Mike Wesemann

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2006 Aki Basho Post-basho Report  |  Pre-basho report
Talk about a basho with zero suspense. Heading into the final days, I think the biggest question unanswered was would both of the Komusubi achieve kachi-koshi. They both did although Kokkai ended his run with a bad loss to Aminishiki and Kisenosato gained his kachi-koshi with a fusensho. That's just how this basho went. Hakuho up for Yokozuna promotion? Over by day 6. Miyabiyama's Ozeki run? Day 5. The yusho? Clinched on day 14 before Asashoryu even fought. Baruto's first basho among the jo'i? 4-7-4. The Crocodile Hunter? Stabbed in the heart by a stingray of all creatures. Simon's vacation to Thailand? Interrupted by a military coup two days in. This was a September that we'd just as soon forget although I did kick ass in the stock market thank you very much.

The signs of a bad basho began early on just as soon as the keiko reports began to come in. 12 days before the basho, Ama and Aminishiki showed up at the Miyagino-beya and had their way with Hakuho leading former Yokozuna Asahifuji to prophesy, "[Hakuho's] movement stopped after hitting at the tachi-ai. If he doesn't fix that, he won't post the same results that he did last basho." The next day the Sadogatake boys showed up unannounced and kicked Hakuho's fanny worse than the Ajigawa boys. In fact, Hakuho lost over 60% of his practice bouts with Kotomitsuki, Kotooshu, and Kotoshogiku. Think it's a coincidence that Kotooshu and Kotomitsuki beat Hakuho for the first time this year? And Asashoryu didn't fare much better. The Yokozuna ended keiko sessions early citing lingering pain in his right elbow and pinched nerve symptoms running from this right neck down through the right shoulder, and he was humiliated against Baruto at the Soken general keiko session going just 1-4. Yes, the Yokozuna did take the yusho with ease, but with the crappy performances from everyone around him, this should have been one of those masterful 15-0 performances.

As long as we're talking about the Yokozuna, let's review his basho. Asashoryu was just average in Aki. I was concerned early on when he kept resorting to a moro-te tachi-ai. He was winning, yes, but that's not his style, so it should have been no surprise when a rikishi who is quick, who can fight at the belt, and most importantly, who is not afraid of the Yokozuna took him out behind the woodshed and kicked his ass. Kisenosato never gave Asashoryu a chance in their day 6 bout exposing a Yokozuna who was not on his game. Baruto was more than enough inspiration on day 7 for Asashoryu to get back on track, but the fact that the Yokozuna wasn't all there this basho was manifest on day 14 when he completely lost his cool against Chiyotaikai, a rikishi Asashoryu should never lose to. Asashoryu should have also pounded Hakuho on senshuraku considering the weak mindset of the Ozeki, but it looked to me as if Hakuho actually won the bout. I guess it was too close to call, and I'm sure the judges were thinking let's just ensure that the yusho line stay at 13 wins and get the hell out of this basho, hence giving the bout to Asashoryu no questions asked. So what does this average performance from the Yokozuna mean? Nothing really if the surrounding cast can't conjure anything up. I think the Yokozuna was actually vulnerable this basho as he was in January when Tochiazuma yanked the yusho from his grubby hands, but no one even came close to rising up and challenging him. Sad thing is, I think we're the ones that get this, not the rikishi themselves. The yusho in Kyushu should be there for the taking for Hakuho, Baruto, and even Kotooshu should they come out with 100% confidence.

Let's drop down to the number 2 guy. I've already touched on Hakuho's poor practice regime prior to the basho, something that resulted in his confidence being shattered during the tournament, but another major problem for the Ozeki was his trying to retool his sumo when so much was at stake. Just this year we saw Tochiazuma up for Yokozuna promotion only to take the conservative approach and practice not to get injured instead of practicing to steal the belt. The last time Chiyotaikai yusho'd about 3 1/2 years ago, Kokonoe-oyakata came out in the press and said that his disciple needed to fight at the belt better. Chiyotaikai tried yotsu-zumo keiko, but came out in May 2003 and went 10-5 losing his last three bouts in what I believe was the first basho that started that trend for him going 0-fer down the stretch as he always does. The point is, if you've averaged over 13 wins the first four basho of the year, and then you come into September rethinking your style, you've got issues.

A lot of that has to do with the Sumo Association's denying him the promotion in July. The Ozeki had to be thinking what more can I do, especially with a dai-Yokozuna on the banzuke? It was apparent that his peers were onto his tachi-ai of trying to grab the left frontal belt grip, but who cares? He was getting denied time after time the last couple of basho, but he still won. Hakuho's changing his tachi-ai just prior to September is what brought him down. Notice how I haven't even mentioned a bogus knee injury? As the basho approached, we were reading reports of a passive Hakuho at the tachi-ai who would try and time his opponent's charge so he could grab the back of their belt and kind of swing them out of the ring. The result was an Ozeki whose hips were way too high through much of the basho. Take the advice from Shakira who sexily proclaims "hips don't lie" and keep your stance down. I have faith that my man Kumagatani-oyakata will settle his boy down for Kyushu, but stay tuned for the pre-basho keiko reports. I'm pretty confident I can call Hakuho's Kyushu performance after reading the keiko reports in early November.

Moving on, I really like Chiyotaikai's attitude of late. It doesn't mean his sumo is getting any better, but I like how he has emerged as the lead Japanese Ozeki throwing his weight around a bit. I like how he kicked Baruto's ass on day 1 after getting henka'd by the Estonian the previous basho. I like how he pounded Kisenosato and Miyabiyama. And how about that day 11 bout against (scoff) "yusho hopeful" Aminishiki? Ami never had a chance. Chiyotaikai beat Hakuho for the last time, and who cares if he needed a little hair pulling to do it, he even beat Asashoryu ruining what should have been a celebration for the Yokozuna. I love it that Chiyotaikai has the red ass of late, and I appreciated his effort for the most part this basho. Granted, he still got man-handled by plenty of the sanyaku and a couple of Ozeki to finish at 10-5, but at least he cares and his showing some pride. I applaud that and enjoy watching it.

Ozeki Kaio was the number 4 guy on the banzuke? I fully expect his swan song in November.

Ozeki Kotooshu finally finished something other than 8-7, but hold on cowboy. His win over Baruto--a rikishi he hasn't solved--was by no-show, and did anyone notice he didn't fight Asashoryu? I wonder how that feels...getting stood up for the prom so the Yokozuna could dance with Ama instead. What I really think is that Kotooshu was relieved by that circumstance and therein lies the problem. I just don't think Kotooshu has confidence in himself right now. I don't see that will to win atop the dohyo that he exhibited a year ago during his Ozeki run. Why would the dude change the kanji in his name? That's a practice employed in Japan when someone is down on his luck and needs a new outlook on things. The Ozeki was 5-5 through 10 days and needed a solid 5-0 finish to make things look respectable. I don't think Kotooshu is back, but we can only hope his double digit wins boosts his confidence.

Mopping up the Ozeki ranks, Tochiazuma wasted a great basho by playing hurt those first few days. Give me a break...how does someone go from being barely able to walk to a 7-2 finish that included some pretty good wins over the likes of Kokkai, Kotooshu, Chiyotaikai, Hakuho, and the two Ajigawa pests. The turning point for the Ozeki was that loss to Baruto where Tochiazuma was rolled up like a hard booger and discarded. How insulting was it that Baruto didn't even look back at the mess, but when you throw that snot, you don't have to see it land, you just have to hear it hit something to get the satisfaction out of a job well done. The Ozeki looked solid that second week, but no one could take him seriously after his 2-4 start. Like his fellow Ozeki, Tochiazuma is just a mystery at this point.

Dropping down to the Sekiwake ranks, it's been clear the last two basho that Miyabiyama is not exactly Ozeki material. He's close--and actually better than some of the other Ozeki--but he's just a few hit songs short of an Ozeki greatest hits album. You look at Miyabiyama's 9 wins this basho, and 4 of them were by pull down. Now, just because Miyabiyama wins by a pull down, it doesn't mean it's cheap. It's usually not. He sets his opponent up with the tsuppari, and then reverses the action with a pull down. However, back in May when Miyabiyama won 14 bouts, only 2 were by pull down. That's your difference right there. The Sekiwake has not fully trusted the style of sumo that got him here in the first place. Still, for three basho in a row now, the Sekiwake has maintained at least 33 wins going back three basho. His big wins this basho were over Kisenosato, Baruto, Roho, and Kotomitsuki. I guess Miyabiyama's Ozeki hopes are still alive if he wins 12 in Kyushu. Don't count on it.

There's not much new to say about Sekiwake Kotomitsuki. Here's a dude that started out 6-1 with solid wins over four Ozeki, but the turning point was that bout against Tamanoshima. Remember that one? Kotomitsuki had both arms on the inside, but he let Tamanoshima wrap around him in the kime position and eventually lost an ugly bout. That was inexcusable, and it must have gutted Kotomitsuki because that bout led to a 2-6 finish. Kotomitsuki just wasted a great practice regime prior to the basho and a great start in September. Typical stuff from Hit and Mitsuki.

Kisenosato did not look great for stretches this basho, but he did exactly what a Komusubi is supposed to do by surviving that week one schedule at 3-4 with wins over a Sekiwake, an Ozeki, and of course the Yokozuna. Kisenosato lost to three rikishi ranked lower than him, but all three of those guys won in double-digits. You couldn't ask more from a twenty-year old. It's evident that he is the future hope for the Japanese rikishi.

I was not surprised a bit that Kokkai managed a kachi-koshi this basho. The Georgian enjoyed flawless pre-basho preparations that boosted his confidence allowing him to start the basho 3-4. How great was that scoop throw win over Kotooshu and the similar victory over Roho? Kokkai is not afraid of anyone and has a mean streak that Kotooshu should take note of. I think Kokkai's going to be a stubborn bitch in that sanyaku slot for a few basho. He's definitely not one of the rikishi on the schedule that you equate with a walkover win. I loved watching him in September.

Ditto all of that for M1 Roho and then some. Roho has forced his way into the elite of the sport, and by that I mean at least top 7. That incident in July has obviously refocused the Russian in the right direction. Very few rikishi can post a 10-5 record from this position, and it really should have been 12-3. He dawdled too much against Tochinonada, and then he got sloppy against Kokkai. Roho beat all of the Ozeki he faced, he schooled Baruto, and he even looked good against Asashoryu. I think Roho is the next guy to flirt with the Ozeki rank.

Counterpart Baruto still has some work to do. I thought coming in that Baruto's great showing at the Soken practice session would have his confidence soaring and deflate the morale of his opponents, but you know what? The other rikishi just aren't afraid of him anymore. Well, Iwakiyama and Kyokutenho are still scared of him, but that's about it. Baruto has risen up to the top, and the elite have figured out how to exploit him...even Ama figured out a way to beat him. Roho schooled him, Chiyotaikai floored him, and the Yokozuna really kicked his ass. In previous basho, I have pointed out several of Baruto's weaknesses, so let's review them. First, Baruto's keiko habits are awful. He doesn't make the effort to go do de-geiko, and it hurts him immensely. Second, his sumo is as unpolished as any sekitori. I guess that is directly related to my first point. Getting your ass kicked during the hon basho doesn't help you improve your sumo. He's just got to suck it up and work hard prior to the hon-basho. And third, I think Baruto is a bit too arrogant regarding his ability. He had few enemies as he rose up the rank, but if he wants to mingle with the elite in sumo, he's got to swallow his pride and learn from them, not just show up thinking he can beat anybody. Now, after have said all that, wait until Kyushu when he falls to around M7 or M8. That's when he's going to threaten for the jun-yusho.

I think M2 Tamanoshima has given up on himself when ranked this high up. His four wins consisted of a win by default over Kaio, a fluke win over Kotomitsuki, and then wins over Kyokutenho and Toyonoshima. Counterpart Tokitenku's 7-8 showing was quiet, but very respectable. The Mongolian should grace the sanyaku eventually although I don't see him ever stirring up a basho.

I never thought I would see the day when Aminishiki was ranked in the sanyaku, but I'll be damned if he won't force the Sumo Association to rank more than two Komusubi for Kyushu...there could actually be four if they don't bump Roho all the way up to Sekiwake. It shouldn't be surprising, though, because Aminishiki along with stablemate Ama worked his fanny off prior to the basho. He paid multiple visits to Hakuho, so it's no surprise he beat the Ozeki, but that also had to have helped him attack the other rikishi. Aminishiki had three soto-gake wins as he simply out-hustled the competition. It's a perfect example of someone being rewarded for hard work. Aminishiki!

M4 Tamakasuga went 1-14, but it wasn't embarrassing because he gave it his all. I loved some of his comments during the basho indicating just how much the times have passed him by. There was a time when this guy was Wakanohana's nemesis and a legitimate threat to upset anyone with his oshi attack. Not so now, but Tamakasuga is such a likable rikishi. Can't say the same for counterpart Kyokutenho. His 6-9 record included zero wins against rikishi ranked above him.

Though the times haven't passed M5 Tochinonada by to the extent of Tamakasuga, like Takamisakari, he's finished fighting among the elite. Counterpart Iwakiyama had a tough luck 10-5. Tough luck because at most other basho, it would have been good enough to get him into the sanyaku, but with all of the sanyaku winning 8 or 9 and Roho and Aminishiki winning in double digits above him, Iwakiyama will have to settle for M1. Iwakiyama's big wins included defeats of Ama, Aminishiki, and Kisenosato. Having Iwakiyama test the jo'i is healthy for the sport.

Go ahead and copy and paste my Aminishiki comments here for M6 Ama as well. These two stablemates and Roho were the biggest story of the basho in my opinion. You saw a resurgence in all three of these rikishi with Roho realizing that he must redeem himself with good sumo and with the Ajigawa boys just outworking everyone else. We've always known about Ama's technique, but I think it's a direct correlation that prior to this basho he worked harder than he ever has before. He and Aminishiki just fed off each other, and let's hope they can keep it up in Kyushu. Aminishiki's competition will be the same, but Ama will get the stiffer competition going from M6 to M1.

If Bernie was happy with this basho's banzuke, wait until Kyushu when both of M7's will be near the top of the Maegashira ranks. Both had quiet basho due to Futenoh's rocky 2-4 finish and Kotoshogiku's slow 3-5 start, but their 9 and 10 win performances respectively are exactly what we'd expect from this guys down this low. Let's hold off on comments until their opponents change from the likes of Takekaze and Takamisakari to the Ozeki and sanyaku.

As stacked as Kyushu's banzuke is going to be, M8 Kakizoe should consider it a major achievement to come in around the M4 rank following his solid 9-6 outing. Counterpart Kyokushuzan's 6-9 isn't worth the 1K of memory this text requires.

Our M9's finished exactly where they should have (7-8) considering Takamisakari's declining ability and Asasekiryu's bum knee. Though he was quite far down the banzuke, I appreciated M10 Takekaze's 10-5 record considering he had only 1 pull down win among his ten. That's fantastic for him. I'll go easy on counterpart Hakurozan because it was clear that his knee is injured. This Russian has zero room to spare because the Kyushu banzuke should only have 15 Maegashira slots, so do the math: M10 with 5-10 record = 5 notch drop.

I think M11 Homasho's 7-8 was actually a decent showing for the relative newcomer considering his soft style. His only real bad loss was against Kasuganishiki. A majority of his other losses were to kachi-koshi rikishi as he cleaned up on the scrubs. Counterpart Jumonji's 4-11 guarantees him a sport in the Juryo domain come Kyushu, which is just fine. Jumonji has been so lazy the last few basho that it's time to see him go and work a few things out.

Two early tachi-ai henka losses to Yoshikaze and Jumonji kept M13 Hokutoriki from the yusho race. How insulting is that...two guys that only muster 9 wins between them on their way down to Juryo screw you out of a good basho? Hokutoriki finished 10-5, but his last two losses to Kotoshogiku and Ama are telling of where this guy really stands despite the good number he puts up from the bottom of the ranks.

M14 Wakanosato is not only on his way down to Juryo, but he's on his way down to the cellar of the Juryo ranks thanks to a knee injury. I really expected counterpart Hochiyama to have a better Makuuchi debut than this. All five of his wins came over make-koshi rikishi, but the problem with Hochiyama was he let too many of the so called veterans in the division burn him with shenanigans that will only work once. I expect Hochiyama back up here in January where he will post a kachi-koshi. He's too good of a talent not to come back with a vengeance.

And finally, our other Makuuchi rookie, M16 Ryuho, is guaranteed not to come back with a vengeance. Any time you have a rikishi that takes a dozen years or so to reach the division, it's not going to end well. But hey, at least Ryuho will have a banzuke or two to hang up in his chanko-nabe shop boasting his presence in the Makuuchi division. It's more than 80% of the dudes who give the sport a go can say.

So there you have it. A sloppy basho recap after a sloppy Aki basho. We have much to look forward to, however, as the Kyushu banzuke will be loaded with the best rikishi in the sport all near the top of the ranks. Let's just hope everyone cues off of Roho's refocus and the work habits of Aminishiki and Ama. See you all in a month or so when the Kyushu banzuke is released on October 30th.

2006 Aki Basho Pre-basho Report
From the sound of the pre-basho keiko reports I've been reading this basho, it's looking more and more like you Baruto fanatics are going to see your wildest dream come true. No, I'm not talking about waking up next to Olive Oyl...I'm talking about seeing your man take his first ever yusho. Now I'm not one to put a lot of stock into pre-basho keiko results, but I am one who thinks that a rikishi's confidence pays huge dividends in his performance at the hon-basho. In terms of confidence, Baruto has to be riding sky high at this point while Asashoryu and Hakuho barely even have winning records in their pre-basho keiko. I know, I know; it's just keiko, not real hon-basho sumo, but from what I've seen, Asashoryu and Hakuho hardly sound like two Yokozuna policing the other rikishi and flexing their brawn.

Let's start with the Yokozuna, who is having a worse pre-basho run than Hakuho...if that's possible. It sounds as if Asashoryu has a pinched nerve between his neck and right shoulder, probably the result of the Yokozuna compensating for his injured right elbow in his words. Regardless, I don't think the Yokozuna has participated in more than 30 bouts so far. He did have a fine 11-2 early on at the Dewanoumi-beya, but he lost to Tamanoshima by abise-taoshi. The last time that happened to a Yokozuna was when Takanohana threw that bout to elder brother Wakanohana in that fake yusho-kettei-sen in Kyushu in the mid-nineties. Since then, the only concrete keiko news I've read regarding the Yokozuna was his 4-6 showing at the Soken keiko session on Monday that of course was lowlighted by a four bout losing streak to Baruto. I know that we've seen basho in the past where Asashoryu performed little keiko only to come out and open a can of whupass on the rest of the field, but I sense that this basho will be different due to some lingering injuries. Don't get me wrong, I still pick the Yokozuna as my yusho favorite--barely--but that's mostly because no one else around him seems to be in any fine form.

Especially Hakuho. Prior to the Nagoya basho, Hakuho was saying all the right things. He expressed confidence that he would be promoted to Yokozuna at every turn, and he backed that up by dominating every keiko session. This basho, however, I don't think Hakuho has brought the subject of Yokozuna promotion up once. He can't, really, because he's getting his ass kicked in the keiko-ba. The first red flag was when Ama showed up and worked the Ozeki. Then it was the boys from Sadogatake-beya, all solid rikishi but nowhere near Hakuho's class this year. The Eastern Europeans worked him pretty good at the Soken keiko session, and then to add insult to injury, Chiyotaikai bested Hakuho 9-8 in a practice session. Instead of expressing confidence in his ability to reach Yokozuna this basho, Hakuho has now resorted to explaining why he has been so poor in the practice ring and how is stamina is improving day by day. Go back and try to find a single comment the past 10 days where Hakuho even hinted what was at stake in terms of promotion. This pre-basho is a complete turnaround from his preparation in Nagoya. Could the turning point have been the Taiwan jungyo? You had Hakuho working his butt off participating in 99 bouts over a few days, and then you had Kitanoumi Rijicho hold a press conference saying that 12 wins and a non-yusho would probably get the job done. In my opinion, Hakuho felt validated by the remarks and his hard work and unintentionally let his guard down mentally. From all the reports that I've read, Hakuho has not been able to grab that left frontal belt grip nor much of a left belt grip at all. His opponents are figuring his attack out, and the middle of a Yokozuna run is not the time to switch to plan B. Ask Tochiazuma and Chiyotaikai. I hope he can scrap back and put together another solid performance in Aki, but I expect the promotion slate to be wiped clean for Kyushu. I think Hakuho will do well to score 11 wins.

With Asashoryu and Hakuho down, at least in the keiko ring, let's look at some of the surrounding cast. Ozeki Chiyotaikai is the third highest rikishi on the banzuke, which explains the huge gap between the top two and everyone else. Yes, Chiyotaikai bested Hakuho the other day in keiko 9-8, but where was the Ozeki to be seen at the Soken keiko session? He isn't injured, so why didn't he show up? I don't see how we can expect anything different from Chiyotaikai this basho. I think he comes out as he did in Nagoya with a bit of fire but will allow a bad loss to derail him. 9 wins tops.

Ozeki Kaio comes in as the number four guy, but it's going to be yet another struggle to get his eight wins, especially with the motley crew of Eastern Europeans lurking a few ranks down. I've read of a few keiko reports where Kaio showed up at the session, but I haven't seen any concrete numbers and actual opponents. To his credit, Kaio was there, but when the going got tough (the best of the best fighting), I don't think Kaio was really in the mix of things. Here we go again: 8 wins. Perhaps Kaio, Kotooshu, and Kotomitsuki should start playing together.

Speaking of Kotooshu, I like how he has been more active on the keiko circuit prior to this basho. That tells me that he should be as healthy as he's been since he made that brilliant run to Ozeki a year ago. The only troubling report I've read regarding his pre-basho workouts were the few visits he made to Miyagino-beya with his stablemates to fight Hakuho. I liked the fact that he went, but when the numbers were reported, Kotooshu was the only guy to have a losing record against Hakuho. Kotomitsuki went 5-0 against Hakuho the first day, and the Yokozuna hopeful still hasn't seemed to figure out Ama. So if I put things mathematically, it'd go something like this: Kotomitsuki >=Hakuho>=Ama>Kotooshu. Now that just defines pre-basho keiko results, but I'd expect Kotooshu to be posting better results than he has been if he was truly all together physically...and of course mentally. 9 wins and a sigh.

Mopping up the Ozeki ranks, I've read nothing of Tochiazuma prior to the basho. Apparently he went into Nagoya with a shaky knee, and then he took a few huge spills to the dohyo that probably banged him up further. While that faceplant suffered against Chiyotaikai last basho was cool, I think the Ozeki simply has too much mileage on his body to be effective this basho. Your guess is as good as mine, but I'll lump the Ozeki into that 9 win range with Chiyotaikai, Kaio, and Kotooshu. How unoriginal.

Reports of Sekiwake Miyabiyama have not been overly positive, but when you're lugging around 185 kilos, it's going to take a few weeks to get the engines going. For Miyabiyama this basho, it's entirely in his mind. There was no question that he came out tentatively in Nagoya. What a horrible first week, but the Ozeki-hopeful dug down and earned himself another crack at the rank. Remember, dude's still riding 34 wins the last three basho. Despite the fact that Miyabi has not been overly dominant in the keiko ring, I like the things that he's saying. I think the butterflies were exorcised in Nagoya and that Miyabiyama knows what he needs to do. I'll tell you in my day 3 comments if he's going to get promoted. I just need to see what kind of mindset he comes out with. I expect 11 wins.

Say it isn't so, but is Kotomitsuki ready to break out of the 8-7 rut this basho? I say yes, and who cares if it's only to the tune of 9-6? It's not that I think Kotomitsuki has gotten any better, but I go back to the confidence thing. He has to be feeling good about himself after the success he's had against Hakuho prior to Aki. He also put Baruto in his place last basho, he's probably tired of playing second fiddle to Kotooshu in the stable, and there's always that huge losing streak to Asashoryu. I just get the feeling that Hit and Mitsuki will be a little more hit this basho than miss. As I said, 9 wins.

What is going on with Komusubi Kisenosato? Is he going metrosexual on us? Noticeably absent from the Soken keiko session was Japan's brightest hope in the division right now. So why was he absent you ask? Injury...fatigue? No. Hello Kitty. I thought that whole John Karr episode was bizarre, and by bizarre I mean the part about admitting to a crime he didn't commit, not the part of inquiring about a sex change operation in Bangkok. Who among us hasn't done that? Getting back to Kisenosato, the dude has got to show up to the biggest keiko event prior to the Tokyo basho. It's one thing to have the opportunity to practice with the very best rikishi, but it's also a place where the players in the sport must be seen. It's mind boggling to me that they couldn't have unveiled that Hello Kitty kesho mawashi in the afternoon. I guess I'm going on about nothing because I haven't read any keiko reports surrounding Kisenosato. I'm going to assume that he is not injured, and that he will be his usual scrappy self. Seven wins, however, because of the following threesome:

First up is Kokkai. I was thrilled to see the Georgian sitting in the Komusubi slot with the release of the banzuke because I don't think he'll have many chances to grace the sanyaku in the future. The reason that I made a big deal out of Kisenosato's not showing up the Soken keiko session is because Kokkai did show up, and he had a great practice. His confidence has to be riding sky high after the effort that saw him best some of the big names in the sport. Kokkai now has it in his mind that he can compete with the best, and given his good track record against the Ozeki of late, Kokkai shouldn't be intimidated at all by his week 1 schedule. I really think he can come out of that week standing at 3-4, which is great for a Komusubi. I like everything I've read about Kokkai prior to this basho, and I think he'll flirt with a kachi-koshi in his sanyaku debut. 7 wins.

Leading the way for the Maegashira--and I do mean leading--is none other than Baruto. Prior to the Soken keiko session, I would have expected Baruto to struggle to kachi-koshi this basho. He finally faced Asashoryu at the Taiwan jungyo but was easily forced out by the Yokozuna; there's talk that he'll probably need surgery on his right ankle at some point of his career; his new stable in Tokyo (the Onoe-beya) is a fair distance from Ryogoku where most of the other stables reside, so it's hard to get motivated for de-geiko; and he's going to face the toughest rikishi the sport has to offer this basho without having polished his sumo much. However, I think that all of those negatives are nullified by his showing at the Soken keiko session, especially his four bout winning streak against Asashoryu. On the biggest practice stage prior to the basho, Baruto had his way with the sport's best. Once again, we are talking about pre-basho keiko, but the effect that has on Baruto's confidence and on the other rikishi in striking fear into them is huge. I'm going to say that Baruto skates through week one with no worse than a 4-3 record on his way to the jun-yusho.

Rounding out the solid threesome of Eastern European rikishi is Roho, who shares the M1 slot with Baruto. Roho has a lot to prove in Aki, not the least of which is how he's perceived by the public. The only way that he can gain back any respect is with solid sumo, and the Russian knows it. I think that Roho takes that knowledge and couples it with the momentum gained from the Soken keiko session and turns it into a solid kachi-koshi basho. I expect Kokkai, Baruto, and Roho to feed off each other and make a big impact this basho. At worst, these three made such a big impression in front of the Yokozuna Deliberation Council that even Makiko Uchidate had nothing bad to say...about the foreign rikishi at least.

As if the last three rikishi weren't solid enough in the Komusubi/M1 ranks, Tamanoshima checks in at M2. A year ago or so, this guy was a regular Sekiwake until a rib-cage injury knocked him way down the ranks. Tamanoshima never has seemed to fully recover from that injury. The potential is there as evidenced by his numerous Kantosho awards of late, but he's got to go all out this basho when it really counts. I think he takes it easy to the tune of six wins...unfortunately. Counterpart Tokitenku checks in the West slot for his second go-around among the jo'i. I expect a scalp or two from the Ozeki ranks, but there's just too much beef among the heavyweights this basho for Tokitenku to kachi-koshi. Five or six wins.

Former Ozeki Dejima checks in at M3, unfortunately, the surrounding cast knows his style too well and will be able to exploit it for their benefit. Four wins is generous I think. Counterpart Aminishiki should provide more of a test to the jo'i than Dejima, but once again, he's overmatched when it comes to size and youth. Five wins.

M4 Tamakasuga's cruel fate awaits him this basho, but that's what the rikishi get when they have outstanding basho low in the ranks. Fortunately, at M4 he'll be spared from getting everyone, but when you look at the rikishi around him, he'll be lucky to win four bouts total. At least he'll give the effort, unlike Kyokushuzan when he's ranked this high. M4 Kyokutenho should have a decent basho for all the wrong reasons...namely, he's fallen far enough down the ranks to be able to kachi-koshi again.

I wish our M5's could flip-flop places with the M3's this basho. Both Tochinonada and Iwakiyama are capable of challenging the best on the banzuke, but they'll still have their work cut out for them at M5. I say both struggle to win eight as they are in the tail end of their careers.

I know a lot of people won't like to hear this, but Ama did overachieve earlier this year when he actually made it as far as Komusubi. That still doesn't mean, however, that his effort has dropped off at all and that he isn't one of the most entertaining guys to watch on the banzuke. I mean who can forget him at this year's Haru basho with that wicked scab on his forward that resembled the Virgin Mary...if you squinted just right. Perhaps all those people who flocked to his side to get a closer look distracted the Mongolian. I say he still struggles at this rank though kachi-koshi is not out of the picture. Counterpart Toyonoshima is a non-factor this high up.

Two rikishi you'd like to see about five notches up are our M7's Futenoh and Kotoshogiku. 9-6 records for each will have them there come Kyushu. These guys are the best rikishi in the mid-Maegashira in my opinion.

M8 Kakizoe used to be a mainstay at M1 and M2, but he has slowly slid down the ranks as the jo'i has become stronger. Remember who would hop in and out of the Komusubi rank at the same time? M9 Takamisakari. It's no coincidence that these two are resigned to the rank and file. The division has toughened up the last year to force these two guys lower in the ranks. The Robocop's counterpart, Asasekiryu, should be an interesting one to watch. Remember, he made that fantastic run in May to vault himself to Komusubi for Nagoya where he upset Hakuho on day 1 only to suffer a leg injury the next day forcing him to withdraw. I think double-digit wins is likely for Seki.

M10 Hakurozan is surely back down in his comfort zone this low in the ranks. Who cares? His (lack of) effort in Nagoya made me want to go back and watch Fantasy Island reruns. What was the phrase that midget guy used to say...da pain, da pain? Hakurozan posting 10 or more wins from this rank is akin to me combing the junior high schools in Japan for chicks and actually feeling cool if some of them talk to me.

I'll be pleasantly surprised if M11 Homasho can climb much higher in the Makuuchi ranks with his soft, unorthodox style. M13 Hokutoriki is finding himself this far down in the ranks too often lately, but that's no skin off my hairy back.

M14 should be the rank that keeps us interested in the early bouts. Wakanosato checks in in the East slot after taking a huge dive following his withdrawal in July. After a 3-0 start, you may remember on day 4 when Ama lifted Waka's left leg off the ground and then swiped at the right leg causing Wakanosato to fall awkwardly. I've not read a single word on his condition, but he should at least win eight from this spot shouldn't he?

Counterpart Hochiyama makes his Makuuchi debut this basho, and I expect his to be a long, healthy career. This guy is in my top three Japanese rikishi (Kisenosato and Tochiouzan are the others) most likely to impact sumo in the next few years Hochiyama is a well-rounded dude adept at oshi-zumo and fighting at the belt. He's quick, he's strong, and he's got a good, muscular sumo body.  I say he threatens for a special prize.

And finally, joining Hochiyama as the other Makuuchi rookie is M16 Ryuho. Unlike Hochiyama, don't expect too much from Ryuho. He's one of those guys who takes forever to reach the big dance, but hey, he's here isn't he? Unlike Daimanazuru last basho, I think Ryuho can actually hang around the bottom of the division for a few basho, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Overall, I expect a sloppy Aki basho with the yusho line to go no higher than 13 wins. I just get the sense that Asashoryu and Hakuho are not all together physically and mentally, which will call for more parity among the jo'i. Let's hope I'm wrong, but here are my predictions:

Yusho: Asashoryu 13-2
Shukunsho, Kantosho: Baruto 12-3
Ginosho: Hochiyama 10-5





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