarafuji down, kote-nage. Well, you can't win
'em all (as a fan).

M5 Shohozan (3-3) vs. M7 Takanoiwa (3-3)
Nice double-armed face blast off the tachi-ai by Darth Hozan to start this one off and get it into the other guy's half of the dohyo. Once there, Takanoiwa deployed a wise diagonal defensive stance that delayed things for a moment, but Hozan's hold on the belt on the left was so strong, his arm bent so far, that the hold was only a few inches from his own face. So, after peering at the hold over Takanoiwa's beefy shoulder for a few moments, Shohozan used that grip to spin Takanoiwa around, put his other hand on Takanoiwa's head, and ram Takanoiwa into the dirt, uwate-nage. Another excellent looking win.

M7 Takekaze (3-3) vs. M4 Chiyonokuni (2-4)
Now we'd see some pulling, of course. Takekaze feinted convincingly forward off the tachi-ai while simultaneously drawing his arms up high to pull; it was smooth as glass, accompanied by a little hop to the side. Chiyonokuni didn't fall down immediately, but Takekaze followed his stumbling foe and pushed him down for good, hataki-komi, like a bad guy in a movie killing some innocent.

M1 Tochiohzan (0-6) vs. M4 Kotoyuki (2-4)
You know, Kotoyuki reminds me to Toyohibiki. There is very good momentum at first, and his tsuppari attack is powerful, but once his momentum stops he is pretty easy to beat, and he is prone to embarrassing losses of control at the tawara when evaded. He tsuppari'ed gamely at the beginning against Tochiohzan, couldn't finish it, and back to the center of the ring they came as Kotoyuki tried a little pull. Smartly, Kotoyuki gamely went at it again, and again drove Tochiohzan back, but at the tawara Tochiohzan evaded to the side and Kotoyuki flopped and shot past and off the dohyo, aborted cannonblast ducksnort, tsuki-otoshi.

K Tamawashi (4-2) vs. S Okinoumi (1-5)
Wow. Simply put, Tamawashi drove forward and easily pushed Okinoumi out, oshi-dashi. A little neck hold, a little bit of shoving, and a whole lot of de-ashi, and another impressive win. Although I compared him to Kakuryu in the intro, I by no means think he is future Yokozuna (he's been in Makuuchi eight years plus and is already 32, whereas when Kakuryu tore it up on the way to Ozeki in 2011 he was turning 26). But Mike has it right when he says if a Japanese wrestler had this skill set he'd be an Ozeki.

M3 Shodai (4-2) vs. O Kisenosato (5-1)
The Mystery of Shodai, part IV! In our first two episodes, we saw lame wins off of retreating pulls. In our more exciting third chapter, Shodai put in a nice effort with both arms inside. Here, he did the same, with his left arm sticking out under the pit and appearing to be his controlling side, but probably more important, on the right he was using his forearm to put pressure on Kisenosato's belly, keeping Kisenosato from getting anything going there. With that accomplished, Shodai pivoted and used his position on the left to spin and drive Kisenosato out, oshi-dashi. About a month ago on FightBox I said one of these two guys is your likely next Yokozuna, unbelievably enough. That is not because either of them has shown a Yokozuna skill set, but because with the skills they do have, they are the best positioned to assume that much anticipated position for political reasons, and then go on a short run (Kisenosato) or a long one (Shodai). But we still don't have an answer to my "who is Shodai?" question yet. We are beginning to get a glimmer. In the four bouts I've reported on, Vanilla Softcream has been calm and avoided excess movement in all four. He took advantage of mistakes in two. In the other two he displayed solid inside technique and scored solid if boring wins. He is 5-2. Could that kind of skill set and results develop into a yokozuna over time? In this environment, yes it could.

O Goeido (5-1) vs. M2 Kaisei (0-6)
Kaisei did not want to win here. He had Goeido dead to rights twice in this active belt-and-body affair. The first time Kaisei gave a lurch that pretended to be "I'm pushing you out!", but he lurched to the side, not forward. The second time, he simply stopped, letting Goeido recover. Then he stood in the center of the ring and let Goeido sling him down from the side, off balance and tippy, maki-otoshi. Broken record time: the Yokozuna Goeido storyline dies in the second week, not the first.

M1 Aoiyama (1-5) vs. O Terunofuji (4-2)
Way too easy for Terunofuji. Instead of using his arms, Aoiyama went for repeated headbutts. After a pause with some separation in which Aoiyama stupidly did not bring out the meatclobbers, and actually took time to wipe his nose (I am not making that up), Terunofuji just squared him up, grabbed his belt, and drove him out, yori-kiri.

O Kotoshogiku (3-3) vs. S Takayasu (3-3)
Like Mike, I don't dislike Takayasu, I just dislike his Ozeki run. Let him establish some excitement in his bouts by showing dominance and I'll get on the bandwagon. For him, I think that would probably mean a combination of Chiyotaikai-style wicked tsuppari and a bit of aggressive body bumping mixed in. Unfortunately, he is one of those guys whose winning techniques are all over the board: yori-kiri is tops with 20%, dwarfed by "other" at 50%. In short, he has no style. Well, here was a chance for him to destroy someone. If you're an Ozeki, show it here and destroy a fading Ozeki with some signature forward moving sumo. Instead, Takayasu looked like he was going to lose, grabbing hold of Kotoshogiku but then not doing much, getting gabburu'ed back. Then, right at the tawara he stepped to the side and pushed Kotoshogiku very easily down, as if it were planned all along, tsuki-otoshi. This, dear reader, should not be Ozeki sumo. If this was a battle between an outgoing and an incoming Ozeki, well, it's not a good advertisement for the rank.

Y Hakuho (5-1) vs. M1 Yoshikaze (1-5)
Hakuho is enjoying playing the villain a bit again this tournament. Essentially fifth pull in six wins here. Hakuho henka'ed and ushered Yoshikaze with an encouraging pull-along by the back of the belt. Yoshikaze of course looked silly going by like a little Shinkansen; Yoshikaze didn't run all the way out, though, so Hakuho came over and tapped him the rest of the way, okuri-dashi. It is all literally too easy for Hakuho--too easy to be much fun, too easy for him to be much engaged.

M3 Endo (4-2) vs. Y Kakuryu (6-0)
Oh, boy--would it be Harumafuji's "hoist him upon my petard," or Hakuho's "wimp wiggle 'n lose"? A combination of both, actually. Good head-butt on the tachi-ai, but then a kind of lame match where The Invisible Yokozuna, Kakuryu, retreated and evaded, punched and pulled at Endo's head, and spilled the over-eager beaver to the clay, tsuki-otoshi. Essentially too easy as well.

Y Harumafuji (5-1) vs. K Mitakeumi (1-5)
Good stuff here. Harumafuji intended to win, and employed a lightning quick, evasive tachi-ai that got him a dominant left outer belt grip around on the back. He then tried to spin and sling Mitakeumi out, but it didn't work. Twice. Impressive resistance from the young Mountain Goat (Mitakeumi). Harumafuji was then forced to square up and grab an additional inside right--and his first charge on that also failed. However, immediately thereafter, a spent Mitakeumi stood up and gave up. Three strikes and he was out--of gas. Yori-kiri was academic.

So that's it for today. And the storyline I skipped, of course, is that Kakuryu, in his boring but efficient way, quietly remains the sole leader, and is very capable of taking home the trophy.

Mike lines up the stories tomorrow.

Day 6 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
After five days' worth of bouts, you'd have to say that the two biggest stories of interest were the same two we had prior to the basho: 1) Goeido's quest for the Yokozuna rank, and 2) Takayasu's quest for Ozeki promotion. Reviewing the politics behind those two runs has been beaten like a dead horse 'round these parts, so I go back to the eyeball argument I've posed for several basho now. Does Goeido look like a Yokozuna? Do you see substance in his sumo that leads you to believe he's fighting at the level of a Yokozuna? Has Goeido ever looked like a Yokozuna, not to mention an Ozeki? The answer to those questions are an emphatic no, no, and no.

As for Takayasu, I'd pose the same questions. Does he look like an Ozeki, and can you see any substance to his sumo? At all?? I think that Goeido in his prime and Takayasu now were/are rikishi capable of reaching the sanyaku and even having success there from time to time, but neither dude is a sanyaku mainstay. I suppose it was fitting then that we did have a sanyaku mainstay as part of the broadcast today in Wakanosato, and with Don Sato, he fought like an Ozeki for the most part; you could easily define his style of sumo; and the dude had serious substance to the content of his sumo. Don was a victim of a tough banzuke and an environment where yaocho didn't play a prevalent role in sumo, but that dude looked like an Ozeki. He had serious game, and you could just see that he was a playuh.

Goeido and Takayasu, however, pale in comparison to Wakanosato. If you really want to get old school--at least for me, take a guy like Akinoshima, who like Wakanosato was a sanyaku mainstay and threatened the Ozeki rank numerous times but was the victim of a banzuke tough as nails and never received the benefit of bout fixing. Take a guy like Kaio who was a fantastic Ozeki in his prime and fought like a Yokozuna most of the time. With those guys, you could see it. With Goeido and Takayasu, there's just no substance to their sumo.

As we look towards the day 6 bouts, I'll start off with the M12 Daishomaru - M15 Ishiura contest (the broadcast started late for me again and I missed M13 Ichinojo's defeating M14 Chiyotairyu by yori-kiri). But before we get to that bout, let's consider M15 Ishiura. Is there substance to his sumo? Can you go back and watch his bouts so far this basho and define a style? Is there substance to his wins? I would easily answer yes to all three, and today the kid used his speed yet again to get to the inside of Daishomaru at the tachi-ai shading left and getting his left hand planted firmly against Daishomaru's belt. Burrowed in deep with the right as well, Ishiura wasted no time in twisting Daishomaru down with the left belt grip and a swipe up into Daishomaru's left shoulder with the right hand giving the appearance of a maki-otoshi win. They ruled it shitate-hineri in the end, but a win is a win as Ishiura skates to 5-1 while Daishomaru falls to 2-4.

M14 Sokokurai was too nonchalant at the tachi-ai allowing M12 Chiyootori to get in nice and snug with the left inside and then the right. With Chiyootori so low, Sokokurai's only option was to move laterally and counter with a pull or a tsuki, but Chiyootori was a bulldog eventually working his way into moro-zashi and scoring the force-out win from there. Sokokurai gave this one away at the tachi-ai, and he suffers his first loss'a the basho as a result falling to 5-1. Chiyootori ain't too shabby himself at 4-2.

M11 Kyokushuho got the right inside at the tachi-ai and also managed the easy left outer grip against M13 Hidenoumi, who isn't great in a belt fight, and it showed here as Shuho easily lifted HeGonnaKillMe upright with the outer grip and escorted him over and out. Just how they write it up as Kyokushuho picks up his first win leaving both dudes at 1-5.

M16 Gagamaru and M11 Hokutofuji traded slow, ham shoves to each others' throats from the tachi-ai, and Gagamaru drove the rookie back a step, but Hokutofuji pushed up well into Gagamaru's extended arms frustrating the Georgian into a quick pull attempt, and at that moment, Hokutofuji got the left inside and immediately drove Gagamaru back and out oshi-dashi style. Another great win for Hokutofuji who moves to 3-3, and like Ishiura, there's substance to this guy's sumo. Gagamaru falls to 2-4 with the loss.

M15 Toyohibiki enjoyed his usual quick start against M9 Kagayaki shoving his foe up high and knocking him back a step to the point where he was able to get the left arm to the inside, and from there he went for the kill easily driving Kagayaki back and across without argument. Kagayaki may have his moments in this sport, but the kid cant' counter worth a crap. Toyohibiki moves to 3-3 while Kagayaki falls to 2-4.

M7 Takekaze and M10 Arawashi struck head on, and Takekaze actually had both arms slightly to the inside, but this guy doesn't know straight up sumo and looked hesitant, so Arawashi planted his right leg and executed a nifty kote-nage throw with the right that sent Takekaze over and down just like that. Arawashi improves to 4-2 with the win while Takekaze's quick start has officially cooled at 3-3.

At this point of the broadcast, they took the customary trip down memory lane as NHK has been celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Kyushu basho. Today's vignette focused on Chiyonofuji, who picked up his third career yusho in Kyushu and would go on to win the next seven Kyushu tournaments after that. Dayum, you watch some of the replays of this guy fighting, and two thoughts come to mind: they don't make 'em like that anymore, and Chiyonofuji and Asashoryu were so similar. Those were personalities who could carry the sport on their shoulders, and even with Asashoryu who was generally disliked by the Japanese people, you still had to watch him.

Moving right along, M6 Nishikigi was a day late and hyaku-en short at the tachi-ai allowing M10 Chiyoshoma to shove him up high and then come away with the left inside position and right outer grip. Nishikigi used his size well to counter with his deep inside left position, however, and he had a chance to turn the tables in this one, and Chiyoshoma knew it, and so the Mongolian threw a wrinkle into the bout by slipping his left leg to the inside of Nishikigi's right using it brilliantly to trip Nishikigi off balance and down near the edge. This was pretty good stuff from Chiyoshoma who moves to 5-1, but the dude has enough crap sumo in his arsenal that I'm yet to get a stiffie over him. As for Nishikigi, he falls to 2-4. The line of the basho so far came yesterday during the Chiyoshoma - Arawashi matchup. As they were showing the replays, Kitanofuji was trying to make some comments, but he had no idea who was who, and so he finally gave up and honestly said, "I still can't tell which one is which between these two."

M6 Tochinoshin executed an ugly tachi-ai staying upright and kind of dancing left offering a weak left hari-te and right kachi-age against M8 Sadanoumi. The two rikishi ended up in migi-yotsu where Sadanoumi had the left outer grip, and he immediately drove Tochinoshin back to the edge and then went air born with both legs as he tried to work Shin's mass across the bales. Tochinoshin just played along though and stayed square waiting for Sadanoumi to land, and once he did, he made the easy yori-kiri official from there. I knew from the tachi-ai that Tochinoshin was mukiryoku here, and when he never dug in nor attempted a counter move at the edge--especially with Sadanoumi's terrible footwork, it was obvious. You have a local who is obviously struggling, and so they gave him the win today over a formidable opponent to save a bit of face. Sadanoumi limps to 2-4 with the gift while Tochinoshin will enjoy a night in Nakasu on Sadanoumi's dime falling to 3-3.

M8 Ikioi has flown under the radar so far this basho fighting well, so I was worried that he would be obligated against M5 Shohozan. Thankfully he wasn't as Ikioi adjusted well to Shohozan's shading left at the tachi-ai where the two engaged in a stalemate tsuppari-ai for a few seconds before Ikioi threatened the left to the inside leading Shohozan to retreat a bit, but Ikioi was on that move using his length to force Shohozan against the straw and across in a decent oshi-dashi win. While Ikioi's sumo hasn't been in your face, his record is as he moves to 5-1. Shohozan falls to 3-3.

M9 Myogiryu smashed into M5 Takarafuji hard at the tachi-ai keeping him from getting anything to the inside straightway, and Myogiryu stayed low applying nice upwards pressure to keep Takarafuji upright and frustrated. Unable to dig in and go forward, Takarafuji sorta flirted with a left kote-nage, but his pivot was slow allowing Myogiryu to stay square and take advantage of the momentum shift easily forcing Takarafuji out in the end. Both fellas here end the day tied at 3-3.

M4 Kotoyuki came with his usual moro-te-zuki at the tachi-ai driving M7 Takanoiwa back to the edge, but the tsuppari were more arms than they were legs, and so Takanoiwa was able to persist and duck his way to the inside, and once that happens to Kotoyuki, he starts looking pull, and so Takanoiwa was able to turn the tables and push Yuki all the way back across and out for the nice comeback win. Takanoiwa moves to 3-3 in the process while Kotoyuki hasn't done shat since that fake 12-3 record he was gifted at the Hatsu basho this year.

M2 Kaisei managed the shallow right arm at the tachi-ai against M4 Chiyonokuni and even briefly got the left outside, but he just let it go for whatever reason and allowed Chiyonokuni to scoot right and pull Kaisei forward and out with ease. This one didn't look right, especially after Kaisei got the left outer grip, and even after watching the replays, there was nothing there that would have warranted Kaisei's losing that outer grip, so I can easily declare that the Brasilian was mukiryoku here. Not sure if it was intentional or not, but it was horrible sumo. And the thing was...Chiyonokuni's sumo was even worse leading to an awful bout all around. Kaisei falls to 0-6 with the result while Chiyonokuni is just 2-4.

Sekiwake Takayasu and M1 Aoiyama hooked up in migi-yotsu from the start of this one, and while Takayasu had the left outer grip, he wasn't established properly to the right inside, and so couple that with Aoiyama's beef, and Takayasu had his hands full. It was clear from the start that he was having trouble working Aoiyama around, and Aoiyama countered nicely with a left tsuki to the side keeping Takayasu off balance, and after a ten second stalemate or so, Takayasu took his chances driving Aoiyama to the edge, but Aoiyama countered with a nice right scoop throw that looked to send Takayasu out of the ring. The ref signaled Aoiyama's way, and I thought Aoyama won watching live, but they immediately called a mono-ii and without even showing a replay declared a do-over.

As the two were warming up for the second go-around, they finally did show a replay, and the do-over looked to be the correct call. After reloading, Aoiyama next resorted to his hissing tsuppari knocking Takayasu upright and keeping him off balance the entire way. At one point, Aoiyama went for a dumb pull, but Takayasu was too gassed to take advantage, and so Aoiyama kept up the tsuppari pressure and just drove Takayasu over and down with his relentless thrust attack. And to think that a winless Aoiyama coming in just defeated an Ozeki candidate. Takayasu falls to 3-3 with the drubbing, and let's hope that this ends any nonsense regarding Ozeki promotion. And I like Takayasu and always have, but I will call a spade a spade every time. During both bouts between Takayasu and Aoiyama, some dude with Tourettes was in the was doing his best impression of a fire alarm screaming "woop," "woop," "woop," over and over. I had to pause the TV and make sure that nothing was burning in my house just to make sure.

If there's one guy whose proved a spoiler of late, it's been Komusubi Tamawashi, and there was a reason why Harvye hinted yesterday that Ozeki Goeido could be in trouble here because Tamawashi was actually out to win. The Komusubi first rammed his head straight into Goeido's noggin' at the tachi-ai, and then he forced the hapless Ozeki back quickly with a nice oshi attack, and Goeido was so close to stepping out that Tamawashi actually just stopped mid-bout waiting for the call. Goeido looked a bit confused as well, but the bout was still on, and so Goeido rushed back in as Tamawashi shaded right firing counter left tsuki shoves into Goeido's side. Goeido is simply unable to dictate the pace in a bout unless his opponent lets him do it, and Tamawashi wasn't gonna let him here, so near the edge, he finally felled the Faux-zeki down to the dirt with a final tsuki using the left hand that pushed Goeido into a faceplant just beyond the straw.

You could just hear the wooshing sound as all of the air went out of the basho after Goeido's loss, and it reminded me of Hillary Clinton's campaign headquarters the night of the presidential election when it was clear that she was gonna lose. I mean, there was no life in the Kokusai Center after this one, and it was simply a matter of Tamawashi choosing to win as he moved to 4-2 in the process. Remember last basho when Endoh was in the yusho race, and they gave him Tamawashi on day 11, and the Mongolian just came out and kicked Endoh's ass? Well, it was the same premise here. Harvye was suspicious yesterday that Tamawashi might try and win, and sure enough he did. And thankfully so. All I want is straight up sumo, and we got it today as Tamawashi improved to 4-2 while Goeido suffers his first loss of the tournament at 5-1. Look, this loss was meaningless in terms of Goeido's Yokozuna candidacy. They'll give it to him even at 13-2, so he can still lose another and be okay. Goeido is at the mercy of his opponent's anyway, so it's not a matter of can he reach 13 or 14 wins? It's a matter of will any of his future opponents choose to spoil the party?

Before we move on, I want to revisit my take on Tamawashi posted in my Aki post-basho report because he's been the perfect barometer this basho in terms of illustrating the wide gap between the Japanese rikishi a supposedly mediocre guy like Tamawashi:

"Scanning the Maegashira rikishi, I think the rikishi who stood out to me most this basho was M6 Tamawashi. The dude finished 10-5 despite giving up a few bouts himself to Japanese rikishi not the least of which was Goeido on day 14, but I felt that this guy was the perfect barometer from the rank and file to use as a baseline to determine just how good the Japanese rikishi really are. I thought Tamawashi fought better in Aki than any other Japanese rikishi on the banzuke. His style is easily defined, and he manhandled the majority of his foes in the straight up bouts. It's hard to declare that Tamawashi is better than any other rikishi Japan can produce, but it's only hard to declare that because we have so much yaocho skewing the landscape in favor of the Japanese rikishi. Let's put it this way: if a Japanese rikishi had the skills of Tamawashi, he'd be an Ozeki."

It's been so nice the last few days to have Terunofuji back to his old self (as we'd say in Utah, "He's finally hisself again"). The Ozeki gave up moro-zashi at the tachi-ai against M1 Tochiohzan, but the Ozeki just dug in as he is always able to do using his brute strength to shake off moro-zashi and get his left arm to the inside, and from there, Fuji the Terrible just bullied Tochiohzan this way and that and then ultimately out with the nice yori-kiri win. Early on, Tochiohzan drove Terunofuji to the edge and looked to have him dead to rights, but Terunofuji dug deep and used his strength to force the action back to the center of the ring and eventually pick up the nice comeback win. You are misguided if you think Terunofuji cannot do sumo like this every day. That's why it bugs me so much when he stands there like a wet rag in order to give Japanese rikishi political wins. I mean Endoh? Yoshikaze?? Shee-ite. Terunofuji improves to 4-2 with the win while Tochi-O-6-zan lives up to his name.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku and Sekiwake Okinoumi hooked up in the immediate hidari-yotsu position whereupon Okinoumi just allowed the Geeku to force him back for the win. At the edge, Okinoumi instinctively went for a counter right tsuki that was there the whole time and that is always open against Kotoshogiku, but he let up on the move and stayed square allowing Kotoshogiku to keep his feet and knock Okinoumi back for the win. That counter half-tsuki-otoshi attempt from Okinoumi knocked the crap-zeki down low, and so he grabbed at Okinoumi's right leg drawing the watashi-komi win in the end, but this was clear yaocho in favor of the hometown dude from the start. Kotoshogiku improves to 3-3 while Okinoumi falls to 1-5.

Ozeki Kisenosato and Komusubi Mitakeumi hooked up in sort of a hidari-yotsu position, but the two were never chest to chest, so it was the typical weird Kisenosato bout where it's technically yotsu-zumo, but both guys are looking for tsuki to the side to do damage. This type of bout favors the Ozeki, and it did here as well as Kisenosato was finally able to drive Mitakeumi over to the edge and across. It's really tough to describe these bouts because there aren't those decisive moves that turn the bout this way or that, so just chalk it up to Mitakeumi deferring to the Ozeki. Boring as Kisenosato moves to 5-1 while Mitakeumi falls to the opposite 1-5.

Yokozuna Kakuryu opted to play M2 Yoshikaze's tit for tat standing in the center of the ring and firing away at tsuppari and threatening pulls, and the Yokozuna is simply better than Yoshikaze, even in this fighting style, and it showed as Kakuryu was able to knock Yoshikaze around and attempt enough offensive pulls to where the third attempt sent Yoshikaze packing. With Goeido's loss, Kakuryu now leads the whole shootin' match at 6-0 while Yoshikaze is 1-5 and that lone win a tsuri-dashi victory of Terunofuji.

Yokozuna Harumafuji was out to prove another point against today this time against M3 Shodai, and he came out in the same stance as he did with Endoh driving a left paw straight into Shodai's throat and knocking him back to the edge, but credit Shodai for having the wherewithal to swipe at that left arm and knock the Yokozuna off his perch. The problem was that Shodai was already trying to keep hisself in the ring and wasn't in any position to counter, and so he was a sitting duck there as the Yokozuna quickly regrouped, fired a slap into Shodai's face, and then drove him back for good. Despite Shodai's good swipe, this one wasn't close as Harumafuji improved to 5-1 while Shodai sits at 4-2.

With the venue still dead after the Goeido loss, it was as if we were now watching funeral proceedings, and so the basho needed some sort of lift to keep it afloat. And that would come in the Hakuho - Endoh bout of all places.

Yokozuna Hakuho stood upright using a quick hari attempt with the right that conveniently missed allowing Endoh to burrow in tight leading with the left arm, and all it took was a quick pull attempt to send the momentum in Endoh's direction, and you at least have to credit Endoh for plowing forward instead of playing the part of timid mouse as many of Hakuho's opponent's do, and the Yokozuna simply showed no resistance at the edge arching his back but just standing there as he allowed Endoh to force him back and out in less than three seconds. At one point, Endoh's feet weren't even touching the dohyo, and yet, Hakuho somehow failed to take advantage.  This was of course obvious yaocho, and for those who suspected it might be legitimate, show me one bout where Endoh has done that kind of sumo to anyone regardless of their rank. Look, if Terunofuji can survive at the edge against Tochiohzan who has moro-zashi, Hakuho can survive against Endoh here. And the funny thing is, I'm not even disgusted by this bout, which is a clear indication of just how much I've given up on sumo. I hang around for the camaraderie aspect of it, but I just shrugged my shoulders here and said, "It was Hakuho's choice." The end result is that Hakuho falls to 5-1 while Endoh is an improbable 4-2 that includes wins over three Ozeki and now a Yokozuna. That people continue to buy into this nonsense really insults my intelligence, and let me tell you, there is a helluva lotta intelligence there to insult.

Who knows where the basho goes from here? There's no sense trying to predict anything because very little these days is measured by actual ability, so I'll tag back to Harvye for day 7.

Day 5 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Ever since the Sumotalk budget cuts, things are pretty quiet at the hotel where we stay when Mike puts us up to report on the basho. I'll never forget that fateful day a few years ago when Mike called us together in the lobby of the Okura Hotel in downtown Tokyo, with its gilded walls and James Bond-esque 70s furniture, stylish and expensive as hell, to tell us that with so few fans coming to the venue to watch the Mongolians dominate, less caish was flowing into Sumotalk as well. He made us draw strings to see who would be the one writer left to work on with him, because we couldn't afford more than two rooms per tournament. It was a sad day.

I was pretty excited, though, to pick the right one of those damp threads from Mike's hand; he'd snipped a few of the limp strings that hang down from the front of the mawashis of lower-ranked guys; I didn't care that mine was still greasy with fetid crotch sweat when it turned out I had the only unshorn one and the others all picked stings Mike had snipped short with a scissors from the 7-11. Yay! I would continue to write for SumoTalk! Kungl, Kadastik, and the others grumbled about an American conspiracy, and only Matt Walsh seemed kind of happy. (He and Clancy had had some kind of falling out over the phrase "purple donkey dicks" and Matt just said "I'll always have Hawaii." Nicest guy in the bunch, Matt.)

Anyway, ever since then Mike and I have stayed at budget business hotels, quiet as death. I spend my time alone. Mike is always off at the venue, even on his off days, taking the chanko-nabe cooking classes one day, the chon-mage styling classes the next, so when I'm not writing I just grab a box of Kleenex and put on my Star Wars and Hobbit DVDs. No one ever wants to join me; one tournament before the budget cuts Martin agreed to stop by for my proposed "all twelve hours of The Lord of the Rings marathon!," but after just one or two hours of sitting on the little bed together watching, when I started talking about how soft Arwen's skin is, he made some excuse and said he was going to join the poker game in Clancy and Kane's room.

Yeah, but things have changed this tournament! As you know, Mike won a lot of money in July, so he's invited EVERYBODY again this time, even if they're not writing. It's not the Okura, but it's not a business hotel either: we're staying in one off those mid-range ryokans that still cost several hundred dollars a night apiece, even if the tatami is threadbare and the plaster is falling off the walls in the stairwell; you have to pay up to have an onsen 200 meters walking distance away and be served fried cod semen clots and whitebait ice cream as part of your in-room dinner.

Oh, wait, you don't know how Mike won the money? Sorry. Yeah, in January, just after his courtesy call at the Emperor's box--whew, you should see the line for that; Mike sure looks good in his hakama, though--Mike went to his usual front row seat (you can't see him because it's on the side the TV cameras are on, but oh, he's there!)--he struck up a conversation with the yakuza top sitting next to him, who used to come to Nagoya, but since the ban on that started coming to the other five tournaments instead. We play sheepshead sometimes. Yah, dude invited him to their May planning session in Venezuela, and after drawing up the Goeido win on the whiteboard there, they were so impressed by Mike's explanation of how to make it look real (gad, they botched that part, though, didn't they?), they even said "sure" when Mike asked if he could bet his life's saving on it.

So now Mike's rich and we're all at the hotel again (except for Kenji, who wrote us a very, very short note saying with all his duties at the Optimist, Soro-Optimist, and Power of Positive Thinking clubs, he couldn't make it). The poker games are back; I don't participate much; I get tired of Kadastik and Kungl and that Spanish guy who keeps talking about "the Dark Places on the internet" arguing whether Angela Merkel is the greatest statesman of the modern era, and they keep the volume up too loud on the "Thomas Gottschalk's Wetten Das" reruns they play in the background on the TV. It was cool the day Kadastik brought Baruto by and we practiced Mixed Martial Arts together. I still have a black eye from when Clancy knocked me out ("last days of Rome," he said, cryptically), but Don Roid beat Baruto like three times in row WHILE commenting to us how he was going to do it (and ask Don sometime how to be a "hard man": got to be ready for "the old one-three." A hard man knows there is going to be a "two" from your opponent between the "one" you start the fight with and the "three" you finish it with. Still got to take the "two." Hard man. Thanks, Don!)

Clancy and Kane aren't playing poker this time though ("poke her?", they snigger, and then head for the train stations and subways to pick up invitees to their post-sumo late-night private room performances; in Kane's it's acoustic Spanish guitar solos and Cuban lyrics in falsetto, his sensitive side you know, Dos Gardenias Para Ti. Clancy is still typing out his Great American Novel, a cross between Confederacy of Dunces and Tropic of Cancer, he says, and I'm amazed how the girls are content to just sit there and watch him sip potato shochu, talk, and type. Then again, I am mesmerized by this too, although Clancy scowls at me and asks me to leave after a half hour or so.

Anyway, I should get to the matches, but oh!, I just wanted to mention I saw the ghost of Mark Arbo one night when I stumbled down the hall for another can of happoshu from the vending machine. "Aren't you still alive?" I asked, confused. "Yep," he said, gripping me with a hand of warm, ethereal flesh and blood. "And you should be too. Now go do some writing, but then get out there and enjoy life to the fullest." Amen.

M15 Ishiura (3-1) vs. M13 Ichinojo (2-2)
Total respect for Ishiura in this one. He's been all tricks so far, but against Ichinojo he played it straight up, burrowing down inside between Ichinojo's mammoth dudgeon-pincers and working hard to try to get something going. Ichinojo gave him an opening with a pull, looking befuddled uptop while this busy bee stung him in his nethers, and after the pull Ishiura grabbed moro-zashi, fished one hand around to the back of the belt, tipped Ichinojo up with his leg, and pushed him over forward to a hands-on-the-dirt loss by pulling on the belt, shitate-nage.

M13 Hidenoumi (1-3) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (2-2)
Wow. Chiyotairyu hit Hidenoumi like a bale of bananas dropped from the crane onto a Guatemalan wharf. As the POOM! reverberations settled, Chiyotairyu whackety-whacked Hidenoumi straight out and across the tawara, oshi-dashi. That's some schoolin'. And Hidenoumi's pink mawashi sure does look like the ass of a Wildebeest in heat. Chiyotairyu must like that.

M16 Gagamaru (2-2) vs. M12 Chiyootori (2-2)
Lord Gaga isn't much good on the belt, and it showed here. Chiyootori managed to reach a long arm inside left off the hard bite of the tachi-ai, and even though Gagamaru got his own inside/outside double-mawashi grip combination in a few moments, it was too late, as Chiyootori had driven him to the straw and then hopped him over with a wee tsuri-dashi. Got to fight to your strengths.

M15 Toyohibiki (1-3) vs. M11 Hokutofuji (2-2)
I hadn't seen anything I didn't like from Hokutofuji thus far, and was starting to feel the stirrings of crush, but in this one he shaded to his left at the tachi-ai--bad--and was tentative about it--worse--and the grizzled veteran across from him took advantage of the musk-ox-in-the-headlights moment and drove him straight out, BAM!, oshi-dashi.

M11 Kyokushuho (0-4) vs. M14 Sokokurai (4-0)
Boy. Kyokushuho needs to withdraw. This was about the weakest performance you'll see outside of a mukiryoku bout. Sokokurai took zero chances and did a bit of hit-and-spin at the tachi-ai, guaranteeing no desperate tricks from Kyok, grabbed his belt, and ushered him out, standing up and unresistant, yori-kiri. It looked like Kyokushuho didn't even have enough trust in his knees to bend down and grab at the belt. I expect him to bow out tomorrow.

M10 Chiyoshoma (3-1) vs. M10 Arawashi (3-1)
I really don't like Chiyoshoma, and this match, with two relatively lithe, underweight guys, kind of reminded me of watching Makushita, but at least they went for the belt. Can't complain. Chiyoshoma had a right overhand while Arawashi had a left grip inside, but Arawashi's grip was shallow and Chiyoshoma's was deep, and Chiyoshoma yanked Arawashi off balance and pushed him out, yori-kiri. If he could and would do this against bigger guys I'd be happy. But he can't.

M12 Daishomaru (2-2) vs. M9 Kagayaki (1-3)
Daishomaru is all pulls while Fried Mosquito (Kagayaki) is all flaccid underachievement, so this was an underwhelming pairing. Frankly, Daishomaru would have done well to pull here, but instead, after the initial straight-on contact, which he lost, he doubled down by sticking an arm even further inside, and for all Kagayaki's problems, at that moment you could just see how big Kagayaki is, and Daishomaru was overwhelmed and doomed, with Kagayaki much too close in upon him to be pulled as he smothered him out, yori-kiri.

M9 Myogiryu (2-2) vs. M6 Tochinoshin (2-2)
Two pretty good wrestlers here, and they put on a good one. Myogiryu cheated at the tachi-ai, but Tochinoshin stayed with him in the spin, albeit while losing position: Myogiryu got underneath. Tochinoshin gamely stayed with it, though, and held onto Myogiryu's body on the inside on the right while getting a nice overhand on the left. He then used that to launch an attack, like an show-offing mover lifting your couch, gamely wrenching Myogiryu up and hop-jostling him quickly to the tawara before dumping him all the way off the platform, he too following after, in the kind of uwate-nage win that makes you like sumo in the first place.

M8 Ikioi (3-1) vs. M5 Takarafuji (3-1)
WHAP! Great tachi-ai, like two Mazdas colliding at 10 mph in the supermarket parking lot (try it--that's a lot of impact). Fiberglass shook and shattered. Then Ikioi did very nice work, slapping and shucking Takarafuji's arms off him and driving forward with nothing more than his upper body as a battering ram, bullying Takarafuji back. Oshi-dashi.

M5 Shohozan (2-2) vs. M8 Sadanoumi (1-3)
Is Sadanoumi really from Kyushu? Because he's looked just terrible this tournament. 'Hozan blasted him upright and tsuppari'ed him out, tsuki-dashi, in a thoroughgoing dismantling. Not even the local mechanic with his favorite hammer in a drunken rage could destroy your carburetor this quick.

M7 Takanoiwa (2-2) vs. M4 Chiyonokuni (0-4)
It was time for Chiyonokuni to get a win, and Takanoiwa complied. It's always kind of sad when a guy lets himself get driven to the tawara, flailing his arms about up high in order to look like he's trying to do something, but finds his opponent doesn't have the strength to get him over the bales. So Takanoiwa reversed tactics, ran back into the center of the ring, and let Chiyonokuni fling him into a stumble-and-fall-down tsuki-otoshi loss. Yeesh.

M4 Kotoyuki (1-3) vs. M7 Takekaze (3-1)
I'm sorry, but Takekaze needs to henka, evade, or pull this guy. Worked the first three days, didinit? He fought him straight up, and Kotoyuki just tried to break his tiny neck backwards and flung him out, tsuki-dashi.

M6 Nishikigi (2-2) vs. M3 Shodai (3-1)
The Mystery of Shodai! So far, on my two reporting days he has done nothing and won while retreating. Today, he decided to be a yori-kiri body guy. It was a very popping, solid tachi-ai, and Shodai smoothly got both arms underneath and inside on it. He then easily smoothed Nishikigi off the dohyo, linear and powerful. He looked good here, bland and soporific as always, and if this is who Shodai is sumo-wise, hey, I'll take it. But it's going to take more than this to know. So far we have two pulls and one bodily yori-kiri destruction. And three days Vanilla Softcream demeanor. Let's keep checking in with him.

S Takayasu (3-1) vs. K Tamawashi (2-2)
I'm really sick of this Takayasu-Ozeki talk--it's about as exciting as a piece of steamed fish and an iceberg lettuce salad alone in a cold Wisconsin dining room on a Friday night after a long week of work--and was dimly wishing for an honest-to-goodness dust-up with a committed and wicked Tamawashi. Lo! It happened. Tamawashi cheated by shading to the side, but when he got there he said, "let's see how Ozeki you look with ONLY ONE ARM!" and proceeded to try to tear Takayasu's left arm off his body, twisting him out of the dohyo and painfully to the dirt with the darned thing, kote-nage. The arm was still attached at the end of the match, but rumor has it afterwards Takayasu offered to saw it the rest of the way off with a Swiss Army Knife and offer it to Tamawashi on an engraved silver platter, that's how much he earned it. Ozeki shmozeki.

K Mitakeumi (1-3) vs. O Terunofuji (2-2)
Tee hee. The moment I totally dismiss him, Terunofuji follows with two ultra-dominant wins, yesterday and today. This time he armbarred Mitakeumi on the right, wrapped him up on the left, and disdainfully flung him off the dohyo, yori-kiri, like the guy from Delta who chucks your luggage on the conveyor belt. Politically, I'm still not sure where he's going to get his eight, but skills-wise, if he can fight like this, it won't matter.

O Kotoshogiku (1-3) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (1-3)
Haven't seen the soon-to-retire Kotoshogiku look this good in a long while. Yoshikaze tried to brush him up at the tachi-ai, then tried a frantic pull and a few frantic slaps, but Kotoshogiku was all over him, focused and forward, and there was no need to give Kotoshogiku any help to seal this cremation of an oshi-dashi.

M2 Kaisei (0-4) vs. O Kisenosato (3-1)
These two guys have very similar physiques, and I looked forward to some quaking blubber. Kise started it well with an effective face shove, and had the mo'. However, at the tawara Kaisei recovered and stuck his stubby-looking but actually massive arms inside on both sides. It was shallow, but it forced Kisenosato into a retreat. Unfortunately for Kaisei, there was just too much roundness, from his own body, his own arms, and Kisenosato's uppers-flab, and hence he wasn't really holding onto anything. So, as around they went, Kisenosato broke out of it, outpaced Kaisei, and dragged his pursuing foe down by the head, uwate-dashi-nage.

O Goeido (4-0) vs. M1 Aoiyama (0-4)
Goeido's first four matches have all been against solid Japanese wrestlers, any of whom he could either beat or lose to straight up on any given day, and all of whom could be expected to defer to him this week under these circumstances in these early matches. So take it as four lucky, gritty wins, or take it as a bit of crowd pleasing buffoonery, but here we are on Day 5 with Goeido facing his first foreign foe, a guy much bigger than him or any of us, and manifestly scary with his pounding arms. I figured we would know how this was going to go right away: would we see the tentative, fumbling, no-confidence Aoiyama, so easy to beat? Or would we see the terrifying berserker-on-a-mission who thrashes away with arm thrusts like something out of the March of the Hammers in Pink Floyd's The Wall? If the former, Goeido would pad his 16-3 lifetime record against Aoiyama further. If the latter, I don't think Goeido has an answer. What would happen? Sure enough, Aoiyama gave one shove at the neck at the tachi-ai, but then immediately went for the pull, standing up and bonking down at Goeido's head, and that is not what I mean when I talk about "jackhammers from hell." Aoiyama pulled throughout. This match travelled around the ring and back, Aoiyama retreating and high all the way, and so we had a chance to see Goeido chase while Aoiyama pulled and pulled and pulled, putting in only one punch, despite those clobberpole riffs being his calling card. And eventually, when Aoiyama had compromised himself enough half a dozen times, Goeido succeeded in pushing him out, oshi-dashi. Again, the Goeido Yokozuna story dies in week two, not week one, but this match made me sad nonetheless. Goeido gets Tamawashi tomorrow. Hmmm...

Y Harumafuji (3-1) vs. M3 Endo (3-1)
This one was a laugher. Mike set this up well by pointing out yesterday that Endo doesn't have to be that bad against weaker competition, like Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku, whom he beat. But as if to prove a point, having no doubt watched the same outcome with a bit of a curl of his lip, Harumafuji grabbed Endo by the throat like a chicken about to become dinner, and hoisted him straight out of the ring on that sharp pike, oshi-dashi. There's little I like better than when the Mongolian Yokozunae decide to make a mockery of the shenanigans by proving a point with some stark humiliation, and this was one of those matches.

Y Hakuho (4-0) vs. M1 Tochiohzan (0-4)
For the fourth day out of five, Hakuho won by a pull. Oh, there was a bit of desultory arm grapple papple slapumry, but then Hakuho just stepped to the side and boredly dismissed Tochiohzan to the clay, tsuki-otoshi. In its way, this was as defiantly dominant as Harumafuji's win, though in the passive-aggressive "I'm not going to make it any fun" way we've seen from the criminally undervalued Hakuho before. Hakuho goes at it for a brief instant, then says "nah, I'm not going to fight"… and wins anyway. It's "go away, man, I'm busy here." "Hurry up, I want to go get my coffee."

S Okinoumi (1-3) vs. Y Kakuryu (4-0)
Bump went the tachi-ai, and wouldn't you know, there was Kakuryu further forward than the other guy, legs moving. He fished in for the belt underneath, got it, and after some worrisome moments of retreat (were we going to see a return of "the pull habit?"), Kakuryu reversed their orientations with a tug at the mawashi, swung his sweetgums around doe-see-doe, and picked up the uwate-dashi-nage win.

Five days in, and with three unbeaten wrestlers of consequence (Hakuho, Kakuryu, and Goeido) and several notable chasers (Harumafuji, Kisenosato, Shodai), we are set up for some goodtime drama.

Whelp, time for me to get back to the hotel and turn this laptop back over to Mike.

Day 4 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
The biggest news from yesterday was Hakuho's picking up his career 1,000th win, and prior to the day's action NHK produced a graphic that listed the three rikishi who have won 1,000 bouts (or will in the case of Hakuho), and the list includes the following rikishi: Chiyonofuji, Kaio, and now Hakuho. Kaio holds the overall record with 1,047 wins while Chiyonofuji is a close second with 1,045, but those two numbers will likely be surpassed by Hakuho who picked up his 1,000th win yesterday. What's interesting about the graphic are the details regarding how fast it took the rikishi to get to 1,000 wins, especially in terms of the number of basho required.

Chiyonofuji, who is listed at the top, required 117 tournaments and 20 years to reach the mark. That he was 34 years-old is inconsequential although NHK does list that stat.

Kaio, who is listed second, required 133 tournaments and 23 years to reach the 1,000 win mark, and he happened to be 37 years-old when he was gifted...er...uh...picked up that decisive win.

Third on the list is Hakuho, who required just 93 tournaments and 16 years to hit the elusive 1,000 win mark. Hakuho is just destroying the record books in the sport, and he's doing it in record time, which is an indication of just how great he is, and it also tells me just how high the Mongolians have raised the bar in sumo. It's unfortunate that we rarely get to see that level of sumo anymore, and we're certainly not seeing it here in Kyushu so far. But there are political reasons why we don't, and everyone knows what they are, so let's just get to the day 4 action and hope for the best.

The day kicked off with M14 Chiyotairyu blasting M14 Sokokurai back a few steps and then catching him with another thrust as the foreigner evaded right, but Chiyotairyu's thrusts were simply too high allowing Sokokurai to slip underneath, grab the belt with the left, and turn the tables with the yori-taoshi win. This bout was yet another example of how much potential Chiyotairyu has, but he's just too sloppy in his executions falling to 2-2. Sokokurai is a shweet 4-0 fer ya.

M15 Toyohibiki led with a right paw to the throat while M13 Hidenoumi attempted to counter with the right arm inside, but as Toyohibiki tried to push his gal back, Hidenoumi wisely slipped to the side and offered a potent tsuki into Toyohibiki's left side that sent him sprawling off balance near the edge where Hidenoumi was able to pancake block him down for the nice comeback win that left both rikishi a paltry 1-3.

M16 Gagamaru got his left arm to the inside at the tachi-ai against M12 Daishomaru, who realized he was in a pickle and tried to escape back and to the right. In the process, it looked as if he would maki-kae with his right arm and then counter with a pull near the edge, but his footwork was too sloppy allowing Gagamaru to push him across the straw before Daishomaru could set something concrete up. Another few seconds, and Gagamaru may lost this one, but credit him for the proactive tachi-ai as he rights the ship at 2-2. Daishomaru falls to the same mark with the loss.

M12 Chiyootori came too low at the tachi-ai as he is wont to do, and 15 Ishiura responded well getting his right arm at the back of Chiyootori's left armpit and shoving Otori sideways and near the edge. The rookie then rushed in grabbing Chiyootori from behind in the brokeback position and sending him out of the dohyo straightway from there before Chiyootori could twist out of the uncomfortable hold. I usually like to see the victor get more manlove in the process, but the rookie will learn in time. His 3-1 record looks impressive, but none of his opponents have really given him a good fight. Chiyootori is 2-2.

M13 Ichinojo flirted with the right arm inside against M11 Hokutofuji but then alternated that with paws to the throat that were more defensive in nature as he attempted to feel the rookie out. For his part, Hokutofuji stood his ground well firing choke holds of his own and swiping at Ichinojo's arms, and Ichinojo was just too nonchalant in his approach allowing Hokutofuji to duck in with the left arm firmly inside and the immediately lift Ichinojo upright and stream roll him back across the straw and down to the dohyo floor. Ichinojo took the basket of salt in the corner with him as he was destroyed in the end by Hokutofuji, who looked great here leaving both rikishi at 2-2.

M9 Myogiryu henka'd to his left against M10 Kyokushuho, and the injured Shuho never could square back up to make this one a match. As a result of the quick and dirty tachi-ai, Myogiryu was able to secure moro-zashi rather easily and work Kyokushuho back and out without giving him opportunity to counter. Sheesh, when you have to henka a guy whose not 100%, it's a sign of no confidence as Myogiryu moves to just 2-2. Kyokushuho is winless.

M10 Arawashi shaded left at the tachi-ai and fiddled with frontal belt grips against M8 Ikioi at the tachi-ai while Ikioi tried to fight that off and force things to hidari-yotsu. During the melee, Arawashi was able to grab and secure the right frontal belt grip, and after surviving a brief scoop throw attempt from Ikioi with his left, Arawashi went for the uwate-nage kill that sent Ikioi packing. Mid-throw, Arawashi's arm slipped off of the belt, but he just finished the throwing motion in kote-nage fashion sending Ikioi to the clay and both rikishi to 3-1 records.

M10 Chiyoshoma just jumped to his right at the tachi-ai against M7 Takekaze hooking his right arm up and under Takekaze's left and riding him down to the dirt in a second flat. While I've never been a Takekaze fan, you hate to see a good start from the guy go to waste due to a henka from a punk like Chiyoshoma. Course, Takekaze has scored his share of cheap wins with the henka so what goes around comes around. Both rikishi here finish 3-1 as well.

M9 Kagayaki and M7 Takanoiwa briefly engaged in a tsuppari-ai at the tachi-ai, but Kagayaki is favored in such a fight and Takanoiwa knew it, and so the Mongolian wisely moved to his right and caught Kagayaki with a beautiful tsuki to the left side that sent the taller Kagayaki over and down. Kagayaki's not one to really make an adjustment on a dime, and when Takanoiwa did, it was over like Grover. Takanoiwa moved to 2-2 with the win while Kagayaki could use some yaocho help about now at 1-3.

M8 Sadanoumi meant well at the tachi-ai against M6 Nishikigi getting the left arm firmly inside and fishing for the right frontal grip, but Nishikigi's length aided him here in keeping Sadanoumi upright and far enough away from the outer grip. Without that outer grip, Sadanoumi attempted the force-out charge anyway, but it was a bad decision as Nishikigi sprung the counter trap near the edge shading left and using his own left inside belt position to turn the tables and send Sadanoumi out of the dohyo yori-kiri style. Nishikigi improves to 2-2 with the nice counter win while I doubt the Kumamoto folk are making the bus trip up to see Sadanoumi at 1-3.

M4 Kotoyuki henka'd to his right against M6 Tochinoshin, but Shin didn't sell out at the tachi-ai, and so he was easily able to square back up and reach his left arm for a grip on Kotoyuki's belt. Kotoyuki tried to push Tochinoshin away by the face, but Shin persisted in close turning that left belt grip into the inside position, and that allowed him to just step in close and body Kotoyuki off the dohyo for good. Tochinoshin improves to 2-2 after surviving the henka while Kotoyuki falls to 1-3.

M4 Chiyonokuni looked to take charge against M5 Takarafuji with a tsuppari attack from the tachi-ai, but his de-ashi were not planted solidly to the dohyo, and so Takarafuji played the part of brick wall well halting his foe's momentum and then getting the right arm to the inside. With the bout now at yotsu-zumo, Takarafuji had the advantage and it showed as he was able to force Kuni back and out so easily, he didn't even need to shore things up with the left outer grip. Takarafuji is a nice 3-1 while Chiyonokuni is still winless.

M5 Shohozan and M2 Yoshikaze engaged in a feisty tsuppari affair typical of both rikishi, and it looked to be more bark than bit as both rikishi were too upright for their own good. A few seconds in, Yoshikaze went for a brief pull, and Shohozan didn't exactly shove him out, but next thing you knew, Yoshikaze stepped back and across the straw. This bout was suspect as Shohozan moves to 2-2 while Yoshikaze falls to 1-3.

In a questionable bout featuring both Sekiwake, Takayasu and Okinoumi hooked up in hidari-yotsu and danced around the center of the ring a bit where Okinoumi looked to be pressed in tighter and closer to the outer grip, but he never really went for it nor applied much pressure. As the two stood in the center of the ring, Takayasu briefly thought about a maki-kae with the left, but he must have sensed an opening, so he just reached for and got the right outer grip, and once he had that, it was curtains as he drove Okinoumi back and out from there. Okinoumi sorta countered with a left scoop throw, but I thought he was mukiryoku in this one giving Takayasu the win and keeping up the Ozeki hype. Takayasu moves to 3-1 with the win, and my question is: does he look at all like an Ozeki? Of course, I'm saying that having watched sumo for a quarter of a century now. Someone who only knows the Japanese Ozeki would go, "Hell yeah!" Okinoumi falls to 1-3 with the loss.

They continue to let M3 Endoh run free here against the Japanese Ozeki, and why not? He's going to provide more excitement than a win by either Kisenosato or Kotoshogiku this basho, so against the latter today, Endoh struck forward at the tachi-ai using a nice right paw to the neck to keep the Geeku away from the inside before just backing up and dragging Kotoshogiku down by his dickey do in the process. I totally agree with Harvye that Endoh is better than Kisenosato, and he showed today that he's also head and shoulders above Kotoshogiku. Still, Endoh ain't that good, so he's been a good barometer to this point in order to show just how lame the Japanese Ozeki are. And don't think that Goeido is any better. If it wasn't in the political interest of the Association to have Goeido do well, he'd be suffering the same fate as his counterparts. The Japanese Ozeki have sucked for years, and Endoh has been the measuring stick so far this basho to demonstrate that point. He moves to 3-1 with the win while Kotoshogiku falls to 1-3. Will Kotoshogiku retire this basho if he fails to kachi-koshi?

Ozeki Kisenosato and Tochiohzan hooked up in hidari-yotsu, and Tochiohzan immediately gave up the right outer grip, and the Ozeki may be worn down, but he knew exactly what to do with the right outer, and that was to drive Tochiohzan straight back and out. This was one of the more impressive wins from the Ozeki that we've seen in awhile as Kisenosato moves to 3-1. As for Tochiohzan, he didn't attempt a counter move in defeat listlessly falling to 0-4.

Ozeki Goeido got the right arm inside against a defenseless Mitakeumi, who also had the right inside position from the tachi-ai, but the kohai was obligated here to just back up and play along. Goeido's charge forward was light, and Mitakeumi had an easy chance to counter with a tsuki move or scoop throw with the right arm near the edge, but he relented and just stayed square with his opponent letting Goeido force him back and out with ease. You could see live that Goeido was not applying much pressure, and he looked as if he coulda lost his balance at any moment with a good counter move, but Mitakeumi made sure to lose before Goeido could foul anything up. We've seen a lot of good, solid matches today to this point, but this one lacked any punch. Mitakeumi knows his place in this hierarchy as he falls to 1-3 while Goeido stays perfect at 4-0.

Ozeki Terunofuji grabbed the quick left outer grip at the tachi-ai against M3 Shodai, but his right hand was to the outside as well leaving Shodai the path to moro-zashi. The problem here for Shodai was 1) Terunofuji intended to win the bout, and 2) Shodai has yet to display a signature style that would allow him to take advantage of dual outsides from the Ozeki. Shodai didn't even attempt a counter move as Terunofuji used that left outer grip and wide body to just stream roll Shodai back and across without argument. Shodai suffered his first loss of the tournament falling to 3-1. As for Terunofuji, his winning here and moving to 2-2 is a sign that he intends on getting kachi-koshi this basho and shedding his kadoban status.

Yokozuna Hakuho went for his usual hari-zashi tachi-ai against Komusubi Tamawashi, but Tamawashi struck him well keeping the Yokozuna from moving forward. The Yokozuna isn't setting these crazy records because he's a dumbass, however, and before the Komusubi even knew what hit him, Hakuho pivoted left and just shoved Tamawashi down in the center of the ring with a lightening quick tsuki-otoshi. Hakuho moves to 4-0 picking up win 1,001 in the process while Tamawashi falls to 2-2.

Yokozuna Kakuryu and M2 Kaisei hooked up in migi-yotsu from the tachi-ai, but Kaisei did nothing to defend the left outer grip, so the Yokozuna grabbed it straightway near the front of the belt rendering Kaisei's right arm largely useless, and so Kakuryu lifted his gal upright and scored the easy force-out win just like that. Compare this win to Goeido's wins this basho and last basho. The substance is just totally different. With Kakuryu you can see power and skill and technique. With Goeido, it's all just fluff. Kakuryu remains perfect with the win while Kaisei remains winless.

Yokozuna Harumafuji ducked low at the tachi-ai and slightly to his left against M1 Aoiyama coming away with the left outer grip against the Bulgarian, but he didn't have anything established with the right arm to the inside, and so he spun Aoiyama around testing the dashi-nage waters. Aoiyama put a halt to that soon enough, and when Harumafuji still couldn't get that right firmly to the inside, he went for a dashi-nage again. Aoiyama proved stubborn, however, and forced the Yokozuna to dig in, and near the edge it was Aoiyama who attempted a counter inside belt throw, but in the process, his left ankle seemed to just give out, and the larger Aoiyama plopped onto his back resulting in the koshi-kudake win for the Yokozuna. Both rikishi got up gingerly with Harumafuji stretching his right knee and Aoiyama favoring his left. With Aminishiki down in Juryo, he's letting Aoiyama borrow a bedroll for his left knee, and that was the leg that seemed to give out. Regardless, Harumafuji moves to 3-1 with the win while Aoiyama falls to 0-4.

Today was a much better day of sumo, and I really didn't suspect any shenanigans until we got to the two rikishi who are up for promotion...Takayasu for Ozeki and Goeido for Yokozuna. Let's hope it continues tomorrow for Harvye.

Day 3 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
Sometimes I write my intros a day or two beforehand--it's a busy life. So when I opened Mike's Day 2 report and saw a list of Kyushu rikishi, I had a moment of disorientation, thinking (irrationally), did I send him my Day 3 already by mistake? No, we simply wrote the exact same intro. But that is an indicator of how important narrative is in sumo: inevitably, one of the key stories of Kyushu will be Kyushu itself. So I'm keeping my intro. Let's talk about Kyushu--again. As Mike said yesterday, a standard expectation in our book is that hometown heroes will over-perform. When they are in Osaka you can expect Goeido, who is from there, to (usually) have a particularly good tournament. Now, that could be from being pumped up, having the comfort of the locality, etc.--you don't have to have bout fixing for there to be a home team advantage--it is a measurable statistical factor common throughout sports. But, of course, in sumo's case some of this is arranged for the benefit of the hometown crowd.

But wait! I'm just breezily talking about this big home field advantage for hometown wrestlers, but who knows? Maybe it's just my imagination that guys get more wins at home than on the road--anecdotal evidence spun into a conspiracy theory. A little bit of simple research and we should have the answer, and you can draw your own conclusions as to the "why." So, here are the six wrestlers from the island of Kyushu participating in the Kyushu basho, followed by the prefecture they're from. Then, I've added in their career upper division average number of wins per tournament, followed by their average career number of wins in the Kyushu basho, and some notes.

Kotoshogiku (Fukuoka): overall 8.46 / Kyushu 8.60 (did not count injury-withdrawal basho; won his first two special prizes and had his first tournament as an Ozeki in Kyushu)
Yoshikaze (Oita): 7.39 / 7.60 (two special prizes)
Shodai (Kumamoto): 8.38 / (none so far--but 13-2 and Juryo yusho last year in Kyushu)
Shohozan (Fukuoka): 7.04 / 8.60 (two of his three special prizes and his lone jun-yusho)
Sadanoumi (Kumamoto): 7.20 / 6.00
Chiyootori (Kagoshima): 7.43 / 8.00 (took his lone Juryo championship in Kyushu)

Hmmm. So, the hometown advantage statistically exists, with every guy but Sadanoumi (who has two tournaments in Kyushu thus far) faring better there, and Shohozan in particular going wild. And while the overall numbers advantage is only slight, look at all those special prizes and jun-yusho and so on for these guys: when they do better in Kyushu, they do LOTS better. That's narrative.

Again, make up your own mind--but keep a special eye on these six this tournament. My hunch says especially Shodai.

M16 Gagamaru (0-2) vs. M14 Chiyotairyu (2-0)
Good stuff to start what would be a pretty good day. Gagamaru ploughed his man out--that's it. What was fun here as is that Chiyotairyu did try to blast Gagamaru backwards at the tachi-ai--with all the effect a sweet little stuffed rabbit baby toy might have blasting back a cement wall. The wall didn't move back--it advanced on the rabbit and crushed him out, oshi-dashi. And Chiyotairyu is no rabbit.

M13 Hidenoumi (0-2) vs. M15 Ishiura (1-1)
We are beginning to see what Ishiura is: little guy, trick sumo. He henka'ed big here, then took a defensive posture to the side that worked fine: he got his hand so far inside it was actually past the butt button on the other side of the belt on the back. Stayed real low, and it was easy to tip over Hidenoumi, still in livid pink, shitate-nage, from there.

M15 Toyohibiki (1-1) vs. M12 Chiyootori (1-1)
Easy stuff for Chiyootori, as we had the classic Toyohibiki result: big tachi-ai assault that gains pushback against his opponent, but runs out of gas, after which he is beaten in any number of ways. This time for Chiyootori it was a left arm arm inside on the belt and yori-kiri.

M14 Sokokurai (2-0) vs. M11 Hokutofuji (1-1)
It was hard to concentrate after the first 450 degree spin by Hokutofuji in this long and lively episode of Dancing With the B List Stars: whole lotta movin' going on. Basically you had a big, powerful new guy getting evaded by an older, more experienced guy. Hokutofuji looked good on day one, and didn't look bad here--Sokokurai wouldn't run away from him if he didn't have his scary side--just inexperienced. He could never wrap the wary Sokokurai up. Soko just kept backing out of whatever Hokutofuji tried to develop, and eventually, when he saw his chance, Sokokurai grabbed the uwate dashi-nage grip, toss, and win.

M11 Kyokushuho (0-2) vs. M13 Ichinojo (1-1)
How do you beat Ichinojo with one leg? You do not. Surprisingly, Kyokushuho was able to shovel the jello around the ring for a while, but he couldn't get big boy in the trash can, and during one movement of Ichinojo to the tawara a tiring Kyokushuho let Ichinojo get both hands inside. Meat Puppet (Ichinojo) then simply slid Kyokushuho all the way across and out, yori-kiri.

M12 Daishomaru (1-1) vs. M10 Arawashi (2-0)
Blech. Daishomaru stepped to the side quickly, your standard in-bout henka, and Arawashi lurched forward and put his hands on the ground. "Tsuki-otoshi." Did I say blech?

M9 Kagayaki (1-1) vs. M8 Ikioi (2-0)
When these two guys get ahold of each other's faces and push, who do you think is going to win? Yep: Ikioi. No one questions his strength, and that is what Kagayaki seemed to try to test here. Ikioi drove him backwards, then said, "well, I'll throw you instead," dismissing the dominated Kagayaki to the dirt, sukui-nage.

M8 Sadanoumi (1-1) vs. M10 Chiyoshoma (1-1)
I liked what Chiyoshoma did here. Hard-smacking tachi-ai, then Chiyoshoma got his left hand inside. Sadanoumi had a right outer, and drove him back some, but Chiyoshoma planted his feet wide apart and used his superior grip to spring a convincing shitate-nage throw on Sadanoumi. Maybe he can be more than just a henka jokester. He looked lithe, supple, and strong in this one.

M9 Myogiryu (1-1) vs. M7 Takanoiwa (0-2)
Very good start for our fireplug, Myogiryu, who used his genki and got Takanoiwa to the bales right quick, body to body. But Myogiryu was up higher and when he tried to smother Takanoiwa out that just slithered him up even taller, and he had no leverage left. Consequently, Ol' Rock (Takanoiwa) drove him back to the center, then, with a nifty bit of push-away then jerk-and-pull on the belt, not to mention a head twist, Ol' Rock found himself with a nifty uwate-nage win. (Unrelated paper-scissors-rock aside: Bart: "Rock. Good ol' rock!" Lisa: "Poor Bart; always picks rock.")

M7 Takekaze (2-0) vs. M5 Takarafuji (2-0)
Oh my. When they hit hard and Takarafuji didn't come away with any grip--just a good bit of forward momentum--you knew what was going to happen. Yep. Takekaze could do this in his sleep: pulled the guy past him to the side, hiki-otoshi. This makes three days in a row of pull wins for the best puller I've ever watched, Takekaze. Credit where credit's due: guy's an artist.

M6 Tochinoshin (0-2) vs. M4 Chiyonokuni (0-2)
Both men tried to keep their arms low and blast upwards. In a mano-a-mano battle like that, the eensy teensy Chiyonokuni had not a chance against a growling grizzly. Tochinoshin was unleashed in this one, and destroyed his wee opponent, oshi-dashi.

M4 Kotoyuki (1-1) vs. M6 Nishikigi (0-2)
Unless you are Takekaze, don't retreat, and don't pull. Kotoyuki had a good "let me drop 200 pounds of ground round on you from the sky" tachi-ai and followed up with a neck hold that had him thinking Nishikigi would just fall down when he let go. So, the self-loving, over-confident Kotoyuki did just that: let go and stepped back ever so slightly to watch his handiwork. Lo! Nishikigi did not fall down. He turned on Kotoyuki and pushed him out, oshi-dashi. Good. That's what you get.

M5 Shohozan (1-1) vs. M3 Shodai (2-0)
Another day in project "The Mystery of Shodai: Who Are You?" I'm going to figure this guy out! Standing there before the match with his bland, smooth face and callow-looking youthfulness, I felt discouraged in my mission. The match didn't help me either. What was he trying to do? Not sure. He got one good stick-jab over the top with his right arm: oh, he is a pusher, perhaps? But then he retreated, driven by his smaller opponent, and pulled out the kind of miraculous looking win where you say, "huh?" It was tsuki-otoshi, a thrust down, but that really mostly means that yes, while Shodai assisted with a little push down, basically Shohozan was falling off his own overextension just as Shodai went much farther out. Looked like a loss, but was a win, and...Shodai Mystery Theatre survives for another day! Or he is a puller, perhaps?

S Takayasu (1-1) vs. K Mitakeumi (1-1)
Sad, sad. Alpen Goat (Mitakeumi) had Takayasu dead to rights here twice, and let up. First, he'd driven him back with a nice face shove, and had him potentially going down on a pull, but didn't finish it. Then, more blatantly, he'd driven him to the straw with straightforward bullying blows, but stopped in his tracks, and Takayasu instantly twisted him like the biggest bottle cap you'll ever find and popped him to the ground, kubi-nage. Get used to saying "Ozeki Takayasu." The drink tastes bad.

M3 Endo (1-1) vs. O Kisenosato (2-0)
A funny thing happened while watching these guys prep: I thought, "Endo's the better wrestler." It's odd to see him in these parts (Endo? Jo'i?? Are you serious???), but Kisenosato looked old, saggy, and defeated standing across from him. I guess I'm finally turning the negative corner on Kisenosato: I just thought, straight up, why wouldn't a genki Endo have a chance to beat a sunsetting Kisenosato? And Endo legitimately dominated Kise, determining the outcome with a stiff-arm to the face that push-lifted Kisenosato backwards from the start. When Kisenosato shook free of that and looked down, it was too late: Endo was a body rocket to his chest, arms and head tight and pushing to the easy oshi-dashi win. Well okay, Endo, let's see what's next with you.

O Goeido (2-0) vs. M2 Yoshikaze (1-1)
Goeido has started with a string of pretty good Japanese guys: first day Tochiohzan, the ridiculous match against Takayasu yesterday, and today Yoshikaze. Any of these guys could have stood up strong and had a good chance to put an early stopper in the "Yokozuna Goeido" nonsense, but interestingly that's not happened. Will we end up with another tournament like last time, where Goeido gets the early momentum and people decide, "well, okay, it's sumo!" I still don't think so. This story dies in week two, not week one. Anyway, this match was a "tsuki-otoshi" slip-down loss by Yoshikaze, and I don't think he did it on purpose: Yoshikaze is a wild man, goes hard, and the slip looked natural and was caused by Yoshikaze's aggression. There was nothing to object to in effort on either side in this match. For his part, I'll give Goeido credit: since he lacks a style, I'm spending lots of time praising his "energy" lately, and he did well with that here, knocking Yoshikaze upright hard, then pummeling him with a few rapid tsuppari blows--one up, one down, one to the side--that did contribute to Yoshikaze's fall.

S Okinoumi (1-1) vs. O Terunofuji (0-2)
Let me just say I'll be the first to call mukiryoku that works in favor of the Mongolians--not just when they use it to give gifts in the other direction. Terunofuji needs some wins bad, and Okinoumi gave him one. Okinoumi left himself wide open at the tachi-ai, and Teru stuck his paw in on the left inside. Then Okinoumi did not much of anything, the classic "watch me twist my body this way and that but not try anything with my hands while you drive me back" act. At the straw, Okinoumi tried to step out with one foot, but the other foot was stuck inside the ring, and he did a little splits, one leg still in the ring, the other down off the mound. Oops. Bad stuff happens when you don't go all out. Yori-kiri. Okinoumi is big and strong and better than this. Terunofuji's yoghurt has gone sour pretty quick.

O Kotoshogiku (1-1) vs. K Tamawashi (1-1)
In case you haven't noticed, I love me some Tamawashi. He meant business in this one, and showed how thoroughly Kotoshogiku can be destroyed by a superior wrestler on a mission. Tamawashi knocked him upright at the tachi-ai, then brought smothering pressure to his chest, one arm inside, the other in Kotoshogiku's mug, and Kotoshogiku was utterly schooled, driven out yorikiri in a dominant work-out within seconds. Thank you, thank you.

M1 Aoiyama (0-2) vs. Y Kakuryu (2-0)
Spoiler alert: this was to be the first of three totally dominant, totally enjoyable performances by our three Yokozuna. Aoiyama has the moxy to deserve a good fight like this, and should bring his best: meaty arm thrusts. Kakuryu is a grand champion and doesn't need to do anything special: just show us how you beat the monster arms of Aoiyama without resorting to henka and trickery. Sure enough, Aoiyama brought the blubber-blasts--yay! And Kakuryu responded by staying under them and timing back some more accurate slaps of his own, including one fierce one to the body that knocked the overextended Aoiyama to the side. Kakuryu then took advantage of the momentary opening by surging in to moro-zashi, both arms inside, lifting Aoiyama upright, and driving him out, yori-kiri. Lord let me eat pie every day.

Y Harumafuji (1-1) vs. M1 Tochiohzan (0-2)
Of the three Yokozuna, Harumafuji is the meanest, and while his sheer dominance and control is not that of Hakuho's--not close--he is better at giving us fun bouts that demonstrate strength and power. In the last two moments, the largest number of "ooooh!" moments are from Harumafuji. Here, he toyed with Tochiohzan. After a little face push at the tachi-ai, Harumafuji backed up a full two meters, all the way to the tawara, and waited for Tochiohzan to run up and attack. At which point he grabbed him by the belt and swung him to the clay, uwate-nage. Ouch!

Y Hakuho (2-0) vs. M2 Kaisei (0-2)
Glad to see Hakuho back in the last match of the day, where he belongs, and glad to see sumo like this. Kaisei is a load to move, and very good when on his game, and as he slammed into Hakuho and then leaned on him, I thought Hakuho was in legitimate trouble, being inched backwards every time he tried a throw or a move--the match was gradually collapsing on him under Kaisei's ominous weight. But wait! For all his lumbering smotherdom, Kaisei never had a hand on the belt, and Hakuho did. In the end, Hakuho just lifted Kaisei up, uwate-nage, like a sack of corn, rolled him over, and dropped him down, twisting and graceful--as beautiful a throw as you'll ever see. And that, friends, was his 1,000th career win, and what a fitting way for the greatest of all time to show us how it is done.

Mike describes a Hakuho win for about the 501st time tomorrow (which is also quite something--think about that).

Day 2 Comments (Mike Wesemann reporting)
For whatever reason, the broadcasts the first two days have started for me here in the states quite late. On day 1 they tuned in just prior to the first Makuuchi bout, and then today I missed the Ishiura - Gagamaru matchup entirely. I really treasure the five or 10 minutes of banter prior to the bouts among the Japanese guys in the booth for NHK because it gives me insight into the agenda for the basho as a whole. With very little background to go on aside from the two obvious headlines of Hakuho's return and Goeido's Yokozuna run, let's first turn our attention to the sliver of talk I was exposed to for the day 1 broadcast.

Mainoumi was in the booth on the day, and they were talking about Goeido and how he looked prior to the basho during keiko. Mainoumi will go around to the key stables and observe keiko and then report on that during the broadcasts. On day 1, he was commenting on just how easy it was sometimes for the Sakaigawa rikishi to defeat Goeido in practice. In other words, Goeido did not look impressive. Of course, Goeido hasn't looked impressive since his first couple of basho in the division, so it was interesting to see that Mainoumi was so surprised at how mediocre the Ozeki looked in the keiko ring.

The next thread of banter talked about the large contingent of fans traveling down from Yamaguchi prefecture to root for Toyohibiki (who faced and beat Gagamaru the first bout of the tournament), and I didn't think much of it until we got deeper into the broadcast, and every single "local" rikishi (guys from Kyushu or neighboring Yamaguchi) won against mukiryoku opponents. The most comical bout was the Terunofuji - Yoshikaze matchup. I'm not necessarily saying that Yoshikaze can't upset Terunofuji (well, actually I am). I'm saying that to watch Yoshikaze defeat Terunofuji in tsuri-dashi fashion was implausible. The close runner-up to that bout was Kaisei's dive against Kotoshogiku, but every bout involving a local boy yesterday also involved a mukiryoku opponent. And in case you're wondering, here are the guys considered as locals for this tournament:

Toyohibiki (Yamaguchi)
Sadanoumi (Kumamoto)
Shohozan (Fukuoka)
Shodai (Kumamoto)
Yoshikaze (Oita)
Kotoshogiku (Fukuoka)

Now, I'm not here to say that all of the locals are going to have good basho, but I am saying that everyone is aware who the local guys are, and every one of their opponents on day 1 made sure to lose. I don't think that was mandated by the Association; rather, I think the oyakata who governed the guys who lost all made the decision on their own to let the locals start with some nice momentum.

Sumo has enjoyed a surge in popularity, and every day of every tournament heading into Kyushu has been a complete sell-out, but as we all know, there's a much smaller population to draw from in Fukuoka, and so a huge effort is being made within the Association to keep up the momentum. Now, of course the Sumo Association would like every day of every tournament to sell out regardless, but this basho they are actually providing buses from remote areas that have Makuuchi rikishi like Kumamoto to help fill the stands. Prior to Sadanoumi's bout today (a dude from nearby Kumamoto), they actually showed one of the buses pulling up and the people getting off only to be welcomed by that dumb yellow bird with a sign welcoming the guests as they exited the bus. You can see that there is a major effort by the Sumo Association to really try and sell the place out every day--which is what they should do. I just think it's weak that oyakata and rikishi feel as if they have to further contribute to the effort by compromising bouts.

I just wanted to make this point early on because having guys go mukiryoku at strategic points along the tournament is key to sumo's continued success and popularity because I'm telling you, after watching the content of the bouts two days in--especially the bouts the last 30 minutes when things should really be heating up, the sumo has been just terrible.

As previously mentioned, I missed the M15 Ishiura - M16 Gagamaru matchup, and if you care to view the bout, look it up online. Ishiura reportedly defeated Gagamaru with an inside belt throw giving the rookie his first Makuuchi win while Gagamaru fell to 0-2.

M14 Chiyotairyu came with a mammoth tachi-ai where he crushed M15 Toyohibiki back from the start and didn't even think pull as he scored the tsuki-dashi win that was so quick, Toyohibiki nary had time to evade to his right. You know this bout gave me a stiffie as Chiyotairyu is off to a hot start at 2-0 while one of the locals falls to 1-1.

M13 Hidenoumi and M14 Sokokurai were destined to fight in migi-yotsu today despite a few tsuki shoves to the side from both parties at the tachi-ai. As the two settled in after a few seconds, Sokokurai had his gal more upright, and so he was eventually able to use that deep right inside position to work Hidenoumi out without ever grabbing the outer grip. Sokokurai is simply the better belt fighter as he moves to 2-0 while Hidenoumi is still winless.

M13 Ichinojo played the part of brick wall at the tachi-ai grabbing a long left outer grip over the top of his opponent, M12 Chiyootori, who was ducked down too far for his own good. With Chiyootori trying to burrow in tight, Ichinojo just leaned downwards onto him and eventually slapped him down in about eight seconds. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

M12 Daishomaru caught M11 Kyokushuho with a nice left tsuki to the side from the tachi-ai that knocked Kyokushuho off balance and forward, and before he could ever pick up the pieces, Daishomaru finished him off with a final shove to the side and to the face for good measure. They announced afterwards that Kyokushuho injured his ribs on the right side of his ribcage during the recent exhibitions, which helps to explain this lopsided loss, especially at the hands of Daishomaru. I wonder if Daishomaru knew that Shuho's right ribs were vulnerable and that's why he shoved him there with the left from the start?? If that was intentional, good on him as he picks up his first win while Kyokushuho will circle the drain fast at 0-2.

After a fine debut yesterday, M11 Hokutofuji came with a nice right paw to the throat of M10 Arawashi, but instead of driving forward, he skipped to his right, and the move was so unorthodox, it actually caused Arawashi to trip on his own two feet a bit, but he recovered quickly and as Hokutofuji charged back forward, Arawashi grabbed his extended left arm and pulled him dangerously towards the tawara. After all this, neither guy was settled the first four or five seconds, but once they did settle in for reals, Arawashi grabbed the right inside left outer grip combination, and the rookie couldn't solve the crafty Mongolian from there. Arawashi looks good at 2-0 while Hokutofuji (1-1) blew this one by not using de-ashi as part of his tachi-ai.

M10 Chiyoshoma henka'd wildly to his right at the tachi-ai, but M9 Myogiryu survived easily and quickly pounced into his compromised opponent sending him back and off of the dohyo in a flash. I love it when a guy who henkas gets his ass kicked, and this was the case today as Myogiryu picks up the solid win moving to 2-0 while Chiyoshoma falls to 1-1.

It was at this point of the broadcast when they showed the bus from Kumamoto being unloaded with Kumamoto fans from a demographic that I would label "extremely gullible." Good thing the Kumamoto folk have Shodai to root for as well because M9 Kagayaki caught M8 Sadanoumi with nice tsuppari to the neck keeping him away from the inside, and so the Kumamoto native switched gears attempting to move right and counter with a left tsuki, but he fumbled over his own two feet allowing Kagayaki to finish him off tsuki-dashi style. Both rikishi end the affair at 1-1.

M8 Ikioi and M7 Takanoiwa traded wild tsuppari from the start before Ikioi got his right arm to the inside and then in trademark fashion used his size advantage to unleash a right scoop throw that broke off Takanoiwa's left outer grip and sent him hopping off balance and out of the ring from there. Ikioi looks decent at 2-0 while Takanoiwa falls to a rough 0-2 start.

M7 Takekaze charged straight forward into M6 Nishikigi and was rather high for his own good, but the hapless Nishikigi had no idea what was going on and was pulled down straightway as Takekaze just backed up. Normally when you have a guy who comes straight at you and tries to climb the ladder from the front, you just kick his ass, but Nishikigi was clueless here, and I watch sumo like this from the kid and wonder how he's still in the division. Well, I know how he's still in the division, but regardless of that, he's off to a lousy 0-2 start. Takekaze improves to 2-0 for what it's worth.

In on of the better bouts of the tournament so far, M6 Tochinoshin and M5 Takarafuji hooked up in the gappuri migi-yotsu position from the start, but Takarafuji was burrowed in tighter keeping the Private standing straight upright and at attention, and so Takarafuji wasted no time bodying his foe back and across for the nice yori-kiri win. I wish this one could have lasted a bit longer as Takarafuji is off to a sweet 2-0 start while Tochinoshin falls to 0-2.

At this point of the broadcast, the crowd worked itself into a frenzy as M5 Shohozan stepped into the ring, and my first impression was, "You guys do know that this is Shohozan, right?" The local would receive no charity today as M4 Kotoyuki answered the bell with a left paw to the face and a henka to his right that sent Shohozan forward and off balance from the git-go. Kotoyuki had the wily henka planned all the way as he burrowed forward hard sending Shohozan back and out in about two seconds. They ruled it tsuki-dashi, but if I was commissioner, I'd disallow such an honorable kimari-te in a bout that started off with a henka. Regardless, both rikishi end the day 1-1.

M4 Chiyonokuni kept both arms wide open at the tachi-ai as he just rushed forward into the waiting arms of M3 Shodai, who secured moro-zashi with ease and sent Chiyonokuni packing straight back and out despite the feigned kubi-nage counter attempts from Kuni. This was another mukiryoku bout that favored Shodai, and it's why I continue to say that I have no idea about his sumo style. At 2-0, he should keep that bus from Kumamoto full while Chiyonokuni graciously retreats to an 0-2 start after bowing to two locals in as many days.

M2 Yoshikaze tried to tsuppari Sekiwake Okinoumi away from the belt, but Okinoumi is just too long and was able to work his left arm to the inside forcing the bout to yotsu-zumo. Yoshikaze tried a counter scoop throw with his left, but Okinoumi was pressed in too tight using his right leg to keep Yoshikaze in check as he just bodied him back across the straw before Yoshikaze could score on a final counter shove. Both rikishi end the day at 1-1.

In a laughable bout, Sekiwake Takayasu came with his arms tucked in tight and head lowered against Ozeki Goeido, and as soon as he felt the slightest touch from the Ozeki, which came in the form of a right hand to the side, he took a knee just like that. This one was blatantly obvious, and when you analyze it in terms of physics, a big guy like Takayasu taking a knee would happen as a result of a pull down. A tsuki (a push...in this case from the side) would have knocked Takayasu over sideways, but it wouldn't send him straight down. Then, Takayasu represents an impressive amount of mass, and in order to move that mass if it was trying to stay upright, you'd need a lot more action and force than what actually came from the Ozeki today. As is often the case in thrown bouts among the elite ranks, the fall does not match the kimari-te. Blatant yaocho here as Goeido is off to a 2-0 start while Takayasu falls to 1-1.

The intentionally lethargic Ozeki Terunofuji kept his arms out wide allowing M3 Endoh moro-zashi, and the Ozeki feigned a few half-assed kubi-nage attempts and perhaps a flinch at a tsuki-otoshi, but he largely just stood there allowing Endoh to body him back and out. As if. If you've noticed a lack of pre-basho and post-basho reports from my end lately, it's because of shull bit like this. What's the point of breaking this kinda stuff down?? I don't break down choreography in Broadway plays just like I don't break down fake sumo. There were so many elements missing from the Ozeki's sumo today not the least of which was his failure to grab the dual outside kote grips after giving up moro-zashi.  Terunofuji falls to 0-2 after the gift while Endoh picks up his first win at 1-1.

Ozeki Kotoshogiku kept his arms way out wide at the tachi-ai against Komusubi Mitakeumi, and I've never seen him use that right arm in a swinging fashion from the outside. The result was the easy moro-zashi for Mitakeumi, but before he could settle in, the Ozeki pressed forward sorta threatening a right kote-nage/right tsuki, and so Mitakeumi adjusted by moving out right and pulling the Ozeki down with a right scoop throw and left shoulder slap. It wouldn't surprise me if Mitakeumi was calling in a favor with this one as both rikishi end the day 1-1.

Ozeki Kisenosato used a hari-zashi tachi-ai slapping with the right and going for the left inside, and Komusubi Tamawashi simply complied keeping his arms out wide in ridiculous fashion, and so Kisenosato pressed forward leading with the left and grabbing the right outer grip as he easily forced the listless--not to mention perfectly upright--Tamawashi back and across. Kisenosato is a quiet 2-0 wile Tamawashi (1-1) was entirely mukiryoku in this one giving the Ozeki the freebie, and even if I'm incorrect in my yaocho calls (I'm not), is it too much to ask for good, straight-up bouts at this level of the banzuke. The sumo has just been awful, and the problem is it wouldn't get much better the rest'a the day.

Yokozuna Harumafuji moved to his left, grabbed the easy outer belt, and just used M2 Kaisei's forward momentum against him bowling the Brasilian forward and down in a second. We see henka like this from Harumafuji several times a basho, and it just contributes to the ongoing theme of bad sumo. The Yokozuna picks up his first win with the quick and dirty henka while Kaisei is 0-2.

I still haven't figured out what's going on in Hakuho's bouts. Both against Okinoumi yesterday and Aoiyama today, the endings have been so bizarre not to mention the lame tachi-ai. Hakuho went in lightly again today with a right kachi-age against M1 Aoiyama, but he pulled back in curious fashion never committing to the move and resulting in a terrible tachi-ai. As Aoiyama timidly came forward with a right paw to the neck, the Yokozuna moved to his right and fired a slap into Aoiyama's left arm that sent him off balance and down, but still, I didn't see a whole lot of force here to send a big guy like Aoiyama down like that. Strange bout of sumo, and my guess is that Aoiyama and Okinoumi both came in timid and expecting to lose, and they did just that as Aoiyama falls to 0-2 while Hakuho is an easy 2-0. Is it too much to ask Hakuho to just go out and kick someone's ass?

I can think of two bouts today that were good sumo: Tochinoshin vs. Takarafuji and Yokozuna Kakuryu vs. M1 Tochiohzan. And notice how I said good but not great. Both combatants here hooked up in hidari-yotsu where Tochiohzan enjoyed the right outer grip. One thing that I've noticed with Oh's sumo is that he never looks comfortable to me fighting without moro-zashi, but he held on with that right outer causing Kakuryu to attempt a quick maki-kae with the right, but he backed off of the move before Oh even attempted to capitalize on a momentum shift. With Oh unable to mount any pressure despite his advantageous grip, Kakuryu proactively wrenched his hips cutting off Tochiohzan's outer grip, and from there, the Yokozuna took over easily scoring the yori-kiri win. Kakuryu moves to 2-0 with the good sumo while Tochiohzan failed on a couple of opportunities falling to 0-2.

It's been hard to find any silver linings to the basho so far, and something tells me that things won't improve much from here. We'll see what Harvye can dig up tomorrow.

Day 1 Comments (Harvye Hodja reporting)
The Storyteller's back, so that's the number one storyline for you. As the greatest of all time, in an injury-return-tournament, our attention is riveted on what Hakuho intends to do. The tournament is his for the taking. He's still just 31, and should be entering five years or so of golden grit in which he still manages to win lot of tournaments, letting us wax on his greatness and moon over the amazingness of his waning but still oh-so-powerful career. Go for 50.

But, instead, my prescription is that he will retire soon. Within the next two years. He's been setting it up for a couple of years now, dropping out of two of the last seven tournaments, losing five matches in one tournament (July) for only the second time since 2007.

So, the storyline, as usual, is all Hakuho: will he? Won't he?

But wait--who is that unfamiliar rikishi staring at me from the outdoor, featured magazine rack of the bookstore I pass by on the way to work? Sumo rarely appears prominently in the everyday media environment surrounding me: yeah, it's there if you look for it, but in terms of being pushed on you by the mass culture, like, say, sex, or driving trips for old people, or fried chicken being lifted out a vat of bubbling fat, sumo isn't a daily visitor, so when it does pop up in the National Mass Culture, I take note. And the reason I couldn't recognize the mug on the mag smiling in the November sun for a moment was that I'm not used to seeing that face in this forum: it was Goeido. And his story is, of course, the OTHER storyline, the official storyline line, the "real" (as in "reality TV") storyline. Will he? Won't he? Goeido is up for promotion to Yokozuna, and there hasn't been a Japanese Yokozuna promotion since 1998--eighteen long years, by god. So you can understand the excitement.

My prediction is, he won't. Here is rival Ozeki Kotoshogiku's record for the four tournaments before and the four tournaments after his yusho, which also had him in Yokozuna contention:

May 2015: 6-9
July 2015: 8-7
September 2015: 11-4
November 2015: 8-6-1
January 2016: 14-1 (Championship)
March 2016: 8-7 (was up for Yokozuna promotion...)

May 2016: 10-5
July 2016: 1-6-8
September 2016: 9-6a

As you can see, after his ridiculous outlier tournament in January, Kotoshogiku promptly went back to being the rikishi he already was, averaging a 7-6 record per tournament (taking out the injury matches), very similar to the 8-7 (rounded) record he averaged before it.

Here is Goeido's mark in the four tournaments leading up to his yusho:

January 2016: 4-11
March 2016: 12-3
May 2016: 9-6
July 2016: 7-8
September 2016: 15-0 (Championship)
November 2016: ???

Like Kotoshogiku, expect him to immediately fade back to where was: an 8-7 average. Congratulations to him for his September championship, and goodbye for now--the media will have some fun with him this tournament, but he is no Yokozuna, nor, this time, a yusho contender. Not even the Sumo Association wants a Yokozuna whose average record is 8-7.

To the banzuke! Ah, day one. We have no injury-withdrawal rikishi this time, meaning the thing is like a Swiss clock, with each wrestler facing the guy ranked right next to him until you get up to Sekiwake, after which they feed the dolphins to the sharks.

M16 Gagamaru vs. M15 Toyohibiki
Nice to see these two big bruisers engage in a power battle, with a hard hit off the tachi-ai and a quick linear force out from there, oshi-dashi by Toyohibiki, who won by getting his hands down low while Gagamaru was still working against his shoulders. Stand 'im up, push 'im out.

M15 Ishiura vs. M14 Chiyotairyu
The first of our two rookies, Ishiura's stats provide little hope for his future: at 173 centimeters and 103 kilograms, he's small, and at 26, he's old for his upper division debut. He spent ten tournaments in Juryo, and had no record worse than 6-9 and no better than 9-6. So, those who like him will have to hope he's a wildly fecund late-bloomer. Those who don't can watch him get destroyed. I thought he had two choices here: start his Makuuchi career with a loss by being blown away by human cannonball Chiyotairyu, or start his career with a henka. He chose the former, getting blasted back by Chiyotairyu off the tachi-ai, then rag-dolled to the dirt by an instant opportunistic pull, hataki-komi. Helpless and overwhelmed.

M14 Sokokurai vs. M13 Ichinojo
Here's two candidates for a big bounce-back tournament: Ichinojo is crazily under-ranked here, and Sokokurai similar. 13 and 14? Sheesh. However, Ichinojo played ultra-vulnerable, standing still with his arms akimbo at the tachi-ai. Sokokurai surged underneath and worked for an initial overhand left, then eventually a controlling inner right, and while it took him awhile, with Ichinojo doing his typical "I'm so heavy you can't push me over the tawara, fool!" thing, that was all Sokokurai needed, yori-kiri.

M13 Hidenoumi vs. M12 Chiyootori
Country Bumpkin (Hidenoumi) looked charming in luscious new bright pink (rotting tropical fruit?). However, he was uniformly terrible, failing or declining to go for the belt and not evading to either side. Yes, Chiyootori keyed the win by pushing hard with his arms to drive Hidenoumi upright, giving Chiyootori the controlling lower position, but he too was all arms here, and I wasn't convinced much by this aggressive-looking but ultimately saggy yori-kiri win.

M12 Daishomaru vs. M11 Hokutofuji
Our second rookie, heretofore Daiki rechristened Hokutofuji for this tournament, has much better stats than Ishiura. At 182 centimeters and 158 kilometers, he has about average height and solid weight. At 24 he is no spring chicken, but he was a college guy and his entire sumo career spans just ten tournaments, whipping through six ranks with nary a losing record, including a blistering two-tournament run through Juryo, going 10-5 and then picking up the Juryo championship at 12-3. So far so good. But before you get too excited, remember, as a college guy he was experienced and polished before he ever entered the division: his success is to be expected to a degree. And 182 ain't bad but it ain't great. Same for 24. So, sight unseen, I'd predict a future sanyaku mainstay but no more. Here, you knew Daishomaru was going to want to pull. Would Hokutofuji show polish and preparation by handling it, or weak mind and technique by falling for it? He played it just right, playing the tachi-ai straight up but immediately fading to the side as prophylactic, then pummeling his disoriented opponent hard with shoves, finishing him off with a neck hold (hard to pull when you're staring at the ceiling), oshi-dashi. Weak opponent, but Hokutofuji looked very good here.

M11 Kyokushuho vs. M10 Arawashi
Like a fly colliding with flypaper, Kyokushuho bounced against Arawashi but couldn't bounce off: Arawashi had easily reached over his overeager opponent on the left and grabbed his belt, and while Kyokushuho was still figuring out how to get away it was too late: Arawashi made very easy yori-kiri drive-out work of his befuddled-looking foe.

M10 Chiyoshoma vs. M9 Kagayaki
Chiyoshoma's most common winning technique thus far is overhand throw, uwatenage--but at 16%. In other words, he HAS NO top technique--he's a junkballer who takes what he gets. That was the case here, as the large Kagayaki drove him back with frantic slaps, but Chiyoshoma took advantage of his not-very-good opponent by stepping to the side at the tawara and letting the overextended man fall down, hataki-komi.

M9 Myogiryu vs. M8 Ikioi
Coupla underachievers of late; these are guys various people think/want to be sanyaku mainstays, but instead they're Maegashira yo-yos. Nice work by Ikioi, though, who drove hard with his legs and never relented, adjusting appropriately when Myogiryu shifted out to the side. Both men were flying through the air, Myogiryu 100% ass over tits, free-floating, Ikioi following behind like an iron arrow fired from a cannon, at the end in this edifying demonstration of hard-hitting yori-taoshi sumo.

M8 Sadanoumi vs. M7 Takanoiwa
We've seen a bunch of nonsense wins from Takanoiwa over the last few tournaments, so, nice to see him get thoroughly dismantled here. He stood up and was thinking evasion and pull from the beginning, but Sadanoumi stuck to him like greasy sweat on a cold day, and this one was over in seconds, yori-kiri.

M7 Takekaze vs. M6 Tochinoshin
Ah, lovely. After that stupid red-robed gyoji finished distractingly yelling, "put your hands down!" like a grumpy broken record, Takekaze went ahead and did what he does best: evaded contact, spun around in a tight, dizzying circle, and pulled his opponent down, hataki-komi. He's beautifully good at this ugly thing (though Tochinoshin was lamely overly-compliant).

M6 Nishikigi vs. M5 Takarafuji
Overachiever on the left, underachiever on the right. Neither is ranked correctly right now. Consequently, in this straightforward body-up battle, Takarafuji methodically prevailed. Even though he spent most of the match without a belt grip, his head and torso were consistently lower, and his legs positioned well apart, so that when he did at last get on the belt it was a simple matter to finish off his man, yori-kiri.

M5 Shohozan vs. M4 Chiyonokuni
While Shohozan spent the pre-bout prep busily kicking dirt about, Chiyonokuni took a nice bite of salt off his wrist. You knew this was going to be a hard hitting one, and Chiyonokuni was ready for it. However, in a battle of small but aggressive guys, as you knew he would be, Shohozan was the bigger little package. While Chiyonokuni basically bounced off him and then frantically flayed around, Shohozan concentrated on getting close and forward. When he got to the tawara he tipped Chiyonokuni over by the butt button, shitate-nage, in a nice looking but ultimately simple throw--he'd dominated this one and had any number of paths to victory.

M4 Kotoyuki vs. M3 Shodai
Mike's been saying for a long time he doesn't know what Shodai's style is because he doesn't get enough straight up bouts for us to figure that out. I mostly agree, but also think Shodai's calling card is presence and ring sense. He doesn't get rattled, and isn't easy to move. Anyhoo, tired of feeling like Shodai is a bland enigma, I decided to watch this one with an eye to "who is Shodai, anyway?" Yep: as usual, there wasn't much to see, but if you think of it in terms and patience and poise, you begin to have the key to him. Kotoyuki was busy with lots and lots of wicked thrusts to the head, but curiously Shodai was largely unmoved. In the end, Kotoyuki gave a very sloppy effort on one of those neck shoves--to be honest, it looked like he missed on purpose--and became easy okuri-dashi fodder for Shodai. Call it luck, a gift, skill--take your pick, Shodai still has another unimpressive win.

S Takayasu vs. M3 Endo
Don't look now, but today's 4:00 p.m. puff piece was a feature on Takayasu. Ozeki run, anyone? The crowd was amped and noisy for this one, but it sucked. Takayasu tsuppari'd his small, underpowered opponent backwards and stepped forward efficiently, and Endo gave up at the tawara and stepped out, oshi-dashi. Oh, kay.

M2 Yoshikaze vs. O Terunofuji
The crowd remained into it here. Honestly, they sounded kinda drunk at this point. But Yoshikaze is from nearby Oita prefecture, so let them enjoy themselves. Terunofuji has been on very shaky ground--fighting like he has been, where can he get his eight wins to avoid demotion?--and that continued here. He offered virtually nothing: a little cat-slap at the tachi-ai, like whisking Yoshikaze's face with a Kleenex, then a defensive sideways stance while Yoshikaze dominated him easily and got both arms inside. After that, Yoshikaze put his hand way, way back on the butt button, then bodily lifted Terunofuji off the ground and slung him across the straw for an impressive-looking tsuri-dashi win. I abandoned Terunofuji's sinking ship some tournaments ago, and continue to hope he gets demoted, so he can, I hope, give us a late-phase Miyabiyama-ijn-resurgence career rather than a late-phase Kaio-in-decline career.

O Kotoshogiku vs. M2 Kaisei
Oh, the crowd was really having fun now. Third match in a row with rooting-interest guys on the mound; Kotoshogiku is a hometown hero. But the uwate-dashi-nage win by Froggy (Kotoshogiku) was swift and weird looking: Kotoshogiku essentially pulled a wee little henka at the tachi-ai, allowing him to get to Kaisei's side, then pushed Kaisei out from there, with Kaisei hopping sideways (the earth shakes!) and finally leaping laterally fully off the dohyo, like a nimble fat leprechaun practicing flying-deep-knee-bends.

M1 Aoiyama vs. O Kisenosato
Only the really drunk guys were stilling yelling much. Had the flower of Kisenosato's Yokozuna proximity wilted so precipitously? Yes! But it didn't mean he couldn't spritz it up with a little happily-received charity. Worst bout of the day so far, as Aoiyama limply put his hands on Kisenosato and backed up. Kisenosato, naturally, pushed gamely forward and got the easy, ugly, boring "yori-kiri" win.

O Goeido vs. M1 Tochiohzan
The crowd was now somewhat in what I will call hushed and apprehensive anticipation. As in, "should we really give in and believe in this shullbit??" They were wary of Goeido. How could a rikishi who had given them so many good-natured chuckles over the past few years really be expected to now sell as "best of the best"? They were uncertain. Oh, hell, they finally said, let's enjoy! Buy them tickets, shout them cheers. Goeido complied with solid energy and power, an excellent low, aggressive tachi-ai--matched by one of the quickest retreats to the tawara that you'll ever see by Tochiohzan. Tochiohzan resisted there a bit, even evaded some, but he was up to absolutely nothing here, modified practice dummy, oshi-dashi loser. Well, this was to be expected. Give it a few days.

Y Hakuho vs. S Okinoumi
Two false starts by Okinoumi. What did it mean? Who knows. Hakuho didn't show his best, but he showed plenty, ramming over the top of Okinoumi like a hit-and-run Camaro killing your dog, then revving into reverse with a screech of the tires while your dog put both front paws on the bloody ground and limply passed, tsuki-otoshi. Shumb dit.

K Mitakeumi vs. Y Kakuryu
Did you know Mitakeumi is from Nagano, the first wrestler from Nagano in the sanyaku in 84 years? Okay, I used to live in Nagano; I'm going to have to root for him now. Nicknames, nicknames... Mountain Bandit? Valley Curmudgeon? Until something better occurs to me I better stick with The Bully. This was a simple, dominant push-out by a much better wrestler, oshi-dashi by Kakuryu, who didn't look particularly good here, working too high up, but as debutant Komusubi The Bully probably had nerves today and was an easy get.

Y Harumafuji vs. K Tamawashi
No. Reason. To. Lose. I perked up for this one. And what we saw was indeed a thoroughgoing destruction. But the perpetrator was Tamawashi. Harumafuji sloppily let Tamawashi get to his side, and he was crumbled and crushed out instantly, oshi-dashi, in as dominant a performance as you'll see. But you can get sloppy when concussed. This was all Tamawashi, keyed by a wicked noggin' thunk on the tachi-ai that left the Yokozuna vulnerable to the attack of this hard-hitting, oft ignored, underappreciated rikishi. Knock out!

Mike is born free tomorrow.






















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