Aki Basho Roundtable
I haven't really decided if this was an overall good basho or not. It definitely had its share of interesting storylines and the yusho record was 13-2, but maybe I'm just disenchanted with the way Asashoryu won this thing, especially with his tachi-ai henka on day 14 against Chiyotaikai. There were some outstanding performances and streaks throughout, but I think the overall impression of the basho is lowered when one Yokozuna sits out, and two Ozeki can't even win eight.
Starting with the champion, there's not much to say about Yokozuna Asashoryu that we haven't already said. His streak of eleven straight wins to start off the tournament was amazing. Asa used nine different techniques to defeat those eleven opponents and he combined lightning speed and surprising power along the way. His overall performance was a bit anticlimactic, however, as he lost to Wakanosato on day 12 and allowed that loss to affect his sumo the rest of the way. On day 14 against Chiyotaikai, Asa jumped to his right and committed the cardinal sin in my view, the tachi-ai henka. To his credit, he didn't slap Chiyo down in the process but used it as a means to force the fight to the belt, which obviously gave Asa the upper hand. It was eerily similar to last year's Aki basho when then Yokozuna Takanohana side-stepped Chiyotaikai on day 14 to keep himself in the yusho hunt. That win by Asashoryu left a bad taste in my mouth, but when you step back and look at the whole 15 days, Asashoryu deserved the yusho.
As long as we're mentioning Asashoryu and Takanohana in the same breath, it was comical to see the Japanese press refer to Asashoryu as the next "Takanohana." Not because of his performance in the ring, but because Asashoryu refused to speak to the press for most of this basho. Instead of finding something critical about the Yokozuna, the press needs to start projecting whether or not Asashoryu's total number of yusho will surpass the mark of 22 yusho set by Takanohana. Asa's only 22 years old, and he's already got four yusho under his belt. If Asa averages just three yusho a year over the next four years, that would put him at sixteen yusho at the age of 26. He'd just need six more for the rest of his career to equal Takanohana. It's a very feasible number, but Asa might start to rethink his strategy of trying to beat his opponents with the tsuri-dashi and tsuri-otoshi moves, both techniques that require Asa to lift his opponents completely off the ground. Save your health and lower back for the future.
Staying in the Yokozuna ranks, Musashimaru (no, he hasn't retired yet) withdrew before the festivities began, so I'll take this opportunity to pile on the Musashigawa-beya as a whole. Nice basho fellas. Five whole wins among one Yokozuna, one Ozeki, and one Sekiwake. Of course Musashimaru was inactive, but the highest-ranked rikishi that either Musoyama or Miyabiyama could beat was Maegashira 3 Hokutoriki. It was slightly better for the Musashigawa hiramaku although only one of the four obtained kachi-koshi and that was newcomer M11 Kakizoe who barely scraped by with eight wins after a five bout losing streak to start off week two. And how does M10 Dejima only go 6-9 ranked that low? This stable has got some serious issues. Somehow, they've managed to parlay a stable containing one dominant Yokozuna and three Ozeki a few years ago into an embarrassing mix of underachievers. Maybe Takamisakari would feel more comfortable doing de-geiko at Musashigawa-beya in November instead of getting his ass handed to him day after day by Asashoryu.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai was second best this basho and is probably asking himself "what if?" on a number of issues. What if Tosanoumi hadn't side-stepped me at the tachi-ai in our day 6 bout? What if Asashoryu hadn't done the same on day 14? What if Kaio hadn't snapped out of his funk for just one day when he faced me on day 13? What if I had taken Hokutoriki seriously? One thing you can probably say about sumo is you have to have a little bit of luck and a couple of breaks along the way, and Chiyotaikai seemed to get none of them this Aki. He needs to keep his head up, however, as he was fairly consistent throughout and never once succumbed to his habit of pulling down his opponents. Chiyotaikai will be the high-ranking Ozeki for Kyushu, a position that he and Kaio have seemingly traded back and forth for the last year. He was a lot closer to the yusho this basho than his record indicates.
Ozeki Kaio was a complete enigma this basho. I fully expected something disastrous to happen as this was a basho following a Kaio yusho. The Ozeki did jump out to an impressive 6-1 start, but when he ran into a string of yotsu-zumo specialists beginning on day eight, he just crumbled. Kaio's sole victory this basho over rikishi adept at fighting at the belt was against Kotoryu on day 2, but Kotoryu's stature is small enough that Kaio can beat him even when not 100%. Kaio's eight losses were against: Takamisakari, Tochinonada, Kyokutenho, Asasekiryu, Wakanosato, Kotomitsuki, Tochiazuma, and Asashoryu. Not one of these rikishi is a slouch when it comes to yotsu-zumo, so this tells me that Kaio was not physically all there this basho. He also didn't have one uawate-nage victory, so maybe his right arm really was bothering him. Something was also eating at Kaio mentally as he lashed out at several opponents in the press, which is completely uncharacteristic of him. If history holds true, Kaio should roar back in Kyushu and take over the Higashi Ozeki slot from Chiyotaikai.
Ozeki Tochiazuma put together a solid basho, but can he do it again in Kyushu? It seems he and Musoyama have been tag teaming between kadoban status and double-digit wins of late. Since Musoyama turned in his one-win-phantom-injury-withdrawal performance this basho, I guess it was Tochiazuma's turn to shine. Tochiazuma showed glimpses of his old self, but his being manhandled by fellow Ozeki Chiyotaikai on senshuraku just showed how big of a gap exists between the two. Tochiazuma has got to show some consistency.
Sekiwake Wakanosato ended this basho with a bang that included a dominant performance against Yokozuna Asashoryu. The eleven wins coupled with his ten wins in July have him back in the Ozeki promotion spotlight where he belongs. I am convinced that Wakanosato has a yusho in him in the near future; he's just got to stop losing early on to rikishi that he should normally beat. He's the only guy right now who can keep himself in the sanyaku consistently. Miyabiyama, Tosanoumi, Toki, Takamisakari, Kyokutenho, and Tochinonada are all capable of sticking in the sanyaku, but the pressure must get to them because they spend one basho among the elite, promptly make-koshi, then fall back down to upper-Maegashira only to perform well the next basho and be promoted back up to the sanyaku. It's too bad we can't include Tochiazuma and Musoyama in this group as well as they would surely qualify. It's time for Wakanosato to make his move.
Both Komusubi, Toki and Tosanoumi, dug too deep of holes early on to recover from and salvage their basho. Both rikishi had solid wins over their opponents, but call it the sanyaku jinx. Tosanoumi has been here before, and he'll undoubtedly be back, so let's focus on Toki. This was Toki's first basho in the sanyaku, and I thought he fought pretty well. There's no shame in his 7-8 record. I've accepted the fact that this guy is completely one-dimensional, so he deserves praise for winning among the jo'i even though his opponents know exactly what's coming. I think that Toki is going to be another Kotonowaka only with a completely opposite style. His big body will allow him to stay high in the ranks, but the one advantage for Toki is that his style doesn't invite injury. At this rate, he'll outlast Takamiyama.
The Maegashira ranks produced some outstanding performances for the second basho in a row. M1 Takamisakari was his usual self when fighting from the hiramaku: 9-6 record and a special prize. On one hand, Takamisakari deserves a prize every basho for the attention he has commanded to the sport, but on the other hand, he didn't deserve the Kantosho in September. What did he show us that we haven't seen before? His loss to Aminishiki on senshuraku was ugly, and I'm glad that Takami was so pissed during his Kantosho interview. He didn't say one word only offering a few grunts, huffs, and glares. I like to see that intensity after a loss. Too bad I can't say the same thing for Kyokutenho, the other Kantosho recipient. Way to coast to the finish after your double-digit wins and special prize were in the bag.
M1 Tochinonada was a ho-hum 8-7. For most rikishi, that record fighting against the jo'i is excellent, but I think Tochinonada can do better. The only memory I have this basho that stands out for Tochinonada is his two second loss to Asashoryu. Takamisakari and Kyokutenho are shoe-ins for the three vacated sanyaku spots. I wonder if Tochinonada will get the third or if Iwakiyama can sneak up from M5 to earn his first sanyaku promotion with an 11-5 record. I'd give the nod to Iwakiyama.
Speaking of Iwakiyama, he won 11 of his last 12 bouts with that sole loss coming against Asashoryu. Iwakiyama's performance was worthy of the Ginosho special prize he received. Of course he favors the oshi-zumo style, but he's no slouch at the belt either. Compare Toki and Iwakiyama--two rikishi of roughly the same build. If someone grabs Toki's belt, he's finished, but not so with Iwakiyama. Iwakiyama's finest hour this basho was on day 12 against Tochiazuma when he went toe to toe with the Ozeki and outclassed him.
I normally don't give any run to someone who suffers a make-koshi out of the sanyaku, but I have to wallop praise on M5 Asasekiryu. Coming from the same stable and country as Asashoryu, it wouldn't surprise anyone to see this guy try and mimic Asa's style. However, Asasekiryu is developing a style all is own, and he's already surpassed his ani-deshi in one category--patience. Seki's 7-8 mark will drop him down one notch in the banzuke, but give this guy a little bit more experience among the jo'i, and he may work wonders.
M6 Kotomitsuki looks to be back. How big were those early losses to Kaiho and Tokitsuumi? Many thought that Kotomitsuki should have been awarded a special prize, but posting 9 and 10 wins from the jo'i as Takamisakari and Kyokutenho did is a lot harder than posting eleven wins from the mid-Maegashira when a handful of your opponents are rank and file scrubs. I can't believe I'm saying this, but for the most part I actually agree with the Association's choices this basho in regards to the sansho.
M7 Tamanoshima deserves honorable mention for his 9-6 record even though he kind of petered out after a 5-0 start, and M9 Aminishiki also looked good at 10-5. Both rikishi will be rewarded with a big challenge at the top of the Maegashira ranks in November. And finally, newcomers M11 Kakizoe and M13 Wakatoba scraped by in their debut basho each posting 8-7 marks--something M15 Ushiomaru has failed to do two times in a row. Kakizoe jumped out to an impressive 6-1 start, but then was probably reminded that he's from the Musashigawa stable, so he promptly made up for it by losing his next five.
Looking ahead, there's no reason to believe that Kyushu will bring anything different from what we've seen this past year. Yokozuna Musashimaru's return in November looks extremely promising, but we'll just have to wait and find out if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
Day 13 Comments
Where do I start today? There's the tentativeness at the tachi-ai displayed by Asashoryu and Chiyotaikai; there's the hard object bonking Kaio on the head reminding him that he is the defending champion; and there's Maegashira 6 Kotomitsuki who didn't receive a sniff until day 12 and now finds himself in the yusho hunt at one off the pace. In twenty five hour's time, we've gone from speculation of whether or not we'd see the first zensho yusho in seven years to praying to god that the yusho line doesn't drop to three losses. Unbelievable turn around these last two days.
The drama today began with Ozeki Kaio and Ozeki Chiyotaikai squaring off. Kaio led the overall competition between these two at 14-11, but Chiyotaikai hadn't beaten his counterpart in well over a year. With Kaio's mental condition of late, I thought to myself here's where Chiyo gets one back, so what happens? Kaio comes up with a solid tachi-ai where he fights off Chiyo's initial tsuppari and easily pushes Chiyotaikai out of the ring in around three seconds. Before the bout began, both rikishi could not get their timing together at the tachi-ai. It took three times to get it right and every time Kaio was crouched and ready to go while Chiyo was dinking around. Former Yokozuna Hokutoumi, who provided today's analysis on the broadcast, mentioned that Chiyotaikai was probably trying to get into Kaio's head by making him redo his shikiri several times. He knew that Kaio was dinged up, so making him stand and crouch over and over would just frustrate him. I agree with that assessment, which leads to one question: why does Chiyotaikai try and play mind games with Kaio? Something had obviously already gotten into Kaio's head the last five days and it wasn't his fellow Ozeki. I think Chiyotaikai took himself out of the match today by trying to psyche out his opponent before it even began. Either that, or Kaio had cleaned out all of the bad chocolates from the box and had no choice but to choose a good one today. With the win, Kaio moves to 7-6 and suddenly gets new life in his quest for kachi-koshi. Chiyotaiki dropped to 10-3 and all but took himself out of the yusho race UNTIL...
Yokozuna Asashoryu was beaten straight up by Ozeki Tochiazuma handing the Yokozuna his second loss in as many days. Simply amazing. Once again, Asashoryu looked a bit indecisive at the tachi-ai and tried to grab the morozashi grip from the get go. Credit Tochiazuma, however, who held Asa's right hand down refusing him the morozashi grip and at the same time grabbing a firm right uwate in the process. Asashoryu found himself in the same predicament again today--his opponent with a firm right grip on his belt. Unlike yesterday where Asashoryu tried tooth and nail to fight off Wakanosato's grip, today he panicked and went for an ill-advised kotenage throw (the same armbar throw Kaio attempted in his first two losses) that easily let his opponent push him out of the ring and off the dohyo. Credit Tochiazuma for standing in there and taking what was given to him. Tochiazuma moves to 9-4 with the win, but won't get much praise from me until he stops this kadoban nonsense and puts two solid basho together in a row. As for Asashoryu, if he's reading this--and I know he is--go back to the tsuppari to your opponent's throat tachi-ai that you used so effectively against Takanonami this basho. Do something other than give your opponent the migi-uwate from the start. Asashoryu's too small to constantly fight of these uwate. With the loss, Asashoryu now stands at 11-2, but he still controls his own destiny with a one bout lead.
Tied for second with Chiyotaikai is the resurgent M6 Kotomitsuki who was rock solid today against M1 Takamisakari. Kotomitsuki blew his opponent off the line today with a full body crash into him at the tachi-ai followed by simultaneous tsuppari with both hands that sent Takamisakari flying off of the dohyo. The bout was over in one second well before the crowd had time to get behind their cross-eyed favorite. Kotomitsuki was simply overwhelming today, and the win moves him to 10-3--just one behind the leader Asashoryu. For his efforts, Kotomitsuki gets Sekiwake Wakanosato tomorrow and will probably get Chiyotaikai on senshuraku. Takamisakari does fall to 8-5 with the loss; however, he is all but guaranteed a return to the sanyaku next basho.
In other bouts today, Sekiwake Wakanosato overcame M1 Tochinonada in a classic yotsu-zumo bout to climb to 9-4. I'd really like to see Wakanosato win out and get a good start on a run to Ozeki. There's no reason why he can't achieve that rank. Kenji hit the nail right on the head yesterday when he said that Wakanosato is outgrowing his barometer title. Tochinonada falls to 6-7 and must win out for the kachi-koshi.
Sekiwake Miyabiyama finally got off the snide with a long-awaited win against M3 Hokutoriki. Both rikishi now stand at 4-9. This was a shoving match at first, but once the two rikishi hooked up, Miyabiyama used his girth to execute a perfect scoop throw over his smaller opponent.
Komusubi Toki was bullied by the rising M5 Iwakiyama to fall to 6-7. Iwakiyama is just too good for Toki to push around, so when he went for the--you guessed it--retreat and pull down, Iwakiyama just laughed it off by shoving Toki into the first row. Iwakiyama now moves to an impressive 9-4 while it looks as if Toki will fall from the sanyaku.
In one of my favorite bouts of the day, Komusubi Tosanoumi was defeated by the upstart M4 Asasekiryu. The bout went to yotsu-zumo with Tosanoumi holding the uwate and Asasekiryu with the shitate. Yotsu-zumo is clearly not Tosanoumi's forte and it showed today as the much smaller Seki was able to maneuver a perfect shitate-nage for the victory. Tosanoumi is saddled with that painful eighth loss to stand at 5-8 while Seki keeps his kachi-koshi hopes alive at 6-7.
Other notable mentions are M2 Kyokutenho (9-4), who is already at nine wins after schooling M9 Kinkaiyama (8-5) in a yotsu-zumo bout; M7 Tamanoshima (8-5) who finally secured kachi-koshi today by easily pushing out M15 Otsukasa (6-7); and M9 Aminishiki (9-4) who looks to jump right back up to the jo'i after manhandling M11 Tamarikido (6-7).
This basho is still Asashoryu's to lose. He just needs to win one out of his next two bouts to guarantee at worst a playoff for the yusho. If Kotomitsuki loses to Wakanosato tomorrow, Asashoryu will only need to beat Chiyotaikai to clinch the yusho on day 14, but after these last two days, anything can happen.
Day 11 Comments
As has been the case over the last few days, the only real question that remains this basho is will Asashoryu capture a zensho yusho, which means he must go a perfect 15-0. While it's easy to guarantee the yusho for Asashoryu at this point, guaranteeing a zensho yusho is a completely different story. The feat is so rare that it hasn't been accomplished since 1996. In order to go 15-0, a rikishi must be head and shoulders better than the rest of the field, and Asashoryu clearly fits that description this basho.
Today the Yokozuna was matched up against Sekiwake Miyabiyama who is no pushover despite his 3-7 record. For the second day in a row, Asashoryu was driven back at the tachi-ai by his larger opponent, and he appeared to be in some trouble today as Miyabiyama used some fierce tsuppari to drive Asa back to ring's edge, but the Yokozuna used the tawara to brace himself and grab the morozashi grip on Miyabi's belt virtually stopping the Sekiwake's charge. Now with the upper hand, Asashoryu drove Miyabiyama clear across the other side of the ring before forcing him out into the first row. After watching the replay, it was evident that Asashoryu was not in as much trouble as it first appeared. Another solid victory for the Yokozuna at 11-0 who is definitely up to the task of winning out. Miyabiyama falls to 3-8 and is in danger of falling back to the Maegashira.
As for the question of whether or not Asashoryu can win out, here's how I see it. His last four opponents will be: Wakanosato, Tochiazuma, Chiyotaikai, and Kaio. Kaio may withdraw before senshuraku, and if he does Asashoryu will probably get Tamanoshima instead. If there's been one weakness in Asashoryu's sumo this basho, it's been his tachi-ai. He's gotten into the habit of using the harite (slap to opponent's face) from the get go, and this has been allowing his larger opponents to drive him back. He may be using the tactic to avoid a tachi-ai henka, which I fully expect Tochiazuma or Chiyotaikai to use if Asashoryu's still undefeated. In short, the only way Asashoryu will lose this basho is if someone blows him away at the tachi-ai to the point where he can't recover. The only rikishi who is capable of this is Chiyotaikai. Asa also needs to be careful not to let Wakanosato grab an uwate unless the Yokozuna can secure the morozashi grip where he has both arms underneath the Barometer's armpits. Kaio is so mentally screwed up right now, he shouldn't pose a problem, and the only way Tochiazuma can win is if he resorts to Kyokushuzan-like tactics. It's definitely not a given at this point, but barring a tachi-henka in the last four days, I say Asashoryu has a 90% chance of winning out.
Ozeki Kaio looked completely lost today as Sekiwake Wakanosato forced him out. From the tachi-ai, Kaio stood up with both arms raised unclear of what he wanted to do. Wakanosato pushed the Ozeki and drove him back to ring's edge where Kaio attempted a few uninspired pull downs before being easily pushed out by Wakanosato. It doesn't look as if Kaio is injured right now--physically anyway. Mentally is a different story. Kaio has let something get in his head this basho; he's been snapping in the press at his opponent's tactics, which is something he's never done before. It will be a miracle at this point for Kaio to win his eight, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him withdraw if he loses to Kotomitsuki tomorrow. He knows there's no way he'll beat Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu in this condition, so he may as well withdraw. Kaio stands at 6-5 and has Kotomitsuki, Tochiazuma, Chiyotaikai, and Asashoryu over the last four days. Yikes. Wakanosato improves to 7-4 and is right on track for his typical 9-6 record as the East Sekiwake.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai kept himself in the yusho hunt with a win over M4 Asasekiryu today. This was kind of a strange bout in that Asasekiryu went for the pull down straight from the tachi-ai, but he didn't sidestep the Ozeki, which showed major stones. Asasekiryu actually held his ground as the two rikishi clashed, but the misguided pull down attempt left him too vulnerable to Chiyo's tsuppari. The Ozeki answered right away with some sharp tsuppari that drove Asasekiryu to ring's edge. Seki attempted to use tawara and hook up with Chiyotaikai, which he did to a degree, but Chiyo's forward momentum was too much for Asasekiryu to handle. Chiyo moves to 9-2 with the win while Asasekiryu falls to 5-6.
Ozeki Tochiazuma made it official today: at least two more months of bad sumo as an Ozeki. He picked up his eighth win today with an easy victory over Tokitsuumi. Tokitsuumi looked indecisive at the tachi-ai, and Tochiazuma used the hesitation to drive his shoulder into his opponent and easily force him out of the ring in two seconds. It was a pretty good win for the Ozeki who now moves to 8-3 officially erasing his kadoban status. Tokitsuumi falls to 4-7.
Komusubi Toki won today in typical Toki fashion so I won't bother describing it. The win gives the Komusubi a 6-5 record, which is an excellent record considering he's done fighting the jo'i. His opponent, M2 Hokutoriki falls to 4-7 and should drop down the ranks to a more comfortable fighting rank next basho. The other Komusubi, Tosanoumi, also prevailed in his match today against M1 Takamisakari much to the disappointment of the crowd. This was typical Takamisakari sumo where he gets the migi-sashi and lets his opponent drive him to ring's edge before turning the tables at the tawara. The problem today was that Takamisakari executed his counter move two steps in from the tawara, so while he did swing Tosanoumi around and back, the Komusubi was still in the ring, so Tosanoumi who now had the momentum used it to perfection to swing Takamisakari around and out. Tosanoumi claws his way back near the .500 mark at 5-6. Takamisakari drops to 7-4 and may have hurt his chances to win a special prize.
While were on the topic of special prizes. NO ONE deserves one this basho. I can't wait to see who the Kyokai awards them to this time around. Feginowaka, a fan from Liechtenstein, emailed us last basho and said, "you can't even predict the sansho prizes even if you know the final results of the tournament." I completely agree with his statement.
Capturing that coveted eighth win in the Maegashira ranks today was M6 Kotomitsuki who used his superior technique to defeat M1 Tochinonada's superior size. Six others are stuck at 7-4.
Day 9 Comments
Nine days in and Asashoryu is on a roll. I agree with Kenji that now it's only a matter of will Asashoryu finally get that 15-0 yusho. Today he used his awesome speed to defeat the second heaviest rikishi on the banzuke in M5 Iwakiyama. Asa grabbed the morozashi position from the tachi-ai, and while Iwakiyama used his mass to drive the Yokozuna back, Asashoryu was in no trouble whatsoever as he simply spun to the side and around back of Iwakiyama to push him down from behind with okuri-taoshi. That's eight different techniques now in his nine wins. What can you say about this guy that hasn't already be said? Love him or hate him, he will dominate the sport for the years to come. Tomorrow, Asa gets his final Maegashira rikishi as he's matched up against Kotomitsuki. These two are rivals of sort with their overall head-to-head records at 6-5 with Asashoryu holding the slight edge. I really don't see Asa having too much trouble tomorrow as he has been sparring with the jo'i while Kotomitsuki's has been fighting lesser competition, but in all of Asa's yusho he's loss at least once to a Maegashira rikishi. Iwakiyama falls to a respectable 5-4.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai kept himself two losses behind the leader with a fairly dominating victory over Sekiwake Wakanosato. Chiyo didn't manhandle the Barometer from the tachi-ai as he usually does in his victories, but his tsuppari were effective enough to keep Wakanosato from taking the bout to yotsu-zumo. It was a good win, but it wasn't that overpowering win characteristic of Chiyo when he's fighting well enough to yusho. The Ozeki does jump to 7-2 with the win while Wakanosato falls to 5-4.
Ozeki Tochiazuma easily defeated M3 Kotoryu in a shoving match that turned ugly when Kotoryu attempted a pull down move. Tochiazuma was right on top of things and easily drove the shorter Maegashira from the ring with a good shove. Tochiazuma improves to 7-2, and his kachi-koshi is a given at this point although a couple of his wins have been downright pathetic. I can't jump on this guy's bandwagon while he continues to wuss out against strong opponents. Kotoryu falls to 3-6 with the loss.
Ozeki Kaio continued his downward spiral with another loss to M2 Kyokutenho. Kaio lost the bout at the tachi-ai where his conservative nature allowed the quicker Mongolian to grab a firm right uwate before Kaio was even out of his stance. Kyokutenho forced the action from the start, and while Kaio was able to stop the Mongolian's momentum, it left him in a terrible position at ring's edge. After the two briefly rested in the hidari yotsu position, Kyokutenho easily forced the Ozeki out with another surge. Kyokutenho is on a bit of a roll as he moves to 6-3. Kaio loses for the second time in as many days and has taken himself out of the yusho picture not to mention any hope of Yokozuna promotion. If Kaio loses tomorrow, one of his injuries may conveniently flare up "forcing" him to withdraw. I will give Kaio credit, though, he did start the basho strong despite being dinged up. Kaio sits at 6-3.
Sekiwake Miyabiyama failed to get on track after Tochiazuma's girly performance against him yesterday. Today he faced crowd favorite Takamisakari and was doomed from the tachi-ai when the M1 Sakari grabbed the right shitate. After resting from the tachi-ai in migi-yotsu, Sakari forced the action by attempting to gain the morozashi position. Miyabiyama responded nicely by reversing the move and forcing the bout into hidari-yotsu. Takamisakri is just too good, however, in the yotsu position, and he used his deceiving strength to force out Miyabiyama with a grip of just one fold of Miyabi's belt. Takamisakari moves to 6-3 and should continue to fare well as he's fought all of the jo'i. Miyabiyama falls to 3-6 and has his work cut out for him if he wants to maintain his rank.
In the battle of Komusubi, Toki prevailed as Tosanoumi showed up in his roller skates. This of course was a shoving match from the beginning, but Tosanoumi never could gain firm footing on the dohyo as Toki retreated (what else?) and pulled down Tosanoumi whose legs were conveniently flailing in circles like a cartoon character whose spinning his legs right before he takes off. Toki climbs over .500 to stand at 5-4 while Tosanoumi drops to 3-6.
In the Maegashira ranks, M6 Kotomitsuki showed that he rules the rank and file roost by pushing out M7 Tamanoshima. Kotomitsuki drove Tamanoshima back from the tachi-ai as this bout was not even close. Kotomitsuki at 7-2 now gets Asashoryu tomorrow for his efforts, while Tamanoshima falls to 6-3.
Day 7 Comments
Day 7 brought few surprises as all of the Yokozuna and Ozeki won. That's due in large part to the fact that Musoyama is out. After one week of competition, the yusho race is beginning to shape up with Yokozuna Asashoryu and Ozeki Kaio in the lead. The Maegashira scrubs who jumped out to fantastic starts are losing one by one and should pose no threat down the stretch.
Starting at the top, Yokozuna Asashoryu was nails again today as he easily dismantled M3 Kotoryu. Asa secured the morozashi grip on Kotoryu's belt from the tachi-ai and used perfect de-ashi and speed to force the helpless Maegashira out. Another three-second win and an impressive one at that. Asa left his opponent no chance to get anything offensive going. Asa moves to 7-0 and is just one win away from his usual 8-0 starts when he takes the yusho. Kotoryu drops to 3-4. In Asashoryu's seven bouts, he has used six different techniques to win, he's shown excellent speed, and he's picked up and thrown down a 150 kilogram rikishi. He combines technique, speed, and power. Fantastic.
Ozeki Tochiazuma continued his good basho with a win over the larger M1 Tochinonada. This was a shoving match throughout where the Ozeki did an excellent job of keeping his opponent's body stood straight up. Tochinonada was flailing with just the strength of his arms; had he been able to use his lower body as leverage, this may have been a different outcome, but props go to Tochiazuma for jumping to 5-2. His sumo isn't impressive enough to yusho, but he should have that kachi-kosho by day 11. Nada falls to 3-4.
Ozeki Kaio stayed within one loss of the leader by picking his spots wisely against Sekiwake Miyabiyama. Beginning at the tachi-ai, Kaio moved to his left a step brushing the Sekiwake with a forearm and throwing him off balance. Miyabi countered with some tsuppari, but Kaio exhibited a well timed block, which enabled him to get deep inside of his opponent. Kaio grabbed Miyabi's belt and forced him to the edge of the ring where he threw him out with a little nudge of his hip. Good sumo for Kaio, who is still in this thing. Remember, he dominates Asashoryu in head-to-head bouts, so if he can stay within one loss, tsuna-tori is not out of the question. Miyabiyama drops to 3-4.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai got back on track with some picture perfect sumo against M3 Tokitsuumi. Chiyo blew his opponent off the shikiri-sen from the tachi-ai and had him pushed out of the ring in two seconds with about two solid thrusts. Tokitsuumi falls to 2-5 with the loss. Chiyo looked good today, but that two bout losing streak has all but taken him out of yusho contention.
Sekiwake Wakanosato was defeated by M2 Kyokutenho in the best fought match of the day. This was classic hidari-yotsu sumo from the get go. Wakanosato took the offensive first by working his way into the morozashi grip and forcing Kyokutenho to the edge, but Kyokutenho executed a perfect evasive step back and away from his opponent giving him an arm bar grip on Wakanosato. He used this grip to throw the Sekiwake down and move to 4-3. Wakanosato also sits at 4-3. This was a yotsu-zumo fan's favorite bout of the day.
M1 Takamisakari stayed hot against Komusubi Toki. Sakari took two vicious rights to the jaw and a choke hold that would have gotten Asashoryu disqualified, but he stood his ground and was able to grab the Komusubi's belt and force him out. Excellent defensive display today for the crowd favorite who moves to 5-2. Toki falls to a respectable 3-4.
Komusubi Tosanoumi was back to his old self of hitting his opponent hard at the tachi-ai and then pulling him down. M2 Hokutoriki was today's victim falling to 2-5. Tosanoumi inches towards .500 standing at 3-4.
M11 Kakizoe remains the sole Maegashira with just one loss. He's obviously seen Asanowaka's act as he waited for the M14 Asanowaka to back up before he charged hard and pushed him out. Great basho for Kakizoe, and he should be a shoe-in for the Kantosho.
Day 5 Comments
Day 5 brought us the first real shake up of the leader board with both Kaio and Chiyotaikai falling in bouts that they should have won. For the first four days, it seemed as if I was twiddling my thumbs waiting for something to happen, and today I got my wish. In May I declared Asashoryu the winner on day three after both Chiyotaikai and Kaio had suffered losses to fall one behind the Yokozuna. While today's results offer a similar circumstance, It's still too early to make a call, but Asashoryu has yet to be overtaken by anyone and lose the yusho once he has held sole possession of the lead.
Asashoryu was nails again today against M1 Tochinonada. Tochinonada actually beat the Yokozuna earlier this year, and with his size, he is definitely no pushover. The Yokozuna made it look easy again today by just focusing on his offensive plan, grabbing a firm grip on his opponent's belt (a shita-te in this case), and throwing Tochinonada down with ease. Asa's on a roll, and he's now in the lead at 5-0. Tochinonada falls to 2-3.
In the penultimate bout, Ozeki Kaio suffered a costly loss to M1 Takamisakari. Kaio gave up the uwate to his opponent from the tachi-ai, and it would end up costing him. Despite his opponent's grip on his belt, Kaio worked his way inside and attempted a powerful kotenage throw--an arm bar throw where he wraps his arm over the top and under his opponent's armpit. Sakari survived the attack and took the opportunity to push the now off balance Ozeki out of the ring. Kaio falls to 4-1 while Sakari climbs above .500 at 3-2. Kaio was absolutely pissed after the loss and lashed out at Takamisakari in the press accusing him of taking it easy during pre-basho keiko. Kaio's claim is that when a rikishi doesn't go all out in the practice ring, he shows his opponent disrespect, and it increases the opponent's chance of suffering an injury as happened to Kaio's arm. Kaio rarely shows any emotion, so to criticize Takamisakari in the press is surprising. Maybe this lights a fire under the Ozeki's butt the rest of the way. I like to see this pissed off attitude when he loses; maybe it's the mental push he needs to reach Yokozuna.
Prior to Kaio's loss, Chiyotaikai laid a rotten egg against M2 Hokutoriki. Instead of just blowing the smaller Hokutoriki off the line, Chiyo came out tentatively and was actually beaten at his own game as Hokutoriki thrust the Ozeki out for his first loss. Chiyo said afterwards that he expected a tachi-ai henka or some other trick from his opponent, and that caused is poor performance. Nice excuse. Don't worry about your opponent--especially when it's Hokutoriki--and just come out and kick is ass. Isn't it also ironic that Chiyotaikai is worried about his opponent side-stepping him? I guess what comes around goes around. Chiyo joins Kaio at 4-1 while Hokutoriki moves to 2-3, both wins over Ozeki.
Ozeki Musoyama continued his downward slide by being pushed around at the belt by the skinnier Kyokutenho. In my opinion, Musoyama is so lackadaisical in trying to garner a good offensive position, he ends up giving his opponent the upper-hand offensively. That was definitely the case today as he looked undecided after the tachi-ai and was easily forced out by the Mongolian. Musoyama falls to 1-4 while Kyokutenho improves to just 2-3.
Ozeki Tochiazuma played it perfect against Komusubi Toki. It was business as usual for Toki: three or four tsuppari from the tachi-ai and then back up and try and pull down your opponent. Tochiazuma wasn't fooled for a minute and easily got inside of Mr. Lambchops pushing him out of the dohyo to pick up his fourth win. Toki falls to 2-3. I had written Tochiazuma off this basho after a bad loss to Hokutoriki on day 2, but he's come back strong with three straight wins.
The two Sekiwake both pulled out good wins over tough opponents by sticking to their strengths. In the first Sekiwake bout, Miyabiyama patiently waited for an opening in his bout with M4 Asasekiryu. Seki grabbed a stubborn left uwate from the tachi-ai and tried to work his way inside against the much larger Miyabiyama. Miyabi didn't panic, however, and eventually wore his pint-size opponent down with his strength and brilliantly cut off Seki's grip before easily pushing him out. Miyabiyama moves to 3-2 while Asasekiryu falls to 2-3, but I'm really enjoying Seki's sumo right now. He needs to keep his head up; I don't think the sanyaku is out of the picture for him. The other Sekiwake, Wakanosato, also exhibited good patience against Komusubi Tosanoumi. After some pushing at the tachi-ai, Tosanoumi grabbed an advantageous left uwate, but Wakanosato didn't panic. He hooked up with his opponent in yotsu-zumo and eventually used his strength to throw Tosanoumi over with a scoop throw to move to 3-2. Tosanoumi falls to just 1-4. Tosanoumi needs to keep the action in the ring moving at all times to have a chance.
In the Maegashira ranks, M7 Tamanoshima kept his record perfect with a throw down of the struggling M10 Dejima. The first bout actually went to a mono-ii as both rikishi seemed to hit the dirt at the same time, but on the second go, Tamanoshima dominated the tachi-ai, grabbed a firm uwate, and threw Dejima over easily. It's funny how Dejima's leg always seems to hurt more after a loss. He falls to just 2-3.
In one other notable Maegashira bout, M11 Kakizoe suffered his first loss to M9 Aminishiki. The two seemed to butt heads at the tachi-ai where Aminishiki just grabbed Kakizoe's shoulder and pulled him down. Chalk that one up to Ami's experience in the division. Both stand at 4-1.
Day 3 Comments
The big three, Asashoryu, Chiyotaikai, and Kaio, are showing that they are head and shoulders above the rest of the field. This basho will come down to a round robin among these three rikishi for the yusho. It is no coincidence that these three rikishi have won the last five basho, and you can bet it will be six in a row when the Aki basho is finished.
Starting at the top, Asashoryu was completely dominant over crowd favorite Takamisakari. The bout was well-hyped as NHK repeatedly showed last basho's classic between these two where Takamisakari toppled the Yokozuna to a thunderous ovation and storm cloud of zabuton from the crowd. It was not meant to be today, however, as the Yokozuna completely disregarded Sakari's attack by obtaining the morozashi position and wrenching the M1 out of the ring in three seconds. Excellent speed today and perfect de-ashi made this a blow out. Sakari did grab the quick left outer grip from the tachi-ai, but Asashoryu was in a different gear today. The Yokozuna moves to 3-0, whereas Sakari falls to 1-2.
Ozeki Kaio made easy work of M2 Hokutoriki despite an awful tachi-ai. Kaio seemed to come up out of his stance in slow motion, and it would have cost him today if his opponent had been larger. Hokutoriki came out with the usual tsuppari, but the thrusts were bouncing off of Kaio with little effect. The Ozeki waited until his opponent was a bit off balance and then just pulled him down. Not pretty sumo, but when was the last time Kaio started a basho 3-0? Hokutoriki falls to 1-2.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai was impressive again as he shoved M1 Tochinonada out of the ring. This was a compelling bout coming in because Tochinonada is so large that Chiyo has trouble bullying him around, but Chiyo stuck with the game plan today and kept thrusting and moving forward until he had Nada pushed out of the ring. Tochinonada stopped Chiyo's momentum several times, which created several chances for Chiyo to go into his pull down mode, but he abstained and impressively handed Tochinonada his first loss. Chiyo needs to stick to his guns the full fifteen days as he did today, and there's no doubt he'll be in contention for the yusho on senshuraku.
Ozeki Tochiazuma picked up his second win thanks to a dive...er...uh...by pulling down Tosanoumi.. Tosanoumi came with his usual grunt from the tachi-ai and looked to be attempting to drive the Ozeki out, but a slight flick on Tosa's shoulder sent the Komusubi sprawling to the dirt. Maybe the bout wasn't fixed, but I have no idea how Tosanoumi falls like that with the minimal contact received from Tochiazuma. In any case, a win is a win and Tochiazuma jumps up to 2-1. Tosanoumi slips up to fall to 1-2.
Ozeki Musoyama looked just plain awful today. It seems as if the Ozeki cannot make up his mind what to do once the bout begins. Today he seemed to have M3 Kotoryu on the move, but his de-ashi were non-existent and he seemed to let up on his attack of Kotoryu. Kotoryu took the opening and side stepped out of Musoyama's way pulling his shoulder to help him fly into the first row. Time to get out the phantom injury handbook for Musoyama because it's looking ugly. Musoyama drops to 0-3 while Kotoryu jumps to 2-1.
Komusubi Toki picked up his first win today by squashing Sekiwake Wakanosato's melon. From the tachi-ai Toki grabbed Wakanosato's head in both hands literally covering the Sekiwake's head from view. Toki simply backed up a step and pulled Wakanosato down by the head. Ouch! Both rikishi now stand at 1-2.
Sekiwake Miyabiyama was patient today in his attack of the sometimes annoying M4 Takanonami. Miyabi came out with some strong tsuppari never letting Takanonami latch the meat hooks to his belt. Takanonami withstood the blows at first and it wouldn't have surprised me to see Miyabiyama panic and take the fight to the belt, but he stood his ground and continued to flail away until he had the ex-Ozeki off balance and pushed out of the ring. Miyabiyama moves to 2-1; Nami falls to 1-2.
In a battle of the unbeaten in the Maegashira ranks, M7 Tamanoshima prevailed over M4 Asasekiryu by refusing to let the Mongolian grab his belt or pull him down. Tamanoshima used his much larger size to keep Seki at bay with some effective pushes until he got Seki off balance before finishing him off. Tamanoshima stands at 3-0 while Seki drops to 2-1.
Also continuing to dominate among the rank and file is M6 Kotomitsuki who bullied M8 Jumonji for his first third consecutive win. This was a classic chikara-zumo bout but Kotomitsuki's right outer grip was too much for Jumonji to overcome. Kotomitsuki threw Jumonji down hard at ring's edge and looks to be completely healthy. Jumonji falls to 1-2.
A mild surprise from the Maegashira ranks comes from M11 Tamarikido who withstood M10 Dejima's bowling ball tachi-ai to capture his third straight win. The rikishi met hard at the tachi-ai, but Tamarikido got the best of the clash as Dejima was turned around after impact. Tamarikido took advantage and easily shoved Dejima out from behind. Dejima falls to a surprising 1-2.
And finally, make it a point to watch the early Maegashira bouts to see M11 Kakizoe. This guy is as fast as anyone in the dohyo including Asashoryu. Today Kakizoe jumped all over M15 Ushiomaru forcing him out with seeming ease. Kakizoe is quite small, and I don't know how he does it, but this guy is like lightening in a bottle. He rockets to 3-0 while Ushiomaru struggles at 1-2.
Day 1 Comments
Day 1 was an excellent display of power sumo from most of the sanyaku. I don't think a basho can get off to a better start than we did today. I start at the top where Yokozuna Asashoryu faced who else on day1 but Tosanoumi. Is there some rule I haven't heard of that stipulates Asashoryu must fight Tosanoumi every basho on day 1? Asa displayed why he is the best right now using excellent speed and cat-quick decision making during his bout to easily trip up Tosanoumi. Asa grabbed a fierce left-handed grip on Tosa's belt from the tachi-ai and used it to force the Komusubi up against the ring's edge. When Tosanoumi braced himself on the tawara, Asashoryu used his opponent's forward momentum against him and pulled him back across the ring sweeping Tosanoumi's leg out from under him in the process. Asashoryu was never in trouble and made a tough opponent look easy. Great start.
Ozeki Kaio was extremely impressive against the new Komusubi Toki. You'll remember last basho that Kaio looked lost against the Elvis wannabe, which cost the Ozeki the bout, but this time around, Kaio came right at the giant Toki and shoved him out with a sharp two-handed thrust. From the tachi-ai Toki exhibited the usual morote two hands to the throat position, but Kaio easily fought that off and hit Toki once in the chest sending him back and out of the ring. Toki looked somewhat tentative today unlike last basho when his confidence was riding sky high. He better come out with more fight or he will secure his make-koshi by day 10.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai absolutely dominated M1 Takamisakari with as fast a tachi-ai as I've ever seen from the Ozeki. The bout was preceded by an unbelievable 13 kensho (those banners that get marched around the ring) for a day 1 bout between an Ozeki and Maegashira rikishi. That just goes to show the popularity of the cross-eyed Takamisakari. Sakari tried his usual defensive approach where he takes a few punches and tries to latch on to his opponent's belt, but Chiyo would have none of that. He pounded Sakari with about three strong thrusts in a row sending the Maegashira flying back out of the ring. Very impressive victory, but I have one question for the Japanese press: where is all the uproar regarding Chiyotaikai's demeanor after the bout. A stunned Sakari was holding Chiyotaikai's sagari (those ropes that hang down from the mawashi) in his hand after the bout when Chiyotaikai walked over with a deep scowl on his face and ripped the sagari out of Takamisakari's hands continuing to give his opponent the dirtiest of looks. Now I know Chiyotaikai is not a Yokozuna, but his pompous display of disrespect for his opponent would have created a firestorm if Asashoryu had done it. I'm all for dirty looks and kick-ass attitude as Chiyotaikai displayed today, but the obvious double standard in regards to foreign rikishi employed by Japan's press makes me sick.
Ozeki Musoyama looked weak today in losing to Tochinonada. Normally, a loss to M1 Tochinonada would not be an upset, but after the position the Ozeki had his opponent in today, it was. Musoyama came out of the tachi-ai and grabbed a firm grip on Tochi's belt. He was also in deep enough that he had Tochinonada standing nearly straight up; however, in true Musoyama fashion he lollygagged his way to the edge of the ring and let his opponent take a step to the side and throw him over with the scoop throw. The exaggerated way in which the Ozeki fell made it look as if he took a dive, but I have no reason to believe the bout was fixed. Maybe Musoyama just likes to put a humiliating stamp on a bad loss. In any case, Musoyama is off to another terrible start, and he seems to have lost his de-ashi again.
Ozeki Tochiazuma came out with passion today in his impressive performance against Kyokutenho. Ten-ho actually had a firm outer grip from the tachi-ai, but Tochiazuma never stopped pressing and forced Ten-ho out of the ring with a solid shoulder to the chest before Kyokutenho could take advantage of his position. Tochiazuma looked as if he was actually fighting with a purpose today. Great start for the kadoban Ozeki.
Sekiwake Wakanosato overpowered M2 Hokutoriki after trading a series of cheap shots off of false starts before the bout. From the tachi-ai Hokutoriki came out with his trademark tsuppari and actually had Wakanosato on the move a bit, but the Sekiwake stood has ground and finally grabbed the uwate. Once Wakanosato gained the offensive position, he added a little mustard to the throw-down of his opponent. This was a pretty entertaining match because Wakanosato was obviously irritated by Hokutoriki's pre-bout antics.
Sekiwake Miyabiyama laid a giant egg against M3 Kotoryu. Miyabiyama came out with his steady tsuppari against the smaller Kotoryu and seemed to be wearing his opponent down, but Kotoryu displayed a well-timed duck of his opponent's thrust throwing Miyabiyama off balance just enough to where he was able to easily push his larger opponent out.
Impressive in the Maegashira ranks was M4 Asasekiryu, who outsmarted M3 Tokitsuumi in a bout between undersized rikishi with excellent technique; M6 Kotomitsuki who sent M5 Kasuganishiki flying out of the ring with a couple of hard shoves; M7 Tamanoshima who kept the retreating M8 Kyokushuzan in front of him at all times; M10 Dejima who nicely overcame a side-step at the tachi-ai by M9 Aminishiki; newcomer M11 Kakizoe who showed great finesse and speed in pushing out M10 Kaiho; and newcomer M13 Wakatoba who also sealed his first Makuuchi win by outthinking M13 Yotsukasa.
For the past five basho, I've been hoping for a repeat of last year's Aki basho. That was the last tournament where two Yokozuna competed all fifteen days, and in my opinion, it was the most exciting basho so far this decade. No one can forget the excitement Takanohana brought to the dohyo in his last competitive basho as an active rikishi. Unfortunately, my expectations for this year's Aki basho are low. Musashimaru's condition is unchanged since that debacle in Nagoya, and Kaio has already managed to suffer a muscle tear—by going down the stairs of all things—to weaken his chances of a repeat yusho. At least we have some new faces in the Makuuchi division and a newcomer to the sanyaku to get excited about.
Asashoryu has been receiving the most ink of anyone since the Nagoya basho, and since he holds the prestigious East Yokozuna slot, I'll begin with him. Where to start? There's his feud with fellow-countryman Kyokushuzan; there's the ponytail incident; and there's the official chastisement from the Yokozuna Deliberation Council regarding Asa's behavior (ooh, I'll bet he was shaking in his boots over that one). It's unbelievable to me that such petty things are garnering so many headlines, but with Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants all but eliminated from Japanese pro baseball's Central League pennant race, nobody has anything better to do.
I'm going to forget all of that and focus on Asashoryu's sumo, which will be dominant again this September and which will earn him his fourth yusho overall. The biggest factor Asashoryu has going for him is that he's home in Tokyo. Add to that the fact that his new wife and baby daughter have finally received their visas to legally reside with him in Japan and Asashoryu will be sound on the home front. As far as injuries, it seems that Asa always has a little pain here or there, but he's been practicing without any taping. There's nothing better than taking half a tournament off and a little recovery time in your home country to cure that which ails you.
Finally, who is going to challenge Asashoryu this tournament? Musashimaru will be useless; Kaio is dinged up already; Musoyama is Musoyama; and Tochiazuma isn't even fighting at a sanyaku level. Add to that the fact that several rikishi who have given the smaller Yokozuna trouble, like Kotonowaka, Kyokushuzan, and Dejima, have dropped too far down the banzuke to meet him. Fellow stablemate Toki occupies the East Komusubi rank, so that's one less sanyaku opponent for Asashoryu and one more Maegashira scrub. The only rikishi who will challenge Asashoryu is Chiyotaikai, but no way does Chiyo prevail over the Yokozuna in Tokyo. This basho is Asashoryu's to lose.
As for the West Yokozuna, Musashimaru, what can you say? The pre-basho reports this tournament are identical to the pre-basho reports in Nagoya, so what makes anyone think Maru's performance in the dohyo will be any different? It won't be, which means Musashimaru should sit this basho out, and either go to a real hospital to get is wrist fixed or retire. The sport can't afford another embarrassment as it experienced in Nagoya with a fat, out of shape Yokozuna being manhandled by Maegashira rikishi.
Onto the Ozeki where Kaio has done it yet again. Why is it that every time Kaio wins a tournament, he manages to step on every crack, spill the salt, walk under every ladder, and have every black cat in the country walk in front of his path before the next tournament? It's unbelievable. This time around, Kaio suffered a slight muscle tear to his left calf muscle while walking down stairs. The Ozeki says the injury won't keep him out of the tournament, but it will mess him up mentally and take away his biggest weapon, which is the migi-uwate-nage—a move that requires a rikishi to plant on his left foot and throw with the right. Kaio just can't seem to catch a break. If he ends his career without receiving promotion to Yokozuna, he will be one of the best rikishi ever never to have obtained the rank. Personally, I'd love to see Kaio win this tournament, but with this new injury and his past performances with Yokozuna promotion on the line, I'll be surprised if Kaio makes it through the entire fifteen days.
Ozeki Chiyotaikai should capture his usual 11 or 12 wins this tournament and fall just short of the yusho. With a lot of the field down, Chiyo should rise to the top as he usually does. I really see the yusho coming down to Chiyotaikai and Asashoryu (and maybe a threat from Dejima) as has been the case most of this year. Not much to say about Chiyo this time around, but expect a solid performance.
Ozeki Musoyama still remains a mystery, but his performance in Nagoya was encouraging. Musoyama has all the physical gifts and abilities required for a successful rikishi. What he lacks is any mental drive to carry him over the top. This guy should win at least ten in September, but how can you tell what he's going to do? I do expect Musoyama to have another good tournament simply because the field is down right now.
Ozeki Tochiazuma needs to lose at least eight this tournament, so he can be demoted back down to reality. He has somehow managed to keep his Ozeki rank for the past six or seven tournaments simply because it's so hard to get demoted from the rank. Tochiazuma hasn't displayed any brilliance of late, and I don't expect anything to change this basho. Something has got to happen with this guy to light the fire under his behind again. I think the only answer is demotion from Ozeki. Tochiazuma has completely lost that cornered-animal fighting instinct that propelled him to his first yusho almost two years ago and the Ozeki ranks.
Our two Sekiwake are solid as ever with Wakanosato occupying the East slot and the mammoth Miyabiyama sitting in the West. Both of these rikishi were in the yusho hunt in Nagoya, and if there's going to be a dark horse that emerges from out of nowhere to capture the yusho, it will be one of these two.
We have a newcomer to the Komusubi ranks in none other than Toki. Toki has really matured the last few basho, and I believe he's become somewhat of an intimidator. His opponents know exactly what he's going to bring, but they haven't been able to stop it as of late. I don't think eight wins is out of the picture for Toki. His confidence is sky high, and he forces you to beat him by getting inside of his wrecking ball thrusts.
His compatriot, Tosanoumi, made a bit of a surprise jump over Takamisakari to capture the West Komusubi slot. Tosanoumi is as solid as ever. He was in the yusho hunt in Nagoya, and he's definitely worthy of his sanyaku rank. Though unlikely to ever yusho, he has to be appreciated for his bringing the lunch pail to the ring everyday.
The upper Maegashira is loaded again with former sanyaku rikishi highlighted by M1 Takamisakari, M1 Tochinonada, and M2 Kyokutenho. Look for much of the same with these guys: the revolving door between upper Maegashira and the sanyaku. Despite their drop in pay for two months, they do have the advantage of scoring a kinboshi early on. They must be licking their chops at the thought of Musashimaru deciding to compete this tournament.
I believe Hokutoriki is over-ranked at M2. He's too small, and his sumo is too unpolished for him to pose a serious threat to the sanyaku. M3 Kotoryu doesn't belong this high either, and he should demonstrate why in September with a nice losing streak. M3 Tokitsuumi comes off a solid performance in Nagoya that boosts him right back up to the jo'i. Eight wins is not out of the question, but I doubt he has what it takes to jump to the sanyaku just yet.
M4 Asasekiryu is very compelling this high up on the banzuke. This guy began his Makuuchi career in March with as little flash as possible, but an outstanding run at the end of Nagoya has boosted him to his highest rank ever. Asasekiryu has proven he can beat the sanyaku as seen by his impressive wins over Wakanosato and Miyabiyama—our two Sekiwake for September—but can he do it on a consistent basis? I would be surprised to see him win eight this tournament just because he will fight the best of the best everyday. Fighting Asanowaka and Gojoro is much different than fighting the Ozeki, so we'll see how Asasekiryu physically holds up with the heavyweights.
M4 Takanonami may have just kept himself high enough in the ranks that he'll get most of the jo'i this tournament, which means he'll have to earn his eight wins. M5 Iwakiyama is big enough to fight this high, but he's been underwhelming as of late. Can he make a solid push for the sanyaku? I don't think so yet. He'll have to join his buddy M7 Tamanoshima a little bit longer. M5 Kasuganishiki should be an interesting rikishi to watch this tournament. Is he a diamond in the rough? Stupid losses have kept him from being ranked this high before, but his excellent sumo body should keep him ranked among the high Maegashira. M6 Kotomitsuki is keen to make another push at the sanyaku, but a fabulous tournament from the bottom of the division is much different than a good tournament from the upper Maegashira. If healthy, Kotomitsuki should win his eight, but I don't expect to see him in the sanyaku for the rest of the year.
Other Maegashira to keep your eye on: M10 Dejima is vastly under-ranked. If he's completely healthy, he should win twelve from this rank. M12 Kotonowaka is in the same boat as Dejima—under-ranked but coming off an injury. And, M12 Shimotori is back from his two basho stint in Juryo.
Finally, we have two new faces to the division in M11 Kakizoe and M13 Wakatoba. Kakizoe comes from the Musashigawa-beya, which now boasts seven Makuuchi rikishi. You can bet the intense keiko he receives at his stable will keep him in the division for awhile. Kakizoe came out of college two years ago, but suffered a serious knee injury that has hindered his quick rise up the ranks. He's a bit undersized, but his sumo is very well-rounded. His greatest asset may be his good speed. Wakatoba has been in the sport for ten years now and has finally made it to the top division. Anyone who takes that long to get to Makuuchi will probably not be gracing the sanyaku ranks anytime soon, but the guy has paid his dues. He can't be any worse than Asanowaka can he? Wakatoba favors yotsu-zumo.
My predictions are as follows:
Yusho: Asashoryu at 13-2
Kantosho: Dejima at 12-3
Shukunsho: Tochinonada at 9-6
Ginosho: Takamisakari at 9-6