Mike Wesemann

Mike's Profile


2007 Aki Post-basho Report   |   Aki Pre-basho report
I know there was quite a bit of excitement coming into the Aki basho for the simple misguided reason that if Asashoryu was forced to sit out it would give the other rikishi a better chance to yusho. That's not the way it works, however, and as I tried to hammer home prior to the basho, removing Asashoryu makes the rikishi worse, not better. You cannot remove the number one guy from the sport and have the common denominator go up. Heading into the basho, ask yourself who had a legitimate chance of taking the yusho. Hakuho of course. He is clearly the best of the rest...and a Yokozuna. Kotomitsuki had a shot. Dude was on a roll and has established himself as the number three guy in the sport. He was 3-2 against Hakuho their last five meetings and certainly had a shot to yusho. Kotooshu had a shot on ability alone plus the fact that he had help from his stablemates. Beyond those three, you could give honorable mention to Chiyotaikai and Kaio, but I'm laughing as I type. In short, besides the Yokozuna and the four Ozeki, no one else had a chance (and they don't have a chance heading into Kyushu either). So let's examine these five rikishi and compare their results in Aki with no Asashoryu to their results in Nagoya when they last had to deal with him using my scientific table below:



Nagoya Aki
Hakuho Went 11-4 losing to Kotomitsuki, two Ozeki (after henka), and Asashoryu. He jumped out to a 10-0 start. Went 13-2 but lost to two underclassmen. He got burned on day 1 and then by M5 Toyonoshima on day 11 after it was evident that the pretenders would be sifted out leaving Hakuho alone at the top. I think even Hakuho would admit he took some things for granted this basho and overlooked some opponents when he felt secure in the yusho.
Kotomitsuki Went 13-2 losing only to Asashoryu and Kisenosato on the final day. Though he was shifty at the tachi-ai in many bouts, he had a certain fire to him Went 10-5, a record that prorates to 9-6 with Asashoryu around. Though he was shifty at the tachi-ai in many of his bouts, he was listless throughout and did not impact the basho
Kotooshu Went 9-6 in Nagoya and faced two Yokozuna and two Ozeki Went 8-7 and faced zero Yokozuna and zero Ozeki
Chiyotaikai Went 9-6 and had little impact on the basho Went 9-6 and showed one spirited day against Goeido but was seen giving up and just walking out of the dohyo in multiple bouts down the stretch.
Kaio Went a respectable 8-4 before withdrawing due to injury Went a measly 1-4 before withdrawing due to an injury to...to somewhere

I submit that the top rikishi knew that Asashoryu wasn't there to keep them honest, so they let their guards down a bit and didn't show the same passion this basho thinking things would be easier, which in turn translated into poor sumo. How else do you explain the drop-off in performance across the board? So who was the faux jun-yusho rikishi of the bunch? Nobody. Those honors went to M12 Kyokutenho, who finished 12-3, but c'mon, are you gonna tell me that a guy that lost to Roho by yori-kiri, Goeido by sotogake, and Kasugao by yori-kiri (those are all forward-moving kimarite meaning the loser was overpowered chest to chest) was a legitimate yusho candidate? No stinkin' way. This was a bad basho whose only excitement was generated by Goeido, but even his run was put into perspective on three consecutive days down the stretch. Here's to mediocrity everybody; I just love what the Sumo Association has done to their sport for two basho. I'm convinced that part of their reasoning for the two basho suspension was because they thought with Asashoryu out of play that other rikishi could do some damage, but all it does is weaken everything giving sumo fans (who don't get it) false hopes. The rikishi were not better or livelier at Aki; they were far worse because they thought they could relax a bit without Genghis breathing down their necks. For close to five years, sumo went like this: a Mongolian Yokozuna dominated while the rest of the field largely made fools of themselves. Then, we finally get another solid Yokozuna in the sport who can legitimately challenge Asashoryu, and the Sumo Association removes Asa for two tournaments leaving us with a Mongolian Yokozuna dominating while the rest of the field largely makes fools of themselves. Great, we're right back where we started.

Sir Clancy said it best in his senshuraku report when he stated something to the effect of "why do I have to cover [Hakuho vs. Chiyotaikai] when I should have been covering Hakuho vs. Asashoryu?". He's right. Just look at the picture to the right. It's a single frame, but you can still tell that Chiyotaikai just walked back on his own without putting up a fight. Is that what everyone wants to see in the final bout of a basho with the yusho on the line? Go ahead and root for the underdog--I do it all the time too, but don't think that things are better without Asashoryu.

And I liked how everyone was trying to downplay the drop in ticket sales this basho saying it had nothing to do with Asashoryu's absence. To quote the Association's PR department, "Last year, the presence of the Crown Prince and his family on day 1 raised awareness of the basho, and there were only 7 sell-outs. The decline [compared to last year] is only minor, so based on those facts, we don't think that Asashoryu's absence impacted attendance." For the record, there were six sell-outs this year and the drop in walk-up ticket sales was down 11% compared to last year, so I'm guessing pre-sales of the masu-seki seating followed that same trend. Oh, and nice line there about the Crown Prince and his family. I watch NHK news diligently and not once have they ever reported on the news that anyone from the royal family visited the day's bouts. So the only way you'd know if the royal family made an appearance was if you went to the day's bouts yourself or watched them on TV. How does that promote the basho? You're already there or watching the damn thing! Fact is the Sumo Association botched their handling of Asashoryu's punishment, and it's now hurting them where it counts in ticket sales and bad publicity.

And don't even get me started on the Tokitaizan incident that's currently brewing or I'll never finish this report. You can be sure that I'll blog on the matter within the next week or so, but to finish my original thought about Asashoryu, the smart thing would be for the Sumo Association to rescind their punishment and let him come back for Kyushu. Until they do, go ahead and pencil Hakuho in right now for a 15-0 performance and expect equally bad sumo in Kyushu.

Let's get to the damage straightway starting with Hakuho. You may have looked at my table above and said, "Hakuho was better in Aki than he was in Nagoya." Yes, Hakuho's sumo was better, but his mindset wasn't. Let's follow his thinking in Nagoya. He's a new Yokozuna, and few of those have ever taken the yusho in their first basho at the rank. He clobbered the field for 9 straight days before falling to Kotomitsuki on day 10. He dispatched Ama and then Kaio before falling to henka from Kotooshu and Chiyotaikai on consecutive days. Having been removed from the yusho race heading into senshuraku, he rolled over for Asashoryu ensuring that the yusho would stay in Mongolian hands. On paper, he finished 11-4, but he had a good basho and his mind was focused on the task at hand...thus the domination of opponents who he should have beaten. In Aki, Hakuho slipped up on day 1 to Ama, and I think a large part of that was Hakuho wasn't as intense coming into the basho as he should have been. After the Ama mishap, he got his mindset in the right place and ran off 9 consecutive wins wtih the following kimari-te: yori-kiri, yori-kiri, sukui-nage, uwate-nage, yori-kiri, yori-kiri, oshi-taoshi, sukui-nage, and tsuri-dashi. Dems all Yokozuna kimari-te. At this point in the basho, the remaining Ozeki had all slipped up badly, and it was clear that Hakuho was in the driver's seat, so I think he relaxed mentally thinking he had things in the bag...thus the slip-up to M5 Toyonoshima on day 11. I love Toyonoshima and his tenacity, but Hakuho should have never let Toyo kick his ass like that. Had Asashoryu been lurking, I don't think Hakuho lets up at that point and wins out through day 14. Nevertheless, Hakuho did as he should have as a Yokozuna, which is taking the yusho and keeping the line at 13-2.

In his post-basho press conference, Hakuho mentioned how mentally draining it was to be constantly fighting from behind. He never had sole possession of the lead until day 13, and you could see him grow a bit tentative after that Toyonoshima loss, but I think he learns from the experience and just wreaks havoc in Kyushu. The yusho-as-a-Yokozuna monkey is off his back, Asashoryu is unfortunately gone for another tournament, and the remaining Ozeki were beaten down pretty good this basho. Chalk up yusho number 6 already.

Speaking of the beaten down, make sure the kids are in bed before you read these next few paragraphs because it could get ugly. Let's start with Chiyotaikai who had the typical Chiyotaikai-like basho that included the usual fast start against the scrubs, the usual go-for-the-pull-down-too-early-against-a-guy-whose-waiting-for-it loss at the hands of Homasho, and then the 1-4 finish down the stretch. Good ole 9-6. The only positive I thought for Chiyotaikai this basho was his bout against Goeido on day 13. You could see from the Ozeki's performance against Asasekiryu the day before that he had given up on the basho, but one's attitude can change in a hurry when pride is on the line. Taikai saw how Ama did Goeido the day before, so there was no way in hell he wasn't going to kick ass himself. I thought Kenji handled the comments perfectly on day 13 when he said you want to root for Goeido on the surface, but deep down in your gut you wanted to see Chiyotaikai protect his turf. The only issue I have with Chiyotaikai is why don't you fight everyone else the way you fought against Goeido? Use that same determination the full 15 days, and it'll work wonders. Nonetheless, par for the course for this Ozeki.

To Chiyotaikai's right sits ozeki Kotooshu. Do I even need to comment? I think I'll spare you Kotooshu fans and get right to the key bout of the basho for him. It occured on day 7 against Dejima when the Bulgarian enjoyed a great tachi-ai and a daunting left outer grip. He had the Degyptian upright and off balance two seconds in, but he decided to monkey around with a belt throw instead of forcing Dejima straight back and out for the sure win. As Martin pointed out, the majority of Kotooshu's losses came at the expense of counter throws when the Bulgarian focused too much on throwing his opponent to obtain the victory instead of taking the surest path to victory. It's just plain sad to see this guy ranked below Chiyotaikai on the banzuke every basho, especially when Kotooshu doesn't face a single guy higher than Sekiwake the whole tournament. Ozeki shmozeki.

Ozeki Kaio has got to forget about his goal of lasting 20 years in the sport and just retire in Kyushu in front of the hometown fans. For the record, Haru 2008 would be his 20-year anniversary, but he won't even make it out of Fukuoka with 8 wins. It's time for him to go so we can talk about what a great career he had and what a fantastic rikishi he was instead of making fun of his sumo of late.

Rounding out the Ozeki, Kotomitsuki had an average basho at best in his debut at the rank. His 6-4 start was particularly weak, especially when you consider his only win against a kachi-koshi rikishi was against Homasho. Even over the last five days, two of his wins against KK rikishi were by pull-down and the other came against Miyabiyama after the Sheriff went for an ill-advised pulldown himself. In short, Kotomitsuki didn't display too much power sumo this basho against rikishi with any game, but I'm not surprised. I've said it over and over that Mitsuki's run to Ozeki wasn't as impressive as Miyabiyama's failed run last year, so what do you expect? Kotomitsuki is a solid rikishi but to even fancy the idea that he could one day reach Yokozuna is ludicrous. Any momentum the Sadogatake Ozeki thought they had coming into Aki was quickly erased by tournament's end, and I don't see anything new to inspire them for Kyushu.

Moving onto the sanyaku, Sekiwake Aminishiki had a great basho. You knew that his 8-0 start and sole leader status wouldn't last deep into week 2, but give the guy props for beating everyone ranked below him that first week. I have issues with Aminishiki's sumo, especially his penchant for using nasty tachi-ai henka to pick up cheap wins along the way, but he clearly outperformed the Ozeki at the Aki basho. All you can ask of a Sekiwake is to beat the guys ranked beneath him and hold his own against the guys above him. He did exactly that and was one of the few rikishi who was actually inspired this basho. Aminishiki really didn't have any great wins, which put his fake yusho run into perspective, but to post double-digits from the sanyaku that included a walloping of Kotooshu on senshuraku is a job well done. Aminishiki at 10-5 from the Sekiwake rank is a perfect example of how weak the banzuke was at this tournament.

Same goes for counterpart Asasekiryu who had a decent basho himself with the only difference being he opted not to tachi-ai henka a few guys to pick up the cheap wins. Seki went 3-0 against the tough Ozeki (not named Kaio), and his only loss to a make-koshi rikishi was against Kakuryu on day 2. Early losses to the aforementioned Kakuryu and Aminishiki in the Sekiwake duel made it seem as if Seki didn't perform as well as Aminishiki, but in a lot of respects he was better. You can't complain about Seki's act in September. Props to both Sekiwake for pulling their weight at the Aki basho and outperforming the Ozeki.

Where Aminishiki and Asasekiryu shined, Komusubi Kisenosato failed big time. The Kid's just gotta come up with something better than 6-9, a record that included a win against Kaio after a tachi-ai henka. In fact, what stood out most this basho from Kisenosato to me were his bad tachi-ai. He skirted Kaio on day 2; he managed an even uglier henka against Kotooshu on day 9; and then his shenanigans against Hakuho on day 6 were inexcusable. A rikishi that can't get it right at the tachi-ai has issues with his sumo. And it hurts to watch Kisenosato do this to himself because he's got game. He had a solid win over Ama on day 7, and he looked good against Homasho, but he just wasn't in any sort of mindset coming in that would allow him to fight up to his potential. Another case of a rikishi relaxing without Asashoryu? Could be.

On the flip side, Komusubi Ama impacted this basho more than any other non-yusho rikishi. His day 1 win over Hakuho was spectacular, and his win over Kotomitsuki two days later was the first nail in that Ozeki's coffin. But regardless of how good Ama was early on, his win over Goeido on day 12 was the best bout of the year so far in my opinion. Few bouts ooze of whoopass to the point where it gets me up off the couch in sheer amazement, but this one did. I cannot praise Ama enough for his performance at Aki, which earned him a deserved Shukunsho. All you can ask of a guy is to fight his hardest every bout, and Ama did that. He slipped up at the end against tough yotsu guys in Kyokutenho and Kotoshogiku, but as far as I'm concerned, Ama was second best this tournament. Now the question is will the NSK go cheap on us and reward him with a lateral promotion from West to East or will they do the right thing and rank three Sekiwake for Kyushu leaving Homasho and Kotoshogiku to fill out the Komusubi ranks?

Dropping to the Maegashira ranks, how predictable is Tokitenku these days? Course with the type of trouble looming at the Tokitsukaze-beya at the moment, I'm sure Tokitenku's lazy sumo is the least of their worries. Tokitenku's a lot like Kotooshu in my book: great big sumo body and waste of potential. Four of his six wins were by pulldown, and his two forward-moving wins were against Hokutoriki and Asasekiryu. Hmmm...one good win over the 15 days. Let's move on.

Counterpart Homasho should finally grace the sanyaku come November after an 8-7 performance, but is it just me, or would you have liked to seen him force his way into the sanyaku with a little bit stronger banzuke that included Asashoryu? Still, you can't blame the kid for taking what was given, and Terao's prodigy scored wins over two Ozeki and both Sekiwake. His only loss to a make-koshi rikishi came against Kisenosato, so that's not too shabby, and then he's still trying to wipe the lube from his crack after Dejima did him on senshuraku. There's nothing but positives surrounding this kid.

M2 Tochinonada only mustered four wins with one of those a default win over Kaio (he'da beaten him anyway), but you can't find any fault with the gentle giant's performance. He toppled Kotooshu on day 3, and his two other wins were the result of forward-moving sumo. You often get guys up too high on the banzuke, and the only way they can steal wins is to go cheap, but not Tochinonada. Dude goes straight everytime, and you gotta admire him for it.

Counterpart Kakuryu had a fine basho that just came up short at 7-8. I didn't expect anything from the Mongolian at this rank, but I'll be damned if he didn't beat a Sekiwake by oshi-dashi, a Komusubi by tsuki-otoshi, and the red-hot Kasugao by soto-gake on senshuraku. Those are all forward moving techniques as were the other four kimari-te he used to win. This kid's comin' around and may yet prove to be another pesky Mongolian thorn in the side of the Japanese bureaucracy.

M3 Hokutoriki's a joke, of course, although he did put Kaio's current condition into perspective on day 3. And the sad thing is the NSK was trying to be nice to the Ozeki early on. Anyway, Hokutoriki just giving up and walking out for the majority of his bouts is something we hopefully don't get to see again. Next.

Counterpart Kotoshogiku finally got off the snide and posted a stellar 10-5 performance that included solid wins over Chiyotaikai and Ama, but a 1-4 stretch to finish week 1 took him completely off of everyone's radar. Exempt from fighting two Ozeki each basho, Kotoshogiku's gotta keep this kind of sumo up. Hopefully, his run in Aki translates into inspired sumo in November.

Anyone who can claim to have held the Ozeki rank and actually has a yusho, but who also needs to use a tachi-ai henka on senshuraku to pick up a kachi-koshi is a disgrace. Way to go Dejima.

Counterpart Wakanosato's 5-10 performance was highlighted by that day 9 win over Aminishiki, who was undefeated coming into the bout, and then his win over Kotooshu on day 13. I think what that really says is Aminishiki wasn't even close to taking the yusho, and Kotooshu has some serious, serious issues. Waka did his job nonetheless.

If Ama made the greatest impact on the basho for the non-yusho rikishi, then M5 Toyonoshima came in a close second with wins over Kotomitsuki, Kotooshu, and Hakuho. The difference was that Ama scored his wins when the yusho was still up for grabs whereas Toyonoshima earned his scalps after the yusho race was all but decided. Still, for a rikishi of his size to manhandle two Ozeki and the Yokozuna speak volumes regarding his determination. Not only does Toyonoshima play David to the Makuuchi Goliaths, but he does it straight up. I could understand it if someone of his stature dips his paws into the henka jar a couple of times a basho, but Toyonoshima doesn't do it. He's just a straight up rikishi and one of the few bright spots in the sport right now.

Miyabiyama's 9-6 performance was good, but you'd expect that mark from the Sheriff at this rank on the banzuke. If Miyabiyama's to ever regain sanyaku status again, he's gotta have more confidence in his de-ashi. I still see some tentativeness in his tsuppari attack.

I spent enough time talking about M6 Toyohibiki's tachi-ai on the days that I reported during the basho, but I think that my concerns came to fruition on day 12 and day 13, when Toyohibiki lost to two rikishi he should have just crushed (Kakizoe and Tamakasuga) because his opponents knew what kind of tachi-ai was coming, and they simply dodged the initial charge and lifted up at Toyohibiki's left elbow as he neared throwing him off balance. Toyohibiki jumped out to a nifty 5-2 start, but the better your start is, the tougher your competition will get, so I can understand his three bout losing streak to the likes of Dejima, Kasugao, and Kyokutenho, but c'mon...losing to Kakizoe and Tamakasuga? The Nikibi's highlights included wins over Kotoshogiku, Toyonoshima, and Tochiohzan, but it wasn't enough as the youngster fell short at 7-8. He's gotta abandon that gimmick tachi-ai.

Counterpart Kaiho was thoroughly overmatched this high on the banzuke. He started out 2-0 thanks to consecutive tachi-ai henka but didn't pick up another win until day 13 when he of course capitalized on a pull down of Ryuo. Twas ugly.

Let's skip Tamanoshima, Tokitsuumi, Takekaze, and Tosanoumi and drop down to M9 where Roho could only scrape out a 6-9 record that included three pull down wins. That's simply uncalled for. The Russian's sumo is so uninspired these days that he's become a laughing stock in the division. When Kitanoumi scratches his signature on the paychecks of the sekitori, I'm sure it takes him the longest to justify paying Roho. His act is getting so tired.

Counterpart Takamisakari just did manage a kachi-koshi thanks to a poor 2-6 start that gave him plenty of charity down the stretch. It's smart of the Association, though, to keep him around as long as possible.

Normally I would just bypass an M10 who went 4-11, but since Martin and I had a bet on how many wins Iwakiyama would finish with, I gotta take the opportunity. After day 10 when Iwakiyama was sitting at 4-6, Martin already had one leg in that Little Lord Fauntleroy costume, but not so fast. Iwakiyama went an incredible 0-5 down the stretch to demote Martin from the LLF costume to the fun white fairy costume. Martin was kind of dejected in the end because he didn't get to hold the white bunny, but at least his costume came with a training bra.

Iwaki's counterpart, Kasugao, took full advantage of weak opponents the first five days going 5-0, but reality set in a bit as the competition got better the final two thirds as the Korean managed a 5-5 finish. The biggest positive for Kasugao this basho is that he didn't suffer any boneheaded losses to rikishi who he should destroy. Add to that shweet wins over Kotooshu, Kyokutenho, and Futenoh, and Kasugao could make the sanyaku yet. Hell, you look at the upper Maegashira ranks from M1 down to M4 and Kasugao is as good as any of those guys.

Let's drop down to M12 where Kokkai couldn't even manage a kachi-koshi from these depths. Ugh. His lack of confidence in his attack was tangible this basho. Counterpart Kyokutenho shined going 12-3, but I already talked about how his losses were not worthy of a yusho contender. Still, credit the chauffeur for beating everyone who he was 'posed to beat.

Who didn't see Ryuo's 3-12 coming? Looks like the jolly Mongolian's dewsweeping days are done for now, but he should be able to stick in Juryo and milk this thing for all it's worth.

I don't know what to make of counterpart Tochiohzan. On one hand, the dude knocked off yusho hopefuls like Goeido and Kasugao, but on the other hand he lost to the likes of Kakizoe, Yoshikaze, and Iwakiyama during a three-day stretch. That's who Japan is touting as one of the new hopes? At 7-7, he couldn't even capitalize on the senshuraku gift the NSK gave him when they paired him with Tosanoumi. The problem with Tochiohzan this basho was that he turned it on for some opponents, and then just sucked when facing others. That kind of mental inconsistency does not bode well for this kid's future if he hopes to become a mainstay in the jo'i. Are we seeing a trend with Tochiohzan already where he gets weak in the knees when fighting in big matches down the stretch? Take his day 2 bout with Goeido. The two were fierce rivals in the amateur ranks, and they are not friends. Tochiohzan rose through the rank quicker and wanted to protect his territory, so he stormed out of the gate and had Goeido's ass kicked in 3 seconds. But if that bout had occurred on day 14, I think the outcome would have been reversed. Tochiohzan was injured in Nagoya and withdrew early, and I sincerely hope that he was still ailing this basho because he did not look tough mentally.

Speaking of Tochiohzan's rival, M14 Goeido was one of the few bright spots this basho. I knew as early as day 9 that this kid wasn't gonna yusho, but that doesn't matter. He showed a certain maturity about him that forecasts great things to come. After demolishing the softies in his way during week 1, the crucial part of the basho came for him starting on day 9 when he had Kyokutenho, Kasugao, and Takekaze on consecutive days. Those three were smack dab on the leaderboard, and Goeido had every right to be intimidated, but not only was he cool as a cat, but he smoked all three of the veteran rikishi taking sole possession of the lead. You can't blame Goeido for his losses to the jo'i rikishi, but just the way he approached those bouts was encouraging. He didn't give up in any of them, and he attacked all three of his foes straight on. I have nothing but praise for the kid, and though it may not sound like it, when I rave over the way Ama and Chiyotaikai handled him, I'm giving the kid tons of respect. Now before I get too carried away, let's review the other Makuuchi newcomers this year who posted double-digit wins in their debuts: Tochiohzan, Toyohibiki, and Ryuo. I've already mentioned a few red flags regarding Tochiohzan including his inability to man up in tough situations late in the basho. Toyohibiki looked awesome down low, but has now begun to plateau just outside of the jo'i, and Ryuo will pass like a fart in a strong wind. Still, of the three legitimate Japanese rikishi, I think Goeido's the toughest mentally, and that's what should eventually put him ahead of his peers.

Limping towards the finish, I guess we're stuck with M15 Hakurozan another basho. I will give the guy some credit as four of his nine wins were actually straight-forward kimari-te. I think he can see the writing on the wall and wants to keep that paycheck coming in for as long as possible.

Counterpart Yoshikaze showed great fighting spirit this basho, but it ain't gonna translate into success at his location on the banzuke in Kyushu despite his good wins over Tochiohzan and Roho.

And finally, Kakizoe pulled a 9-6 performance out of his colorless mawashi to keep himself around for another basho or two. The most impressive part of Kakizoe's run was the at seven of his nine wins were via oshi-dashi or oshi-taoshi. Maybe more of these guys need wives who could kick their asses on the homefront because we could use some shaping up in the division.

Just when I thought I'd get a break in between basho after that Asashoryu fiasco, Tokitaizan's family had to go out and do something stupid like hire a lawyer. Wouldn't want any justice in life, now, would we? As Kitanoumi continues to bumble in his role as commissioner and as Tokitsukaze-oyakata gets fitted for handcuffs, I'll be sure to keep things updated. In the meantime, don't get your hopes up for the Kyushu basho because I think it's gonna suck worse than Aki did.

2007 Aki Pre-basho Report
In all my years of following sumo, the only past incident that even remotely compares to the media circus surrounding Asashoryu at the moment was shortly after Futagoyama-oyakata's death when Takanohana and Wakanohana began feuding with each other over who would inherit what. That storyline was covered heavily in between the Natsu basho and Nagoya basho in 2005, but as soon as the banzuke was released for Nagoya, the story went away as it should have bringing the focus back on the hon-basho at hand. With Asashoryu's case, however, the media simply will not back down.

I've already provided some blog entries on the matter explaining the way I see things, but before I get to the rikishi who will participate this basho, let me say this. Back at the end of January when the Shukan Gendai tabloid broke their bout-fixing articles naming Asashoryu as the chief culprit, I questioned the timing of it all. The first article focused on the Kyushu basho and how Asa arranged 11 of his 15 bouts at that tournament. So why not break the news after the Kyushu basho? The tape that Shukan Gendai subsequently claimed to have where Miyagino-oyakata admitted to his mistress that the Asashoryu - Hakuho bout in Nagoya 2006 was fixed was also supposedly obtained the year before, so why not come out with it then? Why wait? My speculation was that it was all a planned assault on Asashoryu's character after he reached that milestone yusho, number 20. Now fast forward to August 28th when the board of directors called that special meeting to decide whether or not they would let Asashoryu go back to Mongolia. The morning of the meeting, it was leaked to the press that Asashoryu failed to declare income totaling about a million dollars US over a three year period. All news agencies ran with the story, but the problem was Asashoryu had already been contacted by the Tokyo regional tax agency, and he had already restated his income and paid the tax owed. Kitanoumi was asked for his comments, and he said the matter had been taken care of and was closed. So why was that old news leaked on the morning that the directors were meeting? It was a last gasp effort to influence the board of directors and sway them against the Yokozuna.

It's no coincidence. There are people who will go to any length to tarnish Asashoryu's legacy and get him kicked out of sumo all together. There are detractors among the board of directors, among the Yokozuna Deliberation Council, and certainly among the press. And now that Asashoryu is ready to take down numbers 3 and 4 on the all-time yusho list, the detractors are taking every opportunity to try and prevent it. Ever since Asashoryu has returned to Mongolia, the press has become so bitter towards him taking every chance to come up with exaggerated headlines that put Asashoryu in a negative light. They're even combing the Mongolian tabloids to dig up any dirt possible on the Yokozuna true or not. A headline the other day read that Asashoryu demanded that his wife abort their third child. It's just ridiculous how low these guys are stooping. And it's just not with Asashoryu. Recently, Prime Minister Abe announced his new cabinet members, and the Japanese press have just been badgering the hell out of them trying to discredit everyone and dig up the dirt. Enough already. Yokozuna are not chosen by what happens in between basho; they're chosen by what they do on top of the dohyo, so whether it's politics or sumo, cover the event itself and stop trying to go to such extremes to discredit the participants. I've never seen a bigger group of people that needed to get laid more than the Japanese press.

And the final word on Asashoryu...it's no surprise that they let him go home with no real deadline by when he needs to come back. This whole situation has gotten so out of hand that it's taking the focus off of where it needs to be--the basho itself. The board of directors let Asa go home because one, 1) they couldn't justify defying the doctors' orders, and 2) they knew if he stayed in Japan the Aki basho would not get the proper coverage. Pre-basho coverage has already suffered greatly by this whole mess, and the Sumo Association can't afford to just let this drag on. I wouldn't be surprised if they let Asashoryu come back for the Kyushu basho. As Takatagawa-oyakata stated, enough is enough. Asashoryu has gone through more punishment than necessary, especially because his was a crime of misunderstanding, and not deceit.

With the top dog out, that leaves us with just one Yokozuna in the field (as soon as we get two of 'em, the Association finds a way to screw it all up). By all accounts, Hakuho has been his usual self prior to Aki meaning he didn't exactly jump out of the gate in terms of fierce keiko, but he has been picking up the pace in the final week. This basho is Hakuho's to lose. Kotomitsuki is confident enough right now and on such of a high that he will take the yusho if Hakuho lets up at all, so it's up to the Mongolian to bring it mentally. I say mentally because though Hakuho is the superior rikishi, the Yokozuna has slumped the last third of the year for two straight years now, so he is vulnerable. He also has three Sadogatake boys to deal with and not just the one. A well-timed henka or two could take Hakuho out of things altogether as happened last basho. You have to choose Hakuho as the yusho favorite just because the jo'i is as weak as it's ever been, and without Asashoryu no other rikishi even comes close to him, but Hakuho is all alone up there and you have some crafty Ozeki who know that this is a huge chance to steal a yusho. If Hakuho avoids the cheap tachi-ai henka and remembers his oshi attack that got him the Yokozuna rank in the first place, he goes 14-1 and coasts to the yusho. We'll know after the first few days what kind of sumo he'll bring.

Stepping down to the Ozeki ranks, Chiyotaikai sits in the prestigious East slot, and as is usually the case, there have been zero reports touching on the Ozeki. If you've ever visited morning keiko, you know that the focus is on yotsu-zumo. Since that's Chiyotaikai's Achilles heel, quality keiko doesn't really matter here. He'll take advantage of the weak upper Maegashira and bully his way to 11 wins.

If Ozeki Kotooshu is ever going to yusho, now's his chance. He'll never beat both Khan to take the cup, so with Asashoryu out and Kotomitsuki nearby to assist him should Kotooshu find himself tied for the lead heading into the final five days, he's gotta shot. I'm completely fine with a Kotooshu yusho just as long as it involves straight up sumo, something we know the Bulgarian is capable of, but something he hasn't been able to produce for two years now. Once again, I don't see how any of the Ozeki lose the first five or six days, so expect Oshu to flirt with 12 wins and the yusho.

I have read one report touching on Ozeki Kaio, and how he looked in fine form and free of any pain. Doesn't matter. As weak as the jo'i is this basho, guys like Tochinonada and Kotoshogiku give him fits, so I look for Kaio to hover right around 10 wins and make little impact this basho.

And now we come to our new Ozeki, Kotomitsuki. The dude is on a roll for sure, but I still haven't been overly impressed with his sumo. I said it before, but Miyabiyama looked better to me last year during his run for Ozeki than Kotomitsuki has the last few basho. Mitsuki has benefited from two stablemates among the jo'i and some shenanigans at the tachi-ai to pad his record. He's clearly the third best rikishi in the sport right now, so with number one having been graciously removed out of the equation, Kotomitsuki--and everyone else--knows that this is a huge opportunity. Kotomitsuki has been hot in his keiko of late, but his sparring partner has been Kotoshogiku, a rikishi that hasn't exactly performed with any pop recently. Like the other Ozeki, Kotomitsuki will feast on the upper Maegashira and skate to an early kachi-koshi on his way to the jun-yusho with 12 wins. I don't see how he isn't among the leaderboard near the end, but I think the Sadogatake-itis will catch up with him where he goes weak in the knees when the yusho is right in front of him. Happened to him last basho on senshuraku, and we've already seen Kotooshu wilt a couple of times when he controlled his own destiny heading into senshuraku.

Why have I repeated over and over that this banzuke is so weak at the top? Sekiwake Aminishiki and Asasekiryu. That's the weakest duo that I can ever remember at this rank. Sendagawa-oyakata (former Akinoshima) has got to be looking at this banzuke and saying "why am I not in my prime right now?". When you have easy wins over the dudes from M2-M4, kachi-koshi is never out of the question, but neither or our Sekiwake are going to impact this basho. 7 wins for Sneaky and 8 wins for Sexy.

I guess the bright spot on the banzuke is reflected in the next two ranks. At Komusubi, Kisenosato and Ama should impact the basho. They'll be the barometers for the Ozeki to determine which of them are in the yusho hunt in the end. I love Kisenosato in this position because if he's on his game, he damn well could come away with jun-yusho honors. I see him easily capturing his 8 and flirting with double digit wins in the end. Same goes for Ama who's better than two of the Ozeki and both Sekiwake. Give him guys like Tochinonada, Kakuryu, and Hokutoriki to pad his record with, and I don't see how he isn't ranked at Sekiwake for Kyushu.

Leading off for the Maegashira is former Komusubi, Tokitenku. Normally, I'd say that Tenku is a strongpoint at this position, but his sumo of late has been as impressive as the crap that Hollywood has been putting out these days and calling movies. Tokitenku should flirt with double-digit wins, but he won't. He's in that funk where he's addicted to the cheap wins using henka and pull sumo, a formula that should get him kachi-koshi but nothing more than that.

Normally, our saving grace for the upper Maegashira would be M1 Homasho, but it sounds as if Homie is dinged up heading into the basho. From the keiko reports I've read, he hasn't looked sharp at all, which is too bad considering the current banzuke. That's the bad news. The good news is that next to Asashoryu no one brings as much intensity to the dohyo as Homasho. I see him eeking out a kachi-koshi on heart alone, so let's hope for a completely healthy Homasho in Kyushu. Hopefully, I've made too much of his current condition, and we'll see the Homasho we all know and love in Aki. The basho can surely use it.

Now we get to the crap. M2 Tochinonada? He was a bitch to handle in his prime, but he's much slower now and will get pasted up this high. Five wins is being nice. Counterpart Kakuryu is a possible up and comer, but he's never faced the kind of competition he'll get this basho. Three wins?

And as bleak as I've been regarding the M2 rank, Hokutoriki of all rikishi comes in at M3. Happy 2-13. Counterpart Kotoshogiku was supposed to be among that group of Japanese "hopes", but he has looked terrible for three or four basho now. He does get a pass allowing him to avoid two Ozeki, but it hasn't done him any good up until now. I see him struggling to another frustrating 6 wins.

M4's Dejima and Wakanosato are former greats, but they're going to dole out the wins to the jo'i just as the four rikishi directly above them will. No wonder the Ozeki should all win in double digits this basho.

M5 Toyonoshima is somewhat compelling considering he was on a roll until a nasty keiko session with Asashoryu back in May that led to a bum leg. If Toyonoshima has recovered from that, he should soar this basho to the tune of 9 or so wins. We'll see if he's paired against either of the Sadogatake Ozeki this basho. Remember, he's been a nuisance to both. Counterpart Miyabiyama was fantastic a year ago, but he's struggled the last few basho even at the lower ranks. It just seems that hamstring injury that forced him to bow out in March has hampered him from getting back to any sort of decent shape...if that's possible for the Sheriff. I see a lackluster kachi-koshi in the cards just because the competition immediately around him sucks.

Except for M6 Toyohibiki. Here's your sleeper this basho. I expect the nikibi to pop his way to double digits and firmly plant himself in that group known as the "hopes" of Japan. You look above him three or four ranks and below him three or four ranks, and there's just nothing of substance...kinda like the music Pearl Jam has been putting out the last ten years. I expect Toyohibiki to be one of the big storylines during the basho. Counterpart Kaiho and his come back is a great story, and dude could likely kachi-koshi at this rank due to his weak competition, but I say he falls just short with seven wins.

M7 Tamanoshima and Tokitsuumi are as useless at this rank as a referee at a professional wrestling match.

M8 Takekaze was great for two basho earlier in the year, but someone must have popped him good in the head during Nagoya because he suddenly remembered how to suck again. I'd love to see him repent and show the spirit he did awhile back. Eight wins is certainly not a stretch. It will be for counterpart Tosanoumi, though. Five wins.

M9 Roho is extremely compelling. Remember that nifty 3-0 start in Nagoya from the jo'i? Look for the Russian to come out with the red-ass and destroy his competition this low. Something tells me Roho has grown out of his sandbagging ways...at least for a few basho. Give him 11 wins. Counterpart Takamisakari will continue to fall victim to opponents who will fight him harder just to secure the kensho money. I see six wins due to the beef surrounding the Cop at this rank.

M10 Iwakiyama should end up on a spit with an apple in his mouth after it's all said and done. Three wins is being generous. Counterpart Kasugao has some tough company just below him that will prevent him from winning more than eight.

Same goes for veteran M11 Tamakasuga. With some quality rikishi falling this low due to injuries and bad basho in Nagoya, he's going to find a tough go of things. Four wins. M11 Futenoh is becoming more of a mystery than that nub on Michael Jackson's face that he calls a nose. He usually does well this low (what former Komusubi don't?), but he's got some pretty good company like Roho, Kokkai, Kyokutenho, Tochiohzan, and Goeido. I see Futenoh struggling to reach his eight.

M12 Kokkai's in the same boat. Normally, he rocks this low on the charts, but he's still in the midst of the some tough company. Eight wins or so. Counterpart Kyokutenho makes his return to the division after a stint among the junior varsity when he was forced to sit out the Natsu basho after causing a car accident. Tenho's yori-kiri skills will be good enough to paste the dregs down this low and at worst come out 50-50 against the solid rikishi in the neighborhood. I look for 10 wins.

M13 Ryuo has been "figgered out" as we say in Utah. I've been watching and rooting for this kid since his hair was in an afro, he had zits all over his face, and he weighed about 30 kilos less. I hope he does well, but I just don't see his oshi attack that only goes as far as the dude on a conjugal visit once a year (8 seconds if you're scoring at home..or in the trailer) making any more impact in the division. I see five to six wins and a struggle to keep himself in the division. Counterpart Tochiohzan if healthy is going to smoke the competition this low like reefer at a Grateful Dead show. You have so many rikishi low in the ranks due to fluke injuries and bad basho that we're going to see better sumo down here than we will until we reach the Ozeki bouts each day. Expect Oh to win 11 or 12.

M14 Kitazakura has a few weak guys around him, but there are too many veterans and solid rikishi close by for him to win eight I'm afraid. You always love the show he puts on, and you appreciate his effort, but the Ambassador will likely disappoint the kids this basho. Counterpart Goeido is our lone Makuuchi newcomer, and he should be a good one. He joined professional sumo with Toyohibiki (a stablemate) and Tochiohzan (a rival). All three have sped through the ranks and joined the Makuuchi division in just a couple of years. Goeido is well built, he's still young, and he's a great yotsu fighter. That combination will equal success in the division for years to come. Keep yer eye on him, especially with so many savvy veterans this low. I'll say 7-8 wins in his debut.

M15 Hakurozan can't survive his current position on the banzuke due to the solid rikishi just above him. His sumo is too upright and too lazy to put a string of wins together. Give him a 5-10 mark. Counterpart Yoshikaze is even weaker, don't expect more than four wins.

And finally, we wrap things up with our M16's Kasuganishiki and Kakizoe. Kasuganishiki belongs in the same paragraph with Hakurozan and Yoshikaze. As for Kakizoe, while he's been nagged by injuries the last year, the Makuuchi division has welcomed too many new young rikishi that are just stronger and better than this former Komusubi. Hey, a Juryo paycheck is a lot better than what most everyone else is pullin' in, so keep your head up and keep sending the money home to the missus so you don't get a worse beating there than you'll get on the dohyo. 5-6 wins.

The Aki basho will be the first time ever that Yokozuna Asashoryu has failed to set foot on the dohyo come day 1. And the reasons behind it are a shame. When the Yokozuna withdrew early at the 2006 Natsu basho, Hakuho, Miyabiyama, and Baruto kept things exciting, but things just didn't seem right. That basho deserved an asterisk next to it just as the Aki basho does now. I'm hoping that Hakuho will come out sharp, that Kotomitsuki's confidence remains sky high, that Kotooshu will forget about the henka and just fight, and that a youngster like Kisenosato or Homasho will rise up and legitimately challenge for the yusho. That's the best case scenario and will make for a good basho. Worst case scenario is that the henka-ites are out early looking for the cheap yusho while the cat's away. Start praying now, and I'll see ya on my usual day 2.


Yusho - Hakuho (14-1...loses to Kotomitsuki again)
Kantosho - Roho
Ginosho - Tochiohzan
Shukunsho - Are you kidding me?





hit counters